Layla shaded her eyes as she looked out over the sea, watching the sun slipping below the horizon in the west. Like a giant, orange ball of fire it hovered and shimmered as it sank inch by inch from the sky, looking for the world as if it were being swallowed by the sea. It was not hard to understand how people once believed the world to be flat. The sea was as calm as a mill pond, barely a breath of wind stirred its surface and, far off on the horizon, it just appeared to drop away.
She glanced at her watch: 19.30hrs. Damn him. He wasn’t coming. She’d already given him half an hour’s grace but he hadn’t arrived. Tears smarted in her eyes – from the sun’s glare she told herself. After all, a British officer wouldn’t cry over a man, especially not one as annoying as Porter. She turned away from the ocean and took a sip of the coffee from the Styrofoam cup she held in her hand. It was hot and bitter, like her mood.
“You have to go – delay any longer and you will miss the tide,” Sam Henderson said.
“I know. It’s just…”
“He’s one of your men and it goes against the grain to abandon him.”
Layla smiled and nodded her head slowly.
“It does and with Porter it’s becoming a habit. If I didn’t know him better, I’d say he does it to annoy me.”
“Layla, get on the boat. If I hear anything from Porter, I will let you know.”
“And help, if he needs it?”
“That goes without saying. After all, we have “a special relationship”, don’t we?”
“Not as special as it once was under past governments. Do you know why I’m prevaricating?”
“I can guess: you have to go back and tell the PM his daughter is still missing.”
“That and telling Porter’s daughter he is missing again.”
“I don’t envy you but…”
“I know. I have to go.”
She jumped down on to the deck.
“Tell Scott, if he is ever in London, to look me up.”
“I’ll be sure to.”
Layla stood rooted to the spot until the harbour disappeared from view, praying that Porter would appear. A fool’s errand – she knew he would not. Finally, as the sun slipped completely away and the night air became cool, she turned and went below where, in the privacy of the cabin, she let her tears fall.
If this was dying, it wasn’t what he’d expected. It wasn’t restful or peaceful; there was no orchestral music or white light that he was moving steadily towards and, thankfully, no fiery furnace, although, given his mortal transgressions, it wouldn’t have surprised him if there had been.
No, there were strange nightmares – drug induced probably. They contained images, grotesque and distorted, of what had happen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Diane and Lexie, with twin expressions of anger, pain and disappointment, kept appearing, mocking him, saying he’d never amount to anything and, finally, of Pemberton, laughing and saying the tribunal hadn’t really cleared him, it had all been some elaborate joke.
He knew that he was thrashing about and calling out at times – powerless to stop. Comfort came though; a cool cloth soothed his heated skin and soft arms encircled him, as if the person was trying to absorb his pain. He tried to open his eyes to identify who it was but, when he did, he was unable to focus. He knew it was a woman; the words she murmured were too melodious for a man.
Periodically, pain ripped through his side, but then the woman brought a cup of some bitter tasting fluid to his lips and made him drink the foul liquid. After a while, the pain subsided, proving the old saying that if it tasted nasty it was doing you good. Occasionally, as she gave him medicine or water, a lock of long hair tickled his skin. Who was it – a nurse maybe?
Often he found his mind wandering to Rhiannon. Had she made it to safety? He hoped so. She didn’t deserve to die out here in the jungle. She deserved to meet her father and he couldn’t help but think that Clarendon deserved to see his daughter – get to know her. Daughter. God, he needed to see Alex. To hold her in his arms and make her world right again – as if it ever could be after all she’d witnessed. This made him become agitated and he fancied he cried out again. Once more, he felt the strange woman’s presence. The water she used to cool his brow must be scented, he thought, as he inhaled the subtle perfume that accompanied her touch.