He moved in with her in the little house on the hill. He was gentle, kind and a good nursing orderly, changing the dressings on the burns every day and weaning her off the Oxymorphone. Within five weeks she could run and later Parkour on a set of partially demolished buildings in the old hospital.
She knew beyond all certainty that she loved Jean-Claude with all of her heart and desperately wanted him to tell her. Jean-Claude got a message to return to London, and promised to get back as soon as he could. Afarin was restless, and then a FLASH message and a car came in for her from Hereford…
Just one more…
It was the army that had requested a team of the SRR to help track a group of aid workers that had been abducted in Afghanistan. It was one of those jobs to which she was ideally suited. Quick, dirty and short notice, way up in the mountains of north-east Afghanistan and she was due to fly out the following day and pick up her weapons from the Joint, SAS/SBS, SEAL task force.
She was inserted two days before the assault teams, the helicopter dropping her off at the Darzab Rural District while the troops waited at Taj Qal’a, a one camel town of four mosques. She had four SAS troopers with her and they sheltered for two nights in a cave, huddling together for warmth. Afarin loved it, reminding her of a time ten years ago. The American SEALS drew a blank, operating further north and they stormed a complex, killed several bandits but there was no sign of the aid workers.
The troopers were beginning to get frustrated, but Afarin hit pay dirt further north at Khwaja ‘arab. She had left her rifle and the rest of the troopers back in the cave and gone on foot to Khwaja ‘arab, the largest village she hadn’t yet been to. She saw a group of three men with motorbikes outside a café drinking a tea called Kahwah. It is a combination of green tea, cardamom pods, cinnamon bark, and saffron strands. It may also include peppercorns, ginger and almonds. Much like the traditional Masala Chai Tea from India or Kashmiri Tea from neighbouring Pakistan, each family has their own recipe.
Her suspicion was raised because these men were openly carrying AK47s probably hand built in the workshops of Jalalabad. She was fairly sure they weren’t Taliban fighters and watched them from a bazaar selling fabric and cloth materials. One of them crossed the road to an apothecary and Afarin shimmied into the shop, invisible in her niqab. The man bought ginger, lemon juice and basil which were treatments for food poisoning. This rang a bell with her. Afghans were so used to the unsanitary food, they tended rarely to get food poisoning. She wasn’t sure, but when they climbed on their bikes and roared off, she followed the tyre tracks.
They turned off the metalled road onto a track that wound upwards along a rocky stream. The bike tracks were only visible in the soft ground, but she was able to follow the fresh tracks. At the top of a ridge, she saw several single-story houses clumped around poppy fields. She went into cover and started to observe the comings and goings of the settlement below.
At first there was nothing, then she two of the men come outside, smoking. They went back in the larger building and then two men and a woman came out under guard. Afarin checked the sun was behind her and looked carefully through field glasses. They were two men and a woman, European. It must be the fourth one who was sick who remained indoors. She had done it again.
“Whisky One to Charlie Two. Message, over.”
“Whisky One, we were getting concerned. Go ahead, over.”
“Charlie Two, I’ve found them, over. GPS location as follows…”
For the next two hours she closely observed the buildings and drew a detailed map of the area and the approaches. They came up on foot at around one hour prior to dusk. They found her eventually in her hide of rocks.
“We were worried about you. You were away a long time before you radioed in.”
“I’m a big girl and never spoke to any strange men. I did a map of the place and the building the Aid Workers are being held. There are about eight bandits.”
“Here’s your weapon,” he said putting it next to her, “Can you watch the track up when we go in?”
“Thank you. Good drills, but it’s up to us now.”
“When are you going in?” she asked.
“Two hours after nightfall. The chopper is standing by.”
“I haven’t had the chance to check the ground on the nearest poppy field.”
“If necessary, it can hover while we get the aid workers and ourselves on board.”
And so, they waited. The sun seemed to go down quickly, and the NCO had already split his team into two multiples of two, two for each access point. They had NVGs, stun grenades, a Benelli M4 semi-automatic shotgun, their own weapons and CS gas. The four would smash their way into the large building, while she covered outside in case there were more in the complex as well as covering the trail up to the buildings. This was not in her remit but there were so few of them, they needed every chance of success.
And so, she waited. The leader squatted next to her. By now he was wearing an M10 respirator with the hood of his fireproof overalls up. They were all wearing the same and British Police Body Armour, which had been an urgent operational requirement. It was lighter than the British Osprey issue Armour and allowed freer movement. Afarin just had one addition to her civilian, Afghan gear, A Sightline N470 LWRC night sight on her M6 Assault Carbine.
She smiled at the team leader, “Good luck. I hope you get them out in one piece.”
“Me too otherwise we’ll make the UNICEF very unhappy,” He patted her shoulder and moved out from cover.
“In positions,” he said in his radio set, Afarin listening in.
“Go, go, go!”
They entered the building quietly and then all hell let loose. She could hear the screaming booms of the stun grenades and the rapid rattles of the weapons fired inside the building. Presently, CS gas vented from the open doors and windows. From another, smaller building, four armed men burst out. They had been there all day with not a peep from them, probably sleeping off the poppy fields’ finest. She swung her carbine round and started to engage them with short bursts, moving position between each one. She dropped two and the others disappeared into the night. She felt unhappy about killing fellow countrymen, but that was the price they paid for banditry and the abduction of aid workers, who were there to help the Afghan population.
She heard in the night sky, the beating of rotor blades and a Chinook swept over her head and landed on the nearby poppy field. The gun on the tail ramp was manned, as was the starboard minigun. The assault team came out, each member escorting one of the hostages. One on them was in a bad way and had to be supported to the helicopter, probably the one suffering from food poisoning. She left her cover and covering the rear, headed for the Chinook, sitting with its rotors turning and was inundated by the helicopter’s hot downdraft.
She was the penultimate person to get on board, the team leader looked around, climbed on board, and got on his radio, “That’s everyone. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
The Chinook pitched rear up and was soon covering the mountains, heading east to Kabul. It came into land at the international airport and Afarin got off after the four UN workers. A medical team had come to check them over
“They need to go to their facility in the capital. You need to go home. There’s a flight booked for you to Qatar and then you can see the movers for an onward flight back to the UK. You can bag your rifle and seal it in a transport valise.”
“I left my sleeping bag and wash things and clothes in the cave.”
“You can easily get more. Some goatherd is probably parading round in your skimpies.”
“He’d have a job. I don’t wear any.”
She unbuckled her lap strap, “Well…”
The SAS NCO kissed her and held her hand, “Big balls Mrs Khan. You did a great job. Thank you from me and all of the team.”
She watched the huge helicopter lift off, pirouette round and headed for their main operating base. She would miss the enormous piss-up, but most of all she would miss those hard, brave men. She trudged towards the terminal buildings. No minibus laid on for her.
She was at Hereford for two days, being medically checked out and debriefed. During that time, she went on JPA and filled out Premature Voluntary Release form but did not submit it. She sent Jean-Claude a text before she drove back to her house in Wiltshire and once, she got in, it had the air of emptiness and cold. He had not been using it and that made her rather sad and worried.
Please don’t let me be alone again.
Well then, tell him where you’re going in future.
She put on the central heating and cooked a meal for two. She had become a reasonable cook with his patient coaching, and she loved him for that, as well as many other things. His car pulled up at about nine and it was a new BMW. He stared at the house without moving, then finally got out.
Afarin was to learn that while she did yelling and tears, he did cold, hard fury. She had changed into good clothes after a bath and as he locked up his car, she was hopping from one foot to another, like a teenager with a crush. When he came in, she embraced him and tried to kiss him. He could have been a statue for all the emotion he showed.
“I expect your hungry after driving here. I made a lamb stew with lots of aromatic spic…”
“Shame. I’m not hungry, just here to pick up my stuff.”
She took a step backwards, “But why, Jean-Claude?”
“Because I’ve had enough.”
She started to cry, “Why are you being so horrible to me?”
“Because I feel that I can no longer trust you. If we don’t have trust, we have nothing. Being in a relationship with you is a case of one step forward, two steps back. Do you know that in Libya, when you stopped and couldn’t carry on, either Edge or I was going to have to kill you. I decided to carry you instead, and thank God I did, otherwise you would be dead in a salt lagoon. That nice, caring Mr Edge was going to blow your brains out!”
She slumped down on the sofa, tears pouring down her face, “It was a short-notice SAS job in Afghanistan. MI6 wasn’t involved and they specifically asked for me. I couldn’t exactly ask you for permission.”
“Now you’ve lost my trust. Will you keep doing this? You promised me you were putting in your PVR, not galivanting in Afghanistan.”
“Please don’t leave me,” she begged pitifully, “I’ll do anything for you to stay. Slap me, rape me, beat me if it pleases you, but please don’t go!”
“For God’s sake, stop this now!” he shouted, “Why do you associate love and sex with pain and violence? I’ve told you, I don’t want to live with and make love to a masochistic whore. And you are a masochist, maybe you don’t get satisfaction from physical pain or humiliation, but you get it from negative emotions. Who in the past has hurt you so much that you must keep punishing yourself?”
She put her head in her hands and started to sob. When she looked up at him, her face was snotty and streaked with tears, “I’ll help you take your things out to the car.”
He went through to the kitchen and got a few squares of paper towels, brought them through, sat on the sofa next to her and dabbed and wiped her face clean.
“When are you going?” she asked through sobs.
John-Claude looked at her and wondered who had hurt her so badly in the past. He suspected one of the nice, tough, and kind SAS men had used her and dumped her in short measure. Despite his anger, he still felt a deep love for her. He felt the majority of his anger on whoever had treated her like a disposable item, “I’m not,” he said gently, “If you’ve taken the trouble to cook a meal, I’ll eat it.”
“Will you share my bed, tonight?”
“Yes. And tomorrow we need to talk about the future, our future.”
“Do we have a future?” she asked sadly.
“If you want one. I can smell the lamb. Rice or bread?”
“I rather though just plain Naan because it is rather rich.”
It took him a long time to sleep, probably because she was next to him like a limpet. Not for the first time he asked himself, what does she want from me?”
When he woke up next morning, he could smell fresh coffee and croissants wafting up from downstairs. He pulled on her dressing gown and went downstairs. Rather disconcertingly she was wearing absolutely nothing, so he just had to wrap his arms round her and cup her breasts. He gently kissed her neck and nibbled an earlobe, the neck being one of the most sensual parts of her body.
“Have you forgiven me yet, Jean-Claude?”
“Have you ever thought how distraught I’d be if something happened to you? Who was it that has given you such negative view of yourself? Somebody has hurt you very badly in the past. We must work on the negative view you have of yourself and your body and learn to talk like a couple, no secrets.”
“I won’t do it again, promise. Why don’t we take the coffee and croissants to bed and eat them there?” she suggested.
“What about crumbs?”
“We’ll eat them on your side of the bed.”
And so, it followed for the next two weeks, him coming down from London at the weekends, lots of lovemaking and they talked about the future.
“Afarin. You are so brave. I’ve seen you doing your stuff in Libya, and you are a consummate a professional and carry out your challenging and dangerous tasks to the best of her ability. However, you are ignorant to the various levels of personal emotion. Sometimes you only express feelings in black or white – angry or happy and don’t know how to differentiate the emotional shades of grey in between. Why?”
“Because I’m often afraid that people will look down on me for expressing my true emotions and I convince myself that I’m feeling a certain way to cover up my true feelings. Like many young Muslims in this country, I struggle to be accepted as English or indeed, an Afghan. I detest men of Pakistan, apart from Farooqi, or those of Somalian heritage. Mine was a lonely life and but I serve my country the best way she can in a solitary, undercover role. I’m often convinced that I will die during one of these undercover missions and I have learned to expect this and deal with it. But I feel fear and in a perverse way, excitement in doing these things.”
He lay back on the pillow and looked at the ceiling thoughtfully.
“Would you be prepared to give such passion to a relationship, Afarin?
“Will you look after me?” she asked anxiously.
“I thought I’d been looking after you for nearly seven years.”
“Do you want children?”
“I want that more than anything. When I first met you, I knew you were a decent and kind man and I give thanks to Alan for choosing you as my guardian angel.”
“Afarin, this is a real and honest question,” he looked at her with a gentle expression she couldn’t read, “Do you want to get married to me?”
She was crying again, “I wanted you when I got back from Israel. I fooled myself that all we had was a wonderful sexual relationship, but after being stabbed and then sepsis, you looked after me. I love you more than ever now, but I’m not into God, so no white weddings.”
“I have loved you for seven years and tried, not always successfully, to keep you safe. We can always have a humanist wedding. A humanist wedding ceremony is a type of ceremony that acknowledges the couples’ connection to each other. It allows the freedom to express it in their way during the ceremony. Do you believe in something greater than mankind?”
She thought about it, “I’d be lying if I said I had no beliefs when the Iranians came for me and when I hit that mine in Libya. Can I still have a white wedding dress?”
“You can wear what the hell you like. Flowers, Maid of Honour and bridesmaids.”
“Jean-Claude, this is all so sudden. I’ll need time to make my mind up… Yes, it will be wonderful, thank you. I’ve thought about it, just like that. Where will we live?” She asked.
“Not London. I have the flat and you have your house. Sell them and we could live anywhere in the country.”
“Where will you work?”
“Any Civil Service job, it doesn’t have to be with MI6.”
That Sunday evening it was as though he was possessing her body and soul. She felt weak and wrung out and looked at him the next morning, her future husband.
“Oh, God, what have you done to me?” And then she cried for a long time, tears of happiness
He chuckled and kissed her.
“Jean-Claude, just to let you know, next week I must go to Hereford for a medical, fitness test and to do my Military Annual Training Tests. I’ll put in the PVR while I’m there.”
“What’s the point of doing tests if you’re coming out?”
“Since when did anything in the military have a point?” she asked, and he couldn’t answer.
Jean-Claude was being disingenuous when he told Afarin he just prepared reports for the politicians. He was a member of the overseas intelligence directorate, answerable to the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers. Their remit was simple: Identify threats to HM’s Government and the Country’s subjects and eliminate them. Bartlett and the members of his team were regularly armed if the location was in any way risky. He was a government killer. That Monday morning, Jean-Claude had a secret e-mail from the British Embassy in Tirana, Albania that had come from the defence attaché. It was a forwarded e-mail from someone called “Carrion Crow.”
Have information on shipping that may be of interest to you. Meet me if possible. Call me on this number…
Alan Bartlett had been particularly astute in his choosing of Jean-Claude Mortimer. While he was still sober, he learned Serbo-Croat as the wars in the Balkans were raging. When he was rescued from himself, Bartlett realised that Jean-Claude’s calling was the strategically important. Since the wars of the 1990s, the Balkan states were awash with home produced weaponry, sectarian hatred, and lawlessness. While Croatia was now a picturesque holiday location, the southern states of Albania and Macedonia were awash with criminality. This was why he had helped Eva release the girls in Calais. She was desk officer for Europe and was extremely grateful for Jean-Claude’s help.
Jean-Claude approached Bartlett.
“One of my agents in the Balkans would like to discuss something developing in Albania.”
“Not likeable, but his tip offs have been good in the past.”
Bartlett looked at the FCO advice for Albania, “Hmm, Public security is generally good, particularly in Tirana. Nevertheless, do you want me to give Hereford a call for an E Squadron bod to go with you?”
“I don’t think that’s necessary, Alan, but thanks.”
He went down to the armoury and drew his Glock 17. He asked to use the range and fired off thirty rounds to keep his hand in. Next, he went to the registry with the weapon and fifty rounds.
“Could this go in the diplomatic bag to Tirana on this afternoon’s flight. Additionally, could I have a return ticket on the day after tomorrow’s flight please?” He signed the paperwork and went back to the office. Only Julian was there, the rest attending a diversity and equal opportunities workshop.
“Hi, Julian. Where are the girls?”
“Being bored to death in an EQ workshop. I’m holding the fort.”
“How convenient,” He poured himself a coffee, “Have I mentioned that I’m getting married?”
“Who to, as if I didn’t know. Alan won’t like you deflowering his favourite agent.”
“Will you be my best man?”
“I’d be honoured. You may have to ask Alan for permission, but I’m sure he won’t mind. You mean her well and have looked after her. Good luck, here and in the Balkans.”
Bartlett had attached Jean-Claude as an assistant attaché to three embassies in Croatia, Serbia, and Albania. His remit was to learn as much about the SIS and its relations with the diplomatic missions. He seconded Jean-Claude to three embassies as an Assistant Attaché and told to scout for potential agents. Jean-Claude may have been a drunk and emotional wreck, but he knew he had been drinking in the last chance saloon. He turned his life round, learned about how the SIS operated and against the odds, recruited three agents, which he named after carrion birds of the British Isles.
People decide to betray their country for reasons as old as mankind itself. The first one was a surprisingly lovely woman, approaching middle age. She worked in the Croatian Department of the Interior at Zagreb as an intelligence analyst and was dissatisfied because she had been passed over for promotion a number of times, far too many for coincidence. The jobs always went to men. She was a tip and Jean-Claude made it his business to get to know her. Her husband had left her, and she had a sick son, very sick, who was probably going to die. He felt a huge wave of sympathy for her, and because he was a personable youngish man, she slept with him. Jean-Claude found their extended lovemaking an almost spiritual experience and she was adept in the ways d’amour.
Off his own bat, Jean-Claude arranged treatment for her sick son at Addenbrookes Hospital, paying for the flights and an extended stay in a hotel. The boy partially recovered, but at least he now had a few years of life ahead of him. The Croatian woman now felt a deep love for Jean-Claude and passed him high quality snippets regarding the Government. Jean-Claude liked her very much indeed and they regularly made love in one of Zagreb’s better hotels. He called her “Raven” because of her hair and intelligence. She was motivated by a grudge and fondness for a British SIS officer. But that would be over and he much regretted this.
Jackdaw was a driven man for different reasons. He was a senior police detective in Belgrade, but during the war he had been in a special Serbian commando group. His unit had come across one of the rape camps where Muslim women were half starved and regularly sexually abused. The camp was being used as an R&R facility for Serb Militias. These were tough men who had fought in the trenches of the front line and their discovery sickened them. They had no compunction of fighting the Croatian and Muslim fighters but didn’t make war on women and children.
Their commander ordered the wire fences destroyed, the women escorted from the camp and the huts destroyed. I anyone tried to prevent them, they were to shoot them. These orders were duly carried out, the women and girls had been beaten and were terrified. The Serb soldiers gave them most of their rations and they found a Militia lorry to drive them to Bijeljina, but it left a long, lasting shame in the policeman. He provided useful information on the criminality of the Serbian government, and he was a good and careful agent. Jean-Claude called him “Jackdaw,” and he was motivated by guilt and shame. They built a good and profitable relationship because Jean-Claude would allow the Serb to vent his guilt and shame and listen about his war, without judging. He had never had to take sides in a civil war, thank God. Jackdaw knew that Jean-Claude had served in the military at some time, and understood how awful and dehumanising war was.
He was lucky or rather unlucky to be running an Agent from the criminal underclass in Macedonia and Albania. This man tipped him off regarding the occasional criminal activity he wasn’t involved in. For example, the sex slaves bound for England. Generally, his information was to a high standard and very accurate, however, Jean-Claude found any dealings with “Carrion Crow” left him with a nasty taste in his mouth, but he had tipped him off about gun running and drug shipments. Nevertheless, he would visit the Balkans every six or so months and meet his agents, tending to spend rather longer in Zagreb than the other two locations.
© Blown Periphery 2022