Part 24: Change of Heart

Chapter 1

September 1992

“He was offside,” Madari said, as they headed for the car park, weaving through the crowd leaving the stadium. “The goal should have been disallowed.”

“Oh, you’re as blind as the referee,” Jahni said. “I’m going to make you an appointment for an eye test.”

“My eyes are fine.”

“So, are we going to get some dinner now?” Jahni asked, feeling quite ready for a decent feed. “I know it’s early, but I’m hungry.”

“Well, there’s a change,” Madari said, his tone dry and his smile teasing. “Yes, all right, we’ll eat now. What about Le Clerc’s?”

“Oh, please, no nouvelle cuisine. Their main meals are less substantial than the snack I had at half time.”

“You do stretch the definition of ‘snack’ to its breaking point. So you choose then.”

Jahni thought about some restaurants he did like, and suggested one to Madari, who agreed with the choice. As they approached Madari’s car, talking about the game again, a ringing sound interrupted them. Both put their hands to their pockets.

“Is that you or me?” Jahni said, taking out his cell phone at the same time as Madari took his out.

“Me,” Madari said. He folded down the cover of the phone while Jahni put his own away. They didn’t stop walking towards the car, increased the pace in fact, Jahni tense now, expecting a summons to a mission. The new phones they’d been issued were an improvement on their pagers, even if they got reception only in the city.

“Madari. Oh, Sophia…” Jahni relaxed. Not a mission then. He hoped she wasn’t calling to invite Madari over to dinner, because she’d be disappointed. Boy’s day today. Football and dinner – a big dinner.

“Sophia, are you all right? You sound… what?” The last was an exclamation of surprise and Madari stopped walking. Jahni stopped a couple of steps later, turned back to see the shock on Madari’s face. The tension came back. No, not a mission, but a problem.

“When did it… I see. Are you going to… yes, of course. I’m coming over now…” He paused, listening. “All right then, I’m coming to the airport. I’ll see you there. Please, don’t go airside until I get there.”

Airport? She was flying out? Jahni muttered under his breath in frustration and tapped his foot, wanting to know what was wrong.

“I’ll be, um… forty minutes.” Madari went on. “We’re at the football stadium. Yes, Kahil is with me.” He started walking again, taking the car keys from his pocket as he did. Jahni kept up with him and moved around to the passenger side of the car. “See you soon.” Madari pressed the button to end the call, and folded the cover over the keypad.

“What’s going on?” Jahni asked, leaning his forearms on the roof of the car, warm in the late afternoon sun.

“Sophia just had a call from her father-in-law. Her husband is dead.”

Jahni stared, as Madari unlocked his door and ducked down into the car. The sound of Madari opening the passenger door brought Jahni back to his senses and he got in quickly, Madari already starting the engine.

“What happened?” Jahni asked, as Madari reversed out of the parking space.

“Car accident.” He glanced at Jahni. “Put on your seatbelt.”

For once, Jahni didn’t roll his eyes in protest, just put the seatbelt on. Madari put his own on when they slowed to a halt at the end of a queue of cars leaving the car park.

“Sophia’s flying back to Italy for the funeral?” Jahni asked.

“Yes. She’s on the next flight to Rome. It leaves in two hours. I thought I should…” He paused as the queue of cars moved forward, the policeman directing the traffic waving several through onto the road. They didn’t make it out this time, and Madari sighed as he braked again. “I should go to see her before she leaves.” He glanced at Jahni. “I can drop you off, if you like.”

“No, I don’t mind coming.” In fact, he wanted to be there, to offer Sophia his support. He’d made a special effort lately to be better friends with her, still grateful to her for what she did to Raslan, and determined not to do anything to undermine Madari’s relationship with her. A relationship he felt sure was good for Madari. So, yes, he should go with Madari to the airport. As her friend and as his friend.

“Pass me my sunglasses, please,” Madari said, and Jahni retrieved them from the glove compartment, handing them over unfolded and Madari slipped them on, as the cars began moving again. This time they made it out of the car park exit and onto the road. Madari turned the car westwards, towards the airport, into the setting sun.

Heading to see Sophia. Sophia – the widow.

The widow. A knot began to grow in Jahni’s stomach the more he thought of that word. Somewhere in Italy, so far away, a man was dead. A man Jahni had never met, or even seen a photograph of. And yet his death changed Jahni’s life in an instant.

She’s a widow.

Widows can marry.


They reached the airport, and Madari muttered in frustration trying to find a parking space. When they found one at last, he almost ran for the terminal, Jahni hurrying along at his side.

There was still an hour before Sophia’s flight. She’d have checked in, but he hoped she hadn’t gone through security to the departure lounge. He needed to see her before she left, to assure her of his support. Otherwise what would she think of him? That he was already abandoning her?. Shame filled him for a moment as they passed through the doors into the check in area. His first thought when she told him her estranged husband was dead had been of what this meant for their relationship. And an almost instant feeling of fear, and an urge to work out a way to break it off with her.

Because it was different now. She was a widow, not a married woman. Now that she was free it would be a much greater scandal for him to continue their relationship without offering her marriage. When she couldn’t marry, that had been one thing, people accepted that. Now they would ask questions.

But they’d also ask questions if he did break up with her as soon as she became free to marry. Madari only wants a woman who he can’t be expected to marry. Why is that?

“There she is,” Jahni said, pointing at the small coffee counter, with a couple of tables in front of it, high ones to stand at rather than sit.

Sophia stood at one of them with a small coffee cup in front of her and a leather flight bag at her feet. She carried a coat over her arm. A heavier one than she’d need here except on winter nights, but needed for autumn in Italy. It was black of course. So were the rest of her clothes. She often wore black and looked elegant in it, but he knew her choice of outfit wasn’t about style today.

“Sophia, my dear,” Madari said, hurrying to her, and hating that they were meeting here in public where he couldn’t put his arms around her to comfort her. He did take her hands, not minding if that attracted disapproval.

“Faris, Kahil. You… you didn’t have to come.” She seemed quite calm, but was pale, and her eyes were red rimmed.

“I’m glad we caught you.”

“I am too. I’ll have to go through security soon though.”

“Um, I’ll get us some coffee,” Jahni said, looking awkward, wanting to give them a moment alone. “Sophia, do you want another?”

“No, thank you, Kahil.” She rested her hand on his arm briefly, smiling at him and he nodded to her and turned away to the counter.

“Are you all right?” Madari asked softly, leaning closer to her.

“Yes, I’m fine.” Her voice shook enough to belie her words. “It was… a shock, I won’t deny that. I haven’t seen him in so long, and I’ve had many harsh thoughts about him over the years. Sometimes I wished I’d never met him.” She brushed back a strand of hair that had come loose from the clip that held it back in a simple, short pony tail style. “But today… after hearing that. All I could think about was the young man I once loved. The good times we had.” She broke off and retrieved a handkerchief from her handbag.

“Do you… um… want to to sit down?” Madari asked, hearing the helpless note in his own voice.

“No. No. I’m fine.” She sniffed a couple of times, then put the handkerchief away. Jahni arrived back, carrying two small cups and saucers carefully and handed one to Madari.

“Did your father-in-law tell you what happened?” Madari asked, then hoped that telling him that wouldn’t be painful enough to make her cry again.

“The police found his car crashed into a tree, skidded off the road, on the road to our house in Rimini. He had… a passenger, a young woman, who they think was one of his models.”

“Models?” Jahni asked.

“He was an artist,” Madari explained. “She was killed too?” He asked Sophia.

“Yes.” She sighed. “He would always drive sports cars that he couldn’t handle. Giovanni – my father-in-law – says it was a brand new Bugatti.”

Madari caught Jahni’s eye and gave him a small frown to ensure he didn’t say anything foolish about the waste of such a fine car. Jahni looked down into his coffee cup.

“His parents are organising the funeral,” Sophia said. “But I have to be there of course, for appearances. And anyway… I think I need to be. Need… closure.”

Madari understood that. He remembered Faraj’s funeral and how much it had hurt to go to the funeral of a former friend he’d been forced to kill. But he’d eventually come to accept that it had been right to go. To close that chapter.

“After that, well, there’ll be the will and various legal matters to sort out. I could be away for several weeks.”

“Weeks?” Madari said, surprised. He hadn’t considered that. Jahni looked up again. “Oh. I… yes of course. I suppose it will be… complicated. Um, is there anything I can do for you here? What about Giotto? Do you want me to take care of him?”

“Oh, he’s fine. My housekeeper is looking after him. He’ll be happier in his familiar surroundings.” She smiled weakly. “He’ll be like royalty, living in the flat as if he owns it, with his own staff.”

“Perhaps I’ll drop in sometimes to pay court to his majesty,” Madari said.

Sophia rested her hand on his forearm, smiling. “I’d like that. If you’d pop in to check in him now and again. The staff are very good of course, but I’m sure he’ll be happy have visitors too.”

It almost made Madari laugh to think of visiting a cat as if it was the householder, but he didn’t laugh. If it gave Sophia one less thing to worry about, he’d be glad to do it for her.

“I’ll drop in on him as often as I can manage,” he assured her.

“Me too,” Jahni said, surprising Madari. When they looked at him, he shrugged. “I like cats.”

And that cat liked Jahni better than it liked Madari, so it would probably be happier to see him, Madari thought. Between the two of them they’d keep an eye on the proud little creature.

“My flight is boarding,” Sophia said, after the announcement came over the PA that the gate for the flight to Rome was now open. “I’d better go.”

Jahni picked up her flight bag and they walked with her to the security checkpoint. If there had been a queue Madari might have used his influence here to get her through ahead of other passengers, but there was no queue. The security men gave Madari and Jahni smiles and nods of recognition and were exceptionally polite to Sophia as they x-rayed her bags and she stepped through the metal detector.

After a final wave on the other side, she took her bags and then she was out of sight, heading for the gates.

Remarkable, Madari thought, as the two of them stood for a moment, watching where she had gone. Just an hour ago his life was one thing. Now it was something else. Events he wasn’t even involved in and yet they’d changed everything.

After a moment he noticed the security men watching them curiously, so took Jahni’s arm, shaking him out of the same trance Madari had fallen into.

“Come on, Kahil. We still need dinner.”

“Hmm? Oh, yes. Dinner.”

They left the airport, stepping out into the twilight and a warm breeze that ruffled their hair. Madari drove to a café that had outside tables, where they could enjoy the warm evening, overlooking a park, and in the distance the royal palace. A café it might be, but with such a fine view, it charged as much as many restaurants. However it also served large enough portions to keep Jahni happy.

But despite his earlier claims to be hungry, he picked at the food, quiet and often just gazing out over the park for long periods. Yes, Madari thought. Everything has changed. And I’m not the only one who realises that.

They walked in the park after dinner as it grew fully dark around them. In civilian clothes Madari felt anonymous, something he rarely enjoyed these days. As they strolled, not speaking, Jahni’s hand found his and they walked on without a word.


“It’s so warm today,” Jahni said. Madari looked up at him from his desk.

“Yes, it’s a warm autumn this year.”

They were working in the office, going over training reports, nearly two weeks after Sophia had gone to Italy.

“Open a window,” Madari said. “I’ll get some more ice water.” He took the jug to the outer office and sent his clerk off to fetch more water. Back in the office he found Jahni leaning over the sill, leaning right out of the window. “For goodness sake, don’t lean too far. People will think you’re trying to jump and wonder just how hard I’m working you.”

Jahni straightened up and turned back, grinning. The breeze outside had rumpled his hair and he combed it back into place with one hand, then stood leaning against the window frame, hands behind his back.

“Have you spoken to Sophia again lately?”

“Not since the day after the funeral. She says there’s a lot to sort out about property. She will definitely be gone for a while.”

“Oh.” Jahni looked out of the window again, gazing off into the desert. He needed a new shirt, Madari thought. A size up, across the chest and shoulders at least. Had this one shrunk, or was he getting bigger? He certainly spent a lot of time in the gym.

No, the shirt must have shrunk from washing. Jahni was bulky around the chest and shoulders, but not more so than usual that Madari had noticed. Some of the men in the unit could intimidate their opponents by sheer size alone, but Jahni didn’t go to those extremes.

And Madari shouldn’t be watching his body close enough to notice such subtle changes, or the lack of them, he thought, shaking himself away from his contemplation when he realised Jahni was no longer looking out of the window, but back at him. Madari sat down quickly.

The clerk came in with the fresh water and poured a bowl of ice into it.

“Thank you. Dismiss,” Madari said, as Jahni pushed away from the window frame and came back to the desk. When the clerk left, he perched on the edge of the desk and poured a glass of water, ice cubes clinking into the glass.

“You know what I’d like,” Jahni rubbed the cold glass against the inside of his left arm, on the paler skin there, then swapped over and rubbed it on the right arm, concentrating on the wrist, where the blood pulsed so close under the skin.

“What?” Madari asked hoarsely, prompting him to go on.

Jahni held the glass against his temple. “I’d like to take a dip in the plunge pool at the sauna, right now. No steam or sauna first – don’t need that in this weather – just strip off and straight in the cold water.”

“Yes…” Madari said, his eyes following the drips of water which ran down from the glass, down Jahni’s face and neck, under his shirt.

My god, get control, he ordered himself as his body responded to the sight. He pulled his chair closer to the desk and sat up straighter. Sophia has been gone only two weeks and he was already so sexually frustrated that he was ogling Jahni right here in the office.

“Yes,” he went on, trying to put a crisp snap into his voice. “That sounds very…” Jahni was looking right at him. A look that unmanned him entirely and stole his breath. A look he must surely be reading too much into. After what happened earlier that year, he knew Jahni didn’t have any physical interest in him.

“Sounds… inviting?” Jahni suggested.

“Um… yes. Inviting. Ah, refreshing. I’m sure it would be refreshing.”

Jahni nodded, and drank from his glass of ice water finally, before putting it down on the desk.

“Use a coaster,” Madari said, taking refuge in an order, and making Jahni smile, as he took a paper coaster from the tray.

“So, do you want to go to the spa tonight?” Jahni asked.

Oh, that could be a very bad idea with this combination of the heat and sexual frustration. “I… don’t think so,” Madari said. Best not. It could be a disaster. The most disastrous visit to the spa ever.

And he was including the time he’d been stabbed.


The Royal Guard barracks had a large, modern gym but Madari had also had one added to his unit’s facilities. Some still went to the main one, which had more equipment, but theirs had quite enough for most to be happy with. They used it for fitness assessments too, and got quite competitive about those.

As for himself, well of course, he stood no chance of keeping up with the younger men, but he owed it to his men to stay fit. He owed it to himself. Even though he usually stood at the perimeter commanding the action, there were still times he had to get his hands dirty.

So Madari used their small gym, usually in the evening, where the men used it more during the day. Often he’d be in there alone, and found it peaceful and relaxing. It helped him sleep better later. This evening though, as he walked in from the locker room, he found he wasn’t alone. Jahni was working in the free weights area, doing biceps curls with a dumbbell.

“Oh, I thought you went home,” Madari said.

“Decided to stop in for a quick workout.” Jahni made a small grunt of effort as he lifted the dumbbell towards his shoulder.

“Good…” Madari said, not entirely sure what he meant. Jahni was in top shape, he didn’t need pushing to keep fit. Did he mean good that Jahni was here to keep him company? Yes, that was it. While he enjoyed the peace, of course he enjoyed spending time with Jahni rather more.

“Definitely good,” Jahni said. “I need a spotter. Going to push it up a notch on the bench press. Help me out?”

“Of course.” Sometimes in here he felt as is Jahni were the one in command, but he didn’t mind that. Jahni was the expert here, he worked on the men’s fitness as part of their ongoing training and pushed them as much as he pushed himself. “Call me when you’re ready.”

Meanwhile he started up a treadmill, which faced the free weights area and began to jog, warming up. Jahni moved around the weights, doing his various exercises, sometimes speaking to Madari, inconsequential things, or work matters. Sometimes he just caught Madari’s eye and smiled.

Madari raised the speed on the treadmill until he was running, wanting, needing, to burn off steam. Sophia had been gone three weeks now. And Jahni, tanned and gleaming with sweat… do not think about that. Damn, he should see about having these treadmills turned around to face the blank wall. And perhaps have from verses from the Koran painted on that wall.

Since that second incident earlier this year, when he’d realised he and Jahni could never have a sexual relationship, his fantasies about Jahni had actually become more vivid, more frequent. As if his mind gave him permission to dream about that, now it knew it would never be a reality.

Such thoughts were still sinful though, and he tried his best to restrain them, not sure how long he could have those fantasies without trying to act on them, and probably damaging his relationship with Jahni. That, he couldn’t stand.

Jahni racked the weights he’d been using and strolled over to the treadmill.

“You want me to spot you now?” Madari asked, his hand hovering over the control to slow the belt.

“No rush,” Jahni said. “Keep going, finish your session.”

He stood for a moment, leaning on the treadmill then said. “Better keep moving, or I’ll stiffen up.” He started stretching, going through a well-practised sequence, body held poised in tense poses, almost like a man modelling for an artist. Madari grabbed for his water bottle and took a long drink. Mouth so dry. From the running. Just the running. He hit the speed button and went faster.

“Be careful,” Jahni said, a small look of concern on his face. “That’s faster than you usually go.”

He knows my treadmill speed. He knows me too well. He knows what he’s doing to me right now. Madari shook himself from those thoughts. No. It was his own perception, that’s all. His perception coloured by frustration and loneliness. He slowed the treadmill again, fearing he’d overdo it, stumble and fall off the damn thing.

After another moment or two, Jahni still doing his stretches, Madari slowed the belt down to zero and stood for a moment, panting. Then he drank long gulps of water and rubbed his towel over his face to wipe away the sweat.

“Right,” he said to Jahni, when he’d recovered enough breath. “I’m done. Let’s see just how much you can lift, Captain.”

Jahni grinned at what sounded very much like a challenge. Good Madari thought. Keep his mind on proving his machismo. That was healthy.

They worked together, loading the weights onto the barbel and lifting it onto the pins on the bench. Jahni rubbed powder onto his hands and put on his weight lifter’s gloves, before he sat on the weights bench and got into position, flat on his back, legs on either side, feet on the floor.

“Let’s go,” he said, and raised the weight, Madari’s hands under the bar, but not touching it. Jahni held it for a moment, until his arms began to tremble.

“Lower it,” Madari said, and Jahni did so, controlling it well. Madari nodded. “Okay, you can handle the weight. Start your reps.”

Jahni took the bar again, wriggling his fingers as he adjusted his grip and began to lift the weight. Lift, hold, and lower, smooth and under control. Effort was written broadly across his face and he soon began to sweat, but just frowned more deeply and looked more determined.

“Keep your legs down,” Madari said, seeing them start to lift. Jahni’s feet stamped back down to the floor and stayed there as if glued. “Good. Keep going. It’s all you, I haven’t touched the bar once yet.”

Jahni gave an explosive grunt of laughter. “Damn, I thought you were helping me.”

“Keep going. Five more makes thirty and then you’re done.”

“I can do forty.”

“Not today, not with extra weight.” Jahni kept going. Sweat ran down his arms now and beaded his face. “Twenty-nine. Thirty. Go on, one more.”

“Slave-driver.” But Jahni lifted and held until the trembling in his arms grew too much and lowered, this time Madari did catch the bar, helping him control it, in case it bounced out of the pins. “Oh, man!” Jahni sat up slowly, rubbing his shoulders. “I’m going to feel that tomorrow.

Madari picked up Jahni’s towel and came around and draped it on his shoulders. He rubbed the towel over the skin to wipe the sweat. Jahni should get a massage, to keep those hard-working muscles from getting too stiff and sore.

“Very impressive, Kahil. Don’t overdo it though. Are you still lifting on alternate days?” His hands were still on Jahni’s shoulders and he kneaded the hard muscles a few times.

“Yes. I don’t want to bulk up too much. Need to stay manoeuvrable. Mmm, that feels good.” Madari was still kneading his shoulders, and Jahni sighed and leaned back towards him. “You can go a little harder.”

God, no, he couldn’t. If Jahni needed a massage the regiment had a massage therapist on staff, Jahni could see him tomorrow. Madari stopped and moved back. Jahni looked back over his shoulder. He spoke quietly.

“You don’t have to stop.”

“Oh, yes. Yes, I do.” Madari cleared his throat. “You should do your cool down and take a hot shower.” Don’t think about him in a hot shower. “I need to complete my own workout.”

“I can stay and keep you company,” Jahni suggested.

“No… I don’t think you should.”

Jahni nodded as if he understood. He probably did. Madari could feel the heat in his own face, knew he must be flushed and guessed he looked distracted and discomfited. Now he just needed to be alone.

Jahni still had his cool down though, so Madari went to the rowing machine, which did face a blank wall, and kept his eyes fixed on there as he rowed. He looked up only when Jahni walked past him and spoke.

“Goodnight, Faris.”


Jahni stopped suddenly. “Have you had dinner? Feel free to drop in on me for supper if you want. You’re always welcome.” And then he was gone, into the locker room.

Now Madari couldn’t decide if he was still the only one to blame here. It wasn’t just his sexually frustrated perception that made him think Jahni was… flirting, was it?

Well, either way he certainly didn’t dare go round for a late supper tonight. He needed his own bed and some privacy. And perhaps then he would allow himself to think about Jahni in that hot shower.

Chapter 2

Madari lay in bed, almost a week later. Not asleep. He’d spoken to Sophia on the phone that evening and as with so many of their conversations, what wasn’t said was as important as what was. She hoped to come home by the end of October, she said, and apologised that it was so long, but she wanted to finish up everything, rather than have to keep going back.

Madari said he quite understood and that he missed her. But his mind kept going back to the word “home”. She thought of Az-Ma’ir as her home. Not a temporary place and that one day she would go back home to Italy. No, Qumar was her home.

That made him nervous.

He’d come to realise how rarely he thought about the long term with Sophia. He didn’t make plans for their relationship, it just happened. He had no dreams for what it might become, the way he did with Jahni. It simply went on just as it was, day by day, week by week, month by month, and even year by year.

Of course, he suspected most men did the same. Played it by ear, as the expression went, until something changed. Women were different though. They made those long term plans.

When they’d become a couple, she’d told him that if he wanted marriage he must look elsewhere. He’d told her he accepted that they couldn’t marry. But had he ever made it clear that he wasn’t interested in marriage even if she was free? And Sophia herself, she’d never said that she still wouldn’t want to marry even if she was free. Perhaps she didn’t. But women usually did want marriage. If it was an option.

Now it was an option.

Of course, she knew about his feelings for Jahni. Would a woman actually want to enter a marriage when she knew her husband loved someone else, even if he’d sworn never to act on those feelings? Or specifically, would a woman like Sophia want that?

She was different from most of the women he’d known. Even his ex-wife, so well educated and independent minded by his culture’s standards could not compete with the pride and sense of self Sophia simply took for granted was hers to own.

Could he claim he could only marry a Muslim woman? A dangerous tactic. What if she offered to convert? Just how important was her Catholic faith to her? Certainly it kept her from divorcing, but that could have been as much about family and cultural pressures as religion. She attended mass, he knew that. But was that simply part of her social networking here? She didn’t talk much about her faith. He never saw her praying. If a priest came to visit it was only ever as a dinner guest, not as a confessor, that he knew of anyway.

He sighed and rolled over in his bed to where the sheets felt cooler. Perhaps when she came back he would ask her some careful questions about her religious faith.

Meanwhile, he had to sleep. His mind would not rest, occupied with Sophia, and with Jahni’s confusing behaviour. Though that might still be his imagination, he couldn’t tell.

Sleep, he commanded himself, seeing that it was after two, by the glowing hands of the clock by his bed. He tried the various techniques he’d learnt for inducing sleep without resorting to the drugs he now reserved only for really difficult nights. Was this a difficult night? No. The worries on his mind seemed almost trivial compared with some of the terrors that used to haunt his mind every single night.

Still, Dr Fauzi would not consider them trivial. Madari had an appointment with him tomorrow, so he’d see if the good doctor had any advice on the situation. The appointments were back to once a week, and the doctor had helped him accept the way things had to be with Jahni. But with the way things were at the moment, perhaps they needed to look at twice a week sessions again for a while.

That thought helped him to relax. No sense in letting his mind turn this over and over. The doctor would advise him how to proceed. Expert advice. That was key. His eyes closed, cutting off even the small amount of light coming through the curtains, the moon bright tonight. He started to drift away into a darkness that felt welcoming for a change, velvety and soft.

Until he heard the footstep.

Outside. Scuffing of feet outside on the hard packed earth of the compound.

He sat up in bed, instantly wide awake and listening. Blindly, he reached for the night stand and slid open the drawer. It opened smooth and silent on well oiled runners. He didn’t even have to grope to find the handle of his Browning in there, he knew exactly where it was. A slightly darkened area on the bottom on the drawer, where gun oil had seeped into the wood, served as a guide for him to position the weapon each night, so that he could always easily pick it up even in pitch blackness.

The darkness wasn’t that absolute tonight. Enough moonlight got in to make out shapes. No movement. The bedroom door was still closed. But he still heard the footsteps outside. Moving along now, near the house, moving away from his bedroom.

Moving to the front door?

He slid out of bed. Nobody was inside the house, he’d have heard them. Still, he stayed cautious, as he moved into the corridor and on into the living room, gun ready, steadied in both hands.

Could it be a thief? A burglar? A village like this had few crimes of that sort, but sometimes a thief might come in from outside the village, and prey on those who slept complacently in their beds. Madari was not complacent. A mere burglar was the least of his worries, in fact would almost be a relief. What he feared was someone coming to carry out one of the death threats he received regularly.

A new sound now, no longer sneaking footsteps, but a thin metallic sound at the door. Not the chunky, solid sound of a key, and anyway, apart from him, only Youssef had a key. Youssef would not be sneaking into the house in the early hours of the morning. Sounded more like lock picks, or a skeleton key.

Sounded like trouble.

He took a deep breath and moved to the side of the door. A coat stand stood at the side of it, coats, jackets and robes giving him cover. He’d positioned it deliberately for that purpose.

The door started to open and he stifled a gasp, clamping down hard on his fear, even as his heart started pounding and his breathing began to speed up. As the door opened further he saw a shadow cross it, the dark shape of a man, looking inside, waiting. Madari held his breath. The man would be listening too, just as Madari had.

Be silent, Madari ordered himself. Silent as a dead man, or you soon will be a dead man. Be unheard and invisible and perhaps you’ll be alive when the sun comes up.

The man moved again, apparently satisfied with the silence. He opened the door just enough to slip inside. The moonlight briefly showed his face. A young man. A stranger. Once inside, he closed the door behind him.

Madari glanced down and saw the glint of moonlight on metal in the man’s hand, made out the shape. Gun. No burglar then. An armed intruder, robber or assassin, it didn’t matter. If it was a robber, he’d really chosen the wrong house.

The man moved a few steps into the room. Stealthy, but in an amateurish way. Madari would have heard him, even if he’d been fully asleep.

Madari moved, gliding like a ghost haunting his own house, following the intruder, raising his gun. One more step forward and the muzzle of Madari’s Browning touched the back of the man’s neck. He froze.

“Drop your weapons,” Madari said. “All of them.” It bothered him that his back was to the door, but he’d hear it open, if the man had backup.

The intruder was still frozen and still holding his gun.

“I’d prefer you alive for questioning. Wouldn’t you prefer that too?”

“I will die before I answer your questions.”

“You’ll die before I ask any if you don’t drop the gun now.”

The intruder relented then, holding the gun away from his body and dropping it. Madari didn’t attempt to pick it up. His gun still pressed to the man’s head he moved close enough to kick the gun away, out of reach. It slid under a couch.

“Hands on your head.”

“I will not surrender!” The voice was almost a snarl. “You are an enemy of Islam! You must die!”

Madari backed away fast as the man spun around. He didn’t watch the man’s face, but rather his hands, saw the right hand reaching to the waist, to the other pistol in his belt, pulling it out…

Madari fired. He barely even knew he’d done it, until he heard the shot, the roar filling the room. Instinct acting much faster than conscious thought. Instinct saving his life. The shot took the man in the head, and the powerful handgun and the close range had a devastating and instantly lethal effect. The dimness of the room mercifully hid the worst of the horror and the gore.

The corpse fell backwards and what Madari knew was blood, though it looked black as ink, splashed several feet from the shattered skull. A crashing sound made him gasp and raise his gun again, but it was only the intruder’s second gun knocking over a lamp as it flew from his hand.

Madari’s back crashed against the wall as he reeled away from the dead man, from the savage death he’d just wrought. He gagged at the stench of blood and wanted to hold his breath and block it out. A long time since he killed a man. He only gave the orders, now and Jahni killed for him. Jahni and all the men.

Control… he didn’t dare take a deep breath, for fear of what the stink would cause his stomach to do, but he tried to breathe steadily. Eyes open. Ready. Ready. Watch the door. If he has backup they’d either burst in now, or be running away. Please, let them be running.

Nobody burst though the door and after a few moments, Madari breathed easier. He transferred his pistol to his left hand for a moment and wiped his sweating palm on his pyjama trousers, then wiped the pistol grip too. He needed… to… to check outside, yes. And to put some clothes on, and call the barracks.

He gave the corpse a quick glance. He had a dead body in his living room. It would be long time until dawn.


The intruder hadn’t cut his phone line. Madari couldn’t decide if that was carelessness, or simply confidence that he’d do the job and be gone before anyone Madari might call for help could arrive. Madari hadn’t even considered calling for help, because he knew it couldn’t arrive in time. He had to defend himself and only call later.

An hour after he’d shot the man, a helicopter stood in the road outside, and MPs were in his house. Many houses in the village showed lights, but the only person who came to investigate was the village constable. Madari told the MPs to let him into the house. This was on his “patch” after all.

For himself, Madari stayed outside the house, not wanting to see the corpse in the blaze of the electric light. The commander of the MPs questioned him and made a note of his account. There’d have to be a more formal interview later he said, a proper investigation, but of course it was clearly a case of self-defence. Did Madari recognise the intruder?

Madari said he didn’t. He’d been going over in his mind the faces of known terrorists and fanatics in the Special Forces unit’s files, but none of them fitted the man he’d killed. The man who had no face left to identify.

“We’ll check the guns… he had two you say?”

“Yes. One is under the couch.”

“Ballistics will check to see if there’s a match with any previous crime scenes. We’ll get his fingerprints. If he’s got a record for as much as shoplifting, we’ll identify him, and then start looking at who he’s been hanging out with recently.”

He might not have a record. So many of the men they’d captured and killed since setting up the unit were young, respectable men, of good families. Even wealthy men. Students some of them. So hard to understand how they turned into killers.

A car horn honked at the gates and Jahni’s car drove into the compound, parking beside Madari’s Volvo. Now how did he find out? Madari had resisted the urge to call him. There was nothing he could do here, Madari might as well tell him in the morning. Still, he smiled as Jahni got out of the car and strode up to him, a concerned look on his face.

“Are you all right?” he said, then, glancing at the MP, he added, “Sir.”

“I’m fine. I wasn’t hurt. I’m with the Major here now.” Madari indicated the MP. “Can you give me a moment, Captain?”

Jahni nodded and headed past him and into the house.

“I’m sorry, Major,” he said. “My second in command. I don’t even know how he heard about it.”

“That’s all right, sir. I think I’m about done for now. We’ll get our work finished and try to get the scene cleaned up as quickly as possible.”

“Thank you.”

But Madari still couldn’t go back inside. He walked, his feet in sandals now, dressed in a long shirt and loose trousers, the night air chill on his skin, as he still periodically broke into a sweat at the reaction to the shock and adrenaline rush. He came to the garden chairs and sat. After a moment, he heard footsteps behind him and recognised them.

“So, how did you hear about it, Kahil?”

Jahni came and sat in the chair next to him. “The duty officer called me. He said he thought I’d want to know. I think he called Colonel Rahama too.”

They sat in silence for a moment.

“I looked at the body,” Jahni said. “To see if I recognised him,” he explained, when Madari looked at him.

Madari laughed a soft, but bitter laugh. “Not much chance of that now.”

“No.” He didn’t seem too disturbed at the sight. He’d seen too many similar ones, Madari supposed. “Hell of a shot, sir.”

The ‘sir’ surprised Madari for a moment. Nobody was close enough to overhear them. Then he understood it. Respect, one soldier to another.

“That’s two men you’ve killed that were sent to kill you.” Jahni smiled. “Perhaps they’ll be too scared to send any more.”

“I wish that were true.” Madari sighed. “Probably means they’ll just change tactics to bombing.” He glanced over at their cars. “Are you careful to check your car?”

“Of course,” Jahni said.

“I mean it,” Madari said. “A thorough check, every time.”

“I do.” He shook his head. “They won’t get me that way.” He looked at Madari then reached over and took his hand. “Are you okay? You look pale.”

“Yes. Just… more blood than I’m used to seeing these days. And in my house. I can’t stop thinking about what would have happened if…”

Another honking car horn cut him off and he looked at the gate to see a Mercedes driving in.

“Colonel Rahama,” Jahni said, rising. “I think I should have put on my uniform.” He wore jeans and a long sleeved shirt. Very much out of uniform.

The Mercedes parked and Rahama stepped out of the driver’s seat, surprising Madari. Either he hadn’t wanted to wake his driver, or hadn’t wanted to wait for him. Rahama was not in uniform either. His casual, though snowy white, shalwar kameez, looked like something he’d wear at home, but that his wife would never let him go out, or receive guests wearing.

He spoke briefly to one of the MPs, who pointed towards Madari and Jahni. Rahama mustn’t have seen them sitting there in the darkness, only the lights from the house and the headlights of cars illuminating the compound.

“Faris,” Rahama said, hurrying over. Madari rose to greet him and was surprised to be pulled into an embrace, though a brief one. Rahama didn’t let him go entirely, held Madari’s upper arms, as if wanting to hang onto him, make sure he was still here. “My dear friend. Were you hurt at all?”

“No, I’m fine,” Madari said. “A little shaken perhaps,” he admitted. That sounded strange, he was an experienced and battle-hardened soldier after all. But Rahama seemed to understand and nodded as he let go of Madari.

“Of course. In your own house.” He turned and offered his hand to Jahni. “Mr Jahni. I knew I’d find you here too.”

“Sir?” Jahni said, shaking the Colonel’s hand.

“The duty officer told me he’d called you, so I knew the only question was which of us would arrive first.” He smiled. “I expect you drive rather faster than me.”

“Please, sit, Sharif,” Madari said. They seemed to be informal tonight, talking as friends, not commander and officer. Though Jahni had better stick with calling Rahama ‘Colonel’.

“Thank you, thank you.” Rahama took one of the two garden chairs. Madari should offer him refreshments, he knew that, but he still couldn’t go back into the house. He sat too, Jahni remaining standing, and they were all silent for a moment, listening to the voices from the house, the crackle of personal radios.

“I won’t stand for this,” Rahama said. “Attempts on the lives of my officers. I will not stand for this. First thing tomorrow… today in fact… I will authorise the funding and start upgrades on the security of your house and those of all the officers in your unit. All of the men live in barracks or married quarters, don’t they?” He directed the question at Jahni.

“Yes, Colonel.”

“Even so, we’ll look at what improvements can be made there too. Especially for the married quarters.”

Madari approved of that. Though on the barracks grounds, the married quarters were individual flats in accommodation blocks. Only a fool would try something in the dormitories where the single men lived, but if someone got into one of the flats and had a silenced gun… they could be long gone before anyone discovered the bodies.

On the matter of upgrading the security at his own house though, he had more mixed feelings. He had to be grateful for Rahama’s proposals of course, stemming as they did from his sense of duty towards the officers and men under his command and of course from his friendship with Madari. But the thought of turning his home into a small fortress was not pleasant. This was his home, his haven away from his military life.

“Until the changes are completed, I’ll authorise an armed guard. Or if you prefer, that can be permanent.”

“Oh… no, really, Sharif, I wouldn’t want that. I’d feel… well frankly, less secure.”

Rahama frowned. “I know plenty of people have been assassinated by their own bodyguards, Faris, but I’m sure you can choose loyal men from your unit.”

“It’s not that,” Madari said, he hadn’t even thought of that. “No, what I mean is… well tonight, the sound of the intruder moving around alerted me.”

Rahama looked puzzled, not understanding, but Jahni spoke up.

“If there’s a guard outside you never know if the sound of footsteps is him, or a man who’s already killed him and is coming to kill you.” Madari nodded his agreement. Exactly right. His tendency to wake up at any strange noise had saved his life tonight.

“Oh, I see,” Rahama said. “Yes, excellent point, Mr Jahni. We’ll concentrate on securing the house then. Don’t look like that, Faris, the modifications can be quite discreet, you won’t notice a thing.”

Madari thought of the times he visited the palace for briefings, how heavy some of the doors had suddenly become, thick steel plating installed in them and covered with a thin panel of wood. You wouldn’t notice a thing, until you tried to open them – by force or otherwise. Well, he supposed he could live with it. And it would be less intrusive than a rifle-toting guard outside.

He looked again at the house and sighed.

“Faris,” Jahni said, softly. “Do you want to stay with me for a few days? Until they clear up and install the security.”

Now having Jahni as a guard, that might be different. But Jahni’s flat only had one bed, and Madari had spent a night on the sofa there before and it took days for his back to recover. He glanced at Rahama and answered.

“I think I’ll stay in quarters on the barracks for a few days.”

Jahni looked disappointed, and Madari hope Rahama didn’t see the look.

So he had to go and fetch some of his things, which meant going back in the house. Thankfully the body was covered now, so he didn’t have to look at it. The village constable, Mr Sadrul, saw him as he came in and intercepted him.

“Can we talk a moment?”

“Of course. Do you need a statement from me?”

“Yes, sir. And… well, let’s go somewhere private.”

They went into the kitchen and Madari began to make coffee. Now the adrenaline rush had gone, exhaustion was catching up with him. Sadrul watched him for a while before he spoke.

“I haven’t had to deal with a shooting in a long time. Not since old man Elmi’s wife caught him carrying on with the woman from the laundry. You’d think at his age he’d have lost interest.”

“He certainly lost interest after that.”

“He tells me that since his wife came out of prison they get on better than they ever did before. Thank you, Colonel,” he said as Madari handed him a cup of coffee.

“Was there something else? Besides the statement?”

“Make sure they show you the paper he had in his pocket. It was… I suppose you’d call it his orders, to kill you. As if he was a soldier too.”

“These terrorists think of themselves that way, Constable. Soldier. Jihadis.” He frowned, thinking of when he carried written orders. “Wait a moment… were these orders signed?”

“Yes. The paper read ‘I authorise my soldier to execute the enemy of Islam, the apostate and demon, Madari.’ Sorry, sir.” He winced at the insults he recited. “The signature was simply ‘Saifullah’.”

“Saifullah? Sword of God?”

“Yes, sir. Does it mean anything to you? The MPs are speculating that it’s the name of an organisation, but it sounds more like it means a man.”

“I’d agree with you. I can’t think of any of our known suspects who calls himself Saifullah. Well, perhaps Military Intelligence will be able to find something out.”

“I hope so, sir. It sounds like… well, I’m sure they’re no match for your soldiers, but it sounds like your enemies are no mere rabble.”

“Indeed no. And with that in mind, I think we should come to an agreement. If you ever hear gunshots from my house, please don’t rush up here, even if you bring your own gun. You should call my duty officer and he’ll despatch MPs. I’ll give you the number and brief the office.””

“I have my duty, Colonel,” Sadrul said, rather stiffly. “To protect the residents of this village.”

“I know, but you’re not trained to deal with terrorist assassins. And you’re not paid enough for me to expect you to put yourself in such danger, my friend.”

Sadrul stopped his protests, though he would do whatever he felt he should do, Madari knew. But he’d done what he could to try and keep the man out of danger.

They sat for a while longer, Madari giving his statement of what happened. With the evidence of that note then it was a clear case of self-defence, Sadrul said. As Madari signed his name at the bottom of the statement, he couldn’t help but wonder about the other signed name they’d discussed. ‘Saifullah.’ Sword of God. Just another fanatic with delusions of grandeur? Or an important new enemy?

Only time would tell.


The men kept giving him awestruck looks over the next couple of days, which made Madari uncomfortable but also pleased that he had their respect. Don’t mess with our C.O., or he’ll blow your head off.

He got the same looks when he went to a meeting late in the morning, two days after the attempt, at the Defence Ministry. But he wouldn’t stay around afterwards to be pressed about it, to repeat the story. Frankly, he dreaded the repeat of the story he’d surely eventually get in his dreams at night.

It might not even be at night, he thought as he almost fell asleep in his staff car on the way back from the meeting, having slept badly again, in the officer’s temporary quarters at the barracks. But he caught himself nodding and, looking around, noticed he was near Sophia’s building.

“Sergeant,” he said to Sijad, his driver. “I think I need some fresh air. It’s lunchtime and I’m going to take a walk. Pull over please.”

“Yes, sir.” Sijad signalled and pulled in. “Do you want me to wait for you, sir?”

“No, thank you. Go and get your lunch. I’ll take a taxi back to barracks. I have my phone, please advise the duty officer.”

“Yes, sir.” He gave Madari a slightly worried look, perhaps not liking him roaming around alone when there were people out there trying to kill him. But he followed orders and drove off.

Madari walked in the direction of Sophia’s flat. It was a couple of streets away, he should be able to wake up by then. He reached into his pocket for a moment, to check he really did have his phone, and smiled when his fingers touched something else in there. Ah, of course.

A few minutes later Sophia’s housekeeper opened the door of the flat.

“Oh, hello, sir. How nice to see you.” She smiled. “Have you come to see the master of the house?”

“Is he receiving guests?” Madari asked as he came in, wiping his feet and taking off his cap. “I’ve brought tribute.” He held up the catnip infused toy mouse, which he’d bought a few days ago.

She chuckled. “You’ll find him in his throne room. I’ll bring you some tea.”

Madari went into the living room to find Giotto sprawled on the sofa, in the sunlit room, making himself as long as possible, now he had the whole sofa for his own use. But he sat up and then jumped onto the floor and weaved around Madari’s feet mewing. Madari bent to tickle him behind the ears and Giotto purred loudly.

The cat had been acting far more friendly since Sophia left. Perhaps he liked to see a familiar face, or perhaps it was his naturally mercenary nature, since Madari usually brought him a treat or toy.

When the housekeeper came in a few minutes later she found Madari sitting on the sofa and dangling the new toy mouse for Giotto to bat it with a paw.

“I see the training is going well,” she said, setting the tea tray down on a table.

“I’m not training him,” Madari said, surprised, but saw her smile and understood. “Ah, but his training of me is progressing very well, yes.” He threw the mouse a short distance along the carpet and Giotto at once pounced on it and then took it behind the sofa and stayed there, making strange noises as he enjoyed the effects of the catnip.

“You look tired, sir,” the housekeeper said, handing Madari a cup of tea.

“I didn’t get much sleep last night.” He didn’t explain why. He didn’t want to talk about it here. This felt like a haven. She offered him a plate of small cakes too and he took one gratefully.

“I can make you some lunch if you wish,” she offered.

“Oh, no. I couldn’t trouble you. I just came to see my little friend there.” He nodded back at where Giotto sounded like he was rolling around and mewing madly.

“Well, call me if you need anything. I’ll be in the kitchen.”

She left and Madari relaxed on the sofa with a sigh, enjoying the tea and the cake, enjoying the surroundings, the peaceful domesticity of it.

And he missed Sophia. Being here, surrounded by her things, with the scent of the place, made him realise just how much he missed her. A man could certainly grow accustomed to coming back to such a welcoming cosy home every night.

How different this flat seemed to Jahni’s when he’d been away. It didn’t have that same un-lived in feeling. When he’d gone there to check it, Madari often turned on the radio to relieve the oppression of the silence. But here he heard the distant sound of the housekeeper moving around, working, music from the radio in the kitchen, the cat playing behind the sofa. Were women simply better at turning a dwelling into a home?

What would Sophia do to his home if he took her there as his wife? For a while, he let his mind drift on that path. How much would she change it? He liked his simple, Spartan surroundings, and though this flat was hardly ostentatious, it had a lot more… stuff in each room than in his entire home. Would he want to live somewhere like this rather than just be a visitor?

That was a loaded question, he thought. Not a question simply about his home. A question about adding not more goods to his house, but a wife. And yet…

Why should he not marry her?

He frowned and sat up straight suddenly, then rose and went to pour himself more tea. Rather than sitting again, he started to walk around the room, balancing the cup and saucer carefully. The cat, tired of the catnip, emerged from around the sofa trying to look dignified and jumped onto a seat and curled up.

Why shouldn’t he marry her? Madari thought again. He’d spent weeks now thinking about how he could get out of marrying her, when perhaps he should be thinking about exactly the opposite. She was a fine woman and he cared deeply for her. They had a perfectly satisfactory sexual relationship. She was intelligent and good company. She ran a house with both efficiency and style and was a perfect society hostess. Aside from her being a foreigner, she qualified as the model wife for an officer of the Royal Guard. In fact, he could think of two other officers in the regiment who also had foreign wives. Nobody remarked on that any more. This was the modern world.

Why shouldn’t he marry her? He stopped by a shelf that held several framed photographs. One of them showed him, Sophia and Jahni. Yes, well, there’s why. He loved someone else and she knew that.

So what? Nothing could come of that. If he could make her feel sure of that, certain of his fidelity, even if he couldn’t offer her his heart, then why not marry her? It would work even better than him simply seeing her, when it came to convincing people that rumours about him and Jahni were wrong.

And Jahni… it would be good for him too. He’d been acting strangely lately, this change in their situation alarming him perhaps, confusing him. If he saw Madari married, would he regain the resolve to keep their relationship the way it should be? He’d be safer because of it.

They’d both be safer.

Chapter 3

They’d be safer. She wouldn’t be.

He realised that when he woke at the barracks the next morning and remembered why he’d slept there. Because serious people were trying to kill him. Had broken into his house to kill him in his bed. A bed Sophia would share every night if he was his wife.

And then he felt guilty all day, because he knew he’d been thinking only of his own and Jahni’s interests, even while he’d been thinking about marrying Sophia.

Why shouldn’t he marry her? That wasn’t the question he should be asking. He should be asking why he shouldn’t in fact break up with her.

“The contractors have finished at my place,” Jahni said, as they had lunch later that day.


“There wasn’t much to do. There’s only the one point of entrance. They’ve fitted a reinforced door and installed a burglar alarm with pressure sensitive pads. Other than that, they put locks on all the windows, in case someone, I don’t know, either gets a very long ladder, or rappels down from the roof. Securing your house is going to be a lot harder.”

“I know,” Madari said, with a sigh. “I think I’ll just stay away and let them do their work. I don’t want to see it frankly. And after… well, I’m happy to be away for a few days.”

“Well come and have dinner at mine tonight, at least,” Jahni said. “Check out the stuff they’ve put in.”

Madari smiled at him. “I’d like that.”


The modifications weren’t too intrusive, Madari supposed. The door looked normal, though of course the weight of it gave it away.

“I just hope the place never catches fire,” Jahni said. “The firemen would never get through there. I’d have to climb down a drainpipe to escape!” He laughed. “See that wire there?”

Madari saw it. It ran discreetly up the corner of the wall, then along the join where wall met ceiling. It came from somewhere under the carpet and it eventually went to an alarm panel on the wall in Jahni’s bedroom.

“I know, the panel is ugly. I’m going buy a small cabinet, knock the back off and cover it with that. It’ll be fine.”

The only other thing to look at was the window locks. The frames would need repainting after the work.

“It’s not too bad, I suppose,” Madari conceded, as they went into the kitchen. “I think I’ll go home tomorrow and check the progress at my house.”

“Good idea. Okay, let’s see what we’ve got to eat.” He opened the fridge and started pulling things out. “You’re looking too thin these days. Someone needs to feed you up.”

“Sophia normally does that.”

Jahni stood up and winked at him. “Sophia isn’t here.”

Madari blushed and looked away. That wink… was just a joke, wasn’t it?

They prepared a simple meal and took it to the small dining table in the living room, that stood under the window, with its fine view.

“I’ve been thinking about Sophia actually, the last few days,” Madari said. Jahni didn’t look at him, just went on eating. “I keep thinking about what would have happened if she’d been there with me that night.” He didn’t have to explain which night.

“You’d have protected her,” Jahni said, without hesitation.

“Of course…. but I can’t help but think of the danger to her, being connected to me.”

Jahni looked at him. “Does she stay over at your house often?”

“No, perhaps only once every two weeks. But our… association is no secret. What if she was targeted because of that? Even in her own home, or while out? Or if she was used against me?”

Jahni nodded. “It is a possibility.”

Madari rubbed his eyes. “She’s not supposed to be part of…. part of that aspect of my life. She’s a woman, not a soldier. With her, I can escape that for a few hours.”

Jahni looked down, placing his teacup back on its saucer carefully. “You feel you need to escape the military part of your life?”

Did that hurt him? Madari wondered, trying to read that in his eyes. Jahni was part of the military side of Madari’s life. But he wasn’t restricted to it. He crossed over to the personal side too. An important part of both. The most important part.

“I’m not saying I want to escape from you, Kahil. I need you in every part of my life.”

“Every part?”

“Ah… yes.” Such a look Jahni was giving him, eyes heavy lidded, chin resting on his hand now, elbow resting on the table. “But the thought of my career putting Sophia in danger is unacceptable to me. It’s made me wonder if I should break up with her.”

Jahni caught himself as his elbow slipped off the table and he jerked back in his chair.

“Are you all right?” Madari asked, frowning.

“Ah, yes. Slipped.” He rubbed his elbow. “Are you serious? About breaking up with her?” He sounded amazed. Amazed and… anything else? If he was happy, or otherwise about it, he kept that hidden, showing only surprise so far.

“I’m considering it.”

Jahni continued to stare for a moment, then looked thoughtful, and seemed about to speak, but shook his head. Did Madari want his thoughts on this? Perhaps not, since Jahni could hardly help but have a vested interest here, couldn’t give him impartial advice. He was the one who’d told Madari not to break up with her over that last incident, perhaps not wanting to be the one to cause the break up, risking Madari’s anger and resentment.

They finished eating in silence, both deep in thought. To say it aloud like that, when so far he’d only thought about it, made the idea feel more real to Madari. Made him start picturing his life without Sophia. He wouldn’t say he depended on her, but certainly it would leave a gap in his life that he didn’t know how he would fill. Sex of course. But as he’d said, also a way to escape to a different world, her world. Where could he look for that now? Not from Jahni. He looked around from staring out of the window to see Jahni watching him. No. Not from Jahni. He’d made that clear… hadn’t he? Lately Madari could only wonder if he’d changed his mind.

Well, it didn’t matter if he had. It couldn’t happen. They couldn’t risk their careers. They had too much important work to do. Terrorist activity was growing, here and in the whole region. The country and the monarchy needed their protection. It would be… reckless to risk disgrace and the loss of their careers. It would be selfish to deprive the Army and the country of their training and experience, especially Jahni’s.

He started to gather up the plates and cups and Jahni came out of his trance and helped. They took the things to the kitchen, and Madari ran hot water in the sink.

“You don’t have to…” Jahni began, but then shrugged and picked up a towel to dry as Madari began washing up.

Their talk turned more general for a while, of work and Army gossip, until they were done. Jahni took the dried dishes and cups and reached up to the shelves he kept them on. A small sigh escaped Madari, at the sight of him stretching up. He wanted to run his hand right from Jahni’s hand – he’d be able to reach, he was the taller after all – down his arm, his shoulder, his broad, muscular back.

Jahni turned back to him, a look of concern on his face when he heard the sigh.

“Are you okay?”

“What… yes… just, er, wondering why you keep those on such a high shelf when you use them so often.”

“Keeps me stretching,” Jahni said, “helps keep me from getting stiff.”

“Oh, good, er, keep it up, Captain.”

Jahni chuckled, and gave him a slightly sly look. “Would you like me to take them down again?”

“What? No… no, thank you, that’s fine.” He cleared his throat, thinking he sounded rather hoarse and rearranged the detergent bottle and the scrubbing sponge on the draining board, then gave the taps an extra turn off, to keep them from dripping.


Madari jumped, because Jahni was at his side suddenly. That ability to move like a ghost still startled Madari. He hadn’t heard a footstep, even on the linoleum floor. Jahni put a hand on his back, smiling.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to make you jump.”

“Kahil, I swear, if you’d been the man breaking into my house, I wouldn’t have heard a thing until you were standing over me. And probably only then if you woke me up deliberately.”

Jahni smiled. He was too close, Madari thought. His hand was a little too low on Madari’s back. He should step away now.

“I wouldn’t be sneaking into your house to shoot you,” Jahni said, barely more than a whisper leaning in to speak into Madari’s ear. “And I’d hope that you wouldn’t want to keep me out.”

“Kahil…” Before he could say ‘stop’, Jahni’s lips brushed against his, softly at first, but they would press more firmly in a moment, Madari knew, if he responded, if he allowed it.

He didn’t allow it, couldn’t.

“No,” he said, stepping back, so that Jahni’s hand left his back. “Kahil, we agreed we aren’t going to do this, not even just the kissing. We agreed that in this very room.”

“Because of Sophia,” Jahni said.

He didn’t move closer to Madari, but his voice had a low and husky tone. Damn, the voice, the power it had to soothe and reassure Madari wasn’t its only power. He’s trying to draw me in with the voice. Resist it.

“We agreed because of Sophia,” Jahni went on. “But you said you’re going to break up with her.”

“I said I’m considering it, that’s all.” He frowned. “Are you trying to make that happen now, Kahil? Is that what this… the rest, the flirting is about? That’s not fair on her or me.”

“How is any of this fair on any of us?” Jahni snapped and then looked at the floor. “I’m sorry.”

“What are you afraid of? That I’ll marry her?”

Jahni shrugged, not speaking.

“If I did, do you think it would change anything? About our situation? Married or not, you know we can’t…”

“It would change everything!” Jahni shouted the words, startling Madari into silence. “You can’t pretend that it would simply be an… an arrangement. You care about her.”

“Yes, I do. But…”

“Perhaps this time you’ll at least tell me about the marriage, I think you owe me that much.”

Madari winced, remembering the night Jahni had found out about his ex-wife. Still, he wouldn’t let Jahni’s bitter tone make him feel guilty. It made him angry.

“That was uncalled for, Kahil.”

Jahni folded his arms, the scowl clearing from his face to be replaced with a flat-eyed, closed-off look.

“I think you should leave,” Jahni said, voice no longer husky and warm, but icy. “I’m tired. I’m going to bed now.”

“Of course. I’ll see you at the barracks tomorrow.” Madari turned to leave the kitchen.

“Yes, sir.”

The ‘sir’ this time was no mark of respect, but rather a slap in the face.


“Good morning, sir,” the clerk said, coming into Madari’s office, with coffee, messages and the morning report. “Here early.”

Madari nodded, taking the coffee. He’d spent the night at the barracks again. Well, he’d have to bite the bullet and go home tonight. He heard movement in the outer office and glanced through the door to see Jahni coming in.

“Thank, you, Corporal, dismiss.” Madari began to check through his messages, sorting them into calls to return, action items, filing. He sighed. Paperwork. Well, at least paperwork didn’t get you shot at. A movement at the door caught his eye and made him look up. Jahni stood there, a hand raised to tap on the open door, and a sheepish look on his face. “Come in, Kahil.”

Jahni did. And he left the door open, surprising Madari. He stood in front of the desk, at ease only the technical sense of his stance. His face looked far from at ease.

“I’m sorry about last night.” His voice stayed quite neutral. “My actions were unacceptable. It won’t happen again.”

His formality and stiffness made Madari frown in puzzlement. But perhaps they were as much the message as his words. He was accepting that their lives and careers were too important to risk for momentary pleasures. He was putting duty first.

“Thank you, Captain.” Madari matched the formal tone. “Your apology is accepted, the matter is forgotten.”

Pain crossed Jahni’s face then, though he banished it quickly. Which could only make Madari worry that this might be strong resolve now, but how long would it last? Especially if Madari did break up with Sophia. But he could hardly stay with her on the grounds of keeping himself off-limits to Jahni, not if continuing to see her put her in danger. Better that he and Jahni risked the danger to their careers than Madari risk her life.

“Sir?” The clerk said, hesitating at the door, not wanting to intrude on the officers. “I’m sorry to interrupt. Colonel Rahama’s secretary asks if you could please give the Colonel a few moments of your time, at your earliest convenience.”

Madari rose at once and Jahni nodded to him and turned smartly and headed back to his desk. By the time Madari put on his jacket and left, Jahni was apparently deeply enthralled with the morning report and didn’t look up as Madari passed.


“Ah, Faris, take a seat, please,” Rahama said, when Madari reported. “You’ll have some tea of course?”

“Yes, thank you.” Of course. It would never do for there to be too much blood in his caffeine stream. “What can I do for you, sir?” The formality missing the other night when they spoke at his home came back, here in the Colonel’s office. He expected that Rahama was probably going to ask about the security work on the officers’ homes. But what Rahama said next took him entirely by surprise.

“I’ve received a job offer for you.”

Madari blinked, not understanding. “Sir? Ah, I already have a job.”

Rahama chuckled. “Indeed. And you’re very good at it too. But this is a temporary position.” He smiled at Madari’s confusion. “Let me explain. I had dinner last night with Iqbal Hathat, do you know him?”

“Our ambassador to the United Nations? Yes, I’ve met him a few times at official functions.”

“He’s a good man. Old friend of mine from school days. Anyway, he asked me to offer you command of a six month U.N. mission in Africa, Zaire, actually, carrying out an investigation into allegations of torture by local government forces. You’d be working for the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.” He raised his hand when Madari started to speak. “Hathat asked for you specifically, Faris. Not only because of your command abilities in the field of course, but also he knows you have a personal… um, interest.” His gaze flickered to Madari’s hands, only for a second, but the glance made Madari curl his fingers into his palm.

Madari didn’t know what to say. It was a great compliment to be asked of course. And UN work served an officer’s career well these days. And of course he had a personal interest. Torture… he should have done more against it, campaigned more, given charity to organisations dedicated to stamping it out… and he should never have allowed himself to be guilty of perpetrating it, whatever the motive.

But six months, away from the unit, away from Jahni, six more months away from Sophia… Well, that last one would at least let him put off deciding what he did about their relationship now.

“You can take an officer with you, if you wish,” Rahama said. “But, if you’re thinking of Captain Jahni, well perhaps I can persuade you differently.”

“Sir, I’m not sure if I should be away from the unit for so long.”

“Actually, this could be perfect timing. Mr Jahni needs bringing along more in a command position. With you gone he’ll have the space to develop that. With you here, even if you tell him to take more initiative, he’ll always defer to you first.”

“He’s a very loyal officer.”

“Indeed. Admirably so. But I think he needs to make more independent decisions.”

“Do you think I hold him back?” Madari didn’t like the implication of that. He remembered what Hannibal had said, that Jahni would move on eventually to a command of his own. Would this hasten that? But Jahni’s career was more important to Madari than his own, and he couldn’t stand in the way of that. If he had to stand a long way off to get out of the way, then so be it.

“No, I wouldn’t say you hold him back. But he is very much tied to you, Faris. It’s felt among the senior colonels that it would be hard for him to accept being under the command of anyone but you.” He smiled. “Or, temporarily, me. Of course, he is the specialist in anti-terror work, not me. I only provide, shall we say, a backup.”

Imagining Jahni under the command of any of the other colonels in the regiment made Madari quite sick. The same went for the whole of the unit, but it didn’t sound as if Rahama was about to second any of them to take over the unit, but rather to put Jahni in charge.

“You’ll have Jahni reporting directly to you?”


Rahama was right, the timing was perfect. If Jahni was confused and distracted about their relationship, and risking his career because of that, then they would be best apart. And the extra responsibility would refocus Jahni’s mind on his work, making him remember how important it was.

“Frankly, my dear friend,” Rahama said, his voice more serious now. “I’d be glad to see you out of the country for a while. That attempt on your life shook me, I freely admit. I’d like to see you somewhere safely out of reach of these fanatics.”

“Facing danger is all part of my duty.”

“That doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. Think it over and come and see me when you’ve decided. Talk to Captain Jahni, and tell him to ask to see me if he wants to discuss the details of how things will work if you do go. I’ll make the time for him.” He rose and Madari did too. “Now, I have a meeting to go to. I’ll see you later.”

Madari walked back to his office almost in a daze. Zaire? He’d have to get the atlas out to even see where it was. Yet this could be perfect. Perfect timing. A perfect opportunity to give them both time to come to their senses.

He just got the feeling Jahni might not see it that way.


“Zaire?” Jahni stared across the desk at Madari.

“It’s very flattering to be asked. The Colonel said the Ambassador recommended me specifically. And it’s going to be a great opportunity for you, to develop your command skills. Colonel Rahama wants you reporting to him directly.” He waited for a second, looking into Jahni’s thunderstruck face, then went on. “The extra responsibility will be a chance for you to prove yourself, Kahil. There are still officers in the regiment who look down on you, think you’re not Royal Guard material. They are wrong of course, and this is your chance to show them just how wrong they are.” He hesitated again, and this time Jahni did finally speak again.


Madari waved his hand impatiently. “Should I go for lunch while I wait for your mouth to catch up with what I just said?”

Jahni shook himself. “I’m sorry, but I… I can’t quite believe what I’m hearing.” He glanced up at the open door to the office and rose to close it, looking at Madari for permission. Madari hesitated a second, but then nodded his assent. Jahni closed the door and leaned against it. “You’re talking about being away for six months.”

“Yes. As you were when you did your training with the SAS.”

Jahni winced and spoke quietly. “And every day of that six months, I missed you.”

“Captain…” His voice held a warning.

Jahni looked down, spoke again. “Will you be able to visit home at all?”

“I don’t know. The location sounds quite remote.” He rested his hand on the information Rahama had sent down for him to study. Madari had read it over and then called Jahni into his office. Every word Jahni spoke now only convinced him that accepting this offer was the right choice.

“What about phones? Will we be able to speak?”

“I… don’t know, the phone network is probably quite primitive.” It was why they needed a commander experienced in the field, he knew, not just a manager, who could call in for orders. They needed someone with Madari’s background of acting on his own initiative and authority. For a while he’d wondered if the Ambassador had requested him simply because he was a friend of Rahama’s. The information he’d read had changed his mind on that.

“What about Sophia?” Jahni asked. “What’s she going to think of this?”

“I don’t know.” This was true. Her likely reaction was a mystery to him. Would she see it as an attempt to avoid dealing with their new situation? Or would she understand when he told her this was his duty? Of course he couldn’t fully explain one of the reasons he felt that.

“Kahil, sit down, please.” Jahni looked at him for a moment and then walked over and sat on the sofa at the other side of the room. That hadn’t been what Madari meant and he had to resist the urge to snap out an order for him to get over here right now. But he understood. Jahni wanted them to talk as friends, wanted to hear the real reasons. Because Madari hadn’t given them to him yet, not all of them.

So he rose from the desk and went to sit beside Jahni. He didn’t settle into the seat the way Jahni did, sat close to the edge leaning forward, not looking at Jahni.

“I want to go because of Private Drai. Because I… allowed a man to be tortured, despite my own experience. I can never be forgiven for that. It cost me a good friend. It cost me my honour. I can never be forgiven, but perhaps this mission can help me to atone.”

Jahni didn’t reply, but he rested his hand on Madari’s back. Different from when he’d touched him like that last night. That had been sexual. This was only support, the same support their friendship had been built on. Madari looked back at him and smiled.

“Could I come with you?” Jahni asked, quietly. “Are you able to pick your own team?”

“You could come,” Madari said. “But I don’t think it’s a good idea. You’d miss the opportunities here that my absence will give you and also…”

He moved to sit facing Jahni, perhaps a little close, making him look nervous.

“Also, I want you to imagine us far away from here, out of touch with our own culture and its rules. Far away from the regiment and from the eyes that watch us all day. Far away from Sophia.”

“I… I’m imagining it…”

“And what do you see happening?”

Jahni blushed and looked away. Madari reached out and with a quick movement, brushed his fingers through Jahni’s hair.

“You can’t come with me, because if we’ve been so close to giving in to temptation even here, then I know for sure if we were there together, something would happen.”

“I’m not sure that’s convincing me as an argument for not going.” Jahni turned to look at him, and Madari’s fingers that had run through his hair touched his face now, stroked down his cheek then moved away. Jahni smiled. “Perhaps we could dream for six months?”

It was certainly a temptation. Somehow, out there, it wouldn’t be real, wouldn’t count. A dream, like the one Jahni had offered before. But Madari shook his head.

“We’d come home to a nightmare.”