Jarvis met Ross Kemp in the foyer of the Assembly Rooms hotel in Norwich at 08:30 and he was invited to have breakfast with him.
“It’s a ten-minute walk to the production company. Will you be all right, otherwise we’ll get a cab? Sorry, but I couldn’t help noticing you have a limp.”
“No, I’ll be fine and it’s very kind of you to ask me for breakfast.”
“No worries,” Ross Kemp said, “It’ll be useful to get some background, before we go and meet the producers. I must warn you that they’re young and very enthusiastic, and know about as much of Special Forces operations as I do. You probably remember Ultimate Force being shown back in 2002 and I bet it caused a few laughs. But in my defence, Chris Ryan had a small part in series one and did advise.”
“We missed the initial series but the re-runs were very popular with us.”
“What, for comedy value?”
Jarvis smiled politely, “Actually, we watched it in the hope that Caroline Walshe would get her kit off. We didn’t have many dealings with MI5. In the main our interface with the security services was through the SRR or 14 Int as it would have been known in your day.”
In the hotel’s dining room, they got to know each other over breakfast and multiple cups of coffee.
“So, you were actually there in the Tora Bora caves?”
“We were there for a short while, until we realised Bin Laden was long gone.”
“What was it really like?”
Jarvis stared vacantly at his scrambled eggs for a few moments. Inside he was back down there. Fire in the hole!
“It was frightening, frustrating, totally unglamorous with constant strain. I nearly lost it after coming out.”
“Well, we think that it’s a story worth telling and the production company is very on-side. I will warn you that you might find their enthusiasm somewhat…”
Ross Kemp smiled, “That’s the problem with docu-dramas. There’s a fine line between making something compelling for the viewer and being true to realism. Try and see it from their point of view. Don’t worry, I’m sure it will be fine. The meeting should have someone from the production company who will put their money into it, a producer and a scriptwriter. As the project progresses, you’ll have a closer relationship with the writers, as advisor.”
“What’s your involvement, Mr Kemp?”
“Ross. It was my idea after reading a book about the Tunnel Rats in Vietnam. It will be some of my money as well. I happen to think that it’s a story worth telling.”
“The tunnels in Vietnam were man-made. The caves at Tora Bora were naturally formed by water over the millennia. But the principle is the same. Fighting underground is awful. The trick will be to portray it as accurately as possible without losing the drama that would captivate a viewer.”
“So we need to do a good job then.”
It took around fifteen minutes to walk from the hotel to the production company and on arrival the desk phoned and someone came down to take them up to the large office on the upper floor. There were four people waiting for them including two writers, one who took notes, the executive producer and his assistant. The producer made the introductions and the assistant producer outlined the plot with story boards. It took about an hour and then they broke for coffee.
As they resumed, Jarvis was asked for his opinion. His reply was factual and he avoided upsetting the story writers.
“OK, first off we had been in Afghanistan for a few months prior to going into the caves. I note that your plot involves us being summoned to Hereford for a “special” mission, but that’s not how it happened. We weren’t helicoptered into the mountains; we drove there in “Pinkies?”
“Weapons mounted Land Rovers. And we walked quite a few miles to get to the caves. We left our interpreter back at the forward operating base, where the Americans had based some helicopters. So, it’s not inconceivable that we were helicoptered in. There were only a few of us at several different locations, about eight in my team, split into two teams of four.”
“Why did you leave the interpreter behind? Couldn’t he be trusted? Was he a local?” the producer asked.
“No, it was a she and she wasn’t local, although she was an Afghan. She was from the RAF and we nabbed her because she spoke the local lingo.”
The assistant producer was looking at Jarvis with a degree of interest after taking more notes, “She? What was she like?”
“A beautiful young woman who could be a pain in the backside, brave, resourceful, prickly and we admired and respected her.”
“Did any of you..?”
“God no. Not on mission. I think one of us did once we were home.”
“Could we use her in the story?”
“Only if you do the lead-up in theatre before we went to the caves. She was quite annoyed that we left her back at the FOB.”
“Couldn’t we have her go down with you and get captured and you have to rescue her?”
“Well we’ll work on that. Now once you were down in the tunnels, how did you see?” Asked the producer.
“We didn’t. It was all by smell, hearing and touch. We didn’t wash or clean our teeth in case they smelled us. It was totally dark, the only light was from the muzzle flashes of the weapons.”
“Did you use flamethrowers? It’s just that the viewer will find it terribly boring if they can’t see anything.
“We didn’t use flamethrowers because we would have asphyxiated ourselves. You can get round the problem by using NVGs, sorry, night vision goggles. You see everything through a greenish tinge. We didn’t actually use them because they give off reflected light onto the face of the wearer. Plus, they are constraining and you lose the other senses.”
“What about motion trackers?”
“You know, like the film Aliens. They show movement, like some kind of radar.”
Jarvis looked desperately at Ross Kemp, who looked back with a smile, as though saying, You’re on your own, pal.”
“Err, they don’t work because of all the rock around you.”
“Oh. Pity that.”
The meeting went on until just before midday when the assistant producer showed them revised story boards.
“They’re much better. I only have one, small criticism.”
Jarvis was back in Afghanistan, constant dust in his eyes, the smells of gun oil and damp sleeping bags, a beautiful girl staring through a keffiyah at him, violet eyes below a perpetual scowl. The thuds of the fifty-cal and the roars of aircraft, and her subtle but noticable aroma, like spices…
“You don’t do the interpreter justice. She was… Well, difficult to quantify. I thought she was beautiful, captivatingly beautiful.”
Jarvis realised they were all staring at him, “What happens now?”
“We’ll contact you with updates and there will be some more meetings. It would be good if you could attend the final production meeting and some of the shoots.”
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Jarvis said and shook their hands, “Thank you all and you, Mr Kemp.”
In the foyer of the television production company in Norwich, Jarvis came out of the stairwell doors, the same time as the lift doors opened across the other side of the lobby. He wore a suit that was a little tight across his shoulders. His hair was closely cropped to be non-existent and his face was hewn by a life spent outdoors and battered by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but his handsomeness had aged with him. He stared across at the two women who had come out of the lift. One obviously worked for the production company because of the identity badge on a ribbon round her neck. The other was a striking Muslim woman wearing a hijab.
Jarvis’ eyes narrowed and he strode across the foyer. He was convinced the Gods were playing tricks with his mind. The company woman gave a start and placed herself between the Muslim woman and the advancing man, who ignored her and went up to the woman in the hijab.
“As I live and breathe,” he said pleasantly, “If it isn’t the Gash with the ‘Tache.”
The woman from the television company looked at him with disgust and beckoned to the armed security guard by the main doors. She was amazed when the Muslim woman gave a gasp of pleasure and threw her arms round the man’s neck, which was slightly awkward because of her artificial right arm.
“Oh, Jarvis! It is you isn’t it. When was the last time?”
No it wasn’t. It was on board HMS Ocean in 2011, when I plucked up the courage to tell you that I loved you, but you were somewhere else, where the painkillers and morphine had taken you.
“And you remembered me after all these years. You haven’t changed a bit. Well…”
“I never forget an arse,” he told her solemnly, “And you’re a bloody liar. But in your case, you haven’t, apart from…”
“Can you wait for me? I just need to say goodbye to this lady.”
He nodded and the security guard stood down. He didn’t really relish having to try to forcibly eject the man in the suit. Outside on Edward Street Afarin put her good arm through Jarvis’s. She leaned into him, it was like their shared fears and hardships made the years irrelevant. They were a diminishing band of brothers.
“You fancy a spot of late lunch?” he asked her and she nodded gratefully, “But isn’t it your Ramadamadingdong?”
“I don’t bother with that crap,” she said light-heartedly.
They found a pub and as he waited for the drinks, Jarvis looked at all the fading photographs of American airmen. He wondered how many of the monochrome ghosts had died in spinning and burning bombers over Germany. They both had soft drinks and he carried across a couple of menus.
“Right”, she said, “You first, why were you in that television company and what the bloody hell happened to your hair?”
“I’ve been hired as a “military advisor.” Ross Kemp is doing a documentary of special forces operations in Afghanistan, particularly the Tora Bora cave complexes.”
“Am I in it, and who plays me?”
Jarvis grinned, “Well, we first thought of Kim Kardashian, but her arse wasn’t big enough, so we went for Nadiya Hussain. You set up your mobile bakery on the gun line, and when the plucky blades come back in, in their Pinkies, they can tuck into a nice Victoria Sponge with a mug of char, while you, or rather Nadiya smiles demurely at the camera.
“These TV boys have an overactive imagination and I suspect in the story, the Taliban were goingto do unmentionable things to you. I said you should be protrayed doing our washing and cooking us a nice meal when we got back.”
She laughed out loud, something she hadn’t done for a long time.
“My hair fell out when I was sick in hospital. They told me that it might never grow back, so I’ve adopted the Yul Brynner look. I hope you like it, right, your turn. What happened to your arm?”
“I got banjoed by Al-Shabaab on the Kenya, Somali border. Took two in the chest as well. A Kenyan SF guy I was with saved me. Luckily, he’d done a battlefield advanced trauma and life support course with the Israelis, under the reciprocal training agreement. They couldn’t save my arm though, too much damage. I wear this arm so I don’t frighten the kids. I’ve got a much better bionic one that gives me almost full function. It looks a bit scary though.”
“And what’s with the headscarf?” asked Jarvis bluntly.
“It makes me invisible in the town and cities and I can move around. It’s essential for my charity stuff. That’s why I was at the TV Company.”
He put his head in his hands, “Charadee, oh no way.”
The girl who had spoken up against a colonel in Afghanistan flared up at him, “Don’t you fucking judge me, Mr Jarvis, until you know what it is I actually do!”
Some people looked at them and she lowered her voice, “I do stuff that you bloody cowards daren’t. I took over an organisation that goes up against Muslim paedophile rape gangs. We target the enablers and the organisers. We go against their assets and we publicly shame them. Our workers are mainly Sikhs and former Gurkhas and they’ve all had military training for the strong-arm stuff. Our female workers are all ex-forces from medical, police or educational backgrounds. We work with the young white girls who have been raped and trafficked, because you weak and feeble lot, fucking daren’t. We target the Imams and the councillors who encourage and protect the perpetrators and sometimes senior police officers. We destroy them.
“And it’s difficult for the police. Politicians and media to ignore what I do, or rather try to close me down. I’ve learned from them and play the Muslim card at every cut and turn. The fuckers are terrified of me.”
Jarvis blinked at her, “Christ, I bet you’re popular! And I see your language hasn’t got any better.”
“Oh, I’ve had death threats. They call me the “One-armed Whore of Satan.” I had a contract put out on me and two men came for me one night.”
Jarvis was staring at her, a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach, “And?”
“And now they’re at the bottom of Ullswater, wrapped in carpets with breeze blocks. The man who put out the contract was hung upside down outside the mosque with a pig’s trotter taped in his mouth, pour encourager les autres. It was a cold night and I think he was glad by the time the Plods cut him down. Generally, I’m left alone now, although I make a point of checking under my car and varying my routes.”
“Are you carrying?”
“Always. You lot taught me that.”
“Jesus, Treacle. You forgot to tell us you’re a fucking psychopath,” Jarvis said in a passable cockney accent.
Afarin smiled, “Henry said that to me, so, so long ago. Where is he? What’s he doing?”
Jarvis’s face became drawn with sadness, “I’m sorry, Afarin, love. Henry died in the Congo a couple of years back.”
She bent her head forward so Jarvis couldn’t see her tears. He reached across the table and grasped her hands, both real and prosthetic.
“I really loved him you know. He was the first man I ever… The only one if I’m honest.”
They ate their meal when it came, exchanging lighter chit-chat, avoiding the subject of Henry Morrison and his marriage to Angela Keeble. Over coffees, the afternoon dragged on into early evening and they seemed reluctant to part company. Finally, Afarin said, “Jarvis, it’s been lovely, but I had better head off.”
He looked at her beautiful eyes, the empty years and the waste of his life, but he was terrified. Finally, he plucked up sufficient courage and decided, what the hell.
“Do you have anyone in your life, Afarin? I mean… Well, you know what I mean.”
“Errr no, what about you?”
He had something in his eyes, a faraway look that reminded her of leaning against a Hesco Bastion in Afghanistan, nearly twenty years ago. It was a look of loving sadness.
“No. Never have. Nothing meaningful, I guess. It’s one of the few things about my life that I regret. Look, you can laugh at me, or tell me to piss off, but the truth of the matter is we’re a pair of misfits. You have your admirable work, and I always said you were the bravest person I’d ever known. Why don’t we try to make each other happy for a little while at least? It probably won’t work out and we’ll devise intricate ways of killing one another, but in all honesty, we deserve a chance of, well happiness or something and what do we have to lose?”
Oh God yes. Please mean it Guy, “Are you sure? I heard you were living with a girl in Abergavenny.”
“I was, a long time ago, but she was looking for something I couldn’t give her then. Commitment and a child. She’s married to someone else and has everything she wanted. It makes me feel sad when I think about it, but I’m glad she’s happy.”
“As I once said to Henry, I’m not very good at this sort of thing, because I’m just not.”
“Well you’re in luck then, because neither am I.”
She looked at him evenly, a worried smile playing around her mouth. Inside she was writhing with the terror of rejection, because she didn’t deserve happiness. She knew that he had been in relationships with many women, and he was worldly wise.
“How do we play this, Guy? What will happen? What will we do?”
“Do? Well come back to my place in the Fens. If you don’t like its remoteness, then we’ll try plan B.”
“And what is plan B?” she asked.
He took her hand in his and smiled with an expression she couldn’t read. It was sadness for the years they had wasted and his love for her. He was as scared of rejection as she was.
“To be honest, there is no mapped out plan B. We just have to suck it and see, if you’ll pardon the expression.”
“And that’s the best you can do? Trust in fate?”
“Why not?” He said, “We’ve already lost too much time, wasted years.”
“Will you promise to look after me, to love me for what I am? A proper relationship where we share our lives, even the bad bits?”
“There will be good bits as well as some bad bits. We can face them together.”
She did the bravest thing she had ever done. She said yes.
A man with a battered face watched them leave the pub together and made a call to a mobile number.
“They’ve rendezvoused.” He said with a grin, “Hook, line and sinker.”
Jarvis gave her his post code for his house in the Fens and they headed west on the A47 and then the A17. She lost sight of his car in Holbeach, but followed the satnav into the Fens. She saw his car in a rather strange property, very remote and brooding. As she got out of the car, a chill froze her to the marrow.
“I know it’s a bit fusty, but will be fine once I’ve lit the fire. I’ve been living with Edge and his wife, since…””
Afarin looked at him, “Guy, I’m so sorry but we can’t stay here.”
“Why ever not?”
“Can’t you feel it? I’m unhappy, Guy. This place gives me the creeps.”
“That’s what Edge said.”
“Guy there is something malevolent about this place. I’m so sorry. Please don’t feel insulted, but come and stay with me.”
“Where do you live?”
“Wiltshire, near Swindon.” She told him.
“We’ll never make it tonight. We’ll have to stay in a hotel. There’s one just outside Spalding.”
Suddenly she felt terribly shy, “Separate rooms. I want to make love to you more than anything, but I want it to be special, not in some hotel like a… Do you mind?”
“No, of course not. We’ll take things nice and slowly, just as you wish.”
“Guy, I’m not getting cold feet. I’m like a furnace inside, but it has to be, to feel right. Please understand.”
“I do. You have my mobile number in case we get separated. See you there.”
As she followed him out of the drive, she looked in her rear-view mirror. It may have been a trick of the light, but she could have sworn there was a figure standing near the garage, holding something like a shotgun. She felt it the same way Edge had done. She had died twice.
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