Shifting Sands

Note: This story was originally in the A-Team Qumar series. But looking back now I see that’s it’s far more at home in Madari’s own series. The A-Team plays a large part in the story, but in the end it’s not a crucially important part of their development in that series. But it’s of monumental importance to the Madari and Jahni storyline. Call it a crossover.

Chapter 1

BA had slept most of the way across the Atlantic. He started to stir as the pilot announced they were about to begin their descent into Heathrow. Hannibal put down the book he was reading and watched BA narrowly as he awoke and looked around. There was a brief second of panic in his eyes then he relaxed.

“What was that he said?”

“We’ll be in London in a few minutes,” Hannibal said. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” BA said, cinching his seatbelt just a little tighter, looking nervous. “Ah still don’t like the landings.”

“Better than the alternative.” Hannibal commented. The Gulfstream jet broke through the clouds and the urban sprawl of London was spread out below them. BA very carefully avoided looking out of the window. The hypnotherapy he’d been undergoing for the past year meant he was finally getting onto planes willingly; but he wasn’t going to do anything silly like look out of the window and be forcibly reminded that they were thousands of feet up in the air. At least Murdock wasn’t flying he thought, then felt ashamed of that, because Murdock had been helpful and patient, happily taking BA on short flights as part of his therapy programme.

The ‘fasten seatbelts’ sign began to flash and beep and Hannibal strapped in. He kept a close eye on BA as the plane made its final approach and touched down. BA was still tense and his eyes went wide as the wheels touched the runway, but he kept his head. As they began to slow down, firmly on the ground now, he let out a long sigh.

“Well done, BA.” Hannibal said, unfastening his seatbelt. BA at once replaced his nervous look with his customary frown.

“Ain’t nothing to it. Ah wasn’t scared.” He kept his own seatbelt fastened until the jet came to a complete stop.

“Of course not,” Hannibal said, grinned. “Why would anyone be scared of flying? It is the safest form of transport after all. Being scared of flying would just be foolish.”

BA looked as if he was going to give Hannibal a pretty sharp answer to that but shut up as the pilot came out of the cockpit.

“Nice smooth flight, Captain,” Hannibal said to the slender Arab man, who stopped by their seats and bowed his head in acknowledgement of the compliment.

“Thank you, Colonel. We have at least an hour while we refuel and embark the other passengers for the final leg.” He passed Hannibal a small folder. “Your passes for the first class transit lounge. Please relax and myself or the co-pilot will come to tell you when we are ready for departure.”

BA was impressed. “First class?” He asked Hannibal as they made their way to the terminal. BA received the usual odd looks from business travellers and tourists from all over the world. In fact it was probably the most international collection of odd looks he’d ever had all in one place.

“Yep, first class lounge.” Hannibal stretched the kinks out of his back. The private jet was roomy, but it had been a long flight.

“And a five-star hotel once we get to Qumar?”

“That’s right. Hilton.”

“Man…” he shook his head, “this consultancy game is even better than one of Face’s scams.”


They relaxed in the luxuriously appointed transit lounge. Hannibal sipped on a neat Jack Daniels and BA demolished a stack of ham sandwiches and a frosty glass of milk. They had secured a table by the windows and looked out at the planes. When BA finished his food he sat back with his second glass of milk and sighed contentedly.

“This flying stuff ain’t so bad. Ah could sure get used to the ‘first class lounge’ part.” Hannibal wasn’t sure the first class lounge could get used to BA. He looked around at the mostly soberly dressed business people, who darted glances at the gold bedecked Sergeant. BA followed his gaze and gave the curious folks a scowl that sent them quickly back to their newspapers. An African man wearing a brightly coloured dashiki and carrying a briefcase gave him a friendly smile though and he smiled back. You just have to be nice to him, Hannibal thought, and the guy is a pussycat.

“You gonna take another sleeping pill?” Hannibal asked, “It’s still a long flight to Qumar.”

“No, ah’ll… um… ah’ll just have a Valium so I’m not nervous. Not that I would be of course.”

“Okay,” Hannibal smiled. “I suppose you don’t want the SAS guys to think you’re scared of flying.”

“No, ’cause ah’m not.” He drummed his fingers on his knee, gazing out at the planes again.

“You wanna take it now?” Hannibal asked.

“Yeah…” BA said distractedly. But Hannibal had to admit he was impressed. BA was doing great. This was the longest flight he’d ever taken willingly. If he made it all the way without a panic attack it would be a huge achievement and Hannibal would be proud of him. Though not, he suspected, nearly as proud as Murdock, who insisted he wanted a full report of the trip.

The co-pilot turned up after BA swallowed his Valium and they headed back to the private jet. As they approached it Hannibal said to BA, “Don’t talk about our fees to these British guys. They aren’t private consultants like us, they’re serving soldiers and they’re classed as ‘advisers’, so it’s probably their government getting the money not them.”

“Right.” As they boarded the plane again they could hear a loud voice complaining.

“There’s nee drink in this fridge.”

“Christ, Slater, we’re not even in the air yet.” The reply came from a well-built man with blond hair. He was about forty and wearing a good suit. His accent was clipped and upper class, but with a slightly rough edge to it. He turned as Hannibal and BA followed the co-pilot into the cabin. “Colonel Smith and Sergeant Baracus, I assume?” He shook their hands, smiling. I’m Lieutenant-Colonel James Langford, that is Sergeant Malcolm Slater,” he waved a hand at the man crouching by the mini-bar.

Slater straightened up and grinned at them. The state of his nose and teeth suggested he’d been hit in the face a lot. However the size of his shoulders, arms and chest suggested that you really should see the other guy. He was about thirty-five, had a crew cut and there were crude black home-done tattoos decorating his scarred knuckles. He wore a cheaper looking suit than Langford’s and it fitted badly. Hannibal guessed he was no more a suit-wearing sort of guy than BA was. He came forward to shake their hands enthusiastically.

“The A-Team, ah diven’t believe it. Wait till ah tell wor lass that ah met the A-Team.” Hannibal and BA exchanged glances, the man’s accent and dialect were a little impenetrable, but he sounded complimentary. Slater looked at the gold around BA’s neck. “Jesus, ye like ya jewellery a bit.”

“Yeah,” BA scowled as if asking if he wanted to make something of it, but Slater didn’t seem to notice his annoyance.

“Anyway, call me Mal or Sarge or Geordie, whatever ye prefer, ah’m easy.” He laughed coarsely.

The pilot came over the P.A. then asking them to take their seats for take off. BA and Hannibal took the seats behind the SAS men and Hannibal kept a close eye on BA as they took off. BA gripped the armrests pretty hard and his eyes seemed to be trying to leave his head completely as the jet climbed, but he stayed in control. Once they reached their cruising altitude and the seatbelts sign went off he relaxed again.

Slater stood up first and tried the minibar that had been such a disappointment earlier He got out a bottle of Coca-Cola and lounged on the sofa pulling off his tie.

“This Qumar place isn’t fucking dry like Saudi, is it?” he asked as the others joined him.

“No,” Hannibal said, “you can get a drink in the hotel bars and in a few restaurants, but that’s about it.”

“Bloody ‘ell.” He addressed Langford. “Why do ah always get dragged along to places where ah canna get a decent pint?” He drank his cola with an expression of distaste. “Bleeding Arabs.” He added. He pronounced Arabs as “ay-rabs”. Oh yeah, thought Hannibal, this guy is really going to fit in. Langford was ignoring the Sergeant’s complaints and rummaging in his briefcase. BA was scowling.

“Ah don’t drink either,” he told Slater.

“Yeah? You one of them Black Muslims then?” Slater asked.

“No,” BA’s frown deepened. “Ah just don’t.” Slater shrugged.

“Colonel Smith,” Langford said. “Could I just clarify a few things in my files with you?”

“Sure.” Hannibal said. The two Colonels went back to the flight seats and Langford took a folder out of his briefcase. The front cover had ‘Major Faris Al-Madari, Qumar Royal Guard’ typed on it. ‘Major’ was crossed out and someone had written underneath ‘Lieutenant-Colonel.’ A photograph of Madari was clipped to the folder.

“You’ve worked with this chap Madari before, right?” Langford asked.

“Yeah and I’ve been over as a consultant on the project three times now.”

“How’s it going? You think these Qumaris have it in them to form a decent Special Forces unit?”

“I do. Madari is a good commander and this project is his baby, he has a lot invested in it. He knows how to pick good men and keep their loyalty. And with his guerrilla warfare experience…”

“Yes, quite.” Langford interrupted. “Seems sort of odd that, a distinguished officer from a very traditional regiment ending up as a guerrilla leader.”

“He did what he saw as his duty,” Hannibal said. “He’s the sort that gets on and does the job that’s in front of him and…”

“And does it well according to all we know about him.” Langford studied the file some more. “I have one concern though.”


“I assume you know about him being tortured by the KGB?”

“Of course.” Hannibal said, frowning, not liking where this was going.

“Does that still affect him?”

Hannibal looked at Langford strangely. “Of course it still affects him, it’ll affect him the rest of his life.” Langford must have heard the edge of anger in Hannibal’s voice, when he spoke again his tone was a little conciliatory.

“I understand that, Colonel. I meant does it affect him day to day? His work? Is it something we need to worry about is what I’m asking?”

“No,” Hannibal snapped, “it’s not.” He wished he could bite back the defensive tone because he could almost see Langford’s mind filing that tone away for future consideration. But what else could he say? ‘Oh he’s fine, he hasn’t had a flashback for two years now’? He felt an instinctive distrust of Langford and felt sure he would misconstrue or even misuse any personal information Hannibal might give him. So he kept his counsel and Langford seemed to sense that he should drop the subject.

“What about his aide, Captain Jahni? You know him too. Sound man is he?”

“Yes,” Hannibal wasn’t defensive now, his voice was sincere. “He’s a natural for Special Forces. If I’d met him in Vietnam I’d probably have recruited him.”

“High praise indeed.” Langford’s voice was only just on the right side of sarcastic. “This Jahni didn’t start his career in the Royal Guard,” he glanced at more notes in the file, “Madari had him transferred there.”

Hannibal shrugged. “You find a good soldier you do what’s needed to hang on to him.”

“True.” Langford nodded. “He’s known out there as ‘Madari’s Shadow’.” He smiled at the nickname. “What’s that all about?”

“They’re close friends.” Hannibal said and then wished he hadn’t. “He’s a loyal officer, very…”

“Good, good.” Langford scribbled a note in the file then closed the folder and put it back in his briefcase. “Thank you, Colonel, very useful to compare notes. Now if you’ll excuse me I think I’ll try to get some sleep.”

Hannibal left him to it as he reclined his seat and settled back. ‘Adviser’ he decided was probably not the right word for Langford, he was certainly out to collect information as well as give it out. Hannibal made a mental note to warn Madari to be cautious of the SAS officer.

The SAS sergeant was still lounging on the sofa talking to BA.

“Divn’t say the lasses all dress neck to ankle,” Slater was saying in a worried voice.

“Ah didn’t see a lot of women when I was last there.” BA said. “But ah think most do, yeah.”

“Christ almighty, nee beer, nee women, bloody weird food. Why the fuck did I get stuck with this job?”

“I guess we just got lucky.” Hannibal said, settling into an armchair. He put on a set of headphones and started up his ‘Learning Arabic, Level 3’ tape. BA glared at him as he was left to listen to Slater’s complaints alone. Hannibal gave him an apologetic smile and then closed his eyes. As he learnt how to make polite conversation in Arabic he idly wondered if there might be a gap in the market for more specialised language tapes. It would be more useful to him, for example, to know how to ask for fresh clips for an M-16 than how to find the nearest railway station.

Chapter 2

It was dark when they landed in Qumar. The airport was busy but as they walked out of arrivals, their luggage piled on a trolley, Hannibal spotted the two uniformed figures and Jahni began to wave enthusiastically at them.

A round of greetings and introductions followed. Jahni embraced both Hannibal and BA. Madari was more reserved, but shook hands warmly with his friends and politely with the two SAS men.

“BA, I’m so glad you finally accepted our offer.” Madari said as they walked from the terminal. “I know your input will be invaluable.”

“It’s been hard for me ta get away before now, been busy.”

“Of course, I know how important your work with young people is.” Hannibal smiled, he knew that Madari knew that BA hadn’t come before because of his fear of flying and he knew that BA knew that Madari knew that. Of course neither man was going to express that knowledge.

Two BMW’s awaited them, the drivers in Royal Guard uniforms with Sergeant’s stripes. Madari sent Jahni to accompany Langford and Slater in one car while he went with Hannibal and BA in the other, gave instructions to the driver.

“We’ll take you straight to your hotel, you must be quite tired?”

As they travelled through the dark streets BA looked around curiously. He hadn’t visited the capital city, Az Ma’ir, the last time he’d been in this country. As they neared the hotel the streets became more crowded with revellers, mostly younger people, in a colourful mix of Arab and Western dress. Cafés and restaurants were brightly lit and many had tables outside, thronged with people enjoying the fine summer evening.

Hannibal and Madari were talking and BA turned his attention back to them.

“…not sure if he’s up to something or not, but you should be careful of him.”

“I see. Thank you, Hannibal. What about the Sergeant, Slater?”

“Well BA talked to him more than I did,” Hannibal said.

“Yeah, and ah’m still deciding how to get back at you for that,” BA growled, making Hannibal grin, chagrined. “Ah couldn’t understand half of what he was sayin’ anyway.” Madari smiled in understanding; he had heard Slater speaking at the airport.

“He’s a ‘Geordie’, I met a few when I was living in England. It is a… difficult accent.”

“He seems okay, mostly,” BA admitted, a little grudgingly. “Swears a lot. Ah suppose the SAS ain’t exactly refined guys.” For all his toughness BA had always been uncomfortable with profanity. He’d spent most of his first few days in the army shocked by the language of his fellow recruits. He’d become used to it in the end, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.

They reached the hotel and checked in. Hannibal apologised for being anti-social, but he and BA really needed to hit the sack.

“Then we will leave you to your rest.” Madari said. “I’ll send a car for you in the morning, for nine-thirty.” Jahni glanced at the time and smiled a little. The night was still young and BA guessed he would soon be out among the crowds posing in the pavement cafés and bars. They said goodnight and Hannibal and BA went up to their room, unpacked as they waited for dinner to be brought up, then ate, mostly in silence. The long journey was beginning to tell on them and as soon as they finished dinner they went to bed. BA went quiet right away and Hannibal thought he’d gone straight to sleep, but then his voice came out of the darkness.

“It’s kind of weird being back here.”

“Yeah,” Hannibal said, he’d felt the same on his first return visit.

“Ah mean coming to this place before ended up being such a turning point, you know. And the stuff that happened to us here…” There was silence for a while. “So it’s just kinda weird.”

“I know.” Hannibal’s voice was drowsy. “Go to sleep, BA.”


BA woke early the next morning and left Hannibal sleeping, found the hotel’s gym. There was only one other person using it at that time of the day and it was Sergeant Slater. BA bit back a groan, he’d already had enough of the man’s company to last him a good long time. But he gritted his teeth and decided to make an effort to get along with his fellow Sergeant.

“Baracus.” Slater said, nodding to him. He was doing bicep curls with the dumbbells.

“Slater,” BA acknowledged. He warmed up then started on the weights himself. Slater glanced over to see how much he was lifting. There was silence between them for a few minutes, to BA’s relief, and then Slater clattered his dumbbells down noisily on the rack. He wiped his face with a towel, went over to a bench and started loading weights onto the barbell.

“Giz a spot here, would ya?” He said. Somewhat reluctantly BA came over and spotted him as he started lifting. He quickly got over the reluctance though, impressed with Slater’s strength and technique. He was soon slipping into his usual patter of encouragement, “you got it… all you,” just as if he were back in LA helping the kids train in the youth centre gym.

After a while they swapped over. BA felt he had to lift as much as Slater, and hoped like hell he could sustain it. He managed to, though feared he would suffer later from getting so competitive with the younger man. Slater was a good spotter too and BA enjoyed the session more than he’d expected. Once he was done they sat on the benches, drinking water and chatting in a much more friendly way.

“Your officer still in bed?” Slater asked.

“Yeah.” BA said.

“Ah suppose he’s getting on a bit,” Slater commented, not apparently noticing BA’s scowl. “He any good?”

What BA wanted to say was that Hannibal Smith was the best officer, the best soldier and the best man he’d ever met. What he actually said out loud was “Yeah, he’s good. What about yours?”

Slater grimaced. “Bit of a sneaky bastard, ah reckon. Don’t know him that well, but ah wouldn’t turn me back on ‘im.” He drank from his water bottle and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“What did you think of Colonel Madari and Captain Jahni?” BA asked, curious.

“What? Batman and Robin?” BA choked on his water at the mental picture that conjured up. “Dunno, Madari’s meant to be this great fighter like, but he’s a skinny git, isn’t he?”

“Size ain’t everything,” BA commented.

“Aye, that’s what ah tell wor lass all the time.” Slater sniggered, then said. “The Captain though, aye, ah reckon he’d be canny useful. Kill ya soon as fucking look at ya that one.” His tone was admiring. Yeah, ‘specially if he heard you dissin’ Madari, BA thought. “Ah could take him doon though,” Slater added. BA would pay real money to see that fight, he decided.


The four soldiers ate breakfast together, then the car turned up and took them out to the Royal Guard barracks. The collection of low buildings was on the southern edge of the city, a few houses followed the road beyond it and then the desert began and went on as far as the eye could see. The sergeant who’d driven them out there took them to what looked like the oldest building on the site, a three-storey building with a fountain in a courtyard outside. Hannibal knew it held the offices of the regiment’s senior men, including its Colonel, Rahama. Madari’s office was on the upper floor at the back of the building, reached through an outer office where Jahni and a sergeant had their desks.

“Gentlemen.” Madari said, rising as they came into the outer office and putting down a folder he’d been referring to. Jahni stood too, they all shook hands. “I hope you slept well.” He didn’t look as if he’d slept well himself, had dark circles under his eyes. “Before we start work Colonel Rahama insisted he wanted to meet you as soon as you arrive, so I’d better take you along there now.” He retrieved his jacket from a coat stand, buttoning it and fastening the wide belt that went over it. Jahni, who had also been in shirtsleeves, did the same, their movements almost synchronizing, which made Hannibal smile.

After a few moments wait in Rahama’s outer office they were shown in. Rahama sat at a large desk that was decorated with intricate carvings. Another officer, with the insignia of a Major rose as they entered and saluted. BA recognised him at once as one of their fellow prisoners from Ziyahd’s prison camp.

“Faraj? Ah didn’t know you got promoted. Well done.” Faraj bowed his head in acknowledgement.

“Thank you, Sergeant. It is good to see you again, it has been a long time.” His English was perfect, his accent almost imperceptible. He shook BA’s hand, did the same to the other Westerners, nodded a greeting to Jahni. “Kahil.”


“Ah, yes, I quite forgot you already know Colonel Smith and Sergeant Baracus, Major.” Colonel Rahama said, coming over to greet them. Hannibal had met Rahama a few times now. He was in his late fifties, quite short and getting a little plump. His thin hair and neat beard were completely white. He had the friendly manner of an avuncular professor and seemed to love encouraging people to talk, listening to whatever they might say with apparent delight. On first impressions he seemed like a sweet and harmless old man. Hannibal though was smart enough to look beyond first impressions and suspected that behind the charming façade lay a mind like a well-oiled trap.

“Tea,” Rahama said, “you must join me for some tea, please, sit down, relax.” He waved them to chairs. There weren’t enough chairs for everyone, so Jahni stood beside Madari’s chair, Faraj beside Rahama’s, towering over his commanding officer. At six foot three he had been one of the tallest men in the prison camp, though had stood out as much for his aristocratic good looks as his height. In his uniform he was a striking and elegant figure. It fit him to perfection and had clearly been tailor-made. The broad black stripe down the side of the pants emphasised the length of his legs, seeming to go on forever. Hannibal knew he was from a very wealthy family and had little doubt that the buttons and insignia on his jacket were solid silver.

“I see you replaced your gold, Sergeant.” Faraj said to BA. Hannibal lifted his eyebrows at that, not understanding. BA looked a little embarrassed.

“Yeah, well, ah had more back home. And ah’v bought more since then.”

“What’s this?” Hannibal asked.

“Nuthin’,” BA insisted, but Faraj went on.

“You didn’t know, Colonel? Before you left us in Jordan, after we took the camp, Sergeant Baracus gave us his jewellery. To buy supplies.” Hannibal turned to look at BA in astonishment. He’d never heard about this.

“You gave them your gold?”

“Well they had those three trucks, seemed dumb for them to go back the camp empty.” BA said, gruffly, desperate to change the subject. He remembered that day, before they had boarded the plane to go home, taking Faraj aside. The Captain, as he was then, was preparing to return to the camp in the convoy of trucks that had brought many of the ex-prisoners to seek asylum in Jordan. BA had unloaded his pockets and handed the chains and rings to Faraj and the haughty and rather snobbish officer, had gazed at the gold in his hands in astonishment, and then flung his arms around BA, tears in his eyes.

“We wouldn’t have made it past the first month without those supplies,” Madari said. He’d written to BA later to thank him, but had respected the Sergeant’s modesty over his generosity and had never mentioned it to Hannibal. BA squirmed with embarrassment as every eye in the room was fixed on him and was immensely grateful when the tea arrived to distract them all.

Chapter 3

“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.”

“Fancy affair?”

“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.

Chapter 4

Madari was keeping his hands behind his back again, Hannibal noticed and silently cursed Slater for that. He knew it had taken Madari a couple of years to break the habit of always hiding his scarred hands, now he’d been knocked backwards by one stupid thoughtless remark.

He glanced over at Langford. The three of them were in Madari’s office, it was very warm and the British soldier looked as drowsy as Hannibal felt. Hannibal had already sworn that morning to never drink red wine again. He glanced at the clock, it was after eleven.

“Could we take a break, Faris? It’s kinda stuffy in here.” Langford looked relieved, Madari looked mildly surprised.

“Certainly, Hannibal.” He smiled a little at the two Westerners and their inability to cope with what was really quite a mild day for the time of year. “Shall we take a walk over to the gymnasium and see how the Sergeants are doing with the men?”

While their officers were meeting with the Lieutenant Colonel the two Sergeants had spent the morning in the gym with Jahni and the recruits who were to be trained up as Special Forces. Madari was starting small, with a core group of thirty men, whittled down from over three hundred Royal Guardsmen who’d been put through a rigorous selection process. These men, once trained would split into smaller teams and select and train men drawn from the whole of the Qumari army, not just the Royal Guard.

As Hannibal, Langford and Madari came into the gym the men were practicing hand to hand. BA and Slater had been quite unable to just stand on the edge as observers and had changed into fatigues and were in amongst the men, passing on a little first hand experience.

Jahni, flat on his back on the mat, having just been used by BA to demonstrate a throw, saw his C.O. enter and shouted an order. The men stopped grappling and came to attention, saluting. BA pulled Jahni to his feet and the Captain saluted. Madari ordered them to stand easy.

“What do you think of my men?” he asked the two Sergeants.

“Not bad,” Slater said, somewhat grudgingly.

“They got a lotta potential,” BA said, giving Slater a glare, “you’ve made a good start on their trainin’.” Madari and Jahni looked pleased; so did the men.

Hannibal saw a look pass between Slater and Langford, then Slater said, “Say, Colonel,” addressing Madari, “why don’t ya show yer lads how it’s done?”

“The Colonel is busy…” Jahni began, but Madari cut him off.

“Spar with you, you mean, Sergeant?”

“Aye.” Slater said, he had a malicious look in his eyes. “But if you’re too… busy.” There was a tense moment, during which every eye in the room was fixed on Madari.

“Not at all.” Madari said and the tension ratcheted up to another level. Slater moved back onto the mats, the men moving back to give him room. Madari started to undo his belt, turned to Hannibal, who took it from him.

“Use your head, Faris,” Hannibal said, quietly, taking Madari’s jacket next. “He’s heavier than you but you’re faster and you’ve got a longer reach. Stay back and wear him down.” Madari nodded as he took off his shoes. “And stay on your feet!” Hannibal hissed. Langford was giving them an amused look.

“Thank you, Hannibal,” Madari said, quietly, turning away. Hannibal cursed Slater silently for pushing Madari like this, trying to show him up in front of his men. What was he trying to prove? Was he just a bully and thought it would be funny, or was there more to it? BA and Jahni came over to stand beside Hannibal as Madari walked onto the mat to face Slater. BA gave Hannibal a worried look. Thanks to their morning workouts together he knew just how strong the British Sergeant was.

Slater and Madari circled each other, Slater grinning, Madari looking calm but wary. The weight difference between the two men was stark, Madari was tall, nearly six feet, but his slender frame looked very vulnerable in contrast to Slater’s bulk. Slater made the first move, lunging at Madari, who easily side stepped away and landed a swift blow to Slater’s ribs before he moved back out of range again. Not hard enough to damage him of course, this was after all just a friendly training exercise, just hard enough to make the point. The men started to call out encouragement to their commander. Jahni looked as if he was struggling to restrain himself from doing the same, trying to maintain his dignity as second in command. In the end he couldn’t manage it and as the two men closed on each other again he let out a shout. Hannibal’s fledgling Arabic let him understand some of the shouts he was hearing and they made him grin, they certainly contained some very un-gentlemanly suggestions for what Madari should do to Slater.

“Come on, Sergeant,” Langford’s voice rang out. “Stop dancing with him, grab him.” This was clearly what Slater was trying to do. He needed to get hold of his opponent to use his weight advantage, but Madari was too fast for him. The Sergeant had lost the smirk he’d worn earlier and was looking red-faced and frustrated. Madari hadn’t even broken a sweat yet and seemed to be starting to enjoy himself.

Hannibal was enjoying it too, BA had joined in the shouts of encouragement to Madari and Hannibal gave in and joined in himself. Langford was the only one cheering on Slater and his voice suddenly sounded out alone as Slater made a surprisingly fast move, caught the Lieutenant Colonel around the waist and immediately slammed him face down onto the mat. Slater followed him down and pinned him, which provoked a groan from the Arab soldiers and from BA.

Madari struggled to get free, but his right arm was trapped under Slater’s body and one of Slater’s huge arms was fastened around his neck from behind. It went very quiet in the gym, the fast breathing of the fighting men sounding very loud in the stillness. Then Slater’s voice, quiet, but clear.

“C’mon, Colonel, the only way out of this is by ripping yer own arm off.” Madari stopped struggling. Slater spoke again, his tone patronising “That’s it, now slap the mat, there’s a good lad.” Hannibal heard a gasp from Jahni, glanced at him to see his face flush dark and thunderous. Madari’s face by contrast went completely expressionless, his eyes blank and flat. Uh-oh, Hannibal thought.

Madari moved his free hand away from where it had been trying to dislodge Slater’s arm around his throat and Slater smirked assuming he was about to slap the mat to signal his submission. Instead Madari reached back and grabbed Slater’s hair, pulling his head forward at the same time as Madari snapped his head backward. The back of his skull slammed into Slater’s nose and the Sergeant howled in pain, releasing his opponent, and rolled away, holding his face.

“Yes!” Hannibal heard Jahni say fiercely, above the general cheer from the men.

“Bloody hell.” Langford moaned.

Madari scrambled to his feet, quickly followed by Slater, who now had a murderous glare on his face.

“You broke my fugging dose, you nudder!” He said, indistinctly, blood dripping from his face, a hand over his nose.

“Stop whining, Sergeant.” Langford snapped. “Damn thing looks straighter now if you ask me. And get your hair cut!” Madari had a slightly unhinged looking feral grin on his face and beckoned Slater mockingly. Hannibal groaned a little, someone was really going to get hurt now.

“Permission to take this mad Ay-rab bastard’s head right off, sir?” Slater asked his C.O. and looked very much ready to do exactly that, so it was lucky that Colonel Rahama chose that very moment to turn up, accompanied by Faraj. The Arab soldiers all jumped to attention and saluted the Colonel.

“At ease, at ease.” Rahama said, waving a hand. “Sparring, eh?” He appeared to be entirely oblivious to the tension between Madari and Slater. “Excellent, excellent. Oh, Sergeant, I hope you aren’t hurt,” he said, seeing Slater nursing his bloody nose.

“It’s nothing, sir.” Slater said, glaring at Madari. Faraj was looking at the scene with an expression of lofty disdain, apparently horrified to see officers, Madari himself, sparring with the lower ranks.

“Good,” Rahama went on, “well I just dropped by to invite you to lunch with me.” He was addressing Hannibal and Langford. “You can continue your training session this afternoon.”

“Yes,” Hannibal said, thinking back to the look of satisfaction he’d seen on Langford’s face when Madari had been slammed onto the mat. “Perhaps Mr Langford and I can give a little… demonstration.”

“Of course,” Langford said, gave Hannibal a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “I promise to go easy on you, Colonel Smith, you being retired.” Hannibal’s retort died on his lips as BA kicked him in the ankle in the interests of diplomacy.

“Well, I’ll see you in a few minutes,” Rahama said, still apparently oblivious to the tension in the room. He turned to go, but then turned back, speaking to Madari, “Oh, Faris, what was it Old Ahmed used to say about fights and rules?” Madari looked slightly startled at the question, then smiled a little.

“That a fight with rules is no more than a child’s game?”

“Yes, that’s the one,” Rahama said, as if it was simply the answer to a nagging question he’d been thinking about, with no relevance to the current situation. “Good advice for the men there.”

“Yes, sir,” Madari agreed, glancing at the still glaring Slater. Rahama smiled beneficently at everyone and left, Faraj following.

“Dismiss the men.” Madari said to Jahni, who at once snapped orders at them. Madari went over to Hannibal to get the rest of his uniform back.

“I know I said ‘use your head’, Faris,” Hannibal said quietly, but with a grin, “but you didn’t have to be quite so literal.” Madari smiled back, rather more wryly and rubbed the back of his head.

“I’m going to have such a bump there.”

“It was worth it though,” Hannibal said, “your boys loved it.” They both looked at the smiles on the faces of the men who were trooping off to hit the showers.

“Yes,” Madari said, looking pleased. “Of course if Colonel Rahama hadn’t come in when he did Slater would have broken me in half.” Hannibal shrugged as if he wasn’t so sure. “Oh, and Hannibal”, Madari went on, buttoning his jacket. “I hope you’ll be taking the earliest possible opportunity to make Langford pay for that ‘retired’ remark.”

“Oh yeah.” Hannibal reassured him.

First though he had to go and make polite conversation with the man as they ate with Rahama in his private dining room. Rahama sounded them out on how things were progressing with the project and was pleased with their generally positive reports. He stood up after the plates were cleared and wandered over to the window, gazing out over the desert.

“It’s important that this work succeeds,” he said, sounding a little distant, as if he were simply musing. “The world is changing and we must change too. We have been slow to do so before. Tradition is both our strength and our weakness in the Guard. Tradition is a firm foundation to build on, but too often we let it hold us back.” He paused, then went on. “It is like the desert. The ‘eternal desert’, we say. But I think people misunderstand what that means. It is eternal, but not unchanging. The winds move dunes and change the landscape. Sandstorms carve rock and scour away vegetation. Flash floods create new rivers within hours. The desert is never the same place twice.”

Langford was looking bored and glanced at his watch. Hannibal could see Rahama’s reflection in the window glass and realised the Colonel was looking at him in the reflection. Rahama caught his gaze and turned very slightly to look at him. “Eternal and yet constantly changing. It is an enigma. And yet it is fundamental, it is life. Only that which is dead is unchanging.” He went silent for quite some time, unusually for him. Then he turned back to them with a cheerful smile.

“Well, I mustn’t keep you from your work, and I have meetings myself. Now there is something that is both eternal and unchanging, meetings. On the whole I think I would far prefer a good solid artillery barrage.”

Back in Madari’s office they resumed their session from that morning. They had been working for about an hour and a half when the phone rang, Madari answered it, irritated at the interruption, and after a short conversation he hung up and rose to put on his jacket.

“Gentlemen, you’ll have to excuse me for a few moments. Colonel Rahama wants to see me at once.” He left and Hannibal and Langford sat in somewhat awkward silence. Their reserves of pretended politeness were all tapped out now. Hannibal noticed the water jug was empty and took it to the outer office to ask the Sergeant working there for some more. He used Arabic and was pleased to find he seemed to be understood as a few minutes later the Sergeant returned with a full jug of water, with plenty of ice in it.

When Hannibal went back into Madari’s office Langford was writing in that notebook of his again.

“Dear Diary…” Hannibal said, sitting down. Langford glared at him and put the book back in his briefcase.

“You know before you put that away you should make a little note in there.”

“Oh yes?”

“Yeah, a note to get control of your dog.”

Langford frowned angrily. “Are you referring to my Sergeant?”

“You know what I’m referring to. That little display in the gym today, there was no excuse for that.”

“There was no excuse for breaking Slater’s nose either.” Langford pointed out.

“Don’t make me laugh, he’s been asking for that since he arrived.” Hannibal said, “And you encourage him. What the hell are you to up to, Langford? You testing Madari, trying to see how far he can be pushed, is that it? See how he reacts to losing face?”

“I’m obviously interested in the type of commander he is.” Langford said, coolly.

“So you let your Rottweiler try to humiliate him in front of his men? I don’t buy it, Langford, I think you’re out to make trouble.” Langford didn’t answer, just looked at him levelly. He didn’t deny Hannibal’s allegation.

“Well, let me tell you something,” Hannibal said. He stood up and leaned over the table, his voice going very quiet, staring Langford down. “Madari is not just a professional acquaintance of mine. He’s a man I’ve fought alongside, a man who’s put himself on the line for my friends and me. If you do anything to damage him, professionally or personally, I will come out of ‘retirement’ especially just to kick your Limey ass all the way back to dear old Blighty.”

Langford swallowed, then looked defiant. “Do you really think I’m afraid of you, Smith?” He sneered.

“Well you should…” Hannibal stopped as the door opened and Madari came back in. He seemed somewhat distracted and didn’t notice the tense atmosphere between the other two men.

“Everything okay, Faris?” Hannibal asked.

“Yes, yes, fine. Erm, the Colonel thinks we should make an inspection visit to the training base.”

“I thought we were leaving that until next time.” Hannibal said, surprised.

“That was the plan, the Colonel thinks it would be useful though. He was quite insistent.” He seemed totally baffled and Hannibal was too. He knew the building work would still be going on at the base that Madari had run his guerrilla campaign from, the former prison, that was being turned back into an official military outpost. But if Rahama thought it was a good idea and was being ‘insistent’ then it looked like they were going.

“It’s a two day drive,” Madari said. “We will need to get away early in the morning.”

“Drive?” Langford said. “What about a helicopter?”

“Ah…” Madari glanced at Hannibal and Hannibal shook his head very slightly, thinking about BA. BA had conquered planes, but helicopters were still beyond him. “There are none available.” Madari said, getting the message.

“Great.” Langford muttered.

“I thought…” Madari said, paused as if he wasn’t sure this was a good idea, but then went on anyway. “My house is an hour north of the city, we would pass it anyway, so it could save us probably two hours in the morning if we start from there instead of your hotel. If you would be my guests tonight?”

They agreed to that and decided it was time to break up the session for today. Madari would collect them from their hotel in a few hours. On their way to find the sergeants, Langford stopped off to go to the bathroom. As they waited for him Madari said, with a kind of dull horror. “I can’t believe I am bringing that man Slater into my home.”

“You could always make him sleep in the stable.” Hannibal said.

“Hannibal, really!” Madari said, in a reproving tone, but there was a slight smile on his face.

“Okay, I suppose not, I mean there’d be the problem with the smell.” Hannibal gave a sly grin. “It really wouldn’t be fair on the horses.”

Madari laughed.

Chapter 5

“Hi, this is HM Murdock, I’m out of my mind right now, but if you leave your number I’ll call you the next time I intersect with the same level of reality as my phone. So long.” There was a brief burst of ‘Ain’t No Body Here But Us Chickens’ then the beep.

“Murdock, it’s Hannibal. Listen we’re going out of town for a few days, so probably won’t be able to talk to you direct. But I’ll send messages to be passed on.” He knew it was just an old habit, but they all felt better if they still checked in with each other every couple of days. He and BA grabbed their bags and went downstairs to wait in awkward silence with their British counterparts. Madari turned up a few minutes later in a military spec Land Rover, with the Royal Guard crest on the door. They loaded their gear and piled into the car. Hannibal was quickest and got shotgun, settled back with a grin on his face as Langford was squashed between the two burly Sergeants in the back.

“Don’t worry,” Madari said, as he pulled out into traffic. “We’re taking two vehicles tomorrow. Jahni will follow us soon, he had to go to his apartment to deal with some personal business first.”

“Probably seeing his bird for a quickie.” Slater said, which caused Madari to grip the steering wheel very tightly in his gloved hands and take on his now familiar ‘I do not intend to reveal that I know what that means’ expression. The SAS Sergeant had a white band-aid over his nose and a disgruntled and dangerous expression on his face. After about ten minutes he opened a window complaining that it was hot enough to fry your eyeballs, then went quiet and seemed to be dozing.

It took about a half an hour to get out of the city and it was at least another hour out to the village where Madari’s home was. The journey took them through a harsh landscape. Not quite desert, but the vegetation was sparse, some small trees and thorny bushes, very little in the way of greenery. They were about half way when Hannibal noticed another vehicle coming up behind them, very fast.

“Faris.” He said, softly.

“I see it.” Madari was glancing frequently in the rear view mirror. Then as the pursuing car got closer he relaxed and said to Hannibal, “It’s just Kahil.” He frowned disapprovingly. “He drives like a maniac.” In a few minutes the second Land Rover pulled alongside, slowing down to match their speed long enough for Jahni to grin and toss off a salute before pulling ahead of them, eventually being lost to sight in the heat haze on the road.

“If we wanna catch him up BA could drive,” Hannibal said, smiling.

“Nah, man, ” BA said. “Ah’m real comfortable back here.” He ‘accidentally’ elbowed Langford in the ribs.

When they arrived at Madari’s home, driving into the yard behind the high walls that surrounded the property, Jahni was sitting in a lawn chair, sipping an iced tea, reading a newspaper and endeavouring to look as if he’d been there for hours. As he walked past the Captain Madari said quietly in Arabic. “Stop showing off, Kahil.” Hannibal, only a few steps behind caught that, understood it and winked at Jahni, who grinned back at him and followed them into the house.

It was a single storey building with airy spacious rooms with tiled floors. The furnishings and decorations were quite plain, Hannibal knew Madari was from a fairly wealthy family, but that he preferred to spend his money on books, horses and falcons than on fripperies.

The moment they went in BA’s eye was caught by what was on display on the wall of the living room. He distractedly gave his bag to Hannibal and went over to look at the three swords and the old rifle that were hung up there. The swords were cavalry sabres, long and curved, in polished wood or metal scabbards. The rifle was a Lee-Enfield .303 and to BA’s knowledgeable eye it looked as if it dated back to the Great War.

Madari came over to stand beside him, seemed pleased by his interest. He touched each of the swords in turn. “This one is mine, this was my father’s and this…” he lifted the longest one down from its padded hooks, almost reverently. “This is Old Ahmed’s.”

“Your grandfather?” BA took the sword that Madari was holding out to him.

“Yes. Mine and my father’s have only been used ceremonially, but this was carried into battle.” BA drew it from its ebony scabbard, wanting to see the blade. “Careful, it is kept sharp.” Madari cautioned him. The steel glowed red in the sunset light that slanted in through the windows. Arabic characters were engraved the length of the blade. The hilt was inlaid with jet and felt smooth in his hand. BA felt as if he could barely breath. So rarely now in the age of the machine-made, the mass produced and the disposable did he get to see and touch something that was a genuine piece of craftsmanship. Other people loved nature, or music, or ideas, but BA loved nothing as much as made things, tools, machines, and weapons. Things he could touch and hold in his hands, understand how they worked and what they were for.

“Beautiful.” He said softly. The moment stretched and then ended as Madari’s elderly servant came up and spoke in Arabic, all the while glancing disapprovingly at the American holding the sword. While Madari gave the man instructions BA carefully replaced the sword in its scabbard then he handed it back to Madari.

“Thank you,” BA said. Madari replaced the sword on its hooks.

“Rahama says I should have it shortened so I can wear it for ceremonies, it’s too long for me. But… I just couldn’t.” BA understood. The thought of doing anything to mar the perfection of the superb weapon seemed almost sinful. They chatted about the rifle for a few minutes, that had also been Old Ahmed’s and he had taught Madari to shoot with it when Madari was ten years old. It was clean and oiled, looked ready to fire.

They didn’t stay up late, wanting to make an early start in the morning. Slater and Langford were given the spare bedroom and Hannibal and BA got cots in the living room. Jahni doubled up with Madari. “How cosy.” Slater muttered on hearing that, but was ignored.

BA and Hannibal lay on their cots and BA stared up at the display of weapons again.

“They’re impressive.” Hannibal said. BA just smiled a little, that was hardly a strong enough word in his opinion. He looked at the bookshelf to the right of the display; hanging down the side of it was a long piece of dark blue cloth. It was fading and frayed at the edges in places.

“What’s that?” He asked Hannibal. Hannibal sat up slightly.

“Back when Faris and his men were fighting their guerrilla campaign it bothered him that they didn’t have uniforms. So he got hold of a bolt of cloth and had it cut up to make sashes for all the men, so they had something that bound them together you know and made them identifiable.”

“So that’s his sash from then?”

“Actually, that’s Kahil’s. Madari’s is in the royal palace, he presented it to the king after the monarchy was restored.”

“And Kahil presented his to Madari?”

Hannibal nodded. “They both have a flair for dramatic gestures, don’t they?” He smiled, lay back down, BA did the same and soon both settled into sleep.


When Hannibal woke the next morning BA was already up and outside with Jahni checking over the Land Rovers ready for their journey. They had breakfast and got underway by five-thirty, made excellent time, taking only short breaks for meals before finally stopping for the night about eight p.m., having covered nearly two thirds of the distance. It was a fine night so they didn’t bother with tents, setting up only a windbreak, stretched between the two cars and bedded down in its lee after a hot dinner. By common consent they set a guard. It probably wouldn’t be necessary, Madari said, there was little danger on the road. Thieves possibly, but even they would likely leave them alone when they saw the military markings on the vehicles.

It was one a.m. and Hannibal was taking his turn on watch. He was looking up at the sky, marvelling at the number of stars bejewelling the darkness. Living in the city he sometimes forgot what the night sky really looked like, it was good to get a reminder. He finished a cigar and tossed the butt into the fire, was about to light another one but fumbled the lighter and grabbed for his gun as the peace of the night was shattered by a cry from his left. Madari sat bolt upright, with a cry of “La!” No. It wasn’t quite a scream, but it shocked Hannibal as the man had been sleeping apparently peacefully only seconds before.

“Jesus.” Hannibal muttered quietly, his heart suddenly racing. The others woke, instantly alert and wanting to know what was wrong.

“Just a nightmare,” Hannibal said, “go back to sleep.” Jahni, who had been sleeping near Madari moved closer and spoke soothingly to him, rubbed his back gently. Hannibal turned away to give them some privacy. BA turned over and settled down again. Slater shook his head and Hannibal was sure he heard the Sergeant growl “nutter” as he lay down again. Langford came over to the fireside, spoke quietly to Hannibal. “I thought you said we didn’t have to worry about him.” Hannibal just gave him a long cold look.

“You ever been tortured, Langford?”


Pity, couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy. “Then shut the hell up,” Hannibal told him. Langford frowned angrily.

“Fuck you, Smith,” he snapped and went back to his bedroll. Hannibal was quite pleased, seems like he’d really needled Langford this time. After a few minutes everyone appeared to be asleep, except for Madari, who still sat up, a blanket around his shoulders. Hannibal held out a cigar to him and the Lieutenant-Colonel come over and joined him by the fire. He took a few puffs at his cigar, and then took it out. His hands were trembling very slightly.

“So now the British think I’m a crazy man.” he said, quietly.

“Screw the British.” Hannibal said, gruffly. “Anyway they started thinking that yesterday when you broke Slater’s nose.” Madari smiled at the memory of that. They sat in silence for a while, Madari watching the crackling flames, Hannibal, trying not to be too obvious about it, watching Madari.

“You still getting the nightmares a lot?” Hannibal asked eventually.

“Once or twice a week.” Madari said.

“They’re usually the last…” Hannibal hesitated, he wanted to say ‘symptom’, but that would be to force an acknowledgement that Madari had been ill, something he’d never explicitly admitted to Hannibal. “…the last thing to go. They never really do, well not so far …” twenty years and counting. “But they fade, get less frequent, less vivid usually. It just takes time.”

Madari smiled rather wanly at him, grateful for the reassurance. He went back to staring into the flames for a while, smoking his cigar. Unconsciously he fingered the string of worry beads he was wearing on his wrist, the amber beads clicking quietly.

Eventually he spoke again, taking the cigar out of his mouth. “This is terrible.”

“Aw, forget it, who cares what the British think?”

“No, I mean this cigar.” He gave it a disgusted look. “It’s quite horrible.” Hannibal grinned, chagrined.

“Yeah, sorry, they are pretty bad.” He looked at his own cigar. “Doc says I should give ’em up anyway.” He tossed it into the fire and Madari followed suit, and then stood up, pulling his blanket closer around himself and moved back to his bed. He gave Hannibal a friendly pat on the shoulder as he passed.

“Goodnight, Hannibal.”

“Night, Faris.” Hannibal said, then very quietly to himself. “Sweet dreams.”


Anyone who spent a lot of time with H M Murdock got used to somewhat surreal wake-up calls, so waking to the sound of Jahni singing “Sympathy for the Devil” in Arabic counted as only mildly odd to Hannibal and BA.

Hannibal was up first leaving BA growling behind him. Jahni was cooking over the fire, the Stones coming tinnily from a small radio by his side. Madari sat near to him, huddled in a jacket, drinking a mug of coffee. He gazed out over the desert with an early morning stare that could rival even Face’s. Hannibal suspected he’d had little sleep after his nightmare. He nodded a good morning to Hannibal, who nodded back, said, “Mornin’ fellas.”

“Good morning, Colonel,” Jahni said, cheerfully, pouring coffee for Hannibal. Hannibal took the tin mug gratefully, savouring its heat. There was a surprisingly chilly breeze blowing, the sun hadn’t been up long enough to warm the air yet.

“You’re in a good mood, Captain.” Hannibal said.

“He’s always like this in the mornings,” Madari said, “It’s extremely annoying.” Jahni just grinned, nodded his head in time to the music from the radio and started to sing again.

“Christ, is somebody torturing a bloody cat?” Slater said, emerging from his sleeping bag, stood scratching his belly. He yawned like a lion, then scratched himself lower down and wandered off to the latrine. Hannibal frowned; Madari just stared straight ahead, drinking his coffee. His new strategy for dealing with Slater appeared to be pretending not to notice the Sergeant’s existence.

Hannibal looked at the vast quantity of eggs Jahni was scrambling. “So what are the rest of us having for breakfast then?” he asked, teasing the Captain. Jahni just smirked and began to dish up the eggs along with bread and cold meat as the rest of the men joined them around the fire. He handed a plate to Slater with a suspiciously friendly smile that suggested he’d thought of a way to get at the Sergeant and was enjoying the anticipation.

After breakfast they struck camp and continued their journey. By early afternoon they were approaching the base. Everyone had gone quiet as they neared the place that for four of them had been their prison. Langford and even Slater kept silent too, picking up on the tension from the other men.

When they were in sight of the base Hannibal, who was driving one of the cars, could see that the guard tower he had destroyed was being rebuilt. So were other buildings, damaged during the year the camp had been held by Madari and his men against attacks by the government. The guards on the gates saluted them as they drove inside. Hannibal frowned as he looked around. There was a lot of activity going on, but not just building work, a lot of military activity. He knew a small detachment of Royal Guard was supposedly stationed there to supervise the civilian workmen who were bringing the place back up to military spec, yet there looked as if there were many more men here than he would have expected for a “small detachment”.

Madari appeared equally baffled and was jumping out of the Land Rover almost before Hannibal brought it to a complete stop in front of the guardhouse. An officer in Captain’s insignia came out and Madari hurried over to him with long strides.

“What are all these men doing here, Captain?” He demanded. The Captain looked almost embarrassed, no, Hannibal thought, more… ashamed and he suddenly got a very bad feeling about the situation. He looked around to see armed men had surrounded them as soon as they got out of the vehicles.

“Sir, gentlemen,” the Captain said, in English for the benefit of the Westerners. “I am very sorry about this.” He had drawn a pistol, though he didn’t point it at anyone. “Please drop your weapons on the ground and put your hands up.”

Chapter 6

For a long breathless moment no one moved or spoke. Madari was the one who broke the silence.

“Have you lost your mind, Captain Narul?”

“Please, do as I say and no-one has to be hurt.” Narul’s pistol still wasn’t pointing at anyone.

“These men…” Madari nodded at the Westerners, “…are British and American citizens. If you don’t let them go immediately you’ll be in more trouble than you ever imagined existed.”

“He’s right there, pal.” Hannibal said.

“Yeah, ya really divn’t want my mates turning up to get us oot.” Slater said, with an evil grin. Hannibal grinned too at that prospect.

“You’d be mincemeat in ten seconds flat.” Hannibal told Narul with a smirk.

“Be quiet!” Narul shouted, furious and frustrated and now his gun was up, pointing at the captive group. “You will co-operate!” He composed himself and when they still didn’t drop their weapons he spoke to a Sergeant.

“That one is Captain Jahni, take him over there and shoot him in the knee.” At the same time as Madari snapped out “No!” BA grabbed Jahni and pushed him back against one of the Land Rovers, stood directly in front of him. Slater was at BA’s side in a second. Anyone wanting to get at the Captain would have to come through them first. None of the men looked very keen to be the first to try.

But they were too heavily outnumbered. If they tried to shoot their way out they’d be cut down, they could all see that. All they could do for now was hope that Narul was speaking the truth when he said they wouldn’t be hurt if they co-operated. Madari caught Hannibal’s eye and Hannibal gave a slight shrug. Live now; fight later. Madari carefully took out his handgun and dropped it on the ground. The others followed suit one after another, though they didn’t look happy about it, particularly not the Sergeants.

“Take them away.” Narul said.

“You will be court-martialled for this.” Madari told him, cold rage in his voice. Narul got that ashamed look on his face again and turned his eyes from Madari’s withering stare.

They were taken at gunpoint to a new wooden building near the eastern perimeter wire. As they approached a group of civilian workers came out, carrying tools. The workmen looked at the approaching captives and their guards curiously, but were quickly hustled away by soldiers. There were two steps up into the building, which was elevated off the ground on stilts. The door lead directly into a room where six bunks had been hastily erected against three of the walls. A table and four chairs took up a lot of the remaining floor space. There was a door on the back wall and Hannibal strode to it at once, found it was a lavatory. A noise made him look at one of the windows to see a wire mesh was being fixed over it. Captain Narul spoke from the doorway.

“Please make yourselves comfortable, you will be remaining here for some time. Food will be brought to you soon.” He left, the door was closed and they heard it being locked. Hannibal looked around. Comfortable? That was unlikely, the six men made the small room feel very crowded already. BA spoke quietly to him.

“Well at least it don’t look like they wanna kill us.”

“They won’t need to.” Hannibal answered. Jahni and Slater were snarling already as they got in each other’s way moving past the table. Madari had sat down on a bunk, the cold fury still on his face, looking as if he was mentally picking out men for Narul’s firing squad. Langford was sitting on another bunk and was openly and furiously scribbling in his notorious notebook, glaring round at the others. “No they won’t need to.” Hannibal said again. “After a couple of days in here we’ll kill each other.”


Hannibal woke the next morning to the sound of Slater and Langford arguing and wondered if it would even take as long as a couple of days.

“Keep your voice down, Sergeant.” Langford hissed up at Slater who was in the bunk above him.

“If ye think ah’m just gonna sit on me arse…” Slater said, loudly enough that the others began to stir too.

“You’ll do as I order you. Now shut up.” Langford commanded. The others were all waking up now and Langford ended the conversation. Slater, a disgusted expression on his face jumped down from his bunk, landing with a thud that shook the room and went into the lavatory.

Hannibal got up and poured himself some water from the jug on the table. The previous evening they had been given dinner and several jugs of water. The food had been good and there was plenty of it. They weren’t to be starved it seemed. They had spent the time discussing their options for escape before finally falling asleep, tired from their long journey.

Breakfast was as good and as substantial as the previous night’s dinner. Their water jugs were replenished then a Sergeant came to the door and spoke in Arabic to them.

“He wants you, Colonel Langford and myself to go with him.” Madari translated for Hannibal, though he had caught the gist of it. Langford was already rising even as the Sergeant spoke and Hannibal remembered he spoke the language fluently.

“What for?” Hannibal wanted to know, but the Sergeant just repeated his order until the three senior officers did as he asked. They were taken first into one of the barracks, the one that had been the guards’ barracks when the base had been a prison. Here they were allowed to use the showers and shave and were given fresh clothes from their own luggage. Once all this was completed they were marched over to the guardhouse and taken to Narul. He sat in the office that had belonged to General Ziyahd and had become Madari’s office.

“Ah, gentlemen,” Narul gave them a slightly nervous smile. “I hope you slept well. Please sit down.”

“Captain, this is my office,” Madari said, coldly. “I will sit down on that side of the desk, not on this.” Hannibal smiled at that. None of them sat. Narul looked uncomfortable and stood up himself.

“I want to reassure you, sirs, that I intend no harm to any of you.”

“You intended some harm to Jahni when you threatened to kneecap him.” Hannibal said.

“If you co-operate you will be perfectly safe.” Narul went on, ignoring Hannibal’s comment. “Your luggage will be brought to you from your vehicles, you will be given anything else you need. It is unfortunate that we have to hold you here, but you must accept this.” There was little sense in arguing with the man, Hannibal saw. He was simply acting under orders. And Hannibal was sure that those orders included “don’t harm the Westerners” and “use Jahni to put pressure on Madari.”

“If we don’t?” Madari asked.

“We will move you to less comfortable quarters.” Narul said. Hannibal knew what that meant, the blockhouse, the concrete monstrosity with its inky black cells and torture room. Madari would have destroyed it as soon as he took over the prison if he’d had the equipment to do so and if it hadn’t been useful as shelter from air attack.

“Well, at least we’d have our own rooms.” Hannibal said, cheerfully. Narul just stared at him, clearly baffled by the American’s strange sense of humour.

“Is there anything you need?” He asked.

“Deck of cards?” Langford said. Hannibal glared at him.

“Of course. And some books and other games perhaps.” Narul said, seemed glad to find one man was being sensible and accepting the situation.

“And it is very hot in there.” Langford went on. “Perhaps if you have a couple of electric fans you can spare?” Hannibal stopped glaring at him and hid a smile. Ah, what BA could do with an electric fan…

“I will see what I can do. Anything else?”

“May I have my copy of the Qu’ran?” Madari asked, looking over at a shelf with a few books on it. Narul looked a little surprised.

“Really? I’m told you’re not a very religious man, Colonel. And that Jahni actually claims to be an atheist.” He said the last part as if it were too incredible to be believed.

“You would refuse me this?” Madari said quietly and Narul looked embarrassed and quickly took the large heavy book from the shelf and gave it to Madari.

They were taken back to their quarters, which were empty; the Sergeant accompanying them told them the other three had been taken to the showers.

“Is Jahni really as atheist?” Langford asked curiously, looking at the book Madari had laid down on the table. “That’s pretty unusual in this part of the world, isn’t it?”

“He says he is,” Madari said, a somewhat faraway look in his eyes. “Though I sometimes wonder if he’s actually just very, very angry with God.” Hannibal cleared his throat loudly, and Madari seemed to snap back to attention, as if suddenly remembering who he was talking to.

“Religion can be a great comfort in times of trouble.” Madari said, a slight smile on his face. He opened the thick front cover of the book and used a thumbnail to pierce the paper that lined the inside of it. It tore and he carefully pulled the stiff paper back to reveal a shallow space inside the cover. Hannibal and Langford bent over the table to see there were metal objects concealed there.

“Lock picks!” Hannibal hissed.

“And a knife.” Langford also kept his voice down. The knife was small, with a very flat handle.

“I prepared this when we were holding the camp against the government.” Madari explained. “If the camp had been taken and I’d been captured I was fairly sure that no fellow Muslim would refuse to let me take my copy of the Holy Book into my cell.”

“So they’d have locked you up with the means to escape.” Langford said. “Well, you know how to plan ahead, Colonel, I’ll give you that.”

Hannibal just said, “Nice,” gave a grin. But went a little more sober looking at the knife and thinking that if Madari had faced being tortured again he’d almost certainly have taken a different escape route. He saw the look in Madari’s eye that suggested he was thinking about the same thing and gave his shoulder a friendly squeeze.

“Well done, Faris.” He looked at the lock picks. “You can use these?”

“Well enough. Hardly with the artistry of Lieutenant Peck though.” Madari answered.

“Yeah, me neither. We sure could use Face about now.” Hannibal admitted.


“Smith, are you awake?” It was Langford’s voice, hissing out of the darkness.

“What?” Hannibal asked. He’d been unable to doze off and was sitting up enjoying a cigar, thinking all the others were asleep. The day had passed quickly. They had been given their luggage, minus anything that could help them escape; then later a box full of books and some games, a deck of cards, a cheap plastic chess set, paper, pens and pencils. Plenty to keep them occupied.

The electric fans had made BA perk up and he’d already taken one apart and put it back together. When people searched BA they always forgot, or didn’t dare, to search his gold. So they never found the small gold plated screwdriver.

The meals came regularly; they even got coffee mid morning and tea mid afternoon, with small tasty cakes dripping with honey. If this kept up they’d get fat, Hannibal reflected.

“We have to use our heads here, Smith.” Langford said. “It’s clear they’re not going to kill us, or harm us unless we force them to. If we sit tight they’ll release us in a few days.”

“Sit tight? You mean sit on our asses?” Hannibal said, thinking about the end of the argument he’d heard between the two SAS men that morning.

“Whatever they’re up to its some internal matter, Slater and I are official representatives of the British government, and we can’t get involved.”

“Well I don’t officially represent anyone,” Hannibal said, “And if I get involved it’s to help my friends.” He shook his head. “I thought you guys were tough. You really just gonna sit this out and let them send you home with a pat on the head once it’s all over? I don’t think your Sergeant likes that idea.”

“Slater will do whatever I tell him to.” Langford said coldly. “And it’s not a question of being tough, it’s a question of being ‘smart’ as you Americans say.” He went quiet again and after a few minutes seemed to be asleep. Hannibal stayed awake a little longer. Langford was right about one thing; they were being kept on ice until whatever was being planned was over. Hannibal just wished he knew what was being planned and when it was going to happen.


In the morning they were taken to the showers again; this time in twos and the guards were, Hannibal noted, smart enough not to take them in the obvious pairings. He was taken first with Slater, and then BA and Madari took their turn. On the way back Madari said something in Arabic to one of their guards. The man stopped and spoke on his radio, and then he started to lead Madari towards the guardhouse. BA was at the Lieutenant Colonel’s side in a hot second, grabbing his arm.

“Where they taking you?”

“It’s alright, BA.” Madari reassured him. “I just asked if I could see the doctor.”

“Hannibal says none of us goes anyplace alone,” BA said, insistently. If Hannibal said then there was no use arguing with BA about it, Madari knew. He spoke to the guard who shrugged and allowed BA to come with them.

BA sat on one of the beds in the infirmary glaring round at the guards while Madari was in the doctor’s office. There were a couple of men in beds in the ward, one with his arm in a sling. They looked curiously at BA. After a few minutes Madari emerged with the doctor, shook the man’s hand, saying, “Shukran.” BA knew that was “thank you.” In his other hand Madari carried a small brown plastic bottle, which he slipped into a pocket. BA made no comment, but when they got back to their quarters he waited until Langford and Jahni had gone for their showers and Slater had lain down for a nap.

“Hannibal,” BA said quietly, so as not to disturb Slater. “The Colonel went to the doctor this morning, got some kind of medication.” Hannibal looked sharply at Madari, who was sitting on his bunk, reading.

“Sergeant!” Madari said, angrily, in a loud whisper.

“Sorry, man. You musta known I would tell ‘im.” Madari still looked angry as Hannibal came over and sat on the edge of the bunk.

“What’s the medication?” Hannibal asked.

“That is my business.” His voice was all cold formality.

“Are you sick, Faris?” There was genuine concern in Hannibal’s voice and Madari abruptly lost the anger, and when he spoke he seemed to be trying to reassure Hannibal.

“It’s only sleeping pills.” He looked a little embarrassed. “My own doctor gives them to me. I don’t like taking them often, but they do stop the nightmares.” He dropped his eyes from Hannibal’s gaze. “I don’t want to make a fool of myself again like the other night.”

“Nobody thinks any less of you for that.” Hannibal said.

“Not you or BA, perhaps, but the other two…” He glanced across at Slater, who lay with an arm over his eyes.

“Nobody who counts.” Hannibal said, which made Madari smile a little. “Okay, Faris, you take them if you feel you need to, but I’d prefer it if you didn’t. Who knows when our chance will come? I’d like everyone on the alert.” He stood up, was going back to his own bunk when he stopped suddenly and turned back to Madari.

“How many pills did they give you?”

“Six. Why?”

“And how many are you supposed to take a night?”


“Then whatever is going to happen is going to happen in six days, maybe five.”

“Ah, Hannibal, that’s kind of a stretch.” BA said, “Maybe it was just a round number?”

“No, their supplies are finite, why give out what won’t be needed?” We have six days. Okay, it’s time to get serious.”


It was one in the morning, during the night after Hannibal had worked out how long they had. The alarm was ringing and the base was in chaos. And only yards from the gate the six prisoners were standing in a circle of armed men, their hands on their heads, weapons on the ground. Captain Narul, looking wild-eyed, was yelling at them in Arabic. Madari yelled back at him and the authority in his voice shut Narul up and calmed him down.

It earned them all a night in the blockhouse, each alone in a cold cell. But in the morning they were taken back to their now familiar quarters. They sat down on bunks and chairs all rather quiet. Hannibal took out a cigar, lit it and leaned back against the wall. He grinned.

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

Chapter 7

It would be insane for all six of them to try to get out. Hannibal had realised that as soon as they had started to plan. There were over a hundred soldiers out there and they were good ones too. No, a breakout by brute force was foolish at best, at worst suicidal. Last night’s little escapade had been a diversionary tactic, making Captain Narul think that they were crazy enough to try it. If it had succeeded, all well and good, but Hannibal hadn’t expected it to.

“The buses just arrived.” Madari reported from where he was watching out of the window.

“You ready, kid?” Hannibal asked Jahni. The Captain nodded, he looked tense, but his eyes were bright with anticipation. He was dressed in civilian clothes, Arab ones, rather than his more usual Western style, a long tunic reaching to his knees with trousers underneath, a white skullcap covering his thick hair. Hidden somewhere in the clothes he had the knife from Madari’s Qu’ran. He drank off a glass of water in one go and watched as BA and Slater pulled up floorboards that they had unscrewed with the edge of a fan blade. Langford was watching disapprovingly. It had taken hours of persuasion to get him to take part in their attempt the night before; as he constantly insisted he and Slater couldn’t get involved. Only once Slater made it clear that he was participating, whatever Langford thought, had he given in, grudgingly.

Madari came over from the window and spoke quietly with Jahni, in Arabic, a hand on his shoulder.

“Okay,” BA said, “That oughta be big enough.”

Jahni embraced Madari, then sat down by the hole in the floor, squeezed in feet first, manoeuvred himself to lie on his stomach and began to remove the boards underneath, which had already been unscrewed, exposing the ground below. He looked up at the others, gave a smile.

“See you later.”

“Good luck,” Hannibal, BA and Madari all said at the same time. Then he was gone, on the ground and moving away from the hole. BA and Slater put both sets of boards back and screwed them down again. Hannibal and Madari took a window each and kept watch. In a few minutes Hannibal said. “I see him.” BA and Madari joined him at the window. He was right, there was Jahni, strolling casually, tagging along behind a group of civilian workers who were heading for the buses that would take them to the nearest town for Friday prayers at the Mosque. Jahni himself had overheard the soldiers talk about this arrangement when he’d been taken for his shower the previous day. When he’d reported it to Hannibal the Colonel saw the potential at once.

The soldiers didn’t seem to be going, presumably they were keeping a low profile, but a couple of them got on each bus, which worried the watchers in their cell. They were all Royal Guard, if one of them recognised him… Too late to worry about that now. The buses were full; they started up and drove out of the base. Hannibal realised he was holding his breath as the bus they’d seen Jahni climb onto passed through the gates. He let it out slowly and went to sit down at the table. BA joined him. Madari sat on his bunk and began to fidget nervously with the worry beads on his wrist. Langford was writing in his notebook again and Hannibal began to formulate another little plan to distract him from thinking about Jahni. Tonight he felt like doing a spot of reading.


Artfully placed pillows and blankets in Jahni’s bunk deceived the guards that brought them tea mid afternoon and they could only hope the same trick would work at dinner time. Even if it did then the morning would lead to certain discovery, but by then the Captain would be well away.

The afternoon dragged into early evening, dusk began to fall. The base was quiet with the workers gone. The soldiers were drilling. The familiar parade ground noises were almost soothing to the five tense men. BA was keeping watch through a window and he suddenly spoke urgently.

“Bus!” The others scrambled over to join him. One of the buses they had seen earlier drove in through the camp gate.

“It’s too soon for the workers to be coming back.” Hannibal said. They weren’t expected to return until the morning. The bus drew up in front of the guardhouse; the door opened and a soldier got out, turned back and pointed his gun, beckoned.

Jahni stepped out of the bus, his hands cuffed in front of him. BA groaned. Slater muttered, “Fuck.” Madari started yelling in Arabic, in his command voice. Hannibal understood enough of it to know he was demanding their man be brought back here to them. Jahni heard him shouting and looked over, then he was lead into the guardhouse. The guards outside their door were agitated and talking fast. Madari was still shouting at them, making demands. Langford went and sat on his bunk. Slater gave the table a good kicking then climbed up to his. He didn’t get to stay there for long; they were soon taken out of their quarters and made to sit on the ground nearby while the room was searched. To their relief Jahni was brought out to join them a few minutes later, ordered to sit with the group. He had a bloodied nose and a split lip and his knuckles were skinned, but no other obvious injuries. Narul went into their quarters to supervise the search.

“How far did you get?” Hannibal asked quietly.

“The bus was almost there.” Jahni said. “Then the guard recognised me. I tried to pretend I didn’t know what he was talking about, but it was no good. I tried to fight, but they started waving their guns around and with all those civilians there…” he sounded very frustrated. “I had to give myself up to them.”

“You did the right thing.” Hannibal said. Getting a bunch of innocents caught in the crossfire wasn’t any part of his plan. It wasn’t all black. There was a chance the workers might report the incident, tell someone about the men being held at the base and some bright police officer might start making enquiries.

They sat there for at least an hour, as it grew dark around them. At one point soldiers brought over a roll of fencing wire and used it to secure the space underneath the building, screwing it tightly to the stilt legs and the steps. Eventually Captain Narul and the soldiers emerged. Their jailer came over to them, an angry look on his face. He had Madari’s Qu’ran in one hand. He snapped an order at his men and the prisoners were pulled to their feet. Narul went over to Madari, he looked down at the book in his hand, the secret compartment was exposed, the lock picks showing. He looked up again and abruptly slapped Madari across the face with his open hand. It wasn’t hard enough to rock the man on his feet or to draw blood. It was more a gesture of contempt. Madari simply gazed levelly back at Narul, his face impassive. Hannibal saw Jahni stiffen at the blow, but hold himself in check.

They were locked back in their quarters, which were a mess, started to tidy up. Jahni cleaned the blood off his face in the small sink in the lavatory.

“I hope you’re happy, Smith,” Langford said. “They could have shot the Captain in the head and left him for the vultures.”

“They didn’t.” Hannibal said. His stomach knotted at the thought.

“I said from the start it wouldn’t work.” Langford went on. “It was a bad plan.”

“Aye, one of the others was bound to recognise him.” Slater said, backing up his commanding officer.

“Ah didn’t hear either of you comin’ up with any better plans.” BA growled, backing up his.

“Don’t know what the point was anyway,” Slater went on. “Ah mean who was ‘e gonna call if ‘e actually made it. There ne-body back at the barracks that can be trusted.” Hannibal hated to agree with Slater, but he had a point, which was why Hannibal had quietly told Jahni to contact the American and British embassies first. Jahni had looked insulted at first, but then saw the sense in that. He wasn’t in any mood to see sense now though. He emerged from where he’d been cleaning up, looking menacing.

“What did you say?” He demanded of Slater.

“You ‘eard.” Slater turned his back on Jahni.

“If you’re suggesting that the Royal Guard is disloyal…” Jahni said. Slater turned back to him.

“Disloyal? What about that lot outside? Eh? Ah’m suggesting the Royal fucking Guard is riddled with treacherous bastards, top to bottom.”

“Top? You mean Colonel Rahama?” Jahni’s anger was getting to the incandescent stage. Madari said his name warningly, but he ignored it. Hannibal glanced at BA, who nodded a little. Be ready.

“Well he sent us here, didn’t ‘e? This whole damn thing’s probably doon ta him.” The words had barely left his mouth before he was instinctively shifting into a fighting stance as Jahni came at him. They grappled briefly, knocking over a chair and one of the water jugs to smash in the floor, before the others dragged them apart. Hannibal and Madari pulled away Jahni, Langford and BA restrained Slater. Each tangle of three men fell onto a bunk, where the combatants struggled to get free to get at each other again, ignoring the orders they were getting to stand down.

“Think ye can take me?” Slater snarled, “Ah’ll snap every bone in yer body.”

“I’ll snap your fucking neck first!” Jahni yelled, viscously.

“Oh, listen to Mr ‘elite’ Royal Guard, swearing like a fucking squaddie. You wanna know about ‘elite’ regiments, boy? An elite regiment’s one ya get into ’cause ya earn it, not ’cause of who ya Dad was.” He sneered the last part.

“That’s enough, Sergeant!” Langford yelled at him and it finally got through, Slater stopped struggling to get free. Jahni did the same. Hannibal got to his feet, stood in the middle of the room.

“That’s enough from everybody,” he said. “You all calm the hell down, right now!” His commanding tone left no room for argument. They all went quiet. Slater and Jahni continued to glower, but made no attempt to attack each other again. “Okay, we finish clearing up, we eat if they feed us, then we all get some rest. And no one else says one damn word tonight! We’ll reconsider our options in the morning. We all clear on this?” Synchronised nods from the other five and they rose silently and started working on tidying up. Hannibal watched with a stern glare.

They were fed eventually, very late. The meal was simply cold chicken and bread, probably the same as the soldiers were getting, as punishment for letting the escape happen. The men outside were drilled well into the evening. Hannibal had observed Narul seemed to be the sort of officer who liked to line the men up and shout at them if they did something wrong. Personally he preferred extra physical training and wished he could order that for his little group. They could certainly use the exercise, physically and mentally.

Once the supper was over and the dishes removed they all went to bed. Hannibal’s authoritative eye had kept them all as quiet as children who’d made their father angry. One by one they settled into sleep. Hannibal stayed awake. He hadn’t forgotten what he’d planned earlier.

In the moonlight he watched Langford for a long time. The Lieutenant Colonel’s breathing was even, he moved a little occasionally, then lay very still for at least ten minutes. Hannibal, moving very slowly, pushed back his blankets, swung his feet onto the floor. He waited a moment. Nobody stirred. Hannibal stood up, again he waited, and again no one stirred. Slowly, checking the floor in front of him as he moved, he started to walk towards Langford’s bunk.

Jahni turned over, muttered unintelligibly, and then went quiet again. Hannibal stopped and held his breath, then let it out slowly and watched Jahni for a few minutes. Eventually satisfied the man was still asleep Hannibal moved again.

He reached the bunk beds occupied by Langford and Slater, crouched down slowly, wary of creaking floorboards. But the building was new and well constructed and there was total silence under his feet. Without looking, keeping his eyes fixed on the SAS man, he reached under the bunk and picked up Langford’s jacket. He’d seen Langford put the object of his search in a pocket earlier, before putting the jacket under the bed.

It was wisest to move away at once, he knew and search the pockets once he was back in his own bunk. If Langford awoke to see a dark figure looming over him his trained reactions just might get Hannibal killed. Hannibal edged back, got to his feet and turned around. He didn’t like to turn his back on Langford, but walking backwards would be unwise.

He made it back to his bunk in silence and slid under the covers. He found the notebook in one of the jacket pockets. If he sat under the window just right there was enough light to see. He settled down and began to read. And began to seethe.

Chapter 8

“C’mon, Murdock, the plane leaves in two hours.” Murdock finished stuffing T-shirts into his flight bag and hurried out to where Face was waiting impatiently by the apartment door.

“You got your passport?”

“Of course.” Murdock snagged a couple of books off a shelf as he passed. It was a long trip and he didn’t want to spend it listening to Face fretting. Personally he thought Face was being paranoid.

“I’ll bet there’s a totally innocent explanation,” he said as they got into Face’s car. “Somebody will just have forgotten to pass on the messages, or lost them. Or, well, you know the military, if some guy didn’t get the right orders to pass them on he’ll just sit on them forever.”

“We’ll see.” Face said. They were quickly on the freeway and heading to LAX. Murdock went quiet, gazing off into the distance. Face glanced at him.

“Murdock I know you don’t like the idea of going back there, but trust me, I just have a really bad feeling in my gut about this.”

Murdock knew this as Face had been telling him about that bad feeling for the last two days. He knew Face had made a lot of phone calls trying to track down Hannibal and BA and that he wasn’t satisfied with the answers he’d managed to get. Then this evening Murdock had come home from work to find Face waiting in his living room with a bag, plane tickets, visas and a determined expression. Murdock has just shrugged and started packing. There was no point in arguing with Face when he was in this mood. It was true Murdock didn’t like the idea of going back to Qumar, but on the other hand if Face was right and Hannibal and BA were in trouble then it really wasn’t a hard choice. It really wasn’t a choice at all.

“It’s no problem, Face.”


Hannibal had to do some manoeuvring in the morning to make sure they went for their showers in the order he wanted, but he managed it. BA, who Hannibal had already had a quiet word with before the others woke, went first with Langford. When they returned Hannibal practically grabbed Jahni and they went next. He saw Madari looking disgusted at the prospect of being taken with Slater, but that couldn’t be helped. A quiet word with Jahni before they were returned and finally Madari and Slater were taken out. Hannibal smiled grimly. They should have about a half an hour. He signalled the other two and they moved to stand in front of Langford’s bunk, blocking him in. He stared up at them.


Hannibal standing in the middle said in a deceptively pleasant voice, “Remember that ass-kicking I promised you?” Langford made an instant attempt to jump up, but he hesitated over which way to go and didn’t move decisively enough. BA pushed him back down on the bunk.

“You think I’m scared of you, old man?” He asked in a sneering tone. Hannibal ignored the provocation, smiled.

“You know, you may have a point. I am getting on a bit. I’m probably not nearly as scary as I used to be. But him,” he glanced at BA’s huge form. “He’s still very scary. And him,” a nod at Jahni, who was nowhere near as big as BA, but was in superb training and whose arms and shoulders were impressively bulky, “he’s in the prime of scary.” Langford looked from one man to the other and didn’t move. “I’ve been doing some reading. Can you guess what the book was?” Hannibal bent down and retrieved the notebook he’d silently returned last night.

“That’s mine.” Langford snarled, making a grab for it.

“Ah-ah,” Hannibal said, holding it out of his reach, he still had the totally humourless smile on his face. “Now obviously you’d be writing reports about the Special Forces project for your C.O. back home, that’s fair enough. But…” he flicked through the pages, more for theatrical effect than anything else. “…There’s a lot of stuff in here that isn’t at all relevant to the project. Oh here’s this bit about that lunch you and me had with Colonel Rahama.” He read it out in a mocking imitation of Langford’s clipped English accent. “‘The old man started waxing poetical about the desert. Possibly going senile? Smith was taking it all in…'”

“You think Rahama is senile?” Jahni was laughing. “Hannibal, this man is no threat if he’s that much of a fool.”

“There’s a lot of stuff about me in here too, that I have to say I take kind of personally.” BA glared even harder at that. He started taking off his rings and putting them in his pocket, Langford swallowed hard at the sight of that. “But I think the bit that really pisses me off more than any other is this little list you’re compiling at the back. It’s titled ‘Madari, possible weaknesses.'” Jahni wasn’t laughing any more. Langford was looking increasingly alarmed. “Number one: ‘psychologically damaged from torture.’ You’re a psychiatrist now then, Langford?” The voice dripped sarcasm. “Number two…”

“Alright, Smith, I know what it says.”

“Number two…” Hannibal repeated, ignoring the interruption. “‘…Relationship with second in command Jahni. Too closely attached to this officer.’ Oh and you’ve scribbled a little note in the margin, what does it say? Ah yes. ‘Possible repressed sexual attraction?'” He heard Jahni give an incoherent growl and stood aside as the Captain dragged Langford to his feet and punched him hard in the gut. Nice punch, Hannibal thought, though he personally would have gone for the knee in the groin approach. Langford doubled over and Jahni pulled him around and slammed him down on the table on his back.

“You’re a dead man,” he snarled at Langford. Langford saw murder in the dark eyes glaring down at him and lashed out, the heel of his hand striking Jahni hard in the chest, making him stagger backwards. As Hannibal and BA started to move towards him Langford rolled off the table and backed into a corner, dropping into a defensive stance. He looked ready to kill anyone who came near him.

“This…” Hannibal waved the notebook; he had lost all his fake pleasantness. “Is full of shit like that. This isn’t for any report about the project, this is intelligence gathering. Question is, who for? You’d better say MI6, pal.” Langford looked taken aback.

“Of course MI6, who else would it be?” he asked.

“Madari has enemies, if you’re working for them…”

“I’m British.” Langford said simply, as if this was enough to refute any allegation. He looked at the three grim faced men and relaxed his stance, gave a forced smile, trying to calm the situation. “Look, Smith, I think we have some crossed wires here.”

“Then uncross them before I set the Captain and the Sergeant here loose on you.” Langford glanced at Jahni who was still looking murderous and was only being restrained by Hannibal holding an arm in front of him. Then he looked at BA who was smacking one fist into the palm of his other hand. Langford seemed to make a decision that coming clean was the healthiest course here.

“You’re right, I was told to gather intelligence for MI6 about Colonel Madari. They said they wanted to know more about him, personal things, his character…”

“Like any ‘weaknesses’ you could exploit,” Hannibal said, nastily. Langford just inclined his head a little.

“As you say. Look, I’m not an MI6 agent, I just got the orders to get the information for them.”

“Is that why you’ve been provoking him, pushing him? You want to find out what he’s like under pressure?” Hannibal asked. He was starting to relax a little, but was still watching Langford very carefully, trying to gauge if he was lying.

“I was given orders to push him, challenge him as much as possible,” Langford confirmed, and then looked a little puzzled. “Though that came direct from my C.O., not from the intelligence services. I don’t know why.”

“You just followed orders.”

“Right.” Langford failed to rise to the sarcastic tone in Hannibal’s voice.

“And you ordered Slater to do the same?”

Langford gave a short laugh. “God no, Slater’s just that way naturally. All I had to do was bring him along and set him loose.”

Hannibal still wasn’t sure he was buying it. “Why all the notes about me?”

“Same thing, I was told to get as much information about you as I could.”

“Why the hell do MI6 care about me?” Hannibal asked. Langford shrugged.

“They didn’t say. You must know what it’s like with the intelligence boys; they don’t tell you why they want something, they just tell you to get it.” Hannibal nodded. That sounded familiar enough. Plenty of times in Vietnam they’d gone on missions at the behest of the intelligence services. Go there, find this, do that, come back, report. You learned not to bother asking why because you could get tired of hearing “never mind why, just do it.”

“Are we okay, Smith?” Langford asked Hannibal. Hannibal glanced at Jahni, who still looked angry but less likely to start snapping necks. The Captain shrugged a little.

“For now.” Hannibal said. “But I’ve got my eye on you, Langford. One wrong move…” He left the threat unspoken. He hoped that at some point Langford would reflect on how Hannibal had stolen and returned the book without being detected. And then might reflect on what other commandments could be broken silently in the dark.

“Could I…? Langford put out his hand, wanting his notebook back.

“Are you kidding me?” Hannibal said. He took out his lighter and set a corner of the notebook alight. Langford looked annoyed as the paper began to burn quickly.

“I can’t stop you writing reports for your MI6 pals when you get home, but I’m not letting this fall into the wrong hands, to have all your nasty little speculations get twisted to be used against Madari.” The book was well alight now and he took it into the lavatory, knocked off the charred part and flushed the crumbled pieces. Gradually he burnt the rest, burning and flushing until the whole thing was gone. Black flakes of burnt paper covered the floor and Hannibal’s hands. He washed his hands and went back out into the room. Madari and Slater were back now, looking puzzled at the smell of burning, but getting no explanation from Jahni or BA who were sitting at the table playing checkers and attempting to look innocent. Langford sat on his bunk looking glum at being outmanoeuvred and losing his precious notes.

Hannibal lit up a cigar, offered the pack around, a little reluctantly. He only had three left and suspected Narul would not be sympathetic to requests for more. Fortunately no one else took one. Hannibal lay on his bunk, thinking. Langford’s explanation seemed to be sincere. And it made some sense. Madari had the potential to be a major player in Qumar. If he stuck with the military he could end up a General. On the other hand his ambitions could turn to politics He was popular with the ordinary people, especially in this northern part of the country. He had the ear of the king, who still owed him big time for his part in restoring the monarchy. It made sense that MI6 would consider him a man to watch.

What Hannibal couldn’t work out was why MI6 should also think Hannibal Smith was a man to watch. His military career was over. He had no ambitions to be a major player in anything. Some success in Hollywood would be nice, but he didn’t deceive himself that he was ever going to be a huge movie star. He still hadn’t come up with anything by the time his cigar was burnt down to the butt. He put it out and closed his eyes. With him as one of the stars Langford’s notebook had been an un-put-downable page-turner to rival any New York Times bestseller and Hannibal had had very little sleep. Within a few minutes he dozed off, smiling to himself a little. Sleeping in the day, just like an old man.


When Hannibal woke it was nearly three in the afternoon. He must have been more tired than he realised. He sat up and checked around. The others were quiet. Both Slater and BA were following Hannibal’s example and napping. Langford sat on his bunk, the playing cards laid out in a game of patience on the blanket in front of him. Madari and Jahni were sitting on Madari’s bunk, heads close, talking quietly in Arabic, too quietly for Langford to overhear them. Hannibal envied them the ability to have a private conversation. He suspected Jahni was telling Madari about the confrontation with Langford earlier. If so Madari was displaying excellent discipline as his eyes never flickered once to the British officer. Hannibal also noticed that they were holding hands. Seeing men hold hands like that had surprised Hannibal on his first visit to the Middle East, but he knew now that this was common practice among male friends in this part of the world. But he suspected Jahni was also doing it to make a point to Langford, challenging him to make anything more of the touch than an innocent gesture of friendship. Langford was apparently ignoring them however.

Hannibal got up and went into the lavatory. He stayed there a good twenty minutes, simply to have time to himself. The close quarters was starting to wear all of them down. Frankly he was heartily sick of the sight of all of the other men, even the ones he liked and knew they surely all felt the same. It was time to reconsider their options as he’d said last night. They needed to get out of here.

Two hours later he wished he’d never started it. For a man who kept saying he shouldn’t be getting involved Langford sure had a lot to say, most of it negative, about Hannibal’s plans. Madari was being difficult too. He was on his home turf and was resistant to taking someone else’s orders. Jahni of course backed up Madari, Slater was generally unhelpful and he and BA were snarling at each other. This just wasn’t the way Hannibal was used to working. Planning by committee wasn’t his thing. He came up with the plans, of course he would listen to suggestions, but once he made the decisions that where the arguments stopped. At least when he was working with his team. Not now though. Too many chiefs that was the problem. Three men used to command, and Hannibal had to somehow make the two Lieutenant Colonels knuckle under and take his orders.

They had finally fallen into a tense silence, the three commanders sitting around the table, the others sitting on bunks. The only sound was the tiny clicks from the worry beads on Madari’s wrist that he was once again fidgeting with. Hannibal had to bite his tongue to keep from yelling at him to stop it. BA though showed no such restraint.

“Ya know, ah ain’t slugged an officer in years.” He growled. “But if you don’t quit it with those beads ah’m gonna get back into the habit real soon.” Madari sat up rigidly in his chair.

“I am sorry I irritate you so much, Sergeant,” he said, with full on haughtiness. “Perhaps if you try to make even more noise than usual with your gold you won’t hear them.”

“Aye,” Slater said, surprisingly agreeing with Madari. “Clank, clank, clank all fucking day long. Drives me roond the flaming bend.”

BA came to his feet, his face like thunder, apparently deciding who to punch first. Hannibal said wearily. “Sit down, Sergeant.” He didn’t yell, he’d done enough yelling over the last couple of hours. BA drew breath to speak, but then saw the look on Hannibal’s face and subsided back down onto the bunk. Slater smirked at him and BA glowered back. Jahni was also glaring at BA for what he’d said to Madari. Madari pointedly removed the string of beads from his wrist and put them in his pocket with a disgruntled air. Langford looked as if he was making at least mental notes, now he’d been deprived of his book.

Hannibal gave a sigh and reached for his second from last cigar. How the hell was be going to make these men work together?

Chapter 9

They were coming again. God help him, he wasn’t sure he could take any more. Perhaps they would take one of the others this time. Instant guilt at feeling that. Anyway, that was no easier. Listening to them scream. Every cry a knife in his heart. They were here, they were pointing at him…


“No!” He wouldn’t go. He wouldn’t go.

“Hannibal, wake up.” Eyes open, darkness, quiet, the air dry and cool. His racing heartbeat began to slow down. A dark figure bent over him and as his eyes adjusted he recognised Madari. “You were having a bad dream. You’re safe.” Hannibal took a slightly shaky breath. Safe. Well, for given values of safe, still locked up, but mostly safe.

“Did I disturb you?” Hannibal asked.

“No, I was awake. Are you alright?”

“Fine,” Hannibal sat up a little. It must be the captivity, it had gone on too long now, and it was bringing back the memories that he’d buried a long time ago. “You were awake? That mean you’re not taking your sleeping pills?”

“I haven’t taken any of them, no.” Madari sounded slightly embarrassed.

“Good.” He’d made that a suggestion not an order and it had worked. Interesting.

Hannibal couldn’t go right back to sleep, he knew he’d likely drop straight back into the nightmare. So they sat for a while and talked quietly, about war, about the men they’d led. After an hour or so Madari started to nod off and Hannibal sent him back to his bunk where he fell asleep at once. Hannibal stayed awake for another hour, thinking. His last cigar burnt down in the darkness before he finally discarded the butt and settled down to sleep.

When he woke the sun was bright in the room. Jahni was doing push-ups on the floor. Slater, jumping down from his bunk gave a leer and said “anyone we know?” Ah, another fun filled day in the old homestead, Hannibal thought. As he sat up his foot touched his discarded cigar butt from last night. He picked it up.

“Well, that was my last cigar.” He announced mournfully.

“Thank Christ for that.” Langford commented. Hannibal didn’t rise to that. Breakfast was served and then the daily shower shuffle began. They were all experts now on getting taken along with the person they wanted to; while making it look entirely natural to the guards. So Hannibal had caught Madari’s eye to indicate he wanted a word and they were soon in cubicles side by side. Hannibal established that the guards didn’t speak English and spoke to Madari over the top of the dividing wall, which was at chest height.

“Faris, I’ve made a decision.” Madari looked at him, blinking soap bubbles out of his eyes as he washed his hair. “You’re in charge.”

“What?” Madari said, a full three seconds after Hannibal had spoken, seemingly genuinely unsure if he’d heard correctly.

“I’ve been trying to make you take my orders and it’s not working. And why should it? This is your turf, this base is yours. I want you to take command of our group. I’ll follow your orders. So will BA. I can’t speak for the other two.” Madari was staring at him. Finally he spoke.

“Hannibal, I… You do outrank me.”

“I’m retired. Hell, strictly speaking, I’m a civilian.” He grinned and Madari smiled back, rather more wryly.

“A civilian? Yes, Hannibal, of course you are.” He shook his head and rinsed the soap out of his hair. “Alright. Thank you.”

“I’d salute, only I’m naked here.”

“And you’re a civilian of course.”

“Of course. Look, Faris.” He became a little more serious, “I’ll still give you my ideas, what you do with them is up to you.”

“Thank you, Hannibal, I know that will be invaluable.”

They were taken back and soon after they returned the mid-morning coffee was brought to them. The honey cakes were back, which BA seemed pleased about. He quickly began distributing plates after the guards had left. As he picked up a plate and handed it to Langford he gave a small gasp and they all followed his gaze. On the next plate down on the pile, exposed by the one BA had just picked up was a small piece of paper. There was a frozen moment, then Madari reached out slowly and picked it up, unfolded it, read the Arabic characters on there. His face changed to shock and alarm.

“What does it say?” Hannibal asked.

“Today. The King.”


Face and Murdock were both exhausted by their long flight. They’d managed to get a little sleep but not enough and as they were seated in Colonel Rahama’s office they both just wanted to slide down into the comfortable seats and snooze for a while. Some strong coffee was brought for them and they drank it gratefully. After about twenty minutes Rahama joined them, they both stood and shook hands.

“Delighted to meet you both, I’ve heard so much about you.” The Colonel said, enthusiastically. “And this is one of my staff officers, who I believe you’ve met before, Major Faraj.” Faraj shook their hands warmly.

“So good to meet you again, gentlemen. It has been too long.” Face riffled through the card index in his head and came back with the relevant information.

“Major, you look well. How’s your little boy?”

“Very well, thank you. And not so very little any more, almost eight now. And he has a brother, nearly a year old.” Faraj smiled, proudly

“That’s great!” Face added the new information to the index. They all sat and Rahama ordered more coffee, which the tired Americans were very grateful for.

“Now, what can I do for you, gentlemen?” They quickly explained their worries about Hannibal and BA. Rahama seemed surprised.

“Major, we have been receiving daily reports from Colonel Madari, haven’t we?” He asked Faraj.

“Yes, sir.” Faraj looked equally surprised. “I’ve been collecting them from the communications centre myself.” He glanced at his watch, which Face recognised instantly as a Rolex. “Today’s is due in about an hour.” He leant across to pick up his coffee cup.

“They use all the correct daily codes, I suppose?”

“Yes, sir.”

“But no messages from Colonel Smith.”

“No. I could go to the comms centre and check in case they simply haven’t been passed on.”

“In a moment.” Rahama said, waving him back into his chair as he started to move to get up. “Mr Peck, Mr Murdock. How do you wish to proceed? There’s no direct telephone lines to the base, but we can let you contact them via radio.” Face and Murdock looked at each other and Face spoke up.

“With respect, Colonel, that isn’t going to be enough. I’m not going to be happy until I’ve seen Hannibal and BA for myself.”

“I understand, of course. Then you’ll want to go there, as quickly as possible. Major, I believe there are helicopters available?” His tone had become clipped and decisive. Faraj looked a little taken aback.

“Yes, sir. But do you think that’s really necessary?”

“I do. Please organise a helicopter on my authority.” Faraj stood up and saluted.

“May I accompany them to the base myself, sir?” Rahama nodded and Faraj strode out. Rahama turned back to Face and Murdock.

“Gentlemen, I hope your fears will soon be laid to rest. Now it will take perhaps an hour to get the helicopter organised, please feel free to use our facilities to freshen up and to have something to eat. I would join you, but I have an urgent matter I must take care of.” They rose and shook hands and Rahama left in a hurry. Face and Murdock were taken to the officer’s locker room and got showered and changed into fresh clothes. Face in particular was grateful for that, he’d been very conscious of his rumpled clothes and unshaven chin, as he’d sat with the neatly turned out Rahama and the elegant Faraj.

As they sat in the mess eating a late breakfast, early lunch Murdock said. “I wonder what kind of chopper it is? Think they’ll let me fly it?” Face shrugged. He was beginning to relax a little. At least they were getting some co-operation.

“Faraj is coming with us, so I hope there’s no trouble,” Face said, smirked a little, “I’d hate for him to break a nail.”

“Ooh, bitchy.” Murdock said. “Just ’cause he has a better manicure than you there’s no need to get jealous.” He sobered. “Kahil says he might be a bit of a snob, but that he’s a hell of a fighter.”

“Let’s just hope we don’t have to find out.” Face said.


“A military coup?” Langford said.

“I don’t think they have enough support for that.” Madari said. He was pacing back and forth, hands behind his back. The others were sitting at the table or on bunks. The coffee was cold, the cakes uneaten.

“So if the king was outta the way, who’s next in line?” BA asked

“His son, Prince Nadim.” Jahni said.

“So could he be bumping off his old man to get the throne?” Slater asked. Madari gave him a withering look.

“Nadim is five.” He said. BA smirked as Slater looked annoyed at looking foolish.

“And if they were both out of the way?” Hannibal asked.

“The king’s brother. Prince Zahir.” Jahni provided. Hannibal looked at Madari.

“What about it, Faris? Is this Zahir guy capable of killing his brother and nephew?” Madari looked thoughtful.

“He has been an opponent of the King’s reforms. And his duties include being our defence minister so he has many friends in the military.”

“Motive and opportunity.” Hannibal said. “But do you think he would do it?”

“I…” he paused. “I don’t like the man, so my opinion may be biased.”

“He’d do it in a second. He’s corrupt and ruthless.” Jahni said.

“Kahil!” Madari sounded a little shocked. Jahni just shrugged.

“But Royal Guard getting involved.” Madari shook his head. “That is what I can’t grasp. Of course these things have happened in the past, kings and princes vie for power. We’ve always served the royal house, and sometimes that meant looking the other way when there was an abrupt change at the palace. But we’ve never interfered in the sense of actually taking part in a coup. That is not our place.”

“Is it your place to interfere to stop it happening?” Hannibal asked. Madari turned to him and for a moment his dark eyes blazed and he got that feral smile on his face.


Hannibal grinned and really wished he had a cigar.


“Ooh, a 206, pretty.” Murdock said as they approached the Jet Ranger helicopter. A pilot was already sitting in the front seat, making pre-flight checks.

“Mr Peck, Mr Murdock!” They turned to see Rahama hurrying towards them from a car. He stopped, a little breathless. “I’m glad I caught you. Would you be so kind as to give this to Colonel Madari for me?” He handed Face a small, flat parcel, it weighed almost nothing, and it was wrapped in a cloth bag.

“Of course.” Face said.

“And please pass on this message. Tell him, ‘remember who you are.'”

“Er, ‘remember who you are?'” Face said, repeating the strange message.

“No, ‘remember who you are.'” He placed the emphasis heavily on the ‘you’.

“Right. Got it.” Face said. His bag was already closed so he put the parcel inside his leather jacket and zipped it up.

“Thank you. Safe journey, gentlemen.” Rahama moved away, stood beside his car watching them go. Face and Murdock climbed into the chopper to find that their pilot was in fact Faraj himself. He assured Murdock that they would share the piloting duties and Murdock happily got into the co-pilot’s chair. As they lifted off Face settled in the back, wondering if he’d manage to catch up on any sleep. Probably not. Strange, in Vietnam he’d been able to sleep like a baby in a helicopter.


They’d already tried going out the door and they’d already tried going out through the floor, which left only one place to go. BA and Slater were on top of one set of bunk beds, working on loosening the screws that held on the planks that made up the roof. The roof would eventually be tarred to seal it, but that hadn’t been done yet, so they had a chance of making a large enough hole to squeeze through.

“Buses.” Langford suddenly hissed from where he was on watch. The others crowded around, except the two sergeants who went on working. He was right. The buses they’d seen on Friday were driving into the camp. Madari turned to BA and Slater.

“Come down.” They did, leaving no obvious evidence of their work. Just in time, because Captain Narul was heading towards them. The buses parked up and the civilian workers began to line up to get aboard. Most of them were carrying bags.

“They’re evacuating them.” Hannibal said. “Don’t want them around to trip over when things kick off.” The guards were checking the face of each man as he got aboard. Narul arrived at the door of their prison and they all moved away to take up positions of forced nonchalance around the room. The Captain opened the door and looked inside, satisfying himself that all the prisoners were in there. Jahni gave him a dirty look, Hannibal a dazzling smile. “Hey, Captain, nice day. You look well.” Narul ignored him, Hannibal’s sense of humour completely defeated him and he had apparently decided to ignore its existence. He spoke to the guards then stepped inside with two of them.

“Colonel Madari, come with me please.” That produced an instant reaction; Hannibal, BA and Jahni all stepped between Narul and Madari.

“None of us goes anywhere alone.” Hannibal said. Narul’s frustration with the intransigence of these people who were supposed to be his prisoners boiled over. He pulled his handgun and stepping forward pointed it directly at Jahni, almost touching his forehead. Jahni could smell the gun oil. He didn’t flinch, just glared hatred at Narul.

“You will do as I tell you, right now, or he is dead, right now.” Hannibal glanced back at Madari, saw him scrutinising Narul closely to see if he was bluffing. He must have decided he wasn’t, he moved between Hannibal and BA, a quick nod of reassurance to them and left the room, the two guards accompanying him. Narul looked slightly smug and followed them. The door was locked again.

“Sergeants, back to work.” Hannibal ordered. They climbed back up. Hannibal joined Jahni who’d moved at once to the front window. They watched Madari being taken to the guard house and disappearing inside. Seeing there was little point in trying to tear Jahni away from that window Hannibal left him on watch. He stood by the table, watching the Sergeants working.

“If he doesn’t come back?” Langford asked, voicing Hannibal’s main concern now. Being split up at this stage was bad, very bad.

“He’ll be back.”

“And if he’s not?” The British officer persisted.

“Shut up, Langford.”

Chapter 10

They took Madari to his office. Narul took the seat behind the desk, which was covered in papers.

“Please sit down, sir.” He said, almost pleading. Madari just stood with arms folded. Narul sighed and then dismissed the guards. Madari watched them go, surprised, then turned back to look down on Narul.

“I’ve been instructed to explain your options,” the Captain said.

“Oh yes?” Madari had his haughtiness turned all the way up. He was enjoying the effect it was having on Narul, who looked uncomfortable and intimidated.

“Once this is over it will be important that there is a period of reconciliation. If you agree to work towards such reconciliation it will be to your advantage. You are a respected man; others will follow your lead.”

“Are you reading that off a card?” Madari asked nastily. Narul flushed and ploughed on.

“If you co-operate you will retain your rank and position.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then you’ll continue to be detained, probably under house arrest.”

“The others…”

“The British and Americans will be released very shortly,” Narul said hastily. “We don’t intend them any harm.”

“And Captain Jahni?” Narul now looked deeply uncomfortable.

“The conditions are the same as yours, if he co-operates he’ll be released. Although…” he hesitated.


“He… erm, he will have to return to his previous regiment…” he coughed and went on, hastily, “he’ll retain his Captaincy of course.”

“You want to throw him out of the Royal Guard?” Madari asked coldly.

“It’s…um, felt that he’s not a suitable man for the Guard. There’s a feeling that transferring him was…” Now he was blushing as if he was embarrassed by his own words, or more likely afraid of Madari’s reaction to them. “Was, ah, a mistake on your part, even an abuse of your position for personal motives…” His voice trailed off, he was clearly very uncomfortable with criticising a senior officer.

“I see.” Madari’s voice was ice.

“You don’t have to decide at once, please take some time to think about it.”

“I don’t need any time.” He moved very fast, striking like a snake, grabbing Narul by his shirtfront, pulling him out of his chair. Madari spat words at him. “When this is over I’m not going to be reconciling with anyone and I’m not going to be under house arrest. I’m going to be hunting down each and every one of you treacherous dogs and feeding you to the scorpions.” Narul clumsily grabbed for his holstered gun, yelling for the guards. They rushed in and dragged Madari off the Captain. Narul stood up, pulling himself together.

“You still have time to consider the offer, don’t make a hasty decision.”

“You have my answer, it won’t change.”

“Take him back.” Narul ordered.


Back in their cell Madari told the others about the offer that had been made. Jahni sneered with contempt at the idea that either of them would co-operate with the traitors and then glared defiantly at the part about him being kicked out of the Royal Guard.

“But it was a useful meeting,” Madari assured them, “because now I think I know what their plans are. Narul had a map on the desk, of Karak, an area about a hundred miles from here. The king has a house there, quite a small residence. He uses it in summer to spend time with his family.”

“If he’s there how many men does he have protecting him?” Hannibal asked.

“Probably no more than twenty five soldiers.”

“And these guys have a hundred, plus artillery. Is the house isolated?”

“Yes, at least ten miles from the nearest settlement.”

“Then my guess is they’ll go in and pound it with artillery for a while then send infantry in to mop up.” Madari and Langford both nodded in agreement.

“What about communications?” Langford asked.

“There are telephone lines to the house, which Narul will cut. They will have radio, but by the time they call for help it will be too late.”

“Hey, looks like they moving out.” BA said from the window. Three trucks stood in the yard, the soldiers climbing aboard. The officers got into jeeps. Two jeeps pulled trailers with sinister shapes under strapped down tarpaulins. Orders were shouted and the procession of vehicles began to drive out of the base.

“They’ll have to take the southern road with those trucks.” Jahni said, to Madari.

“There’s a northern road then?” Hannibal asked.

“Yes,” Jahni confirmed. “And it’s more direct, but, well, ‘road’ is a rather generous word for it. The Bedouin use it on their horses and camels, but vehicles…”

“The Land Rovers can make it.” Madari said, firmly. Jahni looked dubious but didn’t argue.

“Course the Landies can make it.” Slater said. “British made, man.” The convoy was out of sight.

“Get back to work on the roof,” Madari ordered. “Quietly.” The last part was important, an almost eerie quiet had settled over the base now all of the workers and most of the soldiers were gone. Three men still guarded the door of their cell. There were probably others lurking about somewhere.

“I suppose it’s too much to hope our friend who sent us the note is still on base.” Hannibal said. Apparently it was, no one answered. Silently they wondered about the mysterious note writer.

“Alright.” Madari stood up, he spoke quietly, conscious of the guards, but his tone was clipped and decisive. “We get out of here. If we can, we radio a warning. Then we head out in the Land Rovers on the northern road. We try to get there ahead of the enemy and evacuate the king and his family.” He looked around at the group, his face set and determined.

“Piece of cake.” Hannibal grinned.


The chopper needed refuelling about half way to their destination and Faraj landed at a small military base. It wasn’t a Royal Guard installation and Faraj had to throw his weight around and sign a lot of paperwork to requisition the fuel they needed. He looked quite worn out by the time the wrangling was over. They left the helicopter being refuelled and went to the mess to eat. The fare wasn’t up to the standards at the Royal Guard officer’s mess, and Faraj wore a generally disgusted expression throughout the meal. Murdock noticed that Face was fidgeting impatiently and checking his watch a lot.

When Faraj excused himself for a moment Murdock said, “Don’t keep looking at your watch, Face, that’s really not polite around here.”

“I don’t care,” Face snapped, “we need to get moving.” Murdock launched into a lecture about how the Arab was not a slave to his watch the way the American was until Face eventually threatened to feed him his own hat if he didn’t shut up. Faraj returned, pulling on his fine, soft leather gloves.

“Gentlemen, shall we go?”


The hole in the roof was big enough now. Jahni stepped up to be first out but Hannibal had other ideas.

“Suggest we go first,” he waved a hand at BA and the two SAS men. “They’ve got orders not to kill the Westerners, they won’t shoot us. Probably not anyway.” Madari considered this and agreed.

“Very well. Step back, Captain.” Jahni did so, somewhat reluctantly and the four Westerners climbed out and crawled silently to the front of the building. The guards were standing close together below. They were more relaxed looking than normal, smoking cigarettes. When the cat’s away, Hannibal thought. He gave the signal and the four men dropped onto the guards. It was over in seconds. The guards never even having a chance to cry out. Hannibal grabbed the handguns from two of them, Langford took the third. BA found the keys and unlocked the door, releasing Madari and Jahni. Madari took the pistol Hannibal handed to him.

“Jahni, Slater, lock these men up in the blockhouse,” he ordered. “The rest of us will secure the guardhouse and get to the radio.”

There were six more men in the guardhouse and they were easily mopped up. There was no one in the radio room when Hannibal and BA checked it and it was soon clear why.

“It’s disabled.” BA said. “They’ve taken out vital parts. Ah’ll look for spares, but ah doubt ah’ll get it workin’.”

Hannibal went to give Madari that bad news, found him in his office, searching it efficiently. He didn’t seem too surprised to hear about the radio, nor that the blockhouse was locked up and no keys could be found, as Jahni reported a moment later.

“Lock them and the other six in our former quarters.” He ordered.

“That won’t hold them long, once we’re gone. Especially not with that hole in the roof.” Hannibal said.

“Oh, they’re repairing that,” Jahni said, smiling. “Slater erm… suggested that they should.”

“Well he’s good for something.” Hannibal said.

“Jahni, get BA and check the Land Rovers, load them with anything you think might come in handy.” Jahni saluted and sped off. Madari gave up his search of the office, finding nothing useful. Well almost nothing.

“Hannibal…” he proffered the Colonel a box of Madari’s own cigars that he’d found in a desk drawer. Hannibal grinned, took one and clamped it between his teeth. Now he was ready for action.

They had one more problem to deal with before they set out. Hannibal suspected Langford would balk at this point. He’d start coming out with the familiar song about not being allowed to interfere in internal Qumari matters and insist he and Slater could not join the rescue mission. Hannibal knew Slater wasn’t happy about it. The big Sergeant was clearly dying to get out there and “scrag” someone. He was keen to prove that Colonel Rahama was right when he’d said the British never backed down from a fight and had been giving his officer ever more filthy looks over the past few days. But whether he would disobey a direct order from Langford was another matter.

“We could leave the two of them here in charge of the place,” Hannibal suggested.

“Don’t worry, I think I can get him to co-operate.” Madari assured him. They found Langford out in the yard, watching Jahni and BA getting the Land Rovers ready.

“The armoury is locked,” he reported.

“Probably empty anyway.” Hannibal said. “So, Langford, you joining the party?” Langford looked as if he was about to start his spiel, but Madari spoke over him, his voice deceptively mild and polite.

“Mr Langford, I understand your position about not interfering in our internal affairs. In fact I applaud it in principle. But in this case, if two British soldiers were to stand by idle while our king and his children were murdered, then I think diplomatic relations between our countries would suffer far more than if you did ‘interfere’. In fact I’m sure they would, because I would make it my personal mission to see that they did.” Before Langford could respond to that clear threat to drop him up to his neck in the diplomatic shit Madari went on. “If it helps I could make an official request for your assistance, to prevent the deaths of innocent civilians.” Langford processed that, saw the way out Madari was handing him.

“Well of course,” he said, finally, in a terribly formal tone. “If you’re making an official request, then Sergeant Slater and I are at your disposal.” Madari bowed his head in acknowledgement and offered his hand to Langford, who took it a little warily. They shook hands.

“Thank you for your co-operation. We’re ready to move out now.”

“Right. I’ll fetch Slater.” He went off to collect the Sergeant. Hannibal grinned at Madari, seeing a small gleam of triumph in his eyes.

“Nice, Faris, nice.” Hannibal said. “Got him coming and going.”

“Thank you. It’s time we were going. We are, as you put it, burning daylight.”


It was starting to get dark as the helicopter approached the base and landed outside the gates.

“Looks kinda quiet.” Face said. A small group of Arab soldiers were in the yard. There was no other activity.

“I’ll check what is happening.” Faraj said, “Wait here, please.” He took off his helmet, smoothed down his hair and put on his peaked uniform cap, strode into the base through the open gates. Murdock busied himself with the helicopter while Face watched Faraj talking to the soldiers. They seemed quite agitated about something. Then Faraj spun on his heel and headed back toward them, accompanied by three of the soldiers.

“Murdock,” Face said, his voice urgent, “take us up.”


“Do it now! Take off.” The men heading for them had their guns drawn, including Faraj. Murdock, though baffled, responded to the command and urgency in Face’s voice. As the rotor blades began to speed up Face saw Faraj start to run, long strides covering the ground quickly. Then the helicopter lifted off the ground and Face gave a sigh of relief as the man vanished from sight.

“Okay, Face, you wanna tell me why we’ve just stolen this chopper?” Murdock asked.

“Something’s very wrong…” Face began, and the helicopter suddenly lurched horribly to the right, throwing Face against the door.

“What the hell…?” Murdock wrestled with the controls.

“He’s on the skid!” Face yelled, “Faraj is on the goddamn skid!”

“Pull him up!” Murdock yelled back.

“Murdock,” Face said, “he’s armed, we’re not.”

“I don’t care, pull him up or I’ll land!” He meant it and Face gave in. Face opened the door and leaned out, hanging on tight, the wind snatching at him. Faraj had both legs and an arm wrapped around the skid and he was reaching up to try to get a hold on the fuselage. His face was grim and fierce, he looked as if he would climb up even without Face’s help and tear the aircraft open to get at them.

“Crazy bastard,” Face muttered. He leant out and yelled, “Drop the gun and I’ll pull you in. Drop it!” Faraj fumbled with the holster on his belt and the gun slid out to fall away into the gathering gloom. Face reached down and grabbed the man’s hand. Faraj had to literally climb up and over Face to get inside, falling head over heels into the back seat. Face pulled himself back in and shut the door, cutting off the howling wind.

Faraj struggled to get the right way up, finally sat up, panting and glaring. His hair was wild and he smoothed it down, adjusted his uniform, trying to regain his dignity.

“Alright, Faraj,” Face’s voice had lost its customary light tone; it was hard and deadly serious. Deadly. “You tell me where our friends are now or you go right back out that door.”

Chapter 11

Jahni hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d said that “road” was too generous a word for the route they had just taken. Hannibal’s bruises had bruises of their own and he felt like he’d gone up against a dozen drunken marines. But the Land Rovers had held up beautifully and as they approached the high walled compound even BA was talking about getting a “Landie” to play with when he got home. With Jahni driving the lead car and BA the following it had been quite a white-knuckle ride, but it meant they had made excellent time and there was no sign of the enemy as they drove up to the gates. They had to be about an hour ahead of them by Hannibal’s reckoning.

The guards on the gate challenged them, and then saluted when Madari identified himself. He spoke urgently to them and they opened the gates allowing the Land Rovers to be driven inside and up to the house. A welcoming committee of officers greeted them at the door. These men wore olive green uniforms and gold insignia. They weren’t Royal Guard, which hopefully meant they could be trusted. Their C.O., a Major was wary, but shook Madari’s hand and listened to him with a serious expression. Then he began to snap out orders to his officers who quickly rushed off to their assignments. Hannibal realised he’d made exactly the right move, putting Madari in charge. If they’d come here with Hannibal giving orders he’d have met a lot of initial resistance. Not to mention the language barrier. But these men naturally accepted Madari’s authority and moved quickly to act on his orders.

“Follow me,” Madari said to his group and they hurried after him as he followed the Major into the house. They crossed a courtyard with a fountain in the centre, and then moved back inside to luxuriously appointed rooms. Madari ran on ahead calling out urgently in Arabic, until a man appeared from a doorway. He clearly recognised Madari, approached him with rapid questions. Madari bowed his head quickly, no time for ceremony, began to talk to the man.

“That the king?” BA asked Hannibal, quietly. Hannibal nodded. BA seemed a little surprised. The king was quite a small man, barely five foot seven. He was about thirty-five, with a neatly trimmed beard and wearing casual, but clearly expensive clothes. As Madari talked to him his serious, intelligent eyes widened with alarm.

“Okay,” Hannibal said to the rest of the rescue party, “Spread out and cover the windows.” There was always a chance the enemy were closer than expected, he didn’t want them to be caught by surprise.


“Mr Murdock, please land the helicopter.” Faraj said in a very calm voice from the back seat.

“We’re not there yet, surely,” Face said, turning to him. “Oh… shit.” Faraj was holding a pistol, a silencer making it obscenely long. “Where did you get that?” A strip of gaffer tape still clung to the gun. It must have been taped under the seat.

“Madari taught me well,” Faraj said, smugly. “Think ahead. Plan little surprises. Now land the helicopter, Murdock.” The gun was pointing very steadily at Face. Murdock looked at Face who gave a tiny shrug. No choice. He found the next bit of flat ground and set them down.

“Murdock, stay where you are. Mr Peck, get out.” Face stepped out of the door, thinking Faraj would follow him out. Instead the guardsman climbed into the front seat and called out, “I’ll come back for you later. If I feel like it.” He pulled the door closed and ordered Murdock to take off. When Murdock hesitated he said coldly, “If you prefer I could just shoot him now.” Anguished, Murdock started up the helicopter again. The rotors whipped the sand up into a storm that drove Face back from the aircraft. Face considered trying the same stunt as Faraj and grabbing onto the skid, but suspected Faraj wouldn’t return the favour and pull him inside.

The helicopter vanished into the darkness and Face shook his fist after it, making blood-curdling threats for a while, before sitting down on the sand to think about desert survival. Well that started and ended with water didn’t it? He had none and no means of getting any. He took inventory of what he did have. The clothes he stood up in and his wallet seemed to be about it. He looked at his credit cards. Fat lot of good his American Express Gold card was going to do him out here. He suddenly remembered he had one more thing with him; the mysterious parcel Rahama had given him. It was still tucked inside his jacket. He pulled it out and opened the cloth bag to see if it was anything useful. Inside he found a long strip of dark blue cloth. It was thin cotton and frayed badly at the edges, despite an attempt to hem it with coarse grey thread. The colour was faded patchily and there were washed out, rust coloured marks on it. Face stared at it bemused. Why the hell did Rahama want him to give this rag, this bloodstained rag to Madari?

The bag it came in might prove handy. It was made of fine linen, dyed green and had Arabic characters embroidered on it in gold thread. An unlikely carrier for a bit of cheap, faded and badly worn cloth. He shrugged, sure he was missing something here. For now he folded the bag and put it into a pocket.

Face set out in the direction the helicopter had gone. He had to find Murdock, then he had to find Hannibal and BA, and then he had to find that lanky, stuck-up, treacherous bastard Faraj and give him an ass kicking he would never forget.


The royal family were all gathered now. The queen, an elegant French woman, wearing Arab dress carried her baby daughter. The king carried his son, the five-year-old Nadim. The boy was sleepy, but watched the soldiers in fascination. He had the same serious eyes as his father. There seemed to be some kind of argument going on between the family, the C.O. of the bodyguards and Madari. Hannibal stepped up to Madari.

“Problem?” He asked. Madari turned to him.

“They are worried about taking the children out into the desert.” Madari explained. That was understandable, Hannibal thought, a place less suitable for children he couldn’t imagine. But the alternative was worse.

“Tell them about the artillery that’s on the way.” Hannibal suggested. Madari nodded and turned back to the king, spoke in Arabic for a few moments. The king and queen both went pale and she held her baby tighter. When her husband spoke to her she nodded in assent.

“Hey!” Langford called suddenly from his position by a window. “We’ve got an incoming chopper.” The others joined him, saw the helicopter approaching.

“It’s coming in to land out the back.” Hannibal said. Madari ordered the Major to keep the family here and took his group and several men of the bodyguard to check it out.

The helicopter with its Royal Guard markings came down on the marked out landing area at the back of the house. The defenders trained their guns on it, ready for anything. Anything perhaps except the tall figure that stepped out.

“Idris!” Jahni cried in astonishment and delight.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Hannibal burst out.

“No time to explain.” Faraj answered him, in English. “Is his majesty safe?” He fended off Jahni who was hugging him, grinning.

“Yes, the family are all safe.” Madari said.

“Thank God. Do you want me to evacuate them in the helicopter?”

“Gotta be better than taking those little kids into the desert,” BA said.

“Wait here, Idris, we’ll fetch them.” Madari said. They left. Two soldiers of the bodyguard stayed behind at Madari’s order.

Tied up in the back of the helicopter Murdock heard the voices of his friends, but with tape over his mouth and his wrists and ankles bound he could do nothing to signal his presence. It went quiet outside, then Murdock’s eyes widened as he heard a distinctive popping sound. Twice. A moment later Faraj was pulling him out of the helicopter, untying his hands and feet.

“Looks like I don’t need you as a hostage after all, Mr Murdock.” Faraj said. Murdock stared in shock at two men in olive green uniforms lying unmoving on the ground, beside the door into a large house. As soon as his hands were free he pulled the tape off his mouth.

“You bastard, you killed them.”

“Shut up. Yell and you’re dead too. Now drag those two over there.” He pointed at a display of plants in large pots that would easily conceal the two bodies. No, Murdock thought, it would be three bodies. At best Faraj would hit him over the head, at worst he’d put a bullet into it. Murdock had very little idea of what was going on here, but he wasn’t going behind those bushes with Faraj. He moved as if to obey, then spun back and grabbed Faraj’s wrist, started to wrestle him for the gun.

“Idris…” It was Madari, coming back out of the door, speaking in Arabic, abruptly stopping as he almost tripped over one of the men on the ground. He stared in shock at the scene.

“Colonel, he’s a traitor!” Murdock yelled. Faraj’s elbow slammed into Murdock’s ribs, making him stagger and lose his grip. Faraj pushed him away, towards Madari, who caught him, steadied him, and stared at him in astonishment.


“Drop your gun, Colonel,” Faraj ordered, covering them with his pistol. “Drop it now, or you’re both dead.” His face was very grim. Madari knew Faraj well enough to know when he was bluffing. He definitely wasn’t. He dropped his gun on the ground and kicked it away. “Now hands up, both of you.”

“I can’t believe this. Not you.” Madari shook his head in disbelief. He glanced at Murdock, caught his eye, and nodded his head to the left ever so slightly. To cover the movement, the signal, he spoke over it. “It is Zahir isn’t it? You were at school with him, you’re his friend.”

“He is a great man.” Faraj said.

“What has he promised you, Idris?” Madari asked. “What did he buy you with?”

“I will command the Guard.” Faraj said, lifting his chin proudly.

“A Colonelcy? That was the price of your honour? You would have commanded the regiment one day anyway, you were born to it.” Madari didn’t look to his left, but knew Murdock had started to very gradually edge away from him. Madari moved very slightly to the right. He had to keep Faraj talking, give them time to move apart. And he had to keep the Major’s attention on him and not Murdock.

“One day, too late.” Faraj said. “I wouldn’t want to command whatever is left after you and Rahama and the king have stripped the Guard of its honour and reputation. Bringing in men like Jahni.” His voice was contemptuous, he sneered as he said Jahni’s name.

“Jahni’s a fine officer, you know that. And he’s your friend, Idris.”

“His father was a goat-herder! He doesn’t belong in the Guard! You should know that! He has no loyalty to the regiment, only to you!”

“Officers like Jahni are our future, he will take us into the twenty-first century. Would you have us go back to the twelfth and fight with sword from horseback?”

“At least we knew what honour and glory were then.” Faraj replied, speaking as if he’d personally wielded a sword against the Crusaders. Madari began to worry that Faraj had lost his grip on reality.

“You dare to talk of honour?” Madari retorted. “When you conspire to kill children?” Murdock was at least a meter away now, he was out of the line of fire, and Faraj’s handgun was still trained on Madari.

“Half-breeds,” Faraj snapped viciously. “They corrupt the royal line! What happens when Prince Nadim marries a European woman, just like his father? Do you want to see us ruled by an infidel?” He was almost raving, Madari tried to calm him a little.

“Nadim is only five,” he smiled gently. “And you’re talking of his marriage already?”

“I will not bow to a half-breed king! You!” He snapped, suddenly turning his gun to point at Murdock. “Stand still!” Madari started to move to the right, but Faraj’s pistol swung back to cover him. “Both of you! I have no qualms about killing either of you.” He didn’t sound entirely convincing though, he sounded as if he had many misgivings about the idea. He was sweating and they could both see that his hands were trembling. Murdock gave him a surprised and hurt look to encourage his doubts.

“You’d kill Murdock?” Madari asked, trying to get Faraj’s attention away from the American. “If it hadn’t been for him and his friends we’d still be in that prison, at Ziyahd’s mercy. Where the guards did whatever they liked to you.”

“Shut up.” Faraj snarled, warningly.

“Where the guards raped you, Idris,” Madari said, quietly, feeling ashamed of using the memory of that horror against Faraj now.

“Shut up!” Faraj screamed at him. “That didn’t happen!” He really looked as if he was about to shoot Madari, but it was Murdock who made a move, diving to the left, dodging towards the cover of the bushes. Faraj turned, giving an incoherent yell, and fired after him. Madari dived for his own dropped handgun, rolling, then coming back up on one knee as Faraj turned his gun back on Madari.

Madari’s shot took Faraj in the chest. Faraj looked down at the blood on his uniform then back up at his former commander, an expression of shock on his face. He fell, his tall body folding up slowly until he hit the ground. His gun dropped from his hand.

“Idris!” Madari cried, running to his side. He kicked away Faraj’s pistol then knelt by his friend and took him into his arms. “Idris, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Faraj raised a gloved hand, gripped the front of Madari’s shirt.

“My family…” he gasped.

“They’ll be safe, I promise you.” Madari said. Faraj made a choking sound, then his hand fell away from Madari’s shirt and he slumped, limp in the Lieutenant Colonel’s arms.

Murdock arrived by the two men in time to see Madari close Faraj’s eyes. When Madari looked up at Murdock his face was stricken with grief and guilt.

“You had no choice.” Murdock said.

“I know… I…” he pulled himself together. Then his eyes went wide and he jumped to his feet as he realised that Murdock was clutching his right upper arm, blood oozing between his fingers. “You’re hurt.”

“Yeah, he got me. Went right through.” He wobbled a bit and Madari took his left arm to steady him. “Missed the bone. I’ll be okay.” He let Madari start to check the arm, but said urgently. “I have to find Face. Faraj dumped him in the desert.” Madari looked up at him and then at the helicopter.

“Murdock, we need to use the chopper to get the king and his family to safety.” Murdock’s reply was cut off by a sound behind them. It was a moan from one of the men Faraj had shot. They rushed over to him. His eyes were open, large and scared. Blood covered most of his abdomen.

“I’ll fetch a medic, do what you can for him,” Madari ordered. He rushed off, leaving Murdock alone with the soldier. Murdock found a handkerchief in his jacket pocket and folded it into a pad. He pressed the pad over the wound in the man’s belly. The soldier cried out weakly and Murdock shushed him gently, started murmuring a stream of comforting nonsense. He knew his words were probably meaningless to the man, hoped the tone would be enough. And he knew now he wasn’t going to be taking the chopper back out to find Face. Never mind the royal family, the young man bleeding to death under his hands just moved to the head of the line for a helicopter ride.


Face trudged wearily through the desert, heading due west, hoping like hell he was still going in the right direction. It was slow going, walking through loose sand, over dunes and he’d already been tired before he started. He was grateful for the headdress he’d fashioned for himself from the blue cloth, as the breeze was now bitterly cold.

Great, he thought. Only Templeton Peck could manage to freeze in the Arabian desert. Perhaps I’ll go to the North Pole next and get sunstroke. He pulled his hands inside his jacket sleeves. Still at least the moon was nearly full and he could see pretty well. He regretted thinking that at once as he jinxed the moon and a cloud passed across its face. The night got a lot darker.

Face paused a moment, waiting for it to pass. Then his heart started to pound, because he could hear something in the darkness. A rustling sound. Perhaps even a whisper. And something very dark was moving, just ahead of him. The cloud passed and the moon shone out again. Face almost fell over as he found himself only feet away from two dark coloured horses. He took a few steps backwards. The men mounted on the horses wore black robes, their heads wrapped in headdresses that covered everything but their eyes. Both had rifles slung on their backs. Face stared up at them, then pulled himself together. He had only one weapon at his disposal and he deployed it now.

Face smiled.

Chapter 12

BA skidded and almost crashed into Hannibal as the Colonel stopped suddenly, raising his gun. He lowered it again when he recognised the man running toward them as Madari.

“What’s happening, what was that shot?” Hannibal asked, but Madari ran on past them shouting in Arabic.

“He’s calling for a medic,” Langford said. They ran on in the direction Madari had come from, emerging into the cool night air to find a shocking scene around the landing pad. Three men lay on the ground. Kneeling by one of them… Hannibal did a double take.

“Murdock?” Murdock looked up at them, relief on his face that they were safe.

“Where the heck did you spring from, fool?” BA demanded.

“Uh, hi, fellas. Long story. Later. Got a man with a belly wound here.” The others spread out, checking the other two men. Jahni stopped by Faraj’s body staring down in shock. Hannibal noticed Murdock’s arm was bleeding. What the hell had happened here?

Madari reappeared, an officer and a couple of soldiers in tow. The officer had a doctor’s bag and he at once took over the wounded man from Murdock. Murdock stood up. His hands and arms were bloodied to the elbows.

“Madari,” Hannibal demanded, determined to get some answers. “What happened?”

“Faraj was a traitor. He shot the guards and Murdock. I shot him.” Jahni heard him and turned to gape at him in disbelief. Madari shuddered at the memory of killing his friend. And at the thought of how close he’d come to delivering the king into the hands of the enemy. If he hadn’t come back to check if the helicopter needed fuel… He saw Jahni was still staring at him, went to him and touched his shoulder. “Kahil,” Hannibal heard him say, before Jahni burst into a stream of angry and emotional Arabic, shock and denial clear from the tone. Madari spoke gently in reply, trying to calm him.

“Hannibal,” Murdock said. Hannibal turned back to him. BA had grabbed some bandages from the medic’s kit and was dressing Murdock’s injured arm. “Faraj dumped Face in the desert, about ten or fifteen miles away. We have to go find him.”

Damn, Hannibal thought. There’s always an added complication.


The added complication rode into the Bedouin camp behind one of the men who’d found him in the desert. Face slid down off the horse and looked around. The place was quiet, most people were asleep he supposed. A few men were hanging around, seemingly tending fires or watching the goat flocks, but there was an alertness about them that the soldier in Face recognised. And they all had rifles nearby.

One of Face’s rescuers went into a large tent and voices could be heard. A few moments later another man emerged, pulling on black robes over a long white thoub. He was in his fifties, tall and muscular, with a huge beard. He stared at Face and then said something to the younger man. Face prayed it wasn’t “have him scrubbed and brought to my tent.” The younger man hurried off and the older one came up to Face, shook his hand, with a powerful grip, then gestured to Face, speaking in Arabic, seemed to be inviting him into his tent. Face went in slightly warily. Within a few moments he was ensconced on cushions and piled rugs, with a bowl of hot stew that the younger man had brought. He briefly wondered what the meat was, remembered the goats he’d seen outside and hastily derailed that train of thought, concentrated instead on the warmth the stew was bringing back to his chilled body.

His host and the two men who’d brought him here watched him eat and seemed pleased when he smiled and nodded his appreciation. When he was done they took away the bowl and offered him sweet, sticky cakes and coffee. After the meal the older man produced cigars, offering one to Face and taking one himself. Face smiled to see one of the younger men light it for him in a way that was somewhat familiar to Face. He decided he liked these people. He had no idea how to communicate with them and get their help to find his friends, but still he felt as if he had fallen right on his feet here. He wondered if they had any dancing girls, or if that only happened in the movies.

It occurred to him suddenly that he could give his host a gift in thanks for his hospitality as he remembered the embroidered linen bag the blue cloth had been in. Gift giving was pretty important around here he knew. And it might not be anything very fancy, but a bag was useful and nomads appreciated useful things rather than burdensome trinkets, didn’t they? He took the bag from his pocket, proffered it, smiling, remembering to use his right hand. His gesture seemed to be understood and appreciated, the host apparently delighted with the gift, showing it to the two younger men. As they leaned closer to the lamplight Face could see a resemblance between them all and wondered if the two younger men were his host’s sons.

Face felt quite warm now and unwrapped the headdress he’d fashioned until the strip of cloth hung loosely round his neck. To his surprise the men stared at him and he wondered if he’d committed some kind of faux pas by uncovering his head. It didn’t seem to be that though. One of his rescuers came forward and, mutely looking for Face’s permission, took the blue cloth. All three men gathered around, talking quickly and seemed quite agitated. It was all meaningless to Face until one word jumped out at him.

“Madari? You just said Madari, right?” They stared at him, questioningly.

“Madari?” the older man said, indicating the cloth.

“Yeah, Colonel Madari,” Face said, excitedly. “You guys know where he is at all? I’m looking for him. Well, I’m looking for some friends of mine who I think are with him. They’re missing, I think they’re in big trouble… and you have no clue what I’m saying, do you?”

The older man gave some orders to the youngest of the other two who hurried off out of the tent. Face was given the blue cloth back, then his host went off to a curtained off area of the tent and returned a moment later carrying two more strips of blue cloth just like the one Face had. He handed one to the younger man, who Face was now sure was his son. The son tied the cloth around his waist as a sash. Face glanced down at the one he held. He could see how the pattern of fading made sense if it had been knotted around the waist like that.

The other son came back, leading a teenage boy of perhaps fourteen, who was looking highly disgruntled about being dragged from his bed. He became more interested when he saw Face though and looked at him curiously until the older man spoke to him. The boy listened, then turned to Face.

“Sir, my name is Ali. I can speak English.”

“Great!” Now they were getting somewhere. “You’re going to translate?”

“Yes. Honoured sir, the chief wants to know why you carry a sash of the Knight of the North.”


They moved the bodies out of the way, covering them, before they brought the royal family through to the landing area. Even so the king kept his son’s face buried against his chest to keep him from seeing the blood. The family got aboard the helicopter, the king taking the pilot’s position. The wounded soldier was lying on the back seat, the doctor squeezed into the foot well, to monitor the man and keep him alive until he reached hospital. The queen was in the co-pilot’s seat, holding the baby. Nadim sat on the floor at her feet. Madari and the commander of the bodyguard spoke with the king for a few moments, he would make for the nearest large town with a hospital for the wounded man. The king and his family would place themselves under the protection of the local police chief. The soldiers moved back and the king started the helicopter up. The watching men shielded their faces from the backwash as the chopper lifted off. It banked away southwards and was soon lost to sight.

There was a general feeling of relief. Everyone knew the work and the danger weren’t over, but the primary objective had been achieved, the king and his family were out of danger. Now there was the matter of the household staff to deal with. Hannibal had been somewhat astonished to find out that there were about twenty-five servants here to look after the family. Who’d have thought a family of four would need such an extensive support network? Fortunately there were mini-buses and cars that had brought all those people here and could now take them away to safety before the enemy got here and started pounding the place. Well hopefully before then. Madari was busy organising that with the Bodyguard commander. In the meantime he had asked Hannibal to do something for him.

Hannibal approached Jahni who was sitting on a step, the covered body of Faraj at his feet. He had a thousand yard stare that Hannibal had seen too many times on the faces of too many men.

“I’m sorry about your friend, Kahil.” Hannibal said. Jahni turned his bleak eyes up to Hannibal.

“He wasn’t my friend,” he said, quietly, bitterly. “I thought he was, but he wasn’t. I didn’t know him at all.” Hannibal wasn’t going to argue about that. Knew it would take a long time for Jahni to come to terms with this betrayal.

“Kahil, Faris needs you now. He needs your support. ” He used Madari’s given name very deliberately, then just as deliberately he changed tack. “The Colonel needs you functioning and in control of yourself.” He carefully appealed to what was probably Jahni’s greatest strength; his loyalty to Madari as a soldier and as a friend. The combination was unbeatable. Jahni set his jaw, the distant look vanished from his eyes and they blazed. He stood up, nearly at attention, then spun on his heel and marched smartly over to stand by Madari, waiting for orders.

Plans were made and orders given. The household staff was loaded into the mini-buses and cars and set off on the road that led south, toward the nearest town. Half the bodyguard soldiers went with them as an escort, including the commanding officer. Madari’s team and the remainder of the bodyguard would follow a couple of miles behind as a rear guard in case the enemy spotted the escaping convoy and started to pursue. At least that was the plan. When the first shell hit just as the convoy disappeared into the darkness the plans started to change.

The explosion was a dull boom. The building shook and plaster dust fell from the ceiling. A vase toppled from a table spreading water and flowers across the floor.

“That hit outside.” Hannibal said, “They’re finding the range.”

“Then let’s get the hell out of here before they get it figured out.” Langford suggested. They headed towards the west wing of the house; the military vehicles were outside there, including their Land Rovers. As they hurried through the corridors Murdock caught up to Madari, spoke to him urgently.

“Colonel, give me a vehicle to go out and find Face, please.”

Madari looked at him sympathetically and Murdock knew he was going to say no, tell him they couldn’t spare any vehicles or men, but Murdock had to ask, hated the thought of moving south, away from Face. Hannibal had already promised him that as soon as the civilians were safe they would double back and look for Face but Murdock couldn’t wait that long. Hannibal had tried to convince him that Face was probably in less danger than them right now, but Murdock hadn’t bought it. With the kind of luck they were having today he was sure something terrible was happening to Face right now.

“Murdock…” Madari began just as another shell impacted. This one hit the building. Chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling this time, not just dust and they all ducked or flinched. The lights flickered, but stayed on. For now. Everyone gripped or reached for the flashlights one of the Bodyguard soldiers had distributed.

“Can we discuss this outside?” Madari said. Murdock nodded; clearly this was no place to stand around chatting. He stumbled a little as he moved and felt his head spin, wondered how much blood he’d actually lost. His arm was starting to hurt like hell. Madari saw him wobble and took his good arm to keep him steady as they hurried through the corridors. They encountered several locked doors, but none of them stood up for long to the combination of BA and Slater’s body weight hitting them. Explosions shook the house at a rate of one every twenty seconds or so.

“Straight through there,” Madari called out, translating as one of the Bodyguard officers who was leading them shouted from up front. “One more corridor then the outside door.” He kept a firm grip on Murdock’s arm as the American stumbled along beside him. The lights flickered again and finally went out. Flashlight beams stabbed into the darkness. The final corridor was behind a pair of locked double doors. They splintered under the assault of the two Sergeants.

The officer leading them moved ahead into the long dark corridor, calling out in Arabic. No one needed a translation to know he was saying, “hurry”. Hannibal was only about two metres behind him. He saw what happened next in a kind of bizarre slow motion. A shell burst through the wall to the right and tore apart the man in its path before smashing through the opposite wall.

“Down!” Hannibal yelled. There was a horrifically loud noise and the wall exploded out at them as they all threw themselves to the floor. The world became a nightmare of flying stone and dust, flame and shockwaves. When it stopped a terrible silence descended, then through the ringing in his ears Hannibal heard men coughing and moaning.

“Sound off!” He called out, as loud as he could manage, coughed as dust caught his throat. “BA?”

Then the roof fell in.

Chapter 13

Hannibal was seeing stars. He blinked a few times and shook his head, but they were still there. He realised they were actual stars he could see through a hole in the roof. He moved, felt and heard dust and pieces of masonry fall away from his body. The flashlight was still in his hand, but the bulb was smashed, so he dropped it.

“Hey,” he called out, coughing again on the dust that filled the air. “Anyone there?” He could hear others moving around, coughing, moans of pain. A flashlight beam suddenly illuminated the hellish scene.

“Smith?” That was Langford. He was coughing too. Stone dust danced in the flashlight beam. “That you?”

“Yeah. BA? Murdock?” He called for his men.

“Ah’m here. Ah’m okay. Ah think.” BA’s voice came shakily from somewhere to the left, back down the corridor. There was no reply from Murdock.

“Murdock?” Still nothing. Damn. Where had he been when the shell hit? About three metres behind Hannibal, to the right. Hannibal tried to orient himself, crawled in what he thought was the right direction. More flashlights were coming on now, the shapes of men crawled and stumbled through the beams. Voices, in English and Arabic were sounding. Another shell hit the building somewhere to the east and small pieces of roof pattered down onto them.

“Fucking arseholes!” Slater sounded as if he was well, if not happy.

Hannibal put his hand on something warm. A man. He couldn’t see him so ran a hand carefully over his face, felt a moustache and beard. One of the Bodyguard soldiers. He felt for the neck, found no pulse, crawled onward over the rubble.

Jahni’s voice came out of the dark; he called out “Colonel?” in Arabic, calling for Madari. Hannibal listened for an answer too. Nothing. Madari had been with Murdock hadn’t he? Jahni’s voice came again, an edge of desperation to it. “Colonel?” A flashlight beam dazzled Hannibal and he raised a hand to shield his eyes.

“Sorry.” It was BA; he was crawling towards the same place as Hannibal from the other direction, both homing in on where they’d last seen Murdock.

“Faris!” Jahni sounded like he was starting to panic.

BA’s fingers closed around a foot, he shone his flashlight down to find a brown suede desert boot under his hand.

“I think ah got Madari,” he said. He swept the flashlight around. A pile of rubble had two pairs of legs sticking out from under it. The other legs had khaki pants and dark blue sneakers. The sneaker-clad feet were moving feebly. “And Murdock!” Hannibal was already pulling away the chunks of stone and plaster. A scrambling sound in the dark and Jahni cannoned into BA, who pushed him away a little. They both joined Hannibal in pulling at the rubble and quickly disinterred the two men. Madari lay face down, half on top of Murdock, Murdock’s arms around him. Hannibal pulled Madari off Murdock, turning him over. He had an ugly cut high on his forehead, but he was breathing and his pulse was strong under Hannibal’s hand. As he was moved his eyes flickered open, though they didn’t focus. Hannibal had Jahni help him put Madari down on his back, and then left the Captain to look after him while he turned to Murdock. Murdock’s eyes opened too and they were alert.

“This day is really starting to suck,” Murdock said, weakly. He had some cuts on his face and on his arms, but as they freed him from the rubble he started trying to get to his feet under his own power. Hannibal helped him stay standing. Jahni and BA pulled Madari up between them. Hannibal gave Madari an assessing look. His head lolled, his eyes were still open but not fixed on anything and he wasn’t responding to Jahni’s attempts to get his attention.

“Smith.” Dark shapes surrounded Langford. “The Bodyguard lost all their officers.”

“Dead?” Hannibal knew one of them was, remembering the man who’d been in the way of the shell.

“One’s alive but injured. And there’s a Corporal hurt badly. Seven of the men are still standing, including a Sergeant.”

“You and Slater?” Hannibal asked, needing to know who was fit and who wasn’t.

“I’m fine. Slater’s got a gash on his back.”

“It’s nowt, man, doesn’t even hurt!” Slater’s protest came from the darkness.

“Madari’s out if it, concussion. I’m taking command.” Langford made no objection to this. He shone his flashlight past Hannibal along the corridor that led to the outer door. Ahead of them rubble was piled high and the roof was half collapsed, sagging down at one point leaving barely four feet of clearance. As shells continued to hit the building the half-collapsed roof shuddered and drooped further.

“We’re not getting the wounded through that.” Langford said.

“Tell one of the soldiers to find us another way out.” Hannibal ordered. As Langford turned to speak in Arabic to the Bodyguard Sergeant Hannibal turned to Jahni. “Captain, you’re the only Qumari officer still on his feet.” Jahni nodded in understanding, Hannibal knew he could rely on the Captain to help him.

“This way,” Langford called, held his flashlight high to guide the others to follow him as he followed the Arab Sergeant in front of him, back the way they came, then turning towards the back of the house. They went slowly through the dark corridors, supporting the wounded and eventually reached the kitchen. The floor was littered with pans and utensils and smashed crockery, but the room hadn’t sustained a direct hit so far. A very solid wooden door stood between them and the outside. It was locked and it was going to yield only very slowly to the weight even of Slater and BA. Too slowly. Hannibal cursed silently in frustration. Then he saw Jahni handing Madari over to Langford and running back the way they had come.

“Captain?” He called, “What are you doing?” Jahni didn’t answer. He went out of the kitchen and a second later Hannibal heard glass breaking. Jahni reappeared in the doorway of the kitchen. He was an alarming figure outlined in the doorway, his clothes and skin ghostly with grey dust, his hair wild, and now carrying a large fire-axe in his hands. Hannibal remembered the fire-equipment station they’d passed outside the kitchen door. Jahni started to run, hefting the axe.

“Clear the door!” Hannibal shouted. The Sergeants moved back and Jahni arrived, yelling, going to work with the axe with all the pent up frustration he’d built up during their imprisonment and all the pain and rage he was feeling in reaction to tonight’s events. The Sergeants moved back even further. The door was firewood in a very short time and they hurried outside. There was a small turfed area out there, and a kitchen garden. A pair of gates in the wall, wide enough for vehicles was nearby.

“Okay, leave the wounded here.” Hannibal said, “We’ll bring the vehicles to them. Murdock, that includes you! Slater, stay here and guard them. And get that gate open. Rest of you, move out.”

Murdock sat on the grass, watching over Madari and the two wounded Bodyguard soldiers. He took off his t-shirt and started to rip it up to make bandages. As he bandaged Madari’s head the Lieutenant Colonel began to stir, muttering in Arabic.

“Easy there,” Murdock said soothingly, “just relax, we’re nearly out of this.” Madari rolled over onto his front and groaned. He lifted his head, seemed to be staring at the grass, confused.

“We’re outside?” He said, weakly. “When did we get outside?”

“Few minutes ago,” Murdock said. “You got a bang on the head, try not to move around too much. Don’t touch the wound.” He added as Madari raised a hand to his head.

“Who’s that?” Murdock followed the direction Madari was looking.

“That big British guy, Slater. You got any double vision?”

“No.” Madari shuddered a little at the thought of seeing two of Sergeant Slater. “Blurred. The others?”

“Getting the vehicles,” Murdock said. A distant splintering sound suggested that Jahni’s axe was proving useful for getting into the motor pool garage.

Madari tried to sit up. “I should go and see…” He stopped abruptly, went pale and Murdock had to catch him and lower him down carefully. “Or perhaps I’ll just lie here for a while,” he said.

“That seems best.” Murdock said. He looked over towards the west end of the house. He knew Hannibal would want to make sure all the vehicles had full tanks of gas before they brought them round, hoped it wouldn’t take too long. He checked the two Bodyguard soldiers. Both were unconscious, but their vital signs were okay.

“They’ve stopped shelling.” Madari’s words were quiet, but they sent a chill through Murdock. He knew what it meant. If they’d stopped shelling they were about to send ground troops in. He checked the wounded men again, making sure they were ready to move. Slater had opened the gates and moved back to stand guard over the wounded on the ground.

“Fuck!” Slater said, as a jeep suddenly drove in through the gates, he dropped to one knee with his gun ready. He was the only one in the group with a weapon. Murdock was unarmed. Madari had lost his gun somewhere in the roof collapse and couldn’t see straight anyway.

“Hannibal!” Murdock screamed at the top of his voice. The jeep stopped and four men jumped out. They were dressed all in black and heavily armed. Slater recognised them

“It’s your lads,” he said to Madari.

“What?” Madari said.

“Your Special Forces boys.” The four men began to hurry towards them. Murdock could see through the gates, there were two trucks outside, men were disembarking.

“Sergeant.” Madari said quietly. “Get me on my feet. If one of my own men is going to kill me he’s going to do it with me looking into his eyes.” Murdock saw men coming from the west side of the house. Too far away to fire with handguns, they started to run when they saw the soldiers approaching the wounded men.

Slater hauled Madari to his feet to stand swaying, a grimly determined expression on his face. Murdock stood on Madari’s other side; took his arm. Slater’s gun was pointing at the approaching men. He knew he couldn’t take them all out, before they got him, but he would drop the first man that raised a gun against him or the wounded.

The Special Forces men reached their commanding officer and stared at him. Hardly surprising, Murdock thought, he looked awful. Well they all did, hair and clothes and faces streaked with dust and dirt, eyes red and raw from the dust, clothes ripped. Still, Madari probably edged ahead on points by virtue of the just barely dried blood that covered half his face and the rakishly tilted ragged bandage on his head. Then the officer leading them seemed to pull himself together. He snapped to attention and saluted.

“Colonel Rahama’s compliments, sir. What are your orders?”


Hannibal hadn’t actually heard Murdock scream his name. When the shelling stopped he had gone to the front of the house, along with Langford and a pair of infrared binoculars he’d taken from one of their Land Rovers. There were guard posts on the wall near the front gate that they could reach by ladder. They climbed up and Hannibal trained the binoculars out into the desert.

“Are they advancing?” Langford asked. Hannibal frowned at the movement he could pick up from the enemy. They were about half a mile away.

“I don’t think so.”

“Are you sure you know what you’re seeing with night vision glasses?” Langford asked. Hannibal bristled, but handed them to Langford.

“Check for yourself,” he said. Langford took them. After a quick sweep he declared they weren’t advancing. “That’s what I said,” Hannibal said.

“Shhh!” Langford snapped as Hannibal spoke. Hannibal was about to advise him that shushing Hannibal Smith was really not a good idea when he heard what it was Langford was listening to.

“Rifle fire?” Hannibal said. Distant cracks reached them on the breeze. “They can’t be shooting at us from that range in the dark. What the hell is going on out there?”

The gunfire went on for a few more minutes, then Langford, still looking through the binoculars said. “They’re retreating!”

“What? No way.”

“Take a look, Smith, they’re pulling back.” They were. Within a few moments the enemy were too far distant to be seen. But there was still movement out there. It seemed to come from all directions and converge where the enemy had been. Hannibal couldn’t figure it out; it didn’t look like either vehicles or foot soldiers. And whatever it was it was starting to move towards them, fast. He could hear a strange distant sound, a rhythmic sort of pounding.

“Let’s go,” he said, pushing Langford to start climbing down. “Something weird is going on out there and it’s heading straight for us,” he called down as he followed the British officer. They ran around the building to find the vehicles had all been moved to the back, one of the Bodyguard soldiers waited by the corner to beckon them as they appeared and they followed him. They almost fell over each other in shock as they saw the thirty men in black lined up in the garden. Madari, with Slater holding him up and Murdock by his side, was talking to a group of officers.

“What the…?” Hannibal said. “I turn my back for five minutes…” Then he recognised who the new arrivals were and the fact that they were talking rather than shooting reassured him that things were not as bad as he’d feared. Hannibal and Langford skidded to a halt by Madari’s group.

“Hannibal…” Madari began, but Hannibal spoke right over him.

“Yeah, your guys? Friendly? Good. We’ve got a force approaching and I don’t think we can get out in time. Deploy for an attack.” Madari began issuing orders to his men. Jahni and two others ran to close the gates. That pounding rhythm was close now, it was moving around the wall.

“Get that gate closed!” Hannibal yelled.

Too late. The men trying to close the gate fell back. Jahni, who still had his axe, hefted it, then let it fall, stared in amazement as horses poured through the gates. Hannibal gaped in shock. Horses? The riders spread out, filling the garden, their black robes flying in the breeze. The men on the ground raised guns uncertainly. Madari called for them not to shoot but his voice was weak and didn’t carry. Hannibal trusted he knew what he was talking about and, in a voice they probably heard back in the capital city shouted, “Hold your fire!” Langford echoed him, in Arabic.

After a moment the horsemen brought their mounts under control, stopped milling around and two of them trotted up to Madari. One of the two riders who approached them carried a rifle pointing upright, with a long blue cloth tied to it and flowing out behind like a banner. He pulled off his black headdress to reveal blond hair.

“Hi, fellas,” said Face, smiling. “Cavalry’s here.”

Chapter 14

Close your mouth, fool.” BA said quietly to Murdock, who was gaping. “What’s the matter, you ain’t never seen Faceman on a horse before?” But even he had to admit to being somewhat awestruck by the sight. Face’s hair fluttered in the breeze.

“Colonel.” Face addressed Madari. “I believe this is yours.” He lowered the rifle, pointing it at the ground; bringing the muzzle low enough that Madari could reach out and untie the blue sash. His hands were shaking a little. Face waited patiently. He and Madari were the focus of every eye in the place and Face had to admit he was loving it. As he rode here with the nomads and their chief, Halais, they had told him many stories of past glories, of fighting alongside Madari and his men. Face was determined they would soon be telling stories of the golden haired American that came out of the desert and led them to re-unite with their old ally. Behind him many of the Bedouin men were wearing their own blue sashes, symbols of their allegiance. When Madari tied his around his waist they cheered and waved their rifles in the air.

That broke the spell that held all the men barely breathing and everyone started talking at once. Halais who rode beside Face, with Ali sitting in front of him dismounted and took first Madari, then Jahni in crushing embraces, then shook hands with everyone. Face got off his horse and was at once surrounded by the rest of the team; anxious to check he was well. Face soon reassured them that he was in much better shape than any of them seemed to be. He noticed Murdock’s bandaged arm and asked what happened.

“Faraj shot me.” Murdock explained.

“That bastard! Where is he? I’ve been looking forward to kicking his ass.”

“He’s dead. Madari shot him.” His voice went very quiet as he said the last part, but Madari didn’t appear to be listening.

“Oh,” Face said, a little deflated. “Okay, tell me about it later. Alright, now what the hell is going on here?”


“We’re going after them.” Madari said.

The leaders stood around the back of one of the Land Rovers. Hannibal noticed Madari was leaning against it and Jahni was standing very close, keeping an eye on him. Madari was having a hard time staying on his feet. It wasn’t just a matter of the concussion, Hannibal knew. He’d lost a lot of blood from the scalp wound as well, which wasn’t helping.

“Are you sure they’ll head back to the base?” Hannibal asked.

“Narul is good at taking orders, but he has no imagination or initiative. That’s why Halais’ snipers drove him off so easily. He hadn’t expected that, didn’t know what to do about it. He’ll head back to the base and try to get in touch with his fellow conspirators for new orders. We’re going after him, to arrest him.”

“Arrest?” Langford said.

“Arrest all of them.” Madari said. He wanted to avoid killing, they were still his fellow Royal Guardsmen after all. He didn’t want to kill another man wearing that uniform tonight. “Hannibal, you’re the expert on that kind of non-lethal containment, your ideas will be very valuable.”

“Halais and his men are coming with us?” Hannibal asked, his mind starting to shift into gear. There were about forty of the Bedouins, all armed with rifles. Not automatic weapons though.

“Yes. In fact I was planning to send them on ahead on the northern road. They will arrive before us, possibly even before Narul, depending on how orderly his retreat is.”

“Good, they can keep them pinned down. Suggest Captain Jahni goes with them, he knows the base layout and situation.” Madari nodded thoughtfully at Hannibal’s suggestion.

“Agreed.” Jahni looked annoyed, said something quietly in Arabic to Madari, but Madari just put a hand on his shoulder without looking at him and went on. “The Bodyguard men will take the wounded in their truck and follow the civilians, as originally planned. I don’t suppose it’s any use my suggesting Murdock go with them?” He looked at the injured pilot.

“No more use than my suggesting you do, sir.” Murdock answered, formally. Hannibal smiled.

“Then the rest of us will take the southern road, rendezvous at the base. We’ll take the Land Rovers, the two trucks my Special Forces group brought, their jeep and the armoured car.”

They all glanced at the armour-plated vehicle sitting in the yard. It had the markings of the Bodyguard regiment on it, but Madari was requisitioning it and none of the Bodyguard was going to argue with him. The Sergeant had handed him the keys, saluted him and wished him luck.

“Hannibal, I’d like to ride with Halais and his men.” Face said; “Meet up with you at the base.”

“Okay, Face.” He saw the nomad chief smile and slap Face on the back as the young boy they’d brought with them translated Face’s words. “Looks like you’ve made some new friends there.”

“You know”, Madari said to Hannibal as the others moved off to prepare. “It took me a month of negotiating just to persuade the Bedouin to bring us supplies, another two months to persuade them to fight with us. Lieutenant Peck did it in a night.” He shook his head in wonder.

“Ah, but Faris, you don’t have the secret weapon.” Hannibal said.

“Secret weapon?”

“Hey, Face,” Hannibal called. Face turned to him. “Nice job tonight.” Face gave a wide, pleased smile.

“Ah, the secret weapon.” Madari said, smiling himself.


They were quickly ready to move out. The Bedouin were heading out first, Face and Jahni riding with them. Hannibal knew Jahni hated the idea of being separated from Madari, even for a few hours, when his C.O. was injured. As Hannibal handed Jahni up the axe he’d become very attached to, he said. “Don’t worry, Captain, I’ll take care of him.”

“Thank you.” Jahni said, taking the axe, “Don’t let him fall asleep, or if he does wake him every fifteen minutes and ask him simple questions.”

“Right,” Hannibal said. He could have said that he knew perfectly well how to monitor someone with a head injury, but restrained himself.

The horsemen rode out, the thunder of hooves fading away into the night. Face waved to his teammates, smiling like a man enjoying life more than he had in years.

The Special Forces recruits were climbing into their trucks. Two of them took charge of the armoured car. Hannibal found Langford and Slater by one of the Land Rovers. Langford was dressing the cut on Slater’s back.

“Is it bad?” Hannibal asked.

“Since we can’t get it stitched it’s going to leave a nasty scar,” Langford said, “but otherwise it’s not too bad.”

“Another scar. Great. Building up quite a lovely fucking collection.” Slater said, disgusted. Hannibal could see quite a few of the collection on his back. “Just what ah joined the army for, to get a collection of scars.”

“I thought you joined because you thought you still got a rum ration every day.” Langford said in his ‘I think I’m funny’ voice. He turned away, packing equipment back in the first aid kit. Slater caught Hannibal’s eye and made an obscene gesture in Langford’s direction.

“You joined because your parents didn’t want you going down the coal mine, didn’t you?” Hannibal said, remembering the conversation at dinner in the French restaurant. That seemed a million years ago now. Slater looked surprised and somewhat impressed, that an officer had firstly been listening to him and secondly had thought what he said was worth remembering.

“Okay, Langford, you two take this car and follow us, I’ve got my men and Madari in the other one.”

“Keep an eye on him,” Langford said. “He’s going to keel over any time now.”

“Yeah, I’ve got it, don’t worry.” Hannibal slammed the door shut on Slater who had climbed in. Langford started the engine. Hannibal hurried over to the other Land Rover. BA was in the driving seat. Murdock was sitting in the back with Madari but moved to the front at Hannibal’s request.

“Did Face give you Colonel Rahama’s message?” Murdock was asking Madari as Hannibal climbed in and pulled the door closed. BA started the car and moved out. The armoured car was the first through the gates. Their Land Rover followed immediately behind, then the two trucks and the jeep and finally the SAS men’s Land Rover acting as rear guard.

“Yes, thank you, Murdock.”

“Message, what message?” Hannibal asked.

“He said to give Madari the sash and tell him ‘remember who you are.'” Murdock said. “Well, we didn’t know it was the sash then.” Hannibal frowned.

“What does that mean?” He asked. Madari just gave a non-committal shrug.

“Rahama is always coming out with mysterious pronouncements. Who knows if they mean anything?” But his eyes were thoughtful; he gazed unseeingly out of the window. Hannibal retrieved the first aid kit and some water. He could at least get them cleaned up.


The sky was starting to lighten, though dawn was still some time off yet. Hannibal was watching out for the Bedouin, the convoy was only a few miles from the base now. Murdock was curled up in the front passenger seat, fast asleep. Hannibal carefully reached out and rested a hand on the Captain’s forehead, checking if his temperature was up, worried about infection, but it felt normal. Murdock stirred a little at the touch and Hannibal took his hand away.

He turned his attention to Madari, who lay on the back seat sleeping, his head on Hannibal’s knees. Hannibal had decided to risk letting him sleep, he needed the rest, but had woken him regularly to check his alertness. The last time he’d done so Madari had threatened to kick his ass from here to the Jordanian border if Hannibal woke him up and asked him his name and what day of the week it was one more time. Hannibal had taken this as a good sign. He shook Madari’s shoulder.

Madari opened his eyes and said, irritably, “For the hundredth time. My name is Faris. It is Monday. Can I please get some rest now?”

“We’re coming up on the rendezvous.” Hannibal said. At once Madari lost the irritation and sat up. He still looked pale and exhausted but alert.

“Any sign of Halais and his men?”

“Not yet.” Hannibal said. And then they were just there, six horsemen waiting on the road ahead of them. Hannibal wished he could figure out how they did it, one moment they weren’t there, then they were, as if they could slip through shadows in the air. The vehicles came to a halt and Hannibal saw Face, Jahni and Halais dismount and come towards them. Langford and Slater joined them along with two Captains from the Special Forces squad.

“They’re in the base.” Face reported. “Some of them looked as if they were going to start moving out at one point, but we kept them bottled up with sniper fire. We didn’t kill anyone, just scared ’em, as per orders. Oh and all of their jeeps and trucks have flat tyres now. Halais’ guys are crack shots,” he said, admiringly.

“What would you say the mood is in there?” Hannibal asked.

“Panicking.” Face said, “it’s all gone belly up and they don’t know what to do. They don’t know who the hell is shooting at them and that’s gotta be worrying them.”

“Agreed,” Jahni said. “Narul is not ‘the sharpest tool in the box’,” he looked at Face as he spoke, as if this was a new phrase he’d learnt from the American and was making sure it was correct. “If we go in hard and fast enough their superior numbers will not help them.” Hannibal knew all about fighting against superior numbers and agreed completely with Jahni. He and Madari had spent the first hour of the journey discussing the attack. Now Madari, who had been leaning against the door of the Land Rover, pulled himself to his feet. Jahni was instantly at his side ready to support him if he needed it.

“This is how it is going to go. Basically everyone is going to do what they do best.”


As BA and Jahni sneaked close to the gates the sniper fire cracked around them, covering them, keeping the enemy pinned down. It made BA nervous, but he noticed Jahni seemed to be totally unaffected by it. He’d fought with these men, had total confidence in their marksmanship. BA forced himself to relax. He quickly strapped the explosives to the bottom hinge of the left gate, while Jahni did the same on the right. They met in the middle and as BA fixed another explosives pack to the lock Jahni started playing out the roll of wire. BA followed him back away from the gates, from the lights, back into the darkness, where shadowy shapes waited for them.

A voice in the night said, “Now, BA!” The gates were ripped apart in three bursts of flame. The armoured car roared out of the darkness and smashed into the splintered wood and broken wire remains, forcing them aside. It hurtled on through into the yard. The gun ports on the side opened and automatic fire sprayed out. A hatch on top slammed back and Hannibal emerged, tossed a grenade that landed in a jeep. The explosion turned into a fireball as the jeep’s gas tank ignited. More grenades, more jeeps, more fireballs. Men ran here and there, panicking, running from the explosions and the gunfire, and getting in each other’s way. Hannibal dropped back inside as a man fired on him.

Inside the armoured car Face, Murdock and Jahni were firing through gun ports. BA was driving. Madari, who had confessed his vision was still too blurred and his hands too unsteady to allow him to handle a gun was handing out ammunition.

“More grenades, Hannibal?” He asked, politely, as if offering him coffee.

“Please.” Hannibal took a box and went back up to the hatch. As he tossed grenades Hannibal saw behind them at the gates Bedouin coming in on their horses, about twenty of them, starting to force the enemy soldiers back to the south west corner of the camp, pushing them into a tighter and tighter space. When faced with the fearsome looking warriors the soldiers, their morale already destroyed, mostly dropped their guns and put their hands up at once. Hannibal was glad the idea was non-lethal containment; else it would have been a fearful carnage. When the majority of the men had been pushed back until only a few remained in the yard, Hannibal shouted back down into the armoured car. “Everybody out!” They piled out with their guns; running for the places the remaining men had taken cover. More Bedouin came into the yard behind them as backup, dismounted, and as Madari yelled orders at them they started seeking out the small groups who were still fighting.

They found Narul and a group of his officers making a last stand behind the motor pool. Hannibal led BA and Jahni around a corner and was faced with Narul’s pistol pointing right at him. The Captain didn’t fire. Perhaps he was still following orders about not harming the Westerners, Hannibal thought.

“Give it up, Captain, it’s over.”

“No, Smith, I have more men than you.” He was trying to do the math, Hannibal thought, he can’t figure out how he can have lost.

“Your men are giving up.”

“To nomads?” Narul said, “Peasants? Impossible!”

“To cavalry.” Hannibal said. “Old fashioned approach maybe, but it seems to be working today. Let’s just end this right now.”

“Or ah’ll end you reet noo, pal.” Narul gasped as he felt a gun poking into his back. Hannibal grinned. It was said beauty could be found in many strange forms. Right now Hannibal was finding it in the very unlikely form of Sergeant Slater, who had come up behind Narul like a particularly quiet ghost. Behind him men from Madari’s Special Forces unit were detaining the other officers. Narul was swiftly disarmed. Jahni grabbed him by the collar and started to drag him back towards the yard. Hannibal and the others followed.

As they emerged into the yard similar parties of captive men led by squads of the Special Forces recruits were appearing. Langford led one of them, with a grim expression. Face walked beside him, his smile in marked contrast. The last few Bedouin from outside rode in on their horses and Narul seemed to finally realise it was over. He shouted a stand down order to any of his men who were still resisting, or thinking of it. Jahni dragged Narul straight up to Madari, who stood by the armoured car, Murdock at his side. Narul couldn’t look Madari in the eyes; he looked at the ground as he said. “I surrender. I ask that my officers and men are treated properly.” He spoke in English, wanting the Westerners to witness that he had made the request.

Madari stepped closer to him and Narul flinched a little, afraid of what was coming. But Madari spoke quietly. “They will be. So will you. My word. I’m placing you under close arrest on a charge of conspiracy to commit treason.”

“Yes, sir,” Narul whispered. Madari nodded at one of the Special Forces officers and they took Narul aside, handcuffed him. Hannibal slung his gun over his shoulder, grinned with delight.

“Nice,” he said. He went to Madari, clasped him on the shoulder. “Good work, Faris.”

And it started then, quietly at first, coming from the Bedouin, they were chanting Madari’s name. Over and over. Madari! Madari! Madari! The sound spread. Jahni’s voice was quickly added to the rest. The Arab Special Forces men looked at each other, and then joined in. Hannibal moved away from Madari a little, not wanting to steal the limelight. He saw pride replace the exhaustion and pain on Madari’s face. Unconsciously Madari felt the coarse fabric of his sash. In that moment he was the Knight of the North again. Hannibal felt all the hairs on the back of his neck standing up; the atmosphere in the place seemed electric. He caught Langford’s eye, the British officer looked quite impressed.

“I’m starting to see why MI6 think he’s a man to watch,” he said to Hannibal

“You gonna put this part in your report to them?” Hannibal asked.

“Might just save this bit for my memoirs,” Langford said, giving the first really genuine smile Hannibal had seen from him.

The chanting died away and for a few moments Madari spoke, in Arabic. He found the strength somehow to make his voice carry. Langford quietly provided a translation for the none Arabic speakers.

“He’s telling them how honoured he was to lead them, to fight alongside them.” A cheer rose from the men. “That was for you, Smith, he just gave you most of the credit for planning the attack.” Hannibal tried to look suitably modest as the men cheered him. There were more cheers as Madari went on, that Langford told them were for the A-Team generally, then for the two SAS men.

Madari stopped speaking quite abruptly and Hannibal could see he was starting to sway on his feet; he fell back a little, against the armoured car. There were murmurs of concern among the men.

“Jahni,” Hannibal hissed. “Start giving orders, get the wounded to the infirmary, get the prisoners secured.” Jahni, worry evident on his face nevertheless stepped up to his duty. He started issuing orders and the Special Forces squad moved quickly to obey. Halais began directing his warriors and soon the yard was busy with men rushing about.

“Langford,” Hannibal said, “find their doctor among the prisoners.” They had no medics. He didn’t like relying on one of the treacherous officers, but a promise to speak up for him at his Court Martial might help smooth things out. Langford hurried off. BA and Hannibal each took one of Madari’s arms and led him to the guardhouse. Murdock followed. His arm was hurting like hell and some hospital strength painkillers would be just peachy about now. They didn’t even get as far as the infirmary. As soon as they were inside and out of sight of the men the sheer bloody-minded will power that he had been exerting to stay upright vanished and Madari slumped in their grip. They carried him the rest of the way.

Chapter 15

Hannibal was surprised that he wasn’t more surprised when Colonel Rahama showed up in a helicopter late in the morning. The neat figure of the Colonel stepped out of the aircraft and accompanied by several soldiers walked towards the gap where the gates used to be. Hannibal met him there, surrounded by a motley band, consisting of Face, a Captain from the Special Forces group and several Bedouin, including Halais.

They shook hands with Rahama, Hannibal, though smiling politely said, “I’ve got a bone to pick with you, Colonel.”

“Indeed.” He didn’t seem surprised. “May I have a report on the situation first? And I would like to see Colonel Madari.” Hannibal dismissed the others and led Rahama towards the guardhouse. He gave the Colonel a quick run-down of the previous night’s events, ending with the information that Madari was resting in the infirmary along with the rest of the wounded. Meanwhile the prisoners were in barracks under the supervision of Langford and Slater and a squad of men. The rest of the soldiers had formed work parties to start the clean up. The Bedouin had set up a temporary camp outside the wire and were patrolling the perimeter. Rahama looked around, the base was indeed busy with parties of men clearing away the debris from last night’s attacks. Some were repairing the holes in the fence that had been cut by the Special Forces men as they sneaked in led by the SAS men.

“More soldiers are on their way,” Rahama said. “Loyal men. They will assist with the clean up and take the prisoners back to Az Ma’ir.”

“What’s going on back in the capital?” They were inside the guardhouse now, heading for the infirmary.

“The king is safely back in the palace, along with his family. His brother Zahir has fled the country. We have made a number of arrests among senior officers in the Royal Guard.” He looked mortified at that last part. Clearly it was a painful idea that his men could have been involved.

“You have all the names?” Hannibal asked.

“I’m not certain of that yet, investigations are continuing.”

“I want to know exactly what you knew and when you knew it, Colonel,” Hannibal said, forcefully. Rahama looked at him.

“Of course.” They went into the infirmary. BA was standing guard and came to attention as they entered. Five of the beds were occupied, one by Madari, another by Murdock and the other three by men wounded last night. There had been a few more minor injuries that had all been discharged. Murdock wanted to be discharged, but the doctor insisted he stay under observation for now.

Madari was sleeping. Jahni sat by his bed, also asleep. He held Madari’s sash across his knees. The fire axe was propped against his chair. Hannibal had told the doctor last night not to allow anyone in to bother Madari, but had made Jahni an exception to that as it really didn’t seem like a good idea to get in the Captain’s way right now.

“I’d prefer not to wake him,” the doctor said. “He’s had a blood transfusion and he’s recovering well from the concussion, but he needs rest.”

Rahama stood looking at Madari for a few minutes, his eyes unreadable. Eventually he turned towards Murdock and said sincerely. “I am very sorry you were injured, Captain Murdock.”

“Just a scratch,” Murdock insisted. It hurt a lot for a scratch, but he wasn’t going to admit that.

“Let’s go have a chat, Colonel.” Hannibal suggested. Suggested with a look in his eyes that said ‘right now’.

They went to Madari’s office. Rahama took the chair behind the desk. Hannibal stayed standing.

“Shall we have some coffee?” Rahama asked, politely. Hannibal was in no mood for politeness.

“Forget about the amenities, Colonel. You knew there was something going on even before you sent us here. It’s why you sent us here.”

“Yes.” Rahama lost his avuncular manner and became business-like. “I didn’t know exactly what was going on but I knew there were men here who shouldn’t be.”

“You had a man inside?”

“Among the building workers,” Rahama confirmed. “But it was difficult for him to get messages out to me, he could usually only do so when they left the base for Friday prayers.”

“He must be the one who sent us the note.” Hannibal said, half to himself. “So why didn’t you warn us? We could have taken a squad of men with us…”

“That’s exactly what I didn’t want.” Rahama said, shaking his head. “I had no idea who could be trusted. The only people I felt sure of were the six of you.”

“So you sent us in blind?”

“You’re all resourceful men. I believed you could resolve the situation.” He smiled a little, not too much, fearing he would anger Hannibal. “I was right.” Hannibal wanted to yell at him, but couldn’t dispute that they had indeed resolved the situation.

“Were you testing Madari?” Hannibal asked, knew there had to be more to Rahama’s agenda than the obvious.

“I will be retiring in a few years time.” Rahama said, which wasn’t quite an answer.

“So you want to know if he’s the man to take over?” Hannibal asked.

“Oh, I’ve known that for a long time.” Rahama said. “I needed to remind him of that. For many years that was his stated ambition, to command the regiment, just as his grandfather had. But the past few years he has stopped talking about that.”

“Since he was tortured.”

“Yes.” Rahama’s face went quite hard. Hannibal remembered Rahama had known Madari since Madari was just a child. “He has lost so much confidence in himself since then.”

“Seems pretty confident to me.” Hannibal commented.

“You didn’t know him before, Colonel Smith. Before the KGB did their work on him.” He almost spat the letters KGB. There was real hatred in his voice now, hatred of the people who had nearly destroyed his friend. He covered it smoothly. “Back then his confidence bordered on arrogance. In fact it tended to hold his career back, he believed he knew better than his superior officers. The fact that he usually did probably didn’t help.” He smiled a little at the memories. “I want that man back.”

Hannibal shook his head. “He’ll never be the same man he was before. I’m not saying he’ll be a lesser man, but he will be different.”

“I know.” Rahama said. “I know it is a long, hard road back. And you have helped him on that road, Colonel Smith. You’ve given him hope. He knows you made it all the way back. That inspires him.” Hannibal felt himself blush a little at the thought that Madari had said such things about him.

“So you sent the sash.” Hannibal said. “And that message ‘remember who you are.’ You wanted to remind him he was ‘The Knight of the North’ didn’t you?”

“He has lived in his grandfather’s shadow all of his life. At every stage of his career he has been compared with Old Ahmed. I wanted him to remember what he did when he stepped out of that shadow.” They were quiet for a moment, both wrapped in their own thoughts.

“What about Faraj? When did you know about him?” Hannibal asked.

“Not until after I sent your men with him, I promise you that, Colonel. I believed I was sending men to help you. I never dreamed Faraj could be disloyal. I knew he was a man of old fashioned views, strongly held, but I simply could not believe he would betray Madari. He fought with Madari in his guerrilla campaign. When they returned to the regiment Faraj was his second in command, until Madari moved on to the Special Forces project. He was Madari’s friend.” He shook his head, still looked disbelieving. “He was a good man.”

Hannibal didn’t point out that this so-called good man had been part of a plot to kill children, he could see Rahama genuinely mourned Faraj. “I got an urgent message through from my man inside after Faraj had left with Mr Peck and Mr Murdock. And then I thought about something Faraj had said to me. That he’d been collecting the daily messages from Madari himself, I went to check and found there’d been no messages at all, Faraj had been faking them, he knew Madari so well he could make them appear totally authentic. I made a grave error about Faraj. I am sorry I put your men in danger.” The apology seemed sincere and Hannibal accepted it in good grace.

“Well, you made up for it by sending us the Special Forces men, they were a sight for sore eyes.”

“I’m sure they must have been.” He smiled and Hannibal knew he’d probably never get the full truth out of the old man. “Now I’d like to speak to Captain Narul. He likely has very valuable information.” Hannibal was instantly wary.

“You should know that Madari has given Narul his word that he will be treated properly.”

“Of course,” Rahama seemed genuinely shocked that Hannibal would believe he was planning to do anything else.

“Alright. If Narul agrees to talk to you then you can question him.” Rahama inclined his head. Hannibal got on his radio to Langford and told him to bring the prisoner here, if he agreed to talk to Rahama.

“And come with him yourself, please. Out.” He looked at Rahama. “Mr Langford will sit in as an observer.”

“Good idea.” Rahama said. “He should take notes.”

“Oh, I’m sure he’ll take notes.” Hannibal said grimly. “He’s good at that.” Rahama searched through the desk drawers, came out with a book, handed it to Hannibal, who flipped through it. It looked like a ledger. Some of the pages were filled with entries, in Arabic.

“I can’t find a plain notebook, but that should suffice. Sewn binding, stands up in court.” Rahama was being very helpful, it almost made Hannibal suspicious. He decided he was becoming too cynical. When Langford arrived Hannibal briefed him to make sure that Narul was questioned without being intimidated or threatened.

“I understand, Smith, I’ve observed interrogations before.” He sounded irritated.

“Alright. Just see that it’s all correct. And make plenty of notes.” Langford raised an eyebrow.

“Now you’re asking me to make notes, Smith? You sure you won’t set fire to them later?”

“Just get on with it. ” Hannibal snapped, not in the mood for the British officer’s jokes. After the men had gone into the office Hannibal realised at least part of his bad mood was because he was hungry. He went off to the mess, where lunch had appeared. He found Face sitting there, talking to Sergeant Slater. Slater seemed to be in a good mood.

“All-reet, Colonel, ah was just saying to Lawrence here, ah want all of yuz ta come ‘n’ visit me in Newcastle, like. We’d have a reet good night oot, doon the Bigg market, tappin’ the birds.” Face was smiling and nodding. Slater finished his meal, “Reet, ah’d better gan and see how the prisoners is deeing. See you later, Lawrence. Colonel.” He left.

“Well.” Face said. “He’s… erm… a bit of a character. Did you get any of that?”

“Something about women I think.” Hannibal said. “And a big market. And as for him being ‘a character’, believe me, you don’t know the half of it.” He poured himself a glass of water and drank most of it in one go. “Lawrence,” he said, grinning.

“Oh, don’t you start. Murdock keeps asking me if can get him Omar Sharif’s autograph.” He ran a hand through his hair. They sat in silence for a few minutes, eating their lunch. When they finished they got tea and wandered over to the window to look out onto the yard.

“Hell of a night.” Face commented. Hannibal just nodded slowly. “I’m still getting chills whenever I think of that part when they were all chanting his name.” He took a sip of his tea. “They’d have done anything for him then. He could have asked them to march up to the border and invade Jordan and they’d have done it.”

“You guys never do that for me, when I execute one of my great plans.” Hannibal put on a mock-injured tone.

“What, chant your name? Well it would sound kind of silly with just the three of us.” Face said, smiling.

“Still, it would be nice.” Hannibal said, with a sigh. “Make me feel appreciated.” He finished his tea; decided he’d wound Face up enough. “Okay, I’d better check on the interrogation.” Well nearly enough. “See you later, Lawrence.” He grinned at Face’s exasperated expression.

He went back to the office to find the men emerging. Langford gave him a nod and handed him the notebook before taking Narul away to be locked up again. The Captain kept his eyes to the floor, but had a look almost of relief on his face. Rahama came out, pulling on his gloves and putting on his hat.

“Ah, Colonel Smith, glad I caught you. I must be off.”

“Narul give you anything useful?”

“He gave me everything. I think he was rather glad to get it all off his chest.”


“Oh yes. Which is why I must get back as quickly as I can. There is much to do. Please give my regards to Colonel Madari and Captain Jahni, I will see you all back in Az Ma’ir in a couple of days.” And he was gone, in a flurry. One of the officers who’d come with him appeared from the direction of the radio room and hurried after his Colonel. Hannibal followed them outside and watched the chopper leave. Once it was out of sight he looked around. The work parties had downed tools for now and were getting their lunch. Everyone else seemed to be inside sheltering from the midday sun. Hannibal decided to follow their example. What he really needed was a few hours sleep. He radioed Face to tell him he was going to get some rest and went to the one place he knew he wouldn’t be disturbed. Their former cell. It was somewhat untidy but he ignored the mess, lay down on his bunk and was quickly fast asleep.


The sun was setting when Hannibal woke. He stretched and went back out into the yard. Madari and Jahni were sitting in front of the guardhouse on straight-backed wooden chairs. Hannibal approached them and Jahni jumped up to offer the Colonel his seat. Madari held a mug of tea. He looked much better. The bandage on his head had been replaced by a small dressing.

“You supposed to be up?” Hannibal said.

“As long as I don’t exert myself.” Madari replied. Jahni stood close by Madari’s side, he rested a hand on the back of his commander’s chair. His other hand carried a now very familiar item.

“Still got the axe, Kahil?” Hannibal said, with a grin.

“I think he has found his weapon of choice.” Madari commented, an amused look in his eyes.

“That’s going home with you as a souvenir, isn’t it?” Hannibal said. Jahni gave a quirky smile.

“You don’t have to carry it around with you everywhere.” Madari said. “And if you drop it and cut off somebody’s toes…”

“If I put it down someone will ‘tidy it up’ and I’ll never see it again.” That was probably true Hannibal thought; men were still bustling about clearing up the mess.

“Go and put it in my office,” Madari advised him. “It will be safe enough there. And fetch the Colonel some tea.” Jahni left. The two men sat quietly, gazing across the base in the slanting evening light. Hannibal gave Madari a sidelong glance. The Lieutenant Colonel had a very introspective look on his face.

“Lotta memories for you here, huh?” Hannibal said.

“Hmm?” Madari said, coming out of his reverie, gave a smile. “Oh yes. But actually I was just looking at all the damage and thinking…” he shook his head ruefully. “…my budgets arescrewed!”

Hannibal slapped him on the arm and laughed long and hard, Madari looked at him strangely, and then couldn’t resist joining in.

Chapter 16

Hannibal found Madari by the buffet table regarding an hors d’oeuvre with deep suspicion.

“Something wrong with the food?” He asked.

“This pastry is in the shape of a fish, yet it contains what appears to be chicken.” Madari said. He ate the rest of it.

“Those wacky caterers.” Hannibal said. He started to fill his plate with food. “Nice of the king to throw us a party.” They had been back in the capital city for a few days now, the Americans and British would be heading home tomorrow, but first they were being treated to a reception at the palace. Hannibal glanced at Madari. “That new uniform, pretty striking.” He suspected Rahama had flown in a designer from Paris to create the dress uniform for the Special Forces group. It was all black, with a short jacket, with a full row of buttons up the front. Down the side of the pants leg was a blue stripe. The shade of blue was familiar and made Hannibal glance up to where Madari’s sash was back in its place of honour among the banners and flags. There was no dress sword worn with the uniform.

“Jahni likes it a lot, he can’t stop looking in the mirror,” Madari said.

“No sword for him to trip over.” Hannibal said.

“That certainly helps.” Madari smiled. Jahni did look more comfortable in his than he had in his old uniform. Perhaps because it had also been tailor made at Rahama’s expense and fit him like a glove.

The king, his wife and Nadim came into the room then, along with an entourage of aides and bodyguards. There were some formalities, the king proposed toasts to those who had helped him and his family. When he made a toast to “our British allies, whose help was so invaluable.” Hannibal said quietly to Madari, “He’s right, without those Land Rovers we’d have been screwed.” This caused Madari to almost inhale his drink and Hannibal had to slap him on the back as he made choking sounds while people stared at them. The king waited, an amused look on his face.

Once the toasts were over Hannibal said, “Sorry about that, Faris, my comic timing is a little off.” He grinned contritely.

“A little unfair too.” Madari said, his eyes still watering. “Langford and Slater were valuable, in the end.”

“You’re right.” Hannibal said, decided he should make peace, and went to seek out Langford. He found the SAS officer talking with Colonel Rahama.

“Well, give my regards to Colonel Gibbons.” Rahama said, taking leave of Langford as Hannibal came over. He bowed a greeting to Hannibal and went off to circulate.

“Gibbons?” Hannibal asked.

“My C.O.,” Langford said. “Apparently they’re old friends from Sandhurst.”

“Really?” Hannibal frowned, that tickled something in his brain, but he couldn’t pin it down, forgot it for now. “I just came over to say; before we all go home that is; well, you did okay in the end, Langford. You and Slater. You came through for the team.” He held out his hand and Langford took it.

“Thank you, Smith.” Langford said. “I have to say that despite my first impressions you proved that you still have what it takes.”

“You’re still a pain in the ass, though,” Hannibal said, “and Slater is still a Rottweiller.” Langford smiled.

“Tell me Colonel, do you think we recruit men for the SAS based on the pleasantness of their personalities?”

“I guess not.” Hannibal smiled back at him.

“I hope we’ll be working together again, this project has a lot of potential.”

“Yeah, the project,” Hannibal had almost forgotten the original reason for their visit. Within a few minutes he and Langford were deep in a discussion about it.

BA had just finished his second plate from the buffet when he felt someone pull on the leg of his pants. He looked down to see a small serious face looking up at him.

“Are you a king?” Nadim asked BA.

“What?” BA said, taken aback by the question. Instinctively he reached down and picked the boy up. The two large Bodyguard soldiers who were following the prince looked tense for a second, but Nadim seemed quite happy.

“You look like a king.” Nadim said to BA. “You have lots of gold.”

“Oh,” BA said. “No, ah ain’t a king, ah’m a soldier.” He nodded round at the other guests, “Most of the guys here is soldiers.” Nadim looked around at the men.

“I want to be a soldier when I grow up,” he said, playing with one of BA’s gold chains. “And I’ll have a gun to go bang with and a big tank. Have you got a tank?”

“No.” BA smiled. “Ah don’t have a tank, but ah know a man who could get me one.” Nadim looked puzzled at that, but soon distracted himself, chattered happily to BA about how he would be the greatest soldier ever. BA knew the boy had a different destiny, but let him talk.

“Is Nadim bothering you, Sergeant Baracus?” It was the king himself, appearing suddenly at BA’s side.

“Oh, er, no, er sir, he’s fine.” BA was a little flustered, he wasn’t used to talking to royalty.

“BA said he knows a man who can get me a tank.” Nadim said. BA looked mortified.

“No, ah didn’t mean…” The king smiled gently, took the boy and lowered him to the floor.

“Go and see your mother, Nadim.” The boy hurried off.

“I believe you work with children and young people in Los Angeles?” The king said to BA. “That must be very rewarding.”

“Yeah,” BA felt more comfortable at once, and was soon deep in a conversation about his work.

“Is funding a problem?” The king asked.

“Yeah, all the time. The guys help out where they can, and Face is great at organising charity events for us, but it’s always a struggle.” The king turned to an aide who hovered at his elbow, spoke briefly in Arabic, and then turned back to BA.

“Before you leave my secretary will take the appropriate details and we will set up a regular donation.”

BA felt embarrassed. “Ah wasn’t askin’…” he said, lamely.

“Please. It’s the least I can do. Perhaps we could set up some exchange visits with some of your young people. My son moves in such limited circles, it would be good for him to meet new people.”

Yeah, ‘cos learning to hot-wire a car is just what the kid needs, BA thought. “That would be great,” he said out loud.

Langford had deserted Hannibal, going off to chat to one of the small number of women at the party, so Hannibal looked around for his friends. He spotted Face and Murdock standing chatting with Madari and Jahni. Hannibal noticed how Murdock had an arm across Face’s shoulders and how Madari had a hand on Jahni’s back, not moving, just making contact. He wondered at the cynicism of someone like Langford and how he could consider friendships like that a weakness. Thought of how through the years his own closeness with his men had been one of the team’s greatest sources of strength. BA went up to them at that point and Murdock punched him playfully on the arm in greeting. BA scowled. Smiling, Hannibal went to join his friends.


Jet lag hit them all like a wrecking ball when they landed at LAX. They got Face’s car out of long term parking and piled in. Murdock played with the Mercedes’ electric windows for a while, but got bored when Face was too tired to bother snapping at him to stop. It was nearly thirty-six hours since they’d said goodbye to their friends at Az Ma’ir airport, Jahni, and for the first time, Madari embracing them all. Hannibal sensed a new spirit in Madari, a new resolve, as if he’d turned a corner, just as Rahama had hoped. Hannibal looked forward to his next consultancy visit to see more of it.

“Anybody want coffee?” Hannibal asked. “I’m gonna fall asleep right now if I don’t have some. Pull in at that gas station, Face.”

“Gas station coffee, mm-mm.” Face said, with maximum sarcasm.

“Hey, as long as it’s hot, black and caffeinated.” Hannibal said. He went and got four coffees, came back to the car and handed them out.

“Ah, sweet, dark temptress.” Murdock said, taking his and inhaling the steam appreciatively. “Thanks, Hannibal.”

“Yeah, that was a good idea,” Face said, he glanced at Murdock, gave a wink.

“A good plan,” Murdock said.

“Well executed,” BA said. The three grinned at each other.

“Smith! Smith! Smith!” The three younger members of the team began to chant.

“Aw, guys, knock it off, I was only kidding.”

“Smith! Smith! Smith!”

Hannibal rolled his eyes, took out a cigar and lit it.

“Smith! Smith! Smith!”

Hannibal grinned. “I love it.”