CHAPTER 1 BRIGANDS
Violent altercations at the biker music festival known as the Rebel Tea Party in August 2008 led to a brutal gang war between the Brigands Motorcycle Club and their bitter rivals the Vengeful Bastards. The stabbings, shootings, and property destruction climaxed in October when Brigands national president Ralph “the Führer” Donnington ordered a series of successful arson attacks on Vengeful Bastard clubhouses.
But the Brigands’ triumph was short-lived. A random police stop on a suspicious vehicle unearthed homemade incendiaries intended for another Brigands attack. Two members of South Devon Brigands were arrested and a search of their London hotel room led to the seizure of
firearms, sixty thousand pounds in cash, and a laptop containing incriminating e-mails. The messages mentioned the arson attacks on clubhouses and contained financial records relating to South Devon Brigands’ illegal weapons-smuggling operation.
Eight of the nineteen full members of South Devon Brigands were arrested and charged. Further searches led to more evidence of criminal activity and the arrest of twenty additional bikers, from other Brigands chapters and associate gangs.
Despite this success the Führer remains in control of the Brigands. But with many close associates in jail he can no longer separate himself from his gang’s day-to-day criminal activities. After years of evading imprisonment the Führer is more vulnerable than ever before.
—Excerpt from an internal police memo written by Chief Inspector Ross Johnson, head of the National Police Biker Task Force (NPBTF) January 2009.
* * *
James Adams cupped his hands under a faucet, splashed tepid water up towards his face, and looked at his reflection in a mirrored bathroom cabinet. He’d let his hair grow shaggy and had straw-colored bristles across his face. His acne was behaving itself, except for the red volcano near his Adam’s apple.
James was going for the biker look, wearing wrecked Nikes, oil-stained jeans, and a sleeveless AC/DC T-shirt. The effect was completed by an oversized chrome belt buckle shaped like a skull. He flexed his thick arms and felt good about the way he looked: muscular shoulders, big biceps, and thick tufts of hair in his pits. A recent
growth spurt would be his last and had left him dead on six feet tall.
“Hey there, beautiful,” James told himself. Then he tried to look menacing. He shot a fist towards the mirror. “What are you staring at?” he shouted. “You wanna start something? See where it gets you, you Tottenham-supporting nerd. Bang!”
James laughed as the imaginary Tottenham fan crumpled to the ground, but there was no one else in the house to hear. He’d established his identity as James Raven the previous summer while living here with a mission controller and two younger agents, but he was living alone on this second phase of the mission. The back story was that he’d fought with his parents, quit studying A-levels, and absconded to his family’s Devon holiday home to pursue a career as a full-time rebel.
James grabbed a black leather jacket and slid it up his arms as he bolted downstairs. He then took his keys and cell phone from a crystal bowl by the front door. #69 took him into the handset’s hidden phonebook where he tapped the number for his mission controller, John Jones.
“No sign of the Führer yet, boss,” James told him. “Gonna be at least fifteen minutes late.”
John’s placid voice came back through the phone. “When was the Führer ever on time?”
“Is everything at your end set?” James asked. “Kerry OK?”
“Great,” John agreed. “Kerry knows her stuff.”
“We can’t let the Führer off the hook,” James said seriously. “I’ve been on his arse for more than ten months.”
“Any butterflies?” John asked.
“Sweaty palms, stomach churning,” James admitted. “I’ve done enough missions now, but there’s always a few tense moments.”
John laughed. “Expect it’ll be your last time if this goes down right.”
“Better go, they’ll be here soon,” James said, feeling stunned as he dropped the Samsung into his jeans.
Your last time.
The three words made James feel like someone had smashed a brick around his head. He thought about his missions: Help Earth, KMG, Arizona Max, Leon Tarasov, the Survivors, the AFA, Denis Obidin, Mad Dogs, Street Action Group. Was the Führer his last target? Was today the final act of his CHERUB career?
The idea sent a sad ache through James, and remembering what he’d seen in the mirror upstairs made him sadder still. CHERUB agents were kids. They were effective because they were small and innocent and adults didn’t suspect them. But James was no child. He was seventeen years old. He had the kind of imposing physique that people crossed the road to avoid, and his stubbly face and bent nose looked about as innocent as a Russian battle tank.
A tear welled, but the adrenaline kick nixed it when he heard the Führer’s Mercedes. It rumbled into his cul-de-sac, skimming past fancy houses before crunching up the gravel drive. The E-class was a brute. Top of the line AMG sports model, with a V8, blacked-out windows, fat tires, and fancy alloys.
James recognized the three men inside as he
grabbed a rear door on the passenger side. The Führer was in the driver’s seat, short and poisonous with his miniature Hitler-style mustache. The front passenger was Rhino, a biker and long-time Brigands associate who’d never actually joined the gang. In the back was Dirty Dave. Bald and with a thick mustache, he owned half of the strip clubs and massage parlors in South Devon.
“Morning all,” James said as he lowered himself onto to the tan leather.
He was surprised to get shoved back out by Dirty Dave. “What’s on your back?” he barked angrily.
James panicked as he realized he was still wearing his biker jacket. It bore the patch of the Monster Bunch, marking James out as a member of this feeder gang to the Brigands.
“Wear your patch in a car,” the Führer growled, shaking his head contemptuously as he reached under the dashboard and pulled the lever to open the boot. “Shit for brains.”
For outlaw bikers the colored insignia on the back of their jackets was sacred. They often traveled in cars, but it was against the rules to wear your club patch while traveling on more than two wheels.
James backed up and jogged to the rear of the car. The interior of the trunk was huge. There was a pink golf bag belonging to the Führer’s wife and two leather Brigands jackets folded lovingly so that the patches were on display. More significantly James saw two baseball bats, a pair of crowbars, and a cricket bag bulging with guns and ammunition boxes.
“Let’s go make money!” Rhino said cheerfully as James slammed his door and the eighteen-inch alloys spun in the gravel.
* * *
Their destination was Kam’s Surf Club, a dozen miles east of Salcombe. Two stories high, the restaurant hung precariously close to a cliff’s edge, its blue planks weathered by salt spray off the sea below. Kam’s food was a mix of noodles and burgers, with a fifties-style counter, vintage jukebox, and surf memorabilia hanging off the walls.
The joint would be packed come tourist season, but that was a couple of months off, and the only customers at two on a Tuesday afternoon were German backpackers, cocooned in a romantic bubble as they shared a calamari platter and watched waves crashing in the rocky cove below.
“Service!” the Führer boomed as he came through the door. “Mr. Kam, stop frying them rats and get your dirty yellow can out here.”
The Germans were unnerved by the presence of four aggressive looking bikers. James was last through the swinging doors, eyeing the tanned legs emerging from the female backpacker’s cut-off jeans as he recognized Johnny Cash playing “Ring of Fire” on the jukebox.
The chef and owner came out of his kitchen. Kam was stocky, with his straight black hair tied in a ponytail, and a striped apron around his waist. He smiled at the Führer, but body language made it clear he was the last person Kam wanted to see.
The Führer turned to James. “Get the VHS.”
As James headed towards the service counter, Dirty Dave stepped up to the two backpackers. The girl looked at her boyfriend. He was chunky, going for the lumberjack look in his plaid shirt and Aran sweater, but he’d never thrown a punch in his life.
“I don’t want trouble,” the German said in stilted English as he raised his hands.
Dirty Dave stopped half a step shy of the table. The Germans recoiled as he reached over and rammed a piece of battered calamari into his mouth.
“Tasty,” he said, nodding as he chewed. “Dirty Dave likes a bit of the old octopus.”
The female backpacker glanced anxiously at her man. James spoke no German, but it didn’t take a genius to translate Let’s get the hell out of here.
Dirty Dave reached towards his trousers. The German flinched, thinking he was going for a weapon, but instead Dave hooked his thumbs around his belt loops and yanked down his jeans. The woman caught the briefest glance of Dirty Dave’s flopping penis before shooting back from the table and screaming.
“How’s about some English sausage?” Dirty Dave sneered. “Let me show you the real reason we won the war.”
The male backpacker took a twenty from his wallet and threw it at the table before grabbing his girlfriend and the backpacks and hurrying towards the exit.
“Aww, come on, baby!” Dirty Dave shouted as he waddled after them with his filthy jeans around his knees. “Why play so hard to get?”
Rhino and the Führer howled with laughter as James
stepped behind the counter. Amidst the dishwashers and beer kegs was a dilapidated security recorder. James ejected the VHS and held it in the air.
“Got the tape, boss,” he called.
“Don’t leave it behind,” the Führer ordered, then turned towards Kam wearing a sarcastic grin. “Why the sour face?” he teased.
“How can I pay you when you throw out my customers?” Kam shouted furiously.
The Führer laughed. “Two customers makes a difference? You had this place heaving all last summer. You owe me three weeks. That’s seven hundred nicker.”
“Four fifty,” Kam corrected.
“Price shoots up when you don’t pay me.” The Führer snarled menacingly before grabbing Kam’s apron and pulling him close. “Don’t think that I’m letting things slip just because a couple of my men are behind bars.”
“I can’t pay so much in winter,” Kam squirmed. “You see how many customers I have.”
“These old wooden buildings burn easy,” the Führer threatened as his hands made the shape of an explosion. “Poof.”
“Who else is home?” Rhino asked.
“Just my wife and the translator you asked for,” Kam answered. “Back in the kitchen.”
“Get ’em out here in plain sight!” Rhino shouted to James.
As James forced the VHS tape into his leather jacket, he stepped through an archway into a spacious and impeccably clean kitchen. The first woman he saw was Kam’s wife, Alison. She was dressed to wait on tables
in white pumps and a pale blue minidress. The other woman was Kerry Chang. Kerry was a sixteen-year-old CHERUB agent and James’s current girlfriend, but he couldn’t let on that he knew her, and they avoided eye contact.
“You two bitches get out here,” James said forcefully.
Alison stepped out of the kitchen as James checked around to make sure nobody was hiding. As Kerry walked by, she gave James a tiny smile and silently mouthed, “All good.”
“Aww, look at this little piece!” Dirty Dave leered, admiring Kerry as she emerged from the kitchen. “Mag-bloody-nificent, though a boob job wouldn’t go amiss.”
Kerry was self-conscious about her small chest, and James felt like punching Dirty Dave’s face in as the mustached biker sidled up to his girlfriend.
“So you’re our little ching-chong Chinese translator?” Dave asked, placing one hand on Kerry’s shoulder and sliding it down her back. “You want my number, baby? Me dig Asian girls.”
Dirty Dave made Kerry’s stomach churn. He not only had cigar breath and BO, but she’d read police reports about girls who’d been abused inside his clubs but were too scared to give evidence against a member of the Brigands. Kerry had the skills to flip Dirty Dave like a pancake, but she was on a mission and had to play her part by backing off and looking suitably repulsed.
“She’s a bit young,” Rhino commented as he looked at Kam. “You sure she’s up to translating?”
“Why can’t you do it?” Dirty Dave added.
Kam spoke furiously. “Because I don’t speak bloody Chinese. I grew up in Exeter, you understand? And my bloody mother was from the Philippines, not China.”
Kerry took a half step back as Dirty Dave’s hand reached her bum. He jerked her back and made like he was about to kiss her. Fortunately the Führer stepped in before she had to push him away.
“Hands off, Dave,” the Führer warned. “You’ve got enough pussy. We need this one for the meeting upstairs.”
Dirty Dave was put out by the rebuke. He couldn’t take it out on the Führer, so he strode briskly across the floor and slugged Kam in the stomach.
“Nice shot!” Rhino laughed as Kam doubled up in pain.
“Where’s our money?” the Führer demanded. “Little yellow bastard. I bet you’ve got a hundred grand under the bed, ain’t you?”
“I’ll pay as soon as I can,” Kam gasped.
“You see this boy here, Mr. Kam?” the Führer shouted, pointing at James.
Kam nodded as he straightened up. James had no idea why the Führer was pointing at him.
“James is my up-and-comer,” the Führer explained as he eyeballed Kam. “He’s young, but he’s hard as nails and I’m putting him on your case. He’ll be coming round here regular to collect your payments. If you don’t pay, expect pain.”
“Why don’t you leave him alone?” Alison shouted as the Führer shoved her husband towards James.
“Show our man what you can do,” the Führer told James.
Two factors had enabled James to infiltrate the Führer’s inner circle during the previous months: His advanced combat skills made him the ideal person to have on your side during a war between biker gangs, while his youth made the Führer think he was too young to be an undercover cop.
James had no problem when it came to thumping a member of another biker gang, but a hard-working civilian like Kam was entirely different.
“What shall I do?” James said awkwardly.
“Mess him up,” Dirty Dave urged. “Your choice. Smash his fingers or something.”
James had to think fast. Most young bikers would do anything to impress the Führer. He didn’t want to hurt Kam badly, but he couldn’t back off without destroying his credibility.
“Can’t break his fingers, can I?” James said casually, trying to buy time. “Chef can’t earn money with a broken hand.”
The solution came to James in a flash. He grabbed Kam around the back of the neck and gripped his right arm. Kam was stocky and almost as strong as James, but with no combat experience Kam had no idea how to defend himself as James expertly wrenched his arm behind his back.
From this position the easiest thing would have been for James to snap the arm, but instead he gripped Kam’s bicep and violently twisted his upper arm, causing a crunching sound as his shoulder joint dislocated.
James had suffered this injury during combat training a couple of years earlier. A dislocated shoulder
looked dramatic and was extremely painful, but was much less serious than a broken bone. A doctor could relocate Kam’s joint. He’d be stiff for a few days, but fully recovered within a week.
Not that Kam appreciated James’s consideration as he crumpled to the floor.
Alison charged towards James and screamed as Rhino, Dirty Dave, and the Führer laughed appreciatively. James didn’t want to hurt Alison, so he intercepted her painted nails as she tried to claw his cheek and gave her a shove. She stumbled backwards into a table, tipping it up and sending condiments and a napkin dispenser crashing to the floor.
As Kerry rushed over to calm Alison down, James put on a show of menace, spitting on the floor in front of Kam’s face and pounding his fist into his palm.
“I’d stay down if I was you,” James warned. “And next time I see you, you’d better have our money or I’ll be sticking your hand in the deep fryer.”