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

Judd lets himself into his flat at sighs with relief. It’s wonderful to be alone at last, left with silence and only his own thoughts. He enjoys his classes, certainly, and he enjoys spending time with Emmet and Reece, his right and left hand men. But sometimes it can all get to much for him and he just has to be alone. The evening had started out so promising when he had first left the house that afternoon but now it is unravelling more and more and Judd is stuck with too many thoughts in his brain and no real way of processing them. He slings his jacket on to the back of the sofa and is toeing off his shoes when he remembers the wad of cash that he took off Dev moments before kicking him out of the gang. He needs to put it somewhere safe, where it can’t be seen or traced. It’s going to be a few more days before he can take it to the bank and deposit it there. And there is only one safe place in the world that Judd trusts. He grabs his jacket and digs through the pockets until he finds the three rolled up wedges of cash. He tosses it up and down in his hand a few times, enjoying the weight of it in his palm.

Judd pads into his bedroom and opens the wardrobe. There are a few boxes, slim and elegant, piled up at the bottom. Judd crouches down and gently slides them to one side. There in front of him is a large metal safe, old fashioned and bolted to the floor. It was one of the first things that Judd had had installed after he bought the flat and it is the most important things that he owns. It is fire proof, water proof, crush proof, a top of the line model with a combination of a dial lock and number pad. The safe is a monster of 6 inch thick steel all around, the hinges are set into the door so that they can’t be pried open and it weighs more than a full grown man. Very few people know that the safe exists, the few women who were lucky enough to have caught Judd’s attention certainly never saw it. His Dad doesn’t even know that he needs a safe, let alone actually has one. No one comes into the bedroom really, only the lucky few, and even fewer have seen the safe that is his pride and joy. No one but Judd knows the combination, not even the man who had installed it for him. He dials the combination quickly, with a well-practised hand and then quickly types in the number that he picked. The keypad beeps and flashes green for a moment. The lock clicks a few times and Judd is finally able to open the safe’s door.

Inside are a few more rolls of cash, massive bundles that had been there for quite a while. This is all of the cash that the gang makes in a day, easily. He tries to put as much of it in to the bank but dropping off large sums of money every day will raise eyebrows and suspicions, neither of which Judd wants to experience for himself. Judd lifts up the money, flicking through it to make sure that the amount is still the same. It is and he puts it to one side, along with the money that he took off Dev. Then he pulls out a folded sheet of paper. Slowly he opens it out and smooths out the creases after he lays it down on the floor. It is a map of Farlow, detailed and labelled with all of the street names and important buildings of the town. The bike paths are all highlighted and labelled and lines pass through parts of the town, marking off the different territory. He runs his fingers along the bike paths, searching for where he had pulled up earlier. There is a red dot close to where the estate is and he taps it. He knows that there is a junction where the runners drop off with the clients, he knows that Dev would have used that. That he should have used that.

Judd’s lips tighten as he looks at the map and sees all of the red dots scattered everywhere. Each dot shows a drop point, a junction in the cycle paths that all of his dealers have to use and know that they have to use. He pulls a marker from the safe and quickly makes a note on the spot where he caught Dev earlier, a warning that the people on that particular estate have to be watched and that other dealers must not go into the estates or any of the buildings. He looks over his map once more before folding it up and putting it back into the safe along with his money. He shuts the safe door and gives it a tug, making sure that the safe is securely closed again. Then he puts the boxes back in front of the safe and closes the wardrobe door once more. Satisfied that the safe is completely hidden again Judd climbs back to his feet and heads off to the living room.

He needs to make sure that the safe is secure and undiscovered, it’s one of the reasons why he rarely has someone, anyone in his room. If the police were to find it, however they found it, the contents would give them all the evidence they need to put Judd away for good. Just the money would be incriminating enough but the map would get Judd put away for years in an open and shut case. So the safe has to be kept closed tight and hidden from prying eyes. No one knows that the safe even exists, not even Emmet or Reece, despite how much Judd trusts them. The safe is his and his alone, another little secret that adds on to all the other secrets that he is keeping.

When Judd gets in to the living room he sees a light blinking on his answer machine and presses the button.

“Hi Judd,” a voice says through the speaker. It is Sally, his step mother and her voice is shaking, “I’ve got some bad news I’m afraid. The verdict came in for the preliminary hearing for your dad’s case. I’m afraid it’s not good news sweetheart. The judge has decided that the shoplifter isn’t going to be prosecuted. We did our best but the boy’s lawyer made a good case and despite the fact that they want to send a message against shoplifters, they decided he has already suffered enough with what your dad did to him.” Judd swears beneath his breath. Sally continues speaking. She sounds happier now, more hopeful. I’ll text you with the trial date, we should have it by next week. Please come. It would mean everything to your dad if he knew that you were there. Oh! And I’m very busy with the shop but never too busy to stop for a chat if you feel like popping in. You know you’re always welcome. Stay safe sweetheart and call me anytime. Love you, bye,”

The machine beeps and asks Judd if he wants to keep the message, replay it or delete it. He presses the button and Sally starts talking again. He sighs as he listens to her voice and a flame of anger begins to curl in his belly as her words sink in further and further. The shop lifter has broken the law and yet his dad is the one being punished despite the fact that he was defending himself and his business. It just isn’t fair, Judd thinks to himself, justice no longer works the way that it should do and the guilty walk free while the innocent suffer. Judd is more determined now than ever to focus on his law conversion course so he can help his father and hopefully get a better outcome for them all. This business with Charlie and needing to step up could not have come at a worse time. That’s when Judd realises that he still needs to tell Obo what is happening. It’s a conversation Judd is not looking forward to but it needs to be done. If he doesn’t tell Obo the news it could shatter their truce, Obo believing that Judd is trying to make a play to expand his territory and take over Farlow completely as the sole dealer in town. Judd throws himself on to the sofa and calls Obo’s number. He has it stored in his phone, he doesn’t use it unless he has to so he had never bothered to try and learn it by heart. He ends up having to search through his entire contacts list and thinks to himself that he may need to clean out his contacts a little. People are getting hard to find in there.

“Obo man,” Judd says when Obo picks up. “How are you?”

“What do you want skinny boy?” Obo asks gruffly. Judd can hear some loud music playing in the background, possibly breakbeat, maybe drum n bass, he isn’t sure.

“I’ve got some news and I figured I better tell you too before you hear it from someone else.” Judd says eventually. “Charlie’s gone.”

“Gone?!” Obo shouts, “You killed Charlie?!”

Judd can hear shouting in the background now and the music has gone. He can hear the anger in Obo’s voice, the other man is more short tempered than Judd is and he knows that he needs to tread carefully with his next choice of words.

“I haven’t killed him,” Judd says with a sigh, “He’s just vanished. Right Stuff called me earlier and told me that Charlie missed a drop off and hasn’t been see for three days.”

“Fuck,” Obo says simply, “What’s happened to him?”

“Not a clue,” Judd says. “But until Charlie gets back I’m going to be keeping Right Stuff and the other dealers supplied. They keep most of the profit to give to Charlie when he gets back and I take a little off the top to cover the preparation and handling.”

“Now that ain’t fair,” Obo says. Judd can practically hear the snarl that’s probably on his face right now, “How come that pretty boy’s come to you and not me?”

Judd racks his mind and realises that this is indeed a fair question. Why had Right Stuff come to him? Why hadn’t the guy gone to Obo? They all used the same supply after all and the terms would be the same either way.

“I don’t know Obo,” Judd eventually admits, “Maybe it’s because I’m closer.”

“Well how’d you end up agreeing to supply him anyway?” Obo asks, “If you was only talking about Charlie’s disappearance then how did the conversation get on to supply and demand.”

“I asked, Obo,” Judd says. “Right Stuff said that Charlie missed a drop off, the usual one that brings in more supply but yesterday Charlie never showed so I figured Right Stuff might have been almost out. Turns out that I was right. I figured it was better to keep Charlie’s clients with us rather than forcing them to go somewhere else to get a fix. Better to keep them on our supply than turning to someone else’s supply. God knows what those other dealers are cutting their stuff with.”

“Fairly play,” Obo says grudgingly, “I’m not happy with it,”

“Neither am I mate,” Judd admits, “I’ve got enough on my plate without having to worry about where Charlie’s gone.”

“Why’d he ring you anyway?” Obo asks just as Judd is about to hang up.

“Probably because I was closer,” Judd says after a moment. He doesn’t want to admit that it’s probably because Right Stuff is shit scared of Obo and his temper so he has to come up with another excuse and fast, “I’ve not exactly kept it quiet that I’m going to night classes after all. He probably figured I was less likely to be too busy.”

“Fine, fine,” Obo says, “Let me know if anything changes.”

“I will do,” Judd says.

He hangs up the phone and sighs heavily. Talking to Obo always winds him up, the man is short tempered and easy to piss off. Judd is surprised that Obo kept as calm as he did. Now though Judd needs something to calm him down and he knows just the thing. He knows he should be studying but he can’t he’s too tense at the moment. Trying to study now would just end up with things going through his eyes but not really sinking in. If he wants to get this course done and get the grades that he needs and wants he needs to be able to focus and pay attention to that. There’s no hope of that right now with how he’s feeling. So he does the only thing that really relaxes him and turns on the xBox to shoot things.

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