He kicked the lad’s head, seeing it snap back hard. He heard the bone go in the nose and saw a dark arc of blood spurt before the skull crunched as it bounced off the wall. Then the lad landed, the breath pushing out of him. Something pooled under his scalp, forming a thin stream that rang along the pavement.
He prodded at the leg with his foot. Nothing. No reaction.
For a moment he didn’t know what to do. He stared at the lad and the pool grew a little bigger. He started to run.
He fucking hated working Saturdays. Friday night was when Chelsea’s mam always took Kieran so they could go out. He had his pay then and she wanted to go out after being stuck in the flat all week with the baby; they could have some fun, a few drinks and sleep late in the morning. Last night they’d stayed at home, putting the boy to bed early. He’d bought a takeaway and they’d had some cans; better than no sleep and a hangover when he had to be up early. Chelz had moaned, the way she always did, and they’d ended up arguing again.
He pulled himself out of bed and into his clothes, feeling shit. Chelsea grunted, her breath sour in his face. She’d said they should go out Saturday instead. She knew better than that. Saturday nights were for the lads. Back at the beginning, when he’d started seeing her, he’d told her that, and if she didn’t like it she could fuck right off.
His mobile buzzed – Colin, checking he was ready, the way he did every morning. Just because he’d been late a few times. Outside, it was colder than he thought, the wind gusting hard and lifting the dead leaves from the ground. He heard a bright tinkle and watched an empty Red Bull can blow down the street. The start of November. There’d only be another week of work, a fortnight at most, giving lawns the last cut of the year and a final trim for the bushes. That was why he’d needed to work today, more money before he was laid off and back on benefits until March. Off in the distance he could hear the traffic on the ring road but round here it was quiet, just a dog barking somewhere. He lit a cigarette and tossed the empty pack on the pavement.
The old van pulled up and he climbed in, equipment rattling in the back as Colin took off again. The boss was a big man, with broad shoulders and tattooed arms, always in the same old fucking tee shirt with the holes in it and combat pants, both of them stained green from all the grass. He’d wash them on the weekend and by the next Friday they’d be filthy again. And the fucker didn’t use deodorant. It was a nightmare; end of the day he’d be stinking as they drove home. About the only thing he did was keep his hair cropped close and that was just because he’d been a skin once when he was young.
“We got four jobs and I got to be finished by noon,” he said, “so you’d better pull your weight for once. You got that?”
“Yeah.” He smiled. Cheeky cunt. He was the one who used the mower and trimmed the bushes. All Colin managed was the strimming and flirting with the housewives, blagging cups of coffee through the day. Couldn’t blame him for trying, though, some of them were well fit. That one in West Bridgford had given him the eye a couple of times.
“I mean it. I’m picking my lad up from the ex’s to take him to the Forest match. We’re not done in time you’ll be taking the bus home. I’m fucking serious, right?”
“OK.” He litook a cigarette from the packet on the dashboard as Colin drove out along Mansfield Road and took the turning into Mapperly.
He was home by half-twelve, surprised by the silence when he unlocked the door. Usually Kieran would be banging away at something and Chelsea would have her music playing to drown him out. Maybe she’d taken him to the park or off to the shops. He took a can of Stella from the fridge, loving the way the first gulp took the edge off his thirst. Then he saw the note on the table – Daz, we gone to mum’s. Staying over.
He tossed it in the bin along with the empty can. At least he could get a nap in peace without the kid bawling. He loved the lad but it did his head in sometimes, the way he could go on and fucking on. And all Chelz did was ignore it or just say ‘That’s enough, now,’ when Kieran needed a good slap to shut him up.
By eight he was showered and smelling right, wearing the shirt he’d bought the week before, the G-Star jeans and the Bench hoodie, a ready meal curry and three more cans of Stella in his belly.
The taxi was booked for half past. He was meeting the lads at the new bar across the square from the Council House. They’d start with a few drinks there and go on somewhere else. By the time he got home he’d remember fuck all about it and tomorrow his head would be banging but that was what a good night was all about. His phone beeped, a text from Chelsea – miss u bbe.
The bar was Saturday night busy, loud talk, people dressed up, the music banging, everyone drinking and looking around hopefully.
“Pint of Stella, mate,” he said, spotting the others at a table in the corner. “All right?” he shouted as he walked up, slapping Matt so hard on the back he spilt his lager. Terry and Rhys were already roaring, empty shot glasses on the table. He grinned. Yeah, it was going to be good.
“You all right, Dazzer?” Rhys asked. He was still on Jobseekers’, living with his mum up in Sneinton and doing some labouring cash in hand a couple of days a week. They’d been mates all through school, suspended together a few times before Rhys ended up excluded for setting fire to the toilets.
Matt was wiping beer off his shirt.
“Cunt,” he said, but he was laughing. He’d been a year ahead of them all, the leader, the mad fucker who got stuck into every fight. But he was smart, too, went on to college and came out an electrician earning good money. He’d been married for three years, the names of his kids tattooed on his neck. Not that being wed stopped him on a Saturday night if he was in the mood and the girl was willing.
Terry was the one he didn’t know well, some mate of Matt’s who’d come out with them someone when City were away. He seemed to like a laugh, but he was quiet, he didn’t have the history with them. He wasn’t sure he trusted the lad.
Matt stood and raised his glass. The others followed him. It was the way they started every night out.
“To Alan, the stupid twat. Just a few months to go.”
They drank in silence for a moment, then Matt finished, the way he always did, “Silly cunt, getting caught.”
Alan had been part of the mob lobbing stones at Canning Circus police station during the riots the year before, getting his face caught on CCTV. The cops had come for him at six a.m., pulling him from his bed in his boxers, never mind that his mam was yelling he was innocent, and he’d gone down for two years. Out soon if he kept his nose clean.
He’d been texting the night it happened, telling them to get their arses down there. Daz had fancied a bit of thieving, maybe come home with a wide screen, some other stuff, good trainers. But Chelz told him straight that she’d walk out with Kieran if he did it and her face said she wasn’t pissing about.
By eleven they’d been on to a couple of different places and end up in a bar by the canal, gathered around an outdoor heater on the patio. Matt had tried it on with a hen party and they’d told him to fuck off, snotty cows. But if they were still here in a couple of hours…he drained the glass and felt the phone buzz in his pocket. Chelsea. She always did it on a Saturday night, couldn’t give him any peace.
Amber cm rnd n told me bout u n her 2 wks ago.
Fuck. His fingers moved fast.
Wot I do?
She lying cow.
No she not.
Bbe I luv u u no tht.
He was sweating now, all the good buzz drained away. Shit. He didn’t think she’d ever find out about Amber. Why did the silly cunt have to start feeling guilty? She’d liked it well enough when he was fucking her.
I do honest.
will get things tmrw. Staying at mams w Kieran.
Someone put a glass in front of him and he drank. Fuck. He looked up as he heard his name.
“I was saying you never got in a fight at school,” Rhys said.
“Yeah, I did,” he objected. “You know I fucking did.” He felt the anger coursing in him. He’d have to talk her round.
“Davy Arms?” Rhys asked, his voice rising in disbelief. “You lying bastard. You’d run a mile rather than fight.” He looked at the others. “He makes butter look hard, does Daz.”
They all started laughing. Laughing at him.
“You think I wouldn’t hit someone? You reckon that, do you?”
“I think you’d shit yourself, mate,” Matt told him. “Never seen you near when there’s a ruck on.”
“Fuck you,” he shouted, the rage boiling, and a few heads turned before looking away quickly. He knew his face was red, but he didn’t care. “I tell you what, right? We’ll go out on the street right now and I’ll take on the first bloke we see.” He stood up, pushing the chair back so hard it fell over. “Yeah?”
Matt glanced at the others.
“Go on, then,” Terry said with a grin. “I want to see this.” He drained his pint. “Come on.”
He went out ahead of them, pulling up his hoodie as they left. The phone buzzed in his pocket again but he ignored it. They started to walk away from town, the lights of the castle up blazing away on the hill. His fists were bunched, his mouth set hard. Fuck them. Fuck them all. He felt the fury churning inside. Yeah, so, he’d never been in a fight? Didn’t mean he couldn’t do it. Didn’t mean he didn’t have any bottle. Fuck Chelsea, too, whining cow. He’d only gone with Amber ‘cos she’d had a strop on and he’d gone out pissed off. It wasn’t anything.
He saw the lad coming, on his own, hands in his pockets, head down. Long hair, looking like a fucking student in his skinny jeans and Converse. He waited until he was ten feet away and said, “You.”
When the lad glanced up, he continued, “Yeah, you. Got a light, mate?”
“I don’t smoke.” The lad started to turn away, looking for an escape, ready to cross the road, to take off and run. He could sense the fear and moved closer.
He pushed the kid hard, watching him bounce off the wall then went in and punched him, once, twice in the gut, the way he’d seen the boxers do it on telly. He could feel the fire inside. The shouts of the others seemed to come from miles away, like a quiet roar.
He saw the lad fall down and start puking, the vomit all over the pavement – he danced back so it wouldn’t go on his shoes. Very carefully, he picked a spot, drew back his leg like he was going for goal. He kicked the lad’s head, seeing it snap back hard. He heard the bone go in the nose and saw a dark arc of blood spurt before the skull cnuched as it bounced off the wall. Then the lad landed, the breath pushing out of him. Something pooled under his scalp, forming a thin stream that rang along the pavement.
He prodded at the leg with his foot. Nothing. No reaction
For a moment he didn’t know what to do. He stared at the lad and the pool grew a little bigger. He started to run.
He ran over the bridge and along the canal, dodging in and out of the pools of light. The echo of his footsteps slapped back in his ears. He didn’t know where the others had gone, he just needed to get away from there. He took the pathclose to the Magistrates’ Court and came out across from the railway station, panting, bent over, hands on his knees, his heart pounding as if he’d just done a Mo Farah. Sweat was running down his back, and there was a deep roar inside that wanted to explode. Traffic was moving, the sound of engines, a line of taxis, like he’d suddenly come out from nowhere and discovered life. He forced himself to stop, holding on to each side of his head and tried to calm himself down then dragging his hands away in case anyone noticed. He didn’t want to be remembered.
The lad couldn’t be dead. He hadn’t even given him much of a seeing-to. Someone would come along and find him then he’d be off to A&E and he’d be out in a day or two. That had to be right. Fucking had to be.