Anyway, this week, we meet Colin. He and Evan have been best friends for 10 years, since University. Colin is a lecturer at Oxford University and Evan has gone to visit because he's got business in Oxford anyway.
Colin’s car was already there when I pulled into the broad sweep of gravel in front of the house. I retrieved my bag from the back seat and glanced up at the upstairs windows. A curtain twitched open. He opened the window and waved. “Come on up, it’s open.”
His flat sprawled across the top floor of an Edwardian house. I always envied him for it.
“Hello, mate.” He stood in the hallway. A bottle of beer in each hand. “I bet you could use this.”
“You got that right.” I dropped my bag, took the beer and then engaged in the traditional, manly one-armed hug. The bottle was cold in my hand.
The huge living room was filled with light from three sash windows. Colin sank onto the settee. I took the chair. I tried to remember the last time I saw him. It was before Michelle, probably after Janie. He looked the same as he had ten years before; lean, pale with disheveled half-curls and a habitual nine-o-clock shadow. It wasn’t hard to see why his conquests were so easy.
“You’re looking well,” he said.
“Thanks.” I took a gulp of beer and sank into the cushions.
Late afternoon sunlight filtered through the bare trees, fell across the polished floorboards and faded Turkish rugs. As usual, there were books everywhere, spilling from the bookshelves on either side of the fireplace, stacked high on the dining table, scattered across the coffee table. One of the two bedrooms was entirely devoted to books. Hapless guests, like me, slept on the settee. Special guests, of course, shared his bed. There were more books in his bedroom, stacked on the mantelpiece of the fireplace, in boxes under the bed and on the top shelf of the wardrobe.
“Fancy Italian tonight?”
“That sounds good to me.” Anything would’ve done. It was just good to get away from London and all the hassle that went with it.
“So, you’re still going to Pakistan?”
He shook his head, his eyes suddenly grave. That took me by surprise. It was a rare moment when I made Colin unhappy. We weren’t like that. “I hope to fuck you know what you’re doing.”
“I have a pretty good idea.”
“You’re a feckless git sometimes, Harrison. You know that, don’t you?”
Damn him. He actually made me feel guilty. I looked down at my beer. “Yes. I suppose I can be. But you weren’t in Afghanistan, mate. You didn’t see the mess, you didn’t see a Guardsman with half his face blown off. I want to find out more about the bastards who did that. If I can expose those fuckers and help bring them to justice then I don’t think that’s so feckless.”
“What if you get kidnapped? It happens you know. I looked at the Foreign Office web site, they don’t want anyone going there.”
“I know all that. I’ll have armed bodyguards.”
“Like that’s going to make a difference. You need a small army to keep you safe.” He slammed the empty bottle on the coffee table. “How about those of us you’re leaving behind? While you’re off playing Big Time Heroic Journalist, we’ll be worrying ourselves sick. Remember Daniel Pearl?”
“I remember him well enough.” Pearl’s fate had nagged at me since I decided to go to Pakistan. It was another very sound reason not to become attached to someone before I left. As Colin had so bluntly put it, I’d hurt enough people if anything happened to me.
“I don’t want that happening to you.” He walked into the kitchen and returned with two more beers.
“I promise I won’t be careless.”
He smiled then, a sudden, brilliant smile. The old mischief returned to his eyes. "Good, see that you’re not.”