by Henry Hatchet
The smell of furniture polish was faint, not unpleasant, but the atmosphere in the courtroom crackled with silent menace. Stern, decorated men in crisp dress uniforms sat motionless, a grave decisiveness in their eyes. Heavy brown furniture, neat piles of paper, sparkling glasses of water, and a green desk-lamp for everyone.
The Chief Military Prosecutor rose, cleared his throat, and addressed the witness. “Please state your name and rank.”
The witness leaned into the microphone. “Sergeant David Deering. Australian 2nd Commando Regiment.”
“Do you recognise the defendant?”
“Yes, sir. Corporal Andrew Deering. Special Air Services Regiment.”
“According to your statement, your combined teams came under fire from the home of Amrullah Khan, a Taliban Commander, codenamed ‘Objective Rapier’?”
“You and the Corporal rushed the house, and you took up positions either side of the broken window Khan was firing from?”
“The Corporal then threw a grenade through the window, killing Khan?”
“I could hear a woman and children screaming, and Andrew threw a second grenade through the window.”
“What did the Corporal say at the time?”
“You are under oath, Sergeant!”
“I think he said, ‘Fuck the sand-coons.’ Sir.”
“Please continue, Sergeant.”
“We secured the building, and Andrew took a retinal scan from the target and cut off his right hand. Then we—”
“What did the Corporal do with the hand?”
“He tagged it and bagged it with the others, sir.”
Eleven years later . . .
He twisted the throttle wide open. The Hyperbike fishtailed on the hot desert road.
So much power even at this speed.
Slick Pirelli tyres fought for traction and found it with a screech—a puff of blue smoke left behind with the smell of burnt-rubber.
Instruments maxed out in the red and engine screaming, he leaned lower against the wind, hugging the red fuel-tank.
Adrenalin surged through his veins at last.
The Kawasaki Ninja H2R motorcycle devoured the white lines at 379 kilometres-per-hour.
The Nullarbor Plains, South Australia.
The only place left where a man, like David Deering, could still do it.
Find the rush again.
The roads here were straight and true: like him. This was ‘me-time’—once a week—a few precious hours to himself: away from his dearly loved wife and daughter, away from his boring security-guard job, away from the small town of Ceduna.
A dark dot appeared on the road ahead, growing and dancing in the desert heat shimmer.
He gained fast; the optical illusion vanished. It was a black Toyota Hilux utility traveling the same way.
He swung into the overtaking lane; the road ahead of the vehicle was empty.
Before he came level, the vehicle swerved violently towards him, all too quick and unexpected. Fiberglass, plastic, and alloy exploded against solid steel. The bike went under the back wheels of the four-wheel-drive, catapulting David into the air at blistering speed. He hit the gravely soil hard, sliding on his back.
Luckily, he lived by the acronym WATGATT: Wear All The Gear, All The Time. His leathers protected him somewhat.
Then his helmet cracked against a rock.
Sullen clouds hung over the abandoned mining town, a false promise in the dry afternoon air, and trekked east over the soldier standing in the sandy street.
His face was impassive, as he eyed the battered, handcuffed man sitting on the weathered steps of the dilapidated hotel. He glanced at the two long duffel bags in front of the prisoner.
“Choose carefully,” the soldier said. “Kill me and you get to live.”
A gentle breeze whispered along the empty street into the uncaring silence.
“No,” the captive said, glancing at the Toyota Hilux and his smashed and twisted motorcycle. His wallet, folding-knife, water-bottles, phones—personal and work—lay on the weathered boards beside him. He winced and picked up a bottle and took a sip. “You’ve had your fun. I won’t play your demented games. You almost killed me.”
“Almost isn’t good enough,” Andrew said. “Do you know what they call a prison sentence at Holsworthy?”
David held his brother’s gaze without a word.
“Attitude Adjustment Training.” Andrew’s smile was uneven—lopsided: a face ravaged by too many beatings and too much surgery. “Eleven years, brother. Your testimony put me there. And you never visited, not even once.”
“You killed women and children. Your job was to fingerprint the targets for positive identification, not cut their hands off.”
“I killed women and children, and now I’m going to kill you.”
“You’re sick,” David said, reaching for his work-phone, “and I’m walking out of here.”
Andrew’s smile expired. His hand hovered near the semi-automatic pistol strapped to his right leg. He fished out a matchbox from his pocket, with his free hand, tossing it to David.
David opened the matchbox. His eyes widened: a momentary look of shocked horror. He leapt to his feet towards his twin.
Andrew shot him in the thigh, a painful graze, stopping him in his tracks. The gunshot was ear-splitting, confined between the old buildings, and the smell of burnt powder stole away on the breeze.
He shifted his aim to David’s other leg. “It’s only her little finger, not her head.”
“She’s your niece for God’s sake,” David said through gritted teeth, hands pressing on his wound. “How could you?”
“You always were a cracked-pot,” David said, pain reflecting in his dark eyes. “Leaking your poison everywhere. You want a fight? You’ve got one.”
He chose the bag on the left, unzipping it with bloody fingers. It was stuffed with scrunched-up newspapers, making it look bigger than the other. His hands shook with anger as he tossed the papers onto the street, litter for the wind to toy with.
He looked at the empty and worn hunting rifle in the bottom of the bag, then glared at his brother.
“Ammunition and keys to your cuffs are in the last house to the south. Cindy’s location is written on this note,” Andrew said, holding it up for David to see. “And there’s only one way for you to read this note.” He folded it and put it in his breast pocket.
David turned and quickly threw his wallet and personal effects in the bag and limped off to the south.
The soldier watched his brother disappear amongst the buildings. He smiled as he unzipped the other bag, removing the Remington 700 light-tactical-rifle. He loaded it from his vest pouch and grabbed the large spotting scope from the bag. He’d lived this moment over and over, in his mind, for eleven years.
Hunting his brother.
The old church tower was the highest building in town. Deploying up there would be great, but it was too obvious. He chose the flat hotel roof instead. The second-best position by far and made his way inside, climbing many steps.
Dusk swept over the dusty town as he set-up on the rooftop, lying prone on his belly, and peered through the powerful 20X riflescope swinging the rifle over the buildings and laneways, searching for movement.
The desert breeze hushed, melting away in anticipation.
Darkness crept in, and the yellow half-moon was the only light now, when the marching grey clouds allowed it to peek through.
He saw a flash of light coming from the church-tower, caught it with the corner of his eye. He swung the rifle and his heart thumped with exhilaration, finger cradling the trigger.
It flashed again. Longer this time. Maybe David had lost his edge; maybe he was rusty.
Could it be moonlight reflecting from the scope of David’s rifle? he thought.
He looked up at the moon above calculating angles in his head.
He shifted to his right and looked through large 40X spotting scope, aiming it at the tower.
He scanned each window in turn.
It flashed again. He zoomed in and focused. It was a mobile phone on a window ledge. He adjusted the focus minutely. A text message appeared on the lit-up screen.
It read: ‘Don’t move, brother.’
His right hand streaked for his sidearm but stopped short, feeling the sharp steel of David’s folding knife against the skin of his throat.
David pinned him with a knee in the middle of the back.
“Not very sporting removing the firing pin from my rifle,” David said, grasping a handful of hair, pulling Andrew’s head back viciously. “Now, we’ll play a game we played as kids.”
“‘You’re never hurting anyone again,’ is here, brother.” David said, and he sliced Andrew’s throat from ear to ear.
A crimson gurgle gushed from the wound. David stood up and watched his twin flounder with both hands, trying to stem the flow.
Andrew Deering died with a quiet sigh. No big bang. No fireworks.
David removed the note from his brother’s pocket, sat down next to his body with a weary sigh, and read it.
If you’re reading this, it means you’ve killed me, but you haven’t won. What did you think I would do when they let me out?
Don’t bother rushing home. You’ve got all the time in the world to ache and mourn.
They gave you a medal for grassing on your own flesh and blood. I wasn’t so lucky. All they gave me was scars.
An unfathomable iciness filled him completely.
His fingers trembled as he dialled a number on his phone. He put it to his ear, listening to the ring tone.
It was his own voice that answered: “Hi. We’re not able to take your call right now . . .”
He was about to hang up when his wife picked up.
“Hello,” she said.
“Cindy?” It was all he could manage between sobs.
“She’s right here . . . where are you?”
“Her hand . . . is she—”
“She’s fine. What’s going on?”
“I won’t be home for a while. I love you both,” he said and hung up, taking a deep breath, wiping his eyes.
He dialled again, taking the matchbox from his pocket, staring at the off-coloured finger. He prodded it with his thumb. Plastic. It looked so damn real.
A calm female voice answered: “Emergency services. How may I help you?”
“I’d like to report a homicide,” he said.
About the Author:
Henry Hatchet grew up Brisbane and as a teenager, his quest for work led him to the Country. He fell in love with the Australian Outback and although his work led him overseas for a time, he never worked in a city again. He experienced the trials and tribulations of rural life, first hand: the droughts, the floods, the fires, the accidents, the joys of happiness, and love. He now resides on his property in Queensland and wouldn’t have it any other way.