‘Leave me alone, why don’t you?’ cried Judy, kicking her legs and rolling wildly on the bed. Her troubled thoughts hooked deeply into her worries and fears, and gave her no hope of sleep tonight.
Most days she woke up filled with energy, loving life, and eager to sense its beauty, and explore its challenges.
But lately she’d had terrible dreams – frightening dreams that snapped her awake, trembling, and covered in cold, damp sweat. She couldn’t hold on to the details. They vanished into a grey mist when she woke, but they left her with a sickening worry that plagued her for the rest of the night, ensuring that any sleep she had was fitful and restless.
There was a common theme – separation from her daughter, Daisy. Sometimes she was searching in vain through fields or forests; sometimes she just had the sickening knowledge that Daisy was gone – lost or stolen, she had no idea. Tonight’s dream had left her desperately trying to save her daughter from falling off a cliff, and she had woken to find herself clawing at the bedding, holding it fast against her, and calling out to the Universe to end this torment.
Judy was 32, well-educated, and holding down an important job, as she reminded herself in the darkness, trying to push away her fears.
In her rational mind she knew that her five-year-old was safe in the bedroom next door, the bedroom that had once been hers, when she was herself a child, here in this house. An ordinary semi-detached house in Rickmansworth, just an ordinary suburb of London, she told herself. No harm could happen to Daisy here.
But despite the logic, she couldn’t overcome the fear that gripped her. It was an emotion so powerful it had a life of its own, crushing her ribs, and forcing her to fight for breath. She told herself to be calm, to focus on her breathing, and wait for the panic to subside.
Eventually, she rose, and crept onto the landing. She opened Daisy’s door silently, and looked in on her, sleeping soundly, half out of the covers. She replaced the duvet without disturbing her, and left the room.
She passed the stairs leading to the loft, which had been converted into a studio apartment for her when she was studying, and where Angela, Judy’s godsend of an au pair, was now sleeping soundly.
Judy went back to her own bed, in what had once been her parents’ room, and tried to sleep.
But she knew enough about the power of dreams to treat them with respect – ‘the royal road to the unconscious’ Freud had called them. And the unconscious mind can glimpse the future in a way we don’t understand – the Universe holds many secrets, but it doesn’t give them up easily.
So, what were her dreams of separation from Daisy trying to tell her?
She was wide awake now, in that dead of night when all life’s troubles queue up to harass you in their turn.
She looked at her bedside clock. It was 3 a.m.
It would be a long night.
There was no moon that night, and the sky above was as black as the water below. The navigation lights were out, and only the wakes trailing behind the three boats gave away their presence.
Lieutenant-Commander David Wells was in his element, standing at the controls of the central RIB. The boats were black and shallow: lightweight inflatables, without payload at the moment, but able to carry eight men, with their gear stowed beside them on the rigid section of the hull. He and his second in command, Mike, were dressed in black wetsuits and hoods, invisible in the darkness.
They swept through Poole harbour, the churning foam behind them glinting with the reflections from the town’s street lights. David glanced back at the three wakes, and smiled with satisfaction at the symmetry and beauty of their curves as they passed the Sandbanks chain ferry, moored for the night, and left the harbour behind, heading for the open water, and the drop zone in Studland Bay, beyond.
The twin outboards were running almost silently at low throttle, and the support boats were keeping perfect position, just three metres away on either quarter. The little unit had an air of purpose and menace, totally befitting an element of the Special Boat Service on manoeuvres.
Judy’s younger brother had arrived in the SBS almost by chance. He left school at sixteen to join the Royal Navy, and loved the life. Within a year he was a trainee weapons engineer heading through gale force seas in the Bay of Biscay. His seniors spotted his resourcefulness and fast-tracked him into officer training, early command, and, ultimately, the elite service. He’d undertaken a score of missions around the globe during the last few years, and now, at 27, he was on a tour of duty as a trainer, back at base.
By comparison, Mike was an old hand. Now in his late forties he’d been in Special Communications for twenty years. He kept fit, as the Service demands of you, despite his postings nowadays being less active. He’d worked with David for a year now, and got on well with ‘our kid’ as he sometimes called him in fun. His Yorkshire accent was as broad as his shoulders. Tonight he was in charge of videoing the drop, and analysing the results back at base.
When the three SBS boats reached the open water in the centre of the bay, they spread out into delta formation, each two hundred metres from the others. They hove to and held their stations, their positions confirmed by a military satellite system. The night was quiet, and the boats rose and fell gently on the swells.
Studland Bay was an honourable place to prepare for war. In the 1940s, practice landings for the D-day invasion of Normandy took place here. The top brass of the day – Eisenhower, Churchill, even the King – watched at dawn, from a bunker on the edge of the bay, as hundreds of British, American and Canadian troops stormed ashore from their landing craft, fighting their way through the beach defences.
Now the bunker overlooked a bay that was silent and calm. David listened to the lapping of the waves, straining his ears for the distant growl of the Hercules' engines. Mike was in contact with the pilot.
‘ETA two minutes, Dave’
The village of Studland was close by the bay. The villagers were used to these exercises by day or night, and the big plane caused no alarm as it passed overhead and circled once, checking the windspeed, before dropping its load.
Slowly and lazily it passed over the small boats, then from the tail in quick succession fell a dozen black specks, barely visible against the night sky. They dropped rapidly at first, then slowed as each man released his airfoil and began a controlled descent.
David and Mike monitored them through night vision glasses. A perfect result would see the men splashing down in a regular sequence, forming a circle between the three boats, like numbers on a clock face.
By the time they’d splashed down, the Hercules had turned again, and was on its way home. The two recovery boats entered the drop zone, and hauled the men and their airfoils aboard, then took station beside each other at the edge of the zone.
David brought his own vessel alongside the other two, and spoke to the trainees: ‘That was better, men. Still not good enough; half of you deserve to swim home! Debriefing in the video room immediately on return to base.’
He led the group homewards, past Sandbanks and the millionaires' row of houses, past Brownsea Island where Lord Baden-Powell had held the first Scout camp, and on towards the SBS base tucked away two miles further inside the harbour. It had been a good drop, despite his harsh words, and he was pleased with the way these recruits were shaping up.
Dawn was approaching as they arrived back at base, running the three boats up onto the foreshore and disembarking at top speed.