He had been sitting in A&E for long hours and it was now 09:30. He had watched them wheel her out them to an operating theatre and she had come back, still on the trolly half-an-hour ago. The nurse who had first seen him had long gone off shift, a new team in ICU. A staff nurse came out and sat down next to him.
“Mr Mortimer, isn’t it?”
“Yes. She’s gone, hasn’t she?”
She looked puzzled, “No Mr Mortimer. We have placed her in an induced coma, and she is on a ventilator to help her breathe. We performed an operation to drain the wound site. She was very sick but also mentally strong and your prompt action saved her life. Would you like to see her for a short period of time?”
“Yes, I would.”
“You will have to put on a face mask, overshoes and clean your hands with the alcohol fluid. Remember, she is in an induced coma and can’t speak. But she can probably hear and feel you touch her.”
She led him into the ICU room, and he stared at her.
“Sit next to her and hold her hand and speak to her. She needs you more than ever now.”
He sat in the room, looking at her. The ventilator was a background noise, gently and quietly moving to keep her alive.
“Oh, Afarin,” he said and put his head on the bed, holding her hand, “Why didn’t you call me when you felt unwell. Please get better. I couldn’t cope without you. You’ve brought a new meaning to my life.”
He sat with her, talking gently to her for fifteen minutes and then the staff nurse came in.
“You can see her next time you visit, Mr Mortimer. Just a short visit this time.”
“OK, thank you.”
He left and took off his mask and overshoes. The nurse waited for him.
“Her name is Khan, Afarin Khan, you wrote on her admission form.”
“And she works for the government. She was recently stabbed and had an operation to clear and suture the wound, both internally and externally.”
“Where was this operation carried out?”
“At the Bradford Royal Infirmary.”
“Why was she stabbed?”
“I’m afraid I can’t answer that, as it is classified.”
“Does she have any next of kin we need to notify?”
“No, just me. She was staying with me.” Jean-Claude explained. The nurse gave him a strange look, “I’m not a racist, I actually love her.”
Her look of horror was as though she had accused him of molesting children.
“I was not implying that you were. So, she’s staying with you?”
“She is. I was in London when she became ill and came home to find her collapsed in the bed,” He explained.
“Well Mr Mortimer, you’ve been here all night. She’s in good hands, so I suggest you go home and get a good sleep.”
“How long will she be like that?” he asked, referring to the ventilator.
“Long enough to help her heal, but she might become conscious and reject it by gagging.”
Jean-Claude made his way out to the car park and drove back to her house. He decided that he was too tired to strip her bed and slept in the spare room. It was early morning when he woke up, so he got up, had something to eat and then went back to bed. He woke up later in the morning and aired the house, which smelled of sickness. Then he changed her bed and put the soiled sheets and duvet cover in the washing machine. He had a shower and then phoned Bartlett.
It was Sunday so he expected Bartlett to be in, relaxing with his wife. It was his wife who answered the phone.
“Can I speak to Alan please. It’s me Jean-Claude.”
“Jean -Claude, this must be really important for a Sunday morning,” Bartlett said.
“It’s Samyaza, she’s back in hospital, with sepsis.”
“I got to her place on Friday, and she was unconscious in her bed. I took her straight to the Great Western in Swindon and she is now in ICU, ventilated.”
“Do you need time to look after her?”
“There’s not much point. She’s ventilated, unresponsive and I think…” he sobbed, “She’s going to die.”
“Jean-Claude, you must keep fighting for her and you as well. Give it a week before you decide. At least she’s safe there, Unlike Bradford.”
“It’s just that I…” Jean-Claude stopped himself. He didn’t want Bartlett to know just yet, “It was because I was going to take her on holiday to recoup.”
“I’ll tell you how to look at it, your holiday has just been delayed by a few weeks. She will be fine, JC. She is a fighter.”
“Thank you, Alan. As you say I’ll give it to the end of the week and pray hard every day.”
“Good man. Keep your chin up because it’s better for her.”
“Will do. Thanks.”
He hung up and had a meal, dreading his visit to the ICU.
She was inhabiting that world between life and death. She could hear them when they came in and felt them when they changed her catheter, checking the stab wound and taking her temperature with a thermometer up her backside.
She had expected to see a bright light, which she could go into if she chose, but there was nothing. Just the endless hiss of the ventilator as it filled her lungs and breathed out for her. She couldn’t see because of the tape over her eyes but could tell the difference between night and day. The canula in her arm hurt and was backflowing blood. It wasn’t in properly. Afarin decided that this was worse than death and the first thing she was going to do was get rid of this fucking ventilator that was down her trachea.
She heard the door of the ICU open, and he came in, sat next to the bed and held her hand.
You’d better be in a better mood, Jean-Claude. It’s me that’s lying in this fucking bed with a catheter shoved up my chuff, not you.
He stroked her hand looking at her forlornly, “Oh Afarin. Please get better.”
The nurse had called someone Mr Mortimer. Could that be him? She tried to giggle. She wanted to see him, but most of all she wanted the ventilator gone.
“I did the washing, the bedclothes and had a general tidy up.”
Mortimer and Khan, that famous crime busting partnership. I tell you what to do telepathically, you get off and do them…
“Afarin, I want to tell you how much I love you, but you can’t hear me. You may never know and that’s the worst tragedy. We found one another, then you went away. You came back, a different more ruthless version of you and then you disappeared into the northern towns. From then on, it’s been hospitals. I wanted to look after you, but I couldn’t. I’m so sorry.”
She could tell he was crying and felt tears on the back of her hand.
Right, this fucking stops now. I need a man to look after me, not a bloody girl who cries when things go wrong. Get a fucking grip of yourself!
She concentrated on that hated breathing tube and began to cough and retch. Alarmed, he stepped away from the bed and opened the door.
“Nurse, nurse, something’s wrong with her, she’s started to cough, and I think she’s going to be sick.”
He was bustled out of the room and two nurses went in, followed five minutes later by a doctor. He managed to waylay a nurse who came out of the room.
“Could you tell me what’s going on please.”
“We’re removing her ventilator.”
“Why? Is she dead?” he sounded distraught.
“No, she’s waking up. If I were you, I’d go home and come back tomorrow when we’ve sorted everything out.”
Jean-Claude left the hospital and drove back to Wroughton. Later he walked down the hill and had a meal and a couple of drinks in the pub. Walked back up the hill, watched TV and went to bed.
The next day he went into Swindon and did some food shopping after researching the internet. Firstly, he filled the car with petrol, then went into a supermarket for nuts, eggs, pasta and leafy, green vegetables and protein drinks. He knew one of the major problems would be muscle weakness and weight loss. He put together a training regime, starting with simple exercises in the house and then around the block. He knew she would be in hospital for six weeks and would have to recoup slowly. Shopping completed, he headed for the hospital.
In the intensive care ward, he waited for a nurse before going in and she spoke to him.
“Ms Khan has regained consciousness. She can’t speak very well, but we’ve taken the tape off her eyes. She still has an intravenous drip for feeding and to give her the full course of antibiotics. Don’t tax her, just talk gently and positively to her. She is very weak but has an innermost core of moral strength. She’ll need it.”
Jean-Claude went into the ICU ward and looked at Afarin as she lay there with her eyes closed. He pulled out a chair and just waited, looking at her breathing on her own. It was slightly ragged, but at least she was still alive. She had lost all colour and resembled a child, moaning fitfully. A tube streched from her torso, filling a suspended bag with blood streaked pus.
In her barely conscious state, Afarin realised someone was in the room. She sniffed gently and recognised the smell of moisturising cream. She opened her eyes that were encrusted with dry mucus and looked at him for several minutes. He had both his elbows on the bed as though he was praying. She was as fully conscious as she could be under the circumstances.
“’lo Jea… Claude.”
“No bloody tears!” she said grimly.
“I will look after you.”
“No… Yu go back… Work.”
“Don’t you want me anymore?”
“Fuksake… Yeah. I’m here. Will need you when I leave.”
“But not now. Why?”
She looked round the room at the life support equipment, “They look…. Me.”
He told her what he’d been doing, the meal in the pub and shopping. When she told him what he’d bought, she wrinkled her nose.
“You will need high protein food and can forget about your halal crap until you’re better. You will lose a lot of body mass. We need to build it up again.”
She felt for his hand and grasped it, her grip surprisingly strong, “…Saved life. Than… You.”
“You mean so much to me, Afarin. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
She could tell he was getting teary again and she could do without it.
“Stop crying, fucksake!”
He looked at her is surprise. This girl to whom he had imparted the knowledge of the worldly wise was telling him what to do from an ICU bed. But he did realise she had a point.
“I shall need you. Go work now, see you Friday next.”
“Is there anything I can bring you? Seamless briefs perhaps?”
“Not wearing… Go please.”
Jean-Claude kissed her forehead and left. He was still worried about her, but not stricken with fear of what might be. He drove back to his flat in Richmond and spent the night in his own bed. The next morning, he was too emotionally exhausted to cycle to work and decided to take the tube. He walked from Victoria to Vauxhall across the river because he felt in need of exercise.
He cleared the tiger traps and a security guard ran a metal detector down his body.
“I see you’ve been away, Mr Mortimer. Nice to have you back.”
“Thank you, Paul.”He took the lift up to the third floor and Alan was talking to Eva, Julian and Annette. They all stared at him when he came into the office.
“What the hell are you doing in, Jean-Claude?”
“She told me to piss off, so here I am.
Bartlett took him into his office and closed the door, “All right, Jean-Claude. What’s happening?”
“She suggested that during the week, I go back to work to stop me moping.”
“Have you been moping?”
“You know that I’m very fond of her and feel a responsibility to look after her.”
Bartlett nodded slowly and thoughtfully. “Sometimes you just must let go. She probably hates you seeing her so helpless and at least she’s safe where she is and here’s very little you can do. When she comes out of hospital, that will be a different story.”
Jean-Claude shrugged philosophically, “Well at lease it gives me an opportunity to catch up on the Balkans Desk.”
“And you can see her at the weekend, so you have the best of both worlds.”
Jean-Claude got his head down and worked on the outstanding tasks from the Balkans. As he had no way of contacting Afarin, he immersed himself in the work that should have been completed weeks ago. That evening he went for a drink with Eva on the way home. They toasted one another in the busy pub.
“How’s it going, Jean-Claude?”
He knew she was genuinely concerned as they had once been lovers.
“All right, honestly.”
“And the drinking?” she asked bluntly.
“Nothing like it was. I must confess to having some wobbles when Afarin had sepsis.”
She looked at him, “Why? Why are you so wrapped up in her? She’s an agent.”
He glanced round the pub almost guiltily, “Because I love her. Please don’t tell Alan.”
Eva leaned back in her chair, “You love her? Good God. She is quite beautiful, but I would have thought, rather dangerous.”
“I’m not running her, Alan is, which explains why he was so angry with me when he found out we had been sleeping together.”
“My God Jean-Claude. You do like to live dangerously now and once there was a time when you were happy and content. Perhaps you are now, but I do wonder.”
Jean-Claude looked down at his small beer. He felt such guilt and sadness and Eva looked carefully at him.
“I’m so sorry, Eva. I will always be grateful to you, and I know that I treated you badly.”
She put her hand on his, “We were of our time. We have both moved on, but part of me will always love you, Jean-Claude.
She finished her drink and smiled sadly at him, “I’d better be going. See you tomorrow, Jean-Claude.”
“Goodbye Eva and thank you.”
“Being such a good friend, despite everything. Despite me.”
Back in the office the next day, Bartlett held an update meeting.
“Sharon has found out something quite interesting, regarding Afarin and the undercover policeman who was murdered.”
Sharon took over the briefing. She asked them not to take notes, due to the sensitivity of the information, that was beyond their remit.
“We’ve already mentioned three gentlemen, 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 out agents in Brussles while we keep an eye on Kirmani when he’s out of the country.
“Now interestingly, the two men that Afarin killed, are associates of Daffi Hashmi. We took the man she blinded into custody, and he was very forthcoming with information, provided we get him off the murder charge. Hashmi visited the garage just after they captured Afarin and she was still unconscious. He ordered them to find out what Afarin and Farooqi were up to, once she had told them, he suggested they have some “fun” with her and then kill her, making sure they filmed it. The guy called the Sheikh was an elder in the Bradford community. It’s a shame he scuttled off before Afarin killed him.”
“Hashmi was in Bradford on “business.” He normally resides in Doncaster, Rotherham, and Sheffield. His visit was to secure some underage white girls to traffic to Slough, make a few snuff movies and buy more drugs to push to these kids.”
“He is a complete bastard. It’s a pity he wasn’t there while Afarin was getting a bit tasty with that fighting knife,” Jean-Claude observed angrily.
“Where is he now?” Eva asked.
“Border Force tracked him leaving the country via Heathrow, his destination Islamabad. Then probably into Afghanistan via the tribal areas.”
“Why don’t we drone him in Pakistan?” Eva asked.
“Because the Foreign Secretary is somewhat squeamish, when it comes to extra judicial killing.”
“It’s a shame he isn’t squeamish about the industrial rape, torture and murder of underage white girls,” Julian observed bitterly.
“Where is that lady plod who was undercover in the police headquarters?” Jean-Claude asked.
“The Box had to move her to another force. They rumbled her and she was getting death threats for other officers.”
“What the hell has gone wrong with British policing?”
The meeting came to an end with the agreement to place Hashmi on the watch list. Bartlett called Jean-Claude into his office later that day.
“Jean-Claude, I’ll be out of the office for a couple of days. You carry on doing what you can for her at weekends. When she finally gets out, she will need looking after full time. I’ve cleared it with top floor that you can have a couple of months sabbatical and stay with her. It has probably put paid to any sexual activity you’ve had in mind, but I know you care for her. Don’t tell her about that bastard Hashmi, but something tells me their paths will cross in the future. God help him.”
© Blown Periphery 2022