The Domino Theory - Knocking Them Down
As the door to the room opened, the four girls watched as four female guards came in, dressed from head to toe in form fitting black. Literally head to toe, as their heads were covered in a black hood that seemed to have no openings for mouth, nose or eyes.
In their hands they were carrying four sets of nightclothes, which they laid on a table. “Do not move,” one of them said, as one by one the girls were released from their chairs. Aatifa stared at her sister and cousins as they all rubbed their wrists.
“Here is suitable raiment for night-time,” the female said as she looked at them. “Be assured no man will enter this room while you are here, and so long as you do as we ask then all will be well.”
“Who are you,” Ghali said as she stared at the four guards, “and why are we here?”
“All will be explained in due course,” the woman said as they turned to leave. “Please, change - food will be brought in due course, as will places for you to rest for the night.”
“Will we be tied up again?”
The woman seemed to look at Shadi and Nyasia, and then said “Regrettably yes - but we will ensure you are comfortable, and the clothing is suitable for each of you.” The quartet turned and left the room, the key turning on the lock as they went out.
Nyasia reached up and removed the veil over her face, revealing her face for the first time as she placed it on the chair. Walking over, she looked at each of the piles of white clothing. “She wasn’t joking,” she finally said as she looked at the other two, “They are individualised - and they seem to reflect each of us.” She held up a long nightgown, with a hood to cover her head, and a second one with a matching headscarf.
“Are you two all right,” Aatifa said as she walked over and hugged her cousins, tears flowing down her cheeks as she did so. “About as well as we can be,” Ghali said, “given we’re being held hostage. Who are they anyway?”
“No idea,” Nyasia said as she unclasped the pin to the side of her head, and slowly unwound the scarf, allowing her blonde hair to fall around her face. Shadi looked at her cousin, and let out a low whistle.
“Nice bleach job, girl - why you choose to hide it I’ll never know?”
“Because it is seeming for us to keep our heads covered,” Aatifa replied as she too uncovered her brown hair, allowing it to fall over her head as well. “That’s our head, Sis, not our faces.”
“I believe it means both,” Nyasia said as she ran her hand through her hair, then sat down and unlaced her boots, “But this is not the place to discuss how we apply Holy law. We need to figure out how we can help each other through this.”
“Fair point,” Shadi said as she sat down and unzipped the side of her boots, pulling them off and flexing her toes as she breathed a sigh of relief. “We’re in this together, so can we out our own disagreements out of this and help each other.”
Aatifa nodded as she sat down and removed her own boots, and then took off her smock top before she walked over and picked up the nightdress. “It even looks as if it is my size,” she said as she looked at the others. “How long have they been planning this anyway - it’s as if they know everything about us.”
“Do you think they’ve been in touch with our parents?”
The door opened, and the four girls watched as one of the guards brought in a trolley, then laid a number of silver platters out on a folding table, with bottles of water.
“The food is Halal - enjoy,” she said as she retreated. Ghali walked over and lifted a cover, the aroma of the lamb dish filling the air.
“No plates or cutlery,” Shadi said as she walked over, “but at least it is finger food. It smells good too.”
“I said,” Aatifa said, “Do you think they have been in touch with our parents?”
The twins stopped and looked at their cousins. “I hope so,” Ghali said quietly, “After all, I’m sure they don’t want to keep us here forever.”
Fariza gasped as the shawl was removed from her mouth, then paused to rub her wrists as she watched Aisha and Nimra being untied and ungagged. To one side was a trolley with platters of food on it and on a bureau to one side sat three piles of night clothes.
“We will leave you now,” one of the black clad women said as she bowed, “but we will return in due course to bring you with your daughters. You,” she said as she looked at Fariza, “Must decide who you will be with.”
The quartet turned to leave, as Aisha removed her coat to reveal the jumper that matched her trousers. She waited for the door to close, before she turned and hugged each of her sisters in turn.
“What’s going on,” Nimra said as she rubbed her wrists, “They have us; they have our daughters - why would someone do this?”
“I do not know,” Aisha said as she unclasped her headscarf, unwinding it to reveal her greying hair held in a bun on her head. Removing a long wooden clasp, she shook her head and allowed to fall to her shoulders, then lifted one of the covers and picked up a skewer with scented chicken on it.
“How can you think of eating,” Fariza said with a hint of anger, “They are holding us prisoner for some reason - we cannot trust them.”
“We don’t have a choice, Fariza,” Aisha said as she took a bite of the meat, and chewed it.
“She’s; right,” Nimra said as she slipped off her jacket and put it on the back of the chair. “So far, apart from the fact they have bound and silenced us, they have done nothing improper - they have even respected our views on modesty. I am prepared to give them some leeway, for our sakes and for that of our children - what do you say Fariza?”
The veiled woman looked at her sisters, before nodding and pulling the outer garment off her body, revealing a black blouse and pants, and the black scarf she wore over her head.
“How was the last course,” Aisha said as she came over and sat with Fariza, holding her hand as she talked.
“It was tiring, but with luck it will be the last one,” she said as she hugged Aisha, then accepted the food from Nimra.
“So,” Nimra said as she sat down, “they have is, and they have our daughters. Am I alone in thinking this is a little more than kidnapping for ransom?”
“I think the same,” Aisha said as she put her hands in her lap. “Forgive me, Nimra, but if it was only the twins then I would suspect that was the case, but with my babies as well...”
“This is what I do not understand,” Nimra said as she stood up, walking over to the pile of clothes and looking at one with her name on it, “It is as if they want us all here to influence someone...” She stopped for a moment, and then turned to look at them.
Fariza looked at her and slowly nodded. “We have no choice but to do as they ask of us,” she said as she started to unbutton her blouse, “for I fear we are only the way to get to her. Our one hope is that our mother is luckier than we are.”
The door to their cell opened as Nyasia was finishing the securing of her head covering, the veil back over her face as the silver pin sat on the side of her cheek. She was wearing a floor length, long sleeved nightdress, with the matching scarf over her face and head. Aatifa was wearing a similar garment, but without the veil covering her face.
Ghali and Shadi were wearing identical sets of white silk pyjamas, with a pair of white bed socks over their feet and pulled up over their lower legs. Their clothes, boots and shoes were neatly piled to one side of the room.
“Excellent,” the masked guard said as the other three produced lengths of white rope. “All of you turn round and put your hands behind your back.”
“What are you going to do to us,” Aatifa said as she watched her arms been arranged in a box behind her back, and then her wrists as they were tied to her elbows. “How long are we going to stay here?”
“No talking,” the guard said as one by one the girls had their arms bound in a box behind their back, and then were turned round. The woman who did the talking walked up and down the line, then nodded to two of her colleagues, who stepped forward and took the twins by the arm, making them walk to the door.
“Where are you taking them,” Aatifa said as she tried to follow them, only to be stopped by the spokeswomen.
“You will see,” she said as Ghali and Shadi were walked down a white corridor, and then into another door. They stopped short as they looked at the three women before them, also dressed in white nightclothes. One was wearing a total body covering, a second a similar nightdress and scarf to Aatifa, while the third...
“MUM!” Shadi shouted as she looked at Nimra, who nodded as she tried to move her arms, the pad of white tape over her mouth preventing her saying anything else.
“What is going on herrmmgmggm” Ghali said as a cloth was stuffed into her mouth, and then a strip of tape smoothed over her mouth. She watched, helpless as the same thing was done to her twin sister, and then their aunts were escorted out, the door closing behind them and the lock turned, leaving the family to look at each other.
“What do you mean, she never came here?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the maid said to Jalil, “but Miss Nimra did not come here last night. If she had, I would have told you so, and I am sure Mistress would have called you.”
“Where is your mistress?”
“She is returning from the airport as we speak, sir - would you care to wait in the main room for her?”
Jalil nodded as the young girl indicated a door to the side. She was dressed in a long black dress, with a white apron around her waist, and a white hijab covered her head. Entering the room, he sat down and put his head in his hands, wondering what had happened.”
Nimra slowly opened her eyes and tried to remember where she was. Her arms were behind her, and they felt stiff, as if they had been held in position for far too long. As she slowly returned to consciousness, the events of the previous day came back to her, and she looked across at the other bed.
Ghali and Shadi were both lying on their sides, still bound tightly back to back at their waists and upper bodies. Their ankles had been crossed and bound, and their legs tied below their knees, as they quietly breathed through their noses. The bands of white tape that covered their mouths were still firmly in place, their lips visible under the material.
Looking over her shoulder, Nimra tugged at the rope around her own arms, the coils clearly visible over the sleeves of the white silk pyjama top she had been given to wear. Her legs were also bound at the ankles and knees, with a length of rope running from her ankles to the foot of the bed.
“Grls,” she mumbled through the cloth stuffed into her own mouth, but the tape pressed tightly over her own lips was effectively muffling her calls. Nimra sighed as she looked over to the television monitor, and looked at the rest of her family.
Aatifa and Nyasia were lying either side of their mother on mattresses, their wrists crossed in their laps and bound with a length of rope that seemed to start around their arms, pinned as they were into their sides. The rope then went down their legs, around the skirts of their garments, and then down to their ankles. She could also see pads of white tape over Aatifa’s mouth, and presumed there was one under Nyasia’s veil as well.
Their mother Aisha lay between them, bound in the same way as her daughters and a pad of white tape over her mouth, while on the other side of Nyasia was Fariza, her eyes closed as she lay in the white burqa she had been forced to wear. They had at least allowed her to gag her sister before they bound her, the bands of rope around her arms, wrists, legs and ankles clearly visible as she lay there.
Nimra was astonished at two things - how calmly they all had behaved, and the extraordinary way they had been treated - female guards, every consideration shown. She knew two men had brought her here, but there had been no sign of them at all since then. For a moment, she wondered where they were, before she saw Ghali starting to stir, and she watched her eyes opening...
Jalil stood up as the door to the room opened and the maid bowed, waiting until the woman entered the room and closing the door behind her. The new arrival was dressed in a grey silk niqab, with a grey veil covering the eye portion.
“Honoured grandmother,” Jalil said with a low bow, “forgive my unannounced intrusion, but a matter had arisen with your daughter, and I would seek counsel from you.”
The new arrival looked at her, and then bowed her head as the maid unfastened the outer garment and carefully removed it. The woman who stood revealed was in her late sixties, and dressed in a grey linen jacket and trousers. A grey scarf was wrapped around her head and shoulders, held in place by a gold pin with diamonds on the clasp.
“Leave us, Nadja,” she said to the maid, “I will call if you are needed.” The maid bowed and left the room, facing the two as she walked backwards with her head down and then turning and leaving the room.
“Sit, Jalil,” the woman said quietly, “and tell me what has happened.” Jalil sat opposite her as she poured coffee into two cups and said “Saara, I know you do not approve of some of the western ways that my wife and I have adopted, or of the way our daughters dress or behave, but...
“My son,” Saara said as she handed a cup to him, “I may not approve of your ways, but they are my family, and I love them unreservedly. Now, what is the problem?”
“Nimra and I were at a party last night, and she left early. At first, I thought she had gone home, but when I returned I found she was not there. I presumed she had gone to fetch the girls from their dinner, and went to bed. When I woke this morning however, there was no sign of any of them.”
“I see,” Saara said as she sipped from her cup, “and so you presumed she had come here to see and stay for some reason?”
“Precisely - however, your maid says she has not seen them.”
“Could they have gone to see Aisha or Fariza?”
“Possible, but unlikely. They would have sent word, whereas if they come here they await permission from you.”
Saara nodded. “So if they are not here, the question is have they gone there. It may be that they arrived late and have not yet arisen.” She walked over to a telephone and lifted the handset, dialling a number and placing the set to her ear. She listened for a few minutes, then pressed the loudspeaker button and dialled the number again. Jalil listened as the phone rang, and then a male voice replied.
“You have reached the home of Aisha and her daughters. You will be contacted shortly - do nothing until then.” The line went dead as Saara looked at her son in law.
“Thank you,” Nimra said as her legs were untied by the female guard, and she was helped to sit up, waiting as her arms were untied. She watched as Ghali and Shadi were released from their own ropes by two of the other women, while the fourth guard placed hot water in a blow and towels on the table.
“Wash and refresh yourselves,” the woman with Nimra said as she rubbed her wrists, “We will take you to the others when they are ready.” The four guards left and closed the door, locking it behind themselves as she ran over and hugged her daughters.
“Are you both all right,” she said as she looked at them both, wiping the hair away from their tear stained cheeks. “I was so worried about both of you...”
“We’re fine, mum,” Shadi said, “we were more worried about you and our aunts. We knew Aatifa and Nyasia were all right, but to see all three of you...”
“How is Aunt Zarifa?” Ghali said as she stroked her mother’s arm.
“Coping remarkable well,” Nimra said as she saw the four women entering the other women as the rest of her family tried to call out. “I think they slept a little, and so far we have been unharmed.”
“I still do not understand,” Shadi finally said as her sister went to wash her face, “why have we all been brought here?”
“I think we will find out soon enough,” Nimra said, “For now, we must stay calm and do as they say.”
“Mother, what is going on,” Aatifa said as she hugged her mother, while Nyasia hugged her aunt very gently.
“I do not know for certain, child,” Aisha said as she looked into her daughter’s face, “but I suspect it is to do with your grandmother.”
“Grandmother? I do not understand...”
“We will find out soon enough,” Zarifa said as she removed her outer garment, to reveal the white nightdress she had underneath. “Let us wash and wait for the others to come in, then we may find out.”
In the control room, the men watched both rooms on the monitors.
“Time to begin, I think,” one of them said as he picked up a telephone.
In the main street, one of the front passengers in the car answered her mobile phone.
“Go,” was the message, and she turned the phone off, nodding to the others as they got out of the car and made their way towards the jeweller’s shop.
Jalil fished his mobile phone out of his pocket, saying “Forgive me” to Saara as he looked at the screen. The elder woman watched as her son-in-law stared at the screen, his face whitening with each passing second.
“What is it,” she finally said, and as Jalil turned and showed her the picture he had received she understood his shock. It showed his wife and daughters, dressed in white silk pyjamas, strictly bound and gagged in a plain room as they lay on beds.
“No,” Saara whispered as she looked at the picture, “Was there any other message?”
“Yes - go to your office and await our instructions. Saara, what do you think they want from me?”
“I do not know,” Saara said as she rang a bell, “but you must do what they ask. I will send Nadja with you,” she said as the maid came in, “and she will do whatever she deems necessary. Nadja, you will go with him and report back to me.”
“Yes, Mistress,” Nadja said as Jalil stood up and walked from the room with her, while Saara picked up the telephone and dialled another number, hoping against hope there would be a reply.
As the door to the cell opened, Aatifa turned to see her aunt and cousins being led in, the two female guards with them to join the two already there.
“I am so sorry,” Nimra said as she hugged the other two older women, while the girls hugged each other. “I am so sorry that we have all had to endure this.”
“Are you any clearer as to what they want,” Zarifa said as she adjusted her head scarf.
“I still am not sure - the woman told me they had sent a message to Jalil, but that only explains me and the girls - not Aisha and the girls, and certainly not you.”
Aisha looked over at the girls, and said “I still think this is less about us, and more about Mother.”
“Do you think it is time we told them,” Zarifa said as she looked over at the other group.
“Told us what?” Ghali said as she noticed her aunt looking over, “and why do you keep saying this has something to do with Grandmother.”
Aisha took a deep breath, and then said “Girls, there is something we need to tell you about Grandmother - and about how we came to be in this country...”
“None of you are going to move, are you?”
The three women looked up at the smiling women, shaking their heads as they tried to move their lips under the white tape that was covering their mouths. All three were dressed in long grey jackets, buttoned up the front, and trousers with grey heaps around their heads and necks. Their wrists were secured behind their backs with plastic zip ties, while their ankles and legs were also secured in the same way.
“That’s right,” the woman said again, the black balaclava over her head hiding everything except her bright blue eyes and her red lips. She and her three colleagues were all dressed in black, and as she stood guard they were busy emptying the rows of gold and jewels into their black bags.
“When we leave, do not move for one hour - your manager and employer will be released after that time, and then you will be rescued. If you move or raise the alarm before then, she, Aatifa and Nyasia will be the ones who pay the price.”
The three nodded their head - they had no wish to place their matriarch and her family under any more danger than that they were told of when the four came in, locked the door and explained what was happening...
Ghali and Shadi looked at their mother as she sat with them. “I... I had no idea,” Ghali finally said.
“I was only half your age when we came to this country,” Nimra said with a sigh, “and I did not learn the truth until much much later, but I assure you it is all correct. Your grandmother has kept it hidden for many years - and now I suspect this is a ruse to get to her and to it.”
“But I do not understand - what part does our father play in this?”
“He does not know - I have never told him - but there is something in his office that is part of the story, in our family records. I fear we are the key to him - and then to grandmother.”
“But I still do not understand,” Nyasia said to her mother, “Why all of us?”
“Because, my child,” Aisha said quietly, “Your grandmother would not give it up just for any one of us - but all of us in peril, and especially your aunt Zarifa...”
Zarifa smiled, a sad smile as she turned and said “Because I saw what happened, and was sworn to secrecy. In a way, I am the final domino. You girls were first - and were used to bring your mothers in, and then me. And now...”
The door opened and the four female guards came in, carrying bands of ropes with them. “We need to secure and silence you all now,” they said as Nyasia and Zarifa covered their mouths with their veils. “Stand still, with your hands in front of you, and do as we say.”
Jalil was pacing the floor of his office, wondering what was going to happen next, who was going to contact him, as Nadja sat quietly in a chair to the side, her hands demurely placed in her lap as she watched him.
“I am sure, sir,” she said quietly, “that whatever your problem is, it will be solved soon.”
“I hope so,” Jalil said quietly as the door opened, and two men walked in. “You got our message,” one of them said as he placed a briefcase on the table.
“Where is my family,” Jalil shouted out as he banged his fists down on the table, “I demand that you release them!”
“You are in no position to demand anything of us,” the other man said as he calmly took a mobile phone from his pocket, “one call from me and you will never see your wife and daughters again - and I know you do not want that.”
“This is the act of a coward - trying to force a man to do something by threatening his women.”
“It is the act of a father to protect his wife and children from harm - and that is what we are asking you to do. Now, we wish this file,” the man said as he handed Jalil a sheet of paper. He took it, looked at it and said “But this is a family matter - I cannot release it without the permission of the matriarch.”
“What is more important to you,” the first man said quietly, “A few sheets of paper, or the welfare of your family?”
Jalil blanched as the second man started to dial a number, and said “All right, all right.” Turning to his safe, he opened it and drew out a slim manila folder which he handed to the man.
“Thank you,” he said quietly as he opened the briefcase. “Now will you release them,” Jalil said as he watched the folder being placed inside.
“In due course,” the man said as he drew out a dart gun and fired one at Nadja, her eyes opening wide in shock before she closed them, her head slumped to one side. “For now, you rest,” he then said as he fired a second dart at Jalil, watching as he slumped backwards into his chair and his head fell forward.
Closing the briefcase, the man looked around and then said “Let’s go - we have another stop to make.”
“Nndnthvtdtss,” Zarifa mumbled as the shawl was pulled over her mouth, forcing her veil against her lips as the wide band was tied round her head.
She looked down the line at the others, sitting on the floor with their legs bent in front of them. Each of them had their wrists tied tightly together in front of them with rope, and then tied down to their legs with a band of rope above their knees, either forcing the pant legs around them or gathering the skirt depending on their garment. They also had their ankles lashed tightly together.
Depending on whether or not they wore a veil, either a large scarf had been folded into a band and knotted, and the knot forced into their mouths as the scarf was tied round their head, or the band had simply been pulled tightly over their mouths to use the veil as a second layer to the silence.
“Sit silently, and pray if you wish,” the female guard said as she looked down the line, “You are facing towards the Holy City, and I think they will forgive you for not adapting the correct position. With luck, all will be over soon.”
Saara looked up as the door opened, and two men she did not recognise walked in. Putting the pen she had been using down on the desk, she stood up and said “Good morning gentlemen - how may I help you?”
“Forgive the intrusion, honoured jaddah,” the first man said, “but I think you know why we are here.”
Saara looked again at them, and then said “So you know who it is who has taken my family hostage - why?”
“For gain,” the second man said, “but also so that we can talk to you. After all, your family are very precious to you, and we know you will do anything for them.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Your backing for your oldest daughter’s business, your agreement to allow your youngest daughter to marry a man you knew was unworthy of her, and then there is Zarifa - you have funded her treatment, without her knowing, have you not?”
“I do no more than any mother should,” Saara said quietly, “but how do I know you have their best intentions at heart? How do I know they are unharmed?”
“A fair question,” the first man said as he looked at his iPhone. Holding it in front of him, Saara could see the seven women sitting on the floor, staring at the camera over their gags.
“So they are safe,” she finally said, “and I presume that wastrel of a son in law is somewhere else.”
“He is sleeping mistress,” Nadja said as she walked in, her long red hair flowing down onto the scarf that now covered her shoulders. Saara looked at her, and then started to slowly clap her hands.
“Very very well played,” she said softly. “So, why are you really here? What do you really want?”
“I think you know,” Nadja said as she joined the two men, “We want the Star.”
Saara sat back down and placed her elbows on the desk, her chin resting on the tips of her fingers. “The Star? Would it be impolite to ask which Star you are referring to?”
“My dear lady,” Nadja said as she sat down, “Surely you would not insult us by trying to obfuscate the issue. We refer to the Star of Baghdad - and we know you have kept it safe ever since you escaped from Iraq thirty-five years ago. You have done an immense task with great devotion and care - but the time for hiding it has ended.”
“Before I even begin to discuss whether or not I actually have the item you are talking about, what have you done with my family?”
Nadja looked at the two men, before saying “Sit down, gentlemen, this will not take long.
“The people we represent know of you, Saara El-Sayed. They know of the great bravery and discretion that you showed in the years of the Shah, helping others to flee that tyranny, and we know how you and your family were forced to flee yourselves before the revolution. It is for this reason that we have gone to such extraordinary lengths to ensure that you and your family were protected when we came to discuss this matter.
“We have arranged matters so that your daughters and grand-daughters, to the world at large, have no link to our true purpose, save that they have been kidnapped and held together. Your daughters know some of the truth, do they not?”
Saara slowly nodded in response. “Nimra was young when we came here - barely a babe in arms - but she learned later. I have no secrets from my daughters.” Something Nadja had just said made her look up. “They have been held together? Where?”
“We will discuss that later, Saara, but yes - they were taken separately, and have spent the night and today together. Be assured also that they have been treated with all respect and courtesy - for example, only female guards have tended to them, and they have been modestly attired, each to their desire.”
Nadja nodded as she took a small notebook from one of the men, and typed on it for a moment. Placing it on the table, she turned it to show Saara the line of seven women, tightly bound and gagged as they sat against a wall.
The older woman could also see the four black clad females watching over them, standing a respectful distance back as they held their weapons.
“I see,” Saara eventually said. “And Zarifa?”
“Has been treated with additional care and gentleness. We regret that she too had to be taken, but it was necessary to provide you with a reason, should those who entrusted you with the Star ever ask why you relinquished it.”
Saara looked at the trio sat opposite her. “I suppose I should thank you for your care and consideration,” she finally said, “but I need to see if I have assessed the situation correctly. Let me begin with Aisha, Aatifa and Nyasia.”
Nadja nodded before saying “We captured Aatifa at her college and Nyasia on her way to the mosque to meet her mother. We then sent a message to Aisha, telling her to return home suddenly as Nyasia had been taken ill.
“These two men,” Nadja said as she looked to her sides, “were waiting, and gently subdued her. This morning, some colleagues of ours raided the jewellery store, having told the staff that Aisha and her family were being held hostage, and would be released eventually.”
Saara nodded as she listened to this, then said “Nimra, Ghaliya and Shadiya?”
“The same team robbed their house last night, and took them hostage as their parents were at a party. Nimra was sent a message, showing her the predicament her daughters were in and taken outside of the party. The rest I believe you know.”
“Yes, I do,” Saara said, “and I presume these two gentlemen were responsible for that?”
Nadja nodded, and then said “Give her the file.”
Saara watched as the man opened his case and took out a slim manila folder, which he passed across the desk. “You will find that most interesting, I think,” Nadja continued, “It contains records of how exactly a number of your accounts have been used to fund some of your son-in-law’s more private entertainment.”
“By now, you will have realised that I was planted here as part of the greater plan, to find out what I could about you and your life. I regret the subterfuge that was necessary, and on a personal level I would ask your forgiveness for any offence I have caused by this revelation.”
Saara looked at Nadja, and then shook her head. “No apology is necessary - you played a part and you played it well, as have I for so many years. I would, however, know your true name if it is not Nadja.”
“Forgive me if I do not answer - suffice to say I serve another great lady, and have been honoured to serve you this short while.
“Zarifa, as you now know, was taken to provide the reason you require to place the Star of Baghdad in our hands. I can assure you it will not return to Iraq, but will be treated with honour and glory. On this, you have my word.”
“An elegant plan,” Saara said as she stood up. “I would liken it to a domino run - you set up the pieces, topple one, and the rest will follow.” Opening the file, she glanced over the top sheet, and then looked at Nadja.
“I will tell with this one personally, in due course,” she eventually said. “I have two requests of you - simple ones, which I presume you will honour.”
Nadja bowed her head and said “Name them.”
“First, take me to my family. I accept and understand you will have to take any necessary precautions, but I wish to be with them.”
“We will do as you ask - what is the second request?”
Saara walked to a large family portrait on the wall, pressing a concealed button on the side and standing back as it swung out silently. Opening the safe that was behind, she reached in and removed a thin black velvet lined case, which she carried over and laid on the case. Opening it, she folded back the white linen inside to reveal a large gold snowflake, the metal covered in precious jewels that sparkled in the light.
“Tell your client that this is the Star of Baghdad, cared for and hidden by the El-Sayed family for over a century, and for which Ahmed El-Sayed gave his life to ensure the safe keeping. Tell them they take on a sacred duty, and that the all-seeing eye of Allah will be watching over them.
“And tell your employer - thank you, for their care, planning and provision. Tell them I will ensure my family keep the secret and their side of the story.”
Nadja nodded as the case was closed, and Saara handed it to one of the men, who placed it carefully in the briefcase. “Now,” Saara said as she stood up, “I wish to Joni my family. What is required?”
“Please,” Nadja said as she was handed a length of rope, “Allow me the honour of preparing you for my last journey with you. Turn and cross your wrists behind your back, and I will be gentle.”
Turning her back, Saara stared forward as Nadja wrapped the rope around her wrists, taking it several times around and between her arms before tying the rope off out of reach of her fingers. She then wrapped some more rope around her arms and chest, fixing them tightly against her body, before walking in front of her.
“With regret, mistress, I must now silence you,” she said as she held a small sponge ball in her hand. “We will then cover you, and take you to the rest of your family.”
“One last question, Nadja - you were with Jalil. Will he not know you are part of this?”
Nadja smiled as she said “No - I was hit with a dart before him, and I am a very very good actress.”
“I would agree with that last statement,” Saara said with a smile. “Do what you must - I wish to see my family.” She opened her mouth wide, as Nadja put the ball to her lips and one of the men tore off a length of white tape from a roll.
Zarifa grunted slightly as she was gently placed on the floor of the van. She was the last to have been carried out, a white scarf tied over her eyes as had been done with the others, and as she felt the motion of the vehicle as it set off she, like them, wondered what was going to happen.
The drive did not seem to take too long, and as they came to a stop Zarifa wondered what was going to happen next. She heard doors opening, and people moving about, but for a while nobody seemed to be doing anything to her.
The blindfold was pulled off her eyes, and for a moment she blinked, adjusting to the gloom of the van. She could see Aisha and her daughters sitting opposite her, and to her side she saw Nimra and the other two girls, all of them looking round.
“Ladies,” they heard their guard say, “Your time with us is at an end, but there is someone here, who would like to be with you.”
They all turned their heads to the side, to see the masked woman standing next to a person covered in the full garment, the veil covering her eyes. Aisha blinked for a moment, before mumbling “mmffr?”
In response, the guard gently removed the outer garment to reveal Saara, her arms pulled behind her back and rope visible over her chest and legs. A strip of white plaster covered her mouth, but the look in her eyes was one of relief as she saw her family before her.
“Bcllmlfu,” she mumbled as she was helped to sit down, and a pair of scissors left near her grasp. “May you all be blessed,” the guard said as she opened the doors at the rear of the van and stepped out,
Saara Reached back and grasped the scissors in her hand, before she turned herself round and shuffled over to Zarifa, using the blade of the scissors to cut through the rope holding her wrists to her knees. As the cords parted, Zarifa reached up and pulled the scarf down from her veil, panting as she said “Is it safe?”
Saara nodded, and motioned to Zarifa to remove the tape from her mouth. As it was peeled away, she spat out the sponge ball and said “My family, let us free each other - and then we have much to discuss.” All seven nodded as the grandmother turned, allowing Zarifa to work at the knots holding the rope around her wrists.
Outside the warehouse, Nadja and the two men walked towards a waiting pair of black cars. The rear doors were opened and two women stepped out. One was in her late forties, slim and tall with long dark hair. The other was slightly older, with thin lines of grey running through her hair, but both were smartly dressed.
“Madame,” Nadja said as she approached, “the plan has been executed with complete success.” The younger woman nodded as she said, in a deep clear voice that warmed the heart of all who heard it “I am glad to hear it Penelope, and I know you played your part well. Welcome back.”
The two men walked up to the other women, presenting the case to her as they stood back. “Well done, Albert, Joseph,” she said in a crisp English accent as she looked in the case, and smiled. “I will ensure this is sent on to our client, and I thank you, Madame, for your help in this.”
“It was my pleasure, your ladyship,” Madame X said with a slight bow. “I know the need for delicacy and restraint in matters such as this - and I have taken all necessary care.”
Lady Mary Wolverton inclined her head in reply, as both women returned to their cars with their associates, and the area was left in silence for the moment.