Afarin hurried out of the undergrowth and found the other three. They were crouched down waiting, Dan with a filtered signal torch, ready to send out two dashes and two dots. Afarin crouched down with them.
“Dan, we have a problem.”
“What sort of a problem?” he asked.
“The biggest problem in our little world. Take a look through the NVGs to out in the bay.”
Dan took them and searched out to sea, “Oh,” he said, “Oh fuck.”
Gently moving into the bay was an Egyptian warship, quite small but able to come in close to the shore.
“I think it’s a Hainan-class sub chaser judging by the tubes and racks on the after deck. I think we can assume that getting out by sea is a non-starter.” Dan said, continuing to watch the warship, “So what are we going to do?”
Afarin thought quickly, “We need to get away from here and put as much distance between us and the police and Army, when they pitch up, as possible. We don’t have much time.”
“OK, we’ll steal a car and head towards Alexandria. It’s a busy city and we can get some breathing space, until we come up with a plan.”
He mulled the problems over in his mind, “Right, Gad and Aisha, steal a car for the four of us, nothing too flash but not decrepit.”
By now the corvette was stationary and it dropped anchor in the bay. Sailors appeared on deck to look at the burning wing of the hotel and they were preparing boats.
“It’s damnable luck, that warship passing just as the missile hit the hotel. They probably picked it up on their radar, coming in,”
“Dan, we need to get the hell out of here,” Afarin said to him, “The question is where are we going?”
“Libya is too much of a turmoil at present. There was an attempt on Ghaddafi’s life last month and we’ll never get across the border. I thought about Sharm El-Sheikh, but it’s in the controlled zone, heavy with police because of the tourists. The same for going across the Sinai. We’d never get beyond the border into Israel.”
“What about south into the Sudan?” Afarin suggested.
“That’s not really an option, is it? Well money’s no problem with these fake Amex cards and we’ve all got cash. Let’s get into Alexandria and buy enough breathing-space to formulate a better plan. We’ll stay in a cheap hotel for one night, then move on to another one.”
“I never did like that bloody submarine anyway,” she said, and he smiled in the darkness, despite their predicament.
“The problem is our radios are short range and we have no means of getting a message to Israel.”
“What do you think our chances are?” she asked.
“Honestly? Not good. We can try and get on a ship from Alexandria, but the docks will be crawling with police after this. We’ve killed a prominent Hezbollah terrorist and his family and there were probably Iranians in his visiting delegation. We know they were providing rockets to fire at Israel, but the Egyptian authorities won’t care about that. We’ve committed mass murder in a holiday resort. They will soon be scouring the country looking for us.”
They waited tense with fear when suddenly a car without lights drew up and Gad got out of it,” It’s not new, but it seems sound.”
“Right. We need to get rid of the designator, but we’ll hang on to our weapons. You drive us to Alexandria, Gad and we’ll stay the night in a cheap hotel.”
“We’ll decide after a few hours of sleep.”
They all got into the stolen car and headed east along the coastal road. They saw flashing lights as police cars and ambulances passed them, heading in the opposite direction. At Sidi Kirayr they stopped by a large lagoon and Aisha hefted the designator into the Salt Lake, after she had removed the krypto. five kilometres along the road they stopped at another lagoon.
“Remember, no throwing like a girl,” Dan said irritatingly.
The krypto went into the water. They continued into the outskirts of Alexandria and found a cheap hotel overlooking the sea.
“Gad and Afarin, you go in first and see if they’ve got any rooms and then Aisha and me will go in, after an hour or so. We’ll have a tête-à-tête after breakfast. Cover story, we were at a wedding and missed our flight to Turkey. Got that?”
They nodded and Gad and Afarin got out of the car with their weapons in holdalls. Inside the hotel, the sleepy night porter gave them a key to a room.
“No room service,” he said, “Pay now.”
He gave him cash and the porter put it in his pocket.
“No expense spared,” Afarin said to Gad as they went up to their room.
The room was sparsely furnished with a not terribly wide double bed.
“Gad, I need a shower after living under that bloody tarpaulin and then I’m getting into bed. I suggest you do the same. Remember, we’re all boys together now.”
He sat on the bed while she ran the shower, when she came out, he stared at her like a rabbit in car headlights.
“Not much in the way of toiletries, but some previous guest has left some shower gel. You’ll have to use a finger if you want to clean your teeth.”
She put her leg on the bed to dry herself and noticed that Gad was gawping at her.
“What’s wrong? Haven’t you ever seen a naked woman before?”
“No, I haven’t,” Gad said, dying of embarrassment.
Afarin wrapped the towel around herself, “Oh. I’m so sorry, Gad. Look, we may be sleeping together but it doesn’t have to turn into nocturnal gymnastics. Go and have your shower, I’ll be all tucked in by the time you come out.”
She wasn’t. She was asleep, exhausted after watching the shipping in the bay. Gad decided his old underwear had had it, so he put it in a bin and curled up on top of the bed. Soon he was getting cold.
Afarin woke up in the night as the quilt had been pulled off her. She tried to pull it, but Gad’s weight trapped it. She nudged him and he sat up mumbling, “Wha… What?”
“Gad, for God’s sake, get into bed properly. Both of us can be warm then.”
“Sorry, Afarin.” He got in with his back to her and she was soon asleep again.
She awoke early, the sunup behind the blinds. There was a weight across her side, and she realised it was Gad’s arm. He murmured in his sleep and cuddled up to her back. She stared into the gloom of the room and smiled. His early morning stiffie gently prodded her back. Surely, I’m not the first woman he’s seen in the buff. She turned round and looked at him. His dark complexion and long, wavy hair made him look so young, appealing, and vulnerable. Because she was basically a kind person, she didn’t want to lead him up the garden path.
Poor Gad. You’ve got a bad case of terminal virginity.
He opened his eye and looked at her. She was smiling at him, and he looked round the room, wondering where they were and why this beautiful girl was in his bed. And then he realised.
“I was having a lovely dream; I wake up and we’re still in this fucking place.”
“We’re still alive and we will get out of this. Chin up, Gad. Let’s get some breakfast.”
“You had better put some clothes on first.”
They were early for breakfast and the only other diners were Dan and Aisha, who ignored them. They ordered Ful Medammes from the menu.
“What the hell is it?” Gad asked her.
It’s made of fava beans cooked with oil and salt and served with a boiled egg.”
“Bloody Egyptian crap. What’s wrong with freshly baked bagels, muffins, scones, croissants, and Danish served with smoked salmon, cream cheese, butter, fruit preserves, fresh fruit, and coffee?”
“You’d love breakfast in England, bacon, egg, pork sausages and black pudding.”
Gad shuddered, “The bacon, I just love the smell but what is black pudding?”
When she told him, he retched, “I thought the English were supposed to be civilised.”
Dan and Aisha stood up and walked out of the dining room, past them, “Down on the esplanade in fifteen minutes.”
They finished and walked out into the warm morning, a breeze from the sea ruffling the water. Afarin and Gad sat down on the sea wall, a few feet from Dan and Aisha.
“I’m going to look at the docks this morning, so I’ll need the car. We’ll RV back at that café at 10:00. Use the time wisely and think of a solution out of this mess.”
“I have an idea, Dan,” Afarin said, “But I need a couple of things to put it together. Gad and Aisha can look after the weapons, and we don’t have to be out of the rooms until 11:00.” Afarin walked towards the city centre and bought a tube of Slazenger tennis balls in a sports shop and found a mobile phone shop. She purchased a pay as you go mobile with an international sim card of the Vodafone network and topped up with 300 Egyptian pounds, about £15 Sterling. She asked for a car charger to be included. On the way back, she priced up twenty litre jerry cans and was back at the hotel by 09:15. Gad was lying on the bed, and she smiled at him, then put the phone on charge.
“Do you have a plan, Afarin?”
“Yes, Gad. I have a plan that is more cunning than a fox with a PHD.”
She lay on the bed next to him and he looked at her feeling both happy and shy of her proximity.
“Gad, are you religious?”
He looked at her, surprised at the question, “No, not really. My parents and sister are. I found it awfully smothering, which is why I accepted the military draft. My parents tried to stop me from joining up, but I wanted to serve my country. Unfortunately, because of my scores in the aptitude tests, I was never going to be a para like Dan. Intelligence, I hated it, which was why I volunteered for this.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” she said to him gently.
“I’m still glad I did it. How else was I going to share a bed with someone as nice as you?”
She thought that was an incredibly sweet thing to say, “Gad, please don’t take this the wrong way, but you are an introvert. You need quiet to concentrate, are reflective and self-aware. You take time making decisions and feel comfortable being alone. You prefer to write rather than talk, feel exhausted after being in a crowd, have few friendships, but are very close with these friends, daydream or use your imagination to work out a problem and retreat into your own mind to rest.
“Why do you think that?” he asked slightly stiffly.
She smiled at him, “Because I too am an introvert. We have a great deal in common, you and I.”
They chatted quietly about their lives and backgrounds until it was five to ten. They went out, taking their weapons with them in the holdalls. Dan and Aisha were waiting for them.
“I’m afraid the docks and a boat are a non-starter,” Dan told them, “The place is crawling with Egyptian National Police.”
“Why don’t we phone Israel and get them to pick us up? I brought a mobile phone today.”
“What a great idea. We’ll phone Moshe Ya’alon and ask him to drop everything and pick us up. Now what’s the number of the Chief of the General Staff again?”
“If you could hold your sarcasm for just a few minutes, Dan, we’ll phone Hoffman.”
“Hoffman? This is getting better and better. He is a…”
“He is a member of YAMAM. He was the one who rescued me from that cell. I could tell by his voice and smell. He smelled of cigars, good ones. He carried me out to the APC. Look, I wouldn’t make this up. It’s bad enough that he saw me connected to the mains by my manush and took the bloody electric cables off me.”
“My God, they did that to you. The fucking bastards,” Dan declared, “Why?”
“Because they wanted to humiliate me, because I was a Moslem, and they probably didn’t like me. All of the women were given electric shocks. You saw them do it to Batya, or have you blocked it out of your memory?”
Aisha turned her head away and gave a little shudder. Gad looked down and screwed his eyes shut. He had and Afarin pur her arm round his shoulders. “Batya is probably mortified and ashamed by the experience, you watching her in terrible pain. Be kind, gentle and love her. It doesn’t bloody matter now, what’s done is done. That’s why I’m desperate to get out of this fucking country. Don’t let it drive a wedge between you”
“So, we phone Hoffman. You know his number?”
“Yes, I memorised it. You got any better ideas?”
“Apart from travelling down into the Sudan and trying to make it to Port Sudan, absolutely nothing.”
“Right, our room, we’ll phone.”
They went back into the hotel and up to Afarin and Gad’s room, “We may have to stay another night. It’s not as though they’re busy.”
The phone was on about fifty per-cent charge and Afarin closed her eyes to a swirl of numbers. She remembered it from breaking the number up to five digits and it started 00 972. She dialled it and waited a long time for an answer.
“Who the hell is this?” Hoffman,s voice demanded.
She smiled, “It’s me uncle Azriel, your favourite niece, Tipsha.”
“Where are you?”
“A few kilometres from where we started. The wedding was a success, but we were bumped off the flight on the way home.”
So I believe. Your mother has been very worried. Is the Best Man there?”
Afarin handed the phone to Dan.
From then on, they only heard the one-sided conversation between Dan and Hoffman.
“Yes, we’re OK where we are for the moment. Two cars and full jerry cans, yes, I’ve got that. 16:00 you will phone back. We’ll be ready.”
They all looked at Dan, “The sub radioed in about the failed pick-up. They’ve been worried sick, but at least they know we’re alive. It’s up to us to get to where they will pick us up and Hoffman will phone back at four with a plan. We will need two cars and jerry cans for extra range. Gad, how is the car we stole?”
“It’s in good working order, not new but mechanically sound.”
“I’ll steal the second one,” Afarin said, “But it will have to wait until it’s dark. There’s a garage on the outskirts of the town. I suggest we buy six jerry cans, four for each car and fill them at different garages. Six added to the two I got today should give is a good back-up. I think we’ll need another mobile phone.”
“Gad, you buy three jerry cans and fill them and the car. See if you can find another garage and fill three more. That should give us another one twenty litres of fuel. I’ll buy another mobile phone with a car charger. Then we’ll relax and wait for them to phone us.”
Afarin went out and did a recce for a likely car to steal. She found a car park with several cars that would do the job and then headed back to the hotel. Gad was lying on the bed, reading a graphic novel called Metro – A story of Cairo. He put it on the bed as she came in and she picked it up. It was a study of graphic violence and sex, the reading material of adolescent boys.
“Gad, life’s not like this.”
“I found it downstairs in a pile of books and I know life is not like it is portrayed in that comic. It’s fucking worse. We have killed a family. What does that make us? “
“Come on, Gad. Don’t get all Munich on me.” Afarin said looking at him in a gently sympathetic way. She lay next to him on the bed.
“Afarin, I like you a great deal. You are kind and gentle, but brave and driven. However, you have no idea how I feel. I know your being with us is transitory and you’ll be gone.”
She put her arm round him and they lay listening to the sea and the gulls.
She was close to falling into a nap, “What is it, Gad?”
“I wish this could go on for ever, you and I here, but I know it can’t. You are a beautiful Moslem woman, but I have fallen for a Christian. The difference is you are here, and she isn’t.”
“It’s Heyfa, isn’t it? Don’t give up because she cares a great deal for you.” She felt a deep responsibility for this rather gauche young man, and they nestled together.
It was 15:00 when Dan and Aisha came into the room.
“Wake up you pair. I expected to see Gad giving you a good seeing-to, or are you sleeping off post-coital exhaustion?”
Afarin could tell that Gad was mortified, “Did you get two phone car charger and jerry cans?”
“We did. And two large scale maps of Egypt What about another car?”
“I found three to choose from, but I can’t take one until it’s dark. There’s a nice Volkswagen Jetta, providing it doesn’t drive off.”
The telephone rang at 16:00 on the dot and Dan was very much on receive mode. They waited impatiently while he said the odd yes or no and made notes.
“Yes, I understand, no window, just one time. OK. Yes, I’ll do that. Thank you, we’ll need it. Thanks, uncle. See you then hopefully.”
He ended the call and stared at them, “They are going to try and get us out by air. But we must be at a disused airstrip by 02:00 on the twenty-first. They reckon it’s a sixteen-hour drive with a refuelling stop at Mut.”
“Where is it?” Gad asked.
Dan showed them the location down in Southern Egypt.
“God, that’s close to the Somali border.”
“What’s there?” Afarin asked.
“Absolutely nothing. It’s an old British airstrip from the Second World War.”
“We need to get water. Lots of it. Some food as well.” Aisha said.
“I’ll go this afternoon,” Dan told them.
“I’ll steal the car as soon as it gets dark, and we get going straight underway.”
“You and Gad in one car, Aisha, and me in the other and put the phone numbers in the phones’ logs. I’d better take the one we used to call Hoffman. Get your stuff together then relax. It’s going to be a long drive.”
As soon as the other two had gone, Gad and Afarin cleaned their weapons, making sure there wasn’t excessive oil to attract sand and jam the weapon. Then she took one of the tennis balls and made a hole in it, large enough to expel air quickly. Afterwards, they lay on the bed, resting and chatting quietly.
“Gad, do you get scared doing this stuff?”
“Not really. I withdraw to another place, a kind of trance that I learned doing Zen meditation.”
“Did it work when you were being interrogated?”
“Yes. I think they call it an out of body experience. They were doing it to someone else, not me.”
“That’s a neat trick. I wish I could do that.” Afarin remarked.
“You can. I’ll teach you this afternoon, and when you’re in a trance, I can undress you.”
She sat up and looked at him, a big grin on his face, “Naughty. Go on then, teach me.”
And he did.
© Blown Periphery 2022