When he reaches Connie’s she looks upset. She won’t meet his eye and sits on the edge of the sofa staring at her clasped hands. Judd stares at her for a few moments. He sits down in the armchair near the sofa and clears his throat.
“I’m out of the business,” he says simply, “I couldn’t take it anymore,”
Connie looks at him sharply then away. Her breath catches on a sob and she raises shaking hands to her mouth.
“What were you trying to tell me on the phone?” he asks, “I wasn’t really listening.”
“I’m so sorry that I helped do this to you,” Connie says, “Believe me I thought that it was just going to be something simple and I’d help someone get a better life for themselves. I never expected to feel anything for you. But I do, I feel things for you that I haven’t felt since I was at university. Fuck, you made me care about someone again besides myself for the first time in 12 years. After my ex dumped me for a prettier girl I shut myself off. And then you turned up, so focused on passing your law course but still being so nice to me, even though I’ve screwed you over and I couldn’t help myself. I’ve told you things I’ve never told anyone.”
“So why are you telling me this now?” Judd asks, looking at her.
She sits forwards and looks him in the eye, her gaze filled with tears.
“I care about you, so much,” Connie says. “Even though we haven’t known each other very long I really think that we could have something in the future. I want to tell you about Charlie because I can’t live with myself if I don’t. I want to tell you the whole truth now, before we get any deeper. I don’t want it coming back to bite me in the arse and ruin anything we might have.”
“You know Charlie,” Judd says. It’s not a question. “And you know what’s been going on even before I told you,”
“Yes,” Connie whispers. She hangs her head in shame. “God I feel like the most awful person alive. I’ve lied to you, about so much. I don’t know where to start,”
“Just start from the beginning,” Judd says coldly, shrugging, “Tell me what the hell’s going on,”
“Well…” she says, hesitating, “You know how I said I do coke from time to time?” Judd nods, “Well I do it a lot more than I told you. I do it pretty much every day because there’s nothing else in my life really. Charlie’s my supplier. I accrued a small debt… well a very big debt with him. I kept getting coke on credit and promising to pay it off. I didn’t know why he kept letting me do it, it didn’t seem very smart for a supplier to be honest. But I wanted the coke and didn’t ask too many questions,”
“He had something planned,” Judd says.
“Yes,” Connie says, “The one time that I did ask him why, before all of this started, he said that he had plans that he could use me for in the future. He said that he was giving me the coke and in return I’d help him when he asked. I didn’t think it would be anything serious or too dangerous so I agreed. Then a few weeks ago he came to me and said he would wipe my debt clean if I did him a small favour,”
“What was it?” Judd asks quietly although he already has some idea. Connie hesitates for a moment and he snaps at her, “What was the favour Connie?!”
“He asked me to influence you,” Connie bursts out. “He knew you were going to be in my class. I don’t know how he knew that you were taking the course or how he knew I’d be your tutor but he did know. He asked me, told me, to befriend you and use my influence over you to get you to think about giving up the drugs business. He said that you were too smart for this game. That you could do bigger and better things with your life if you weren’t so focused on dealing all the time and handling things with Obo.”
“And you agreed?” Judd says, “Just like that you agreed to manipulate me into doing something that I never wanted to do,”
“Yes,” Connie says. “Because I didn’t know you, not really. I only knew what Charlie told me. You’re a graduate for fucks sake! You said it yourself that the drugs business was only a stop gap for you. But Charlie knew that even if you passed your course you’d probably never leave. It was too comfortable for you, too familiar and too easy.”
“So what happened?” Judd asks harshly, “You just agreed to it and pretended to like me?”
“God no!” Connie says, “Charlie thought that you’d listen to me because I’m your tutor. I thought the same thing. I only ever planned to use the course to change your way of thinking. I never thought that I’d like you as much as I do or develop feelings for you. I was going to keep things professional, tutor to student, friends maybe. But things changed and now I’m telling you the truth.”
“So if your feelings aren’t a lie, what is?” Judd asks, “Did your car really break down?”
“Well… yes and no,” Connie says. “Charlie put me up to pretending that my car was broken so you’d have to give me a lift and I’d have the chance to talk to you. I thought that I’d only be pretending that my car was broken but Charlie got one of his guys to fiddle with it so it wouldn’t start and I couldn’t fix it myself. He was in the car park, watching us that day. He was in a car a few rows down to make sure that I would get a lift with you and talk to you.”
“Jesus,” Judd says, “He really thought of everything. Why did you agree to it Connie? Why did you agree to help him? Surely you could have just paid off your debt over time. I know Charlie’s reasonable, you could have worked something out to pay off your debt over time,”
“This sounded easier.” Connie admitted. “And it sounded like I was going to be doing a good thing. I mean, he wasn’t asking me to hurt you or do anything illegal. What he was asking wasn’t so bad. He was asking me to influence you to get OUT of the drugs business for God’s sake. He didn’t want to hurt you, he wanted to get you safe and I thought it was a good thing, right? I mean, how many dealers do you know that would actually want to get someone out of the drugs business? At least without killing or hurting the person. He wanted to do it nicely, to help you come to the decision on your own before you got in so deeply you could never leave. In my mind it was a good thing, a great thing, and it would make up for all the crap that I’ve done over my life. It is a good thing right?”
Judd doesn’t say anything, he just sits back in the armchair and thinks. The past few days rewind through his mind, everything that’s happened since Right Stuff called him about Charlie being missing rush through his brain. Every moment, every interaction runs around his head and with the new information he sees it all in a different light. Charlie had known Judd and Obo would go to war. There was no doubt in Judd’s mind that Charlie knew. It wasn’t just Obo’s obsession with getting more power that would drive them against each other. Judd realises that Charlie had thought much further about all of this, about how both Judd and Obo would react to the news and what they would do. It is no secret that the pakis hate the blacks even though they should be on the same side against the other racist shits of Britain. It was also no secret that Obo hates Judd, that he is intensely jealous that Judd comes from a proper loving family who love and support each other. It’s something that Obo had never had and had never understood. But Obo wants it for himself anyway, even if there are problems along the way. But it’s something that Obo can’t get, will never get because he doesn’t know how to be warm and loving and supportive.
Charlie had also known, just like Judd does, that Obo would never back down from the challenge of taking over. He just isn’t that sort of person. He has always kept going and going until he gets what he wants and trying to take over Charlie’s turf would have been no different. Judd had known it himself. And from the instant that Obo had pulled the gun at him in their first meeting Judd had known that Obo would make sure that everyone would end up tooled up. That route would have lead only to the eventual death of one of the two. It would have been Judd, he knows this. He doesn’t have the burning need to take a life, to prove himself to everyone else like Obo does. For a moment Judd is glad that he has made a better choice for himself.
And with that thought comes another realisation to Judd’s mind. He realises exactly how smart Charlie is and has been. He had always known that Charlie was smart and could read people but after hearing everything Judd realises exactly how deep Charlie’s skills run. Charlie knows Judd better than he knows himself. Charlie had seen the doubts that niggled at Judd’s mind and cracked them wide open. Judd was not, is not, cut out to be a drug dealer, not in the long term. He would never have been able to pull the trigger of a gun when it was pointed at someone else, not even in the heat of one of his strongest flares of anger. Judd just isn’t wired that way and Charlie must have seen that.
Charlie knew that Judd would eventually come around to the way of thinking that he wanted. He had gone to university after all, he had been taught to think and adapt and take new ideas and actually absorb them instead of letting them simply wash over him and forgetting about them the next day. Charlie had known that Judd would eventually see the light and get out of the drugs business. He knew that that change of thinking in Judd would come even quicker if he had Connie there to push things along. Someone in a position of authority is someone that Judd automatically listens to, especially if they’re sharing information that he wants and needs to learn. Charlie just exploited Connie’s position to get Judd to take the suggestions a little more seriously. More importantly Charlie had known which thoughts to manipulate in Judd’s mind so that he would listen and accept the suggestions that he was trying to make.
Judd realises, even as he feels grateful to Charlie, that there is a lot more to Charlie’s actions than simply trying to get someone out of drug dealing and into a better job. Charlie wanted more territory, it was simple, and getting Judd to leave his patch open was a much better way of getting more territory than taking either him or Obo out and possibly causing a gang war. Doing things this way means that not only does Charlie get more territory but he gets to do something good at the same time. In a strange way, Judd realises, it’s Charlie’s attempt to do a good thing to make up for all the bad that he’s done through drug dealing at the same time as helping himself.
And just like that it finally clicks in Judd’s mind. He finally understands why Charlie accelerated the process that was already beginning to happen. He understands why Charlie chose him to take the territory from. He was the easier target. He was the least vengeful and least ruthless of the two choices, despite everything that Judd had believed about himself. The facts are that Judd is never going to be as vengeful and ruthless as Obo or Charlie. He has something that they don’t, something that pushes him to act differently to them. He has alternatives, different paths that he can take to make his way in the world. The others don’t, they have no other path that they can take. For Judd dealing is something that he is doing, or rather was doing, until something better comes along. That’s what he has always told himself and it is actually true although it may have taken him longer to find that something else without Charlie’s machinations. But for Obo and Charlie dealing is their careers. It’s the only thing that’s open to them, the only way that they can make a living for themselves. They don’t do it because it’s easy like it is for Judd, they do it because they have no other choice.
Charlie might once have had choices, Judd thinks, but he chose to ignore them and stay on the path that he had chosen for himself and as time had passed those other choices had gone and he was left with only dealing. A wave of gratitude suddenly rushes through Judd, surprising him. He had expected to feel angry, furious even, that someone was deliberately manipulating him into doing something that he doesn’t want to do. But instead he was only grateful that Charlie had gotten Judd to make the choices that he never made and get out of the drug dealing business for good. Judd looks at Connie.
“I think I understand why you did it,” he says quietly.
She looks at him, eyes wide and still full of tears. Judd reaches out and takes her hand.
“I’m grateful actually,” he admits, “I was already thinking these things even if I didn’t want to admit it. You just got me to see everything more clearly. I’m not completely happy that you worked me over but I understand why. You were desperate and you thought you were doing a good thing. Your intentions were good at the end of the day and I won’t hold it against you.”
“You’re still mad though aren’t you,” Connie says.
Judd purses his lips and thinks for a moment.
“A little,” he admits, “But not at you. Not really. I need you to call Charlie though and confirm that your debt is clear. I don’t want your efforts to be a waste for you,”
“Ok,” Connie says quickly, nodding her head. “Ok, I can do that.”
She scrambles for her phone but her hands are shaking and she keeps dropping it. Judd leans forwards and puts the phone into her hands. He wraps her fingers around it and covers them with his own. He gently raises them to his mouth and kisses her fingers softly. He smiles and Connie breaths out slowly, her returning smile a little shaky but surer than it was before. She flicks open the phone, her hands steadier, and dials a number. Judd reaches forward and puts the phone on loud speaker. The sound of the ringing fills the small apartment.
“Connie,” Charlie says, “I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon.”
“It’s finished,” she says, “I want to make sure that my debt is cleared with you.”
“If Judd is out then your debt is clear,” Charlie says. Judd can hear the smirk in his voice. “Is Judd gone?”
Connie looks at Judd for guidance.
“Connie?” Charlie says. “Is Judd gone?”
Judd takes the phone from Connie’s hands and holds it up to his mouth.
“Yeah,” he says. “I’m gone.”
Judd doesn’t wait for a response, he just hangs up the phone. He tosses it on to the cushions beside Connie and sits back in his chair. He heaves a great sigh of relief and relaxes, closing his eyes.
He’s staying in Farlow, despite the possible problems. His life is here, his family, his friends, his degree course. And Connie is there too, and despite everything that she’s done he still wants to see what might happen between them. Besides, he needs to stay to look after Sally.
Charlie might want him to leave Farlow, so might Obo, but Judd doesn’t intend to go anywhere. It might get hard, it might be tricky but he will find a way to live the life that he had always had in mind. And he can do it legally, without anything to hide. Judd looks forward to the challenge.