“Ted, Ted, trust me. I’ll keep it out of the newspapers.” Face held the phone away from his ear as it was assaulted by his client’s loud and hysterical voice. “…No, don’t worry and even if it comes out it won’t be the end of the world… hey, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. I’ll handle it… yeah, yeah, you go home and get some rest, everything will be fine. Okay, okay. Of course, I’ll call you soon.” He put the phone down. “Moron.”
Murdock, who was perched on the edge of Face’s desk, raised his eyebrows quizzically. “Trouble?”
“Let’s just say I won’t be seeing much more commission coming in from that guy. I mean c’mon, it’s basic, you pick up a hooker on Sunset the first thing you do is check her for an Adam’s apple, am I right?”
“Ooh, ‘Ted’ been taking a walk on the wild side?” Murdock said, grinning. “Ah, the glamorous world of big time show business.”
“I should have gone to Qumar with Hannibal and BA.” Face said with a sigh.
“Sure,” Murdock said, “Hundred and twenty degree heat, sand in every orifice, no beer. Sounds like heaven. C’mon, c’mon make the phone call, I wanna talk to the big guy, see how his flight went.”
“Okay, okay.” Face started to dial, reading off the number from a piece of paper. In a few moments Hannibal’s voice came on the line. It was a little echoey, but pretty clear.
“Hannibal, it’s Face. Hang on, I’ll put you on speaker.” He pressed a button and put the handset down. “Okay, you’re on.”
“Hi, Hannibal,” Murdock called.
“Hey, Murdock, I’ve got you on speaker here too, BA is here.”
“BA!” Murdock said, enthusiastically, “You made it, you’re there, halfway around the world!”
“Where’d ya think ah was, crazy fool?”
“Was the flight good? That was a real nice Gulfstream. Did you enjoy it, did ya, did ya? C’mon, I know you did, you loved it, you love flying now! You love it, admit it!” Face rolled his eyes as Murdock rattled on, guessing the effect it was having on BA. “I’m gonna fly you everywhere when you get home. You wanna go to the store for a quart of milk? I’ll fly you there! You need to take a parcel to the post office? I’ll fly you there! Return a book to the library? I’ll…”
“Shut up, fool!” BA yelled, exasperated.
“Murdock, knock it off,” Hannibal said, sounding as if he was smiling. “If BA smashes up this phone the hotel will bill us for it.”
“Were you really okay, BA?” Murdock asked, more soberly.
“Course ah was okay.” BA said. Murdock smiled.
“I’m proud of you, big guy.” BA didn’t answer. Murdock could imagine the thunderous scowl on his face, masking the smile he knew was on the inside.
“So you didn’t need the Taser and the big net, Hannibal?” Face asked, teasingly.
“Hey!” BA snapped.
“You guys been having fun?” Murdock asked.
“Well, if three days of meetings is your idea of fun.” Hannibal said.
“Faris and Kahil well are they?” Face asked.
“They’re fine. Murdock, Kahil said ‘thanks’ for that case of Twinkies.” Murdock grinned as Face rolled his eyes again and he heard BA snort in disgust.
“You got that boy hooked on those things,” BA said.
“It’s evening there, right? You going out?” Face asked.
“Yes, we’re going out for a meal with the guys and some senior officers from the regiment.”
“Well, we’re wearing suits.” Hannibal said.
“Does BA’s still have the sleeves attached?” Face asked
“Hey!” BA yelled. “Just ’cause ah’m outta the country don’t mean ah won’t get ya when we get home, Face.”
“Sorry, BA,” Face said, smirking.
“So what are the British guys like?” Murdock asked. There was a slight pause.
“Well, they know their business alright.” Hannibal said.
“There’s a ‘but’ isn’t there, I can tell.” Murdock said, smiling.
“Yeah, frankly they’re both major pains in the ass.” BA gave a rumbling growl that suggested he agreed.
“You know, Face,” Hannibal went on, “You really should come out here.”
“My clients get jittery if I’m out of town too long,” Face said.
“What, you can’t even take a couple of weeks away? The money’s great, the work is easy, just how you like it.”
“Maybe next time.” Face said. Hannibal didn’t ask Murdock the same question and Face saw Murdock’s face was rather serious. He’d been invited to be a consultant too, but had politely declined and told the team that he really didn’t want to go back to Qumar, there were too many bad memories there for him. Hannibal respected the decision and passed it on to Madari to make sure Murdock wasn’t asked again. He didn’t give Madari Murdock’s reason, but suspected he guessed what it was.
“Listen, we’d better go,” Hannibal said. “I’ll call you in a couple of days.”
“Okay, Hannibal, keep in touch. Enjoy the meal,” said Face.
“Say hi to Faris and Kahil from us.” Murdock said.
“We will. Oh, speaking of saying hi, you remember Faraj from the prison camp?” Hannibal said.
“Captain Faraj? Tall, good-looking guy, kind of snooty?” Face said.
“Yeah, like BA’s ‘kind of’ mean.” Murdock grinned.
“Yeah, that’s him, though he’s a Major now. Anyway he says hello.”
“Well say hello back from us,” Face said. “Speak to you soon, guys.”
After Face hung up Murdock said. “We going for lunch? You said I could pick where we go.”
“I did, didn’t I?” Face said, sounding as if he was realising that had been a bad idea. As they left The Templeton Peck Theatrical Agency Face said to his secretary. “If you need me I’ll be in Captain Bellybusters.”
“…So anyway we gets to Goose Green and scrags the fuckers.” Slater finished an anecdote that had kept the table rapt and baffled in equal measure. Madari winced at the profanity. “Bloody cheeky Argy bastards,” Slater added.
Rahama was smiling with apparent enjoyment, though he could surely have understood barely half of what Slater had said. Faraj was looking at the Sergeant as if he was something scraped off the sole of one of Faraj’s very expensive hand-stitched shoes. The other senior officers had a mix of disdain and horrified fascination on their faces. Hannibal guessed that many of them were the sort of officers who under their arrogant façades were actually frightened of the enlisted men, especially Sergeants.
They were in a sumptuously decorated private room in a very exclusive and expensive restaurant. The food was French cuisine. Rahama, Hannibal had learnt, had been educated in Paris and retained a love of French food. It was said that his first action on taking command of the Royal Guard had been to send all the chefs from the officer’s mess on Cordon Bleu cooking courses.
Wine had been provided for the Westerners, Rahama had said quietly to Hannibal that he wished he could join them, eating French food without drinking French wine was such a waste, but he had to consider appearances. Despite a warning glance from Madari Jahni had allowed his glass to be filled with wine too and met any disapproving looks with a defiant stare.
“Very cold, the Falkland Islands, I believe.” Colonel Rahama said to Slater.
“Aye, colder than a nun’s chuff.” Slater said.
“Sergeant.” Langford snapped with a note of warning in his voice. Fortunately no one seemed to understand what Slater had said.
“Well, you British certainly never back down from a fight.” Rahama commented.
“Yer right there, Colonel. Not with the auld ‘Iron Lady’ in charge anyway.”
“Ah yes, I’m a great admirer of your Mrs Thatcher.” Faraj gave Rahama a somewhat odd look at that remark.
“Aye, she’s not popular in the part of the country ah’m from, but even me Dad says she’s got balls.”
They did understand that one and Madari hastily cleared his throat and said, “Was your father a soldier, Mr Slater?”
“Nah, he worked doon the pit.” The Arabs and the two Americans exchanged puzzled looks.
“The pit?” Hannibal asked, as no one else seemed about to.
“‘e was a coal miner.” Slater clarified.
“Ah. A difficult and dangerous job,” Rahama said, nodding.
“Him and me Mam said ah wasn’t ganning doon there an all, so ah joined the army instead like.”
“How fortunate for your army and for us,” Rahama said, raising his glass of Perrier in a salute to the Sergeant. He seemed to be the only one who thought so. “Ah, here come our entrees.”
Once the meal was over brandy was poured for those who wanted it and cigars were handed around. The men talked among themselves. Langford, who had been seated beside Hannibal, to their initial mutual annoyance, had become friendlier with a few glasses of wine in him and seemed to be making an effort to have a polite conversation.
“Wouldn’t think you were in the Middle East would you?” He smiled. “I mean if they weren’t all Arabs I could believe I was at a regimental dinner back home.”
He had a point, Hannibal thought. There was a heavy European influence in Qumar, even the king was married to a Frenchwoman. “Did they all go to school in Europe?” He asked, guessed Langford probably had a file on each of the men there tonight.
“A lot of them. And most of them went to Sandhurst. Not Jahni, of course.” Hannibal nodded, knew Jahni was something of an anomaly in the Royal Guard. As Langford had mentioned on the plane Madari had transferred him there. Most of the other officers had a long line of ancestors who had served in the regiment; in fact that seemed to be practically an entry requirement.
And Jahni wasn’t rich, unlike most of the others. His father had been wealthy enough to send his son to good schools in Qumar and to university in Cairo, but he’d made his money by hard work, rather than inheriting it. He was dead now, murdered and his money stolen by the regime Jahni had fought to overthrow. Jahni was unlikely to ever see a penny of his family’s wealth again.
“You can see how the others look down their noses at him.” Langford said. “Shame really, he’s worth ten of most of the rest of them.” Hannibal had noticed before that the other officers, even Faraj, his friend and fellow guerrilla fighter, did indeed look down on Jahni. He’d also noticed that Jahni apparently didn’t give a damn what any officer except Madari thought of him.
“Rahama seems to like him, though,” Langford observed. The Colonel and the young Captain were currently chatting with BA.
Hannibal could have answered him; Langford wasn’t the only one with background information. Hannibal knew Rahama probably liked Jahni because Rahama respected Madari’s judgement. They were friends; Rahama had known Madari since Madari was a boy. He had served as a junior officer under Madari’s grandfather, when he commanded the Royal Guard. Rahama often referred to his mentor, “Old Ahmed” as he was known; the man seemed to be something of a legend in the regiment. But Hannibal kept all that to himself. Langford probably knew a lot of it from his files anyway, but if he didn’t then Hannibal was quite happy to keep him in the dark.
“Kahil can be a charmer,” was all he said in reply, a nicely meaningless answer that gave Langford nothing for the notebook Hannibal had seen him writing in many times over the last three days. He would dearly love a chance to take a look at that book. Of course Langford would be writing reports, that was to be expected, but was he only reporting on the Special Forces project? Hannibal wanted to know that very badly.
He’d come to respect Langford’s expertise over the last three days, he did indeed know his business, as Hannibal had said to Murdock, but he still didn’t trust him. And between them he and Slater appeared to go out of their way to be provocative. Both BA and Jahni seemed to be always on the point of throwing a punch, at least at Slater. Madari wore a continually strained look whenever he was around the SAS men. This would sometimes freeze into a blank stare when Slater came out with a particularly coarse expression that Madari wanted to pretend he hadn’t understood.
And he sensed that neither of them had much regard for Hannibal himself. They respected his experience, but thought he was over the hill. At lunch yesterday Langford had gone on and on about why the SAS were better than the Green Berets. He’d specifically singled out the Green Berets’ front door tactics, saying by the time the Americans were kicking down the front door his ‘lads’ would already have nipped in a side window, secured the area and have their feet up ‘making a brew’. He kept saying ‘front door’ as if it were a route no sane commander would choose. Hannibal had argued the point as politely as he could, not wanting to embarrass Madari by getting into a shouting match in the officers mess, but it had taken all his self restraint to keep from yelling at the man.
Hannibal excused himself and went to the bathroom. He was washing his hands when Madari came in. He had the now familiar strained expression on his face.
“Hey, Faris. Fun evening, huh?” Hannibal said, ironically. Madari just gave him a stressed look, took a bottle of aspirin from his pocket and swallowed two pills, bending over the drinking fountain to wash them down.
“Hannibal, I swear to you,” he said as he straightened up, “I swear, I’m going to kill that man. Before another day is over I’m going to kill him.” Hannibal didn’t have to ask who he was talking about. Madari took a deep breath, trying to pull himself together, he seemed quite shaken about something and Hannibal frowned.
“Are you okay?”
“He just asked me about my hands.” Madari said. Hannibal winced a little. He knew Madari was still sensitive about the scars on his hands. And being tortured was hardly something he wanted to discuss over dinner.
“Did Langford…” Hannibal said, and then was interrupted as Jahni came in, a look of concern on his face.
“Faris…” he began, then amended it to “Sir,” when he saw Hannibal. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, Kahil, I’m fine. I have a headache, that’s all.”
“That creature, Slater, he needs…” Jahni paused, apparently failed to find any equivalent English words for what Slater needed and went off into an angry stream of Arabic, none of which had featured on the tapes that Hannibal had been learning polite conversation from.
Hannibal left them to it and went back out to the dining room. The party was preparing to leave now. There was a somewhat tense and embarrassed air, though Slater seemed entirely oblivious to it and was trying to raise support for the idea of going on to a nightclub and ‘tapping a few birds’. This aroused little enthusiasm. Madari and Jahni joined them after a few minutes and they left the restaurant to get into taxis or in some cases to be collected by their drivers.
Back in their hotel room Hannibal said to BA. “Interesting night.” BA shook his head.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “Was the Colonel okay? He seemed pretty rattled by that fool and his big mouth.”
“Yeah, he was. Understandably enough.”
“Man, ah thought Kahil was gonna smack Slater. Either him or Faraj.” He paused, “Or me.” He added.
“Did Langford slap him down?” Hannibal asked.
“Did he hell. Just seemed interested in how Madari was reactin’. Cold as ice that one.”
“Yeah.” He added the failure to keep Slater on a tight enough leash to his list of reasons for hating Langford.
“Okay, well, plenty of work tomorrow with our English friends. Better get some sleep.” BA snorted at this characterisation and they turned in.