My Brother’s Keeper
Do you swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth?”
Nothing but the truth?
What is truth?
Jamie raised his hand, his right hand, in the hushed courtroom and as he did that, his senses began to reel, to reel back to the beginning.
The very beginning.
He had been sleeping, a restless sleep and then the clear ring of the telephone cut into him. His eyes slowly opened and he looked about the silent shadowy room, listening to the cold, insistent ring.
He was alone in the dark house.
His uncle, with whom he lived, had gone off on a fishing trip near the state border.
“If the fishing is fine I’ll stay awhile. If it’s bad, real bad, I’ll come on home. Anyway I’ll be back before you go on to college.”
Jamie nodded silently.
“I’ll drive you up there. See you settled in.”
“You don’t have to, Harry. I’ll manage.”
“I know you can. But I want to do it.”
Ted’s away in his own fantasy world and I’m all you have left, Jamie thought.
“Okay,” he said. “You’ll take me up there.”
The man smiled and started up the motor. Then he waved his lean, tanned hand and was gone.
Jamie was alone.
And now the phone was ringing.
He reached over to the night table and picked up the dark, gleaming receiver.
The summer curtain rustled noiselessly.
Then he heard the voice.
A slight chill went through him and he was silent.
It was his brother.
His only brother.
“Yes,” Jamie said.
Outside in the distant night a dog began to bark.
A low mournful sound.
Jamie listened to it.
“He’s gone fishing.”
“Upstate. Near the falls.”
The barking had stopped and the silence of the long night flooded into the room.
And all the time Jamie waited.
For his older brother to tell him.
Then he heard it.
“I’m in trouble, Jamie.”
And you need me to bail you out, Jamie thought bitterly.
This time the voice was almost a whisper.
But Jamie heard it clearly.
His lips thinned into a straight line.
I’m your kid brother. Five long years younger than you are and all the time, all through the years I had to act like I was the older brother.
All the time.
Jamie’s hand tightened around the receiver.
“What have you done, Ted?”
“I want to come over and talk.”
“You slugged somebody in a bar? A guy came over to get your autograph and he got nasty and you were with a girl and you…”
“It’s not that,” Ted cut in.
“It… it’s hard to explain.”
Jamie’s voice grew harsh.
“Nothing’s hard to explain. Tell me now.”
“Let me see you. I have to.”
Jamie breathed out and looked over at the clock on the night table. The clock Ted had given him as a birthday present along with a thousand-dollar check.
“It’s three in the morning,” he said. “Let it wait.”
“It can’t wait.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m coming over. Whether you want me or not. I need you.”
There was a slight break in the voice.
And Jamie thought to himself bleakly, this time it must be bad.
“Okay,” he said. “Come on over.”
Jamie was silent.
“I’ll never forget it.”
You will, Ted. You will.
You always do.
Then he slowly put the receiver back onto its hook.
He sat there in the dark, narrow room a long time, thinking, ever thinking.
His hand clenched into a tight fist.
Then after a while, the hand unclenched.
And lay hopelessly against Jamie’s side.
* * *
He let the doorbell ring three times, then he slowly went down the carpeted stairs and walked slowly through the dimly lit corridor to the front door.
His brother stood big and large against the night.
A menacing figure.
But the face was pale and gentle and the eyes haunting.
And his brother reached out with his large, muscular arms and drew him close.
So very close.
Jamie was tall but his head barely reached Ted’s shoulder.
He felt a deep tremor of love for the big man and then the tremor was gone.
The bleak feeling was back within him.
“I need you. Need you a lot,” Ted murmured.
Jamie slowly drew away.
“Let’s go into the kitchen and have a cup of coffee, Ted. You look like you could use one.”
“Sure. Whatever you say.”
“Then we’ll talk,” Jamie said softly.
“Anything. Anything you say.”
Then Ted followed his smaller brother into the neat, yellow kitchen, lifted a heavy wooden chair, swung it about, set it down without a sound and slid into it gracefully.
It was all done in one smooth, flowing motion.
And watching him, Jamie thought of the times he had watched Ted weave and run and evade tacklers with an effortless grace.
The crowd in the packed stands roaring.
His teammates on the sidelines jumping with their hands raised high against a cold autumn sky.
And Jamie thought how on the football field Ted loomed large, so very large.
In full control of himself.
So very well put together.
So finely disciplined.
Rarely making a wrong move.
Every inch a rounded, mature man.
But once he stepped off the field and took off his uniform, he became a child.
A huge, gentle child.
Who got himself into scrapes and had to be bailed out.
Again and again.
Jamie lighted the jet under the coffeepot.
“What’s it this time?”
Ted looked at his brother’s trim, straight back and didn’t speak.
Jamie was tall and slender, his fine-featured face with the ever-somber look on it always made him appear older than his eighteen years.
Ted fondly called him “Straight Arrow.”
“Tell me, Ted.”
“I…I hit a man.”
Jamie stared at the blue jet on the gas range.
His voice was low when he spoke.
“Another bar fight? You’re not a drinker. How do you get into these things?”
“No, Jamie,” Ted murmured.
“I was driving on Desmond Street and I…I hit a man.”
Jamie didn’t turn.
“He was drunk and he walked in front of the car. It was very dark and nobody was around. You know how deserted Desmond Street is. You know, Jamie. You know. Dark and deserted and…and…”
His voice tailed off into the silence.
Jamie’s hands gripped the top of the white range.
The range was hot to the touch but he didn’t feel it.
Then he heard his brother speak again.
“I was sober. Clean sober. It’s the truth, Jamie. The truth.”
“I panicked and left him lying there.”
Jamie swung about sharply.
His face white and tense.
His voice cold and harsh.
“What in the hell are you saying? What?”
The tears came into Ted’s eyes.
His gentle blue eyes.
Jamie came swiftly over to him.
“And you left him there?” he shouted.
His angry voice filled the narrow room.
His lips trembled.
“How? How could you do that?”
The big man looked up to him pleadingly.
When he spoke, his voice was low, very low.
As if he was talking to himself.
“I…I lost my head.…It wasn’t my fault. He walked in front of the car. He was drunk. Drunk. Came out of the night. From nowhere. I wasn’t going fast. I wasn’t. I swear to you on Dad and Mom’s graves that I…”
Jamie fiercely cut into him.
“You left him lying in the street? In the street?”
“There was nobody around. Nobody saw it. That’s all that was in my mind.”
“And you drove off?”
“All I was thinking of was my career and nobody saw it. I wasn’t myself. You know I’m not like that. You know it. I help everybody. Everybody. I haven’t a mean feeling in my…I wasn’t myself.”
He hit his knee with his big hand again and again.
“I got scared. Scared. I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t.”
Jamie reached down and fiercely grabbed him by his shirt.
“But he was a human being. Not a dog. You don’t even leave a dog lying in the street and run off.”
“It all happened so fast. I couldn’t handle it. Just couldn’t.”
Jamie slowly let go of the shirt and drew back.
“Was he dead?”
And he felt inside of him the heavy beating of his heart while he waited for the answer.
And also mixed within was an overwhelming pity for his lost brother.
Then he heard the words.
“No. Just hurt.”
Jamie breathed out silently.
Ted shook his head and then ran his hand through his curly blond hair before answering.
“How do you know that?”
“I went back. Walked. And there was an ambulance there. I stood where nobody could see me.”
“I could make out what was happening.”
“He was hurt enough to be taken to a hospital,” Jamie said sharply.
Jamie’s voice rose.
“In Christ’s name, why didn’t you come out of the dark and go over there and face it?”
“I…I just couldn’t.”
“The truth. All you needed was to tell them the truth. The truth.”
“Couldn’t do it. Just…”
And Jamie, looking at him, knew that he couldn’t.
You’re lost, Ted.
Ever since Mom and Dad were killed in that crash.
You never got over it.
And you turned to me.
When Jamie spoke again, his voice was gentle.
“And then what did you do?”
“I went back to the car and drove away. Nobody saw me.”
Jamie went over to the window and stared out into the night.
The dark, cloudless night.
He did it this time, Jamie thought.
He really did it.
Jamie heard his brother’s voice drift over to him.
“I spoke to Carmody.”
“Who is he?”
“The team’s lawyer. He wants to talk to you.”
“To me? Why?”
“He…he said he’d explain to you.”
“Explain what to me?”
Ted looked at him and didn’t answer.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
“I swear to you on Mom’s…”
Jamie cut in savagely.
“Don’t swear. Leave Mom and Dad out of this. Let them sleep in peace. Thank God, they’re long dead. Dead and away from you.”
“Jamie, please don’t talk to me that way. Please don’t do it.”
“You make me.”
He came over to the table and sat down heavily and then looked across it at the big man.
“I’m tired of you, Ted,” he said.
“Please, Jamie. Don’t say that.”
And the desperate lost look in his brother’s eyes pierced through him.
“Jamie, don’t leave me alone.”
Jamie looked away from him and out to the night.
“I can’t make it without you.”
How well I know it.
“When does this Carmody want me to talk to him?”
“In the morning. Anytime you choose.”
“Okay,” Jamie murmured desolately. “I’ll see him.”
That’s all the big man said.
And Jamie knew that he was too full of emotion to say anymore.
“Get upstairs,” Jamie suddenly shouted.
Ted looked fearfully at him and didn’t speak.
“Get to bed and try to get some rest. You look like a damned wreck.”
Ted slowly rose.
“Sure, Jamie. Sure.”
Then Jamie watched him turn and go to the stairs.
Watched him as he swung on the second step, swung around, with that smooth, graceful motion, and then stood stock-still and stared bewilderedly about him as if he didn’t know where he was.
“I’m sorry, Jamie,” he said. “I always bring you trouble. I’m sorry.”
Then Jamie watched him go up the steps and out of sight.
Jamie was now alone in the night-filled room.
* * *
Nothing but the truth.
* * *
“Ted claims that nobody saw him. Nobody.”
“That’s right,” Ted murmured.
The lawyer turned to him.
“But soon somebody will come forward and say that he or she did see you in the car. It’s happened before in my practice. And I’ve been a lawyer a long, long time.”
Jamie sat waiting.
Carmody spoke again.
“We must be ready.”
Ready for what? Jamie thought bleakly.
They were sitting in the high-ceilinged, elaborately furnished office.
The three of them.
Carmody, Ted, and Jamie.
The door of the room was closed.
Carmody was a lithe, tanned man with dark alert eyes and a quiet, self-assured voice.
“So far the police have no clues. Not a one.”
It’s early, Jamie thought somberly.
“I have some good friends there who will tell me if they come up with any. Such as a license-plate number.”
Carmody lit a cigarette and paused.
Then he turned to Jamie.
And quietly studied him.
“I understand that you were valedictorian in your graduating class.”
“I was,” Jamie said.
“And you’ve been accepted to a very prestigious college.”
“He’s getting a full scholarship. I told you that,” Ted said proudly.
“You did, Ted.”
He puffed at his cigarette.
“There’s not a blemish on your record, Jamie.”
He pronounced the word “blemish” softly.
So very softly.
And Jamie knew instantly that he disliked the man.
Disliked him intensely.
Carmody spoke again.
“Your brother needs your help. Needs it badly.”
“What does he need?”
“For you to say that he was with you on the night of the accident.”
Jamie stared silently at the man.
The room had grown still.
Ted had risen from his chair, a wild, anguished look on his face.
Carmody’s voice cut through the stillness.
“Ted was with you all night long. Every minute of it. Never leaving you.”
Ted walked over to the lawyer.
“You didn’t tell me that Jamie would have to do that.”
“We’ve no choice.”
Ted loomed over the man.
“But it’s against all he stands for. I know him. I don’t want it.”
Carmody snuffed out his cigarette, slowly and deliberately.
“You’ll do as I tell you.”
“No. I won’t hold still for this.”
“You’ll have to.”
Ted pounded the desk with his big fist.
His face was pale and sweat glistened on his forehead.
“Keep quiet and sit down.”
Ted’s big hands began to tremble.
“Sit,” Carmody commanded.
The big man slowly turned and went back to his seat.
Carmody’s voice when he spoke was precise and clean.
His eyes cold and impassive.
“Listen to me. There’s a real world out there. So listen. The two of you.”
He paused and then went on.
“Ted, you are one of the young stars of pro football today. You made three million dollars your first year. You will make much, much more as you play on. You are sure to become the club’s most valuable property.”
The real world, Jamie thought bitterly.
The real world has its own truth.
But, dammit, I have my own.
Carmody was speaking.
“…Ted, you did a damn fool thing. I believe you. It was not your fault. You panicked. But you drove away and left a man lying on the street, not knowing whether he was dead or alive.”
“Lost my head. Lost it,” Ted murmured.
“I know and understand. But you’re going to be called into court. And when that happens I want to be there at your side with an airtight alibi. And no matter what they come up with, that alibi will pull us through. Do you hear me?”
Ted bowed his head and covered his face with his hands.
“I’ll pull you through. I will.”
Carmody turned to Jamie.
“You say you care for your brother.”
“Then you must do this.”
“Yes. I assure you that nothing will happen to you or him. Nothing.”
“You know from experience?”
“I know. Well, Jamie?”
Jamie looked away to Ted and didn’t answer.
He heard Carmody’s voice.
“If you’re thinking of the man who was injured …?”
“He’s going to fully recover. And then he’s going to be quietly well taken care of. It will turn out to be the best thing that has ever happened to him.”
He leaned forward to Jamie.
“Let’s wait and see what happens,” Jamie said.
“But we can count on you?”
Jamie looked from Carmody over to his brother.
Ted still sat there, his head bowed, his face still covered by his big hands.
Jamie turned back to the lawyer.
“You can count on me.”
* * *
“After the crash, when I came to get the two of you and take you home with me…”
Uncle Harry paused and looked out over the lake and didn’t speak for a while.
His lean, lined face was tight and sad.
Jamie waited for him to speak again.
“It just tore my heart out. I reached over to get his hand but he turned away from me and went to you. And he stood there looking down into your face and then he reached out to you and held you and cried. And all the while you stood there, holding him, your face tight and silent. Like you were a big man, sheltering him.”
The sun was still high and the lake rippled, ripples of gold.
Uncle Harry cast his line out again.
“He needs you. He’ll always need you.”
Then he said, “I can’t tell you what to do, Jamie. It’s your call.”
“And you think it will work out like the lawyer says?”
“You’ll end up in court in the witness chair. That’s if you decide to go along with them.”
“You can’t help me decide?”
He shook his head.
“I’d give my right arm to help you decide. But I just can’t. It’s your call, Jamie. Yours alone.”
He got up.
“I don’t feel like fishing anymore. Let’s pack up and go home.”
He reeled in his line.
“It’s getting cloudy anyway.”
But the sun was shining.
* * *
The voice pierced the dead silence of the courtroom.
“Do you swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth?”
Jamie raised his right hand and looked over to where Ted sat.
The haunted, pleading look in Ted’s eyes.
He knew that he would remember that look for the rest of his life.
But within he said:
I can’t do it, Ted.
I just can’t.
And Jamie knew that he could never again be his brother’s keeper.
The tears came to his eyes.
And he bowed his head.
Copyright © 1997 by M. Jerry Weiss and Helen S. Weiss