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

The inside of the car is still warm from the heating. Judd is surprised by this, it’s really cold outside and he was in the bank for quite a while. But he isn’t complaining. It’s nice to go from shivering and having chattering teeth outside to sitting in a nice warm car, sheltered from the harsh wind. It only seems to be getting colder and Judd feels a little sorry for his boys. For a moment he considers giving them all some money to go and get some warm coats or something, sometimes they get stuck waiting for clients for a while. Then he shakes the thought off, if they needed warm coats they would come to him and if they were in the line of work that they were in they would probably have them already.

Judd checks his car when he realises it’s still warm inside, he wonders whether he accidentally left the heating on. He hadn’t but he’s glad that the car is so well made any way. He checks his phone, having ignored the pings while he was in the bank. Cashiers got a little worried when you kept checking your phone and the bank was no place to discuss whatever Right Stuff wanted to talk about. There are too many cameras and attentive security guards around. Judd has three missed calls from Right Stuff and wonders what on earth could be wrong if the other man is trying so desperately to get in touch with him. Surely, Judd thinks, if it’s that urgent he can go to Charlie right?

Judd connects his phone to the car via bluetooth and pulls out of the car park. He would stay and have the conversation there but the ticket is almost up and although he can afford it Judd would rather not have to pay a fine. He navigates the narrow streets and back roads as he makes his way away from the town centre.

His mind keeps going back to Right Stuff though, and all of the missed calls. Right Stuff is Charlie’s right hand man, the man Charlie goes to for everything from help with the business to advice. Right Stuff is a good man, honest to a fault and completely likeable. Judd wonders whether that’s really a good thing, the business that they’re all in. Right Stuff is almost too honest for this game really, he always gets fidgetty when he’s telling a little lie, Judd’s played poker enough with him to know that. How would he cope if the police were talking to him? But then again Right Stuff knows that what he’s doing isn’t exactly on the up and up, he knows the dangers and yet he still keeps on going. Perhaps that’s how Charlie has managed to do so well in his part of town, by finding the right people for the right jobs. Judd knows that its a skill that Charlie has, one that’s been proved to be more than useful to the other man time and time again. If Charlie can read a person so well he can probably tell where in his organisation a new man belongs and more importantly, when to show the wrong person the door. Judd wishes that he had that kind of skill.

Still, Charlie is a good boss and there should be no reason for Right Stuff to be contacting Judd. He decides to call Right Stuff and find out what is going on.

“Call-” Judd starts to say.

He is cut off, someone is calling him. He glances at the monitor as he drives through the city and sees that it is Right Stuff.

“Answer,” Judd says. The inside of the car fills with sounds from the other end of the phone, “Right Stuff mate, I was just about to call you. Brilliant timing as usual.”

“Where’ve you been?!” Right Stuff cries. He’s not even trying to exchange pleasantries. “I’ve been trying to get hold of you for ages.”

“I’m good Right Stuff thanks, how are you mate?” Judd says sarcastically, “I’m good thanks Judd, just needed to talk to you about something important,”

“It’s Charlie!” Right Stuff says, ignoring Judd’s piss taking. “He’s gone missing.”

Judd’s blood runs cold and he almost ploughs into the back of the car in front when it stops at the light.

“He’s probably on a bender,” Judd says, trying to fight down the rising panic he’s feeling. “Give it three days and he’ll be back, complaining about his head like he usually does. You know how he gets sometimes,”

There’s a pause from the other end of the phone. Judd’s heart starts pounding. It’s not unusual for Charlie to go out of touch with everyone but usually he gives people some warning. There’s something not right with this, Judd can feel it in his gut, but he wants to ignore that feeling for as long as possible.

“It’s been three days mate.” Right Stuff eventually says.

Shit, Judd thinks.

“Shit!” Judd says aloud. “Ok, tell you what, I’ll meet you at the Great Parndon Community Centre in twenty minutes.”

“Ok, see you then,” Right Stuff says quickly.

“Oh and Right Stuff,” Judd says.

“Yeah?” Right Stuff says hesitantly.

“You better not be fucking me around,” Judd says quietly.

His voice is ominous and filled with foreboding. He imagines that he can hear Right Stuff swallowing heavily with fear. Judd likes Right Stuff, actually trusts him, but the truce between Charlie and Judd is an uneasy one and it wasn’t unheard of for tricks to be played between rival drug lords in an attempt to gain more territory. Charlie was usually above that sort of thing but Judd’s gut was grumbling with foreboding and he knew that there was something wrong.

“Of course not mate,” Right Stuff eventually says.

He’s rattled though, Judd can hear it in his voice. The line shuts off with a click and Judd sighs. He had been planning to go home and study, ready for the next lot of classes he had but this needs to be sorted and sorted fast.

“Call Reece,” Judd says eventually. The phone rings.

“Yes boss man,” Reece’s cheerful voice says at the end of the line, “What can I do for you good sir?”

“Get Emmet and get to the Great Parndon Community Centre in twenty minutes.” Judd says. “We’ve got a situation.”

“Boss, Great Parndon is in Charlie’s territory,” Reece says quietly, “We can’t go in without permission.”

“I’ll explain when we get there,” Judd says quickly, “Asking permission is a little tricky at the moment and we’re not there to deal, we’re there to sort something out. Just get there with Emmet as quickly as you can,”

“Yes Boss,” Reece says before he hangs up.

Judd heard the nervousness in Reece’s voice. He understands the fear that the other man was feeling. He was feeling it himself. None of the gangs went in to each other’s territory, not on gang business. If they went into other territories it was for regular life, the stuff that was kept separated from the drugs by agreement of everyone. By having Reece and Emmet meet him at the community centre Judd could be suspected of striking against Charlie but Judd knows that won’t be the case. They’ll have Right Stuff with them and everyone knows that he’s loyal to Charlie, through and through. Hopefully they won’t be stuck waiting for him for too long.

By the time that Judd gets to the community centre everyone else is there. They’re sat in their own vehicles but still, they’re there. That’s good although Judd is still annoyed that there was an unexpected traffic jam and he couldn’t be there first. He liked to be the first to arrive, it gave him the position of power.

He pulled into the car park and took the space between the two cars. He turned off his engine but left the heating on. The doors on the two cars open, Right Stuff climbs out of one and Emmet and Reece climb out of the other. They walk to Judd’s car and climb in. Right Stuff is in the front seat, beside Judd. Reece and Emmet climb in to the back and lean forwards to hear what was going on.

“Charlie’s missing,” Right Stuff said.

Judd hears Emmet suck in a worried breath through his teeth. The other man knows the game just as well as Judd does.

“What do you mean missing?” Reece demands, “Is this some sort of set up or something?

“This isn’t a set up,” Judd says, “I’ve tried his phone and got no answer,”

“Where’s he gone then?” Emmet asks.

“I don’t know do I?” Right Stuff snaps, “He’s missing, vanished, disappeared in a puff of smoke, incommunicado, gone,”

“Ok, ok, we get the point,” Judd says, holding a hand up between the two men, “Are you sure he’s completely gone?”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Right Stuff says.

Judd looks at him, waiting for him to expand. Right Stuff sighs and rolls his eyes.

“He was supposed to meet me yesterday,” Right Stuff explains, “The plan was to restock me and get my takings for the last few days. So I turned up at the meeting spot, and no I’m not telling you where it is, and I waited. He never turned up,”

“Ok,” Judd says.

He stares out of the front windscreen and chews on his nails while he thinks. It’s strange, not hearing anything at all from Charlie. Right Stuff has made the right choice though, coming to Judd. If he had gone to Obo who knows what would have happened. Still though, the disappearance of one of the main men in Farlow is bad news, especially considering that Right Stuff was meant to be restocking when Charlie didn’t show up. Judd finally looks back at Right Stuff.

“What are your stock levels like at the minute?” he asks.

“I’m sold out,” Right Stuff says, holding his hands out. “I had enough to last me one more day yesterday but I got a bigger order than normal so it’s all gone.”

“Ok…” Judd says slowly, “Ok… I think I have a plan. I need you to make a decision Right Stuff. Will you sell my stock until we can find Charlie again? You’ve got the network and the customers, you’re just out of stock. Once Charlie comes back things can just go back to normal but until then you can sell some of my stuff and apart from the supply costs and a small percentage you can keep the rest for Charlie. It’s the same as Charlie’s stuff, we all use the same supplier so there won’t be a change in quality. What do you say?”

Right Stuff thinks about it for a few minutes, his hands fiddle with the mobile he’s holding. Finally he looks up.

“I know Charlie would want me to sell your stock,” he eventually says, nodding his head as though he’s trying to steady his own mind with his words, “We’ve got loyal customers and a few newbies. If I stop supplying they’ll just score it from somewhere else and we won’t see any of the money. I need a consistent supply if I want to keep all my clients, and if I don’t have the supply for tonight then I’ll probably lose a few potential regulars for life.”

“I know,” Judd says reassuringly, “I thought this might be the right route. So you’ll sell it?”

“Yes Judd,” Right Stuff says, “I’ll take your stock. I’m going to need 10g for tonight and then I’ll let you know tomorrow how much I’m going to need.”

Judd nods and looks in the rear view mirror. He catches Emmet’s eyes.

“Emmet, sort Right Stuff out with 10 from our current stock,” he orders. Emmet nods. “We should be good for a few days. What about the other guys? Do they need a top up at all?”

“I don’t think so,” Right Stuff says, checking through his phone. “They all deal with the smaller orders, Charlie lets me handle the bigger ones. They should have enough for a few more days. I’ll let you know if it’s different though.”

Judd nods and smiles slightly. Emmet is fishing around in his bag, Reece is looking around the car park, keeping an eye out for anyone who’s looking that shouldn’t be. It’s smart of Charlie, Judd thinks, leaving the big deals that bring in a lot of money to someone he trusts completely. Some clients, the ones that make big orders, tend to like to see the same person every time. And because those deals bring in so much money you need to know that the middle man is someone you can trust not to skim off the top. Charlie’s picked exactly the right person to be that middle man.

“Ok, Right Stuff,” Judd eventually says once the others have stopped moving around and have sorted themselves out, “We’ve got to go now. But you let me know if you need anything else. Stay in touch and stay safe,”

“Will do,” Right Stuff says. “I’m staying here, I’m meeting someone in a while.”

“Ok man,” Judd says.

The two men clasp each other’s arms and shake. It’s the handshake of brothers, comrades in arms. They look into each other’s eyes and nod firmly. They all know the risks of what they do. Right Stuff climbs out of the car and heads back to his own. He stands by it as Judd pulls away and drives off. Judd looks in his rear view mirror. Right Stuff is just a black silhouette in the orange glow of the streetlights in the car park. He raises his hand and waves. Judd wonders for a moment about who Right Stuff might be meeting but puts it from his mind fairly quickly.

“What’s the betting that Charlie’s just gone on a jolly or something?” Reece remarks from the back, “You’ve seen that bird of his haven’t you. She’s sex on two legs. I wouldn’t blame him if he wanted a week away locked in the bedroom with her. I know I would,”

“You’re an animal,” Judd says, rolling his eyes.

Reece argues with that remark and the backseat erupts into light hearted bickering. Judd smiles and listens to it, glancing back to the car park as it starts to disappear from sight. There’s a car there now. It must be whoever Right Stuff is meeting.

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