Part 37: Necessary Evil

Chapter 1

December 1997

The official name was the Security and Special Measures Committee, but everyone called it the War Council.

Madari took his seat at the long conference table beside Jahni, who was deep in conversation with Major Dhan, the head of security at the airport. They broke off as he joined them.

“Major Jahni and I were just discussing the exercise at the airport last week,” Dhan said.

“It brought back old memories for me,” Jahni said, voice sombre.

Royal Guard soldiers had worked through the night defending the airport against a simulated attack by Jahni’s unit, playing the role of militants. Madari hoped that if such an attack came for real then the militants would not be as well trained and armed as Jahni’s men. But his own irregulars had managed to seize the airport, and Saifullah’s men were at least as well trained as they had been.

Across the table the police chief, Rafeel took his seat and Madari nodded a greeting to him. Rafeel nodded back, but met Madari’s eyes for only a second before looking away again. He’d never quite been comfortable with Madari since the day he’d brought the news of Sophia’s murder.

More senior military and police officers filled the table, but they all rose as the doors at the end of the long room opened and Zahir entered, followed by a small entourage. He wore a Western style business suit and was bareheaded, his usual mode of dress lately, which had made Madari wonder if he’d simply grown used to wearing Western clothes during his exile, or had made a conscious decision to dress in the same way the King himself usually did. Or even to dress in direct contrast to Saifullah, who apparently always wore Arab clothing.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” Zahir said. “Please, sit.” He took his place at the head of the table and his aides brought coffee, arranged papers, and moved a water jug within reach. He ignored their fussing. “Let’s bring this meeting straight to order.”

An aide turned out the room’s lights, leaving only the low, bright lamps over the table. The underground room at the Defence Ministry had no windows and Madari found the set-up rather excessively dramatic, but these weekly meetings were undeniably useful. Zahir always chaired them.

“The first item on the agenda,” Zahir said. “Air Chief Marshall Kotekar has a proposal that he and I have been discussing and we’re now ready to bring to the rest of you. Air Marshall, please go ahead.”

Kotekar, a slender man with a moustache too large for his small features, came to the head of the table. Silver buttons and insignia glinted on his dark blue uniform.

“Thank you, Your Highness,” he said. “And may I add my thanks for allowing me to present the proposal to you and to the committee.”

Madari caught a glance between Jahni and Dhan, a small smirk and an eye roll. Nobody needed to worry about Kotekar’s willingness to work with Zahir, as they might about other senior officers. Kotekar never missed a chance to sing Zahir’s praises, usually to his face. To his credit, Zahir took little apparent notice of this blatant flattery.

“What his Highness and I have discussed is centralising all air power in the Qumari armed forces under the control of the Air Force. The Army and Navy will no longer have their own aircraft or pilots, but will be supplied with them by the Air Force.”

This caused a stir around the table, senior officers sitting up and speaking over each other. Madari caught Jahni’s eye, both of them frowning, but neither said anything, waiting to hear the rest. Zahir raised a hand for quiet.

“Please, you’ll all have a chance to discuss this. Go on, Kotekar.”

“The advantages of this should be obvious,” Kotekar said. “It’s a more efficient use of resources and expertise. That’s not to say we want to save money or cut back in any way. In fact with the money we save by concentrating the resources we can invest in new equipment and training for more pilots. We can do more with the money in one place then with it spread around the different services and regiments.”

“You’re saying my Navy pilots would actually transfer to the Air Force,” said Admiral Elmi, the Navy Chief.

Kotekar smiled. “I don’t think you need to worry about that being an appreciable loss of manpower for you, Admiral.”

There were some smiles around the table, even from Madari. Qumar was hardly a major naval power. The Navy’s few small warships mostly patrolled the coastline for smugglers and supported the coastguard in rescues.

Elmi bristled. “Naval officers will not like transferring to the Air Force.”

“I’m sure you can persuade them it’s for the good of the country,” Zahir said.

“Perhaps you can call them individually to give them your reassurance,” Kotekar said. There were open laughs around the table now, though Madari didn’t join in with those.

“Admiral,” Zahir said, waving a hand at the others to be quiet. “I’m sorry. Your Navy pilots may be few in numbers, but they are excellently trained. I want them to be able to share that expertise with all the military pilots in the country. We’ll be providing them with excellent new facilities and more flying time in fact.”

“Yes,” Kotekar said. “Centralising recourses will make sure we get the most out of both equipment and men. Now, planes and helicopters might stand idle while elsewhere none are available. That won’t happen in the future. Yes, Colonel Madari, you have a question?”

“I appreciate the logic of your ideas, Air Marshall. But I’m worried about the idea of my Special Forces unit not having helicopters on standby. As a rapid response unit they are required to scramble on a moment’s notice.”

“We’ve actually discussed that issue specifically,” Zahir said, looking from Madari to Jahni. “Kotekar and I both agree that there will always be helicopters available for their immediate use.”

“In fact,” Kotekar said, “You’ll always have a full complement of helicopters available. At the moment you have only your own, any one of which might be out of action for maintenance or repairs. And your pilots have to take leave sometimes. But with the full pool of all the military’s helicopters to draw from you’ll never be short of either craft or pilots.”

Madari glanced at Jahni, who gave a small shrug, eyebrows raised. It made sense, as long as the reassurances proved true. Madari had no reason to doubt them. Zahir had been generous with funding for the Special Forces unit, frequently reassuring Madari and Jahni it was one of his most important weapons in this war.

“Is it necessary for men and equipment to actually transfer to Air Force control?” Rahama asked. “Can they not remain under Army or Navy control, but be available more widely?”

“We have considered it,” Kotekar said. “But it would be less efficient. His Highness and I agree that complete centralisation is the best way.”

Elmi sat forward as if to speak again, but Zahir raised his hand to put him off.

“Full details are on the way to your offices now, gentlemen. Please study them and we’ll return this again next week. Now we need to move on. Next on the agenda, a report from Mr Gates.”

‘Mr Gates’ was George Gates, formerly an Inspector in the City of London police and now special consultant on the security of Az-Ma’ir. He didn’t speak Arabic, so some of the men around the table began to fiddle with the headphones that lay in front of them. While they did that, Gates moved to the head of the table beside Zahir, while Kotekar returned to his place. The Englishman, a bullnecked, middle-aged man adjusted his own headphones, plugging them in and settling them over his thin, iron-grey hair.

“Well, I’m sure you’ve all seen for yourselves many of the changes…” Gates began, when the opening of the door interrupted him. Zahir turned a furious look in that direction—the war council meetings were not to be interrupted by anyone—but his face quickly changed when the King walked into the room. He stood quickly, everyone following his example.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” Atuallah said. “Please sit. Zahir, I am sorry to be late.”

“I didn’t realise you were coming,” Zahir said. He didn’t look pleased about it, Madari thought, inevitably put into second place in the room by the presence of his brother. And this was a rare event; Atuallah didn’t often attend the war council meetings, normally letting his brother take the lead on security matters.

“I only read the agenda this morning and decided I wanted to hear Mr Gates’ report first hand. I’m only here as an observer.”

“Of course.” Zahir nodded to the officer taking the minutes. “Note that, please.” He waved a hand to the seat beside him, but Atuallah declined it and took a seat at the far end of the table, beside Rahama. He waved away the headphones one of Zahir’s aides offered him.

“Inspector Gates was about to make his report,” Zahir reminded the meeting and everyone settled as Gates began again. As he spoke the soft drone of the interpreter lurking in a dark corner of the room and speaking into a microphone underlay his words.

“As I said, you’ve all seen some of the changes. Roads have been narrowed or had chicanes installed at strategic points, forcing cars to slow so we can capture registration details on CCTV. Random searches and checkpoints are in place. New parking restrictions are preventing vehicles being left on the street in the most likely locations for car bombs. Concrete barriers to prevent vehicles crashing through gates or entrances.”

“And these measures are proving effective,” Zahir said. “There have been no major bombings for a month.”

“Inspector,” the King said, speaking in English. “Isn’t it true that the searches you talked about are not in fact random? That you’re targeting particular types of vehicles.”

“Yes,” Gates said. “Vans. Trucks. Any that aren’t registered to a company. Any rental vans. Once we clock ‘em coming in to the city, we get them stopped for a check. But we have random searches too.”

“Are vans and trucks the most likely vehicles for bomb attacks?” Rahama asked. “Haven’t most of them been cars?”

“They have,” Gates said. “But a van or truck can be packed with enough explosives to bring down buildings. It’s harder for a car bomb to do so much damage.”

A car bomb had done quite enough damage to kill Sophia and several others, but Madari saw Gates’ point, having seen the devastating results of a truck bomb first hand. Worse carnage than a battlefield, because you didn’t usually see dead women and children on a battlefield.

“Once the system is up and running we can refine things,” Gates said. “Once we’ve built up a database of number plates and the habits of their driver, we can eliminate many of them from any suspicion and concentrate on anyone else.”

“That’s a lot of information to hold on the private lives of our people,” the King said.

“If someone’s out on the city street they can have no expectation of privacy,” Zahir said. “Chief Rafeel…” He turned suddenly to the police chief, who had been watching Gates with a thunderous scowl on his face. They’d clashed in several meetings and Rafeel made little attempt to hide his enmity for the Englishman. “Do you have anything to add?”

“Yes. I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat it. You’re relying too much on technology. Cameras. Databases! My officers have the experience and the instincts to know who to check and—”

“Your officers can’t cover the whole city all of the time,” Zahir said, “Inspector Gates’ measures will support them. These measures have a proven track record in Belfast and London, as the Inspector can tell you.”

“I think they could be even more effective here,” Gates said. “There’s more scope. Less red tape. More political support.” He smiled at Zahir and at the table in general. “You see what needs done and you aren’t asking a lot of questions about rights and privacy.”

“Just giving you the money.” The remark came from the King. Quiet, and in Arabic, so Gates took a second before a small frown crossed his face as the translation came through to him.

“If you’d care to go on, Inspector,” Zahir said. “You have some measures to report on at rail and bus stations.”

“Aye,” Gates said. “We know the enemy’s flexible enough to change tactics. If we make it harder to bring in large bombs in vehicles, then they’ll bring in smaller ones in suitcases or on their backs. And several men can carry in smaller amounts of explosives to combine into a large bomb. X-ray machines can help and we’re installing them at the railway stations already. But we need explosives detectors too. Dogs that is. You use them at the airport already of course.” He nodded at nod at Dhan.

“Yes,” Major Dhan said. “But people are more prepared for and accepting of security checks at an airport. I’m not sure how well daily commuters will accept being sniffed by dogs.” A tone of disgust slipped into his voice. “Perhaps Mr Gates is unaware of local beliefs about dogs.”

“Until someone invents a better way, dogs are the best explosives detectors available,” Gates said. “You can protect the sensibilities of people or you can stop explosives coming into the city. Your choice.”

“I think the choice you’re suggesting is one between us changing the character and culture of this city and the enemy doing so,” the King said. Again in Arabic and Madari wondered if he didn’t trust his command of English well enough to express his feelings. Or was it some kind of affront to Gates?

“I know which of those choices I’d make,” Zahir said. “Change is inevitable. I’d rather we decided on it, not Saifullah.”

“Some of the changes sound quite similar,” Atuallah said. “I hear you’ve made a proposal to ban people gathering in groups of more than ten.”

“Not quite. The proposal is to allow assemblies larger than ten people only with prior permission from the police. Mr Rafeel supports me in this.”

Rafeel looked embarrassed momentarily, as if caught on the wrong side. “Yes, ah, yes. I do support it. But of course, we don’t intend to try to stop legitimate protest. It just needs to be properly policed.”

“There have been more protests in the city recently,” the King said. “And not in support of Saifullah, but rather against some of the changes introduced recently.”

“You read of these protests in the newspapers?” Zahir said.


“Yes, I thought you must have, since you and your family venture into the city so rarely now.” A few sharp intakes of breath came around the table. Gates was the slowest to react, waiting for the translation, and even he looked shocked. Madari thought he heard the soft voice of the interpreter stumble for an instant as he turned the remark into English.

Atuallah didn’t rise to the provocation, though he tensed. Beside him, Rahama scowled furiously, and looked ready to speak, but the King got in first.

“Your point is well taken, brother. Of course, people naturally resist change and we must make difficult choices on their behalf. However, I suggest the law about assemblies is clearly designated an interim measure which will be regularly reviewed and rescinded as soon as circumstances allow.”

“Of course. An excellent suggestion,” Zahir said, though his face conveyed a different impression of his opinion about the idea.

The tension in the room cleared, with a few sighs of relief audible around the table.

“Now, Inspector Gates,” Zahir went on, “about the dogs. I believe you have already made arrangements for the first batch.”

“Aye, and training for the handlers. Rafeel, I hope you’ve got some dog handlers who speak French. These pups are coming from Paris.”


“Elmi isn’t going to be happy about the air power, however they implement it,” Jahni said in the car on the way back to barracks.

“No,” Madari agreed. “I think he sees it as an erosion of his forces.”

“He doesn’t exactly have a lot of pilots in the first place,” Jahni said. He smiled. “Dhan said to me that he could probably name all the Navy pilots individually and their wives and children.”

“Perhaps,” Madari said. “But does that mean he should be less resentful about losing them? I’d certainly resent it if anyone wanted to take the Special Forces unit away from the Royal Guard.”

Jahni sobered. “It’s been talked about.”

“What?” Madari said. “By who? When?”

“Relax. Just idle talk. After last week’s meeting I was talking to Zahir and we were batting ideas around.”

“Oh. Do you feel you need more independence?” Madari asked, unable to stop a flutter of nerves in his stomach. “More responsibility?”

Jahni snorted. “If I’ve learned one thing in the Army it’s that ‘responsibility’ is a codeword for ‘paperwork’.”


Jahni arrived back at his office to find Alex Black waiting for him.

“Did we have a sparring session scheduled?” he asked, glancing at his diary as he sat.

“No. I wanted to have a word with you and the Colonel. Can we go to his office?”

“I’ll check if he’s free,”

He was, for the next thirty minutes, so they hurried over there.

“Hello, Alex,” Madari said, rising to greet her as she and Jahni came in. He offered her his hand and she shook it. “What can I do for you?”

“I came to tell you I’m leaving Qumar.”

Jahni stared. She’d said nothing about it on the way over. “What? When did you decide this?”

“I didn’t. It’s the agency. They’re pulling all of their foreign staff out. There’ve been so many attacks on foreigners lately that we bodyguards are becoming bigger targets that some of our clients!”

“Anyone attacking you or your colleagues would be making a grave mistake,” Madari said.

Alex smiled at that. “Yeah. But it’s making it impossible for us to do our jobs, so the agency is transferring us all out of the country for now. I’m going home for Christmas, and then I’m going to Dubai.” She sighed. “I’ll spend my whole time taking rich ladies shopping.”

“What does Raian think of this?” Jahni asked.

“Kahil!” Madari said, sounding shocked at the personal question. Alex didn’t object to it.

“He’s not happy I’ll be gone, but he’s happy I’ll be safe. Well, as safe as I can be in my job. It’s near enough for him to pop over to see me, so, you’ll be very generous in the matter of three day passes, right?”

Jahni smiled at her mock glare. “Of course.”

“Alex, I’m so sorry,” Madari said. “I’m sorry my country has become a place where you don’t feel safe or welcome.”

Jahni heard the pain in his voice; saw the shame on his face and his anger rose at the unfairness of it all. For Alex, forced to leave. For Madari, feeling as if he’d failed when he’d fought so hard already.

“It’s not your fault, Colonel,” she said. “They’d have lost this war already without you two.”

“You’re too generous. And, please, we are friends. Call me Faris.”

She looked surprised at the offer, but nodded. “Faris. Thanks. Right, I’m having a goodbye party before I go, and I want to see you both there.”

“We’d be honoured,” Madari said. “I hope this is only a temporary goodbye.”

“I hope so too. I like it here. I want to come back and marry Izzy so you’d better get things sorted out sharpish.”

Madari laughed. “Alex, I promise I will dance at your wedding.”

“You never dance,” Jahni said.

“If I see this wedding, I will dance. I promise.”

“That I’ve gotta see,” Alex said.

After she left, Madari dropped heavily into his chair with a sigh. “More foreigners are leaving the country every day. We should be ashamed. This used to be such a cosmopolitan city.”

If Sophia had still been here would she have had to leave? Jahni wondered. Would Madari have sent her away? Was this breaking up other couples and families?

“The new security measures for the city will change things.”

“They might keep bombers out, but what about attacks?”

“Then Rafeel needs to get more police on the streets,” Jahni said. “And more CCTV.”

Madari just sighed again. “Is that what we want our city to become?”

“I don’t see that we have a choice.”

“No. I know.” He rubbed his forehead as if his head ached.

“Are you okay?” Jahni asked. He lowered his voice. “Are you sleeping?” Madari knew what he meant. It had become a kind of code question that they asked each other. ‘Are you sleeping?’ meant ‘are you waking screaming from nightmares about being tortured?’

“I’m fine,” Madari said. “I’m sleeping quite well lately. You?”

Jahni nodded. “Yes. Fine.” They’d had sessions with the counsellors of course, the medical officers insisting on it, and Madari said he had seen Fauzi a few times. Jahni had already been seeing the psychiatrist regularly in any case. It had proven effective. Madari had feared relapsing into the worst phase of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but it hadn’t happened.

Because they’d been together, Jahni felt sure of that. Even the psychiatrist thought that had made the difference. The strength they’d drawn from each other during and after the ordeal had kept them from being dragged into the darkness Madari had taken so many years to escape before.

“I’ll be at home tonight,” Jahni said. “I’m not on duty. You can call me if you need to.”

“Thank you, Kahil. Perhaps I will.”

Jahni went back to the Unit, anticipating that call. Even longing for it. Even if they couldn’t spend the night with each other, they could lie in bed in the dark and speak to each other on the phone—though never about anything that could compromise them.

Those moments were the most intimate ones their lives allowed them right now.

Chapter 2

February 1998

“I’m sorry we’re late, sir,” Madari said as he and Jahni came into Zahir’s office.

“Oh, don’t be. If a man can get anywhere in this city on time these days then I’d have to sack someone.” He chuckled. “Why do you think I go almost everywhere by helicopter?”

Jahni wished they could do the same—an Air Force helicopter of course, since all of the Royal Guard choppers and pilots had now transferred to Air Force control. But he’d had no reason to complain about it. Every time they’d needed the helicopters since the change happened they were there.

Zahir rose from behind the desk. “Let’s be more comfortable. Follow me.” He led them to a small sitting room behind his office. A comfortable room, for more informal business, but it had communications equipment set up as well as sofas and coffee tables. It was clearly a place to work, not simply a place to retreat and relax. The windows had blinds drawn over them and lamps illuminated the room. It might as well have been night instead of mid-afternoon. Zahir ordered an aide to bring coffee, which appeared quickly and the aide poured it and left closing the door behind him.

Madari and Jahni glanced at each other. Neither knew the purpose of this meeting. In fact they hadn’t known until now that they’d be the only ones attending it. Jahni felt some worry about that. Had Zahir found something out about them? But the only other person who knew their secret was Rahama, who hated Zahir.

“Thank you for coming on short notice,” Zahir said, picking up his coffee. “I know you are busy, so I’ll get straight to the point, though I can’t promise that this will be a short meeting. I have a proposal to put to you that I feel sure you’ll want to discuss at length.”

Did that mean it would be one they weren’t going to like? Jahni wondered, catching Madari’s eye again and seeing the same worries reflected there.

“But before we get into that, I want to say how much I appreciate your co-operation since my return. Not everyone has been able to put old differences behind them and work so constructively with me.”

He had to mean Rahama there, Jahni thought. And possibly Admiral Elmi, both of whom clashed more and more often with Zahir in the war council meetings. He couldn’t mean Kotekar, who supported every move Zahir made. The man’s brown-nosing was cringe-inducing at times.

“We act in the best interests of the country,” Madari said, his voice a little cold. Was there a threat in that statement? If Madari judged Zahir not to be acting in the best interests of the country would their co-operation end swiftly?

“Then we have the same goals,” Zahir said. “Now, let us get down to business. I think what I have to propose to you is very much in the best interests of the country. Major Jahni, your unit continues to grow and has been in action a lot the last few months.”

“Yes, sir. The extra funding we’ve had has allowed us to recruit more men.”

“And you’re training more of them here in Qumar.”

“We have enough men with the experience from their own training abroad to specialise in creating our own training program. I don’t say that it’s comparable to the SAS yet, or ever will be, but we’re making progress.”

“Excellent. You’re playing a key role. The number of combat actions you’ve seen in the last year is impressive.”

“That’s as much down to better intelligence,” Jahni said. “They’re finding more cells, in the city and countrywide, for us to attack.”

“Yes, I’m very pleased with the changes we’ve made at Military Intelligence. A few key officers in the right places and a world of difference.”

Officers fully loyal to Zahir, Jahni supposed. Or officers who could see the direction of the wind was blowing. As much as he appreciated the better quality of their work lately, Jahni still had little love for Military Intelligence. Perhaps he was prejudiced by a certain former intelligence officer, who’d very loyal to Zahir in the old days. He’d heard nothing to suggest Zahir had taken Raslan into his inner circle again—something that could only reflect favourably on Zahir.

“However,” Zahir said. “Despite their success in detecting cells and the successes of your unit in eliminating them, the top prize still eludes us.”

Jahni heard Madari make a small sound in his throat, as if about to speak and then thinking better of it. He didn’t need to. Zahir knew the depth of Madari’s hatred for Saifullah, and at least some of the causes of it.

“It must frustrate both of you that you were so close to him and he slipped away.”

It wasn’t an admonishment for their unit who had failed to capture or kill Saifullah during the rescue, Jahni realised and he felt a sudden tension and excitement in his chest. Zahir’s proposal was about Saifullah and for sure that meant it was bad news for Saifullah.

“So what I require of you, Major Jahni, is to form a squad dedicated to the elimination of the man calling himself Saifullah.”

“Sir, my whole unit is dedicated to that.” He glanced at Madari who was watching Zahir with narrowed eyes. “As are myself and the colonel.”

“Let me clarify. Let’s say your unit sends a team on a mission to eliminate a terrorist cell. They capture or kill those they find there. They rescue hostages. They secure the building. They deal with explosives. And so on. What I want you to form is a squad whose only task during such a mission is to find and kill Saifullah. Nothing else. No rescues. No bomb defusing. They’ll leave all of that to the rest of the men. Their only task will be search and destroy.”

Jahni could barely breathe for a moment. Why hadn’t he thought of this himself? It was brilliant! If they’d had such a squad in place before Saifullah might not have escaped on the night of the rescue. He might be dead. They might be free!

“This squad should be on standby continually,” Zahir said. “You’ll work out the details of course, but I want them ready to deploy as soon as you’re sent a possible location for the target.”

“You’re talking about a death squad.”

Madari’s words shook Jahni from his racing thoughts, already thinking ahead to candidates for the squad and how he’d organise it. Should he lead it himself?

“I’m talking about a special sub-unit with a specific task,” Zahir said.


“I don’t deny it.” He looked at Jahni again. “Major, you must choose men who are very clear what their task is. Men who will walk past a hostage or a bomb to reach their target. Men you know will kill Saifullah on sight without an instant’s hesitation.”

Jahni suppressed the urge to laugh as he thought in that case the squad could be himself, Madari and Alex. His heart was pounding he realised and his face felt hot. This could be it; this could give them their best chance.

“Men prepared to die?” Madari asked with some suspicion in his voice.

“All soldiers should be prepared to die,” Zahir said. “But I’m not asking for a suicide squad. I don’t want fanatics. I want professionals. Major, I’ll allocate a special budget for the squad. You’ll want to keep them in training continuously in every situation you might happen to encounter. Who knows where the final moment might happen? In a house or a cave. A small flat or a palace. A plane, a boat, a car. Think of everything. I will see you are provided with anything you need to carry out training exercises.”

“Yes, sir.”

Jahni glanced at Madari again, to see a worried frown directed back at him. Should he await a signal from Madari that he approved? He was still Jahni’s commanding officer. What would Zahir do if Madari didn’t approve? However much Madari wanted Saifullah dead, he had some inconveniently strong principles. Would Zahir split the Special Forces unit off from the Royal Guard in that case and have Jahni report direct to him?

The idea actually tempted Jahni, as much as it warred with his personal feelings for Madari and his professional admiration for him. No. He wouldn’t wait for a nod of approval. He wanted this and Zahir would make it happen, whatever Madari said. Madari would just have to accept it. It gave them the best chance to be free sooner rather than later.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, turning back to Zahir. “I’ll start work on this immediately.”


Madari said nothing about the meeting to Jahni on the way back to barracks. The driver could hear them and of course, this new squad was classified top secret. But when they arrived and Jahni made to head back to the Special Forces unit’s buildings, Madari put a hand on his arm.

“A word in my office before you go, please.”

Did Jahni detect the chill in Madari’s voice? He didn’t react to it if he did, just gave a polite acknowledgement and followed Madari to the office.

“I’m not to be disturbed,” Madari said to his secretary as he took a folder of messages from the man.

“Yes, Colonel. Your next meeting is in forty-five minutes.”

“Thank you.”

“Can I bring you anything?”


Now he saw a small reaction in Jahni’s face, a momentary grimace. If he wasn’t getting coffee he knew that what he was getting instead would not be good. But he composed himself and followed Madari inside. Madari closed the door and sat at the desk. His swagger stick with its concealed blade sat on a small stand on the desk and he picked it up, wanting something to do with restless hands. Jahni remained standing.

“Is this really what you want your men to become?” Madari asked, his voice as neutral as he could make it. He understood the attraction of Zahir’s proposal, but Jahni’s lack of any apparent misgivings shocked him. “Assassins.”

“We want him dead don’t we?”

“Yes, but—”

“But what?” Jahni demanded. “What did you think that would mean? Me challenging him to single combat?”

“We’re being asked to form a death squad. Is that honourable?”

“There’s no honour in that man! We don’t owe him an honourable death. I’m surprised that you of all people would think we do.”

Madari stood, slamming the swagger stick down on the desk. “I do not think that!” He remembered all too vividly his own savage rage when faced with Saifullah in the flesh at last. Remembered the animalistic bloodlust it had shocked him he could feel. People called him a thinker, a planner. But in that instant he’d been a man of action. “A bullet in the head is too clean a death for him.”

“Maybe. But screwing around trying to capture him could let him slip through our fingers again. “

Madari rubbed his eyes and walked to the window, taking the stick with him, holding it behind his back in both hands.

“Perhaps it is the source of the idea that I’m uncomfortable with.”

“I understand that.” Jahni sounded calmer. Madari heard his footsteps on the floor, knew he stood only a couple of feet away now. Knew instinctively where he was, all the time. “But Zahir hasn’t done anything to suggest he still has a grudge against us. He’s been a big supporter of the unit and the Guard.”

“Yes. And now people call us his ‘favourites’.” He glanced back to see Jahni grimace, showing he was no happier about it than Madari. “It’s not a position I relish.”

“Me neither,” Jahni admitted. “But I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.”

Madari stared at him. “I’m going to assume you picked that expression up in England. Never repeat it in my presence, please.”

Jahni grinned. “Sorry. But you see my point? I still despise him, but if we have to work with him… well, you told me yourself that a soldier doesn’t have to like his comrades, he just has to remember who the common enemy is.”

“And later? Zahir will have plans for the future. For when this war is over.”

“So do we. And at that point, Zahir’s plans will stop being our problem.”

Madari looked away again, out of the window. Would they really walk away when Saifullah was dead? When the war ended? The country would not turn instantly into a paradise at that point. Zahir might become the threat then. And in a much better position than he’d been the last time he made an attempt to take the country from his brother. Could he and Jahni abandon the King to his fate?

Jahni’s hand resting on his back gave him his answer. Yes, they could. There were others to fight for the King. Others who weren’t a danger to him themselves, the way he and Jahni were with their secrets.

“Form your death squad, Kahil. But don’t be seduced by Zahir.”

The hand on his back disappeared and Madari turned to see Jahni scowling at him. “Seduced?”

“By the extra money and resources. By his flattery. He can be charming and persuasive. Don’t become Zahir’s man.”

“Zahir’s man? Do you think I’m like Raslan?”

“No, of course not. But you’re ambitious—as you should be! Zahir will try to find a way to use that for his own ends.”

“Right now, his ends are my ends. I don’t care whose idea the squad is if it helps us succeed. I can’t understand how you can have even a single doubt about it. Do you want a reminder of what we’re fighting for?”

“A reminder?”

“Sophia. Greta. All the others killed that day. All the others killed by his bombs. Sami. Alex, driven out of the country. And us, Faris, us.”

He suddenly grabbed Madari’s jacket, pulling him bodily away from the window and pushing him against the wall. Madari knew what would come next, knew he should fend him off. But he couldn’t resist, didn’t have the heart to, as Jahni kissed him. A savage, hungry kiss, all of Jahni’s pent up rage and frustration concentrated in it.

There could be nothing more. Not here. Not while in uniform. Not with an unlocked door. It lasted perhaps ten seconds and then Jahni stepped back, breathing hard, face flushed.

“We’re fighting for our freedom, and I’m ready to use every weapon.” He straightened his clothes and hair and turned away, marched out.

Madari stayed by the wall for a moment, composing himself, slowing his ragged breathing down. He bent to pick up the swagger stick he hadn’t even realised he’d dropped until his foot nudged it on the floor.

Sitting at his desk again, he buzzed the intercom and asked for tea. Hopefully that would help him regain his composure before his next meeting.


A week later, at seven in the morning, Jahni was shown into Zahir’s small, private sitting room behind his office. Alone this time.

“Sir,” he said, offering the briefest of bows to Zahir.

“Sit, sit, Major,” Zahir said, waving away the formalities. An aide poured the coffee he’d brought in right after Jahni entered and put down a plate of pastries beside the cups. “Thank you for coming in so early. I’m away all day on a visit to an air base, so I had to squeeze you in with my breakfast.” He waved at the pastries. “Please, help yourself.” Jahni just sipped his coffee for now and placed a folder on the table between them.

“I’ve drawn up my preliminary plans for the new squad. They’re in here for you to review. I wanted to bring them over myself.”

“Yes, good. Give me a general overview.”

“Yes, sir. I propose a squad of twenty one men.”

“Twenty one?”

“Yes. It will be split into three fire teams of seven, each with an officer and a sergeant. I’ll also place one of those officers in overall command of the squad.” He’d calmed down from his initial excitement and thoughts about commanding the squad directly himself.

“Which officer?”

“Captain Raian.”

“Ah. Excellent choice.”

“He’s one of the best of my officers. Maybe the best.” He also had a strong personal motivation, one Jahni understood well. If they defeated this enemy, Alex would come back to Qumar. Yes, Jahni understood that motive very well. He’d already discussed this with Raian and seen a fiercely determined look come into his eyes when he understood the rewards of success here. He’d been noticeably less gloomy since then.

“Who else?” Zahir asked.

“Lieutenants Haddah and Fahd.” He handed Zahir a list of all the men he proposed to put on the squad. “All of these men were early recruits to the unit. They’ve all passed SAS training. They have extensive combat experience both prior to joining the unit and since then.”

Men like Kadry and Hurun, veterans now, though still young men. Men he trusted with his life. Men like the enormous Private Zahal who could easily break Saifullah in two with his bare hands if it came to that. Zahir nodded over the credentials of each man on the list.

“So, why three teams? Explain your reasoning.”

“Two teams will be on rotating standby watches. If the team on standby has to deploy the other team will take its place.”

Zahir smiled. “You sound as if you believe Saifullah can be in two places at once.”

“No, sir, but I believe we might be told of two different possible places at once.”

“Good point. But you said have three teams?”

“Yes, sir. The third team is a training team. I’ll be continually rotating the men on a fortnightly basis through all the teams. While they are on the training team they won’t be on standby, but will spend the time in training in a variety of situations and exercises, as you suggested, sir. The roster of each team is not fixed. I want all the men to experience working with each other.”

“Ah, so there are no problems when it comes to covering for leave for example.”

“Exactly. The officers all have different speciality areas and will take responsibility for the training in those areas, but after a few rotations all the officers and men should have done every one of the various training exercises. Then they’ll start to repeat them.”

“It sounds like a challenging schedule for them.”

“Yes, sir. But they are all enthusiastic and are looking forward to getting stuck in. I mean starting the work.”

“I understand the phrase,” Zahir said, smiling.

“Yes, sir.” Of course, he’d been educated in England. Though Jahni would have expected him to pick up some different expressions at Eton than Jahni himself had with the SAS.

“This is excellent, Major, excellent,” Zahir said. He picked up the folder. “I’ll review the full details and may have some suggestions.”

“I’ll be happy to hear them,” Jahni said, diplomatically, though confident that the suggestions would be intelligent, practical ones. He knew Zahir would understand the plans with the eye of a military man, not a politician. Good to be dealing with someone like that.

“Have you thought any more about what we discussed a couple of months ago?” Zahir asked. “About splitting the Special Forces unit from the Royal Guard?”

“Not in detail,” Jahni admitted.

“Of course. You’ve been busy. I have been thinking about it. Not for immediate effect for course. But since you now recruit men from the whole Army and not just the Royal Guard, with your numbers growing…”

“We aren’t large enough to become a full regiment,” Jahni said.

“No, but you are large enough that you make a…cumbersome appendage to another regiment. I understand you’re Colonel Madari’s protégé, but you’ve long since come into your own as an officer.” He smiled. “I’ve watched your progress even while outside the country.”

“That’s very flattering, sir.”

Madari’s words came back to him. Don’t let Zahir seduce you. Don’t become Zahir’s man. Is that what he’d become if the unit left the Royal Guard? Zahir’s man instead of Madari’s man?

“I’m surprised you haven’t been promoted faster, given your potential. If it had previously been in my control you’d certainly be Lieutenant Colonel by now. As you would be if your unit did become independent.”

Was that an attempt at seduction? Or a genuine opinion that Jahni should hold that rank? He knew their being so close had led Madari to be cautious about accusations of favouritism over Jahni’s promotions. Being no longer a part of the Royal Guard would remove that obstacle.

But why even think of it? Promotions didn’t matter. He was ready to give up his career at a moment’s notice. He still had his passport in his pocket. Gaining time, he ate the last remaining pastry on the plate and suffered Zahir’s amused look, showing the man knew it was a delaying tactic.

“As an independent entity you’d have your own base and facilities of course. State of the art. New. Purpose built.”

Now there was temptation. Not for himself this time, but for his men. Purpose built facilities. Everything the best and most modern—as they deserved.

“Well, please, think about it some more, Major. I’ll arrange another meeting with you in a few days, after I have time to review these plans. Though in the meantime, go ahead and start making your arrangements. I’ll formally approve them later, but informally I can say now, I approve. I heartily approve.”

“Thank you, sir. And I will think about it.”

Think about becoming Zahir’s man.

Chapter 3

May 1998

Madari rarely saw Zahir angry. He usually kept a cool head whatever the emergency—an admirable trait. But this morning he stomped into the War Council meeting with a furious scowl on his face. Everyone hastily sat down and came immediately to order, instead of the usual few minutes of greetings and paper shuffling as they settled.

“You have all seen this.” Zahir, still on his feet, tossed a copy of the Az-Ma’ir Sunrise onto the table displaying the front page headline they had all read.


“Military Intelligence is investigating now to find out who leaked the classified evacuation plans to the Sunrise.” He began to pace up the side of the table, clearly too wound up to even stand in one place, never mind sit. “Gentlemen, I will not have my brother insulted in the newspapers. The Sunrise called him a coward! That is sedition.”

There was a stir and murmur around the table. Madari caught Jahni’s eye, saw him raise an eyebrow. Did he find the word ‘sedition’ as extreme as Madari did? Or was he surprised to see Zahir so angry on his brother’s behalf? Still, whatever a man’s differences with his brother, an insult from an outsider brought them together.

“Newspapers try to put a negative twist on anything,” Rahama said. “Most people will have the sense to see that contingency plans—”

“Perhaps you have more faith in people’s common sense than I do, General,” Zahir said, cutting Rahama off with an impatient gesture. “I don’t only call it sedition because of the personal insults to our monarch. I call it sedition because it undermines morale. It makes the people believe their King is afraid, that he will leave them to face the danger alone. And that he believes defeat is imminent.”

“Is that not a reasonable interpretation?” Admiral Elmi asked. Zahir turned the scowl on him, stopping beside the three chiefs of staff.

“You believe defeat is imminent, Admiral? Then why are you still here?”

“Imminent may be the wrong word,” Elmi said, voice faltering under the glare. “My apologies.”

Zahir had stopped by the three chiefs of staff now.

“The Admiral has a point,” Rahama said. “How many of us have not made similar plans to get our families to safety?”

He looked around the table and all of the men there with families to take care of wore expressions that confirmed they’d done the same. Madari and Jahni glanced at each other again. Their passports were in their pockets, along with cash. Local currency and American dollars. They’d already sent personal items out of the country for safekeeping by their friends. They may not have families to protect, only each other, and they’d fight until the last moment if they had to. But in the end, they too had their plans.

“I’m not ashamed to admit that I have,” Rahama went on. “I couldn’t argue with any man who accused me of believing defeat is possible.”

That caused a stir and more than murmurs. But Zahir raised a hand to quiet them. “No, no, the General is right. Defeat is always possible in a war. And that is why we must counter every move by the enemy. That is why we must deprive the enemy of every ally we can. That is why we must close down the Az-Ma’ir Sunrise.”

He had to shout his next words over the babble of voices as the men around the table erupted with protests, questions and support.

“And all the other Saifullah supporting papers! We cannot allow them to go on spreading sedition openly. They are no more than propaganda rags for the enemy. We have tolerated them too long.”

“You can’t do that!” Rahama shouted and rose from his seat, attracting astonished stares. If Zahir’s anger was unusual, Rahama’s was unprecedented. “Close newspapers! What next? Will you send the journalists to prison?”

Zahir smiled. A smile none of the men here had seen in several years, since before his exile. “As we speak, the police are taking care of that.”


“Only the worst offenders. Hamin of course.”

The editor of the Sunrise now and a thorn in Madari’s side for years. But to close his newspaper and lock him up…

“This is outrageous!” Rahama actually banged his fist on the table. “The King will never agree to this!”

“He already has.”

That took the wind out of Rahama’s sails and he dropped back into his seat. The King had agreed to it already and Rahama—one of his closest advisors—didn’t know. The flush of anger drained from Rahama’s face, leaving him pale and sick-looking.

Madari found it hard to believe the King had agreed, but perhaps the publication of the secret contingency plans for evacuating him and his family in the event of a coup had shaken him. Shaken him enough to make him agree to extreme measures without consulting anyone but his brother.

“Your Highness,” Rahama said, his tone almost pleading. “Can you not see that you are proposing is exactly what Saifullah would do if he ruled this country? Can you not see that the measures you’ve put in place over the last few months are turning this country into the kind of oppressive regime we’re trying to fight against? Can you not see that even the moderate newspapers and people are objecting to living this way?”

“You sound like the leader column of the Sunrise,” Kotekar said, and there was some laughter. Rahama scowled and looked around the table for support. His eyes locked with Madari’s, an expectant expression on his face. Madari agreed with him, but should he say so? After what had passed between them did Madari still have the obligations of friendship? Yes, he thought. Rahama still protected him, and at least some of his motivation for doing so was affection.

“Sir,” he said. “The General is right when he says it’s not only the Saifullah supporting papers who have spoken out against the new security measures and laws. Moderate, government-supporting papers have too.”

“Yes.” Zahir nodded. “Of course, that is a problem.” He smiled, less shark-like than the last one. “It’s an issue I need to deal with. I think they need more explanation direct from me about the reasons behind each measure. I’ve had a ‘no interviews’ policy, but it may be time to change that. To offer some reassurance. Thank you, Colonel.”

Rahama stared and Madari understood why. Madari had made the same point as Rahama and been thanked for it, while Rahama had been mocked.

“The other newspapers are bound to feel nervous,” Kotekar said. “Perhaps, sir, you need to reassure them that they won’t be silenced too.”

“As long as they do as they are told?” Rahama said, his voice bitter.

“Yes, Marshall,” Zahir replied to Kotekar, ignoring Rahama’s comment. “You’re right. Excellent suggestion.”

Madari saw Admiral Elmi move his chair just a tiny distance away from Rahama. Was he even aware he was doing it? If Elmi, who generally sided with Rahama against Zahir and Kotekar, was distancing himself then what next for Rahama? He wore a bleak and distant expression and barely contributed to the rest of the meeting.


The next day Zahir came to Madari. Actually came to his office, startling him and causing him a small moment of panic, since Zahir usually summoned people to his office at the Defence Ministry.

“I felt the need to get out of there for a while,” he told Madari as he stood by the window, looking out over the parade ground. “And it keeps people guessing.”

One of Madari’s office staff appeared with coffee and left with orders for no interruptions. It felt strange to Madari to sit behind his desk with the Defence Minister, a Prince, on the wrong side of it, so they sat on the comfortable leather sofa. Which felt strange in itself, too familiar and friendly, but Zahir didn’t seem to mind.

“Do you know why I’ve come to talk to you, Colonel?”

Madari had a few guesses. He chose the one that felt safest.

“The arrangements for splitting the Special Forces unit from the Royal Guard?” A month ago he and Jahni had finally agreed to it. It seemed foolish to put it off because they might not personally see it through to its conclusion. It was a good plan and would put the unit on the best footing for the future.

“Oh, no urgency there.” Zahir waved a hand. “As we discussed, we’ll complete the new base first and make the split then. I’m glad you’re being co-operative there, Colonel. It can’t be easy for you to lose a large number of your men.”

“It’s the best option for the unit. And it gives Major Jahni a good opportunity for independent command.”

“And he’ll be excellent. I feel I should apologise. Years ago I questioned the expense of sending him to train in England. Clearly I was wrong. It was an excellent investment. But I don’t need to tell you anything about his potential, do I? You spotted it long before anyone else did. Your choice to bring him into the Royal Guard may be one of the best decisions you ever made.”

“Thank you, sir.” Madari felt some guilt about accepting the compliment. His motives hadn’t been so pure; he’d simply been desperate to keep Jahni at his side. But at least the years had confirmed he wasn’t seeing Jahni’s talents only through the eyes of a besotted admirer.

“He’ll be Lieutenant Colonel of course, as soon as the split happens, probably before. And full Colonel not too long after that. Remind me, how old is he now?”

“Thirty-five. Thirty-six in September.”

“Hmm, yes, just about the right age I think. Do you think he’s fully recovered from the breakdown?”

The question came out of the blue, so unvarnished, with no euphemisms, it left Madari floundering for a moment. He wanted to say yes, because he believed it, and it would be impossible for him to say exactly why he believed it. He couldn’t say no, and didn’t dare even hesitate, because any doubt might damage Jahni’s chances. Zahir seemed to be a supporter of Jahni’s, even if he had his own advantage at the heart of that support. Madari didn’t want to lose Jahni a valuable ally… and it was all nonsense anyway, since they still intended to leave when they could. But until then…

“Yes. He’s fully recovered.” When Zahir gave him a questioning look, Madari went on. “I know him well, sir. I’m his commander and his closest friend. I’m quite certain he is recovered.”

Zahir nodded. “Very good. Yes, nobody knows him better than you do. Now, we’ve discussed advancement for Mr Jahni, let’s talk about you.”

“Me, sir?”

Another subject he might have guessed Zahir had come to discuss. One Madari didn’t want to discuss because he knew what it meant for someone he still cared about.

“I don’t know how much longer General Rahama will continue to work with me. He clearly disagrees with everything I am doing and how I am doing it.”

“He’s a man of strong and progressive opinions.” The diplomatic neutrality of his words pleased Madari.

“Indeed. And so far, he’s remained co-operative. But I suspect that may change. You saw how he challenged me at the last War Council meeting.”

“Admiral Elmi does so quite as often,” Madari pointed out.

“True, but Elmi is of no significance.” His dismissive wave showed how little regard he had for the Admiral and his Navy. “The Army and the Air Force are what’s important. Kotekar gives me his full support. I need the Army chief to do the same.”

Kotekar didn’t only agree, he ‘kissed up’ to Zahir shamelessly—to use an expression Jahni had used. But Madari decided not to mention that.

“Do you want me to speak to General Rahama?” he asked.

“No. Anyway, I’ve noticed that you two are not on such friendly terms as you once were.”

Madari glanced away, flushing. Zahir missed nothing. “That’s…a personal matter, but you’re right. If you were hoping I had any influence over him…”

“That’s not what I’m asking at all, Faris. I want to know if you want his job.”

Madari gasped, whipped around to stare at Zahir.


“You’ve been the most useful of all the regimental colonels and more useful than most of the general staff. I think Rahama could be persuaded it’s time to retire. You would take his place as Army Chief of Staff, with a promotion to General of course.”

A year ago, he thought he’d have said no instantly. But now the temptation to say yes shocked him. All that power… He’d never thought of himself as a man pursuing power, he’d only wanted to serve the regiment, the Army, and the King. But the thought of what he could do if he had so much more power, over the whole Army, not only the Royal Guard.

“Well, Colonel?” Zahir asked.

“I’m thinking, sir. It’s a…big step. And Sharif Rahama is a friend of mine. I couldn’t take any part in forcing him out of his post if he doesn’t want to go.”

“I quite understand. I’ll make certain to keep you distanced from any pressures I have to put on him.”

Madari bit back a groan. Zahir was set on this. He intended to force Rahama out. Even if Madari stayed well away from that, when he took Rahama’s place he’d be tainted by association.

Zahir’s man.

“You do realise I share many of the General’s views.”

“I know. I don’t object to people disagreeing with me. I only object to those views compromising national security.”

“I think that’s harsh. Rahama is unfailingly loyal.” The idea he should warn Rahama of Zahir’s scheming occurred to him and he felt ashamed it had taken him so long to think of it.

“You’re right, that was unfair. He’d never do so deliberately of course. But he could do so inadvertently, if he starts to resist my orders.”

“And what makes you think I wouldn’t do the same?” Madari’s rigid principles had been an issue in the past, they would be again. Did Zahir think him any more malleable than Rahama?

“You’re certainly a man of principle, some say an idealist. But I look at your record. Your guerrilla campaign. Your setting up the Special Forces unit. You’re a realist too, who sees what has to be done and gets on and does it.”

Was this flattery? Jahni had told Madari about Zahir’s flattery during some of the meetings they’d had. Was this the same kind of seduction? Well, he would find it harder with Madari. Jahni started out agreeing with Zahir about more things than Madari did.

“I will not give up my principles for you, sir. If I’m forced to do that, or the country is forced to do that, then I agree with Rahama—we’ve already lost.”

Zahir smiled. “You’ll be challenging, Faris. I like that. But you’re younger and sharper than Rahama. I like that too. Please, don’t dismiss the idea out of hand. Think of the good you could achieve in that position.”

His personal feelings towards Rahama raised another issue—one he couldn’t discuss with Zahir. Though things had been cold between them since Rahama forced Madari to make The Choice, Madari would never consider Rahama his enemy. And he thought Rahama felt the same way. He still considered Madari a friend. He’d looked across that table expecting Madari’s support.

But with what he knew, would he allow Madari to become Army Chief of Staff when Madari could be involved in a scandal at any moment? When he could be blackmailed? Despite their friendship, would Rahama see it as his duty to whisper certain facts in the ear of Military Intelligence if Madari dared to try to take such a lofty position? In the end Rahama would always put the King first and would only keep Madari’s secret for as long as doing so protected the King. That could change.

“Sir,” he said to Zahir. “I need to think about this. I can’t give you my answer now.”

“I understand.”

He glanced up at the calendar on the wall. “Almost the end of May. Ah, where does the time go? I want your answer by the middle of June.”


June 16th 1998

General Rahama had slept badly the night before. Between his age and the national crisis he slept poorly most nights now. But the last few weeks, with suspicion turning to certainly that Zahir wanted him out, he’d had too many sleepless nights to count.

So when he arrived in Kotekar’s office for the weekly Service Chiefs meeting, he gratefully took a cup of coffee and sat down at the conference table next to Elmi, while Kotekar finished a phone call.

“You look tired, Sharif,” Elmi said. “Worrying about something?”

“You can guess what,” Rahama said, quietly. Elmi nodded, both of them glancing to make sure Kotekar wasn’t listening. If anyone was Zahir’s man the Air Marshall was. People joked about the way he sucked up to the Minister. It made Rahama quite sick at times. But at least Kotekar looked well rested. What did he have to worry about, after all?

“Good morning,” Kotekar said, coming to the table. “Sorry to keep you waiting.” He picked a briefcase from the floor, set it on the table and opened it, the top hiding his face.

“We need to discuss the final transfers of air power to you,” Elmi said, not hiding the bitter tone in his voice. “The last of my people are transferring to you at the end of this week and I have some final questions.”

“You don’t need to worry about that, Admiral,” Kotekar said. “You don’t need to worry about anything at all.”

He closed the briefcase lid. He held a pistol with a silencer on it.

“Goodbye, gentlemen.”

He fired twice. Elmi fell first, the bullet taking him in the head, sending him over backwards on his chair, crashing to the floor. Rahama jumped to his feet, so Kotekar’s second shot took him in the chest instead of the head, knocking him down, tangled with the chair, the world going black before he finally hit the carpet.

His eyes opened. He was on the floor. He felt little pain, his body numb. But if he tried to take too deep a breath, sharp pain stabbed through his chest. Elmi lay at his side, eyes wide and staring. He had a small hole in his forehead but that wasn’t the source of the blood soaking the carpet under his head. That would be a larger wound in the back of his skull.

Rahama heard someone speaking, tried to turn his head. He seemed to be half in, half under the chair he’d been sitting in before he was shot.

Shot. I’ve been shot. Kotekar shot me.

Kotekar sat on the edge of the desk, talking on the phone. He ended one call, and dialled again. This call was shorter.

“It’s me. It’s begun.” He smiled. “See you at the palace.” He put the phone down.

“Traitor.” Rahama whispered it. A traitor and Zahir’s man. Did that mean the King had been wrong to bring his brother back? Or was this something worse?

Not Zahir’s man? Saifullah’s man?

My God, and they’d transferred all air power to him.

“Traitor!” The word came out louder this time, though hoarse and cracked. Kotekar looked startled, standing up, clutching his gun. Then he saw Rahama and smiled. He had no reason to fear. Rahama had no sidearm. He was helpless.

He was dead.

I’d have liked to take my wife to Paris one last time. No time now.

“Who,” he gasped, when Kotekar came over, looking down almost curiously at him. “Who are you working for?”

The answer was the worst one. Kotekar gave it as he raised the gun, pointing it at Rahama’s head.

“The Sword of God.”

He pulled the trigger.