Part 34: Blood Price

Chapter 1

Spring 1997

The interior lights of the troop plane silhouetted the men waiting to disembark, casting long shadows down the loading ramp. Eager to go home, most hurried off the plane as soon as the foot of the ramp touched the tarmac until only one man remained outlined against the light. The man spoke briefly to the ground crew as they boarded, before he came down the ramp himself, carrying a rifle and a small pack. The last man off the plane. The commander.


He needs a haircut, Madari thought, stepping out of his staff car, receiving the salutes of the other men as they passed him on the way to the transport waiting to take them back to barracks. By the time he looked back Jahni had stopped by the car and dropped his pack.

“Here for my report, sir?” he asked.

“No. I just wanted to see you all safely back. It’s been a long mission.”

Six weeks out in the mountains. No wonder Jahni could use a haircut. No wonder he had such a deep tan and had lost some of his muscle bulk in favour of a leaner build. He’d needed stamina more than strength for this mission. Despite that increased stamina he looked tired, older even.

“Would you like Sijad to drive you home?”

“No, thank you, sir. I’ll go back with the men.”

Madari suppressed a sigh. He couldn’t object to it. Jahni travelling with the men in a coach, instead of the rather more luxurious limousine was admirable. He shared their conditions as he had out in the field. But sometimes Madari wished he would more graciously accept the privileges that came with his position as commander of the unit. He refused to even have his own staff car and driver, saying he’d accept that only once he made colonel. Since he remained a major, that would appear to be some time away yet.

How can he have moved so far from me and yet be so like me? Madari thought, recalling his own insistence on sharing the men’s hardships in the camp, and on remaining a major afterwards until his regular army career naturally furthered his rank. Did Jahni emulate Madari from admiration, or had he simply learned the same stubbornness?

“You all have three days leave to rest,” Madari said.

“Thank you,” Jahni said and rubbed his eyes. “I don’t think I’ve slept through a night for weeks.”

“Like old times was it?” Madari asked, smiling.

Jahni nodded. “My guerrilla warfare experience has been very useful, yes.” Since most—they hoped all—of Saifullah’s various small training camps had been found and destroyed, his men had taken to the mountains in small bands, harassing travellers on the mountain roads, infiltrating villages and generally causing trouble. Under Jahni’s command a third of the unit had specialised in guerrilla warfare techniques and gone out to fight fire with fire.

Jahni spent weeks at a time with them himself, considerably less deskbound than Madari had been while commanding the unit. For a while Madari wondered if there was a criticism implied there, but had decided no. They had different command styles, that’s all. Jahni had both the experience and the training to be at his very best and most useful in the field. It would be foolish to trap him behind a desk. And he’d brought along the captains under his command well even in the four months since he took over leadership the unit after his sick leave ended. He’d delegated command of individual parts of the unit to the captains to specialise in. He delegated a lot of paperwork too. He had more office staff than Madari had ever had.

“May I go?” Jahni glanced at his watch. “I need some sleep. I have things to do tomorrow.”

“Of course,” Madari said. “Anything exciting?”

“Just a meeting with my accountant.” He bowed his head. “Goodnight. My regards to your wife.”

Why did he even say that? Madari wondered, as he watched Jahni walk away. When he’d first started to do so it gave Madari hope that he’d started to reconcile himself to the situation. But he still refused any invitations to parties or dinner and if forced to see Sophia his politeness was more telling that any bitterness. Cold as ice. It distressed her, she’d told Madari so many times. She’d tried any way she could think of to mend fences, not for her own sake, she said, but Madari’s.

“You miss him,” she said often and dismissed his assertion that he saw Jahni almost every day.

“Seeing him across a desk, or over a smoking bomb crater is not what I’m talking about.”

He knew that, but there was nothing to be done. Six months had passed. If Jahni was going to mellow he’d have done so by now. He hadn’t. If Madari thought about that for too long the pain clawed him like a cat. So he didn’t think about it. He didn’t have time to. So much work to do now he commanded the regiment.

Not right now though. The men were back safely and the coach taking them back to barracks had driven away, Jahni aboard it with the men he was closer to now than he was to Madari. Time for Madari to go home to his wife.


Saying he had an appointment with “his” accountant hadn’t been entirely true. Jahni had had an appointment with an accountant; one he’d hired a couple of months ago for a special job. His own accountant—who he’d engaged after coming into his inheritance—had looked quite nervous when Jahni had asked if he could recommend someone to investigate possible fraudulent accounting. Jahni quickly reassured him that the accounting he wanted investigated wasn’t his own.

Relieved, the man gave him a name. The investigator had completed his work while Jahni had been in the field and he’d given Jahni the results of it earlier that day. Now as evening approached, Jahni had the report from that investigation sitting on the passenger seat of his car. He sat in the driver’s seat, in an underground car park, watching a large silver Mercedes. Waiting.

His patience paid off when a man approached from the lifts, heading for the Mercedes. Jahni stepped out of his own car and stood, hidden from view behind a pillar, near the Mercedes. Only once the man came close did he step out into the light.

“Hello, Raslan.”

Raslan flinched back at Jahni’s sudden appearance and dropped the briefcase he carried. Jahni watched his hands, in case he reached for a gun. But Raslan recovered his cool and dropped his hands to his side.

“Major Jahni,” he said. “Hasn’t it been a long time?”

“Not long enough.”

“If you think that then what are you doing here?”

Had he guessed? Jahni wondered. Raslan’s face gave nothing away, but it rarely did.

“We missed you at General Jumale’s funeral,” Raslan went on. “Fine man. I’m proud to have served under him.”

“You never served anyone but yourself.”

“Oh yes, of course, because guerrilla fighting is such lucrative work.”

Jahni snorted. “Money is only a secondary consideration for you. A means to an end. It’s all about the power isn’t it? That’s why you attach yourself to the powerful. But in the end, they see you for what you are.”

“Very interesting analysis,” Raslan said with affected boredom. He took out a pack of cigarettes, offered it to Jahni, who didn’t respond, then tapped one out for himself. “Anyone would think you spent a lot of time in the company of psychiatrists.”

Jahni willed himself not to rise to that. His appointment with the accountant was not the only one he had now he was back in the city. Focus, he told himself. He’d come here for a specific purpose.

“Did you know, Raslan, that there are forensic accountants? To investigate fraud? I didn’t, but I do now, after I hired one.”

“Your man been fiddling the books?” Raslan asked, still looking as if he couldn’t imagine why Jahni had waylaid him in a car park.

“Not my man. Not my books. Sophia Giordano’s.”

“I heard about that,” Raslan said. “Terrible shame.” The grin on his face provoked Jahni into taking a step forward, as heat began to flare inside him. Control it, he ordered himself.

“Of course you heard about it,” he said. “You did it.”

Raslan laughed, but didn’t speak before Jahni went on.

“My forensic accountant traced exactly what happened. He got even deeper and further back than the police investigation. The money vanished when a company collapsed. That’s as far as the police went. They didn’t think to check if the company collapsed deliberately. But my accountant did.”

“Sounds like a bright spark.”

“Turned out it wasn’t even a real company. Just a front. The money was genuinely lost. Nobody gained anything. That’s why is doesn’t look like a fraud to the police. But stealing money wasn’t the purpose, was it?”

“Wasn’t it?”

“How much did it cost you, Raslan? Or should I ask how much did it cost your father-in-law? How much of his money did you spend to rip off Sophia, a dozen other people and destroy a man’s life?”

Sophia’s accountant still hadn’t turned up and there’d been no sightings. People were speculating that he’d killed himself. Another victim of Raslan’s schemes.

Raslan blew out a stream of smoke. “You know, I think the more interesting question is ‘why did you investigate?’ Did you want to make sure her story was genuine and that she wasn’t just trying to trap Madari into marriage?”

“No!” Jahni snapped. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe Sophia. He just…had to be sure. “I owed her!”

“Oh, of course, she helped you get your inheritance back. Such a good friend to you. Funny, isn’t it? So many men would have used that money to buy a nice big house and fill it with a pretty wife and a herd of children. I wonder if that’s what she expected you to do? I’ll bet you disappointed her.” He took another drag on his cigarette. “The boys are fine by the way, thanks for asking. Oh you didn’t.”

Jahni clenched his fists; the thought of this poisonous bastard raising Faraj’s sons still sickened him.

“Why did you come here?” Raslan asked. “If you’re after revenge, then shouldn’t I be dead already? Or bound and gagged in the boot of my car? Come on, Kahil, you used to be more decisive than this.” He smirked again.

“Those sound like excellent ideas,” Jahni said. “Maybe one day I’ll try them. Until then, I just want you to know that I know. And that I’ll be telling the colonel.” He started to turn away to leave.

“No you won’t.”

“Oh?” Jahni stopped and looked back. “And why not?”

“Because he’ll think you were acting out of jealousy to even investigate in the first place. He’ll think you’re calling his wife a liar. He’ll think you’re trying to undermine his marriage. He’ll be right, won’t he?”


“Look, can I speak honestly here?”

The bizarre concept made Jahni raise his eyebrows. “I wouldn’t think so,” he said. “You’ve got no prior experience to call on.”

Raslan ignored the crack. “Don’t go thinking I planned this whole thing out, them getting married I mean. I never anticipated Madari would propose to her! Yes, I wanted him to be miserable because he lost a friend and her to be miserable because she had to leave. But I never anticipated managing to make all three of you miserable!”

“What do you mean, all three? They’re perfectly happy.”

Raslan snorted. “Don’t tell me she’s happy when she knows her husband doesn’t love her. Don’t tell me he’s happy when he has to concentrate on calling out the right name in bed. I can only speculate if he gets it right every single time.”

Jahni’s pistol was instantly in his hand and pointing steadily at Raslan.

“Can you speculate about how many bullets I’m going to put in you if you say another word about… that?”

Raslan backed up a couple of steps, his hands out towards Jahni. “Calm down! Look, you’re angry, Kahil. I see that.”

“What gave it away?” Jahni asked, cocking the gun. No, get control! He lowered the gun. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t tell the colonel.”

“Because you don’t owe him a thing any more. He did this to you, didn’t he? You’re a broken man. Maybe other people think you’re still strong. But they don’t know, do they? They don’t know he destroyed you when he married the…her.”

“Do you have a point, or should I just get on and pistol whip you unconscious now?”

“My point it, it’s not me you should be taking revenge on. It’s him.”


“You could destroy him with just a word. Just the one word. Lover.”

“He is not my lover!”

Raslan waved a hand, dismissing that objection. “Doesn’t matter. People are ready to believe it. The rumours may have died down the last few years, but the suspicion is still there.” He grinned. “Well, it is among people who’ve spoken to me.”

Jahni raised his eyebrows. He couldn’t even get angry about that. It sounded like desperation. The kind of thing teenagers did at school.

“You’re entirely pathetic.”

“What I’m saying is, if you say it, people will believe it. He’ll be finished. Marriage, career, status. All destroyed by a word.”

“You seem to have overlooked the fact I’d lose my career too.”

Raslan laughed. “Please! You think your career isn’t already over? You had a breakdown. However well you’ve recovered the Army won’t forget. They’ll never trust you again. You’ll never make colonel.”

“With Faris commanding the Royal Guard…”

“And you think that will help you? Who knows your weakness better than he does? Do it, Kahil,” he said, voice going quiet, a seductive tone he’d never used on Jahni before. “You have nothing left to lose, so do it. Show him you’re not as weak as he thinks. You gave him the power to destroy you. But he gave you the power to destroy him in return.”

“You’re a snake, Raslan. I should kill you now and call it pest control.”

“Think about it. It’s the only strength you have left.” He glanced at his watch. “Are we done here? I don’t like to be late when the boys are expecting me.”

Jahni snorted. Did Raslan think him a fool, trying to play him this way? But he knew he wasn’t going to shoot Raslan. He’d only come here to let him know what he’d learned and that he’d pay for it eventually. But Raslan had played him. He’d taken control. With words. He could always beat Jahni with words. He was more lethal with them than any other weapon.

“Go!” Jahni snapped. “But I will tell the colonel and you will pay.” He turned to stride back to his own car. Raslan called out to him as he went.

“Drive carefully, old friend.”


By the time he went back on duty, Jahni still hadn’t decided if he would tell Madari what he’d learned about Raslan. Raslan’s words nagged at his mind as he and Madari sat in the back of Madari’s staff car, on their way to the Defence Ministry, for a full debrief about the recent mission.

Not the part about taking revenge on Madari. No, what preyed on his mind was what Raslan had said about Madari assuming Jahni wanted to undermine the marriage.

Truly, it had never occurred to Jahni that Sophia was lying. He just wanted the truth. But even with her as the innocent victim of fraud it could plant a seed of resentment in Madari’s mind. A seed that might flower into resentment at the idea he’d been forced into the marriage. How long before the anger shifted from Raslan to Sophia herself? Irrational that might be, but who was entirely rational in the darkest corners of their mind?

Did Jahni want that? Did he still have hopes he and Madari could one day be together? He glanced over at Madari who was reading a folder. They’d barely spoken since they got into the car. No. It was foolish to hang on to any hope. There was no chance now.

But that didn’t mean Jahni had nothing to lose as Raslan said. He certainly had no intention of destroying Madari. Though he’d briefly pictured the whirlwind that would ensue if he made that allegation, he’d never do such a thing. Even if they were no longer friends, he owed Madari his loyalty as a soldier. Even if Jahni never rose further in the ranks he still had his duty and the country needed him. So Raslan was wrong to say he had nothing to lose because his career might have stalled. He had many things he could still lose. His men’s respect. His own honour. Raslan would never think of those things of course. Alien concepts to him. He thought only of power and personal advantage.

So Jahni didn’t intend to destroy Madari. But what about his marriage? He didn’t have to tell Madari himself about the truth about the money. He could arrange for that truth to come out another way. But what was the point? If there was no chance of them ever being together, then shouldn’t he leave well alone and let Madari and Sophia have some chance of happiness.

But if the marriage broke up, could the chance of Madari and Jahni having a life together be revived? No. All the other obstacles would still be there. Besides, he no longer trusted Madari. Not emotionally. As a commander. As a soldier, yes. But no other way.

“You’re very quiet,” Madari said, in a tone that sounded a little forced.

“Just thinking about the debrief. There’s a lot to go over.”

“Yes. Do you want-”

A massive explosion ahead of them drowned his next words.

Chapter 2

On instinct Madari and Jahni ducked down behind the front seats. The car trembled as a shock wave hit, but the windows didn’t shatter and the noise died away. With a glance at Jahni to see he was unhurt, Madari sat up.

“Sergeant?” he said to his driver.

“Fine, sir,” Sijad said, sitting up, then swearing when he looked out of the windscreen.

Ahead of them the far end of the street had vanished in a rapidly expanding cloud of dust and smoke. In a second the cloud engulfed their car. Stone dust hissed against the exterior sounding just like a sandstorm, and small plumes of smoke puffed out of the air-conditioning vents. Noise came back as the leading edge of the cloud passed them. Car horns and alarms. Screaming.

“Call it in to barracks, Sijad,” Madari snapped. “Then try to clear a path for emergency vehicles. Major, with me, we have to secure the scene. Bring the first aid kit.”

The small kit that Jahni grabbed from under the seat seemed pathetically inadequate when Madari thought of the carnage ahead of them at the centre of the destruction. But they would need bandages for tourniquets. He grabbed the car’s fire extinguisher. Again, small and pathetic for what lay ahead, but it might help.

The two of them jumped out, leaving Sijad talking urgently on the radio. The street was still obscured by the cloud of dust and both coughed as it coated their throats. Other people were getting out of their cars, too far away from the blast to be injured, but shocked and terrified.

As he and Jahni ran for the epicentre Madari heard Sijad shouting, starting to organise moving cars to clear the way for the ambulances.

“There’s a building down!” Jahni called, between coughs, as they approached the end of the road. “It must have been a truck bomb.” His hair and clothes were already covered with white dust and ash, making him ghostly, but he moved decisively and calmly compared to the people milling about in shock or panicking.

They came to it suddenly through the dust, the edges of the blast zone, littered with bodies, some obviously dead, others screaming for help. Only a short distance ahead cars blazed and buildings on either side of the road lay in ruins. Water sprayed from broken pipes and Madari hoped there were no gas mains in this area.

“Get the fires out!” Madari ordered, pointing at a blazing car. “Find more extinguishers. Organise people.”

“Yes, sir.” Jahni gave him the first aid kit, took the extinguisher from him and ran to the nearest burning car. Madari followed him when he saw movement in the back of it. He wrenched the door open and found a screaming and bleeding little girl strapped into a child seat. Two adults were slumped in the front seats and from the amount of blood, flesh and brain on the headrests Madari knew they were dead. He struggled with the unfamiliar fastenings of the straps holding the child in the seat, briefly considered using his penknife to slice through them. But they came free suddenly and he snatched the girl out of the seat and rushed her away from the car as she screamed for her mother.

Time passed in a blur after that. Helping the wounded, dealing with fires, organising people, watching for any more danger to deal with. Police, fire engines and ambulances started to turn up. Sijad reported on the radio that the Army was on the way to seal off the area.

It had to have been a truck bomb, as Jahni said. At the centre of a crater in the road lay the mangled remains of what might have been a truck or van. Nothing left but a twisted chassis. Had the bomber died with it? Or had it been on a timer? An area full of offices and shops, and it was lunchtime. It would have been crammed with people. The bastards. Bastards.

Jahni ran up to Madari and handed him a water bottle he must have liberated from a wrecked shop. Madari drank the water greedily, soothing his throat, scraped raw from the dust that still hung in the air.

“You okay?” Jahni asked. Madari nodded, wondering how long they’d been here. A few minutes, or many hours? Impossible to say.

“You?” he asked Jahni. His face was streaked and his eyes red, weeping from the irritation of the dust and perhaps the horror all around.

“I’m okay, yes. Are the Army –“

“Sir!” A paramedic ran up to the two of them, a desperate expression on his face. “Sir…police?” He could probably see they wore uniforms, but between the dust and the blood they were impossible to identify.

“Army,” Madari said, pushing away from the car he was resting against catching his breath.

“Please, I need your help. Please, come now!” The man grabbed Madari’s arm and pulled him away. Jahni followed.

They ran past the crater to the other edge of the blast zone, finding more shattered and burnt out cars and a bus. The name of a women’s college in the city was stencilled on its side. Its front pointed towards the blast and men were spraying fire extinguishers into the engine, which belched out black smoke. A couple of ambulances stood near the bus and men crowded around the door. Madari wasn’t sure why the paramedic needed their help. There seemed to be plenty of people here to help get the casualties off the bus.

“They won’t let us on!” the paramedic said, pointing to the men crowding around the door. Looking closer Madari saw that rather than helping the casualties they were blocking the door and keeping anyone from getting on or off the bus. Another group covered the emergency exit at the back of the bus. Female shouts and screams came from inside. A couple of other paramedics were arguing with the men blocking the way. Madari ran up with the man who’d led him here.

“Stand aside!” he ordered a man standing right in front of the door onto the bus.

The man folded his arms. He was carrying a short cudgel. “No.”

“What the hell is going on here?” Jahni demanded.

“We are the Guardians of Morality and we are protecting these women,” the man in front of the door said. “Men not related to them can’t be allowed to touch them.”

Madari gaped at him. Guardians of Morality. One of the vigilante groups that grew more confident every day it seemed. Saifullah sympathisers.

“They could be dying!” a paramedic shouted. He waved a hand at the smoking engine. “The bus could explode!”

The man who called himself a guardian appeared unimpressed. He straightened up and stared not at the paramedic who’d spoken, but at Madari, daring him, his gaze holding a question. What are you going to do about it?

Madari shot him.

It was a drastic measure, he knew. But a look into those eyes told him the man would not listen to argument. And they had no time for one anyway. So Madari drew his pistol and shot the man in the foot.

The Guardians exploded into yelling as their spokesman collapsed, screaming. The one next to him jumped towards Madari, raising the cudgel he carried…and froze as Jahni’s pistol touched the side of his head.

Madari turned to the gaping paramedics. “You can go aboard now.” He looked past them to some more staring bystanders. “You men! Help them! Get the passengers off the bus now!” They jumped to it as if they’d been taking his orders all their lives. Shoving aside the last of the Guardians, they swarmed onto the bus.

Madari looked back at the Guardians. One still stood frozen with Jahni’s pistol at his temple. “Major, let him go.” Jahni lowered his gun and the man sagged. “If you’re not going to help I suggest you all leave.” The one he’d shot lay groaning, a couple of his friends bending over him. “And your friend needs to go to hospital. He may have to wait some time to be seen today.”

A couple of police officers came running up and most of the Guardians scattered. Two of them dragged off the injured one. He called out as they pulled him away, his voice and face filled with rage and pain.

“You will pay for this! Madari! I know you! You will pay!”

Madari sighed. Yes, he expected he would. He smiled weakly at Jahni. “Good reactions.” Jahni must have drawn faster than a gunslinger in a cowboy film. “Thank you for having my back.”

“Of course.” If he was shocked or even surprised by Madari’s action he didn’t show it.

“What’s going on?” demanded a police officer as they arrived. He looked at Jahni, still holding his pistol. “Was that you firing?”

“Yes,” Jahni said, before Madari could speak. Madari frowned at him. Did he mean to take the blame, or did he simply mean “us” not “me”?

“I’m the one who actually fired,” Madari said. “Colonel Madari. Royal Guard.” Had it been a mistake? But what choice did he have? It was literally a matter of life and death.

A man came down the steps out of the bus, leading a young woman, holding a blood-stained cloth to her head. He scowled at the police.

“Leave him alone! He’s a hero!”


“So which am I in that one? Hero or villain?” Madari asked Sophia. She lifted the newspaper to show him its name. The Az-Ma’ir Sunrise. “Ah, never mind, I can guess.”

“The leader column uses the phrase ‘abuse of authority’ three times,” she said. “And demands your immediate arrest.”

He snorted. “If more than two days pass without the Sunrise calling for my immediate arrest I start to wonder what I’m doing wrong.”

He ate some bread and glanced over the newspapers scattered on the table. All of them had pictures of the devastation from the bombing on their front pages. They all condemned it. But they fell into two camps when it came to their opinions about what Madari had done yesterday.

“I was listening to the radio while I was making breakfast,” Sophia said. “They had a phone in segment and you were all anyone wanted to talk about.”

“I hope they all get over it soon,” he said. “It’s a distraction.” He frowned. “Forty-three people are dead. Dozens injured. One fool being shot in the foot should not be the focus of the news.”

“People like to argue,” Sophia said, pouring more coffee for herself and then leaning over to top up his cup. “It’s hard to argue about a bomb. Nobody in their right mind would argue in favour of it—well not openly. But they can argue about the right or wrong of what you did.”

“And which side do you come down on, my dear?”

“The hero side of course.” She smiled. “You’re decisive. That’s your training. You see what you need to do and you do it. You don’t argue about it. You don’t ask permission. You just do it.”

“True,” he said. People didn’t always appreciate that. As a commander he didn’t have to argue and justify his decisions to anyone—unless he genuinely strayed over a line and had to answer to a court. Well, he’d find out later today if he’d have to do that.

“I’d better go,” he said, finishing his coffee and standing up. Giotto jumped into the vacated chair and Madari shooed him down before the cat climbed onto the table in search of cream. Sophia came to help him into his uniform jacket.

“You are a hero,” she said quietly as she did up the buttons. “Whatever anyone says. And I’m proud of you.” She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. “Now, you get along to work and keep on being my hero.”

“Thank you,” he said, arms around her, the smooth silk of her robe felt so good under his hands. He should go, but it felt so good to stand here with her warm body against his. “What are you planning today?”

“Just some shopping. And I need to line Giotto’s litter box. I thought I’d use today’s copy of the Sunrise.”


They applauded Madari when he walked into the officer’s mess. Salutes first, then the officers broke into a round of applause. It made him stop and stare. Even as the commander of the regiment he didn’t expect the officers to jump up and salute when he walked into the mess for his morning coffee.

Today was different.

“Thank you gentlemen,” he said when the applause died away. “I appreciate your support. Please, at ease.” They took their seats again and Madari went to his own seat, by a window, one that let him look out over the parade ground.

Jahni and some of the officers from the Special Forces unit sat at their usual table, but with something of a crowd around them, perhaps looking for the eyewitness story from Jahni.

“Good morning, sir,” the senior messman on duty said, appearing at Madari’s side with a junior messman carrying a tray. “Your coffee, sir, and your usual pastry. Took it out of the oven just as you walked in, sir.”

“Thank you,” Madari said, wondering if they’d had the gate call the mess when he was arriving, so they could put the pastry in to warm ready for his usual morning coffee stop. They didn’t pamper him quite so much every day. But he could get used to it.

He caught Jahni’s eye as he sipped the coffee and waited for the pastry to cool, and beckoned him. Jahni came over and sat in the chair opposite.

“Quite a reception,” Jahni said, smiling, a ghost of the warmth of their old friendship on his face.

“It made me quite nostalgic,” Madari said. “It reminded me of our days at the camp.”

“Should I have started a chant of your name?”

“Ah, no. That might have been a bit too much.” He leaned forward. “Have the police contacted you for a statement yet?”

“No. I doubt they will.”

Madari wasn’t so sure about that. Among his own people his actions naturally found support. But not everyone would agree. If Saifullah’s group had sympathisers and even activists in the armed forces they would have them in the police too. If they were influential enough they could push for a prosecution.

“We’ll find out later today,” Madari said. “And we can only let the truth speak for itself.” He thought again about the way Jahni had answered ‘yes’ when the police officer asked if he’d fired the shot. Clearly, Jahni would cover for him, something that almost choked him to think about. Did Madari still deserve that loyalty from him? But he couldn’t ask Jahni to do that. “The truth, Kahil,” he said, in a quiet voice.

“Of course.” Jahni shrugged. “They didn’t prosecute you for killing the assassins, why would they prosecute you for shooting that idiot in the foot?”

“I hope you’re right.” But life had a way of twisting. He’d killed two men and never faced a court for it. Now he might be brought down because he shot a man in the foot to make him move out of the way.

He finished his coffee and pastry and spent some time talking to officers, reaching his office nearly twenty minutes later than usual. His secretary handed him a folder of messages and morning reports and offered him coffee. Deciding he’d had enough coffee for now he said to bring in tea in half an hour. Meanwhile he sat at his desk and read his messages.

Many of them were not from the usual sources. His generally came from fellow officers or the Defence Ministry. But today he had a large number marked ‘personal’. Either short written ones, or phone calls taken down. They were from the women on the bus, or from their families, thanking him for his intervention.

One grateful father offered him free legal representation and all the resources of his legal firm if Madari did face prosecution. One of the students herself said if they took him to court she’d chain herself to the railings at the front of the building in protest. Madari couldn’t recall if the central courthouse had railings, but he appreciated the sentiment.

More than appreciated it. The word ‘vindication’ came to mind. Whatever happened to him, families who might have been devastated were still whole. Let them prosecute him. As Jahni would probably say, bring it on.

The call came from the police chief, Mr Rafeel, at just after eleven o’clock. It had to be a good sign that it was a phone call, Madari thought. If they were going to arrest him they wouldn’t do it over the phone.

“We’ve taken statements from eyewitnesses,” Rafeel told him. “And we’ll have to come and take them from you and Major Jahni, just for the record. But I have no intention of authorising a prosecution. You clearly acted to save lives. I’d have done the same thing in your position.”

“Thank you. Have any of the, ah, Guardians come forward? To make complaints?”

“No, and if they do I’ll find something to charge the bastards with. Reckless endangerment. Obstruction. Anything I can find that’s an open case. I’m sure there are some unsolved cases of camel molesting that we need to clear up.”

Madari laughed. But he hoped they didn’t come forward. He didn’t want to appear vindictive. They’d think twice about repeating such a stunt—which is what mattered.

“Thank you, Chief. Send a man over for our statements as soon as you like. We’ll be here.”

He hung up the phone and sent a message to Jahni, then called Sophia to tell her the good news.

Chapter 3

It sounded like distant cannon. Madari looked up from his work at the boom as a slight tremor passed through the room. Dammit, not again. His phone rang even as he reached for it.

“You heard it?” Jahni said without preamble.

Madari stood, taking the phone on its long cord to the window. A column of black smoke rose from the centre of the city.

“Not as big as the truck bomb,” he said. “Looks more car bomb sized. Put the unit on alert.”

“Yes, sir.” Jahni rang off. Madari pressed the cradle down and spoke to his clerk who sat outside the door. “Cancel my meetings for the rest of the day.”

He put the phone back on his desk and started clearing off the files he’d been working on. The anti-terror unit at least would be called into action to support the police today. This wasn’t even the first bomb since the devastating truck bomb two weeks ago. There had been two in the city since then. The Army was patrolling the streets now, including units of the Royal Guard.

For the next two hours he fielded phone calls and issued orders, while his office staff hurried in and out with updates on the situation. Those updates confirmed the blast was a car bomb. A suicide bomber. The location a street full of shops, civilians once again the target. No firm casualty figures were available yet.

Jahni reported back that his unit stood ready to go into action. The specialist urban strike force for raiding terrorist cells in the close confines of houses or flats in the city were in their ready room awaiting deployment on a moment’s notice. Raian commanded that squad and he was coming on very well, Madari thought. He already had been under Madari’s command and continued to do so under Jahni’s, deservedly earning the captaincy his father had tried to buy for him.

Two hours after the blast the police chief Mr Rafeel arrived and was shown into Madari’s office at once. He looked strained, unsurprisingly. But seeing him here surprised Madari, who didn’t understand why he’d come out here when he could have just called if he needed something from Madari.

“Hello, Mr Rafeel,” Madari said, standing up and offering his hand. “What’s the latest news on casualties?”

“Ah, yes, there are five known dead so far, not counting the bomber. That’s what I came to tell you about. That is…Colonel.” He stopped and sat down, before Madari invited him to. Odd. Never mind. He sat himself. Rafeel seemed exceptionally rattled. He must be under a lot of pressure, but Madari had never seen him buckle under the strain.

“What can the Guard do for you?” Madari asked. “My men are at your disposal as usual.”

“Colonel, the bombing occurred outside a shop.” The words came from him in a rush. “A car was parked there. According to witnesses another car stopped beside it and exploded, destroying both cars and killing all the occupants. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Colonel. The parked car…it was your wife’s car.”

Madari looked at him blankly, the words bouncing off the shield his mind raised instantly to defend itself from what Rafeel was somewhat clumsily revealing.

“My wife’s car was destroyed?” He knew that wasn’t what Rafeel was telling him. He wouldn’t have come here if it were only the car. Rafeel grimaced.

“Faris,” he said, his tone softer. “Your wife had just left the shop and got back into her car. She was in there with another woman when the other car exploded. They died instantly.”

“Alex.” The word came out in a whisper. How strange. Horrible as it was, his mind could take in the idea that Alex Black was dead. But not Sophia. “But…this must be a mistake. It couldn’t have been them. Someone… someone might have stolen the car…”

“I’m sorry, there’s no doubt. The owner of the shop knows your wife well. He saw it happen.”

“Is he sure they got into the car? They might have gone elsewhere.” Desperation tinged his voice. A howling sound was growing in intensity in his mind. Panic and despair. Only the shield of denial kept it at bay.

“He’s sure. I’m so very sorry. There is no doubt.”

No doubt. Denial had no power. Denial was fantasy. The shield crumbled and the darkness engulfed Madari. The howl erupted from his mind, out of his mouth, as a yell of outrage, pain and horror. Not her. No. Not her! The yell choked off and he buried his face in his hands, eyes closed, shut tight against the world. Make it not real. Make it go away.

“Colonel? Colonel?” A voice he barely recalled—except that it had just torn his world apart. Then the sound of footsteps across the floor and the door opening, some words. A moment later someone came to him, touched his shoulder. He looked up to see his personal secretary, Corporal Farouk.

“Sir, do you want me to send for the doctor?”

Madari just stared at him, unable to answer. Then Farouk’s face changed as if he’d realised something. He straightened up and called out to the office staff beyond the door.

“Send a runner to bring Major Jahni here on the double!”


“What’s wrong?” Jahni demanded as he hurried along at the side of the clerk from Madari’s office. “Is it about the bombing?”

“I don’t know, sir. The corporal just told me to fetch you right away.”

Jahni ran on ahead of the clerk, ignoring the strange looks officers and men gave him. Running through the corridors might be beneath the dignity of a major of the Royal Guard, but something had to be very wrong here. Was Madari ill?

He ran into the outer office, registering the shocked and subdued faces of the staff there, and on to Madari’s office, where Farouk stood at the door. As Jahni went in, Farouk went out and closed the door behind him. The office was dim; someone had drawn all of the blinds. Madari sat at the desk, his head down on his arms. A man stood beside him, a hand on his shoulder.

“Mr Rafeel?” Jahni said, recognising the police chief. “What’s happened?”

Rafeel stepped away from Madari, who looked up at the sound of Jahni’s voice.

“They killed her,” Madari whispered. His face was white as bone, eyes glazed, as if he’d been struck in the head.

“What? Who?”

Rafeel came around the desk and took Jahni’s arm to steer him across the room. Jahni resisted the urge to pull away and go to Madari. Rafeel stopped by some filing cabinets at the far end of the room.

“His wife,” Rafeel said. “She was the target of the bombing today.”

“Sophia… oh my god.” The room reeled around him for a second and Rafeel put a hand on his arm. Jahni took a deep breath. Control. He needed control now. He needed to be strong. Something Rafeel said gave him a question. “The target… are you sure? She wasn’t just in the wrong place?”

“No,” Rafeel said. “We’re quite sure it was targeted.”

Jahni looked back at Madari who had his head down on his arms again. They’d said he’d pay…

“Sir, do you know who ‘Alex’ is?”


“There was another woman with her. When I told the colonel that, he said the name ‘Alex’. But he was—ah—too distressed to explain further.”

Jahni ran a hand over his face and raked it through his hair, wanting to double up as if he’d been struck in the gut. Alex. No.

“Alex Black,” he said. “She’s Sophia’s bodyguard.”

“A foreign national?” Rafeel took out a notebook and pen.

“Yes, she’s British.”

“Thank you. Do you know which agency she worked for?” He wrote it down. “We’ll contact them and the British embassy and get the details for her family. Is she married? Living with anyone? Children here?”

“No. No, none of those.” Family… Sophia’s brothers. Someone had to tell them. “Chief, do you need anything else from me? I need…to help him.” It felt like a physical ache, one he hadn’t felt for a long time. To go to Madari. Help him. Hold him. Give him strength.

“No. Not for now. I’ll come back if I have more news. I’m very sorry, Major.” He put a hand on Jahni’s shoulder, squeezed it. “Take care of him.”

He left. Jahni moved towards the desk, slowly, yet with a strange feeling that he was hurtling down a long steep slope to a dark place he hadn’t been for a long time. A knock at the door made him divert and open it. Farouk and a private stood there, with a tray of tea things.

“Some tea for the colonel,” Farouk said. “For shock, sir.”

“Bring it in,” Jahni said, waving at a table just inside the door, not wanting them coming in and seeing Madari so distressed.

“Is it true, sir?” Farouk asked. “His wife? And Miss Black?”

“It’s true,” Jahni said. He frowned. “How do you know Miss Black?”

“Some of your men say she’s taught them some very interesting moves, sir.”

Jahni’s throat tightened and his eyes burned. Alex’s regular sparring sessions with him had started to turn into demonstrations and even classes. No longer. The men would be doubly enraged. The colonel’s wife and their friend. Madari would have no shortage of volunteers to help him take revenge.

“I’ll take care of him now, Corporal. Please, try to keep people out.”

He could only ask him to try—senior officers would roll right over the corporal. But the man set his jaw and looked determined to shield his colonel from intruders come to bother him.

“Yes, sir.”

Jahni closed the door and looked back at the desk. Madari hadn’t moved. He picked up the tea tray and took it to the desk where he put it down and started pouring tea. Madari looked up.

“You should have some of this,” Jahni said, putting a lot of sugar into the tea. “It will help.” He held out the small cup, but Madari lashed out and swept the cup off the saucer to fly away and smash on the tiled floor. Hot tea splashed across the tiles.

“Help?” He spat the words. “Tell me how tea will help.”

Jahni put down the empty saucer. He hadn’t flinched when Madari dashed the cup aside. Instead pity and compassion had swept through him. Madari was angry now, but that would soon become despair and pain. Guilt too. ‘Targeted’ Rafeel had said. Targeted because she was Madari’s wife. He crouched beside Madari’s chair.

“Faris, I’m here.” He felt as if he didn’t need to say anything else. What else could he say? He was here and ready to do what he’d done for Madari in the past. Hold him. Talk to him. The voice. He hadn’t spoken in the voice for so many years. The gentle whisper he didn’t even know if he could still use.

He could. It came back to him when Madari leaned forward into his arms. Jahni held him, felt the tension. Felt the trembling.

“You’re safe,” Jahni said softly, encouraging him to release the pain and shock he was holding in. “Let it out.”

“No,” Madari said. “I can’t…not fair to you.”

Jahni understood. Madari didn’t think he was strong enough any more to take Madari’s distress the way he once had. To absorb it as he used to without it hurting him. Perhaps he wasn’t, but he didn’t protest. He just stayed there holding Madari. The trembling continued, but the tension began to ebb away and Madari wept against his shoulder. No sobbing. No hysteria. Not enough of a release, Jahni felt sure, hoped it would come later.

Eventually Madari quietened. Even the trembling stopped and he straightened up, putting his hands on Jahni’s shoulders. His eyes were red, his face stained with tears.

“I don’t deserve this.”

“No,” Jahni said. “They are cowards, murderers…”

He trailed off when Madari shook his head. “No, Kahil. I mean I don’t deserve this. You.” He squeezed Jahni’s shoulders. “I don’t deserve your support after the way I’ve treated you.”

“Forget that.” Jahni snapped the words out. Did Madari think him shallow enough to allow that to keep him from helping his friend? Their estrangement of the last few months seemed ridiculous now. Why hadn’t they reconciled long ago? They were fools. If Madari had been with her and died today he’d have died thinking Jahni hated him. A surge of nausea hit him.

“Are you all right?” Madari said, touching his face.

“Yes.” Jahni stood up, with a small groan, his legs cramped from the position. “Faris, there are things to be done. Her brothers.”

Some colour had returned to Madari’s face, but it drained again. “Yes,” he said, in a hoarse voice. “Of…of course.”

“Do you want me to call them?”

Madari reached for Jahni’s hand and squeezed it. “Thank you. But, no. I can’t ask you to do that. It should be me. Can I have a moment alone, please?”

“Are you sure?” He seemed calmer, but on a knife-edge, as if he could lose control again at any moment.

“I’m sure.”

“Then I’ll go and check on the unit. There’ll be rumours flying. I’ll be back soon.” Jahni let himself out of the room, pulling the door closed behind him quickly as a babble of voices greeted him. The room was crammed with senior officers. The clerks rushed around nervously. Sijad stood by the window, perhaps expecting orders at any moment, or at least wanting to be there for his colonel in case orders did come.

“Gentlemen, please,” Jahni said, making it as stern as he dared to men who outranked him. “Keep your voices down.” They quietened with a mix of shame and outrage at being spoke to that way by a major.

“What’s happening?” a senior colonel demanded. A man who’d had an eye on the office himself. “Is he incapacitated?”

“Certainly not!” Jahni snapped. “The colonel is currently calling his wife’s brothers to break the bad news.” It occurred to him that he should have said ‘his late wife’s brothers’ and the thought gave him another wave of nausea. His hands began to tremble and he felt the mad urge to shove the officers aside to get past. “Please, give him some privacy,” he said. “Excuse me.”

He started to weave through the crowd, ignoring their questions. Sijad moved from the window and stepped into the spot Jahni had just vacated in front of the door. His stance left nobody in any doubt they’d have to fight their way past him to get at his colonel. Satisfied nobody could easily get in to bother Madari, Jahni left the room, hurrying to the Special Forces unit’s buildings. He wanted to get back to Madari’s office as quickly as possible. Speaking to Sophia’s brothers would be an ordeal and Madari would need him once it was done.

He arrived at the unit, and quickly answered some questions from officers and men before he hurried on to his office. He’d told Madari he had come here to check on his people, but frankly it was as much because he needed privacy. Reaching his office he stepped in to find Raian at the desk, talking on the phone

“…should come in. They think—I have to go.” He hung up and stood. “I’m sorry, sir. I needed to make a private call.” Jahni didn’t care; he just wanted his office to himself.

“That’s fine. Will you excuse me, Captain?”

“Is the colonel all right?”

“He’s holding up, thank you. Dismiss.” He snapped the last word and grimaced at his own harsh tone. At least he’d managed not to say ‘get out’.

Raian got the message and left, closing the door behind him. Jahni made it to his chair before his knees gave out and dropped into it, shaking and dizzy. Perhaps Madari was right. Jahni was no longer strong enough to help Madari the way he used it.

Sophia. It couldn’t be real, could it? Had he fallen asleep here at his desk and dreamt this nightmare? But his hand touched the damp place on his shoulder where Madari had wept. Those tears were real.

Then Jahni had to cope. He had to. Madari needed him now. Not only for comfort, but for revenge. The Special Forces unit would be the instrument of Madari’s vengeance. But Jahni didn’t have to cope alone and take that burden all on his own back. He grabbed the phone and dialled a number from memory.

“General Rahama, please…a meeting?” He paused. “I don’t care. Tell him it’s Major Jahni and it’s about the bombing. Tell him Sophia Giordano is dead.” Thirty seconds later he was talking to Rahama. He took some pride in not allowing his voice to shake as he explained what had happened.

“I will come over at once,” Rahama said.

“Sir, the colonel is…quite calm. He’s not incapacitated.” He realised suddenly that calling Rahama to rush over might make it seem as if Madari couldn’t cope, weakening his authority. “Perhaps you don’t need to-”

“He’s my friend,” Rahama said, more quietly. “I only want to be at his side.” Of course he understood Jahni’s fear. He was an experienced and savvy officer. He’d ensure his presence didn’t undermine Madari’s authority. “I’ll be there in as soon as I can.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Jahni went back to Madari’s office. The senior officers had gone back to their own units and the clerks were calmer, but subdued. Sijad was still guarding the door, but stood aside to let Jahni knock and enter. He found Madari standing looking out of a window and went at once to his side.

“I could see the smoke,” Madari said quietly. “After the bomb. I was looking at it when I spoke to you on the phone. I was looking Sophia’s… death and didn’t know it.”

Jahni slipped his arm into Madari’s. “You couldn’t know.”

“They told me I’d pay. The Guardians of Morality. That’s what this is. It has to be. Payback for what happened with that bus.” Tears slipped down his face, catching the light of the afternoon sun, glistening.

Jahni wanted to kiss those tears away. His fists clenched, driving his nails into his palms to distract from such a thought at such a time.

“How far is their reach?” Madari said, after a while. “What if they went after Kibibi even in England?”

“Faris, don’t.” Jahni pulled him around, holding his arms. “Don’t torture yourself like this.”

“What if they go after you?”

“They’ve been after me for some time,” Jahni said, his voice defiant. “I’m still here.” But Madari’s words had sent a shiver through him. Madari still dreaded his death more than anything. Yet part of Jahni wished he’d died in Sophia’s place. He was a soldier and prepared to die for his country. Even Alex risked her life as part of her job. But not Sophia.

Madari nodded, pulling himself together.

“Did you speak to both of her brothers?” Jahni asked.

“Yes,” Madari said. His voice shook. “They asked if I would bring her home to Italy for burial.”

Jahni frowned. He understood their feelings, but was it right? “This is her home. You’re her husband.”

“I know, but I keep thinking of those vandalism attacks on the graves in the Christian and Jewish cemeteries. I couldn’t stand it if that happened to hers. And worse… If in the end, we lose this fight we’d all be cut off from her.”

The first scenario horrible, the second unthinkable—especially for her brothers. Christians went in for visiting the graves of their loved ones more that the people here.

“What do you think Sophia would have wanted?” Jahni asked.

“I’ll have to think about it,” Madari said. “It would be hard to be so far away from her.”

“There’s no need to decide now.” It had only been a couple of hours. It seemed inconceivable.

A knock at the door made them step away from each other, belatedly realising how close they were standing.

“Enter,” Madari called. Rahama came in and hurried straight to Madari, to embrace him.

“Faris, I’m so sorry, my dear friend. It’s a monstrous outrage. Those vicious cowards.” He stepped back as a knock came at the door. “I asked your staff to bring us some tea.”

“Thank you,” Madari said.

“Now, is there anything I can help you with? Do you need me to contact her brothers?” Behind him the staff brought in a tray of tea things and removed the earlier one that still sat on the desk. One private cleared up the broken cup from the floor without comment.

“No, I’ve spoken to them,” Madari said. “I need to find out contact details for Miss Black’s family. I think I should speak to them about…” He trailed off staring at the open door. Jahni and Rahama followed his gaze. Jahni gasped.

“It seems that won’t be necessary,” Rahama said.

Alex Black stood in the doorway.

Chapter 4


Alex’s left arm was in a sling.

For a second Madari felt a surge of wild hope as his mind invented details. The shop owner had been wrong, Sophia and Alex hadn’t got into the car, they’d gone into another shop. They were hurt, but alive.

“Colonel,” Alex said, her face pale, voice shaking. “I’m so sorry.”

Hope vanished when he saw her skin and clothes were clean and undamaged. Not those of someone caught in a bomb blast only a couple of hours ago.

Since Madari and Jahni were both staring without speaking, Rahama went to Alex and gestured to her to enter.

“Please come in, Miss Black. I’m sorry for our reaction. We believed you were…ah, at the scene.”

“I wasn’t there,” Alex said, coming in. Rahama closed the door behind her. “I broke this arm yesterday at a Judo tournament.” She pointed at her arm in the sling. It had a cast on it. “So I couldn’t work today. The agency sent a sub. Greta. She…she was with Sophia.”

Her voice caught and a sob broke from her. At once Jahni stepped forward and took her in his arms. The embrace suprised Madari but he couldn’t condemn it. When Jahni let her go, she turned to Madari and he took her good hand in both of his.

“I’m so sorry,” she said again. “I should been there.”

“You couldn’t have done anything,” he said.

“I should have been at her side!”

She felt she’d left her post and he understood her feelings of guilt all too well. She was Sophia’s guard, but he was her husband. If anyone should have protected her, he should have.

“Miss Black, won’t you sit down?” Rahama said. “You don’t look well. Let me pour you some tea.”

She sat rather reluctantly, but accepted the tea easily enough. Jahni was still staring at her, as if unable to believe she was real. Perhaps that’s why he’d embraced her—to be sure of it. Had their relationship developed into more than friendship? Madari hadn’t seen enough of him lately to know if there was even a possibility of that.

“Faris,” Rahama said. “I think you should let me take you home. You too, Miss Black.” He looked at Jahni, a rather assessing look, Madari thought. “Major, your anti-terror unit is on full alert?”

“Yes, sir,” Jahni said, managing to turn his gaze away from Alex.

“Then return to your headquarters and await orders.”

Jahni looked at Madari with an expression so torn and worried that Madari felt his eyes fill up again. None of the bitterness and anger he’d seen so much of in Jahni’s face lately remained. In the middle of this sea of pain and grief, a small ray of light gave Madari a reason to keep his head above the water and not allow himself to drown in despair.

Despite his worry, Jahni had no choice but to obey Rahama’s order. When he left, Rahama made Madari sit and gave him a cup of tea.

“Can I help you with arrangements, Faris?” he asked. “Don’t think you have to do everything alone.”

“A…arrangements. Yes. Her brothers want me to take her to Italy for burial,” Madari said. He hadn’t decided for sure yet if he would. Would having her buried here make him fight harder for this land?

“Then leave it to me,” Rahama said. “I will arrange it all.”


Jahni arrived back at his office to be told he had a caller waiting on hold. A man who gave his name only as Sayeed. He’d been waiting for over half an hour.

Sayeed? Raslan? What the hell could he want? Jahni told the clerk to put the call through and closed his office door. His phone rang and he picked it up.

“Have you told him?” It was Raslan and his voice had an unfamiliar kind of tension in it.

“Told who what?” Jahni demanded, hardly in the mood for guessing games.

“Madari of course. About her money.”

“You know, don’t you? That she’s dead?”

“Of course I know. It’s all over the city.”

Jahni winced. Bad turn of phrase.

“And if you’ve told him already, then I’m dead, aren’t I?” Raslan went on. “They killed her because she’s his wife. He married her because she lost her money. I made her lose her money. He’s going to cut out all the stages in-between and decide I killed her.”

Jahni grinned. An expression with no humour in it, just a kind of sick delight. The unfamiliar tension in Raslan’s voice was fear. Sheer, ball-chilling fear. Was he thinking of the assassins Madari had killed? Was he thinking of the time Madari had threatened to send Jahni to kill Raslan in his bed? That would be harder now he lived in his father-in-law’s well-guarded mansion outside the city, or the just as well-secured townhouse. But Jahni would find a way in.

At last, Jahni had Raslan on the back foot. The snake must have broken out in a cold sweat when he heard the news. So what did Jahni do now? He could indeed go and tell Madari. But Madari had enough to deal with. Or he could be more thoughtful about this. Think long term. Consider how he might make best use of Raslan’s fear.

“I hadn’t told him yet,” he said. A huffing sound down the line must have been a sigh of relief. But he didn’t let Raslan enjoy the relief for too long. “But I could. Any time I liked. Unless…”

“Unless what? What do you want?” He sounded as if he was gritting his teeth. Probably was, having to ask Jahni that question.

“I don’t know yet,” Jahni said. “But I’m doing you a favour here, Raslan. You’re absolutely right. Madari would kill you for this. You know how rigid his principles are. He’d consider himself obliged.”

A small groan greeted his words and the sick grin twisted his face again.

“So you owe me a debt. I don’t know when I’ll call it in, but one day I will, and if you don’t pay up, you’re dead.”

“You can’t just leave me hanging like this.”

“I think I can. And thank you for the mental picture of you hanging. Most enjoyable.” He was enjoying himself. He wished he had a moustache so he could twirl it.

“Jahni, you bastard! Why don’t you grow some balls and come and try and kill me yourself?”

It sounded like a dare. Perhaps he hoped Jahni would lose his temper try to kill Raslan and be killed by his bodyguards. But Jahni had no intention of losing his temper. Raslan didn’t kill Sophia, despite his plotting. That was an irrational idea born of rage. Far better to keep the debt in hand for later use.

“I’ll get back to you, Raslan. One day.”


Madari was sleeping and Jahni was glad to see it. He knew Madari had barely slept for the last three nights. If that kept up, he’d collapse before the funeral they were on the way to now.

Rahama had hired an executive jet and made all of the arrangements. Madari just let it happen, Jahni thought. Though Rahama asked his approval for each decision, he said ‘yes’ to everything.

Rahama himself sat beside Madari and Alex sat beside Jahni, both sleeping too. Jahni would have liked to do the same. He’d slept a little more than Madari the last few days, but not much. When not on duty, he was either with Madari or trying to rest. But his mind was too full to allow him to sleep.

Several times over the last couple of days he’d reconsidered what he’d decided about Raslan, thinking of telling Madari the truth after all. If he waited, and Madari found out later, he might be angry with Jahni for keeping it from him. He didn’t want Madari to be angry with him. He wanted what they used to have so long ago. Before Madari even met Sophia.

It made him ashamed to think that way, because Madari had still been in so much pain back then. So afraid all of the time. So vulnerable. And now he was in pain again, and everything Jahni had felt back then had come back. Everything.

Shaming. Is this the time to start thinking about the desires that they’d both wrestled with for so long? With poor Sophia barely cold.

Jahni glanced down, as if he could see through the deck under his feet, into the small baggage hold that held her coffin. Baggage. He shivered at the word. Their actual baggage was all up here in the cabin. Nobody had wanted to put anything in the hold. It would feel insulting; implying the coffin was a mere packing crate.

Madari had not been allowed to see her body. Jahni knew what that meant. Both of them had seen many dead bodies, some horribly burned and mangled, but to see Sophia like that would traumatise him.

He looked at Madari again. At his gaunt face. You like him better like this, a shameful part of him said. You like him better when he is fragile and dependent on you.

It wasn’t that, he tried to argue with himself. He liked to feel needed. Who didn’t? That didn’t mean he wanted Madari to be weak and hurt. He wanted him to be strong and healthy and still need Jahni. Were the two states incompatible?

And if they were?


Madari stood at the window of a guestroom in the Borelli family house, wearing only his black suit trousers and an unbuttoned white shirt. His feet were still bare and becoming cold on the polished wooden floor. But he barely noticed that, his attention riveted on the large garden below. A woman and a small girl were out there, both dressed in black. The woman even had a veil, though lifted over her hat at the moment. Despite her mourning clothes the child skipped around the grass playing. Sometimes stopping to pick a flower. Her voice floated up to Madari. Laughter. Snatches of singing.

Too young to understand why her family had gathered here. Perhaps in later years she’d hear people talk of Sophia—a relative she’d never known. She’d see her picture. Hear stories of her. But she’d never know her.

At the same time, she could have been not a real child at all, a reminder of the future unfolding without Sophia, but a ghost. Both of them; the ghosts of Sophia and her mother, who must have played in this garden many times when Sophia was a small girl.

He sighed and turned away to continue dressing. Found socks and shoes and put them on, sitting on the large, high bed. He’d slept well in it. Or deeply at least. No recollection of any dreams. Exhaustion had done that, he supposed. The sleeplessness of the last three nights had caught up with him.

He and Sophia had been planning a trip to stay here in her ancestral family home. Would they have stayed here in this room? Slept in this bed as man and wife? Had Sophia once slept here with her first husband?

She’d proposed the trip so Madari and her brothers could get to know each other better. That would never happen now. Antonio and Rafael’s reception when Madari’s party arrived last night had not been warm. Not rude. They were polite and hospitable. They treated Madari with respect as her husband—no, widower—but he knew that after today he’d never visit this house again.

A knock at the door and Jahni’s voice called out.

“It’s me. Can I come in?”

Madari stood and called to him to enter. Jahni did, dressed in a black suit, white shirt and black tie, nearly identical to Madari’s own clothing. Appropriate, he supposed, so used to wearing the same uniform. They could have worn their uniforms for the funeral, but it felt inappropriate here. Too showy.

“How are you holding up?” Jahni said, closing the door behind him as he came in. “Did you sleep?”

“Yes. Quite well, actually.”

“They’re serving breakfast downstairs if you want anything. I’ve just been down.”

“I’m fine.” A maid had brought him coffee and then some toast at his request after he woke up, startled to find a young at his bedside. He’d asked for toast because he really couldn’t recall the Italian for anything else with his brain still befuddled with sleep.

He realised his shirt was still hanging open and felt underdressed suddenly, with Jahni there in his jacket and tie. He turned away and started to button the shirt. Jahni found a clothes brush and picked up Madari’s suit jacket from the back of a chair, began to brush it down.

“Kahil,” Madari said. “I want to thank you. After the last few months I couldn’t have expected you to be so good to me now. You are… a better man than I am.”

Jahni didn’t answer for a long time, still brushing the jacket, staring at it fixedly. Eventually he spoke with just a tiny catch in his voice.

“I think I’d like to forget the last few months. The whole of the last year, even.”

“I wish we could,” Madari said, with a heavy sigh. “I wish I could turn back the clock and have a another try at it all. To think things through before I speak. Especially when what I say can’t be taken back.”

Jahni looked at him, as if he wanted to ask a question. Madari waited for it, but Jahni didn’t say anything in the end. Madari could guess at the question, though. Had he just apologised for his marriage? Should he do so? Not only to Jahni but also to Sophia. Dead because of him. Dead to punish him. He could have let her go, to start a new phase in her life. Instead he made her a hostage to fortune and she paid the price.

Not only her—Greta Holstein, Alex’s colleague and friend who’d died in her place. Alex would fly on to Germany after this funeral, to attend Greta’s. Madari had considered going too and then feared he wouldn’t be welcome at the home of the family whose daughter died because of him. Here was different. Sophia was his wife—even if it had been for less than a year. They might blame him, but they couldn’t exclude him, or deny him his own grief. But he didn’t belong at Greta’s funeral.

He’d write to her family, though, expressing his sympathy. He’d written such letters before, to the families of his soldiers who’d died in the line of duty. That’s how he thought of her and would have thought of Alex if she’d been the one to die instead. But fate had spared Alex and left her full of the same guilt Madari was feeling. His fingers sought the buttons on the shirt cuffs and didn’t find them. Oh, yes.

“Could you bring me my cufflinks, please,” he said to Jahni. “On the dresser there.” Jahni spotted them and came over.

“I’ll do them,” he said.

“Thank you.” Madari held out his hand. Jahni must have fastened them by touch, because his eyes never left Madari’s as he fixed each cufflink in turn. He spoke quietly.

“I’m here for you today, Faris. Whatever I thought about your marriage, whatever we’ve both said, none of it matters now. I don’t ask for forgiveness for anything I’ve said or done. I don’t expect you to ask for it either. We both did what we did, said what we said. It can’t be taken back, but it’s done. We should leave it in the past and move on.”

Madari nodded, too choked to speak, moved a hand to touch Jahni’s face, but was startled by Jahni putting his arms around him and embracing him tightly. They’d embraced several times over the last few days of course, as Jahni held him to comfort him. But this felt different. Jahni said neither of them should ask for forgiveness, but perhaps he was volunteering it.

They stayed that way for a moment, then parted. Madari squeezed Jahni’s shoulder in thanks.

“You’re not only a better man but a wiser one. I agree with you.”

Jahni turned to pick up Madari’s jacket and helped him on with it. He reached out as if to fasten the buttons, but pulled his hand away at the last moment. Madari buttoned them himself. Yes. They would move on and look to the future. But that meant they would have to once again deal with some of their issues from the past. The ones they’d failed to deal with in such a spectacular fashion this last year.

But that was the future. Today was still the past. Today he buried the past. With Jahni’s hand resting on his back, he left the room to spend the day with the people he could call his family only until he left this house.


It was strange to see so many women at the funeral. Most of the funerals Madari had been to in his life had been only the men, while the women waited back at the house. His father’s burial had been an exception. He remembered the strange looks men gave his mother and grandmother as they stood at the graveside. But he’d heard his grandmother say to Ahmed that it would take a better man even than him to keep her from her only son’s funeral. His mother wouldn’t have made the same demand, more traditional in many ways than her mother-in-law. But in the morning, grandmother took both her and young Faris by the hand and led them out to join the procession to the burial ground.

There were many old women at this funeral who reminded him of his grandmother. Ancient and gnarled, but with strength in their eyes. They’d buried parents, husbands, perhaps even children and they prevailed. Sophia might have been one of them one day, if she hadn’t gone and married that damned Arab.

He’d heard those words—in Italian—drift though an open door in the house as he came downstairs earlier. He hadn’t recognised the voice and had controlled the surge of rage and pain in him. No sense in looking for a fight. Jahni had touched his arm, perhaps seeing him flush and grimace, though he couldn’t have understood the words that made Madari react that way.

This damned Arab, and the other two and their Englishwoman friend stuck out like sore thumbs in the church. Madari had been to Catholic funerals before, but had always sat at the back, where he drew no attention by not kneeling, and could follow the lead of those in front when it came time to sit or stand.

But now he sat in the front pew and felt sure that his delayed reactions were obvious to everyone and remarked upon. Not one of us. Jahni, Rahama and Alex sat a couple of rows behind and no doubt had the same trouble.

It was foolish to think of such trivia, he thought. Sophia would have laughed at him for it and told him not to worry about it. But it reflected on her, he knew. What they all thought of her for choosing him as a husband. That damned Arab.

The mass ended and Madari joined Antonio and Rafael in a large funeral limousine. Their wives and children took another and the rest of Madari’s party a third one.

In the car, they rode in silence for a while, following the hearse, as it moved through the village towards the cemetery. The Borelli family were the local nobility here, though their titles had long ago gone elsewhere and residents stopped in the street as the cortege passed. Any men wearing hats removed them. The silence was tense. Antonio wore a neutral, if strained expression, but Madari caught glances from Rafael that he could only read as anger.

“I am sorry,” he said softly, making the brothers turn to him. “I know that you blame me. I can’t argue with you about that. I blame myself too.”

“You should have just let her come home!” The words burst from Rafael, but Antonio shushed him.

“That does no good now, brother,” Antonio said. “Faris, she chose you. She chose to stay. She loved your country, your city. I…can only assume she loved you and that you felt the same.”

Madari flushed at that, not used to talking of such things, but more than the words made him blush. Shame too, because he didn’t love her enough. Because he married her for the wrong reasons.

“She knew the danger,” Antonio went on. “She spoke about it to me more than once. But she chose to stay.” He looked at his brother. “We have to respect that.”

Rafael looked down, face still flushed, eyes bright.

“She was so brave,” Madari said. “I used to have foolish old-fashioned ideas about women. She helped me change those ideas.”

“She was always feisty,” Antonio said, with a smile. They reached the gates of the cemetery and the limo slowed as it drove in after the hearse.

“I know after today we’ll probably never see each other again,” Madari said. “But I wanted to say it’s been an honour to be part of your family, even for so short a time.” He held out his hand and Antonio shook it at once. Rafael was slower, but after a hesitation, he reached out and took the offered hand.

“I find it harder to get past this than my brother does,” he said, in a hoarse and strained voice. “But I will admit, that of her two husbands, you are the one who came closer to being worthy of her.”


After the burial the funeral cars took them back to the house, where staff had laid out refreshments. Though Madari had learned Italian well enough to speak to the people here, still he found his memory of it already slipping away. Probably because he was tired, he thought.

Since Alex spoke Arabic and no Italian she seemed to have been dubbed an honorary damned Arab by the other funeral-goers. He saw one or two of them speak to her, presumably thinking she was the daughter of some obscure family member, but after that happened a few times, she ended up standing with Jahni, both of them quiet and watching the room. Rahama spoke quite good Italian, but he gravitated back after a while, until the four of them stood together. Apart from the Italians. Out of place, making desultory conversation.

After a while, Jahni went to fetch more coffee, and Rahama excused himself for a moment, leaving Madari and Alex together.

“How are you holding up?” he asked her, seeing the dark circles under her eyes, the exhaustion in her face. And she’d be travelling on to Germany tonight. He felt guilty again and reconsidered going with her.

“I’m okay,” she said, giving him a wan smile. “Frankly, I’ll be glad to get out of here. I feel like an interloper.”

“I understand.”

“But you’re not an interloper, you’re a member of the family.”

“Not any more.” He sighed. The moment they’d filled in the grave he’d felt a sense of disconnection from the family. As if a thread had broken. Now he was a mere guest. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you to the airport in time for your flight to Germany.” He and Rahama and Jahni were staying in a hotel and travelling back in the morning.

“Thanks for letting me come here with you,” she said.

“But of course I let you come. Alex, please, don’t think that I blame you in any way because you weren’t there. There was nothing you could have done if you had been. And it would be no comfort to me to lose a friend as well as my wife.”

She sniffed and buried her nose in the glass of whatever she was drinking to keep him from seeing her eyes. He’d never seen her so emotional as he had been the last few days. That evidence of her fondness for Sophia touched him. They had become good friends, he knew, not just bodyguard and client.

The thought she was another friend he might not see much after today pained him and he rubbed his tired eyes with his hands. He just wanted to sleep now.

“Did you know you’re wearing odd cufflinks?”

Madari looked at Alex. “What?”

“Your cufflinks,” she said. “They don’t match. Ah… sorry.” She blushed. “It doesn’t matter. I’m sure you had more on your mind than cufflinks this morning.”

Madari looked at his cufflinks. She was right. They didn’t match. On the right cuff he had a platinum-plated square with a green stone in the middle. That was his. The left cuff had a round link, one semicircle of black enamel, the other of polished silver. He recognised it, but it wasn’t his.

It was Jahni’s.

He looked across the room, to where Jahni stood by the buffet table, talking to a man he must have found a common language with. Was he wearing the other halves of the two pairs? Madari remembered Jahni helping him put the cufflinks on. It couldn’t have been an accident. If he’d picked up two unmatched ones belonging to Madari, that would be an accident. But he could hardly remove one of his own and substitute it by accident.

What did it mean? A gesture of sharing? That he was here for Madari? That their lives were once again entwined. Or something else? A gesture of ownership. Mine again. Marked. Or in fact the other way around. That Madari owned him?

Should he say anything about it? He had to, didn’t he? Or else they’d each be left with two unmatched cufflinks and obliged to pretend they didn’t know it. Because, unless Jahni had been taking sleight-of-hand lessons, he could hardly expect to swap them back undetected.

Jahni must have sensed Madari’s gaze. He looked up and gave him a small smile. Supportive. Kind. An old smile. A smile from their past.

A past that was coming back.