Asia – North Bundhara border
The young British UN soldier watched an unidentified truck rumble along the broken pot holed track they called No Man’s land. A suicide mission? The question rattled loud and fierce in his mind. He stepped out onto the road amidst the steady stream of refugees making their weary way to the precarious safety of North Bundhara. Part of his job was to assist their evacuation, the other to protect them with force if needed. The truck was swerving, scattering the rag tag band of people in its way to either side. The soldier aimed his standard issue SA80 rifle. He felt a strange cocktail mix of fear and excitement swirl noisily inside his stomach. At last he was about to see some action.
The truck stopped dead in front of him but was still some distance away. He shouted at the frightened people to take cover and move away. Shrieks and wails of fear echoed all around him dispelling the quiet of the surrounding forest. Small, tattered clothed children were lifted from carts leaving bewildered horses wondering where their human loads had disappeared to. Everyone scuttled down the banks of the road to take cover. The soldier glanced to his side noticing that a North Bundenese soldier was now standing near, providing support.
The doors of the truck opened and two men got out. He couldn’t make their faces out in the dimming light. The South Bundenese didn’t take too kindly to people deserting their country for their decadent immoral neighbour. This could have been one of those army missions to round refugees up and execute them for treason. He shouted halt but his command was ignored.
The soldier felt his palms begin to sweat as the figures moved around to the back of the truck. He stretched his fingers along his rifle feeling them begin to tighten with tension. He repeated his command, this time with the intention to shoot if they did not obey him but his threat appeared idle. He knew that he had to make a decision.
It was so damn hot. He could smell the heat all over his wet body under his fatigues. Fixing his fingers more firmly on the rifle he took a couple of steps forward repeating his threat once more. He had to play it cool, firing was the last option. They were his orders. A trickle of moisture ran under his helmet, down his neck and onto his chest. It irritated his skin making him desperate to rub it away. The two men lifted something heavy out of the back of the truck and brought it around to the front. “Make your mind up, make a decision. Shoot to kill or be killed. But what if I am wrong? What if it is the wrong call?” he muttered to himself under his breath.
The soldier’s finger jumped on the trigger as they carried the bag between them and threw it on the ground not far from him. Only the realisation that it was a body bag stopped him firing. He guessed it was the same for the North Bundenese soldier who stood at his side. He tried asking them about the bag, but there was no reply. One of the men returned to the truck and brought out a round object in another bag. It was the shape of a football. The soldier’s heart started to thud inside his chest louder than it had ever done. He had a bad feeling about this object.
His gut twisted painfully. His finger jumped once more on the rifle as the man took the object out of the bag and rolled it along the ground towards him. He froze. As it tapped against the toe of his boot he closed his eyes waiting for the anticipated explosion. It had to be a bomb. He hadn’t expected his new career to end so abruptly and so soon. He looked down deciding to face his fate and found his football bomb was a bloody, jagged, decapitated head.
London – Docklands – Three days later
Dominic Kane sat in Anna Harker’s penthouse office overlooking the Thames. He studied Harker as she leant against the front of her large ornate desk next to his chair, watching the news on the middle of three LCD TVs on the wall ahead of her. She was now in her late sixties and was one of the most powerful noises in the British and global media. She was a strong ruthless businesswoman who didn’t suffer fools. At twenty-seven she had run the small press Dolls House Publishing and later bought it from its owner when he was financially ruined. By the age of forty she owned a string of successful newspapers and publishing companies and turned her attention to cable networks. This was the woman who fought off a massive takeover bid of her holding company Turnstile Communications from her hospital bed when the vultures smelt death last October.
She was also the woman famous for being attacked one night in Central Park and successfully fighting off her assailant, armed only with an umbrella, at the age of sixty-three. A fierce supporter of human rights and the abolition of violence against women, Harker wasn’t afraid to speak out and cause a stir. She was a powerful woman and needed to be handled with great respect.
She was still a good-looking woman. Her appearance was immaculate, crisp and clean in her black suit. Her blonde hair was cropped in a no nonsense short bob and her attractive hazel eyes told Kane that she knew more about him than he was comfortable with.
He turned to watch the screen once more. ATM’s newsreader Monty Turner was serving up the latest on their missing star correspondent. She had been found at the North Bundenese border less than twenty-four hours ago. She had been making headlines all around the world since her disappearance in South Bundhara three days ago, straining the tense relations between Britain and the US who were threatening air strikes and retaliation if South Bundhara decided to make good on its threat and invade North Bundhara.
Another glance at Harker’s face told him of her concern for Rebecca. Kane had done his research. Rebecca wasn’t just another employee of her channel, ATM, she was one of Harker’s friends. Harker was almost a replacement mother figure and like him she had been listening to the harrowing rumours of torture, rape and other physical crimes forced on Rebecca’s body. The woman looked ill with worry. He turned his attention to the screen once more, back to the interview with the UN soldier who had found Rebecca. It was the sixth time he had seen the report.
“She was just walking along the road behind some of the refugees. She looked out of it. I didn’t recognise her at first. When I ran up to her she backed off. She tried to make a run for it down the bank into the trees. I am sure it was my uniform that made her frightened. I took off after her and brought her back. She was so dazed she didn’t even know her own name.”
“And what condition was Rebecca in? I mean, was she injured? I am sure you realise how concerned we are at ATM,” one of the correspondents crowding around him jostling for position asked. Kane watched the soldier smile and nod, clearly loving the limelight.
“Yes of course I do. She was exhausted, dehydrated, I guess. She had obviously been beaten and she was clutching at a wound on her left side that was bleeding. She collapsed in my arms. She has been taken to hospital now.”
The interview continued to play but Harker talked over it. She spoke suddenly, the emotional strain clearly audible in her voice this time. “I want you out there.”
Kane simply nodded. Inside he was elated. “I take it the rumours are true then?” he said carefully.
There was a pause from Harker. She turned to face him directly and he could clearly see tears brimming in her eyes. “Yes, they are. She’s been beaten, tortured, raped, starved…” Another pause. Kane noticed she took in a breath before she started again.
“And that’s not even the worst. She’s been cut open, and operated on. One of her kidneys has been removed, stolen. She was butchered. It wasn’t a neat job and from what the doctors can gather there were some intra-operative complications.” Harker raised her eyes to the ceiling and took another breath as she composed herself once more.
She continued, “That’s where the mystery comes in. Those complications appear to have been dealt with well, as though someone skilled intervened in the operation to tidy it up. But her surgical wound has become infected and the doctors are worried that she might develop pneumonia. She can’t remember anything that has happened to her. She can’t remember her own name or her past. Not even her family or friends.”
Harker paused, watching the screen once more, “They call it dissociative fuge. It’s some form of amnesia that occurs after a traumatic experience. And you will already know that an attempt was made on her life when she was brought into the hospital.”
Kane gave her a confused look as he noticed her eyes suddenly look down at his hands on the chair and widen with surprise. He followed her gaze. He felt his mouth tense. He was gripping the arms of the chair so tightly as she talked of Rebecca’s injuries that his knuckles had turned white. He had betrayed himself and given the whole game away.
“I know you and Rebecca have a history,” she said eyeing him closely. “Together. And I also know your parting wasn’t exactly on amicable terms. But I can see that you obviously still feel something for her. I hope this won’t be a problem and that you won’t let it affect the way you do your job. I want her to have the best security money can buy. You come highly recommended from the powers that be.”
He felt uncomfortable. He made a conscious effort to loosen his hold on the arms of the chair. She was waiting for his response. She would be judging as to whether or not he was telling the truth. He was going to have to be careful. She wouldn’t respect him for denying his feelings.
He spoke softly making sure he held eye contact with her. “I don’t allow my personal life to interfere with my work and I am not about to start now. I am flattered that you believe my company worthy of providing high calibre security, but I have to warn you I am not so sure this is the best for Rebecca. When her memory returns she is liable to be obstructive and distrustful of my presence.”
“Yes, I can more than imagine.” Her lips crinkled into a knowing smile. “But I am also aware that you won’t let that stop you. That is why you are sitting here now and why you got your stepfather’s influential friends to recommend your company to me. I know that you have been planning to go out there anyway whether I chose you or not. From all reports, Mr Kane, you were packed and ready to go with a team to get her out of South Bundhara the moment you heard she’d disappeared. Unfortunately for you that proposed mission was stopped because there was already a team out there looking for her.”
He felt uneasy when she talked about his stepfather. It was the one and only time Kane had asked for his help. He hated the man who had wormed his way into his mother’s life and taken it over. He had never needed anyone’s help to get a contract for his company, Kane Security & Close Protection Services. But this was one job he didn’t want to take his chances on. Rebecca’s safety was worth the humiliation and condescension he’d had to take from the man. Still, Kane knew that his stepfather would do anything to get him on side for the sake of his mother and he had taken advantage.
He smiled and told Harker confidently,” I will bring her home safely.” The smile on Harker’s face widened and then receded quickly. She nodded. She appeared convinced. He watched her return to her throne behind the desk. She carried her small frame awkwardly, shuffling her walk, a cause of recent surgery on her feet, the removal of a toe he’d heard, another effect of her crippling diabetes. She had been in and out of hospital recently and the rumour was she was living on borrowed time once more. The woman had no kids, no family to speak of, and he couldn’t help wondering who would inherit her fortune.
He got his mind back on the job at hand and started gathering as much information as he could. He wanted to be aware of all the facts so he could arrange effective protection for Rebecca, so he started questioning Harker. His first question was the one burning a hole in his head, the one that had kept him awake night after night whilst he’d waited for any news of Rebecca. “Why did she cross South Bundhara’s closed border? What was so important that she had to take a risk like that? Why was she sent out there?” He made every effort to hide his frustration but he could hear it slip past the polite tone he used as a barrier to disguise it.
Harker sounded irritated, “No one sent her anywhere, Mr Kane. Her little trip was unauthorised.” He wasn’t the only one who was frustrated at Rebecca’s latest reckless stunt to bring in the news.
Harker continued. “No one knew apart from Jed, her cameraman.”
‘does she know about his death? That his decapitated head and body were found at the border?”
Harker squirmed and shuddered in her chair before she answered. “No. I keep thinking that could have been her.” Kane bowed his head, the very idea making him feel nauseous.
“She and Jed made one hell of a team, Mr Kane, as I am sure you well know. She will take his loss very badly when she remembers. I believe they were once linked romantically. But Rebecca is a very private person, even with me. She likes to keep you guessing. Maybe you know more than me on that one?” He smiled and remained silent. He did and, yes, she was right, but he wouldn’t betray Rebecca. There was obviously some reason why she hadn’t told the woman. “You are very loyal, Mr Kane.”
Harker sat forward, leaning her elbows on the desk and looking directly at him. She continued, “I don’t agree with the rest of the media that she was tortured by this Doctor Tasanee Somwan and her terrorist group, “The South Bundenese Liberation Army”. I have been told that Doctor Somwan asked Rebecca to go out there and interview her. She would only trust Rebecca to present her peaceful request to the British government for their help. She had something to offer them. Besides, Mr Kane, MI5 intercepted the e-mails Somwan was sending Rebecca. They encouraged her to go, asking her to carry a message from the British government.” Harker shook her head with disbelief as she finished her last sentence.
“They gave her no support?” Kane asked.
“They said she had to go it alone. If they were seen to be involved in negotiating with a terrorist there would be political hell to pay for the government.”
It was almost a black op. Harker broke into his thoughts. “I really believe it was the South Bundenese government who were holding her. I also believe Somwan told Rebecca and Jed something that was going to provoke the British and Americans into action and stop them sitting on the fence on whether to authorise air strikes. Anyway, I don’t know what is going on and I want you to find out. I want whoever is responsible for doing this to Rebecca held accountable. Whatever it is she knows, the information is enough for them to want to kill her.”
“I have a plane and a team ready and waiting at Heathrow.”
“Good. I need you there, Mr Kane, as soon as possible. Hospital security is practically non-existent and the police that are guarding her are inadequate, hence the attempt that was so easily made on her life. I will have you flown from here to Heathrow by helicopter.” She sat back in her chair suddenly grimacing with pain. She turned pale for a moment making Kane wonder whether or not he should get help. But she waved her hand at him when he politely expressed his concern.
“I’m fine. The North Bundenese police don’t exactly have the best reputation in the world. Apparently the custom is to offer a bribe if you want their co-operation – and they will be awkward in surrendering Rebecca’s security to you. They will be loving all the attention from it. I am sending my personal assistant Charles with you. He will get you any funds you require. He will also handle the media.”
Kane wanted to object. He didn’t want anyone else along for the ride. He was taking a large team of men out there, a bigger number than he would normally use, purely because he was unsure of what to expect. If a war did kick off he wanted to focus all of his attention on getting Rebecca out of the country not worry about another mark. But he nodded in agreement. The client was always King. He started to move from his chair to get on his way but she raised her hand making him sit back down again.
“There is something else you should know. There are some Embassy officials out there hounding Rebecca for information about her interview with Somwan. I am pretty sure they are MI5 trying to keep their involvement under wraps. They have managed to get the doctors to stop her medication to keep her lucid so they can pump her for information. She can’t remember and she is in agony without pain relief.”
There was a fierce anger boiling through Harker’s speech, displaying a hardness in her eyes. “They are putting her at more risk of developing pneumonia. She could die, Mr Kane. It’s nothing short of torture.”
He told Harker quietly, firmly, “If I know Rebecca she will be giving them a hard time back. She is a fighter, she will hold up until I get there. They won’t be allowed near her after that. I will personally make sure of it.”
A brightness slowly returned to Harker’s eyes. “I don’t doubt it.”
The door opened making them both look up and turn towards it. A young man of Indian English descent came into the room. The man smiled at them both.
“Charles, come in. This is Charles Beaumont, my personal assistant. One more thing before you both go. Michael Eaton, Rebecca’s brother is already out there. He left the moment she was reported missing. You never met him, I know… he may get in your way.” She raised her eyebrows and smiled with sarcasm as she spoke about Michael.
Kane got the impression that Michael Eaton was not one of her favourite people. “He’s the tall dark and handsome type, an internationally renowned cardio thoracic surgeon, who really believes he is something. Just like most surgeons in my experience. But he is a notorious womaniser and a gambler. He’s arrogant and believes he always knows what is best for everyone, especially his sister when she is in trouble. He thinks he can look after her and get her home on his own. He won’t trust her safety with anyone. Rebecca and he are very close, very protective of each other. I suppose you can’t blame them. They are all they have, there is no other family. Did she ever tell you about her parents and what happened to them?”
“No. I knew that she had a brother she doted on but she always clammed up when I mentioned her parents.” Kane watched Harker with interest, always eager to learn something new about Rebecca. She had never given much away.
“Their parents were murdered in front of them when she and Michael were children.”
Kane stared hard at her.
“They were journalists, well the wife, Janice. She was an award-winning photographic journalist. They did a piece together on a Mafia sex-slave ring in 1981 and made some dangerous enemies. When the gunmen finished with their parents they went looking for Michael and Rebecca. She was only eleven, Michael was eight. She hid Michael and faced them alone. Michael told me – she would never tell me anything. They hit her several times but she wouldn’t give up Michael’s whereabouts… they tore the place up looking for him. But the Eatons lived in a large old cottage and there was many a nook and cranny. He could have been anywhere. Turns out he was right under their noses and could see everything that went on. They put a gun to her forehead…”
Harker recounted the tale with disgust now but her hard tone was punctuated with bitter emotion. Kane just felt numb as he listened in horror.
“Michael, he wanted to go to her aid but she had locked him in this vent or whatever it was… I don’t remember… not that he would have been able to do anything. He watched the man holding the gun to her head pull back the trigger. He really thought she was going to die. He told me that he would never forget how courageous she was, how she faced her fate with dignity. Tears were rolling down her face but she didn’t flinch with fear. To him, she was regal, serene, and braver than he could ever be – he will never forget the way she protected him with her own life. I think he is in awe of her: it’s the way he talks about her with such pride. If the police had been a second later in barging through the door she would have been dead. They shot the gunman dead and he fell on top of her. Michael said he remembers screaming with her and he is sure a part of him still is.” She paused for a moment before continuing, “Michael will get in your way and try to control the situation. He won’t trust anyone with her protection. He believes he owes her that much.”
Kane suddenly realised he was still staring at Harker. But he was looking through her. He was stuck in the scene she had described, watching Rebecca as a child facing death in the eye. He felt pain, loss, anxiety beginning to gain a strangle hold on him. It was the culmination of the fear he had experienced wondering if she was dead or alive. A reminder of how close she had come to death before he could make it right between them. He’d been wasting time. No more.
He was going to make her see that they belonged together before her job got her killed. He always said she had a death wish. Now he knew why. She had been repeating the same scenario over and over in her mind. She must have thought she should have died along with her parents. She’d been trying to get herself killed. She must have felt guilty about surviving. It explained so much about her. It was almost a textbook manoeuvre.
She was starting to make sense to him now. You are more messed up than I thought Rebecca. Trouble is, you never counted on the part of yourself you showed me, the part that is damned if it is going to let you kill yourself to prove a point. No more games. This is going to end. I am going to make you see sense whether you like it or not.
“Mr Kane, are you all right?” He raised his head quickly, jumping to Harker’s attention. She gave him a sympathetic smile. “I am sorry, Mr Kane. I should have been more careful how I told you. I can see how much you still care for Rebecca. Now I am even more convinced that I have chosen the right man for the job. She doesn’t need some faceless security expert who will boss her around. She needs emotional support.”
Kane felt uneasy again. He shouldn’t really go. He was too involved with Rebecca, albeit their relationship was in the past. It was unethical. He shouldn’t be involved with the client, it stopped you doing an effective job. It made you careless. But then this wasn’t any ordinary assignment and he was too stubborn and, dare he say it, arrogant to let anyone else provide her security. He was the only one he trusted with her life. He stood up fastening his suit jacket and moved to shake Harker’s hand.
“I will call you when I have seen her.”
“Mr Kane, if Rebecca does not co-operate with you and fails to follow your instructions just tell her she is fired. When she gets her memory back that will help you to keep her under control and stop her from trying to sort this mess out on her own. We both know that is what she will try and do. It’s too dangerous. Tell her I want her safe or she is out of a job and I mean it.”
He grinned and followed Charles. She’ll love that!