Hog Hair steps forward, teeth bared in a feral grin. The blades flash under the guttering lamplight. Craig’s stomach clenches. Knives are the worst. Far better if the guy had pulled a pair of six-shooters. Guns can miss. In fact they usually did, given stress and pressure and trembling confusion. Guns can always miss.
Knives don’t. If they touch you, they cut you. The only opponents he’s ever truly feared are small whippy guys with fast hands and sharp blades. Hog Hair is not fast or nimble, but he’s furious and raging, powered by boiling hate. With knives in his hands, dodged blows would not mean dull aching impacts to the shoulders or glancing thumps to the ribs. They would mean open jagged wounds, pouring blood, severed ligaments, slashed arteries.
Craig shoves a spectator out of his seat, grabs up the empty chair and thrusts it out like a lion tamer. The best defence against knives is distance. The best countermove is entanglement. Swing a net or cloak or blanket, and the blade tangles up in the fabric. But no nets or cloaks or blankets here. Just a heavy forest of four chair legs, versus two hissing switchblades.
Better than nothing.
He jabs forward like a fencer, then darts back to an empty barstool and hurls it at Hog Hair’s head. Hog Hair twists away reflexively to shield his face and the stool clatters off his shoulders. Craig steps back in and jabs hard. One chair leg into the guy’s solar plexus, another deep in his gut. Hog Hair stumbles back, huffs a breath and swarms in hard, teeth bared, arms swinging, blades hissing through the air and glinting under the lights.
Craig dances backward and jabs with his chair. The guy flinches left, Craig follows and jabs again. Scythes a chair leg into the back of the guy’s head. Hog Hair staggers past and then lumbers in, blades sweeping through low dangerous arcs. He’s breathing heavily. Ferocity, and excitement. A warrior at heart, and warriors love nothing more than the fight itself. It consumes them. They live for it. Breathe it. His eyes gleam with bloodlust, seeing nothing but the flashing blades and Craig’s exposed torso beyond them. A sharp tang of sweat heavy in the air, sour and primitive.
A bystander blunders forward, pawing feebly at Hog Hair’s shoulder in a reckless beer-soaked attempt at heroics. Too slow. A sideways twist, a vicious slash and he staggers away onto his knees, groaning as blood streams down his face. Hands drag him back into the crowd. Pushing, shoving, a mad panicked scrabble for the door. Hog Hair jabs the blade around at the circle of horrified onlookers. ‘Who’s next?’ he leers. ‘Next man who interferes, I’ll rip his guts out!’
The broken snooker cue is lying discarded on the floor. Three feet of solid hardwood, nicely weighted with lead.
Whatever works. Anything goes.
Hog Hair snarls and closes in. Blades flashing. Craig backs off. Swings the chair in a wild scything arc and smashes it to pieces against Hog Hair’s shoulders. Hog Hair reels away, a precious extra yard of space. Craig snatches up the snooker cue.
Craig lunges in and slams a devastating low blow deep into Hog Hair’s belly, two hundred pounds of driving weight punched through the blunt end of a snooker cue into nothing but soft flabby tissue.
Hog Hair freezes rigid and his face crumples, waxy and bloodless. Eyes bulging. Mouth slack. Both knives clatter to the floor as he clamps both hands to his belly. Staggers away and crumples to his knees. Then he jerks forward from the waist and vomits, blood and bile splattering the floorboards.
Craig pictures Susan shrunken and whimpering in the muck. Bruised and battered as Hog Hair loomed over her, smirking.
Your leader might’ve just been following orders, pal. But you beat a helpless woman into the mud…and you enjoyed it.
Craig feels boiling implacable anger flood through his veins. Smoking and hissing. Unstoppable savage fury scorches through him.
Fuck mercy, his lizard brain snarls. Make him suffer!
CONFIRM! the Mission howls. Lewis and Ryan cheer him on from the shadows.
Fuck ‘im up, Sarge!
Rip his guts out, mate!
Craig breathes out. Twirls the snooker cue.
And moves in.
Hog Hair snarls and lurches upright. Flaps a feeble desperate swipe. Craig catches his bloody wrist and crashes the wooden cue right through his elbow, ripping ligaments, tearing tendons. Shatters the joint. Like snapping a wishbone. Hog Hair opens his mouth to scream but Craig jabs a hard left into his throat. Cracks his larynx. Buries a knee deep into his belly. Hog Hair gurgles and crumples to his knees, his eyes turned pleadingly up at Craig. A low blubbering moan dribbles between clenched teeth. His innards slopping around inside. Crippled. Helpless. Maybe two whole months confined to the hospital, his awful dawning future holding nothing but searing pain, splints, casts, bleak unemployment and left-handed kitchen utensils.
Shoe’s on the other foot now, pal. How do you like it?
Enough, someone from the civilised world might say; the world of honourable conduct, fair play and decent restraint; the world of gentlemanly warfare and extending the hand of mercy to disabled opponents. It was forbidden to strike a fallen defenceless enemy; only an animal would ever do that. ‘We’re not savages,’ the leader had insisted. ‘There are rules.’
Fuck you and fuck your rules. Your idea of valour is to bully and assault an unarmed bartender in his own home. Then beat his wife to a pulp and put a gun to her head.
Three feet of lead-weighted hardwood. Whatever works.
You hurt my friends…your arse is MINE!
Craig feels the jarring crunch all the way to his elbows. A beautiful scything swing, flooded with primeval rage and ancient dusty echo-memories from savage prehistory, two hundred pounds of sizzling fury in a vicious two-handed uppercut beneath Hog Hair’s jaw. Like a cricket batsman swinging for a distant boundary. For Jamie. And Susan. The crushing blow blasts Hog Hair clean off his feet and smashes him down onto the floorboards, splayed out and defenceless.
No rules. No mercy. No more Mr Nice Guy. Don’t just cripple your enemy; destroy them utterly. Last man standing wins.
Restraint is for idiots.
Craig steps around his sprawled limbs, lines up and kicks him deep in the groin. Steel-toecapped boot, two hundred pounds of boiling rage. For Ellie. And Jane. And the kids they’ll have one day. Hog Hair doubles up, mewling, tears streaming from his eyes, face frozen in a mask of blinding agony as he cradles his broken arm. He rolls over, curls up into a foetal ball, and goes limp. Broken. Defeated.
Enemy ordnance. Destroy it wherever you find it.
The bar falls silent. No sound except ragged breathing. The bartender is pressed back against his bottle shelves, mouth clamped, wide-eyed. The air is full of dust and the iron-stink of sweat, blood and vomit. Craig is shaky with excess adrenaline. He lets the cue clatter to the floor. Breathes out and forces himself back under control. Picks up the fallen switchblades, folds them shut and slips both knives into his right coat pocket.
Nice work, Sarge.
The leader groans and stirs. Craig steps up to his prone body. Squats down and turns him over. Sees stark, abject terror stamped in his face.
Craig smiles. Pats his cheek. ‘Your little ambush worked real well, didn’t it?’
The leader twists and squirms. Craig jams his elbow into the guy’s throat. Hard. He tries feebly to wrench free. No chance. Craig hunches over him and growls into his eyes.
‘I’m a pretty easy-going guy,’ he nods towards the other slumped bodies. ‘I’ve got one basic rule: nobody messes with me. Now if somebody messes with me because they’ve been told to, or because they have some kind of problem with me, I can understand that. It doesn’t mean they won’t end up in the hospital, it just means I’m not mad when I put ’em there.’
He leans closer.
‘You know what DOES make me mad?’
A frantic head-shake.
‘Some guys who THINK they can hurt people just because they want to. Guys who THINK they can beat women just because they can. That makes me real mad. Your boys already found out how mad I get. Do you want to see how mad I get?’
The leader shakes his head again, wide-eyed and trembling.
Craig leans in. Lets his eyes burn into the leader’s. ‘I ASKED you a question.’
The leader is quivering in terror. Face pale, tears beading in his eyes. ‘No,’ he whispers.
Craig places two fingers on his temple, just above the jagged head-wound. Presses down.
The words tumble out in a babbling rush: ‘No-I-don’t-wanna-see-how-mad-you-get.’
Craig nods. ‘Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to tell me where your boss is hiding, and maybe I won’t snap your spine like a rotten twig.’
The leader’s eyes widen, white with horror. ‘I’ll never talk!’ he gasps then clamps his mouth shut, shaking his head. Dumb blind loyalty, but loyalty all the same.
Craig snaps open one of his switchblades, pricking the cold steel just underneath the leader’s left eye. ‘I’ll take this one first. Eyeballs just pop out. Not even painful. I’ll have your left, then your right, and after that I’ll pour salt in the sockets. Then you’ll be screaming.’
He presses harder.
‘Now…where’s your boss?’
The leader writhes beneath him, squealing like a gelded pig. Steadfast fidelity warring with desperate instinct. Survival versus self-sacrifice, selfishness against loyalty.
Selfishness wins. ‘C-Clerkenwell!’ he finally wails. ‘Granville Square. Please!’
The steel digs deeper. ‘You sure?’
‘Gah – I swear! Granville Square! Rookwood House!’ The man’s babbling with panic. ‘W-What d’you want? Money? Take it all! Please! I won’t rat you out! We’ll never bother you again!’
Craig leans closer. ‘Fair enough. Just one little problem,’ he growls. ‘Jamie and Susan. You hurt my friends.’
The entire room curdles. ‘Jamie King?’ someone mutters. ‘Owns the White Lion?’
Craig nods, grim-faced. ‘He didn’t turn me over, so these fellas roughed him up. His wife, too.’
Brawny dockworkers and factory hands close ranks. The leader’s eyes dart around, into a wall of stony faces.
‘Please…we didn’t…I only meant to scare her!’
‘Only,’ Craig nods, icy-calm. ‘Right.’
A heavyset labourer steps forward, glowering. ‘He hurt Miss Suzie?’ Behind him a giant ironworker in a leather apron rises like Poseidon, cracking his knuckles.
Craig nods. ‘Yeah. She wouldn’t rat me out either. So they beat her black and blue.’
Someone growls. More figures move in. A thick-jawed man in a blue boiler suit. A stevedore with scars aplenty.
The leader gazes around, horrified. ‘Please! Your friends, I didn’t – it wasn’t personal!’
Craig clamps his hand over the guy’s forehead. Bares his teeth.
‘Tell them that.’
CRACK! He smashes the leader’s skull down onto the floorboards. The leader’s eyes roll up and he slumps unconscious on the floor.
Thank you and good night.
© 2017 Tom Burton
Huge thank you to everyone who’s enjoyed my main story so far and left such encouraging feedback! Brand new short story on the way this Friday! Hope you enjoy it 😀