CHAPTER: 12345, 6789101112131415161718192021222324252627, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32EPILOGUE

They say nothing to each other as Judd unlocks the car and they all climb in. They stay silent as Judd puts the key in the ignition and turns it enough to start the heating. Hot air blows in and slowly Judd can start to feel the sensation coming back in to his toes and his fingers. He turns the heating up higher. They still haven’t said anything to each other. Reece is staring at his hands, completely focused on holding them in front of the hot air vent. Judd knows he wants to say something, can feel the tension in his friend’s body but they’re not saying a thing. He sighs, grumpily, and finally turns the engine on properly.

They drive along in continued silence, Judd is staring at the road intently, all too aware that the roads have now turned very icy. Reece sighs heavily and Judd glances at him.

“I’m leaving the crew.” He suddenly says.

Judd slams on the brakes and turns to look at him, leaning on the steering wheel.

“What?!” he cries, “What the hell are you talking about?”

Reece sighs heavily and when he continues to talk he does so reluctantly.

“This isn’t what I signed up for,” he says, “I didn’t get into this game to have guns pulled on me in dark places. I didn’t sign up for a gang war. All I wanted was to make a few quid for myself and not have to worry about the bills. I didn’t want to work for any one else, to have to answer to some bloke who thinks he’s better than me because he went to university or something, no offence Judd.”

“None taken,” he says wryly, “Nice to know how you think of me,”

“Oh come on mate,” Reece says with exasperation, “You know I’m not talking about you. You’re sound, you’re cool and you don’t order me around or talk down to me or any of that crap. You’re a good guy and a good mate. It don’t feel like I’m working for you, but I’m working with you instead. But now I’ve gotta risk getting shot or something. If things keep going the way they’re going we’re gonna end up in a full out war. I don’t want to get shot, I don’t want to end up dead or in prison.”

“It’s not going to come to that mate,” Judd says firmly “We can sort this out easily and as soon as Charlie gets back everything will go back to normal. You know it will.”

“Maybe,” Reece says, shrugging “Maybe not.”

Judd stares at him for a long minute. He’s breathing heavily and he’s trying to fight down his anger. He doesn’t want to say something that he’ll really regret later. Reece looks at him, his face apologetic. Emmet just sits in the back, looking between his two friends as though he’s waiting for something to happen.

“Face it mate,” Reece eventually says, “We don’t know where Charlie is, or how long he’s going to be gone for. We don’t even know if he’s going to even come back. And without him around the entire of Farlow is going to become a battle ground. We’re going to be stuck dealing with some wild west, frontier justice type shit and I don’t want to be caught up in that shit. If I get out now I can be safe, focus on me and mine.”

“You’ve got to be joking!” Judd cries, “One little thing goes wrong and you’re running for the hills. I thought you liked the life drug dealing was giving you? When things get a little hard you just turn around and leave. Maybe Obo was right, maybe you are a pussy,”

“Fuck you!” Reece shouts, “You and I both know I’m not a pussy. This isn’t a little thing going wrong, this isn’t things getting a little hard. This is everything going to shit. We got in to this to make money and keep things a little safer than what things were like before. Now that’s all gone tits up. This was never a lifelong career for me. I’m done, I’m out.”

“Oh come on,” Emmet snaps from the back, “You’re seriously backing out? Now? This is the proper stuff, the proper drug dealing, gangster life. Why the hell would you want to get out?”

“I didn’t want to be a gangster,” Reece snaps harshly at Emmet, twisting in his seat to look at the other man, “I never wanted to be a gangster. I wanted to make a little money and that was it. Now it’s got really dangerous… I’m not interested anymore. It’s not worth it, nothing’s worth it.”

Judd says nothing. He glares at his friend, the guy that he had considered his best friend for most of his life, and grinds his teeth. He’s breathing hard through his nose, nostrils flaring. Finally he turns away and starts the car, getting ready to drive away. As he makes his way through the traffic his movements are sharp and jerky. He can feel the tension simmering deep down below, he can feel his heart pounding. His hands grip the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles are white.

He doesn’t know what to say, how can he know what to say? All he wants to do is smack Reece around the head and yell at the other man until he listens to him. But he knows it’s not entirely Reece’s fault. Of course he is running away from the problem, like Judd accused him off. Then again Judd should have handled everything better, he should have thought everything through and kept himself calm. But he hadn’t and now things are starting to spin out of his control. There’s nothing Judd can do about it.

He grinds his teeth together as he drives. They’re all silent still, on edge and shifting around restlessly.

“So what are we going to do then Boss?” Emmet suddenly pipes up from the back seat. “I mean, we’ve got to get back in control right?”

“How?!” Judd demands, “The guy’s got a gun and we both know that the rest of his boys will have guns before too long too.”

“We fuck him up,” Emmet shouts, banging his fist on the roof of the car. “We fuck him up just like he was going to fuck us up and just like we were going to fuck him up before. I’ve been saying it all along that we need to tool up and take Obo and his guys out before they take us out.”

“You know I don’t like guns,” Judd says, glancing at Emmet in the rear view mirror. “I don’t know if getting guns is a good idea,”

“It’s a stupid idea,” Reece snaps. He stares out ahead through the front window, arms crossed over his head. “It’s the most ridiculous idea I think that you’ve ever had Emmet, you moron.”

“You don’t get a say,” Judd snarls, “You’re leaving,”

Judd pauses for a moment, thinking. He’s still furious. The blood is pounding through his head, he can feel the white hot burn low in his stomach. His hands are shaking and tightening and loosening on the wheel, almost outside of his control. He remembers the conversation that he had with Connie, about justice and restoration. An eye for an eye is just what needs to be done. They aren’t civilised in the drug dealing world, as much as they might want to think that they are. Obo had gone too far, had threatened him and his business, now it was time to get some justice for himself and for the i4i crew.

“You’re right Emmet,” Judd finally says. Reece gasps, “We’ll get guns and I’ll have another chat with Obo.”

“Are you mad?!” Reece shouts. Judd winces, the sound is almost too loud in the small space of the car, “You’ll end up dead. Do you want to put your dad through that? On top of everything else?”

“It’s what needs to be done,” Judd says firmly, staring through the windscreen, “Obo has wronged me, wronged us all. He’s the one that took it all up a notch. We’re just following him so we stay even.”

“This is so wrong,” Reece whispers.

He sits back, leans his head on his hand with his elbow resting on the car door. He stares out the window, watching the streetlights go by and catching sight of his own reflection. His face is pale and drawn, the bags under his eyes more pronounced than ever in the dim light. He can’t believe what is happening, what Judd is going to do. There’s no way that he can stop this now and he knows it. He’s glad that he’s getting out, now before everything gets so much worse.

“I knew you’d come around!” Emmet cries, patting Judd on the shoulder, “We’re going to finally fuck Obo up and get what’s ours at last.”

“Yeah mate,” Judd says quietly, “Yeah.”

They’re close to Reece’s house now, a small semi-detached in the suburbs. Judd realises that his friend doesn’t live too far from Connie and for a moment wonders what she’d think of all this. He’ll never know though, he can’t exactly come out and tell her that he’s a criminal. She’s a lawyer and law teacher after all.  He knows that she’d probably think it was all ridiculous though, that she’d probably tell him to stop and think about what he’s doing and get out while he still could. Like Reece is doing.

He looks at Reece out of the corner of his eye. The other man hasn’t said a word since Judd made his decision. Judd knows that Reece isn’t happy about it, that it’s the wrong path to take. Part of Judd agrees, a small voice whispering in his mind that this is wrong. Judd ignores it though. He looks in the rear-view mirror and sees Emmet, practically vibrating with glee. He’s actually enjoying all of this and for a moment Judd wonders why. He remembers the strange look on his friend’s face when they left Obo behind. Emmet has the same look on his face now and it only grows clearer when he catches Judd’s eye. Judd looks away, focuses on the road and shaking his head to clear those little niggling doubts that are trying to worm their way in.

“Are you sure you’re out?” Judd asks Reece as they pull on to his road, “You can still change your mind you know? Once you’re out though, you’re out. For good.”

“I’m sure,” Reece says firmly, “Guns and violence and gang wars aren’t what I signed up for. It’s your choice but I don’t want to be involved any more.”

“You’re important to us you know,” Judd says quietly, “You’re like that little voice of reason in the crew.”

“Eye for an Eye will be fine without me,” Reece says although Judd catches the quiver in his voice, “You never really listened to me that much anyway,”

“We did,” Judd says, firmly, “You kept us safe most of the time. You kept me calm.”

“I’m still your friend,” Reece says, looking at Judd now, “I just can’t be involved in this. I don’t think you should be either.”

Judd looks away, his mouth tightens in to a thin line. His nostrils flare and he shifts his grip on the wheel. He pulls the car to a stop in front of Reece’s house and doesn’t look at his friend. Reece sighs and gets out. Before he shuts the door he leans down, his breath billowing out of his mouth in a cloud of white vapour.

“I think you’re making a mistake,” Reece says. “Guns aren’t going to help you. And I think you know that.”

“Good bye Reece,” Judd says firmly, looking out of the windscreen, “Take care of yourself.”

Reece sighs again. For a moment he looks like he wants to say something else, that there are words just hanging on the tip of his tongue, ready and waiting to burst out. But he doesn’t say anything. Instead he closes the car door with a dull, heavy thud. He walks up the garden path towards his front door.

Judd doesn’t wait to see if he gets inside safely. He starts the engine and drives away. He does wonder what Reece wanted to say though. He wonders how important it might have been. Emmet clambers over the seats and into the front while Judd slowly makes his way through the narrow side streets. For a moment the man is a tangle of arms and legs before he topples into the passenger seat with a grunt. Then he straightens himself out and twists to look at Judd.

“So… what’s the plan?” Emmet eventually asks. “We going to get the guns and go in blazing?”

“No,” Judd says. The grin on Emmet’s face brings the hot rush of anger back, “No, we’re going to get the gun and then have another chat with Obo and Right Stuff. Tomorrow.”

“So are we going to try what we did tonight tomorrow then?” Emmet asks. “Is that going to work?”

“No, it won’t,” Judd says, “So we’re not even going to bother. We’re just going to turn up at the meeting like Obo expects. We’ll take Right Stuff with us and for a while we’ll pretend that we’re playing along with his demands. It’ll be just you and me, out front and obviously alone.”

“And then we bring out the guns right?” Emmet asks, a glint in his eyes, “And when he doesn’t agree we shoot his ass?”

“No!” Judd cries out. He looks at Emmet and for a moment doesn’t recognise his friend, “Why would you even think that we’d do that? We’re trying to scare him, not kill him.”

“Well what’s the fucking point then?!” Emmet snaps, “We wave the guns around until Obo pisses his pants? Then we take over all of Farlow? Can I have Obo’s patch to run?”

“We’re not taking over anything,” Judd says tiredly, “We’re going to show him the guns, possibly fire at the ground if we have to until Obo knows that we mean business. He needs to know that we’re willing to arm up and we will use the guns if we need to. Right now he thinks we’re scared, he knows I don’t like guns and wouldn’t actually arm us with them. But that’s why this will work.”

“Then what?” Emmet asks, “We just split Charlie’s business up? Right down the middle, nice and clean.”

“No,” Judd says, “There’s no point. I don’t think Mr Big is going to take the deal I offered. I think he likes me but not enough to deal with me. I probably pissed him off with my temper.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Emmet says, chuckling, “Remember school?”

Judd smirks and laughs, low, as he remembers their school days and how he would annoy teachers and students alike with outbursts of anger. Emmet and Reece always managed to calm him down and keep him out of trouble. Judd’s smile falls.

“We split Charlie’s business,” He says, “Like you said, but instead of splitting the territory we split the drugs. Obo keeps the deal with Mr Big. We keep Right Stuff and his home delivery. The Mr Big thing makes more money I reckon, I think Obo would be happy with that.”

They finally reach Emmet’s apartment building and Judd pulls to a stop outside the path. Emmet stays where he is though, sitting there, staring out of the front window. He’s clearly deep in thought and Judd sits there, waiting for his friend to speak.

“I suppose so,” Emmet reluctantly agrees, “But what if he won’t agree to that? What are we going to do then?”

“We’ll deal with that if it happens,” Judd says with a shrug after he thinks about it for a moment. “If he won’t agree we’ll try to figure it out. Until then we just stick to the plan,”

“Fine,” Emmet says, “Whatever.”

“Keep your head in the game Emmet,” Judd warns, “I need you on point. Without Reece you’re gonna have to work doubly hard to watch my back mate,”

“I know, I know,” Emmet mutters.

“Now get out my bloody car and go to bed,” Judd says, smiling widely, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Emmet chuckles and eventually opens the door. Judd shivers as a blast of cold air rushes in to the car. Emmet pats Judd on the shoulder before he climbs out and makes his way to the front door of his flat’s building. Judd reaches over and pulls the door shut, Emmet has left it open like he always does. Judd starts the engine again and drives away.

Judd worries about Emmet as he drives. The other man was just acting as though nothing off had happened, that things were completely normal. But the trio had just gone down to a twosome, Reece had just turned around and abandoned them without any warning. And Emmet had acted as though he doesn’t care, at all. Judd wonders whether it was just his friend trying to put on a brave face, Judd knows that he himself was trying not to let his feelings about Reece dumping them show. But another part of him, the same part that sometimes whispers to him to leave the drugs business, was whispering a different idea. It’s still whispering it now. Perhaps Emmet actually doesn’t care. Perhaps that man sees Reece leaving as a chance to get Judd to do what he wants. He had certainly seemed excited enough but the argument between his two friends. In fact he’d barely put up any argument at all.

And then he had taken Reece’s seat in the car as though it had always been his, as though Reece had just been warming it up for him. He hadn’t wanted to talk about Reece, he’d just wanted to talk about Obo, guns and the possibility of a real fight. Emmet’s words about the proper gangster life ring through Judd’s head and bring back memories of Mr Big’s speech about the two men only being friends with him now because they liked the power and the fear. Judd wonders if that is what Emmet likes, if that’s the only reason that he is still around. A cold chill rolls through him at the thought, hairs stand up on the back of his neck. The possibility that Emmet is only there for the fight, the violence and the criminal lifestyle is something that had never occurred to Judd before. But now the idea is there and it’s starting to ring true with things he had been told.

And it resonated with memories of Emmet’s past behaviour, things that the other man had said and done that had sent off warning bells in Judd’s head. Judd wonders whether Emmet is finally showing his true colours. And he wonders what that could mean for himself when Emmet finally takes off the mask that he may have been wearing.

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