Part 17: Turning Point

Chapter 1

September 1989

He would be different. Six months of probably the toughest military training in the world. Yes, Jahni would be different.

Madari stood at Arrivals, hands behind his back, trying to imagine he’d glued his shoes to the floor, since that way he couldn’t pace up and down. The plane from London had landed at 6pm, twenty minutes ago, but its passengers hadn’t started coming through to Arrivals yet. Disembarking, baggage claim, customs. It all took time.

Perhaps Madari shouldn’t have arrived at the airport an hour early.

At last, after he’d checked his watch ten more times at least, the passengers from the London flight started to appear. A mix of locals and Westerners, some greeting families and friends, some heading straight for taxis. And then Madari saw him.

Jahni strode out of arrivals, carrying a suit carrier, a flight bag, and with a backpack on his back. More luggage than he’d left with, making Madari wonder what souvenirs he’d brought home.

He wore sunglasses, and Western style clothes, jeans and a t-shirt. Rather a tight t-shirt, compared to what was considered decent around here. It showed off the fact that he’d put on even more muscle since he left.

Madari took a few steps forward, then stopped and waved. Jahni saw him and his face changed from a grumpy and tired scowl to a huge grin. His pace increased, and Madari again had to fight to stay in one place. He would not run and throw himself into Jahni’s arms, he vowed. Especially not while he was in uniform.

Jahni walked up to him, dropped the bags and pulled off the sunglasses. Madari stared into his eyes, before Jahni grabbed him into an embrace, and he surrendered to the moment. Jahni was different. Even stronger than before. And he smelled different, different soap and shampoo of course. But he was Kahil and he was here. No longer a dream. See him with my eyes open.

They didn’t speak as they held each other. Madari couldn’t speak, not without betraying the depth of his joy. Not without revealing the tremor in his voice.

Time to break apart. The people here didn’t know them, might think they were brothers, family. But even so, to hold him too long would look… odd. So they moved apart, but Madari couldn’t help reaching out to put a hand on Jahni’s shoulder.

“Welcome home, Kahil. And congratulations on your success.”

“Thanks,” Jahni said. “I would say ‘it was nothing’ but I was raised to tell the truth.”

“You look very well.” Oh, so very well. Tanned and fitter than ever. “Now, come on, let’s get out of the way here.” He grabbed one of Jahni’s bags, Jahni grabbed the other and they headed away from Arrivals, towards the exit to the car park.

“Did you come straight from the barracks?” Jahni nodded at Madari’s uniform.

“Yes. Are you looking forward to getting back into your uniform?”

“Absolutely. Though I think I’m going to need a visit to the quartermaster first for a bigger size.”

“I can see that. You look as if you’ve spent the entire six months in the gym.”

Jahni laughed. “I don’t think I’ve been in the gym once! Who needs the gym when you’ve got all that hands on experience? And of course,” he said, with an affected casual air. “Once I have a new uniform jacket I’ll have to sew my parachutist wings on it.”

“Ah, yes. I’ve been making arrangements for parachute training for the unit.”

“And for you?”

Madari grimaced. Parachuting did not appeal to him very much. Hanging under Sheik Elahi’s chopper when they rescued Jahni had been the nearest he’d come to it. That experience got an occasional replay in his dreams, making him wake sweating. He was a cavalryman at heart, a hussar. You couldn’t parachute with a horse. Well, possibly you could, but the horse would object.

“I suppose a commander has to lead by example,” he said, without enthusiasm. Jahni slapped him on the back.

“You’ll love it. I promise. It’s exhilarating.”

“Well, that’s one word. Not the first one that came into my mind, I must admit.”

Jahni laughed again. So good to hear that laugh. Was he so different? Did he walk differently? Command the space around him differently? Hard to say, so far. Right now the familiarity of him preoccupied Madari.

“Oh, thank you for my birthday gift,” Madari said, remembering it suddenly. He raised his right arm to let his sleeve fall back and show the beads on his wrist.

“You’re welcome. Do you like them?”

“Very much.” He touched the beads with his other hand and then pulled his cuff back down over them.

“Enough to wear them with your uniform. Now that can’t be regulation. If I tried that, I’d get a reprimand.”

“Like the one I’ll give you if you don’t get a haircut before you report for duty.”

Jahni grinned and then winked at him. “I’m sure you once said you like my hair longer.”

Madari swallowed and felt a slight flush in his cheeks. “That’s as maybe, but Colonel Rahama has expressed no such preference.”

Jahni chuckled at the stern tone, recognising it as teasing.

“Anyway,” Madari said. “I don’t wear the beads with my uniform, usually. Just today, for you coming home.”

“Well, thanks. When do I have to report for duty by the way?”

They reached Madari’s car and started loading the luggage in the back.

“In three days time. I’m giving you two days to get settled back in, complete any personal business you need to take care of. Then I want you back at barracks, hair cut, fresh uniform and ready to produce a full report on your training.”

“Yes, boss.” Jahni saluted, making Madari roll his eyes at him. “Got all my notes in here.” He patted his flight bag. “I’ll write up my report and then we’ll draw up the recruits’ training programme?”

“Excellent.” Madari didn’t want to talk work now though. “But don’t worry about that until you’re back on duty. Get in, I’ll take you home.”

As they drove out of the underground car park and into the bright sunlight, Jahni slipped his sunglasses back on. Madari shook his head at that.

“It’s not all that bright today and it’s almost twilight. Are you going soft on me?”

“I’d like to see how you react to the sun after months tabbing around bloody Wales.”

“I believe it was summer in Wales too.”

“They’ve got a whole different concept of summer there.”

Madari laughed at that. Quite true, he thought, quite true. He manoeuvred out into traffic and headed for Jahni’s flat.

“So how have you been?” Jahni asked. “Spending all your time with that bird?”

Madari clenched the steering wheel for a moment and his heart thumped in his ears. He meant the falcon, surely? Then again, British slang, which Jahni must have picked up plenty of, referred to women as ‘birds’. Was this a test? Did he know about Sophia and was waiting for Madari to tell him? Or trying to find out if Madari intended to tell him at all?

“What’s her name? Ruya?”

Madari sighed. The falcon. But he still had to tell Jahni about Sophia some time. He dreaded it and castigated himself for that dread. He had no reason to fear telling Jahni. No decent, sensible reason. But at the same time he had many reasons. He would feel like a man confessing to an infidelity.

Seeing Jahni looking at him, still waiting for an answer, he cleared his throat and spoke. “Oh, yes, I’ve been training a lot with Ruya. I’ll take you to see her when you have time.”


Madari glanced at him. He looked relaxed, smiling. He couldn’t know, could he? But how would Madari expect him to act if he did know about Sophia? With jealous rage? Absurd. Would he even expect Madari to tell him at all? Certainly they told each other many things, secrets never shared with anyone else. But about women?

But he couldn’t help recalling when Jahni had found out about Madari’s ex-wife and the anger and bitterness he’d displayed. What had provoked that anger? Feeling he’d been lied to? Or jealousy?

I have to tell him, Madari thought. Soon. When I’m ready. He would find out anyway, so it should be soon. Gossip about Madari and Sophia was circulating very nicely, just as he’d intended. And then of course, at some point, they should meet. Sophia had already mentioned that she wanted to meet Jahni in fact. For a moment, he pictured introducing them to each other.

“Are you okay?” Jahni said. “You look pale suddenly.”

“Er, I’m fine.” Madari took a breath. Later. He’d think about that later.

“So, how is everyone? How’s Idris? The baby must be getting big now. Has Idris bought him a car yet?” He laughed.

“I don’t see him very often these days. He spends a lot of time with Raslan actually.”

“Raslan!” Jahni straightened in his seat, scowling. “Isn’t he in jail yet?”

“Why would he be in jail?” Madari asked.

“I’m sure the police could find a reason.” He folded his arms, still scowling. “Why is Raslan seeing a lot of Idris, what do you suppose he wants? He’s probably after Janan.”


Jahni shrugged, not apparently sorry, then sat back in his seat again and sighed. “Oh, I don’t want to talk about that bastard.” He glanced at Madari, who frowned his disapproval of the swearing. “Sorry. So, how’s my flat? Any problems?”

“No, it’s fine. Well that time all those squatters got in was a pain to deal with…”

Jahni stared at him for a moment, and then when Madari grinned he gave him a light punch on the arm.

“Very funny.”

“That’s ‘very funny, sir’. Remember Face’s advice. Always laugh at your commander’s jokes.”

“Has Face been over for any of the consultancy runs? Or Murdock or BA?”

“No, only Hannibal. He sends his regards, by the way. He’ll be delighted to hear how well you did. He’ll be back in a couple of weeks, and this time Sergeant Baracus is coming too.”

“BA! Great!” He clapped and rubbed his hands together. “I’ll have to challenge him to some sparring.”

“Kahil, you did Selection, you weren’t given superpowers.”


Faraj had begun to wonder if he’d been wrong.

He saw Madari leave the barracks, heading to the airport to collect Jahni. And he started to think again about his old suspicions about their relationship. That suspicion seemed more absurd all of the time.

Because of this woman, Sophia Giordano. Madari had been seeing her for some months now. They didn’t hide their relationship and it had become a subject of gossip in the circles Faraj and Janan moved in.

Faraj wasn’t sure whether to approve or not. She wasn’t an Arab. But then again, assuming they were sleeping together, their relationship was inherently sinful, so better that he didn’t compromise the honour of one of their own. Westerners cared little about such things. But at least he was seeing a woman.

What if it had simply taken Madari this long to even be capable of taking an interest in women again? His torture ordeal still affected him now, Faraj knew. If some of the long term problems he’d suffered had been sexual…

Heat rose to his face and he turned his mind away from that. It could be the case though, that Madari was still returning only slowly to normality. And the relationship with Jahni, while it had got out of hand in the intense atmosphere of the camp, seemed to be more normal now. Madari appeared less dependant on Jahni. After all, he had allowed him to go to England for six months, when he could easily have found a way to prevent that.

That made him think about Jahni himself. He’d come to believe he must have misjudged him too, to imagine he desired an intimate relationship with Madari. After all a man with that kind of perversion in his character, that kind of weakness could surely not manage to complete the SAS training?

It took more than physical fitness to make it through such training. It took strength of character too. Special Forces methods may make Faraj uncomfortable, but even he was prepared to acknowledge that their training was something no ordinary man, no ordinary soldier even, could make it through. And yet Jahni had.

He sighed and went to sit at his desk. Why was he having these doubts now? Some lingering guilt perhaps? No. He had no regrets about joining Zahir’s conspiracy, and he would see that through to the end. But he had worries, about Madari and Jahni. They would be on the losing side, but he had no desire to see them hurt. Even if they were no longer his friends, they had all fought shoulder to shoulder. They owed each other their very lives.

He remained convinced of one thing though, that Jahni didn’t belong in the Royal Guard. When he took over, Jahni would be sent back to the Southern Rangers. Perhaps he would eventually see that this was for the best.

Actually, Raslan had been the one to convince him that would be in Jahni’s best interests. Jahni was a brilliant soldier, Raslan said. He could have a great career. But in the Royal Guard he would always be tied to Madari, would always ride his coattails.

And of course, Madari’s future in the Guard no longer bore the same promise it once had. He would not command the regiment. He would never make general officer, not while Zahir ruled. In fact, though Faraj would not force him out, he could see no place for Madari in the regiment after the coup. He had reached the limits of how far his grandfather’s name would take him.

Of course the future of the two of them depended very much on how cooperative they were prepared to be after the coup. If they gracefully accepted the new situation, they would have their freedom. If not, well, they would have the freedom to follow Atuallah into exile.

Still, he worried about them. If they resisted the coup, in the days while feelings were high, anything might happen. And the law changes that Zahir had planned wouldn’t suit either of them. Not Madari and his liberal tendencies, and certainly not Jahni, with his disgracefully lax religious practice. Faraj hated their ideas, but would he see Madari and Jahni forced to their knees to comply with the new laws? Or see them hurt if they resisted?

He walked to the window again and opened it this time. The breeze carried in the scent of the desert and perhaps because he had Jahni in his mind, it triggered a memory of the camp. Jahni attacking Ghaith. Trying to kill him, to avenge… He stopped there, not wanting to recall the exact reason. He had learnt to shut that out of his mind long ago. Even he and Javid Noor had only ever referred to Ghaith “beating” Faraj. If the past was only what you remembered then you could change the past by choosing what to remember.

Right then, he remembered the bloodlust, and the gratitude. Jahni did what Faraj didn’t have the strength to. He’d risked death by doing it, and Faraj could never stop being grateful for that.

Nor could he stop being grateful for the fact Madari had killed that monster later. Noor told him, yelling it into his ear, over the noise of the helicopter blades, while Madari secured the rescued Jahni in the back. ‘Ghaith was there. Faris shot him. The bastard’s dead.’ Perhaps not the very sweetest words he’d ever heard, but some of the most satisfying.

At the time he’d still been full of anger against Madari, for what he’d allowed Faraj and Noor to do, torture that soldier for information to rescue Jahni. That disgust and bitterness had overwhelmed the gratitude and by the time he’d thought he should thank Madari for it, too much time had passed, and he couldn’t do it. None of them wanted to talk much about that whole incident.

The gratitude lingered, though the bitterness about that did too. He could feel both, and it meant he owed Madari, and Jahni, some consideration. It meant he had an obligation to protect them.

He reached for the phone and in a moment Raslan’s voice answered him.

“It’s me,” Faraj said. “I need to talk to you. I want some reassurances.”


Jahni opened his fridge and smiled at the sight of the food there. When they arrived at the flat the night before, he’d found it spotless instead of dusty and the fridge and freezer switched on and stocked up. Madari had been busy. He took out a box of eggs and started cracking them into a bowl.

They’d talked for hours, until he finally chased Madari out to go home, well after midnight. Unlike Jahni, Madari had to report for duty first thing in the morning. He’d have been at work for a few hours now in fact, Jahni thought, glancing at the wall clock. Almost 10am. Quite a lie-in for a soldier. Well he hadn’t had many chances to sleep late in the last few months, that was for sure.

Dressed only in shorts and a robe, he took coffee and scrambled eggs into the living room and lounged on the sofa. A large stack of mail on his small desk caught his eye and he grimaced. Oh, what fun to go through that lot. Still, it should be mostly personal things; Madari had dealt with bills and the like.

Finishing his eggs, he dumped the plate back in the kitchen and sat with his feet up again, more coffee and the stack of correspondence. Should he check the oldest or the most recent first? Or flick through and find the most interesting. That was definitely his preferred method. He started to flick and stopped after a while at an envelope that bore the crest of the Southern Rangers.

What might his old regiment be writing to him about? Perhaps they were going to charge him for the uniform he’d been wearing when he was arrested. That was the Army for you.

He tore open the envelope, and found a typed letter, from Colonel Mohd himself. He started out with his hopes that Jahni was well, and that when he came back from his training abroad that he would continue to progress in the Royal Guard, went on about how proud he was of Jahni’s success, which they often talked of here at the Rangers.

But this wasn’t just an encouraging note, Jahni realised as he read the next paragraph.

‘You may have almost forgotten it, but I have finally managed to get the Army to release your back pay from the time you were wrongfully arrested until your transfer to the Royal Guard. You may already know this; the money has been transferred into your bank account. I am sorry it took so long and I hope this didn’t cause you too much inconvenience in the interim.’

Jahni stared. He hadn’t actually checked his bank account for weeks, not needing to access his money very much during his training. He knew his Royal Guard salary was being paid into it automatically, and had been looking forward to seeing the nice sum that would have built up to when he was spending so little of it. But this…

He scrambled off the sofa to the telephone, and found the number of his bank. A few minutes later he put the phone down feeling dazed. He wasn’t rich, but right this minute, he felt rich. The bank manager had been very nice to him on the telephone and suggested that he called in, at his convenience of course, to discuss the best way to place the money. Well, Jahni knew at least some of it he’d be placing with Madari, to pay him back for this flat.

Grinning, he wandered into the kitchen to make more coffee. The sun shone strongly through the window making the linoleum warm under his bare feet. Pretty good start to the day. Pretty damn good.

He brought more of the letters into the kitchen with him and dropped them on the table while he made the coffee. Then with a cup at his side, he sat and started flicking through them again. He read several from friends, including Murdock, who always made him smile. He wished Murdock would come over with Hannibal. Face too. It would be great for them all to get together again. And since his training he had a million questions he wanted to ask them. Oh well, at least Hannibal and BA would be here soon.

A large, board-backed envelope intrigued him. His name and address was typed on a label stuck to it, but it had nothing to indicate who it was from, no company frank, or return address. He opened the envelope and slid out the contents.

A letter, well, more like a note, only a few words, typed again, and no name or signature.

‘Welcome home, Kahil. I’m sure you must be happy to know that Faris has not been too lonely while you were away. Her name is Sophia Giordano.’

A half dozen photographs were clipped the letter. Photographs of Madari and a woman, a Westerner. They seemed to be from several different occasions; going by the clothes they wore. Some looked as is they were taken at a theatre, no, he recognised it, the opera house. Others were outdoors, one at a pavement café, one at the races. Another one must have been at the falconry centre. Madari held what Jahni supposed was Ruya on his wrist and the woman seemed to be feeding the bird.

Jahni laid out the photographs on the table and stared at them and back to the note. What the hell did this mean? Was Madari having a… a relationship with this woman? Who the hell was she?

No. This couldn’t be right. The pictures must be… What? Faked somehow? He stood up, shoving his chair back and strode into the living room. The phone protested with creaks as he punched its buttons hard, dialling the number of Madari’s office from memory.


Madari’s voice was like cold water down the back of his neck. What the bloody hell am I doing?


Jahni hung up.

He leant heavily on the table. What’s going on? Who is she? Trying to think straight, he walked back to the kitchen and looked at the pictures again.

What did they really tell him? They showed Madari talking to this woman in various places. Well at some of those places he could have talked to many people, that didn’t mean anything. But at the pavement café they seemed to be alone. And the falconry centre. Why would she be there if she was one of a crowd of people that Madari might talk to at the opera, or the races?

Jahni sat down, and now looked at the note again. Plain paper, nothing official. It looked like the sort you’d use in a photocopier. There was nothing to give a clue who had sent it. Except perhaps for that gloating tone of the words. Now who did he know who might be able to take surveillance photographs of this sort and was a gloating bastard? His fists clenched as one name came straight to mind.


But, why would Raslan think that pictures of Madari and a woman would upset Jahni? What could he know of Jahni’s feelings? Of course he knew of Jahni’s loyalty and devotion to Madari, but what had he guessed beyond that? Jahni went cold at the thought of it, of the danger Raslan posed if he knew anything about that.

No. Ridiculous. There’s no danger because nothing has ever happened and Jahni had decided long ago that nothing was ever going to happen. People could spread lies all they liked, but with no evidence of anything improper, then lies is all they would remain. Jahni had discipline, and the last six months had only honed that.

And yet the sight of these pictures, Madari talking, laughing, with this admittedly good looking woman still made his stomach lurch. He may not be able to touch Madari, but still he could not keep from feeling sick with jealousy of this woman who apparently could.

More than jealousy though. Betrayal. Why had Madari not mentioned her? Perhaps he didn’t want to over the telephone, or in a letter, and perhaps he didn’t want to distract Jahni from his training. But last night, they’d sat in the living room for hours and talked and laughed and told each other so much and yet he’d said nothing.

Jahni couldn’t look at the pictures or the note any longer. He gathered them up. An urge to burn them almost overwhelmed him, but he resisted it. He should hang on to them. Perhaps he could get some help from someone in the military police, and check for fingerprints. Then he could go and kick the living shit out of Raslan.

Scowling, he stamped into the bathroom and took a shower, a long hot shower being a luxury he’d had too little of for the last six months. There were other things he’d had little, or rather nothing of for the last six months too. And it wasn’t as if he hadn’t had the opportunity.

Sometimes he went out drinking with the other lads on the rare leave days. The women were so much more forward in Britain, and he’d been tempted on several occasions. But he’d never done more than a little necking. Because he followed Rahama and Madari’s orders to behave. To represent the Regiment and his country as best he could. So he’d been behaving and Madari had been…

The thought of it sickened him again. He dried himself off quickly, dressed and left the flat. He had things to do. His first stop, the bank.


Raslan nodded at the guards at the door and one of them tapped on the door. A second later a third guard opened it and Raslan walked into the hotel suite. Zahir sat there, writing at a large desk.

“Thank you for agreeing to see me, sir,” Raslan said. Zahir waved him to a chair and nodded at the soldier that had let Raslan in. The man left the room.

“You said it was urgent,” Zahir said. “But I couldn’t have you coming up to my home again.”

“I understand,” Raslan said. Frankly he was glad of it. Covered his bases. If everything went bad, then he was simply a soldier reporting to the defence minister, not a conspirator, seen at Zahir’s house. That suited him. So far only Zahir and Faraj knew about his involvement in the conspiracy.

“Now, is there a problem?”

“Perhaps,” Raslan said. “It’s Faraj. He may be getting cold feet.”

Zahir scowled and tossed down his pen. “You are supposed to have him ready to follow through to the end by now.”

Raslan tried to keep the scowl off his own face. How was it his fault if Faraj couldn’t hold his damn nerve? But he stayed calm and unruffled, maintained his smooth exterior.

“I don’t think it’s too serious. An attack of conscience, no more.”

“About my brother?”

“No. About Madari. He wants some reassurances. Frankly, sir, I would like some too.”

“Indeed?” Zahir asked, raising an eyebrow. “Idris is a dear old boyhood friend of mine. He has the right to ask favours of me. You, Raslan, do not.”

“With respect, sir, I think I have risked enough now, that I have earned the right.” A gamble, his tone not aggressive, but firm. Zahir could take offence. But in the end he laughed and shook his head.

“You know, Sayeed, when I was at Eton, one of the grounds keepers used to tell me that I had ‘more front than Brighton’. I think he’d have said the same about you.”

“Thank you, sir.” He took it as a compliment, though didn’t understand what it meant, aside from a vague idea that Brighton was a place.

Zahir chuckled, apparently mollified and for now distracted from blaming Raslan for Faraj’s cold feet.

“All right, give me the full story.”

“Faraj wants to be assured that neither Madari, nor Captain Jahni will be harmed, after the coup, even if they oppose you.”

“I see. Go on.”

“Actually.” Raslan leaned forward, prompting Zahir to do the same. “He told me something you may find useful. Madari of course we already know has liberal views that won’t fit in well afterwards. But there’s a somewhat different issue with Jahni.”

“Which is?”

“Religion. Faraj says Jahni barely practices, that he refuses to talk about religion. He’s known to drink alcohol and to gamble. I’ve heard this from other people too, other Guards officers. Some would say he’s barely a Muslim at all.”

“Why do you think that is useful to me? Why do I care about Captain Jahni?”

“Because Madari advises your brother. Madari, whose closest friend is only a step away from apostasy. Jahni must influence Madari, and –”

“And Madari influences my brother.” Zahir sat back, smirking. “Oh, excellent, Raslan, excellent.”

“Thank you, sir.” He glanced towards a box of expensive cigarettes on the desk and Zahir waved at him to take one. Raslan lit it, took a drag and blew out the smoke in a long stream while Zahir watched him, looking thoughtful. Raslan waited.

Eventually Zahir spoke again. “Very well, reassure Faraj and be reassured yourself, that Madari and Jahni will be arrested during the coup, but not harmed. Like Colonel Rahama, they will be placed under house arrest until they decide if they will cooperate with the new regime.”

It was no skin off Zahir’s nose, Raslan thought. As long as they were arrested before they had time to cause any trouble he had no reason to harm them. Him, Raslan changed that to. Him, Madari. For all Raslan cared they could shoot Jahni in the head. In fact that would be his first choice.

Madari on the other hand could be much more useful to Raslan alive.

“Thank you, sir.” Raslan smiled at him, took another drag on his cigarette and blew a smoke ring. Zahir chuckled, but then went serious again.

“But I’m concerned that Faraj is still having doubts at this stage. And because of Madari of all people. You said he would turn against Madari entirely.”

“He will,” Raslan said. “But I can’t make it happen overnight. They have a lot of history.”

“If he loses his nerve. If he goes to Rahama –”

“He won’t,” Raslan insisted, shaking his head. “He’s done well for us, sir. He’s recruited the men we need, secured the equipment. He’s in too deep to pull out now.”

“But when he hears the reality of our plans for my brother, do you think he will still hold his nerve?”

“I… I think he will.” He bit his lip. Some hesitation there, he hadn’t intended.

“You don’t sound sure.”

“He’s… well, basically a good man. That makes it difficult.”

Zahir grimaced. “Spare me from the good men.” He leaned forward again. “Close the deal, Raslan. Make him despise Madari. I don’t care how you do it. Just get it done.”

Raslan nodded. “I will work something out, sir.”

Zahir dismissed him then. Raslan left the suite and strolled towards the lift, pocketing the three cigarettes he’d slid up his sleeve when he took the one Zahir offered. Zahir was right. They had to secure Faraj’s loyalty, because he knew enough now to take the conspiracy down. And if Raslan couldn’t do it and if Zahir got worried that Faraj would break and confess… Raslan had no desire to become an assassin for Zahir.

He called the lift and rode to the lobby, trying to decide which particular straw would break Faraj’s back.

Chapter 2

Jahni reported for duty two days later. And too early. It was only six a.m. when he parked his new car in the temporary space the gate guard had given him a pass for. He strode into the building. He’d been here yesterday actually, but not to report, only to pick up a new uniform jacket. He wore it now, starched and pressed to perfection.

His hair was regulation length again. Just. He’d walked into the barber’s shop and for a moment had the urge to tell the man to buzz it down to a quarter inch all over. But sanity returned and he had the man take off just enough to pass muster.

He went into the Special Forces unit office and found it empty. The morning sun streamed through the windows. For a moment he stood at the door to Madari’s office. He rested a hand on the glass in the door, looking at the familiar room, missing its most familiar element.

“Who is she?”

The words that had dominated his mind for two days came out in a whisper. He hadn’t seen Madari since he collected Jahni from the airport and took him home. They’d spoken on the phone and Madari sounded pained and puzzled at the chilly attitude Jahni could not hide.

His hand strayed to the door handle, but found the door locked. Frustrated he rattled the handle, making the door shake and the Venetian blind on the other side fall down. The sudden unfurling and flapping made Jahni spring back, hand moving towards his sidearm for a second.

Then he cursed himself for a fool, and left the silent office. He would go to the mess and have some tea to settle his nerves. Perhaps then he could start acting like the soldier he’d just proven himself to be.


Jahni sat in the mess alone until about six forty-five, then Faraj came in.

“Idris!” He sprang up and almost ran across to Faraj.

“Kahil. Your first day back?” He offered his hand as Jahni approached and Jahni grabbed it and shook it vigorously. Ah, Faraj, the infuriating, snooty, tall bastard. He’d missed him.

“Yes. I came in early, I couldn’t sleep. Faris isn’t here yet.”

“He normally gets here around seven-fifteen these days,” Faraj said, glancing at his watch. He looked Jahni over for a moment and smiled. “You do look good, Kahil. I am glad you did so well.”

“Thank you.” Jahni nodded. “I’ll tell you more about it sometime. But how are you? How are the children?”

“Oh, growing fast.” He took Jahni’s arm. “Come on to my office, I have photographs.”

They walked to his office, talking mostly about the children and about Jahni’s training. And it felt like the old days for a while, when they could talk like friends, even if there had always been some tension between them.

Some tension remained though. They avoided some subjects. Some names. Like Sayeed Raslan. Madari wasn’t the only one with a new friend in his life. But Jahni had no interest in talking about Raslan. Another name interested him far more. Did Faraj know about Sophia Giordano? He had to. If Madari went out in public with her then everyone knew.

Everyone except Jahni.

They reached the office and Faraj unlocked it and led Jahni inside. Sitting down at the desk, Faraj pushed over the silver photograph frame that showed his two boys. Mehdi grinned at the camera, holding his baby brother at his side on a couch.

“Javid is so big now.”

“Even bigger since I took that. Here, I have more.” He unlocked a drawer of his desk and took out more pictures. Jahni had to work hard to display the proper enthusiasm, because going through the pictures was too much like what he’d done with the pictures that came to him in the post. Even as he looked at the two boys he saw instead Madari and Sophia Giordano. Who is she?

“Kahil?” Faraj said, making him look up. “Is something wrong?”


“You’ve just finished your third circuit of those pictures.”

“Oh.” Jahni put them down. He sighed. “I’m fine. Just having trouble adjusting. It’s good to come home and yet… So much has changed too. It’s taking some getting used to.”

“Have things changed so much here? Or have you changed?”

Jahni nodded and sighed. He had of course, which didn’t make it any easier. He looked across the desk, Faraj’s face hard to read in the morning light that came only weakly into this side of the building. Could he ask about her?

No. Faraj was conservative. And he would find it strange, suspicious even, if Jahni didn’t manage to keep the pain out of his voice. It would be one thing if Faraj thought him nosey, but jealous? The days were long gone when he could share any secret at all with Faraj, never mind that one.

“You are right though,” Faraj said after a moment. “Things are changing here. In the regiment. In the country.” He stopped and bit his lip. “But… well I know you Kahil. You’re adaptable. You do the job that’s in front of you, without dwelling on the past, or on how things could be different.”

Jahni frowned at him. What was he talking about?

“I try to keep that attitude,” he said, rather cautious, not sure how else to answer.

“Good. Good. You’ll be fine. I mean, you’ll do well, wherever you are.”

“Right,” Jahni said, slowly, still baffled. Faraj had a strange look in his eyes, almost pleading. Pleading with Jahni? To do what? Oh he didn’t have time for this, Madari would be in soon. He would tell Jahni today, wouldn’t he?

He said goodbye to Faraj and headed back to the Special Forces group offices. When he walked into the outer office, he saw Madari’s office door stood open. He was here.


Sayeed Raslan was also in his office right at that moment. But, he had been there all night.

He stretched as he stood up from his desk, holding a surveillance report. He glanced over it one more time. Yes, this was the one, the final version. Now for the final touch. He took the report to his photocopier, placed it carefully on the glass and pressed the copy button. He frowned at the copy that came out. No. Not quite right.

He opened the lid of the copier and moved the sheet of paper so it lay at a slight angle. Oh, wait, he thought, another touch. He hurried to his desk and found a couple of photographs. Nothing to do with the report, but that didn’t matter. He clipped the pictures to the paper and arranged them so a tiny bit of the edges of the photographs stuck out of the side of the sheet. After all, it mentioned “attached photographs.”

He liked this copy much better. It looked hastily shoved into the machine and copied quickly, photos peeking out of the side. Not enough to see what they were photographs of, just to know that the photographs were attached to the original.

Speaking of the original, he took that from the copier, returned the photographs to where they belonged, and then fed the original into his shredder, to join all the earlier versions. The copy he folded into four and put into his pocket.

A huge yawn forced its way out of him. He stretched and groaned at his aches and pains. Right, time to get some breakfast. Then he had a phone call to make. A contact over at the Royal Guard – not Faraj, definitely not. Raslan needed him to retrieve some paperwork.


“I bought a car.”

Madari looked up and smiled at Jahni as he walked into the office. Then he frowned at what Jahni had said.

“Well, good morning to you too, Kahil.”

“Good morning,” Jahni said, nodding. “I need you to sign off on a permanent parking space for me.” He handed Madari a completed form. Madari took it, but put it on the desk without reading it, or signing it yet.

“Is that the way you report back after six months away, Captain?” He tried to make it a friendly, teasing question, baffled at Jahni’s attitude. But Jahni didn’t respond to the bantering. In fact he took it seriously and stood to attention.

“Captain Jahni reporting, sir.”

Madari scowled now. “Sit down.” He took the car parking form and signed it.

“A car, eh? Well, it’s time you had one. And I suppose your salary built up nicely while you were away.” He handed the form to Jahni, who took it and handed Madari another piece of paper, a smaller one. A cheque.

“For the flat. It’s not the whole amount, but…”

“Oh, thank you. Ah, of course, your back pay came through, didn’t it? Yes, Colonel Mohd sent me a memo last week. Look, you don’t have to.” He still held the cheque out, inviting Jahni to take it back.

“I think I should.” Jahni made no move to take the cheque, so eventually Madari nodded, folded it and put it in his pocket.

“Thank you. So tell me about the car.”

“Shouldn’t we get down to work? I have a lot to report back about, and I need your orders.”

Madari shoved his chair away from the desk and stood up. Orders. How about an order to spit out what the hell was wrong with him? He knew Jahni would be different, but this?

Madari strode to the window and gazed out. Had Jahni decided to end their friendship? The thought horrified him. Like losing his right arm. Why would he do such a thing? Perhaps he thought their relationship had become too unprofessional. Not compatible with the role of a Special Forces soldier.

No, it couldn’t be that. He’d been fine at the airport, his old self. Something had changed since he came home. Something he’d found out.

There could only be one thing that would make him this angry, couldn’t there? And what was this? Jealousy? Or simply anger at being left out of the loop. He felt betrayed.

So Madari had to talk to him. But here? In the office? He glanced around at noises out of the door, to see Sergeant Younis, his admin clerk arriving. If he told Jahni about Sophia now it would lead to a row, he had no doubt. And that couldn’t happen here.

He turned from the window and spoke quietly. “Please, have dinner with me tonight. We have to talk about something.”

“Of course,” Jahni said. “What will we have? Italian?”

Madari winced, and then pulled himself together and matched Jahni’s cold tone. “Do you have something to say to me, Captain?”

“Do you have something to say to me, Faris?” Jahni asked, meeting his eyes.

A thousand things, and none of them I dare to, not here. Or perhaps… Madari moved to close the office door, nodding at Younis. Perhaps this was exactly the place. Where they couldn’t have a row. Jahni was a professional. He wouldn’t start yelling at his commanding officer, in earshot of a sergeant. Would he?

He drew the blinds on the door, took a deep breath, and turned back to Jahni, who still sat at the desk, not looking at him.

“You know, don’t you? About Sophia Giordano?”

Jahni turned and looked at him, eyes dark and angry. “Yes.”


“Doesn’t matter.”

“Kahil, she…”

What could he say? She means nothing? That wasn’t true. She meant a lot to him. What could he say? I’m seeing her for your sake, to stop people gossiping about us? The fact it means I get regular sex with a beautiful woman is just something I have to put up with.

“She is a good person.”

“I’m sure.”

“Kahil…” He walked over and sat on the edge of the desk, making Jahni turn his head away. “Please, look at me.” Jahni didn’t obey. “It doesn’t make any difference to our friendship. Why should it?”

“Of course not. Why should it?” His voice was flat and tight.

“She knows that now you’re back I’ll spend more time with you. And really, there’s no reason why you two shouldn’t be friends.”

Jahni didn’t answer that in words, but the snorting noise he made indicated his feelings pretty clearly. Now he turned to look at Madari again.

“If it makes no difference to us, then why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

“I’m an old fashioned man. I don’t talk about such things.”

“Not even to me?”

“Not even to you. And not on the telephone. Look, I’m sorry.” He put his hand on Jahni’s shoulder. “I should have said something sooner. I’m sorry you had to find out from someone else.”

Madari wished he knew who that someone else poking their nose into his business might be. Had it been a deliberate attempt to hurt Jahni? To hurt both of them and damage their friendship? Who would do that? Not Faraj, surely?

Jahni still hadn’t replied, and Madari guessed he wasn’t going to. No sense in pushing it, perhaps making him angrier. Let him process what Madari had told so far. They would have dinner tonight, Madari’s treat, as a welcome home, and he would explain everything then. He squeezed Jahni’s shoulder.

“Dinner then? Tonight?”

Jahni looked back at him at last, his face still troubled, but less furious now. He nodded.

“Excellent.” Madari stood up and sat at his desk again. “Now, you are right, we really do need to get to work.”


“I didn’t want to show you this.”

Raslan took a folder from his briefcase. He and Faraj sat in Faraj’s office at home.

“Is the door locked?” Raslan asked, glancing back at it.

“Locked? No… wait.” Faraj went over and turned the key in the lock. Although the servants or Janan would always knock, Mehdi was inclined to burst in without warning. “Now, what is it?”

Raslan hung onto the folder, as Faraj came back to sit down. He bit his lip and shook his head.

“I really don’t… No, I shouldn’t show this to you. You’re not authorised, but, it isn’t only that, I really don’t want to hurt you this way.”

He moved to put the folder back in his briefcase, but Faraj leaned forward and put his hand on the case, preventing Raslan from opening it.

“Sayeed, if it’s something important.”

“It is, for the sake of your regiment, it is. But, it’s about Madari, and knowing your long friendship with him, the respect you have for the man, to show you this, it will –”

“Show me.”

Raslan sighed and shook his head. “If you’re sure?”

“I’m sure. Tell me what’s going on.”

“Very well, but please, remember, I warned you.”

Faraj felt ready to snatch the folder from Raslan’s hand, but he controlled himself and waited as Raslan opened it, revealing papers and photographs inside.

“Most of these are copies, which I had to smuggle out. Obviously at Intelligence we keep dossiers on many senior military officers. Especially those with some celebrity status, like Madari.”

The celebrity status from the guerrilla war had started to wane, Faraj knew. Perhaps that was why Madari had started his high profile Special Forces unit. He had a taste for the limelight.

“Madari had been under low level surveillance since the Restoration. But recently, since he started reporting to the king more often, that’s been stepped up.”

He handed Faraj some photographs, of Madari, taken from a distance. In some of them the Italian woman was with him.

“Sayeed,” Faraj said, smiling. “I don’t think you need surveillance to tell you he is seeing this woman. My wife and her friends discuss it at the beauty parlour.”

“Your wife and her friends don’t know who she really is.”


“We’re not certain, but she probably works for Italian intelligence. One day we’ll prove it and deport her.”

Faraj stared. “You’re saying she’s a spy? What does she want from Madari?”

“Whatever she can get. She’s hardly an enemy agent, but there’s always a possibility of a security breach.”

Faraj shook his head. “I should warn him. He can’t possibly know. He would never fraternise with a spy. If he said something to her, accidentally, about the king… I’ve heard of this sort of thing. Mata Hari, pillow talk.”

To his surprise, Raslan laughed. “Pillow talk seems very unlikely!”

Faraj stared at him. “What do you mean?”

“She may be trying to use him to glean information, but he is surely using her in return. She’s a cover, Idris. He’s found a woman willing, for her own reasons of course, to play the part of his mistress.”

“A cover?” Faraj felt sick, suddenly.

“A cover for his real preferences. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?”

“No!” Faraj snapped, standing up. “He told me… If you mean him and Kahil. He told me… They never, they’re not… What’s this?” Raslan was holding out some sheets of paper, photocopies by the look of them. Faraj recognised the top one at once. A Royal Guard expenses claim form.

He took the sheets from Raslan’s hand, and leafed through. More claim forms, and receipts, from hotels, in London and Los Angeles. The claim forms were signed by Madari, authorised by Rahama.

“Expenses claims.” Raslan spoke quietly. “For hotel rooms for him and Jahni on their trips abroad. Look at the receipts.” Faraj did, read the typed up hotel bills.

“One room,” Faraj said. All the receipts said the same thing. “But… They shared a room, that doesn’t mean anything. Madari was always careful with money, he would always minimise expenses. It doesn’t mean they shared…” He couldn’t bring himself to say it. A bed. Shared a bed. “Is this all you have?”

Raslan looked down. He had one more piece of paper in the folder.

“Idris, this is far from the full dossier, it’s only what I’ve managed to smuggle out. Most of it has been suppressed by my superiors. Because of this.” He laid his hand on the sheet. “I found it in there and managed to make a copy before I lost access to it. I’ve hung onto it for months, honestly too afraid of what I had.”

He looked scared now, his eyes wide, like a man holding a live grenade.

“What is it?”

“A surveillance report.” He held it up, but didn’t give it to Faraj yet. His hand trembled slightly. “You know, I used to think I was quite a worldly man. Then I joined Military Intelligence and discovered there is a whole other world that men like you and I never see.” When Faraj reached for the paper, Raslan pulled it away. “I think you should sit down first.”

Faraj scowled, but did sit and Raslan handed over the report at last. It was difficult to interpret at first, a date and times, a street name. And Madari’s name, and Jahni’s. The date went back nearly eight months.

“There are areas of the city that I know you have never been to. Places where criminal activity of all kinds goes on. And there are hotels there.” He laughed. “Not the kind of hotels you are used to. These are so-called hotels where they rent the rooms out for an hour, or an afternoon at a time.”

Faraj had heard vaguely of such places, whispers of places where two people who were not meant to be seeing each other might meet in secret. Of course, he had assumed that meant a man and a woman, having an extra-marital affair.

“Military Intelligence watches these places, in case any senior officer is seen there. And I’m afraid… Well, Madari was. He and Jahni were seen entering a hotel that is known to rent out room to men for…” Faraj looked at him sharply, and Raslan hesitated, and then went on. “For… assignations.”

Faraj tried to read the report again, but the words danced in front of his eyes. Bile rose in his throat. He fixed on one word on the page.

“Photographs. It says…” He frowned at it, “it says, ‘see attached photographs of subjects arriving and leaving establishment’. Where are they?” He could see the edges of pictures peeking out, even the shape of the paperclip that had held them.

“I couldn’t get the photographs,” Raslan said, shaking his head. “I almost got caught copying this. I just didn’t have the time. I’m sorry.”

Raslan reached out to take the report back, but Faraj held on to the paper, trying to read it again. It started to make more sense, despite the whirling in his head. Two hours and fifteen minutes they were inside. They arrived and left separately, but the operative doing the surveillance know who both of them were. Of course, celebrity status.

It hit him then, the nausea, and he ran to the door. He gave a growl of frustration when it didn’t open, then he fumbled with the key, wrenched the door open and ran to the nearest toilet.

After he stopped throwing up, he washed out his mouth, with water and then mouthwash, and leaned over the sink, his head resting on his arm, that supported him against the wall. A brief glance in the mirror showed him a pasty, greenish face, and reddened eyes. His hair hung loose over his forehead.

“Idris?” Raslan appeared at the door, which Faraj had been in too much of a rush to close. God, he hoped nobody else had been around to see him. “Are you okay now?”

Faraj wasn’t okay. His head still whirled, his vision full of black spots. Lied to. He’d asked Madari a direct question, and Madari lied to him. He put the regiment in danger of being dragged into a horrible scandal. He could have been blackmailed and forced to betray the regiment. He lied. He lied!

Could it really be true? Could there be some kind of explanation? Some legitimate reason for them to go to that place? Like what? He sneered at himself, crumpling the report he still held in his sweating hand. Grow up. They met there for sex. What other explanation could there be?

He groaned and turned his head, burying his face against his arm. A moment later he felt a hand on his shoulder and Raslan spoke quietly.

“I’m sorry I showed it to you.”

“No, you were right to,” Faraj said, not looking around, eyes still closed tight against his forearm. “I’ve been deluded for too long. I had to know the truth.”

They stood in silence for a while, Raslan still resting his hand on Faraj’s shoulder. A comforting touch. Natural, normal, between friends. Why hadn’t he let himself see the difference in the way they touched each other? Why hadn’t he followed his instincts that something was very wrong between them?

He tried to calm himself. He had to think this through. Not rush off in a rage like this. It could still be a mistake. The dizziness subsided and he straightened up, away from the wall. Raslan let go and stepped away, while Faraj folded the report and put it in his pocket. He ran some water into the sink and bathed his face, trying to look normal again.

“Sayeed,” he said, drying his hands and face. “I need to think about this for a day or two, and I need to check some things myself.”

“Of course, you owe him that much, I know. And Jahni…” He shook his head. “You know, I don’t know how to see him in all this. Did he tempt Madari, or is he the victim here? Could he simply not resist the advances of a man who is his commanding officer after all?”

Jahni had been very vulnerable for a while in the camp, Faraj remembered, after he heard of his family’s deaths. In such a state a man might accept almost any comfort, any distraction from the pain.

“I don’t know. Kahil is young, impulsive. Madari…”

“Is old enough to know better. But instead he took advantage of his position.” When Faraj looked at him, Raslan shrugged. “I don’t know, I’m only speculating.”

“I owe it to both of them to take my time to consider.”

“I understand,” Raslan said, nodding. “I’m still sorry I had to bring this to you.”

“Don’t be sorry, Sayeed, please. I’m glad you did.”

You had to be grateful to a man who brought you the truth. He held out his hand and Raslan shook it. A man who brought the truth was the best friend anyone could have.


Jahni needed a drink.

The dinner with Madari only made him feel worse. She sounded nice. That was the worst part. Sophia sounded nice, and he knew he should be happy that Madari had found someone who made him happy. But he couldn’t feel that. He could feel nothing but bitterness. He’d had to choke down his food, it all tasted like ashes to him.

The only ray of light had been when Madari told him Sophia and her husband couldn’t divorce. At least he didn’t have to fear that one day Madari would tell him they were getting married.

Of course, she was young enough to have a child. They probably didn’t intend to, but sometimes these things just happened, didn’t they?

So Jahni needed a drink.

Around here the only place to get a drink, at least in pleasant surroundings was in the big international hotels near the airport. Jahni walked into the hotel bar, when the clock stood only a few minutes shy of midnight, and took a seat at the counter. The barman gave him a slightly odd look, not used to locals in here, perhaps. But he served Jahni a beer with a whisky chaser, without saying anything.

Jahni drank the beer quickly and lingered over the whisky, letting the ice cubes slowly melt.

“If you wanted whisky and water you should have just asked for it.”

He looked around, at a smiling woman, whose impertinent remark had been in an American accent.

“Did you say something?” Jahni asked.

“Just that water comes in liquid form. You don’t have to get it as ice and wait for it to melt, ruining perfectly good single malt in the process, I might add.”

She held an empty whisky glass herself and shook it to the barman, who brought her another. Neat, no ice or water.

“But I suppose you’re not used to drinking,” she went on, to Jahni. He scowled.

“I might be more used to it than you think.”

“Really? Well, let me buy you one and you can show me.”

He stared at her for a moment, with more interest now. She was older than him, perhaps in her early or mid thirties, with a groomed, business-like look, wearing a skirt and blouse and high heeled shoes. Travelling on business, he thought. And chatting up young men in hotel bars.

Well, if he’d learnt only one thing while training with the SAS, it was that you never turn down a free drink. He nodded to her offer and she signalled the barman for another neat whisky.

Jahni threw back the watered down spirit he’d been drinking. When he put down his glass, she held out her hand to him to shake.

“Lisa.” She didn’t give a last name, so neither did he.


“Pleased to meet you, Kahil. You’re local I take it?”

“Yes. You’re American?”

“From Houston, Texas.”

“I have a friend who’s from Texas.”

“Well don’t say ‘maybe you know him’!” She laughed. “It’s a big place.” She nodded back at a booth, where a briefcase sat open on the table, papers scattered around. “Come and sit with me for a while, Kahil. You seem much more interesting than reviewing contracts.”

Is this how it started with Madari and Sophia? Just a friendly chat. Perhaps. But Sophia lived here. Lisa was only passing through. So if she was interested in the same thing as Sophia, she’d have to move a lot faster.

That suited Jahni. Another thing he’d learnt in Britain, even if he had restrained himself from acting on it. Western women were much more forward.

Jahni had no need to restrain himself now. No need at all. He followed Lisa to her table, and an hour later, at her invitation, he followed her to her room.

Chapter 3

Faraj stepped out of his car, the dust of the road settling around it. A couple of small boys appeared seemingly from nowhere to goggle at the Mercedes. He gave them a warning look not to touch it and walked up to the door of Youssef Anbar’s house.

He had made sure, before he left the barracks, that Madari was on duty. It wouldn’t do for Madari to be at home today and just happen to see Faraj here in the village.

But Madari was there, so Faraj was here. A second nearly sleepless night, after Raslan’s horrible revelations told on him, and he had almost fallen asleep at the wheel driving here.

Youssef opened the door and stared up at Faraj. “Major?”

“May I come in?” Faraj asked.

“Of course, of course.” He moved back, bowing his head. “You honour my house, sir.”

In a moment Faraj was sitting at a table, with Youssef fussing around bringing him coffee and offering him food. Faraj accepted the coffee, hoping it would help him stay awake on the drive back to the city.

“Please sit down,” Faraj said, after Youssef gave him the coffee. “This is not a social call. I have something important to talk to you about.”

Youssef looked alarmed then, putting down the sugar bowl abruptly.

“Did something happen to Lieutenant Colonel Madari?” His eyes went wide and fearful, and Faraj realised what it must look like, an officer, in uniform paying a call. If a soldier in the Guard was killed or injured, an officer would go to tell his family, a courtesy Rahama would almost certainly extend to Youssef, who had known Madari since he was a boy. That only made this harder.

“No. Please, don’t alarm yourself, he is fine.” He waited until Youssef relaxed and sat down. “But I did come to speak to you about him. I have to ask you something. Something you may not want to answer.”

He drank the coffee in a couple of quick gulps then put it down.

“Youssef, I looked up your records and decorations. Your service in the Royal Guard was exemplary.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I read the late Colonel Madari’s commendations for you. He said you were the best soldier of the Royal Guard he ever served with.”

Youssef just looked down, and Faraj didn’t push it. He hoped he’d established what he wanted to. Reminded Youssef of where his first loyalty lay. To the Guard.

“I need to ask you something that as a servant in Lieutenant Colonel Madari’s home you may have special insight about. You know him so well. Until recently, you lived there with him.” He took a breath, while Youssef looked at him, waiting for the questions. “I need to ask about his relationship with Captain Jahni.”

“The Captain? Well, of course, he visits often.”

“He’s even stayed there sometimes.”

“Yes, after he was shot. And after the Restoration.”

“And while he was there, or at any other times, did you ever see anything untoward?”

“Untoward?” Youssef said, puzzled. “I’m sorry, sir, what kind of thing do you mean? Captain Jahni is a fine young officer.”

“Yes, he is. But he and Madari, they are very close. Perhaps… Did you ever see anything that concerned you, about that closeness?”

Youssef stared then, as he got what Faraj was asking him about. Then he dropped his head and wouldn’t look at Faraj.

“Sir, I really don’t know what you mean.”

“I think you do. You’re a man of the world as I am. These things are unpleasant to talk about, but for the sake of the Royal Guard it’s very important that you tell me.”

“It…it’s not my place to question what officers, gentlemen do…”

“It is your place. You must tell me, please.” He stood, and when Youssef looked up again, he shrank back from the taller man leaning over him. Faraj resisted the urge to move back. If he had to use his height, his rank and his uniform to intimidate Youssef, then he would. This was too important to be squeamish about.

“Youssef.” The question now, the big one. “Did you ever see them in bed together?”

Youssef covered his face with his hands. His voice became almost a wail. “Please, sir, I can’t talk about that.”

“That? Then you did? Is that what you’re saying? Answer me, Sergeant.”

“But, it wasn’t anything like that, I’m sure, sir.” He looked up at Faraj. “The Major, he was still a Major then, just after he came home after the Restoration. He had a nightmare. Oh, he suffers so much in the night, sir. It breaks my heart.”

“Go on,” Faraj said, hardening his own heart against sympathy for Madari’s nightmares. Was he the only one with nightmares?

“And, Captain, well Lieutenant Jahni, he went to calm him and he helped him back onto the bed and… That’s all I remember, I left then.”

There was something else, Faraj knew. What Youssef just described was distressing but not untoward. Faraj had seen the nightmares, and seen Jahni soothe Madari afterwards. No man would read anything sinister into that. So there had to be something else. Faraj guessed at it.

“Sergeant, look at me.” He used the trained voice and Youssef obeyed at once, even after all these years out of the Army. “Jahni was still there in the morning, wasn’t he?”

Youssef cringed away from the question, the thought, the memory.

“I’m sure they just fell asleep,” he whispered.

“I’m sure they did.” Faraj almost growled the words.

“The Major explained to me. He said it was nothing, that Lieutenant Jahni always helped him after his nightmares. He said that I shouldn’t think anything else about it.”

And he would claim he didn’t think anything else about it, Faraj knew. But in his heart, he knew, just as Faraj did. Both of them had denied it for such a long time. Youssef still did. Only his deference to Faraj had allowed him to say these things. He would never have volunteered this. Anything he could explain away, he would. Nothing short of seeing them… Faraj didn’t let himself think the rest. Nothing short of that would convince him of what they were really getting up to.

They had slipped up that night, falling asleep, so Youssef saw them together in the morning. Careless. Or arrogant perhaps, Madari thinking he could easily control the old man.

“Thank you, Sergeant. You have done the Royal Guard a service today.”

“But, sir, I… please.” His eyes shone with tears. “I don’t intend any harm to the family, to Master Faris.”

“I know that. But you had to tell the truth. No man should ever apologise for telling the truth.”

He took his leave then, and drove away from the village, fast. The wrong way. Not towards the city, but towards the desert, deep into the nothingness where he had lived for two wasted years, serving a man he now knew to be no more than a liar and a deviant.

At last, a long way from the village, no sign of any other vehicle, he stopped the car. After a deep breath he jammed his hand over the horn and let it drown the scream of rage that he could no longer control. No longer wanted to control.

Faraj screamed.



“Hmm?” He looked over at Sophia, where she lay beside him in bed. She had been talking, but he had lost track, his mind going back to the dinner with Jahni two nights ago now. Jahni had been less tense since then, but still not entirely himself. Although Madari had seen him on both the evenings since, tonight they had said goodnight early and he had come here to Sophia’s.

She was certainly more relaxing company than Jahni at the moment. She massaged his back and shoulders and then they made love. It helped.

“I’m sorry,” Madari said, pulling himself together and paying attention to her. “I’m sleepy. What did you say?”

She shook her head, smiling at him. “It’s good to see I can wear you out. I was just saying I would like to organise a welcome home party for Kahil.”

He changed his mind suddenly about her helping him to relax, as his whole body tensed up again.

“And you’d, um, want to attend the party?”

She laughed and poked his shoulder “Of course I’d want to attend. I’m not a caterer!”

“You want to meet Kahil?”

“Half the city wants to meet him! The first ever Qumari Special Forces soldier. He’s quite a star.”

“Really?” Madari smiled. Well, that’s what this had all been for, hadn’t it? To make Jahni the best soldier in the Army? He deserved to be feted.

Still, Jahni and Sophia, in the same room, meeting… He knew it had to happen, he’d just put off thinking about it. He and Jahni mouthed words about how Sophia made no difference to their friendship, but of course she did, and Madari knew why, and supposed Jahni did too. Unspoken always, now, forever, but they both knew. Undeniable.

But they had to meet. If they didn’t it might look as if he was keeping them apart, and then the speculation would start again. The very thing he’d started this to counter.

So he smiled at Sophia and reached out to touch her face.

“My dear, far be it from me to deny you the chance to organise a party.”


“Hello, Idris. His highness will be here soon.” Raslan frowned at Faraj, who looked as if he hadn’t slept in days. “Are you alright? Come and sit down.”

Faraj shook his head, refusing to sit in one of the hotel suite’s plush chairs.

“I can’t believe he lied to me for so long. Right to my face.”

“I’m sorry you had to find out this way.” Whatever Faraj had done to confirm Raslan’s fake report it had obviously convinced him, which interested Raslan. How could a man confirm a lie?

“The things I sacrificed for that bastard. Two years of my son’s life and of my marriage that I can never get back! It makes me sick to think that I’ve had him in my house, around my children.”

Raslan didn’t speak, but knew Faraj wasn’t really listening anyway. He kept quiet and he let Faraj rant. And he listened. He listened very carefully. Faraj stopped and clutched his forehead, further messing up his already untidy hair.

“Oh god, that soldier, that poor bastard we tortured. Just so Madari could get Jahni back. Back into his bed.” He spat the last words.

“Tortured?” Now this sounded especially interesting.

“Jahni was captured,” Faraj said. “We ended up taking a prisoner who knew how to get into where they had him. Javid and I, we… I can still hear his screams!”

“Madari ordered you to torture a man?”

“After he tried to bribe the man with all the money we had at the camp. Money that we needed for supplies. Of course that didn’t matter as long as he could get Kahil back.”

“Given his history,” Raslan said, “it seems hard to believe he’d order a man to be tortured. It seems so… hypocritical.”

Faraj snorted. “Hypocrite is exactly right! Puts on such a show of high principles, and all the time he is corrupt in one of the worst possible ways.”

He paced again for a while. Raslan watched the clock. Zahir would be here soon. Tonight, he’d said, they would review the final plans. The coup was close to launch.

“I want to expose him,” Faraj said. “We have to expose him.”

Raslan’s attention snapped back to Faraj, his eyes wide. Oh hell, no we don’t. That’s the last thing we want. Not now.

“I’m going to go to Rahama,” Faraj said.

“That’s not a good idea.”

“No, Sayeed, don’t you see, this could change everything. If the King finds out one of his closest advisors is a deviant, it might make him re-evaluate his policies. Deter him from making the reforms Madari supported.”

“But… Zahir.” No, dammit, no, he couldn’t let Faraj follow this path.

“Zahir wants to stop the reforms, I know. But this way we can do it without any bloodshed.”

Zahir wants the power, you fool. Spare me from the good men. Raslan echoed Zahir’s words in his mind. How could he head this off? Inspiration struck him.

“Idris, you can’t go to Rahama. You can’t even go to the king himself. Don’t you think they already know?”

Faraj stopped pacing and turned to stare down at Raslan.

“That cannot be true!”

“Remember I told you that my superiors suppressed the dossier about Madari. Where do you think those orders came from?”

“No. Rahama would never…”

Raslan stood, and came to put his hand on Faraj’s shoulder. Faraj had grown even paler. He looked ready to start weeping.

“It’s almost impossible to imagine, I know. But remember they are old friends. Rahama has protected Madari for years now.”

“I… he has always shown favouritism to Madari…” He shook his head. “But the King?”

“Owes Madari a debt for his contribution to the Restoration. Whoever Madari is sharing his bed with, he helped the King regain the throne, and that’s all Atuallah cares about. He wants Madari’s counsel. He wants the Madari family name on his side.”

“So he tolerates this?” Faraj’s voice sounded faint, soft. “Condones it by protecting Madari?”

“I’m sorry,” Raslan said. “About Rahama too. I know you respect him, but you know it’s time for him to go too. Time for a younger man to take the reins.”

Faraj nodded and now set his jaw, a determined look reappearing in his eyes. “Yes. If he has allowed this to go on, unquestioned, then the sooner the Guard is rid of him, of all of them, the better.”

He sighed then and sat down heavily on the bed, dropped his head into his hands. Raslan at once sat beside him.

“Are you all right?” He put concern in his voice. “You look very tired. I can ask his highness to postpone this meeting if you want to go home.”

“No. No.” Faraj sat up. “I’m fine. Just not sleeping well. But I feel… I feel as if tonight I will sleep.”

He caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror and grimaced. Quickly he slipped a comb from his pocket and fixed his hair. Then he stood and smoothed down his uniform. Just in time, as a moment later Zahir arrived, sweeping into the room. He dismissed his bodyguards after taking his briefcase from one of them.

“My friends,” he said, shaking their hands. “I have made the final plans. Now I need your feedback on them.”

They cleared a table and Zahir began taking papers from his briefcase.

“The date is set,” Zahir said, as they pored over the papers. “Major, the men you have moved to the old prison camp are in place. My brother is still scheduled to be at the summer residence as planned.”

He looked up and Raslan knew what was coming. The parts of the plan he hadn’t fully explained to Faraj yet. The parts they’d been holding back, for fear he wasn’t quite ready. Zahir caught Raslan’s eye and Raslan gave a tiny nod. He’s ready. Zahir smiled.

“The force will move from the camp and take up position outside the residence, here.” He pointed at the large scale map of the area. “And begin the artillery bombardment. After that the men will move in, secure the area, and deal with any survivors.”

Faraj stared at him and spoke quietly.

“You have changed the plan, sir.”

“Yes.” He held Faraj’s gaze. “We need a more decisive outcome. We need to eliminate the possibility of my brother launching a counter-coup. We need to eliminate him.”

“And his family?”

Zahir sighed. “Something I regret deeply, but these are harsh choices that I must make, for harsh times.”

Faraj looked down for a moment, at the papers, but not seeing them, Raslan guessed. Perhaps he saw the faces of the King’s children, and the faces of his own, so close in ages.

“After all,” Raslan said, quietly. “They are half-breeds.”

Faraj frowned at him for a moment. Not in disapproval though, more a thoughtful look. Then he nodded. All of the doubt vanished from his face at last. Only resolution and determination there now.

“What do you need from me?”


“Captain Kahil Jahni, Signora Sophia Giordano.”

Madari wore a nervous smile as he introduced them. Jahni even thought he could see Madari’s hands trembling. He took Sophia’s hand to shake it briefly.

“Please, call me Sophia,” she said, “And may I call you Kahil? Faris talks about you so much that I feel as if I already know you.”

“Of course.” Jahni nodded. So Faris talked about him to her, did he? Shame he hadn’t done the same the other way around. At least a mention of her existence would have helped. The bitterness that had started to subside, rose again.

“This party…” Madari waved a hand around his living room, at the small crowd of people. “Was Sophia’s idea. She organised it all, including the food.”

“Faris told me all your favourites. This is your party after all.”

“Thank you.”

“Organised so quickly too,” Madari said. Jahni nodded. Yes indeed, only a week ago he’d been at a rather more rowdy party, on his last night in the UK.

He thought Madari was sweating now, watching them. Or maybe it was only the lighting in here. Were they ‘getting along’? Was he trying to? She seemed to be, but the conversation felt stilted. Well what else could they do besides mouth polite small talk? He could hardly come out and ask her the things he really wanted to know. Do you love him? What do you want from him? What do you really want?

He glanced around the room. Many of the guests were Royal Guard officers, friends of his. But he felt a distance from them now. Fellow soldiers yes, but none with the training he had been through. And Madari? Of course, he hadn’t had that training either. But they’d fought side by side. No stronger bonds existed than those formed between men who faced death together.

So he and Sophia could perhaps learn to get along, but if Madari expected them to be friends, he was too optimistic. Women were… interesting in their own way. But not for friendship. Not of the same kind as he shared with Madari. Even without the complication of his carefully repressed feelings for Madari, he could never be Sophia’s friend.

Still for Madari’s sake, he made an effort to get along. If she gave Madari some happiness, he had to be glad about that. If it was happiness Jahni couldn’t give him, then he had to be, well perhaps glad wasn’t the word. He had to tolerate her.

So they talked. She asked about Britain. So very discreet though, not asking him about his training. Not that she could possibly understand that anyway. But general things, about the country, the people, the culture.

Madari joined in the conversation only minimally, and sometimes hurried away to see to other guests. He always came back quickly though, as if he feared they would end up fighting if he left them alone too long.

They didn’t fight. In fact the longer the conversation went on, the more Jahni began to relax. The more he started to laugh at himself for being a fool. He still had questions about the two of them, perhaps one day he’d dare to ask them. But one thing became clear to him the more he watched the two of them interact.

They were not in love.

Madari barely touched her. She barely touched him. Of course, he didn’t expect them to be all over each other, in public. But two people in love, found ways to touch. He knew that. In fact, Madari didn’t even look at her as much as Jahni thought he would. Even when she was talking, his eyes flickered to Jahni most of the time, as if gauging his reaction.

Jahni wanted to laugh with relief. He doesn’t love her. Whatever his reason to be with her, he doesn’t love her.

This one realisation made him the happiest he’d been since he first saw the photographs of the two of them. Much happier than the night he’d spent with the American woman, Lisa. That hadn’t helped him much. A physical release, no more. Is that all Madari felt with Sophia? He blocked that path in his mind. There were limits to the things he could think about the two of them, if he was going to continue to be accepting of her.

“I think it’s time to open the buffet,” Sophia said, glancing at the clock. Jahni smiled. Yes, time for the buffet. Suddenly he had his appetite back.


“Thank you for tonight,” Madari said, standing at the door with Sophia. She was one of the last people to leave. “I think Kahil enjoyed it.”

She laughed. “He certainly enjoyed the food.”

“He has a hearty appetite.” He reached for her hands, held both of them in his. “I am happy you two can be friends.”

“I am too. I know how important he is to you.”

No, he thought. You don’t. But he appreciated her words anyway. Time to say goodnight now, let her get away. It was a long drive to the city and already quite late. He hesitated a moment, knowing they weren’t alone in the house inhibited him. But then he bent to kiss her quickly on the lips.

“Goodnight, my dear. Please, drive carefully.”

He watched her leave, watched her car drive out of the open gates. One last car waited in the yard. Madari closed the door and walked back through the living room. He glanced into the diwanya, but it was empty.

“Kahil?” He called out.

“Kitchen.” The answering came back and Madari followed the voice to find Jahni standing over an ibrik on the stove

“I thought I’d make a coffee before I left. You’ll have one I suppose?”

“Of course.”

“Not an espresso?” His voice had lost the sulky tone it had carried for a few days. The question didn’t seem to be a jibe, more a joke even.

“No,” Madari said, “No espresso, thank you.”

“So you still prefer Arab to Italian?”

Now that… Was that a joke? Again, not a jibe, but a strangely phrased question all the same.

“Yes,” he said, slowly. “On the whole, yes I still prefer Arab to Italian. Though espresso is nice on occasion.”

“Of course.” Jahni stirred the coffee, not looking at it, but rather at Madari and smiling slightly. “It’s just not quite as intense is it? Not as strong.”

“No. No, it’s not.”

Jahni nodded, his smile widening into a grin. He turned back to the coffee and Madari sat down at the kitchen table. A few moments later, Jahni poured the coffee and brought it over to him, then took a seat himself.

“I hope I’m not too out of practice,” Jahni said. “Though next time you come to mine, I’ll make you some tea, British Army style. It’s no wonder those people conquered a quarter of the world. Drinking that stuff makes you feel ready to take on any army.”

“I look forward to it.”

They sat quietly for a moment, sipping their coffee.

“You seem more, um, relaxed now, Kahil. Are you adjusting to being back home?”

“Yes. It was harder than I thought it would be.” He grimaced. “I know I’ve been out of sorts. And I’m sorry if I’ve been irritable with you. I had no right to be.”

“I think you had some right to.” He looked down. Yes, he had.

“Faris,” Jahni said, making him look up again. “I’ve got something I should tell you about.”

“What is it?”

“Well, not so much tell as show.” He stood up and Madari stared as he began to unbutton his shirt.

“Kahil…” His voice came out hoarse and he cleared his throat. “What are you doing?”

Jahni undid the buttons about halfway, and then shrugged the shirt off his right shoulder. He turned around, showing Madari a black oval with some kind of stylised bird like shape in it on the back of his shoulder.

Madari stood up, still staring. “A tattoo?”

“Had it done three months ago.” Jahni looked back over his shoulder. “What do you think?”


“Well come and have a proper look.” Jahni said, grinning now.

Madari moved closer, slowly. He wanted to touch it, his hand already rising from his side, as if controlled by someone else. “You do remember that tattoos are haraam?”

“Yeah, I remember.” Jahni shrugged.

Madari stood close to Jahni now, his hand raised, but not touching the design.

“Go on, touch it,” Jahni said. “It doesn’t feel any different. Not now it’s healed.”

Madari stared at him, and then cleared his throat again.

“Is it some kind of bird?”

“Don’t you recognise it?” He laughed. “You of all people… It’s Batman. Well the symbol. The Bat signal.”

“Batman? From the comic books?” He couldn’t resist any longer and touched the tattoo, just a light brush with the tips of his fingers. It felt no different, just the same as normal skin, warm and firm. The curves of the bat shape and the oval enclosing it moved as Jahni’s muscles flexed beneath the flesh.

“Batman,” Jahni said, “sometimes called ‘The Dark Knight’.”

“Dark knight?” Madari frowned at him. What are you trying to tell me?

He touched the shape again, traced his fingers along the curve of the oval shape. Jahni sighed softly and Madari gasped and snatched his hand back, suddenly, realising what he was doing. That was a caress. Stop now. Goosebumps rose on the exposed skin, giving the tattoo a roughened appearance as the bumps caught the light.

“You’re… cold,” Madari said. “You should put your shirt back on now.”

“Of course.” Jahni pulled it back over his shoulder, concealing the tattoo, and turned back to face Madari.

“Did it hurt much?” Madari asked.

“Plenty,” Jahni said, buttoning the shirt. “But you don’t show that of course.”

“Of course. So…” He backed up a bit, and sat down again. Jahni stayed standing, his shirt still had a couple of buttons undone and he raised a hand to slide under the collar and rub his neck. Madari tried to remember what he was saying. “Um, yes, well, you had better make sure you keep it concealed as much as possible. Some people wouldn’t approve.”

“Do you?”

“That depends who you’re asking. As your commanding officer, I have to say no.”


“But, well, otherwise, I don’t really mind. It’s quite, ah… striking I suppose.”

Jahni smiled. “Good. I was thinking of you when I got it. What you’d think of it, I mean.”

“Really?” Madari leaned back in his chair, folding his arms and raising his eyebrows now. “I assumed you weren’t thinking of very much at the time. I assumed you were drunk.”

“I was not!” Jahni protested.

Madari laughed, shaking his head at the vehement denial. “I’ve never understood why anyone would get one of those things while sober.”

“I was not drunk. They’re not allowed to tattoo you if you’re drunk.” He winced at the memory and rubbed his shoulder. “Believe me I’d rather have been drunk. Or preferably under a general anaesthetic. Of course, I can’t deny that I was very, very drunk very soon afterwards.” He took their empty coffee cups from the table and started to wash them up.

“I hope you didn’t overindulge too often.”

“No. I tried to behave. And you know I’ve no head for beer. The lads called me ‘cheap date’. ‘Couple of pints and you’re anybody’s’.” He said it in English, imitating some general northern British accent.

Madari thought briefly about their stay with the Southern Rangers, and how Jahni had drunk wine that night, and how close they had come to… No. Must not think about that.

“Kahil, leave them,” he said, rising, as Jahni began to dry the cups. “It’s late, you should be heading home.”

Jahni nodded, and left the cups beside the sink. He turned to Madari.

“Thanks for the party.”

“I had to say ‘welcome home’. Had to say it properly.”

“It is good to be home.” He sighed. “It took me a few days to appreciate that. But now I do.” Then he shook himself and looked at his watch. “Yes, you’re right, I’d better get on the road.”

They walked to the front door, where Madari took Jahni’s jacket from the row of hooks and helped him into it. And Jahni took him by surprise with an embrace, pressed close for a moment, spoke softly, almost inaudible, but then stepped away quickly, and out of the door.

“Goodnight!” Jahni called, turning back, raising his hand to wave, before getting into his car. Its headlights came on, and music with it. Too loud. Then the lights flickered a salute and the car drove out of the gates. Madari walked over slowly to close and secure them. By the time he’d done that, the distant sound of Jahni’s car had faded.

He walked back to the house. In his mind he went over and over what he thought he’d heard Jahni say, during that last embrace. He could have misheard, it was just a whisper. Yet it had sounded like two words.

Still mine.