Authors: Chris Allen
Alex Morgan is back and he isn’t playing by the rules.
Policeman, soldier and spy for Intrepid, black ops agent Alex Morgan is hunting the Night Witch – the head of a shadowy criminal empire spanning the four corners of the globe and connected to Chinese triads, corrupt cops, and the Russian mafia.
When Morgan’s sent to China to shadow Intrepid’s newest agent, Elizabeth Reigns, he soon discovers she’s been sold out and the triads are after their pound of flesh.
With Reigns in his corner, Morgan must find a way through a complex labyrinth of scattered connections and corporate takeovers to find the real Night Witch, and crush an empire built on trading in human life. But there’s only one problem. To achieve his objective Morgan must confront an enemy he thought was already dead and buried. Will Morgan have what it takes to survive?
To my Sarah and our boys, Morgan and Rhett
Human trafficking is a vicious chain that binds victims to criminals. We must break this chain with the force of human solidarity.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
High-level Meeting on the Appraisal of the Global Plan of Action
to Combat Trafficking in Persons
New York, May 13 2013
The retreating rumble of the DC-3’s engines was all that remained after the momentary explosion of noise upon exit. Military aircraft, old and new, weren’t renowned for their creature comforts and inside, the old Dakota was nothing more than an excruciating din with less than enough room to swing a cat, underpinned by the smell of aviation fuel – leaping into the darkness and leaving all that behind was liberating. Outside it was quiet, there was plenty of space and, above all, fresh air. Alex Morgan sucked in a deep lungful and then another, forcing his chest to rebel against the tightly fastened straps of the parachute harness. He allowed himself a moment to enjoy the adrenalin rush, feeling the fresh blast of cold night air pushing against his face and body as he stabilized his position.
Morgan, an agent of Interpol’s deep-cover Intelligence, Recovery, Protection and Infiltration Division – otherwise known as Intrepid – pulled the ripcord of the MC-4 Ram Air Free-Fall parachute and felt the familiar tug as the canopy erupted, unfurling above him. He looked up into the center of the blossoming rectangular canopy as the cells filled with air. He reached for the steering toggles and took control, checking his bearings against the memorized reference points he could see on the ground. There was hardly any wind tonight and the full moon lit the landscape for miles in a serene silver-gray hue. There were the cluster of lights to the south-west of Lake Malawi that was Mangochi and the mouth of the Shire River, then the looming shadows of the hills of the Namizimu Forest Reserve to the north, and there, directly beneath him, was the latticework of tracks and dry creek beds that led to a small enclave of buildings due east of Kwilembe.
Morgan was relieved. The parachute – and the plane for that matter – had been scrounged. He’d needed a means of insertion at short notice; a way to cover some serious miles and get on the ground quickly, and, as a former officer of Britain’s elite Parachute Regiment, Morgan knew only too well how best to achieve that. Besides, he was expected to improvise. The effectiveness and success of Intrepid’s clandestine operations around the world relied on agents operating, as far as possible, as lone wolves. That was what Intrepid’s chief, and veteran of Special Operations, General Davenport expected of them, which meant finding simple solutions to otherwise complex problems.
In this case, a call to a trusted friend and former Parachute Regiment comrade eventually connected Morgan with a retired Portuguese Air Force pilot who, according to Morgan’s contact, wouldn’t ask awkward questions if the money was right. After the PAF, Captain Henrique Barboza had settled in Maputo with his Mozambican wife and now flew wealthy tourists to nature reserves all over south-eastern Africa in a reconditioned war-surplus DC-3 Dakota. Barboza had agreed to assist in any way he could on the basis that Morgan’s enterprise was fundamentally righteous and, more importantly, Barboza himself would be paid upfront and in cash. He threw the parachute in for free because he’d apparently won it in a card game and had no use for it. Morgan knew the plane worked, but parachutes had a nasty habit of not letting you know they didn’t until it was too late to ask for another. But Morgan liked Barboza. The man was a brigand at heart, which appealed to Morgan’s healthy respect for living just outside the rules. He put that down to his own piratical heritage which, according to family lore, made him a direct descendant of Sir Henry Morgan, the infamous Welsh buccaneer. They had reached an agreement, shaken hands and the deal was done. Simple.
Morgan was supporting a joint human, drugs and arms trafficking operation involving various African police forces, Interpol and, covertly, Intrepid. Codenamed Operation Usalama, it was the first time Morgan had been back to Africa in almost three years. He’d been deployed to the fledgling Republic of Malfajiri, West Africa, on his inaugural mission as an Intrepid agent, tracking down gunrunners and evacuating ex-pats, including children, from the middle of a civil war. That time, he’d almost lost his life. Worse still, the brutal torture and murder of his close friend, MI6 agent Sean Collins – whose body had been dismembered, burned and thrown like garbage into the grounds of the British Embassy in the Malfajiri capital Cullentown – had been the catalyst for it all.
This time, Morgan’s target was another fugitive from international justice wanted by Interpol for drugs and arms trafficking, and more recently for extending his interests to include trafficking in human beings. Fusani Chomba had eluded the authorities for years but under the umbrella of Operation Usalama the cooperative efforts of the Eastern and Southern African Police Chiefs Regional Cooperation Organizations, EAPCCO and SARPCCO, finally uncovered his location. Chomba had found a safe haven in Malawi near a small village called Kwilembe, eighteen miles north-east of Mangochi and only sixteen miles from the Mozambique border. The intelligence on his refuge indicated that it was deliberately located within a populated area and heavily guarded. Storming it without the high possibility of unnecessary civilian causalities was beyond the immediate skills or resources of local police. With some subtle guidance from Interpol, the involvement of the Malawi military was not deemed necessary. Instead the task of apprehending him found its way on to General Davenport’s desk and now, for the fourth or fifth time in his life, Alex Morgan was in Africa.
Morgan prepared for landing. He’d jumped at only four thousand feet, so he wasn’t encumbered by unnecessary high-altitude gear – there hadn’t been time for anything like that. This job was rough and ready. It had to be. They’d been tracking Fusani Chomba for ages and now they had to get him out.
As so often happened during the final hundred feet or so of a night jump, the landmarks that had been so well lit by the moon disappeared and the ground became nothing more than an endless black void. Estimating the remaining seconds to impact, Morgan pulled down halfway on the toggles to check the parachute’s speed and braced. If he pulled down too hard and misjudged his rate of descent he could stall the canopy, which could bring him down like a ton of bricks, or even backward. Moments later, he landed hard among a copse of acacia bushes about a mile from the small cluster of buildings near Kwilembe, where Chomba’s house was located. Jumping in at a safe distance from the target reduced the chances of being detected and allowed him to stash the parachute, prepare his gear and approach the location covertly. Morgan felt the landing more than usual and cringed as his knees protested against the collision. He stumbled, his legs tangled in a low huddle of acacia, and fell flat on his back. After sitting for a moment to take stock, he stumbled to his feet, hid the gear around the base of the acacias, and painfully extracted half-a-dozen two-inch thorns from his shins and calf muscles.
Morgan was traveling light, dressed in Helikon SFU combat gear, and armed with only a Sig Sauer P226 and an M4A1 fitted with a suppressor. It took him half an hour to cover the mile to Chomba’s location. He made straight for the northern end of the village, paralleling the one and only road through it, scouring the shadows for a vehicle or any sign of disturbance, and working methodically round the back of the settlement. He kept at a low crouch, moving from cover to cover past the ramshackle houses to his right and the open, wild bush to his left, the M4 gripped tightly in his hands, ready to fire. The entire scene was a blur of black and gray, with minuscule flickers of orange light just visible through the occasional flimsy rag of a curtain. It was almost impossible to see, but still Morgan searched, keeping himself to the shadows on the edge of the dwellings.
There were animals and humans to be avoided as he closed in but he eventually reached a poorly constructed six-foot-high whitewashed stone wall that was the reference point he’d been told to look for: the rear boundary of Chomba’s house, situated at the end of a long dirt road. It was the only dwelling in the area with such a high wall and, thankfully for Morgan, it backed on to open bushland rather than another property. He checked the battered TAG Heuer watch he’d worn on his left wrist for well over fifteen years. It was two minutes to 1am. He was bang on schedule. Right now, Captain Barboza would have the Dakota circling high above, preparing to land. Morgan had two hours to grab Chomba and get him to Mongochi airstrip, so that meant commandeering a car. Barboza would be on the ground from 2am, so if Morgan managed to get there earlier, all the better. Once aboard they’d head straight for Tanzania and Morgan would hand Chomba over to Interpol Dar es Salaam. Sounded straightforward, but nothing ever was in this business. Although, so far, everything had been going a little too easily …
The hairs on the back of Morgan’s neck bristled.
He’d heard something, or sensed it. He couldn’t be sure. Instinctively, he leaped into the shadows at the nearest corner of the wall. Some stones had fallen out of the wall and he squeezed the toe of his boot into the gap, checked that it would take his weight without crumbling and then stepped up, grabbing for the top. Careful not to make a sound, he got a hand over and held on tight, ready to launch himself into the yard. He remained still for a moment, listening, then raised his head high enough to look over and into the yard. He took his time, scanning slowly, right to left and left to right, searching for any signs of activity. All was quiet. There was nothing stirring in the yard and the house was in total darkness.
“So, where are all these guards then?” he whispered to himself. Something wasn’t right here.
Morgan raised himself up until his waist was level with the top of the wall. He reached over, placing his right hand as far as possible down the other side while keeping a firm grasp on the top with his left. Then he flipped his body over and lowered himself quietly into the yard.
Remaining hidden in the shadows, Morgan used the moonlight to assess the house and possible access points. It was a modest, single-story, brick rectangle with square windows, a long porch and a corrugated-iron roof. It was remarkable only for its similarity to the many others like it in the area. Smart. Chomba obviously didn’t want to draw attention to himself by living ostentatiously in some grand mansion, which told Morgan the man was keen to maintain his freedom. Between Morgan and the rear of the house was an open expanse of yard. It was about an eighth of an acre, with patches of uneven scrub sprouting from the dirt. A semicircle of milk crates that probably doubled as chairs sat in an expectant huddle near the porch. All in all, the yard was empty but for a lone mopane tree that grew tall and close to the house. Staying put in his dark corner, Morgan turned to the areas the moonlight couldn’t penetrate, searching for any sign of a problem, but saw nothing.
He stepped forward, keeping his right flank hard against the shadows of the northern wall. The M4 was slung across his chest and the P226 holstered. Morgan brought his hands up to the pistol grip and stock of the M4, reflexively testing the tension in the sling. It wouldn’t do for it to snag if he needed to bring the weapon up to fire. Estimating that thirty feet along the wall would get him as close to the house as possible without being seen from it, Morgan continued, treading carefully, his breathing steady, controlled. He soon reached the end of the shadows. His next move was to cross the yard. It was open, moonlit and exposed, but there was no other choice. Taking a deep breath, he rushed from the wall, leaving the cover of darkness, heading for the mopane tree.
The blow smashed him across the chest, pushing the M4 into his rib cage heavily. It was inflicted by a branch, gnarled and heavy, wielded by someone big enough to put serious force behind it. Morgan stumbled backward, the air forced from his lungs. Stars exploded across his vision as he fell, striking his head on the ground, hard. Morgan was dazed but conscious enough to know that the strike was reactionary, albeit forceful enough to put him on his ass. He sensed the assailant standing over him, raising the branch high, preparing to deliver the death blow on the center of his exposed skull. He had to get back up. With a grunt, the man brought the branch down with the force of an ax used to splinter kindling. Morgan rapidly locked his forearms in a tight cross over his face. The branch smashed into his arms and pain shot ferociously through his entire body. It was just the opportunity he needed.
Using the assailant’s forward momentum to his advantage, Morgan grabbed the branch at the second of impact. His legs exploded upward, both feet connecting perfectly with the other man’s torso. The move catapulted his attacker up and over Morgan, throwing him into a winded heap flat on his back. As the man tried to regain his breath, Morgan was already back on his feet. The guy sat up, pushing off with his hands to try to stand again just as Morgan leaped to the side and planted a heavily booted kick to the side of the man’s head. The guy fell on to his side then pushed up again. He was tough.
But Morgan was on the offensive. He scooped up the discarded branch from the ground and swung it as hard as he could at the guy’s face. It was perfectly placed. Morgan felt the jaw crack. The guy fell back to the ground again with a dull thud. Morgan stood over him, still holding the branch, waiting for any further signs of resistance. There were none. He felt for a pulse. It was faint but there; he’d pull through eventually but would need help. General Davenport’s words came back to him:
“Don’t go leaving a trail of corpses across Africa. Just get Chomba and get out.”
Easier said than done, sir
, he thought, but at least he’d managed to achieve the brief on this occasion. Morgan took a second to examine his attacker. The guy was tall and thin, nothing like the physical description of Chomba, who was said to be short and solidly built. So, not Chomba. That was good.
Breathing heavily, Morgan dropped the branch, withdrew back into the shadow of the mopane tree and took stock. Apart from a few grunts and groans, there’d been no noise during the altercation, which had taken just seconds. All was silent again. Jesus, he really didn’t see that one coming. How could he have missed it? Morgan spent some extra time watching and listening but there was nothing else happening and, so far, no follow-up goons to take him on or even any lights coming on – inside or out. Just silence. Maybe he’d surprised his opponent, which suggested that the guy was supposed to be on sentry duty but had fallen asleep and then heard or saw Morgan approaching. He must have grabbed for his gun, couldn’t find it in the dark, and so reached for the closest weapon.