"AND WHERE have all the guerrillas gone?" Jane asked.

"They scattered," Ellis replied. "This is Masud's technique. He melts away into the hills before the Russians can catch their breath. They may come back with reinforcements - they could even be at Darg now - but they will find nobody to fight. The guerrillas have gone, all but these few."

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There were seven wounded men in Jane's clinic. None of them would die. Twelve more had been treated for minor wounds and sent on their way. Only two men had died in the battle, but by a heartbreaking stroke of bad luck one of them was Yussuf. Zahara would be in mourning again - and again it was because of Jean-Pierre.

Jane felt depressed, despite Ellis's euphoria. I must stop brooding, she thought. Jean-Pierre has gone, and he isn't coming back, and there's no point in grieving. I should think positively. I should take an interest in other people's lives.

"What about your conference?" she asked Ellis. "If all the guerrillas have gone away ..."

"They all agreed," Ellis said. "They were so euphoric, after the success of the ambush, that they were ready to say yes to anything. In a way the ambush proved what some of them had doubted: that Masud is a brilliant leader and that by uniting under him they can achieve great victories. It also established my macho credentials, which helped."

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"So you've succeeded."

"Yes. I even have a treaty, signed by all the rebel leaders and witnessed by the mullah."

"You must be proud." She reached out and squeezed his arm, then withdrew her hand quickly. She was so glad he was here to keep her from being alone that she felt guilty about having been angry with him for such a long time. But she was afraid she might accidentally give him the mistaken impression that she still cared for him in the old way, which would be awkward.

She turned away from him and looked around the cave. The bandages and syringes were in their boxes and the drugs were in her bag. The wounded guerrillas were comfortable on rugs or blankets. They would stay in the cave all night: it was too difficult to move them all down the hill. They had water and a little bread, and two or three of them were well enough to get up and make tea. Mousa, the one-handed son of Mohammed, was squatting in the mouth of the cave, playing a mysterious game in the dust with the knife his father had given him: he would stay with the wounded men, and in the unlikely event that one of them should need medical attention during the night, the boy would run down the hill and fetch Jane.

Everything was in order. She wished them good night, patted Mousa on the head and went outside. Ellis followed. Jane felt a hint of cold in the evening breeze. It was the first sign of the end of summer. She looked up at the distant mountaintops of the Hindu Kush, from where the winter would come. The snowy peaks were pink with the reflection of the setting sun. This was a beautiful country: that was too easy to forget, especially on busy days. I'm glad I've seen it, she thought, even though I can't wait to go home.

She walked down the hill with Ellis at her side. She glanced at him now and again. The sunset made his face appear bronzed and craggy. She realized that he probably had not slept much the night before. "You look tired," she said.

"It's a long time since I was in a real war," he replied. "Peace makes you soft."

He was very matter-of-fact about it. At least he did not relish the slaughter, as the Afghan men did. He had told her the bare fact that he had blown up the bridge at Darg, but one of the wounded guerrillas had given her the details, explaining how the timing of the explosion had turned the tide of the battle and graphically describing the carnage.

Down in the village of Banda, there was an air of celebration. Men and women stood talking animatedly in groups, instead of retiring to their courtyards. The children were playing noisy war games, ambushing imaginary Russians in imitation of their older brothers. Somewhere a man was singing to the beat of a drum. The thought of spending the evening alone suddenly seemed unbearably dreary to Jane, and on impulse she said to Ellis: "Come and have tea with me - if you don't mind my feeding Chantal."

"I'd like that," he said.

The baby was crying as they entered the house, and as always Jane's body responded: one of her breasts sprang a sudden leak. She said hurriedly: "Sit down, and Fara will bring you some tea,'' then she darted into the other room before Ellis could see the embarrassing stain on her shirt.

She undid her buttons quickly and picked up the baby. There was the usual moment of blind panic as Chantal sought the nipple, then she began to suck, painfully hard at first and then more gently. Jane felt awkward about going back into the other room. Don't be silly, she told herself; you asked him, and he said it was okay, and in any case you spent practically every night in his bed at one time. ... All the same, she felt herself flush slightly as she walked through the door.

Ellis was looking at Jean-Pierre's maps. "This was the cleverest thing," he said. "He knew all the routes because Mohammed always used his maps." He looked up at her, saw her expression and said hastily: "But let's not talk about that. What will you do now?"

She sat on the cushion with her back against the wall,

her favorite position for nursing. Ellis did not seem embarrassed by her exposed breast, and she began to feel more comfortable. "I have to wait," she said. "As soon as the route to Pakistan is open and the convoys begin again, I'll go home. What about you?"

"The same. My work here is over. The agreement will have to be supervised, of course, but the Agency has people in Pakistan who can do that."

Fara brought the tea. Jane wondered what Ellis's next job would be: plotting a coup in Nicaragua, or blackmailing a Soviet diplomat in Washington, or perhaps assassinating an African Communist? She had questioned him, when they were lovers, about going to Vietnam, and he had told her that everybody had expected him to dodge the draft, but he was a contrary son of a bitch and so he did me opposite. She was not sure she believed that, but even if it was true it did not explain why he had remained in this violent line of work even after he got out of the army. "So what will you do when you get home?" she asked. "Go back to devising cute ways of killing Castro?"

"The Agency is not supposed to do assassinations," he said.

"But it does."

"There's a lunatic element that gives us a bad name. Unfortunately, presidents can't resist the temptation to play secret-agent games, and that encourages the nutcase faction."

"Why don't you turn your back on them all and join the human race?"

"Look. America is full of people who believe that other countries as well as their own have a right to be free - but they're the type of people who turn their backs and join the human race. In consequence, the Agency employs too many psychopaths and too few decent, compassionate citizens. Then, when the Agency brings down a foreign government at the whim of a president, they all ask how this kind of thing can possibly happen. The answer is because they let it. My country is a democracy, so mere's nobody to blame but me when things are wrong; and if things are

to be put right, I have to do it, because it's my responsibil-ity."

Jane was unconvinced. "Would you say that the way to reform the KGB is to join it?"

"No, because the KGB is not ultimately controlled by the people. The Agency is."

"Control isn't that simple," said Jane. "The CIA tells lies to the people. You can't control them if you have no way of knowing what they're doing."

"But in the end it's our Agency and our responsibility."

"You could work to abolish it instead of joining it."

"But we need a central intelligence agency. We live in a hostile world and we need information about our enemies.''

Jane sighed. "But look what it leads to," she said. "You're planning to send more and bigger guns to Masud so that he can kill more people faster. And that's what you people always end up doing.''

"It's not just so that he can kill more people faster," Ellis protested. "The Afghans are fighting for their freedom - and they're fighting against a bunch of murderers - "

"They're all fighting for their freedom," Jane interrupted. "The PLO, the Cuban exiles, the Weathermen, the IRA, the white South Africans and the Free Wales Army."

"Some are right and some aren't."

"And the CIA knows the difference?"

"It ought to - "

"But it doesn't. Whose freedom is Masud fighting for?"

"The freedom of all Afghans."

"Bullshit," Jane said fiercely. "He's a Muslim fundamentalist, and if he ever takes power the first thing he'll do is clamp down on women. He will never give them the vote - he wants to take away what few rights they have. And how do you think he will treat his opponents, given that his political hero is the Ayatollah Khomeini? Will scientists and teachers have academic freedom? Will gay men and women have sexual freedom? What will happen to the Hindus, the Buddhists, the atheists and the Plymouth Brethren?"

Ellis said: "Do you seriously think Masud's regime would be worse that that of the Russians?''

Jane thought for a moment. "I don't know. The only thing that's certain is that Masud's regime will be an Afghan tyranny instead of a Russian tyranny. And it's not worth killing people to exchange a local dictator for a foreigner."

"The Afghans seem to think it is."

"Most of them have never been asked."

"I think it's obvious. However, I don't normally do this sort of work anyway. Usually I'm more of a detective

type."

This was something about which Jane had been curious for a year. "What exactly was your mission in Paris?"

"When I spied on all our friends?" He smiled thinly. "Didn't Jean-Pierre tell you?"

"He said he didn't really know."

"Perhaps he didn't. I was hunting terrorists."

"Among our friends?"

"That's where they are usually to be found - among dissidents, dropouts and criminals."

"Was Rahmi Coskun a terrorist?" Jean-Pierre had said that Rahmi got arrested because of Ellis.

"Yes. He was responsible for the Turkish Airlines fire-bombing in the Avenue Felix Faure."

"Rahmi? How do you know?"

"He told me. And when I had him arrested he was planning another bombing."

"He told you that, too?"

"He asked me to help him with the bomb."

"My God." Handsome Rahmi, with the smoldering eyes and passionate hatred of his wretched country's government . . .

Ellis had not finished. "Remember Pepe Gozzi?"

Jane frowned. "Do you mean the funny little Corsican who had a Rolls-Royce?"

"Yes. He supplied guns and explosives to every nutcase in Paris. He'd sell to anyone who could afford his prices, but he specialized in 'political' customers."

Jane was flabbergasted. She had assumed that Pepe was somewhat disreputable, purely on the grounds that he was both rich and Corsican; but she had supposed that at worst he was involved in some everyday crime such as smuggling or dope dealing. To think that he sold guns to murderers! Jane was beginning to feel as if she had been living in a dream, while intrigue and violence went on in the real world all around her. Am I so naive? she thought.

Ellis plowed on. "I also pulled in a Russian who had financed a lot of assassinations and kidnappings. Then Pepe was interrogated and spilled the beans on half the terrorists in Europe."

"That's what you were doing, all the time we were lovers," Jane said dreamily. She recalled the parties, the rock conceits, the demonstrations, the political arguments in cafes, the endless bottles of vin rouge ordinaire in attic studios. . . . Since their breakup she had assumed vaguely that he had been writing little reports on all the radicals, saying who was influential, who was extreme, who had money, who had the largest following among students, who had Communist Party connections, and so on. It was hard now to accept the idea that he had been after real criminals, and that he had actually found some among their friends. "I can't believe it," she said in amazement.

"It was a great triumph, if you want to know the truth."

"You probably shouldn't be telling me."

"I shouldn't. But when I've lied to you in the past, I have regretted doing so - to put it mildly."

Jane felt awkward and did not know what to say. She shifted Chantal to her left breast, then, catching Ellis's eye, covered her light breast with her shirt. The conversation was becoming uncomfortably personal, but she was intensely curious to know more. She could see now how he justified himself - although she did not agree with his reasoning - but still she wondered about his motivation. If I don't find out now, she thought, I may never get another chance. She said: "I don't understand what makes a man decide to spend his life doing this sort of thing."

He glanced away. "I'm good at it and it's worth doing and the pay's terrific."

"And I expect you liked the pension plan and the canteen menu. It's all right - you don't have to explain yourself to me if you don't want to."

He gave her a hard look, as if he were trying to read her thoughts. "I do want to tell you," he said. "Are you sure you want to hear it?"

"Yes. Please."

"It's to do with the war," he began, and suddenly Jane knew he was about to say something he had never told to anyone else. "One of the terrible things about flying in Vietnam was that it was so hard to differentiate between Vietcong and civilians. Whenever we gave air support to ground troops, say, or mined a jungle trail, or declared a free-fire zone, we knew that we would kill more women and children and old men than guerrillas. We used to say they had been sheltering the enemy, but who knows? And who cares? We killed them. We were the terrorists then. And I'm not talking about isolated cases - although I saw atrocities too - I'm talking about our regular everyday tactics. And there was no justification, you see; that was the kicker. We did all those terrible things in a cause that turned out to be all lies and corruption and self-deceit. We were on the wrong side." His face was drawn, as if he were in pain from some persistent internal injury. In the restless lamplight his skin was shadowed and sallow. "There's no excuse, you see; no forgiveness."

Gently, Jane encouraged him to say more. "So why did you stay?" she asked him. "Why volunteer for a second tour?"

"Because I didn't see all of that so clearly then; because I was fighting for my country and you can't walk away from a war; because I was a good officer, and if I had gone home my job might have been taken over by some jerk and my men would have got killed: and none of these reasons is good enough, of course, so at some point I asked myself 'What are you going to do about it?' I wanted ... I didn't realize it at the time, but I wanted to

do something to redeem myself. In the sixties we would have called it a guilt trip."

"Yes, but ..." He looked so uncertain and vulnerable that she found it hard to ask him direct questions, but he needed to talk and she wanted to hear it, so she plowed on. "But why this!"

"I was in Intelligence, toward the end, and they offered me the chance to continue in the same line of work in the civilian world. They said I would be able to work undercover because I was familiar with that milieu. They knew about my radical past, you see. It seemed to me that by catching terrorists I might be able to undo some of the things I had done. So I became a counterterrorist expert. It sounds simplistic when I put it into words - but I've been successful, you know. The Agency doesn't like me because I sometimes refuse a mission, such as the time they killed the President of Chile, and agents aren't supposed to refuse missions; but I've been responsible for incarcerating some very nasty people, and I'm proud of myself."

Chantal was asleep. Jane laid her in the box that was her cradle. She said to Ellis: "I suppose I ought to say that . . . that I seem to have misjudged you."

He smiled. "Thank God for that."

For a moment she was seized by nostalgia as she thought of the time - was it only a year and a half ago? - when she and Ellis had been happy and none of this had happened: no CIA, no Jean-Pierre, no Afghanistan. "You can't wipe it out, though, can you?" she said. "Everything that has happened - your lies, my anger."

"No." He was sitting on the stool, looking up at her as she stood in front of him, studying her intently. He held out his arms, hesitated, then rested his hands on her hips in a gesture which might have been brotherly affection or something more. Then Chantal said: "Mumumumummmm ..." Jane turned around and looked at her, and Ellis let his hands fall. Chantal was wide awake, waving her arms and legs in the air. Jane picked her up, and she burped immediately.

Jane turned back to face Ellis. He had folded his arms

across his chest and was watching her, smiling. Suddenly she did not want him to leave. On impulse, she said: "Why don't you have supper with me? It's only bread and curds, though."

"All right."

She held Chantal out to him. "Let me go and tell Fara." He took the baby and she went out into the courtyard. Fara was heating water for Chantal's bath. Jane tested the temperature with her elbow and found it just right. "Make bread for two people, please," she said in Dan. Fara's eyes widened, and Jane realized it was shocking for a woman alone to invite a man to supper. To hell with all that, she thought. She picked up the pot of water and carried it back into the house.

Ellis was sitting on the big cushion under the oil lamp, dandling Chantal on his knee, saying a rhyme in a low voice. His big hairy hands encircled her tiny pink body. She was looking up at him, gurgling happily and kicking her fat feet. Jane stopped hi the doorway, transfixed by the scene, and a thought came unbidden into her mind: Ellis should have been Quintal's father.

Is that true? she asked herself as she looked at them. Do I really wish it? Ellis finished the rhyme and looked up at her and smiled a little sheepishly, and she thought: Yes, I really do.

They walked up the mountainside at midnight, Jane leading the way, Ellis following with his big down sleeping bag under his arm. They had bathed Chantal, eaten their meager supper of bread and curds, fed Chantal again, and settled the baby down for the night on the roof, where she was now fast asleep beside Fara, who would protect her with her life. Ellis had wanted to take Jane away from the house where she had been someone else's wife, and Jane had felt the same, so she had said: "I know a place where we can go."

Now she turned off the mountain path and led Ellis across the sloping, stony ground to her secret retreat, the concealed ledge where she had sunbathed naked and oiled

her tummy before Chantai was born. She found it easily in the moonlight. She looked down into the village, where the embers of cooking fires glowed in the courtyards and a few lamps still flickered behind glassless windows. She could just about make out the shape of her house. In a few hours, as soon as day began to break, she would be able to see the sleeping forms of Chantal and Fara on the roof. She would be glad: this was the first time she had left Chantal at night.

She turned around. Ellis had completely unzipped the sleeping bag and was spreading it on the ground like a blanket. Jane felt awkward and uncomfortable. The surge of warmth and lust which had overcome her in the house, when she watched him saying a nursery rhyme to her baby, had gone. All her old feelings had returned, momentarily: the urge to touch him, her love of the way he smiled when he felt self-conscious, the need to feel his big hands on her skin, the obsessive wish to see him naked. A few weeks before Chantal was born she had lost her desire for sex, and it had not come back until that moment. But that mood had been dissipated, bit by bit, in the succeeding hours, as they had made clumsy practical arrangements to be alone, for all the world like a pair of teenagers trying to get away from their parents for a petting session.

"Come and sit down," Ellis said.

She sat beside him on the sleeping bag. They both looked down at the darkened village. They were not touching. There was a moment of strained silence. "Nobody else has ever been here," Jane remarked, just for something to say.

"What did you use it for?"

"Oh, I just used to lie in the sun and think about nothing," she said, then she thought Oh, what the hell, and she said: "No, that's not quite true, I used to masturbate."

He laughed, then put his arm around her and hugged her. "I'm glad you still haven't learned to mince your words," he said.

She turned her face to him. He kissed her mouth softly.

He likes me for my faults, she thought: my tactlessness and my quick temper and my cursing, my willfulness and my being opinionated. "You don't want to change me," she said.

"Oh, Jane, I've missed you." He closed his eyes and spoke in a murmur. "Most of the time I didn't even realize that I was missing you." He lay back, pulling her with him, so that she ended up leaning over him. She kissed his face lightly. The awkward feeling was going rapidly. She thought: Last time I kissed him he had no beard. She felt his hands move: he was unbuttoning her shirt. She was not wearing a bra - she did not have one big enough - and her breasts felt very naked. She slipped her hand inside his shirt and touched the long hairs around his nipple. She had almost forgotten what men felt like. For months her life had been full of the soft voices and smooth faces of women and babies: now suddenly she wanted to feel rough skin and hard thighs and bristly cheeks. She twined her fingers in his beard and pushed his mouth open with her tongue. His hands found her swollen breasts, she felt a pang of pleasure - and then she knew what was going to happen and was powerless to stop it, for even as she pulled abruptly away from him, she felt both her nipples spurt warm milk over his hands, and she flushed with shame and said: "Oh, God, I'm sorry, how disgusting, I can't help it - "

He silenced her with a finger over her lips. "It's all right," he said. He caressed her breasts as he spoke, and they became slippery all over. "It's normal. It always happens. It's sexy."

It can't be sexy, she thought, but he shifted his position and brought his face to her chest and started to kiss her breasts and stroke them at the same time, and gradually she relaxed and started to enjoy the sensation. Eventually she felt another sharp pang of pleasure as they leaked again, but this time she did not mind. Ellis said: "Aaah," and the rough surface of his tongue touched her tender nipples, and she thought: If he sucks them I'll come.

It was as if he had read her mind. He closed his lips

around one long nipple, pulled it into his mouth and sucked it while holding the other between finger and thumb, squeezing gently and rhythmically. Helplessly Jane yielded to the sensation. And as her breasts squirted milk, one into his hand and the other into his mouth, the feeling was so exquisite that she shuddered uncontrollably and moaned: "Oh God oh God oh God" until it died away and she slumped on top of him.

For a while there was nothing in her mind but what she could feel: his warm breath on her wet breasts, his beard scratching her skin, the cool night air wafting over her heated cheeks, the nylon sleeping bag and the hard ground beneath. After a while his muffled voice said: "I'm suffocating."

She rolled off him. "Are we weird?" she said.

"Yes."

She giggled. "Have you ever done that before?"

He hesitated, then said: "Yes."

"What . . ." She still felt faintly embarrassed. "What does it taste like?"

"Warm and sweet. Like canned milk. Did you come?"

"Didn't you notice?"

"I wasn't sure. It's hard to tell with girls, sometimes."

She kissed him. "I came. A little one, but unmistakable. A boobinal orgasm."

' 'I almost came.''

"Really?" She ran her hand down his body. He had on the thin cotton pajamalike shirt and trousers that Afghans all wore. She could feel his ribs and his hip bones: he had lost the soft underskin fat which all but the thinnest Westerners had. Her hand encountered his prick, standing upright inside the trousers, and she said: "Ahhh," and grasped it. "It feels good," she said.

"Also at this end."

She wanted to give him as much pleasure as he had given her. She sat upright, untied the drawstring of his trousers and took out his prick. Stroking it gently, she bent over and kissed the end. Then the imp of mischief seized

her and she said: "How many girls have you had since me?"

"Just keep doing that and I'll tell you."

"Okay." She resumed stroking and kissing. He was silent. "Okay," she said after a minute, "how many?"

"Wait, I'm still counting."

"Bastard!" she said, and bit his prick.

"Ouch! Not many, really ... I swear!"

"What do you do when you haven't got a girl?"

"Take three guesses."

She was not to be put off. "Do you do it with your hand?"

"Aw, shucks, Miz Janey, I'se bashful."

"You do," she said triumphantly. "What do you think about while you're doing it?"

"Would you believe Princess Diana?"

"No."

"Now I am embarrassed."

Jane was consumed with curiosity. "You have to tell the truth."

"Pam Ewing."

"Who the hell is she?"

"You have been out of touch. She's Bobby Ewing's wife, in Dallas."

Jane remembered the television show and the actress, and she was astonished. "You can't be serious."

"You asked for the truth."

"But she's made of plastic!"

"We're talking fantasy here."

"Can't you fantasize a liberated woman?"

"Fantasy is no place for politics."

"I'm shocked." She hesitated. "How do you do it?"

"What?"

"What you do. With your hand."

"Kind of like what you're doing, but harder."

"Show me."

"I'm not just embarrassed now," he said. "I'm mortified."

"Please. Please show me. I've always wanted to see a

man do that. I've never had the nerve to ask before - if you turn me down I may never know." She took his hand and placed it where hers had been.

After a moment he started to move his hand slowly. He made several rather half-hearted strokes, men he sighed, closed his eyes and started to rub it in earnest.

"You're so rough with it!" she exclaimed.

He stopped. "I can't do this . . . unless you do it too."

"It's a deal," she said eagerly. Quickly she slipped off her trousers and panties. She knelt beside him and started to stroke herself.

"Come closer," he said. His voice sounded a little hoarse. "I can't see you."

He was lying flat on his back. She shuffled closer until she was kneeling upright beside his head, with the moonlight silvering her nipples and her pubic hair. He started to rub his prick again, faster this time, and he stared at her hand as if transfixed as she caressed herself.

"Oh, Jane," he said.

She began to enjoy the familiar darts of pleasure spreading from her fingertips. She saw Ellis's hips start to move up and down in rhythm with his hand. "I want you to come," she said. "I want to see it shoot out." Part of her was shocked at herself, but that part was swamped by excitement and desire.

He groaned. She looked at his face. His mouth was open and he was breathing hard. His eyes were fixed on her cunt. She stroked the lips with her middle finger. "Put your finger in," he breathed. "I want to see your finger go inside."

That was something she did not normally do. She pushed her fingertip inside. It felt smooth and slippery. She put it all the way in. He gasped, and because he was so excited by what she was doing, she got turned on, too. She turned her gaze back to his prick. His hips jerked faster as he fucked his hand. She moved her finger in and out of her cunt with mounting pleasure. Suddenly he arched his back, thrusting his pelvis high in the air and groaning, and a streak of white semen shot out from him. Involuntarily

Jane cried "Oh, my God!" then as she gazed, fascinated, at the tiny hole in the end of his organ, another jet came, and another, and a fourth, spurting up into the air, gleaming in the moonlight and landing on his chest and her arm and in her hair; and then when he collapsed, she herself was racked by spasms of pleasure fired by her fast-moving finger until she, too, was exhausted.

She slumped, lying beside him on the sleeping bag with her head on his thigh. His prick was still stiff. She leaned over weakly and kissed it. She could taste a trace of salty semen on the end. She felt his face nuzzle between her thighs in response.

For a while they were quiet. The only sounds were their breathing and the rushing river on the far side of the Valley. Jane looked at the stars. They were very bright, and there were no clouds. The night air was becoming cooler. We'll have to get inside this sleeping bag before too long, she thought. She looked forward to falling asleep close to him.

"Are we weird?" said Ellis.

"Oh, yes," she said.

His prick had fallen sideways and lay on his belly. She teased the red-gold hair of his groin with her fingertips. She had almost forgotten what it was like to make love to Ellis. He was so different from Jean-Pierre. Jean-Pierre liked a lot of preparation: bath oil, scent, candlelight, wine, violins. He was a fastidious lover. He liked her to wash before making love, and he always hurried to the bathroom afterward. He would never touch her while she had her period, and he certainly would not have sucked her breasts and swallowed the milk as Ellis had. Ellis would do anything, she thought, and the more unhygienic the better. She grinned in the dark. It occurred to her that she had never been completely convinced that Jean-Pierre actually liked performing oral sex, good at it though he was. With Ellis there was no doubt.

The thought made her want him to do it. She opened her thighs invitingly. She felt him kiss her, his lips brushing the wiry hair, then his tongue started to probe lasciviously

between the folds of her lips. After a while he rolled her onto her back, knelt between her thighs, and lifted her legs over his shoulders. She felt utterly naked, terribly open and vulnerable and yet greatly cherished. His tongue moved in a long, slow curve, starting at the base of her spine - Oh, God, she thought, / remember how he does this - licking along the cleft of her buttocks, pausing to push deep into her vagina, then lifting to tease the sensitive skin where the lips met and the tingling clitoris between them. After seven or eight long licks she held his head over her clitoris, making him concentrate on mat, and she began to lift and lower her hips, telling him by the pressure of her fingertips on his temples to lick harder or more lightly, higher or lower, left or right. She felt his hand on her cunt, pushing into the moist interior, and guessed what he was going to do: a moment later he withdrew his hand, and then pushed a wet finger slowly into her anus. She remembered how shocked she had been the first time he did that, and how quickly she had grown to like it. Jean-Pierre would never do mat in a million years. As the muscles of her body began to tense for the climax, the thought came to her that she had missed Ellis more than she had ever admitted to herself; indeed, the reason she had been so angry with him for so long was that she had continued to love him all along, and she loved him still; and as she admitted it, a terrible weight lifted from her mind and she started to come, shaking like a tree in a gale, and Ellis, knowing what she liked, thrust his tongue deep inside her while she ground her sex frantically against his face.

It seemed it would go on forever. Each time the sensations eased, he would thrust his finger deeper into her ass, or lick her clitoris, or bite the lips of her cunt, and it would start all over again; until, out of sheer exhaustion, she pleaded: "Stop, stop, I've no energy left, it will kill me," and at last he lifted his face from her cunt and lowered her legs to the ground.

He leaned over her, resting his weight on his hands, and kissed her mouth. The smell of her cunt was in his beard. She lay prone, too tired to open her eyes, too tired even to

kiss him back. She felt his hand on her cunt, opening it, then his prick nosing in, and she thought He got hard again quickly and then It's been so long oh God it feels good.

He began to move in and out, slowly at first and then faster. She opened her eyes. His face was above hers and he was gazing at her. Then he bent his neck and looked down to where their bodies were joined. His eyes widened and his mouth opened as he watched his prick going in and out of her cunt, and the sight so inflamed him that she wished she could see it, too. Suddenly he slowed his pace, thrusting deeper, and she remembered mat he did this before the climax. He looked into her eyes. "Kiss me while I come," he said, and he lowered his cunt-smelling lips to hers. She thrust her tongue into his mouth. She loved it when he came. His back arched and his head lifted, and he gave a cry like a wild animal, and she felt him spurt inside her.

When it was over he lowered his head to her shoulder and moved his lips gently against the soft skin of her neck, whispering words which she could not make out. After a minute or two he gave a deep sigh of contentment, kissed her mouth, then raised himself to his knees and kissed each of her breasts in turn. Finally he kissed her cunt. Her body responded instantly, and she moved her hips to push against his lips. Knowing that she was getting turned on yet again, he began to lick; and, as always, the thought of him licking her cunt while it was still dripping with his semen almost drove her mad, and she came immediately, crying his name until the spasm passed.

He slumped beside her at last. Automatically they moved into the position they had always lain in after making love: his arm around her, her head on his shoulder, her thigh lying across his hips. He yawned hugely, and she giggled at him. They touched one another lethargically, she reaching down to toy with his limp penis, he moving his fingers in and out of her sopping cunt. She licked his chest and tasted salt perspiration on his skin. She looked at his neck. The moon highlighted the lines and furrows, betraying his

age. He's ten years older than me, Jane thought. Maybe that's why he's such a great fuck, because he's older. "Why are you such a great fuck?" she said aloud. He did not reply; he was asleep. So she said: "I love you, dear, sleep well," and then she closed her eyes.

After a year in the Valley, Jean-Pierre found the city of Kabul bewildering and frightening. The buildings were too tall, the cars went too fast and there were too many people. He had to cover his ears as enormous Russian trucks roared by in convoy. Everything assaulted him with the shock of the new: apartment blocks, schoolgirls in uniform, streetlights, elevators, tablecloths, and the taste of wine. After twenty-four hours he was still jumpy. It was ironic: he was a Parisian!

He had been given a room in the unmarried officers' quarters. They had promised him that he would get an apartment as soon as Jane arrived with Chantal. Meanwhile he felt as if he were living in a cheap hotel. The building probably had been a hotel before the Russians came. If Jane were to arrive now - she was due at any time - the three of them would have to make the best of it here for the rest of the night. I can't complain, thought Jean-Pierre; I'm not a hero - yet.

He stood at his window, looking over Kabul at night. For a couple of hours the power had been out all over the city, due presumably to the urban counterparts of Masud and his guerrillas, but a few minutes ago it had come back on again, and there was a faint glow over the city center, which had street lighting. The only noise was the howl of engines as army cars, trucks and tanks hurtled through the city, hurrying to their mysterious destinations. What was so urgent, at midnight in Kabul? Jean-Pierre had done military service, and he thought that if the Russian Army was anything like the French, the kind of task done at the double in the middle of the night was something like moving five hundred chairs from a barracks to a hall on the other side of town in preparation for a concert that was

to take place in two weeks' time and would probably get canceled.

He could not smell the night air, for his window was nailed shut. His door was not locked, but there was a Russian sergeant with a pistol sitting blank-faced on a straight-backed chair at the end of the corridor, next to the toilet, and Jean-Pierre felt that if he wanted to leave, the sergeant would probably prevent him.

Where was Jane? The raid on Darg must have been over by nightfall. For a helicopter to go from Darg to Banda and pick up Jane and Chantal would be the work of a few minutes. The helicopter could get from Banda to Kabul in under an hour. But perhaps the attacking force was returning to Bagram, the air base near the mouth of the Valley, in which case Jane might have had to come from Bagram to Kabul by road, no doubt accompanied by Anatoly.

She would be so glad to see her husband that she would be ready to forgive his deceit, see his point of view about Masud, and let bygones be bygones, Jean-Pierre thought. For a moment he wondered whether mat was wishful thinking. No, he decided; he knew her quite well, and she was basically under his thumb.

And she would know. Only a few people would share the secret and comprehend the magnitude of what he had achieved: he was glad she would be one of them.

He hoped Masud had been captured, rather than killed. If he had been captured, the Russians could put him on trial, so that all the rebels would know for sure he was finished. Death was almost as good, provided they had the body. If there were no body, or an unrecognizable corpse, the rebels' propagandists in Peshawar would put out press releases claiming that Masud was still alive. Of course, it would become clear in the end that he was dead, but the impact would be softened a little. Jean-Pierre hoped they had the body.

He heard footsteps in the corridor. Would it be Anatoly, or Jane - or both? It sounded like a masculine tread. He opened the door and saw two rather large Russian soldiers and a third, smaller man in an officer's uniform. No doubt

they had come to take him to wherever Anatoly and Jane were. He was disappointed. He looked inquiringly at the officer, who made a gesture with his hand. The two soldiers stepped through the door rudely. Jean-Pierre went back a pace, a protest rising to his lips, but before he could speak, the nearer of the two grabbed him by the shirt and smashed a huge fist into his face.

Jean-Pierre let out a howl of pain and fear. The other soldier kicked him in the groin with a heavy boot. The pain was excruciating, and Jean-Pierre sank to his knees, knowing that the most terrible moment of his life had arrived.

The two soldiers pulled him upright and held him standing, one at each arm, and the officer came in. Through a haze of tears Jean-Pierre saw a short, thickset young man with some kind of deformity which made one side of his face appear flushed and swollen and gave him a permanent sneer. He carried a truncheon in his gloved hand.

For the next five minutes the two soldiers held Jean-Pierre's squirming, shuddering body while the officer smashed the wooden truncheon repeatedly into his face, his shoulders, his knees, his shins, his belly and his groin -  always his groin. Every blow was carefully placed and viciously delivered, and there was always a pause between blows, so that the agony of the last could fade just enough to allow Jean-Pierre to dread the next for a second before it came. Every blow made him scream in pain, and every pause made him scream in anticipation of the next blow. At last there was a longer pause, and Jean-Pierre began to babble, not knowing whether they could understand him or not: "Oh, please, don't hit me, please, don't hit me again, sir, I'll do anything, what is it you want, please don't hit me no don't hit me - "

"Enough!" said a voice in French.

Jean-Pierre opened his eyes and tried to peer through the blood streaming down his face at this savior who had said Enough. It was Anatoly.

The two soldiers slowly let Jean-Pierre sink to the ground. His body felt as if it was on fire. Every move was agony.

Every bone felt broken, his balls felt crushed, his face seemed to have swollen enormously. He opened his mouth, and blood came out. He swallowed, and spoke through smashed lips. "Why . . . why have they done this?"

"You know why," said Anatoly.

Jean-Pierre shook his head from side to side slowly and tried to keep from descending into utter madness. "I risked my life for you ... I gave everything . . . why?"

"You set a trap," Anatoly said. "Eighty-one men died today because of you."

The raid must have gone wrong, Jean-Pierre realized, and somehow he was being blamed. "No," he said, "not I - "

"You expected to be miles away when the trap was sprung," Anatoly went on. "But I surprised you by making you get into the helicopter and come with me. So you are here to take your punishment - which will be painful and very, very prolonged." He turned away.

"No," said Jean-Pierre. "Wait!"

Anatoly turned back.

Jean-Pierre fought to think despite the pain. "I came here ... I risked my life ... I gave you information on the convoys . . . you attacked the convoys ... did far more damage than the loss of eighty men ... not logical, it's not logical." He gathered his strength for one coherent sentence. "If I had known of a trap I could have warned you yesterday and begged for mercy."

"Then how did they know we would attack the village?" Anatoly demanded.

"They must have guessed. ..."

"How?"

Jean-Pierre racked his confused brains. "Was Skabun bombed?"

"I think not."

That was it, Jean-Pierre realized; someone had found out mat there had been no bombing at Skabun, "You should have bombed it," he said.

Anatoly looked thoughtful. "Somebody there is very good at making connections."

It was Jane, thought Jean-Pierre, and for a second he hated her.

Anatoty said: "Has Ellis Thaler got any distinguishing marks?"

Jean-Pierre wanted to pass out, but he was afraid they would hit him again. "Yes," he said miserably. "A big scar on his back shaped like a cross."

"Then it is him," said Anatoly in a near-whisper.

"Who?"

"John Michael Raleigh, age thirty-four, born in New Jersey, eldest son of a builder. He was a dropout from the University of California at Berkeley and a captain in the U.S. Marines. He has been a CIA agent since 1972. Marital status: divorced once, one child, whereabouts of the family a closely guarded secret." He waved his hand as if to brush such details aside. "There's no doubt it was he who outguessed me at Darg today. He's brilliant and very dangerous. If I could have my pick of all the agents of the Western imperialist nations to catch I would choose him. In the last ten years he has done us irreparable damage on at least three occasions. Last year in Paris he destroyed a network that had taken seven or eight years of patient work to develop, The year before that he found an agent we had planted in the Secret Service in nineteen sixty-five - a man who could have assassinated a president one day. And now - now we have him here."

Jean-Pierre, kneeling on the floor and hugging his battered body, let his head fall forward and closed his eyes in despair. All along he had been far out of his depth, blithely pitting himself against the grand masters of this merciless game, a naked child in a den of lions.

He had had such high hopes. Working alone, he was to have dealt the Afghan Resistance a blow from which it would never recover. He would have changed the course of history in this area of the globe. And he would have taken his revenge on the smug rulers of the West; he would have deceived and dismayed the establishment that had betrayed and killed his father. But instead of that

triumph, he had been defeated. It had all been snatched from him at the last moment - by Ellis.

He heard Anatoly's voice like a background murmur. "We can be sure he achieved what he wanted with the rebels. We don't know the details, but the outline is enough: a unity pact among the bandit leaders in exchange for American arms. That kind of thing could keep the rebellion going for years. We've got to stop it before it gets started."

Jean-Pierre opened his eyes and looked up. "How?"

"We have to catch this man before he can return to the United States. That way nobody will know that he agreed the treaty, the rebels will never get their arms, and the whole thing will fizzle out.''

Jean-Pierre listened, fascinated despite the pain. Could it be that there was still a chance of wreaking his revenge?

"Catching him would almost make up for losing Masud," Anatoly went on, and Jean-Pierre's heart leaped with new hope. "Not only would we have neutralized the single most dangerous agent the imperialists have. Think of it: a real live CIA man caught here in Afghanistan. . . . For three years the American propaganda machine has been saying that the Afghan bandits are freedom fighters waging a heroic David-and-Goliath struggle against the might of the Soviet Union. Now we have proof of what we have been saying all along - that Masud and the others are mere lackeys of American imperialism. We can put Ellis on trial. ..."

"But the Western newspapers will deny everything," said Jean-Pierre. "The capitalist press - "

"Who cares about the West? It is the nonaligned countries, the Third World waverers, and the Muslim nations in particular whom we want to impress."

It was possible, Jean-Pierre realized, to turn this into a triumph; and it would still be a triumph for him personally, because it was he who had alerted the Russians to the presence of a CIA agent in the Five Lions Valley.

"Now," said Anatoly, "where is Ellis tonight?"

"He moves around with Masud," said Jean-Pierre. Catch-

ing Ellis was easier said than done: it had taken Jean-Pierre a whole year to pin down Masud.

"I don't see why he should continue to be with Masud," said Anatoly. "Did he have a base?"

"Yes - he lived with a family in Banda, theoretically. But he was rarely there."

"Nevertheless, that is obviously the place to begin."

Yes, of course, thought Jean-Pierre. If Ellis is not at Banda, somebody there may know where he has gone. . . . Somebody like Jane. If Anatoly went to Banda looking for Ellis, he might at the same time find Jane. Jean-Pierre's pain seemed to ease as he realized that he might get his revenge on the establishment, capture Ellis, who had stolen his triumph, and get Jane and Chantal back. "Will I go with you to Banda?" he asked.

Anatoly considered. "I think so. You know the village and the people - it may be useful to have you on hand."

Jean-Pierre struggled to his feet, gritting his teeth against the agony in his groin. "When do we go?"

"Now," said Anatoly.

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