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Authors: Hammond; Innes

The Doomed Oasis

BOOK: The Doomed Oasis
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The Doomed Oasis

Hammond Innes




1. Escape to Saraifa

2. Enquiries of an Executor

3. The Empty Quarter

4. The Doomed Oasis

5. The Quicksands of the Umm al Samim

6. Fort Jebel al-Akhbar



I would like to express my appreciation of the help I have received from Neil Innes during the actual writing of
The Doomed Oasis
. He was Minister of External Affairs to the Sultan of Muscat at the time I was journeying in Arabia; not only did he check the final typescript for me, but at the various stages of the writing I benefited greatly from his knowledge. I should perhaps make it clear, however, that I have ignored his advice on the spelling of two Arab names, in particular believing that my own spelling of Makhmud would be more helpful in conveying the sound of that name than the correct Mahmud. Both the sheikhdom of Saraifa and the emirate of Hadd are, of course, entirely imaginary Arab states.

part 1. the Court of First Instance


Call Aubrey George Grant! Aubrey George Grant!

The moment had come. My mouth felt suddenly dry. The Court was waiting and I knew the ordeal ahead of me was a long one. And at the back of my mind was the knowledge that in telling the truth, the whole truth, I might convict an innocent man. I felt the touch of her hand on mine, the quick pressure of her fingers, and I rose to my feet, the sweat sticking the shirt to my back as I followed the attendant. The doors of the courtroom stood open. I checked, a moment's hesitation in the entrance; the place was packed, the atmosphere tense with expectancy.

Quickly I walked down through the Court, the setting familiar to me, a part of my working life; only my role had changed. It was the first time I had entered Court as a witness. I kept my eyes on the Judge, on the pale London face above the tropical suit. He had been specially appointed to try this unusual case, and he looked tired after the long flight, shrunken almost, the suit too large; without the scarlet robes he seemed less awe-inspiring and the Law robbed of some of its majesty. Counsel, too, looked ordinary without wig and gown, and the courtroom itself—all open shirts or pale, loose-fitting jackets, a scattering of Bahrainis in flowing Arab robes. The Code of Criminal Procedure in this Court was based on the Indian Penal Code, yet in essence it was the same Law, and as I moved towards the witness box, the Judge leaned slightly forward, peering at me short-sightedly, his hands clasped together.

Once in the box, I faced the crowded courtroom, no longer a mass of unidentifiable humanity, but a sea of faces all lifted to stare in silent expectation, waiting for the full story which they now knew I alone could give.

I had been called as a witness, not for the Defence, but for the Prosecution. Every word I uttered would be taken down and rushed out of Bahrain by telephone and radio, and thousands of miles away the metal drums of the presses would pour the story out to waiting millions. Representatives of almost every London newspaper were here and half the world's press, packed so tight in this improvised courtroom that they could hardly breathe. And outside in the broiling, humid heat were the photographers and the newsreel men and the television recording units, and at the airfield across the water on the island of Muharraq, special planes waited to fly the pictures that would be flashed on the screens of television sets in the homes of countless people.

Here and there in that sea of faces below me were people I recognized, people who had taken part in the events I was going to have to describe. There was Sir Philip Gorde, director of Gulfoman Oilfields Development, looking old and battered, his heavy-lidded eyes half closed; and beside him, Erkhard, very neat and cool. Colonel George was there and Captain Berry, easily distinguishable, smart in their uniforms of short-sleeved khaki shirts and well-creased khaki longs. Sue had followed me in, and it came as something of a shock to me to see that she had seated herself next to that strange, half-Arab, half-French girl who called herself Tessa. Captain Griffiths, too, his beard neat and pointed—a reminder of Cardiff and the visit that had started it all.

Raise your right hand

I did so and my gaze shifted involuntarily to the prisoner in the dock. He was watching me, and for a moment our eyes met. I thought he smiled, but I couldn't be sure. I had a sense of surprise, almost of shock. Perhaps it was the tropical suit, the neatly brushed hair; he looked a different man. There was only the arm still in a sling to remind me that this was the man whose singleness of purpose had captured the world's imagination. The Book thrust into my hand disrupted my thoughts.

Repeat after me
. My lips were dry. I had turned away from him, but I knew he was still watching me.
swear by Almighty God

“I swear by Almighty God …”

That the evidence I shall give the Court

“That the evidence I shall give the Court …” And as I said it I was wondering how the public at home would react to what I was going to have to tell the Court. Until today they would have had quite a different picture of the prisoner—a mental picture culled from garbled versions of his exploits heard over radio and seen on television, read in newspapers and periodicals, a colourful, larger-than-life picture entirely at odds with the near figure standing alone there in the dock accused of murder.

Shall be the truth

“Shall be the truth …” They should never have brought the case. He was a national hero and, whatever the verdict of the Court, the public's reaction would be a violent one. But would they be for him or against him?

The whole truth

“The whole truth …”

And nothing but the truth

“And nothing but the truth.”

Your full name, please?

“Aubrey George Grant.”

And then Counsel for the Crown, on his feet and facing me: “You are a solicitor by profession, I believe?”


“Were you called upon to act for the prisoner on his arrest?”


“When did you cease to act for him?”

“As soon as I realized I was being regarded as a material witness for the Prosecution.”

“You have acted for the prisoner before, I think?”


“When was that?”

“Just over four years ago.”

The Judge's voice suddenly interjected: “How long ago?” His hand was cupped to his ear.

“Four years, my Lord.”

The Prosecution moved a step nearer, hands hung in the lapels of his jacket, the skin of the face cool as parchment in the humid heat. “I will ask the witness to take his mind back now to the afternoon of March twenty-first four years ago. On that afternoon you received a telephone call from a Mrs. Thomas of Seventeen, Everdale Road, Cardiff. And as a result of that telephone call you went to that address.”


“Perhaps you will now tell the Court in your own words what happened.…”

part 2. the Whole Truth


Escape to Saraifa

Everdale Road was in the Grangetown district of Cardiff. It was one of those terrace streets of grim Victorian brick, roofs hunched against the wet west wind, windowed eyes peering blindly for the view of river and sea that was blocked by other similar houses. Two streets away and you could look across the Taff to the litter of cranes, the glimpse of funnels that marked the Bute Docks. It always depressed me, this area of Cardiff; it lacked the squalid colour of Tiger Bay, the bridge across the Taff seeming to cut it off from the toughness and sense of purpose that gave a lift to the real dock area. The street was deserted except for one car, a small black sedan. It stood outside Number Seventeen, and as I drew in to the curb behind it, I glanced quickly at the house. There was nothing to distinguish it from the others, except the number. A light was on in one of the downstairs rooms. Neat lace curtains were looped back from the windows.

I got out and rang the bell, wondering what I was going to find inside. Trouble of some sort; nobody ever called me to this district unless he was in trouble. And the voice over the phone—it had been a woman's voice, low and urgent, near to panic. I glanced at my watch. Four thirty. The light was already going out of the cloud-filled sky. A slight drizzle gave a black shine to the surface of the street.

Across the road a curtain moved; hidden eyes watching, something to gossip about. I knew the black sedan parked at the curb. It was Dr. Harvey's. But if there had been death in the house, the curtains would have been drawn. My hand was reaching out to the bell-push again when the latch of the door clicked and voices sounded: “… nothing else I could have done, Mrs. Thomas. A case for the police … you understand, I hope. And the ambulance will be here any minute now.” The door was flung open and Dr. Harvey bustled out, almost cannoning into me. “Oh, it's you, Grant.” He checked in mid-flight, black bag gripped in his hand, no overcoat as usual, a young, fair-haired, very serious man in a perpetual hurry. “Well, I suppose you'll be able to make some sort of a case out of it in Court. The boy's certainly going to need legal advice.” There was no love lost between us. We'd tangled over medical evidence before. “Got to deliver a baby now. Can't do anything more for that chap.” And he almost ran out to his car.

BOOK: The Doomed Oasis
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