Contains descriptions of sexual relations.
Her head was resting on his forearm, her body nuzzled up close to him. She was still asleep and he looked at her in the sparse light coming in between the curtains. Her body had multiple bruises and abrasions, her hair was dishevelled after sleep and she chewed her nails, but he thought she was beautiful. Her mouth was turned down slightly and it made her look stubborn and petulant. Her nose was aquiline, conveying her Persian heritage. She could trace her lineage back to Genghis Khan and the horsemen of the east. He could tell she was dreaming, because her eyes were moving behind closed lids. She moaned softly and moved in closer to his body.
Jean-Claude had realised she wasn’t an experienced lover, but this only added to her allure. He had been gentle and understanding, taking matters slowly. When she climaxed, she smiled dreamily at him and burst into tears. Because he was wise in such matters thanks to a longish sexual relationship with an older woman while he was at Cambridge, Jean-Claude knew the crying was a mechanism for reducing tension and intense physical arousal. He just held her while her dopamine and oxytocin levels went back down to normal.
She had been exhausted and the sex had been an intense relief from the life she had been living. There were a few sleepy words and a gentle intimacy of those who had shared their bodies, then she fell asleep. Jean-Claude leaned back on the pillows in the absolute conviction that Bartlett would kill him. With his arm going to sleep, he closed his eyes. When he opened them again, she was looking at him, as though staring into his soul.
“Hello,” he said.
She smiled and kissed him, “Good morning, Mr Guardian Angel of the morning.”
“Have you noticed something?” he asked.
“Apart from that strange protuberance you have down there, no?”
“This is an enormous bed, and I’m jammed into a small portion of it.”
“Then you shouldn’t try to run away,” she told him.
He opened the curtains, the suite being on the fifth floor, tied a dressing gown round him and went out onto the balcony. Below a Brittany Ferries ship was negotiating the narrow entrance to the harbour and he sniffed the air, smelling the sea. She got out of bed and went to the toilet and stepped in the shower. She hadn’t closed the en suite door and he lay on the bed and marvelled at her body. She was full breasted, narrow at the waist with a largish backside, hips and buttocks. When she moved, he could see the definition of her muscles and her flat stomach, topping the Delta of Venus. It was a body honed for a reason, even her hands were rough, the finger ends split and chafed. There was a small triangle of muscles above her buttocks, he took so much of her in, remembering the way she had felt against him.
Jean-Claude padded into the toilet and relieved himself with a long relaxing pee. Then he stepped into the shower and did his early morning ablutions, including a shave. When he was finished, she was back in the bed.
“Breakfast is on for another hour or so. Just come back into bed and we’ll decide what we’re going to do.”
Jean-Claude slid under the duvet and put his arm round her.
“You’re cold. I hope you’re a bit warmer tonight,” she observed.
“What do you want me to do, Afrain, now you’ve rumbled our cunning plan? Go back and face Bartlett’s firing squad?”
“I want you to stay with me and make love every night,” She had decided that as wonderful as the sexual act was, what she most enjoyed was the intimacy of being close to and giving herself to another person. Sex and death, the Yin and Yang of her life.
He had decided that she was beautiful, flawed, but she had a kind hearted nature, buried under a keratosis shell of self-defence. She was very tough and not a little murderous, as the Revolutionary Guard could attest. He wanted to explore her body and mind and he would worry about Bartlett when the time came.
“And what about today?” he asked.
“Dartmoor Prison and the moor.”
He was surprised, “Why?”
“The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
“Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett?” he asked.
“Jeremy Brett. Rathbone is hammy, although I think Jeremy Brett became too immersed in the role. I think he had bipolar disorder and I can sympathise.”
“I hope you’ve got a good pair of boots and waterproofs.”
She looked at him with a pitying expression, “I hope you have.”
“I came well prepared if a spot of outdoor observation was necessary.”
“Jean-Claude, you stick to doing whatever SIS officers do. I’ll do the observation.”
He pretended to look hurt and while she was distracted, he ran a finger between her breasts and down her stomach. She breathed out with a sigh and bit her lip.
Breakfast suddenly seemed unimportant.
They were standing in the shelter of Beardown Tors, while the rain lashed horizontally across the moor. The low cloud was coming down and the rain showed no signs of abating.
“No wonder nobody wants to escape from that place. If God was going to give the world an enema, this is where he’d stick the tube,” She was trying to light a soggy cigarette with a zippo flameproof lighter. It broke in half and she spat out the end and filter.
“Perhaps it’s God’s way of telling you that smoking is bad for you.”
“So are the JAM.”
“Fair point,” he conceded, “Near where I parked the car there’s a hotel. We should be able to get some coffee and warm up.” Her hair was plastered to her face and he gave her his beany hat.
“What are you going to use?”
“I’ve got a hood folded away. I’ll be fine.”
He looked at his compass and the fablon covered map, “This way.”
“Jean-Claude, I can see the bloody road from here. Don’t go all Alpha Male on me.”
“Very well then, lead and I will follow.”
“You’d better keep up,” she said and set off with a jog, deftly avoiding the tussocks and half-hidden rocks.
He was glad when they reached the road, but she kept the pace going, even faster. He was breathing heavily by the time they reached his car.
“You should try doing a forty-mile trek with a rifle and forty-five pounds in you backpack.”
“You had to do that? Even the girlies?”
“SAS, SBS and SRR, they don’t care if you have tits or it’s the wrong time of the month, you will have to operate with the men and do what they do. The really poor performers or borderline cases get to operate with MI6.”
He looked at her and realised she was joking, “Very droll. Let’s get a coffee.”
At the Two Bridges Hotel, they were asked to remove their boots and outdoor clothing. He ordered a coffee and she asked for a pot of tea. There was a roaring fire and the bar was quite busy, despite the weather. They settled into a corner and she went to the bar. She came back with a glass of brandy and pushed it across the table to him.
“I’ll drive back to the hotel in your car, if you trust me?”
“Thank you, Afarin. That is very kind of you.”
She smiled shyly. Her hair was endearingly dishevelled and he wasn’t used to seeing her without a hijab. It was a glossy, black colour, fairly short and easy to manage. She wore no make-up and frankly, she didn’t need to.
He sipped the brandy and sighed with contentment. He looked at her as she sipped her tea.
“Afarin, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Ask away, as long as it’s not, will you marry me.”
He smiled, “No, you’re safe. I wanted to ask you why you wear a hijab with western clothes.”
“Well, I am a Muslim.”
“But that’s not the only reason, is it? In fact, I don’t think it really is the reason”
She looked down as though mortified.
“It’s stupid, but… I wear it as a shield, a protective barrier, where I can hide my face and my feelings.”
“For God’s sake, why?”
“Because I’ve always felt like an outsider looking in. Thick at school with no friends, same in the air force, struggled with photo analysis. I’m not even a very good fuck, as you’ve probably realised.”
Jean-Claude leaned forward and took both of her hands with his. She avoided eye contact. He spoke very softly to her, unhappy that she had such a low self-esteem.
“Afarin, you have completed one of the toughest military courses in the world. You speak several languages. You are intelligent, tough and resolute, trusted by your peers and superiors. From the first moment I met you, I liked you and I count you as a close friend, very close, obviously. You are witty, you make me laugh and sharing a bed with you is a wonderful, joyful experience. Making love is not a competition, where you give yourself marks out of ten. It’s about a voyage of discovery, where you learn, teach and one day, have children in a loving relationship.
“If you wear a hijab, make it for the right reasons, not as a shield or a defensive barrier.”
She smiled reluctantly, “You’re so observant and sympathetic, Jean-Claude. I’m glad you’re my guardian angel.”
He finished his brandy, “Let’s head back to the hotel, unless you want to go somewhere else. I’m warm inside and out and would end up starting on their single malts and getting hammered.”
He handed her the car keys and pulled the hat over her head and hair.
“It’s still raining,” he said suddenly feeling self-conscious.
She was straddling him on her knees and Jean-Claude was thinking of the underground stations on the Bakerloo Line. She was getting close and so was he.
Maida Vale, Kilburn Park, Queens Park… Oh God! Kensal Green, Willes… Will…
The muscles in her thighs were in spasm and she arched backwards with a deep cry and then fell forward onto him. They rolled onto their sides and he looked into her eyes, pupils dilated as though she had taken belladonna. She still wasn’t in the room, then they focused and she looked at him, smiled and then her face changed and there were the tears. She wept for some time then went through the silent sob phase and finally relaxed.
“I really enjoyed that way of doing it, but why do I always cry like a bloody girl?”
He gently caressed her thighs to ease her tension, “Firstly, it’s precisely because you are a bloody girl, and that, Afarin Khan is the answer to your own question. That brain of yours triggers your body to produce hormones and chemicals. Dopamine provides you with love, lust, desire, whatever you want to call it and the motivation to seek it. Oxytocin engenders a deep feeling of togetherness and love. Breastfeeding women produce Oxytocin to bond with their babies. All of these chemicals are dumped into your bloodstream and you feel a powerful, emotional surge after lovemaking, so you cry.”
“Do men cry?” she asked.
“Only those men who are deeply in touch with their feminine side, The men who eat quiche and watch Friends. A woman is a complex organism, like a state-of-the-art Bang & Olufsen turntable with a graphic equaliser. You have to get everything just right. 60 to 200 hertz for low base. 200 to 600 hertz, mid-range for guitars and vocals, 3,000 – 8,000 hertz for violins. Get everything right and you can play beautiful music.”
“We are a Bush retro portable turntable. An on-off button and that’s about it. Any time, any place, anywhere. The sight of a pair of erect nipples, a shapely backside, a look in the eye and off we go. A woman gains sexual attraction through many means, location, feeling safe, trust, attraction and a good old pinch of lust.”
“Are you a psychologist, Jean-Claude?”
“No, I like women and I really like you. Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“I guess not.”
“Who was your first?”
“First and only. You know I was in Afghanistan and the SAS “borrowed” me? After a difficult start I was accepted as one of them. At first it was a case of just interpreting the locals for them, but then I started to provide them with intelligence, by reading between the lines and observing. I would go out as part of the four-man patrol in their Land Rover and they became by family and I grew to love them as a family.
“But two of them I liked very much and in a different way. There was Guy, a lovely man who looked after me, even before I was accepted. He was kind, patient and made sure I got the nice stuff from the ration packs, like the sweets and rice pudding. He was the man of any girl’s dreams, but then there was Henry, the patrol commander. He was a natural leader; it was easy for him. Guy was steady and kind, but I didn’t want kind, I wanted risk and danger. Inevitably they left and I was farmed out to the American, Australian Special Forces. The RAF seemed to forget about me and I was involved in a contact in Kabul, while I was with the Australians. I didn’t have a clue with the rounds coming at us, so I did the only thing I could, I administered first aid. Two of the Aussies died, one went while I held and talked to him. There was nothing I could have done to save him and that was the worst part. That was it and I knew I couldn’t cope without proper training. I’d had enough, so I phoned Henry and asked him to tell someone to get me out.”
Jean-Claude was looking at her with shock and sadness, “How old were you then?”
“On my post deployment leave he came and got me from RAF Marham and we stayed at a barn conversion he was doing. And that’s when… Don’t get me wrong, he was kind, gentle and patient, but he was driven. Sex to Henry was like an antidote to operations. It was good, but lacked the intimacy that I need. I guess I picked the wrong one.” She didn’t tell him about the second time with Henry in Basra. Doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
Jean-Claude looked at the ceiling, mulling over his thoughts. He looked at her and her eyes were closed.
“Afarin, given that you had such a terrible experience in Afghanistan, why did you apply for the Special Reconnaissance Regiment?”
She didn’t open them as she explained, “When I got back to Marham, everything felt different. I remembered the good times with the SAS more than the bad times. I had no home or family. My flight sergeant was horrible to me, “You may well have had a wonderful tour in Afghanistan, but it’s your bloody country, half the Taliban are related to you, but you’re back in Norfolk. You are also bloody useless at analysing data from RAPTOR pods, so get a grip and concentrate on your job.” I realised that I craved the intimacy of living in the field with those four men and I missed the exhilaration of what each patrol would bring.”
“My God, what a bastard you flight sergeant sounds!”
Now her eyes were looking earnestly at him and they were beautiful, “So, I noticed something in orders: Volunteers are required for special duties of an arduous nature, and I applied and was successful. Then I was streamed into the specialist roles because of my Ethnicity. MI5, I believe you call them “The Box” and I had a falling out. Alan Bartlett untangled me from the mess with MI5, regarding the shooting of the Brazilian electrician. I was causing too many waves. The rest as they say, is history.”
“Do you know that Alan looks on you almost as a daughter. He and his wife never had children, and he is very fond of you, in a paternal way. He will kill me when he finds out about us.”
She made patterns on his chest with her finger, “I am over twenty-one and a grown adult. Much as I like Alan and are grateful to him, he is not my father. OK, enough about me, your turn, Jean Claude. What made you decide to get your licence to kill me slowly with la petite mort? Did you watch James Bond films or are you more of a Smiley’s person?”
“I was more of a Carlton-Browne of the F.O. if the truth were known. I wanted a career in the diplomatic corps and did a stint as the assistant attaché in the embassy in Chisinau, Moldova.”
“That sounds so exotic.”
“Well, it wasn’t!” he said, shuddering as he remembered, “Two years of dealing with idiots who’ve lost their passports, complete arses who decided that it was a good idea to photograph a military airfield, social events that were like watching paint dry. I had a relationship go belly-up out there, a secretary from the French embassy and I really liked her. Seriously, Afarin, I suffered it for two years and the decided the Diplomatic Service wasn’t for me. I resigned the week I got back.”
“And you fell into the clutches of out resident spymaster.”
“I’d never thought of Alan Bartlett as a spymaster. What strange things we do in the service of our country.”
He got out of bed and made a pot of tea. While he waited for the kettle to boil, he looked at her thoughtfully.
“Afarin, I think we’ve established that you have no immediate plans to harm or kill yourself. This guardian angel’s job is done and you don’t need me hanging about, so I’ll head off back to London tomorrow morning. You can enjoy the rest of your holiday without me tagging along.”
He could tell straight away that he had said the wrong thing. Her face became darked and sure enough, her petulant mouth turned down.
“So, you’ve had your fun, a bit of rough and tumble with a little Paki scrubber, so now it’s home to London to report back. “She’s not a great fuck, Alan, but she’s coming on a treat! You bastard, Jean-Claude!”
He poured and gave her a cup of tea and she was tempted to throw it over him. He knew this was one of the sulks Bartlett had warned him of and it was difficult not to get angry with her. But he thought about everything she had gone through and to be fair, he had taken the guardian angel remit above and beyond the call of duty.
“What is it you want from me, Afarin?” he asked, beginning to feel exasperated.
She was silent for a long time, staring into her teacup, as though life’s meaning was there, “I need you to be with me. I’m not stupid, you’re not my happily ever after. We have shared our bodies and I really like you, but you’re never going to sweep me off my feet. I love being with you, feeling you next to me, but we’re never going to ride off into the sunset together, are we?”
He kept quiet.
“When my leave is over, I think Alan wants me to go overseas again. I have four weeks, well closer to three now, and I would like you to be with me, but most of all, I would like you to help me buy a house.”
“Me? Why on earth me? What do I know about buying property?”
“You have your own place, don’t you? So, you know the pitfalls. This is the big ask I have. Would you please act as power of attorney when I go overseas?”
Jean-Claude was deeply worried and he stirred his tea.
“Let’s get one thing straight, Jean-Claude. I didn’t let you have sex with me so I could ask this favour. You are kind and I know you have my interests at heart. The lovemaking just sort of happened, as though it was predestined. I explained to Alan as a condition of my going away and he said you were a good, honest man. He suggested you when I spoke with him at Oxford. I know I’m asking a lot from you and I wouldn’t blame you for saying no, but please consider it.”
He looked at her. The moody and sullen face was gone and she looked at him with the expectancy of a child. What he was struck by were the two sides to Afarin. The angry, self-contained and disciplined operative and the frightened, unsure girl who desperately wanted to be liked and loved.
“Why don’t we talk about it while we have a meal tonight? I quite like the thought of having a Chinese and there are a couple of restaurants in the city centre.”
“Is that so I don’t make a scene when you tell me, no you won’t?”
“Yes. Unlike you, I don’t have a knife.”
They had walked through the Barbican and found a Chinese restaurant below the Ho, overlooking the sound. An RFA was at anchor and the rain had cleared. The sky was dark blue with streaks of gunmetal and they looked out over the sound as the lights came on.
“This property, I take it you’ve viewed it?” Jean-Claude asked her.
“Yes, I looked it over when I drove down to Devon. It’s an ex-married quarter that’s empty at the moment. It’s in Wiltshire, up on the north side of Marlborough Downs. An old RAF hospital that’s closed down.”
“And what about money for a deposit? How much do you have, if you don’t mind my asking?”
When she told him, he was astonished, “How come you have so much?”
“Because I wasn’t paying for food and accommodation when I was in Basra, or the months before.”
“You’re in a very lucky position,” he told her, “You will have a small mortgage and you may get one on good rates in a bank. You’ll need to shop around.”
She grinned at him.
“Or I will. You’ll need a solicitor to draw up the act of attorney, so we need to do that as soon as you have a mortgage accepted in principle.”
“So, you will do it, please say yes?”
He looked out to the dark sound, “All right, I’ll do it, but we need to get the ball rolling tomorrow. An early night with no rumpy-pumpy. Tomorrow, you drive to Hereford and collect pay slips, a P45, just about all of your personal paperwork. I’ll book us a room in a hotel in Marlborough and have a look at the property. Is there a chain?”
“No. The developers who bought it from the Crown Estate haven’t sold it yet, so it’s empty.”
“Good. I’ll pay the bill and once we get back to the hotel, I’ll book us a room in Marlborough.”
She held his hand as they walked back to the hotel. Back in their room she cleaned her teeth, got undressed and slipped into bed. He joined her after five minutes.
“OK, that’s a room booked at the Lamb Inn. Lots to do tomorrow, so it’s sleep time.”
She cuddled up next to him and kissed him, “Thank you, Jean-Claude. You mean everything to me and I’m so grateful.”
He closed his eyes, inundated by her body and her scent. I must be mad; he thought and went to sleep.
She stayed awake a little longer. Making love was marvellous, but it was his proximity and intimacy she really craved.
He awoke briefly during the night, as though he had forgotten where he was, but then she moaned softly in her sleep. He put his arm round her, smiled and fell back into sleep. Perhaps she wasn’t alone in requiring intimacy.
© Blown Periphery 2022