My Grandad’s old school held an exhibition in remembrance week, focusing on all the old pupils who had fought in the armed conflicts of our country. I...
"REMEMBER LAST NIGHT." A short story.
November 11, 2014
My Brother's Keeper.
June 27, 2017
My brother is a warrior. Wouldn’t know it to look at him though. He’s tall and thin. Like me. We’re twins. Not identical. Which is good, as I’m a girl. Got the looks. So does he, but I wouldn’t tell him that.
The thin thing deceives people, makes people underestimate him. Dangerous thing to do. He’s Special ….. Special Air Service. Has been for twenty years. Fought his way from one side of the globe to the other. The tales he could tell. Doesn’t though. How do you tell an SAS soldier? …… You don’t and that’s the way they like it.
I gripped his arm tighter as we walked down the steps of Hereford Cathedral. The ancient stone, glowing in the morning sunshine. One thousand years of history rubbing on the soles of our feet. We had just come out of a memorial service for our younger brother. He was a journalist. Taken in the Middle East. Beheaded for prime time television.
His body had never been recovered. The memorial service had helped. Beautiful, full of joy and love, for a man who was no longer here. I looked up into my twin brothers eyes. Knew that he had fought with everything he had, not to let the tears flow. Also knew that he beat himself up constantly about our beautiful baby brother. Wished he had gone with him, armed him, given him close protection. Anything.
‘Simon would have loved that ceremony.’ I said.
Jason, my twin, smiled ruefully. ‘You’re right. He did like a bit of pomp and ceremony; and his history. He looked back at the huge Cathedral doors. ‘You know there’s a thirteenth-century map of the world in there?’
‘I didn’t.’ I said.
‘I looked at it for a while.' He said. The middle east doesn’t look any different to how it does now. Still being fought over just as much as well.’
Our younger brother Simon had been a war correspondent for television. Their protection and information were usually good. Apparently, he had just wandered off one night looking for some information. The next information was seeing him wearing an orange jumpsuit, kneeling on hot desert sands. I had turned away. Not wanted to have that image as the last of my baby brother. Would rather remember him smiling with pleasure as he played with my two young children.
Jason and I watched as the last of our friends and relatives moved away into the bright sunshine. Resuming their busy lives. We all scurry ever onwards, only occasionally pausing for our losses.
I knew Jason had something to say. Not in a telepathic twin type way. Just saw it on his face, bubbling to the surface. I widened my eyes. Encouraged him.
He sat on the step, pulled me close to him. ‘We have him.’
I looked into his intense grey eyes. ‘Have who?’
He spoke slowly and clearly. ’The scum. Who did that. To our brother.’
‘I…… I don’t understand. What do you mean by have him? Is he in prison? Why has there been no news about it?’
‘He’s not in prison. Well, not the kind you’re thinking of.’
‘So what do you mean?’
He sighed. ‘I’m telling you this out of respect to Simon.’ He said. ‘This can’t go any farther. You can’t talk about this to anyone…..Agreed?’
‘Agreed.’ I said without hesitation.
‘We. That is the regiment, have assets. From one of those assets, we found out the name of the man who killed Simon. He’s British. He has family in this country. He returned to visit some of them. We found out where and when and took him.’
‘My God.’ I replied. ‘Is this official?’
‘You can do that?’
‘We did it.’
‘Me and a few of the lads. They’re all in the regiment. I trust every one of them with my life. No one else knows or will ever need to know.
‘Where is he.’
He looked around. Squinted at the sun. ‘Not far from here. Secure.’
‘On army land?’
‘On army land. No one will ever find him.’
‘What are you going to do to him?’
We weren’t telepathic twins, but I knew without hesitation when Jason was not telling the truth. Had done since we were tiny kids. He knew I knew that too….. So he told me the truth. ……
‘I am of a mind. …… To behead him. …… Look him in the eye, tell him what I’m going to do. The last word he’ll ever hear spoken, the name of our brother.’
‘An eye for an eye?’ I said.
‘I didn’t have you down as a murderer Jason.’
‘You do this thing. You are. You know that.’
‘It’s not murder. It’s justice. Don’t you want that? For Simon?’
‘That’s not fair and you know it.’
‘So there you have it.’
‘It will still be murder.’
‘I’ve killed people before. I can live with it.’
‘While on duty. At war?’
‘While on duty.’
‘Then that’s not murder is it. Big difference.’
He looked away. Over my shoulder. ‘It’s an eye for an eye. For Simon. The only way I can pay him back.’
‘Pay him back for what?’
‘Not being there for him. Christ Jacky. He’s my baby brother, before Mum and Dad died I promised them I’d look after him. I didn’t did I?’
‘You did what you could. Advised him. He was a grown man Jason. A war correspondent. He knew the risks.’
‘I should have done more.’
‘No you shouldn’t.’
I need to do this for him.’
‘For him? What do you think he would say to you Jason, if he knew you were doing this.’
‘I think he would say. I would do the same for you.’
‘Rubbish. Simon wouldn’t harm a fly. You know that.’
‘You’d be surprised what men can do when they have to.’
‘Oh, bollocks Jason. This is me you’re talking to. Simon wouldn’t harm a fly. He’d tell you to stop being an idiot and to hand this man over to the authorities.’
‘And what then? Give him a platform to spout his bile. A life of luxury in a warm prison cell?’
‘Yes. That’s what we do. How we live as a society.’
‘Not this time.’
I shifted my position on the step. Numb bum. Changed tack. ‘What’s his name?’
‘Does he have family?’
‘Yes. He left them.’
‘How do you know for sure it was him that killed Simon?’
‘Looked him in the eye. Asked him. He told me he did. Proud of it. …… We also had the video that was made, identified him from that.’
‘He was wearing a mask.’
‘You have access to voice analysis?’
‘Yes. I wanted to be sure it’s him. No mistakes.’
‘How long have you been holding him for.’
‘Just over a week. Wanted to get this ceremony over before I told you.’
‘You’re not going to kill this man Jason.’
‘I want to see him.’
‘What? You can’t.’
‘I want to see this man Jason. Talk to him myself.’
My brother knows my stubbornness. Knew that he would have to do this. ‘Fine. But you’re not going to like it.’
‘Take me to him.’
He stood up. Moved away slightly. Made a call on his mobile phone. Called back to me. ‘The lads are expecting us.’
We walked the short distance to my brother’s Land Rover. I looked at him as I buckled my seat belt. ‘You’re not going to kill this man.’
He didn’t answer as he pulled out into the traffic.
The SAS are forever associated with Hereford. It’s a beautiful city. We soon exited the centre and drove into the countryside. Tall oaks lined both sides of the road. Dense woodland, heading off in every direction. The SAS had relocated several years before. They were still on the outskirts of Hereford. More concealed though, easier defended. Or so my brother had told me. I had been to a few social functions with him in his Mess. Recognised the main gates to the Barracks as we drove past them.
‘We’re not going in then?’ I said.
‘Not that way.’ He replied.
We carried on for a couple more miles in silence; both lost in our thoughts. Jason pulled into a concealed drive. Drove up to a locked gate and stopped. Took him seconds to unlock and open it, and then we trundled down a rutted track. Trees overhead formed a green arch over the track.
I looked up through the windscreen. Couldn’t see the sun. ‘Bet no one would know we were here.’ I said.
‘That’s the general idea.’
I could see a few broken down buildings, a mile or so towards the end of the track. I pointed. ‘What’s that.’
'An old farm. Hasn’t been used for years. The army owns it. We use it for training exercises sometimes.’
‘What if someone stumbles across him by accident?’
‘Certain. Two of us have guarded him at all times for the last week just in case.’
‘In case of what?’
‘In case we have to kill him quickly.’
‘And what would you do with the body? …… If you had to kill him.’
‘It’s not hard to hide a body.’
‘You know this?’
‘Part of the training.’
‘I’m not naïve or stupid. I know what my brother does for a living. He still seemed cold, distant. Which he had never been to me.
We reached the end of the track and rolled into a mess of weeds and bramble, which I guessed may have once been the drive for the farm house. It was largely gone. Broken down walls. No roof.
‘He’s in there?’ I said.
‘No, round back. There’s an old barn, still solid and secure. Even has a roof.’
We pulled around the back of the farmhouse, and Jason drove all the way up to huge wooden double doors, which swung open and swallowed us up. He stopped the car, and I watched over my shoulder as two men pulled the doors shut behind us. As we stepped out of the car they approached us, smiling.
‘Guys this is my sister Jacky. Jacky meet Paul and Dan. They’re both regiment.’ I nodded to them, wasn’t in the mood for chit chat.
‘Where is he?’ I said to my brother.
He pointed into the gloom of the barn. The interior was huge. Almost aircraft hanger size. Towards the rear was what looked like a cube. Three or four metres high. The same wide. Covered in thick green tarpaulins.
I walked towards the cube. Dust shimmered in the air. I stopped well short of it. ‘He’s in there?’
‘He’s been in there for a week?’
‘Yes.’ …… My brother saw my next question forming. ‘He has a bucket. He gets food and drink three times a day.’
‘Why the covers?’
‘Because you’re here. I don’t want him to see you.’
‘Take them off.’
He sighed but gestured to the other two who stepped forwards. One drew a pistol as the other pulled on the tarpaulins. They parted and then fell to the floor. More dust. It wasn’t a cube. It was a cage. Thick metal bars.
The scene was medieval. The man was shirt and shoeless. His only cover soiled jeans. He looked filthy dirty. His arms were stretched out tight to either side of him. Looked like leather straps held his arms secured to the side of the cage. His head was bent forwards and out through a square gap in the bars, some sort of bar clamped on behind his neck so he couldn’t pull his head back into the cage. His head covered with a tight fitting black hood. No holes.
Jason had been carefully watching me the whole time I took the scene in. He spoke calmly in a low voice. ‘He took a knife and sawed off our brother’s head Jacky. Remember that.'
‘Do you keep him in this position for long?’
‘Just four or five times a day for short periods.’
‘So he gets used to it. The beheading position.’
‘For God’s sake why?’
‘Have you ever seen any of those beheading videos from Syria?’
‘No. …… Pictures. Kneeling men only.’
‘Everyone’s always surprised how calm they look, kneeling there with a guy holding a knife to their throat. Not fighting. Did you ever wonder why?’
‘No.’ I said.
‘Two reasons.’ My brother said. ‘First they’re drugged. Calm. They put huge doses of drugs like valium in their food, takes the fight right out of them.’
I looked at the bowed man in front of us. ‘Is he?’
‘Drugged? ……Of course. …… He kills people Jacks. Would happily kill you me, Paul or Dan given the slightest chance.’
‘Don’t call me Jacks. Not here.’ Jason was the only one who used that name for me, had done it since we were kids.
He nodded. ‘The second reason for the calmness as they kneel. They take them out, get them to kneel, cup their chin, hold a knife to their throat. Then tell them they’re just kidding, making propaganda films. Human nature takes over. The victims start to believe and hope that they’re not going to be killed. Slaughtered like an animal.’
‘So when it happens, they don’t expect it?’ I said.
‘Exactly. Makes it easier to do. Makes the low life scum doing it, look better than the cowardly jackal he really is.’
‘So why are you doing it to him? Making it easier for yourself?’
‘Nope. I don’t need it made easy. I’m just giving him something to think about. Will be a lot less cruel than him as well.’ My brother walked across to the side of the barn picked up a long wrap of material. He unrolled it as he walked back towards me, the silver blade of a sword glistening in the half-light of the barn.
‘It’s a Samurai sword.’ He said. Turning it over in his hands in front of me. ‘Genuine nineteenth century, the hardest, sharpest sword blade in the world.’
I held my hand out. ‘Give it to me.’ Jason hesitated for a moment, shrugged and handed the sword to me, handle first. I took it carefully. In any other setting, it would have been a thing of exceptional beauty. I held it down by my side. Flicked it out a couple of times.
‘Careful.’ He said. ‘That thing will cut you and you won’t even know you’ve been cut.’
I ignored him flicked it backwards and forwards a couple of times. ‘So. You’re going to take this sword.’ I flicked it towards the bending man. ‘And cut his head off.’
‘In revenge for our brother’s death.’
‘That makes you no better than him.’ I pointed the sword at the bending man. Thought I saw his head move slightly to the side as if trying to relieve the ache. ‘No better at all.’
‘Here’s a thought for you Jacky.’ My brother said. ‘Say he’s convicted. Goes to prison for life. He’s still alive, still a danger. He’ll kill again if he can get away with it. So if it makes you feel better, don’t look at it as avenging our baby brother. Look at it that I’m protecting everyone else from him. Rules of engagement. Do I honestly believe that my or someone else’s life is in immediate danger? Yes I do.’
‘That’s bollocks Jason and you know it. He’s drugged and restrained for God’s sake.’
I heard a mumble from under the restrained man's hooded head. I looked at him. Looked back at Jason. ‘The mask stays on.’
‘Why?’ I said.
‘Because I don’t want him to see you or you to see him.’
‘What difference does it make if you’re going to kill him.’
‘It complicates things.’
I was slowly moving closer towards the bending man. I saw that the door to the rear of the cage was open. In the position he was in, he wasn’t going anywhere. I walked around the back of the cage before Jason could say anything. Stepped inside. Approached the bending man’s back. ‘Stop Jacky.’
I ignored my brother, took a step closer. Gasped as I saw a tattoo on the bending man’s upper arm. It was old and faded, but I could still make out the shape of it and the writing. A large heart, with an arrow through it. Underneath the names ……. “Jacky.” …… “Jason.” …… “Simon.” I looked through the cage at Jason. Felt tears pricking my eyes. Saw him shaking his head with sorrow.
I screamed. Walked out of the cage, back around to Jason. Paul and Dan hadn’t moved. They both looked uneasy. Paul still had the pistol pointing at the bending man.
Jason spoke to me. ‘I think we should go Jacks.’
I pointed the sword at him. ‘Don’t …… fucking …… call me Jacks. Take that hood off his head now…….. Now.’ I screamed.
Jason stepped forwards pulled the hood off. The man looked dazed, blinking in the dim light. Lifted his head as much as the bar allowed looked at me, gave a drugged half smile. ‘Hello Jacky.’
I had a dead baby brother, a twin brother, and an older brother. I looked in disbelief into the eyes of my older brother. John. I hadn’t seen him for over ten years. Had heard a few tales from Jason that he thought he was a mercenary fighting in the middle east. That he had, ‘got’ religion. Which religion I didn’t know or care.
I looked at Jason in disbelief, walked around the back of the cage. Stepped inside. Cut the leather straps with the sword. Saw my older brother’s arm flop to his sides.
‘Jacky don’t.’ Jason cried out from the front of the cage.
‘He’s our brother.’ I screamed.
‘He killed Simon. Jacky. Stuck a knife in his neck and then sawed his head off. His own brother. I have the proof. He admits it. He is not our brother anymore. …… You know why he did it? …… To prove to those other animals he was with out there, that he was one of them, wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do. Even behead his own brother.
I walked back out of the cage around to the front. Put the tip of the sword under my older brother’s chin. Saw him wince as he had to lift his head to stop it piercing the skin.
‘Tell me you didn’t kill Simon. John. Tell me and I’ll believe you. We’ll go to the Police, sort this out.’
He looked at me for a long while. Fighting through the haze of drugs. ‘I killed him. Given the chance I’ll kill you.’ He looked at Jason and spat. ‘And him. All of you.’
I pulled the sword away from his throat. Turned towards Jason. ‘We take him to the Police. They deal with this. We are better than them …….. Than ...... him.’
Jason turned to Dan. ‘Get back in there and retie his hands Dan. I don’t trust him.’
Dan didn’t hesitate, walked into the cage. Paul covered him from the side with his pistol.
It happened quickly. The movement I had seen my older brother making with his neck had loosened the bar. As Dan stepped towards him, to take an arm. He snapped his head out of the trap. Dan had a pistol in a holster on his belt. My older brother had the pistol out and held under Dan’s chin in an instant.
My twin brother had drawn his pistol instantly, pointing it unerringly at Dan, the shield to our older brother. John walked him backwards. Out of the cage, slowly round to where we were standing. Jason and Paul had their pistols pointing at him the whole time.
‘You have a choice Jason.’ John said. ‘I walk out of here, everyone lives. ...... I don’t?’ He pushed the pistol harder under Dan’s chin. ‘More people die.’
Dan spoke. ‘Shoot him through me, Jase. Just do it.’
I looked at my twin brother, saw him squeeze the trigger. Heard the roar.
Dan slumped to the ground holding his shoulder. My older brother has been spun around, blood blooming on his own shoulder. It didn’t seem to slow him. He spun back levelling the pistol he held at Jason. Fired. I had the sword in a two-handed grip. I swung it as hard as I could. It took my older brother at waist level. It didn’t sever his spine, but I felt it glance off it as I fell off balance.
I watched as my older brother dropped his pistol, looked down at his belly in disbelief as his innards came tumbling out. He dropped to his knees. Looked at me one more time. Tumbled sideways.
I stood up. The sword was dangling from one hand. I looked at the bloodied blade, then looked at my beloved twin brother, standing tall, the shot had somehow missed him, a look of anguish on his face. I threw the sword at his feet.
‘That’s what you call justifiable self-defence.’ I said. ‘We’re better than them. You’re better than them. Never, ever forget that.'