Part 23: Crisis Management

Chapter 1

June 1992

The ringing telephone on his night stand woke Madari at four-seventeen. He groaned and lifted the receiver. This could only be bad news.

“Madari,” he said, thickly, then cleared his throat and wished he could clear his head too.

“Duty officer, Colonel. We have a code two situation at the airport.”

Madari sat up, his head clearing at once of the clouds of sleep. At his side, Sophia stirred and looked up at him, her eyes just visible in the moonlight.

“How many hostages?” Madari asked.

“Still waiting on that information. It landed twenty minutes ago. The helicopter is on its way for you. ETA, fifteen minutes. Alpha Unit is en-route by road now, Captain Jahni leading.”

“Thank you. Call me with anything new.” He hung up and got out of bed, flicking on the bedside light. Sophia sat up, her face worried.


“A hijacked plane. I have to get ready for pick up. Please call me if the phone rings again.” No time to stay and tell her more, he hurried to the bathroom and, already naked, stepped into the shower. The water had barely started to run warm when he stepped out again, and dried off quickly.

Back in the bedroom, Sophia, wearing her silk robe now, had turned on the overhead light and taken his uniform from the wardrobe. She handed him his clothes piece by piece, and watched him dress, without saying anything. He saw fear in her eyes, which touched him. He gave her a small smile.

“Don’t worry, my dear. We’re only there as the last resort. With luck this will all be resolved by negotiators.”

“I hope so.”

“And if not, I won’t personally be storming onto any planes.”

“Kahil will.” She bit her lip, perhaps seeing the pain in his face that he couldn’t hide quickly enough. “I’m sorry. You know I worry about him as much as you.”

Did that mean she worried about Jahni as much as she worried about Madari, or that she worried about Jahni as much as Madari did? It couldn’t be the latter. Perhaps his parents could have worried for him as much as Madari did, but nobody else.

“He’s my very best soldier.” Madari wanted to go on and say ‘he’ll be fine’ but the memories were still too clear, even two years later, of the explosion in that house. Of hearing the shout of ‘men down’ and knowing Jahni was among those men.

He turned away from Sophia and slid his arms into his jacket as she held it out for him.

“I’m sorry I have to go like this,” he said, turning back to her and letting her fasten the buttons of his jacket. He had a day off tomorrow, or rather today and had wanted to wake up with Sophia in his arms, spend a lazy morning and then go to the falconry centre and work with Ruya for a while. Safe to say that was cancelled. “Don’t leave until morning. I don’t want you driving the desert road in the dark.”

“I can hear the helicopter,” Sophia said, looking up. Madari nodded. Yes, he heard it too.

“I have to go.”

She stopped him before he left the room, held the front of his jacket and stood on tiptoes to kiss him. No simple peck on the cheek, but rather the kiss of a woman seeing a warrior off to battle. It left him short of breath. She moved back slowly and spoke in a serious voice, while her nervous hands smoothed down his jacket front.

“Good luck. And pass that on to Kahil too.”

As he hurried out to meet the small helicopter coming in to land on the road outside his house, he thought she probably only meant to pass on the luck and not the kiss.


In the helicopter, more information, came in over the radio from the duty officer.

“It’s an Air France flight, inbound from Paris. Everything appeared normal until it landed, then the hijackers announced they had control of the plane.”

“What type of plane?” Madari asked.

“It’s Boeing 747-300.”

Good. They had plenty of practice on those. The men knew their way around a 747 blindfold now.

“Number of hostages?”

“One hundred and fifty-seven. We’re getting a passenger list from the airline now.”

“Number of hijackers? Weapons?”

“No confirmation yet. The control tower thinks they’ve heard three different voices so far.”

“Haven’t the pilots been able to pass anything on?” The pilots had special codes Madari knew, to pass on such information secretly to the tower.

“The hostiles haven’t allowed the pilots to speak to the tower since the landing. We’re analysing everything they said in their communications with the tower during landing. It’s not clear if they were under duress then.”

“Any demands?”

“They’re demanding to speak to the king himself, say he’s the only one they’ll convey their full demands to.”

That wouldn’t happen, Madari knew. The king would not negotiate with terrorists, certainly not in person.

“Have they said who they represent?”

“They called themselves the Islamic Alliance.”

Madari had never heard the name. Probably another splinter group. A few disaffected men who thought their fellow fanatics weren’t fanatical enough. But that shouldn’t make him underestimate them all the same. Though the groups often had a strange mix of men, some of them included professional soldiers, or civilians who’d had the same type of training Madari had given his guerrillas. No, never underestimate them.

“Is the plane at the gate?”

“No. It taxied to the end of runway two and stayed there.”

Madari pictured that position. Open ground. No cover for a sneak attack during daylight hours.

“Does the plane have enough fuel on board to take off again?”

“I can find out.”

Madari smiled at that answer. He’d taught his men never to say ‘I don’t know’. One of Ahmed’s many pieces of advice he’d given to Madari as a young officer. Never say ‘I don’t know’ to your commanding officer. Only say ‘I can find out.’

“Make sure the runway is obstructed.”

“Already done. Major Dhan ordered that right away.”

Ah yes, Major Dhan, who Madari had met – still a captain then – the day the guerrillas handed the airport back to its management. Dhan had taken to his new role in charge of airport security with relish, bringing in many modern innovations. Madari had worked with him on several occasions since then, as airport security and the Special Forces unit planned and rehearsed for situations like this. This would be the first live one they’d have to deal with.

“Has Alpha unit arrived yet?”

“Five minutes ago. Moving to the command post now.”

“Anything else?”

“Not unless you have any more questions, sir.”

He didn’t right then, and trusted his man to give him all the information he had. The helicopter was only minutes from the airport now.

“Keep this connection open until I land.”

“Yes, sir.”

He took that few minutes to calm and centre himself. The racket of the helicopter faded as he took deep breaths and put all other thoughts out of his mind. The memory of Sophia’s lips on his only twenty minutes ago. His annoyance at being pulled from his bed and her side. His worry about the danger that lay ahead; the danger to Jahni, if it came to an assault. He let all of that go. Tonight he had a job to do.


He stepped off the helicopter to find his driver, Sergeant Sijad, waiting with a Jeep.

“Morning, sir.” Sijad pulled away the instant Madari slid into the passenger seat. “Have you at Security in two minutes.”

“Thank you, Sergeant.”

“Your staff car is out front if you need it. Here.” He handed Madari a walkie talkie. “We’re on channel two.”

“I hope I’ll need the car sooner rather than later,” Madari said, but suspected he wouldn’t be enjoying the drive back to barracks for a while yet.

“I’m sure you’ll get it fixed quick.”

“Thanks for your confidence, Sergeant.” In a few minutes they arrived at the Airport Security building, newly built on the side of the terminal. Madari jumped out of the Jeep. “Find somewhere to wait, Sergeant. I’ll radio you if I need you.”

“Standing by, sir. If you or any of the lads needs anything fetched from barracks shout up and I’ll get it.” He saluted and shot off in the Jeep.

The Airport Security men guarding the door saluted him too and Madari returned that, but quickly as he rushed inside. The building was abuzz, but not panicky, Madari noted, satisfied. He suspected things may be different in the terminal. Reporters and other busybodies would be filling the place, waiting for news. Loved ones of the passengers would be there too of course. He hoped the airport manager, Mr Vali would find the friends and relatives somewhere private, away from the attentions of the press.

A security man waited for him just inside the door and led him straight through to the command centre. This room had monitors all around the walls and computer terminals arranged on desks. A big communications station kept the centre in constant touch with the tower and the outside world. Major Dhan had his desk right here in the command centre, which Madari liked. The man had a side room, for privacy when needed, but he worked out here in the midst of the action, his finger always on the pulse.

Another man sat a Dhan’s desk now, to answer the telephone that rang again every time he hung up. Dhan himself stood with several other men around a large table in the middle of the room. Jahni and other officers from Madari’s unit were among them.

“Major,” Madari greeted Dhan first, with a quick handshake, before nodding his greetings to his own men. “My duty officer brought me up to speed over the radio. Any developments in the last ten minutes?”

“Negotiators have arrived,” Dhan reported. “They are in the tower talking to the hijackers now. We’ve placed fire tenders across the runaway to prevent the plane from taking off. They’ve started demanding their removal.”

“Is the plane fuelled for take off?” Madari asked.

“Yes, sir,” one of Dhan’s men said. “This is a layover stop for them, en-route to Algiers.”

“They’ve got enough fuel to reach anywhere in the Middle East and most of North Africa,” Dhan said. “And yet they let the plane land here. If they wanted to go elsewhere, why not head straight here?”

Madari nodded in agreement. “Yes. They want something here. I’m sure they don’t like being trapped in position, but I agree, they probably have no immediate plans for take-off. Are they Qumari, do we know?”

“Still unknown,” one of Dhan’s men said.

“Captain.” Madari turned to Jahni. “Status of Alpha unit?”

“On standby, sir. Waiting in the break room.” He waved a hand upwards, indicating the upstairs floor, where the airport’s security men had a comfortable break room. Good, Madari thought. If this dragged out for hours, even days, then his men at least had somewhere to wait where they could rest and eat.

“The French are making a lot of fuss,” Dhan said. “Their ambassador is on his way over now.”

“Bloody frogs,” Jahni muttered, in English.

“It is their plane,” Dhan said, with a small smile in reaction. “Local Air France officials are heading over with all the data they can give us.”

“Do we have a passenger list yet?” Madari asked.

“Expecting a fax any moment,” Dhan said.

“Major.” The man from Dhan’s desk appeared at the major’s side. “You need to take this call, sir.”

“Excuse me.” Dhan went back to his desk. The other men bent over the papers they had laid out. A large plan diagram of a Boeing 747-300 dominated the table. Several thick manuals lay around.

“Kahil,” Madari said, time to take longer to speak to him now. “How are the men?”

“They’re ready, sir. We’ve rehearsed this often enough. Knew it would happen for real one day.”

“And you?”

“I was born ready.” It should have been a boast, perhaps accompanied by a cocky smile, but Jahni’s face remained grim.


They all turned at the sound of Dhan’s shout down the phone. His face was a mask of shock.

“You’re sure?” A pause, while he listened and they all watched him, waiting. “Right. Thank you.” He hung up and ran a hand over his face. He already had a hijacked plane with one hundred and fifty-seven hostages, the French breathing down his neck and the press probably setting up a shanty town in his terminal. Madari guessed that whatever Dhan had just been told must go well beyond what could be described as any normal kind of ‘bad news’. Dhan took a shaky breath and came back to the table.

“Gentlemen, the fax of the passenger list is coming, but that was our contact at Air France. He just confirmed that one of the passengers on the plane is the United States ambassador to Qumar.”


“Coffee, sir?”

Madari turned to Kadry, who held out a steaming mug to him. “Thank you, Sergeant.”

He’d come up to check on the men, and of course found they have already commandeered the large coffee machine. The security officers were in awe of the black-clad men bristling with weapons, and gave them a wide berth in the break room.

The men were calm, though Madari saw traces of nervousness, in the way some checked and rechecked equipment and weapons. Others pored over plans of the plane and discussed their well-rehearsed assault plans. Less obvious nerves there, but, since they already knew the material inside out, then perhaps it was a way to distract themselves.

A few men appeared entirely calm, some even dozed in the seats, played cards, or read newspapers or magazines. Hurun was actually completing a crossword, which made Madari smile. The coolest heads belonged to those men who’d lead the teams going aboard the plane if they had to attack.

He walked to the window, and stood there sipping his coffee. The hijacked plane was a distant shape in the morning light. The sun had come up an hour ago now and Madari felt sure that meant his squad now had at least until nightfall to wait.

“We won’t go in before dark.” Jahni echoed Madari’s thoughts as he stepped up to his side.

“Unless they start killing the hostages,” Madari said.

Jahni nodded. “Or unless the negotiators end it all before then.”

Madari glanced at him. Would he be disappointed in that outcome? It was the best outcome after all, if the hijackers gave up peacefully and nobody died. Yet would a soldier as hungry as Jahni be happy about that? He frowned at himself. Hungry? What did he think Jahni was hungry for? Blood? Glory? Or just to do his job that he’d trained so hard for. To prove himself. To make Madari proud of him.

Jahni sipped his coffee, watching over the airport, gazing at the plane he might have to lead an attack on soon.

“Dhan says the American President has been on the phone to the King,” he said.

Madari nodded. Officials from the American embassy had arrived even before the French ones. According to them the Ambassador and his wife had been returning from a weekend in Paris. Had the hijackers known that, or was it pure luck they’d managed to take such a valuable and high profile hostage?

Good luck or bad for them though? Both the Americans and the French had already offered the help of their own armed forces if needed. Madari respected those forces, but he wanted his men to resolve this. They were a new unit, with some good work on their record now, but yet to make their mark internationally.

“The eyes of the world are on us, Kahil.” He’d seen the TV vans at the front of the airport, all arriving in the last couple of hours, their roofs bristling with antennae and satellite dishes.

“We’ll have to give them something worth looking at then, won’t we?” Jahni shrugged. “But it won’t be before dark. Only chance of getting close. Permission to get some sleep?”

Madari nodded. “Of course. All of you, rest. I’ll be in the command post.”

He finished his coffee and headed back downstairs.


Little changed through the day. Negotiations continued. One of the king’s senior aides showed up and joined the negotiators in the tower.

“They want the release of ten prisoners,” Dhan had reported during the hourly briefing at eleven in the morning, after speaking to the control tower. He handed a list of names across the table. Madari scanned it and recognised some of the names. His team had captured several of the men. All Islamist fanatics, some of them already terrorists. He passed the list on to Jahni at his side.

“The king won’t give in to their demands,” Madari said, not as a question. In the past he’d spoken to the king about this very scenario and knew the man’s mind on the matter.

“Having the American ambassador as a hostage might change things,” Dhan said.

Madari didn’t think so. “The Americans don’t believe in giving in to hijackers either.”

A man handed Dhan another piece of paper and he read it quickly and frowned.

“Our men close to the plane report they’ve started one of the engines.” He looked out across the airfield. The fire tenders were still in place, blocking the plane from taxiing along the runway. “They can’t be intending to take off.”

“No,” Jahni said, from Madari’s side. “It’s almost noon now. Getting hot out there. They’ll be running the air-conditioning.”

“Ah, of course,” Dhan said and smiled. “Good. They’ll be using fuel.”

That didn’t matter, Madari knew. What they wanted was here – he glanced at the list going around the table – those ten prisoners. They weren’t going anywhere. Unless they intended for the prisoners to be brought here and then fly out with them to some other country, seeking refuge.

Madari pinched the bridge of his nose, his head starting to ache. That part wasn’t his concern. That was for the negotiators and for Dhan. Madari’s job was to gather all the information his unit would need and plan their assault.

Jahni’s hand touched his back for a second before moving away. Just a moment of support and reassurance. Madari smiled at him from behind his hand, grateful for that.

“If there’s nothing else new, I’ll be back upstairs with my men,” Madari said. Dhan nodded at him, with gratitude in his eye. He appreciated Madari giving him the space to command the control centre, rather than coming in an taking over. Madari commanded only his unit, not this whole operation, he had to remember that, and not let his years of training in throwing his weight around cause him to overstep the mark. Dhan had done well so far. The command post ran efficiently, the room was tense and the mood urgent, but with no panic.

A moment after Madari arrived back in the break room that had become his unit’s ready room a bevy of airport catering staff arrived, led by the airport manager.

“Colonel,” Vali said, greeting Madari with a long handshake as his people began distributing food to the Special Forces men. “Always good to see you again.”

“I wish it was under better circumstances, Mr Vali.”

“Yes, yes, indeed.”

“How are things in the terminal?”

“Not good.” Vali winced. “We’ve been allowed to keep runway one open, so we have some flights going in and out, but obviously we have many delays. The place is full of reporters of course and there are the people with family and friends on the flight.”

“Yes, I was wondering about them.”

“We’ve cordoned off part of the departure lounge for them to use and I’m trying to keep the press away from them.” He shook his head. “I’ve never had to deal with such a situation before.”

“I’m sure you’ll do fine, Mr Vali.”

“And I’m sure if they decide your men have to finish this, then so will you, Colonel. Please, have some lunch now. Nothing gourmet, I’m afraid, but there’s hot food there too.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Colonel. You of all people are always welcome here in my airport.” He winked. “Or should I say, our airport?”


Evening drew in slowly and Madari wondered if Sophia was watching events unfold on the television. The TV in the break room showed continual news coverage of, well, very little happening. Coverage of the airport, interviews, but no progress.

Because so far there was none. The negotiators appeared stymied. They’d tried to do the usual, offering deliveries of food in exchange for the release of certain hostages, children, elderly, or ill people. But the hijackers hadn’t accepted it. Their demands were absolute and they wouldn’t listen to any delaying tactics.

The negotiators and the observers watching the plane through its windows now estimated seven terrorists, armed with pistols. All the new information factored into the plans Madari and his men kept on revising and updating as they waited.

Madari returned to the ready room after the hourly briefing at ten p.m. and had just started pouring himself a coffee when one of Dhan’s men ran in.

“Major Dhan needs you back downstairs, sir.”

Madari dumped his half-full coffee cup and hurried after the man. A small gesture commanded Jahni and two of the other officers to follow. They found Dhan and the rest of the operation’s participants gathering around the table downstairs.

“Gentlemen,” Dhan said, “the hijackers have threatened to kill a hostage at midnight if their demands are not met by then, and then one every thirty minutes after that.” The men around the table stirred and murmured. Madari caught the eyes of his men. They tensed like athletes on the starting blocks.

“Do the negotiators think they’ll do it?” another of Dhan’s men asked.

“Yes,” Dhan said. Madari agreed with him. The hijackers demands had been unwavering so far. That told him they were likely to be men who stuck to their word. If they said they’d kill a hostage, they’d do it.

“Did they specify which hostage?” That question came from an official from the American embassy. Everyone knew he was asking about the Ambassador.

Dhan shook his head. “They won’t start with the Ambassador. He’s their best bargaining chip. It would be a grave mistake to kill him first.”

Jahni made a snorting noise. “These lunatics are liable to do something that crazy, aren’t they?”

“If they do…” the embassy official said, and didn’t finish. He was the military attaché, and Madari had to wonder if he was itching to bring the Marines guarding the embassy to the airport and finish this now. Madari understood that feeling, and guessed his officers did too. They all wore grim expressions. Ready.

Madari glanced out of the windows. Dark outside, so he could move his men into position to wait. But how long would they wait out there, getting cold and stiff? Better to wait here. It would take them only moments to deploy.

A few more minutes of talk and the briefing broke up. Madari and the officers headed back upstairs.

“Be ready,” Madari told them. “Assume we’ll move out on a moment’s notice.”

Now he only had to wait for the order.


It came just before eleven. The telephone rang and one of the men handed it to Madari.

“Dhan here, Colonel. Hold the line, I have his majesty for you.”

Madari instinctively straightened, which caused the men to go silent and watch him tensely. In a moment he heard the king’s voice, rather hoarse, as if he’d been talking all day. He had of course, to the President of the United States for one. The king wasted no time on preamble.

“Colonel, I won’t wait to find out whether they are serious about their threat or not.”

“No, sir.”

“I’ve already advised Major Dhan. You are authorised to attack at your discretion to prevent them carrying out their threat.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Good luck, Colonel.”

“Thank you, sir,” Madari repeated and the line went dead. Madari took a breath and thought for a moment about the assembled international press, and about the diplomats from a half dozen countries all harassing Dhan.

The world is watching.

He turned to his men.


Chapter 2

As soon as he heard the order, Jahni lost the fear, the nerves that ate at him. A man who didn’t fear combat was a fool of course, but the waiting is when he felt the fear. At the moment it started, the moment he went into the fight, the fear went… elsewhere. A strange calm descended on him. The SAS had taught him that. How to repress that natural fear for as long as he needed to carry out the mission.

The men moved into position exactly as planned. The plane looked impregnable to an ordinary observer, but Jahni and his men saw a dozen ways to get aboard. Some easier than others.

They moved close in the darkness, stayed in the shadows where anyone looking out from inside the bright interior couldn’t see them. Jahni himself headed with six of the men to the wheels. Others waited nearby with the wheeled steps, brought from all over the airport. Some of them motorised, forming strange little cars. Others would be hauled into place by muscle power.

In his ear he heard Madari’s voice in the radio chatter. Madari stood only a few hundred yards away he knew, on the windy tarmac, watching through night vision goggles and giving his orders through the radio. Safe.

Jahni had seen him fight too often. Seen him in the thick of it, when a random bullet could take him at any moment. Now he gave the orders without having to duck. Jahni knew Madari could fight. Respected what a fine soldier he was. But having him safe let Jahni focus in a way he never could when he fought at Madari’s side.

He looked at his waiting squad. They needed no last minute instructions. Any man who forgot details of a plan at this stage didn’t belong in the unit. He glanced at his watch. Time was the signal. Eleven twenty-three and fifty-three seconds showed on the softly glowing display. Seven seconds to go. He counted them down in his head, to eleven twenty-four. He pulled on his gas mask.


By eleven twenty-seven Jahni’s group was inside the plane, and heading up through the landing gear into the cabin. They were the advance group. Only once the enemy spotted them and the shooting started were the others to make their presence known, with a fast, overwhelming assault.

They climbed up through the guts of the plane and through a maintenance hatch into the cabin. Jahni and three of the men had made it all the way out before they were spotted. A young man turned from where he stood by what Jahni knew was the galley and saw them. He yelled and started to raise his pistol. Jahni, still low on the floor, shot him, his silenced gun’s pop sounding as loud as an ordinary shot to his ears. Didn’t matter, the man had already yelled a warning. Other yells started coming back, and then movement.

Jahni was up and moving forward before the first dead hijacker hit the floor. He covered the galley, but found only a flight attendant cowering on the floor. She looked no less afraid at the sight of her rescuers. Jahni waved a hand to her to indicate she should stay down and headed for the cabin. His group burst into the cabin at the same instant that explosions sounded from the side of the plane.

The shooting began.


“Get the stairs in place, come on!” Madari snapped, impatient as his men rushed sets of steps into place. One set of motorised ones actually slammed up against the plane and Madari heard the brakes screech. Men swarmed up the steps, with explosives ready to blast open the doors.

In seconds the bangs sounded as the explosive packs shattered the door locks.

Slides, slides, deploy the slides, Madari thought. With the slides deployed they could start getting the hostages off fast. Then one set of stairs was pulled away, all the men from it inside now, and the yellow slide expanded suddenly. The foot of it slapped onto the tarmac.

“Now?” Dhan, at Madari’s side, asked impatiently.

“Not yet. Keep them on the perimeter.” Dhan wanted to move his people in, to help anyone who came down the slides. Or capture them if they were the wrong people. They wouldn’t be. His men wouldn’t be so careless as to let any of the terrorists slip past them like that. The exits would be guarded.

One by one the other slides deployed and Dhan gasped suddenly as a figure appeared at one door. A woman, a blue scarf streaming out behind her as she jumped onto the slide. She had a child in her arms. One of Madari’s men waited at the bottom and grabbed the woman and screaming child, rushed them away and handed them off to Dhan’s men on the perimeter. She was swallowed in a crowd of people and in the darkness outside the ring of floodlights pinning the plane now.

A spotlight. The world is watching.

Gunshots sounded from inside the plane and more passengers started to come down the slides, yelling and screaming.

“Now,” Madari said to Dhan.


Two of them left on the upper deck, Jahni knew. His unit had secured the lower deck and cockpit. The hijackers lay dead and the panicking passengers were evacuating down the slides. A couple of gas grenades made the passengers even more scared and inclined to behave like headless chickens, but Jahni’s men were practically tossing them from man to man and then out of the exits, to tumble down the slides. Dealt with.

Now these last two. One appeared at the top of the staircase to the upper deck and yelled something. Kadry shot him dead.

The body crashed down the steps and hit the floor. Odd, Jahni thought. No gun in his hand. He hadn’t really been able to hear what the man had yelled, if it had even been something coherent. Had it been a surrender? Perhaps. Didn’t matter. Too late. Too late the moment they took this plane. Death warrants signed.

“Up,” Jahni snapped and led the way up the stairs. He poked his head up quick and back down again, taking in what he needed. He slithered out of the steps, staying close to the floor. Ahead of him the business class cabin was almost empty. Almost. A man’s feet showed, just sticking out from a row of seats. The row nearest the bathrooms at the front.

“I’ve got the ambassador!” A harsh, but panicky voice came from those seats. I’ll kill him!”

Jahni heard two other voices, one a woman, speaking in English with American accents. The Ambassador and his wife. They shouted for help.

“Shut up!” the hijacker screamed at them and Jahni heard the sound of a blow. The woman sobbed. Jahni scowled and pulled off his gas mask. No grenades this time. He was going to look this bastard in the eye. He moved and got half-way down the cabin before the man yelled and appeared around the seats to fire a shot at Jahni, who dived into the cover of a row of seats.

Jahni spoke softly into his radio to the men who had come up the steps behind him. “Pin him.”

They opened fire, keeping the hijacker cowering behind the seats. Jahni dropped to the floor, and, staying close against the seats ready to jump into cover again, commando crawled towards the enemy’s position.

Within seconds he was in the seats directly behind the hijacker and his hostages. Since he couldn’t speak without giving himself away, Jahni tapped three times on his microphone. The men ceased firing at once. A moment of quiet and then the muzzle of the hijacker’s pistol showed around the back of the seat, as the man poked his face and gun out cautiously to check the situation.

A straight-armed blow knocked the weapon from the terrorist’s hand, sending it flying across the aisle to slide under seats on that side. Both Jahni and the hijacker jumped up. The sight of Jahni, so close, so terrifying, made the man fall back and stumble into the tiny passageway outside the bathrooms. He tripped and started to fall.

The first shot took him in the shoulder. Jahni had aimed for the heart, but the fall took him by surprise. The next one found its mark. The final one went into the man’s temple and an instant later blood sprayed up the floor of the passageway as the dead man hit the floor.

Jahni’s men pounded up the aisle and one immediately checked the body, looking for signs of life and for explosives – they wouldn’t be caught out like that again. Jahni meanwhile, took a breath and turned to the middle aged man and woman, clinging to each other, the two of them crammed into one seat.

“Are either of you injured, sir?”

They shook their heads, still staring at him. Jahni touched his radio, opening the channel to Madari.

“We’re secured here on the upper deck. Hostile dead. The Ambassador and his wife are safe and unharmed. No casualties among unit personnel.”

That done, he turned back the the Americans. They’d risen now, still clutching each other, but both calmer. The ambassador held out his hand.

“Captain Jahni, isn’t it? Heard of you, young fella, heard of you. Thank you, Captain, from both of us, thank you.” His wife nodded, repeated ‘Thank you’ a few times.

“You should evacuate now, sir. We still have to check the plane for explosives.”

“Oh. Right, right, of course. Thank you, Captain. Good job, soldier. Good job.” Jahni bowed his head and let his men lead them away. He’d heard the reports coming in over the radio. All the hijackers were dead. No casualties among the hostages beyond the effects of tear gas and some tumbles down those emergency slides. None of his men killed or injured. Time for the final word, to Madari.

“Operation complete, Colonel, target fully secured. Send the bomb squad with their sniffers.”

“Well done, Captain. You may withdraw.”

“Thank you, sir. See you in five minutes.”


Madari didn’t see Jahni in five minutes. The Ambassador and his wife came down the steps placed against one door. Dhan greeted them there and tried to steer them to the terminal. But to Madari’s surprise, a moment later the Ambassador was in front of him, shaking his hand.

“I wanted to thank you personally, Colonel. A superb operation.”

“My men take the credit, your Excellency.”

“Come with me now, you’ll need to give a statement. I’ll bet the place is crawling with reporters.”

“Thank you, sir, but I still have work to do.”

“I insist. Follow me.”

He took Madari’s arm, and hustled him away. Unwilling to be impolite, Madari followed, Dhan hurrying along behind them. A moment later they walked into the terminal, and into a blaze of television lights. Flashbulbs popped, making Madari raise a hand briefly to shield his eyes. He tried to move away from the ambassador, since it must be him the press wanted to see, but the man held firm to his arm.

Questions came at them from every direction and after a second Madari realised many were directed at him. He held up a hand, hoping he could play his part in this and get back outside. Work to do.

“I’m Colonel Madari of the Royal Guard Special Forces group. We carried out this operation tonight, and I’m pleased to tell you that the aircraft is secured. All the hostages have been freed.”

Questions exploded at him again. Casualties, they wanted to know.

“There are no casualties among the hostages, or among the attacking force,” Madari said, and thought of those people waiting for that news of their loved ones. “I repeat. Though a few sustained minor injuries during the evacuation of the aircraft, no hostages were killed or seriously injured.”

A cheer sounded then, from upstairs in the departure lounge where Vali had housed the friends and families. They must be watching on televisions. He wondered again if Sophia was watching. Rather belatedly, he hoped he looked presentable, but he suspected his hair was a little wild from the stiff breeze outside.

“What about the hijackers?” The voice was in English, Madari answered in the same language.

“All the hijackers were killed in the operation. I must pay tribute to my men and their excellent work tonight. And also to Major Dhan of Airport Security who coordinated the crisis response over the last thirty-six hours. Thank you, I must go back to work now.”

With a sigh of relief, he hurried back out into the darkness, leaving the reporters firing questions at Dhan and the ambassador. Jahni waited, lounging against a wall right outside.

“CNN will make you a star.”

Madari shook his head. “I hope not. You’re the star, Kahil. You and all the men. Go back to the break room and I’ll arrange transport back to barracks.”

“Good. I’m starving.”


Madari got to bed just a little after three, in quarters at the barracks, and slept until almost nine in the morning. A soldier woke him with a clean uniform and told him Colonel Rahama would like to hear his report at Madari’s earliest convenience. Madari had been in the Army long enough to know that meant ‘right the hell now’, and fifteen minutes later, showered and shaved, he joined Rahama in his office. Rahama had a buffet breakfast waiting and also all the local and many foreign newspapers spread around.

“Ah, Faris, I hope you managed to get some sleep. Sit, sit. Private, serve the Colonel coffee, please and bring him some food.”

It was a pleasant enough way to deliver a preliminary report. After that was done, Madari took a look at some of the newspapers, flattered and gratified by their praise of his unit and him personally. Though one, the Az-Ma’ir Sunrise made him frown.

“Ah, I thought you’d find that one,” Rahama said. “What a strange thing to ask.”

“Well, it’s a legitimate question,” Madari said, trying to be fair. An editorial in the paper acknowledged the efficiency and success of the operation, but it added a caveat, a question over whether it had been necessary to kill all of the hijackers. Madari felt sure it had been and that when he read the detailed reports from his men, they would reflect that.

“Actually, they have requested an interview,” Rahama said. “Well, many of the papers have of course. The reporter who wrote that piece in the Sunrise wants to interview you and Captain Jahni.”

“No.” Madari snapped it and almost had to bite his tongue. “Not Jahni. Members of a Special Forces unit do not give interviews, certainly not on operational matters.”

Rahama nodded. “Understood. You however are the public face of the unit and I would like you to give this man his interview. Please arrange it.”

Annoyed, but with no choice, Madari nodded. “Of course, sir.”

Rahama smiled a little then. “Convince the man the answer to his question is ‘yes’. Do it quickly. Best to nip these things in the bud, eh?”

Madari understood now. Rahama was giving him an opportunity, one he might not have taken himself. That thought in mind, he headed to his office, where he found a stack of messages on his desk. He ignored them for now and picked up his phone. A moment later he heard Sophia’s voice and smiled.

“It’s me. I just wanted to make sure you got home safely after I left.”

“I did, thank you. I saw you on the television.” He heard a smile in her voice. “Your hair was rather messy and you needed a shave, but you looked very handsome anyway. Have you had any sleep?”

“Yes, but I could use some more. I’m not sure when I’ll get away from barracks. There’s a lot to do. I’ll call you when I can.” He glanced up, at a movement at the door to see Jahni there and gestured to him to come in.

“Well, when you can come around I’ll make you a proper dinner. And feel free to bring some of your handsome young soldiers around too. I’m quite happy to feed the heroes of the hour.”

Madari laughed, imagining such a dinner party. Of course, his men would all be perfectly polite. That in itself would be worth watching.

“Well, I must go,” he said. “I’ll call you later.”

Jahni waited until Madari put the phone down and then handed over a folder.

“Preliminary reports from all the officers and men, sir.”

“Thank you. Sit down, Kahil, you still look tired.”

Jahni sat, nodding. “Barely five hours sleep. I could use another ten.”

“You and all the men from the operation are under orders to rest for the next two days.” He found Jahni’s own report on the top when he opened the folder and skimmed through it, skipping quickly to the termination of the terrorists on the plane. What he read niggled a little at the back of his mind, and made him think about that strange question in the Sunrise. But a glance at Jahni, his pale face and dark-circled eyes made him decide to discuss it later.

“Go home, Kahil, and tell the other men from the operation to do the same. I don’t want to see any of you back here before tomorrow lunchtime. We’ll have the full debrief then.”

“Are you going home?” Jahni said. “You look as tired as I feel.”

“Soon,” Madari said. “I have some things to deal with first. I’ll call you later.” He added the last part, not sure why, then went on. “In case you want to talk.”

Jahni looked a little puzzled, but nodded and left the office. Madari checked through some of his messages. A lot of them were congratulations, some were thanks, from loved ones of the liberated hostages. One was a telegram, from America and made him smile to read it. ‘Saw TV. Face says you need to comb your hair. Nice job. Kahil too. Speak later. Hannibal.’

CNN really had made him famous.

But now he had work to do. He pressed the intercom to speak to his clerk.

“Corporal, get me the news desk of the Az-Ma’ir Sunrise.”


Madari met the journalist that afternoon. The man insisted that yes, he could come right over, no problem. Madari hesitated a moment, but decided he might as well get this over with.

Preferring not to give the man access to the Special Forces unit’s buildings, he found a meeting room in the main headquarters. At two that afternoon, a private showed his visitor, Mr Hamin, in.

“Colonel Madari, thank you for seeing me.” Hamin gave Madari a long handshake, studying him with sharp and observant hazel eyes. A younger man than Madari expected, surprising him, barely thirty years old.

“Mr Hamin, I’m happy to speak to you,” Madari said, the ‘happy’ being something of an exaggeration. “But I am pressed for time, I can only give you thirty minutes.” Another exaggeration. Like the men, he was ready to go home and rest, all the debriefing and paperwork would come tomorrow.

They sat and after a private served refreshments and left them, Hamin brought out his notebook and a tape recorder. Madari eyed the recorder warily, not keen on that idea. But he knew a little about reporters. If you refused to cooperate they made that into the story. They turned caution into a sinister conspiracy of silence. So he made no objection to the tape recorder. He had no reason to, he had nothing to hide after all. His men had made him proud, their success and discipline made him proud.

“Mr Hamin,” he said, deciding he’d take control of the conversation before the reporter could. “Your newspaper raised a question about whether is was necessary to kill all of the hijackers when my team took the plane.”

“Yes, I -”

“I’ve read the preliminary reports from my men now and believe they were entirely justified in their actions.”

“I appreciate all of the hijackers had to be shot, to incapacitate them. But none were merely wounded?”

“My men had a duty to protect the hostages, and themselves and their colleagues.”

“And killing the hijackers was the only way to achieve that?”

“It usually is, and it was last night too.”

“I see. Does your unit operate a ‘shoot to kill’ policy, Colonel?”

“No!” Madari snapped the word, then glanced at the tape recorder and regretted his defensive tone. Damn civilians. Why couldn’t they understand this? They had ridiculous notions about aiming for the legs, or shooting the gun from a man’s hand. They watched too much television. “Our policy is shoot to stop, Mr Hamin. That’s the policy of every counter terrorist unit, or SWAT team in the world. Stop the threat. It’s the only policy that works.”

“I see.” Hamin glanced down at his notebook. “Will I be able to speak to Captain Jahni, or any of the other men from the mission?”

“No, I’m afraid not.”

“May I ask why not?”

“Members of Special Forces units do not give interviews to the press.”

“Another policy?”

“Not only ours.”

Hamin nodded. “I understand the need for anonymity, but Captain Jahni is already quite well known to the citizens of Qumar.”

“Perhaps. But he’s not allowed to give interviews about his work. I’m sorry.” Madari felt some pride in himself. He’d retained his control well so far. Snapped a little at that stupid ‘shoot to kill policy’ question. But otherwise, he’d kept his temper in check and not allowed the man to provoke him.

“Your unit has an impressive record, Colonel.”

“Thank you.”

“On your last three operations all of the targets have been killed.” Madari froze at Hamin’s words. The reporter went on after a moment. “Is your mission to eliminate terrorist cells, or to simply eliminate all of the terrorists?”

“These are terrorists, Mr Hamin! Hostage-takers, bombers, men who target innocent civilians, women and children.”

“So you kill them for revenge?”

Madari opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again, his eye on that tape recorder. After a moment, he gathered himself and spoke calmly.

“Are you accusing my unit of excessive force?”

“Yes, Colonel. Yes I am.”

“My men are too well trained and too well led in the field to lose discipline like that. I refute your allegation.” His voice was icy cold now, despite the rage building inside him, but Hamin was watching him closely, perhaps waiting for that control to crack.

What did this man know of battle? Had he ever had a man point a gun at him, fully intending to kill him? You didn’t think of revenge, or policy at that moment. You made sure the threat was neutralised. You made sure the threat wouldn’t get up again. Yes, it often meant killing, but you didn’t even think of it that way.

Wait, Madari thought. Didn’t think of killing as killing? Didn’t think of killing a man as ending a life? As killing a son, brother, husband, father? Of snuffing out a soul?

“Colonel?” Hamin said, bringing Madari’s attention back to him. “May we continue?”

Madari stood, shaking his head. His anger had vanished, replaced by worry, and he didn’t want to show that to the reporter.

“We’re done, I have work… thank you for coming in.”

“Thank you for seeing me, sir.” Hamin stood too. He turned off his tape recorder and looked at Madari for a moment. “Off the record, Colonel. I appreciate you will defend your men one hundred percent. I know you have confidence in them. And I know you are a man of principle, of good intentions. All I ask is that you think about what I said.” He gathered up his belongings and left, leaving Madari alone in the meeting room.

Madari walked to the window and gazed out across the parade ground. A corner of his unit’s building was just visible from here.

‘Think about what I said’. Hamin needn’t have asked that. How could Madari not?


He thought about it until he went home and slept and he thought about it when he woke up, quite late in the morning. He was still thinking about it, standing by the window, wrapped in his bathrobe and drinking coffee when the phone rang. He expected Sophia or Jahni, but the voice on the line had an echoing tone. Long distance.

“Well, if it isn’t my famous friend, Colonel Faris Madari.”

“Hello, Hannibal,” Madari said, sitting down in an armchair. “Thank you for your telegram.”

“No problem. Just wanted to pass on my congratulations personally. You did great, Faris. You and your team.”

“The credit is all theirs, I assure you. Kahil especially of course. He makes me so proud.”

“Well, hell, he makes me proud. You both do, and the rest of the boys. You know I’ll be dining out on you for months. ‘Ah yes, I taught Colonel Madari everything he knows, you know’.”

Madari laughed at that, and the boasting tone Hannibal used as he said it.

“Hannibal, I hardly think you, of all people, need to use me as dinner party conversation.”

“Well, you know, there’s only so many times people will listen to that cabbage cannon story before they start asking ‘what have you done for me lately?'”

“Really? Personally I never tire of the cabbage cannon story.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed you even like to listen to it with your eyes closed now so you can really savour it.”

They laughed together, but then Madari spoke more seriously. “Hannibal, may I ask your advice on something?”

“Always. I’ll send an invoice later.” But then his tone changed, became as serious as Madari’s. “Go on. Problems?”

“Possibly. One of the newspapers here in the city made a comment about why we had to kill all of the hijackers.”

“The answer is kind of in the question there, isn’t it? Hijackers… gives it away.”

“That’s what I argued. I spoke to one of their journalists and he accused the unit of excessive force.”

Hannibal snorted, the contempt in it coming through clearly even over the thousands of miles between them.

“And does this guy not understand what a counter-terrorist unit is? You are the excessive force. You’re who they call when excessive force is exactly what’s needed.”

“I know.” Madari shook his head. “But try telling that to a journalist on a campaign.”

“If you give me his number, I’ll do just that.”

Madari thought he detected a hint of humour in Hannibal’s tone. He was probably joking, wasn’t he? Then again – this was Hannibal.

“That won’t be necessary, thank you. But I appreciate the support.”

“You’re not letting it get to you, are you?”

“It made me think. I think after the full debrief today I’ll perhaps have personal meetings with each of the squad, just to talk about it. I’m confident that they are too well disciplined to behave that way, but still, it’s been a while since I talked to some of them on an individual basis.”

“Sounds like a good idea. Look, I have to go, this call is clocking up the cash fast.”

“Of course. Thanks for calling anyway, and for your advice.”

“Call me about it any time. You guys are doing great, but you’re still a young unit and I know it takes time to get everything right.”

“Your advice is always welcome.”

Chapter 3

“Is there a problem?” Jahni asked, as Madari waved him to a chair in the meeting room. “I see you’ve scheduled meetings with all the men who were on the mission.”

“I just wanted to go over each of your reports and clarify some details,” Madari said. “So we can work out where we need to do better next time.”

Jahni smiled and stretched his legs out under the table. Better? That would be difficult. “We couldn’t do much better than we did.” He grinned and leaned back in his chair.

“No,” Madari said. He frowned and Jahni straightened up and put on a serious expression. He’d had plenty of sleep and a couple of days of rest, and he and the men were milking their triumph for all it was worth, so he felt good. But his mood started to deflate. Madari had a grim look. They hadn’t had much time alone together the last couple of days, and Jahni wondered if there was something wrong, something worrying him about the mission. His eyes were more dark-circled than usual. Sleeping worse than usual?

“Something is wrong.”

“Kahil, what do you think of the men we fight?”

“What do I think of them?” Jahni hadn’t expected that question. He thought about it for a moment. “Well, they’re fanatics. Deluded.”

“Would you say they are irrational?”

“You mean, crazy? Hell yes, they must be! Who the hell thinks hijacking a plane ever works? Who blows themselves up? Can’t they figure out how to work a timer?” He snorted with contempt.

“They think it makes them martyrs,” Madari said quietly.

“Who wants to be a martyr?” Jahni looked back at Madari, who was watching him carefully. “Is this about that piece in the Sunrise? That man doesn’t know what he’s talking about. We don’t use excessive force.” Anger rose inside Jahni. How dare that idiot question the unit, question Madari? “We used just the right amount of force, the right amount to kill those animals and save the hostages.”


“Did I say animals? I meant monsters.”


“What else do you call someone who threatens to kill women and children?” He looked down when he saw a flash of old pain in Madari’s eyes and knew he was thinking of Faraj.

“Kahil, these terrorists… they are men like you and me.” Madari said, his voice soft, making Jahni look up. “I know their actions and motivations are hard to understand. But many people would have considered our actions and motivations extreme, during the guerilla campaign.”

“We weren’t terrorists. We never attacked civilians.”

“Nevertheless. I want you to think about what the terrorists believe in, what they are fighting for. I want you to try to understand them.”

Jahni scowled at that. “If any of us can’t understand them, it’s me.”

“Then you need to try harder.” He raised a hand to cut off Jahni’s protest. “I’m not asking you to sympathise with their actions, or their cause, or the men themselves. But if you go into combat thinking of the man you’ll be fighting as a demon rather than a human, however irrational you think he is, then you are acting on… wrong information.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

Madari sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Kahil, people are often unpredictable. But the more we understand them, the more we can predict what they’ll do, would you agree?”

“I suppose.”

“So if you think of someone as inhuman you won’t expect human behaviour and human reactions from him. You won’t be able to predict him.”

Jahni stayed silent, thinking about that for a moment. “So…” he said at last. “You’re saying ‘know your enemy’.”

“Exactly!” Madari smiled. “Exactly right. And that doesn’t just mean intelligence about his location or his weapons. You must know what he wants, why he wants it and what he’ll do to get it, before you can predict what he’ll do next.”

Jahni nodded and looked down at this own hands in his lap, the fingers twisted together, tense. He hadn’t noticed he’d been doing that. After a while, he spoke quietly.

“Are you unhappy with my work?”

“Your work is outstanding, Kahil. Nobody can argue with the success of the mission.”

Certainly not any of the men I killed, Jahni thought. Was Madari right? Did Jahni think of them as nothing but… creatures, demons, mindless evil things that he had to destroy. And he felt nothing afterwards. No guilt. No sense he’d done anything wrong in ending their lives.

“Kahil,” Madari went on after a moment. “You’re not the only man who’s said these things to me, so please don’t think I’m… singling you out. But I think we need to work on a change in attitude.”

Jahni took a deep breath and raised his head, trying to get a professional, serious look back on his face, masking the worry he felt now. Madari was displeased with his work. That was clear. And that couldn’t be borne. What else did Jahni have but his work?

“Yes, sir. I’ll think about it.”

“Good.” Madari looked happier, relieved. “I have more of the men to see. We’ll have a meeting about this in a couple of days.” He glanced up at the clock on the wall. “Well, I have an appointment on the firing range. Do you have to be somewhere at the moment, or will you join me?”

Jahni had some paperwork he should be doing, but right now, shooting things sounded much more appealing.


Even a good long session of target practice hadn’t helped much. Back when he’d first become a soldier, first learnt to shoot, those paper targets had, in his mind, taken on the faces of real people and he’d felt so much fear about the day he’d have to fire at a man.

Well, he’d finally done that, in the guerrilla campaign, and since then he’d killed again and again. And he hadn’t counted. He’d never counted. He still recalled that first one, on the road, while he held back the patrol, giving Madari and the others time to finish wiring that bridge to explode. But eventually, they’d started to blur. Never counted them.

As he put bullet after bullet into the paper target, he no longer saw the face of a real man there. No, what worried him now was that when shooting those hijackers he’d seen no more than ‘targets’ and not men.

“Get me another one,” Jahni said to the bartender, in the hotel bar at the Az-Ma’ir Hilton. He pushed his glass across, towards the man, who gave him a questioning look.

What? You have a problem? He wanted to ask, but he stayed quiet. Almost two o’clock now, and he and the barmen were the only people in here. A few people had come and gone. Women included. The women he’d come to try and pick one out from and forget his pain for a few hours.

But somehow, he’d let them all pass by. Even when one approached and tried to talk to him, he barely responded and she lost interest and left again. He wanted it, those feelings that drowned the senses, drowned the mind in pleasure. Yet, he couldn’t reach out for it. He couldn’t do anything, but sit here and stare into a glass that he’d emptied too many times. He emptied it again now, with one long gulp, vodka burning his throat, and pushed the glass across the bar again. Might as well find a different type of oblivion.

“Kahil,” the barman said, making Jahni look at him with surprise. Had he been in here so often that the barmen had learnt his name now? That couldn’t be good. “You should probably be getting home now.”

Jahni shook his head. Back to his neat, sterile little flat and his cold bed.

“I’m closing now, I can’t serve you any more.”

“Fine. Find some place that will.” He stepped off the high bar stool and almost fell over. Ah, lost count of the number of drinks too. Number of drinks. Number of kills. Can’t keep count of anything.

Someone took his arm. A large man who had to be a bouncer.

“Put him in a taxi, Asad,” the barman said. “He’s no trouble, just drowning his sorrows I think.”

Who says I’m no trouble? Jahni thought. I’m big trouble. He scowled at Asad. Kick your ass, pal. I’m SAS. I… just might have to have a short lie down first.

The bouncer walked Jahni outside, and a doormen whistled up a taxi that stood waiting nearby.

“What’s your address, friend?” Asad said, opening the taxi door and helping Jahni inside. “Where do you want to go?”

Jahni mumbled enough address at him for Asad to pass that on to the driver. There was a brief exchange between them, but the chill night air had gone straight to Jahni’s head, and he lay on the back seat of the car, the darkness and the lights spinning in slow circles around his head. The taxi moved off.

“You aren’t going to throw up back there are you?”

Jahni would have answered, but his eyes closed and he went to sleep.


“Wake up.”

Jahni pushed himself up from where he’d been lying face down on the seat.

“What?” he said, muzzily.

“We’re here. Time to get out.”

Jahni peered out of the taxi window. It seemed very dark out there. Were the street lights out? He reached for his wallet and extracted some notes, the usual amount, he thought. The driver laughed.

“It’s a little more than that, mister.”

“What?” Jahni’s eyes focused now, enough to see that they were not in front of the iron gate that led to his apartment block, but rather outside a pair of high wooden gates, which he recognised at once.

Madari’s house.

What the hell?

“This isn’t where I live.”

“This is the address you gave. Hurry up. I need to get back to the city.”

Still staring up at the gates in front of the taxi, Jahni handed over notes until the driver seemed satisfied, then he climbed out of the car. At once, it reversed, swung around and turned back towards Az-Ma’ir, leaving Jahni baffled. After a second he also realised it was leaving him stranded. He shouldn’t have let the taxi go, he should have had it take him back to the city, to his own address this time.

Why the hell had he given Madari’s address?

Now what? He couldn’t ring the bell and disturb Madari at this hour – a glance at his watch told him it was well after three now. For one thing he’d have to explain what he was doing here and he wasn’t sure he could.

I gave the driver this address?

Well what did he do? A glance at his wallet told him he didn’t have enough cash to get a taxi back to the city, even if he could somehow get one to come out here and pick him up.

A bus came through the village at around seven in the morning, he knew, heading to the city. But what was he meant to do until seven o’clock? Sleep on the side of the road? And then the village constable would find him when he made his early patrol, and that would get back to Madari for sure. Well, Jahni being here and getting on that bus would get back to Madari, whatever happened. No secrets in a small village like this. Plenty of the residents knew Jahni.

What the hell did he do? Climb the wall and sleep in the damn stable? Why the hell had he given this address?

“Who’s out there?”

Madari’s voice made him gasp, coming from behind the gate. Part of him wanted to run, not wanting Madari to see him like this. But before he could move, one of the gates opened, revealing Madari standing there, in a long shirt and pyjama trousers. He held a pistol loosely in his hand.

“I said who’s out…” He stopped and stared. “Kahil? What are you doing here?” He looked past Jahni, perhaps expecting to see a car, or helicopter come to rush him to a mission. “Is something wrong?”

“It… it was a mix-up,” Jahni said. “With a taxi. Um… wrong address.”

“Are you all right?” He took Jahni’s arm, prompting him to unfreeze and come inside. “You don’t look well. Come on, get in the house.” They hurried inside and Madari found a throw from one of the sofas and draped it over Jahni’s shoulders. “You’re freezing cold. Do you want some tea?”


He followed Madari to the kitchen and sat at the table while Madari bustled around.

“How did you know I was there?”

“The noise of the car woke me. You know, I should have a peep hole drilled in the gates, so I can check who’s out there.”

“Good idea.” They both had enemies. “I’m sorry I woke you up.” He wasn’t sorry. Deep inside he knew why he was here.

“It’s okay.” Madari brought cups to the table while the kettle started to gurgle on the stove. “Tell me what’s wrong, Kahil, please. You’re… I can smell drink on you.”

“I know. I’m a bit pissed. I’m sorry, I know you don’t like that. Sometimes, it feels like the only way.”

“Only way to what? What are you trying to block out?”

“The fact that you think I’m a monster.”

“What?” Madari stared at him, and sat in the other chair. Jahni bit his lip, shame filled him for saying something so stupid. Yet he knew it was true.

“It’s what you think, isn’t it? And you’re right. I’m the monster, not the terrorists. They at least have faith in something. They believe in something. They might be deluded, but at least they do what they do for a reason.”

“So do you, Kahil, you fight against terrorism and oppression. I know you have no religious faith left. But you have my faith. I believe you have a soul.”

“I don’t deserve your faith.”

He wanted to weep. The urge to overwhelmed him suddenly and if he’d been alone, perhaps he’d have given in to the urge. But not here, not with this man who relied on him to be strong. Perhaps it was the drink, making him so out of control, he didn’t know. He stood abruptly.

“I should go.”

“Go where? Are you going to walk back to the city?”

“I don’t know. I shouldn’t be here.”

“Kahil, I’ll drive you home if you want. But you’re welcome to stay.”

Jahni looked at him for a moment, his face deeply shadowed, the only light coming from a small strip light over the kitchen workbench.

“Is that what you want, Faris?”

“I… just want…” The kettle started to whistle on the stove and he turned away to rescue it.

That urge washed over Jahni again, and his eyes grew hot. He swallowed a lump in his throat and walked out of the kitchen, unable to stay suddenly. Unable to be so close to Madari without saying something. Without saying exactly why he was here.

Madari caught up to him a moment later, catching his arm and swinging him around. With the light of only one lamp, across the room, they stared at each other.

“Talk to me, Kahil!” Madari demanded, his voice equal parts frustration and distress. “Tell me what’s wrong, tell me why you’re here.”

“You know why I’m here! You know what I feel!”

Madari took a step back, a nervous look on his face. “Then… then perhaps you should leave.”

“No!” Jahni cried out. “I can’t go. I can’t go back to doing this day after day. Swallowing it down, pretending it’s not real. I can’t take it any more, Faris! Never saying what I feel. Never being who I am.”

Madari stepped forward again, touched Jahni’s shoulders.

“You can say anything to me, Kahil, anything.”

“I can’t. Because if I do, then you have to do something about it, and you can’t. Neither of us can do anything about it, we’re trapped!” And now a few tears did escape and he dashed them away in a fury, despising the weakness they represented.

“It’s all right,” Madari said, squeezing his shoulder. “Let it out.” That same tone he’d used when he’d held Jahni and let him weep for his family. Could he give in to that again, let Madari comfort him like that? No. He wasn’t the same man as he was then. That Jahni seemed almost like a child to him now. So naïve. So simple. Just a child.

“Do you think I killed those terrorists out of anger?” Jahni asked. “Out of revenge?”

“Did you?”

“No! They meant nothing to me. Killing them seems like… like mercy. They’re dead. They’re at peace. They can’t ever feel the pain I feel now.” His voice choked off, somehow he went on. “I envy them that peace! I envy them.”

Madari’s face turned to real horror and fear then, and Jahni despised himself for giving him that pain. Selfish, so selfish. He carries such a heavy burden of his own pain, he doesn’t need mine too. Jahni buried his face in his hands. And at once Madari’s arms were around his shoulders pulling him close.

“Let it out,” Madari whispered. “I’m here. I’ll always be here to listen.” He stroked Jahni’s back in long soothing strokes. He learnt that from me, Jahni thought.

For a long moment they stood there like that, Jahni trying to calm the churning pain and rage and fear inside him, choking down the sobs that still tried to escape him. But Madari’s arms around him and the hand stroking his back did have an effect, though perhaps the effect not quite the one Madari would want to provoke.

Jahni took his hands away from his face and looked into Madari’s eyes. He saw relief there, as Jahni’s distress receded.

“You want me to let out my real feelings, Faris?” His arms were pressed between them, but he slid them out and around Madari’s waist.


“These are my real feelings.”

He leaned in and kissed Madari on the lips.

So much less frantic than that first time, what they still called The Incident. Yet as much passion, he felt sure. Madari responded at once, though not the way Jahni would have liked. He kept his mouth closed and after a moment, pulled his head back.

“We can’t.” It wasn’t a very heartfelt protest. More like a heartbroken one. He wanted to, Jahni knew, and everything inside and outside of himself told him he can’t do it, just as it told Jahni. But tonight, he wanted to be deaf to those voices.

“Yes, we can,” Jahni said. “We can do anything. Because this is only a dream.”

Madari’s eyes widened at Jahni’s words. “A dream?”

“Of course. What would I be doing here at this time of the morning? That’s ridiculous. So it must be a dream.”

He leaned close again and Madari allowed the kiss. Jahni broke it himself this time and he spoke again, voice soft. The voice.

“And in the morning, I’ll be gone. And of course, you’ll never mention it to me. Why would you? It’s only a dream after all.”

“A man can’t be condemned for his dreams, can he?” Madari spoke softly, almost to himself.

“Of course not.” This time the kiss started from both men at once. A dead heat of passion. It sealed the deal they just made, Jahni knew. If tonight is the only time, Jahni thought, if he had to be a little drunk to break the restraints on him, then he must accept that.

He moved one hand up to stroke through Madari’s hair, caressing him. Madari gave a small sigh, and pulled Jahni closer, arms tight around him now, bodies pressed close and…

Jahni gasped and stepped back, two steps, breaking free of Madari’s arms. He’d felt… Madari was… aroused… For a second, he’d felt the hardness press against him.

Well of course he’s aroused, you fool, he thought. That’s what you want, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

“Kahil…” Madari said, then put a hand to his mouth. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have.” And he turned and almost ran, heading for the bedrooms.

“Faris… wait.” But he didn’t wait. In a second, the door banged shut, leaving Jahni staring after him.

If this was a dream, they just woke up.


Madari groaned and put his head in his hands, the shame almost overwhelming him. How could he have been so crude? How could he have lost control like that?

But Jahni had been offering sex, hadn’t he? What else could he have meant? Unless Madari had misunderstood entirely, and made a complete fool of himself, and shocked and perhaps disgusted Jahni.

Ask him, he told himself. Go back out there and ask him what he meant. But if he did, and Jahni said that Madari had misunderstood, what then. Humiliation. Embarrassment. God, they’d never be able to look each other in the eyes again.

No, he couldn’t have misunderstood. They were kissing! Jahni initiated it, he said the kisses expressed his true feelings. Had Madari simply moved too fast? Gone further than Jahni was ready for? Perhaps. Perhaps that meant he needed to apologise.

But if he went out there again… or if Jahni came in here… That could lead only to something very wrong happening. He couldn’t allow that.

He’d been ready to allow it. What Jahni said, about lying to themselves, pretending this was a dream… for a moment that had tempted Madari and he’d lost control. He would have gone on and it would have happened, but for Jahni suddenly pulling back.

Perhaps Jahni had simply come to his senses. Even though he’d initiated it, perhaps he’d realised the danger before it was too late to stop.

Madari stood and walked to the closed door. He laid a hand flat against the wood. Where was Jahni now? Still in the living room? Or perhaps only inches away, on the other side of this door, trying to bring himself to knock and come in. He hadn’t left the house, Madari felt sure of that. He hadn’t heard the front door close.

So he was out there, inches or yards away, but there, and perhaps regretting pulling away from Madari, and perhaps if they talked again, they could decide again to let that dream happen. He’d be slower, more careful this time, Madari pledged, not shock him with such a crude advance.

He reached slowly for the doorknob. His hand rested on it for a moment. If he opened this door and Jahni stood there, waiting…

His hand moved, to the key in the lock below the handle. He turned the key and heard the click that told him the door was locked. He didn’t fear Jahni. Jahni would die rather than hurt him.

He feared himself.

Give in to that dream and our lives will become a nightmare.

Chapter 4

Jahni woke in the morning, lying on the sofa in the living room, a blanket he’d wrapped around him last night his only cover. His head pounded and his mouth tasted as if it was full of sand.

“Kahil,” Madari said, his voice close, and Jahni opened his eyes. Madari bent down by the sofa, wearing his uniform, right down, or rather up, to his cap. “I’m going to the barracks.” His voice was brisk, rather formal, Jahni thought. “You take the time you need to get yourself together. There’s a bus at noon that will bring you to the city.”

“I… yes, sir,” he said, though saw Madari grimace at the ‘sir’.

“There’s tea and food on the table. Drink plenty of water.” He stepped away from Jahni, straightening up, a tall, proud figure in his uniform.

“Faris… we need to talk.”

“Yes. Later. I have to go.”

And he went. In a moment, Jahni heard the car driving away. Only then did he get off the couch. Madari had mercifully left the blinds drawn, to spare Jahni from the strong morning sunlight that would have streamed in otherwise. He found tea and a jug of water on the table, along with the food. The water he drank a lot of quickly and followed it up with several small cups of tea, downing them in quick gulps.

The food would have to wait, he decided, and headed for the shower, first stripping off and putting his clothes into the washing machine.

After his shower he wandered into the kitchen, a towel around his waist and made a fresh pot of tea. His head felt a little clearer, but that didn’t help his confusion much. What the hell had happened last night? He thought he wanted to go to bed with Madari. He offered it, invited it, and yet, when he felt… that, his instincts simply took over and made him step away. Why?

He took his tea and walked out to the living room. A sound outside, a whinny from the horses made him go to the window and peek through the blinds to see the man who came from the village each day to groom and exercise the horses. Jahni watched him with one of them for a while, then turned away.

Why had it frightened him so much? For goodness sake, he’d lived in barracks long enough that he’d seen other men’s erections before. ‘Morning glory’ his fellow SAS trainees called it.

Didn’t he want Madari in that way? Wasn’t that the point of it all? He loved Madari. He thought that love meant he wanted to give him everything. But did it? Many times now he’d had thoughts, fantasies he supposed, about being in bed with Madari. But what did he really think about when he had those fantasies. A lot of kissing, definitely. Intense pleasure as he… what? There was a vagueness. He remembered pushing against something, but his mind hadn’t really specified what. And he couldn’t remember thinking about touching, or using his mouth. He felt heat rush to his face at the thought of that. It’s like everything below the waist was in darkness. Vague. Blurred.

And last night it almost became real. But it was too real. It would have meant touching someone who was undeniably a man. Did he really want that? Or did he want everything with Madari short of that? What kind of relationship was that? Lovers in all but the act of love? No more than kissing and cuddling, like a couple of shy teenagers? A man couldn’t live like that. A man shouldn’t want to.


By the time he took the noon bus, wearing his freshly cleaned and pressed clothes and ignoring the curious looks from Madari’s neighbours, he still hadn’t worked out his confusion. He didn’t know that he could. At least not without talking to Madari.

He went first to his flat and put on his uniform, before heading to the barracks in his car. He’d find Madari and they’d talk. That would help.

As always he went to the Unit’s barracks area first, and checked on the men. Some of them gave him odd looks when he came in and he wondered how rough he looked. After speaking to a few of the soldiers, he checked the messages he’d picked up from his cubby hole in the main admin office.

Two minutes later he strode through the outer office of Madari’s command suite and knocked and opened the door almost before Madari called out for him to enter.

“Why have you taken me off active status?”


Madari winced at Jahni’s loud, accusing voice, as if he were the one hung over.

“Close the door,” he said, not wanting the clerk to hear them. Jahni slammed the door shut and pulled the blind down.

“Why? What have I done wrong? Sir, my work is…”

“Kahil, please, calm down. Sit down. It’s only for two weeks. I just want you to take some leave, get some rest.”

“I don’t need to rest. I need to work!”

“You and several of the other men are on leave for two weeks.” He made his voice harsh, as difficult as it was to speak to Jahni that way. But he had to be Jahni’s commander here. Anything else… that would come later. “I’m not interested in hearing any arguments about this.”

“But why? Just tell me why.”

“It’s my fault. I haven’t placed enough importance on your mental health. Your missions are highly stressful.”

“We’re trained for that.” Jahni sat down at last, though didn’t relax in the seat, sat forward, whole body tense.

“Nobody is trained for that. I’ve put in a request that we have a medic who is assigned to the unit to focus on dealing with our mental health, with counselling if needed after difficult missions, and generally monitor the men and officers. I’m not singling you out, Kahil. This is an issue for the whole unit, and I must address it, even if it injures your pride.”

Jahni sighed and flopped back in the chair, passed a hand over his eyes. “You’re right, of course. I suppose I did feel a little picked on. I thought it as something to do with… you know, last night.”

Madari glanced at the door, still closed tight, but his clerk only a few yards away.

“Well, it is, in some ways. You were distressed. The rest… well, I think even that was something that happened because of the stress you’re under.”

“We need to talk about… the rest.”

“I know.” They had to talk about it properly this time. Not avoid it like before. “Tonight?”



When Madari arrived at Jahni’s flat that evening, it took a few minutes for Jahni to answer him on the intercom at the gate. He sounded a little flustered too, Madari thought, hoped nothing was wrong.

Jahni opened the flat door as Madari approached it from the stairs. He wore a loose shirt and trousers, his feet bare, and his hair rather mussed.

“Sorry,” he said, “I was sleeping.” He gave a wry smile. “I suppose that shows you’re right. I do need rest.”

“Good.” Madari came in. “I, ah, I brought some pastries.” He wasn’t sure why. Passing a baker’s he’d pulled in and bought a box of four sweet pastries. Some kind of peace offering, perhaps.

“I was going to make you dinner.” Jahni rubbed his eyes. “Though I should probably have woken up a couple of hours ago for that. Never mind, I’m sure I can put something together.”

Madari followed him into the kitchen and Jahni gathered bread, cold meat, cheese and dates laying them on the table.

“We’ll call it a picnic,” he said. “Wait, I’ve got eggs, I’ll scramble some.”

Madari knew what this was. Displacement activity. Avoidance. Jahni whisked the eggs, and started scrambling them, talking of inconsequential things. He’ll talk when he’s ready, Madari thought, and joined in the avoidance, by making them some tea.

It felt comfortable to work side by side in the kitchen like that. It reminded him of those few days after he came home after the restoration and Jahni stayed. Eating together, talking all evening. And that night they… slept together. Only slept, nothing more, and it happened only accidentally. Who knows what else might have happened ‘accidentally’ if they’d been alone in the house?

But would it have? What happened last night made is pretty clear that Jahni in fact didn’t want to make love to him. But it contradicted every signal Jahni had given him for a long time now. So what was wrong? What made him pull away? Of course, it was only right that he pulled away and stopped them from committing such a terrible sin. But it still left Madari totally confused.

Jahni talked eventually, while they ate their ‘picnic’ dinner.

“I’m sorry I blew up earlier, about you putting me on leave.”

“That’s all right. I know you hate to be inactive.”

“Yes. But you were right. I need some rest. Some time to think. I might even go away for a few days. With your permission, sir.”

“Of course.” Madari didn’t like the idea too much, but had no valid objection. “Anywhere in particular?”

“Cairo maybe. My old stamping ground from university.” He shrugged and ate a few bites of the pastry Madari brought. “Just to have some space to think things through.”

“That’s good. When you come back, I want you to set up an appointment with the new counsellor. I should have one appointed by then.” When Jahni grimaced, he went on. “Kahil, talking to a professional isn’t evidence of weakness. You know that I see a psychiatrist myself.”

Jahni grimaced again. He seemed strangely jealous sometimes of Dr Fauzi, perhaps thinking Madari shouldn’t need anyone except him to talk to. But Madari always kept in mind what Dr Al-Hijazi had taught him, that it was unfair on Jahni to expect him to deal with Madari’s problems alone.

“I know, I know,” Jahni said, and sighed. “It’s just… Faris, how much good can it do me, when I can’t tell him the full truth?” He looked at Madari for a moment. “Do you… do you tell Dr Fauzi about… us?”

“He knows that I have… feelings for someone I can’t be with. He doesn’t know it’s you.”

“Does he know it’s a man?”

Madari shifted in his chair. “No.”

He felt like a hypocrite suddenly. How could he tell Jahni to see the psychiatrist and be open with him, when Madari lied to his own doctor? Jahni didn’t say anything, which told Madari that he didn’t approve of that situation.

“It’s time I did tell him,” Madari said. He took a deep breath. “And I have to tell Sophia.” He didn’t want to. He knew it would likely mean the end of his relationship with her. But he owed her the truth.

“No!” Jahni said, wide-eyed. “Why do you have to tell her?”

“I promised to be faithful to her. I broke that promise.”

“Will she break up with you?”

“Probably. She forgave me last time. But she’s a proud woman. She won’t be played for a fool by me or any man.” He smiled. “Her husband found that out.” It was his own attempt at a distraction he supposed, hoping Jahni would be intrigued by the hint, but Jahni ignored it.

“But that’s not fair. It was my fault, not yours. I led you on.”

“But I responded I was… ready. If you hadn’t come to your senses, I’d have…” He flushed and looked down. Had to erase it from his mind, forget the wonder and excitement of being so close to giving in to the long years of temptation.

“I’m sorry.” Jahni said, looking down. “Please, don’t break up with Sophia over this. Don’t tell her. It’s not fair to destroy what you have with her. She can… she can give you what I can’t.” He looked up, but not at Madari, avoided his eyes, looking up at the ceiling, head back against the wall and arms folded. “I’m so ashamed of what I did. It was so unfair to you. I… I promised something I wasn’t ready to give.”

They sat in silence for a while. Would Jahni ever be ready? Madari wondered. Perhaps not. That was a good thing really. He should make himself believe that. Perhaps it would be easier to deal with the longing if he knew Jahni couldn’t respond.

Jahni looked at him again. “Faris, do you think two people can be lovers, without… having sex? I mean, that in their hearts, that’s what they are?”


“Is that what we are?”


Jahni nodded slowly and rubbed his hands over his face. “It wasn’t the kissing. I liked that. That felt… good.”

Good seemed such a… small word for it, Madari thought.

“It’s still a sin, even if it never leads to anything else. And of course, as your commander, it’s entirely inappropriate.”

“I know. Of course.” He looked as if he had more to say, watching Madari’s face for his reactions. After a moment he went on. “I just meant that sometimes, if, well, nothing more than that were to happen, it wouldn’t be too wrong, would it?”

“It would be if I was still seeing Sophia.”

Jahni winced and gazed at him with heartbreak in his eyes. So torn apart that Madari wanted to hold him again, offer him whatever comfort he could.

“Of course.” Jahni looked away and fiddled with his empty tea cup for a while. “Are you going to tell her?”

If he told her, they’d almost certainly break up and then perhaps those sinful, but not too sinful stolen kisses might happen sometimes. It wasn’t enough, but if it had to be enough, then he would take it. If he didn’t tell her, then he had to try to stick with his promise and be faithful to her. No stolen kisses. Jahni knew that, too. He knew Madari’s principles and that he would at least try to stick to them.

“Do you think I should tell her?”

Was that unfair? To give him the decision? Perhaps. Madari felt too weak, too tempted to make that decision himself. Jahni stroked a hand through his hair and sighed and then looked at Madari.

“I don’t want you to tell her. I don’t want you to break up with her.”

Madari nodded, understanding what Jahni was sacrificing. He reached out and laid his hand over Jahni’s on the table.

“In our hearts, Kahil. In our hearts.”


Madari left around midnight, making Jahni worry about that long drive home on the desert road. Just hoped Madari kept his attention on driving and didn’t brood too much over everything they’d talked about.

For himself, he couldn’t rest yet and took a cup of tea up to the roof to watch the dark city below. Lights, from homes, street lamps, and cars made a delicate mesh, like the city’s nervous system. Jahni thought about Sophia Giordano, looking towards the part of the city where she lived. His feelings for her were so different than when he’d first learnt about her and Madari. She’d proven to be a good ally in that situation with Raslan, beating him in a way Jahni couldn’t have. And it showed how much she cared about Madari.

Yes, he still felt jealous, but had now started to wonder what he felt jealous of. The sex? Or simply the time she spent with Madari? Perhaps the intimacy they shared, that could come only with a sexual relationship. But was it a greater intimacy than the one he shared with Madari, or just a different type? A type he couldn’t share.

He’d once said, in bitterness and pain, that perhaps he should find a woman like Sophia too, or even a wife. And perhaps now he should. If there was never any chance of becoming Madari’s lover in anything but his heart, then why not? It would no longer feel like cheating on him. That’s what all the hotel women felt like. As if he was cheating. And of course, that’s what he’d felt about Madari and Sophia. That Madari was cheating on him.

Ridiculous, all of it, he saw that now.

Everything had changed. It changed in that one moment, that split-second, when his instincts made him step away from Madari. Instincts were invaluable to a soldier, they had saved Jahni’s life many times. Now they had changed it, saved it in another way perhaps, saved his future, making him finally come to his senses.

Still… the kisses had been so good…


Everything had changed, Madari knew. Even more so than after that first incident. That had started it. They’d moved from denial about their situation to coping with it. Now this latest incident had brought yet another sea-change to their relationship. More than just coping now, they were moving forward, making plans about how they dealt with this long term.

“The doctor is ready for you now.”

Madari nodded his thanks to the receptionist and stepped into his psychiatrist’s familiar consulting room. They exchanged the usual greetings and Madari took the comfortable chair, but didn’t relax in it, sat forward, his body tense. What if Fauzi refused to go on treating him? How religious was the man?

“Doctor, it’s time for me to tell you something I’ve… concealed from you.”

“Go on.”

No condemnation for the concealment at least. Madari went on, his hands clasped together tightly.

“I’ve told you I’m in love with someone I can’t be with. I expect you assumed I meant a married woman.”

“I make no assumptions, Faris.”

No assumptions? What about judgements?

“It’s not a married woman. It’s not a woman. It’s a man.” He looked down at his hands. Was this a mistake? But he owed it to Kahil. If he expected Jahni to be honest with the unit’s new medic, at least about job related stress and trauma, then he should set an example. He looked up at Fauzi, who hadn’t spoken and had a look of anticipation on his face. “You know who I mean, don’t you?”

“I’ll be quite astonished if you say any name other than ‘Kahil’.”

Madari winced. Of course Fauzi had probably realised this months or years ago. He wasn’t blind. But he’d never pushed Madari for the name, waited for him to say it. Suddenly Madari felt like a fool.

“Yes, it’s Kahil. Some things have happened that we need to talk about.”

“I’m waiting to hear them.”

“Doctor, I need you to understand what I want from you, I don’t want you to try to ‘cure’ me of these feelings.”

“I’m a doctor, Faris, not a wizard.” He had no hint of condemnation in his voice. If he was a religious man, he could obviously put it aside to maintain clinical detachment.

“What I need you to do is help me to deal with these feelings. Help me find the strength to keep anything… else from happening.”

Fauzi nodded and made a note on his pad.

“I think perhaps we need to increase your sessions to twice a week.”