Pandemonium. Onlookers stumble back, gasping and yelling. The other four have frozen in disbelief, stunned that a complete stranger felled their leader in a split-second. Then they snarl and close in, raging and furious.
Bring it on!
Craig whirls around, grabs the barstool and hurls it head-high full force at the two loiterers at the front door. Then he launches the other way toward Scarface and Hog Hair. A splintering crash and agonised howl behind him. He blocks Scarface’s feral right then smashes his elbow full into the guy’s throat, a vicious crushing blow like an iron bar. For the MP’s little girl. Two hundred pounds of boiling fury into soft cartilage and vulnerable gristle. No contest. Scarface drops boneless to the floor and before his skull cracks on the boards, Craig whips sideways to bury his elbow deep into Hog Hair’s gut. Hog Hair folds forwards as Craig clamps his skull in both hands and slams it down into his rising knee. For Jamie. Then he shoves the falling body away and spins around.
Stay alive, and see what the next second brings.
The leader is crumpled motionless on the floor. Scarface is flat on his back, gurgling and clawing at his windpipe. Cracked rasping sounds bubbling from his smashed throat. Hog Hair is curled over on his side, wheezing, blood pouring from his shattered nose. By the door Shaved Head is on his knees, one hand splayed on the floor, the other pressed to his chest, stool rolling around at his feet. Maybe the edge of the seat in his sternum, like a dull blade.
Four blows delivered, three opponents down, one sidelined for now. Total time elapsed: five seconds. Not bad for an ex-army gutter rat.
Broken Nose is launching forward with an ugly grimace, like a blood-crazed bull elephant. Fists flailing. Craig dances aside, takes a glancing left to the shoulder and slams a straight right full into his nose, a vicious driving blow, knuckles crunching through cartilage and bone and crushing it all flat. For Susan. The guy’s head snaps back, he reels backward on rubbery legs and Craig’s arms are clamped tight from behind in a bear hug. Beery breath washes over his face.
Broken Nose shakes his head, bares bloody teeth and closes in. Fists clenched. Eyes blazing.
At the last second Craig kicks out and smashes him right in the nuts.
Iron-studded hardened leather versus squishy soft tissue. Bullseye. The hobnailed boot crunches Broken Nose like a blunt axe. He shrieks and crashes to the floor. Craig jerks a reverse headbutt backward. Solid bone-to-bone contact. He explodes backward with a primal yell, slams Hog Hair into the wall. Crushes the breath out of him. Glass smashes. The arms loosen. He rams an elbow back into flabby fat. Once! Twice! Wrenches forward out of Hog Hair’s grip.
Keep going, Sarge! Never say die!
Hog Hair is slumped against the wall, cradling his belly and groaning. Broken Nose is doubled over on the floor, retching and sobbing as he paws feebly at his groin. Craig almost winces in empathy: a hundred pounding sledgehammers of blazing agony pulsing through Hog Hair’s balls, his belly, his chest, wave after wave of excruciating pain.
Craig grins. You morons wanted a fight? You got one.
Shaved Head lurches upright and swarms in, snarling. Craig meets him in the centre of the room, dodges a wild haymaker and snaps a straight right to the guy’s jaw. Shaved Head rocks back, wide open for a colossal left into the throat that puts him down in a sprawled puddle of limbs.
Mister Rossetti looks after his own if they get hurt on the job, Scarface had sneered. So let him, Craig thinks. Because these five guys are all following Rossetti’s orders. Nothing happens here except exactly what Rossetti wants.
Shaved Head is writhing around clutching his windpipe, face purple, splayed out and defenceless. The decent thing to do is step back and let him take a minute, but having your opponent sprawled on the floor is gutter-rat heaven, the absolute dream gift for dirty fighters. We didn’t rule the world by being nice. So Craig swings in and kicks him deep in the ribs, two hundred pounds of sizzling rage, a full-on penalty kick powered into the top corner. For all those who couldn’t fight back. Then he stamps down hard with his boot full into the guy’s face, like an appalled shrieking homeowner stomping a cockroach. First rule of street fighting: finish your opponent. No hesitation, no pause, no inhibition, no restraint, no gentlemanly conduct. You finish him. Blood spurts and the wet crunch of the guy’s shattering nose is a beautiful sound, crystal clear over all the panting, grunting and moaning.
No rules. No mercy. Anything goes. Nice guys finish last.
On your left, Sarge!
He twists aside, barely missing a scything right from Hog Hair. It glances off his shoulder.
One guy still up. Last rat standing.
Why the hell doesn’t this guy stay down?
He backs off. Hog Hair lumbers in. Hunched shoulders, swinging fists. But his balance isn’t good. Floor space is limited by tangled bodies. Hog Hair throws a flailing left, Craig swats it away and crashes a hard right deep into his side, a vicious low blow to the kidneys. Hog Hair doubles over like a wounded rhino, Craig shoves him away and backs off to the empty centre of the room.
Hog Hair shakes his head and follows, raging and blundering. Kidney shots work wonders: a sick, paralysing pain spreading through him. Hog Hair stumbles over a bent leg. Throws a wild right. Craig jerks his head aside and takes it on the collarbone. A weak glancing blow. Hog Hair’s face is pale. Hand clamped to his side. Maybe three busted ribs. Grinding bone shards hurt like hell. Any kind of violent physical activity only makes them worse. Some folks with broken ribs can’t even bear to sneeze. Hog Hair throws another breathless haymaker, Craig steps back out of range and glances around.
One stool damaged, one mirror broken, four guys down, twenty spectators still silent and passive, crowded back against the walls. So far so good. Hog Hair staggers back, huffs and glares. ‘‘You’ll pay for this, bastardo,’’ he snarls.
Craig smirks. ‘‘Yeah? You sure about that?’’ He’s close to winning a five-on-one bar brawl with nothing to show for it except two bruised shoulders and a dull ache in his knuckles. Way better than he could have hoped. ‘‘Dream on, pal.’’
Hog Hair bares red teeth. ‘‘Guess again.’’ Then he shoves his hands deep into his pockets and yanks out two switchblades. Dark wooden handles, silver plated bindings. He stands panting in the dusty silence and snaps open the right switchblade. Click. Then the left. Click. He raises the knives, leering.
‘‘You wanna dance, stronzo? Let’s dance!’’
© 2017 Tom Burton