Chapter Thirty Three
He’d been training hard all weekend, he’d cut down on the drinking and had been eating lean red meat and drinking raw eggs for breakfast. He could have done with a couple of months to train and he’d had to make do with just two days, but hell, a good right hook is a good right hook and a killer instinct is something that you just have. No amount of gym hours or fancy sweatbands can teach you how to floor a guy with a single punch; it’s something you are born with. And James had it in abundance. He never wasted a single thought on the possibility that he wouldn’t win one of the three bouts that he would be entering. He was a lover, he was a fighter and he was a winner. Once he’d taken the purse for the tournament he fully intended on a little post fight work down in the bedroom with the lovely Connie. He was out to impress, it wasn’t just about the money.
Jacob Lowther strode over to James and Connie. James didn’t like the way the man’s eyes travelled over her body when she wasn’t looking. The way he saw it, this was his woman now and he didn’t want any dirty bloody gypsies giving her the glad eye. He had a low opinion of travellers: thieves and swindlers, the lot of them. They were a scourge on society, put on earth for the sole purpose of lowering the house prices of decent folk who paid their taxes. James neatly forgot that he’d once been questioned over tax evasion and it was only the fact that his brother took the fall for the both of them that had kept him out of prison.
He didn’t like the way Connie was talking to Jacob. They were discussing the evening and how it was organised. She seemed to have a high level of respect for the sewer rat. She laughed with him and they were familiar with each other. James put a protective arm around her shoulder and she glared at him and shrugged it off. He felt a familiar itch in the palms of his hands; he wanted to make them into fists. He wanted to smash the Gypsy man’s face in. He didn’t like the way they were talking as though he wasn’t there. He didn’t like being ignored.
The event was taking place in a disused warehouse deep in the maze of a retail park. Jacob had put a ban on people arriving in vehicles. He laid on busses to ferry people in from the town. The success of the evening relied on discretion being paramount. A ring was set up in the centre of the arena and there was no seating. Hundreds of people from the travelling community were expected to attend and it was standing room only. This was a big money event and word had travelled fast. There were to be eight fights and James was competing in three of them. He didn’t know that. He was expecting to work through the heats to finish overall champion of the night. It was arranged that he’d be taken down in the semi-finals.
Jacob finally turned to face him. ‘So ye recon you can handle yourself, eh, Sonny. It’s a great honour for you to be here tonight. We don’t normally allow Gorges to our little soirees.’ He laughed at his own joke.
James bristled. Don’t call me sonny, old man. I could take you out any day of the week.’ His hands were balled at his sides and he had an ugly snarl on his face. He took a step towards Jacob.
‘Save yer energy for the ring, lad, I’m not going to cock fight with yer. The days when I had something to prove are long behind me.’ Jacob and Connie shook hands and he indicated where James should go to get changed and prepare for his fight. He didn’t offer his hands to James and James spat on the ground in his wake, the fury of being snubbed by a man he considered far beneath him throbbed with the adrenaline in his blood.
As he came out to fight the crowd parted. His opponent came from the other side of the ring and was back-patted and egged on by his community. James danced and air punched to the ring, sending up an array of cat calls and raucous laughter.
He wore red knee-length shorts and brand new, red wrestling boots. He also had on a bright red, satin dressing gown with a white towel around his neck.
Charlie Mcmeakin, his opponent, wore only a pair of cut-off denim shorts and was barefoot.
James did a lap of the ring, punching the air and trying to stir the crowd to his favour. They laughed at him and jeered until the referee approached to go over the rules.
‘Right lads, a three second count in to start the bout. Two minutes, no biting, no eye gouging, no concealed weapons. A knock out or a surrender signals the end of the bout. If you get a knockout, you stand clear of your opponent and he’ll be counted out for ten seconds. All clear.’ Both men nodded.
‘What the be-gads is that in yer gob, there, laddie?’ the ref asked.
James removed his gum shield so that he could speak. ‘Just a gum shield.’
‘We don’t use them here boy, get rid of it.’
‘Fuck off’, said James. ‘Have you any idea how much I’ve paid my orthodontist to get my teeth this straight?’
‘Ah, let the poncey gorge have it,’ Charlie goaded, ‘He’s going to need it once I lay into him’
James lunged for him and Charlie swung inretaliation. James ducked his head and Charlie had him in a headlock, swinging back his fist to hit him in the face before the bout even began.’
‘Separate, separate, you paid of bleedin’ idiots. I’ve worked dog fights where the opponents had better manners. In your corners.’ The ref broke the men up and sent them to their respective corners of the ring.
When he called them out to fight they came out angry. Charlie’s pride was hurting him, knowing that he had to throw the fight and couldn’t take the gorge bastard down. Thirty grand was a lot of money to the twenty-five year old. His reputation meant a lot to him, but not thirty grand, it was too much to turn down. He couldn’t even get many decent digs in; he’d been told that they wanted to gorge to go three bouts, so he had to keep him pretty. He had a pair of young ‘uns to bring up and money was tight. It was a hell of a lot of money to him but it was also a hell of a lot of pride to lose.
James came out with an axe to grind. He’d been in many a bar-brawl and this was no different to him. He got the first punch in. Charlie’s lip split and he sprayed blood in an arc when he shook his head. He came back at James with a mild kidney punch. James felt his temper burst. He could give it out but, like all bullies, he didn’t like to take it. The pain in his side made him see red and he felt the blood vessels burst in his eyes as his blood pressure rose and the last of his temper exploded. With a roar he tore at Charlie. He hit him with a barrage of punches and Charlie gave little in return. James was flying high. He’d beaten harder men in the local pub. This gypo had nothing about him. He hit him again, and again, and again. Charlie got him in a headlock and they circled the ring. James felt behind him and grabbed Charlie by the balls. He went onto his knees. James swung round and kicked him solidly in the face. He fell onto his back, out cold. The ref told him to break but James ran forward and kicked the unconscious man hard in the kidneys. The crowd went mad baying for James’s blood. It didn’t follow the code of conduct to kick a man when he was down. They wanted him disqualified from the competition. The ref knew the score; he’d been bought off, too. He allowed James to qualify to the next round.
James cleaned up after the fight and joined Connie to watch the last contestants in the first heat. He wasn’t interested in watching the fighting. He didn’t watch to see if the man he was taking on next was still to fight in this heat. He didn’t study their strategy or think about his game plan. He was too cocky and convinced of his ability to win. He crowed like a peacock to Connie and she fed his ego, telling him how wonderful he’d been and how the other fella didn’t know what had hit him.
The quarter-finals played out much the same way that the first round had done. James was an easy victor and came away high on his win. He had a split to his right eye that bled and obscured his vision. He was elated and barely even aware of the cut. He did a lap of the ring, skipping and waving his hands above his head. The crowd booed him off. There were several clear calls of ‘fix’ screamed at the ref, but James took no notice. He was a clear winner and these girl-fighters didn’t like it. He crowed to Connie until he had to prepare for his next fight.
His third opponent was half his size and weight.
‘Oh, for goodness sake, send me a man, at least let’s make this some kind of sport.’ He turned to his opponent whose fighting name was Terry ‘The Bull’ Terrier. ‘You’re going to get hurt, young man.’
‘And if ah hadn’t been telt to leave yer breathin. Yer’d be going hame in a coffin fer that kick yer give ter me cousin’
The fight was about to start. James held out his hand to Terry but Terry snubbed him and spat at his feet before heading for is corner. The Ref called him back. ‘Shake hands, lad. We’ll have a bit of sportsman-like behaviour, here. So shake or be up for disqualification.’ They shook and Terry glared into James’s eyes.
When the ref’s hand dropped James came out fast. He was on the attack, his previous two bouts having made him bold. Terry had studied his opponent in his earlier matches. He knew his weaknesses and his strengths. It was going to be an easy take down. He was in no rush. Let the crowd have some sport, first.
James came at him with a right undercut. Terry saw it coming and spun out of the way. He did a fast circle of James and could have got three punches in easily, but he didn’t. James turned and struck at him again. Terry swerved passed him, he ran up the corner post and did a back flip over James’s head. The crowd went wild. Terry ran from diagonal corner to corner of the ring every time James came at him with a punch. He hadn’t landed a single hit yet, and Terry hadn’t thrown one. James was tiring. His feet were stomping down heavily on the canvas. He was also getting angry, which made him dangerous. Terry squatted to the floor, crossed his arms and did a Kossak dance. James panted, with his arms in fisted pose waiting for Terry to come to him. The bugger was fast.
Quick as a flash, Terry flew across the ring on his haunches and playfully bit James on the ankle before scurrying into the opposite corner. It was his trademark move and the crowd were pumped with excitement. It took James by surprise and, because he hadn’t expected it, he yelped and jumped. The crowd knew that Terry would stop playing now. It was time to start the fight. James roared in fury and ran to Terry clearly intending to kick him in the face. He was predictable; it’s exactly what Terry knew he would do. James swung back his leg and Terry rose and grabbed it as he swung the kick forward. He twisted James’ leg and used it to overbalance him and James sprawled to the ring. Terry backed away to allow him time to stand. When he was back on his feet he rested his hands on his knees breathing heavily. Terry leap-frogged him from a squatting position.
‘Shall I take him? Shall I take him?’ he roared, turning to the crowd.
‘Take him. Take him.’ They took up the chant.
James was raging. The tendons stood out in his neck like bands and his temper had gone, leaving him out of control and dangerous.
Terry ran up the corner post and took a flying leap at James. He landed on his back and adhered to him with his legs around his waist like a monkey. He leaned forward and pummelled Jame’s face until it was hidden behind a mask of blood. James roared and bent over trying to dislodge his attacker. Terry pulled his feet in and ran up James’s back to flip off, somersault, and come to a standing position facing him. He punched him once, twice, three times in the face. He followed with a roundhouse kick to the kidneys. ‘That one’s fer me cousin,’ he yelled. James bent double and Terry kicked him one last time, full in the face. ‘And that one’s fer me.’
James’s head came up with an arced curtain of blood surrounding it. His body followed the momentum of his head and he landed flat on his back in the ring. His head made contact first with a sickening crunch that bounced back up and then hit a second time. He was out cold.
A stolen white Ford Transit van, with false plates, pulled up to the doors of Accident and Emergency at Furness General Hospital in a squeal of tyres. The back doors flew open and two men launched a third onto the pavement before the van screamed away. The man, covered in blood on the floor, seemed barely alive.