Preview Chapter

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The Last Rhino War

Rory is completing his latest novel – a hard-hitting expose of the international crime syndicates that control the poaching of rhinos in Southern Africa. Is it too late to save the rhino species as demand from China and Vietnam spirals out of control?

Prologue

Like a nervous tic, Johnny Wang stroked his thin moustache repeatedly and curled the straggly, greying tip into his lower lip. Beads of sweat formed on his brow despite the blast of cold air from the air conditioning unit laboring against the relentless, sweltering humidity of the mid-summer in Laos. Five men sat in the darkened room and circled a naked, kneeling man, his hands and ankles tightly bound. A single bulb hung from the ceiling, affording the only dim light in the room, yet still strong enough to attract a myriad of moths that danced around it in a suicidal orbit.

Somehow out of place in the old French Colonial villa, the tick-tock of an antique grandfather clock punctuated the silence. It was one of Johnny’s prize possessions—a gift from a desperate British diplomat who had developed a taste for opium.

“Gentlemen, you have listened to the arguments for and against. Now is the time. You know the penalty for betrayal is death. What‘s your decision?”

Johnny’s penetrating gaze shifted to the four men seated around the kneeling figure. Costas was first. The Greek sea captain, long a loyal member of the Red Lotus Triad, shifted uncomfortably on his seat in the silence that followed. He raised his hand slowly and signaled a down thumb. The next man, Major-General Syvongsay of the Lao People’s Army, raised his fist showing a similar down turned thumb. The other two men followed suit.

“Jin,” mouthed Johnny into the darkness.

A lithe form flitted from the shadows and swung a meat cleaver, honed over days to the sharpest perfection—severing the neck of Thanh Nguyen. His head bounced and turned, eyes still open in surprise, looking at his impassive jurymen. Nguyen’s body remained kneeling and motionless for a few seconds as a small fountain of bright red blood pulsed out onto his chest. Slowly his body slumped over and, as if by design, lay supine next to his severed head as if nothing extraordinary had happened.

Jin called out softly and two men came in, lifted Nguyen’s body and head before leaving as silently as they came. He retreated into the shadows, only to return and serve each of the men a small cup of steaming hot green tea. Despite being the executioner, Jin never forgot he was Johnny Wang’s manservant, before any other task.

Johnny Wang sipped his tea, sighed and turned again to his men.

“Gentlemen, you have made the right decision. We offered Nguyen a partnership in the Red Lotus Triad. As you know he ran our affairs in Vietnam and South Africa with great skill. I was surprised when I discovered he was running an operation that was skimming our profit. You all know that is a cardinal sin in the triad. Five yes votes are all that is required and five votes were given.”

The four men nodded in assent and murmured, “Yes, Honorable Master, it is so”.

“Jin, have his body delivered, in plain sight, to his family. It will send a signal to them and all those who worked for Nguyen that they shouldn’t cross the Red Lotus.”

“Now, we need to decide how we are going to re-group to keep the supply of rhino horn flowing. As long as there are naïve fools out there who believe the horn has medicinal powers we will keep adding to our fortune. So, I’m open to ideas, let’s hear from you. Remember, each horn is worth several million to us, it’s much more valuable to us than ivory, opium, hardwoods, just name it.”

“Now that legal hunting avenues are closed to us we have to resort to illegal hunting, poaching, I think they call it, Honorable Master,” said Costas. “I remember in the old days that’s how most of the horn ended up in our hands.”

“Yes,” agreed General Syvongsay, “the African game reserves are full of rhino. It doesn’t take much to kill a rhino, believe me, I’ve done it. All you need is a decent rifle and you can almost walk right up to them—they can’t see you until it’s too late for them. It should be easy to equip some locals who could be in and out of a reserve before the authorities could even wake up.”

“So now that Mr. Nguyen has left our ranks, we must recruit someone to run our affairs locally in Mozambique and South Africa.”

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