Tony stares at the pint in front of him. Two thirds full. One third empty. It's one glass among many. Most of them empty. Some of them full. Some of them with fag buts floating in the dregs. All of them blurred.
He just about makes it to the cubicle and throws up seven hours worth of ale. Into a pan clogged with paper.
"That's the way lad. Better out than fucking in.”
Back to the table and his fellow night riders. Familiar faces now so much older. Faces he used to see every single day of his life. Back in the day. When they were men of the Council. The maintenance team. The Famous Four. Taking the piss over open copies of the Sun and full Monty breakfast rolls from Tina's. Who shagged who. Who battered who. How shit are the Town? The easy morning routine of Page Three talk. Wouldn't mind shagging that...
Another time. A better time. Before the cuts. Before voluntary redundancy. Before everything was subbed out to bastards from Poland and Lithuania for the sake of efficiency savings. Before his life turned to shit.
The Famous Four. Not so famous any more. Just a bunch of sad looking old bastards. Tony and Mobbo and Stu and Frank. Christ. And here we all are again. Back in the saddle. Back in the Black Bull for a lock in. Back making out we count for something.
Why? Because Mobbo sorted it. Mobbo. Always the top dog. The alpha male. Mobbo who used to rob everything that wasn't screwed down and shared out the proceeds. Mobbo who always seems at home chatting away in the corner with hard looking lads from out of town. Mobbo who flaunts his new BMW and adorns himdelf in gold. Mobbo with a different brassy looking tart on his arm every weekend. Mobbo with a pocket full of twenties. Mobbo who had rung round and told them not to worry about the brass because he was paying. For old times sake. For the Famous Four. Mobbo the only one of them at home with ten pints in him. Still gym fit and gym tanned in his tight T shirt. Still doing alright then are you Mobbo? Aye. Fucking right. You know. Bit of this. Bit of that. Packets of fags that taste like dry camel shit for £4. Litres of 50% proof vodka for a fiver a bottle. Anything and everything. Rumours of big blokes talking Russian or something. Rumours about Mobbo now in the smack game. All kinds of rumours and a fat roll of twenties. Don't worry about brass lads. I'm in the fucking chair tonight. King Mobbo. Bling Mobbo.
Stu. Stu with the worst life in the world. Stu who was always a bit quiet and now just about silent. Stu the carer who stays home and looks after his mum who last got out of bed in 2012. Stu with eyes as bleak as an abused dog. Stu in his sad looking golfing jacket from Matalan. Stu still with four full pints in front of him. Stu who was the first to chuck his guts up in the bogs. Sad bastard Stu.
Frank. Frank who once upon a time had always been the first to pull. Frank who once upon a time had strutted his stuff on the dance floor of the Mecca. Frank who never had his face away from a mirror. Not any more. Bald now. Bald and fat and divorced and angry at everything and everyone. His bitch of an ex whom hounded him for alimony. His bastard kids who never stopped bleating for cash. And most of all the Paki bastard who ran the cab firm and gave Frank all the shit jobs. Frank the stuck record. Frank who hated everything and everyone.
And Tony? The last into the Famous Four who had been the first out. How's things with you Tone? Oh you know. Same old same old. Fair to shite. Still with Trace? Yeah. Just about. Working? Yeah just about. Zero hours. You know. That distribution place out on Ringway. Alright is it? Nah. Crap. Sometimes I get 40 hours. More often I'm lucky to get ten. You need to be Polish to be guaranteed forty. Well cheer up you miserable old twat. That's all about to change, yeah? You never know, Mobbo. You never know.
And when it had been midnight they hadn't known. At midnight it had still been nothing much more than an excuse for being out on the lash. Then came Sunderland and the whole of the Black Bull was on its feet and punching the air and bouncing to the song YouTube had brought back from the glass strewn pavements of Marseilles.
“We're all voting out...
We're all voting out...
Fuck off Europe.....
We're all voting out....”
Then it had been town after town. Towns like their town. The shit towns. One by one until it was an avalanche. And Mobbo had played it large and got one in for the whole pub.
Stu says he off now. Best get back. Best make sure his mum's alright.
Frank says he's off too. On an early one. Later lads.
Mobbo stretches and shrugs. Fair enough. We'll do it again lads. Roll back the fucking years.
A deserted table loaded with glasses. Some full. Most empty. Some with dregs filled with docked fags.
Shit shit shit shit shit.....
Tony's phone says it's almost half past nine. And Tony's phone has no reason to lie about it. Which makes it two and half hours after the it was seven o'clock. When he had been due to start his shift.
He tries to focus his eyes and to focus his life. He's on the sofa. Why is he on the sofa? Because his bitch of a wife told him to go on the sofa. Told him he was a disgrace. Said she wasn't having him anywhere near him. Told him to make sure he had a bucket handy.
He roots around in the vague hope of finding a spare fag. Under all the unopened envelopes. Under all the stacked up debt. Under all the stacked up threats.
Get some on the way in. Then he sees them. More scratch cards. A pile of them. Ten of them. Scratched and tossed. Rage rises up his throat. How many times....
Later. It needs to be later. It has to be later. That bitch.....
He checks his phone again and not surprisingly his phone hasn't changed its mind. It's ten past ten. It's a complete disaster.
Shit. Just wing it.
Onto the floor. Into his place. He nods to the others on the line. And nobody is about to acknowledge. Well what a fucking surprise. Its like being in Poland. Bastards....
A tap on the shoulder
“Office is want you. Now.”
'Office is want you'. What kind of fucking English is that? Polish English.
Eyes are on him. All the way. From the floor to the iron stairs. Up the stairs by the white painted breeze block wall. Onto the steel mezzanine floor. Second door along.
Magda. Magda with her swept back hair and her bright red lips. Magda with her large glasses and her posh bitch suit. Magda with her big white teeth and her soft leather briefcase and her super neat desktop.
“Please, you can sit.”
He can sit. Course he can fucking sit. He sits. And she doesn't bother to look up. Her eyes are fixed on the desktop and her voice sounds like an answerphone.
“Mr Holland, you have already had two verbal warnings for being late for allotted shift. Now is third time. So I give you written warning, OK? This one, OK? You can take please...”
And she is sliding an envelope at him with her orange painted nails and still she isn't bothering to look up....
And all of a sudden something breaks open in his head. It just does.
All of a sudden he is on his feet and he is shouting and pointing.
“No it isn't OK you fucking Polish cow. Not OK, right. You're not telling me what to fucking do and pushing your fucking envelopes at me. You can fuck right off. Didn't you watch last night you stupid cow? We all voted out which means it's time for you to fuck off back home....”
But now there are hands on him. Strong hands and strong arms and hard faces. Dragging him out of the office and along the steel mezzanine floor and down the steel stairs and across the shop floor.
Smirking faces. Gloating faces.
Out of the door. Onto the ground. The tarmac ground. The soaking wet tarmac ground. Grazed hands and oil all over his jeans. Rain in his eyes. And two of them standing over him. Bigger than him. Stronger than him. Laughter in their eyes.
“Go on. You can just fuck off, OK?”
Later. Later after hours of shit. Later after supping a bottle and a half of Mobbo's vodka in the park. Later after all day in the rain. Later after throwing up and throwing up again. Later after hour after hour of picking apart just how shit his life is. Magda and scratch cards and the smug look on Mobbos' face and the pile of bills and those two hard faced bastards with the laughter in their eyes.
Pissed beyond pissed. Blundering in the rain. Staggering in the rain. In the rain as the Town Hall rang out nine and then ten and then eleven and then twelve and then one. Pictures of scratch cards and bills and Magda and hard faced bastards with laughter in their eyes.
A shop front. Familiar in the rain and the orange light.
Everywhere. Like cockroaches. Like the rain. Like all the shit in his shit life. And now he is a man with a plan. A breeze block from the building site over the road. An armful of rubbish from an overflowing bin. A last drag on one of Mobbo's shitty fags.
Breeze block through the window.
Rubbish through the window.
The rest of the Mobbo vodka through the window.
Onto the rubbish.
Lighted paper through the window.
Onto the the rubbish.
Nice. Fucking excellent nice. Maybe he should run? But he can't be bothered to run. Sick of fucking running. Just fuck it. Stay and watch as the yellow becomes orange. Stay and watch as the smoke pours through the broken glass. Stay and watch as the blue light mixes in with the orange light. Stay and watch and piss himself laughing as the sirens howl in at him through the night. Through the rain.
Stay and watch because who gives a shit.
And how is he to know there is a first floor flat? And how is he to know that there is a young mum from Katowice in the first floor flat? And how is he to know there are two young sisters from Katowice in the first floor flat? And how is he to know the lock on the back door of the first floor flat is all rusted up......?
How is he to know any of that......?