Brotherhood

Ewan Bailey was blinded the minute he stepped out of prison.  He shivered, as his eyes adjusted to the Autumn light.  There was a sound behind him, as a guard appeared with the belongings he had handed in at the start of his sentence.  He took them silently.  He had spent the last five years saying “yes sir, no sir.” He was damned if he was going to thank them now.

He pulled his jacket over his skinny frame and ran a hand through his short, blond curls.  Then he jumped, as he heard a sound that he hadn’t heard in years.  A car pulled up and a blonde woman and a little boy stepped out of it.  Ewan ran to meet them and hugged them both.  Even though it had been five years, Karen hadn’t aged a day.  Her eyes still sparkled and her hair still shone.  As for Tommy, his hair had grown down to his neck, but he looked far older than his ten years.

Ewan entered the car and stared at Karen, as she drove off.  In the five years, he had been inside, she had never given up on him.  He couldn’t have asked for a better woman.  Ewan started, as he realised the car had stopped.  With a sinking heart, he realised where they were.

“Oh God…you’re going to have a surprise party for me, aren’t you?”

Karen looked around.  “No, we’re not.”

“I know the Clubhouse when I see it.”

“Clubhouse? You mean mancave.  Look, don’t be a spoilsport.  All the Bouncers are here.  Even Andy.”

“Oh God, I don’t want to see him.”

“It’s his mancave.  Come on.”

Ewan nodded and followed his family into the garage.  The light flicked on and everybody cheered.  Ewan feigned surprise.  He looked around and could see nine of the Bouncers.  They had all been Bouncers at one point or another and had taken great pride in it.  And now they were all coming to congratulate him.  There was Gary with his bald head and scouse accent and Jack who was the youngest in the Bouncers by 20 years.

“I know you’re expecting a big speech, but honestly I just want to thank everyone for standing by me, especially my amazing family here.  Enjoy.” Ewan said what he thought he should and then he felt his hands moisten and his heart race.

“Are you ok,” Karen asked, “maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.”

“I’m fine.  I’m not going to spoil everyone’s fun.”

Ewan turned around, as he heard something call his name.  It was a man with grey hair, a grizzled face and a gold stud in one ear.

“’ow you doin’, Ewan?” The man hugged him.  He spoke with a Cockney accent.

Ewan reluctantly hugged him back.  “I’m ok, Andy, you?”

“Not too bad, not too bad.  Listen, can I talk to you in private?”

“Jesus, Andy, Ewan just got out of prison.  Give him a minute, yeah?” Karen protested.

“Blimey, your missus still doesn’t like me, even after all we did for her.”

“And why is that, I wonder? Oh yeah, you’re the reason my husband was in the slammer for five years.”

The room silenced and Ewan blushed, as he felt all eyes turn to him.

“We’ll talk in the garden, Andy.  Go back to your drinks everyone.”

Ewan led Andy outside.

“Your trouble and strife has an attitude problem if you ask me.”

“I wasn’t asking you though and she’s right.  I went down, because you abandoned me, after we took out Harper.”

“Bleeding ‘ell, how many times do I have to say I wasn’t goin’ to risk the whole crew for one man?”

“You just didn’t want to risk your own neck.”

“You make it sound like we left you on your Jack Jones.  We got you protection when you was inside.”

Ewan showed Andy a scar above his belly button.  “Is that why the Irish shanked me during my first week inside?”

“That had to happen.  O’Rourke knew our beef wasn’t with him, but his streetboss Harper.  He knew Harper ‘ad to go, but O’Rourke couldn’t look weak, so one of us ‘ad to be attacked too.  I’m sure the doctor told you that the shank missed your vitals.  And you didn’t have anymore Irish trouble after that, did you? That’s because O’Rourke protected you.  He got you your shiv too.”

Ewan flinched, as he remembered cornering the man in the prison showers.  “Don’t remind me.  Look, why did you want to talk? Irish?”

“Nah, we’re good with them.  It’s Bulgarians, led by a man named Shinkov.  Usually, he’s stayed South of the river, but since our Irish trouble, he’s been pushing more into the North-West – our territory.  I’m sure you’ve noticed some of us are missing, that’s because Shinkov killed them.  Well, we’re goin’ to kill him and crush this Bulgarian threat.  And we need you.”

Ewan wanted to burst out laughing.  “I just got out and you want to send me back? No.  I’m done with you and the Bouncers.”

“So what? You’re gonna go legit? You’re an ex-con.  Aint nobody gonna employ you.  You aint gonna get a job.  You belong with us, your brothers.”

“I belong with my family.”

Andy held out a burner phone.  “I’ll be callin’ you on this.  I expect you to pick up.”

Ewan took it and slipped it inside his pocket.  “Don’t.”

After everybody had left, Ewan walked to the bedroom.  Even though, he hadn’t seen it for five years, he quickly realised that it was the same way it had always been.  The same bed sheets.  The same framed photographs.  He even recognised the strawberry air freshener that Karen loved to use.  He smiled, as he felt her hug him from behind.

“I didn’t change a thing.  I knew you wouldn’t want it to be different.”

Ewan smiled and turned around.  He blinked, as tears rolled from his eyes.

“You’re amazing, you know that?”

“I do.”

And with that Ewan kissed her; loving the way she tasted.  He closed the door and they fell onto the bed.

Later that night, Ewan was stroking Karen’s hair.

“What is it,” she asked, “you’re not all here.”

“Andy wants me to help take out some Bulgarians.”

“Jesus…you told him no, right?”

“Of course I did, but I wish he hadn’t even been at the party.”

“The party was his idea and when you were inside, he was good to us.  I’m not blaming you, but things were tough when you were gone.  Andy helped me keep this place, he paid for Tommy’s football lessons.”

“And that’s why he wants me to help.  Well, I’m not going to.  When I was inside, I got a job.  Just a labourer on a building site.  Not great, but it’s honest money.  We will make this work.” But Ewan wasn’t so sure.  He hadn’t told Karen about the burner phone.  He should have thrown it away, but it was still in his jacket pocket.  Maybe Andy was right.  He was just an ex-convict.  Maybe he had no chance of going straight.  No.  He was going to prove him wrong.

From the moment, Ewan stepped onto the construction site, he felt unwelcome.  It wasn’t just the buildings peering down at him or the cold breeze, but how everyone there avoided eye contact with him.  Nobody was outright hostile, but he could tell that he was unwelcome.  When he tried talking to them, they either ignored him or answered in monosyllables.  And he had only been assigned to pick up scrap, but he knew that he was capable of more.  By the end of the day, he had had enough and decided to speak to his foreman.

Michael Burns was short, bald and fat with a face that looked permanently sunburnt.  Ewan immediately disliked him.

“What do you want, Bailey?”

“Sir, all of the lads have been unwelcoming to me.  Everybody’s talking about me behind my back.”

“Seriously? Why don’t you break their teeth? That’s what men like you do, isn’t it?”

“What are you saying?”

“Nothing.  Was that everything?”

“No sir.  I’m only picking up scrap now.  I want to do more.  Make myself useful.”

“I can’t trust you with the tools.  If anyone pisses you off, you’ll bash their brains in, won’t you?”

“Why don’t you grow some balls and tell me what you really think, you red-faced prick?”

“Ok then.  I don’t like you.  I don’t like ex-convicts.  You, Andy, the rest of your gang…you all thought you were Robin Hood figures, but that was bullshit.  All of you were scum, extorting and attacking anyone who got in your way.  I wouldn’t be employing you now, if I didn’t need the labour.  So, you just need to grow a pair and deal with it.  We’re done here.”

Ewan would have loved to break Michael Burns’ nose, but instead he stormed out of the office.  As he was walking home, he wondered whether he had made the right decision.  Was his family worth this abuse? What was he talking about? Of course they were.  And then Ewan’s world turned sideways.

He heard Irish accents above him and then he was kicked in the stomach, punched across the face and had a steel pipe knocked across his knee.  But then the beating stopped, and he heard the Irish running away.  He stood up and spat out blood.  He looked at his saviours and recognised Andy and the rest of the boys.

“Thanks lads.”

“We’re brothers,” Andy smiled, “brothers look after each other.”

“How did you know where I was?”

“We’ve been following you since the construction site.  As have the Irish.”

“Why’d you only step in now?”

“Because we’re brothers and brothers are always there for one another.  You just need remindin’ of that.”

“Lads, I appreciate you helping, but I can’t be part of this anymore.  I have my family to think about.” Ewan began walking away.

“You still got that burner, yeah?” Andy called out.

Ewan froze.  He did still have it and Andy knew he did.

“I’ll be callin’ you on it and I expect you to ‘elp us, because we’re brothers and that’s what brothers do.”

When Ewan returned home, he found that Karen was waiting in the living room.

“Where have you been? What happened to you?”

Ewan laid his head on Karen’s lap and allowed her to play with his hair.  He would never let anyone see this.  This was private.

“I’m waiting.”

“The Irish happened.  Payback for Harper.”

“Jesus…I thought you were all square with them?”

“Obviously not with all of them.”

“What happened?”

“They’d’ve killed me, Karen.  But Andy and the others were watching over me.  They fought them off.”

“You know why they saved you, Ewan? So, you think you would have to help them kill Shinkov.  But you don’t have to.”

“It’s not as simple as that.  The Irish would have killed me, if it wasn’t for the boys.  I help them, we divvy up the spoils and I take you and Tommy the hell away from here.  The Irish are going to be back.  My boss hates me, because of what I was.  I’m an ex-con.  I’m never going to be anything more than that.”

“Andy’s the reason you’re an ex-con.  He’s the reason why I didn’t have a husband for five years.  Why Tommy has been growing up without a dad.  You’re making honest money now.  Why give that up?”

“What good is money if I’m not around to give it to you?”

“What good is money if we’re not around for you to give it to us?”

“Karen…”

“No, Ewan.  I’m sick of always coming second to Andy and the Bouncers.  If you go through with this, then we’re over.  I’m taking Tommy and I’m leaving.  Got it?”

Ewan grabbed onto Karen.  “You’re not taking my son.”

Karen ripped free and ran upstairs.

Ewan swore, as his eyes became watery.  He roared and punched through the plasterboard wall.  What could he do? He couldn’t allow himself to give Karen up.  She had stayed with him for the five years he had been inside.  That kind of woman was one in a million.  But what about the Irish and Andy? Only if they would both go away; his problems would be solved.  But that wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon.  Unless…and as Ewan walked upstairs, a plan started forming in his mind.

Could it work? Could he do this to his brothers? And then something made him stop outside of his bedroom.  Karen was crying inside.  It was quiet; he knew that she was trying to stifle it, but she was crying because of him.  Bottom line.  Ewan walked over to Tommy’s bedroom and peeked inside.  His son was sound asleep.  He had missed the last five years of his life, missed his son grow into a man.  And that was Andy’s fault.  Ewan returned to his bedroom.

“What the hell do you want?”

“I have a plan that will get us clear from Andy, the Irish, the Bulgarians, all of it.”

“I’m listening.”

Karen stayed silent until the end.  “Jesus Christ.  Is there no other way?”

“No, there isn’t.  It’s the only way we can escape this cesspit.  It’s what has to be done.  For you, for Tommy, because you’re right, Andy, the Bouncers, I don’t owe them a thing.  But when I come home, I need you and Tommy to be ready to go.  No arguments.  No questions.  Ready to go? Understand?”

“Yes.  I understand.  You do what you gotta do.”

Ewan nodded and pulled out his burner phone.  He made one call and then he made another to Andy.

“I’m in.” He said.

Ewan’s next week was the worst and best of his life.  Michael Burns continued to taunt him, while his workmates remained unfriendly.  Meanwhile, he had regular meetings with the Bouncers to decide how they were going to kill Shinkov.  But all throughout this, Karen and Tommy stood behind him.  And he learned how to be a father and a husband again.  He cheered Tommy on at his football games and took Karen shopping.  Just why she needed so many pairs of shoes, he didn’t understand, but he felt good buying them.  He helped her cook dinner and helped Tommy with his homework.  Slowly, but surely, he was feeling like a man again.  And then the night came.

Ewan and the others were sitting in a van outside the Wharves where Shinkov was based.  They were wearing balaclavas and body armour and were armed with Berettas, all with the serial numbers filed off.

“I’m glad you’re with us, brother.” Andy said.

“Me too.  You’re all my brothers.  Karen will just have to understand that.”

“Yes, we are.  Listen everyone.  We’re gonna send a message to anybody else who wants to screw with us.  We aint taking no prisoners.”

Ewan looked around at his brothers.  He wouldn’t be taking prisoners either.  They jumped out of the van.  Even with the spotlights, the Wharf was still dark, with plenty of shadows to hide in.  Circling the Wharf was a chain-link fence, topped off with razor wire.  In the middle was a gate and two armed guards.  But they weren’t paying proper attention.

Andy signalled and Gary shot them dead.  Jack ran forward and blew off the padlock.  And then they were in.  Andy pointed forwards.  They were surrounded by shipping containers, but they knew that Shinkov would be in the biggest one, closest to the river.  Andy led them forwards with Ewan close behind.  They were halfway through the Wharf.

“Stop or we’ll shoot.” Shouted out heavily-accented voices.

Ewan exchanged a curious glance with Andy, before they shot them dead.  Andy led the rest of them forward.  Just as they were three quarters in, he held his hand up.  They were skirting the edges of the Wharf and opposite them were red shipping containers.

“What is it?” Ewan asked.

“Something’s wrong here.  There was only four guards here and two of them gave us a warning.  Who does that? No, Shinkov’s smarter than this,” Andy stepped forward, “in fact, this is the perfect place for an…ambush.  Get down.”

As Ewan and Andy hit the ground, Shinkov’s men came firing out of the shipping containers.  They were aiming high, going for head-shots.  Soon it was only Andy and Ewan left alive.  And then Shinkov entered the scene.  He was almost seven feet tall, but he was as skinny as a matchstick.  His head with its spiked-up hair was too big for his body.  When he spoke, his Bulgarian accent could have been easily mistaken for Russian.

“Get up.” He ordered.

“Why did you do it, Ewan?” Andy asked, as he stood up.

“What are you talking about?”

“What do you mean “what am I talkin’ about?” You ratted us out.  Shinkov knew we was coming.  That’s why there was only four guards.  That’s why Gary, Jack and the others were shot in the head.  That’s why it’s only me and you still alive.”

Ewan cursed and pulled out his gun.  Aiming at Andy, he took a step back.

“What? You gonna kill me? Not gonna let your new Bulgarian friends do it?”

“I told you, I wanted out of this, but you didn’t listen to me.”

“Because it’s where you belong.  Not playing house.  You’re a Bouncer.  Like me.  You      belong by my side, as my brother.”

“I’m not your brother anymore.”

“Then do what you got-”

And Ewan fired.  Andy fell back dead.

Shinkov shook his head.  “I thought you two would carry on talking until, how you English say, the horses come home?”

“Cows.  Are we good?”

Shinkov laughed.  “You’re the rat who just betrayed your crew, but you don’t trust me? If I wanted you dead, you would be lying alongside your so-called brothers.  But I am a man of my word,” Shinkov clicked his fingers and three men were marched forwards and forced to their knees.  Two were pleading, while the middle one was staring forwards, “these were the Irishmen who attacked you, correct?” Shinkov nodded and the two men on the sides were shot in the back of the head.  Ewan could see that despite how hard he was trying to hide it, the third man was scared.  There was a stain developing on his jeans.

“No, I will leave this one alive to deliver the message.  As for the bodies, I will leave them in Irish territory.  And you,” Shinkov held out a card, “go see my man in Brixton.  He’ll sort you out with a new job.  North-West London is now mine, I don’t expect to be seeing you here again.”

Ewan nodded and looked at his brothers around him.  At Andy, with red tinging his grey hair.  This was what had to happen.  Wasn’t it?

“Rat, I’ll be calling you soon.  Now, scurry away.”

Ewan knew it was the price he had to pay.  He threw down his gun, discarded his body armour and scurried away.

He drove the van back to his house.  He ran inside to find Karen and Tommy in the living room.  He removed the balaclava and hugged both of them.

“What’s going on, dad?”

“Andy and the others…are they?” Karen asked.

“Yeah, Shinkov has taken care of everything.  We’re good.”

“Can we trust him?”

“More than we could ever trust Andy.  We need to go to Brixton now.  Shinkov has a man there.”

“Wait,” Karen sighed, “I’ve some fresh clothes here.  We’ll have to burn yours later.”

Ewan looked downwards and realised with horror that his shirt and jeans were stained with blood.  He instinctively felt his face, but realised that keeping the balaclava on had protected him.  He showered and got changed, before leading his family into the van.

Ewan climbed into the driver’s seat and looked across at his family sitting next to him.  He drove the van away from his house.  From his old life with the Irish, the Bouncers and Andy.  Finally, a free man.  And then his phone rang in his pocket.

*Author’s notes*

This was something I started writing a long time ago and have only just finished writing recently.  It was a tough story to write, as it took me a while to think of an ending.  This story was heavily influenced by crime dramas like the Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy.

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