Part 38: Jahni's Choice

Chapter 1

“I won’t need the car again today, Sergeant,” Madari said as Sijad pulled up outside the door into the main headquarters building.

“I’ll put her through the car wash and give her a waxing then, sir. You’re at the palace tomorrow, aren’t you?”

“Yes.” Sijad always wanted the car looking its best for the times he drove Madari to a briefing at the palace. “Good afternoon, Sijad.”

“Good afternoon, Colonel.”

The wind must be blowing from the firing range, Madari thought as he closed his briefcase and stepped out of the car. He could hear distant gunshots. Just as he began to walk towards the door into headquarters a soldier ran out of it. The man stopped and Madari expected a salute, but instead the soldier simply stared at him. With a shock, he realised the soldier had a pistol in his hand and he stopped, staring back at the man.

The soldier raised the gun.

“Down!” Sijad yelled, cannoning in to Madari from behind and throwing him to the ground. A car window shattered at the same instant as a gunshot sounded. Two more shots rang out, from Sijad this time. The soldier staggered back and collapsed.

“Are you hit, Colonel?” Sijad asked, getting off Madari.

“No.” He accepted Sijad’s hand to stand up, drawing his sidearm as he rose. Sijad ran to the body and kicked away the dropped pistol before bending down to check the man.

“Dead, sir. I recognise him. Artillery Company.”

Madari became aware of yelling coming from inside the building. Nobody had come outside to investigate the gunshots. A chill gripped him. Almost unconsciously he checked the clip in his pistol was full and took off the safety.

“Leave him for now,” he ordered Sijad. “Come with me, please.”

Inside they found men rushing around, the source of the yelling. Now he could hear what they were yelling about. They were yelling for medics.

There were more dead soldiers in the corridors, but Madari quickly realised they were, in a way, bystanders. They must have been trying to do what Sijad had just done outside—protect the real targets.

The officers.

Madari and Sijad passed room after room where the Royal Guard’s senior staff officers lay dead or injured.

“What happened?” Madari demanded, grabbing the least crazed looking man he could find, a corporal. Even he could barely speak coherently.

“A soldier with a rifle. He walked into the major’s office and just sh…shot him then ran out before we could stop him. I think he went on next door.”

Madari had already passed by next door. A soldier with a rifle dead lay on the floor in there, ignored by those helping injured men.

“There was more than one of them,” Madari said, partly to Sijad, but mostly to himself. He remembered the gunshots he’d heard outside. They hadn’t come from this building. “This isn’t one man gone on a… a rampage. This is an operation!” Where had those other shots come from? Had it been the Special Forces Unit? He ran. Ran for his own office. Ran for his phone.

His phone was dead. So was his personal secretary, lying on the floor of Madari’s office and Madari almost choked at the sight. Had a killer come in here and, finding Madari absent, killed the nearest man in his way? Had the clerk tried to tackle the killer?

Sijad pounded into the room a few seconds after Madari. He lifted the body from the floor and put it carefully on a sofa, then yanked down a curtain from the window to cover it. While he did that Madari hurried to the desk and picked up the phone. Nothing.

“Dammit!” He bashed the cradle up and down a couple of times. “Switchboard? Switchboard?” He still got nothing. He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and tried the number of Jahni’s phone. All he got was a busy signal.

“Sijad, grab a man and send him to the radio room. Get us in contact with the Defence Ministry. Send runners to all the other buildings. I want status reports on all companies and I want their senior officers here in my office ASAP.”

As Sijad ran out to send men to carry out the orders, Madari had to wonder if there were any senior officers left to come to the office.

Twenty minutes later they started to gather. Mostly captains and lieutenants and then Jahni. In the room with these other men neither of them could react as they wanted to, but the relief at seeing him walk in unharmed meant Madari had to sit down abruptly at the desk. He couldn’t look at him any longer than one initial glance. If he did he’d be unable to control the urge to run over and embrace him. But he felt Jahni’s gaze on him and knew exactly where he was in the room. Close, and also making sure to stand between Madari and the door.

The officers looked shell shocked, but they were models of calm compared to the Artillery Company sergeant who ran into the room a moment after Jahni’s arrival. He stared around at the officers and then saluted Madari. His hands had dried blood on them, his uniform also stained with it, the same as most men in the room.

“Sir, Staff Sergeant Maizer, Artillery Company reporting.” His voice shook.

“Are you the most senior man left in the Artillery Company, Sergeant?”

“Yes, sir. The officers…they were in their weekly staff meeting.”

He didn’t need to explain. Madari didn’t want to imagine the carnage.

“Sit down,” Madari ordered him, which just made the shocked man even more alarmed, especially when a captain jumped up to offer him the seat he’d been sitting in.

“Gentlemen,” Madari said, glancing around, catching Jahni’s eye before moving quickly on to the others. “This is the current situation. The phone lines are dead. Radio communication has allowed us to contact other regiments. The same thing has happened there. Soldiers we must assume are infiltrators for Saifullah have killed senior officers.”

“What about at the Defence Ministry?” Jahni asked. “And Milintel?”

“We’ve been unable to contact either. Or the palace. We have managed to contact Police headquarters. The same thing happened there. Chief Rafeel is dead.”

“What about the king?” a Captain asked. “What are television and radio reporting?”

“No word about his majesty, I’m afraid. There are reports of gunfire around the city, and that numerous buildings are locked down, as per the security protocols established recently.”

“Is it a coup?”

“We have to assume it is and act accordingly. We all have our orders.” There was some uneasy stirring. “I know none of you expected to be leading your companies in carrying out those orders. But that is what you must do now. Perhaps you have been spared today to show the world what you are made of. You are Royal Guard. That makes you the best. Go back to your companies and rally your men.” He emphasised the ‘your’, encouraging the shocked and floundering young officers to take ownership of their new commands. “Prepare to move out in an hour. Dismiss. Sergeant, a moment.”

Maizer stood at attention as the other officers left. One stopped by the door. Madari knew who it was without looking.

“Sergeant, I’m giving you a field commission effective immediately. You’re a lieutenant and I hope we all live long enough to see it confirmed.”

“Thank you, Colonel.”

“The full details of the Artillery Company’s orders are in your commanding officer’s safe. If you know the combination, use it. If not don’t waste time trying to find it; just blow the safe. I need you ready to move out in an hour.”

“Ah, yes, sir.” He saluted again and Madari dismissed his newest lieutenant. Only then did he dare look at Jahni.

“The unit?” Madari said. “How many are dead?”

“None. It didn’t happen there.”

“What? They didn’t even try?”

“No. Infiltrating the Special Forces unit would mean having to pass the toughest training in the Army, not to mention the vetting procedure.”

“They might have tried turning a man already in the unit.”

“And risk him giving them away if they picked the wrong one? Too dangerous. None of my men are the religious fanatic sort anyway.”

A dangerous attitude, Madari thought. Never assume anything. Too late to worry about it perhaps. Just be glad to have such an important force intact.

“Alright, Kahil. Go back to your unit and if I don’t see you before, I’ll see you at the airport.”


Everything old is new again, Madari thought.

“We’ve been here before,” Jahni said as he jumped out of the Jeep he’d been travelling in, meeting Madari stepping out of the staff car in front of the airport terminal. They’d been here many times of course. But Madari knew Jahni was thinking of one particular time.

“But then we came to take it, not hold it. Let’s hope we do better than our opponents that night.”

“Of course we will,” Jahni said. “We know its weaknesses.” He grinned, though with more grimness than humour and turned away to where his men were getting out of their trucks and started shouting orders.

Madari strode away into the terminal, Sijad close behind him, still acting as his bodyguard. Madari wasn’t too worried about being shot until actual combat began though. A combination of good luck and Sijad’s quick reactions had saved him from the infiltrator’s murder plot. It was a smart plan, he had to admit. It must have left many regiments in chaos. But he had made sure long before today that orders were properly cascaded. Every man knew his role and, as a contingency, written plans were there for men not high ranked enough to have been briefed on the plans before their senior officers died.

Like Lieutenant Maizer, as he was now. He had those written orders to follow as he led the Artillery Company to their designated positions in the city, moving in the heavy guns and tanks to protect key buildings and locations.

Inside the terminal Major Dhan ran up to him. “You’re alive, Colonel! With what we’ve been hearing I feared you were dead. I feared your men wouldn’t come! What have you heard? Is it definitely a coup? All the phones are down. We can get cell phone reception, but the network is so busy I can’t get through to anyone.”

Madari had tried his own a few more times with the same result. If the only phones working in the city were mobiles the network would be jammed.

“From what we’ve seen driving here, and what we’ve gleaned from radio comms, it is a coup. But I’m afraid I don’t know much more than you, Major. I can only assume that is the situation and act accordingly. I have to take command here now.”

“Ah…has Martial Law been declared?”

“No. Only the King or the Defence Minister can declare that and there’s no word from the Defence Ministry. Major…you know the orders.” He wasn’t going to be difficult on this, was he?

“Yes, sir, of course. I officially relinquish command of the airport to you.”

“Thank you. What’s your status here, Dhan?”

“All commercial flights have stopped and all passengers and aviation staff have evacuated. Only my people and the air traffic control staff are still here.”

“Air traffic control? I thought you said the flights have all stopped.”

“A lot of private individuals have planes in rented hanger space. They’ve been coming to use them to fly out. Many had their families with them. We couldn’t turn them away. The air traffic controllers volunteered to stay.”

“Very well. Keep those going at least until dark unless I order differently.”

“Yes, sir. I’ve set up a command post in my operations room.”

“Thank you, I’ll see you down there soon. I need to supervise the deployment of my men.”

Dhan hurried off and Madari set about his supervision, making sure the orders were followed to the letter, making sure the junior officers knew they had his confidence in their ability to command. If this had happened a month later Madari could have been in the Defence Ministry, as the Army Chief of Staff, a General. He’d left his final decision to the last minute, and would have seen Zahir tomorrow morning. And what of the current Army Chief? Nobody could get in contact with the Defence Ministry—something that only added to the chaos as regiments left with no leaders looked to someone for orders.

So was Rahama alive or dead? Madari couldn’t allow himself to think of the latter except to consider its strategic implications. If he let himself worry his friend was dead he wouldn’t be able to function. Any more than if he thought too much about the Guard’s senior officers. Men he’d known for years, some he could call friends. Men whose wives and children he knew. He couldn’t think of their loss in any way but a military one now. Grief would come later.

If he lived long enough to feel it.


The flights had stopped. The air traffic controllers had come out of the tower when darkness fell and slept on the seats in the departure lounge. Meanwhile Madari’s men dug in, setting up positions at all the points attackers might try to take the building.

As midnight approached Jahni found Madari standing looking down the flight of stairs that led up from the check in area to the security check.

“You should try to get some rest while you can,” Jahni said.

“Soon,” Madari said. “Anything new coming through?”

“Just more rumours,” Jahni said. “One TV channel says the king and his family have escaped, another says they’ve been killed. Same with Zahir. One reports he’s behind the coup!”

“I doubt it. Are all of the radio and TV stations still broadcasting?”

“Yes. The Army units defending them must be in place. It looks as if the Guard aren’t the only ones with their arses in gear.”

Madari hoped so. His men were fine soldiers, but they couldn’t hold the whole city themselves. He sighed, and moved away from the staircase. In his memory it still dripped with blood. Perhaps it would again by dawn. He and Jahni returned to the departure lounge, through the x-ray arches of the security checkpoint. Luckily the machines were turned off, or they might have exploded when he and Jahni walked through with their rifles, pistols, knives and what other weapons Jahni might have.

“The medics are set up?” Madari asked.

“They’ve turned the lounge at gate ten into an infirmary. Come and get some food.” He indicated one of the fast food outlets in the lounge, which the men had taken over. Madari wasn’t much of a fan of cheeseburgers and had no appetite anyway. But there would be coffee at least.

In a moment they had food and most importantly coffee and sat on departure lounge chairs, looking out at the apron and runways. No lights on out there, though a few lights still showed around the hangers. Any craft needing a runway was grounded right now, but some private helicopters took off. Madari permitted it—at their own risk.

“Here’s an odd one,” Jahni said. “According to several reports, there are no attacks on any foreign embassies.”

“Saifullah doesn’t want to risk take over the country only to find himself at war with a major foreign power. I assume foreign residents are taking shelter in the embassies.”

“Yes, there are reports of that. But there aren’t many civilians on the streets now.”

“Has curfew been declared?”

“Yes, the police declared it, since there’s still nothing from the Defence Ministry. The TV stations are passing that on. You know the strangest thing of all though?”

“What’s that?”

“Well, I’ve spoke to several regiments on the radio now, spoken to our other units on the ground, I’ve even spoke to the Navy headquarters and they’ve been in touch with all of their ships.”

“Were the officers on those attacked?”

“Yes. At the same time, sixteen hundred hours today, sorry, yesterday now. But that’s not the strange thing. The strange thing is nobody I spoke to has been able to get in touch with an Air Force base. Not one. Plenty of regiments need helicopters to carry out their orders. But they can’t contact anyone to ask for them.”

“Not a single base?” Now that did seem strange. What were the odds that every single air force base could have had all of its communications destroyed? Even if they had they knew what the orders were and where the aircraft were needed. Even in the absence of a request they should be deploying.

“Come to think of it,” Jahni said, “When we drove here I saw no Air Force planes or choppers in the sky. Only civilian craft and police helicopters.”

“That’s very odd.”

“The air bases are all outside the city. Could Saifullah’s men have actually marched on them and taken them?”

“They can’t have so many men, surely? The fighting that’s been reported in the city is still in quite small pockets. If they had a larger force—”

“Sorry to interrupt, sirs.” It was Raian, frightening in his black combat gear, with only his heavy body armour missing. That lay in heaps ready to don at the last minute, otherwise it would exhaust the men just walking around in it.

“What is it, Captain?”

“I thought you should hear this. I’ve been with the radio operator. We’ve managed to get in contact with Military Intelligence. It sounds bad over there, sir, but what they told me was worse. They have satellite data from their US contacts and it shows convoys of trucks advancing on the city from the north. They’ll be here by mid-morning.”

“How big are these convoys?”

“Dozens of trucks and other vehicles. They estimate enough for hundreds or even several thousand men.”

In the silence that followed the sounds of men talking behind them made Madari shiver. So many of those voices might be silenced soon.

“Thank you, Captain,” Madari said. “Get yourself some food.” When Raian left, Madari turned to look at Jahni. “Thousands. This is really it.”

Jahni nodded. “It almost didn’t seem real, did it? And now…it is.”

“If the Army has deployed as per the plan then all the routes into the city are guarded with tanks and artillery. It will take the enemy some time to break through that.”

“Assuming they don’t have tanks.”

“Raian didn’t mention any.”

“Assuming they don’t have air support.”

“They couldn’t have!” Madari shook his head vehemently. “Men, weapons, trucks—yes. But attack helicopters and fighter planes? They can’t have those.”

“Unless they have taken over the airbases.”

“If they have, then we’re dead, Kahil.”


In the cover of the seat back his hand slipped into Madari’s.

Chapter 2

“Coffee, Colonel?”

Madari jerked awake at Major Dhan’s voice and looked up at him.

“Sorry,” Dhan said, handing him a tin mug of coffee. “I didn’t realise you were sleeping.”

Madari checked his watch. Almost five. The sun was up. He’d fallen asleep still sitting up, legs stretched in front of him. He glanced around, sipping the coffee. He couldn’t see Jahni. Perhaps he was in the command post or the radio room. As always now he felt disconnected when he didn’t know where Jahni was. He’d grown used to it, but it felt harder to cope with when they were in danger like this.

“Any new developments?” Madari asked Dhan.

“One of the television stations has gone off the air. There was gunfire audible before the picture cut out. Sir, more civilians have arrived, wanting to take their private planes out. Can we resume the flights?”

Madari considered his answer as he stood up and stretched. The convoys heading for Az-Ma’ir would take some time to get past the army units that awaited them on every road into the city. The airport might be safe for several hours yet. And if the army units stopped the convoys entirely, the airport might never come under direct attack. There were smaller units of the enemy in the city, clearly, but if there were any of them large enough to make an attack on the airport they’d have done so now.

“Yes, Major. Go ahead with that until I tell you otherwise.”

“Thank you, sir. There’s food here.” He led Madari to a table that held bread, pastries and coffee. Several of the officers stood there, having a makeshift breakfast. Raian hastily swallowed a bite of a pastry and saluted Madari as they approached.

“Good morning, sir. We—”

His words cut off in a roar of noise. A huge blow to his chest threw Madari to the ground, the world fading to blackness…only for seconds. Consciousness returned painfully.

Was it a grenade? It must have been a grenade. Or a shell? He was on his back, and there was a lot of yelling somewhere. The table with the breakfast laid on it had been tipped over and the floor was littered with bread and pastries. And men.

His officers! The pain vanished in a surge of horror, rage and terror. Raian… he spoke to him only a second ago, now he lay at Madari’s side, chest heaving, abdomen a bloody mess Madari couldn’t look at. Could only look at the man’s face, the terror of death in his eyes.

The eyes locked on Madari as he leaned over Raian. The only help he could give now was comfort, and he found Raian’s hand. He wanted to take it in both his own, but his right arm wouldn’t move, so he used only his left.

“Alex…” Raian whispered. “Alex.”

Was he calling for her? Or did he simply want her name to be the last word he spoke. Madari understood that.

“Hush now, son. Rest.”

Raian did. His heaving chest stilled, the terror in his eyes replaced by peace. Madari reached up to close those eyes, but before he could, he heard his name called, in a panicked voice.

“Faris!” Jahni of course. Running across the concourse, from wherever he had been. Running to the scene of destruction and death. There was something of a melee on the concourse, soldiers restraining another of their own. Another infiltrator. Other men were trying to help the officers, but most were dead. Major Dhan, also dead, lay at Madari’s side.

“Help me,” Madari said, as Jahni skidded to a halt beside him. He raised his left arm for a hand up. The right still wouldn’t work for some reason.

“Faris! Lie still for God’s sake!” Jahni dropped to his knees by Madari, but turned away from him shouting, “Where are the medics? Get them now!”

“I think it’s too late,” Madari said. Raian, Dhan, so many others.

“No, you’ll be okay,” Jahni said. “Lie down. Let me put pressure on it.”

“Pressure on…”

He trailed off, looking down at himself, at the same thing Jahni was looking at–the shattered mess of Madari’s right shoulder. Ah. That’s why his arm wouldn’t work. The stench of the blood hit him.

He passed out.

This time it must have been a few minutes before he woke again, because he was somewhere else. A gate lounge, he realised. The one set up as a medical centre. Medics were working on him and the pain was unspeakable now. How could he not have noticed it before?

Jahni was there, pacing behind the medics as they worked, not looking at Madari. Madari understood why. He had to stay strong, especially now. And now he shouldn’t be in here.

“Kahil,” Madari said. Instantly Jahni dropped to one knee at the side of the bench seats where Madari lay. He couldn’t get too close because of the medics continuing their work, ignoring him.

“Major, you’re in command now.”

Jahni looked alarmed at that for a second. Command of the whole Royal Guard—not only the contingent here and his own unit—something he might have once hoped to achieve in a more official way one day. In these circumstances it was no prize to celebrate. But after that moment of worry he set his jaw and nodded.

“Yes, sir.”

“You can’t stay in here. You must do your duty.”

Jahni didn’t argue. They both knew it was his duty. If it meant Madari died in here alone, while Jahni was elsewhere doing his duty, well that was the life they’d chosen. A life where death might come at any moment. Only chance had saved Jahni this time. He’d been elsewhere when the rest of the officers gathered together and the infiltrator took his opportunity.

“Brilliant,” Madari whispered.

“Sir?” Jahni said.

“A second wave. Yesterday was the first. Kill the commanders. Today, kill those who stepped up to take their places. Brilliant.”

“You think this has happened everywhere? The military will be in total disarray if it has. Will there be a third wave?”

There didn’t even need to be. Fear and paranoia would work their spell on the men left in charge now. But just in case…

“Kahil, put on your body armour.”

Jahni nodded. “Yes, sir.”


Only when Jahni left the room did Madari allow himself to cry out with the pain as the doctor worked on his wound.


Jahni walked away from the gate lounge. Walked away from Madari and wondered if he’d ever see him alive again and if that would be because of his own death or Madari’s?

The doctor said the bullet was deep in the shoulder and only surgery could remove it. Madari needed to be in hospital and he needed blood.

Jahni tried to pull his mind away from those thoughts which would make it impossible for him to work. He was in command now. He needed to confirm if Madari was right about the ‘second wave’. He’d have the radio room try to contact the other contingents of the Royal Guard and other regiments. What about the units waiting to defend the city? If they were left leaderless, in chaos… But men would still fight even without officers and NCOs. There was something else. The enemy must have something else in reserve. But what? Well, they would find out in due time. Meanwhile, he had something to do.

Several of Jahni’s own men stood guard over the infiltrator who’d turned an assault rifle on the officers. He knelt in a corner, a defiant expression on his battered face. Fear there too, Jahni thought. But he almost certainly hadn’t expected to be alive at this point so it wasn’t death he feared. Torture then? But Jahni had no time to bother with questions. Besides the man wouldn’t know anything useful. If there was a third wave this man wouldn’t know about it. Saifullah’s cells could teach Military Intelligence some lessons about ‘need to know’.

So what did they do with him? They could keep him here under guard, which would take men away from other duties. He’d need food and water. Though they had plenty of food for now, seeing the bread scattered across the floor and soaked in the blood of the dead and injured men made Jahni determined to give him neither a drop nor a crumb of their supplies.

“Stand clear,” he told his men, and those nearest to him stood aside. The man glared up at Jahni, who had only three words to say to him. Words to let him know he’d failed. “Madari is alive.”

Jahni’s pistol was already in his hand. He raised it and fired once. Blood, brain and bone struck the wall behind the prisoner, before he fell down on his face. Even the hardened Special Forces men jumped at the sudden brutality of their commander’s action. They stared at him with very unfamiliar alarm on their faces before they pulled themselves together.

“Clear that up,” Jahni said of the body, as he holstered his gun. “Don’t put him with our dead.” The traitor wore the same uniform, but he wasn’t one of ‘our dead’.

As Jahni walked away to put on his body armour he heard the first rattle of automatic fire outside.



Madari opened his eyes to see Jahni close to him. He wondered if this was another hallucination induced by the painkillers. He’d been in a hazy cloud for many hours. Though he remained aware of where he was, after his grandfather sat and talked to him for some time he’d been forced to conclude he might be seeing some things that weren’t, technically speaking, there.

Jahni appeared to be real though. He even helped Madari raise his head and sip some water.

“The doctor says you’re doing well,” Jahni said. “The bleeding is under control and there’s no sign of infection.”

There might be an unspoken ‘yet’ in that sentence, Madari thought. He knew the bullet was still in his shoulder. Until that was out then he was not doing well, he was only hanging on.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“Almost ten in the evening.”

“What?” A whole day had passed in the drug haze. “What’s happening? Give me a sitrep.”

“You don’t need to worry about that. You have to rest.”

“Please, Kahil. Tell me.”

Jahni sighed. He moved slightly closer, sat on the floor.

“We came under attack this morning not long after the shooting. It’s only a small force and we’ve been keeping them pinned down. But it means nobody can get in and out of here. Otherwise we’d have taken you to a hospital.”

“The other wounded?”

He saw Jahni gulp a couple of times. “There were only two other officers left alive after the shooting. They both died earlier today.”

Madari didn’t ask the names. He couldn’t let himself see the faces. Raian’s dead face haunted him already. He’d seen Raian walking around here earlier, uniform bloody, carrying a holdall and a boarding pass. He’d asked if Madari knew when the next flight to Dubai left and Madari had wept for Alex.

“What else?” Madari said. “What about the rest of the city? What have you heard?”

“It’s almost impossible to get anything now. There are a lot of explosions out there and gunfire. I…I think those convoys got through. I don’t know how, but they got past the Army units very fast.”

“TV? Radio?”

“All the stations have gone off the air, and some have started broadcasting loops of the old tape of that interview with Saifullah. They must have been captured. But even they aren’t making any statements.”

“What else?” Jahni was holding something back. Something he didn’t think Madari had the strength to hear perhaps. “Please, Kahil, what else?”

“There’s a rumour that Saifullah is in the palace. The man himself I mean, not his troops. It’s only a rumour,” he added quickly. “And even if it’s true it doesn’t mean anything happened to the king! He could have got out yesterday.”

Madari closed his eyes at the words ‘in the palace’. Rumour, perhaps. But along with the rest…

“We’ve lost,” he said in no more than a whisper.

“No! Jahni said. “We definitely still hold Military Intelligence. The reports from there are sporadic, but they’re still in control of the building. There have even been some communications from inside the Defence Ministry. They aren’t very coherent, but there are people on our side still in there.”

“Really?” Madari’s eyes snapped open and he almost forgot himself and tried to sit up. The pain knocked him back down and he groaned as his head spun. Jahni came closer, touched him, an arm across his chest.

“Easy. Lie still. You’ll tear the stitches.”

He had stitches? He didn’t even know that. He lay still, trying to focus on the weight and warmth of Jahni’s arm across him. He remembered when they’d lain in bed this way. Remembered the sweetness of those days. He’d like that to be the last memory he took with him.

“Kahil,” he said softly, not needing to raise his voice as Jahni was so close. He didn’t dare let anyone else hear these words. “Promise me something.”


“Promise you’ll find me in Paradise.”

“Shh,” Jahni said. He scowled, but it was unconvincing. His eyes shone. “You are alive!”

“But we’ve lost. I’m so sorry, my love. We should have left long ago, so I could have given you the life you deserve.”

Jahni’s head dropped forward, his face hidden against Madari’s chest. Madari reached his good arm across the broad shoulders. They trembled under his hand, but didn’t shake or heave as Jahni held in all the emotion he couldn’t express here. All the grief for the lost life they might have had together. A life where they didn’t need the Kevlar armour that kept Madari from feeling the warmth of his lover’s body.

Jahni sat up. Despite the tear stains, the dried blood and dirt and two days of beard growth his face was more beautiful than Madari had ever seen it.

“I love you.” Jahni didn’t even whisper it. Perhaps the medics heard. It didn’t matter anymore. It was over now. “And you are alive. I will keep you alive.”

His walkie-talkie interrupted them. A voice came through. “Major! We need you now, sir!”

Duty calls. Jahni didn’t have to be told. He stood up, Madari’s hand sliding from around his shoulders, down his arm to hold his hand as he raised his walkie with the other hand.

“I’m on my way.” He scrubbed an arm across his face, drying his tears. “Stay alive, Faris. I’ll be back for you.”


Jahni walked back into the departure lounge to find it dark, yet abuzz with frantic activity.

“What’s happening?” he demanded.

“They’re coming,” Kadry said. He handed Jahni a pair of night vision goggles and pointed out towards the runway area. Jahni looked out and groaned at the sight. Trucks. Men. Not the small force they’d been battling sporadically all day. That must have been there to keep them busy while the main attack advanced.

“We’re moving into position,” Kadry reported.

“Then prepare for…” Jahni trailed off. “Wait,” he said. Lights in the sky out there. A moment later the distinctive sound. Helicopters. Big ones. Gunships? “Wait.” They’d heard and seen planes and helicopters all day, some of them firing at targets on the ground and it had cheered the men to think they had air cover. But now a doubt nagged at Jahni.

“Choppers?” Kadry said. He was grinning. Could this be the Air Force coming to their rescue in the nick of time? Jahni could see them better now. Half a dozen helicopters, definitely attack helicopters and they were moving in on the airport. He frowned. Did they intend to fire on those troops on the ground? There were planes still standing out there on the apron. Trucks full of aviation fuel. It couldn’t be a good idea to…

And then Jahni knew. He knew how the trucks had got past the road blocks. He knew the planes and choppers they’d seen firing at targets in the city hadn’t been firing at the enemy. He knew all this in the split second he saw the lead chopper launch its missiles at the terminal building.

“Everybody down!”

The long glass wall that looked out onto the runways shattered along its entire length. Jahni didn’t see the missiles hitting the back wall, killing his men on the way, because he was flat on his face with his head covered. But when the horrific noise died away to leave him with ringing in his ears, accompanied by the cries of the wounded, he looked up. He could barely see through the dust and smoke.

There was only one order he could give now. Their vehicles still stood outside, under guard. They had to get to them before the enemy did. He’d have stayed and fought and died facing ground troops. But to stay here now would be suicide. Nuggets of safety glass cascaded from him as he climbed to his feet. The words tasted bitter in his mouth as he spoke into his walkie-talkie.

“Retreat to the vehicles and withdraw to secondary positions! Bring the wounded. Leave the dead.” He switched channels on the walkie as the men started to stagger to their feet and run around. “Doctor, prepare the colonel to be moved. I’m coming now.”

He ran, coughing and choking on the dust, to the gate lounge to find the medics huddled around Madari.

“We’re withdrawing,” he said. “We’re under air attack. I’ll take him.”

They’d wrapped Madari in a blanket. He was unconscious. Jahni lifted him as gently as possible, trying not to let the urgency make him rough. He resisted the attempts of the medics to share the burden and settled Madari over his shoulder, holding on tight to his legs. Madari made no sound.

“He’s sedated,” the doctor said. “He asked us not to, but to move him, it’s essential. The pain…”

“Right. Let’s go!”

The medics ran ahead of him and beside him, lugging their bulky emergency kits. They’d need them. Jahni saw wounded men being loaded in the trucks. He found the nearest car with the keys in it; Madari’s own staff car and the medics helped him lay Madari in the back seat. The doctor made to get in the car, but Jahni stopped him.

“Get in one of the trucks. They have wounded.”

The doctor looked torn, but ran to the nearest truck, where the men hauled him on board. Madari was stable for now; the doctor had fresh emergencies to deal with.

“Move out!” Jahni yelled, waving the trucks out. “Weapons ready!” They’d have to smash through the small enemy force covering their route out of the airport. But after that they were clear. The mass of the enemy was on the other side of the building.

As the first of the trucks started up and roared away Jahni slid behind the wheel of the staff car and followed, foot down hard on the accelerator. He could do nothing to spare Madari the bumpy ride and was glad he was sedated for it. But it couldn’t be doing him any good, even if he wasn’t feeling it.

“Roadblock coming up!” The announcement came over the walkie, from the lead truck. But they didn’t slow; in fact the small convoy went faster. The road block was only a couple of vehicles hastily parked across the road. Shots greeted the trucks and cars as they smashed on through, pushing the blocking cars aside with ease. Royal Guard soldiers with huge M60s leaned from the windows and sides of the trucks, laying down suppression fire.

In seconds the road block was behind them. But the enemy wasn’t. More gunfire came at them from all sides and Jahni swore and ducked on instinct. Dammit, why hadn’t Madari followed Rahama’s example and got himself a bulletproof car?

The street lights were off. Jahni couldn’t see anything but the dark shape and rear lights of the truck in front and the muzzle flashes from their guns and the enemy’s. Follow the lights. That’s all he could do. But a second later those lights went crazy as the truck skidded.

Had a tyre blown? No chance to see. Jahni hauled on his steering wheel, turning, bouncing over the central divider, hearing horrible screeching metal noises from the chassis. He feared he’d be grounded on the divider, or break an axle, but he made it safely onto the other carriageway. A turn-off lay straight ahead of him. It was utterly dark and his instincts made him follow it, seeking the shelter of the blackness.

He had to slow after a few seconds as the adrenaline rush ebbed, and he realised he had a good chance of smashing into something in the dark at this speed. Glancing in his rear view mirror he saw nothing but darkness behind him. Shit, where were the trucks?

He’d got split up from the convoy. Had it stopped? Had the skidding truck blocked it, or had that managed to continue? If the convoy was scattered and disorganised they’d be picked off truck by truck.

He slowed, turned off his lights after he assessed what lay ahead—just more open road—and considered his next move. Go back? Or try to work his way around the buildings on either side of him and pick up the convoy again? Or make his own way to the secondary position? Was the secondary position still viable? If the enemy had control of the Air Force then ground troops were beaten already.

Voices from the walkie-talkie on the passenger seat made him flinch, his nerves so badly stretched after thirty six hours on his feet.

He heard the voices of his men in the trucks. They were regrouping, the main body of the convoy reporting their position and ordering the others to rejoin them there. Jahni knew where they were. He could reach them in just a few minutes and lead his men on… to what? Death?

And what was the alternative? Let them go to their deaths without him? Without the only officer they had left?

A small groan from the back seat reminded him one other officer was alive too. If Madari wasn’t there Jahni would already be on his way to rejoin his men and lead them in a glorious last stand. But Madari was there. Helpless and dependent on Jahni for survival.

He wasn’t going to rejoin the convoy.

He didn’t know that he made the decision as such. It seemed as if it just settled on him. There was no decision. It wasn’t something he could even consider for more than a second. He had to get Madari to safety.

The border lay south of here. If he met nothing to stop him on the road he could be in Yemen by dawn. Their passports were in their pockets. Shit, he hoped Madari’s still was. Time to think about that later.

His men didn’t need him. They could fight without officers. But if they were smart they wouldn’t fight at all, they’d flee now. Jahni knew exactly what Saifullah’s people would do with every man of the Special Forces unit they captured, including himself and Madari.

The war was over. They’d lost. All he could do now was stay alive to fight another day. And save Madari.

Another groan from the back seat stirred him into action. He restarted the car and checked the petrol gauge. Enough to get to the border.

“Kahil…” A faint whisper, pained and still dazed from the drugs.

“It’s okay,” Jahni said in his most reassuring voice, driving off slowly, trying to decide the best route to the roads for the border. “Just rest. We’re safe.”

“Where are we going?”

Jahni’s mind filled with the image of a beach house with wood floors and French windows that opened on to a deck with a view of the Pacific Ocean.

“Home,” he said. “I’m taking you home.”

Chapter 3

Jahni stayed off the main roads, but worried about the extra time it would take him to reach the border this way. Although Madari’s breathing and heartbeat were steady he had been deeply unconscious for several hours now and blood showed through his bandages. He’d started bleeding again. Slowly, but slowly was all it would take if Jahni didn’t get him to a hospital soon.

He shouldn’t have left the city. That had been stupid. He should have changed them both into civilian clothes and taken Madari to a hospital. Become just two citizens caught in the cross fire.

Or an embassy. He could have tried to claim asylum for them at an embassy. They had contacts at the British and US embassies and embassies had their own medical facilities. But then they’d have been trapped and if Saifullah demanded they were handed over could the embassy staff resist that?

Of course, where he should really have gone was back to his men. Where were they now? Had they fought? Had they died?

He pushed all of these thoughts away. Too late now. Much too late. He was here, out on the road in the scrubby near desert land with no cover and the sun was rising. He might reach the border from here in another two hours, but the reports on the radio, confused as they were, convinced him he’d find the crossings closed or in the hands of the enemy.

He could try sneaking over the border, but he’d have to find somewhere remote for that and he’d need an off road vehicle. The going would be so rough it might actually kill Madari if it made him bleed faster. And he had no time for any of that!

Madari didn’t have time. Jahni needed a new plan right now. He stopped the car for a moment, trying to think straight, and leaned into the back seat. Madari lay with such a peaceful expression on his face it frightened Jahni for a moment, but his pulse was still strong, if a little faster than it should be. His skin was cool. No fever, but was he cooler than he should be? Because of blood loss? He ran a hand through Madari’s hair after he’d checked the heat of his brow.

“Oh, Faris. Where now? I feel…lost.”

Jahni would be lost indeed if he couldn’t save Madari. He’d done many things he could never forgive himself for, but if he’d brought Madari out here into the wilderness to die that would be one he’d never be able to live with.

He drank some water and wished he could get some into Madari, but the best he could do was pour some drops from the bottle cap onto Madari’s dry lips until he licked them unconsciously. That he still reacted at all was encouraging, but Jahni knew he needed more water soon.

So, no time to waste. He turned back to the wheel and looked around to orient himself, estimating the fastest way to the border from here. That’s when it came to him. Where he was near. Who he was near. He wanted to dismiss the idea as soon as it came to him. He couldn’t go there! It would be futile. It would cost him time Madari didn’t have. It might even get them killed. But if it worked, he might have Madari in a hospital in less than two hours.

He hit the accelerator and roared off.

It took only fifteen minutes to reach his destination. He stopped at the gate into a large compound surrounded by high walls. Two big men carrying rifles guarded the closed gate.

“Go away,” one said when Jahni rolled his window down. He didn’t point the rifle right at Jahni, but he raised it meaningfully.

“Is your employer here?” Jahni said.

“None of your business. Get lost.” Now the rifle did point at Jahni.

“Call him. Tell him Kahil Jahni is here to call in a favour.”

Both men reacted to his name, and then put their heads together for a whispered conference. Jahni drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, and glanced into the back seat. Madari had shifted position slightly and wore a more pained expression.

“It’s going to be okay,” Jahni said. One of the men was talking into a radio now. “I’m getting you to hospital. We’ll be there soon, I promise.”

The man with the radio lowered it and gave his mate an order. That man opened the gate, while the first one came to Jahni.

“You can go in. Stay on the drive, go straight to the house.”

“Thank you,” Jahni said. He breathed easier, but quickly grew tense again when he drove inside and the gate closed behind him. He was trapped in here now. He knew that whether he succeeded or failed he wouldn’t drive back out of those gates. He drove up to the front door of the large house inside the compound and the man he’d come to see stood there waiting for him.


More large men flanked him, also carrying rifles. Raslan himself wore a shoulder holster with a pistol in it. He scowled fiercely when Jahni stepped out of the car.

“What the hell do you want?” Raslan demanded.

“Your helicopter,” Jahni said. “I have to get him to hospital.” He opened the back door of the car and gestured inside. Raslan came forward to see Madari stretched out in the back. He turned back to stare at Jahni.

“Are you insane? You just walk in here with maybe two handguns and a knife on you and think you can make me give you my helicopter? I have a dozen men here!”

“I’m not trying to make you give it to me, I’m asking for it. Remember,” Jahni said, more quietly, so Raslan had to step closer to hear him. “You owe me and I told you I’d collect. I protected you by not telling him about what you did to Sophia.”

“You protected him! You knew what he’d do if he found out, and you didn’t want him going to prison for murdering me. And you know what? He doesn’t look like he’s in any position to murder me now. Rather the opposite.”

Jahni knew he’d put himself and Madari in Raslan’s power. He knew it was a desperate move. But he had a hunch about Raslan, a feeling about what he really wanted underneath.

“You won’t just kill us though.”

“And why not?”

“For one thing, I don’t think that’s your style. If you wanted a man dead you’d talk him into hanging himself. That would be more…” He almost said ‘fun’, but stopped. “Interesting. But I don’t think you want Faris dead. You’re not done with him yet, are you? You still want to find a way to control him.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Never mind. The point is, you owe me a debt and I told you I’d collect one day.”

“Jahni, I can’t give you the helicopter! What if I need it myself?”

Jahni smiled when Raslan’s voice dropped low suddenly. The helicopter did not have space for the dozen men he had here.

“Then you fly us and come back.”

“I can’t do that! You think if I leave here these men will stay? And I won’t fly that chopper into Az-Ma’ir. Haven’t you heard the reports that they’re shooting unauthorised aircraft down?”

Jahni hadn’t but it didn’t matter. “I don’t want to go there. I want to Sana’a.”

“Yemen? You’re fleeing the country?”

“Yes.” Admitting this to Raslan made him feel sick. Made him feel weak. But he had to save Madari. He’d beg for that helicopter on his knees if he had to.

“Then it’s…over? The reports are so confusing…”

“I know. But it’s true. They took the airport, the Defence Ministry. They have control of the Air Force somehow. They’ve taken several TV stations. I…I think they’re in the palace.”

For a moment they were united in the shock as they faced the reality.

“Where are the boys? And Janan,” Jahni asked.

“What? Oh, they’re at her father’s house. They’re safe. I…I think. These bastards wouldn’t start attacking private houses would they?”

“I don’t know. Saifullah hasn’t said much about what he thinks of the rich.”

“I should go there. My father-in-law told me to guard this house, but Janan’s my wife! The boys are…” He stopped as if aware he’d shown too much in front of a man he’d thought of as his enemy.

“A house doesn’t matter,” Jahni said, thinking of the homes he and Jahni had left behind. “People do. You should send your men there, and fly over there and protect your family.”

Raslan looked at him narrowly. “After I help you, you mean?”

“Think about it, Raslan. If you take us to Yemen, we’ll both owe you our lives. We’ll be the ones who owe a favour to you.”

“So what? You’ll be exiles. They might even hunt you down. You have no more power or influence.”

“You think not? He’s a Madari. His very name has influence, even now. This battle is lost, but do you think the King will give up? Or Zahir? Or Rahama?”

“You don’t even know if any of them are alive, do you?”

“No,” Jahni admitted. “But he is.” He pointed back into the car. “And I know he’ll never give up. And he’ll always repay a debt of honour.”

Something came into Raslan’s eye then, a kind of gleam. Perhaps he was remembering Jahni’s earlier words, the reminder they gave him of the thing he wanted. This gave him power over Madari.

“All right,” he said. “As long as I have your word. You both owe me your lives and you’ll repay that debt one day.”

Jahni held out his hand, the gesture making Raslan flinch back defensively for a second before he realised it wasn’t a threat. Jahni was holding his hand out for a shake. Cautiously, as if handling a venomous snake, Raslan shook the offered hand.

“It’s a deal,” Jahni said. “Start the chopper.”


Raslan gave orders to his squad of guards and they brought several cars out of the house’s stable block, presumably converted to accommodate cars not horses now. A couple of the men helped Jahni carry Madari into the back seat of the helicopter where Jahni strapped him in securely.

Madari’s eyes opened a couple of times while they manhandled him, a groan escaped him, but he slipped back into oblivion quickly. Jahni touched his forehead to find it had started to grow warm now. Hell. They had to move. Raslan was giving his men some final orders, so Jahni jumped into the pilot’s seat and began the pre-flight. This brought Raslan scurrying over. His men started to head out in the cars.

“Thinking of going without me?” Raslan said

“Just getting it warmed up.” Jahni surrendered the pilot’s seat and climbed into the back. “Come on! Let’s go!”

“Okay, keep your pants on. Aren’t you going to co-pilot?”

“I need to take care of Faris.”

Raslan looked almost pitying then and Jahni knew there was very little he could actually do for Madari while they were in the air. He knew what he really meant was that if Madari died on the way, Jahni would at least be there with him.

“Then strap in and let’s get out of here.”

A moment later they were in the air, rising high over the compound. They hovered for a moment, watching the short convoy of cars leaving, and then flew south.

“You did tell your men to stay out of the city?” Jahni said into his headphone microphone.

“Yes,” Raslan replied. “Jahni, you need to toss out your weapons.”


“If we land with you tooled up to the eyeballs you’re going to have a lot of extra complications with the Yemeni authorities.”

Jahni had to concede the point. He didn’t want to be dragged off to a police station when they landed. He wanted to be at the hospital with Madari. He took the pistol from the holster at his waist and the small one from his ankle holster.

“Anything else?” Raslan said. “Knives?”

Jahni groaned. He had a combat knife and a utility knife, with a blade or device for every conceivable eventuality. It was his own and had cost plenty! But he took it from its pocket.

“I just hope you don’t have anything concealed where only an x-ray would spot it.” Raslan said. “Is that everything?”

Jahni took a small, hard rubber cosh from another pocket. Last of all a pair of knuckle dusters. All these items sat in his lap and he looked the collection sadly.

“Toss them out!” Raslan called. “Anything he’s carrying too.”

Madari didn’t carry quite as many weapons as Jahni. He didn’t have a gun on him now. The only thing Jahni found was his knife. Jahni opened the small window and pulled his face back from the roaring wind, before braving it again and looking down. He didn’t want to drop the weapons onto a school or something. But they were passing over remote, scrubby land with nothing more than a goat or two in sight.

He dropped the weapons out one by one. When the last one left his hands—his Browning service pistol—he felt somehow naked.

“Don’t you have a gun?” Jahni asked Raslan.

“Gave it to my men. I’ve got one concealed in the chopper. But since all I want to do is drop you two off, refuel and leave again, they shouldn’t pay too much attention to me. You two are the ones they’ll be all over. How are you going to get around not having passports?”

“We have our passports.” He’d been happy to find Madari’s still in his pocket earlier. Some blood stains, but otherwise undamaged.

Raslan glanced around. “That’s…handy,” he said, in a voice that showed he didn’t believe it had been any kind of coincidence. Something he was entirely correct about, but which Jahni had no intention of explaining to him.

They flew on south. The sun was well up now, the morning advancing. Jahni sat with Madari’s wrist in his hand, monitoring the pulse. Sometimes he counted it off against his watch, sometimes he just needed to feel it beat under his fingers. His gaze stayed locked on the rise and fall of Madari’s chest.

So close now. He had to hang on. To get him this far and see him die so close to safety would be unbearable.

Stay alive, Faris. I’m taking you home.


They had left the border long behind and were approaching Sana’a, the capital city of Yemen. An ancient and beautiful place that Jahni had visited before. But today he didn’t care anything about its beautiful old buildings and long history. He would find nothing in the city more beautiful than the airport and a hospital now.

Raslan got on the radio and identified himself when they approached the airport. “Requesting emergency position to land. I have a casualty on board with a gunshot wound, who needs immediate medical treatment and transport to hospital.”

The tower came back a moment later with the permission. As they came in to land Jahni saw an ambulance rushing out to the heliport area. He breathed a sigh of relief at the sight, not caring about the three police cars racing after it.

He understood why the police were coming. With the fighting going on in Qumar the Yemeni authorities had to be ready for any kind of trouble. Raslan had been right to tell him to throw out his weapons.

“Get that handy passport of yours ready,” Raslan said. “We’re going in.”

“Raslan,” Jahni said, leaning over, hand on the back of the seat. “Thank you. You’ve got some honour in you after all. I hope they let you get straight back so you can take care of the boys and Janan.”

“Oh, shut up, Jahni, I may be sick. And I’ll come back for my payoff one day.”

The helicopter’s skids touched the tarmac and Raslan cut the power. As the noise of the rotors faded Jahni shoved open the door. He shouted for the ambulance staff and ran around to the other door to free Madari from the seatbelt. Men appeared behind him; police officers he guessed, then ambulance men shoved them all aside and lifted Madari out and onto a stretcher.

“He’s ‘A’ positive blood type,” Jahni shouted at the medics. “Did you hear me? ‘A’ positive.”

“Got it. ‘A’ positive,” one said. They carried him to the ambulance. The police officers didn’t let Jahni follow, but held him back and started demanding explanations. Jahni slapped the passports into their hands.

“Please, he’s my commanding officer!” Jahni chose the most respectable of their various relationships. “I got him all this way. You must let me go with him, please!”

They stared at him for a moment, a bloodstained, unshaven and crazed looking man. But his uniform must have helped and the one in charge nodded.

“Put him in the ambulance. I’ll ride along too. Search him quick.”

Jahni didn’t resist the search, fearing to slow them up. “I don’t have any weapons,” he said, standing with his arms up as a policeman patted him down. He saw other officers talking to Raslan beside the helicopter and searching him too. When they found no weapons on Jahni the officer in charge hustled him into the ambulance. The two of them fell onto the stretcher across from Madari’s as the doors slammed behind them and the ambulance accelerated away.

The police officer straightened up. “I’m Inspector Nejhad, Mr…” He looked at Jahni’s passport. “Major Jahni.”

“Please, can you tell me what you’ve heard from Qumar? It was impossible to confirm anything for the last two days. I don’t know what’s happening.”

Nejhad looked sympathetic. “Your government has fallen. A man called Basit Al-Shehade has declared himself leader of an interim government. Fighting is still going on, but the new government seems to be in control.”

“The King. Have you heard anything about the King?”

“Yes. He and his family are in Egypt.”

“They’re safe?”

“According to the news reports, yes.”

Jahni almost burst into tears. Oh thank God. Thanks God. If the King and his family had been captured or murdered then the utter failure and humiliation of the Royal Guard would have been complete. But he controlled his reaction after a moment of weakness.

“Thank you,” he said, mouth dry suddenly.

The siren started up then. They must have left the airport and begun driving through the city streets.

“Right,” Nejhad said, taking out a notebook. “Tell me your side of the story, Major.”


At the hospital Jahni and Nejhad were left in the emergency room’s waiting area and Jahni began to pace while he answered more of Nejhad’s questions. He expected a long, tense wait, but only a few minutes later the doctors and nurses burst out of the treatment area with Madari on a gurney, hooked up to IV fluids and blood.

“They’re ready for him in emergency surgery,” a doctor said as Jahni and Nejhad ran after them. “The bullet in his shoulder has shifted and he’s losing blood quickly now. We have to get the bullet out immediately.”

“Will he make it?” Nejhad asked the question Jahni didn’t dare too.

“He’s weak, but I think he will. You can’t come in the lift.” He stepped into the big lift and the door closed behind him, leaving Jahni frantic as Madari vanished from his sight.

“Faris,” he whispered, hands flat on the closed lift doors. For the first time in years he regretted the fact that he couldn’t pray.

“We’ll go up to the surgical floor in a few minutes,” Nejhad said. “When you’re calmer.” He put a hand on Jahni’s arm. “Come and sit down.”

He found Jahni a seat, near to a vending machine and went to get coffee for them. Jahni sat in a hard plastic chair and thought he might throw up if he tried to drink the promised coffee. He felt dizzy and sick. They were here. In a hospital. Out of Qumar. Safe. Really safe? No. They were only a few hours by car from the border. Less time than that by helicopter. If their location got back to Saifullah he might—he would—send someone after them.

Sana’a had seemed like the best choice and now it didn’t seem anything like far enough.

On legs shaking with both terror and exhaustion, Jahni stood. He asked Nejhad for some money to make a phone call. A lot of money.

A pay phone stood beside the vending machine and Jahni fed coins into it in a mindless way, before dialling a long number, amazed his fried brain served it up. But even utterly exhausted and defeated, it remembered.

When the familiar voice answered Jahni gasped and fell against the wall. The relief and hope so great, his exhaustion so extreme, he could only slide down the wall to sit on the floor.

“Murdock,” he gasped, his voice catching in a sob. “Murdock, it’s Kahil. Please, we need your help.”