Contains descriptions of sexual relations.
He had never seen him so angry. Bartlett didn’t do shouting anger, but he was extremely good at cold fury.
“The responsibility of Guardian angels is to watch over people during their entire lives, many different religious traditions say. This was quite an easy remit, even for you, Jean-Claude. Look after Afarin and prevent her from harming herself. As their name implies, guardian angels are often seen as working to guard people against danger. No part of their duties includes introducing their penises to the person they are supposed to be watching over.”
“Mr Bartlett, both of us are over the age of twenty-one and we…”
“You had a duty of care and you abused that position!”
Soon it would be: You’ve let yourself down. You’ve let the department down and you’ve let me down.
“She made the first move and I can assure you, she is no delicate little violet. She has slaughtered people, and I’ve seen a body of a man who killed himself with a shotgun. There wasn’t much of his head left.”
“Don’t change the subject! I will be pleased when she goes to Israel, away from your predatory clutches.”
Jean-Claude never thought himself to be a predator, but now apparently, he was, “That sounds bloody ridiculous. I too have her best interests at heart and neither of us set out to have sex, it just happened. A few hours before she had a knife at my neck. She decided, not me. It is Afarin who is predatory.”
“Next you’ll be telling me that you feel used.”
“Will there be anything else, Mr Bartlett?”
“How’s the house buying going?” his tone was totally different, the Jean-Claude/Afarin troth forgotten for now.
“I guess we’re at the finalising the mortgage and offer of a purchase stage. This will take at least a month, but I have power of attorney, so I can sign off the last of the documents.”
“Where did she decide to buy in the end?” asked Bartlett.
“Place near Swindon, just north of Marlborough Downs. It’s an old Service married quarter. It needs a coat of paint and the garden in a little overgrown, so I was hoping to do some work on it during a couple of days leave. Where is she going in Israel, or is it a state secret?”
“She’ll be training with the Mista’arvim counter-terrorism units of the Israel Defense Forces who operate undercover. Such units are specifically trained to assimilate among the local Arab population. They are commonly tasked with performing intelligence gathering, law enforcement, hostage rescue and counter-terrorism, and to use disguise and surprise as their main weapons. Or at least that’s what the blurb says.”
“But that’s what she already does, surely?”
Bartlett had a calculating look, “The British have had a poor military and political relationship with Israel for many years now. As a nation we became fixated with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, and it doesn’t help that our main opposition party is infested with antisemites and our establishment and royalty is obsessed with Arab relations and that includes the monarch’s love of racehorses. When Israel defends itself from rocket attacks, they are decried as war criminals. When it comes to undercover operations involving Arabs, Israel is second to nobody. We have a lot to learn from them, but Afarin has done this for real. I think there’s a great deal we can learn from each other.”
Jean-Claude looked at Bartlett thoughtfully, “Do you think that the fact Afarin is a Moslem might cause some problems among the Israeli army personnel?”
“If it does it won’t be from her. She is very professional, unlike some people.”
Jean-Claude sighed mentally. How long was Bartlett going to drag this out?
“How’s her learning Hebrew going? I take it she is shacked up in your place?”
“Do you mean, is she staying with me, before jetting off? She wears headphones and listens at night in bed. It’s driving me mental and I have to sleep on the sofa.”
Bartlett chuckled, “I hope her language skills are being honed in your bed, rather than other skills.”
“She has low esteem. That Hijab is a mask and a protection from the world. And yet when she works undercover, she is brave, resolute and confident.”
“Do you know that she upset the now head of the Metropolitan police and MI5 washed their hands of her. She had become an embarrassment and they wanted her gone. You know what that would have meant for her?”
“Yes, Alan. Committed under the mental health act and ending up in a secure unit, drugged out of mind.”
“Do you see why I took an interest in her?”
Jean-Claude stared out of the bomb-proof glass at the Thames below. He had a feeling that while some things never changed, he was now living and operating in an organisation that was rotten to the core, or rather a rotten government and establishment.
“Yes. She owes you a debt of gratitude, Alan. We both do.”
“Jean-Claude, I can understand why you were drawn together. Sometimes the more complex the character, the more they engender certain feelings. What are your feelings for her? What do you want from her?”
He looked at Bartlett, “Honestly? I want nothing from her. We were thrown together and after all, you wanted me to be her guardian angel, not Ava, not Annete, but me. It was a responsibility I took seriously, but events conspired. I still want nothing from her, but I think she was looking for something from me. I believe, Alan, that she wants to sample life, all aspects of it, so that one day she will know what she wants.”
“Could you ask her to meet me at the Tate Modern at 13:00 on Monday. That will give you and her a weekend together, before she flies out to Israel. What are you running with at the moment, Jean-Claude?”
“Sharon’s agents have picked up on a potential jihadi attack on the Imperial War Museum in Manchester. We’re cross-referencing the suspects with the returning jihadi list. We’re passing everything through to MI5 via you. There should be a report in your in-box.”
“How mature is their plan?”
“Just a few ideas for delivery posted on the dark web. Drones and even a guide dog with a suicide vest.”
“I’ll look at the report this evening. You get off, Jean-Claude and we’ll talk about our jihadi chums tomorrow.”
Jean-Claude went and got changed into his cycling gear. He had plenty of time to think on the ten miles back to his flat and near the railway station he bought some items for their dinner. He carried the lightweight racer up to his flat on the first floor and locked it in the hallway. She was asleep, a book about the history of Israel, open on the floor. He didn’t disturb her and went for a shower and when he came out, she was awake.
“Hello,” he said, “What have you been up to today?”
“I went to Kew Gardens. Look, I’m really sorry. I feel so guilty not cooking you something for when you get home. It’s just that I’m a terrible cook. I told you that I’d make a lousy wife.”
“You have other endearing qualities though. Don’t worry, I’ll cook some chicken with pinto beans and tomato sauce. We can have a nice night in.”
“Did Alan tell you what I’ll be doing in Israel?”
“No,” he lied, “But he wants to see you in the Tate Modern at 13:00 on Monday. How’s the Hebrew going?”
“I can understand and speak it reasonably well, but writing is difficult. I tend to mix up Hebrew words with Arab writing.”
He cooked two chicken breasts in the oven, on a bed of beans and a rich tomato sauce. They ate it sitting on the sofa, relaxed and watched a DVD set of The Sopranos, then went to bed. She didn’t want sex and was quite content to lie next to him, feeling his closeness. Out of the blue she said something that surprised and troubled him.
“Jean-Claude, I’m scared about going to Israel.”
“I don’t know. I’ve been trying to put my finger on it and I just can’t.”
“Tell Alan on Monday. I’m sure he’ll understand and find something else for you to do. Why do you think that way?”
She was quiet for a long time, plucking up the courage to tell him the real reason, “I’m afraid that I’m antisemitic. I don’t like or trust Jews.”
“Many people don’t,” Jean-Claude told her, “Just go there with an open mind and be professional, as I’m sure you will. You’re not alone. In 1997 there were twenty-three cases of assault and extreme violence on the Jews in this country. Last year there were over 120. It’s becoming more prevalent, widely normalised in the Labour Party and I hate to say this…”
“Yeah, I know. My lot, Muslims. I don’t wish them harm, it’s just that I don’t approve of the things they do in the Middle East, the way they treat Palestinians for example.”
“I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, they gave Gaza back to the Palestinian and they were thanked with terrorist attacks and rockets, fired indiscriminately at Israeli centres of population. And another country, Iran does not recognise Israel’s right to exist. Just think what that means, its citizens have no right to live.
“And with all the wealth and resources round the Middle East, why won’t an Arab country provide sanctuary? Because they are a de-stabilising influence. The Jordanians kicked them out, so did the Lebanes and the Egyptians are content to see the Gaza as belonging to Palestine. It suits the grievance and ensures they remain a thorn in the side of Israel.
“Israel is a democracy, the only one in the countries surrounding it. The Gaza Strip and to a lesser extent the West Bank are run by terrorists. Do you remember a few years back, the spate of bombs on busses in Israel? The Israeli’s were much criticised for killing the masterminds of the attacks.
“What about that poor, innocent cleric Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan? Hassan was a Palestinian imam and politician. He was a founder of Hamas. Yassin also served as the spiritual leader of the organization. Yassin was the dominant authority of the Hamas leadership, which was directly involved in planning, orchestrating and launching terror attacks carried out by the organization. In this capacity, Yassin personally gave his approval for the launching of Qassam rockets against Israeli cities, as well as for the numerous Hamas terrorist bombings and suicide operations. In his public appearances and interviews, Yassin called repeatedly for a continuation of the ‘armed struggle’ against Israel, and for an intensification of the terrorist campaign against its citizens. He was killed by a missile fired from an Israeli helicopter while he was being wheeled from morning prayers. He was an evil bastard who lived by the sword.”
She went up on her elbow to look at him, “Jean-Claude, are you a shill for the Israeli Defence Force?”
“No, I work in counter-terrorism and saw the bus and the dead bodies in the bus at Tavistock Square, back in 2005. I can remember the body parts hanging from the trees around the square. I never wast to see anything like that again. I guess the Israelis feel the same way when school busses are targeted by Hamas and it’s bits of their kids hanging from trees.”
She stared up at the ceiling in the darkness, “I apologise for saying that. It was meant to be flippant, but in the context, you mention, it sounded crass.”
He put his arm around her and cupped her breast, “Don’t go with any preconceived notions, Afarin. Take the experience for what it is and learn from it.”
He kissed her and fell asleep quite quickly. She remained awake the thoughts swirling round in her head. She was going through the worries and trepidation of anyone who is starting a new job. When she woke up, he had gone to work.
At Vauxhall Cross, Bartlett was holding the Friday morning briefing with his team. Sharon was outlining a potential plot to attack the Imperial War Museum using suicide vests on dogs or possibly drone attacks.
“Do you have any suspects or names, Sharon?” Bartlett asked.
“Two. Parinoush Mahar and Daffi Hashmi, both of Pakistani heritage and living in northern England, probably Doncaster. They were just names, nothing concrete to connect them with any plot. A third man, Gamal Kirmani is a well-known associate but there are no communications to link them. Kirmani is a frequent traveller to Brussels and the Molenbeek area. We’ve passed this information to the “Box” while we keep an eye on Kirmani when he’s out of the country.”
“But no connection to the plot?”
“No Mr Bartlett, they’re clean skins.”
“Well, we’ll have to maintain a watching brief for now,” Bartlett told them, “We’ve plenty of other potential Islamic terrorists to keep our eyes on. What do you have, Eva?”
“There is concern of an Iranian attack on a British bulk carrier in the Persian Gulf. We have asked the MoD to deploy a warship with a large contingent of Marines to the area, specifically to defend the transit of large, British registered ships. The problem is having no diplomatic presence in Iran, but as we know, the Straights are always a vulnerable area for shipping.”
An officer called Julian was making notes about the meeting, so Bartlett had left him until last, “Anything from you, Julian?”
“We’ve got an agent I’m running in Central Sulawesi. There is on-going conflict between the Indonesian security forces and terrorists, including attacks upon police and civilians most recently in May 2021. This conflict is predominantly concentrated in the Poso region. I’m afraid that the security situation in Indonesia is deteriorating. I’ll send a suggested amendment to the FCO travel advice upstairs. There is a report condensing the department’s activities on the shared drive for you to access.”
“Thank you all. I’ll read it and brief Sir John on Monday. I have a meeting with the “Cousins” this afternoon. If I don’t see you after it, have a good weekend. Could you come into my office please, Jean-Claude.”
He followed his boss and shut the office door. Bartlett looked at him.
“Have a seat. Now, about Afarin. What have you told her regarding Israel?”
“Only that that is where she will be going. Nothing about the Mista’arvim.”
“That’s good. They want her to prove she has the necessary initiative just by giving her a place and a time to rendezvous, and however she gets there will be entirely up to her.”
Jean-Claude thought about her concerns and prejudice, but decided not to tell Bartlett.
“She will be flying out of Stanstead at 08:00 on Tuesday morning. A flight has been booked for her and I have some joining instructions, which I’ll give her on Monday. Would you please take her to the airport, Jean-Claude?”
“Have the rest of the day off. Have a good weekend, treat her to a meal and no distractions.”
“I will and thank you Mr Bartlett.”
Jean-Claude set out on his cycle ride home and stopped at a chemist in Richmond. He bought an olive oil and beeswax massage cream, which was fifteen pounds for a small tube. He went into his flat and Afarin was sitting at the table, writing. She looked up when he came in and smiled.
“You’re early,” she said to him. Jean-Claude pulled out a chair and sat opposite her.
“What are you writing?” he asked.
“My CV in Hebrew.”
“My goodness, you are taking this seriously.”
He went into the bedroom to get changed and her military kit was laid out on the bed. It consisted of an MTP set of fatigues, a reversible puffer jacket, her ID discs and a beret. Jean-Claude picked it up and looked at the badge. Inside the beret was a pair of Kevlar reinforced, combat gloves, well-worn like the rest of her kit. The material of the beret was steel grey and the cap badge depicted a Corinthian helmet with a sword. Finally, he picked up her boots which was a well-worn pair of Valsetz. And of course, the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife with its calf sheath. A bergen stood by to receive all of this kit.
A part of him felt an irrational envy that she was in the military, but both of them were serving their country, but in different ways. He had a Walther PPK locked in the top drawer of his desk, old but functional and he had once fired his issue Glock in anger, but Jean-Claude regretted that he had never joined the Armed Forces, perhaps as a fighter pilot, assuming he made the grade. And he stared at her kit, part of a separate life. He went back through to the living room.
“I’m sorry, Jean-Claude. I meant to clear that stuff away.”
He sat down opposite her and took her hands in his, “Don’t worry. I have to treat you this weekend, a slave to your every whim. Those are Alan’s orders, with which I am happy to comply. Now what do you want to do this weekend?”
“I need to get some girlie stuff, seamless briefs and a couple of sports bras. I don’t usually wear a bra, or underwear in the field as you know, but if I’m going to be doing any running or sport, they do jiggle. Oh, and some moisturiser, deodorant and stuff like that”
He closed his eyes and went: “Mmmmmmm, jiggling girls. It reminds me of school days, watching netball.”
She put her head in her hands, “You bloody perv. I need to go to an outdoor pursuits shop for socks, survival gear and a couple of Silva compasses, puritabs. I would really like a military marching compass, but they’re too heavy when you run.”
Jean-Claude thought about this, “I think there’s an outdoor pursuits outlet at Amersham, next to a large Tesco superstore. We can go tomorrow. I don’t feel like cooking tonight, let’s go out for a meal.”
She started to pack the bergen while he had a shower and all the while she smiled to herself. Jean-Claude was a kind, gentle man, who made her smile. Did she love him? She wasn’t sure. Love, whatever that was, but she had given herself to him willingly. Did he love her? She wasn’t sure and didn’t care a jot. They were of the here and now. Who knew what the future held?
That evening she got ready, once again wearing the long, silk dress. Jean-Claude was bowled over by her simple beauty and hugged her while they waited for the taxi, as though he didn’t want to let her go. They went to a Middle-Eastern restaurant in Hounslow and had a long, slow meal. Her eyes seemed to glimmer in the candle light on the table and in the ride home, they clung together. She ran a finger down his cheek.
“Will you miss me, Jean-Claude.”
“Yes, Afarin, but by the time you get home, you’ll own your own house.”
They couldn’t wait to get out of the taxi back at his flat and she got straight into his bed. They made slow, languid love and afterwards, lay next to each other chatting about nothing in particular. She turned on her side, nestled into him and went to sleep. He still lay awake thinking, staring into the darkness, while he heard her deep breathing. He thought a great deal about Israel and what would be waiting for her in a strange country.
Bring her home safely, please…
The next morning, they set off on the M25 and took the A413 to Amersham. It was a glorious May morning and the hedges and trees were full of bright green, new growth. They parked in the superstore car park, near to the Mountain Warehouse. They went into the Tesco first and she chose five pairs of black, seamless briefs. She also chose three black sports bras, while he went shopping for food and wine and soft drinks for her.
In the outdoor shop she bought two, khaki buffalo shirts, five pairs of socks, a marching compass and a map case. She spent a fortune
“Keep your receipt and you can claim it back on departmental expenses,” Jean-Claude told her, “Is there anywhere else you want to go?”
She thought for a few moments, “I’d like to go and have a look at RAF Halton. It’s up the road the other side of Wendover.”
They drove up the A413 for some ten miles and she directed him past the camp and up the into the hills, along a narrow road. There was a clearing and he parked the car while she went and looked down at the camp. She was quiet for a long time, looking down at the parade square and the barrack blocks. He went and stood next to her.
“I went in those gates and I never saw my family again,” she told him, “Six years ago. It was the start of my journey. Halton turned me from a child to an adult.”
She smiled sadly at him and took his hand, “And you, Jean-Claude have turned me into a woman.”
He embraced her and put his mouth close to her ear, “And you, Afarin have made me very happy. Let’s go back and you let me make you something. We’ll have a nice dinner and while it’s cooking you can model that underwear.”
Back in his flat he started to marinade some chicken for a Shawarama with Palaf rice, dates and nuts. They finished watching the Sopranos after dinner and then went to bed.
The next day, Sunday, he left her in bed and went to get a paper and was reading it with a coffee when she came through.
“The days have gone past so quickly,” she said and took the coffee he had poured for her. She looked through the colour supplement, specifically the womans’ fashion pages.
“Why can’t I look like that, instead of an ugly little Asian bint?” she asked with a sigh.
“Because if the wind blew on them, they’d fall over. They are not real people and nobody wears high-cut briefs and a sports bra quite like you.”
She had a croissant with her coffee, “Do you mind if I have a soak in your bath, Lean-Claude? I’m feeling quite tense at the moment.”
“Feel free and when you come out, I have something to help.”
He put a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil in a saucepan and gently heated it and took it off the gas when it was warm enough. Then he got a sheet from the airing cupboard and lay it across the bed. Then he drew the curtains and the only light was from a small lamp. He had a vanilla candle from the distant past, which he found and lit.
She came out of the bath wearing his dressing gown and he told her to take everything off and lie face down on the bed.
“Now I want you to relax, get comfortable. Close your eyes and empty your thoughts.”
He poured a small amount of the olive oil up her spine, just enough to lubricate his hands as they moved over her, then started of her neck, moving gently and then applying pressure with his thumbs. He paid attention to her inner arms, round her side, just caressing the side of her breasts, continuing to work both gently and firmly down her body. He paid particular attention to the bottom of her back because it was part of her, he loved to look at. Then buttocks, thighs and calves. He could tell by her breathing that she was enjoying the feeling of being caressed all over her body, and frankly, so was he.
“OK, turn over. Keep your eyes closed and relax.”
He poured a little more oil between her breasts and went back to her neck, leaning forward and nibbling her ears. Down slowly on the breasts, just brushing her nipples before moving down to the rigid muscles of her stomach, then the front of her thighs, just brushing the pubis. He massaged the bottom of her feet then back up to her breasts, longer this time and she groaned softly. He pressed the stomach slightly harder then down to her hip bones and the pubis again circling it with gentle strokes. She was breathing deeply and quickly now and he ran his hands either side of her cleft, then pressed down firmly with his thumbs.
She cried out almost in anguish, arched her back and she came and came and came…. The tears were much longer and he held her gently while she shook with emotion. When she was at the sobbing stage, she looked at him with that dreamy smile.
“You complete and utter bastard, Jean-Claude. That was lovely, thank you.”
He nestled his head in her hair, “Come home safely.”
“Why should you care, Jean-Claude?”
He ran a finger down her back, “Because I just do. I’m your guardian angel remember. And wait there because I have a present for you, well two in fact.”
He returned with a tube of lotion and a small, jewellery box, “Don’t worry, it’s not a ring. It’s olive oil and beeswax massage cream. Now if you’re using barrier contraception, you can’t use olive oil as a lubricant, because it perishes the rubber. This will give you enough for those intimate massages. Who knows, perhaps some nice Jewish boy will smear it all over you.”
She wrinkled her pretty nose, smiled with gratitude and picked up the jewellery box and opened it. Inside was a tiny, gold archangel St Michael medal on a fine gold chain.
“He is the patron saint of soldiers. I know you’re not religious, or even Christian, but open your heart and he will look out for you.”
She started to cry softly, “It’s beautiful. Thank you, Jean-Claude. I promise I’ll wear it if I’m not undercover and likely to be searched.”
© Blown Periphery 2022