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These Days

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‘Do you ever think about what could have happened?’

‘Of course.’

Of course. He doesn’t think about anything else, at least when he’s not finding ways to distract himself from it. At the end of the day, the biggest comfort – the only way to stop driving himself mental – is to remember that if he’d chosen different, he’d still feel exactly the same. He’d still be driving himself insane, wondering if he’d made the right choice.

Mark tosses a beer over. He cracks it without bothering to let it settle, and doesn’t care about the lager frothing out on to his clothes. It might even improve the smell of him.

‘How long are we going to sit here for?’

‘As long as it takes.’

Things like this always seem to take a long time. Even when he looks at his watch and realises only five minutes have passed, they seem to take ages. They don’t seem real. None of them seem real. The places he goes now – none of them have Lauren in them, or Mikey. Or Gina. On the days when he can’t find an emotion after an hour of searching, he’s even sorry none of them contain his dad.

They all have Mark, though. That’s something. That’s more than he had before, even if he lost everything else to get him.

‘Snap out of it, Harry. We’re moving in a minute.’

Mark’s hand is rough on his face, squeezing his cheeks too hard. The dry skin on his fingertips scrapes on his stubble, makes him shudder like someone just walked over his grave.

‘What’ve you taken?’


Lauren used to ask him that. Years and years of asking him that. When they first met, it was a prelude to, ‘are you sharing?’ Then, later, it was laced with bitterness. She meant ‘why can’t I have some?’, even though she knew it wasn’t the thing for a mother to do. He should have stopped, so she didn’t feel forced to grow up. He did stop. And then he only told her he stopped, when she knew he hadn’t really. And then when she asked, there was no more envy, and she was only angry. And then resigned. And then she kicked him out.  And…and Mark’s clicking his fingers in front of his face, and he can’t focus.

‘Jesus. What’s wrong with you?’

‘Don’t feel good.’

His head hurts. And Mark’s different to how he thought he’d be. Twenty years of imagining the man he’d grow up to be, he never thought of someone so…economical. So detached, and then warm. So cold, and so sorry for what he did to his little brother. And then, now, when he thinks Harry’s too out of it to notice, he’s got that look. The one that says I shouldn’t have done this, and he’s slowing me down and then, I shouldn’t have done this to him again. Because they both know Mark did this. Harry’s spent twenty years imaging what Mark would have been, but Mark’s spent twenty years watching his little brother fuck everything up. 

They both know he should have stayed away. But they’re brothers. What’s a guy to do?

‘You eat something dodgy?’

‘It’s all dodgy. Had more sand in it than usual, that’s all.’

‘Make yourself sick, it’ll be alright.’


He feels OK. There’s no pain. His arm feels heavy, but that’s because of what he’s holding.



‘If I asked you, would you take me back?’

‘…is it something you’re going to ask?’

Good question. He had a good lawyer. He should have trusted her. He should have stayed and let himself fall for her properly, because he was getting a hint that was on the cards. But there was an open gate, see? And everything on his side of it was awkward, and contained prison, and justifying himself. And everything on Mark’s side of it was…Mark. It was answers, and finding out how his brother did it, and no questions, and arguments, and haggling over the details of his past. No agonising wait for a jury. No getting struck off, and having to find a new living all over again. No, on that side of the gate there was…this.

Most days, he wishes he’d stayed exactly where he was. What did Mark ever do for him? Except for save his life a few times.

Yeah. Except for that.

‘We do this, we’ll have some time off.’

‘You don’t know what time off is.’

‘I killed my boss, Harry. I have to start from scratch, yeah? It’s bound to be a bit busy.’

He doesn’t know why ‘busy’ includes this trip to Morocco, and he doesn’t care. There’s brick at his back, and the marketplace outside this shack is bloody noisy. The sun glares off every surface, and he’s sick of it. He wants rain. He wants the terrible techno music in Matt’s flat, and the casual line of blow left out for him on the coffee table. He wants his shitty office, with the heaters that barely work and leave condensation on the windows every day. He wants graffiti on the walls, and the sex shop next door, and the plain walls of the courtroom with a judge glaring down at him. He was never respectable, but he managed to do a good impression of it, sometimes.

‘Come on. Can you stand up?’


He does. His vision clears. The line of sunburn down one arm really hurts. He never did tan well.

‘You’re probably getting heatstroke. We’ll sort it back at the hotel. Look alive now, yeah?’

Apt. Mark’s good at looking alive. He never looks more alive than times like right now, when he’s lifting a rifle to his shoulder. Harry’s seen it a few times. When he’s sighting down a gun, Mark looks twenty again. Like he has for the last twenty years, in Harry’s mind - only in Harry’s mind Mark never held a gun. Even after Braddick, he never held a gun. 

‘A friend told me once,’ he says, and looks at the opposite wall, ‘that one day, he was on the way to a burglary...’

‘Is this really the time, Harry?’

‘…and it occurred to him that he didn’t have to do it. He didn’t have to risk prison, or getting beat up or any of it. He could just…stop.’

The point of the rifle wavers. Mark looks over to him. He doesn’t look back. He’s dizzy. It’s too fucking hot, and he doesn’t belong here.

‘And did he?’

‘…no. He didn’t. And won’t, ever, I expect.’

Or maybe Frank’s gone straight now. He doubts it. Mark smiles, and sights forward.

‘You do know why we do these things, then. You’ve seen it. People do what they do, Harry. They are what they are.’

‘When did you turn into a philosopher?’


Maybe he really did. How would he know? They don’t talk about the lost years.

Mark pulls the trigger. Somewhere there’s a scream. He closes his eyes, and imagines the perfect arc of blood hitting the stone behind someone’s head. Or maybe it just flies through the air until it hits another person. Maybe someone’s out there this very second, covered in blood, in shock because they’ve just witnessed someone getting their head blown off. Maybe it’s them that’s screaming.

Mark’s dismantling the weapon. Harry looks down at the pistol in his hand.

‘Do you think Russell will tell Dad you’re alive?’

‘Yeah, I do.’

They’ll have seen Mark on CCTV, ID’d him from the conference. Russell will be like a dog with two dicks, going ‘round to see their father. Might even bang him up for not realising his son wasn't dead all those years ago. That’s probably conspiracy to something. He should know what that ‘to something’ is. Didn’t he used to be a lawyer, once?

‘Put your gun away, Harry. Let’s go.’

He does what he’s told.

‘How’d you fancy a week in Spain?’

‘Yeah, OK.’

Maybe they won’t even kill someone there. Maybe it’ll be sangria and sun all the way, pools and nightclubs and cheap drugs and women. Maybe it’ll be fun. Maybe he won’t dream of rain.

He follows Mark out into the street, and lets himself get swept away by the tide of people running from a murder scene. And that’s just fine. They’re good at that, these days.