Chapter 6: Chalk and Cheese
Under the sweltering Dubai sun, down in the well maintained garden of estate, a single gun shot rang out. On a plain stretch of earth, far from a large house, a human shaped dummy remained upright, not even disturbed by the bullet which had gone whizzing by a few seconds ago.
Standing a fair distance away, Pooh-Bear lowered his rifle in annoyance and frowned at the far off dummy. He couldn't understand why this was so hard. His aim had always been decent over short distances, but for some reason he struggled as soon as the target was a little further away. It had always been his main weakness, one which he compensated for by his vast knowledge of explosives.
Sighing he was about to put the rifle away and head back to the house when he became aware of a presence behind him. This time though, it was not a surprise that made him jump as he turned to face Stretch who was once again perched on a dividing wall, watching in curiosity.
'Working on your aim?' Stretch inquired, no malice hinting in his voice at all.
'Attempting to,' Pooh shrugged, 'I'm afraid it has always been my main weakness.'
'Seemed alright on the capstone mission.'
'Short distances I can handle. The guns on the Halicarnassus are easy to operate. But something like this,' Pooh jerked his chin at the dummy, 'I cannot do.'
'Would you like help?'
Pooh was caught a little by surprise at that statement. It had probably only been a few weeks since he had arrived home with Stretch as his guest and those few weeks had been painfully awkward at best as the two tried to get more used to each other. As such, interactions like this always seemed to catch both of them off guard.
With a small smile, Pooh shook his head, 'no, I can do it myself. Thank you.'
In a way it was supposed to be a dismissal of sorts, but Stretch remained where he was, watching but not interrupting as Pooh took aim again. Several missed shots later though, and sick of the intent gaze behind him, Pooh spun to face him. At first he had honestly wanted to ask him to leave, but as he opened his mouth there was a last minute change of mind which he almost didn't register.
'Very well,' he muttered, 'what can you do to help?'
It was as if Stretch had been waiting for this as he sprang to his feet, crossing to Pooh's side quickly, 'well you're standing all wrong for one thing.'
Before Pooh could really get a grasp on what was happening, Stretch had set about literally repositioning his body. None too gently his head was gripped on either side and turned slightly, his shoulders were pushed down, elbows bent and his feet were kicked into a different stance. As he worked, Stretch spoke, not so much explaining as telling Pooh-Bear what he had been doing wrong.
'You're shoulders are too high. And you're head is all wrong. Not to mention you are way to tense. Relax,' as if to emphasise this, Pooh felt as Stretch gave him a sharp prod between the shoulder blades, as if this would cause him to loosen up.
'I hardly think I would be relaxed in combat,' Pooh muttered.
'You also wouldn't be as tense as you are now,' Stretch said rather absently as he adjusted Pooh's grip on the gun, 'okay, now try.'
Doing his best not to roll his eyes, Pooh did as he was told, taking aim and firing at the far off target. This time the bullet hit the target on the edge of the chest. Not quite where he had been aiming for, but far closer than any of his previous shots had been. He smiled slightly, pleased.
'See, wasn't that better,' Stretch nodded in what was pretty close to approval, 'now, if we just adjust this…you should be all good.'
Stretch went back to shifting his right arm, focusing on the bend of his wrist and elbow, one hand braced against his shoulder to stop it from elevating. Keeping still, Pooh-Bear humoured him until suddenly, someone else spoke from just behind them.
'I trust I am not interrupting something important, Zahir.'
At once Pooh had discarded the gun and spun to face the person who was speaking. Standing a few meters away, arms folded, face creased in confusion, was his older brother, Rashid Al Anzar Al Abbas. This was the first time Pooh-Bear had seen him since he had arrived back from the capstone mission, and he wasn't surprised to see that Rashid had not changed at all in the past ten years. He was still as confident and self-assured as he had always been and his face, which many described as handsome, was still the same, even down to the slight disapproving furrow of his brow.
'Rashid,' Pooh-Bear greeted, 'I thought you were not due back for a few more days.'
Smiling tightly and formally, Rashid stepped forward so he was closer to where Pooh-Bear was standing, 'I finished early and thought it would be fitting to call in on my little brother whom I haven't seen in ten years. Although I had not expected you to have… company.'
Those last words had Pooh turning slightly to see that Stretch was still hovering a little awkwardly beside him, studying Rashid as if he was trying to make some kind of assessment. Sensing the tension which had already started to build up, Pooh placed a hand between Stretch's shoulder blades and propelled him forwards a little way so he was standing in front of Rashid. Stretch let out a small startled objection, shooting Pooh-Bear a glare before he gathered himself and smiled politely at Rashid.
Pooh started the introduction formally, well aware of how his brother preferred meetings to go, 'Rashid, this is my friend Benjamin Cohen. He was part of the team on the capstone mission and is staying with me for the time being.'
'I see,' the look on Rashid's face told Pooh that his brother was not overly impressed with the man he had just been introduced to, 'and is there a particular reason you invited an Israeli to stay with you?'
Turning to look at Pooh-Bear, Rashid completely ignored Stretch, as if acknowledging his presence any more than he had to was beneath him. Thankfully Stretch didn't comment on this, although Pooh did notice his eyebrows raise in an almost disbelieving manner when Rashid's back was turned to him. As discretely as he could, Pooh gestured for Stretch to step back while he explained.
'There were issues which arose on the mission. Currently he is unable to return home for various reasons so I extended the offer for him to come here.'
This didn't seem to be a satisfactory reason for Rashid, who just cast a look behind him, 'no one else in your team of small nations extended a similar offer?'
'They did,' Pooh-Bear was well aware that invitations had been extended by every member of the team when they had found out, 'but I was most insistent.'
His brother still didn't seem too happy with this response, because his frown deepened into one of profound disappointment, 'and why would you be insistent for a Jew to come here?'
'Because he needed somewhere to go and I could not, in good-conscience, leave him, given the current threats to his safety ,' Pooh-Bear said simply, making sure his tone implied he wished to take the conversation no further.
Something that did not escape Pooh-Bears notice during all this, was that his brother had slipped into Arabic at the start of the conversation, obviously not intending for Stretch to overhear what was being said. Internally he shook his head, because even though he knew what his brother was like with these matters, it always disappointed him whenever he demonstrated his ill-concealed prejudice. For his part, Rashid had stepped back a little way, sighing deeply in exasperation as he shot Stretch a sideways look.
'Does father know?' Rashid asked at length.
'Yes,' Pooh-Bear said, 'he held no objections.'
It was those words which seemed to signal an end to the topic for Rashid, for while he questioned Pooh-Bear to no end with his choices, he never openly crossed their father. Forcing a tight smile, Rashid inclined his head stiffly to Pooh-Bear.
'I'll take my leave now. I am most happy to see you have returned to us safe and sound.'
With that, he turned on his heel and left. Pooh-Bear watched him go, slightly relieved although he would never have liked to admit it. Those kinds of interactions with his brother were not something he enjoyed, particularly when Rashid was in a disagreeable mood.
'He seemed pleased to see you,' Stretch spoke up from beside him, watching Rashid go with folded arms.
Pooh frowned when he caught the sarcastic tone and turned to him, 'what do you mean?'
'Well, if that had been my brother seeing me for the first time in ten years you can be sure it would not have been as formal as that. There would have been hugs all around,' even though his tone sounded flippant, Pooh saw a brief flicker of what looked like sadness cross his face, but it was gone before he could confirm it.
Picking up the gun from where he had put it aside, Pooh began to pack up, intent on heading back inside. As he packed it away, he spoke, 'Rashid is simply very formal. He is not one for outward displays of emotion or affection.'
'He seems like a real dick.'
At once Pooh had discarded what he was doing and whipped around to face him, 'what did you say?'
'You heard,' Stretch shrugged, 'what? Don't you think so?'
Pooh-Bear was flustered. Of course he knew that his brother could sometimes be arrogant and perhaps even unpleasant towards some people, but all the same, he was family. And Pooh-Bear had never been anything other than loyal to his family. He went to rebut Stretch, to tell him to take back what he had said, something that he had always done whenever anyone had dared insult his family. But this time, perhaps for the first time, he hesitated a little. Not a lot, it was only for a brief second, but it was long enough for him to register that he could understand where Stretch was coming from. That perhaps he might have even, just slightly, agreed with the sentiment. But then that moment passed and he found his voice.
'He is my brother. Please remember that,' he started up towards the house, 'we simply have our differences, that is all. I ask that you respect my family while you are here.'
There was no response for a while, before finally a small sigh of, 'of course.'
Pooh smiled, 'and I will make sure that he honours you as well. You are my friend after all.'
Those words had Stretch blinking at him in confusion, as if he had totally forgotten that. Then he smiled slightly and fell into step beside him, 'thanks Pooh-Bear.'
They walked in silence for a few minutes until Stretch muttered, 'he's still a dick though.'
This time Pooh did not argue with him, he just allowed himself to smile and clapped him on the back, 'just keep that thought to yourself when he is around.'
'It's me. I can't promise anything.'