“I come here for a shootout, right? A proper shootout with some proper men. Like Colonel Custer and Geronimo,” Ronnie was saying, arms raised and hands thrust forward in his pockets, bluffing with nonexistent semiautomatics, getting the Richardson boys to sweat a little. “A shootout, right, is a FUCKING SHOOTOUT!” Spit was flying, now. Reggie watched Ron lick his lips. “Like a western. …wankers! …Fucking embarrassing……”
Westerns. As boys, that’s where it all started. At least, that’s where Reggie reckoned it started. The two of them on the floor in the living room, their mum in the kitchen rowing loud and long into the night with their pa. If they were lucky, and the fighting got involved enough, they could stay up for an extra hour, two, three, watching whatever came on the TV. On nights like that, when the whole house shook, the brothers watched John Wayne films accentuated with breaking porcelain and rambling, colorful curses. The Virginian, Stagecoach. Hell, even that shitty one, what was it? Destry Rides Again.
Something about it all clicked with Ronnie. The grit, the grime, the tumbleweeds. The orderly tropes of Big Bad and Morally-Grey Good. The shootouts, because of fucking course. Those early days, Ronnie smiled brightest with the TV set grain reflected off his face. When he got older, and they finally figured out Ron needed glasses, Reggie was sad to lose the ability to look over and see that light in his younger brother’s eyes. Even if it was artificial, that light was now gone, lost in the reflection of the movie along the surface of Ronnie’s eyeglasses.
Cut to present day, and the West still hadn’t abandoned Ronnie. Shit, the man was more dedicated than ever to the idea of outlaws, heists, legacy, myth. Reggie supposed this run-in at the bar with Richardson boys was the most fun his brother’d had since he’d gotten out of prison. And even Reg, who preferred to do things above the board if only to minimize the headaches later, had to admit a good skull-bashing every now and again was a welcome bit of stress relief. Hadn't had the cause for one in a long while.
The door to the Pig & Whistle snapped closed behind Ronnie. Neutral ground Reggie’s arse. It was a setup, they’d known as soon as the Richardson rat had crossed on to their stomping grounds. Reg busied himself with slowly pouring himself a Guinness. He only had a few moments to kill, he estimated, before his brother was slipping back through the side door, hammers in hand. One of the Richardsons, the rat-faced fuck who had the bollocks to traipse over to their side of the city, was snickering about Ron’s exit. Patsy fucks actually believed Ronnie’d walk out on a fight. On his brother. Fuckin idiots, the whole lot of them.
Reg looked down at the Guinness he was pouring, that perfect light-color foam of the head. His sharp eyes scrutinized the contents of his pint glass. “…look at that,” he said, conversational, suave. “Full of iron, that is. Takes a while, that does, y’know. To settle.”
“Charlie Richardson said we’re to knock the granny out of you, Reg.” Reggie was almost too busy noting how pretty the light was, the way it was shining low-afternoon colors through the stained glass diamonds of the pub windows, to pay attention to the prick talking to him.
“Oh, he did, did he? That’s good of him.” Reggie set down his pint on the bartop, shoving his hands casually in his pockets as he strolled toward the rat-faced fuck. The prick’s hair was rolled over on itself from each side, like little baby devil horns. Precious, that. “Alright, listen,” began Reg, “When you see him next, you tell him for me, yeh? That I say fuck Charlie, right? And fuck his brother, yeh? And fuck that fat Georgie Cornell that hangs out with him. Fuck your face, yeh? Yeh?” Reggie’s smile, broad and handsome, only grew as his speech momentarily dipped into an almost giddy, light laugh. “An’ fuck the fuckin lot of you, as well, what’dyou think of that, eh? You like that?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Reg caught the quiet movement of his brother, like a panther. Rid of his coat and scarf, Ronnie eased into the room, deadly silent. His stern brow was creased in concentration and focus. Reggie felt the corner of his mouth twitch, just seeing that familiar form in his periphery, but he kept his eyes locked on the rat-faced fuck and the rest of the Richardson boys, really selling his brass knuckles, like a fuckin proper auctioneer.
Time stood still for Reggie for a brief, dizzying moment. It was almost overwhelming, that heady, pre-fight feeling. It brought him back to his teenage years, and the real possibility of making boxing his full-time gig. That almost airless, free-fall rush you felt before the bell was rung and the fight began. But what made it worse — or maybe better, depending on how you was looking at it — was that this was the first real fight the Kray brothers had gotten into in over a year, since Ronnie had been taken away from him. And because of that, this was the first time in a long time Reggie was rudely reminded of how amazing — and distracting — it was to have Ron by his side.
“Now, before we start, got a little joke for ya,” said Reggie, trying to keep himself focused, trying to push the thrill of seeing Ronnie up behind one of the other men, waiting to pounce, from his mind. “You’ll love this one. A paranoid schizophrenic walks into a bar…”
Ron. Ronnie. Black leather gloves. Crisp collar, cuffs. Strong jaw, slicked hair, the glint of a silver tie clip. Reggie couldn’t breathe, for all of that, all of his brother, all at once. But then there was the graceful, deadly arc of a hammer timed perfectly with the impact of Reg’s own brass knuckles. A dance. A mirrored image. Reggie felt thin fabric, somehow soft, with each impact of his fists. Behind the fabric, vulnerable, stocky torsos. By the time they finished, the Richardsons were in varying states of fucked on the sticky pub floor. Ronnie’s eyes were wild and unfocused, and his hair had fallen haphazardly from its usual, precise style, framing his face, brushing his forehead. His once-crisp shirt was wrinkled and spattered with blood. Most alarmingly, his face, nose, and mouth were decorated with crimson. When had that happened?
“You headbutted him,” said Ron, jutting his jaw in the direction of one of the crumpled, groaning men. One of them tried to drag himself up from the floor, and Ronnie brought his hammer down against his knee with a sickening snap. Reggie winced, looking away as he took a long gulp from his now-settled Guinness. “You did, s’why your face is red on the side. Right?”
“They may’ve gotten a few punches in, too,” said Reg, letting his brass knuckles sit on the bartop with a heavy clunk. He caught the tail end of a deep-set frown from his brother, but waved his hand in a dismissive gesture at the concern. “What about you, mate? Somebody get that nose of yours?”
“Nah, nah,” drawled Ronnie, stepping over a passed-out body and accepting the Guinness from his brother. Something about little things like that, like Reg sharing his pint instead of pouring another, made Ron’s stomach clench up, for all the sudden happiness. “S’not mine, I bit one of ‘em.”
“Mm,” was all Reg said back, taking stock of the still-wild expression behind his brother’s eyes. “Hey. Did good, mate.”
“Yeh,” hummed Ron. A bit of Guinness gleamed on his bottom lip, leftover foam. Ronnie's eyes roamed over the pub, as if waiting for another one of the gits to struggle up and need to be put back down. Then over the street outside, through the stained glass windows, as if begging for another fight.
“Did good, Ron,” murmured Reggie again, trying to call his brother back to him.
“Yeh,” was all Ronnie replied.