Cassie and Novel’s plane landed early the following morning. The airport was full of people and Cassie was continuously aware of Novel’s tight grip on her waist. From the airport, they got a taxi to one of the local hotels – which had been designated as base station.
They waited in relative silence for the next few hours. Their entire journey had consisted of careful glances around her – she could feel eyes following her everywhere.
Her musing was interrupted by a knock on the door. Agent Smith was quickly let in and they were handed an envelope while he greeted them warmly.
“We leave in the morning,” he informed them.
The briefing envelope informed them that the plan was to leave the following morning and head out towards the jungle. This would be a good days drive away an then they had to cross a river. Interpol had acted as a liaison to organise travel clearance across borders. From there they could only go towards the last theorised place of encampment for the gang.
It was early morning when they left. The air was full of a thick mist and it was difficult to see more than 100 yards ahead. There was a team of 20 of them piled into the back of an old and rather rickety 4 by 4. Smith was currently driving and Cassie – being the only female – had managed to gain herself the passenger seat. Novel was not amused with having to sit in the back with the ‘lads’.
The day passed at a slow clawing pace. They were stopped for over an hour by an over eager police officer – who had a gun shoved in Smith’s face. A few high level phone calls were required with the satellite phone. This informed the officer that what was going on was not his business and that he needed to back down. He did, but after that they attempted to gain some more ground quicker because of the risk someone unsavoury might be told as an act of revenge. They needed to get over the border before day break if they hoped to stick with their time frame.
They arrived at the lake a few hours after nightfall. Smith exited the vehicle for a few minutes. Cassie watched him walk over to a small shack beside the lake, he was let in by a gentleman around the age of 40 and the light of a candle briefly lit up the scene. For those brief seconds Cassie could make out what seemed to be a relatively old boat. She would almost go as far to say that she was not entirely sure she believed that it would float.
“He recons we can make it across in one trip,” reported Smith when he arrived back at the car.
Cassie chose not to vocalise her opinions and nervously followed Novel over to the boat.
“I hate this thing,” she whispered to him as they squeezed themselves into the relatively small boat. Looking down at her feet she could see that it was only the waterproofing on her walking boots that were keeping her feet dry.
“We’ll be across soon,” Novel informed her, “just think about how much fun my mother and the cat are having together.”
Cassie had almost forgotten about the cat. The image of it chasing – or at least attempting to chase – birds around the garden almost made her smile.
When they reached the other side the boatman quickly returned to the original shore. Smith gestured for them to follow him west – leading them into the forest.
The group moved as silently as they possibly could – their tight clothing preventing unwanted insects making skin contact. In the night the entire forest had gone deathly quiet. It was a bit like something out of a horror move that Cassie had seen on telly.
Novel was of a similar opinion. He had quickly decided that any more work involving traipsing through wooded forest areas were to be avoided at all costs. With the light of his head torch he could make out all manner of small insects scuttling along the floor and he had never been a fan of any creature with more than two legs that was not a cat or a dog. The sudden movement of branches – seeming ten times louder than it was – almost making Novel feel a bit skittish. Not wanted to further alarm Cassie he managed to rain himself in. She seemed to be slowly returning to her usual abilities. However, he doubted she would be on full cylinders until these inconveniences were apprehended.
The hike continued for miles. They had to extend it by about half a mile to skirt around a herd of elephants who had required the use of a small clearing.
“Bloody wildlife,” one of the officers behind Novel had muttered. Nobody disagreed with him.
Within another few hours some sort of structure was just about visible on the horizon. Cassie felt herself being to shake slightly but calmed a little when Novel placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. The group continued forward and all those with guns encircled the property.
“They’ve gone boss,” Cassie heard over the walkie-talkie. Her heart sank.
They regrouped and began surveying the scene. There was little sign that any life had been her for a while. However, a receipt dating the week previous had shown them that whoever had been living there had been relatively good with the clean-up. The only other things that were found was a list of number and some scribbles which could only be presumed to be predicted profit margins. It was in the order of hundreds of thousands of pounds. Cassie found a series of tire tracks baked into the mud leading north and they decided that this was the only lead they had to go on.
“At the very least that will take us in the direction of the airport, so, if the trail has gone cold we’ll regroup and rethink,” Smith decided, ordering the group to follow him with a quick pace.
By now, the morning light had begun to emerge over the horizon and the shear scale of the task before them was becoming evident. As they reached the edge of the tree line on the crest of a hill they could see the forest sprawled out before them.
Whist waiting for his food to cook, Novel walked a little away from the main group – wanting some time away from the crowd of people. Off the path the vehicle seemed to have taken – judging by some tire tracks that appeared to match the ones they had found before – he found a small slope which led to a river. It was easy enough for Novel to get down to it and have a look around.
“Smith,” he muttered into his walkie-talkie, “you might want to see this.”
The Agent moved quickly to locate Novel and was soon standing beside him to survey the scene. Before them, wrapped around a tree, was a decaying body of what appeared to be a young girl. She was possibly in her early teens and between them they could only assume that – based on her clothing – she had originated at one of the local villages. Her arms were tied with rope behind her back and it was possible that her legs had been previously tied as well.
“She must have attempted to escape,” commented Smith, not looking overly bothered by the situation.
“Not a good way to go,” murmured Novel, “what shall we do with her?”
“Leave her, we don’t have the equipment to move a body in that condition.”
They continued to hike through the forest for over a day. However, their search ultimately proved fruitless. They eventually came out of the forest onto a commercial airport. Smith’s first port of call was finding a decent loo – Cassie followed. Novel, on the other hand, had wondered in the opposite direction and had begun asking questions to the taxi drivers. He was hoping they might know about any cards that had come out of the woods in the last few days – they always seemed to know more that people realised.
“Just the one mate,” he was informed by a younger driver who spoke pretty good English, “parked in VIP carpark. Private jet, but don’t know where.”
“Would the airport staff know?”
“They know nothing,” he rubbed his finger together in the universal ‘they get paid’ symbol and shrugged.
As promised, Novel passed the kid some cash, which seemed to please him immensely. The he returned to group which now included Cassie and Agent Smith again.
“They’ve gone,” Novel stated in a very matter-of-fact tone, “Private Jet right out of here.”
The trip back was done in a sullen silence. However, they were all pleased to eventually arrive back in the UK and get themselves a shower. Cassie was especially pleased to be out of those woods – Novel’s description of that girl had been giving her nightmares.
When they got into the office that morning Cassie as called into Smith’s office – Novel followed in behind her.
“Novel you are not needed in this discussion,” Smith informed him.
“She’s my officer,” Novel pointed out, making himself comfortable in one of the sofas and taking a sip of his coffee, “I’ll be involved in any discussions concerning or involving Cassie.”
Smith bowed his head in acknowledgement that there was no point in arguing. The new plan, now that the trail was as cold as the Artic, was to se Cassie to make the gang find them. She had not received a text from them since leaving for Africa, however, Smith wanted her to return to the flat alone.
“But she could be kidnapped!” exclaimed Novel, watching Cassie carefully as her face went as white as his shirt.
“That is the idea Novel. She will be wearing a tacking GPS device,” explained Smith, “we’ll implant the untraceable chip before you return. Your whereabouts will be known 24/7. As soon as we can catch them in the act we will stop and surround them.”
“But what about her?” questioned Novel, “we know what these men are like. It is not as if they are going to wait for her to seduce them before forcing her into bed! They have no respect for women and no gentleman inclinations of any sort!”
“What about all those girls that are presently being sold as sex slaves Novel!?” growled Smith angrily, “We’ve never had an opportunity like this before – to get into the heart of the organisation will allow us to tear it open from the top!”
“I’ll do it.”
Novel, who had just about to respond, stopped short. He had forgotten Cassie was still in the room.
“I’m aware of the possible consequences,” she continued, “but I have a feeling that the will continue to follow me until I am dead or captured. At least this will mean I have some chance of a living a life without having to watch over my shoulder. It will mean that other girls can be saved. A least like this then someone will know where I am and I can have some chance of rescue. There is no choice Novel – I don’t think there ever was one.”
Novel nodded, reluctantly giving in – even though every bone in his body was telling him that this was a bad idea.