A Hard Way to Heaven

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Chapter 4

Edinburgh, Scotland

Alcoholic vapors burned Akir’s nose as he hugged the tumbler of whisky to his cheek as he rested his chin on his bent arm that rested on the bar. The static drone of the old vinyl playing from the old jukebox, grated on his nerves, but he fought to ignore it. He lifted his head, peered over the lip of the tumbler at his reflection in the mirror hanging over the bar. He hardly recognized the man that stared back. He looked old, too old for his thirty-two years. He raised the tumbler, and saluted his reflection, “Happy Birthday old mon…” He downed the fifty-year-old Macallan's in one swallow, relishing the smooth burn at the back of his throat, and the growing warmth that spread to his limbs once the liquor hit his stomach.

The bartender sidled up to his position at the bar, and inquired, “More?”

Akir nodded, raising his glass, “Aye…leave the bottle.” He threw several hundred pound notes onto the bar, and another as the bartender retrieved, and left the bottle, “For your trouble.”

“Ta pal…”

He poured two fingers and warmed the glass in his hand as he continued to stare at his reflection.

The vibrating buzz of his SMART phone averted his eyes to the tech at his right elbow. His eyebrow cocked at the picture displayed. But still Akir had no want to talk to anyone, let alone his brother Roric. He chuckled at that thought. Had anyone told the man that they were brothers, actually twins. Doubtful. Sinclair still followed mandates of the family, and kept that secret close to his chest.

And the only reasons Akir had found out was because Dac had dug deep into the files, hacking into Anna Macleod's personal server at the family’s base of operations in London. His fingers curled around the tumbler, and lifted the glass to his lips. He downed the dram of whisky as the phone vibrated again, and Roric's picture glared at him. He snatched it up, and hit the receive button, "What?"

Roric held the phone away from his ear at the loud growl, "Returning yer call...."

Roric's voice was tight on the other end and Akir gritted out, "'bout time. Sinclair been in touch?"

"Aye, but he didna say much. Elusive the old mon was."

Akir had a moment of hesitation, not sure if he should ask or not, "I am sorry to hear about your father." Damn, his father too. He rubbed his eyes, knowing his life was one big lie. A month ago he was burying the only man he had ever known and loved as a father with his last brother. A week ago Lorne Macleod, his true father, had been found brutally murdered in his Paris apartments, his guards dead beside him. He had received the news from the site rep on the ground, his cousin Reiser, just as Dac had walked into the room, carrying his tablet computer with this new found information. The news had sucker punched him.

Akir’s head was spinning. Secrets, too many bloody secrets. The layers ran deep in the family, and uncovering all of the shit would take time. He rubbed his finger over the lip of the tumbler, thinking on Anna Macleod. Why had they been separated? Who made that grand decision? Reid or Anna Macleod? The patriarch and matriarch of the family, the clan. He poured another finger of whisky into the tumbler, and lifted it to the mirror thinking just how much of joke that was. They hadn’t been a clan since their ancestors fell at Culloden Mor. Not a true clan like the clan of old. Now it was just one big conglomerate of old guard, wanting to control their lives. There was no way around it, he would have to talk to the head bitch, and have Dac dig deeper.
"Thanks, Da and Uncle Ran hae left a wee bit of a mess at Glenaire." Roric paused, "Sinclair tells me I am nae allowed to sell anything yet."

"That would be Anna talking..." Akir silently chuckled, knowing just how much Anna wanted at the items behind Glenaire’s walls. How many times had she complained to her son, Duncan, the head of the family now, about confiscating every thing in the place? "What else did he tell ye?"

"The usual, 'I hae papers for ye to sign'" Roric said in his best impersonation of the family lawyer.

Roric needed to know the truth, needed to know his life was in more danger than he realized. "We need to meet. Ye still in Edinburgh?"

"Aye, here for another day or two before heading back to Glenaire."

Akir rose, poured another healthy dram and downed it in one. "Do ye remember that place we loved to sneak off to as kids with Ray?"

Roric frowned, "Aye, why?"

"Meet me there in twenty minutes..." Akir disconnected the call, and ducked out of the pub into the misty night onto Johnston Terrace. The sea haar was thick, shrouding the castle, obscuring its stone lines. His eyes, his head turned scanning the area for anything suspicious. He crossed the street, and walked further down the lane to a row of medieval houses that climbed up narrowly into the sky. He ducked through an arch into a walled courtyard. He continued through the courtyard, out through another door, and into a low walled graveyard. He retreated into the shadows to await his brother.

Roric pulled the collar of his jacket up as he ducked out of the Balmoral and into the waiting black Range Rover. From the back seat, his eyes locked with the driver, and then the other passenger. They exchanged subtle nods, and the Rover pulled out into evening traffic. He glanced out the window, rubbing his neck nervously, worried at the fog that shrouded the capital. Twelve minutes passed before the Ranger stopped a few houses down from his destination.

Akir saw Roric's outline appear in the archway from the courtyard, and step onto the grass. A long time ago this plot of land was bigger, some of the walls now part of the houses over Roric's head. Akir stepped out of the shadows, and walked over to a headstone, and looked down. He recalled the history Hamish Macleod had taught him. "They buried him here did ye ken that?"

Roric stopped a little way from Akir, "Buried who?” But he knew, everyone knew the old stories.

Akir buried his hands in his pockets, "Thomas Church...this is the verra graveyard where Lucian Macleod fought, and killed his nemesis. Queen Mary thought it would be ironic to bury him where he fell." Roric approached from the other side of the stone, stopped a few feet away. Akir lifted his eyes, then nodded at the stone, "And here is where the bastard lies..."

"Da said they should hae burned his body and had done with it..."

Akir snorted, "Perhaps...do ye ken it was his father that made the alliance with the Louvella family...they verra rarely bring out the old Church boys...Bertrand Louvella has total control."

"Thought they had all slithered away, died long ago.” Roric’s eyes darted around the graveyard, uneasy.

"Nae." Akir shook his head, "Only roll them out for those special occasions." Akir came around the stone, the fog was thickening. He came up on Roric's shoulder, "Look at me.” Roric turned slightly, an eyebrow cocked. Iridescent green eyes met iridescent green eyes. "Did ye e'er think it is uncanny how much we look alike. I ken my tats changes things, and your hair is a bit on the long side, but..."

Roric grinned, his long raven hair had always been a joke among the lads, ”Not at all. Families can look like each other."

Akir grinned, "Weel in this case big brother, the one thing that separates us both is two minutes and thirty-eight seconds. They hae lied to us our whole lives…we are identical twins.” Akir fished out the print out from Dac, held it out.

"Do nae jest Akir…" Roric swallowed, his green eyes fixed on his brother. He looked closer now, seeing characteristics he hadn’t really seen before. They were of the same height, but Akir had a good twenty pounds on him. His bulk built from years of training to become the captain of their family’s branch of soldiers. His mind recalled the nuances of looks, certain mannerisms he had witnessed as a child. He cursed, snatched the paper out his brother’s hands. “I didna ken…”

"I am telling ye the truth…” Suddenly, Roric grunted, his body torqued one way and then another as three bullets plummeted his body. Akir cursed, “Fuck.” He grabbed his brother’s jacket, and dragged him behind the old granite grave marker as two bullets whizzed past his head. A silenced gun some where above his head. He cursed, drawing his Glock, pushing against Roric, protecting him with his own body as bullets dug into the soft ground around them. Gunfire erupted to his left, and he rolled onto his stomach, looked around the marker, saw two silhouettes in the archway. Roric moaned, fell over clutching his chest.

Akir squinted at the men, recognizing their build, but not sure. Their arms were up, taking a line of sight on trees, and the rise in the landscape behind the low wall to his left. A low whistle sounded, and he recognized the tune, then another. Bryne bolted across the graveyard to the headstone to Akir's right, ducking behind the stone as more bullets punched into the ground at his feet. “Can ye e’er stay out of trouble?” Bryne chuckled, speaking into air, his ear mic picking up the conversation, “Move in three Alvar.”

Akir glared at him, rolled Roric over, and saw the blood blossoming over his chest. His heart lodged in his throat, “NO!” He took off his own jacket and pressed down on the wounds. He turned to Bryne, “He’s been hit. We hae to get him out of here.”

“Alvar move.” Bryne rose from his position, and popped off several rounds. Alvar bolted across the graveyard, and slid behind Thomas Church’s marker. Bryne ducked behind his own headstone as several rounds peppered the stone. Alvar handed his gun to Akir, and slid an arm under Roric. “Go, I got him. Moving.”

Akir and Bryne burst up, and squeezed off several rounds, allowing Alvar to shoulder Roric to the archway. Sirens wailed in the distance as the men made their way back to the Range Rover.

Akir overtook Alvar, and hustled to the vehicle, his gun up, clearing the area. He reached the SUV, and popped up the rear door at the sound of the lock disengaging. Alvar eased Roric inside and jumped in, lowering the back seats as Bryne made the driver’s seat. Bullets ricocheted off the roof, forcing Akir to duck behind the SUV. He lifted his gun trying to find the origins of the gunfire, reaching for the handle to the back seat. The fog was too thick about him, and slammed the back door close. He ducked into the rear seats, and dug out the first aid kit. Byrne hit the gas, pulling out into the cobbled lane, and sped off. “Make for William’s its his only chance.” Akir shouted from the rear.

Akir pushed aside the drape a fraction, glaring out the front window of William Macleod’s front parlor, looking for the approach of any unfamiliar cars, or groups of men. Alvar was in the dinning room across the hall, moving from one window to another. Bryne was positioned upstairs, and he could hear the floorboards creak as he moved about. As soon as they had arrived at William’s residence, and seen Roric into his care, they had moved around to each window, and turned over furniture, and other pieces to block the windows. Alvar had put out the call to their other bràithrean for back up. The quiet was unnerving.

“The cavalry is here…” Bryne called down, and Akir lifted aside the curtain again, saw three black Land Rovers moving at a fast speed down the long sloping lane towards the house. Akir let go of the breath he had been holding as the SUV’s came to a stop, pulling the Rovers into a defensive position in front of the house. His men spilled out, and dispersed as he made the front door. He stepped out into the chill of the night as three groups of men carried three large black duffle bags into the house. Alvar’s eyes darted to Reiser, and their best sniper jogged off to find a tactical position.

Their gear offloaded, the Rangers were pulled around the house, out of sight. Akir stepped into the dinning room, nodding at the arsenal laid out on the table. He turned as Naomi Macleod stepped out of the clinic, and locked eyes with him. Every man held their breath, seeing the worry in their cousin’s eyes, “He should be in hospital.”

“Ye ken we canna do that Naomi.” Akir crossed his arms. “How bad?”

“The bullet to his upper chest missed his heart, but punctured his lung. The other two…William will need to open him up. He will need help...Roric is stable for now. He wants to call Marcus Keith at the Royal…he trusts him.”

Akir rubbed his face, gritting his teeth, cursed under his breath, “Tell him to make the call, but we bring him here, and any supplies.”

Naomi shook her head, “This is the last time Akir. Nae more, William may nae be able to say nae to ye, but I am. I willna lose him or our children to this bloody war.”

After a moment Akir nodded, “I will take care of it Naomi, make sure ye are all taken care of.”

“Somewhere they canna find us, some place safe.”

Akir’s phone vibrated in his pocket, turning to Alvar to help Naomi, “Go…”

Dac’s voice was on the other end, “Bryne called, how is Roric?”

“Fighting. What’s up?”

“Check your inbox, I sent ye something and ye arena going to like it.” And with that Dac was gone.

Akir lowered his SMART phone, and touched his email app. He opened up Dac’s message, and then the attachments. His eyes went wide at the newspaper clippings. He touched the video link, and watched the news reports out of New York. He looked up into the expectant eyes of half dozen faces. “He’s going after Gordon Macdonald.”

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