Part 13: The Heart of a Lion

Chapter 1

May 1988

Madari knew Colonel Smith’s address without looking it up now. As he wrote the address on the blue airmail envelope, he tried to recall if this was the fifth or sixth letter he’d written to Smith. Smith wrote first; Madari came into his office a week after taking up his new position and found an airmail envelope bearing American stamps waiting here on his desk. Of course, Smith knew his regiment, so could write to him care of that. When Madari wrote back he enclosed his own address and a week later a letter arrived at his home.

They’d written regularly since then. As soldiers and officers, they have many common interests, and yet there was more to it than discussions of military history. He would have liked to have known Smith in person for longer than he did. There was so much Smith could teach him. About command of course, but more than that. He could learn from Smith about how to be strong again.

In his letters, Smith mentioned a book about the A-Team written by a journalist, Amy Allen, who worked with them for a time. She must be a remarkable woman if they allowed her to join them on their jobs. America is, as Kahil says, a very different world. So Madari ordered Miss Allen’s book shipped over from the United States. That cost a ridiculous amount, but he was glad he’d done so. There were only hints in there about the time Colonel Smith and his men spent in prison camps in Vietnam, but Madari could read between the lines, and from meeting them, from things Smith said to him…

Everybody breaks.

Madari knew Smith went through what he did, worse even. Over a longer period anyway. Yet he was so strong now, far stronger than Madari was even before his interrogation. How did he fight back afterwards? How long did it take him, all of them, to fully recover?

Madari had touched on this in his letters, indicated he still suffered some effects. Some effects. He’d always understated matters. Smith told him something he already know. Trust your friends.

He would do that. One of course in particular.

And Madari heard his voice then, in the outer office. Kahil laughing and calling out the name of another friend. At once, Madari jumped up and hurried out, to find Kahil and Idris greeting Javid Noor, with handshakes and embraces.

“Javid.” He walked up to him, smiling in delight, and embraced him too.

Noor laughed as they embraced and then smiled at Madari. “Reporting as ordered for the classified lunch mission.”

Kahil punched him playfully on the arm. “You’ve been on too many lunch missions lately. You need to have your uniform let out.”

“Perhaps I’ll treat myself to a new one, when I get my major’s insignia,” Javid said. “Six months time, my CO says.”

“That’s good,” Madari said, shaking his hand. “It should be sooner.”

“Not available until then. Anyway, I like being a captain; it’s quite a dashing title I think.”

This made them all smile. Though Kahil was right about Noor’s uniform being tight. Javid did not look as if he’d been doing much dashing anywhere, except to the dinner table. His wife has been feeding him a little too well. Madari glanced at the clock on the wall.

“Almost one, we should leave now. We’re taking you to one of Idris’s favourite restaurants, Javid, so the food will be delicious and ruinously expensive.”

“That’s me living off bread and dates for a month,” Kahil said, fetching his jacket and cap from the coat stand.

“I’m quite happy to pay for the meal,” Idris said, looking mildly insulted.

“I’m joking.” Kahil shook his head, and glanced at Madari. Sometimes Idris exasperated him. Those two got on much better when they were side by side in a ditch, under heavy fire, than they did sharing an office.

“Let me get my things.” Madari turned back into his office to fetch his jacket and cap and as he walked in the telephone rang.

He really should not have answered it.


Jahni checked the clock. One fifteen.

“We’ll lose our reservations,” Idris said. Javid nodded, sitting on the edge of Jahni’s desk, twirling his cap around in his hands. Jahni glanced into the office. Faris still stood by his desk, still talking on the phone. Well, what do you do when some general at the defence ministry calls? Tell him to ring back, you’re going to lunch? Faris caught him looking and grimaced as he went on talking, annoyed and impatient looking.

Jahni turned to Idris, who sat at his own desk. “You two could go on ahead, get the table. Order for us if you want, you know what we like.”

Javid looked at Idris and shrugged. “Suits me.”

Idris frowned. He was always frowning. Very moody lately. But he stood up and put on his jacket, which he’d taken off before he sat down again. Creases are not regulation.

“Very well. We’ll take Javid’s car.” He nodded to Jahni. “See you soon.” Javid raised his hand in a wave to Faris, who waved back, guessing where they were going.

Once they left, Jahni stood by the window, only half-listening to Faris still talking, while he looked out over the parade ground, and then beyond, to the desert. Summer was coming, the days growing hotter. This office looked out into the desert and not the other direction into the city, and that pleased him, because he knew Faris found it easier to think while gazing out at that endless view.

Sometimes it felt not quite right though. The view was to the south, not north where the camp stood. Strange, the north felt like their country now, even though they were both from here in the south, near the city. Their hearts were north, in the high desert. They had sand in their veins.


He turned, startled to find Faris had come out of his office, putting on his jacket. He hadn’t heard him end his phone call.

“Sorry, I was… Uh, Idris and Javid went on ahead.”

“Good idea. Let’s go.”

Jahni picked up his cap from his desk by the window. Faris often asked me how he, the junior officer, had ended up with the best desk, the one beside the window. But Jahni had some secrets even from him. As they left the offices, he saw Faris put a blue envelope into his pocket.

“Writing to Colonel Smith again?”


Even if he wrote the letter here, Jahni never saw him drop it into the office outgoing mail tray. He always bought his own stamps. Jahni knew for a fact that many other officers around here were not that principled. Small principles and large ones went hand in hand for Faris. Hand in hand. He wanted to hold his hand then as they walked. He didn’t.

“Perhaps you can visit the colonel in Los Angeles one day?”

“Me? Or we?” Faris smiled, teasing Jahni a bit, seeing right through him.

“Well, I’ve always wanted to visit America.”

“I’m sure you will one day.”

Faris drove them the short distance to the restaurant, but had to park almost a block away.

“We might as well have walked,” Jahni complained as he got out of the car.

“Never mind,” Faris said as put his cap back on. “It’s a fine day. We’ll build an appetite with a walk.”

Jahni hoped so. Not for himself, he always had an appetite. But Faris was too thin. Jahni was sure he’d lost weight since they had all returned home. He’d told Jahni that he got no real enjoyment from food any more and perhaps living alone, eating alone, had made him even less likely to eat properly. Jahni would have to invite him to his flat for dinner more often. They didn’t spend as much time together as they would both like. For appearances sake.

As they walked, silent most of the time, Jahni glanced at him. They could walk like this, not needing to talk, to chat or make small talk. Just being together felt like enough. It had to be enough. Jahni had vowed to himself that he wouldn’t try to change this into something else. Not now. This had to be enough. Whatever else he wanted.

He saw it then. A car, moving fast at first and then slowing as it came closer. He saw a man lean out of the window on the passenger side. He saw the gun barrel. Everything slowed down then. Not just that car, but the whole world. Time stretched and started to crawl, when he saw the gun was aimed at Faris.


And Jahni was his guardian. His job title may not include ‘bodyguard’ any more, but Jahni would always be Faris’s guardian. Always. Though in that moment he feared it might not be for much longer.

The gun fired. Jahni saw the muzzle flash, the puff of smoke, but he had already started to move.

He stepped in front of Faris.


Idris was fretting, Noor thought. Still fretting, he should say, as he’d been this way for months now.

“How’s Kahil doing?” Noor picked up his water glass. “Settling in?”

“He’s… fine.”

A significant enough pause to give Noor pause.


“Not really. He’s just not what we’re used to, that’s all. He’s good with the men, but I don’t think he’s good in the right way.”

Well at least it seemed to be military matters he was fretting about. Not The Relationship.

“What do you mean exactly?”

“He’s too friendly with them. Too close to them. When he’s training men He’s too inclined to demonstrate rather than simply tell them what to do.”

“Do the men like him?”

“They seem to, but I think that kind of thing encourages insubordination. They make… jokes. He lets them get away with saying things he shouldn’t allow.”

“Nothing wrong with a bit of banter, it encourages comradeship.”

“Of course, but not between officers and the men. He needs to realise more formality is expected now we’re back in the structure of the Army.” Idris scowled. “Sometimes he acts more like a sergeant than an officer. Sometimes I…” He paused significantly again, and poured himself some water. “Sometimes I think that’s what he is, at heart. Just because his father happened to have money, he went to university and that meant he joined as an officer. But at heart, he’s not.”

He looked totally serious as he said it. Didn’t look as if he’d just been possessed by the spirit of someone from a hundred years ago or anything.

“You mean he’s not the right class?”


Sometimes Noor wondered why he liked Idris at all.

“Idris, Kahil’s an officer. And not just by luck. He’s one of the best officers I’ve seen. He’s still young, he’s still learning, but he’s a natural leader. And if he sticks with the major and learns from him, then by the time he’s Madari’s age, he’ll have been marked out as a future general. If he’s not become one already.”

He loved the way Idris’s jaw dropped then. Maybe Noor was exaggerating a bit, though he was certain Kahil had a great future ahead of him. But exaggeration could be fun, when it shook Idris up like that. Noor smiled at him, but he didn’t smile back.

“It’s not a laughing matter. He is… I think he is, a bad influence on the major.”

Noor stopped smiling then. Did he still worry about The Relationship then?

“Is there still a problem there? Are they…?”

“I think they are still too preoccupied with each other, but I don’t really mean that. Anyway, Faris has given me his word that there is nothing to worry about there.”

“His word?” It was time for Noor’s jaw to drop. He wanted to shout, but had to keep his voice low, a hiss. “You asked him?”


Okay, he just said that as cool as ice. Now Noor remembered why he liked him. Balls of steel.

“You actually asked him if they are… Or were… What did he say?”

“I don’t want to discuss the details. But he gave me his word.”

Noor shook his head, still feeling stunned. “You just asked him? Incredible. Didn’t he punch you in the face?”

“Certainly not.”

“Kahil would have.”

“I’m sure he would. And if you imagine for one moment that I would have asked him, then you don’t know me at all, Javid.”

Noor grew worried then. Idris had an edge in his voice when he spoke about Kahil. Almost contempt. There was always tension between those two, but Noor had always believed there was genuine affection and admiration too. Especially after… certain events they would never speak of again.

“So what do you mean by a bad influence?”

“I’ve noticed his religious practice leaves much to be desired. He misses prayers. He often misses going to the mosque on Fridays. I’ve seen him drink alcohol and gamble.”

“None of us are perfect, Idris. We can only work towards it.”

“I don’t think I does work towards it. I think he shows no sincerity in his faith at all.”

“Well, that’s as maybe, but really that’s his own business isn’t it?”

“Not when he is such a strong influence on the major.”

“And the major’s faith is his own business.” Noor had gone back to wondering why he liked Idris again. People should spend less time poking their noses into other men’s prayers and concentrate on their own. He didn’t like this subject, Idris could get very self-righteous and it could only lead to bad feeling between them. He didn’t see his dear friend as much as he liked and he wanted to enjoy the time with him.

“How are things going with Mehdi?” He asked and Idris’s face softened from the scowl.

“He’s getting used to me again, is starting to believe I really am his father. We keep showing him photographs of the two of us from before and he’s just about starting to understand that he’s the boy in the pictures. Perhaps he’ll eventually actually remember me.”

“I’m sure He will.”

“Actually, I have…” He glanced around and bent closer. “I have some news.” Whatever this news was, it made him smile, which Noor was glad to see. “Don’t tell anyone, we have only just found out and it is still very early, but Janan is going to have another baby.”

“Congratulations! My friend, I am delighted!” He knocked his water glass over as he reached across the table for a congratulatory handshake. He laughed. “Ah, once Kiana finds out I know she’ll decide it’s time for us to do the same.”

“It is.”

Idris called over a waiter to replace the wet tablecloth, just as another waiter arrived with their meals. He looked at his watch and frowned.

“Where are those two? Faris can’t still be on the phone.”

The door slammed back and they turned to see a woman rush in, frantic looking. Her headscarf streamed out behind her, like a sea green banner, edged with gold thread that glinted in the sun. A man, the restaurant owner Idris had introduced Noor to when we arrived, ran to take her arms. She must be his wife Noor realised, as a basket she carried fell to the floor, spilling packets of spices.

“What is it?” The restaurant over asked the question for everyone in the room, all staring at the frantic woman.

“A man! A man in uniform! They shot him!”


He didn’t see it, not the car, not the gun, just heard the shot. Kahil fell against Madari as if the noise shoved him back. The weight and Madari’s instincts made him fall too, with Kahil in his arms. His body slammed into the pavement, and he tried to keep Kahil’s from doing the same, put a hand on the back of his head to stop it hitting the ground.

More shots, and screams from all around them. Madari threw himself across Kahil, shielding him, heard him moan and knew he was alive at least. Tyres screeched, the assassin’s car hurtled away. Madari saw it speeding away, as he rolled off Kahil, still lay beside him, an arm across his chest, looking around, searching for more threats. Other cars braked to avoid the speeding car, blared horns, people ran around panicking, scared but he couldn’t see anyone pointing a weapon. He turned to Kahil, as the world faded into mist around him, sounds muffled and all he could see was Kahil’s face, eyes wide, fixed on his.

“It doesn’t hurt.” His voice only a whisper, a breath. How could Madari even hear it with all the chaos around them? “I thought it would hurt more.”

Madari felt something warm and damp on his arm and looked down to see blood soaking into his sleeve where his arm lay across Kahil’s chest. The wound. Afraid of it, he lifted his arm, fearing a spurt of blood. No spurt, but blood, plenty of it, soaking into Kahil’s jacket. When he whimpered, Madari turned back to him.

“Please…” Kahil lifted his arm, and pulled Madari’s arm back across him. He wanted Madari to hold him. He thought he was going to die, wanted to die in Madari’s arms. Madari would not let it happen. Would not let him die. Not here, like this. Insane. Surviving months of combat, only to die in peacetime on a city street? How could that happen?

And to die for me! To die from a bullet that had Madari’s name on it. It had to be him they wanted to kill. He’d had threats, anyone prominent on their side had. If he dies because of me…

“An ambulance is coming.”

A stranger’s voice broke through the grey mist the world had become and as Madari looked up at a man’s face it all rushed back, shouting, rushing, a world of frantic civilian panic. In the distance, he heard sirens.

“Kahil,” he said, turning back to him. “Help is coming. Can you hear me?” But his eyes had closed. “Kahil!”

He bent close, and felt breath against his face. Still breathing. Words came from Madari, without conscious thought, words he whispered softly in Kahil’s ear. In case…

“Find me in Paradise.”


As Faraj and Noor rushed outside, several police cars, then an ambulance hurtled past the restaurant, sirens wailing, horns blaring. And Faraj knew. Javid said it might not be them. But he knew.

An excited, frightened crowd of people had gathered at the end of the street, and they ran to it, heard the voices when they got close, gabbling about a shooting. Policemen yelled, ordering everyone back from the scene. The scene somewhere on the street around the corner. Faraj couldn’t see. But he knew. Even as they tried to push through the crowd, the ambulance emerged from the corner, starting up its siren as it came, an ear-splitting scream that he silently echoed in his head.

“A soldier,” he heard someone say. “They shot him, I saw…”

“They shot him!” Faraj grabbed at Javid, shook him. “They shot the commander! They shot him!”

“Shut up!” Javid pushed his hands off and grabbed his arms, shook Faraj in return, tried to shake the hysteria out of him. “Calm down. Come on!” Javid dragged him to the car and they set off after the ambulance and the howling police cars that followed it.

He’d been so sure, that when they ran into the hospital waiting room, to find Madari sitting there, Faraj’s knees shook, first with relief and then with horror. Blood, not his own, soaked Madari’s clothes.

“My God,” Noor said. “Kahil.”

Chapter 2

My god. Kahil.

Madari looked up, but barely seemed to know them. Face white, grey even. Eyes raw with shock. Blood smeared across his cheeks, in his hair, blood everywhere.

“Is he… is he dead?” Idris’s voice cracked as he said it.

“He’s in surgery.” His voice hasn’t sounded that weak, that hoarse since the day Noor met him. That’s how he looked now, like that shattered creature Noor had known back then.

Idris sank down into a seat, graceless, sprawled, his usual elegance gone.

“He stepped in front of me.” Noor turned back to Madari as he spoke again, still looking up at Noor. “He saw the gun and stepped in front of me.” He sounded awestruck, like a man who’d witnessed a miracle. Noor felt awe too, but no surprise.

“I have said it before.” And now he said it again. “That man has the heart of a lion.”

A cracked laugh broke from Madari. “I hope so, because he has a bullet too close to that heart now!” The laugh turned to a sob and he dropped his face into his hands, fingers clenched in his hair, his body shaking violently, convulsive and choking sounds told Noor he was trying to swallow more sobs. But he couldn’t manage it. They escaped him and for a moment, Noor stared, frozen.

He’s falling apart. Noor hadn’t seen him like this for over a year. No one but Kahil had, when he comforted Madari in his nightmares. Once Madari had regained enough control to do so, he’d hidden most of his distress from the rest of them. But he had no control now. The worst thing he could imagine had happened. No, not quite. Kahil was still alive. Second worst.

A sound behind Noor made him turn to see Idris rising from his seat, and for a moment Noor thought he was about to go and comfort Madari. But then saw the look on his face. Embarrassment. He’d never been able to cope with Madari breaking down all those months ago and he couldn’t now. He walked out of the room. Not far, just outside the open door.

Unable to stand Madari’s distress, Noor sat beside him and put his arms around him. His body shook against Noor’s as he clung to him.

“He’ll be all right,” Noor said, and actually felt sure of it. Tried to pass some of that certainty to Madari. “He’s the strongest man I know. He’ll make it.”

“I can’t go on without him!” Voice high, and too loud, audible to Idris for sure. “I’ll die without him!” No control there and saying too much.

“Shh,” Noor whispered.

Please, please, be quiet. Don’t say anything I won’t be able to ignore, forget, and put down to shock. Just hush. Weep, but don’t speak. Or…

“Pray with me.” Noor stroked his back. Prayers, yes, ritual words, soothing in their familiarity. He started to recite and Madari fell silent in his arms. A moment later, his voice joined Noor’s in a whisper. His tears soaked into the shoulder of Noor’s shirt, which was when he realised he’d left his jacket back at the restaurant.


All the way to the hospital, Rahama kept worrying about what he would tell his wife if that boy died. She’d taken a shine to Mr Jahni, and when she’d learnt that he had no family of his own had become quite maternal. Had even taken it upon herself to find him a suitable wife. Rahama had told her that the young people these days prefer to make their own arrangements, but she didn’t approve too much of that. She was genuinely fond of the lieutenant though. She would mourn him. As would Rahama.

He found Faris in the waiting room outside the surgical suite. Some uniformed police officers roamed the hall outside and Idris Faraj stood guard outside the small, windowless room. Their friend, Captain Noor sat by Faris, holding his hand. He’d met Noor once before, at a reception at the palace. A fine young officer, and Faris spoke very highly of him. Still, Rahama felt surprised to see him, rather than Faraj offering comfort to Faris.

Faris, his poor friend, he had not seen him look so awful since a day long ago, when he walked out of the bedroom where he’d kept a vigil for days, and told the men gathered there the news we feared. That Ahmed was dead. A moment later, Rahama had rushed him away from the other men and left him with his grandmother and his wife as he began to break down. He had good self-control, but when it crumbled, it was like the breaking of a dam. Young Captain Noor there looked as if he had been downstream of that today.

Faris rose when he saw Rahama, and Rahama moved to embrace him, but hesitated, instinctive disgust stopping him, as he saw the dark red-brown stain on Madari’s clothes.

“Faris,” he said weakly, “your jacket…” It had been a long time since he last saw combat and the only blood he routinely encountered now was cutting into a rare steak. The sight of so much of it brought back memories of horrors he’d prefer not to relive. Faris looked down at himself, frowning, not understanding for a moment, then his eyes widened and his face grew even more pale, a little green, nauseated.

“Oh God!”

He’d been too shocked to notice that he was covered in his friend’s blood. Tears started then, over cheeks stained with the same blood and he pulled at the buttons of the jacket, tearing some of them off in his impatience. They bounced on the floor. The belt he tossed away, then dragged the jacket off, threw it away from himself. His shirt was stained almost as badly, the blood had soaked right through and his hands tore at those buttons in their turn. Rahama knew his skin may be bloodstained too, and feared how he’d react to that. He was already making choking noises as he attempted to keep that dam from bursting again.

Captain Noor came to the rescue, taking Faris’s wrists, preventing him ripping off his shirt. Rahama followed the Captain’s example and pulled himself together, took charge, turning to his driver.

“Go back to barracks; fetch clean clothing for the major. The quartermaster has his measurements on file.” As the driver left, Rahama beckoned Faraj. “Find a blanket please. He’s in shock, he needs to be kept warm. And some sweet tea will help him.”

Faraj hesitated a moment, perhaps reluctant to leave, even if he did seem to be keeping his distance from Faris.

“Captain, quickly please.”

He nodded and left. Rahama turned to see Noor had coaxed Faris to sit again. Faris’s shirt was half open, buttons scattered on the floor now, but he made no further effort to tear it off, seemed to be calming. Still Rahama knew his control teetered on the edge.

Faraj came back a moment later with a blanket and now Rahama let Faris take off the dirty shirt and wrapped him in the blanket. There was blood on his skin as Rahama had feared, but he’d retreated into shock again, didn’t notice it yet. Rahama would have to help him, get him cleaned up, and help him regain his control.

And all the time he marvelled as he wondered just how deep his friendship with young Jahni must go to bring him to this state. Faris had been an aloof man for a long time, even his friendship with Rahama, or Faraj, having a distance to it. What did Jahni mean to him that Faris could show so much of his heart?

“You two,” he said, to Faraj and Noor. “I would like to know what the police are doing to find the men who shot one of my officers.”

“I’m sure they are doing all they can,” Noor said.

“And I’m sure they’ll do even more with you two standing over them. Go and…” He smiled faintly. “Help them. If there is any news I will find you.”


Madari didn’t know how many hours passed in that waiting room, while he and Rahama kept the vigil. Rahama’s driver returned with a clean uniform for Madari and he washed himself in a nearby bathroom, then put it on.

A horrible calm had come upon him, and with it, shame about the way he had acted, in front of his friends, in front of his commanding officer. Such a display of weakness and emotion, in front of others, he cringed to think of it. He could only barely remember the things he had said. Were there some he had forgotten, some that revealed far too much about his feelings for Kahil? He would have to apologise later, try to blame shock. Faraj would not forget it though, he knew that.

And it might not even matter. If Kahil died, why would Madari care anything for his reputation then, for his career or social position? What would any of that mean? He had to swallow a lump in his throat as he saw Rahama looking at him with concern again. They still sat in that waiting room, the blanket still around his shoulders. He found it hard to resist the temptation to throw it right over his head, shut out the world.

A doctor in surgical scrubs walked into the room and he jumped up, almost stumbling for a moment, as his head spun.

“Dr Al-Hijazi!”

His friend, his doctor for long time, gave him a weak smile. “Major.”

“You work at this hospital?”

“No, but I heard about the shooting, and I came to see what I could find out.” His smile turned wry. “I haven’t yet readjusted to the formalities of hospital medicine.”

“What have you found out, Doctor?” Rahama asked, offering his hand. “Colonel Rahama,” he said, introducing himself and making Madari wince, as he knew he should have done that. Formality. Protocol. What the hell did it matter?

“Colonel.” Al-Hijazi bowed his head to the colonel, and then turned to Madari. “They allowed me to step into the operating room for a few moments and speak to the surgeon. Kahil is in the care of the best thoracic surgeon in the country. The surgery is almost over–”

“No, not almost. It is over.” Another doctor came in, a white coat donned over scrubs that had blood spatters on them. Madari stared, ashamed perhaps of his surprise, as she offered him her hand and introduced herself. “Doctor Akhtar. Doctor Al-Hijazi here is too flattering about me.”

“Your reputation…” Al-Hijazi began, but she turned away from him, looked at Colonel Rahama then at Madari, and spoke, to all of them, perhaps, but looking into Madari’s eyes.

“Lieutenant Jahni’s surgery was successful. The bullet shattered two of his ribs and most of the surgery has been to remove bone fragments from the surrounding tissue. But striking his ribs slowed the bullet enough that it did not penetrate as deep as it might have. There is no serious damage to his lungs and none to his heart. He is breathing on his own; we were able to take him off the ventilator as soon as the surgery finished.”

“His prognosis is good?” Al-Hijazi asked.

She nodded and pushed a strand of hair back behind her ear, looked very tired.

“He’s young, in excellent physical condition, he doesn’t smoke.” Nodding again, but smiling with it now, she went on. “I see no reason he shouldn’t make a full recovery.”

And Madari wished, how he wished, that propriety allowed him to embrace her, his gratitude and relief intense. She was around forty, not perhaps an especially attractive woman, but in that moment, he had never seen a more beautiful woman in his life.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Rahama said, when Madari didn’t speak at once. “That is excellent news.”

“Can I see him?”

She turned back to Madari when he asked it.

“He is in the recovery ward, visitors aren’t usually allowed.” Madari put his head down and started to turn away. God, he needed to see him. He needed to see him breathing. But he turned back when he felt her hand on his arm, briefly. “But nobody is going to argue with me. Follow me, sir.”

He did, into the surgical suite, attracting curious glances from the staff. Doctor Akhtar pushed open a door marked Recovery and they stepped into a small ward, the beds surrounded by forests of machines. At least one staff member stood at every occupied bed.

“Here,” Doctor Akhtar said. “This is as far as you can go.” She made him stop by a large window looking into the ward, and pointed at one of the beds. A nurse stepped aside and Madari saw Kahil, flat on his back, bandages covering his chest, an oxygen mask over his mouth, and tubes and wires binding him to the machines that surrounded him. His eyes were closed. He wasn’t moving.

“He’ll stay here for another couple of hours, until he is conscious, then we’ll move him to the post surgical ward. You’ll be able to visit him properly there.”

Not trusting his voice, he nodded. This was enough, and not enough. Enough to make him believe Kahil was still alive. He saw the heart monitor with its peaks, could hear it faintly even from here. Not enough though to satisfy Madari. He wanted to touch him, feel the warmth of his skin, stroke the hair he now wore short enough for regulations, long enough to test the limits of those regulations. But the hospital had its rules and he had no place in that ward, an environment only experts could step into.

“I have heard,” she said, “that he was shot protecting you.”

He nodded, still unable to speak.

“I think, well, that makes you brothers.” She smiled when he looked at her. “It’s something my father used to say. That if someone saves your life they became part of your family.”

“If that is true, Doctor, then you must have many, many brothers and sisters.”

She laughed. “I don’t think it counts when you get paid for doing it.”

He looked through the window again at Kahil, a nurse bending over him, checking one of the wires leading to one of the monitors.

“Perhaps it doesn’t, but nevertheless, thank you, Doctor, for saving my… brother.”

She led him back to the waiting room, where she talked to Rahama and Al-Hijazi for a while and Madari sat in a chair, feeling fog swirl about him.

“Faris?” He looked up at Rahama. Doctor Akhtar had gone, but Al-Hijazi was still there. “Faris, the doctor says you can visit Kahil in the morning. Now let me take you home.”

“What… what time is it?”

Rahama handed him his own watch, the Timex he still wore from the camp, despite sneers from other officers with their Rolexes. Almost ten thirty at night. It must be dark outside. He needed to contact Idris and Javid, to see if the police had any progress to report. He should go to Kahil’s flat and bring him things he might need. He should… He should… He looked up at Rahama.

“I want to go to a mosque. I want to pray.”


It seemed like a miracle to Faraj. Three weeks ago, they took a bullet from his chest and now Jahni was ready to leave the hospital. While he and Madari packed his suitcase for Kahil, a woman doctor spoke to him as he sat on the bed. After a while, she tore a sheet from a prescription pad and handed it to him.

“Get this filled on your way out. And do not miss your follow up appointments.” She looked at him in a stern way Faraj would have found impudent, but Kahil just smiled at her.

“I won’t, Doctor, I promise.”

“You do not go back to work until your medical officer signs you fit for duty.”

“Of course not.”

She smiled then. “Good, now stop malingering and get out of the hospital. There are ill people needing that bed.”

Madari and Kahil both laughed as Kahil swung his legs off the bed and started putting on his shoes.

“He’s discharged?” Faraj said. “Don’t you have to check with a more senior doctor?”

She gave him a scowl. “No, I do not.” Then she turned to the other two, smiling. “Goodbye, Kahil. Faris.”

Faraj raised his eyebrows at this familiarity, but Madari only bowed his head and thanked her. Clearly, he had been here so much the last three weeks he had become friends with this woman doctor.

For that first week Madari was here at least twelve hours a day. And even after that, even once it was clear Kahil would recover, Faraj often had to send a driver over with papers for him to sign. He supposed Madari was lucky his commanding officer was such a good friend, to let him take so much emergency leave.

“Do I need that?”

He looked up to see Madari helping Kahil into a coat, sliding it up his arms, which Kahil still found painful to raise.

“It looks nice outside,” Kahil went on protesting.

“There’s a strong wind today,” Madari said.

“Okay, okay,” Kahil said with a sigh, fending off Madari’s hand and fastening the coat buttons himself.

Faraj carried Kahil’s case as they left the room and the ward, Kahil calling out goodbyes to other patients and staff as they passed them. He laughed and joked with them and for a moment, Faraj felt a lump in his throat, a prickling in his eyes, as he thought about how close they came to losing him. For all the things Kahil did to annoy him, he would never wish any harm to him. He owed him too much for that.

In the elevator, Kahil checked his hair in the mirror. He would need a haircut before returning to duty, that’s for sure, then turned to Faraj.

“So how’s the investigation going? Are you still harassing the police?”

“They could use some harassing. Frankly, they are useless. I have military intelligence working on it now.” He glanced at Madari. “I’m sure the assassins will try again.”

“Can I requisition a bullet proof vest?” Kahil asked, making Madari roll his eyes.

“You don’t need a bullet proof vest, Lieutenant, you just need to learn how to shout the word ‘duck’ and give me a firm push.”

Kahil laughed and then held his chest. “Ow, no comedy please. Doctor’s orders.”

“I’m sorry, Kahil,” Madari said and Faraj saw a smile flick across his face. “I will endeavour to restrain my usual stream of hilarious witticisms.”


The elevator reached the lobby and after stopping off at the pharmacy, they headed towards the parking lot. The wind outside did make Kahil shiver, Faraj saw. After a moment, they stopped by Faraj’s car. Madari’s was further on and he went to take Kahil’s suitcase from Faraj. Faraj held onto it and spoke.

“You know, it has occurred to me that it might be more sensible for Kahil to come and stay at my house, instead of yours, until he’s ready to go home.”

“I…” Madari hesitated and looked at Kahil, who gave a small shake of his head. “We’ve already made the arrangements.” He reached for the suitcase again. Faraj didn’t let it go.

“My home is closer to the hospital, to his own doctor, quicker to bring him for his appointments. There are more people to take care of him there. It’s more central in case there’s an emergency.”

It was more sensible, they should both be able to see that. Madari’s home was far outside the city, very isolated. An ambulance would take a long time to get there, even from a nearby town, and over an hour to bring Kahil back to the city, if he had a problem, a relapse, anything.

Even if there was no emergency, he had doctor’s appointments in the city. That was a long journey to make while still recovering. Faraj had a household staff to take care of his needs; Madari only had Youssef, who was ready to retire. It was the best choice. If Madari could not see that, then Kahil’s health was not at the top of his agenda and that was wrong.

Madari looked torn, but turned to look at Kahil. “It does sound sensible. Perhaps you should stay with Idris.”

“No.” Kahil shook his head. “Your house is so much more peaceful. I can get more rest there. That’s what the doctor says I need.”

And Madari didn’t argue with him. He smiled and reached for the case again. This time Faraj let him take it.

Chapter 3

The days at the barracks felt so long, even though Madari left as early as possible. He must make up for that one day, stay and put in extra time. The colonel has been a good friend, and turned a blind eye to some paperwork coming late. Idris has covered for him. And all so he could rush home, to walk into his house to find Kahil waiting for him.

This time he didn’t find Jahni in the living room.

“He is in the diwaniya, sir,” Youssef said, coming into the room, seeing him looking around. “He found it too warm in this room this afternoon.”

It did feel warm in here. Glancing up at the ceiling he thought about having some electric fans installed before summer arrived, then he went into the diwaniya. Kahil lay on a kind of nest of rugs and cushions, asleep, a book discarded at his side, an empty cup near him, tipped over. A blanket covered him. For a moment Madari wanted to leave him like that. He still needed rest, though his strength was returning, thanks in part, Madari was sure, to two weeks of Youssef’s home cooking. But he must have heard Madari come in and he started to stir and his eyes opened. He smiled.

“Faris. You’re home. What time is it?”

“Almost six. How are you feeling?”

“Hungry.” He sat up, and rubbed his eyes with both hands.

“Imagine my surprise,” Madari said, laughing. “I’ll have Youssef prepare something. Just a snack though. Save your appetite for dinner, Idris will be joining us remember?”

“Oh, yes.”

Madari crouched down beside him and picked up the cup, touching the carpet to see if anything had spilled from it. No, it must have been empty. When Kahil started to rise, Madari shook his head and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Stay here, I’ll join you. It is pleasant in here.”

He left him and found Youssef in the kitchen, brewing coffee. Various ingredients for dinner lay around on the table.

“Kahil and I will have some cake with our coffee, in the diwaniya.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Youssef, I want to thank you for how you’ve taken care of Lieutenant Jahni while he’s been here.”

“It’s no trouble, sir.”

“Nevertheless, I intend to pay you a bonus for the extra work. And I know Kahil is very grateful too.”

“I appreciate that.”

Did he? Madari wasn’t sure how much he really approved of Kahil. Like Idris, Youssef thought Royal Guard officers should be the right sort, the officer class. More than that, the elite of the officer class. It was impossible to say though, since of course he would not express his opinion about that to Madari. Well, his approval did not matter. Madari knew he’d do his duty. And on a personal level, well perhaps Kahil had charmed him during his stay.

He re-joined Kahil and they relaxed in the diwaniya until they heard a car pulling into the compound.

“Idris,” Madari said, when he went to offer Jahni his hand to help him rise. “I don’t think you’ve seen him since you came home have you? Left the hospital I mean?”

“No, he hasn’t been out here and I haven’t had time to see him when I’ve been in the city.”

“Ah, then it’s a reunion.”

They had dinner quite early, not long after Idris arrived, since Jahni still went to bed early for now. Madari made most of the conversation at dinner, unusual for him, but Idris was quiet, almost sulky, making Madari worry about him. Did he have problems at home? He wouldn’t call to cancel the dinner for anything less than an emergency, but if he’d rather be elsewhere, Madari wouldn’t insist on his saying long afterwards.

When Idris did talk, he spoke mostly about work, or asked after Kahil’s health and about when he’d likely be fit to return to duty. Then he paused for a moment and looked between the two of them, an almost calculating expression on his face.

“I’ve been thinking about something. I wondered if perhaps once Kahil is well enough that we might all make the Pilgrimage together.”

“The Pilgrimage?” This took Madari by surprise. Kahil didn’t answer, turned away to pour himself some water.

“I thought it would be a good time to do it,” Idris went on. “As a way to thank God for Kahil’s life, and for the restoration of the king, our victory. It feels like the right time to me.” He looked at Madari. “You haven’t made the Pilgrimage before.”

No, he hadn’t. He knew he must get around to it one day. But it has always been “next year”. Like Ahmed. It was always going to be “next year” for him. And then it was too late.

“No,” Madari said, “I haven’t. Of course, you are right, I should make the time. I will think about it. Kahil?”

Kahil looked up. “I’ve seen TV pictures, of the crowds. I don’t like crowds much.”

“It is an obligation,” Idris said, his voice stiff and Kahil flashed him a glare.

“I meant, while I’m not at full strength.”

“That is a good point,” Madari said. “It can be arduous. Depending on the time of year too, the heat. I wouldn’t want Kahil to push himself too soon.”

“I did say, when he is well enough.” Idris’s voice was low, soft.

“Of course. And there is no hurry. Perhaps…”

“Next year.”

Idris’s voice still had that low tone, and something else now, a hint of sarcasm. He must have heard Madari say that before about the Pilgrimage. Next year. Madari scowled. And who did Idris think he was to decide when Madari, or Kahil, should make the Pilgrimage? That was their business, not his.

“When he feels ready,” Madari said, his tone colder than Idris’s now.

“Of course,” Idris said. “It’s all about Kahil.”

A rattle of cutlery on a plate and the scrape of a chair made them both turn, startled, to Kahil. He looked flushed, glaring, as he stood up.

“I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”

Madari stared and stood up, concerned.

“No,” Kahil raised a hand, as Madari reached for his arm. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m sorry to be rude. I just have to go.”

He walked out of the room, leaving Madari staring after him. When he turned back to Idris the look he saw him direct after Kahil shocked Madari. A grimace, near disgust. The expression vanished when Madari caught his gaze.

“I think I upset him.”

He had. Madari was not sure exactly how, but still he wanted to slap Idris for it.

“He’s just tired. Out of sorts.”

“Well, perhaps I am too.” Idris rose from the table, tossing down his napkin, although they had not even finished the main course. “I think I will go home.”

“Oh. Well, of course, if you want to.”

He accompanied Idris to the door, opened it, letting in the cool night air.

“Idris, is something wrong at home? Anything you want to talk about?”

“At home? No. What could be wrong?” He laughed, a bitterness in it that Madari could almost taste. “My son is almost convinced that I’m his father, my wife has almost stopped treating me like a guest in his own house.”

“Idris, I am sorry, you are having some trouble readjusting. Please, if there is anything I can do, tell me.” He raised a hand to put it on his shoulder, but Idris stepped back, out of his reach. “I know the shooting has all of us shaken up too.”

The disgust appeared on his face again and he snorted. He stepped closer to Madari again, but Madari certainly didn’t want to put his hand on his shoulder this time. Not with the fury in his face. Not with the way his voice intensified into a hiss as he spoke.

“Major, you fail to understand something. Not everything is about Kahil. At least, not for everyone. For you perhaps, but not for the rest of us. For your sake and his, you should try to refrain from speaking of him every time you open your mouth!”

The last words Idris almost spat into his face and Madari gasped and stepped back. An amazed look crossed Idris’s face, and he stepped back and spoke more quietly, voice shaky. “My apologies, sir, I am… upset. I did not mean to speak out of turn. Goodnight.”

And he was gone before Madari could recover his composure, his car door slamming. In a moment the engine roared, the lights came on and the vehicle swept out of the compound, making sand fountain up from the tyres.

Madari walked slowly to close and bar the gates. For a moment, he looked at the rusted padlock that had once secured the gates. He should invest in a new lock. Then, still feeling stunned, He walked back into the house.


Jahni heard Idris’s car leaving and wasn’t surprised when a few moments later he heard a soft knock at his bedroom door. He’d been lying on the bed fully clothed, but sat up, called out.

“One second.”

He took his shirt off and went to the door. What made him do that he didn’t know for sure. Perhaps he wanted to make Faris think he had started to get ready for bed. So he’d think Jahni was actually tired and not just sulking.

“Ah.” Faris looked taken aback for a second when Jahni opened the door. “I’m sorry. You’re going to bed, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“No.” Jahni stepped back, opening the door wider. “Please come in.”

He did, after only a tiny hesitation and a glance over his shoulder. Where might Youssef be right at this moment? Clearing up the dinner things, probably.

“Idris left?” Jahni sat down on the bed, leaving enough room for Faris to sit beside him. He didn’t, just hovered near the closed door.

“Yes. I think he’s…” He bit his lip, frowning. “He’s just not in a good mood.”

“Because we failed his little test.”

“What?” Faris stared at him.

“That stuff about the Pilgrimage.”

“I don’t understand.”

Jahni just shrugged. Faris would work it out eventually, as Idris already had, would understand. Perhaps tonight was the time to tell him. Jahni could have died and Faris wouldn’t have known this about him.

“What do you think about the idea of making the Pilgrimage, Kahil? Together. I don’t mean soon, not even next year. But when you are ready.”

“I would go anywhere with you. But I would only go there for you. Not for myself.”

Faris seemed baffled and finally came over to sit beside Jahni and gave him a puzzled smile.

“Kahil, you’re talking in riddles tonight.”

That made him laugh. “I don’t need to make the Pilgrimage. Can’t you see why?”

“Don’t need? All Muslims –”

Apparently he couldn’t see why.

“Faris.” Jahni turned, looked right in his eyes. “Faris, I’m not a Muslim. I haven’t believed for a long time now. Months. Perhaps I never really did.”

Faris stared at him, eyes wide in the dim light thrown by the bedside lamp, stared as if he’d spoken in an alien language.

“I don’t understand. Are you saying you have converted? To what? Christianity?”

“No.” It would take Faris a moment to understand it, Jahni could see. “I haven’t converted. I don’t just mean that I don’t believe in the teachings of Islam any more, I mean I don’t believe in God.”

Faris jumped up so fast that he stumbled, and had to grab at a cabinet to keep from falling.

“Kahil!” he gasped. “Kahil.” Speechless but for his name.

“Faris.” Jahni resisted the urge to get up and take his arms, or his hands, to try to calm him. “I’m sorry if this shocks you. But it’s the truth, it’s me. You are… You are part of me and you need to know about it.” He stood up and moved to Faris. “How could I go on believing, after what happened to my family? If God existed how could things like that happen?” His voice had started to rise. He didn’t want to shout, not at Faris. He choked down the words.

“Kahil.” Faris had an agonised expression on his face. “It is normal to feel angry, even with God, when terrible things happen, but your family is waiting for you in Paradise.”

“No! I’m not angry with God. That’s not it. At first, I thought it was. But it’s not. I have no faith. I don’t think I ever had, just… habit. I was trained to pray, to observe, to mouth the words, but it never felt real. Never.”

“I… Kahil, I don’t know what to say.”

What Jahni said then he knew amounted to a challenge. He knew it could insult Faris. And he wondered if it was only wishful thinking. But he had to say it.

“Say that you feel the same.”

“What?” Outrage in his voice. But Jahni pressed on.

“You’re an educated, sophisticated man. How can you believe in these superstitions?”

“I have faith.”

“You have a position in society you have to maintain, you can’t admit to anyone else that you don’t believe. But you can tell me. Please, trust me with the truth.”

He had moved quite close to Faris, who had backed away, against the cabinet.

“No. I believe,” Madari insisted. “I may not be strict in my observance, and I know I am… weak. A sinner. But I believe in God.”


“Kahil!” His voice was stern now, the command voice, and angry, yet had a tinge of desperation in it. “I have given you my answer. Do not challenge my faith again.”

Feeling dazed, Jahni stepped back. Had he made a mistake in telling Faris? What if turned Jahni out of his house right now and never spoke to him again?

“Faris,” he said, whispered. “I am sorry. I thought perhaps you… I’m sorry, I won’t challenge you again. But I can’t take back what I told you. I have no faith. I can’t lie about it any longer, not to you.”

His knees felt weak, and sat on the bed again. A moment later Faris came and sat beside him. Jahni didn’t look at him.

“Kahil. I’m sorry you have lost your faith. I’m sorry that you don’t believe you’ll see your family again, that you don’t believe that we could be companions for eternity in Paradise. I believe it, and I want you there with me.”

“Don’t,” Jahni said, feeling the anger rise. “Don’t put off what you want to say until we are both dead! I will never hear it.”

He didn’t answer that and Jahni turned to see a look of pity that made him sad and angry. He wanted Faris to see the truth as he did. He didn’t want Faris to pity him for his lack of faith. He wanted Faris to respect him for his honesty.

“Kahil, you understand you need to keep quiet about this to others. I see your heart is set, for now anyway. I hope that will change. But you understand how others would view this, as apostasy.”

“They’d be right.”

“Yes, well. You know it would cause problems.”

“Don’t worry, Faris, I intend to keep up his façade of hypocrisy in public. I’m quite practiced at that now. Quite the expert.”

“You can talk to me about it, whenever you want.”

While you try to persuade me back onto the straight and narrow road? While you deny your own doubts? I know why you cling to your faith, because it’s a line of defence against what you really want. Because it stops you giving in to that sin and weakness you fear in yourself.

He didn’t say any of that.

“Thank you,” Jahni said.

Faris moved as if to stand up, but then stopped.

“Kahil, if you don’t believe, then why do you put off things you might want to say? What you might want to say to me.”

He looked poised, ready to run if Jahni stepped up to this challenge. And it was a challenge, as mine had been, as Idris’s had been.

“You think I have something to say to you?”

He took Faris’s hand, raised it to press against his chest. Faris tried to pull it away, until he realised it rested on the fresh scar from Jahni’s injury.

“I already said it. Didn’t you hear me?”

Faris didn’t speak, as Jahni let his hand go. He rose from the bed. At the door, he turned back and spoke.

“Yes, I heard you. Goodnight, Kahil. I know you don’t think it will do any good, but I am going to pray for you.”


Was he right?

Was Madari’s so-called faith nothing more than habit and appearance? Was he a hypocrite? And too much of a coward to admit that even to Kahil? Or even to himself.

It was true that religion has never been especially important to him. It never was to Ahmed. Father had been more spiritual, even interested in mysticism, in Sufism. But even he never talked much about religion. It has always just been something… there. Just part of the background of life.

Yet Madari had seen things, the real faces of the things that lived inside the men that tortured him. The demons.

Hallucinations. They had to be. In that place, drugged, dehydrated, deprived of sleep, probably concussed, certainly suffering from blood loss, and half-insane from terror. They had to be hallucinations. Like the visions he’d had of Ahmed, or his father killing his tormentors and carrying him out of there. They weren’t real, the demons can’t have been real either.

They felt real. Their hands that dragged him to the next torment had claws. They smelled of hell and death.

He had turned off the light in his bedroom, kept only the bedside lamp on, but now he switched the overhead light on again. His fear of the dark had almost gone, thanks to his work with his psychiatrist. But tonight the darkness felt too crowded. He feared a nightmare and that his screams would bring Kahil to him.

He feared that because he knew now that he had one less reason to trust Kahil’s restraint. If Kahil had no faith, then he didn’t believe that making love to Madari was a sin. He had other reasons not to do it, but Madari had assumed religion to be one of the strongest. Now he felt the same as he might if were to rise in the morning and find he hadn’t locked the doors of his house overnight. A feeling of realisation that he had been vulnerable and never known it.

No, he was being unfair. He had to keep on trusting Kahil. A man can still have a morality even if he has no religion. There was an unspoken promise between them now, he was sure of it, that they would not… change the nature of their relationship. And Kahil has kept to that. Despite having no faith, He had kept that promise. Madari could trust him.

But was going to lose him. Kahil didn’t expect them to be together after death. He believed they had only the years in life and that only oblivion awaited after that. And what did Madari believe? The thought sickened him. He believed that this meant Kahil would go to hell. Perhaps eventual forgiveness, but before that, hell.

He groaned and sat on the bed, his head in his hands. Worse than losing him in this life, worse than the thought of their brief years of life being the only time they’d have together. That he’d suffer and Madari couldn’t stand that.

He couldn’t let it happen. It was his fault. If he’d been stronger in his own faith, given a better example, not let temptation ravage him so much, then he could have helped Kahil. Was that why he never told Madari about his doubts? Because he didn’t believe Madari could help him?

Tomorrow he would insist Kahil spoke with an Imam, take some instruction. Was he even a member of a mosque near his home? Madari had never asked him. Why hadn’t he thought to ask? Weak, so weak in his own faith he never saw Jahni’s slipping away.

All he could hope now is that there was something left. Even if it was anger with God. Kahil claimed that wasn’t the case, but Madari saw a lot of anger in him. That had to be the one chance, the last shred of faith he still carried in his heart.

Madari would help him turn that anger back into love. He had almost lost Kahil here in life because of that bullet. He would not lose him for eternity because of his own grief and pain.