Part 32 Twist of Fate

Chapter 1

Summer 1996

“I’ll get the door,” Jahni said. “Give me your keys.”

“I’m quite capable of opening my own door,” Madari said, but with only a hint of irritation in his voice, overshadowed by weariness. His face told of that weariness too; gaunt and hollow eyed, as if he hadn’t slept in a week.

Madari stepped past Jahni to unlock the door and they walked into the dark flat. When Jahni turned on a light, Madari winced and raised a hand to shade his eyes, before he shed his uniform jacket. Jahni took that from him and hung it up, then hung his own beside it.

“Sit down,” Jahni said. “I’ll make some tea.”

“Thank you. I am thirsty.”

It had been a long drive back through the desert after the funeral, during which Madari had not spoken more than a few words. He kept his face turned away, but Jahni saw him lift a hand to his eyes several times. Leaving Madari in the living room, Jahni went into the kitchen and prepared tea for them both, being careful not to make it too strong. Madari needed his rest.

Youssef’s illness had come on suddenly – a stroke – but his death came slowly almost a month later. A week in the hospital and then back at the home he shared with his sister, when the doctors gave little hope of his even regaining consciousness. He never did. Never moved voluntarily, never spoke. Just slowly faded away.

Madari spent many of his off duty hours at Youssef’s bedside, sometimes talking, sometimes silent. Jahni joined him in his vigil when he could. Did Madari hope for a last word from his old friend and faithful servant? If so, he never received it.

At the end, Youssef took his last breath with only his sister and her family at his side. Madari gave them the privacy when it was clear the end was close. He and Jahni sat in the living room, quiet and waiting. After a while, Rahama joined them. When they heard the sound of the women wailing Madari simply closed his eyes. With Rahama there Jahni didn’t dare to do any more than take his hand to comfort him.

Rahama saw to it that Youssef received a funeral befitting a soldier of the Royal Guard. As Ahmed would have wanted, he’d said as they walked from the grave, choking on dust blown up from the parched ground by hot wind.

The tea was ready. Jahni took it into the living room to find Madari had turned off the overhead light and lit only a small table lamp. Outside it was almost fully dark now, nearly nine in the evening. He sat in an armchair and Jahni wished he’d sat on a sofa. Then Jahni could have gone to him – held him. Instead he sat alone. Unapproachable.

“We should have funerals at night,” Madari said. Jahni looked up from pouring the tea. “The sun shouldn’t be so bright at a funeral. It’s not right.”

“Yes. At night, like the Vikings.”

“Those were cremations.” He sighed. “Sharif is the only one left now of the people who knew me when I was a child. When he is gone and I am gone it will be as if that time never existed.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Jahni said quickly. “Not for a long time. Neither is Colonel Rahama. He could live until he’s ninety.”

“And he could have a stroke or heart attack tomorrow.”

“And I could get hit by a bus tomorrow,” Jahni said and regretted the words at once, seeing the look of horror flicker across Madari’s face. “I just mean, we can’t change what will happen tomorrow, so why dwell on it?”

“Fate, Kahil? I thought you stopped believing in fate.”

“I don’t mean it’s all planned. Just that we can’t see what will happen, so we can’t plan ways to change it.”

“You’re right.” He put down his tea cup and Jahni refilled it at once. “Thank you.” After he drank that cup he sat back in his seat and sighed again, but more a sigh of tiredness than of despair. His face relaxed, some of the pain leaving it. “Thank you, Kahil. For the tea. For being with me today and the last few weeks.”

“You know I’ll never leave your side while you need me.”

Madari smiled. The first smile Jahni had seen on his face in days. “I know. I know.”

He wished he could make that smile happen more often. He’d been smiling every time Jahni said the word ‘yes’ to him lately, knowing what that ‘yes’ meant. Though he insisted on keeping up the pretence that Jahni might still change his mind about Paris. Yet he must know that Jahni was more likely to leave the Army and become a ballet dancer than start saying no about this. But if that’s how he wanted to play it, he was welcome to, Jahni thought. He didn’t care. Only a month now and they would be in Paris. Late summer in Paris, warm nights and Paradise…

And this wasn’t the time to be thinking about that. He rubbed his eyes, which felt gritty, as if full of sand from today’s long drives.

“You’re on duty at midnight, aren’t you?” Madari said. “You should go home and try to get a couple of hours rest.”

Jahni shook his head. No. He wouldn’t leave Madari’s side until duty compelled him. “I’m fine. I’m only on-call, so I can sleep at the barracks. You’re going to take a few days leave?”

“Yes, the colonel insisted.” He grimaced. “I must have looked bad this afternoon. Colonel Rahama took one look at me and told me to take a week’s leave before returning to duty.”

“Faris, you do look bad. You need to catch up on your sleep. You sat up all those nights with Youssef and helped his family so much. You deserve your rest.”

“Just promise you’ll call me if someone hijacks a plane.”

“No. You can watch it on the news.”

That provoked a small laugh and Jahni smiled to see it. “I’ll make us something to eat in a minute,” he said. “I know, nothing much,” he added, when Madari sat up as if to protest. “As if I could in that huge, space-age kitchen of yours.”

Madari sighed. “You’re right. It’s too big. Too elaborate. This whole place is too big.” He looked around scowling. “Big and empty, and expensive. I’ve had enough of it.”

“I was only kidding,” Jahni said, alarmed at the sudden change of mood.

“No. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I was afraid of getting somewhere too small, but went too far the other way. I’m going to start looking for somewhere new tomorrow.”

Jahni nodded. “I did say to you when you moved in that it seemed a bit too big.”

“I should always listen to you,” Madari said, doing the teasing himself now.

“I am your right-hand man.”


Waking late the morning after Youssef’s funeral, Madari heard the housekeeper at work out in the living areas and grimaced again at having to have someone come in every day to look after the flat. Lying in bed, the ceiling appeared a mile above him and the room seemed to be the size of a soccer pitch. He found his address book and called his property agent from the phone by his bed.

Mr Nafi, the owner of the agency, surprised Madari by calling him back personally, and only a few hours later, right after lunch.

“Hello, Colonel Madari,” Mr Nafi said. “So glad to have caught you at home. I received your message that you’re looking for another property. As it happens, we have something that came onto our books only yesterday that I think will suit. The owner is looking for a quick sale, so the sooner you can take a look at it the better.”

“I’m free now,” Madari said. In his mind he already saw himself packing to move. This felt like perfect timing.

“Then can I call in thirty minutes?”

“I’ll be waiting.”

Mr Nafi arrived in his Mercedes twenty-five minutes later. He didn’t give such personal service to all clients, Madari knew, only those ‘special’ clients. Ones with prestige and money, in other words.

“Colonel, delighted to meet you again,” he said, getting out of the car and removing his sunglasses before shaking Madari’s hand. He glanced up at the apartment building Madari had just emerged from. “Will you be selling on the lease for this property?”

“Yes. I found it a little larger than I require. My own mistake,” he said, raising a hand to reassure Nafi that he hadn’t been at fault when he showed Madari the flat. “I’m quite happy for you to handle the sale.”

“Thank you. I’m sure we’ll sell it on quickly for you and at a nice profit. Shall we go?”

He held open the passenger door for Madari and in a moment they were on their way through the city, chatting politely. A slight sense of unreality came over Madari because everything was moving so fast. He wondered if he might still be in bed and dreaming, though Mr Nafi’s plump and expensively dressed frame beside him seemed undeniable solid.

“The location of the flat is good,” Nafi said. “Closer to your barracks in fact. I’m sorry, I have no pictures or literature to give you. As I said, it only just came onto our books and there’s been no time to prepare the usual sales material.” He smiled. “Perhaps we won’t need to.”

“Perhaps not.” Madari looked around to find they were driving into a part of the city he was very familiar with.

“What street is this flat on?”

“This one,” Nafi said, applying the brakes. “We’re here now.”

Madari stared out of the window at the gate he was so familiar with. It couldn’t be… No, there were other apartment buildings on the street, this might just be the nearest parking space.

But when they got out, Mr Nafi went to the gate and took out a key to unlock it. “The owner has gone out, so you can have some privacy for the viewing,” he said. He stopped when he realised Madari hadn’t followed him inside. “Is something wrong, sir?”

“Oh… no. It’s just… I know someone who lives in this building.”

“Ah, then you may be neighbours.”

“Yes…” Madari said. “Neighbours.” Could that possibly be a good idea? Mr Nafi was looking at him strangely now, so he shook himself from staring up at the building and followed him inside.

“Here we are,” Mr Nafi said, stopping at a door. The door into Sophia’s flat.


Madari saw Sophia’s car drive into the underground car park and got out of his car. He hadn’t actually been waiting here since he’d told Mr Nafi he was sorry, he couldn’t buy this flat. But he had gone home and come back straight away in his own car. After an hour, he felt foolish. He should have just called round this evening. Perhaps there was a perfectly good explanation. Sophia could sell her flat if she wanted to. It wasn’t his business.

But he couldn’t wait until tonight. Because fear gripped him. That she wasn’t just moving. That she was leaving. He approached her car, seeing her and Alex getting out, hearing their voices. He was about to call out, when Alex suddenly stopped chatting to Sophia and spun around, pointing a pistol right at Madari. He heard the click as she cocked it.

“Alex!” he called, stepping closer, into the light, careful to keep his hands clear of his body. “It’s alright. It’s me.” She checked the pistol and he sighed with relief. “Good reflexes, Miss Black.”

“Try to walk less quietly,” she said with a smile. Sophia looked puzzled at her words, but Madari understood. He walked softly as he’d been trained to. And Alex heard the sound of someone being stealthy, as she’d been trained to.

“I promise to clump around like an elephant in future,” he said.

“What are you doing here, Faris?” Sophia asked. She had a tense expression, probably angry with him for lurking in her car park. It was undoubtedly suspicious behaviour. Or was she tense about other things? About what she must now suspect he knew?

“I need to talk to you.” He glanced at Alex. “In private.”

“You can go for the day, Alex,” Sophia said. “Faris will see me upstairs.”

Alex picked up her shoulder bag, made her goodbyes and let herself into a car parked beside Sophia’s. As she drove away Madari turned back to Sophia.

“Why are you selling your flat?” he asked, unable to wait any longer.

Sophia made him wait for the answer though. “Let’s go upstairs,” she said. “I don’t want to discuss this in a car park.”

She made him wait after they got upstairs, too, while she made tea. Madari paced in the living room, chafing at the delay, not even sparing a moment to pet Giotto, as he usually did. The cat was now sitting on a windowsill with an affronted air.

“How did you find out?” Sophia asked, bringing in the tray of tea things and sitting down. “Are you spying on me, Faris?”

“No, of course not. I happened to be looking for a new flat and my agent brought me here to view this one.” He sat, but perched on the edge of the seat, unable to relax. “He said you want a quick sale. Why? Are you… are you leaving?”

She paused in the act of pouring the tea, said, “Yes,” and continued pouring.

“Why?” The word came out harsh, like a demand and she gave him a look that spoke volumes about his right to demand answers from her that way. “I’m sorry. Please, will you tell me why?”

She handed him a cup and he took it mechanically, not looking at it. She could hand him a cup of poison at this moment and he’d drink it without noticing anything strange.

“I have to leave Qumar,” she said, voice shaking a little. “I can’t afford to live here anymore.”

“Can’t afford… but you told me your husband’s will left you well provided for.”

“It did. I placed the money in the hands of my accountant here and… it’s gone.”

“He stole it?” Madari jumped to his feet, only barely avoiding spilling his tea. He slammed the cup down on the table.

“No!” Sophia protested. “No, he didn’t steal it! He lost it. He invested it and he lost it. Mine and many of his other clients. Please sit down.”

“Has he been arrested?”

“No, of course not. I told you, he didn’t steal it. But he’s gone. He’s disappeared. He hasn’t taken the money, he just lost it.”

“We’ll see about that.” Madari took out his mobile phone.

“Who are you calling?”

“A friend at the police department. They’ll find the man. They’ll get your money back.”

“The police are already looking for him. And the money is gone. He doesn’t have it. It’s gone!” Her voice rose on the last word and cracked and he looked down to see tears in her eyes. Ashamed of his futile anger he closed the phone and sat down.

“My dear, I’m so sorry. What can I do to help?”

“There’s nothing you can do. Unless you’re going to make me a good offer for this flat.” She rubbed her eyes and smiled a brave smile. “If I sell the flat and most of the furniture, perhaps some jewellery, I may be able to stay here for another couple of years. But after that… I can’t work here, you know that -”

“I could see to it that you’re awarded a work permit quickly,” he said. Her expression stopped him. “I just want to help, Sophia.”

“Some things you can’t fix, Faris. I think that it may be better to go home to Italy now rather than to spend the last of my money on living expenses.”

“But -”

“It could be that this is the right time to go. There’s a lot of anti-foreign sentiment in the city these days.”

That felt like a slap in the face. Even if his unit wasn’t directly responsible for dealing with that, still he couldn’t help but feel he’d failed her. She didn’t feel safe here.

“That’s only a small core of troublemakers.”

“They vandalised the graves in the Jewish and Christian cemeteries,” she said, referring to an incident that had happened a few weeks ago. “That’s not just troublemaking, that’s hatred.”

“And even the damn Sunrise condemned that. It outraged the whole city. Look, I know there have been some incidents on the streets, but you have Alex.”

“Faris, even if I could work here, I wouldn’t be able to afford Alex.”

That stopped him cold. He’d grown used to the idea that she was protected.

“I will pay her,” he said.

“I can’t let you do that.”

“It’s because of me that you need her. I insist. Sophia, you don’t have to leave. I can help.”


“I will buy the flat and you can continue to live here.”

He saw her stiffen. “And my bills?”

“Whatever you need. Please, I don’t want to see you selling your jewellery.” The thought was horrible. He could never stand by and see it happen.

“No!” she snapped. “I am not your kept woman.”

Her vehemence too him aback. But it shouldn’t have surprised him – she’d never allowed him to pay her bills when they were a couple. She allowed him to pay for meals, and buy her gifts, but nothing else.

“Sophia, I’m not asking for anything in return if that’s what you think.”

“Then I’d be a charity case?” Her tone was frosty. “Like little Kibibi?”

“No! That’s not what I mean!”

“I know what you mean, Faris.” She sighed and her voice softened. “I’m sorry. I know you want to help. But you know I can’t allow what you’re suggesting. And it would cause a scandal, you know that.”

“Could your brothers help you?”

“Support me, you mean?” She shrugged. “Probably. But I don’t want to depend on their charity either. They should be spending their money on their children, not on me.”

“Sophia, I don’t want you to go.” He whispered the words, realising why he was so full of unacceptable solutions to her problem. Because it was his problem too. He couldn’t lose her.

“I don’t want to go,” she said, her voice quivering. When he looked up he saw tears start from her eyes. “Of course I don’t want to go. This is my home.”

“Oh, Sophia.” He rose and went to her. She stood and let him take her into his arms.

“My life is here. My work at the charity. My friends. Like you.” She buried her head against his chest and though made no sounds he felt the sobs shaking her body.

He couldn’t lose another friend. He buried one friend yesterday, he wouldn’t say goodbye to another today. He had to do something for her. He had to.

“Sophia,” he said, making her look up, her eyes still bright with tears. “I could buy your flat, and you could continue to live here, with me supporting you, me paying for Alex –”

“I already said no.”

“Let me finish, please. I could do all of that and nobody could say it was wrong – if you were my wife.”

Chapter 2

“Your wife?” She stared up at him. “You… you’re asking me to marry you?”

For an instant, he wavered. A small voice started trying to get his attention somewhere in his mind, saying to wait, to think this through. That it would change everything, and not only for him and Sophia. But he’d said it now. She heard him, understood him. And it was the only solution. He couldn’t lose her.

“Yes, I am. Will you be my wife?”

She stepped away, out of his arms. “Faris, I appreciate you offering, but we both know I can’t accept. We both know why.”

“We both know that nothing can come of that.”

Paris… But they could still have Paris. And then… then all of that would be over.

“That’s not the point. You love him, not me.”

“I do love you, Sophia.”

“As your friend.”

“No, there is more. When we were together, there was more than friendship there, wasn’t there? I don’t go to bed with my friends.”

“But you would expect to go to bed with your wife.”

“I would… leave it entirely up to you to decide when and if that happens.”

“I broke up with you because I couldn’t sleep with a man I couldn’t trust. Has that changed?”

“It… it is about to.” He couldn’t tell her about Paris. She’d probably book her flight to Italy that very day. “Kahil and I have reached an agreement to resolve that problem.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What does that mean? What are you doing?”

“I can’t explain.”

“So, I can’t trust you.”

“You can! If we are married I will swear to be a faithful husband.”

He had to swear that. She’d had one faithless husband, she didn’t deserve to go through that again. And it would be worse in this case. He couldn’t risk what would happen to her if he was involved in a scandal with Jahni. It wouldn’t only be his own position and life he’d ruin if he and Kahil weakened.

Could this be fate? The timing seemed so propitious. He and Kahil would go to Paris and have that time together and create a memory to last them all their lives. And then come home and start a new chapter. All of that tension over. Normality returned.

“Faris, I can’t allow you to marry me out of charity.”

“It’s not charity! I’ve thought of it many times.”

“And when it became possible you ran away to Africa for six months.”

“You ran away to Italy first,” he said.

She almost smiled then, and nodded. “That is true. But can’t you see that means neither of us really wants this? We talked about it when you came home, remember? A lover is a different thing from a wife. You’d expect things. You’d expect me to be different and I don’t know that I want to be.”

“I don’t expect you to be different. You can continue your life just as before, with complete freedom. You’re not an Arab woman. I know you have different expectations and I would honour that. Sophia…” he touched her face gently. “I love you because you are different. I love you because you had the pride to break it off with me even though I think you still care for me.”

“Of course I still care for you,” she said. “But I care about Kahil too, and this would hurt him.”

“He’ll understand. After I’ve talked to him, he’ll understand.”

“Assuming he doesn’t pull out his gun and shoot you first.”

It was a joke, but he shook his head seriously. Jahni would be angry at first, but Madari would make him understand. Paris to end their old lives and begin new ones. He’d surely see, as Madari did, the hand of fate in the timing of it. Fate brought them together all those years ago and set them on a path that would lead to Paris. Now it would set them on a new path after Paris. Jahni would understand.

“Please, Sophia. I don’t want to lose you.”

“Is that a good enough reason for marriage?”

“I love you. That is a good reason. You need my support and protection. That is a good reason.”

“I don’t need your support, I can go home and support myself.”

“Would you lose everything you have here on a point of honour? Would you find it dishonourable to be my wife?”

“If the marriage was a sham, then yes.”

“It won’t be, I swear. I’ll make my promises and I will keep them. I will be a faithful husband. And I’ll be patient, until you are ready to trust me again.”

“Allow you into my bed you mean?” She sighed and looked around. The room had started to darken now as dusk fell. Was she picturing what it would be like to have him living there? He looked around too, picturing the same thing, this flat as his home, not just a place to visit. If it hadn’t been Sophia’s, or he hadn’t known her, then he could have had the keys in his hands right now. He would certainly have told Mr Nafi it suited him.

“I have to admit, I am tempted,” she said. “But I think I’m tempted for selfish reasons. And if I choose to accept I know who will be hurt and he doesn’t deserve that.” She placed both hands on Madari’s chest, looking up into his face. “You have to talk to him first. And I have to think about this.”

“You want me to ask for Kahil’s blessing? Um, are you sure I can’t slay a dragon or find the Holy Grail for you instead?” The joke covered a sudden feeling of hysteria. She wanted him to get Kahil’s assent to this? Would she want written proof?

“No. I don’t think you could get that. But you must talk to him first, before you decide. If you don’t then I won’t accept, because I couldn’t marry a coward.”

He drew himself to his full height, stepping back from her. “He will understand.”

“I don’t want to marry a liar either.”

Madari sighed and rubbed his forehead. “All right. I admit that he will be… unhappy. But what are you saying? That if he asks me not to do it, that I shouldn’t?”

“I just want you to be sure! I want you to see his face and see how much you’re hurting him and decide if you’re prepared to pay that price to keep me from leaving. And I need time to think about whether I’m prepared to do the same thing to him.”

“He won’t blame you. This is my idea.”

“I hope that you’re right.” She touched his arm and smiled gently. “But blame me if you must. I would rather he hated me than hated you.”

“I’ll go over there now.”

She nodded her approval of that. “Good. Do it at once.”

He moved towards the door and then stopped suddenly. “No.” He turned back. “No. I need an answer from you first. I won’t… go through this and then come back to find you’re going to say no after all. And I don’t believe that makes me a coward. I just don’t want to give him unnecessary pain.”

She nodded. “Yes, I see. You’re right of course.” She bit her lip and looked at him, rather more pained than he thought a woman who’d just received a marriage proposal should look. “Then I accept. Yes. I will marry you. But only if you still want it after you talk to Kahil.”

“You’re giving me permission to back out? You know I couldn’t do that now I’ve asked you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Faris. I won’t force you to go through with it if you change your mind. Like you said, I have different expectations.”

The western way of course. A man could pull out even on the day of the wedding. Still that seemed dishonourable to Madari. A man should keep his word.

And he’d given his word that he’d go and talk to Kahil. Before he left the flat he kissed Sophia’s right hand, then he strode out of the door. A knight riding out to a dangerous quest.

Slaying a dragon would definitely be easier.


Jahni answered the door to Madari, and frowned at once. “What’s wrong?”

“Wrong?” Madari’s expression changed from distracted and worried to guilty. “Well, nothing’s wrong exactly. But we have to talk.”

“Come in,” Jahni said, stepping back from the door. “Do you want some tea or coffee or -”

“Nothing, thank you. Can we talk? Nobody else is here?”

“No. We’re alone.” He smiled, and only just resisted the urge to step closer and kiss Madari. He’d done that once or twice since they agreed about Paris. Just a stolen kiss before he could protest and the word “yes” whispered into his ear. Only a few weeks now. And then… Paris.

He’d started packing a bag already. A few items. A photograph album. Personal papers. Sentimental bits and pieces. Not things he would usually take away for a business trip or holiday. But just in case.

He shook himself. He had no plan as such. Nothing he could call an actual plan. But the words ‘just in case we don’t come back’ were always in the back of his mind. He led Madari into the living room and gestured to him to sit.

“You’re feeling better these days, aren’t you, Kahil?”

The question took Jahni by surprise, but made him smile. “I feel more relaxed, yes. I felt like… like I got pretty close to the edge there for a while. But once we agreed about Paris…”

“Yes, Paris. You can still change your mind any time.”

“I know. You keep reminding me. But you know my answer will still be yes.” He didn’t want to even talk about the possibility he might change his mind. It was possible of course, like being struck by a meteorite was possible. Or finding out you had a long lost identical twin was possible. “That’s not what you came to talk about though. There’s something on your mind.”

“Yes. Perhaps I will have some tea after all.” Then a frown crossed his face. “Or no. Best not.” He glanced down at his clothes as he said it, at his cream-coloured linen shirt. It had a slit at the neck that left an intriguing glimpse of the hollow between his collar bones.

“Worried you’ll spill it on your good shirt?” Jahni said, teasing.

“Ah, yes, spill it. Um, I’ve come to talk about Sophia. Something bad has happened.” He laced his fingers together, hands tense, sitting forward in his chair, but not looking at Jahni.

“Is she all right?” Jahni said, alarmed at the news. “If anyone has hurt her –”

“No, she’s fine. It’s the money she inherited from her husband. It’s gone. Her accountant invested it and lost it.”

Relief that she wasn’t physically harmed gave way to anger. “Did he embezzle it?”

“She says not. But the man has run away. He lost the money of several clients. But, anyway, that’s not important. Her money is gone. She can’t afford to live here in Qumar any more. Even selling her flat would only give her money to live here for a couple of years and then she’d have to leave.”

Hard to know how to react to that. In some ways, he’d be sorry to see her go. But in others the relief would be overwhelming. Madari still cared for her, and from the way she looked at Madari, Jahni suspected she still had feelings for him. But distance would change things.

“So, what is she going to do? Leave now or later?”

“That’s what I have to tell you about. I wanted to help her, find a way for her to stay.”

“Oh, of course.” Well, he should have known Madari would try to do that. But what could he do? Sophia had never allowed him to support her. She wouldn’t start now, not even in these circumstances. So he’d try, but Jahni couldn’t think of any way he could fix this.

“I’ve asked her to marry me.”

Jahni was on his feet. He didn’t remember standing up.

“What did you say?”

Madari rose. “I’ve asked her to -”

“Stop. No. I heard what you said. I just… what?”

“Kahil, I know it’s a shock.”

“A shock?” No, a larger than expected credit card bill was a shock. Having your car stolen was a shock. This? This was the end of time. “Are you insane?”

“It’s the only way she can stay here.”

“Then let her go! Did it even occur to you to do nothing?”

From the puzzled look on his face, it apparently hadn’t. Of course not. He solved problems, he didn’t give up in the face of them. Something Jahni would admire, at any other time.

“I had to do something. She wants to stay and I want her to stay.”

“Has she accepted?” He had one hope left, that Sophia had laughed Madari from the room. But if she was desperate enough to stay, would she overlook the reason she and Madari had broken up in the first place?

“Yes, she has.”

Hope shattered.

“How could you do this?” Jahni said, no longer shouting, his voice just above a whisper now. “How could you do this to me? You promised me… Paris.”

“We can still have Paris.”

“Are you fucking kidding?”

Madari took a step back at the yell and the profanity. “That will be before the wedding. We can -”

“You self-serving bastard!” The look of horror on Madari’s face almost gave Jahni pause. But he couldn’t stop now. “You think you can bed me and then marry her? You want to… to use both of us! You want everything.”

“I only want to help both of you.”

“Really?” Jahni sneered the word. “You want to sleep with both of us out of pity?”

“This doesn’t change what I feel about you. Sophia understands that.”

“Wives have different ambitions than mistresses.”

“She won’t try to change me, if that’s what you mean.”

“She doesn’t need to. You’ve already changed. You’re not the man I…” His voice choked off. He couldn’t say the rest. But perhaps Madari understood what he meant.

“I was barely a man when we met.” His voice rose. “Is that what you want me to be, Kahil? Weak? A shell of a man? Is that what you loved? My illness and pain?”

“No, of course not.”

“I have changed. I’m better than I was, and I have you to thank for that.”

“And does this new you feel the same for me?” Jahni asked. “Or were you taking me to Paris just to fix me?” A thought occurred to suddenly. “This is your way of getting out of it, isn’t it? You’ve lost your nerve and you’re too much of a coward to say so.”

Madari went pale at the words. “Do not call me a coward.”

“Then be brave enough to admit you’ve changed your mind.”

“I haven’t changed my mind! Aren’t you listening to me? I just told you I want to go to Paris and do what we planned.”

“How can you possibly believe I would agree to that now?”

“Kahil… don’t you see, this is fateful. The circumstances have arranged themselves. We will go to Paris and… and bring that part of our relationship to an end, then start a new life. My marriage…”

“An end?” That’s how he saw it? An end? Jahni thought of the sentimental items in his bag. The few things he couldn’t bear to leave behind from his old life if he were to start a new one. And now to hear Madari call what they had planned to do as an ‘end’. The distance between them became a gulf – one he didn’t think he’d ever be able to cross.

“Kahil, we are going to Paris, whatever happens, so –”

“And you realise that if we were caught, Sophia’s life would be destroyed, too? You claim to be doing this for her and yet you’d risk making things even worse for her?”

“To help you, I’d risk even that.”

“You can take Sophia to Paris instead.”

“Don’t be absurd.”

“Why not get married right away and treat Paris as your honeymoon?” He almost spat the word Paris. He hated the city. He’d never been there and now he hated it. Someone should drop an atom bomb on it.

“Kahil, please, try to understand.”

“I do not understand. I never will! I don’t even know you any more. Just get out and leave me alone!”

“We’ll talk later when you’ve calmed down.”

“Just go! Go back to your betrothed!”

Madari flinched at the word, but didn’t answer. He turned and left the flat. The last thing Jahni heard was the door closing before the darkness closed over his head.

Chapter 3

Madari did go back to Sophia’s, full of a new determination. They should marry as soon as possible after the Paris conference. For Jahni’s sake. From his reaction, Madari saw now that Jahni was placing too much importance on the potential for a physical side to their relationship. He had to put a limit on Jahni’s expectations, so he could start learning to accept reality. Once the arrangements were in hand for Madari’s marriage then Jahni would stop wasting his time making impossible plans. It would help him see sense and bring his emotions under control.

And even beyond Paris and beyond the wedding, the marriage would put some suitable distance between them. Jahni had become too dependent on him. The long years during which Madari himself had been too dependent on Jahni meant he knew how damaging that could be.

Those days were over. Yes, he had changed. He no longer relied on Jahni. He still loved him, of course, but he didn’t need Jahni as much. He wanted him, but didn’t need him.

Was he as strong as he had been before he was tortured? Was he once again the man he’d been back then? Madari had once wondered if Jahni would have fallen in love with that man if he’d met him. Would he? Or did he prefer the needy and damaged Madari he’d met ten years ago? Did he truly still love Madari now, or was it no more than habit and unsatisfied curiosity?

Dr Fauzi had warned Madari long ago that recovery meant change. That the man he became would be different from the one who’d started that journey. Only now did Madari fully understand that warning.

When he arrived at Sophia’s home again he knew a small part of himself was hoping she would have changed her mind, allowing him to withdraw with his honour intact. But that was only the natural cold feet of a man who’d proposed marriage. And his heart swelled with delight when she answered the door to him, smiling.

“Did you talk to Kahil? How… how did it go?” Her expression became worried, as if she feared Jahni could have talked him into changing his mind.

“Not well,” he admitted, walking into the living room. “But I expected that. He was upset, but I think he will see that this is the right course, eventually.”

“I hope so. I don’t want you two to lose your friendship because of me.”

“That won’t happen,” he said. It was inconceivable. Jahni would be angry for a while, but he’d see sense. “My dear, I think we should go ahead and start organising this as soon as possible. There’s no reason to wait.”

“Oh, well, yes. I’m happy to.”

They sat on the sofa together and he carefully reached out to take her hand. No more than that yet. It was entirely her choice when they resumed a physical relationship. Though that shouldn’t be before Paris. Definitely not.

“I think we should have a small wedding,” he said. “Family and a few friends.”

“I thought the same,” she said, to his relief. “We’ve both been married before. We don’t need a big fuss.”

“No indeed.”

“I’m not going to convert to Islam,” she blurted out and Madari smiled at the determined set of her jaw.

“I never even thought to ask you to. And whatever people are saying about me, I have no intention of becoming a Roman Catholic. I think it’s best if we just leave aside any religious aspects for the wedding. We’ll register it at the office at the town hall, there’s a small legal ceremony, then have a celebration. Here perhaps. Unless you prefer something else?”

“No, that sounds good. I’m sure my brothers will come.” She grimaced. “They might be ‘funny’ about it at first. Don’t let them get away with anything like that when they are here.”

“Sophia, I don’t wish to start our marriage by having a row with your brothers. I’m sure they are fine men.”

“Yes, I love them both, the big fools,” she said, with a smile, glancing over at family photographs on the wall. “Though Antonio has become so serious and pompous since he became head of the family.” She sighed.

“Then why are you worrying? It sounds as if we have much in common, I’m sure we’ll get along. What about Rafael?”

“As long as you give him a glass of brandy, a good cigar and talk to him about falcons and horses, he’ll be your friend for life. ”

“Ah, so again, much in common. Except the brandy.”

She chuckled at that. “He can be quite protective though. He was a student at the time I left my husband. When he heard about it, he hitchhiked from Milan to Rome, found my husband in a bar, punched him in the face, then turned around and hitchhiked back to Milan.”

“I like him already.”

“I hope so. Personally, I still don’t know why he didn’t just take a train. All right, do you have a date in mind?”

“Well, I am away for a week next month,” he said, forcing a casual tone into his voice. “I have to go to Paris for a conference.”

“Paris, how nice!”

“And a good place to buy you a wedding gift. Perhaps a week or two after my return from that?”

“Let me get my diary.” Sophia went to fetch it from beside the telephone and began to turn the pages. Just a glance showed Madari that they were not as full as they used to be. “When are you in Paris?” He told her and she turned pages beyond that, both of them looking at the dates, deciding on the most suitable. Sophia laughed suddenly, startling him.

“Is something wrong?”

“No… no. It just seems so unreal. I’m scheduling my wedding to you. Only a few hours ago, I was trying to decide when to leave the country.”

“It is moving very fast. If you have doubts.”

“If either of us has doubts, we can call it off. Either of us.”

He smiled at her, but knew he could never do it. He was a man of his word. A man of honour. He’d given his word to Jahni too and he’d keep it.

Jahni would get Paris.


“Captain,” Jahni said to Raian. “How would you like to go to Paris?”

“Sir?” Raian stared across the table where they were sharing a morning coffee in the officer’s mess.

“To the conference next month. Would you like to go with the colonel?”

“I thought you were going.”

Jahni shook his head. “I’ve been looking at the plans for the training exercise that week and I want to supervise it personally.”

“Yes, sir. What are my duties?”

“Attend seminars and produce reports. Act as aide to the colonel and do whatever he requires from you.” Jahni almost laughed at that. Madari would not expect the same thing from Raian that he’d expected from Jahni. He finished his coffee and rose. “I’ll send the colonel a memo about the change of plan. Make the most of it, Captain.”

“I will, sir. Thank you for the opportunity.”

Jahni went back to his office. An hour later, Madari strode in – without knocking – holding the memo Jahni had just sent him. He slammed the door behind him.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“I think as training officer it’s my duty to supervise major training exercises.”


“We have some training that week at the airport. On an A321-100,” he said, glancing at his notes about the training. “I’ve never trained on one of those.”

“I see,” Madari said. He stood silent for a moment, looking at Jahni, his jaw working, before he spoke again. “I’m disappointed in you, Kahil. This is… childish.”

“Raian will make the most of the opportunity. I’d suggest you don’t ask him to do what you wanted me to do.”

“Dammit!” Madari slammed his hand on the desk, his anger startling Jahni. He showed no reaction though, determined to be cool. Madari straightened to his full height and his tone had icicles in it. “I could order you to come to Paris.”

“Yes, you could. You could order me to go to Paris. You could order me to attend the conference. But you can’t order me to your bed.”

Madari glanced back nervously at the door, but Jahni had kept his voice low. He turned back. “Kahil, I am trying to help you.”

“Then call off your wedding.”

“Don’t you see, that’s is part of it. Once I’m married we can have a new start. The old… us, the way things are… that will be over.”

“It’s already over,” he said, looking away. “Sir.”

He heard a gasp at the word ‘sir’, but didn’t look up, just pulled a folder towards him, pretended to read an equipment report, while he waited for Madari to speak again. To plead. To apologise. Admit he was wrong. Call off the wedding. Beg Jahni’s forgiveness.

Madari wrenched open the door, strode out and slammed it behind him.


Madari took Sophia to Paris. Why not? Jahni wasn’t coming. All his plans, come to nothing. They could have ended all those years of tension. Moved on. Moved forward. But if Jahni wanted to go on being miserable, Madari couldn’t stop him. If he wanted a psychiatrist to help him, rather than Madari, that was his choice.

On the plane, with Sophia beside him, and Alex and Raian in the seats behind, he could only wonder at the unreal world he’d been living in for a month now. Wedding plans. Jahni barely speaking to him. A fortnight after they returned from this trip he and Sophia would be man and wife. Six weeks and his life had changed utterly. That was good. He wanted it to change. It had to change, because he had changed. He was ready to step into all the roles in life that strong men occupy. Husband could be one such role.

For the best in the end, he thought, as the plane landed in Paris and Sophia smiled at him. Far better to be in the most romantic city in the world with Sophia than Jahni. Far more natural.

He’d wondered in the past if his unnatural attraction to Jahni – and sometimes to other men – was part of his illness, the result of the destruction of his psyche the PTSD had wrought. But he couldn’t claim never to have felt attracted to another man before he was tortured. So the feelings were part of him, he had to acknowledge that. His illness had made it harder to control them, but now he could and he must control them. His future, his promotion to command the regiment, Sophia’s future, all rested on that control.

What he’d planned to do in Paris with Jahni, it was an insane idea. As if his illness had made a last, desperate grab at his soul on the very eve of defeat. It would have destroyed him. He saw that now.

“I hope you’ll be able to find plenty to do during the day while I’m busy,” Madari said to Sophia as he collected their hand luggage from the overhead. Raian tried to carry Alex’s bag for her, but she wasn’t having any of that.

“Faris,” Sophia said, rolling her eyes. “Between the galleries, the shops and the restaurants, I’m going to be busier than you!”


Sophia did indeed keep herself busy, usually arriving back at the hotel well after Madari and Raian returned from the day’s conference sessions. He missed her, but it gave him time to write some reports and talk with Raian about what they’d both learned that day. When Sophia and Alex got back, he usually dismissed the captain for the night, to amuse himself as he liked.

Though the four of them dined together a couple of nights, the rest of the time the two young people left Madari and Sophia to dine alone. It amused them both to see the youngsters discreetly vanishing for the night to leave the older ones alone.

One such night came before the conference’s final day. Madari and Sophia dined in a small, intimate restaurant and then strolled arm in arm – a novelty he could get used to.

“I’m glad I came, Faris,” she said after they’d walked in comfortable silence for a while. “I wasn’t sure at first. I wouldn’t have if… well, if Kahil had still been coming with you.”

“Yes, that would have been awkward,” he said with severe understatement. She couldn’t begin to imagine how awkward.

“You two haven’t been speaking.”

“He’s still upset.” He couldn’t explain fully. Not only the wedding, but Paris. “It’s been a shock to him. But he will come around.”

“What if he won’t come to the wedding?”

“Of course he’ll come. He may be sulking, but if he and I have learned anything these last few years, it’s about the importance of appearances. My best friend not attending my wedding would cause considerable gossip and speculation. It would also be bad for the morale of the unit, if they think the commander and the second are feuding. He’s aware of all those factors. He will be there.”

She said nothing for a moment and he looked at her to see her studying him. “Are you marrying me to keep up appearances?”

“No, of course not.” Did she believe him? Perhaps not. “Sophia, please believe that as much as circumstances have made it… expedient for us to marry, that I want you as my wife. That I care for you. I love you. I will be proud to have you at my side.”

“And part of you will always belong to him.”

There was so sense in denying it. “Life is complicated, my dear.”

“Indeed. Indeed.” They stopped, looking down over the rail at the river, then she turned to face him and he took her in his arms.

“I may not have the dreams of a young girl anymore,” she said. “And I know you are a man with… baggage. But I don’t want our marriage to be a sham. I don’t want you to do this only as a way to keep me in the country and to secure a suitable companion for a colonel. I want to be your wife.”

Was she saying what he thought she was? That they would not have to start their married life in separate bedrooms? Her face was turned up to his, her eyes half closed. The invitation was clear. He bent his head to kiss her. It was a deliciously strange moment; kissing her in the street in full view of passersby. But this was Paris. This was more than permitted, it was almost compulsory.

And he couldn’t have kissed Jahni in the street like this, not even here. They’d have hidden behind closed doors, just as they had at home. He’d been a fool to imagine real freedom existed anywhere for them.

When the kiss broke he answered her. “I want to be your husband. With all that entails. Your faithful husband,” he added. He wanted the restriction of those marriage vows. They would put him on his honour in a way he hadn’t been when he was her lover.

He raised a hand to her face, to stroke her cheek. The movement made his shirt sleeve fall back, revealing the wristband of amber beads. He’d put it on without thinking, as he did almost any time he was out of uniform. Sophia moved closer, nestled her head against his chest and he enfolded her in his arms. Behind her back he slipped off the wristband and put it in his pocket.

Chapter 4

As he drove to the airport for the third time in as many days, Jahni had to wonder how he became the taxi service for a wedding he didn’t want to happen.

Yesterday he’d picked up Karen Bennett and then later on, Clive Drummond. The day before that, he’d somehow been volunteered to collect Sophia’s brothers. They’d treated him as if he were just a driver Madari had sent. What could he say? Actually, I’m the man your future brother-in-law is in love with. Or claimed to be, before he ripped my heart to shreds. Perhaps he should have and watched them swoop in and taken Sophia home to Italy, to save her from this man who was surely using her.

Today might be the hardest pickup of all. The A-Team. Because he felt sure that one of them was going to ask him some questions he couldn’t answer.

He parked his car and knew he’d have to get a taxi too. Not only the four team members were coming, but also Dr Sullivan and their friend Amy Allen. He’d never met her, but had read her book about the team. She was coming as Face’s ‘date’ apparently. Jahni would have speculated more about that, if he’d had the heart to or the room in his mind to think about anything but how he would get through the coming nightmare. Frankie Santana was away on a film location apparently, somewhere in South America, and couldn’t come.

They came out of arrivals, looking larger than life as ever and Jahni found some comfort in the embraces he received from them. Hannibal and Face were full of enthusiastic talk and jokes about the wedding. BA was his usual taciturn self. And Murdock… looked worried. Jahni avoided catching his eye, instead concentrating on saying hello to Maggie Sullivan and then being introduced to Amy Allen.

“I enjoyed your book,” he said politely. “Maybe you can sign it for me before you go.”

“I’d love to,” she said. “Maybe I could get an interview with you.”

“Amy, this is a wedding, not a news story,” Face chided.

If he lost control tomorrow, the results would be headline news, Jahni thought, but smiled modestly at Amy. “I’m not allowed to give interviews to the press, I’m afraid. Security policy.” He didn’t even know if it applied to foreign journalists, but he couldn’t let a reporter probe him right now anyway. He had a horrible feeling he’d blurt out all his secrets and pain.


Between the A-Team, Drummond and Karen, a drink to say hello at the hotel bar quickly turned into a party.

“You don’t have a bachelor party?” Face asked Jahni, after a couple of hours of this. “Surely your duty tonight should be to get Faris handcuffed naked to a lamppost.”

“Face!” Amy protested, perhaps seeing the look of horror on Jahni’s face.

“What? Hey, Kahil here hung out with the SAS for six months. If you think he doesn’t know anything about those kind of shenanigans…”

“What do you know about the SAS anyway?” Amy asked.

“Met a few of them,” Face said. “Crazy bastards that they are. No offence, kid.”

“Face,” Amy said with mock severity. “You’re drunk already.”

“I am not!” he protested. “Kahil, am I drunk?”

“Hmm? I don’t know. Sorry, no. We don’t have a bachelor party.”

“Beer and strippers aren’t likely to go down well around here,” Amy said.

“Beer and strippers go down well everywhere,” Face said. He smirked. “Especially the strippers.”

“Right, that’s it” Amy said. “You are drunk. Maybe it’s time you went back to your room. See you tomorrow, Kahil.”

She steered the only mildly protesting Face out of the bar and Jahni watched them go, wondering if his room was their room. Once they were gone, he glanced around the bar. Hannibal, Drummond and Karen were in the middle of some kind of drinking challenge involving shots. BA watched them an air of disapproval. Sophia’s brothers had long since gone, even the younger one, Rafael, who had seemed to be enjoying himself. Maybe they were even now spiriting Sophia away to stop her marrying a man with such rowdy and uncouth friends.

Murdock was standing at the bar, still wearing that worried expression. When he saw Face and Amy leave and Jahni sitting alone, he approached the table. Damn. He didn’t think he could talk to Jahni about this here, did he?

Jahni stood up. “I have to go,” he said to Murdock. “I have to drop in at the barracks for midnight. Then I really need to get some sleep for tomorrow. You should too, Murdock.”

“Oh yes,” Murdock said, frowning. “Sleep. All the better to have fun and dance and celebrate, eh?”

“Of course,” Jahni said, ignoring the sarcastic undertone. “Say goodnight to the others for me. I’ll see you all in the morning.”

Assuming the screaming in his head hadn’t driven him insane by then.

It hadn’t been an excuse; he really did have to call in at the barracks, though soon wished he hadn’t when the men on duty asked him to pass on their congratulations to the colonel tomorrow. Using all his self-control not to punch his hand through the nearest wall, he promised to do so.

The screaming grew louder.

He’d barely slept in days so climbed the stairs wearily to his flat when he arrived home. He took out his keys as he approached the door, then dropped them and reached for his pistol when a figure stepped out of the darkness ahead of him.

“Are you really going to just stand by and watch this happen?”

“Murdock!” Jahni sagged, relieved, letting the pistol drop back into his shoulder holster. “What the hell are you doing lurking in the dark? I could have shot you!”

“Well, if you did, at least they might call off the wedding while you’re in jail.”

“That’s not funny.”

“You see me laughing?”

No. His face was not just worried now, but grim and Jahni hated to be the cause of that. “You’d better come inside.” They went in and Murdock dismissed all offers of tea and coffee with an impatient gesture.

“You didn’t answer me. Are you going to just stand by and let this wedding happen?”

“I have no idea what you mean,” Jahni said, stiffly. “My best friend is marrying a fine woman that he cares about and who cares for him. Why do you think I would have a problem with that?”

“Because you’re in love with him yourself.”

The words were quiet. A statement. Not a question and, even more remarkable, not an accusation. But he still tried to summon up the righteous anger he knew he should display now.

“That is a killing insult. I suggest you…”

“Cut the bullshit, Kahil. Do you think I’m blind?”

No. He and Murdock had become close – as close as a man carrying a secret as heavy as Jahni’s could become to anyone. Over the years Murdock had gathered clues and hints. Seen things. No one thing damning in itself, but the accumulation of them could lead to only one conclusion.

What a relief it would be to tell someone else the secret! Someone he could trust with it. Someone who would help him. No. Nobody could help him. Except to share the burden. Murdock hadn’t accused him. Jahni clung to that. Even so, he couldn’t look him in the eye. He turned away, turned his back to Murdock.

“Well?” Murdock prompted. “I’m right, aren’t I?”


Had Madari felt this way when he told Sophia? So much shame and yet so much relief. So much terror at placing himself completely in the power of another person. That came especially hard now, when Faris’s power to hurt him have proved so devastating.

“Does he know?” Murdock asked quietly.

Jahni laughed, remembering those early years, when he and Faris kept this secret even from each other. If that had gone on he truly would have been insane by now.

“Of course he knows!”

“And he feels the same?”

Did he? Still? Jahni had to believe that was true. Because if it wasn’t then there was no point to taking another breath. Not trusting himself to speak of Madari’s shame and secret as he had of his own, he just nodded.

“Then why?” Murdock took Jahni’s shoulder, forcing him to turn around. “Why this sham of a wedding?”

“It’s complicated, Murdock. You can’t understand what it’s like here. It can never happen.” He’d been a fool to think it could. That Paris could have been the start of their new lives. Of course fate had intervened. They’d tried to defy nature and the universe had stopped them. “This isn’t America.”

“So come to America.”

Jahni stared at him. “What?”

“Emigrate. Go into exile, whatever. We’ll help you.”

“We? The team? Are you saying they know?”

“No. Well, not as far as I know. If they do, we’ve been dancing round one heck of an elephant in the room. But it doesn’t matter. We’d help you if you want to come.”

“You actually think the others would want to help if they knew why?”

“It wouldn’t matter to any of them. It doesn’t matter to me. You’re our friends and we owe you our lives. That’s all that matters.”

It took a few seconds before Jahni could speak again, choking on his emotions. It would be a dream come true. All the fears he’d had that even their friends outside the country would turn away from them were nothing any more. But Murdock didn’t have the full picture.

“We can’t leave. The unit, our work. Our duty is here. I’ve told you how serious things are getting.”

“Don’t give me that arrogant crap!”

“Wanting to do my duty is arrogant?”

“Thinking you’re irreplaceable is arrogant. Do you think the regiment, the army, the country would all just fall apart without you?”

“No, but –”

“But nothing. That kind of thinking put me in the nut house. I knew I was getting sick, back in the war. But I denied it. I pretended I was fine, because I thought I was Mr Irreplaceable. Like they’d couldn’t win the war without me.”

“But you didn’t win.”

Murdock looked flustered for a second before scowling again. “That wasn’t because one dumb pilot didn’t do anything about the voices in his head until it was too late.”

Too late. He wanted to rail at Murdock for only saying this now and not years ago.

“It’s too late for us already,” he said. “The wedding is tomorrow.”

“That’s a contradiction in terms. It’s not too late until the wedding was yesterday.”

“It was too late as soon as she accepted his proposal. He can’t pull out. It would be dishonourable.”

“So you’re going to let his honour destroy you, are you?”

“I don’t know what you mean by that,” Jahni said, though quite sure that he did.

“You know exactly what I mean.”

“I’m fine,” Jahni lied.

“You’re so far from fine you couldn’t locate fine with radar.” Murdock rubbed his forehead and adjusted his cap. “Dammit, why are you so stubborn? Are you determined to be miserable?”

“Things are the way they are. I just have to deal with that.”

“That’s fatalism,” Murdock said. “And it’s more crap. You can change things. You can stop the wedding. If you’re half the man I think you are, then you’ll go to him tonight and persuade him to call it off.” He turned for the door, then stopped for a second and looked back. “Though if you do, I’d suggest you arrange to have a fast car to the airport waiting for you.”


Jahni didn’t go to the wedding.

Oh, his body was there. His brain must have been too, as he managed to make conversation with people. He managed to go to the town hall with the happy couple, along with Sophia’s brothers and their wives, and Colonel Rahama. He even signed the register as a witness.

His body and brain went back to Sophia’s, picked at the catered buffet, made small talk with people he supposed he knew, their faces had names. Clive. Halais. Face…

But he felt nothing for any of them.

Something had happened in the night, after Murdock left. Jahni didn’t go to Madari, as Murdock suggested, knowing persuasion would do no good and too proud to beg. He didn’t sleep, couldn’t even lie down. Eventually, he’d dozed fitfully in a chair and when he opened his eyes again his soul, whatever that even was, had gone.

At the wedding party, people talked to him for a while and then seemed to drift off. Even friends, like Karen. She was his friend, wasn’t she? They’d gone to bed together a few times. She wore a flattering outfit and attracted admiring glances from other men in the room. But he felt nothing.

He felt nothing even when he looked at the man he recognised as Madari. Like someone looking at him on the television. Yes, that’s Colonel Madari of the Royal Guard. That fine looking foreign lady is his wife. They meant nothing.

Madari, wearing dress uniform of course, tried to talk to him, asking him if he was well. Of course he was well. He thanked Jahni for coming, and asked him to please try to accept the marriage, that it was for the best. Jahni said he was quite sure Madari was right. That seemed the best way.

He walked out onto the balcony after a while, because away from the other people the screaming seemed quieter.

A sound behind him made him turn to see the man he knew as Murdock watching him from the door. “They’re heading out,” he said, in a flat tone. “Faris and Sophia. Off on their honeymoon.”

It was barely that. Madari had a three-day pass and they were going to spend the time in a villa on the coast. They’d had the honeymoon before the wedding. In Paris.

A jab of pain, like a fist in the gut made him gasp. Murdock looked alarmed for a second.

“You okay?”

The screaming grew deafening. But he nodded at Murdock, unable to speak, short of breath. Murdock stepped closer and spoke quietly.

“I’m disappointed in you, Kahil. I thought you were braver than this.”

Jahni just nodded. He didn’t really understand what Murdock meant. The part of him that gone elsewhere probably would, but he couldn’t find it.

Everyone went downstairs to see the newlyweds off. Both had changed into less formal clothes and put a couple of small bags into the boot of the car. Face made a joke about newlyweds not needing many clothes and Amy Allen punched him on the arm. He only smiled at her in return. Embraces followed, many goodbyes and thanks for coming, so wonderful to see you.

“Kahil,” Madari said, appearing in front of him, looking worried about something. He took Jahni in his arms and held him, spoke quietly. “We’ll talk when I get back. Try to be strong until then. I know this is hard for you.”

You’d think it would be. But as Jahni watched them leave in the BMW, the other guests cheering them out of sight, nothing stirred in him. No pain, no despair. Nothing. As the car rounded the bend, people began to drift back inside. The sun was down now, the night air turning chilly.

Jahni waited. Nobody took his arm, or said ‘come on, let’s get a drink’ to him. Perhaps they were afraid of him. He was a corpse, walking around not knowing it was already dead. The others could see it though.

He didn’t go back upstairs, but instead slipped away to the underground car park. His body and brain still remembered how to drive. It drove. The car soon left the city, heading north on the desert road. If he followed it long enough he would reach what had been the prison camp, where he’d met Madari a decade ago.

In only a few days time it would be exactly ten years since they met. It felt like yesterday. It felt like one hundred years. Perhaps they’d never met. Perhaps this had all been a dream. Perhaps any time now, he’d wake up, twenty-three years old, a green lieutenant, in his bed at the Southern Rangers barracks. The dream – nightmare – would fade from his mind in the morning sun.

Start the last decade over again. Never give someone else the power to destroy him. Never meet Madari.

He reached what had been Madari’s house, with little memory of the drive there. The gates stood open. An unfamiliar car was parked inside the compound. There were lights on in the house. Should he go and knock on the door and see a stranger answer? A stranger who would say he’d lived there for a decade and had never heard of Madari. All just a dream…

A man walked past the car and did a double take at the sight of Jahni. The village constable. He smiled and gave Jahni a small salute of acknowledgement, though he looked puzzled too. He must wonder why Jahni was here, now Madari no longer lived here. Jahni returned the salute, but didn’t get out to speak to the man. He started the car again and continued north.

The constable knew him of course. They’d met many times. One of those times was the night a man broke into Madari’s house to try to murder him. A man who had died instead. Madari was lethal. Alex Black had said he looked more like a thinker, but he was as much a killer as Jahni. He’d killed Jahni. It had taken him a decade. But he’d done it. He didn’t want to. But he had.

Jahni drove on through the night. He wondered if the people at the party had noticed his absence. If they had they probably thought he’d gone on duty. A soldier always had to go on duty eventually.

Not this time. Not anymore.

He was deep in the middle of nowhere now and hadn’t seen another car for some time, so stopped and turned off the engine. He took his pistol from its shoulder holster. He’d been wearing it at the wedding. That had to be evidence of insanity right there. Even Alex probably didn’t have her neat little Glock sub compact with her today.

He got out of the car, opened the tailgate and unlocked a bolted-in metal box. Placing the pistol inside, he locked it. No point in the holster without the gun, so he stripped off his jacket, removed the holster and dropped it into the back of the car. Feeling the cold night air bite at the skin of his arms even through his shirt, he quickly put his jacket back on. He closed and locked the tailgate. The keys slipped from his hand and clattered onto the road.

The car stood with the driver’s door open, the interior light and headlights on. How far across the desert would that light carry?

He left the door open, the lights on. Left the car. Left the road. Left the world. Stepped into the darkness.

Jahni walked into the embrace of the desert.