“We have to go to Yemen.”
“Good morning to you too, Murdock.”
Murdock had been leaning on the bell for the last five minutes and Hannibal had groaned when he saw the time. 0510. Though Hannibal didn’t exactly sleep late, 0510 could be counted as a bit early even for him. He was supposed to be retired.
He rubbed his eyes. “Why do we have to go to…” Murdock’s words finally sank in and he became instantly more alert. “Is it Faris and Kahil? They’re in Yemen? They’re okay?” Probing his contacts in the intelligence business over the last few days hadn’t brought any definite news and Hannibal had begun to fear the worst.
“They’re alive.” A relieved grin broke out on Murdock’s face, before the serious look returned. “They’re in Sana’a in Yemen and they need our help. Faris was shot; he’s in surgery with a bad shoulder wound.” His hand moved to his own shoulder, maybe not even aware he was doing it, touching the place he’d been shot himself so long ago. “He’s expected to make it though.”
Hannibal’s mind raced ahead as he led Murdock to the kitchen and started setting up the coffee maker.
“He’s not hurt, but he’s exhausted. He…well he didn’t sound so good.”
“Are they safe?”
“No. Kahil says they’re only a few hours from the border and someone could easily come after them. He doesn’t have a weapon and he doesn’t think he can rely on the Yemeni police to protect them.”
“Then we have to get them out. As soon as Faris is fit to travel.”
“We’ll need visas.”
“Leave that to me. I’ll make some calls. I’ll call BA too. You call Face and have him get us a plane. Scam it if he has to. We sure don’t have the money to hire one.”
Murdock grinned. “Just like the old days, huh, Colonel?”
“Yeah.” Okay, he probably wouldn’t have to scam it. Face had friends with private jets; he’d persuade someone to loan them one. But he’d have to do some fast talking all the same. Just like the old days.
“Face is gonna love me calling him at this time of the morning.”
“He sleeps too late anyway.” Hannibal scooped ground coffee into the filter. “It’ll do him good to get up at a decent hour.”
“Yeah, I’m told he’s sometimes still in bed at six. What the hell is that about?”
Hannibal smiled grimly. “It’s called getting soft. Go sic him, Murdock. Remember we’ll be transporting a casualty. We might need space to lay him down.”
“Okay.” Murdock rose. “I’ll call you if I get any more news from Kahil.”
“See if he can give you an estimate of soon Faris will to be able to travel.”
“Wilco. Speaking of that; maybe it would be a good idea to take a doctor along.”
Hannibal froze in the act of pouring water into the coffee maker’s tank.
“I know you and Maggie have been kind of cooled off lately, but…”
She’d go; Hannibal knew that, for the sake of their friends. But did he want her to? Murdock was right; they’d had a bit of a cooling off. They didn’t have to take her—they knew other doctors. But none he’d trust in this situation the way he trusted her.
“I could call her if you like.”
Murdock’s words stung Hannibal. They implied he was scared of calling her. Ridiculous!
“I’ll call her.”
Madari could smell cigar smoke. No, not quite, more the smell of it lingering on clothes. It reminded him of his grandfather and for a moment, as he hovered between sleeping and waking, he was back there. Sitting on the old man’s knee his small fingers tracing buttons, braid and decorations. When he rested his head against Ahmed’s chest he smelled the smoke trapped in the uniform. It made him feel safe.
Then and now. He opened his eyes. Someone sat at his bedside in the dim room, but he wasn’t frightened.
A throaty chuckle and a voice, in English. “No. Are you awake? It’s me, Hannibal.”
Madari tried to shake away the mists of sleep, but the heavy doses of painkilling drugs in his system kept him from fully escaping the haze. Hannibal might be as imaginary as Ahmed. Not dead, but surely thousands of miles away. No wait, Jahni had said something during one of the earlier times Madari had been closer to waking than to sleeping. He’d said he’d called Murdock for help.
Madari reached out to Hannibal who took the hand. The reality of the warm rough hand in his own brought the world into focus.
“You’re really here?”
“We’re really here.”
“BA is just outside. Face and Murdock are at the airport with the place.”
“Nice little jet Face borrowed from some producer friend. We’re getting you out as soon as you’re fit to travel. It isn’t safe here and the sooner we get you and Kahil to LA, the better.”
“Where is Kahil?”
“Just outside. Face dragged him off earlier to get cleaned up and eat a proper meal. But he hasn’t left since.”
“He needs rest.”
“I know. He’s sleeping right now. BA’s on guard.”
“Good. Good.” He moved up on the pillows a bit and groaned, but his head was clearing every moment. Hannibal poured him some water and put the glass into his good hand.
“How’s the pain?”
“The drugs are quite effective.”
They’d been so effective when he first woke after surgery that the total lack of feeling in his right arm had brought him close to panic, terrified they’d cut it off. The pain eventually came back to convince him it was still there, though strapped against his body to stabilise his shoulder.
“I think Kahil exaggerates the danger,” he said. “The Yemeni police are taking care of us. And I’m in a hospital here. What can happen?”
“First off, I’ve seen no sign of anybody but us or Kahil on guard since we arrived. Second, do I have to remind you how Svidler snatched Face right out of a hospital full of armed guards?”
Madari went silent, bit his lip. Hannibal looked thoughtful himself. “Seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?”
“Indeed. You came after us to help us then, I can only say thank you for doing the same again.”
“You’ve earned a couple of favours in the meantime. Now, the plane will be ready soon. You’ve both still got current visas for the US. The only question left is when will they let you out of here?”
“I’m a little weak, but I’m out of danger. The doctors said so.” Madari put on an expression made more of determination than real strength. “So I can leave.”
“If you were okay to leave you wouldn’t still be here,” Hannibal pointed out. “But, as it happens, I brought along a doctor to take care of you on the plane.”
“Yeah. She’s the only one we could get to come along for free.”
The doctors objected of course. Hannibal sent Jahni to find a doctor and meanwhile he helped Madari into outdoor clothes. He was so weak Hannibal began to doubt the wisdom of this idea. Maybe they should wait until morning or call the plane to have Maggie come here and help them transport him.
But by the time Madari, Jahni and the doctor had finished arguing and the ticked-off looking doctor had handed Madari a paper to sign, Hannibal had talked himself back into it. It wouldn’t take long to get to the airport. They gathered up the few belongings Madari and Jahni had and found a wheelchair. Depositing Madari in that, they left the ward, stealing his medical notes from the nurses’ station as they passed.
Hannibal glanced at BA and Jahni and they spread out, BA taking point and Jahni rearguard, watching for anyone suspicious as they navigated the corridors. What the hell they would do if they met anyone suspicious Hannibal didn’t know, since none of them had guns. But something would come to him.
“How you doing?” Hannibal said, leaning over the handles of the wheelchair as he pushed it into the parking lot. Madari had been quiet for the last few minutes, responding to questions with little more than a grunt. He’d talked big while lying in bed, but Hannibal could tell moving around was proving difficult for him.
“Fine.” The monosyllable came out in a gasp, and Hannibal touched him briefly on his good shoulder.
“You’re doing great. Just hang on. Okay, here’s the car. Kahil, help me get him in the back. BA, you’re driving.”
A couple of minutes out of the parking lot Hannibal began to regret this again. Madari was grey-faced and shaking, sweat glistening on his forehead. Only having Jahni at his side seemed to be keeping him upright. Hannibal found the ride bumpy enough himself, Madari must be in agony.
“Be there soon,” he said. Repeated in fact, having said it every couple of minutes since they left the hospital. BA caught his eye, his dubious expression telling Hannibal what he thought of this dumb idea. Nobody answered. Hannibal thought he might only be talking to himself anyway.
A horrible forty-five minutes later he pushed the wheelchair they’d borrowed at the airport into the hanger where a good-sized private jet awaited them.
“Ahoy!” Hannibal shouted into the plane. “You guys paying attention?”
“Of course we are.”
Face’s voice came from above. He stood up there on a catwalk that gave access to the hanger’s lights and windows. He had a pistol and a smug look. “Always cover your escape route, you taught me.”
“Sure did. Come down, Face. We need to get out of here fast.”
“We’ve got a takeoff slot in fifteen minutes,” Murdock said appearing at the plane’s open door. Maggie hurried past him.
“Did you bring his medical notes?” she asked, bending over Madari.
“We’ve got the notes,” Hannibal said. “But they’re in Arabic.”
“I’ll translate,” Jahni said. Maggie didn’t look too happy, but she’d have to lump it. They’d brought the notes as she’d asked them to, she must have known they wouldn’t be in English.
“The sooner you get him on board the better,” Murdock said. “If we lose this slot we might not get another one for hours.”
“Let me check him first,” Maggie said. She had a stethoscope and, with a practiced hand, undid a couple of shirt buttons and pressed it to his chest. “His heartbeat’s elevated.”
“I’m alright,” Madari said, his weak, shaking voice belying his words.
“Can we move him?” Hannibal asked Maggie and she stepped back, nodding. “Face, get aboard, get the seat ready for him. Murdock, cockpit. Warm her up. BA, Kahil, let’s lift him.”
Madari cried out as they lifted him from the chair right at the foot of the steps. Hannibal’s own heart raced in reaction to the cry and he heard Jahni groan. There was wildness in the sound. Panic. BA had the most practical reaction. In one quick movement he scooped Madari up in his arms, took the steps fast and went in the door sideways. By the time Hannibal caught up BA had Madari sitting in the seat nearest to the door.
Hannibal bit his lip and started second guessing this decision again. Madari was panting. His eyes had terror in them which Hannibal recognised as the fear of death that comes when the pain is bad enough.
“Faris,” Maggie said, appearing at his side with an oxygen mask. “Breathe deep now.” She placed the mask over his face and it fogged up with his panting breaths. “He’s hyperventilating. Kahil, help me. Calm him down.”
Jahni knelt in the next seat and leaned close to Madari, speaking in his ear, stroking his hair. His voice became a soft, almost hypnotic drone.
“Breathe slowly,” Maggie said, kneeling by the seat and taking Madari’s hand. Their efforts had an effect. His breathing started to slow. The panic vanished from his eyes.
“Can we take off?” Face asked, securing the door.
“Maggie?” Hannibal said.
“He’s weaker than I expected. When you called to say they’d released him…” She stopped and turned a scowl on Hannibal. “Oh, don’t tell me you had him sign out against medical advice.”
“He insisted he’s okay.”
“Well of course he did. Damn men. You’re all the same.”
“Hannibal,” Face said. “Murdock wants to know if we’re taking off. He just got permission to taxi to the runway. If we lose the slot…” He stopped when Hannibal raised his hand.
“Bottom line, Maggie. Should we take him back to the hospital?”
“No!” Jahni cried. “It isn’t safe!”
“He’s right,” BA said. “Too many people around and we got no weapons.”
Hannibal nodded. “I agree. But it’s your call, Maggie. If we take off, could he die on the journey?”
She frowned, but shook her head. “No. He’s stable.”
“Then we’re going. Murdock! We’re going. Everybody strap in.”
Face went back to the cockpit. BA took a seat. Maggie gave Madari an injection before sitting beside Hannibal as the plane started to taxi.
“This won’t be a pleasant trip,” she said quietly as she fastened her seatbelt. “He’s in severe pain.”
Hannibal glanced over to where Madari sat with his head lolling. Jahni was strapped into the seat beside him holding his hand.
“Can’t you just keep him out the whole time?”
“No, I can’t risk trying to keep him unconscious for so long, not without monitors for his breathing and heartbeat.”
“Then it’s going to be an unpleasant trip. But he knew that and chose it over being murdered in his hospital bed. I know you’ll do your best for him. Sorry to put you on the spot and make it your call.”
She rolled her eyes. “John, I was just about to say thank you for making it my call.”
“Oh, well, you’re welcome.”
Hannibal decided he was too old to start trying to understand women now.
“Wake up, Faris. Brought you some breakfast.”
Madari blinked awake, with no idea where he was. It took him a second to recognise Hannibal standing by his bed. But a look around the room didn’t tell him much about the location of this bed. A bedroom. American looking.
“Where am I?”
Hannibal grinned. “It’s years since I heard anyone actually say that. You’re in my guest bedroom. Think you can sit up?”
After some painful manoeuvring with Hannibal’s help Madari was sitting up well enough to hold a glass of orange juice and drink it with minimal spillage onto his bare chest.
“Hannibal, I can’t remember how I got here.” Flashes started to come back, of a taxi ride and then a plane. Maggie Sullivan taking care of him. After that it became a pain-filled blur.
“You’ve been pretty out of it since we took off from Yemen. I’ve got some oatmeal here. Can you manage or do you need me to feed you?”
Madari’s pride rebelled at this idea. “If you hold the bowl and give me the spoon I can manage.”
“Okay. We landed at LAX and you and Kahil claimed political asylum.”
“Yeah. They asked a lot of questions, but your visas are good, and Maggie kept hassling them, so they processed you through eventually.”
“I can’t remember any of it. Where’s Kahil now?”
“Sleeping.” Hannibal jerked a thumb back over his shoulder. “In my bedroom. I spent the night on the couch.”
“I’m sorry. We are so much trouble.”
“Forget it. You’ve got a roof here as long as you need it. Though the kid’s getting the couch tonight! Now eat your oatmeal, it’s good for you.”
Madari managed about half a bowl of it before falling back exhausted.
“Tea.” Hannibal handed over a cup. “I know you prefer coffee, but invalids get tea.”
Madari winced at the characterisation. But while he had to do everything one handed, he was stuck with it.
“You were out cold by the time we got back here,” Hannibal said, resuming the story of the last day. “We had to carry you in. My doctor is coming over later to check you out and see if you can get that arm into a sling instead of being wrapped up like a mummy.”
“Your doctor? Maggie was there. I remember that.”
“Yeah, she had to go back to Bad Rock.”
“I didn’t have a chance to thank her for coming.”
“Kahil thanked her enough for five men.” Hannibal sipped a cup of what Madari could smell was coffee. He had to stick with his weak invalid’s tea.
“Is Kahil all right?”
“Just tired. I’ll let him sleep for a few hours yet. Meanwhile, I’m going to start making some calls. You’ll need an immigration lawyer.”
“Immigration…” The word hit him like cold water in the face. It had a certain permanence, unlike ‘asylum’. Of course he and Jahni had talked about leaving and Madari knew if they had done so they would probably never have been able to return home. But now he was in America and he couldn’t even remember leaving his homeland. Jahni’s story about Raslan flying them out sounded too outrageous to be true. The whole thing had an unreal flavour about it. Until he heard that word.
“It will all take months,” Hannibal said. “Even years. But you’ll be okay. I’ve got some friends in high places who…” He stopped and grinned. “Would probably like to never hear from me again actually.”
“Thank you, I…you’re a good friend, Hannibal.” He turned away as his voice choked off.
“You okay?” Hannibal’s voice went soft.
“I’m sorry. Too much to take in. Too much…everything.”
“Yeah.” Hannibal’s hand rested over his for a moment. “Just rest now. You don’t have to think about any of this for a while yet.”
A toilet flushed elsewhere in the house and Hannibal stood and collected the tray.
“Sounds like my other house guest is up. I’ll get some food and water into him then let him come in for a minute. That okay with you?”
“Yes. Thank you.” Madari appreciated the few minutes to compose himself. Jahni didn’t need to see him distressed as well as weak. He’d gone through enough distress himself the last few days.
He’d started to doze off when the door opened and he heard Jahni’s voice.
“I’m awake,” Madari said, opening his eyes and smiling. “Come in.”
Jahni came in, bare feet silent on the carpet. “Are you feeling better?”
“The pain isn’t so bad now.”
“Good. Hannibal said you don’t remember much about the journey here. Is there anything you need me to tell you?”
“Just the latest news from home.”
“Right.” Jahni sat by the bed and reached one hand out abruptly, almost as if for a shake.
Madari reached across with his good hand to res it in Jahni’s, the position somewhat awkward. He must feel inhibited, as Madari did, by being in Hannibal’s house. Their host would probably knock rather than barge in, but better to be discreet.
“Well, what news?” Madari prompted
“The so-called interim government has declared a curfew and the police are enforcing it, with backup from Army units. That can’t only be sympathisers and infiltrators. The police and Army must have seen the writing on the wall. Saifullah’s already started drawing up plans for the imposition of Sharia law.”
It was his worst fears come true. The country he grew up in would be gone. Saifullah’s plans went beyond Sharia law. Qumar’s cultural life would be decimated, anything deemed “un-Islamic” banned. The expressions of other religions would be attacked or even outlawed. Foreigners would no longer be welcome. He knew now he’d made the right choice when he took Sophia home to Italy to lay her to rest.
“What about the Royal Guard? Your unit? Our friends?”
“Phone lines are open again. I’m going to try to find out as much as I can about all of our men, and our friends. I…I don’t think there can be any good news about the Royal Guard though, and especially not my unit.” His voice choked off. Madari squeezed his hand.
“I’m sorry. You worked so hard. To have it all taken away like this…”
“I should have…” Jahni stopped. “Nothing. No. There’s nothing I could have done.”
He didn’t look at Madari, looked at the floor, perhaps ashamed to show the depth of his emotion. But Madari wouldn’t think less of him for any tears now.
“I, ah, I told you I already talked to Alex, didn’t I?” Jahni said, looking up, face still strained but composed again.
“Yes.” He’d done that a couple of days ago in Yemen. “I’ll have to talk to her too.”
“When you’re stronger.”
Madari didn’t argue. He should talk to her as soon as he could, it was his duty, but he knew it would be unpleasant.
“She said she’d call them. But I will too.”
There were too many families to speak to all of them. So many who might still not know their sons, brothers, husbands and fathers lay dead. But Raian died in Madari’s arms. Madari had to speak to his father and to Alex, to tell her how he called her name at the end.
He gasped slightly when Jahni leaned forward suddenly and brushed his thumb over Madari’s cheek, to catch a tear Madari hadn’t noticed escape him. He gave a weak smile as Jahni sat again. “I’m sorry. So weak still.”
“It’s okay. You really need a shave by the way.”
Madari rubbed his cheek, feeling several days’ worth of bristles. They itched now he thought of them.
“I’d better see if I can get an electric razor. I can’t use a blade with my left hand.”
“I could do it for you.”
He made the offer in a casual tone but Madari tensed at the words. Such an intimate act would be too intense for him to deal with now. It would force him to think about the future. About them.
Immigration. The word came back to him again with its permanence. Was this their life now? Could Saifullah hold on to the power he’d seized? If he didn’t, then America might be no more than a temporary refuge rather than a permanent exile. They might still go home.
“No,” he said, belatedly answering Jahni’s offer of a shave. “Thank you, but you still look exhausted yourself. If I need help I’m sure Hannibal will lend a hand.”
“Of course.” The tone was still casual, but Jahni sat back in the chair and his hand slipped out of Madari’s.
Two days later Madari got up for more than a bathroom visit for the first time. He supported his right arm in a sling now instead of strapped against his body. The doctor had authorised the sling “as long as you’re careful”.
He grumbled as he chased scrambled eggs around his plate at the breakfast table, finding it impossible to make the eggs stay on the fork working one handed.
“Scoop ‘em up,” Hannibal said. “Use it like a spoon.”
“Wouldn’t a spoon be better then?”
Hannibal chuckled at the irritated tone. “Good point. Hang on, I’ll get one.” He left the table before Madari could protest that he didn’t want to put him to any trouble.
As Hannibal left Jahni came in. He’d already finished his breakfast and gone off looking serious to make more phone calls. He’d spent a lot of the last couple of days on the phone, trying to track down news of their friends and the men under their command. The last report he’d brought had been good news—late the night before he’d spoken to Sijad, in Cyprus of all places. But Sijad could bring little good news about the fate of the rest of the men who’d been at the airport. They’d been scattered and forced to flee before they reached their secondary positions after Jahni ordered the retreat.
It explained how he and Jahni had ended up alone and fleeing for the border, Madari supposed. He’d have to ask Jahni for more details eventually. He seemed reluctant to talk about that night, perhaps ashamed of having to retreat, of failing to hold the airport as ordered.
But if Jahni had more news this morning his face told Madari it wasn’t good news.
“It’s bad. It’s Rahama.”
He didn’t have to say the rest. Madari knew. Not hearing anything about Rahama for almost a week had prepared him for the worst, but still it came as a shock to have his fears confirmed.
“I don’t know for sure,” Jahni said. “He was killed at the defence ministry. Admiral Elmi too.”
Madari scowled. “And yet not Kotekar.” They’d seen the Air Marshall on the news reports, standing with members of the new government. “I feel sure now that he has not merely switched sides in reaction to events. The man is a traitor! “
His voice rose with both anger and hysteria in it. Anger was a shield from the grief for Rahama. He couldn’t break down. He had to regain his strength, and not only his physical strength. But when Jahni came to sit by him and put an arm around him, the grief and shock were too strong. His throat tightened and he hid his eyes with a hand. Jahni was close, so close, spoke softly into his ear and his lips actually brushed Madari’s temple.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“I should have made up my quarrel with him. He died believing I was still angry with him.” But Madari had still been angry, he couldn’t deny that. Bitter at the choice Rahama had forced on him.
“Everything okay?” Hannibal’s voice from the doorway. Madari didn’t look up.
“We just found out Rahama is dead,” Jahni said.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” He had genuine sympathy and regret in his voice. He and Rahama had got along well. “I’ll make another pot of coffee.” The door closed again, giving them their privacy.
“He never condemned me,” Madari said quietly, seeing some of the details of that night almost a year ago differently now. “He even seemed to sympathise with my—with our—suffering. He made us stop because of the cause, and the king. But he never told me I was a sinner and would go to hell.”
“He was always an unconventional thinker.”
“But that, of all things, I still can’t believe he didn’t despise me for it.”
“Not everyone follows what their religion says even if they are a believer. He probably thought there are worse sins.” Jahni’s hand still rested on Madari’s shoulder. His thumb stroked back and forth. “Faris.” He spoke quietly, though Hannibal couldn’t possibly hear them from the kitchen. “I know you’re still weak from your injury, and there are so many practical problems to work out. But what about us?”
“Us?” Madari echoed the word back, but only buying time. He knew what Jahni meant. He knew he had to face making a decision about ‘us’. But he feared it. The decision would be an irrevocable one. Take that step and even if Saifullah’s government fell within a month they would be exiles forever.
“You know what I mean.” Jahni’s voice went even softer.
“Yes, of course. I’m sorry. I just don’t feel ready to discuss, ah, us, yet. Not here, with other people around. I’m still coming to terms with it all.”
“Oh, of course.” Jahni’s gaze dropped to the floor. His thumb stopped its stroking motion and his hand moved away. He had come to terms, Madari knew. Perhaps at the very moment they crossed the border Jahni had known he’d never go home again. But Madari couldn’t make that leap. Not yet.
“In a few days we’ll talk,” Madari promised. “Make plans. In the meantime, there’s still a lot to be done, a lot to find out.”
“Yes. I have some more phone calls to make,” Jahni said, reviving, but more closed off and distant now. “I’m going to track down all the men from my unit even if it takes me a month!”
“Some of them might still be in the country,” Madari said. “Perhaps they’ll even do as we did all those years ago. Form a guerrilla unit,” he clarified when Jahni looked at him puzzled.
The puzzlement turned to alarm on Jahni’s face then. “Oh, no! That would…I don’t want to see that!”
“Why not? You could even—”
“It would be a waste! Such highly trained men shouldn’t be forced to fight in those terrible conditions with inadequate weapons and equipment. Enough of them have died needlessly already! I don’t want to see more of them…” He stopped, calming himself when his voice started to rise loud enough that Hannibal must have heard it. “I’m sorry; I just don’t think it’s a good idea. I’d rather see them all escape.”
“I understand, of course,” Madari said, though the depth of Jahni’s emotion did puzzle him. He’d struck a nerve somehow. Had Jahni’s own experiences as a guerrilla made him vow never to let men he commanded be forced to fight like that?
“Well, good luck with your phone calls. Tell me if you need my help.”
“I don’t. You just need to rest.”
Jahni and Hannibal had been strict about not allowing Madari to make many telephone calls, following the doctor’s orders about rest and no excitement. Though Madari had insisted on talking to Clive Drummond and Kibibi, that had been the only concession. Jahni didn’t even allow him to speak to Karen Bennett, though he’d called her himself to let her know they were safe. And he still wouldn’t let Madari talk to Alex Black. He said she wasn’t answering at her number in Dubai anyway and her agency had told him she’d taken some time off.
Madari would talk to her eventually. He owed it to her.