Part 14: Reconciliation

Chapter 1

July 1988

Jahni turned on the tap and cold water poured into the wooden bucket. While he waited for it to fill, he held his cupped hands under the stream, then poured water over his head, to drip from his sweat damp hair, onto his shoulders, chest and back. It ran down his face, cooling his hot skin.

The bucket started to overflow, so he turned off the tap and took it back into the sauna cabinet. Madari lay flat on his back on the highest bench. He moved his arm from across his eyes and gave Jahni a lazy smile. Jahni nodded to him, then found the ladle on a bench and tossed water over the coals on the burner in the corner. Steam rose with a furious hiss and Madari sighed.

Jahni moved to put the bucket on the floor beside the burner, but Madari sat up, arranging the towels swathing him.

“Wait a moment.” He held out a hand and Jahni held the bucket so he could dip into it and scoop out cold water to splash over his face. “Thank you.”

He lay down again, letting the towel he’d kept around his shoulders slip off, leaving his torso bare. When he sighed again, Jahni smiled to hear it. A sound of pure pleasure, of sensual enjoyment of the heat and steam. He so rarely saw Madari relax and unwind.

Lying down himself, on a lower bench, he breathed deep, the hot air hurting his nose for a moment. How Madari could stand it up on the hottest, highest bench, he didn’t know. And the time Madari could stay in the hottest part of the Turkish bath amazed Jahni, who had nearly fainted their first visit here, when he’d tried to stay in there as long as Madari.

“This is not meant to be an endurance test,” Madari had told him, in a stern voice as he lay recovering in the lounge. Of course Jahni had blamed it on the fact he was still convalescing.

Madari shifted a little and moved, so his right hand hung down over the bench. Water drops ran down his hand, hesitated on the finger tips, grew, fell.

Jahni watched the relaxed hand, the pads of the finger tips wrinkled from water and steam. His hands were like his whole body, Jahni thought. Rangy. Long fingered, strong hands, but not meaty; just as he was tall and broad-shouldered, but slender.

He watched another water drop run down the wrist, through sparse hairs, crossing over where the darker skin on the back of his hand and arm faded to the lighter colour of his palms and underarms. The water drop ran down the index finger and gathered on the water-wrinkled finger tip. It grew larger. At any moment it would fall. Jahni lifted his own hand and, careful not to actually touch Madari’s finger, he touched the water drop. At once it broke away and ran down over Jahni’s hand, quickly vanishing into the sweat that glistened on his skin.

Madari didn’t react at all, gave no sign he’d noticed and Jahni sighed and lowered his hand onto his chest. His fingers, perhaps unconsciously, found the scar there, but moved away from that to run along his collar bones. The touch felt comforting, even if it was just his own hand. Even if he imagined another’s hand… He stopped that train of thought quickly.

Sometimes this place was too much pleasure. He’d found it a few weeks ago, in one of the big international hotels in the middle of the city. Terribly modern, rather bland, Madari claimed, but he seemed to enjoy his first visit and they’d made a regular twice a week habit of it after that. Jahni breathed deep again and winced at the pain in his nose.

“Right,” he said, sitting up, grabbing at the towel around his waist to keep it secure. “I’m going for a dip in the plunge pool before I shrivel up like a date. Are you coming?”

“I’ll have a little longer I think,” Madari said, leaning up on one elbow, smiling. “I’ve barely worked up a sweat yet.”

Jahni rolled his eyes. “This is not meant to be an endurance test.”

Madari laughed. “I’ll join you in a few minutes. Throw some water on the coals before you go, please.”


Madari turned onto his front as Jahni threw a ladleful of water on the coals and then opened the door. The rush of cool air caressed Madari’s naked back, then, as the door closed, the heat flowed back, like a wave in a warm sea.

He folded his arms and rested his head on them, face in the small space enclosed by them. With his nose only inches from the fluffy white towels this place provided, he could smell the floral scent they carried. Soft music drifted from speakers somewhere in the walls.

How very different this place was from the old-fashioned steam baths he’d gone to as a young man, with his grandfather. Ahmed would not have approved of fluffy, flower-smelling towels and piped music. Of course this was a hotel spa, designed to cater to foreigners as much as the locals.

Old fashioned steam baths of the type he remembered still existed in the city, but Jahni liked this one better. So did Madari if he was honest, however many war stories he told Jahni about scratchy towels, stone benches and huge sweating men who gave massages that left you feeling as if you’d been drubbed with a rubber hose.

This place offered massages too, but Madari never had one, because of his scars. A soldier was entitled to have scars; they were nothing to be ashamed of. But the ones on his back were a different matter. Though given to him by his torturers, and again, nothing to be ashamed of, they looked identical to those carried by men who’d been punished in the old ways, before the laws changed. He would find it difficult to relax if he thought the masseur was wondering what crime Madari had received lashes for.

The whoosh of cool air as the door opened again made him glance up to see if Jahni had come back, but a stranger entered. The man nodded at Madari and sat on a bench. Madari put his head down on his arms again, but that consciousness of those marks on his back made him decide to cover up. He rolled on his side, to free a towel he’d ended up lying on —

And gasped, recoiling, as a shape, the man who’d just come in, lunged at him, his arm raised and plunging down, even as he met Madari’s eyes, startled at the sudden movement. By instinct, Madari blocked the blow, but yelled out in pain. Not a blow, worse. A knife tore into the skin of his arm, not deep, mostly deflected, but still blood rained onto the white towels.

Yelling. Good idea. He grabbed the man’s right wrist with both hands, clung on and yelled. The man, bigger, younger, stronger than Madari, tried to shake him off. With his left he pounded his fist into the side of Madari’s head, leaving him dazed and stopping his yelling for a moment. His grip loosened, the hand came free. At once, the blade stabbed down again. Madari rolled off the high bench and the knife missed him, banging down onto the wood instead.

Madari moaned at the impact, when he hit the next bench down, but couldn’t hesitate, no time to wait and recover. He lunged away from the bench, and grabbed the assassin around the waist, driving him back. Bare feet squeaked on the wet tiled floor and they both fell into a desperate grapple for the knife. Their hands slipped on each other’s sweat-soaked flesh, blood from the wound in Madari’s arm still flying and spattering on walls and floor. The water bucket fell over, sending a flood of now lukewarm water around Madari’s shoulders as he lay on his back, holding the man off.

Bucket. Must move fast. Madari reached over his head and groped for it. His hand found the rim, and he brought it around in an arc to smash into the side of his attacker’s head.

The man roared, but didn’t fall. Blood poured from his temple and his eyes glazed for a moment, but he swept the bucket from Madari’s hand, and pounded his fist down. Reactions slowing, losing blood still, Madari tried to dodge the fist, but caught at least a glancing blow on the side of his head, on his ear. For an insane moment the explosion of horrible pain made him think the knife had plunged into his ear, into his brain. But he saw the knife in the man’s other hand, saw it coming at him again. He couldn’t block, or dodge, the pain in his head so bad he could hardly breathe, let alone move.

It felt like no more than a punch in the side. He didn’t even feel the blade sink through his flesh. Felt it come out though and screamed this time. It came up again, dripping with blood now, ready to plunge into his chest this time.

Something banged into Madari’s foot, and he felt the rush of cold air. The attacker turned, glanced over his shoulder and that moment of distraction gave Madari his last chance. Before the knife could fall again, he made a fist and rammed a hand upwards, into the attacker’s throat. He heard nothing, but felt bone and cartilage crush under the blow. The man fell down on top of Madari, pinning him even more effectively now. But the weight vanished almost at once, the man pulled away and then Jahni was kneeling beside him.

“Faris!” Jahni’s voice sounded panicked and Madari wanted to reprimand him and say ‘keep your head, Lieutenant.’ Wanted to say so many other things before he bled to death, naked on the floor of a sauna. Other voices were shouting too. He couldn’t make them out, all so muffled. Warmth then, arms around him, someone, who knows who, can’t see, getting so dark, covered him with towels. Someone pressed on the wound in his side, making him cry out again. Perhaps only in his mind though, too weak to voice the pain any more.



Faraj ran though the hospital corridors, his driver trying to keep up and having a tough time of it. Enough damn hospitals. Just enough! He’d been working late when the switchboard put the police through on the phone, looking for one of Major Madari’s colleagues. Moments later he’d been on his way to the hospital. He skidded into a waiting room to find Jahni there, pacing.

“What happened?”

“They tried to kill him again! Tried to kill him at the fucking steam bath!”

“Watch your language, Lieutenant.” The reprimand came automatically, because he couldn’t think of what else to say in that moment. Not again, not again. Jahni stared at him.

“Faris has been stabbed and you’re telling me to watch my fucking language?”

“That’s enough!” Faraj needed to think straight and getting into a row with Jahni would not help him do that. He pressed a hand to his pounding head. “Where is he now?”

“In surgery.” Jahni spoke more calmly, Faraj saw him take some deep breaths.

“Have they given you any indication of how bad it is?”

Jahni nodded. “They… They said the belly wound is superficial, though he lost a lot of blood from that and from his arm. He’s got some kind of head injury too, they think.” A terrified expression crossed his face. “He was bleeding from his ear.” Abruptly Jahni sank down onto a chair, face going pale.

“What about the man who attacked him?” Faraj asked. “Where’s he?”

“The morgue.”

Faraj stared at the grim satisfaction on Jahni’s face. Had there been some swift retribution there? No, Jahni might be impulsive, but he wasn’t a murderer. And even he would see that the assassin would be better alive, for questioning.


“Faris killed him. Crushed his windpipe. After he’d been stabbed. Incredible.”

Faraj nodded. Self defence, the last desperate strength a man about to die can find to keep himself alive. A pity they couldn’t question the assassin, but like Jahni, he felt some satisfaction in what he could only see as just desserts for the would-be killer.

Looking down at Jahni again, Faraj noticed for the first time that he wore doctor’s scrubs, pyjama like baggy shirt and trousers. Bare toes peeked out from the cuffs of the trousers.

“Where are your clothes?”

Jahni looked up. “I told you, we were at the steam bath.”

“You mean you came here naked? You didn’t bring your clothes?”

“Well, pardon me, I didn’t think of that when I was trying to keep Faris from bleeding to death!” The anger rose again, as Jahni got to his feet.

“All right, calm down.” They’d headed there straight from the barracks he recalled now. Their new Monday and Thursday routine made Faraj rather nervous. “My driver can take you over there to fetch your uniform.”

“Are you mad?” Jahni demanded. “You expect me to leave?”

Why must he be so over dramatic? He can’t do anything here. He might as well make use of the time.

“Lieutenant, the police are here, reporters likely will follow. You are an officer of the Royal Guard and I expect you to appear and act like one. The major would expect the same.”

Jahni glared at him, arms folded, still making no move for the door.

“Go and get your uniform, Lieutenant. I’m making it an order.”

Jahni stiffened and stood at attention.

“An order. Well, I can’t disobey your order, sir.” He spat the ‘sir’ harder than he’d spat the obscenities a moment ago. Without another word he marched out of the room.

He shouldn’t have needed the order, Faraj thought, sitting down. To rush here without his clothes was one thing, but the moment Madari was safely in the hands of the doctors, he should have been ready to go and fetch the uniform. A real Guardsman would think that way. A man who had genuine loyalty to the regiment and not only to one officer.

Faraj realised he had rushed off rather dramatically himself from the barracks, though at least he’d been fully clothed. He should call Colonel Rahama, in case nobody else had yet.

Only when he found a telephone and tried to dial did he notice how badly his hands were shaking.


Warm, washed out sky over him when his eyes opened. Strange shadows draped him though. A shadow moved. A hand touched his face and a bright light stabbed into his eyes. When he tried to bat the hand away his arm barely moved, too heavy.

“Relax, Major.” A stranger’s voice. “You’re in hospital. But you’re going to be fine.”

The bright light vanished and he heard more voices, very muffled, then the stranger’s voice again.

“All right, you may see him for a few moments, but he’s still heavily sedated.”

And then the faces came into his view. Kahil, Idris, wearing nervous smiles. So handsome both of them in their uniforms. They made him so proud.

“Hello, sir,” Idris said. It sounded a long way off. So formal, so trained. But Faraj looked nervous and scared and relieved too.

“Faris.” Jahni took his hand and Madari thought if he must die, it should be like this. But the man with the bright light had said he’d be fine, hadn’t he?

“Stabbed me…”

“Yes,” Jahni said. “But not too badly. They operated on you, you’ll be fine.”

“Stabbed… My ear?”

“No.” Jahni shook his head. The relief increased on his face. “You have a burst eardrum, he hit you there.”

Now Madari managed to raise a hand, to the side of his head, where he felt a thick wad of cloth. Bandages. No wonder his hearing sounded so muffled and lop sided.

“You should just try to relax now, sir,” Faraj said. “We’ll take care of everything.”

“Relax? I tried to relax and had a naked assassin trying… Kill me in the steam room. Not fair.”

“No, it’s not.” Jahni’s hand stroked swiftly across his forehead, sweeping his hair to one side. He leaned over, spoke quietly. “You’re safe here, just rest now.”

He smelled good, Jahni, newly showered. But coffee on his breath and pale and tired looking.

“You rest too. Both of you.”

Who knows how many hours they had been here? How many hours they’d be up dealing with this? What time was it anyway? Where was his watch? Still at the hotel spa.

“The police want to talk to you again,” Faraj said to Jahni.

“I know. I’ll sit here until he goes back to sleep.”

The sound of a chair scraping on the floor, then Jahni sat down and took Madari’s hand again. Never let go.

He was tired, but felt no pain. He wondered what they had given him. Something strong. Pain would come later for sure. He shivered as he recalled the pain in his head when the attacker hit him on the ear, the certainty that he’d been about to die.

“Are you cold?” Jahni asked.

If he was, he hadn’t the strength to answer. His eyes closed and his mind wandered into dreams.


Lieutenant Ishaq was a happy man. He’d make captain soon, according to his CO, who said his methods were unorthodox, but effective. Well he knew who he had to thank for that.

Despite the darkness, he knew his way. He strolled by the side of the road, on his way back to barracks, after visiting friends in a nearby town. The night had grown chilly after the warm summer day and he looked forward to getting home.

Perhaps tomorrow he’d give the Major a call and ask after his health. The news of the attack had been a shock, so soon after Jahni’s brush with death. But both of them had survived. Charmed men perhaps.

Ishaq felt charmed too. Not only in his career, but he had met a young woman recently, the sister of a friend, who looked at him with some favour, he thought. Perhaps within a year, if God willed it, he’d be a captain and a husband?

After a glance at his watch, he picked up his pace and strode on. A car flashed past now and again. They drove far too fast on this isolated road. But he kept well back from the road itself, on the well worn path that ran between the town and the barracks.

It wasn’t uncommon even at this time of night to meet other men on the path, so he barely glanced up as a couple of dark figures appeared in the starlight, coming towards him. In fact he was about to give them a friendly greeting and walk past, until they rushed at him suddenly, grabbed him. He yelled in protest, fought and would likely have beaten them off and escaped, but movement and noise from behind told him they weren’t alone.

Ambush! How many of them? He couldn’t tell. Too many. Blows rained on him, several to the back of his head, leaving him dazed and limp in their arms. Still just conscious, he heard someone speak.

“The bottle.”

A second later, he felt something splash on his clothes and face and smelled alcohol. Then they forced the bottle into his mouth and he gagged on undiluted spirit, choking, tears pouring from his eyes in reaction.

“Enough.” The bottle moved away. More blows struck him, while he hung helpless in their grip, coughing and gagging still on the liquor, then someone called out, “One coming.”

“Do it.”

They shoved him, dropped him onto the road surface and he heard the sound of footsteps hurrying away. Ishaq moaned and tried to get his hands under him to push himself up to his feet, or his knees at least.

And then the lights, two lights, merging into one dazzling glare as they came close, at the last second, the sound of a horn and the last thing he knew was the impact of the car.


Trimming fuses. Darak could do that without conscious thought, and he needed that right now. He couldn’t get Ishaq’s death out of his mind. The military police had closed the case as an accident, despite protests from Ishaq’s family, the friends he’d spent the evening with, his commanding officer and Major Madari himself. It did not ring true. Ishaq never drank, so how could he have got drunk and fallen in front of a car? Rubbish. The MPs were idiots.

Fuming, Darak went back to the explosive devices he was working on. Damn, he’d rather be outside, perhaps running laps or on the assault course. He’d relieve his feelings much better out there, not stuck in here, fiddling with explosives. All so dull too, with none of the interesting experiments he’d tried while at the camp. Lack of the usual equipment to call on made him so much more creative. Now he could just requisition what he needed. Well, it wasn’t quite so much fun.

Necessity is the mother of invention. They’d taught him that at school and he’d certainly learnt the truth of that under Major Madari’s command. The lessons he’d learnt there would be with him the rest of his life.

A moment later he discovered how short a period of time that would be.

He looked at the timer under his hands and at the explosive attached to it. The timer was running. The fuse was in.

Wait, that’s not… Oh shit.

People said later that that they heard the noise of the workshop exploding at least ten miles away. Everyone agreed it had been a miracle that only one man died.


Accidents. Right! A man who didn’t drink has an accident while drunk. An explosives expert blows himself to bits despite an excellent safety record.

And he, Javid Noor, was a monkey’s uncle, a Dutchman and the Queen of Sheba.

As he took the new men through weapons drill, they were wary of his unusually stern demeanour, and the short temper he so rarely displayed. His impatience almost frightened them.

He stamped up and down the line of men, who were learning to strip and reassemble their rifles. Come on, come on. This should not take so long. The damn students at the camp learned faster than this. Some of them could already do it blindfold in the amount of time these idiots had been practicing.

The quality of recruits to the army lately did not impress him. They’d had to compromise to make up the numbers of those who’d died in the fighting.

Don’t worry, his CO had said, once we’ve got them, we’ll whip them into shape. Well this lot were taking some whipping. Ah, here though, perhaps this one is a little more promising. He stopped in front of a young man who actually had all the pieces of his rifle assembled again.

“Good. Let me see.”

“Wait a moment, Captain,” the recruit said. “I think it’s stuck.”

“Don’t point it at –”

The next word would have been “me”. But he never had the chance to finish the sentence. The word was drowned by the roar of the “stuck” rifle.


Madari did not go straight home after the funeral of Javid Noor, but instead drove to the home of Colonel Rahama. The prayers were fresh in his mind, along with the grief and pain in the eyes of his friends, and in the eyes of Kiana, a widow so young. He could not stop hearing the sound of the choked sob torn from Faraj when they lowered the wrapped body into the ground. Could not stop seeing Jahni hold him, talk softly too him to help him stay strong. Madari hadn’t been able to hear the words, his punctured eardrum still healing, but he could guess the soothing tone of them. Later he saw the two of them standing well away from the rest of the mourners, arm in arm and talking.

It made Madari want to weep that it took this horrible loss to bring those two close as friends again. And he had wept, as he drove back to the city alone. Jahni had gone with Faraj, who needed more support than Madari did. But his eyes were dry now, when he arrived at the large house to the east of Az-Ma’ir, Rahama’s home.

The Colonel was still in uniform when Madari arrived, at a little after six thirty. He must have arrived back from the barracks only a short time ago.

“Faris, my dear friend.” He took Madari’s hand, sympathy in his eyes. “Please, come and sit down.” He led Madari to a sitting room, ordering tea from a servant on the way.

Madari didn’t sit. He walked to the windows and looked out into the courtyard. Some women sat out there, the colonel’s wife he recognised, and others he didn’t, talking in the dusk, in the still warm evening. Turning back he waited for a moment while the servant brought in tea.

“I will pour, thank you,” Rahama said, dismissing the man with a wave. He poured and held out a teacup to Madari. “I hope the funeral was not too distressing.”

“It was as one would expect,” Madari said, walking over and taking the cup. “Colonel, I did not come here only for your support, welcome as it is, my friend.” He bowed his head.

“Then what is it I can do for you, Faris?”

“Three of my officers from the camp are dead within a month. Jahni almost died. Two attempts have been made on my own life. The word ‘campaign’ is becoming difficult to dismiss from my mind.”

“The recent deaths have so far been ruled accidental.” Rahama pointed out. Not arguing that they were, Madari saw, just saying what others had decided.

“I do not agree,” Madari said. “I knew Ishaq, he was a good Muslim, and he did not drink. That was not an accident. Darak, well, after one early incident involving carelessness he became very safety conscious around explosives. He respected them and there was never another problem. Believe me, he understood the consequences of being careless with explosives.”

“And Captain Noor? I understand the military police have questioned the young man involved and concluded it was no more than an accident. Sadly not an unknown one in weapons training. He is reportedly very distressed about it.”

Madari frowned, down at him. “I know, that is more difficult. And yet, on top of the others, I feel certain something is going on. And I want to investigate it myself. I don’t want to lose any more friends.”

Who might be next? He had already almost lost Kahil, an unthinkable horror. But Faraj too, any of them. Faraj, as if I have not caused him and his family enough pain.

“Sir, I formally request the resources to investigate this matter. These men were not Royal Guard, but they were Army. The Army should make a proper investigation and I don’t think this has been done so far.”

“The military police have been busy since the restoration,” Rahama said, nodding. He sighed. “The Army is still in a state of upheaval.”

So they were happy to go with an obvious interpretation of events, close the case quickly, and move on. Madari knew this from a long tense telephone call he’d had with the MP leading the investigation into Ishaq’s death.

“However, Faris, you are not a detective. I can give you resources, but what you need is expertise, and someone who can get you fast access to whatever information you need. I am going to request that an officer be seconded from military intelligence to assist you.”

Madari nodded, smiling. Rahama had given him even more than he expected, had dared hope for. Such a good friend. Now he could do his duty, find the murderer of his friends.


In the morning, Madari found Jahni and Faraj already in the office when he arrived. Both looked tired, he doubted they’d slept any better than he had. But they both looked happier when he made his announcement.

“Gentlemen, put away what you’re working on currently. Colonel Rahama has given me permission to investigate the deaths of Lieutenants Ishaq and Darak and Captain Noor.”

“Well it’s time someone did a proper investigation.” Jahni dropped the paperwork he’d been frowning over straight into a drawer and slammed it closed. “Where do we start?”

Madari had to smile at his enthusiasm for something more exciting than the paperwork he’d been stuck with for weeks now. The medical officer had still not signed him off fully fit.

“An officer from military intelligence is coming to help out. He should be here this morning. In the meantime, let’s get everything else delegated and clear the decks, as they say, to prepare.”

“Sir… Faris.” Faraj’s voice stopped Madari as he turned to go into his office. Hoarse and tired, but full of emotion. “Thank you.”

Madari just bowed his head in reply and walked into the office.

They set to work to delegate and reassign their current work and began pulling together the resources for the investigation. The primary resource, the seconded officer from Military Intelligence arrived at just after ten thirty. A call from the gatehouse told Madari the man was on his way up.

“He’s a captain,” Madari said. “So, Kahil, I’m afraid, you’ll have to give up your desk to him while he’s here.” Jahni frowned, not liking that, but he started rummaging in the drawers. He kept all kinds of junk in there, Madari had seen before, wouldn’t want a stranger rifling through it.

It turned out not to be a stranger.

The officer walked into the room, wearing the slate grey uniform of military intelligence, a briefcase in one hand and several file folders under his other arm. Faraj and Jahni stared, as he walked up to Madari, who stood at his office door. He put down the briefcase and saluted.

“Reporting for duty, Major.”

Madari returned the salute and spoke, his voice feeling weaker than normal.

“Welcome to Royal Guard barracks, Captain Raslan.”

Chapter 2

Raslan turned from Madari to Faraj and shook his hand, bowing his head, then he turned to the other desk to the still seated, and still staring, Jahni.

“Lieutenant Jahni.” He held out his hand and Jahni collected his wits and stood up to shake it. “I wanted to apologise for what happened the last time we met,” Raslan went on.

“I…” Jahni winced at the memory of it. “You don’t have to.” He glanced at Madari, then back at Raslan. “I was just, well, looking for trouble to be honest.”

“Nevertheless, I was the senior officer and shouldn’t have allowed myself to be provoked. I know it was a stressful night. I hope we can put it behind us.”

“Of course.”

Madari sighed, releasing a held breath. The sight of Raslan had set his heart racing. Could it possibly be a good idea to have him here, knowing the tension that existed between him and Jahni? But the apology appeared sincere, even gracious. Jahni would not be petty enough to hold a grudge, he hoped.

“So you’re in Military Intelligence now?” Faraj said, coming around from behind his desk, as Madari gestured and they all moved into his office.

“Colonel Jumale recommended it, after the restoration. I find it very interesting and rewarding.”

“Organise some coffee, Lieutenant,” Madari ordered and Jahni turned back out of the room as the captains took their seats beside Madari’s desk. He returned a moment later, and then had to go out and bring another chair in so he could sit too.

Raslan placed files on Madari’s desk. “I agree with your suspicions, Major, that the deaths in question were not accidents, that they are linked, as are the attacks on yourself.” He glanced at Jahni. “And that there’s a good chance on the day of the shooting that they hoped to kill both you and Lieutenant Jahni.”

“If it hadn’t been for Kahil they’d have succeeded in killing me.” Madari never grew tired of reminding people of Jahni’s heroism, even if remembering that day still felt painful.

“Yes, and I have to offer my congratulations on your bravery citation, Lieutenant.”

“I only did my duty.” Jahni murmured the words, his hand moving to the ribbon on his uniform, denoting the medal that Madari and Rahama had both recommended him for.

“Is it a coincidence that you were assigned to this mission, Captain?” Madari asked, willing to bet it was not. He had to wonder what Raslan hoped to gain from it, if he had volunteered.

“I requested the mission, when I saw the secondment order come through. Those men were my fellow guerrilla fighters. It’s my duty to help you find their killers.”

Such a sincere look he wore, Madari thought, and began to feel bad for suspecting Raslan’s motives. Why not take him at face value? Wouldn’t he gain much from simply doing a good job here? Earning their gratitude, and perhaps a commendation.

“I’ve brought the files we’ll need,” Raslan said, indicating them on the desk. “Shall we start with Lieutenant Ishaq’s death? There are sworn affidavits from the friends he spent the evening with that he drank no alcohol in their presence. So I think we can dismiss the accident theory at once.”

The four men turned to their work, going over the files and working on theories. Madari soon found that Raslan had already done a thorough job of investigating the deaths, and the investigation into the two attempts to kill Madari himself was well advanced, Raslan’s own signature on many of the documents about that. Clearly he’d been taking an interest for a while.

Colonel Jumale had been right, Madari thought, watching as Raslan stood at a board, pinning up pieces of paper, using coloured tape to connect them. Raslan was a natural at intelligence work. And this was only the public face of it, of course. Many of the reports with Raslan’s name on them were of surveillance and undercover missions. Those he’d be especially good at.

Raslan’s jacket hung on the back of a chair, as the room grew warm towards noon and he wore a crisp white shirt, the sleeves rolled up, revealing golden brown skin. Not the dark tan of too many days in the desert, like Madari himself. More the gentle toasting got from hours sitting outside cafés watching the comings and goings of a target building.

Madari shook himself as Jahni touched his shoulder.

“I’m sorry?” He said, realising Jahni had asked him a question.

“I asked about lunch, sir. Do you want to go out or to the mess?” Jahni had a frown on his face as he looked at Madari.

“Ah, the mess. Let’s show Captain Raslan that the reputation of the food in our officer’s mess is well deserved.” Raslan smiled at that and started putting his jacket back on. Faraj stood too, did the same, talking to Raslan. Madari bent towards Jahni, spoke more quietly.

“I’m sorry, Kahil, I didn’t hear you. My ear.” He touched the healing ear.

“Is it troubling you?” Jahni asked, concern replacing the frown.

“No, no. There’s no pain.” He smiled. “But feel free to just shout at me if I don’t answer you.”

Jahni didn’t smile in return. The frown came back.


After lunch, Raslan did take Jahni’s desk, and spent most of his time on the telephone. Faraj worked at his own desk and Jahni came and worked in Madari’s office. Once they were in there, with the door closed, they spoke more freely. Jahni nodded at the windows into the outer office, to Raslan and Faraj.

“Are we really going to trust him?”

“Raslan?” Madari said. “Yes, I see no reason not to.”

“He’s a snake.”

Madari rolled his eyes. “Kahil, I know you don’t like him, and to be honest, well, I don’t fully trust him either. But he appears sincere. There’s no reason to think he wants to do anything except help us solve this case.”

“Maybe.” Jahni shrugged.

“And don’t you think he seems different? Now we’re all back in a more normal environment?”

“A leopard doesn’t change its spots.”

“He can’t be a snake and a leopard.” Madari hoped that would crack a smile from Jahni, but it didn’t.

“He can be anything he wants to be, that one.”

Well that was true. Never mind intel, he could probably do damn well as an actor. But Raslan was different. Less alarming somehow. He laid on the charm thickly; he’d been buttering all three of them up all morning, but without the sexual charge to him that had frightened Madari before. He flattered, but he didn’t flirt. Yes, that was the word. Flirt. Not quite so blatantly anyway.

“I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt, Kahil. He’s doing his job, he’s helping us. Can’t we just assume that’s all he wants to do at the moment?”

“You can assume. I’ll look out for knives in the back.” He winced and looked at Madari, probably regretting invoking the memory of the sauna attack. Madari nodded, resisted rubbing a hand against the new scar in his side. “Sorry,” Jahni said.

“That’s all right. I know I can rely on you to be suspicious of everybody.” Oh, that didn’t come out right and made Jahni scowl.

“I’m not suspicious of everyone.” The tone was mild, but his eyes held a mix of anger and offence.

“I just meant on my behalf, as security. Not that you’re a mistrustful person.”

Jahni wasn’t that, was he? Or was he becoming that? Losing the generosity of spirit that allowed a man to assume others meant him no ill until they did something to make him believe otherwise. Existing in a state of constant expectation of a knife in the back was no way to live. He hoped Jahni never became that.

Jahni was sulking now, working over a folder with a brow like thunder. Madari feared saying anything else would make his mood worse, so just let him be, to continue his work.


That evening they all had dinner together, at Faraj’s home, Raslan receiving a last minute invitation. Although she greeted them when they arrived, Janan stayed out of the way again, leaving the men alone. It puzzled Madari. Faraj might be old fashioned in some ways, but he’d never made his wife hide away. She was an intelligent, educated woman, and had always been able to hold her own in conversation with men. Now when he visited, he rarely saw her and he missed her contribution. Tonight, Faraj said, she was tired, because of the baby, and the doctor advised her to rest.

After dinner they sat on the terrace in the dying light, smoking, staying quiet, and thinking of their lost comrades, the times they’d shared with them.

Madari broke the long silence eventually. Faraj, as the host, should have led the conversation, but he looked tired and pale and lost in thought, so Madari stepped into the breach.

“So, Captain Raslan, where are you living now?”

“I have a small flat in the city. Quite simple, it’s all I need.”

Silence again for a while. Madari filled it again, his nerves unable to stand it. Jahni was watching him. Perhaps waiting for Raslan to attempt to stab him in the back.

“And do your family live in Az-Ma’ir?”

“I have no family.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

Raslan shook his head. “It was a long time ago.” Now Jahni turned to watch Raslan. Faraj only sat with a cold cigarette in his hand, his gaze directed off over the wall, over the city. Raslan went on after a moment, after a glance at Madari, who perhaps wore a look of desperation for someone to talk.

“My father was a soldier. He died in combat when I was very young. My mother was a servant at the home of a wealthy man, a Sheik, so I grew up in his home.” He sighed. “He was a kind man, generous to us. He had no children of his own, you see, he was a widower.”

“So he treated you as a son?”

“Pretty much so. He certainly nagged me to do my schoolwork and piano practice.”

“You play the piano?” Madari said. “You must show us, sometime.”

“If I can remember it!” Raslan laughed. “I haven’t practiced in years. My…” His voice caught a little. “My mother died when I was twelve but the Sheik continued to support me. I lived at his home, he paid for my education. He was… Well he really was like a father to me.”

“Did you inherit his money?” Jahni asked, shocking Madari, with the direct question.

“No.” The answer was abrupt, his expression becoming hard for a moment. “He paid for me to go to university. But, while I was there, he died suddenly and since he had no children of his own, his brother inherited his money. He did leave me a legacy, which should have at least covered my living expenses until I finished university.”

“Should have?” Madari asked.

“His brother contested the will, and got it reversed.” He shrugged. “I don’t think he liked me. It was a small amount compared to the whole estate; he would barely have noticed it. But he didn’t want me to have it anyway.”

“That seems very unfair,” Madari said. He glanced over at Jahni and frowned, to see he was making an odd little motion with his hand, which lay out of sight of Raslan, rubbing the tips of his thumb and a finger together. Baffled by that, Madari turned back to Raslan. “Were you able to finish university?”

“Yes. All the fees were already paid. I had to take a part time job, to pay my living expenses but I managed. I signed up for the army as soon as I graduated.”

“It must be difficult not to feel bitter towards the Sheik’s brother.”

“Well, I try not to feel bitter, that only hurts me after all. And I don’t mind about the money, I wasn’t blood kin; I didn’t expect to inherit the whole estate or anything. Sometimes I feel angry that his own brother defied his wishes. But mostly I just miss him.”

The silence descended again, as a servant brought out tea and served them all before going back inside.

Raslan held up his cup. “To absent friends.”

Faraj stood up, shoving his chair back. “Excuse me,” he said in a choked voice. He strode indoors as the other three stared after him.

“I…” For a change Raslan sounded uncertain. “Did I say something to offend him?”

“He’s still upset about Javid,” Madari said. “They were very close.” He drank his tea off quickly. “I think we should leave now.”


Raslan had his own car, so left in that, while Madari gave Jahni a lift home. Jahni didn’t have a car yet. Though he’d been told he would receive his back pay any time now, he wasn’t going to take on any extra expenses until it materialised in his bank account.

As they waited at traffic lights, Madari glanced at the gloomy looking Jahni. Since the discussion about Raslan that afternoon they had been awkward around each other. Still Madari had something he just had to ask.

“Kahil, what was this business?” ‘This’ was the hand movement Jahni had been making during Raslan’s story. Madari rubbed his thumb and index finger in imitation. Jahni smirked, but with little humour behind it.

“I was playing the world’s saddest song on the world’s smallest violin.”

“What?” That sounded like something he’d picked up from one the American TV shows he liked to watch. “Are you saying he was lying?”

Jahni shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe there was a good reason for the brother not to like him. Maybe he did expect to inherit the whole estate. And who knows what he might have done to get back at the brother?”

“I think you need to listen to something else Raslan said. Bitterness only hurts the one who carries it. The same could be said of unwarranted suspicion.”

“Oh, Raslan is such a fount of all wisdom.” He spoke through gritted teeth now.

“Kahil,” Madari began, then gasped and stamped on the brake, as Jahni opened the car door just as Madari began to pull away from the lights. “What are you doing?”

“I’ll walk from here. See you tomorrow.”

“Kahil!” But Jahni slammed the door and strode off into the night. A car behind Madari honked its horn and Madari growled with frustration, but moved off. And he had no choice but to turn, in the opposite direction Jahni had walked off in. By the time he turned around and came back, there was no chance of picking him out on the street, crowded with people going to the late cafés and coffee houses, and on to the dance clubs.

Damn! Why must he act like a child sometimes? Well he wasn’t a child. He could take care of himself and get home without Madari’s help. If he wanted to sulk about some ludicrous jealousy of Raslan, that was his problem. Fuming, Madari turned the car around and headed out of the city.


Raslan almost ran into Madari’s office the next morning, passing through the outer office with barely a nod to Jahni and Faraj, both sitting silent and gloomy behind their desks.

“We have an I.D. on the man you killed at the sauna!”

Madari flinched at the words. He’d never meant to kill the man, but the last of his strength had not been under conscious control, rather at the command only of his instincts.

“Sorry,” Raslan said. Jahni and Faraj crowded into the office behind him. “It’s taken weeks, we had almost given up. But this morning Military Intelligence received a report from Interpol. They identified him from his fingerprints.”

He took a photograph from his briefcase. Madari recognised the man at once. The photograph was a police mug shot, the identifying wording on it in Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Madari recognised.

“His name is Allaf, Ghaly Allaf. He’s a Syrian, ex-military and for the last several years, according to Interpol he’s worked as a mercenary and assassin, in various countries in the Gulf and North African regions. This is the first time he’s been known to operate in Qumar.”

“A hired killer,” Jahni said, as Raslan took the picture and pinned it to the board. “How does this help us? Is there anything to connect him to someone here?”

“It helps us because he commanded a high fee.” Raslan said. “That tells us whoever hired him is wealthy.”

Madari felt an almost absurd pride in the fact he’d fought and beaten a high priced professional killer. Shaking that off, he paid attention to the business at hand.

“He’d have been paid in advance, one assumes,” Madari said. “Or at least partly.”

“Yes,” Raslan said. “I’ve already started working on tracing his accounts. Naturally such a person would have his money trail concealed very effectively, but we have specialists who can track anything inside the banking system. He had a credit card among the belongings left behind at the hotel spa. Not in his own name of course, but it gives us a starting point.”

“Excellent work, Captain,” Madari said.

“Oh, it’s all teamwork. My colleagues. And inter-agency cooperation of course; Interpol gave us the ID. Now, the other key, I think is the man who shot Captain Noor. If we assume it wasn’t an accident, then we have to look into that man’s background, find out if he is who he says he is. I intend to head out to his barracks today and question him.”

“I’ll go with you,” Faraj said at once. Raslan looked at him with a worried expression for a moment, and Madari understood why, knowing how close Faraj and Noor had been. Could Faraj keep his head when confronting a man who may have murdered his friend? But then Raslan nodded. Madari wondered if he saw a useful element to it. Perhaps a chance to play a classic good cop, bad cop routine on the suspect?

“With your permission, sir?” Faraj said, turning to Madari, remembering himself. Well, there were risks, but if Raslan was willing to take him, and if Faraj kept in mind that he was there for information, not revenge, there should be no problems.

“Permission granted,” Madari said. “Lieutenant Jahni and I will continue with the leads we were working on yesterday.”

“Here,” Raslan wrote on a scrap of paper and handed it to Madari. “The number of my colleague who is trying to trace who hired Allaf. He’ll get you anything else you need.”

“Thank you, Captain. Proceed.”

The two captains took their leave, and Madari sat down at his desk again. Jahni stood by the board, studying the pattern building up there. His hands, clasped behind his back, he looked tense, and had dark circles under his eyes. Should I ask him about last night? Madari wondered. How he got home? Is that any of my business? Perhaps not.

He bent over his work again, without speaking.


The day wore on towards darkness, in the familiar routine of meals and prayers and work, as Madari waited for Faraj and Raslan to return. He and Jahni gleaned all the information they could hope to from the intelligence data and analysis, and went back to doing their own paperwork as they waited.

As darkness fell and the barracks grew quiet, Madari glanced over at the couch that sat at the far end of the room. Jahni sat there, but with his head down, cushioned on his arm. His eyes were closed, his breathing even. The file he’d been reading had slipped off his knee to the floor.

Sleeping on duty, Kahil? Madari smiled, indulgently. He’d seemed tired, and was still on ‘light duties’ anyway. Madari should have sent him home already. Well he’d wait for the other two to get back and then take him home, see he got there this time, and into bed.

Quietly, Madari went into the outer office and moved around in the dim light, made a phone call to Raslan’s colleague to ask him a few questions.

While he was on the phone, noting down the answers, the sound of voices sounded from down the hall and a moment later Faraj and Raslan came in. They looked surprised and went silent, when Madari put a finger to his lips to ask them for quiet. When he ended the phone call he looked up at the waiting men and spoke softly.

“Kahil is sleeping next door. Let him rest for a few more minutes.”

“Of course,” Raslan said, his voice barely above a whisper.

“We think we’ve worked it out,” Faraj said.

“Did you question the man?”

“No,” Raslan scowled. “The idiots let him go on home leave. Of course he has disappeared.”

“They let him… He’s a murder suspect!” Madari’s voice rose, outraged.

“The military police believe it’s an accident, they didn’t have him in custody.”


“But,” Faraj said. “We got all his records from the regiment’s personnel files. We went to his home address, which it turns out is where he used to live, but the house has been empty for a few months.”

A movement at the office door made Madari glance over to see Jahni there, rubbing his eyes. Madari’s own raised voice must have woken him.

“Go on.” Madari said, turning back to the other two.

“According to the neighbours the family had lived there several years,” Raslan said. “It was a good sized town, so we went to the town hall, to see what we could find in their records of births, marriages and deaths.”

“That’s where we struck gold,” Faraj said, a grim smile on his face. He flourished a photocopied sheet, a record of a marriage. “This is the record of his parent’s marriage. Look at the family name of his mother.”

Madari looked and gasped, stared up at Faraj.


Raslan nodded. “That’s what we’ve ended up doing all day, tracing the family, to ensure it’s not a coincidence of names. It’s not. The man who shot Captain Noor is a distant relation of General Ziyahd.”

“Former General,” Jahni said from where he stood leaning against the door frame. He really did look quite pale now, exhausted. He needed to take better care of his health, Madari thought, give himself time to regain his full strength.

“There’s been a warrant for his arrest, since the restoration,” Raslan said. “But he’s slipped the net so far. He is a wealthy man; he could certainly afford to hire killers.”

“Would he though? Go to all this trouble and expense to get at not only me, but all the officers involved?”

“He didn’t fall from grace only after the restoration,” Raslan said. “According to records he was court martialled after losing control of the prison, stripped of rank. His wife left him. It looks as if the Russians had a lot to do with how severely he was punished.”

“He lost four of their people of course,” Faraj said, nodding.

Madari thought about it for a while. Could he imagine Ziyahd twisted up enough with hatred and bitterness to spend significant amounts of his money on getting back at Madari and his officers? The man was certainly a sadist, Madari knew that. Would simply the thought of their pain and suffering be enough to satisfy that sadistic desire?

“If we can tie Ziyahd to Allaf,” Madari said. “That would prove it to me.”

“The money is the way to do that,” Raslan said. “After that, we have to track down General Ziyahd himself. If we find a money trail, that will do it. Excuse me, I’m going to make a phone call.”

He went to Jahni’s desk and dialled. Madari looked at Jahni again, and then spoke to Faraj.

“Idris, please take Kahil home. I think I will stay for another couple of hours, if Captain Raslan still has work he can do tonight. But Kahil needs rest.”

Faraj looked at Jahni, who leaned heavily on the door frame now, eyes half closed, not even protesting being sent home. Faraj nodded, found Jahni’s jacket on the coat stand and draped it over his shoulders. Jahni cast a worried look at Raslan, but offered Madari a soft “goodnight,” before he left with Faraj close behind him.

Raslan turned to Madari as he put the phone down, and smiled.

“He is making good progress. He’s found a bank account Allaf used and a large deposit was made recently. Now he is trying to track the depositor down. It was a bank transfer, not cash, so it will be traceable. Now he has Ziyahd’s name that will help of course. Some of his bank accounts are known to military intelligence.”

“Good. Is there something we can do here?”

“I’ll update my puzzle board,” he nodded through to the board in Madari’s office. “And then we wait. My colleague is going to stay all night, he said. He appreciates that lives are at stake here.”

Madari was willing to wait all night too. The idea that at least the mystery would be solved by dawn appealed greatly to him. Then, if Ziyahd was their man, they’d have an action. Go find him. Bring him to justice. He must hate me, Madari thought. To launch such a campaign, his mind must be almost irrational through hatred.

Raslan walked through to the office. He slipped off his jacket and hung it on the back of a chair, before turning to his board. We should send for some food, Madari thought. And coffee. If they were going to be here all night, they’d need a lot of coffee.


Madari yawned, had to hide it with both hands, such a huge yawn. Raslan, sitting on the other side of Madari’s desk looked up from the notes he was making, and smiled.

“Feel free to take a nap if you need to, sir.”

“No, I’m fine.” Another jaw cracking yawn told a different story. “Well perhaps I’ll take the couch for a few minutes.”

He flopped down onto it, but, conscious of Raslan, sat up straight. Raslan went into the outer office and came back a few minutes later, with two coffee cups.

“Thank you, Sayeed. Please, sit a moment too, take a break.”

“Thank you, sir.”

He sat down and rubbed his eyes with his free hand. It was after three now, but Raslan’s colleague had come back with the news that Ziyahd was definitely the depositor responsible for Alaff’s sudden financial good fortune. Now he was tracing all the accounts he could connect to the former General, to track his movements.

“Well, we are making progress,” Madari said.

“Yes, sir.”

“We couldn’t have done this without your help, Sayeed.”

“Oh, as I said, it’s all teamwork.”

“Which you have pulled together.” For a moment he raised a hand to put it on Raslan’s shoulder, but held back at the last second. Best stick to words. “I appreciate your work enormously. You have been entirely professional in your attitude, despite some old tensions there may have been from the old days.”

“The old days.” Raslan smiled. “Yes. Sometimes I wonder about that. I find it hard to hold any grudges from that time, because it’s started to feel unreal to me. Sometimes when I think about it, I feel as if I am watching another man, not myself. Like someone in a film, or on television.”

“You do seem… different.”

“It was such a strange time in our lives, wasn’t it? A kind of madness I sometimes think. I know I wasn’t entirely myself.”

“I know what you mean,” Madari said. “I look back now and feel the same. I wonder who that man was.”

“Really?” Raslan looked surprised. “I wouldn’t have thought that was the case for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just that, well, back then, out there in the desert, you seemed more… yourself.” He laughed at himself then, put down his coffee cup and settled back on the couch. “That sounds foolish, I know. How can I say that when I didn’t even know you before. But I just think you seemed more true to yourself then, more… authentic? More so than now.” His voice dropped, almost to a whisper, conspiratorial. “Now that you need to hide and repress so much of yourself.”

The fear came back in a rush, stunning Madari. The tiger was back in the room.

“Wouldn’t you agree,” Madari said, “that it’s good for a man, especially a soldier, to be able to control his desires and needs, through discipline?”

Raslan gave a small shrug. “Discipline is good of course, self control, but there are those who think that it can harm you. That not expressing your real feelings will lead to illness, physical and mental.”

“I’m aware of those ideas. They’re from the West. Many people in this part of the world would disagree with them.”

“Do you?”

Madari smiled, a false smile, trying to show no fear in the face of the dangerous creature sitting too close to him. Why had he not noticed how close to him Raslan was sitting? A tiny treacherous voice whispered in his ear. You did notice. You liked it.

“Do I disagree? Well, you’re the one who says I repress my feelings.”

“I said you do,” Raslan said. “But I don’t know if you believe that it’s a good idea to do that, or if you just feel that you have to do it.”

Can I feel both? Madari wondered. I definitely have to repress my feelings for Kahil and I do think that is a good idea. For both of us, for our lives, our souls. And Raslan is too close, and what I feel for him is so different. An urgent dry-mouthed lust, that makes me want to give in to it now and forget it ever happened later. Just once would be enough with him. With Kahil, a lifetime could not be enough, but with Sayeed a night would be too long.

His heart pounded in his chest as Raslan slid a little closer, lifted his hand and stroked his fingers through Madari’s hair. He spoke, close, his voice a whisper, a breath.

“I know I’m not him. But you could close your eyes.”

Madari closed his eyes. In the darkness he felt Raslan put a hand on his knee.

The phone ringing almost induced a heart attack, and Raslan’s hand, sliding along Madari’s leg was snatched away. Raslan made a growling sound and jumped to his feet, ran to answer the phone.

Madari stayed on the sofa, trying to bring himself under control. He’d been about to give in, he knew it. He still wanted to, imagined the weight of Raslan on top of him, bare skin pressed close. But he must stay strong. He could not give Raslan this power over him. If he gave in, then Raslan would own him. Not his heart, and soul, they belonged to Kahil. But his life, his commission, his reputation, his honour. He would not pay for a moment’s pleasure with those precious, irreplaceable things.

“You’re sure?” Raslan said on the phone. “Okay, thank you.”

As he hung up, Madari rose, knowing to wait on the couch for Raslan to come back would be a mistake. Would be an invitation.

“What is it?”

“According the records a credit card we believe belongs to Ziyahd is currently being used in Los Angeles, California.”

The words had the same effect on Madari as a sudden cold shower.

“Los Angeles?”

“Yes. Does that mean something to you?”

Now it was not lust making his mouth dry, but fear, fear for the lives of others.

“The A-Team. That’s where they live.”

“The Americans who helped you take the camp?”

“Yes. I think Ziyahd is going after Colonel Smith.”

It made sense, Smith was as responsible, probably more so, for Ziyahd losing the camp. And Smith was exactly the sort of officer someone like Ziyahd hated. Men like Ziyahd, petty, rules-obsessed, corrupt men, despised unconventional and charismatic men like Smith. He would delight in taking him down, making him suffer. Well now Madari had two tasks. Warn Smith and track down Ziyahd. And he had a place to do both those things.

“Los Angeles.”

He said it aloud again. He’d never visited Los Angeles before, only New York. And he smiled because, however serious the mission, he knew who would be delighted to come with him to America.

First though… He looked up as Raslan moved towards him, eyelids heavy; ready to continue what Madari felt certain now was a planned seduction. He wants me, Madari thought. Not to make love to, but to control. That can’t happen. Kahil I would trust with all the precious things that I’m afraid of losing. But not this one. This snake, Jahni had called him

“Raslan,” he said, in a bright voice. “Did you say something to me just before the phone rang? I thought I heard something, but you were talking into my bad ear.”

A lie, the hearing was near perfect in the injured ear now. But a lie that allowed a gracious retreat. Raslan frowned, but he got the message and took the exit offered. The hand on the knee… Well, of course that never happened. Raslan shook his head, an annoyed look on his face.

“Nothing important.”


Madari knew he should just drive home, speak to Jahni later, but he couldn’t wait. He couldn’t sleep without reconnecting with Jahni, needing to repair the rift that had opened the last couple of days.

The first hints of dawn showed on the horizon, when he buzzed the doorbell of Jahni’s flat. A few minutes later the door opened to reveal Jahni, in pyjama trousers and a robe, his hair wild and his eyes still half closed. He squinted at Madari, then recognised him and his eyes opened wide, a fearful look on his face.

“Did something happen? One of the others?”

“No,” Madari said at once, reassuring him. “In fact we’ve made good progress. Can I come in?”

Jahni nodded and led him inside. He walked into the kitchen and groaned when he turned on the light, covered his eyes.

“Sit down,” Madari said, “I’ll make coffee.” Jahni didn’t protest, sat at the kitchen table and snuggled his robe around himself.

“Please don’t tell me what time it is, because you’ll only make me feel worse.”

“Yes, um, I’m sorry, but I wanted to tell you, straight away. Ziyahd is in Los Angeles. I suspect he’s targeting Colonel Smith and the rest of the A-Team.”

“Los Angeles. So… You’ll call Colonel Smith?”

“Yes, but I’m going over there too, to find Ziyahd.”

“So… You’ll take someone with you?” Jahni looked more awake now, anticipation in his eyes.

“Do you feel up to it? You are still on light duties.”

“I’m healthy as a horse!” Jahni said, standing up. “And if you think you can leave me behind while you fly off to Hollywood, you can think again…” A nervous look crossed his face. “Um… sir.”

Madari laughed, really laughed for what felt like the first time in an age. Jahni gave a nervous smile. He walked to the window and looked outside, then turned back to Madari.

“Is the coffee ready?”

“In a moment.”

Jahni got out cups and in a moment Madari poured the coffee out.

“Follow me,” Jahni said.

Frowning, Madari did so. Jahni led him out of the flat, putting on a pair of sandals on the way, taking his keys with him. Madari followed him up a couple of flights of steps and then through a door and found himself on the roof. He looked around amazed. A small parapet ran around it and, beside the east facing parapet lay a small heap of rugs and cushions.

“I like to come up here sometimes,” Jahni said. “Watch the dawn, or the view over the city. It’s well, sort of peaceful up here.”

Madari nodded. Distant sound of early morning traffic floated up to them, but otherwise, yes, peaceful, remote. Rather exposed, if someone knew of Jahni’s habits, a sniper rifle could take him out from any number of nearby vantage points. He shook his head. Starting to think like Jahni.

The two of them sat on the blankets and cushions, put their cups on the parapet and watched the dawn starting to creep over the horizon. Madari felt a twinge of guilt suddenly, feeling he’d forgotten something.

“We should pray,” he said. “We can go back to your flat to wash.”

Jahni looked at him, didn’t waver in his gaze, no shame there.

“I won’t pretend. Not even for you.”

Madari sighed, but put a hand on Jahni’s shoulder. “What you lack in faith you make up for in integrity.”

Jahni didn’t answer, just bowed his head, then looked up again and handed Madari the keys to his flat. Madari took them, found his way back down there. He performed Wad’u, the ritual washing before prayer, and returned to the roof, carrying Jahni’s prayer mat. It got little use now, he supposed.

When he stepped back onto the roof, he found Jahni curled up on the blankets, his head on a cushion, asleep. Careful not to disturb him, Madari unrolled the mat, faced Mecca – at least being up high gave him a good view and let him align himself easily – and began his prayers.

As he prayed, he thought of the man who lay sleeping there. Who’d almost lost his life for Madari. And he thought of the three officers, good men, good friends, so recently dead, and choked on his words. Now other good men were in danger, men he’d known only a short time, but who had transformed his life. He had a duty to warn them and help them.

The prayers completed, he rolled the prayer mat with some care and put it down gently, beside Jahni, who stirred at his footfall, but then settled again.

Sleep, Kahil. Forget, for a while, about the loss and pain. Sleep. I will stand guard over you.

He stood, facing the west.


For what Faris and Kahil got up to in America, see the A-Team story Vendetta.