The Policewoman

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Chapter 6: The 22nd Regiment, Special Air Service

21:48 GMT

Monday July 27, 2026

Interpol Manchester

Central Park, Manchester, England

Sarah finishes filling out the AAR form, the After-Action Report, and sends it to her teammates. She and Michael have taken Glock 17 pistols and mags from the GMP armoury. This makes them feel slightly safer, but they won’t be happy until they’ve broken in the new pistols and the GMP’s indoor firing range is already closed. Sarah only sits, staring blankly at her tablet.

“All right, Sarah?” asks Michael from his desk. He has also finished sending his AAR.

“Not quite,” answers Sarah, looking at him.

Michael can see tears in her eyes. He can clearly see that Sarah’s suffering from combat stress, a condition that can affect anybody after a firefight, even special forces operatives. If left untreated, it could lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Ironically, since the early 2020s, the best treatment for PTSD is MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, though Michael knows for sure that Sarah wouldn’t even consider taking drugs to alleviate her stress.

“Well, there’s a nice pub at the Holiday Inn across the street,” says Michael, rising from his chair. “Come on. I think we both need a drink or two.”

Sarah doesn’t answer, but stands up and follows him. They take Michael’s car across Oldham Road and enter the hotel’s 888 Restaurant & Bar. The 888 looks comfortable and is perfect for their current mood. It’s quiet and empty of patrons. The bar is well-stocked and the dining area in front of it is lit by candles on every table. Soft music plays throughout, and under other circumstances, the ambience would be fairly romantic.

A barman greets Sarah with gleaming eyes. “Good evenin’, love. What would you like to drink?”

Sarah looks at the bottles behind him. “A triple Macallan please.”

“And how about you, sir?” asks the barman, curtly. Michael is giving him a mean look.

“Guinness!” orders Michael, equally curt.

They don’t talk as the barman prepares their drinks. It takes two minutes to pour the perfect Guinness and Michael is impatient waiting for it.

“Anythin’ else, love?” asks the barman, serving her the whiskey.

“No, thank you,” answers Sarah.

“And you, sir?” he asks curtly, handing Michael his Guinness.

“No… now piss off!”

The barman wipes the bar in front of them for a moment before returning to Sarah. “If you need anythin’ else, love, just give me a yell,” he says, giving her a wink before leaving them.

‘Wanker!’ thinks Michael, giving him a dirty look.

They drink in silence. Michael’s first gulp of Guinness tastes like it’s God-sent, especially after the day they’ve had. He enjoys it for a moment and then notices Sarah’s eyes are moist again.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asks gently.

Sarah still can’t talk and her tears start flowing instead. She keeps silent for a couple of minutes before she’s finally able to say something.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly.

“For what?”

“You must think I’m weak… crying in front of you like this,” she answers, wiping the tears from her eyes.

“What makes you think I won’t be doing the same thing in a few minutes from now?”

“Well, it looks like killing people doesn’t affect you. So what are you? A natural-born killer or something?” asks Sarah sharply.

Under different circumstances, Michael might’ve been offended by that question, but today he doesn’t take it personally. This is an extraordinary day for both and he can also see that the whiskey is already starting to get the better of her. “I slot people because it’s my job and I definitely don’t enjoy it. I experience combat stress like everyone else, but usually a couple of hours after the action.”


“The delayed shock, when adrenaline finally leaves the system, makes me feel nauseous. I’ll probably start trembling and vomiting in about… fifteen minutes from now,” he says, glancing at his Bremont.

They go silent again, trying to enjoy their drinks.

“Is this the first time you’ve ever slotted someone?” asks Michael.

Sarah only shakes her head and she suddenly remembers every time she’s been forced to end a life. The first time she had to kill someone, she couldn’t eat or sleep for two straight days. On that occasion, a cornered suspect suddenly drew a pistol and shot at one of her men. Fortunately, the policeman was unhurt because he was wearing body armour. Sarah remembers exactly how the suspect reacted when two bullets from Sarah’s pistol went through his heart. After a couple of days trying to keep it to herself, she’d finally poured her heart out to her dad, who’d had plenty of combat experience. Her dad comforted her and told her that he also felt the same way after his first firefight, although he never did tell her the details.

Sarah doesn’t mind roughing up criminals. She has no problem taking them down and breaking a few bones. Broken bones take months to heal, time for criminals to reflect on their lifestyles. Some of them actually repent and eventually become law-abiding citizens. This is different to criminals shot in the leg for ‘escaping arrest’, who tend to be proud of their scars and show them off to women and fellow criminals.

But killing someone is another matter. Although Sarah has taken the lives of quite a few criminals and terrorists, her conscience still bothers her and makes her remember every single person she has killed.

Sarah is silent for a few more minutes before she’s finally able to speak. “I was looking straight into Declan’s eyes when you broke his neck… I saw the sheer terror in his eyes just before it happened. The same thing happened with Tiny. I literally saw the Ángel de la Muerte take their lives away. How do you forget something like that, Michael?”

“You accept that you’ll never forget it. It’s a good thing, really, less you become desensitized to it. Taking the life of another human being is certainly not a natural act. You reacting like this shows that you’re only human,” says Michael, “and what you did for Tiny in his last few seconds of his life was very kind of you. You’re a good person, Sarah.”

Sarah finishes her drink and keeps silent for a few moments. Bad memories from this evening flash through her mind and tears start landing in her empty glass.

“Here, come with me,” says Michael, taking her hand and directing her to the empty space behind them.

He puts her arms around his waist and presses her head toward his chest. He hugs her with his left arm and uses his right hand to caress her hair. As before, they feel jolts of electricity when they touch. Sarah feels so comfortable on Michael’s hard chest that she cries unashamedly, covering his expensive tie with her tears. After a few minutes, she calms down and releases her head from his chest, although they’re still hugging each other.

“I’m sorry for burdening you with this and for ruining your tie,” says Sarah, smiling at him.

“It’s the least I can do, Sarah. You did save my life back there,” says Michael, returning her smile. “If you hadn’t taken on those three who flanked me and then taken on Tiny, I would certainly be dead by now. Thank you… for twice saving my life.”

Sarah smiles and blushes, making her so beautiful that Michael can’t take his eyes off her. But Michael’s own words remind him of today’s events and he himself starts to tense up thinking about everything. Michael imagines that if Sarah had been just a few seconds late, he would be dead, or at least severely wounded, shot by the three men or by Tiny. Michael owes his life to Sarah, especially since she got wounded saving his neck.

“I didn’t have the chance to read your AAR,” says Michael, trying to change the subject. “How did you manage to ram a pen into Tiny’s chest and into his heart?”

“After I knocked him on his back, I threw myself on top of him while putting the rear side of a pen I found against my abdominal muscles. My body weight then helped ram the pen into his chest.”

“Wow! You literally have ‘killer abs’ then,” says Michael, trying hard to smile at her.

Sarah laughs. She’s now far less stressed than a few minutes ago. Michael, on the other hand, feels the opposite. As adrenaline starts exiting his system, he feels increasingly jittery and tense. His hands are starting to shake and he becomes nauseous. He’s now feeling like someone who drank too much caffeine or someone having symptoms from drug withdrawal. He wants to throw up, but of course he doesn’t want to do it in front of Sarah.

They now face each other with locked eyes. They can feel each other’s heartbeat starting to speed up. The electricity between them feels so powerful... a feeling that makes them sometimes forget to breathe. Their breathing becomes heavier by the second… their lips getting closer… and closer...

“Sarah?” asks Michael softly.

“Yes?” whispers Sarah. Her eyes are watery, but not from stress this time.

“May I kiss you?” whispers Michael.

Sarah is briefly irritated. ’Our lips are literally millimetres apart and you’re still asking?’ she thinks.

“Yes…” whispers Sarah, closing her eyes. Her heart is racing and her lips are close to his, ready to be kissed.

Michael suddenly releases her. “Splendid… remind me to do that sometime. Come on, I’ll drive you home.”

He then goes to the bar to finish his Guinness and pay for the drinks while Sarah can only stand there, open-mouthed. She now feels so exasperated, frustrated, and irritated with Michael that she wants to wring his neck! She was really hoping that he’d kiss her and the timing was so perfect. Sarah hasn’t realized yet that it’s her turn to be a rock for Michael.

They exit the restaurant with Sarah fuming and pouting behind him. Inside the car, Michael only sits there for a while without starting the engine. Sarah can see that Michael’s knuckles look pale, meaning that his hands are gripping hard onto the steering wheel.

“Is it starting?” asks Sarah.

“Yes…” answers Michael, half whispering.

“Do you want me to drive?”

“No! Let me handle this… please!” answers Michael curtly. He then turns on the engine.

Sarah doesn’t take it personally and instead holds his shaking hand. Michael drives without talking and Sarah can see that his eyes are glassy. Sarah makes a decision.

“Come inside,” invites Sarah when they arrive at her building.

Sarah leads him to her flat. Once inside, Sarah throws herself on to him and kisses him passionately.

After a couple of minutes, Michael releases his lips. “Are you sure about this?”

“Yes, Michael,” answers Sarah firmly.

Sarah releases herself from Michael and takes off her jumper. She’s now in a white bra and blue jeans. Michael can see that Sarah’s body is far more ripped than the photo of her he keeps posted behind his office door at Credenhill. She has broad, athletic shoulders and a slim waist. Her breasts are the perfect shape and size. Most of all, Michael is impressed with Sarah’s perfect six-pack abs. Sarah’s skin is light-tan and looks silky-smooth and well-maintained, much more exotic than the pale, freckled British women he normally dates.

Michael also starts taking off his jacket, tie, and shirt. Sarah can now see Michael’s broad chest and shoulders. There are numerous scars on his body, probably from a bomb, mortar, or grenade. Unfortunately, he’s sporting a pot-belly. She also notices he’s taking off his clothes with shaking hands.

Sarah takes both of his hands and looks at him. “All right?”

Michael only nods. It’s not just combat stress that makes his hands shake. In the next few minutes, Michael will be intimate with someone whom he’s idolized for the last couple of years and he’s worried he might disappoint her.

“Nervous?” asks Sarah once again.

Michael can only nod again.

“Is this your first time?” teases Sarah.

“Of course not,” answers Michael, returning her smile. “I’ve been nervous many times before.”

Sarah laughs upon recognizing the ‘Airplane!’ quote and kisses him hard on his lips. They are now a couple.

23:54 GMT

Monday July 27, 2026

Audenshaw Road

Audenshaw, Manchester, England

After the battle, The Cartel’s drivers conduct counter-surveillance measures and then meet at the emergency rendezvous. The remaining assault force had to abandon their colleagues because they’d run out of ammo and faced a big chance of getting killed or caught if they’d diddled around.

After all cars have shown up, they do another round of counter-surveillance measures, all the way to HQ. Everyone’s waiting for them, looking pale. Their battle at Carluccio’s is breaking news, but the reporters only said that dozens of people had been killed in the restaurant.

“How was the exfil? Did ye get away clean?” asks Rory.

“All of the drivers did the drills like ye taught them,” answers Steve. He looks deathly white and Seamus is shaken and crying.

“What the fuck happened?” asks Patrick, relieved that his brother is one of the survivors.

“We tried to ambush them like we had planned, but they counterattacked just before we initiated the ambush. That fucking policewoman would’ve killed me if I wasn’t wearing body armour!” says Steve, showing them the two bullets still embedded in his Kevlar vest.

“Are ye saying those two managed to slot twenty-two of our members by themselves?” asks Patrick incredulously.

“Fuck, Paddy! One of them was SAS, for Christ’s sake!” says Steve. “And that girl is definitely no ordinary policewoman. The last time I saw her, she was taking on Tiny while Declan and another was fighting the SAS fella. I don’t know what happened to them.”

“Tiny’s fucking dead! Our contact in the GMP said that that fucking policewoman rammed a pen straight into his fucking heart!” says Patrick.

Steve’s jaw drops and he’s speechless. Killing an ex-special forces operative with just a pen is definitely not an ordinary feat!

“We should’ve brought longs,” says Rory.

Everyone can only nod in agreement. They’re much more adept with assault rifles than pistols.

“There were only two targets and ye couldn’t hit even one of them?” teases Niall. He’s frustrated that they didn’t succeed in snatching Sarah and doesn’t care that a lot of the men have been killed. “I thought ye’re an expert with a pistol?”

“Why don’t ye try shooting a fucking moving target after ye were almost fucking slotted!” snarls Steve, punching his finger into Niall’s chest.

“Fuck off, Niall!” snaps Patrick. Niall only snorts and looks away. Patrick then asks Rory, “Any chance the coppers can find our HQ or Swan’s Mill?”

“I don’t think so but we should beef up security, especially for Swan’s Mill,” suggests Rory.

“We’ll smuggle Swan’s Mill a couple dozen more longs and all our PE4 with Seamus just in case they managed to trace it,” orders Patrick.

“We’ve lost almost all the fellas from Swan’s Mill, Paddy,” says Steve.

“Better dead than apprehended. They won’t be able to interrogate the dead fellas,” says Patrick.

“When do we retaliate?” asks Carraig.

Patrick takes a long breath. He has lost too many men against those Interpol bastards and there are times he has to cut his losses… for now.

“I’ll think of something,” says Patrick, evading the question. “For now, ye fellas should go and get some rest.”

Patrick makes a call to Swan’s Mill. He can only accept his fate when his feisty factory head reams him a new arsehole for losing almost all the men from Swan’s Mill.

After years of operations, this is the first time members of The Cartel have been killed.

06:35 GMT

Tuesday July 28, 2026

Stay Deansgate Apartments

Deansgate, Manchester, England

The next morning, Michael slowly opens his eyes. He’s briefly disoriented, but then he remembers what happened to him the night before. He’s now on his back, wearing only his undershirt and boxers. He’s sore all over, but feeling relaxed. He doesn’t see Sarah beside him, but hears scratching sounds on the floor on the right side of the bed. There’s a nightstand on the right side of the bed and on top of it are Sarah’s Glock, mags, and handcuffs. Michael keeps looking at the handcuffs and his fantasies go wild.

“You want me to wear them, don’t you?” asks Sarah’s voice from the floor on his right.

Michael is stunned. He shifts his body to the right and looks down. Sarah’s doing her crunches. She has put on her jeans again, but is only wearing a white bra. The bandage is still on her left arm and a military watch on her right wrist. She’s glistening with sweat, making the muscles of her six-pack stand out, especially when they’re clenched.

“Good morning,” greets Michael, evading her question.

Bonjour,” Sarah returns his greeting with sparkling eyes. “Why don’t you come down here and join me?”

“No, thank you,” answers Michael. “I’m getting knackered just watching you.”

Sarah laughs, making her abdominal muscles even more pronounced. Michael absolutely loves athletic girls. He can’t help but be mesmerized staring at Sarah’s abs as she does her crunches. His hand comes down to caress her sweaty stomach.

“Come on, you could use some exercise,” says Sarah.

“You already gave me one hell of a workout,” says Michael.

Sarah laughs.

“Twice,” says Michael.

Sarah laughs again.

“How many times do you do this every day?” asks Michael.

“Only a thousand times,” answers Sarah proudly.

“Wow! Can your abs stop bullets?”

“Of course, but only small calibre rounds,” answers Sarah, laughing.

“How long have you been doing this?”

“Since I was twelve years old.”

“Really? Who inspired you?”

“I once saw a picture of a fitness model with such a perfect body. Her name is Jen Selter. Have you ever heard of her?” asks Sarah.

“I have indeed,” answers Michael sheepishly.

Sarah’s abs are as perfect as Jen Selter’s and Michael can’t stop touching them. He starts tapping her stomach with his finger, as if counting.

“What are you doing?” asks Sarah.

“I have a new hobby and it’s counting your six-pack. One, two, three, four, five, six… one, two, three, four, five, six. I could do this all day long.”

Sarah laughs. She keeps doing her crunches while Michael’s finger finally finds Sarah’s navel and starts snuggling deeply into it. Sarah is tickled but continues her crunches, crushing Michael’s finger with her abdominal muscles as she does so.

“Ouch!” exclaims Michael, smiling.

Sarah laughs again. She suddenly lifts herself up, throws her arms around Michael’s neck, and gives him a very hard kiss. She can’t stand having her navel played with like that.

After a few seconds, Sarah releases him and looks deep into his eyes. “Tu te sens comment?”

“Spectacular!” answers Michael, smiling. “You?”

Fantastique! Mercipour une nuit incroyable!” Sarah returns his smile and gives him another hard kiss.

Sarah stands up and looks at herself through the mirror in front of her. She sees Michael admiring her as she checks her own six-pack. She turns towards him.

“How are my abs?” she asks with both hands on her hips.

Michael can now admire them from up close. Sarah’s abs are as hard as the tyres on his bike and the ridges are cut very deep. He then starts kissing Sarah’s abdomen, beginning from her sternum and going downwards. As they’re a new couple, the electricity feels so powerful that Sarah starts breathing heavily. Michael uses his tongue to trace Sarah’s stomach until he finally reaches her navel. He bites into the upper lip of her navel and then inserts his tongue into it. Sarah moans loudly when he does that and starts to pull Michael towards the ground. But Michael instead lifts her up, turns around, and places Sarah gently on the bed. He then sits on top of her thighs.

With an excited look, Michael takes the handcuffs from the nightstand, puts Sarah’s arms above her head, and cuffs her wrists to the bedpost. Sarah has never done this before, but because she’s so comfortable with Michael, she becomes even more aroused. Michael gives her a lingering kiss and starts going down towards her neck. Sarah’s breathing is already heavy when he starts kissing her chest and heads downwards to her stomach. Michael keeps tracing the muscles of her abs with his lips and tongue until Sarah gives another loud moan.

Unfortunately, Michael’s own stomach growls in hunger because he hadn’t eaten anything the night before.

“Sarah?” asks Michael, still kissing her stomach.

“Yes?” murmurs Sarah with her heavy breath and closed eyes.

“Are you ticklish?”

Sarah’s eyes snap open. She sees Michael grinning at her wickedly. “Dare tickle me and I will kill you with my bare hands!”

“Really? With which hand?” asks Michael as his own hands start touching her slim waist.

“You don’t believe me, do you?” she asks, giving him an evil eye. “Watch this!”

Two loud cracks are heard and the cuffs somehow fly off her wrists. Michael suddenly feels himself flying and then finds himself on his back. He doesn’t even have the chance to realize what’s happening when Sarah lands on top of his stomach and presses her forearm to his throat.

“How the devil… did you… do… that?” asks Michael, choking like a fish out of water.

“Densus taught all of us how to get out of handcuffs. Surrender?” asks Sarah, raising an eyebrow.

“Uncle… uncle!” gasps Michael, surrendering before he literally suffocates to death. He had completely forgotten that Sarah’s bare hands are extremely deadly!

Sarah lets go and Michael can finally take a breath of relief.

“Now… what do you want for breakfast?” asks Sarah, still on top of him.

Michael rubs his throat for a while before answering her. “Hmm… I think I’ll have pancakes, toast, grilled tomatoes, scrambled eggs, bangers and mash, loads of bacon…”

“Do you really expect me to cook all of that for you?” cuts in Sarah, giving him an incredulous look.

Michael only gives her his signature cheeky grin.

“Yeah, right! Lekker eten zonder betalen!” mutters Sarah in Dutch.

Michael laughs out loud. Sarah comes down from him and heads towards the fridge. She takes out a cantaloupe melon and starts cutting it into slices. Michael is still sore all over so he gets up slowly. He stretches for a few minutes and then walks toward Sarah. He hugs her from behind and kisses her on the neck. The kiss makes Sarah shudder and her breath starts to go heavy again. She tries to ignore him and keeps cutting the melon. After a few seconds, she stops and closes her eyes. She turns towards Michael to kiss him on the lips. After a while, Sarah releases him, takes a piece of fruit, and puts it into his mouth.

“Let’s have breakfast,” says Sarah, taking the plates of fruit to the dinner table.

Michael sits and starts eating while staring at the incredibly beautiful, sexy, and half-naked girl in front him. His heart races every time Sarah looks back at him.

“What do you plan on doing with your free time?” asks Sarah.

“I have a meeting today with the Director and my CO at the Barracks. Would you like to go with me to Herefordshire? The Regiment is currently doing Summer Selection and there’s an open invitation to do the Fan Dance. It’s tomorrow at dawn.”

“Fan Dance?” asks Sarah, smiling to imagine Michael and his men doing a Korean fan dance.

“It’s a fearsome twenty-four-kilometre run in full kit, up and down the Corn Du and Pen y Fan hills of the Brecon Beacons, which are the highest peaks in southern UK.”

“That sounds lovely! But am I allowed to join?” asks Sarah hopefully.

“I’ll sort it with the Director. I’m sure it won’t pose a problem as almost all of the men, including the Director, already know who you are.”

“How the devil could the SAS know who I am?” she asks, frowning.

“Oh, everyone knows your brother very well, but they’ll recognize you also. No need to worry - as far as they know, you’re just a constable in the INP.”

“But how?”

“I’ll show you when we get there,” says Michael with a mysterious smile. “I have to do the Fan Dance in full kit like the other men, but you can wear anything you want.”

“What kind of kit do you have to bring?”

“Oh, the usual. A bergen filled with food, water, bivvi bag, first aid kit, bayonet, ammo, and spare clothes. The bergen has to weigh at least fifty pounds before and after the Fan Dance.”

“If you could arrange it, I would like to have the same kit as the others,” says Sarah, wanting to challenge herself.

“Splendid! I’ll have someone help us sort our kit. It’s only a two-and-a-half-hour train ride from Manchester Piccadilly to Hereford and there’s a train every bottom of the hour. I’ll get the tickets and you can stay at my flat. How about we meet at Manchester Piccadilly Railway Station before 08:30?”

“Sounds good,” says Sarah, taking their plates and putting them into the dishwasher. “It’ll give me time to make my report for NCB Indonesia.”

“Sod the report! We’ll have time for another round,” says Michael, standing up to give her a kiss.

Sarah returns his kiss. Michael’s hand is trying to open Sarah’s bra. He stops kissing her to look for the snap.

“How the devil do you open these stupid things?” he asks, frustrated.

Sarah rolls her eyes and opens her bra using the snap at the front. Michael observes that her breasts don’t change at all; the shape is exactly the same whether she’s wearing the bra or not. He squeezes them and they feel naturally firm, and his fingers start playing with her nipples, which immediately perk up. Sarah closes her eyes and enjoys the sensation. Michael keeps looking at her breasts until Sarah’s hand raises his chin and she kisses him on the mouth. After a couple of minutes, Sarah releases him, although Michael’s hands are still on her breasts.

“We don’t have time for this. You should go and sort for the trip. I have to do the same,” suggests Sarah.

“Oh, come on, you seem to want it also,” says Michael.

“You could disembowel me and my breasts would still react this way if you keep doing that.”

“Yeah… right,” says Michael, eyes still mesmerized by her perfectly shaped breasts.

“My face is up here, Michael!” says Sarah, finally swatting his hands away.

“Right… of course,” says Michael, struggling hard to divert his eyes towards hers.

“Go on and get into your clothes!” she orders with her hands on her hips.

Michael follows her orders as slowly as he can while staring at Sarah’s magnificent body. Only the bandage on her arm mars the perfect image in front of him. Once he’s finished, Sarah puts her arm through his and leads him to the door. At the door, Michael turns and kisses her passionately, a kiss she returns. A few moments later, Sarah releases herself, opens the door, and pushes him out.

“Are you sure we don’t have time?” asks Michael.

Sarah smiles and pushes him out further. “Go, Michael!”

“Okay, okay,” he says, finally getting out.

Sarah immediately closes the door. She must get rid of Michael right away before he manages to change her mind. She then takes her tablet and a pistol cleaning kit and sits down at the dinner table. She turns on her tablet and opens the latest Dragon Naturally Speaking software. While dictating her report, Sarah field strips her pistol. She’s such an expert that she can field strip and clean any pistol without even looking at it. After the parts are cleaned and properly lubricated, she puts them back together again, also without looking. She dry-fires it a few times to make sure it works. The Glock pistol is extremely reliable, but she doesn’t feel secure unless she’s tested it.

It takes her an hour to finish her report. She checks it and revises it manually. Her report isn’t that different to the contents of the AAR, but the quality of her writing is better because she completed it without stress. Sarah smiles to herself, remembering what Michael did to her last night to relieve the stress.

After sending her report by e-mail to the Secretariat of NCB Indonesia, she meets Michael at Manchester Piccadilly and they take the train to Hereford. Sarah looks fresh and beautiful in a white shirt and jeans shorts and Michael looks like a tourist in shirt, shorts, and sandals. It takes them almost two and a half hours to arrive.

“Will someone pick us up?” asks Sarah.

“Of course,” answers Michael, his chin pointing towards someone near the exit.

The man’s in his mid-thirties, a little shorter than Sarah, and looks like a bricklayer. He shakes hands with Michael and greets him in a thick Cockney accent. “All roight, old buddy?”

“I’m fine, Al. This is Inspector Sarah Dharmawan from the Indonesian National Police. Sarah, this is Al Spencer.”

Sarah smiles and shakes hands with him. Al blinks a few times as if he’s seen Sarah before, giving her a strong feeling of déjà vu. It’s the same thing Michael had done on first meeting her.

“Isn’t she…?” Al starts asking Michael, but gets cut off.

“It’s her, Al,” says Michael with a satisfied smile.

Unexpectedly, Al gives Michael a look of utter hatred. “You lucky bastard!”

Michael laughs out loud, leaving Sarah to wonder about the entire exchange.

“Have we met before, Al?” she asks while they exit the station.

“If we’d met before, you wouldn’t likely forget me, lass,” he answers with a raised eyebrow.

Michael and Sarah laugh, but she’s still curious. They walk towards a Range Rover and Al insists Sarah sit in front with him. Michael explains to her that Al Spencer is B Squadron’s SSM or Squadron Sergeant Major.

“To the SHQ, old buddy?” asks Al.

“Kremlin first, please. I have an appointment with the CO and the Director at 11:30,” answers Michael.

Al goes through King’s Acre Road and then A480 towards New Stirling Lines. The Regimental Headquarters, SAS Barracks moved from Hereford to Credenhill in 1999. Their original barracks is now a housing complex.

“How’s everyone in the squadron these past few days, Al?” asks Michael.

“Roight, well, George’s bicycle was ran over by one of our lorries when it was parked near the SHQ yesterday, so he’s feeling fucking pleased roight now. He would throw a major eppie scoppie if someone asked him about his bicycle… so be sure you ask him about it.”

Sarah tries to stifle a laugh, but fails. She knows that eppie scoppie means tantrum and suddenly remembers Tony when they were in primary school. He would always throw a tantrum whenever she beat him playing Scrabble. Al seems pleased at being able to make Sarah laugh and keeps on joking all the way to New Stirling Lines.

11:26 GMT

Tuesday July 28, 2026

Regimental Headquarters, SAS Barracks

Credenhill, Herefordshire, England

The military police from the Military Provost Guard Service (MPGS), Royal Military Police check their ID and give Sarah a ‘Red Pass’. This means she may enter the barracks, but must be accompanied at all times. Past the main gate and to her left, she can see a pink Land Rover 110, used by the SAS in the desert during World War II, Operation Desert Storm, and the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vehicle is called a ‘Pinkie’ and the pink colour is effective at camouflaging the vehicle in the desert, especially at night.

The RHQ is to the right of the main gate and resembles a deserted campus. There are only four men sitting around, eating ice cream in their T-shirts, shorts, and sandals. Their jaws drop when they see Sarah get out of the car and head towards the red-bricked building with Michael and Al. Before they reach it, a couple of men exit the building. One of them is the Director Special Forces (DSF) and the other is the CO of the SAS. Like everyone else Sarah’s seen inside the barracks so far, except the military police at the main gate, they’re also in mufti. In this case, though, they’re decked out in business suits.

“Afternoon, Boss,” greets Michael without saluting.

“Good afternoon indeed, Michael, you tatty old sod,” answers Major-General Sir Charles Mountbatten, GCB, DSO in perfect King’s English. “I’m afraid I have to postpone our meeting. I just received a call from Whitehall and they require my presence there this very afternoon. I shall return this evening.”

The DSF looks more like a banker than a commander of a special forces unit. He’s wearing a bespoke blue pinstriped suit from Savile Row with a white shirt and dotted blue tie that shows he has membership in the Army and Navy Club in London. He looks like the aristocratic version of actor Jason Isaacs and he’s so distinguished that Sarah has to fight the urge to salute him.

Sarah has heard about the reputation of Major-General Sir Charles Mountbatten, GCB, DSO. He’s the first royal to have passed Selection and has personally led the SAS in battle in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. He became the Director Special Forces (DSF), leading the UK Special Forces (UKSF) Group, based on merit and military prowess, not because of his status as a member of the royal family.

Regarding the CO of the SAS, Sarah has absolutely no idea who he is because that information is qualified as Top Secret.

“Right, I guess we’ll be going then,” says Michael. “Before you go, may I present you Inspector Sarah Dharmawan from the Indonesian National Police?”

The Director’s eyes sparkle when he sees Sarah and takes her hand.

“Ah, yes indeed… Tony’s lovely sister,” greets Major-General Sir Charles Mountbatten. He then kisses her hand in the manner of a British aristocrat. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person, Inspector Dharmawan.”

Sarah can’t believe Sir Charles knows who she is! “P-P-Please call me Sarah, Director.”

Sarah also notices that the SAS commander, who looks like a bulkier version of the actor Benedict Cumberbatch, is staring at her with his mouth open in awe.

“And let me have the pleasure of introducing you to the bashful CO of the 22nd Regiment, Leftenant-Colonel Cormac McLaughlin,” continues Sir Charles while giving a cheeky grin to Cormac, who hurriedly shuts his mouth, “who I know for sure is quite a big fan of yours.”

Cormac and Sarah are both red in the face as they shake hands. Sarah is surprised to see that he tries to avoid her eyes. Behind her, Michael and Al can’t help but giggle when they see Cormac release her hand as if he’s trying to run away from her and hurriedly opens the car door for Sir Charles.

“Well, I guess we’ll be on our way. Be sure to show her your squadron’s Interest Room, Michael,” says the Director, giving him a wink as he enters his car.

“Of course, Boss,” answers Michael, trying not to laugh.

Their car heads towards an Agusta Westland helicopter, waiting on the helipad near their football field on the south side of the barracks.

“What the devil was that all about?” asks Sarah. “What does he mean by ‘finally meet me in person’? And how could your CO be a big fan of mine? And what the bloody devil is an Interest Room?”

“She doesn’t know about it yet?” asks Al, giving Michael a broad grin.

Michael can only shake his head, still trying hard not to laugh.

“Know what?” asks Sarah.

“Oh, I wish I could be there when she sees it. Roight, well, I gotta go inside. I’ve prepared your kit and it’s with Derek at SHQ. Here, take the keys,” says Al, also stifling a laugh as he throws the car keys to Michael.

“Later, Al,” says Michael.

Al waves his hand and enters the RHQ.

“Sees what?” asks Sarah, growing even more curious.

“Later,” says Michael. “First things first.”

Michael directs the car towards another building. They enter the building, which turns out to be an indoor firing range. They meet the range master, whose name is David Bancroft. Dave has just come out of his office without closing the door, wearing a shirt, shorts, and sandals. He’s skinny and short, even shorter than Al. He doesn’t look like someone from the special forces, but Sarah immediately disregards her first impressions of him because appearances can be misleading, especially in the special forces community.

“Going somewhere, Dave?” asks Michael.

“Yeah, going to the cookhouse for lunch,” answers Dave, “and who’s this?”

“Hi, I’m Sarah.”

Unexpectedly, Dave seems to instantly recognize her, but he suddenly goes pale and his eyes pop open as wide as saucers. Dave hurriedly releases her hand and retreats to his office.

“Boss, you fucking berk!” shouts Dave angrily.

Sarah can only look at Michael in amazement as he tries hard not to laugh. Dave has retreated to his office door, which he locks so that no one can get inside.

“We’ll be using the short range for a few minutes, Dave, and we’ll be taking some of your ammo,” says Michael.

“Yeah, all right,” answers Dave, walking quickly towards the exit as if trying to escape from them.

Sarah sees Dave take out his smartphone before he’s out of the building. Michael then directs her to the pistol firing range.

“What was that all about?” she asks, pouting at him.

“Later,” answers Michael, putting on ear protection and taking out the Glock from his bum bag. “You said you wanted to test your Glock?”

After Sarah has put on her ear protection, Michael starts shooting towards his paper target, fifteen metres away. Sarah wants to hear an answer first but clearly none is forthcoming, so she takes out her Glock from her IWB holster and fires. Sarah notices that Michael uses the Weaver Stance, unlike her own Isosceles Stance.

After each empties a magazine, they clear their weapons, take off their ear protection, and press a button that pulls their targets towards them. They glance at each other’s paper target and see they both have grouped all their shots in the “X”.

Michael takes a box of 9x19mm Parabellum JHP from the armoire behind them and shares it with Sarah. Once their guns are loaded, Michael invites her outside again. He drives towards his SHQ with Sarah pouting all the way. He then asks her to follow him inside the T-shaped building.

Once inside, Michael pounds on one of the doors. “Derek, open up!”

A Lance-Corporal wearing a temperate barrack dress uniform comes out of the room. He’s quite good-looking and it’s obvious he has Asian heritage.

“Hi Boss, I have your kit in here. You said you wanted two of them?” asks Lance-Corporal Derek Sinclair in his King’s English accent.

“Indeed. The other one is for my lovely friend here.”

Sarah thrusts her hand towards him without saying anything and without smiling. She’s surprised that even this doesn’t work. Derek shakes her hand, his eyes slowly becoming as wide as dinner plates and his jaw as wide as the door behind him. Just like Dave, he suddenly turns around and shuts the door behind him. He then just stands there with a forced grin and face starting to turn red.

‘I’m in a nightmare,’ thinks Sarah, confused by the surreal experience so far.

Still trying not to laugh, Michael takes her hand and leads her towards the B Squadron Interest Room in the middle of the building. In the hallway, Sarah sees an interesting poster of a herd of sheep inside a pen with an open door. The words below it read, ‘Make a decision! Either lead, follow, or get out of the way!’ Sarah knows this is a quote from Thomas Paine.

“You will find your answer in here,” says Michael. He hurriedly leaves as if running away from her.

Sarah is now alone in the Interest Room, which looks more like a museum. The first thing she notices is a huge head of a buffalo on the back wall above a large screen TV. There are Blu-Ray disc racks beside it and a whole rack dedicated to Monty Python films. A large sofa is in front of the TV and the walls are covered with plaques of special forces units from around the world. Besides plaques, there are also pictures of SAS troopers in various activities.

Sarah starts studying the plaques, looking out for a plaque from Satuan Bravo-90, as Tony would’ve surely given them one. She sees the plaque from Grenzschutzgruppe-9 (GSG-9) and Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK) from Germany, Sayeret Matkhal from Israel, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, Naval Special Warfare Development Group, and the 24th Special Tactics Squadron from the US. When Tony had just joined Bravo, he was sent to the US to train with the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, as they have similar roles.

Below the plaque of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, Sarah finally finds Bravo’s plaque, a brass logo of the unit on a wooden frame. Underneath the plaque, there’s a photo of Tony with his unit on top of a Welsh hill. Tony is flanked by Sersan Mayor Suprayitno, the unit’s sergeant major and EOD specialist, and Sersan Kepala Pranoto, who happens to be one of Indonesia’s top snipers. Sarah also recognizes Sersan Dua Zulkarnaen, the youngest but smartest NCO in Tony’s unit; Sersan Satu Dedi Suhendri, probably the only person in the world outside their family who can defeat Tony in unarmed combat; and Sersan Satu Nyoman Sukarya, the combat medic. They all have longer hair than the average soldier. Anyone seeing the photo would never have guessed that they were looking at a special forces unit. And underneath that photo…

“What the bloody devil is my picture doing here?” shouts Sarah angrily, her face turning red.

In the large photo of her, Sarah’s on a beach wearing a dark red string bikini. She’s grinning, her right elbow on someone’s shoulder, and her left hand on her hip. She has Oakley sunglasses resting on top of her head and she’s barefoot. She remembers that Tony took the photo with her dad, but it looks like her dad has been cropped out. That photo was taken when her whole family were on vacation in Bali after she graduated from the Police Academy. She wasn’t that muscular at that time, though her stomach shows a ghost of a six pack.

Although Sarah has been photographed hundreds of times by professional photographers and featured dozens of times in various magazines, Sarah has to admit that Tony’s photo is her prettiest… and sexiest. There’s a caption on the bottom part of the photo that reads ‘Constable Sarah Dharmawan, Tony’s sister.’

Sarah suddenly hears loud laughter behind her and she turns around. It turns out there are already some thirty people around her including Dave and Derek. Only Derek is wearing a uniform and he’s recording her reaction with his smartphone. Michael is nowhere to be seen.

Verdomme!’ thinks Sarah. She then starts laughing with the others at how ridiculous this has become. She wishes Michael were here, though. Not to enjoy this moment together, but to beat the crap out of him.

“So, Dave, Derek, I presume you have a copy of this photo posted on the back of your office doors?” asks Sarah.

“As a matter of fact, we have your photo in every room,” answers Derek sheepishly.

“That makes you all bloody wankers then,” exclaims Sarah.

Everyone collapses in laughter. Derek laughs so hard he accidentally drops his smartphone.

“Now this is definitely Tony’s sister!” exclaims Dave amid the laughter.

As the laughter dies down, those who haven’t met her then introduce themselves to her. The last trooper is called George Hastings. He’s absolutely huge like Tiny, who was as big and wide as a large armoire.

“Did you bring that red bikini with you?” asks George expectantly.

“No,” answers Sarah. She laughs with the others and then strikes back. “Are you the chap who’s planning to compete in the Tour de France?”

George is embarrassed while the others laugh at his expense.

“Do you have a photo of yourself wearing a constable uniform?” asks Derek, also expectantly.

“Of course… but I’m not showing it to you,” she answers.

“Right, lads, fun’s over. See you all here at five o’ clock tomorrow,” says Michael as he enters the room and takes Sarah by her arm.

“Be sure to save some energy for tomorrow, Boss,” suggests George.

Michael gives George his middle finger, making the other troopers laugh hysterically, which Michael and Sarah can still hear even after they exit the building. Michael takes Sarah to Hereford to have lunch.

Michael notices Sarah smiling to herself as he drives on. “Why are you smiling?”

“Oh, I was just thinking about ways to murder you and Tony without getting caught,” answers Sarah.

Michael laughs out loud.

“You owe me an explanation for how my photo got posted there, Michael.”

“Well, first of all, your brother is such a handsome chap and we assumed, correctly, that he would certainly have a lovely sister. When he was here, we kept pestering him every day to show us a photo of you. One night, when we were all really pissed at a restaurant called The Nag’s Head, he finally did. When that photo appeared, a couple of chaps jumped on him and took away his smartphone. There was… quite a bit of a scuffle and it took four of us to finally hold him down and knock him out while we transferred the photo to our smartphones. It was a good thing his men weren’t there at the time, else there would’ve been major drama and most certainly an international incident,” says Michael, smiling at the memory.

“How did he take it?” asks Sarah. She’s annoyed with Tony, but somewhat proud of him because it took four SAS men to take him down, even if they were all really pissed.

“Tony was so pissed that night that he didn’t remember anything about it the next morning. He kept wondering out loud why he and some of the other men had bruises on their faces. There were even a couple of men who had to be treated at the barracks hospital for severe bite marks! A few days later, just before he and his unit left for Hereford Railway Station to London, we took him to the Interest Room and showed him the good news. He threw a major eppie scoppie and cursed our bollocks off in Dutch! But then he took the stitch and laughed along with us after he called us ‘bloody wankers’. However, he also made us promise not to share the picture outside the barracks because you work undercover. We’ve always honoured that request, of course,” says Michael seriously.

Michael parks the car at the Maylord Shopping Centre and they walk to one of Hereford’s best restaurants, a place called Saxty’s.

“So… that photo’s in every room in the barracks?” asks Sarah with a raised eyebrow.

Michael gets sheepish. “Indeed… and yes, that includes my office also.”

Sarah laughs.

“There’s one in The Kremlin too, you know,” says Michael, grinning from ear to ear.

“Wankers!” exclaims Sarah.

Michael laughs out loud. “You know, the first few days after that photo was posted, we would just sit around the Interest Room and share our fantasies about you.”

“Really? And what was your fantasy?”

“Well… there’s one with you in a sexy Wonder Woman costume,” says Michael, still grinning.

“Wonder Woman? I would’ve thought you’d prefer gladiatrix in bikini armour.”

Michael eyes become unfocused, as if imagining Sarah being a gladiatrix… wearing a sexy, leather-bikini armour… her athletic body gleaming with sweat… fighting another gladiatrix similarly dressed…

Michael finally comes back to earth. “That’s Dave’s fantasy. But yes, you would look lovely in that also.”

“You men are into cosplay, aren’t you?” teases Sarah.

Michael laughs, but doesn’t answer her.

“Your SAS culture and humour is certainly unique,” comments Sarah.

“In The Regiment, humour revolves around slagging and stitching people. You’re not allowed to take it personally or let yourself become too emotional,” explains Michael. “Some three years ago, Dave had deployed to… a certain middle-eastern country. One day he had to shoot a mortar crew from a range of 1,900 metres. It took only four shots for Dave to slot all three of them from that incredible distance and he was quite proud of that… but he still took a severe slagging from us because he’d wasted a round.”

Sarah is tickled imagining Dave’s silly face as his teammates make fun of him, but she’s also quite impressed with his marksmanship.

“You handled yourself with my troopers very well today,” says Michael.

“Well, I’m used to it. Tony and I always do the same thing to each other,” says Sarah.

Their food arrives and they both enjoy it. The quality of the food at Saxty’s is excellent.

“What shall we do now?” asks Sarah after finishing her lunch.

“Fancy a bike ride to Hereford Cathedral? There’s a unique Chained Library there and a Mappa Mundi.”

“That would be lovely,” says Sarah excitedly. She once heard that Hereford’s Chained Library is the largest in the world.

They hire a couple of bikes and visit the Hereford Cathedral and other historical sites of the city. They ride their bikes in silence. Sarah feels that this is the most romantic date she has ever experienced and she has to admit to herself that she has fallen in love with Michael.

After returning their bikes, they go to Michael’s flat in Orchard Road, which is in a region that before 1999 was the location of the SAS Barracks. Michael shows her around. There’s only one bedroom with a queen-sized bed and a living room with a 46” TV. The living room looks as if it’s often used by the troopers to hang out and Michael’s bike is there. Despite this, the flat is neat and tidy. Sarah peeks behind the bedroom door, but doesn’t see anything posted there.

“No photo of me?” she asks.

“Your brother requested it not leave the barracks, remember?” answers Michael.

Sarah smiles as she heads back towards the living room.

“So…ehm… did you bring that red bikini with you?” asks Michael hopefully from behind her.

Quick as lightning, Sarah throws a backhand punch towards Michael’s nose. He can deflect it easily and even throws a counterpunch. Sarah catches his arm and tries to slam him to the ground, but Michael counteracts her move, which locks their arms. At the same time, Michael throws a kick to her belly with his knee, but feels his knee bounce back.

“You’re holding back on me,” accuses Sarah.

“Of course I am.”

“Don’t,” says Sarah.

She suddenly gives him a head-butt, which makes his lips crack and bleed. Michael’s head recoils from the blow but at the same time, he pulls her body with him, flips around, then throws her back to the wall behind her. Without stopping, Michael throws a hard punch to her stomach. A sickening thud is heard, but Sarah only smiles at him. To Michael’s pleasure, Sarah takes off her shirt and she’s now wearing a red bra and jeans shorts. She flexes her perfect six-pack.

“Harder!” orders Sarah.

Michael gives her a few more hard punches to her abs and his fists feel like they’re hitting a silky-smooth brick wall. Michael’s punches would’ve floored most people, but Sarah doesn’t even flinch. Michael then delivers a powerful Muay Thay kick with his knee. A thunderous sound goes off but once again, Sarah only smiles at him. He then gives her an even more powerful kick, but she manages to grab his knee and tries to push him backwards. Michael has anticipated her move, so he grabs hold of her shoulders, flips himself to the left, and then slams her to the floor with Michael still on top of her. His knee was still on top of her stomach when he landed and the whole weight of Michael’s body was transferred to Sarah’s abs through his knee. Michael is sure that if someone else received the same treatment, they would’ve been knocked out for sure, but Sarah doesn’t even flinch. Michael keeps his body over hers and holds her hands to prevent her from hitting him again.

“You’re the only person who has ever defeated me in unarmed combat,” says Sarah, smiling at him.

“What’s my reward?” asks Michael.

“Whatever is on your mind, I guess.”

Several fantasies flash through Michael’s mind at the same time, but then he decides on a quickie.

18:11 GMT

Tuesday July 28, 2026

Oak Field Road, Saxon Gate

Hereford, Herefordshire, England

They’ve just finished an incredible round and their breathing’s still heavy when Michael’s phone goes off.

“Yes, Derek?” answers Michael, still trying to catch his breath. He listens for a while. “Yeah, right! Fuck off, you wanker!” he says curtly.

Sarah can guess what Derek has said and laughs.

“Right, I’ll see him with Cormac and Al at nineteen hundred at The Kremlin. Thanks!” Michael disconnects the call and says to Sarah. “The Director wants to see me at The Kremlin at nineteen hundred. You can come with me and we can have some scoff after. Shower?”

Sarah showers with Michael and she carefully, softly washes his body with soap. Michael has never been treated like this before so he happily does the same to Sarah. They rinse each other and share a kiss.

“You do know that I’m in love with you, don’t you?” asks Sarah.

“And I’m in love with you too.”

“Really? Since when?”

“Since I first saw that photo,” answers Michael honestly.

Sarah laughs and they both change into presentable clothes. Michael wears a jacket and tie and Sarah slips into a simple purple dress. Sarah’s uncomplicated taste in clothes makes Michael even more in love with her. She doesn’t need expensive dresses or even make-up to look lovely.

They drive towards the SAS Barracks and a few minutes later, Michael parks the car and they both enter the RHQ. Inside, they meet Al and Cormac, also in tie and jacket. The two men smile at Michael’s bruised lips, but make no comment. Sarah waits in the RHQ’s Interest Room while the three men meet with the Director.

The RHQ’s Interest Room is a bit like the one at the SHQ. The pictures are mostly of famous SAS commanders, like Sir Archibald David Stirling, Sir Hugh Michael Rose, Sir Peter de la Billiere, and Sir Graeme Cameron Maxwell Lamb, to name a few. Sarah sees SAS members with the royal family and British Prime Ministers. His Majesty King William V, who a few years ago was Prince William, looks utterly charming, although his hair is almost gone. Queen Catherine looks lovely despite being forty-four years of age. Prince George and Princess Charlotte, who immediately became teen idols since they first appeared on the telly for their royal activities, both look adorable wearing MTP trousers. The royal family and British politicians are required to attend training with the SAS so they’ll know what to do if they’re ever snatched and know what the SAS will do to save them. The extraordinary thing about this is the use of live rounds during CQB training with the VVIPs acting as hostages.

There are several photos of Prince Harry, who looks dashing in his full dress ceremonial uniform. Although he’s resigned from the British Armed Forces since June 2015, Prince Harry is still active as Captain General of the Royal Marines and the Colonel-in-Chief of the Special Air Service, The Blues and Royals, and the Royal Gurkha Rifles.

Sarah is relieved not to find her own photo among these legendary people.

The Interest Room displays the UKSF Group organization and Sarah studies it intently. The United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) Group consists of Tier One Units, Tier Two Units, Reserve Units, and Supporting Units. The Tier One Units are the 22nd Regiment, Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Boat Service (SBS), and the Tier Two Units are the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG), and the 18 UKSF Signals Regiment. There are many units in the Reserve and Supporting Units, but one that catches her eye is the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing (JSFAW), a joint unit which consists of the 657 and 658 Army Air Corps (AAC) and 7 Squadron Royal Air Force (RAF).

Sarah gets fairly lost looking at the many pictures and memorabilia until, after almost an hour, Michael finally enters the Interest Room. “All right, mo ghile mear?”

C’est-à-dire?” asks Sarah. For some reason, she unconsciously reverts to French when she’s close to somebody.

“It’s Gaeilge and it means ‘my gallant darling’,” answers Michael, smiling.

Sarah feels her heart drop down to her stomach. Her previous lovers had given her various nicknames, but none that made her heart flutter like this one. Sarah even feels her knees weaken and her eyes tearing up and it makes her want to hug and kiss him right there. It’s such a shame they’re still inside an army headquarters and it would be inappropriate to do so.

“Do you like it?” asks Michael.

“It’s lovely indeed,” says Sarah. “So, where’s my picture?”

“In Cormac’s office,” says Michael, giving her a wink.

Sarah laughs.

“Let’s get some scoff,” says Michael, taking out his smartphone.

Michael makes a reservation at the Castle House Restaurant and orders their famous Seven Course Meal for two. Sarah loves how Michael directs and makes decisions for her. All her previous lovers have always left all the decisions to her, as if they’re afraid of making the wrong choice and disappointing her. They always say, ‘whatever you want to do’ on everything, from where to eat or where they want to hang out.

“How do like your vacation so far?” asks Michael.

“I’m loving it!”

“Do you miss Interpol?”

“Not really,” admits Sarah. “How about you?”

“I prefer the army. I’ve always admired the traditions, especially the odd ones.”

“Which regiment in the British Army do you think has the oddest tradition?” asks Sarah.

Michael thinks for a moment before answering her. “Well, the Royal Welsh infantry regiment has a Kashmir goat who’s a ranking member of the regiment.”

“How did that happen?”

“The story goes that during the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, a wild goat entered the battlefield and led the Welsh infantry regiment in their successful attack on Breed’s Hill. Instead of stewing the goat, the regiment adopted him and made him the regimental mascot. They’ve adopted a goat as a ranking member of the regiment ever since. In 1837, Mohammad Shah Qajar, the Shah of Persia, presented a Kashmir goat herd to Queen Victoria as a gift upon her accession to the throne. Since then, the British monarchy has presented an unbroken series of Kashmir goats to the Royal Welsh from the Crown’s own royal herd.”

“Is the goat really a ranking member?” asks Sarah, smiling.

“Oh indeed. He even has his own Army number and ID card with his photo on it. The current goat is called William Windsor III and he’s descended from the same royal bloodline as the original herd from Persia. William has a rank of Lance-Corporal, so all the Fusiliers have to ‘stand to attention’ whenever William walks past them.”

Sarah laughs and this makes Michael pleased so he tells her some more.

“As a Lance-Corporal, William also has membership to the corporal’s mess, where he’s given a glass of Guinness and a daily ration of five unfiltered cigarettes.”

“Don’t tell me he smokes them,” says Sarah.

“No, he eats them. His veterinarian said that the tobacco is good for his stomach.”

Sarah laughs again.

“One of his predecessors, called Billy, was once demoted. On his first deployment to Cyprus and on a parade held to celebrate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s eightieth birthday, he refused to obey orders. He failed to keep in line with the rest of the parade and even tried to head-butt the drummer in the arse a few times.”

Sarah keeps laughing.

“After the parade, Billy was charged with ‘unacceptable behaviour’, ‘lack of decorum’, and ‘disobeying a direct order’, and had to appear before his CO. Following a disciplinary hearing, Billy was demoted from Lance-Corporal to Fusilier. The demotion meant that the other Fusiliers in the regiment no longer had to ‘stand to attention’ whenever Billy walked past, as they had had to when he was a Lance-Corporal.”

“But he was only ‘acting the goat’,” protests Sarah, still laughing.

“Indeed. That’s why a Canadian animal rights group sent a letter of protest to the CO of the Royal Welsh saying the same thing. They also said that because Billy couldn’t possibly understand the charges against him and the court couldn’t possibly understand his defence, the hearing should be considered unlawful and, therefore, his rank should be reinstated,” says Michael seriously.

Sarah laughs louder.

“Fortunately, Billy regained his rank three months later after the Alma Day parade, which celebrates the Royal Welsh’s victory in the Crimean War. The Colonel said that Billy had performed exceptionally well because he’d had all summer to reflect on his behaviour at the Queen’s birthday, so his rank was reinstated, because he’d clearly earned the rank he deserved,” continues Michael, still with a serious expression.

“How do you know all of this?” asks Sarah, still laughing at how ridiculous the story was.

“One of the EOD specialists in my squadron was a former Goat Major of the Royal Welsh. His name is Sinjin Williams and his job as Goat Major was to take care of William Windsor III. Even though the position is called Goat Major, William’s handler has a rank of Corporal. You can imagine how bloody pleased Sinjin was when his CO, who happened to be an utterly sadistic bastard, appointed him Goat Major,” says Michael, smiling. Although Michael pronounced the name as ‘Sinjin’, it’s actually spelled ‘St John’.

Sarah laughs out loud, imagining St John Williams being appointed by his CO to take care of a goat called William.

“One former Goat Major was court-martialed and demoted to Lance-Corporal when he was caught offering the goat for stud services to a local goat breeder. During his court-martial, the Goat Major’s defence was that he had done it out of compassion for the goat, because it had appeared to him as if the goat really needed it,” says Michael, seriously once again. “Unfortunately, the Goat Major’s defence failed to impress the court.”

Sarah laughs even louder and Michael is pleased that she can appreciate his dry sense of humour. After dinner, they return to Michael’s flat. They change clothes before going to bed. Michael can’t take his eyes off Sarah when she opens her dress, but he looks disappointed when she takes a shirt and a pair of shorts from her luggage.

Qu’est-ce qui te dérange?” asks Sarah when she sees the look on his face.

“Well, it would be a shame to cover your body with clothes while you sleep,” answers Michael, grinning.

Sarah laughs. “Unfortunately, I can’t sleep without clothes on and I didn’t think to bring my lingerie collection to England.”

“You have a lingerie collection?” asks Michael. His face lights up as he pulls Sarah towards him.

“Indeed. I’m Victoria’s Top Secret.”

Sarah doesn’t have any lingerie, but she enjoys teasing Michael. Sure enough, Michael’s eyes fall out of focus as he imagines her in something black and lacy. He smiles and starts kissing her stomach.

“You would make a perfect belly dancer,” he mumbles, his face buried deep in Sarah’s stomach.

“Now there’s an intellectual challenge!” exclaims Sarah, laughing.

“But do you know how to do it?” asks Michael, expectantly.

“Of course,” says Sarah. “Doucement?”

Michael can only nod enthusiastically. Sarah takes her smartphone and tweaks it. Soft, slow Arabian music plays and Sarah begins her belly dance in her bra and panties. Michael’s eyes go wide in disbelief that one of his ultimate fantasies is now playing out in front of him.

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