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by Tom Leins

The barman at the Cock & Whistle is the least jolly-looking motherfucker I’ve ever seen wearing a Santa hat. I pay for my pint and back away, slowly — he is nursing a baseball bat wrapped in tinsel. I don’t know if he is trying to scare off the carol singers, or the wiry Glaswegian who sells shower gel, bacon and socks out of a Slazenger hold-all. Either way, it has worked. The pub is emptier than a crack-house on Christmas day.

When the door to the disabled toilet creaks open, an evil death-stench fills the pub. It smells bad enough to choke a horse. Melvin Marchant waddles out. He has the pallid complexion of a long-term hostage. Before he became a fight promoter, he used to be a pimp. Ran girls off every Little Chef forecourt this side of Warminster.

He adjusts his voluminous elasticated jeans and takes a seat opposite me. A plastic sprig of mistletoe dangles from the light fitting above us, but like a Hyde Road hooker, he makes no effort to kiss me. Melvin slides an envelope across the table. I peek inside.

“Why? For half that price you can have a man’s face removed with a Stanley knife, and get the photos left behind the bar at the Dirty Lemon …”

“Matthew 5:38.”

I shrug.

“Sorry, don’t know him.”

He grunts.

“Christopher, care to join us?”

The barman drifts across the sticky carpet towards us, bat still in hand.

“Would you smile for our new friend?”

When Christopher opens his mouth, his ruptured hard palate looks like something out of a medical text book — a jagged mess of flesh and bone.

Melvin turns back to me.

“Are you any good?”

“Good enough.”

***

The winter sky is blurred like a memory.

My opponent is a Hungarian named Mikulas. A side-street knuckle merchant. Nothing special.

The yard is slippery with cow shit, and I almost lose my balance every time I throw a punch. I swing a wild right hook at Mikulas, and end up skidding through the brown-streaked slush. The referee snorts when he laughs, and it sounds like a fat man wanking.

I slam my head upwards into Mikulas’s jaw. It gives way with a sick crunch. I pick a couple of busted teeth out of my bloody hair and inspect them. Shit. Wrong ones. I clamber to my feet. Mikulas looks dazed and soiled, like a mental patient who got lost on his way to the toilet.

His skull is slick with blood, so I grab his protuberant ears and drive his face into a stack of rusted farm machinery.

A low murmur of disapproval ripples through the sparse crowd. They look exactly how you would imagine men who watch bareknuckle fights on Christmas morning to look: dispossessed, degenerate, desperate.

I root around in the slurry for the shattered teeth and hoist them above my head, triumphantly.

In the crowd, Melvin doesn’t smile, but his eyes twinkle like faulty fairy lights.

Another satisfied customer …


Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun HoneyNear to the KnuckleRevolution John and Spelk. He is currently working on his first novel: Thirsty & Miserable. Get your pound of flesh at https://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com/.

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