I hear a whistle.
Grit my teeth, close my eyes, count to ten.
I look to where Bilbo works. No Bilbo. Reels of paper all in a row, but no Bilbo.
I walk on.
I look back, no Bilbo. I hear a giggle.
I’m carrying a box from stores, full of all kinds of crap. I choose a roll of Sellotape, then choose one of the reels of paper.
A high lob, the Sellotape disappears behind the reel.
“Ow! Fucking Hell!” Bilbo appears, rubbing his head.
“You want something, Bilbo?”
Bilbo grins. “Nah, Luci. Just fucking about. Listen, you wanna go for a beer on Friday? You said you would some time so’s we can talk about movies and wrestling and books and stuff. You want to? Eh? Our lass is out Friday and the kids are at their mates an’ I’ve nowt to do so we could nip to The Pheasant for a few pots and a few bags of pig nuts and just talk shit for a bit. What you reckon? Fancy it?”
“I don’t like wrestling.”
“Okay, we don’t talk about wrestling then! What about it?”
I sigh. Bilbo is alright, he’s like a big dog. All slobber and happy to see you. Thing is, as a rule, I don’t really socialise with work people. It just turns into a bitter slagathon about bastard bosses and cuntish colleagues. I don’t need that shit.
I say, “No wrestling talk or work talk.”
“Of course! Wrestling and work are off the cards. So you’re up for it?”
I say, “Yeah… wait. That brother-in-law of yours isn’t coming, is he? That stupid cunt, what’s his name…”
“Yeah, him. If he’s out, I’m not. No offense, Bilbo, but I won’t spend a minute with him. I couldn’t do with him when he worked here, I certainly can’t do with him now.”
“Bilbo says, “No way! Jimmy’s not invited. Nah, just me and thee mate, beers and pignuts and talking bollocks.”
I say, “You know what, I quite fancy that. Eightish?”
Bilbo says, “Ace! I’ll be there!”
I say, “What you drinking, Bilbo?”
Bilbo says, “Pint of Cockthumper, Luci.”
I scowl at Jimmy. “You?”
Jimmy says, “I’ll have a Cockthumper n’all.”
I go to the bar.
Jimmy. Fucking Jimmy. Bilbo knows I’m pissed off. I look back and he’s giving me a sorry smile and a shrug. Bilbo’s alright, but Jimmy? Fuck me.
“Three pints of Cockthumper, love, and a couple of bags of pork scratchings. Ta.”
I bring back the beers.
Bilbo chirrups, “Seen any decent movies lately, Luci?”
I say, “Yeah, I saw…”
Jimmy says, “I saw that movie wi’ whatsit innit and where that ship blows up an’ that bloke gets killed an’ that lass wi’ big tits off that other thing is in it an whatsit ends up shagging her in a submarine an’ you see ‘er tits an’ I fink you see a bit of muff n’all an’ it were fuckin’ ace n’that!”
I shake my head. “Barry fucking Norman here…” I neck a mouthful of Cockthumper.
Jimmy goes to the bogs.
I say, “What the in fuck’s name is that bag of knackers doing here, Bilbo?? You know I hate him, you know I said if he was out I wouldn’t be, but here we are sat with one of the biggest arseholes in West Yorkshire!”
Bilbo squirms. “Sorry, Luci, but our lass were off out and I didn’t know but she were going out wi’ her sister so she only drops Jimmy off at ours unannounced so what am I to do? I don’t like it neither. He’s a tit, but I’m stuck wi’ him, aren’t I?”
“Yeah, you are. I’m finishing this pint then I’m off home. I’m not sitting here wi’ that wanker all evening. Sorry, mate, but I’m not.”
Jimmy returns. He’s carrying three more pints and his face is bright red.
He says, “Bilbo, look who’s at the fuckin’ bar. Look! Ovver there!”
Bilbo looks, shrugs. “I see three blokes there, and old Jack on his own, an’ Stan, but that’s it. Who’m a looking at?”
Jimmy’s eyes bulge. “Them three blokes, course! See the big ‘un, nearest bar? That’s only Phil Turnbull, y’know. Phil fuckin’ Turnbull! Cock of the School, you remember? That cunt made my life a misery! He were rotten, he were!”
We look over. There’s three blokes, mid-forties, Marks and Sparks shirts, thinning hair, beer bellies, propping up the bar, laughing about rugby and holidays and golf.
Jimmy snarls, “Cunts.”
I say, “Steady on, Jimmy. It’s all in the past. Those lads haven’t come out for any bother and neither have I. Drink your fucking beer and have a scratching and just forget it.”
Jimmy turns on me. “Forget it? Forget it? It’s fuckers like that who’ve put me where I am today! In the fuckin’ gutter!”
Bilbo says, “I wouldn’t call a three bedroom semi in Pudsey ‘the gutter’, exactly. Not far off, I grant you but…”
Jimmy slams a fist on the table. Everyone looks our way. “I don’t mean like that! I mean I could have been someone, got good marks in me exams an’ that, got a decent job, married a lass that don’t think I’m a borin’ little tit! No, it’s that Phil fuckin’ Turnbull who wrecked me life, crushed me confidence, made me life in ‘igh school a livin’ fuckin’ ‘ell!!”
I hiss, “Keep your fuckin’ voice down, Jimmy. Everyone’s looking over. I already said I’m not out for any aggro tonight.”
Too late. Phil Turnbull comes over to our table. “Look, is there a problem?”
I try to say, “No, mate” but Jimmy isn’t having it.
He jumps up, and starts yelping. He says, “Yeah! Yeah there’s a problem, Phil fuckin’ Turnbull, Phil ‘the big man’ Turnbull! You ruined my fuckin’ life! I used to go home cryin’ me eyes out every day from school cos of you! You called us rotten names and nicked me dinner money an’ took piss every fuckin’ day an’ all your mates’d laugh at us an’ call me names n’all, but where are yer mates now, eh, Phil big shot Turnbull? Where are yer mates?”
Phil nods. “Over there at the bar.”
Jimmy says, “Oh.”
I stand up. “look here, I’m sorry about my… well… mate. He’s had a few and he’s a bit emotional, that’s all. Let me get you a beer and we’ll forget it, eh?”
Jimmy is snarling all kinds of rubbish. Bilbo is hiding his face in his hands.
Phil sighs. “Look. I know I used to be a proper little cunt at school, but I’m not like that anymore. I’m married, got kids, I’m a different bloke. I don’t really remember you, mate…”
“Jimmy says, “Jimmy! My name is fuckin’ Jimmy! Or you might remember me as Spakker or Bummer or Nob Rot!”
Phil shakes his head. “I don’t really remember, Jimmy. I’m sorry. Truly I am. All I can say is that I’ve changed, I’ve learned from my mistakes. Look, let me buy you a pint…”
“I don’t want a pint off you, Phil fuckin’ Turnbull.” hisses Jimmy, really nasty.
Phil stares at him, his face sad.
He says, “Okay. Okay. Maybe you’re right. Maybe some things can’t be sorted with a pint and a handshake. Let’s go out into the car park. You can take four of your best punches at me, then it’s over. Sound fair?”
I say, “Aww fucking hell, no….”
Bilbo says, “Look, Phil you don’t need to…”
Jimmy says, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
The night air is colder than when we went into the pub. It’s surprising how many people were in the pub after all, because they’ve all come out to watch.
Me and Bilbo feel like fucking idiots. Jimmy is doing some stupid kind of warm up, swinging his arms about. Phil is calming his mates down, telling them not to kill Jimmy, telling them that it’s alright.
He walks over. “Alright, Jimmy. Let’s have it.” He stands with his arms at his sides, shoulders back, jaw clenched.
The crowd of punters goes quiet. I can here cars on the road out front, music coming from the open door of the pub.
I whisper to Bilbo, “What the fuck is Jimmy doing?”
Bilbo whispers back, “Oh no, he’s taking off his shirt! God, this is so embarrassing…”
Bilbo catches his shirt, screws it into a tight ball. Jimmy’s body is thin and white. He looks pathetic.
“Phil says, “Get it over with.”
Jimmy swings at him.
He catches Phil high on the forehead. It’s a clumsy punch that does no damage. Phil steps to the right with a grunt, then steps back. The crowd makes an ‘ooh’ noise.
I mutter, “Fucking hell, fucking… hell.”
Jimmy is panting, his jaw trembling with fear and hate.
He swings again.
There is a horrible crack. Blood pisses down Phil’s face, drip, drip, dripping onto his Marks and Sparks shirt. The crowd is silent. Phil’s mates are glowering. All we can here is the shuddering gasps coming from Jimmy as he staggers, his face a twitching mask.
Phil doesn’t even lift a hand to his face. He blinks away tears brought on by the broken nose.
“Two more.” he mumbles.
Jimmy closes his eyes, screams, swings again.
He gets lucky, lands a punch to the mouth. More blood. Phil spits something that clatters across the tarmac. The silence is awful. We’ve seen enough. The punters shuffle back to the pub.
Me and Bilbo look away. We hear Phil say, ‘One more” through burst, swelling lips.
Jimmy is crying, great, shuddering sobs that make his skinny chest tremble. Snot hangs over his mouth in streamers. His knuckles are bloody. He looks at us and he knows he’s won nothing, knows he solved nothing.
And he runs.
Disappears into the night, running home with no shirt.
Phil blinks, watches him go.
Bilbo passes him Jimmy’s shirt. “Clean your face on this, mate.”
Phil nods, tired, dabs at the blood, goes back into the pub with his mates.
Only me and Bilbo are left in the car park.
He says, “Don’t suppose you fancy another round, Luci?”
I say. “No. I’ve had enough.”
I go home.