Brother’s Keeper: Episode 14

New to Brother’s Keeper? Read Episode 1

Slim Charles ignores and marches through the restaurant, focused on Alan with a frenzied smile.

***

Alan laughs loudly as he, Derek, and Stephen banter – in a vicious manner that only family and the best of friends can tolerate. Then he sees, through the corner of his eyes, Slim Charles approaching with menacing intent and he immediately becomes tense.

Slim Charles places a heavy hand on Alan’s shoulder and loudly asks, ‘You ducking my calls, mate?’

‘No,’ Alan says with feigned confidence. ‘I’ve just been busy.’

‘Busy?’ Slim Charles repeats, and grins. He turns to Derek and says, ‘Shithead, has he been busy?’

Derek shrugs, while also doing his best to mask his fear.

‘Who are you?’ Stephen authoritatively asks Slim Charles.

‘Who am I?’ Slim Charles retorts as he gestures to his wide chest, and says to Derek. ‘Shithead, he’s asking who I am. Tell him.’

‘Don’t call him shithead,’ Stephen chides.

Slim Charles laughs heartily.

‘What are you going to do about it, you bald fuck?’ Slim Charles inquires.

Stephen rises to his feet, ready for a fight.

‘Leave it, Stephen,’ Alan says.

‘Yeah,’ Slim Charles says, and mimics Alan. ‘Leave it, Stephen.’

Slim Charles returns his attention to Alan and runs his hand through Alan’s hair.

‘Why have you been ducking my calls, Alan? I don’t …’

‘Remove your hand from his hair,’ Stephen sternly commands.

In that moment, the restaurant becomes quiet and all eyes are on them.

Slim Charles laughs as he picks a piece of prawn from Alan’s plate and eats it.

‘Silly cunt!’ Slim Charles caustically chides Stephen. ‘What are you going to …’

Stephen throws a quick straight right punch flush into Slim Charles’s face and Slim Charles crashes to the floor.

***

Jay walks towards the entrance of the restaurant, but notices a metallic silver Mercedes S-Class coupe parked in front of the restaurant and he instantly recognises it.

He circles the car, observing it, then stares at the plate number, visibly perplexed. He takes a moment to contemplate and then walks back towards the restaurant.

He steps into the reception, expecting to see Natalia, but it’s empty, and he is surprised to be disappointed by that. He smiles to himself as he walks through the reception.

He steps into the restaurant and immediately sees Slim Charles on the floor, with Stephen standing over him. He quickly scans the restaurant – the entire restaurant is staring aghast at Stephen and Slim Charles, and Vera is visibly distraught as she watches on anxiously.

Natalia, carrying the now empty duffel bag, steps into the restaurant through the door behind the bar and sees the scene in the restaurant. She immediately retreats through the door.

The restaurant is silent as Slim Charles struggles to his feet. He is evidently dazed and struggles to stay on his feet as he wipes blood from his burst lip. He takes a moment to regain his balance and pulls out a knife from his jacket.

Stephen is unafraid of the knife and shoves aside chairs to create space for the fight.

Jay walks purposefully and quietly towards Slim Charles, who has his back to him, and he visualises exactly what he’s going to do – He’ll drive his heel through the back of Slim Charles’ right knee, shattering it, and that’ll cause Slim Charles to fall onto his knees with his arms flailing. With his right hand he’ll grab Slim Charles’ right wrist, which wields the knife, and with his left hand he’ll grab Slim Charles’ fat chin. He’ll torque Slim Charles’ head to the left, dislocating or even fracturing the neck, but importantly unveiling the throat to be slit by Slim Charles’ knife, which is still in Slim Charles’ grasp – but then he makes eye contact with Stephen and Alan and instantly snaps out of his lethal intent; he can’t kill Slim Charles, he can’t kill anyone, not here, not now, but Slim Charles will be neutralised.

He approaches Slim Charles, and suddenly there is a loud bang on the bar table.

A grizzled man, in his early sixties with a deathly stare and a natural presence, stands behind the bar beside his daughter, Natalia. His large fists are still on the bar, where their impact had made the loud resonating bang.

Slim Charles turns to the grizzled man, Mr Petrov, and immediately puts the knife away. He walks briskly to the bar and grabs the bag. He attempts to speak, but Mr Petrov’s deathly stare intensifies and Slim Charles turns and walks away. He makes an effort to bump into Jay as he walks out of the restaurant.

Jay watches through the window as Slim Charles steps into the silver Mercedes and speeds off. He glances to the bar and sees Mr Petrov whisper to Natalia and retreat through the door behind the bar.

Jay calmly walks to the table and nods approvingly at Stephen. Stephen nods back and they both sit.

Everyone at the table and in the restaurant remains silent for a long moment, before Derek excitedly says to Stephen, ‘That was a sweet punch!’

Stephen laughs as the murmurs in the restaurant begin. He is also excited, and evidently proud of himself.

Jay turns to Alan, who has been silent, and sees Alan staring blankly into his almost empty wine glass; Alan is making an effort not to make eye contact with anyone, most especially Jay. With that, Jay becomes certain that Alan is somehow the root of the fracas, and he has a few ideas how. He wants to scold his younger brother, but it’s obvious that won’t be the right course of action; he won’t console him either. He turns away from Alan and sees Natalia approaching. He forces a smile.

‘We are very sorry for the disturbance,’ she says, seeming sincerely apologetic as she glances at each of them individually. ‘The meal is on the house. Including any drinks you have and wish to order.’

‘That’s good …’ Derek begins to say.

‘We apologise as well,’ Jay interjects.

‘Oh, no, it’s okay,’ she says, and smiles at him. ‘Enjoy your meal.’

She walks away towards the reception.

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

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 10

New to Brother’s Keeper? Read Episode 1

Jay reaches for his wallet and Alan tears open the bag of Haribo and turns it over into his mouth.

***

Jay is alone in the kitchen, cooking spaghetti carbonara. He enjoys cooking; he finds it therapeutic, although none of the healthy whole grain and high protein dishes he’s been cooking over the past years will go down well with Alan, so spaghetti carbonara it is – but made with fresh whole wheat spaghetti and unsalted butter; and with a lot more chillies than he’d normally cook with, because Alan loves hot food.

Suddenly, he hears a loud gunshot from the living room and instantly turns to the sound. He grabs the kitchen knife he’d used to dice the garlic and chillies and advances swiftly and quietly, like a glide on his tiptoes, to the doorway of the living room. He peeks in, only to see Alan obliviously lounging on a sofa watching the television loudly.

He tucks the knife in his sleeve, steps into the living room, and subtly scans the living room and windows, so as not to make his incessant extreme alertness evident to Alan.

‘That was the TV, I suppose,’ he says.

‘What?’ Alan asks, without looking at him.

‘The shot.’

Alan turns to Jay for a moment, amused, but instantly notices that Jay is serious, so he buries his amusement and says, ‘Jay, it’s Epsom.’

Jay nods.

‘It was Walter White,’ Alan continues and gestures to the TV.

Jay glances at the TV, but there is no sign of recognition of Walter White.

‘Breaking Bad,’ Alan proclaims.

Jay shrugs.

‘Never heard of it?’

‘Might have, but I don’t watch TV.’

‘Fucking hell. Get a life, mate.’

Jay smiles – he’d love to.

‘I’m just on the third season, but it’s amazing. You should watch it.’ He gestures to the TV. ‘Netflix – comes with the TV, has all the episodes.’

Jay nods and walks out of the room. He steps into the kitchen and immediately hears his phone – Alan’s phone, to be exact, but he’d borrowed it about an hour ago – on the kitchen counter ringing faintly over the loud television. He looks at the caller ID and instantly recognises the number as Mr Smith’s.

He glances towards the living room and then shuts his eyes for a long moment as he contemplates answering the call. He takes a deep breath, opens his eyes, and grabs the phone. He steps through the kitchen door into the darkness of the expansive back garden and shuts the door behind him.

He answers the phone with a cold, ‘Hello.’

‘Hello, Captain,’ Mr Smith says with his soothing voice. ‘How are you?’

‘Good.’

‘Good. How’s the home life?’

‘Good.’

‘Good.’

There is a moment of silence.

‘I have a job for you.’

‘I thought I needed a break?’

‘Well, now that’s up to you.’

‘What about the settling dust?’

‘It’s a long way from being settled. This job is right where you are.’

‘No.’

There is another long moment of silence.

‘I’m with family,’ Jay continues. ‘And this town is too small, I won’t risk it.’

‘Okay. Enjoy the break in your small town, Captain.’

The conversation ends, and Jay remains motionless as he stares into the darkness of the garden, deep in thought.

Suddenly, he rushes back into the kitchen and straight to the cooker to lift the pan of spaghetti carbonara off the fire. He tastes it and nods approvingly.

‘It’s ready!’ he calls out to Alan.

***

Jay and Alan are sat across each other at a large bespoke oak dining table in the rather cosy dining room. Jay watches Alan heartily eat his last fork of spaghetti while also engrossed by the large television hung on the wall beside them.

‘Why would you put a TV in here?’ Jay asks.

‘Why the fuck not? There is a television in every room,’ Alan retorts, and takes a gulp from his cold bottle of Peroni beer. ‘Actually, besides yours.’

Jay softly shakes his head in mild disapproval.

‘It’s my money. I fucking work hard for it. I …’

Alan is interrupted by his phone, which begins to ring. He pulls it out from his pocket and stares at the caller ID. He instantly turns the ringer off and drops the phone face down on the table.

‘I do what I want with my money,’ he continues.

‘Fair enough.’

‘Fair has nothing to do with it.’

Jay nods affirmatively at the comment.

‘So, tomorrow,’ Alan continues. ‘We are going out for dinner and then to a club …’

‘I don’t want to go into London.’

‘We’re not going to London. It’s on the high street. Epsom is picking up. It’s a new club; relatively; about a year now.’

Jay nods – he does that a lot.

‘The restaurant too, it’s been open on the high street for about three months. Food’s fucking good.’ He laughs. ‘I’m not saying your cooking is bad or anything.’

Jay is amused. ‘It’s cool,’ he says.

‘Damn right, it’s cool, or I’ll put my foot up your bum!’

They burst out laughing.

***

Jay jolts up in bed from a nightmare, sweating and breathing heavily. He quickly scans the bedroom at full alert – it’s clear. He takes a moment to regulate his breathing and glances at his wristwatch – “05:24 AM”. He slowly gets off the bed and walks out of the room.

He steps into the kitchen and heads straight to the fridge. He picks out a carton of orange juice from the fully stocked fridge and walks to the cabinets. He opens a cabinet and as he reaches for a glass, he hears Alan’s voice coming from the back garden. He walks quietly to the back door and peeks through the window – Alan paces along the garden, talking on the phone and anxiously smoking.

Jay leans on the wall by the doorway, away from the window, and listens.

‘ … you think I can pluck money from trees?’ Alan chides.

‘No, no, I apologise. I’m …’

‘I already told you. I can’t do anything till I get to work on Monday. No, sorry, Tuesday.’

‘I know I said yesterday, but I forgot it was a Bank holiday.’

‘Yeah, I did. You …’

‘200 now?’ he exclaims.

‘That’s too …’

‘Tuesday. Yeah, yeah, Tuesday.’

‘You don’t need to say that …’

‘I understand.’

There is a moment of silence and then Jay hears Alan’s footsteps approach the door. He bounces off the wall, walks quickly to the cabinet, and pulls out a glass as Alan steps into the kitchen.

‘Fucking cunt,’ Alan says to himself as he shuts the door, and is immediately startled when he sees Jay in the sparsely lit room. ‘Fucking hell!’ he exclaims.

‘Good morning to you too,’ Jay says. ‘You okay?’

‘Yeah, I’m good. It’s just work.’

‘At 5 AM?

‘It’s 5 PM somewhere. I’m going back to bed. It’s too early for your shit.’

Alan brushes past Jay and walks out of the kitchen.

Brother’s Keeper: Episode 9

New to Brother’s Keeper? Read Episode 1

‘Fuck you.’

***

Jay steps into the kitchen, and it is surprisingly very tidy. He opens the large fridge freezer and it is sparsely filled with cans of beer, several take-away left overs, and a bottle of Nandos extra hot sauce.

‘What do you eat?’ Jay loudly calls out to Alan.

Alan saunters into the room and glances nonchalantly into the fridge.

‘You hungry?’ he asks Jay. ‘What do you want … oriental or pizza?’

Jay attempts to answer, but Alan walks purposefully out of the room. Jay shrugs and opens a kitchen cabinet. Neatly set unused dishes that he recognises. He opens the other cabinets and recognises all the cutlery and kitchenware – all immaculately arranged and clean. He smiles widely to himself – evidently Alan doesn’t bother with these cabinets, or the kitchen.

In the next moment, Alan returns with several take-away restaurant flyers.

‘Fuck you smiling for?’ he asks.

Jay softly shakes his head, still smiling.

‘Okay then,’ Alan says, and gestures to the flyers. ‘None of em take cards and I don’t have cash.’ He hands Jay a Chasing Dragons Chinese restaurant flyer. ‘I’d suggest this. They are fantastic. Their …’

‘It’s still the same flyer,’ Jay interrupts, astonished.

‘Oh, yeah, you were here when they opened. They’re still …’

Alan stops abruptly as his phone begins to ring.

Jay notices that Alan’s demeanour instantly changes to anxious. He watches intently as Alan pulls out his phone, glances at the caller ID, turns the ringer off and returns the phone into his pocket. Jay has the urge to ask about the call, but decides against it.

‘Yeah,’ Alan continues. ‘They’re still the best. But then again, they aren’t too many of them in Epsom?’

‘Them?’ Jay inquires with amusement.

‘Yes. Chinese restaurants.’

They laugh.

‘Very well,’ Jay says. ‘The Waitrose still around the corner?’

‘Yeah, why?’

‘Let’s go. I’ll cook.’

‘I don’t have my car.’

‘It’s around the corner; we’ll walk.’ He gestures to Alan’s beer belly. ‘You need the exercise.’

Alan laughs.

It’s early evening and the clean leafy streets surrounding their home are quiet. Alan lags a few steps behind Jay; he’s struggling to keep up with Jay’s brisk walking pace.

‘Fucking slow down already, it’s not a race,’ Alan says.

‘Keep up. We’re almost there.’

‘Fucking hell, you seem to forget I was faster than you.’

‘What?’ Jay laughs. ‘Stop that.’

‘Really, what you forgot now?’

‘There’s nothing to forget. I know you were pretty fast …’

‘I have the school medals to prove that. Where are yours, eh?’

‘Firstly, I never ran in school.’

‘Yeah, you thought you were to cool to sweat, eh?’

They laugh as they turn the corner into another quiet residential street; Waitrose supermarket can be seen further ahead in the horizon.

‘Secondly, we never raced each other.’

‘I’ll race you to the store.’

Alan immediately takes off running. Jay shakes his head in amusement and chases after him.

Jay quickly catches up with Alan and slows down a moment to keep pace. He taps Alan’s head and impressively picks up pace, leaving Alan behind.

Jay stops at the entrance to the supermarket – his breathing is regular, no sign of exertion. He watches Alan approach and admires the fact that Alan didn’t give up the race.

Alan arrives, panting, and raises his arms above his head as he attempts to regulate his breathing.

‘That’s sorted then,’ Jay says.

‘You cheated,’ Alan says, between heavy breaths.

‘How?’

‘You don’t drink or smoke.’

They laugh. Jay turns to walk into the supermarket and Alan slaps him on the back of the head and runs past him into the supermarket.

‘I win,’ Alan declares.

‘Yeah, sure, you did,’ Jay says sarcastically, and picks up a basket.

They walk along the fruit and vegetable aisle of the somewhat busy supermarket.

‘Do we need anything for the house?’

‘Well, yeah, you have seen the fridge.’

‘I mean like toiletries and all.’

‘What? Do you think I don’t shower?’

‘Probably not.’

Jay laughs as he selects fruits.

‘Oh my god, you’re so funny,’ Alan exaggeratedly declares.

‘Shut up. How about some fruit?’

‘What? Do you think I’m gay now?’

Jay shakes his head in mild amusement.

‘I’ll go get some stuff and meet you at the checkout,’ Alan says. ‘And yes, we need toiletries.’

Jay smiles as he watches Alan saunter off into another aisle. He carefully selects vegetables and places them neatly in the basket.

Alan stares through a vast array of beer, indecisive about what six pack of beer to choose.

Jay methodically picks more foodstuffs and household supplies; without pausing to make a decision, as if he has a list in his head.

Alan still stares at the array of beers. He sighs in frustration and grabs a six pack of Peroni – like always. He takes a couple steps to the spirits and stares lustfully at the array of spirits.

Jay walks to the checkout and waits. There is only one person – a sweaty middle-aged woman in a yoga outfit ahead of him.

Alan grabs a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey and a bottle of Grey Goose vodka with his free hand.

It’s Jay’s turn. He glances around looking for Alan before he forces a smile back at the young redheaded checkout assistant and places his basket on the counter.

Alan walks towards the checkout and, in stride, grabs a bag of Haribo with his teeth.

The checkout assistant diligently scans the items as Jay looks around for Alan. He sees Alan and grins as he watches Alan approach.

‘You’re so predictable,’ Jay says.

Alan opens his mouth to speak and the bag of Haribo falls.

‘Nice,’ Alan says, and gestures to the juices in the basket. ‘You bought mixers.’

He dumps the beer and spirits into the basket.

Jay chuckles and says, ‘Really Alan? No, they’re not mixers. They are for breakfast.’

‘Oh, I know. A little vodka and orange with breakfast never hurt anyone.’

Jay smiles and picks the bag of Haribo.

‘I haven’t had one of these in years.’

He places the Haribo in the basket.

‘They don’t have Haribo in New York?’

‘They do. Just never had them.’

‘Hmm,’ Alan mutters, and grins mischievously.

‘A hundred and forty-two Pounds, please,’ the checkout assistant says.

Jay reaches for his wallet and Alan tears open the bag of Haribo and turns it over into his mouth.

Brother’s Keeper: Episode 7

New to Brother’s Keeper? Read Episode 1

‘Alright then,’ he says to himself. ‘Home it is.’ He laughs softly, but he’s not amused.

***

Jay, dressed in a polo shirt underneath a sharp business suit, stands alone at the Heathrow Terminal 5 pick-up point with a small travelling bag by his feet; his airline ticket from Havana through Paris sticks out of the side pocket of the bag.

He is somewhat uncomfortable in his attire – he has to look the part of a travelling businessman – but he is completely uncomfortable with being back in England. He has to fight not to fidget and his growing impatience isn’t helping. He glances at his wristwatch; he’s been waiting twenty-five minutes.

A Silver Mercedes S-Class Saloon with tinted window stops in front of him, but he doesn’t acknowledge the car as that isn’t the car he’s expecting. The window of the back seat lowers, and Alan Matthews, strongly resembling his older brother but more slender and with a beer belly, sticks his head out of the window with a wide smile.

‘Superman,’ Alan calls his older brother with more than a hint of sarcasm. ‘Fucking get in, we can’t park here. Unless you want to fly home.’

Jay smiles – a genuine smile. He is happy to see his younger brother happy.

Jay opens the door and steps into the car. Alan switches a half empty bottle of Peroni beer from his right hand to his left and then he and his brother bump fists as the car drives on. Jay instinctively glances at the bottle, and the two empty and two full bottles in an ice cube bucket between them. Alan looks at the bottles and raises an eyebrow.

‘What?’ Alan inquires. ‘It’s not like I’m fucking driving.’

‘I didn’t say anything.’

‘Fuck off!’ Alan says jovially, and takes a gulp of beer. ‘Anyway, I thought you were fucking around when you called. But no, you’re here. That was sudden.’

‘I know, it happened fast.’

‘Didn’t it just. You are lucky today’s a bank holiday too. How long you here for?’

Jay glances through the car’s interior and then through the rear-view mirror at the elderly driver, who’s focused on the road ahead.

‘For a while, I think. Where’s your car?’

‘A while? Fucking hell. I wish I had your job.’

‘You don’t.’

‘Oh, I do.’ He laughs. ‘What exactly do you do again?’

Jay stares at Alan, without an ounce of amusement.

‘I forgot,’ Alan says, fuelled with amusement. But he hasn’t forgotten, it’s just in his character to be, for the lack of a better word, a dick. ‘It’s been years, you know.’

Alan looks into the distance of the motorway as he exaggerates trying to remember.

‘Security Consultant,’ Jay calmly says.

‘Yeah, that! I’d do that. You certainly have more holidays than us Investment Bankers.’

‘Right. Where’s your car?’

‘It’s being serviced, for fuck’s sake. Leave that alone.’

Jay nods.

***

The S-Class drives slowly along an affluent suburban street in Epsom, a town just outside London, and parks in the driveway of a large elegant detached house.

The elderly driver turns to Alan and says, ‘Hundred twenty-five Pounds, please.’

Alan turns to Jay. ‘I don’t have my wallet on me.’ And with that he steps out of the car and leaves Jay to sort it out.

Jay fights back a smile and pulls out his wallet and pays the driver.

He steps out of the car and is stricken motionless by the sight of the house; it’s just as it always is in his nightmares, even the greenery that surrounds the house, and shadows. It’s all the same. He hears the front door unlock; it’s the same sound. He hears his brother’s footsteps along the hallway inside the house; again, the same sounds. He can’t go inside; he knows the memories his home will evoke are even worse than the nightmares. His breathing becomes erratic and his pulse surges. He wants to flee.

Alan walks back to the front door and immediately recognises the excruciating struggle in his brother’s face. He understands and gives his brother a quiet moment to fight through, but it soon becomes evident that his brother might not succeed in that fight.

‘Jay,’ Alan calls out, with a hint of compassion.

Jay slowly turns to Alan.

‘Forgive me,’ Alan says. ‘I forgot about the red carpet.’

They smile at each other.

Brother’s Keeper: Episode 6

New to Brother’s Keeper? Read Episode 1

He checks his watch; the countdown timer reads, “00:07:22”.

***

In a desolate harbour along the East River, the engine of a stylish and agile-looking cruising boat ignites. A tanned strapping man with dark shoulder-length hair tied up in a bun leaps off the cruiser onto the harbour and crouches as he attempts to release the cruiser’s anchor.

‘It is very cold out here,’ Jay calmly says from behind the man.

The man freezes for a moment, but doesn’t turn as he slowly stands.

‘I know you have a weapon on you,’ Jay says. ‘I wouldn’t expect any less. It’s almost certainly a .44 Magnum Desert Eagle, and it’s by your left hip – I can tell by the way you move; I’ve been watching you. I also know right now you are seriously considering reaching for it. Don’t.’

The man is visibly astounded, because he does in fact have a .44 Magnum Desert Eagle tucked in his belt by his left hip. ‘You are the Captain, yes?’ he asks with a heavy Latin accent.

‘Yes.’

The man slowly turns around to face Jay. He stares at Jay, who’s still wearing the pyjamas and slippers. The man does a good job at hiding his bewilderment whilst remaining outwardly stern, but then he breaks a smile.

‘I know what you’re thinking,’ Jay says. ‘And you are correct, I am unarmed. But there are at most three steps between us. I will be on you before you can pull out the gun. Your neck will be exposed and I will shatter your throat with one strike. Your death will be slow as you choke on your blood. But the moment you hit the deck, I’d have forgotten all about you. I will drive the boat and rendezvous with your people at the strip. And if they don’t oblige, I will kill them too and fly the plane. It’s a Cessna 400, I’ve flown one twice before. And nothing will come of your deaths. The people you work for will accept it as the cost of doing business. Because what is the alternative? You come after me? After us? We are ghosts. We are nowhere and everywhere. We surface only to destroy. But then that’s why we were hired.’

There is a pause as they stare intently at each other and the man strongly considers Jay’s words.

‘In short,’ Jay continues. ‘I don’t need you or your people. But I’d rather not kill you either. So, what’s it going to be?’

The man nods and says, ‘Okay, captain. Let’s go.’

Jay nods and the man turns around to complete releasing the cruiser’s anchor. The man leaps onto the cruiser and Jay follows close behind. They hurry into the cockpit and the man calmly directs the cruiser out of the harbour. The further away from the harbour the faster the cruiser goes, until it reaches its incredible top speed.

The man glances at Jay and says, ‘Your people told me to leave, that you were not going to make it to the harbour.’

‘I know,’ Jay says as he stares into the deep dark emptiness ahead.

***

It’s a very sunny day in little Havana as the sun seemingly hangs right above and the sky is devoid of clouds. Jay, resembling a tourist in every manner especially in his Havana hat and aviator sunglasses, walks casually along a very lively street and steps into a convenient store. He takes off his sunglasses as he walks directly to the chirpy cashier behind the till. He politely smiles and asks in fluent Spanish, without a hint of his British accent, for a burner – a cheap prepaid mobile phone. Without saying a word, the cashier hands him a burner with the price stickered on the packet. Jay gives the cashier $30 in cash and walks out of the store, leaving his change.

He wears his sunglasses as he walks along the street. He unpacks the phone and tosses the packet into a bin before he dials a number into the phone. It rings twice before it is answered. But there is no sound at the other end of the line. And there won’t be; it’s a voice recognition answering machine.

‘One … two … three … four … five,’ Jay says into the phone, and ends the call.

A moment later, the phone rings and Jay immediately answers.

‘Captain,’ Mr Smith says. ‘Line secure?’

‘It’s a burner. Disposing it once this conversation is done.’

‘You’ve lost the SIM?’

‘No.’

A moment of silence.

‘Why not use it. It is always secure.’

‘This will do just fine for the moment. You disagree?’

The truth is that Jay doesn’t want to use the SIM because in the worst-case scenario – his employers are working against him – he doesn’t want his exact location tracked, and Mr Smith knows this. Pressing the issue will only make Jay more cautious.

‘I gather you made it to the extraction.’

‘Yes. As always.’

‘As always,’ Mr smith repeats. ‘I must admit that I underestimated you. It won’t ever happen again.’ He pauses a moment to allow Jay to respond, but Jay doesn’t. ‘Captain, I know you don’t make mistakes. You killed the wrong officer. Why?’

‘That’s not important.’

‘Everything is important. And you let the wife live, even after she saw your face.’

‘She wasn’t part of the job.’

‘But she saw your face.’

‘I know.’

‘Captain, you’re going home.’

‘That’s not our deal. It’s one more job and I’m done. I’ll go home then.’

‘Well, Captain, you should’ve thought about that. I didn’t think I’d ever have to say this to you, but … it is too late for morals. We can’t use you right now. Your description is all over the wires. You need a break.’

‘I …’

‘Until the dust settles, you do. We’ve informed the Cubans of the change in plan. I’ll be in touch.’

Mr smith ends the call.

Jay stops and closes his eyes as he fights hard to control his emotions. He instinctively clenches his fists until the phone suddenly crushes in his right hand. He snaps open his eyes and stares at the crushed phone. He laughs at himself.

‘Alright then,’ he says to himself. ‘Home it is.’ He laughs softly, but he’s not amused.