Squall’s End, Essex countryside
Alexandria woke with her daughter’s name on her lips. The remnants of a dream haunted her consciousness; excerpts replaying in her minds eye. Aryanna, her arms outstretched, pleading for help as she slipped into a pool of dense, sticky mud. No matter how hard Alexandria tugged her arms she couldn’t pull her out. The mud pool sucked at Aryanna’s body and she slipped deeper and deeper until her head finally submerged and Alexandria woke up, sweating.
Rubbing her hands over her face she yawned and stretched her arms above her head. Suddenly the events of the morning crowded in on her and nausea swept through her body. After a long morning of waiting and pacing she had finally fallen asleep on the sofa, exhausted. Pulling a soft cashmere blanket from her legs she swung herself off the leather seat and realised that there were voices coming from outside the drawing room. She stood up and went towards the voices, coming back into the hallway where she had first entered the Major’s house earlier that day before turning right towards the back of the house. There were two narrow stone steps leading down into a large square kitchen and Alexandria saw the Major leaning against a wooden cabinet talking to another man who’s back was facing her. As she entered the room the man turned around and she was struck by his rugged and unkempt appearance.
‘Ahhh, Alexandria, you look much perkier my dear, that nap did you the world of good.’ The Major said moving towards her and pulling out a chair so that she could sit at the oblong kitchen table. ‘Let me introduce you to my friend, Ryan Russet.’
Alexandria raised her eyebrows at the alliterative name but simply said ‘Hello,’. Not for the first time she felt out of place in the Major’s home and an inconvenience to him - clearly he was having a meeting of some sort with this man and she was interrupting them.
‘We were just discussing your situation,’ the Major said. ‘Ryan is somewhat of an expert in matters of this sort. I do hope you didn’t mind me calling him and asking him to come over.’
Not for the first time that day Alexandria was surprised by how generous the Major was, first with his time and his hospitality and now with his connections. She was also keen to know how this man could help her to find her Mother and daughter, although he dishevelled appearance didn’t fill her with hope.
‘What sort of expert, Mr Russet?’ She asked, turning towards him.
‘The experienced kind.’ He said flatly, before the major held up his hand to interrupt him.
‘Now then why don’t you freshen up before we start talking details, eh Ryan? I’m sure you’d love a hot bath.’
Ryan grunted and grabbed a large rucksack from the floor by the doorway before making his way out of the kitchen towards the stairs. When he was safely out of earshot the Major turned to Alexandria.
‘I’m sorry that I called Ryan without speaking to you first,’he apologised, ‘He’s a little ummm… prickly but I trust him and I don’t know of anyone better qualified to help get your family back.’
‘What is he, a private investigator?’ Alexandria asked.
‘Of sorts. He’s a person for hire, I suppose you’d say. He’s ex-special forces, retired from active duty four years ago following an incident overseas.’
‘He was stationed in Afghanistan with a small platoon, searching for military info at an abandoned rebel base. Unfortunately the base hadn’t been quite as abandoned as they’d been led to believe by their informant and they actually walked straight into a trap. Ryan and another man, his friend, were cut off from the rest of the platoon and had to fight their way out of a bunker. His friend was shot and Ryan had to leave him behind.’ The Major paused for a moment, lost in thought. ‘He blames himself of course, as military men often do, but really there was nothing he could do. When the platoon returned home he was nicknamed ‘wolf’ because he became a loner. He eventually left the service. Since then he’s been nomadic to say the least, working for whoever pays the bills. Damn shame waste of a good soldier.’ The Major paused again before finishing, ‘But most importantly he has the skills that we need.’
‘Well of course, we.’ The Major replied crossly. ‘You didn’t seriously think I’d throw you out of my house to fend for yourself after everything you’ve been through? This will be your base, I won’t hear of you going back to your house unless one of us goes with you, this Charles fellow clearly knows where you live and so you’re not safe there.’
Alexandria was grateful that the Major’s hospitality wasn’t going to end any time soon. She wasn’t one to ask for help at the best of times but in this situation she needed all the help she could get. ‘Thank you, for everything.’ She said, standing up and kissing the older man gently on one cheek. As she walked back into the drawing room she didn’t see the Major tenderly place his hand over the spot where he lips had touched.