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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.