Authors: Martyn Waites
Born Under Punches
Open Road Integrated Media ebook
For Steve Baker, wherever you are
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
The music besieged the flat, blaring and thumping, pounding around the walls like a hooligan in a blind rage. The doorbell cut in abruptly, knife-like, demanding immediate attention.
âFuckin' miserable neighbours.'
Karl buttoned up his jeans, reluctantly made his way to the door.
He violently yanked the door open, mouth ready to spew obscenities at being disturbed. Before he could speak, an arm shot out, catching him by the throat, gripping his neck like an industrial vice. Karl's surprise quickly turned to fear, then desperation. He knew who it was. He knew how small were his chances of walking away unharmed.
The man picked Karl up off the floor and flung him into the living room, upending the sofa, crashing him on to a small table. Karl rolled off and lay on the floor, groaning, blood pooling at the side of his mouth.
The man entered, scoped the room, saw a girl half-standing, half-kneeling. Young, attractive, struggling to pull her clothes around herself. Her eyes quick-flicked between the man and Karl's prone body, fear-gasping down air.
The man glared steel, the girl collapsed on to the floor like her bones had just been removed. Breathing in spasms, she tried to scuttle herself into the corner, through the wall. Brick halted her, and she stopped moving. Trembling, foetally curled, she let out an involuntary, wailing keen.
The man didn't listen. He had heard it all before.
He looked around for others, found only the deafening, pounding dance music emanating from the walls. He couldn't make out where it was coming from; if he had he would have destroyed the CD player. Squinting against the noise, he crossed the floor to reach the girl.
She started to scream.
In the kitchen, Davva and Skegs, heads already fully loaded, garage pushed up to earbleed, heard nothing of this.
Davva looked at Skegs, blasted, jerking his body to the block-rockin' beats. A head full of skunk, a bottle of tequila in his left, Karl's automatic in his right. Davva made a grab for the tequila, got it on the second attempt, Skegs surrendering it easily. He tipped his head back, gulped down big mouthfuls. He stood there rooted, legs numb, waiting for his world to stop spinning, trying to get back on again, swallowing back the bile bubbling up in his throat.
How the fuck do people drink that stuff? he thought. Fuck, I'm shagged.
Skegs just stood there, trying to catch a rhythm, waving the gun above his head. Gone.
Then a noise so loud it topped the music, penetrated their mashed skulls. Crashing, thumping, banging, topped by a real horror movie scream. Davva and Skegs looked at each other, puzzlement forcing itself into their fogged brains.
âKarl must be givin' that bird a real fuckin' seein' to,' Davva slurred, laughing.
âShall we gan an' watch?' asked Skegs, eyes full of lascivious cruelty.
Davva giggled, nodded. They made their way to the door. Davva put his ear to the wood but couldn't hear anything. He looked at Skegs, shrugged, turned the handle.
It wasn't what they were expecting. It was sheer devastation. Karl's living room had gone from sterile tidiness to post-bombing Chechnya. Glass and ceramics were smashed. Furniture was upended. The fireplace mirror was now just a starburst collection of shards.
The girl cowered in the far corner, a huge sliver of sharpened glass held knife-like in one hand, blood pooling and dripping around her fingers and palms. In the other she clutched the curtains over her naked body in a desperate cloak of protection. On the floor lay Karl, bashed and bruised, mouth pouring blood. His arms flopped slowly and uselessly, his fingers made feeble grasping motions. Between them both stood a man Davva and Skegs had never seen before: compact, powerful-looking, dressed in a light-coloured suit, white shirt, dark tie. The suit splattered with blood. Hair cut short and greying, face twisted, ugly with violence. He was ordering the girl to put the glass-knife down, moving towards her. Then he caught her eyeline, turned, saw Davva and Skegs, stopped. Faced them.
Fear broke inside the two boys as the man pointed towards them, spoke. The words were lost in the beat, but they knew they weren't pleasant. The man began to move towards them, hands outstretched as if about to do damage.
Panic rooted Davva and Skegs. Davva raised his arms in an ineffectual attempt to ward off the blows he knew were coming, whimpering in painful anticipation.
Then a popping sound, not loud but authoritative enough above the din. The man flung himself to his right, spun and crashed down on his right knee as if his leg had been kicked out from under him. He clutched his side, face darkening with surprise and pain, jacket and shirt darkening to black red.
Davva looked at Skegs. He was now sitting behind him on the kitchen floor in sudden, shocked astonishment. In his right hand was Karl's still-smoking gun. Skegs stared at it like he'd never seen it before, as if the gun and the hand belonged to someone else.
Davva looked again at the man, now slid down on to both knees and half-dragging, half-pulling himself along the floor, face caged with agony and anger.
Then Davva heard another noise. At first his clouded-up mind thought it was just extra bass and vibe from the sound system, but it wasn't. Someone was hammering very loudly and very insistently on the front door, holding down the doorbell at the same time.
Oh, fuck, thought Davva. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Fear ratcheted up several notches, panic rose higher. His head was spinning, sick from more than just weed and booze. He had the sudden overwhelming urge to cry. He fought it unsuccessfully and fell to his knees, sobbing on the kitchen floor.
He gave an inward curse of anger and pity as painful tears ran down his cheeks. Not for the first time in his thirteen years did he wish he wasn't just someone or somewhere else, but that he had never been born in the first place.
Dead Man's Town
Roeder punted the ball into the air and Tony Woodhouse, tracking it, seeing it float over the pitch in seeming slow motion, knew it would be his.
It was a lucky kick, a desperate, scrambled attempt to clear the goalmouth from an Arsenal corner with most of his team back defending. Tony saw the chance for a break and moved. He ran towards it, studs spewing gouts of turf in his wake, ignoring the shouts, focusing on the ball, only the ball. His marker, an Arsenal midfielder, clocked Tony's action and moved in, shadowing, then blocking him.
Tony dropped his left shoulder, making as if to follow the move through with his whole body. The Arsenal player anticipated the movement, took a sudden change in direction. Tony pulled back before his foot hit the ground, kept the course he was on and ran.
âFucker!' A half-grunt, half-shout from the Arsenal man, now left standing.
A perfect dummy. Tony ran on, the Arsenal man just a receding blur of shirt.
Tony saw the ball arcing down before him and jumped for it. He planned on connecting his head to the ball, knocking it on to someone else â Beardo or the Waddler; they were usually up there mouching â then following in support. But there were no other black and white shirts near him. He went up, grunting, legs compressing then combusting like engine pistons. He was on his own.
He pushed harder, higher, twisting as he went, meeting the ball with his chest rather than his head. He absorbed the impact, deadening the ball in the process, dropping it at his feet. Good. He could work with it now.
He looked up. Two Arsenal defenders were making their way directly towards him. He had no time to think, to look around, scope out other players. He put his head down and ran straight ahead, powering up the centre, the ball never more than inches in front of his toes, held there as if by invisible elastic.
The two defenders converged on him, one either side. Tony kept going, still straight at them, glancing side to side for support. He gave a quick look to his left; Beardo was up shouting, gesturing to a spot past the two defenders, where he would have a clear run at the goal. Tony, thinking on the hoof, calculated the distance, lined up the pass. The left defender saw him telegraph the movement and changed his position, challenging Tony by running straight at him. Tony reacted, thoughts and impulses turning into action with lightning speed. He switched the ball to his other foot, then back, keeping his run going, selling another dummy, sending the defender in the wrong direction.
He reached the penalty box. One defender left, eyes stuck to Tony's feet, trying to follow or anticipate movement. The defender made the first move. He slid forward, coming in fast and low, stretching out his right leg, risking a penalty if the move misconnected, committing himself. Tony skipped the ball over the man's leg, followed it through, and there he was with a clear shot at goal.
His chest was on fire, his legs ached with exertion, his breath ragged. He ignored it all. The rest of the ground, the other players, the crowd tunnelled away into darkness and shadow. There was just him, the ball and the goal. The goalkeeper stood hunched, intense, dancing from side to side in anticipation.
He struck the ball, aimed for the top left-hand corner. The keeper read the action, flung himself at full stretch to cover it. If the ball had gone where Tony intended it to go, it would have been saved. But there was too much spin on it. It sailed to the right, missing the keeper's fingers, gliding just under the bar and smacking comfortably into the back netting.
The home crowd went wild. The collective pent-up frustration, hopes and faith of a whole city in microcosm were released in a solid block of cheering so loud, so unrestrained, that it became an almost physical thing. The air warmed with the sound, the pitch vibrated, the stands shook. It was like being at the centre of a minor earthquake.
The sonic wave reached Tony, brought him back from his zone, back to the moment. He stuck his arms in the air, fists clenched, added his own roar to the crowd. He turned to the Gallowgate end, held the gesture, and the roar, if anything, intensified.
Other team members ran up to congratulate him; jump on him, kiss him, share the victorious euphoria of release. They spoke to him: one-liners, crude encouraging phrases, shared jokes. Tony's lips moved, but it couldn't be called responding. He barely noticed what they said, what he said. Coursing through his veins was a feeling beyond anything he had experienced before: money, sex, drugs, booze, adrenalin. Nothing came close. Thousands of people screaming his name in love and adulation. In worship. This was it. This was life â his life,
life â and it was fucking brilliant.
It was a perfect, defining moment, and he held the pose, arms in the air, willing that moment never to end.
Tommy Jobson stood at the far end of the bar in the Trent House in Newcastle, one eye on the room, the other on the door, mentally trying to block out the noise from the jukebox.
He held himself separate from the rest of the bar both by the sharpness of his clothes â smart two-piece, tie, shined shoes and neatly combed hair â and also the dark concentration that enveloped him like an invisible cocoon. The bar was getting crowded, but no one had troubled him or even gone near him. The noise from the jukebox sounded like a guitar being smashed on the floor with a train rumbling past in the background and an emaciated black-clad heroin addict wailing about bats. It just notched up the rage inside him. He would store that, channel it when the time was appropriate. And that time would be very soon.
Tommy had been waiting patiently for over twenty minutes, a barely touched pint of Becks in front of him, alert, enduring all manner of aural rubbish from the jukebox, picking up inane conversational snippets from the self-consciously arty clientele. The noise stopped, replaced by the Smiths and their whiny art school angst. Tommy took a small sip of beer. At least it wasn't Billy Bragg cranking out dirgy protest songs for the miners again.