Brother’s Keeper: Episode 16

New to Brother’s Keeper? Read Episode 1

Alan cant help but glance back at the man, and the man smiles menacingly at him.

***

Jay, Stephen, Alan and Derek are sat around their table in the VIP room. Derek and Alan, both clearly inebriated, prepare drinks for themselves from the emptying bottles as they banter with Stephen, who’s evidently having a good time, although he isn’t trying to keep up with the professional drunkards. Jay, on the other hand, is distant, staring intently at the glass in front of him, which is full of vodka.

Alan sneakily gestures to Stephen to hold Jay down so he can pour the contents of Jay’s glass down Jay’s throat, but Stephen vigorously refuses. Alan huffs and gives Stephen the finger; Stephen returns the gesture.

Alan gestures for Derek to hold Jay down, and Derek excitedly nods. They simultaneously stand.

‘Don’t try it,’ Jay says, without looking away from the glass.

‘Ah!’ Alan exclaims. ‘You guys are no fun. I’m off to the bathroom.’

‘Me too,’ Derek says, and he and Alan stagger out of the VIP room.

Alan leads Derek into the dance floor and immediately locks eyes with the tall muscular man standing alone in a corner of the room. Alan nods towards the toilet and the man nods back.

Alan and Derek walk into the toilet and Derek immediately approaches the jolly toilet attendant. He blocks the attendant’s view of the door and starts up a conversation about the array of perfumes on the counter.

Alan walks into a cubicle, and, a moment later, the tall man steps into the bathroom, walks straight into the same cubicle, and closes the cubicle door.

Alan watches with excitement as the man briskly pulls out a cigarette case.

The man opens the case, full of longer than usual cigarettes, carefully picks out a cigarette, and shuts the case. He bites off the filter and pours out cocaine from the open cigarette onto the flat metal case. He hands Alan the now empty cigarette cylinder and pulls out a bankcard to make four lines of the cocaine.

Alan adeptly snorts a line of cocaine off the case and closes his eyes to savour the high.

‘It’s 60 quid a gram now,’ the man whispers.

Alan’s eyes jet open to stare questioningly at the man.

‘Hard times,’ the man says, and smiles. ‘From what I hear, you know all about that.’

Alan gives the man the finger and snorts another line of cocaine, and, again, he closes his eyes and tightly clenches his fists as he basks in the intense feeling.

‘You know Slim is looking for you, right?’ the man asks.

‘Fuck that fat fuck!’ Alan snaps, and the man chuckles.

Alan shoves the man aside and attempts to exit the cubicle, but the man grabs his arm and demands, ‘My money.’

Alan pulls out his wallet and hands the man several ten-pound notes.

‘That’s a hundred,’ Alan says as the man counts the money, and he exits the cubicle before the man can object.

Alan walks to the sink closest to the toilet attendant, and Derek immediately cuts short his conversation with the enthusiastic toilet attendant and walks into the same cubicle.

Alan takes his time to wash his hands, and the toilet attendant knowingly watches him. Alan smiles widely as he takes a paper towel from the attendant and slowly wipes his hands as he and the attendant stare at each other. He then looks indecisively through the perfumes on the counter, continuously reaching for a perfume but stopping midway; intentionally frustrating the attendant.

Derek steps out of the cubicle, and Alan shrugs at the evidently frustrated attendant and follows Derek towards the exit of the toilet, but he stops, pulls out two ten-pound notes from his wallet and tucks them into the breast pocket of the grateful attendant.

***

Jay and Stephen sit quietly at their table; Jay is still distant, in deep contemplation.

‘You should have a word with Alan,’ Stephen says. ‘Think he’s having some problems.’

Jay nods.

‘You don’t think so?’ Stephen asks.

‘I do,’ Jay says.

Stephen attempts to speak, but sees the waitress leading Natalia towards their table.

Jay follows Stephen’s eyes and sees Natalia. She looks absolutely stunning in an elegant black dress that showcases her curves.

Jay and Stephen instinctively stand as she approaches, and she and Jay cant keep their eyes off each other.

‘Do you guys need anything?’ the waitress asks.

‘No, we’re alright,’ Stephen answers.

‘Not right now, if you don’t mind,’ Natalia says to the waitress, while she and Jay maintain their gaze.

The waitress nods and walks away.

‘We weren’t expecting you,’ Stephen says. ‘I’m Stephen.’

She looks away from Jay for the first time and smiles at Stephen.

‘Natalia,’ she says to him.

She turns back to Jay and there is a moment of silence as they all wait for Jay to introduce himself.

Stephen nudges Jay, and Jay immediately grasps the cue. ‘Jay,’ he says, and they smile in amusement before they sit around the table; she takes the seat closest to Jay.

Again, there is a moment of silence.

Stephen attempts to break the silence, but Natalia beats him to it.

‘I saw you guys salute earlier,’ she says. ‘Soldiers?’

‘Well, yeah …’ Stephen begins to answer.

‘No,’ Jay interjects. ‘Not anymore.’

‘Yes, not anymore,’ Stephen concurs.

‘Oh, okay, why not?’ she asks.

‘Medical discharge, me,’ Stephen says. ‘I could show you my scar, but you probably don’t want to see it.’ He laughs and places an arm around Jay. ‘He just got tired of saving all our behinds.’

Jay modestly turns to Stephen and they share a heartfelt moment, stemmed from the endless hours spent together in battle and the even more relatively quiet hours spent together between those battles – band of brothers, forever.

Natalia smiles as she watches them, and a moment later, Stephen turns to her.

‘I can tell you the story,’ he says.

‘No,’ Jay says, and laughs softly. ‘She’s not interested.’

‘Don’t speak for me,’ she says. ‘I’m very interested.’

Jay smiles.

‘Right now, you are,’ he says. ‘Ten minutes in, you won’t.’

They laugh.

‘To put it concisely,’ Stephen says. ‘I and the other brothers in our platoon were caught in an ambush. Bloody Taliban everywhere.’ He gestures at Jay. ‘Our captain here, he saved our behinds.’ He pauses a moment. ‘No man left behind. Not one. Even if he had to carry your unconscious body two hundreds metres through a hail of bullets and explosions.’

There is a quiet moment as Stephen repeatedly nods, reminiscing, and Jay stares down to his feet.

‘Why wouldn’t I be interested in that?’ she sincerely asks.

‘It was concise,’ Jay says.

They laugh.

‘Alan should be back any moment,’ Jay says.

‘I’m not here because of Alan,’ she says. ‘I decided to come out for a drink … or two. This is the only place to be after midnight in Epsom.’ She smiles. ‘But I did know you guys were in here. So I thought to come say hello. Make sure …’

Alan and Derek stagger into the room; Stephen, Jay, and Natalia turn to watch them approach.

‘Fucking hell, you came,’ Alan says to Natalia. ‘Nice!’

Alan kisses her firmly on both cheeks, and she smiles politely.

Derek, who is most intoxicated, just smiles widely at her, and she smiles back.

Alan drags a seat very close to her and dumps himself on it. Derek, on the other hand, takes his time as he attempts to sit beside Stephen and still he almost falls to the ground; Stephen has to catch him and guide him to the seat.

Derek ploddingly attempts to prepare himself a drink as Jay and Stephen stare intently at Alan, not bothering to hide their disappointment.

‘You want a drink?’ Alan screams at Natalia.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll order something soon,’ she says.

‘Cool. Cool,’ he says, and turns to Jay and Stephen. ‘Why the fuck are you guys staring at me like that?

Jay gestures for Alan to wipe his nose, which has remnants of cocaine on the tip and around the nostrils.

‘What?’ Alan asks, confused.

‘Your nose,’ Stephen says, frustrated. ‘Wipe your nose!’

‘Oh!’ Alan says, and wipes the cocaine off his nose.

He looks at Jay, then Stephen, then Natalia, and then back to Jay. He considers lying, or apologising, but instead he defiantly declares, ‘Fuck that!’

Brother’s Keeper: Episode 15

New to Brother’s Keeper? Read Episode 1

Jay’s phone beeps with a text message. He pulls the phone out and reads the text – “ROBERT 07859007525”.

***

Alan and Derek lead Jay and Stephen as they walk past a long queue waiting outside ON ANON nightclub.

The slender and flamboyant club manager pompously stands at the entrance beside several large bouncers and two club hostesses. He sees Alan approach and forces a smile.

‘Toto the King!’ Alan jovially exalts Toto, the club manager, but Toto isn’t amused. Alan hugs Toto like a long lost friend, but Toto doesn’t reciprocate the sentiment.

‘You took your time,’ Toto says with a soft almost feminine voice.

‘Fashionably late, you know,’ Alan retorts.

‘Hello, Dee,’ Toto says to Derek, and Derek nods courteously at him. Toto turns back to Alan and asks, ‘Just the four of you?’

‘Yeah,’ Alan answers.

Toto turns to one of the beautifully dressed hostesses and says, ‘Take them to table three.’

Toto pulls Alan aside as the hostess leads the others past the bouncers into the club.

‘Monday, okay,’ he whispers to Alan. ‘Don’t fuck around.’

Alan chuckles and says, ‘Take it easy, Toto. Have I ever not sorted my tab?’

Toto cracks a knowing smile and says, ‘Not here you haven’t.’

Alan laughs and walks into the club.

Loud thumping dancing music electrifies the crowded dance floor as the hostess leads the guys through. Alan has made his way past Derek and Stephen, who are both visibly excited, and Jay, who doesn’t appear at all enthused as he intently scans his surroundings, to the front of the pack just behind the hostess. He is also scanning the club, but unlike his older brother who is working out the threat level and exit strategies, he’s scanning for girls, and he sees a lot of promise.

The hostess leads the guys into the VIP room, which is relatively much quieter, although the thumping bass of the music reverberates through the room. She leads them to a table full of alcohol and mixers and watches them sit around the table.

‘I’ll be back soon if you need any more drinks,’ she says to the table, and walks away.

Alan and Derek simultaneously reach for alcohol and two glasses each.

‘Oh, I’ve had enough today,’ Stephen objects. ‘Not good for me.’

‘Fuck that, you whipped fuck,’ Alan chides. ‘You can stay over at ours tonight.’

‘I don’t think so,’ Stephen replies.

Alan doesn’t acknowledge Stephen as he turns to Jay. ‘Now you are certainly having a drink, you need to loosen the fuck up.’

Alan hands Stephen a glass of whiskey and coke, and Stephen feigns reluctance for a moment before he accepts the glass.

Derek hands Jay a glass of vodka and tonic and leans in to whisper to Jay, ‘I only put a tiny bit in there.’

Jay smiles and accepts the drink.

Derek raises his glass in call for a toast and the others follow his lead.

‘To friendship …’ Stephen begins to say.

‘Fucking hell!’ Alan interrupts.

‘No!’ Derek also objects. ‘To a bloody good night.’

‘Yeah!’ Alan shouts. ‘And we are downing this shit, yeah?’

‘Yeah!’ Derek and Stephen answer, and Jay nods in agreement.

They knock their glasses together and all attempt to down their drinks, but Jay stops after a large gulp and flinches.

‘Derek!’ Jay jovially exclaims – it was straight vodka, no tonic.

Derek and Alan laugh heartily.

‘What happened?’ Stephen asks, confused.

Jay attempts to drop the half full glass on the table, but Derek and Alan loudly object.

‘You accepted the glass,’ Derek says. ‘You have to finish it.’

‘Down it, brother!’ Alan commands.

Jay laughs to himself and downs the rest of the vodka.

‘Now let’s go get war hero a girl!’ Alan shouts.

Alan, Derek, and Stephen lead a reluctant Jay through the dance floor, scouting for girls.

Alan gestures ahead to a pair of alluring girls dancing with each other and screams over the thumping music to Jay, ‘What you think?’

Jay shrugs, and Alan sighs before he leads Jay to the girls.

‘How are you girls doing?’ Alan screams at them over the music.

The girls cant make out what Alan says because of the loud music, but force smiles, as they are somewhat interested in the brothers.

Alan leans towards the taller of the girls, so she can hear him clearer, as Jay forces a reciprocating smile at the other girl, but their forced smiles very quickly become genuine as both stare desirably at each other.

‘You girls here with anyone?’ Alan asks the taller one.

She shakes her head.

He gestures to Jay and asks, ‘Want to hang with a war hero?’

‘What?’ she asks, confused.

He again gestures to Jay and says, ‘My brother; war hero! Just got back from Afghanistan!’

‘Oh, good for him,’ she says with a patronising smile.

Alan is taken aback for a moment, but he continues the pursuit.

‘Want to hang out?’ he asks. ‘I’ve got a table in …’

‘No, we’re fine!’

‘Oh, fuck off then,’ he says, more in jest than annoyance.

She is visibly enraged and attempts to speak, but Jay steps in.

‘I’m sorry about that,’ Jay says apologetically.

‘Fuck off, cunt!’ she hurls at Jay, to the surprise of her friend.

Jay nods in acceptance of the insult and leads Alan away back to Derek, who is not amused at all, and Stephen, who is laughing to himself.

‘Fuck off!’ Alan says to Stephen, and Jay joins Stephen in laughter.

Derek gets Alan’s attention with his eyes and quickly glances to a corner of the dance floor.

Alan follows Derek’s glance to a tall muscular man with a threatening demeanour who is staring intently at he and Derek.

Alan quickly turns away and says to the guys, ‘Fuck this! Let’s go back in.’

They nod and head back towards the VIP room, and this time Alan allows the others to walk ahead of him.

Alan cant help but glance back at the man, and the man smiles menacingly at him.

Brother’s Keeper: Episode 12

New to Brother’s Keeper? Read Episode 1

Jay looks up to her and is captivated. She is divine.

***

She is Natalia Petrova – an extremely alluring second-generation British Russian in her mid twenties with captivating blue eyes. She has an effortless composed aura behind the reception desk, which gives the restaurant an added jolt of elegance.

She notices Alan and Jay approach and smiles invitingly at them. ‘Hello,’ she says in a sweet but practised voice, which shows no hint of Russian, but instead a refined English accent. ‘I’m Natalia …’

‘I know,’ Alan confidently interjects. ‘I’ve been here a few times.’

She smiles softly at Alan, and then glances to Jay, and in that moment their eyes meet and their gaze lingers on each other for almost a moment too long before she turns back to Alan.

‘Do you have a reservation?’ she asks.

‘Yeah. Matthews. We have a couple people waiting for us already.

She looks down at the screen on the desk, and Jay turns to Alan in surprise – he wasn’t aware they were meeting people – but Alan doesn’t acknowledge him.

She looks up at them with her smile and says, ‘Please, follow me.’

Natalia leads through the fully occupied restaurant, which is just as darkly lit and sophisticatedly decorated as its reception.

‘Who’s waiting?’ Jay whispers to Alan as he subtly scans the restaurant, but Alan ignores and takes a quick step ahead to Natalia.

‘Natalia, what are you doing tonight?’ Alan smoothly asks. ‘I’ve got a table at ON ANON if you are interested. Bring friends. I guarantee a bloody good time.’

She smiles.

‘I’m Alan, by the way,’ he continues.

‘Thank you, Alan, but I’m working early tomorrow.’

‘Very well, some other time then.’

‘Sure,’ she says with a well-practised and oft-deployed polite smile.

She stops and gestures to a table ahead with Stephen Aziz – a cleanly bald cheery man in his mid thirties with the body frame of a former body builder who’s let himself go – and Derek Blair – mid twenties, skinny, upper middle class and looks the part.

Jay notices Stephen and smiles happily. He walks past Alan towards the table and Stephen and Derek stand.

As Jay approaches, Stephen performs the Royal Navy salute to him, and he stops and returns the salute. Stephen then takes a step to him and bear hugs him.

Natalia smiles as she watches them, and Alan also proudly watches them as he walks to sit on an empty chair at the table.

‘Enjoy your meal,’ she says, maintaining her smile. ‘Your waitress will be with you in a moment.’

Alan briefly watches her walk away and then returns his attention to Stephen and Jay as Stephen finally relaxes his embrace.

‘Why didn’t you tell me you were coming back?’ Stephen asks Jay.

‘It happened fast,’ Jay says.

‘Oh, okay. Well, it’s really good to see you.’

‘Really? I wouldn’t have guessed,’ Alan jokingly interjects, but with a straight face.

‘Fack off,’ Stephen says, and chuckles.

‘Could you introduce me so I can sit?’ Derek says to Stephen.

‘Sorry,’ Stephen says, and gestures to Derek. ‘Derek, my brother in-law.’

Jay steps to Derek and gives him a firm handshake.

‘Nice to meet you, Derek.’

‘Likewise,’ Derek says.

‘He works with your douchebag of a brother too,’ Stephen says.

‘Wait, what?’ Alan questions. ‘Douchebag, I accept, but working WITH this shithead? No. He works for me. I hired him.’ He turns to Derek. ‘Didn’t I? Right?’

Derek laughs and nods.

‘So if shithead here talks out of turn, let me know, I’ll fire him on Tuesday.’

‘Whatever, douchebag,’ Derek says.

‘What!’ Alan exaggeratedly exclaims.

‘Shut up, Alan,’ Jay says in jest, and turns to Stephen. ‘Sorry I missed the wedding. Couldn’t get time off.’

‘It’s okay. Was shit anyway,’ Stephen says.

‘Damn right, it was,’ Alan says.

‘Oi!’ Stephen scolds, and laughs. ‘I get to say that, you don’t.’

Alan grabs the menu and Stephen, Jay, and Derek sit. Alan is about to speak, but their young waitress, Vera, arrives with a large plate of starters and gently places it on the centre of the table.

‘I ordered a platter of starters for everyone,’ Derek says.

‘Are you ready to order now?’ Vera cordially asks the table.

‘No,’ Alan says. ‘I fucking just got here.’

‘Easy,’ Derek mildly scolds Alan.

Vera is visibly uncomfortable and tries to look away from Alan at the others, and Jay stares sternly at Alan, who continues to look through the menu.

‘Sorry about that,’ Stephen says to her. ‘He has one of your forks …’

‘Two,’ Derek interjects.

‘Two of your forks up his bum,’ Stephen continues. ‘Give us another five minutes.’

Vera nods and walks away, and Stephen is the first to enthusiastically reach for the platter.

‘I can’t help but ask this,’ Derek says to Jay, and gestures to Stephen. ‘How exactly did you carry the fat man a hundred metres or whatever it was?’

‘Oi! I’m not fat, I’m burly,’ Stephen says, and they laugh.

‘Adrenaline, I suppose,’ Jay answers.

‘Oh, yeah, with the bloody Taliban motherfuckers shooting at your head, there’s no telling what you’re capable of,’ Stephen says between a mouthful of food. He’s eating fast, closely followed by Derek – if you didn’t know better, you’d think they were competing.

‘I remember it like yesterday …’ Stephen continues, fuelled with excitement.

‘Oh, you fucking got him started now,’ Alan says.

‘No need for war stories,’ Jay says, and laughs – but he’s not amused, he really doesn’t want to reminisce about war.’

‘Oh, no, let him tell it. You saved his life. Least he can do is tell the story EVERY FUCKING TIME your name comes up. Again and again and again and again …’

The others laugh.

‘I’d like the burly man to tell it. So he can at least leave some food for us,’ Derek says.

‘Fack off, I want to tell it,’ Stephen says and leans back into his chair, ‘So, we were …’

Brother’s Keeper: Episode 11

New to Brother’s Keeper? Read Episode 1

Alan brushes past Jay and walks out of the kitchen.

***

It’s approaching noon as Jay vacuums the now very tidy living room. He’d considered going back to sleep – he usually sleeps till 6 AM, and every minute of rest counts – but, instead, he’d commenced his daily routine thirty minutes early.

He went for an hour run around the neighbourhood, while listening to his advanced level Japanese audio learning course. So far, he is fluent or near fluent in Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, German, Portuguese, Afrikaans, French, Dutch, Hindi, Italian, and, of course, English – you’ve got to put in the work if you want to be an upper echelon international assassin, which he undoubtedly is. Also, he has a passing understanding of Persian and Pashto from his tours in Afghanistan, which is where the immense value of understanding native languages, especially when the natives don’t know you understand, first manifested.

When he returned from his run, he’d done his usual brief but high intensity strength workout and finished with a full-body stretch routine. Then, he’d set on cleaning the house, and he’s now three hours into a very fine job – military training, it can be handy sometimes.

Alan saunters in with a glass of juice and winces at the sound of the old vacuum cleaner.

‘Really?’ he asks, and gestures to the vacuum cleaner. ‘You know you woke me up with that thing.’

‘It’s noon.’

‘It’s the weekend, I get to sleep in.’

Alan dumps himself on a sofa and places his glass of juice on the glass coffee table.

Jay gestures to the glass and says sternly, ‘Put something underneath that.’

‘Ah! Calm the fuck down. You haven’t changed at all. If you hadn’t noticed, the house survived while you were gone.’

‘Barely. I had …’

‘What do you mean barely? I get someone to clean it every other week. Chill out.’ He switches on the television and gestures to the vacuum cleaner. ‘When are you going to be done with that?’

Jay grabs a cushion and tosses it at Alan. It hits Alan flush on the nose and they laugh heartily.

‘I’m done,’ Jay says, and switches the vacuum cleaner off.

‘So, you have anything to wear out in that tiny bag of yours?’

‘Well, yeah,’ Jay says as he rolls up the vacuum cleaner power cord.

‘Well, no, if it’s anything like you wore yesterday. You looked like the grim reaper. We need to get some colours on you.’

Jay chuckles and says, ‘Fashion tips from YOU?’

‘Whatever. I certainly dress better than you.’

Jay shrugs, amused.

‘Really?’ Alan says with an eyebrow raised. ‘You want to argue that?’

‘No, I don’t care.’

‘I do. Let’s go to the mall to get you something.’

‘I’m good.’

‘Right. Well, I’m not going out with you dressed …’

‘I don’t care …’

‘Plus!’ Alan says, and smiles. ‘I need to get something for myself.’

***

A few hours later, Alan walks into the house holding several shopping bags and Jay walks in after him holding one shopping bag.

‘Thanks,’ Alan says as he leads up the stairway. ‘I’ll pay you back soon as I get to a cashpoint.’

Jay shrugs indifferently as they diverge at the top of the stairs and walk towards their rooms at opposite ends of the hallway.

‘Yeah,’ Alan says with excitement. ‘I was saying, this girl at the restaurant, she’s absolutely fucking hot.’

Jay smiles to himself as he steps into his room – Alan hasn’t stopped going on about this girl at the restaurant. He leaves the room door open as Alan’s still going on about her.

‘I’ve been watching her for a bit now,’ he continues. ‘And I can tell she likes me.’

Jay laughs softly to himself – he was expecting Alan to say something like that, although, to be fair to Alan, he’s rarely wrong about these things; you might say Alan’s good with the ladies.

He empties the contents of the shopping bag onto the bed – a pair of blue jeans, a soft pink shirt, a pair of Chelsea boots and a honey coloured Burberry trench coat. He reaches into his unpacked travelling bag for underwear and a pair of socks; he lives out of the bag, and hasn’t unpacked the bag in years.

Alan peeks into the room and says, ‘Trust me. She’s fucking amazing.’

‘Sure, I’ll take your word for it … since you’ve been WATCHING her.’

‘Fuck you. You want to get in the shower first? I’ll call the cab.’

***

A luxury black Mercedes parks in front of Sophia’s Place, a modern European restaurant right in the middle of Epsom’s high street. Alan, dressed sharply in a fashionable fitted suit with no tie, is the first to step out of the Mercedes. A moment later, Jay steps out, also dressed sharply in his recently bought outfit.

Jay feels very comfortable in the outfit, although it had taken a while before he finally relented and went with Alan’s choices. Alan picked the entire outfit, after objecting to all of Jay’s previous choices, because they were in his words – ‘fucking dull’; ‘fucking grim’; ‘fucking weak’; ‘shit’; ‘really, dude? It’s fucking 2014’; ‘you’re fucking with me, right?’; and his final objection, ‘what the fuck is with all this dark colours? It’s not a fucking burial, mate.’

Jay tucks his wallet into his pocket as Alan leads into the restaurant. They step into the darkly lit and sophisticatedly decorated reception and Jay instantly begins to scan his surroundings, but Alan tightly grabs his arm.

‘That’s her,’ Alan whispers, and nods ahead.

Jay looks up to her and is captivated. She is divine.

Brother’s Keeper: Episode 8

New to Brother’s Keeper? Read Episode 1

Jay and Alan smile at each other.

***

Alan turns and walks along the hall towards the living room as Jay steps into the house. Jay takes his time walking through the hall, anxiously observing his surroundings – he looks like a stranger in the only place he’s called home; he has been away for years, but nothing has changed.

He steps into the living room. Same exquisite furniture, but the room is very untidy – cans of beer and cartons with left over slices of pizza litter the room. Alan switches on a 78” curved television – which is obviously new – hung on the wall and is immediately engrossed by the sports news. Jay glances at him and then carefully walks around the room, observing. There are no family pictures or memorabilia on the wall, just a few really good abstract paintings.

‘Forgive the mess,’ Alan says, without looking away from the television. ‘I had a poker night a couple days ago.’

‘Couple days,’ Jay repeats.

‘Yeah, I know. I been busy.’

Jay nods and attempts to step out of the room.

Alan glances at Jay and asks, ‘Where you going?’

‘My room.’

‘Well, gimme a minute. That’s not …’ He suddenly pumps his fist and exclaims, ‘Fuck yeah!’

‘What was that?’

‘I had 50 on the Red Sox last night.’

Jay is visibly perplexed. ‘Red Sox?’ he inquires. ‘Since when did you start watching baseball?’

Alan chuckles.

‘I don’t. I back heavy favourites. It’s a good system. And the Red Sox are pretty good, right?’

Jay nods; he knows the Red Sox usually are good, but not this season.

‘You were saying about my room?’

Alan blindly tosses the remote on a sofa and leads Jay out of the living room through the hallway and up the exquisitely designed – by their mother – staircase.

‘It’s not exactly your room anymore. Most of the rooms are pretty much guest rooms now. Well, besides mine … not mine as in my room back in the day, but the room I sleep in now – mum and dad’s old room.’

He glances quickly at Jay to gauge Jay’s response, but Jay remains stoic. He leads Jay along the upstairs hallway.

‘If you still want to sleep in your old room you might have to clean it up, cos I think …’

He pushes open a door, and looks inside – the large room is very untidy.

‘Yep, you’ll need to clean it up.’ He points to a room further along the hall. ‘But, I think my old room is clean.’ He turns to Jay. ‘So, what’s it going to be?’

‘I’m good with either.’

‘Don’t gimme that shit,’ Alan says jovially, and leads Jay towards his old bedroom. ‘It’s not like I knew you were coming. I’d have paid somebody to clean it up.’

Alan pushes the door into the room open – the room is smaller, but not considerably, and it is tidy.

‘This is fine,’ Jay says.

He drops his bag on the bed and carefully observes the room.

‘Where’s all my stuff?’ he asks.

‘Well … you left and never asked for them. So I threw them away.’

Jay is visibly surprised, and Alan smiles broadly, revealing his perfect white teeth.

‘Follow me,’ Alan says.

Alan, still smiling, leads Jay back down the stairs to the cellar door. He opens the door and slowly, like a showman, leads Jay down into the cellar, and gloriously steps aside so Jay can take in the entirety of the room.

The room is a shrine to Jay and their parents. On one side there is a large cabinet filled with several family portraits – Jay, Alan and their parents, as the boys grow up from babies and abruptly stops when the boys are in their late teenage years. Two beautiful urns are set on top of the cabinet.

On the other side is a much smaller cabinet, filled with a framed picture of Jay in fatigues with other merry soldiers in Sangin, Afghanistan; another framed picture of Jay in Royal Marines uniform receiving a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross; four encased military medals and decorations, including the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross; and an encased bullet proof vest with an indentation of a large calibre bullet on the left chest.

‘What do you think? You like it?’ Alan eagerly asks.

Jay forces a smile and nods. He is completely uncomfortable and needs to be out of the room, ASAP.

‘Cos it cost me shit loads. I had the cabinets made. Fucking top range oak there.’

‘You curse a lot.’

‘Fuck you.’