My Brother’s Keeper
A.J. Fights For His Life
Rick and A.J. had found themselves in the middle of a frantic shoot-out and it didn’t bode well for the two brothers. Rick crouched behind a large oil barrel, while A.J. was firing his weapon from the far side of the deserted warehouse. Neither of them wanted things to end like this—they’d hoped that their pursuers, a trio of rough-hewn mountain men who’d been chased from their wilderness homes by ruthless contractors, would surrender peacefully and thus, avoid this hail of bullets. A.J. in particular deplored violence and, after all, these men were not all that bad. They just wanted to hang onto what was rightfully theirs: A log cabin nestled deep in the woods that certain builders and architects wished to excavate so that new, flashy houses could be built.
Rick paused to reload his gun and decided to make his way over to his brother. If the two of them combined forces from the far end of the building, then perhaps Seth, Max and Peter Newsom would surrender their sawed-off shotguns and the battle could come to a merciful end. Taking an opportunity when the mountain men had briefly paused to talk to one another, ostensibly about what was to happen next, Rick rushed over and joined a flustered A.J., who deplored violence of any kind and was growing more upset with each passing moment. “Rick, this has got to stop. I don’t want to kill any of these guys, but if they keep this shoot-out going, I can’t see any other way out. Can you?” Rick noted that there was a desperate cast to his brother’s large blue eyes and replied quietly, “Look, I don’t like this anymore than you do, but we haven’t exactly got a lot of choice here. If we—-” But Rick was interrupted with another hail of bullets, accompanied by Seth’s booming voice, “You two think you’re going to beat us, do you? It’s three against two and our guns pack more power than your puny 38’s, so if I were you, I’d surrender now and save yourselves miserable deaths.”
A.J. shouted back. “We can’t be sure that you will stop firing if we throw down our weapons. You haven’t exactly been too trustworthy so far. You’ve threatened a police officer and said that you would never be taken alive. Why should we trust you now?”
“Don’t waste your time trying to reason with these jerks,” Rick replied. “Just give me a minute to think of something. Keep your eyes peeled at all times, because, cornfed and golly-gee as these guys seem, they can be pretty ruthless.”
A.J. wasn’t convinced. “Look, Rick. Just let me go over there and talk to them. Max has shown that he’s not a cold-blooded killer. He could have shot that cop, but he didn’t. I think they just want to know that their home is going to be preserved.” This was spoken as another flurry of bullets sailed through the air and nearly clipped Rick in the side of the head. “Hey! Watch it!” A.J. made sure that his brother was okay and then announced, “I’m going to go talk to Max. Whatever you do, don’t fire your weapon. If they think we’re coming in peace, I know I’ll be safe.”
Rick felt his heart lurch in his chest. “At least let me cover you,” he said, fearful of the outcome. “You can’t just assume they won’t shoot you.”
A.J. turned to look at his concerned brother. “Hey, don’t worry. A fortune teller told me once that I’d never die a violent death.” And with that, he placed his gun on the floor of the warehouse and began slowly moving over to where the three angry mountain men were reloading. “Max, can I talk to you, one-on-one?” A.J. asked, inching closer and closer and keeping his voice low and calm. “This shoot-out isn’t going to get any of us anywhere. Just let me try to reach some kind of middle ground with you. Okay?”
Rick could feel a cold sweat springing onto his forehead and his stomach stabbed violenly. Feeling as though he would vomit at any minute, the elder Simon readied his pistol, making certain that none of the men could see it. That could mean certain disaster for A.J.
A.J. had just about reached the three brothers, when all of a sudden, two police officers burst into the warehouse, guns at the ready. Turning quickly, Max’s face flashed with rage and he pointed his gun at A.J.’s head. “Dammit! You brought the law here!” With that, Max pulled the trigger and shot A.J., point blank in the chest, just before one of the cops blasted a hole in the mountain man’s back.
“Oh God! A.J.!” Rick hollered, despair lacing his voice. The next seconds blurred into a thick haze as the mountain brothers were apprehended and Rick made his way over to his fallen sibling. What if he’s dead? Rick despaired, finally reaching A.J. and slowly turning him over. “Officers!! Get an ambulance!! Fast!” Rick felt as though he was back in the rice paddies of Vietnam, coming across a fallen comrade. This couldn’t be happening. This blood pouring out of his brother’s chest was surely an hallucination. But he knew better.
“It’s already done,” the younger of the two officers told Rick.
“Why the hell did you come barrelling in here, firing like madmen?” Rick asked, desperation giving his voice a hard edge. He watched as the other cop rounded up Seth and Peter and herded them into the cruiser.
“We got an anonymous call that something was going down at this warehouse. I’m sorry about your brother, but we were just doing our job.”
Rick placed both his hands on A.J.’s chest and tried to staunch the flow of blood. He knew that if his brother didn’t get to a hospital very soon, he’d surely bleed to death. “Hang on, kid,” Rick spoke as calmly as he could. “Please hang on.”
Rick knew that every second counted. There was no room for hesitation. This was not the first time that Rick had encountered another crisis while in Vietnam during the war: A good buddy he’d gone through basic training with had been shot in close range, right in front of Rick. The fallen soldier’s name was Benjamin Hart and had a wife and baby back home in Detroit. Rick saw the gaping hole in his friend’s chest and worked on him for fifteen minutes, trying to stop the gushing blood. Unfortunately, his efforts were in vain and Rick watched the life literally bleeding from Hart. He never had a chance and because of Rick’s inability to rescue his friend, he carried a heavy guilt with him that didn’t even begin to lesson once he got back home.
Now his little brother was quickly losing his life and the thought of A.J. suffering the same fate as Benjamin Hart was eating him alive. Could he bring his brother back from the edge of darkness, or will he experience another traumatizing experience that had contributed to Rick’s meltdown when he’d begun to relive his harrowing life in the rice paddies of Vietnam, where he and his company were in danger of being shot at any minute.
A.J.’s face was ashen and his eyes seemed to be rolling back in his head. “Dammit, kid, don’t you quit on me now. We’ve been through so much and always managed to survive, relatively unscathed. “