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.
He wondered if he were in hospital but decided he wasn’t. The air smelled too clean and occasionally his senses were teased by wood smoke. The ‘nurse’ was certainly no NHS variety or. If she were, she’d be struck off for getting too close to a patient. He guessed he was in some village being cared for by the locals.
There was little else he could do but wait to get better or die. The air was cooling. Nightfall, he guessed. He felt covers being placed over him and then the woman lay at his side and bade him to rest easy.
It was dawn when Rhiannon realised that for the first time Kendal had slept the night through. She placed a hand tentatively against the pulse point in his neck.
“I’m not dead but I am bloody angry. What are you doing here?”
“You’re awake, thank God.” Relief surged through her.
“You won’t be thanking him when I have finished with you. I told you to leave.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
Porter shook his head.
“How long have we been here… where ever here is?”
“Here is the village you asked me to make for and we have been here three days.”
“Three days! That means that you missed your transportation out of Columbia. Layla won’t have waited.”
“There’ll be other boats. We will catch one when you are fit to travel.”
“When, where and how are we getting on a boat with Cortez’ men looking for us!?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t had time to think…”
“That’s just it, you didn’t think.”
“Look…” Rhiannon tried to speak but Kendal continued.
“You should have gone, luv. You’re not stupid, you know the danger you’re in, not to mention the danger you put this village in. Do you have any idea what he will do if he finds out they helped us?”
Rhiannon stared at him, suddenly uncaring that he’d been seriously ill – still was.
“Do I have…? He’ll send his thugs in here and they will put a host of bullets in the head of the village chief before shooting a child because he’s crying, leaving some poor women to hold him as he bleeds to death. So, yes, you fucking asshole, I do know and so do they, but they still chose to help us.”
“Rhiannon.” He struggled to sit up.
“Shut up, just shut up. I’m not trained like you and Layla, whoever she is. Death and killing, they mean something to me even if they don’t to you. Maybe, you fucking jerk, I just couldn’t have another death on my conscience. I see death when I close my eyes – a young priest and child – and I didn’t want to see yours as well. Can you just try and understand that?”
She put her hand up.
“No, I need some space for a while. You can’t follow me, you aren’t strong enough. So, just lie there and think about showing some gratitude.”
He watched as she walked away.
“Shit, that did not go well,” he said to himself.
YOU ARE READING
This is a story based on Strikeback starring Richard Armitage. John Porter returns from Iraq having travelled accross the middle east avoiding the Americans. On his return he discovers huge changes in section D. However he has little time to get to...