At the end of Bryer Street, in the early hours of the next morning, and in the shadows of one small home, one could just make out two figures huddled close together. The morning had brought with it the frigid promise of old Jack Frost, covering the neatly trimmed grass with his bitter cold breath. Not a single sound interrupted the coming dawn, save the soft hum of electric lights, and maybe the occasional hushed whisper.
It had only been a few hours since they’d finished with their grim task, but neither had yet to feel the effects of their labour. Both were worried, one for his longtime neighbor and friend, the other for his younger brother, who had snapped, only moments into what would have been a carefully thought out plan. They’d had to improvise once he was finished, but they were still able to draw out the confession that would damn him in the end.
“So, you think that he’ll come around to it,” Donnie asked, for what must have been the sixth time since they walked over here.
“Uh-huh,” Davie muttered. “He gonna need his rest now, don’t you worry bout dat. In da mornin’, you’ll see.”
Donnie studied the old man with a raised eyebrow, for a moment, as he gauged whether there was enough, yet, that needed said, between the two.
“You know,” he began softly, “I’ve only ever seen one other person react the way John did down there. It was before the Battle of Shewan. Me and a couple of buddies were out on patrol when we came across a small group of ’em, the Taliban. Three of them stood between us and the fourth member of their group, who was laying on top of this little girl. She was screaming for help, you know? My buddies wanted to get out of there, but I just couldn’t. I’d made eye contact, and even though I couldn’t understand what she was saying, I knew that I might die trying to save her.”
Donnie paused to take a long drink from his bottle, just another in a long line to pass his lips this night, before continuing.
“One of my boys, he went back for help, see? That left me and Nick. I told him; ‘You don’t have to stay, you know?’ but he wasn’t having any of it. I’d saved his ass just as many times as he’d saved mine, and he knew I’d do the same if the shoes had been on the other foot.”
Donnie finished off his drink and cracked open another, downing half of it before continuing.
“It’s fuckin’ sick, how simple it was. We took out our knives, stepped up behind two of them and slit their throats. Before the bodies hit the ground, we turned like fuckin’ dancers, you know? Anyway, we turned at the same time, and slammed our knives into the spine of the remaining guard. It’s not that it would have been hard, taking them out, they died with their dicks in their hands.”
He hadn’t realized it, but during the course of his story, he had begun to cry. Hot tears slowly burned trails down his cheeks, though he’d have been hard pressed to notice. Absently, he wiped them away with the cuff of his jacket, with one hand, while slamming back the rest of his newly open bottle, with the other.
“Now, I had been the one to make the decision to help her, you know? But it was Nicky, it was Nicky who made the first move on him. That remaining rag head was climbing to his feet when Nicky just, kicked him square in the face. I remember the sound his ass made when it hit the bricks. It was a meaty slap, and had there not been that girl at our feet, I might have giggled. As it was, I felt as if I was moving in slow motion. As I was pulling her to her feet, trying to cover her dignity and calm her, Nicky had laid him out with another kick to the face.”
Donnie trembled, partially from the cold, but mostly from the shock that came with his memory. It’s not that he was cold, the meager warmth from the closeness of his friend, combined with the massive amount of alcohol he’d consumed, helped to ward off the discomfort that came with it.
“Nicky,” he sobbed.
“Donnie,” came the soothing voice of his friend. “You in a safe place, now.” Davie put his arm around the veteran and gave him a brief squeeze, but the other was lost in his thoughts, reliving the events of that night.
“He wouldn’t listen though. I had the girl, wrapped in a blanket I don’t remember having, and was trying to pull her out of the open, into safety, you know? We had just murdered three of Al-qaeda’s finest; there were sure to be others nearby. I watched in horror as Nicky bent over the one who was raping her. He had his knife in one hand, and the guy’s junk in the other. He cut it off in one sweep, turned, and jammed the bloody club into the guy’s mouth, which he covered until he stopped moving altogether.”
“Jesus,” Davie muttered softly.
“That’s just it,” Donnie said miserably, and when Davie looked at him with a confused look on his face, he only shook his head in sadness. “There is no God. No Jesus. No Holy Fucking Ghost, you know? Out there,” he gestured toward the street, “there is only man. Believe what you want, but me,” he lifted his hands in display, “I’m going to stick with these.”
They sat in silence for several minutes, neither wanting to disturb the solemnity of the moment. Donnie drained two more beers before another word was spoken.
“What about your boy, Nicky,” Davie finally asked.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Moments after Nicky had choked that fucker out on his own dick, reinforcements started to show up, only it was for them, not us. Everything was still moving in slow motion for me, you know, so I could see it happen plain as day. Two insurgents exploded from a nearby doorway and opened fire on us. I could feel the bullets as they passed by me. I’ll never understand how not a single bullet hit me, but several managed to find their way into Nicky’s back. The girl, who had been screaming at me this whole time, wrestled her way loose, only to take a bullet in the back of her head. One second her face was there, the next, it was gone.”
“I don’t remember much of what happened afterwards, only these flashes, you know? It’s like I was knocked out, and I was having these momentary flashes where I see this face looking down at me, or hear this voice as someone spoke to me, and it would be two days before I “woke” up.”
“So, you know, when Johnny called me up with his problem,” he said with an angry gesture towards the Marsh place, “I was all for it. I… I didn’t want him to-”
“-end up like Nicky.” Davie finished for him.
Donnie leaned forward and rested his forehead against that of his companion, placing one hand on the back of the other’s neck. They stayed that way for the next several minutes, each showing deep respect for the other, until the sun crested over the eastern horizon.