BLOOD BROTHERS - MICHAEL J. SOLENDER
15 years ago, before the "incident", Ari Shomari often told his beloved identical twin brother, Stavros, that he would gladly take a bullet for him. Ari could not have known when he made that statement that the bullet would in actuality come from Stavros' own hand at point blank range with a .38 caliber special Stavros had bought specifically for the occasion.
That Ari's end would come in such a fashion was truly inconceivable. Three weeks earlier, Ari was having a cigarette on his tiny beach side office patio in Mykonos when his cell phone rang.
"Ari?" The voice at the end of the line, instantly familiar in spite of not registering in Ari's ears for more than 15 years, asked. This was followed by 30 seconds of silence broken again by the two syllable inquiry, "Ari?"
Ari thought for a moment about hanging up but his heart, now driving his escalating blood pressure, filled with emotion and begged him to respond. At that instant he was feeling both unbridled joy and great suspicion, an unsavory combination that made him a bit lightheaded.
"Stavros." Ari said softly as the gulls chattered in the distance. "I thought I was dead to you. Are you here in Greece, have you come home?"
"I am home," Stavros replied, "Laguna is my home and has been every since Daddy and Mamma brought us here on our 5th birthday."
38 years earlier, Gregor Shomari brought his bride of 6 years to the U.S. and to what was then rural Southern California, 60 miles south of Los Angeles to Orange County.
Gregor established the family home adjacent to the orange groves in the newly-planned community of Irvine as a perfect halfway point between the busy ports of Los Angeles and those in San Diego. A necessary geography that was well suited to accommodate his burgeoning Import/Export business.
His brother Peter had expanded the family business, from Athens to New York, five years earlier and the boys now wanted to capture the Pacific Rim market as well; they needed a west coast U.S. presence and Gregor came with the family in tow.
"Ari, it has been too much time since we spoke. I miss my brother," Stavros lied. He hated Ari for what he had done to him and would never forgive him for the worst transgression a brother could serve on his sibling: the theft of his wife and only true love.
"Stavy," Ari said using a pet name for Stavros that no one else used or even knew of, given that Stavros had long ago adopted Steve as his moniker, "I wasn't the one who closed the door on his brother. It was you. I wrote and called for three straight years. All the overtures I made were met with your stony silence. I've never even asked for forgiveness from you and, if you can believe it, I don't even forgive myself. I simply wanted a relationship for us, particularly since Julie and I split up and she left my life for good."
Stavros had steeled himself for the call. He knew it would open the floodgates of emotion and bile he had stored up for years both for his ex-wife, Julie, and most of all for Ari. Ari was needed only as a means to an end for Stavros and only as a player in a long shot, last resort ploy to save his skin.
"Ari, this is behind us both now." Stavros went on, "I need to see you, I need your help."
There, he said it. He told his frozen out for fifteen years brother that he needed him. He knew Ari and the guilt he had for making the play on his ex. He knew he'd want to repair the relationship in any way he could. And mostly he knew that when he told his brother he needed his bone marrow to replace his own because he was being consumed by leukemia that Ari Shomari would be on the next flight to California.
His upcoming request was partially true. Stavros needed Ari. But he did not need his bone marrow and he did not have leukemia.
"Ari, I have cancer," Stavros lied coolly to his now-rapt with attention brother, thousands of miles of ocean and land mass separating them. "It is an advanced and rare form of leukemia that is ravaging me from the inside out."
"My god, Stavy!" Ari cried into the phone. "How...why...what can I do? How can I help?"
"I need a donor for the bone marrow, a donor who is an exact match. my...our...type is quite rare and they have told me a blood relative is the best opportunity for me to survive as they'll first do aggressive radiation and then, after hopefully killing all the cancerous cells, will replace my bone marrow with that from the donor. That's where you come in, if you'll help me."
"Help you, my god, Stavy, of course I'll help you. Why haven't you called me sooner?" Ari said, shocked at the news but strangely comforted in the fact that he had an opportunity at redemption with his brother.
"They need to start testing immediately." Stavros had it all planned out, reeling Ari into his lair of lies and deceit. "As soon as you come, I'll introduce you to my doctors. You'll need to be here for at least two months. Can you get your life in order?"
"Stavy," Ari sighed. "Unlike you, my life is very simple and quite in order. I have my half of the folk's inheritance; I haven't worked a real job since they passed. I live like a hermit, no girlfriend or really any friends, for that matter. I spend my days in my office writing and working on my novel. No one will miss me or even know I'm gone. My passport is current and I can be in LA tomorrow."
This was perfect, thought Stavros. Once he arranged for the "suicide", he could take Ari's passport, return to Greece and start over. His Greek was very good, thanks to his next door neighbor and his father who loved to talk with Stavros in his native tongue over the fence.
The Yakuza boys who held his gambling markers would just have to eat them. He was in so deep he could never get out. Unlike Ari, he had squandered his inheritance and had gone into deep debt, the kind of debt where not only did the interest rate accelerate in double and triple figured percentages but missed payment notices were accompanied by knee-shattering reminders or the removal of small but necessary fingers.
Killing Ari and making it look like his own suicide was a perfect out. He knew how Ari kept his hair and their weight had never differed even by a pound when growing up. He was certain Ari would be seen by the police, the Yakuza loan sharks, and all other creditors as Steve Shomari, deadbeat, but dead nonetheless by his own hand.
He'd be back in Greece with Ari's passport before they even found him if everything went according to plan. Starting over with Ari's bank account and life in Mykonos had an ironic and pleasing feel for Stavros. After all, Ari had taken his life when he took Julie. Payback was long overdue.
Two days later, the plan having been executed flawlessly, Stavros, now Ari, was sipping Ouzo in Ari's apartment. The vision of his dead brother, brains and cranial bits on his apartment wall in Laguna still fresh in his mind, he tried to erase it with another drink.
The suicide note cited the gambling debts and appropriate apologies. He had placed the gun in Ari's right hand and positioned it on the trigger convincingly.
Just another Southern California suicide, the coroner ruled, and the case was closed. Repeated efforts to contact the brother in Greece unheeded, the police, too, had more pressing matters to attend to and soon Steve Shomari was forgotten, even by the Japanese loan sharks who already had much more than their principal back and were fine with writing off the interest as long as the creditor was dead.
Stavros enjoyed the quite resort-like life in Mykonos. Ari was, in fact, quite organized and had left well-labeled files, bank account numbers and, with the mail resumed, Stavros could easily fill in whatever missing elements there were to living his life as Ari.
Two years later, Stavros, fatigued by the chronic cough that he couldn't shake for weeks went to the clinic. Several chest x-rays and blood tests later his physician called him back in to meet with an Oncologist.
"Ari, I'm afraid it's cancer," Dr. Papadakos told Stavros. "What you have is a very rare form of leukemia that can only be treated with a bone marrow transplant. Do you have a close blood relative?"
BIO: Michael J. Solender is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, NC. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for the Charlotte Observer and NEVER runs with scissors. His fiction has appeared online at 6S, Powder Burn Flash, Thrillers Killers 'n' Chillers, and Flashshot (soon). He blogs here: not from here, are you?.