“…Hannibal of Arabia…”
Hannibal heard Murdock’s voice, smiled. The moment Murdock had seen Hannibal in the white headdress he’d fashioned for himself the pilot had started to call him that. It drove BA crazy of course. He looked up from the table to where Face and Murdock were sitting cross-legged on the floor, pulling on the ropes for the fans that cooled the recreation area.
“Murdock.” Face said warningly, “Watch it, you might offend people.” There were a few other prisoners in the room. No one seemed to be taking much notice of the three westerners.
“You know,” Murdock said, “I was talking to Hakim, who works in the kitchen…”
“The lawyer?” Face asked.
“That’s him, he told me his grandfather fought with Lawrence of Arabia.”
Face rolled his eyes.
“Murdock, half the guys in here have grandfathers who say they rode with, fought with or were close personal friends of Lawrence of Arabia.”
Hannibal tuned out their banter, was glad to see Murdock staying calm. Face had volunteered himself and Murdock for a shift on the fans not just to ingratiate them with the other prisoners, but also because a nicely dull and repetitive task like that would be useful to soothe Murdock. The Captain’s behaviour had started to become noticeably erratic, obvious not just to the team, but to other inmates and the guards. It was also a useful job if you wanted to keep an eye on the comings and goings, see who was talking to whom. The man pulling the fan rope seemed to become part of the furniture and no one took any notice of him.
Hannibal bent over the paper he was drawing on, frowned. He looked up again though as he heard Face give a sharp cough and followed the lieutenant’s glance to the doorway. An inmate had come in that Hannibal recognised as Major Madari, the senior military officer among the prisoners. They had spoken only briefly so far and the major was not very welcoming even of Face’s efforts to make friends. The major, his military bearing unmistakable, strode across the room and began to browse the small selection of books on a shelf. Hannibal bent over his paper again, but after a while he felt someone’s eyes on him and looked up to see Madari looking at him. His nearly black eyes were quite piercing in his hawkish face. Hannibal nodded to him, a greeting, a small invitation. Even so he was quite surprised when Madari walked over, stood beside him, hands clasped behind his back.
“Major.” Hannibal said, standing up and offering his hand. Madari hesitated. Though they had spoken a couple of times now the major had not shaken Hannibal’s hand. The other prisoners shook Hannibal’s hand every time they met him, and each other, he knew that was their custom, but Madari always seemed to keep his hands behind his back. Hannibal had watched him with the other military officers and though they shook hands with each other in greeting none of them seemed to expect Madari to do so. Hannibal had an inkling of why. Salim had told him that when Madari was brought here after his arrest he spent a month in the infirmary recovering from the injuries sustained in his interrogation. When he was released into the inmate compound the doctors here were shocked by the nature of his injuries. Try to get a look at his hands. Salim had said mysteriously.
“Colonel Smith.” Madari said, and his formality finally overwhelmed his reluctance. He took Hannibal’s hand and shook it. Hannibal tried not to stare, but a quick glance at the major’s hand confirmed what he’d suspected. Where Madari’s fingernails should have been there were ugly masses of scar tissue and partially regrown nails, red and inflamed. He was probably in continual pain, Hannibal realised, allowing Madari to pull his hand away quickly and put it behind his back again.
“Major, I’m told you served here when this was a military base.”
“Under General Ziyahd?”
Madari snorted contemptuously at that. “Hardly! He wasn’t a general then, just a major, and a bureaucrat.”
“Got promoted when the new regime came in, huh?” Madari didn’t answer. “Or bought promotion, am I right? Greased the right palms, said the right things to the right people and got a shiny new uniform with too much gold braid on it?”
“The man is a fool. That’s why they put him in charge here. They can’t give him a real military command.”
“I know the sort.” Hannibal said, trying for the ‘fellow soldier’ approach. He considered Madari’s bitter tone; he looked at the man’s face. He was about forty years old. The other military officers among the inmates that Hannibal and the rest of the team had talked to gave nothing but glowing reports of Madari’s intelligence and military acumen. They all admired him. So why wasn’t he a colonel? Perhaps speaking out inconveniently wasn’t something he had only started doing after the regime change.
“It’s always the way. The ones who say the right things get promoted while better men who have the guts to speak the truth get passed over.” That hit a nerve. He saw Madari’s carefully controlled face twitch just a little.
“Sit down, Major.” Hannibal said, nodding at a chair. Again the hesitation, then Madari pulled out the chair and sat down. He kept his hands below the tabletop. Hannibal sat back down. Murdock appeared at Madari’s side, carrying two small cups.
“I thought you might like some coffee, Colonel, Major.” He put down the cups and left again quickly. Nice, Hannibal thought; glad to know that Face and Murdock were paying attention. Now he and the major were drinking coffee together, like friends. He took a sip of the strong coffee. It had a spicy taste, and he saw surprise on Madari’s face, as he tasted his cup.
“Hayl!” Madari said, then, “Cardamom you call it. I haven’t had hayl in coffee since I came here, Ziyahd keeps it for himself and his cronies.” Hannibal nodded his head towards Face.
“I have a very good supply officer.” Madari looked at Face who was paying no apparent attention to them, seemingly entirely focussed on playing a word game with Murdock. The major turned back to Hannibal.
“Your men, they are very good. Special Forces, I understand.”
“Green berets.” Hannibal said.
“But not Santana. He is a civilian.”
“Yes. It’s a long story.”
“We have nothing but time here, Colonel Smith.”
“We haven’t,” Hannibal said. “We’ve been told there are people on their way to question us further about our mission. I’m not sure what’s taking them so long to get here. We’re only two days from the capital. They could arrive any time.”
“They could be coming from abroad.” Madari said, between sips of his coffee, not looking at Hannibal. “When I was… questioned some of the men involved were not from here.” Hannibal noticed his hand holding the coffee cup was trembling very slightly. “They were eastern Europeans I think.” Hannibal nodded. Their briefing had told them the government had ties to the Soviet Union, that the Russians were lending their expertise in a number of specialist areas.
“Okay, that makes sense.” He pushed the paper he’d been working on towards Madari, who glanced at it.
“A map of the camp.” Madari observed.
“I wondered if you could help me with it, you must know the layout of this place inside out. I’ve got most of it figured out, but I don’t know the layout of most of the interior of the guardhouse. Can you help me?” Well that was it, he’d laid it on the line. It would be obvious to Madari what Hannibal was making the map for. Asking him “can you help me?” was clearly a loaded question. Help me with the map. Help me with the plan. Help me carry it out.
“I can tell you the layout of the guardhouse.” Madari said. A loaded answer to Hannibal’s loaded question. All right, still some work to do.
“And can you tell me what that thing is under the tarp – tarpaulin – beside the interrogation blockhouse?” Madari actually smiled; the first time Hannibal had seen him do so.
“Hasn’t anyone told you?” Hannibal shook his head. “It’s a missile launcher, Colonel, anti-aircraft defence.” Hannibal tried to control his delight at that news, scribbled the word ‘gun’ on the paper. Madari went into details about the weapon. The best detail of all being that there were still plenty of shells for it stored in the armoury. He became quite enthused and after a while Hannibal had to cut him short.
“About the guard house…” Madari calmed himself, pulled the map over. He picked up the pencil Hannibal had been using and began to draw on the paper.
“I’m particularly interested in the location of radio room.” Hannibal said leaning over him. Madari nodded, impatiently, and looking at the plan Hannibal saw that this was the first room Madari had marked. He sat back with a smile. The plan was coming together.
Madari stepped out of the rec room into the sunshine feeling dazed. What the hell had he just agreed to? Well he’d agreed to a meeting, but really he’d agreed to help the Americans not merely to escape, but to take the camp in order to do so. Despite his terror of the consequences should it go wrong, he’d let Smith and then Peck and Murdock talk at him, asking him first for information, then for advice and eventually for a meeting, a meeting to make a plan.
They were good. They were damn good. Smith was as sharp a military mind as, well maybe even as Ahmed had been. Peck… Peck seemed to have the ability to talk without pausing for breath and smile at you at the same time until you were ready to give him anything he asked for.
Jahni approached with a nervous look on his face.
“Are you okay, sir, you look a bit dizzy.”
“Fine.” Madari said, though he indeed felt dizzy. “I, um, I’ll need you to take word around to the other officers. We’re having a meeting tonight, with the Americans, barracks three, twenty one hundred hours.”
Jahni stared at him, wide eyed. “Sir, does that mean…” he glanced around and lowered his voice, leaned in closer. “Are they making an escape attempt? Are we helping them?”
“Not just an escape, Lieutenant. They intend to take the camp.”
Jahni gasped, his hand flew to his mouth.
“Don’t get carried away, it’s only a meeting, it doesn’t mean it’s definitely going to happen.”
“It could though. The five of them added to the rest of us, that could mean… we could do it! You said that, remember, a couple of months ago, it was at lunch and you said ‘if we had five more trained men’.”
Madari frowned. Sometimes Jahni remembered too much.
“Lieutenant, come here.” Madari took his arm, moved them both out of the light and into the shadows between the rec room and mess hall. They stood near the wall, close so they couldn’t be overheard. Madari put a hand on Jahni’s shoulder.
“Kahil, I know you like these men, but you must remember they did not come here to rescue us. That is not their mission. If they want to take the camp it is because they think that is the best chance they have of escaping. The good of their own unit is what motivates them, don’t forget that.”
Jahni looked at the ground, disappointment on his face.
“I understand, sir.”
“I’m not saying they are not fine men, or that they are not sincere, I think they are. But they have their own agenda. Don’t let their charm blind you to that.”
Jahni didn’t answer. Madari squeezed his shoulder.
“I know you want to get out of here and go home, Kahil, I know that. But please don’t build up false hope about that.”
Jahni looked up at him, his eyes dark pools in the shadows.
“Get out?” He said quietly. “Leave? Is that what you would do, if we took over the camp? If we threw Ziyahd out of his office?”
“You wouldn’t leave?” Madari asked.
“Not if you didn’t.” Jahni’s voice was barely above a whisper now, Madari had to lean close to hear him.
“But what use would it be to stay?” Madari asked, frowning, not understanding. “What would we do?”
Jahni smiled. A slow, hungry smile. He licked his lips.
There were two guards on the door of prisoner barracks number three that night. Not prison guards, they were two of Madari’s men, apparently lounging casually. Any inmates that tried to enter were told to come back later. No one argued.
Inside the barracks the A-Team, Major Madari, the rest of the military officers and a small number of the civilian prisoners were gathered at the far end of the room. Hannibal had the floor, was explaining the plan to the men.
“The first thing we have to do is get control of the guard towers. I’d suggest the best time for that is right after the shift change after sunset prayers.” Several of the men nodded in agreement.
“No,” Madari said. Hannibal looked at him, knew he’d face challenges from the major every step of the way. He had only agreed to this meeting very reluctantly.
Hannibal raised an eyebrow, “No?”
“Do it before the shift change. Straight after Maghrib, sunset prayers, you take out the man at the end of his shift. He won’t be suspicious if he hears or sees someone climbing the ladder, he’ll think it’s his relief. Then you’re in place waiting for the man coming on duty and that’s eight men taken out before anyone even knows anything has started.”
“Nice, though the timing would be tight.” Hannibal said. “Now the north west tower is going to be the hardest to get to without being seen…”
The meeting went on, Hannibal outlining plans. There was plenty of enthusiastic feedback of ideas and information from the younger Arab officers. But they still deferred to Madari and any time he raised an objection they all agreed with it and waited for Hannibal to answer it. Still things were going well until…
“…okay, so we get BA to the motor pool, with Salim.”
“No!” This time the major was so emphatic that people stared at him. Hannibal felt his hackles rise at once. This wasn’t an objection to a minor point. This was a full on challenge. Madari had stepped towards Hannibal and Hannibal straightened up to meet him, was profoundly glad the man wasn’t taller than him.
“No civilians.” Madari said in a barely controlled voice. “I won’t allow it.” Hannibal looked around at the small number of civilians there.
“Why do you think they are here? They want to take part.”
“You may be happy to take civilians into combat, Colonel Smith,” Madari said, glancing at Frankie, “but these men are my responsibility, I will not let you get them killed.” There was a small gasp from behind Hannibal, but he didn’t react to it. He sensed a shifting of postures as his men and Madari’s men poised themselves to back up their respective leaders. Uncertainty radiated from the civilian group.
Hannibal kept his voice quiet and level as he responded, hoping to defuse this quickly.
“I’m not going to put any civilians in danger.”
Madari dismissed this with a snort. “This whole plan puts them in danger. What do we do when you have gone, Colonel? Have you thought about that? Do we hand the camp back to Ziyahd and let him shoot a few men as punishment?” Ah, so that’s what this was about, Hannibal thought.
“What happens when we are gone is up to you, Major, the camp will be yours. The camp, the gun.” He tried to make the word “gun” sound almost seductive.
“And what use are those once the food and water deliveries stop?” Madari demanded.
“There are local tribes in this area, you know what the government is doing to them. They’ll be happy to join you and bring you supplies.” Hannibal kept his tone level, reasonable, but it was a strain.
“The government is wiping out the tribes! Soon there will be none left!” He was shouting now, and in his eyes there was something Hannibal hadn’t expected to see and it shocked him. Madari was afraid.
“Then the sooner we get on with this the better.” Hannibal held the major’s gaze as they glared at each other. The tension in the room was almost unbearable and the sudden sound of a whistle from the doorway shook them like a pistol shot. At the signal most of the men scattered, some to cots in the room, some out of the door. A few moments later a guard came to the door and shouted an instruction.
“Head count.” Murdock said. “Dunno why they keep doing that,” he muttered, “surely they know by now everybody only has one.”
Madari only looked away from staring Smith down when Jahni put a hand on his shoulder and spoke softly.
“We’d better go outside, sir.”
Madari looked away from Smith, letting himself breath again. Outside, yes, head count. He headed for the door, but stopped and looked back. Smith had seen it, he was sure, he could probably smell it, Madari felt sure he reeked of fear. The civilians issue was an excuse. The issue of what happens afterwards was an excuse.
“I am not a fool, Smith, I know all you care about is your own men. Don’t expect me to believe anything else.”
Another excuse. Perhaps convincing, he saw Jahni nod. But an excuse all the same.
He walked outside and into the ranks of men lined up for the headcount, in the back row. The searchlights from the towers were trained on them as dusk deepened quickly into night. His officers stood around him, in groups of five. Five. Five more men. Where had he come up with that number at that months ago lunch conversation? It was another excuse. Seventeen men was more than enough to take this camp from a donkey like Ziyahd. But good men needed a good leader. A leader with a spine. A leader with courage.
And in that meeting he’d seen that Smith was exactly that. No wonder I’m so afraid of him, he thought. He is everything I wanted to be and can never be again. He could lead my men and take this camp.
And then he would leave and the men would turn to me and look for leadership, and what would I have to give them? Jahni said we should fight. That we could stay here at the camp, try to persuade all the young men to stay and train them to be a guerrilla unit. But how can I ask the men to stay and be led by me when I still scream in the night and humiliate myself in the day. Please, if I can be spared one thing, don’t let me have a flashback in front of Smith, don’t let him see me like that.
A guard went past, counting off the groups of five. Something touched the back of Madari’s right hand. He glanced over to see Jahni beside him. The back of Jahni’s hand had brushed Madari’s, accidentally or deliberately it was impossible to say. Madari wanted to take Jahni’s hand, desperately needed the warmth of that contact. Jahni smiled at him and as if he knew what Madari was thinking he slipped his hand into Madari’s. Always gentle, always so careful of the ravaged fingernails. He moved a little closer.
“Do you think they’ll get the count right first time?” Jahni asked, his tone casual.
“I’ll bet you five cigarettes they’ve forgotten about the men in the infirmary.” Noor said from in front them. “Every time they forget.”
“I’ll take that bet.” Jahni said. Madari smiled at their talk. Casual. Camp business, conversations the men here had every day as they walked the yard, or were counted. It was… peaceful, reassuring. Why did it have to change?
“Oh, that’s gotta to be a foul!” Hannibal shouted. He didn’t know much about soccer, a game of which was in progress between two teams of inmates in the yard, but was pretty sure throwing elbows like that wasn’t allowed. Murdock probably didn’t know much about soccer either but it hadn’t stopped him volunteering himself and Frankie to play. Frankie had been less enthusiastic and catching Lieutenant Jahni’s elbow in the face had probably just dampened his enthusiasm even more. The teams argued for a while, with plenty of shouting and pointing, before Frankie’s team was awarded a free kick and the game went on.
Hannibal grinned, leaning back against the doorjamb of the prisoner barracks. A few feet away Madari stood by the wall, his hands behind his back. He watched the game with barely concealed irritation.
“The men need to be fresh,” he said. “Not running about in the burning sun.”
“They’ll be fine”, Hannibal said. “Get their blood up, ready to go.” He could see Face and BA also apparently watching the game, on the other side of the yard. But he knew they were actually watching the guards coming and going, checking for any change in routine. He saw Salim go up to them. They shook hands and Hannibal knew from Salim’s reaction that Face had passed something to him when shaking his hand. As Face spoke to him Salim looked across at Hannibal and began to hurry over to him. Dammit, kid, could you be any more obvious? Madari must have caught the exchange too, he muttered under his breath in Arabic, sounding annoyed.
“Colonel Smith,” Salim said, coming up to him, “Mr Peck gave me this for you.” Under the cover of shaking hands (what a wonderfully useful custom this continual handshaking was, Hannibal thought) he gave Hannibal a flat, round tin, which Hannibal looked at briefly before dropping into his pocket. Boot polish, black. Briefly wondered if Face had scrounged it or lifted it.
“Is it for tonight? For camouflage?” Hannibal nodded.
“And I have this for you.” Salim took a small bar of chocolate out of his pocket. “It’s not a cigar, but I thought you might like it.” Hannibal knew enough about Arab manners now not to refuse a gift.
“Thanks, kid, very generous.”
“Colonel,” Salim said, dropping his voice a little. “I cannot believe that by tomorrow morning we will all be free, thanks to you.” Madari snapped something at him in Arabic and Salim looked chastened.
“Just stay cool about it,” Hannibal said. “You’re clear about what you have to do?”
“Yes, yes, help keep the prisoners calm, make sure everyone stays in the barracks until you come to let us out.” He cast a resentful glance at Madari, whose insistence had led to this compromise. That the civilians involved in the plan stay in the barracks and keep order until after the camp was secured. “I could do more, I could…” Madari didn’t speak this time but his glare shut the young engineer up very quickly. Salim shook Hannibal’s hand again, then touched the fingers of his right hand to his forehead and bowed his head a little, before walking off. Hannibal heard Madari click his tongue in annoyance.
“Kid’s just excited about tonight, lighten up on him,” Hannibal said to the major.
“He has a bad case of hero worship.” Madari said. Hannibal feared this was true. He unwrapped the candy bar, offered Madari a piece. The major declined the offer, turned to look at the game again, then frowned, looking off further into the distance. Hannibal followed his gaze. A column of dust was rising, out on the desert road leading to the camp. Vehicles were approaching.
“Any deliveries due today?” Hannibal asked. Madari tilted his head back, said, “No.” Hannibal bit into the chocolate, chewed it thoughtfully.
Face and BA were arguing lazily about the game, but they had seen the column of dust too. In a few minutes they saw three Land Rovers drive in through the main gate and park up in front of the guardhouse. Several men emerged from them, three soldiers, who had been driving, two Arab men in suits and head dresses and four Westerners, in suits, bare-headed. The drivers started unloading boxes from the vehicles and taking them to the concrete blockhouse that the team had been imprisoned in when they first arrived. Face and BA looked at each other, Face’s eyes were wide
“BA, do you think…?”
“Yeah, it’s gotta be.” They saw General Ziyahd come out of the guardhouse, accompanied by several of his senior officers and greet the new arrivals, then they all went inside. Face and BA made their way with forced nonchalance to where Hannibal was sitting on the steps of barracks number three. He looked at them questioningly.
“They’re here.” Face said.
Incongruously a cheer burst from the spectators of the soccer game as Murdock somehow managed to score a goal, mostly by accident. As his team-mates congratulated him Murdock glanced over to see if his colonel was watching. He saw BA and Face talking to Hannibal, saw the alarm on their faces. He extricated himself, grabbed Frankie and hurried over as two other players took their places.
“What’s wrong?” Murdock asked, “What happened?”
“The specialists have arrived.” Face said. He turned to Hannibal. “What do we do now, Colonel?” If Hannibal had a dollar for every time he’d heard that question, or variations on it he’d be rich. He looked around at the men waiting for his orders, and then turned to Madari.
“It’s up to you, Major, you’ll have to start the party without us.” He felt his stomach tighten as he saw that look he’d seen the other night in the major’s eyes again. Fear. If Madari had lost his nerve, if he didn’t dare to start the takeover without Hannibal pushing him, then they were dead.
“I… I don’t have enough men… without your unit…” Madari blustered. A few of his officers were wandering over now, sensing the tension coming from the group. Hannibal couldn’t let them see Madari vacillating like this, couldn’t let them see the uncertainty. The officers were brave and they were ready to fight, but if they lost confidence in their leader they would be useless. It was time to pull rank. He grabbed the major’s arm and dragged him inside the barracks. There were a couple of inmates in there. Hannibal wasn’t sure if they could understand him when he snapped, “Get out!” But they got the message and left quickly, closing the door behind them. Meanwhile Madari pulled away from Hannibal, swung around to confront him, but Hannibal spoke first.
“They’re going to torture us, Major. And we have information, names, government officials, senior military men with rebel sympathies. When we give up those names your dissident movement is dead!”
Madari stared at him, asked, as if astonished, “You will give in to them? You will give them what they want? You will break?”
Hannibal stared at him in return. My god, why doesn’t he understand this? He’s a professional soldier, has no one ever explained this to him? Or is he an idealist? Does he really believe a man should be able to resist torture if he tries hard enough?
“Everybody gives in, Major, it’s just a matter of time.” Horrible memories from Vietnam clamoured for his attention. He pushed them away. “Under torture, by experts, everybody breaks. It’s not a question of how brave you are, how strong you are, there are simply limits to what the body and mind can take. There’s no shame in that.” That’s what the major feared, Hannibal saw it now. Not just the pain and trauma of the torture, but the guilt and shame of breaking. The loss of his honour.
“You have training, to resist.” Madari’s tone was accusing.
“All that gives you is time, three days maybe.” Madari eyes widened at that. He’d broken on the third day, Hannibal knew at once.
“Everybody breaks.” Hannibal said again, emphasising it. “Everybody.” Madari looked back at him, as Hannibal held his gaze. Needed to convince him this was true, free him of the crippling guilt.
“Colonel,” Face’s voice came quietly from the doorway. “They’re coming.” By the time Hannibal looked back from Face Madari had started to move towards the door. Hannibal followed him, praying he had convinced the man.
The colonel and the major went back out into the sunlight. A squad of guards was heading towards the barracks. The A-Team were all standing by the doorway and several of the military officers were nearby. The two groups looked questioningly at their respective leaders, poised to move on their signal. But Hannibal and Madari both shook their heads at the same moment. To go now was unthinkable. In daylight, without taking the guard towers, with all these civilians milling about, the carnage would be appalling.
The guards came through the gate into the prisoner compound. The soccer game stopped as the guards walked through the players, headed directly for the A-Team. The players stared at them.
“Oh god.” Hannibal heard Frankie say, his voice shaking. He saw Murdock clasp the younger man’s shoulder supportively, lean close to speak to him, his voice too soft for Hannibal to hear. Hannibal felt in his pocket and took out the tin of boot polish they’d been planning on using for camouflage.
“Faris,” he said, using Madari’s given name for the first time. He knew it was rude to do so, Madari hadn’t invited him to use it, but Salim had told him what it was. Besides, compared to the other men he’d met here Madari was a pretty rude guy himself. As Madari turned to him Hannibal, repeating his earlier words, said, “It’s up to you,” held out the small tin to him. Madari hesitated then reached out and let Hannibal drop the tin into his hand, quickly moved it to his pocket.
As the A-Team were led away, out of the prisoner compound towards the block-house Hannibal looked back over his shoulder, the inmates were standing in groups, watching silently. Salim had come out of the dining hall and seeing what was going on had dashed over to stand by the fence, his hands clutching the wire, eyes wide with shock and despair. Major Faris Al Madari stood a few yards behind him. Faris. Salim had said it meant ‘knight’. They could do with a knight about now, shining armour optional.
Why did things have to change? Because if they didn’t five men were going to be tortured. Madari watched the guards lead the A-Team away to the blockhouse. Smith’s words still rang in his ears.
“Everybody breaks.” And it was clear, from the pain on his face, in his eyes, that he spoke from experience. “Everybody.” The words “even me” were not spoken, but were there somewhere.
Smith had been tortured and been broken. In Vietnam, presumably. Yet he was so strong now. How? How had he found the man he used to be? I need to talk to him, Madari thought. I need him to tell me how he got back. How he got strong again.
His thoughts were interrupted by a commotion around the gate. Salim Fulani was arguing with the guards and a crowd of prisoners was starting to build up. The men who had been playing football were there. A lot of shouting and gesturing was going on.
Madari frowned. He could feel the explosive atmosphere wash over him like a wave. He realised several of his officers were in the arguing crowd, including Jahni.
“Faraj,” he snapped at the Captain who stood nearby, looking tense, biting his thumbnail. “We can’t have this.” He nodded at the crowd.
“No, sir.” Faraj looked at him. “Sir, about the Americans, we can’t just -”
“Later! Come on!” He took off for the crowd around the gate. This needed to end before it got out of hand.
Too late. Someone threw a punch, and someone else threw another and suddenly the prisoners were heaving at the gate, trying to tear it off. The guards yelled, their dogs barked and someone pulled the alarm.
The siren wailed out across the camp and the desert. The camp exploded.