“Happy Christmas,” Madari said to Sophia, and handed her a small gift wrapped box.
“You didn’t have to do that,” she said. “It’s not one of your celebrations, I’m just happy to have you at my party.”
They stood in her festively decorated apartment, the place ready for the party guests that should start arriving at any moment. Madari had come early to have the chance to give her his gift.
“I’m always happy to buy you a gift, my dear. Can you open it now, or do you have to wait until tomorrow? Is it bad luck to open it on Christmas Eve?”
“Of course not.” She tore off the wrapping to find a velvet covered jeweller’s box, and opened that to find a diamond pendant with a gold chain nestling on the cushioned black velvet inside.
“Oh, Faris, thank you. It’s beautiful. You shouldn’t have spent so much.”
Perhaps not, and he felt sure his credit card had squealed in protest when he signed for it. But she deserved it. After what he’d revealed to her earlier this year, and how she’d accepted it and decided to trust him. For her faith in him, she deserved it.
“I’ll wear it now,” she said, taking it out of the box.
“Oh, you don’t have to, if it doesn’t go with your dress.”
“My dear, Faris.” She shook her head and chuckled, then stretched up to kiss him. “Gold and diamonds go with everything.”
The party started then, when the first of the guests arrived. Jahni was late, and Madari had almost decided to call him to see if he was still coming, when he finally arrived, close to midnight.
“Where have you been?” Madari asked.
“Just the gym,” Jahni said. “Is there any food left?”
“It will serve you right if there isn’t.”
“Okay, I’ll get some in a minute. I have to go and talk to Sophia.”
“You have to what?” But Jahni had gone, leaving Madari staring. He stared some more when Jahni and Sophia started talking with their heads close. But then another guest distracted him, a diplomat he’d made the acquaintance of through Hannibal’s dealings with the embassy. The man was quite possibly a spy, but also good company and they chatted for several minutes.
“Mr Carson,” Sophia said, interrupting them. “Do pardon me, I need to steal Colonel Madari away for a while.”
She led Madari away, a hand on his arm, and he frowned, puzzled as she took him out of the room and through to her small private sitting room. Even he rarely came in here. It was her sanctuary. But now, not only was Madari invited in, he found Jahni already sitting there on the couch, with a plate of finger food on the arm rest and Sophia’s cat sitting beside him. He passed a morsel to the cat and stroked its head.
“What’s going on?” Madari asked. Jahni and Sophia were unlikely conspirators, yet they seemed to be plotting something and he knew nothing about it. Sophia looked at Jahni.
“You didn’t tell him yet?”
“He’d have got all funny about it.”
“About what?” Madari demanded, allowing a hint of the command voice into his tone. Sophia turned to him.
“Kahil asked me to find out what I could about Janan and Raslan’s marriage.”
Madari stared at Jahni who looked back at him with an innocent expression, now petting the cat on his lap.
“You did what?” What had he told Sophia about Raslan? About the reasons for their enmity? Had he told her anything at all, or simply called on her friendship? Her friendship with Madari at least.
“Just, you know, gossip and things that we men don’t hear about.”
“Beauty salon talk,” Sophia said with a smile. “And from my staff.”
“Your staff? How would they know anything?”
Sophia shook her head, smiling at him. “Not all of us are lucky enough to have faithful old retainers who’ve been in our families for years, you know. Most domestic staff working in the city come from a small number of agencies. They know each other and some have worked in many different households in the city.”
“I see.” Madari was frowning again. “Shouldn’t staff be more discreet than to spread gossip about their employers?”
“Faris, if everyone only did what they ‘should’, the world would be a very different place, wouldn’t it?”
Jahni laughed at that, clearly in agreement. Madari sighed and bowed to the inevitable, still not happy about it. Not happy at Jahni involving Sophia, not happy at the idea of anyone reporting back on gossip about Janan. But he supposed Jahni and Sophia were only trying to help him. Again he wondered how much Sophia knew about Raslan and his treachery.
“What have you found out?”
“Mr Raslan was a frequent visitor to the house before Major Faraj’s death, and continued so afterwards. Supposedly as a friend of the family of course. The children are apparently very fond of him.”
Jahni snorted. “The ideal tactic to worm his way into Janan’s affections; get close to the children.”
“The wedding was quite small and private,” Sophia went on. “Only close family there. Her close family anyway. According to what I’ve heard, the groom had a few friends there, but no family.”
“Yes, he has no close family that we’re aware of,” Madari said. “What does her family think of him? I mean… were you able to find that out?”
“Her father has given him a position at his oil company. Quite a high ranking executive role. I can’t say what they think of him exactly, but I haven’t heard anything about them being opposed to the marriage. As I said, they attended the wedding.”
Madari grimaced, annoyed. If the family had already opposed the marriage then it would have been easier.
“I don’t know if any of that is useful to you, Faris. Kahil told me this man Raslan is…” She glanced at Jahni. “That he’s not well disposed to either of you and that you don’t trust him. He wouldn’t go into detail, but he convinced me that I should do what I can to help.”
“He shouldn’t have involved you,” Madari said, giving Jahni a glare.
“I want to help,” she said. “For the sake of those little boys, if nobody else. If Raslan is as bad as Kahil says I don’t think he’d be a suitable step-father.”
“Thank you anyway,” Madari said, bowing his head to her, and resolving to discuss this with Jahni later when they were alone. Although, it intrigued him that Jahni had gone to her for help. He would never have believed that if he hadn’t seen it.
“I can do more,” she said. “I was thinking, I could hire a private detective to see is there’s anything in Raslan’s past that he wouldn’t want revealed to his wife, or her family.”
Madari and Jahni exchanged glances. Like his being a traitor. But they had no proof of that of course.
“He’d have been fully vetted when he transferred into Military Intelligence,” Madari said, “If there was anything like that, they’d have found it.”
“Then what are we going to do?” Jahni demanded, putting Giotto back on the sofa and standing up. “We can’t let him get away with this. We can’t let him blackmail you either, over Drai.”
Sophia looked at them, not understanding who Jahni referred to, but they didn’t explain. Madari didn’t want her to know about that. God, no, not her. Bad enough that Jahni did.
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Madari said. “Why has nothing ever come out about that… incident? It would have been useful, um, propaganda for the enemy.”
“Do you think someone’s suppressing it?” Jahni asked.
They could be, Madari supposed. Rahama perhaps. The defence ministry. Or even Drai’s own regiment. Madari was considered a friend to the King, a hero of the Restoration. People didn’t thank those who revealed that heroes had feet of clay.
Two days later they had at least part of the answer. Jahni came into the office to find Madari ending a phone call.
“I see. Thank you for that. Yes, please, send me over the fax confirming it.” Jahni put down a report on Madari’s desk and waited, while Madari put down the phone and looked up at him. “That was the Defence Ministry. Personnel records. I asked them to trace someone for me.”
“Drai?” Jahni knew it had to be and he worried about it. Madari might do something unwise, like go to visit the man to try to apologise. Perhaps risking dragging it all out into the open himself, even without Raslan’s intervention.
“Yes. He’s dead.”
“He died during the last fighting before the Restoration. His regiment’s commanders stayed on the enemy side.”
Jahni stood silent for a moment. He had to fight the urge to say ‘Good’, knowing Madari would reprimand him for that. Yet Jahni couldn’t deny his relief. One less threat to Madari. One less weapon for Raslan. And the man had been an enemy. Perhaps if he’d survived, then he’d have become a comrade, a fellow soldier. But he’d died an enemy and Jahni couldn’t think of him any other way.
Madari tapped his pen on the desk, looking thoughtful.
“That can’t be the whole story though. He must have written a report after he returned to base after we let him go. Why has nobody ever acted on that?”
“It might have been lost,” Jahni said. “Or, well, who took over command of that regiment after the Restoration? Someone sympathetic to our side, I assume. It might have been deliberately lost.” He sat down, thinking for a moment, then went on. “Raslan can’t have the report. He’d know you could soon find out Drai was dead, so he would need some other proof to back up his threat. If he had it, he’d have mentioned it.”
Madari looked at him, thoughtful, and nodded slowly. “That does make sense. He could have obtained it easily while he was still in Intelligence.” His face changed, became set. Determined. “In that case, Raslan is no threat. That means I can do what I planned to.”
Jahni sat forward in his chair. “Don’t be too hasty, we can’t be certain he doesn’t have it.”
“No. I’m certain. He used the name, thinking he can intimidate me. But it’s a bluff, I’m sure of it.”
“We’ll go to see Janan’s father tonight.”
Madari changed out of his uniform first and ordered Jahni to do the same. He didn’t want to give the impression of any kind of official visit. Many of the rich families disliked even a suggestion of the military telling them what to do.
And, as much as Madari hated to admit it, after Zahir’s coup attempt, and the involvement of Royal Guard officers, the regiment hadn’t yet fully repaired its reputation. While Madari could never feel ashamed of his uniform, only angry at those who had brought disgrace on it, it made no sense to prejudice the man he needed to convince.
So he changed into some civilian clothes he kept at the barracks, and they stopped at Jahni’s flat for him to change too. He emerged from his bedroom in dark trousers and a tight black long sleeved T-Shirt.
Madari stared for a moment, then said, “Are you sure you don’t want some camo paint for your face?”
“Never mind.” If Jahni wanted to dress like he was about to make a commando raid that was his choice. “Kahil, when we get there, I want you to wait outside. I’ll speak to Janan’s father myself.”
“This is a sensitive family matter, that needs discreet, careful handling.”
Jahni scowled. “Are you saying I can’t be sensitive and discreet?” As he spoke he pulled on his shoulder holster and slipped his Browning Hi-Power into it.
“Goodness me, no.” Madari almost smiled at that, despite the serious task ahead. “But you’re young. He might consider it impertinent from you.”
Jahni shrugged and put on his jacket, covering his holstered gun.
Madari had another reason. There was always a chance Raslan could be there. And he needed to keep those two apart now. Just in case things escalated out of control.
They took Jahni’s car, and soon arrived at the house, which stood close to the road, with only a short driveway. High walls shielded it from prying eyes on the road and a guard stood at the gate.
Jahni slowed near the gate and started to turn, but Madari spoke.
“No, you won’t drive in. Park out here in the road.”
“But…” Jahni began for a moment, then stopped. It made sense. Keep their vehicle out here and not trapped inside that gate. The memory of the threat they’d perceived at Raslan and Janan’s home made them cautious. But the thought Madari would be going inside that gate alone while he stayed out here with the vehicle worried Jahni.
“We should have brought walkie-talkies.”
“I’ll be fine,” Madari said. “Stop fussing.”
They got out and walked up to the guard on the gate, who had been watching them suspiciously since they stopped. Jahni gave him an assessing look in return. An impressively sized man, at least six-five, with huge shoulders and arms. Just the right sort to put on the gate, to look intimidating.
Madari spoke to the guard, who contacted the house on a walkie-talkie. After a few moments, he nodded to Madari.
“You can go in. Unarmed.”
That made Jahni’s hackles rise and alarm bells sound at once, but Madari nodded, seeming to find it reasonable. He took his sidearm from his belt, where it had been concealed under his long jacket and handed it to Jahni.
Only then did the guard open the gate and let him through. Giving Jahni a nod, Madari turned away and walked inside. The guard closed the gate behind him and took up position again, massive arms folded across his barrel chest. He smirked down at Jahni.
Jahni moved back to the car and leaned against the side of it, one foot up against the side of it, folded his arms and commenced a glaring match with the huge man.
A servant led Madari through large, lavishly decorated rooms. The master was busy on a phone call, the servant explained and Madari nodded and took a seat as directed in a reception room to await Mr Khalaf’s pleasure. He watched the servant leave with some surprise. The man hadn’t offered any refreshments. How odd.
Left to wait, Madari’s patience grew thin, quickly. People rarely kept a man in his position waiting like this. Between his rank, his name, and his modicum of fame, everyone from bank officials to barbers gave him their immediate attention.
But this was no bank official or barber he waited on, rather a man who could buy everything Madari owned without even noticing the cost. A man whose money gave him power and influence different from Madari’s own, and in some ways more powerful.
The room grew dim as he waited and eventually he stood and turned on a lamp that stood on a table. The table held small cups and other paraphernalia for tea or coffee, which he again frowned about not being offered. Of course some people claimed that the newly rich, like this family, didn’t have the social niceties of the older wealthy families. But that made no sense either. Even the poorest house offered you coffee.
“You may come through now.”
The servant had glided into the room soundlessly and looked at Madari suspiciously when he turned away from the tea service. His expression suggested he would count the silver spoons later.
Madari followed him to a room close by, with high, wide double doors. Opening only one of them, he announced Madari. A voice from inside told him to come in.
The servant closed the door behind Madari as he stepped into a dark room. Thick blinds kept out the last of the evening sun and only a light on the desk illuminated the room’s occupant. Mr Khalaf, head of the family, and of the oil company they owned, stood behind a large desk. A heavy set man, a little shorter than Madari, with a thick wiry beard and large hands, as Madari saw when they shook hands across the desk. He was around ten or fifteen years older than Madari. Here in his home he wore a casual, but good quality and brilliantly white thoub and was bareheaded.
He smoked a large cigar, but didn’t offer one to Madari, or apologise for keeping him waiting. He only waved his guest to a chair and sat himself.
“Why have you come here, Colonel?” He wasted no time on preliminary small talk either, again puzzling Madari at the lack of social graces. But never mind, Khalaf must be a busy man. Straight to business then.
“Sir, you must forgive my coming here without an appointment like this, and for my presumption in raising a family matter on such slight acquaintance as we have.”
“We have no acquaintance that I recall.”
“We met once. At the ‘Aqeeqah for your grandson, Mehdi.”
Khalaf showed no sign of remembering it. He puffed on his cigar and waved a hand to indicate Madari should continue.
“I consider myself a friend to your daughter and grandsons, and that’s why I’ve come here, to talk about your daughter’s new husband. I have grave concerns about the marriage. Sayeed Raslan cannot be trusted, I strongly doubt his motives in marrying your daughter. I hear you’ve also given him a position at your company and I have to warn you, that too is a mistake.”
He took a breath, waiting for Khalaf to speak, but he still didn’t, just watched Madari, his face impassive. Voice faltering briefly and wishing for a glass of water, Madari pressed on.
“I say all this only so you can protect your family from this man. It may not be my place to come to you like this, but I’m only doing it out of my own concern for them.”
Silence greeted him as he finished speaking, and he stopped trying to fill it, waited for Khalaf now, who still scrutinised him from behind a haze of cigar smoke. At last the man rested the cigar on the edge of an ashtray, brushed some stray ashes from his beard and nodded.
“Sayeed warned me you might try this.”
Madari knew Raslan might have got in first, anticipating Madari’s intervention, so spoke again quickly.
“The man is a practiced liar. He was involved in Zahir’s conspiracy.”
“And yet was never named, or arrested?”
“I allowed him to stay free to protect your daughter and her children, and the reputation of your late son-in-law.”
Khalaf smiled, a cold sort of smile, not amused. “Yes, he said you would say that too.” The smile vanished, replaced with a frown. “I found it hard to believe when he told me about your obsessive jealousy. But I see he didn’t exaggerate.”
“Jealousy?” Outrage tinged Madari’s voice. He spoke quickly to refute that allegation. “Sir, I assure you that I have no interest of that sort in your daughter!”
Khalaf laughed, a laugh that held a sneering sound.
“Oh, I know that, Colonel. Oh yes, Sayeed made it very clear to me where your interests lie.”
Madari froze in his chair. Damn. He should have come here sooner, before Raslan got a chance to inject his poison. Clearly Janan wasn’t the only member of this family Raslan had managed to charm.
“Of course, he only confirmed to me what everyone in the city says about you and…”
Madari stood up, interrupting him.
“I’m leaving now. I’m sorry you’ve chosen to believe Raslan’s lies. If you care about your daughter and grandsons you will at least look into what I’ve told you.”
Khalaf jumped to his feet, scowling. He slapped his hand down on the desk.
“I won’t let a deviant lecture me about how to take care of my family!”
A sound behind him, and light from the opening door made Madari glance back a second. Men were coming into the room. He looked back at Khalaf and realised he hadn’t slapped the desk out of temper, he’d hit a button, summoning the men.
“And yes, you are leaving, Colonel,” Khalaf said. “Shortly.”
There were five men, Madari took that in with another glance as the door closed. Two he could handle. But five was too many for him to take on alone. He looked back at Khalaf, who had come around from behind the desk.
“Are you mad?” Madari made his voice harsh, commanding, didn’t allow any fear into it. “You actually believe you can get away with this?”
“You murdered my daughter’s husband,” Khalaf said, something else Raslan must have told him. “Then you dare to come here and slander my new son-in-law? A man you’ve blackmailed and made sexual advances to.”
“He is a liar!” Madari yelled it, the accusation shocking him and in this moment, frightening him, because of the men behind him hearing it too. He took a step towards Khalaf and that was a mistake. One gesture from his so-called host and the men attacked. They grabbed Madari, and dragged him back, landing some blows, before slamming him against the wall.
“I should let them kill you.” Khalaf snarled the words. His men would be happy to and not just because of their orders. Madari saw the looks of contempt and disgust on their faces. They believed what Khalaf had said, Raslan’s lie about sexual advances. They could kill him over that lie and think they did something righteous.
“You think you can get away with murdering me?” Madari knew he had fear in his voice now, couldn’t control it any longer. “I am an officer of the Royal Guard!”
Khalaf sneered at that. “Do you really think I’m afraid of your soldiers?”
The double doors slammed back on their hinges and the huge man from the front gate burst through them.
He hit the floor on his back and slid along the polished stone to his master’s feet, where he lay groaning and cradling his ribs. Blood poured from his nose and mouth, staining his shirt and started to drip onto the floor. Everyone stared at the battered guard and then at the man who followed him into the room.
Jahni held a pistol in each hand. With one, he covered the group of men holding Madari, and pointed the other at Khalaf.
“I think,” Madari said, “that you should perhaps be afraid of this soldier.”
“Orders, sir,” Jahni snapped. “Are there any of them I shouldn’t kill?”
For a moment, the only sound came from the moaning man on the floor.
“Just keep them covered for now, Captain.”
Relief had swamped Madari like an unexpected wave at the sight of Jahni, followed quickly by a swell of pride in his best soldier, his best friend. Shaking that off now, no time for it, he moved away from the men surrounding him. None of them tried to stop him, they’d all seen the state of their big, strong friend on the floor. Khalaf was still gaping at Jahni, as if he had sprung directly from hell into this room, but looked away when Madari spoke.
“I’m sorry it came to this. I came here in friendship, out of concern for you daughter and grandsons.”
Khalaf glared, recovering some of his fire, despite the continued threat from Jahni.
“If you or your… friend… ever come near my grandsons again, I will have both of you killed.” He spoke with a chilling certainty. No empty threat. The man had the money and the power to do it and probably get away with it.
“Tip for you.” Jahni nodded at the man lying at Khalaf’s feet. “Don’t send that one to do it.”
That defiance took the chill out of Madari. He moved to Jahni’s side and took his own pistol from him. The two of them backed out of the room and slammed the door behind them.
“Car’s still on the road,” Jahni said. “Didn’t want it trapped inside. Now, before they get over their shock and find their guns, I suggest we run like fuck.”
Madari decided to wait until later to reprimand him for the swearing.
They made it to the car in record time and roared away up the road in a huge cloud of dust. Only once they’d put several miles between them and the house and saw no sign of pursuit, did Madari order Jahni to slow down. As the adrenaline wore off, the pain of the blows the thugs had landed began to assert itself and he started to check himself over for the damage.
“Are you okay?” Jahni asked, glancing at him. “Your ribs?”
“Just a bit bruised I think.” He winced when he touched his face. “Good timing, Kahil. What made you come in anyway?”
“You were in there too long. I sensed trouble.”
“Very good. Though, next time, feel free to sense it about five minutes earlier.”
“Hey, I did have to get past that ape on the gate!”
“Gave you some trouble, did he?”
Jahni snorted. “Hardly. Totally out of condition.” He scowled and slapped the steering wheel, spat his next words. “I can’t believe Khalaf did that! Who does that rich bastard think he is, that he can do that to you?”
“Raslan has lied to him. I should have gone to him earlier. I shouldn’t have given Raslan that window.”
“Bastard. They sound like they deserve each other. Raslan will fit right in with that family, if that’s their way of doing things.”
“It’s over,” Madari said, sighing. “I don’t know what else to do.”
“My offer still stands,” Jahni said, his eyes still on the road, stare intense. “Say the word and it’s done.” Madari understood which offer he meant.
“No. I can’t ask you to kill for me.”
“Yes, you can. I owe you.”
Madari raised his eyebrows at that. Because of the rescue from the Army base? Or because of what he’d done to make that rescue happen?
“You’ve already repaid me many times for that. And that wasn’t the same, it wasn’t… revenge, it was only to save your life.”
Had it been some kind of revenge, he wondered, when he had Drai tortured? Revenge on the enemy that had tortured him, an enemy personified by that soldier? No. He had felt no pleasure, no satisfaction in it. Just the opposite in fact. It had been a horrible necessity, to save Jahni, nothing more.
“Take me home, please,” Madari said, the failure of his mission leaving him exhausted and dispirited. “I just have to accept that Raslan has won this battle and withdraw from the field.” The military metaphors came easily to him and he saw them make Jahni smile. “We have to cut ourselves off from him, from any kind of contact, it’s the only way. All we can do now is pray for Mehdi and little Javid and hope Raslan’s poison doesn’t harm them too much.”
Jahni nodded, a glum look on his face too. He slowed as they came to a crossroads, where he’d have to turn to head for Madari’s home. He spoke quietly once more, his voice just audible over the engine, Madari barely catching it.
“My offer stands.”
Madari may have decided to break contact with Raslan, but it seemed Raslan didn’t agree.
Two nights later, Madari attended a concert with Sophia. She left him alone in the concert hall lobby for a while, going into the powder room and he glanced through his program while he waited for her.
“Did you think I was making an empty threat?”
Madari looked up to find Raslan standing beside him, his face angrier than Madari had ever seen it. Madari took a breath, calmed his immediate rush of fury and spoke in a calm voice.
“Go away, Raslan.”
“I told you what would happen if you interfered in my marriage. I’m going to the newspapers. They will learn how the great hero Madari actually conducted his business in the secrecy of the desert.”
“You have no proof and the man is dead.”
“Who needs proof?” Raslan sneered.
“Newspapers do. Go away. Do whatever you want to do, just stay away from me.”
“I will bring you down, Madari,” Raslan moved closer, his voice a hiss. “I promise it. You’re a hypocrite and I’m going to expose that.”
Madari looked at him, starting to feel surprised.
“You seem to be rather emotionally involved here, Raslan. This much anger isn’t like you. What happened to the great manipulator? To the chess master?” Had he frustrated Raslan? By rejecting his advances as he had, he’d refused to fall under his spell, and into his control. And then thwarting the coup, and forcing Raslan out of the Army, putting a stop to his ambitions. He smiled. “I do believe I’ve got under your skin, Sayeed. That can’t be good, can it?”
Raslan bristled and was about to speak again when he stopped and bowed his head as Sophia rejoined Madari.
“Signora Giordano,” he said.
“Sophia, this is Sayeed Raslan,” Madari said.
“Yes, I know,” she said. “I’ve seen your picture, Mr Raslan.”
She didn’t offer him her hand, Madari noticed. She usually shook a man’s hand when introduced. Of course, after the things Jahni had told her about Raslan, she could want nothing to do with him.
“Actually, I’m glad to meet you here,” Sophia went on. “It saves me the trouble of contacting you later.”
Madari and Raslan were both confused by that. Why on earth would she want to contact Raslan?
“Some details have come into my possession,” she said. “The current address of a man named Hafeel.”
Raslan’s reaction was instantaneous. He grew pale under his honeymoon tan.
“Yes. You knew his niece, I believe. Perhaps you didn’t know she had an uncle?”
“Uncle?” Raslan’s eyes widened now, and he became even paler.
“No reason you should know of course. He was in prison at the time. Ten years is a very long sentence for assault, isn’t it, Faris?”
“What? Oh, yes.” Madari tried to keep up, not fully understanding, but recognising this cue. “Yes, it must have been a very serious assault.”
“That’s what I thought.” She turned back to Raslan. “He’s apparently quite interested in finding you, Mr Raslan.” She gave him a sweet smile. “Would you like me to pass on your contact details?”
“No!” Raslan looked terrified for a moment, then he rallied and glared at Madari. “Do you have any idea who this woman actually is?”
“My friend.” He’d had enough of Raslan’s lies and accusations. The simple answer was all he needed to know about Sophia. Raslan glared some more, then his shoulders slumped.
“Alright, Colonel, you win. I leave you alone, you leave me alone.”
“But your woman and your guard dog won’t be able to protect you forever. I promise.”
“Go away,” Madari said. “I will stay out of your business as long as you do nothing to harm Janan or the boys.”
Raslan nodded his head, a final surrender, and with a last glare at both of them, he strode off. Madari watched him go and then turned to Sophia, who smiled up at him.
“What just happened?” Madari asked. “Who is Hafeel?”
“A man whose niece Mr Raslan thought he could dishonour without any consequences. She had no father, or brothers you see. Her mother was a poor widow, with only the hope that her daughter could perhaps make a decent marriage to get them both out of their poverty.”
“And Raslan came along.”
“A handsome student, with good prospects. Possibly going to inherit a large legacy.”
“That didn’t happen as he hoped,” Madari said, remembering Raslan’s story.
“No. And nothing happened as the girl or her mother hoped either. Of course, later the local police had to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
“About what?” Madari again felt as if he was floundering. He saw Sophia’s cheeks colour a little and her eyes flashed.
“About the drug the girl took to try and cause a miscarriage. The drug that instead caused her to bleed to death. The police could never prove that he supplied it to her.”
Madari felt sick, and understood her anger. The sound of the concert starting made him glance around, to see that the lobby had emptied out into the auditorium. In the deserted room, he took her hand.
“So, you hired a private detective after all?”
“Yes. As you said, Military Intelligence would have vetted him. But I thought, there might be things in his past that even if they didn’t keep him out of Military Intelligence, that he still wouldn’t want his new family to know about.”
Madari nodded. He hadn’t looked at it that way. Women had a different perspective on these things. In this case, a very useful perspective.
“My dear, I’m grateful, but I have to say…” He shook his head. “A little shocked too.”
“You think I was ruthless?”
“Faris, do you think you Arabs are the only ones who understand the blood feud?” She smiled at him. “After all, I am Italian.”
There was a report. A report by Private Adil Drai on the ambush on the decoy convoy, the deaths of his comrades, his own capture. A copy of the report lay on Madari’s desk and it made him want to weep. It made him want to thank God for the luck he didn’t deserve.
He’d thanked God over the last few days for the two people who had – as Hannibal would undoubtedly say – saved his ass. He didn’t deserve such good friends as Jahni and Sophia. All he could do was try to become a better person and be worthy of their friendship.
And he didn’t deserve this. He looked at the report again. It didn’t mention anything about torture or even interrogation. Madari understood exactly why. Drai had been ashamed. Ashamed because he gave up the information they wanted. Information that led to Madari’s raid on the base, and the deaths of more of Drai’s comrades.
Another man’s shame protected Madari from the revelation of his own shameful acts.
No, he didn’t deserve such luck.
He folded the copy of the report carefully and put it away in a drawer. He would keep it. If he ever forgot that he was imperfect, compromised, had feet of clay, he would take it out and remind himself that he was only lucky.
Jahni came into the office then and Madari nodded him to a chair.
“You okay?” Jahni said.
Madari nodded. They’d talk about it later. He’d stopped keeping secrets from Jahni. He’d already told Jahni all about Sophia’s triumph over Raslan. Jahni had made him tell the story several time and had enjoyed it more every time.
“I’ve been thinking,” Jahni said. “I think it would be useful, um, as part of my job that is, if I learnt to fly a helicopter.”
Madari looked at him in surprise, and then he recalled the helicopter, Faraj’s helicopter, now Raslan’s, that Raslan was learning to fly. Still, Jahni was right, that would be a useful skill.
“Kahil, I think there’s a good chance we can fit that into the budget.”