SISTERHOOD - NIGEL BIRD
“Veil and evil.” This was the part Brandon enjoyed the most. “Same four letters. Ever noticed?”
The three women tied to the chairs that used to sit round his grandfather’s table offered no response. Just stared.
Ever since Grandad had gone into the home, Brandon had been using the house as a base. Seemed fair enough - he spent his week teaching brats who didn’t want to learn to pay for the old goat to stay there.
‘The Chamber,’ he called it. He liked to hear himself say it out loud.
Brandon and his mates loved weekends. A couple of pints at the meeting followed by a trawl round town to do their bit to clean the streets.
Seemed like their lucky night when they saw three of them together.
When they bundled them into the van, they made no attempt to struggle. Wasn’t so much fun without having to beat them into submission, but there was still time to get their kicks.
Billy was all for chucking them into the Ribble, leaving their fate to the undertow, but Brandon ordered them to head for the usual place.
Number 36 was in the middle of a red-brick terrace. Newspapers taped to the windows stopped neighbours taking a nose.
The Chamber was upstairs at the back. Soundproofed and blacked-out, it was perfect.
“See, in Britain, we like to see people’s faces.” Billy had stripped down to his boxers. Sweat dripped from his armpits to his waist as he coiled a studded belt around his hand. He always undressed in front of their prey. Like it was part of a ceremony or something.
Brandon gave Ian a nod.
Ian pulled scissors from the bag, wandered over and cut the hijabs to the knees.
Brandon’s skull tingled at the sight of their skin. He itched to take them there and then. Waiting for their tears, for the begging and the squirms merely heightened the pleasure.
They never came.
“Maybe we’re not getting our point across.” Brandon picked up a blowtorch and turned the valve.
Billy reached over and gave it a light. The flame hissed orange and blue.
“I’ll take off the niqabs then our mouths are going to get intimate.” He flicked his tongue up and down. Shook his shoulders with delight. “And Billy’s lips wouldn’t mind a friend tonight, eh?”
Billy licked the studs at his knuckles and smiled.
“Don’t co-operate and you’ll need those masks to hide the scars.”
Brandon stepped over to the first girl, noted the smell of spices. Decided to go for a curry afterwards.
He reached for the veil. Tore it from her face.
“Watch yourself with that bloody razor.” As Yusuf pulled his leg away from Arash, he kicked over his mug of tea.
“Dickhead. Mum’ll be furious.” Arash took off his tee-shirt and rubbed the carpet clean. “We’re supposed to be slick. Fuck would Naz say?”
“Sorry, mate,” Yusuf said, “but you cut me.”
“Can’t take a nick from a razor, how the hell are you going to sort out these fascists?”
Yusuf, Zeeko and Ahmed sat in a line on the sofa watching the North End with the sound down. All three had their legs stretched out, covered in shaving foam.
“We’ll take what they give,” Zeeko said. “They won’t be coming for any more of our women after tonight.”
Arash set about his work again, stripped away the leg-hair and sent them off to get showered and dressed.
“Jesus.” Brandon pulled his hand away as if he were about to be bitten. “It’s the bearded fucking woman.”
Billy ripped off the veils from the others. Two more beards. “Shit.”
“It’s a bloody trap,” Ian said backing away.
“Cool it, man,” Billy said. “They’re the ones in the snares.”
Brandon felt anything but cool. He’d been lusting after men. It didn’t feel right. Nobody should play tricks like that. He put his feet on the chest of the biggest and pushed him over. Grabbing the scissors from Ian, he stabbed it into the man’s thigh.
“Crazy bastard,” the man shouted, writhing in his upturned chair in spite of the bindings. It was the first sound he’d made since they’d taken him from the street.
There wasn’t much blood until Billy pulled the scissors out. After that, the trickle was steady.
“You girls need a facial, know what I mean?” If they hadn’t, it didn’t take long for them to find out.
Brandon took the blowtorch. Went straight for the face. The smell of singeing hair, accompanied by Brandon’s laughter and the victim’s screams, filled the room.
Arash pulled up a couple of doors down. Reversed into the space outside number 42. Caught the front wing on a scaffolding pole sticking out from the back of the flatbed he was trying to avoid.
“I’m a dickhead. A total knob.” Arash jumped out of the car to inspect the damage. “Mum’s going to kill me.” He licked his fingers and gave the scratches a rub. They didn’t go away.
In the passenger seat, Naz wound down the window and took the headphones from his ears. “Park the bloody car and let’s get to work.” He looked behind him to his brothers, their necks bent, heads pushing dents up into the roof.
Arash slapped the truck. Pulled back his hand and got ready to punch it. Decided he’d be better off saving himself for later. Got back behind the wheel, edged forward and started again.
The car ended up two feet from the kerb. It would do.
The boys in the back contorted themselves to get out when Naz pulled up the front seat, then uncurled to their full height once on the pavement. They looked down at the car and nodded.
“I’ll get better after my lessons,” Arash told them.
“When you’re old enough,” Naz said. He unzipped his holdall, checked the contents and closed it up again. “Now move.”
It was the first time Brandon had actually used the torch. They usually folded at the sight of it. Gave in to whatever they wanted.
What they wanted was always the same. Sex and the promise that they’d show their faces when in public from then on. That or stay indoors.
It had been working. The head of the Preston Chapter had been pleased with their work. Fewer Muslims in traditional dress. Fewer Muslim women on the street full stop.
Brandon and Billy were in line for a promotion. Ian, well, he might make it if he held tight to their tailcoats, but Brandon didn’t really care what happened to him. He was soft. Took all of the pleasures but had to be carried.
“I’m definitely not screwing them now,” Billy laughed. “Shame they wasted all that eye make-up.”
“Don’t know if these guys’ll get laid ever again,” Brandon said. He looked down on the three men lying on the floor, still trussed to their chairs. The screaming had stopped. Instead, all three of them cried softly. Maybe the tears were nature’s way of cooling the burns, Brandon thought. “In fact, we’re going to have to make sure of it.”
“What do you mean?” Ian asked.
“Sometimes you’re slower than a bloody tractor,” Billy said.
“Aye. They came to sort us out, I reckon. We have to send a message.”
“Can’t you just write it down?”
“Gotta get rid of them for good.” Brandon turned down the flame and put the torch over on the mantelpiece.
“Needs to be done,” Billy said.
“Hear that boys? Your Krishna’s not going to be any good to you now.”
“Paper, scissors, stone?” Billy asked.
The three men formed a circle and clenched their fists.
Naz went up to the door followed by his younger brothers Zulfi and Ali.
The three of them were destined for greatness, Arash was sure of it. They were the kind of people that nothing ever touched. It was rare for them to get involved in battles these days. Most of their time was spent studying or down at one of their gyms. If they didn’t make it at boxing, it would be basketball. Had their sights on a scholarship in the States. Anything had to be better than a life on the Broadgate.
Arash came from the side, his head turning from left to right, checking for witnesses. He knew it was pointless. A street like that, full of curtain twitchers and old folk, and they might as well have been posting photos of themselves through every letter box.
Replacing his headphones and switching on his tunes, Naz opened up the bag and passed out the goodies. The Amir boys should be able to scare the shit out of anybody without needing weapons, but having a few to hand wasn’t going to do them any harm.
The scimitar, curved and polished, caught the light, even though the sun was already setting. Zulfi took that. Ran his thumb across the blade. Felt the weight of it in his hand.
Arash was given a ball and chain. It was a token gesture and Arash knew it. He could swing it and look intimidating, but the brothers wouldn’t let him get close enough to do any damage. They just needed his mother’s car and his brains.
Ali had a bow and a handful of arrows. Placed one of them into the string, ready for action. His head nodded up and down to the dubstep that was probably ruining his hearing.
It’s going to be the first Medieval battle since the middle ages, Arash thought. Made him feel better to have that picture in his mind.
Naz took the crossbow for himself. “Ready?”
Without being asked, Ali leant his shoulder into the door. Stood back to give it a good bash.
Putting his fingers on the handle, Naz pushed down gently. The door opened it without making a noise.
Ali turned, rubbed the arm of his shell-suit as if removing dirt, and turned down his tunes.
Everyone nodded and they followed Naz inside.
Ian was first out, just like always. No matter how random the game should have been, he never guessed right.
On the count of three, the finalists threw down their hands. Billy’s was open, Brandon’s clenched.
“Paper wraps stone,” Billy said and punched the air. “Yes.”
Brandon was pissed off. Maybe he was losing his touch. Not that it mattered. He’d still get his turn.
“Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.” Billy pointed at the three men in turn. Mouthed the rest of the rhyme to himself. Settled on the one in the middle.
“Come on, Billy,” Ian said. “They’re not going to say anything. Look at the one you chose. He’s pissed himself already.”
The man in the middle lay in a puddle, his body shaking like he was freezing to death.
It was the last time they were going to work with Ian, Brandon decided. He was worse than fucking useless. Didn’t have the stomach for this anymore.
“Today,” Billy said, “I shall be using the belt, followed by whatever knives I can find in the kitchen.” He stood over his intended victim and pulled back his arm.
Brandon heard a creak on the stairs, then another. Turned his head towards the door as it was kicked open. Found himself looking straight at a crossbow.
Arash stayed at the bottom of the stairs. It was like his body gave up on him. He looked at the spikes on his weapon then gave the chain a swing. Let the ball take out a chunk of plaster from the wall. No way he could do that someone’s head.
The others took the stairs three at a time. Strolled up like they were about to throw a few practise hoops.
Ali went to take the door. This time, Naz let him. He kicked it in with the heel of his trainers and they were out of sight before Arash could let out his breath.
He heard the ping of the bow-string and the jolt of the crossbow, then nothing.
“Where the fuck have you been?” someone was yelling. Sounded like Zeeko. “Where the fuck have you been?”
There was a strange sound, like a gas leak.
“No way, man. Please. No way.” Someone was begging. One of the white kids. Should be saving his breath.
Next he knew, a human fireball was tearing down the stairs. Looked like he was wearing a suit and tie, but Arash couldn’t be sure. He resisted the urge to lift up his leg and trip him over - the way the flames were swirling round the body and those arms were gyrating, it would have been a mean trick.
Arash watched the ball of fire run out of the door, cross the road and jump clear over the wall into the river. By the time he got there to investigate, there were only a couple of ducks to be seen.
From the house spilled the tinny sound of a hip-hop track, hitting the beat in perfect time with Arash’s pulse.
“He just reversed into it like it wasn’t even there, Mum.”
“Did you get the plate number?”
Arash hadn’t worked through the whole story. He’d been too busy getting his mates to the hospital. “Nah, Mum. He was too quick.”
He didn’t see it coming but he felt his cheek sting as the slap landed.
It was the kind of slap he liked. Reminded him of who he was. Where he came from. “Thanks, Mum.”
He gave her a kiss on the forehead and ran up to his room without needing to be told, a great big grin spread right across his face.
BIO: Nigel Bird is a Support For Learning teacher in a primary school near Edinburgh. Co-Producer of the Rue Bella magazine between 1998 and 2003, he has recently had work published by ‘The Reader’ and ‘Crimespree’ and was interviewed by Spinetingler for their ‘Conversations With The Bookless’ series earlier this year. He recently won the ‘Watery Grave Invitational’ contest over at ‘The Drowning Machine’ and will have work published in Needle and at Pulp Metal Magazine and Dark Valentine Magazine this summer. His story ‘An Arm And A Leg’ will appear in the ‘Best Of British Crime’ anthology (edited by Maxim Jakubowski) in 2011. He hopes to complete a draft of his first novel by the end of 2010.