Chapter four

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No idea why but this was a nightmare to write. Thanks to my beta readers

Chapter Four

Hereford was just a small city nestled on the border between England and Wales. Even the river Wye that meandered through the centre was far from a major waterway. In days gone by, the city had been of strategic importance in battles and skirmishes with the Welsh, but now it was a quiet place, the administrative centre of a horticultural county where land was important. Agriculture was the mainstay of the economy. The land was important to the army as well; the mountains and wild countryside had been deemed perfect for a training centre for the SAS.

It was strange that such a small, quiet place should have been so important in his life. From the moment he had joined the army, his ambition had been to make it to Hereford, to be one of the elite. He had known how hard it would be; many young men wanted to be selected for the SAS, but very few were chosen. He'd dedicated his life to achieving his ambition. His pursuit of this goal had at times been all consuming, so that nothing else had mattered. He'd just pushed upwards and onwards. In progress reports, his commanding officers had noted how driven and single minded he was. The physical training regime he embarked upon was matched by the punishing intellectual schedule he set for himself; a torch would often burn long into the night as he studied. His hard work had paid off, and he had been selected to join SAS 22 Battalion.

He smiled at the remembrance; Christ, how had he celebrated the day he got the news. The hangover had lasted days. Diane had been less pleased; she'd not said anything but he had known-it had been there in her eyes. The regular army was bad enough for wives and girlfriends, but special services was far worse. Besides the compulsory secrecy, there was the certain knowledge of how dangerous every mission would be.

His first years with the regiment had been tough, but rewarding; he'd continued to impress not just his superiors but his peers as well.

John sighed and thought that in one night it had all gone horribly wrong, and everything he had worked for had vanished like a puff of smoke. It had taken less than fifteen minutes with his Commanding Officer for his dream to be destroyed. Now, he'd come full circle. He was standing in front of Headquarters just as he had then, wearing his number twos, beret on top of his neatly cut and combed hair. Had he been as nervous that day eight years ago? He thought not; back then, he had known what the outcome would be and although he had been sick to his stomach, he had not been nervous. Now he was. His hand went to the knot of his tie to loosen it slightly. He was a man used to working in camouflage or casual civvies; the tie and collar seemed constricting.

"John?" He turned at the sound of his name, a smile on his lips. Layla Thompson stood with a concerned look on her face.

"Lieutenant Thompson. You scrub up well," he said, taking in that she was also wearing her number twos.

"As do you Sergeant Porter, but I thought we had moved beyond formality and rank."

"Aye, we have. It's just I have never seen you in your number twos before. You look formidable, every inch the competent officer."

"Whereas, Sergeant, you seem somehow constrained by your uniform; less in control and less dangerous. Are you okay, John? You seemed miles away. I had to say your name twice before you heard me."

"Yeah, sorry I'm not normally so rude. I was just thinking how many memories I have of this place; how intertwined my life is with it. Take you and me, Layla. We have history here."

Layla smiled wryly. "When I accompanied you here to oversee getting you back into shape, I thought you were a tosser, or worse, a complete screw up, and that we were completely mad to allow you back," she said.

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