The Friday Night Book Club: Read an excerpt from Tony Park’s action-packed new thriller Scent of Fear
More about the book!
The Friday Night Book Club: Exclusive excerpts from Pan Macmillan every weekend!
Staying in this evening? Settle in with a glass of wine and this extended excerpt from the new Tony Park novel Scent of Fear.
About the book
On a routine anti-poaching patrol, Sean and his tracker dog Benny watch in horror as over-eager rookie Tumi Mabasa is almost killed and her dog gravely injured in the explosion.
Along with Tumi and best mate Craig Hoddy, Sean is determined to hunt down the elusive bombmaker who has introduced this destructive weapon to the war on poaching.
But Sean is his own worst enemy. Haunted by nightmares of the war and wracked with guilt from driving away his ex-wife, Christine, he soon discovers she and Craig are in the midst of an intense affair. And there’s another enemy at play …
As bombs target Sean’s team, can he get himself back on track and win the fight for Africa’s wildlife – and Christine – before it’s too late?
- ‘Writing at least one book a year, I have to be disciplined’ – An interview with Tony Park, author of Scent of Fear
- Read previous Friday Night Book Club excerpts here!
Read the excerpt:
Sean Bourke slung his LM5 rifle over his shoulder and grabbed Benny by the scruff of the neck. He buckled Benny’s green nylon webbing tracking collar on him and the dog’s alert status instantly ratcheted up a notch. Benny knew that when his collar came on it was time to go to work, that this was not play. However, as much as Benny loved working he did not like flying, and he started to whine again. Sean clipped on Benny’s short lead and held him steady as the anti-poaching helicopter settled into a hover, and then touched down on the cleared landing pad adjacent to the anti-poaching camp hidden in the bush not far from the luxurious Lion Plains Safari Lodge.
‘Eish, man, you’re getting heavy,’ Sean said to Benny as he picked him up and headed to the chopper.
‘Too much biltong.’
Benny was a Belgian Malinois, and when Sean described him, and the breed, to people who didn’t know them, he usually said his dog was like a compact German Shepherd and faster than the bigger dog. He had a black muzzle and a deep tan–coloured coat.
Sean screwed his eyes shut against the wave of dust and grit that washed over him as he jogged, hunched over the dog, then turned and slid, butt first, into the helicopter. He was barely in when Francois, the pilot, started lifting off. Like all dogs, Benny loved riding in cars, even when confined to his travel kennel or a cage, and he was fearless in the bush, but flying reduced him to a terrified, whining mess. It was hardly surprising. Sean wasn’t mad about helicopters either.
He hugged Benny closer. ‘It’s all right, my boy. We’ll be on the ground soon.’
There were two other green-clad men in the chopper and when Sean had found a seatbelt and fastened it on he nodded to Charles and Oliver. They were armed members of the team who accompanied the dogs and handlers, providing extra firepower.
When they were rostered on duty, Charles and Oliver stayed in the same camp as Sean, but this evening they had gone out on patrol at dusk and, once it was dark, had set up a night observation post on a koppie, a rock-studded hill that overlooked a large chunk of the reserve. Both were good trackers in their own right. The leader of the anti-poaching unit, Craig, who doubled as another dog handler, was off duty. Charles smiled and waved to Sean; Oliver stared out the open side door of the aircraft, watching the ground. Benny barked and writhed in Sean’s embrace and it was only when Sean followed the dog’s gaze that he saw there was someone else on board, a woman, on the far side of Oliver, and another dog. Sean didn’t recognise the mouse-grey Weimaraner or the other handler, partly because she was all but obscured by Oliver’s bulk. The other handler on their team, Musa, had left the previous week to take up a job closer to his Zululand home, at the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, and the team had been expecting a replacement who they knew had just finished training at a place up at Hoedspruit, north of where they were. Sean had met women handlers in the police and the military and working in war zones overseas, but females were still something of a rarity in this particular role. Sean leaned as far as he could past the two men and waved to her. He yelled his name. He couldn’t hear what she said, but guessed she was introducing herself. She didn’t need to speak for him to recognise her fear. Her uniform was so new it was shiny, the creases factory fresh.
He looked down at her boots. They were spotless, still gleaming from weeks of spit polishing during her basic training. Benny sniffed and his tongue lolled, his fear of flying overcome by his curiosity over his fellow passenger. Sean nodded to the Weimaraner. ‘Female?’
The woman must have heard, or read his lips. She nodded vigorously.
The dog looked in good condition and her handler was pretty, big eyes, luscious lips, and Charles obviously thought so as well, because he started talking to her and whatever he said made her laugh. Sean looked out through the perspex windscreen of the
cockpit. Francois was pointing. Sean unclipped a spare headset
from the bulkhead and put it on. Oliver, who was also wearing a headset, tapped Sean on the arm, and also pointed ahead.
‘Francois has spotted the carcass.’
Sean craned his neck and saw the inert mass on the ground, lying in an open grassy vlei. ‘Downwind of the carcass, please, Francois.’
The pilot nodded. The dogs, Benny and Gemma, would initially be trying to air-scent, to pick up the trace of the people who had done this or their weapons and ammunition from their targets’ smells, tiny particles blowing in the night breeze. For this reason, they tracked, where possible, by walking into the wind to give the dogs’ noses a better chance of success. There was a large waterhole not far from where the killing had happened and they could all see the directions of the ripples caused by the wind on the moonlit surface. Francois knew the drill. He brought the helicopter down, flaring the nose. Sean undid his seatbelt, and the moment the skids touched the earth he and Benny were out. Oliver freed himself of the headset and he and Charles jumped out after them. Sean set down Benny, who was tethered to him by his lead, which was fixed to his webbing harness with a D-ring, and used his left hand to yank back the cocking handle of his LM5. He let the working parts fly forward, chambering a 5.56-millimetre round. The simple action triggered a shot of adrenaline, charging his senses and readying him for the pursuit to come. Benny also knew that sound and was ready for action, nose up, sniffing the breeze. Charles was kneeling in the grass next to them. Sean would have set off, but the helicopter was still turning and burning behind him. Francois should have been gone by now, Sean thought. He looked around and saw that the young woman and her dog were still on board. Oliver was on the other side of the chopper, yelling at the woman. Was she scared? Sean wondered. He unclipped the D-ring securing the leash and Benny bounded away, then stopped and looked back at Sean, tongue out, eyes bright, waiting for him to follow.
Sean ran around the front of the helicopter. He saw the problem immediately. The other dog, Gemma, had got her lead wrapped around the woman’s legs and the handler herself was having trouble getting out of her seat. Oliver was swearing at her.
‘It’s OK,’ Sean said.
He brushed past the male ranger, looked in, and assessed the situation. Gemma’s leash was knotted into a loop and the woman had somehow threaded her seatbelt through the loop. He reached in, found the belt’s buckle, which was hiding under one of her ammunition pouches, and undid it. Next he unthreaded the lead. Gemma, confused and also panicked, jumped down and ran towards Benny, the lead trailing behind her. Sean took the woman’s hand and helped her out and down. He saw now that she was young. Francois, shaking his head, lifted off. Silence returned, but Oliver started his tirade, albeit in hushed, urgent tones.
‘What do you think you’re doing, you stupid girl? We have important work to do.’
‘Chill, bru,’ Sean said.
Oliver glared at him.
‘Don’t tell me what to do. Get your dog, start working.’
Ignoring him, Sean turned back to the woman. ‘You all right?’
She nodded, but he could see she was biting her lower lip.
She nodded again and followed him, and Gemma returned to her side. Benny looked back, eager to get on with the job.
On that command Benny went towards the dead rhino, sniffing. It was big, probably a bull, Sean thought, and its blood was a dark stain on the ground. Its horn had been taken off, down to the white bone. Benny circled the dead animal, nose down, then he stopped. He went tense, instantly even more alert. His body language told Sean he had picked something up. Sean came to him and looked down and ahead of where Benny was sniffing. The grass had been trampled and further on some low branches had been broken off a sapling. Sean shrugged off his twelve-kilogram backpack. Amid the six litres of water – four of which were for Benny – first aid kit, marker panel to signal a helicopter, food, toilet paper, GPS, handcuffs and extra ammunition, were Benny’s tracking harness and a six-metre long lead made of stout nylon cord encased in rubber. Sean quickly fitted the harness and this act, like attaching his collar, told Benny that they were about to get serious. Benny strained against him, eager to get on the trail. Sean stowed his gear and Benny’s short lead, but tucked the long lead behind the pouches fixed to his webbing, across his chest.
‘Benny, soek,’ Sean said, giving the command to seek, or find. Benny set off.
The woman had done the same thing, but had attached a tracking lead to Gemma’s harness.
‘You’re working your dog off-lead?’
‘I thought we’re supposed to keep them on-lead at night-time,’ she said.
She was clearly fresh out of training. He shrugged. There was work to do.
‘Full moon, plenty of light, and it’s Benny. He’s smart and experienced. Stick close to me and keep your dog on-lead.’
He began to follow Benny at a jog.
Her rifle dwarfed her and her gear rattled as she ran to catch up with him. He would talk to her about the noise later, when they were done.
Thorny branches scratched and snatched at him as Benny led him into the bush surrounding the vlei, towards the Sabie River. It was the dry season and the water level was low. Above them, Francois was flying a circuit. He would be checking the FLIR, the forward-looking infrared camera on board, seeking out the man or men’s heat signatures. For all the high-tech wizardry employed in the fight against poaching in South Africa, it was down to teams on the ground and, increasingly, dogs, to catch the people that the gadgetry sometimes detected. A hippo honked from the river, a reminder that humans were far from the only danger waiting for them in the gloom. Charles and Oliver kept pace with them. Then Benny gave a growl and Sean held up a hand to stop them all. Oliver muscled between Sean and the woman and Gemma, effectively pushing her to the rear of the patrol. Sean didn’t know whether he was trying to shield her from potential danger or cut her out of the action. Benny was sitting, ears up, tail sticking straight out behind him and resting flat.
‘He’s indicating,’ Sean said quietly, dropping to one knee.
‘Make him attack.’ Oliver pointed to a thicket of raisin bush.
‘There is probably a poacher hiding in there.’
Sean shook his head. The hairs rose on his arms.
‘No, it’s something else.’
To the right of the bushes was a game trail, a hippo highway visible between a pair of giant jackalberry trees and leading down to the river. As they took it in, there was movement behind them and the Weimaraner ran past them, almost towing her handler behind her. The woman’s rifle, slung across her body, bounced on her back and swung around to her front as she stumbled and nearly fell.
‘Come back.’ Sean realised he still didn’t even know her name.
The woman looked over her shoulder. ‘Gemma’s picked it up as well.’
Benny whined and looked at Sean as Gemma and the woman passed them.
‘No!’ Sean stood and ran. ‘Stop!’
On the game trail there was an irregular object, something that didn’t belong there, and Sean knew it was this that Benny had detected.
Benny stood, seemed to hesitate, but then turned and started to come back to Sean.
‘Stop!’ Sean called again to the woman, but either she didn’t hear him or Gemma was pulling so hard on her lead that the handler was concentrating all her attention on her dog. Gemma followed the scent all the way to the object in the pathway, with the woman in tow.
The woman stopped, at last.
‘It’s rhino horn. Right here, in the middle of –’
The night exploded.