I’ve said for years that if I ever have a collection of stories published, I want to call it “Violent Heterosexual Men.” This story, published in “Billy Liar” #5 in 2001, would be in there. Is it autobiographical? I hope not.
Thursday night we meet down The Fox. The place is full and there’s some young kid behind the counter helping out. Roppa’s the manager. He’s got a puff’s voice and stutters when he gets hassle. His lass was more butch than him. No wonder she ran off with Margaret, the dyke from the dry cleaner’s. Roppa might be 18 clem and used to acting the chap, but he’s worth fuck all when anything starts. Unless he’s got the dog with him. Vicious twat. Tore half the cheek off this bairn who was in the back yard stealing stuff last Christmas. He had to pay the little prick’s old man a couple of hundred to keep the Poliss out of it. Loves that dog. Mark reckons he saw the fat cunt doing 69 with it the other week.
I give Roppa the look and he starts setting the drinks up, pissing off a dozen others, all frantically waving tenners. They don’t say much in case Mark gets to hear about it. The big fella doesn’t tolerate insolence. Everybody respects him for that. He’s been drinking already. Mark has this place as his second home since the business went tits up and Joanne, the missus, kicked him out. For good this time. He’s got a gravestone for a head and no neck worth talking about. The pint glass is a thimble in his hand.
Lennie’s up at the bar as well, getting change. Finished work early and came in to play the machines. Loses less on them than he does in the bookies. Horses, roulette, poker. Len’s drinking slow; waiting for the happy hour. I get two Stella to strip the outside world off my breath, finish the first in three goes and head down the back with Mark and Lennie. We take the usual place between the Emergency Exit and the pool table. This private spot’s a superstition. Started when the Quinns came in for Richie Morrison and clocked him drinking at the counter. Dragged him out the front door. You couldn’t intervene. No shooters, just baseball bats. It was a mess. Three weeks in the General and six months on crutches. Still can’t see properly out of his left eye. Got to be careful round here. People fall out all the time. Families. Allegiances. Rivalries. Geoff Snowdon’s brother got glassed at The Swan’s charity barbecue last summer. He’d jumped the queue ahead of Steve Oakley’s lass. That’s what happens.
It’s safe out the back. There’s an escape route and a good view of the telly. Eurosport’s got the skiing on. Lennie sets up the balls. I’m not arsed and Mark’s staring at the screen, so Lennie plays a few practice shots. Roppa’s been talking about a tournament with a hefty cash prize. Brewery sponsorship and all that. That’s why Len’s taking it seriously again.
Mark’s drinking triple vodka and coke with each pint. Chewing the ice. Watching the downhill; “fancy doing that?” he asks nobody in particular. I’m starting to relax, concentrating on the drink. Skiing wouldn’t be my thing. Posh wankers. Royal family and all that. I’m scared of heights as well.
“Fucking no way. I’d shit myself. You couldn’t steer properly with half a ton of cack down the back of your strides.” The big fella’s dreamy. The way he gets when he’s been quietly on the piss all day. Sees himself as the Franz Klammer of the Felling. Slaloming down Windy Nook bank like it was the black runs at Val d’Isere.
“It’d be fucking brilliant. Stick some bits of metal on your feet and starting pissing down the hills. No fucker could touch you. Fucking Born to be Wild on ice.” I snort out a laugh as I drain another glass.
“You reckon? What about paying for lessons or all the gear? You’ve got no chance. Stick to pool.” Mark knows I’m sort of having a dig. Years ago I wouldn’t have dared. Even nice people looked up to him back then. Opened doors. Stepped out the way. No more. Not now he’s let himself go. He used to be God round here. Still is to me. If he wanted, he could put me on a life support machine, but he’s letting me know he can’t be bothered. Losing the urge. His eyes are glazing over as he watches this Italian pass the finishing line in third place.
“No problem. Just get a cheap flight, then hire the stuff. Maybe take a proper sleeping bag so you can pitch a tent on the mountain. Save a fortune on hotel bills.” Sometimes the shite he comes out with can annoy the fuck out of you.
“Fuck off man. If you were that serious you’d stop off the piss for a month and save enough coin to take you and your Danny away for a week.” The big fella’s face folds up like a deck chair at the mention of his son. I bite my lip. Hard. I think I’ve gone too far. Mark doesn’t get serious much anymore. A word or a stare is generally enough, but he’s still capable of going off it big style when someone’s had a go at his ex lass or one of the bairns. “Sorry mate. I’d no business saying that. My big gob getting me into bother again. Pint and a vodka?”
Mark ignores my offer. Puts his hand round the back of my neck and squeezes. Gently. Not so hard it’ll break, but powerful enough to stop me standing up. Mark stares straight ahead into nothingness. Does that a lot these days. Then starts speaking in a flat drone. I’m panicking. Looking round for help. Pointless. Lennie’s still clacking the balls around and he’s soft as shite anyway. Roppa could maybe have a go for more than 30 seconds without ending up in a coma if the dog was here, but he fucking idolises Mark as well. I’ve no option but to hear the big fella through.
“It’s Danny. Not me. I know I’m a pisshead. Haven’t stopped getting it down my neck since the split, but Joanne’s worried about the lad. Reckons he’s going to end up in bother. The filth have been round twice already. Warning him. Seems he’s coming home each night out of it. Totally wasted. “ I get my breathing back to normal. Relieved I’m not in line for a serious kicking, I smear on the sympathy.
“What; pissing it up the way we used to down the back of the Welfare? He’s 14. What else do you expect? We were doing bottles of Clan Dew, then taking turns shafting Caroline Jennings and Andrea Moore in the allotments at his age.” Mark isn’t reassured.
“I’m not worried about him getting his hole. Good luck to the little cunt. If it was only the drink that would be fine as well, but it’s mainly drugs she reckons. Not just a bit of draw either. I mean every time he comes over to mine after he’s fallen out with that cow, I give him a few cans and a smoke to calm him down. Tack’s fuck all. Even she knows that. Trouble is Danny got hold of a load of pills and started knocking them out at school, the youth club. Every fucking where.”
“What? Es or something?” Mark’s big face inflates with a sad grin. He relaxes his grip on my neck.
“At ten bob a shot? Nothing that good. Sleeping tablets. Prescription stuff. Joanne’s prescription to tell the truth. She reckons she needs them. Stupid fucking slag. This teacher had a word with her on the sly. Reckons Danny’s the main supplier in the school. I mean they can’t prove fuck all or he’d be out the door.” Mark’s grinding the ball of his hand into an eye socket and thumping his heel off the floor, jolting table. Roppa’s on a pint break and looks over all anxious, but I wink and mouth that it’s nothing. This needs discretion. The big fella’s voice is quiet enough to keep the conversation private and I’m flattered he’s chosen me to share his problems with.
“Our lass got me over last Monday and I knocked the shit out of the little bastard. I wasn’t angry. More frustrated with the whole fucking carry-on. You know? When I finished, me and her’s in tears and he’s away out the door, calling me all kinds of cunt.” Problem with Mark is he only acts the family man when he’s loaded. Catch him straight and the whole thing’s a pain in the arse. Never mentions his daughters. Not interested in them. He’s round at Joanne’s for his tea most nights and word is he’s still nailing her. If anyone else ever made a bid for her, he’d kill them both. No argument. Despite all this, I’m sympathetic towards a pal in bother, but I can’t quite get my head round it all. I’m single. Got no kids. Still doing Caroline Jennings when her bloke’s not looking.
“I know mate. If you lot were back together, you’d be off the piss, she wouldn’t need the tablets and Danny would be top of the class again. Jesus, he wants to be careful if he’s dealing though. The last thing he needs is the Quinns finding out.” I’m seeing pictures of Richie Morrison in intensive care, with tubes down his throat and up his arse. All for a few wraps of shite that had been cut to fuck by them in the first place. Fucking crazy bastards. Watermill Lane’s own Cosa Nostra. Wouldn’t put it past them to waste a kid, even one as young as Danny. Only thing to stop them is Danny’s dad. Not even the Quinns object to Mark working freelance.
“Mark man, it’s just a phase he’s going through. Last year you were complaining he did nowt but sit in front of his Playstation. Next moth he’ll probably want to be a DJ or join the Navy or something else. What about that drink eh?” Mark nods. Says nothing. Stares at the floor. Spits.
Lennie finally pots the black and drops the cue on the table. He takes the seat next to the big fella, triumphantly. I get back with a tray of drinks and me and Len exchange glances. We sense Mark’s on the verge of tears, but we don’t pursue it even when he’s away to the bogs to straighten out. I’m flush with overtime so I’ve got pints and shorts. Lennie’s lost a load in the bookies and the extra drink helps him forget he’ll get the balls chewed off him by his lass when he gets home. Doesn’t let himself get into debt though. The bairns do without their tea instead. You can’t tell the bloke how to run his family. It’s against the rules. Anyway, he earns the fucking coin in the first place.
When Mark gets back from the bogs, he’s looking better. Lively. More energy. Lennie challenges him to a game of pool. Tenner for the winner. I make a side bet with Roppa who’s collecting the glasses that Mark wins. The big fella might be off his head, but he’s ten times the player Lennie is. Either that or people are shit scared to beat him. Worried in case they’ll get a cue up their arse. Sideways. Mark breaks off slowly, one eye shut. Concentration welded to drunkenness. A red ball drops. He follows this up with two more and finishes with a safety shot, the white sneaking behind the black. Len’s not snookered, just impatient. There’s nothing easy on. He can’t be bothered to work out angles and that. Welt the fuckers. One is bound to go down. He slams the cue ball around the table, getting a lucky break as a double kiss knocks his first yellow in. No chance of a whitewash thank fuck. He realises he’s shit. Everyone does. It’s no surprise when he drops a bollock with his next shot. An in off to the centre. He curses and takes a big gulp of his pint, then uses half the chalk on his cue, pretending the foul’s all part of his master plan. Mark takes aim and sticks a long red into baulk. Beautiful shot. Pots the next three methodically and then nudges the black, leaving it over the pocket and the white straight on the bottom cushion. As he’s crouching down Lennie reminds him it’s one shot on the black. You can tell he’s forgotten that. He pitches the cue against the wall, then sits down and takes a deep drink from his glass. Starts muttering.
“You just can’t carry all the information you need round in your head. Maybe I should get a little computer wired into my brain, constantly feeding me stuff I should know, like when it’s the bairns’ birthdays or the time I’ve got to sign on. Or maybe just the rules of pool.” Mark keeps talking like this, almost to himself. Got to be more than the drink or all the joints affecting him tonight.
Lennie takes a wild swipe and knocks a yellow off the table. Roppa catches it one handed down below his knee. Mark settles over the cue ball for what we expect to be the winning shot. Then he fucks it up, badly. His concentration’s away out the door. The black goes in, but the white follows it. Lennie punches the air. Four balls left up top, but he takes his winnings and heads for the bar. He’s only £90 down on the day. Maybe his lass will get some housekeeping this week. Roppa smirks like a faggot as he pockets my tenner and goes off, back behind the bar. Somebody’s written Queerballs Roppa sucks dog’s knobs in marker pen below the dart board. I’m looking at it thinking if the apostrophe is in the right place. Mark disappears to the bogs again.
Lennie’s back with the drinks. Only pints. Tight bastard. I humiliate him by going up and getting the shorts in. The round makes me twenty fucking quid short, what with these and the pool game. I know I can afford it, but that’s not the point. Roppa’s an arsehole and Lennie’s a ponce. Just to make things worse, Lennie starts acting the cunt by counting out the money for the extra drinks in shrapnel and trying to give it to me. I just ignore him, so he leaves it in a pile on the table. The stupid bastard is showing us both us. I’m getting so annoyed I can’t concentrate on what Lennie’s got to say, so I take a big mouthful of the latest pint and settle back. Lennie’s on about his eldest daughter.
“She comes home from school with these tablets yesterday. Reckoned they were temazies. Only 50 pence a shot. Were they fuck! Dotheipin two hundreds. Crap trankies that our lass used to take. We had a bottle of them lying around, so I told the bairn to take them in today and knock them out three for a quid.” I don’t respond, mainly because I’m relieved the big fella’s not around to hear this, but also because the tack’s kicking in and my head’s too full of smoke to react. Lennie’s in the huff now because the soft twat thinks I’m ignoring him, so he reclaims the shrapnel with a shrug. Mark’s coming back from the bog, snorting hard. Explains why he’s so wired. Lines. The lucky bastard. Always a touch of class with the big man.
Someone flicks the telly over to Channel 5. One of those sex discussion shows. The volume’s right up and most people are watching it apart from Frankie Moore , the old alkie from the flats over the road. He’s trying to get Roppa’s attention, waving, coughing, excuse me! excuse me! all sorts but the puff’s deliberately looking the other way. I grunt a sort of laugh when I spot this, before turning to look at the screen. Don’t want Roppa thinking I’m trying to be his mate. Fat faggot.
The guests on the programme are this middle class bank manager and his tart of a wife, who’s got tits like zeppelins. Botox. Implants. Something anyway. The couple are being encouraged to talk about their sex life by the host, this cow in a pink chiffon dress, who wears this permanent expression of pretend concern. The bloke’s mumbling how the stresses of his job stop him getting a hard on, unless his wife administers corporal punishment while dressed up as his prep school matron. He’s getting redder and redder as he describes their shag routine, like he knows his P45’s going to be on his desk first thing tomorrow morning if anyone at work happens to see this. Then he’s ready to shit himself with shame when it’s the wife’s turn. She’s a good 20 years younger than him with a dodgy home perm and her skirt halfway up her crack. It’s clear she’s getting off on telling everyone how casual sex with a variety male and female partners picked up on line, has made her marriage stronger.
“Fucking hell, it’s Andrea Moore,” shouts someone on the other side of the room and old Frankie rotates 360 degrees, giving everyone the finger for insulting his little girl. Mr Bank Manger is definitely in tears when his lass admits she’s never had an orgasm with him, but regularly enjoys multiple climaxes with her one-off partners. Eventually when it becomes clear she’s not going to get her kit off, it gets turned over to the film on ITV4 where Chuck Norris is kicking the absolute living shite out of this dwarf kung fu expert. Violent heterosexual men. Roppa’s pleased.
“First class hard lads. Just like us, eh Mark?” There’s no response. The film cuts to some meeting of NATO top brass and the bar chat starts up again, twice as loud as before. Mark’s too busy talking about the sex show to notice. Start to run off at the mouth. Hard to tell whether he really means what he’s going on about.
“It’s wrong you know, getting people to talk like that on telly. I love porn, but this real stuff stinks. Xhamster shite. When you used to watch Tabitha Cash taking a length up the dirt box from Peter North, you knew it was professionals taking a bit of pride in their work. But this….” He waves at the telly and grinds to a standstill; becalmed in his thoughts. I wish I had some of the big fella’s powder. Skunk on top of a big drink and no tea is killing me. Lennie ducks out for a piss. Mark’s only half aware of this. His mind’s still flitting staccato from relationship problems to the telly and back again.
“I read this thing in the paper about sex accidents. One bloke turned up at the hospital with his cock stuck in the end of a hoover and tried telling them he’d fallen over vacuuming the stairs in the nip. Another cunt came in with a dead dormouse up his hole. Reckoned it had crawled out the floorboards, under the duvet and up his arse before suffocating. Dirty bastard.” Marks’ talked himself into oblivion. He stops and downs a pint in two goes. Fucker must have a boatload of Charles inside him. Hope he’s got some to spare. Help keep me moving. The conversation dries up until Lennie gets back from the bar with a double round as it’s getting near closing. Mark’s amazed.
“Fucking hell. I thought you’d just gone to the bog. It’s not like you to volunteer out of turn.” Ken laughs.
“Ah well, I had a fifty quid bet with Frankie riding on that last pool game. He reckoned you would win.” Sly cunts the two of them.
The big fella’s up on his feet now, heading for the bogs to refuel. Waltzing sideways, head down. Boxing stance. Maybe he’s dancing to the R&B shite Roppa’s put on to clear the place sharp tonight. That said, Mark’ll still waste any cunt that gets in his way. I throw Ken a twenty and follow the big fella towards the pisser. “Get a carry out. Half bottle of Vodka, pop and the rest in cans.”
Mark says nowt on the way. Just snuffles. Even sounds hard when he does that. It feels like I’m falling miles behind him, so I find another gear and try to catch him up. It’s been like this since we were kids. Mark always out in front. The natural leader. Time crawls. The sign of good skunk. Outside the pisser door I push sixty quid into Mark’s hand.
“A gramme?” I plead. The big fella looks at the money and smiles. Takes a wrap from his coat pocket and hands it over with a tenner change.
“To you; fifty. I always look after the lads. Mind if it was our Danny offering me the coin, I knock his fucking head off.” Other side of the door Frankie Moore’s throwing up in the sink. Half of it goes down his shirt. Same suit he’s worn for twenty years, covered in piss and beer slops. He clears off sharpish when he sees Mark come in. I take a ten gallon piss, then chop out a generous line on the hand drier. I get the tingle in record time.
Mark’s locked himself in one of the cubicles. There’s a rattling noise, loads of sniffing then quiet. Ten seconds later he’s kicked the door off its hinges and is using the bog roll holder to prize the cistern off the wall. The mirror’s a thousand fragments after the shitter seat hits it. I go back into the bar. You don’t argue with the big fella when he’s in this mood.
He’s back in his seat a minute or so later, finishing off the collection of pints in front of him. Water’s pouring over the carpet from under the bog door. I’ve had enough beer for the minute so I swap a full pint for a whiskey with Len. Still got a thirst for the vodka we’re going home with though. Charlie really sorts your head out. Fuck work in the morning. Time for a sickie. Mark’s nodding at me with approval. He can tell I’m back from the dead. Roppa comes over, looking a bit serious. It’s nearly half past. We don’t need a late one. There’s a carry out to look forward to.
“Ok mate. Just a couple of minutes,” says Lennie, but Roppa’s still grimacing.
“Stay as long as you like lads. Get a couple of drinks on the house. It’s Mark I need to see.” Hearing his name the big fella squints in the direction of the fat cunt.
“Look Roppa, if it’s about the bogs I’ll sort it.”
“No it’s nothing like that mate. Don’t worry about it. I’m sorry but I’ve just had your Joanne on the phone. Apparently Danny’s in some sort of bother. He’s been lifted along with Stu Quinn’s eldest. They’re holding him down the station. He won’t agree to an interview unless you’re there as his responsible adult. Regulations and that. Tony Quinn offered to send a car, but I said I’d give you a lift. Get your coat and we’ll go.”
Mark stands up, listing badly to his left. Takes a few seconds to regain his composure, then boots the table over, shattering about fifteen glasses. Picks up a chair and brains the pool light. The tube bursts, showering darkness. He straightens his collar, goes to spark up a joint, pauses then hands it unlit to me.
“I drink so fucking much and get through that much tack I’m wasted most of the time. That’s why I got on the powder in the first place. To even things out.” Rummages through his pockets and drops a massive bag of Charlie on his seat. “Here, I’d better not take this shite with me. You know what coppers are like. No sense of place. Look after it will you?” I nod. Ken goes to pick it up, but I’m there first. Mark trusts me. The big fella is having one last check of his reflection in the mirror. He’s getting old.
“Let’s go,” says Roppa and the big fella nods.
On the way out, Mark stops in front of Frankie Moore and lays the cunt out with one punch. Nobody expected it. That’s the genius of the bloke.