Sometimes people aren't who we think they are. We assume what they look like reflects their personality, but sometimes we're wrong. Jimmy had always held this persona, people thought he was stupid. He knew why, he saw it in the mirror everyday but now they're going to find out that he's not as stupid as he looks.
It's surreal sitting beside someone who isn't going to be part of the living for much longer. He's never going to see another beautiful blue sky, feel the sun heat his skin, nor feel a breeze cool it down. He'll never hear the innocent laughter of his child nor hold his tiny little delicate hand. He'll never experience that fast heart-beat, that over-whelming thump you get when you look into a loved ones eyes. I wonder, do you lay there thinking of all the things you should've done different, do all the regrets you had bubble up or does only the good things invade your last thoughts, making the end a little more bearable. Can he hear me pleading with him to open his eyes, or does he only hear the continuous dreaded beep of the machine by his side. Open your eyes Michael, if only for one last look, let me see that look you always gave me, the one letting me know that I'll be okay without you. 'Damn you, can you hear me Michael, please I beg you, give me a sign.'
I squeeze his hand, the cold hand I've been holding all morning. I've spoken softly over and over again asking him to help me, give me just one sign, one more reason not to turn off the machine that is breathing for him. I'm waiting, praying, hoping, frustratingly biding my time, time I've fought to give him. But it doesn't matter how many hours pass us by the sign never comes. So at 2 o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon, while the rest of the world carries on it's day, I lean over and flick off the machine, then without letting go of my brothers cold hand I watch his body take its last breath. His life ends. I look at this body laying in front of me. I can already see the soul had already left. I smile, yep smile, that's what Michael would've wanted me to do, smile for him, not cry for him. We had a funny sort of love for each other, not so brotherly more like a love/hate thing towards the end. But we always had each others back and that's all that mattered.
I sigh sadly but I won't cry for him, actually I'm not sure many people will cry for Michael. Of course except our mum who couldn't be here with me while I was left to do the deed, to switch off the only thing keeping him alive. I hear the door behind me creak open but don't make eye contact, then watch her take his hand into hers, then leaning over him she lowers her head down on top of his chest, listening, hoping, praying to hear his heart beat again. She waits, then weeps against his lifeless body. He was her child, her son, and she loved him, this is what will make me cry, seeing someone alive have to cope with death. But like me she'll only have the last time we saw him to know he loved us back. She'll also wonder like I do about all the things he kept secret from us both. Damn you Michael.
After an hour, after all the machinery has been detached and moved from the room we also manage to walk away. It's weird thinking this will be last time I see him, and with one last glance over my shoulder I watch his body being wheeled away. I hold mum as we walk towards the car, then drive my mum home slowly allowing her a minute to adjust to the fact that the minute she gets home she'll continually be reminded of her loss. The second she walks thru her front door and looks into Frankie's eyes she'll be reminded of Michael. It won't be fair but this is how life goes. Little Frankie was handed to my mum when he was about four days old, which was over two years ago now. Michael told us he had got a girl pregnant, and the girl doesn't want the kid, so Michael brought Frankie home to us. Then strangely Frankie was officially named with my surname, one that is different from Michael's. I should've got suspicious then, I should've asked more questions, it was stupid of me, especially now he's not around. The minute the car door slams shut Frankie is out the front door and into my mums arms. Mum holds him tight, he will be her lifeline. When he's done squeezing my mum he puts his arms out to me. This kid will save us both.
Days roll by, then after a week, an autopsy and police report, a small ceremony is held at the funeral parlour, then life moves forward without Michael. I'm sitting watching cartoons with Frankie when my mum hands me an envelope. I look up at her wondering what it is but she doesn't say anything. When I look down my name is written in capital letters across the front. 'JIMMY'. I look back up at her "he gave this to me just incase anything happened to him, almost like he knew something was going to happen" mum says sadly. I look back at the envelope I have no words to help her. I fold the envelope in half and tuck it into my front pocket, it feels like its burning a hole straight thru me. "Here's the spare key to his place, you'll need to go and clear out the fridge until we work out what to do with the place" she says sliding the key across the dining table behind me. I reluctantly take the key from her, dreading the thought of having to go to his place. I don't believe in ghosts but I'm pretty sure I'm going to feel uncomfortable over there, my imagination will get the better of me, I just know it. I turn to suggest maybe she should go while I look after Frankie but just looking into her eyes makes me shut my mouth. These last few days has made her look old and weary, and I just can't ask her to help me out.
Later that evening I lay in bed fiddling with the key. It's nothing special, it's just a key. I'd never been in Michael's house. It wasn't a big deal really, it just never worked out that we ended up there, he seemed to always end up here. I suppose because Frankie and mum were here, he just came here. Strange really I think as I look back at the key. Just another thing he kept secretive about. This key won't tell me anything, it's only the device to find things out for myself. But can I come to terms with sniffing around a dead mans house even if he was my blood? I turn my head to look at the envelope sitting on the bedside table and like the key in my hand, both will probably give me answers. But it may be answers I don't want to know about, then what happens? Michael isn't here anymore to come up with a plan like he always did. I'm tempted to open the envelope right here and now. What secrets are written inside? I wonder what he's going to tell me after all these years. What made him so secretive around me, around his own mother the last couple of years. Finally, are all his secrets going to be revealed now he's not here to face me. I turn over putting my back to the envelope angry at Michael for leaving all this to me after all I am the stupid brother.
I think about when Michael changed from being my big brother, my best friend to a pushy bossy man who felt the need to rule my life. I can't pinpoint one exact date but felt it began after I left school. Our childhood was like any other siblings, just a couple of kids doing our thing. I wonder when did us brothers become so different? Did becoming adults change it all? I've always blamed the different fathers for the absolute opposite in looks but I'm not sure what to blame for the polar opposite characters we had become. Look wise Michael was the lucky one, he had been blessed with handsome, blonde, brooding and mysterious with a serious gift of the gab. Unlike myself, tall, dark, not so handsome and blessed with a stutter. Back in our teen years Michael was tough and out-spoken scary even, never letting anyone get the better of him. I was quiet and shy, too big for my age, bullied and a push over. It was rough being me thru the teen years, but luckily I had Michael to protect me. Eventually I changed physically, but honestly never did learn how to speak up for myself.
Over the past few years I've managed to turn my size around. I started lifting weights, grew fat into muscle and along with that came confidence, at least on the outside. I then found as I sung along when I exercised my stutter seem to straighten itself out, so I seemed to exercise more and more hence the size I've ended up. I had my body inked, each tattoo for each obstacle I hurdled. I'm still shy by nature but can at least hold a conversation now. Michael did his own thing for a while then noticed my braun, realising it could benefit both him and I, eventually offering me a job as his 'body guard'. At first it seemed funny me protecting him, also the 'no questions asked' clause Michael stipulated confused me. I was never sure what I was protecting him from, but as long as I didn't ask it ended up working well for us both. So I learnt to shut my mouth, which was easy for me, but kept my eyes and ears open. I may look stupid but one thing I did have was a good memory, so things I saw seem to get lost somewhere in this head of mine.
Over the last few years Michael had taught me a lot, often reminding me to keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Now I realise that's exactly what he was doing. His dealings with people was secretive whispers most times, things I didn't need to know. In his own way I feel like he was still protecting me even if I was getting paid to look after him. We had ended up more like a team, my body, his brain. I knew just by a look what Michael was thinking. And right up until the end we still had each others back. But I still kept my mouth shut even when I didn't agree or particularly like the characters Michael dealt with. Especially when he continually associated with one nasty piece of work, a man named Terry. At first it was only occasionally Michael met up with him, usually at a strip joint down town. I found out Terry owned the place, but never knowing Michael and his connection, I had a feeling in the end this man seemed to control most of Michaels life. When I'd ask Michael more about his dealings with Terry he would always tell me it's best if I don't know for my own good. And that was the end of that conversation. Another thing Michael insisted on was that I was never known as his brother only his body-guard. And now I'm realising that purely because of this is probably why I'm not six feet under with Michael.
I fall to sleep holding both the key deciding tomorrow will be the day I answer a few questions for myself.
It's been almost a week since I've seen Michael, he's never left me here alone this long. And now I'm so pissed off. I stupidly thought I loved Michael once, a long time ago. But now I hate him, I mean I really really really hate him. I'm trapped here and need human contact desperately. I'm thinking I actually might even die here, alone, and that scares me the most.
I get woken up by a soft little hand stroking my cheek. When I open my eyes Frankie is standing beside my bed holding his finger to his lips shooshing himself to keep quiet while I sleep. So bloody cute. His scruffy, golden curly hair the only thing that reminds me of Michael. His huge blue eyes nothing like Michaels dark sinister eyes. And this boy is so gentle and caring, I don't remember Michael ever being this way. I grab at him and pull him to my large chest, here he snuggles close to me, pulling at my chest hair cheekily. This boy will never know just how much he's done for me. When Michael first had me working for him some nights I would come home furious with man-kind, mostly with Michael and the scum he associated with. The things I've seen from the side-line, un-speakable things would forever be ingrained in my brain. I wasn't built mentally for such things, I unfortunately just looked the part. Michael re-assured me that the scum he got rid of didn't deserve to walk the earth anyway. But they're all someones son, someones brother maybe someones father. I had a hard time wrapping my head around it all, and to this day I think I still haven't come to terms with it. I think I lost respect for Michael after the first time I witnessed his position in the feeding line. I was even disgusted to be related but kept quiet.
Many times I begged Michael to just disappear with me, start a new life somewhere away from here. But he told me he needed to stay around, almost like he had some mission to complete. He reassured me that as long as I stay away from the spotlight, kept quiet, kept my eyes to the ground, have no opinion or thoughts, to be as stupid as I looked then everything would work out. Believe me getting offended didn't matter either. But he didn't know that I'm not as dumb as I look and I absorbed it all. What I've seen and heard, it feels like tentacles that twist around my heart, screams swirl around my mind, and sometimes I can't switch them off. If I was a drug user I think I would've overdosed by now trying to clear my mind. I'm snapped out of the dreaded memories when Frankie climbs over my torso to straddle me, then looking intently down at me he manages to put a small sentence together "we go play on swing today Dimmy?" then smiles. "Yes little rascal, we'll go to the park today but only if you say my name properly 'J...J...Jimmy" I say close to him. He copies my mouth then yells "JIMMY" sitting up ready to run from me knowing perfectly well this is when I tickle him to death. I'm paranoid about him speaking correctly knowing how nasty other kids will be but mum thinks he is just being lazy and will speak in his own time.
I eventually sit with mum at the dining table, she's looking more up-tight today. Without saying anything she knows I'm wondering what's wrong. She sighs before she speaks to me. "I have so many questions I needed Michael to answer and now I'll never know." I sigh also agreeing with her. "Did you read the letter he left you yet?" she asks looking serious. "No. I'll head over his place today and read it there just incase it's something he needs me to sort out while I'm over there." Any excuse will do not to open that damn envelope. "Open it now" she says anxiously. "No, not while Frankie's around, I'll sort it over there mum" I snap at her as I get up grab my car keys and leave. I drive away glancing back seeing her standing at the window watching me go. I feel bad snapping at her. I know she's worried about losing me too. She knew I worked with Michael but wasn't so 'in to it' like he was. I didn't tell her in depth what he was up to but made sure she knew I would never put myself in danger. I was suppose to be making sure Michael stayed out of trouble and I failed.
Michael made me follow him around whenever he had a deal to make or job to complete, but after hours when our day was finished, when he sent me home was when all his secrets came out to play. After hours when I wasn't there to protect him was when he was targeted. I've thought about it, seriously I can't be everywhere at once I know that, but I wish Michael trusted me enough to let me know he was in trouble. But maybe he didn't even know he was in trouble. My brain hurts trying to piece it all together. I need to ask questions but need to keep discreet, I can't be connected personally. I need to write it all down then add it all up. So far all I know is he was gunned down in the dirty alley behind the strip joint he frequently visited, then still alive he was thrown in to a dumpster like rubbish, his body riddled with six bullets, left to die alone. I knew this was no random shooting, it was deliberate and callous. I looked around after the ambulance took him away, before the police started their investigation for any evidence but didn't find anything. I know he'll just be another statistic, they won't treat his death as anything different from the numerous deaths they try to solve everyday. I know this because most of deaths I've witnessed also probably sit in a stack at the back of a filling cabinet untouched and forgotten. Actually I only knew where to find Michael because I was contacted by a women who wouldn't tell me anything except where his dying body lay. This will have to be my first mission after I've cleaned up his house.
Before I pull into Michaels driveway I sit a few a doors down watching the house for an hour. It's a quiet street, not many cars are parked along the curb. A couple of boys play tennis on the road. A few girls ride their bikes up and down the street. A man is mowing his lawn, while people walking dogs continually appear up and down the cement pathway that runs along the road. This is a normal suburban street, neat gardens, manicured lawns, lush green trees, a normal street full of normal people. So what was Michael doing living here? I check my phone to make sure this is actually the correct address. I don't rely on my phone for much but notice an un-opened email is highlighted. When I look at the email content I find it's from Terry. My blood boils slightly. What in the hell does this man want from me? I'm not going to contact until I get this house shit sorted. It's days like today I feel like it's too much. I throw the phone in the console and head towards the house, quickly making my way to the front door before anyone notices me, conversations the last thing I want at the moment.
I open the front door, closing the door quickly behind me, my eyes scan around the place. Eerily quiet but looking like any normal family home to me, it makes me wonder what in the hell was Michael thinking living here. Quiet suburban life just wasn't his style. I slowly walk thru the house seeing everything neat and tidy, almost looking like no-one ever lived here but Michael did sleep somewhere right? First thing I do is rummage thru the draws looking for a garbage bag, opening the fridge to clear out anything perishable. I put the bag of rubbish near the front door so I don't forget to take it. I know I'm avoiding the letter. With a sigh I grab a coke out of the fridge, a drink Michael was addicted to, pop the top and sit at the table placing the envelope in front of me. 'Fuck you Michael' I say under my breathe. I tear open the end of envelope and pull out the letter which only says one sentence. 'Go get the envelope that's in my wardrobe'. I shake my head pissed off that I'm being sent on a wild goose chase. But of course I go to his wardrobe anyway. I check the shelves, moving a few folded jumpers that sit there. I slide each jacket along checking each pocket as I go, then I run my hands over the walls seeing if anything is stuck hidden away but nothing. I flop down sitting on the floor of the dark wardrobe, checking under the shoes closest to me, thinking I never saw Michael in any of these clothes or shoes. Deep in thought my fingers feel the carpet below me which is slightly lifted. I pull the carpet away from the floor, folding it back to find an envelope. Not bothering to go back to the kitchen I tear it open while I sit on the floor. It starts like this:-
So, apparently because your reading this I'm not around anymore, am I missing or dead? Probably dead. I hope you've at least had a body in one piece to cremate, sorry I shouldn't be joking about this. But seriously Jimmy, it's all up to you now. I know your worried about handling things, I know you don't think like me, I even know you didn't particularly even like me very much, but I'm glad your nothing like me, it was a blessing. I knew you thought it was always you that needed me but I needed you just as much. Especially now Jimmy, please help me especially now.
'What the fuck Michael' I say out loud talking to myself. I struggle off the floor, rubbing my face, suddenly feeling emotional, I wipe away the moisture building up in my eyes and read on while walking back thru the house to the kitchen. I stop suddenly thinking I hear a noise, looking around, my heart starts beating fast. 'Get a grip' I say out loud, but inside I can feel a few butterflies starting to move around. Seriously my mind could take over thinking there is someone else here in the room with me. I shake my head not believing my own mind. I sit back at the kitchen table, looking around one more time. I don't normally get spooked like I feel at the moment, I think its just being in my dead brothers house maybe. I continue reading:-
About four years ago before you worked for me I took a contract to find a girl named Anna. No Michael not to kill her just find her. The man who hired me was dying of cancer and knew somewhere out there was a child, his child, his only child. This girl was to inherit his wealth. He knew if she wasn't found his dick-head brother, an evil character would automatically inherit it all. And I found her Jimmy, re-uniting her with her father before he passed. I thought my job was complete.
I put the letter down feeling good about Michael doing something worthwhile for once. I read on:-
But what happened next killed me, literally. It was after the re-union that I was approached by the brother to get rid of her, kill Anna. He had been waiting in the midst, waiting all these years knowing he would be the next of kin if Anna wasn't around. Of course, there was a lot of money to inherit, the root of all evil, exactly what the bastard is. So don't get pissed at me but I took the contact, it was a lot of money Jimmy, it helped buy the house.
I shake my head, I can't read anymore, and obviously Michael knew me too well because the next bit says so in bold print:-
Please keep reading Jimmy. So contrary to what you think about me, believe me when I tell you I couldn't do it, I couldn't kill her, jesus she was only 17, how could I do this? But, instead I fell in love with Anna.
I put the letter down on the table and stood looking out the window not thinking about anything except that my brother loved a women and I never knew. Why in the fuck didn't he tell me, I could've helped him. I calculate over three years ago, I would've only been eighteen but still why didn't he tell me? 'Fuck you Michael' I growl. Now my hand is shaking slightly unsure of what I'm going to read next. I sit down and try and calm down a little, ignoring the creaking sounds I keep hearing. I read on:-
I hid her Jimmy and she's been hidden ever since. I found out things by keeping my ears open, you know like I'm always telling you to do, I found out that if she doesn't turn up by her 21st birthday then the Uncle gets it all...so I hid Anna, her 21st birthday is the last day of May. This is where I need your help. But before I tell you where she is I suspect your wondering who this scumbag arsehole uncle is...Uncle Terry is his name.
NO! NO! NO! I yell getting up and slamming my hand down on the breakfast bar making the kitchen rattle. 'Keep your friends close and your enemy closer' Michael always preached this to me, and now I know why, he kept tabs on Terry by working for him. And now I'll have to continue keeping him close. I sit back down and take a deep breathe, the next part is going to be a challenge. Michael had the smarts, me not so much. I'm hesitant about knowing where this girl is, I'm not sure what I'll find, it's been a week since Michael died, would she still be alive? I look down at the letter, my eyes blurry all the sudden I wipe them so I can read:-
You don't have to look very far for Anna, she's literally under your feet if your sitting in my kitchen...don't panic, she has food to last her a month without me but I've never left her this long. Word of warning but Jimmy, she won't be happy. See I fell in love with her, I had to make her mine, but I don't think she felt the same way. She resented the fact that I kept her trapped like an animal, I had to treat her like a captive, I had to do this to keep her alive. But she never believed me nor understood the ramifications. I have a letter waiting for her when this is all cleared up, please make sure she gets it.
I look down at my feet then look around for the door leading down to the basement, a door I would never even bother to open knowing it only leads to a downstairs space normally only used for storage. I strain to see if I can actually hear anything coming from down there. I've never even noticed windows that low to the ground outside, did this poor girl live down there without sunlight? Not even Michael could be that awful, could he?
I sit staring up at the ceiling. Someone is up there. Why hasn't Michael come down by now. Maybe it's not Michael. I'm frightened so I go and hide behind the sitting chair in the corner. I'm not sure who to trust anymore. I crave human contact but am not desperate enough to encourage it down here to harm me. Is this better the devil you know or the devil you don't? Far out, I'm not sure what to do, but know I feel better sitting behind this chair at this moment in time. So here I'll stay.