1

The Comeback — Chapter 06

Vincent Mortego’s urgent appointment was waiting for him in the basement of the Papua and New Guinean embassy near London Bridge. Robert Angelis was wearing the same suit that he had on fourteen hours earlier when little Clyde had initiated this meeting. He looked tired and stressed but his eyes were alert with fear.

Vincent’s arrival was inauspicious. After leaving Simon Clarke he had driven to his Hackney home and quickly changed into a tracksuit. It had taken him under an hour to leisurely jog the three-and a-half miles to his office. Vincent liked to run whenever he could. He recognised the importance of a fit body and a fit mind.

‘Mr. Angelis,’ he said, casually strolling into the room holding a bunch of keys and what looked like a small plastic sandwich box. ‘A Greek name, yes?’

Robert Angelis was sitting in the only chair of the basement of Vincent’s offices. Some years earlier it had been converted into a gym so that Vincent could work out whenever he felt like it. ‘Yes… that’s right,’ said Robert quietly, almost embarrassed.

The gym was sparse: there were a few weights lying around on the floor; there was a running machine in one corner where a locked metal storage cupboard stood beside it. In the middle of the chamber was a large massage table which was unremarkable except for the leather straps that hung loosely from each corner. There were no windows in the room, which had also been soundproofed.

‘Catch!’ said Vincent, throwing the plastic sandwich box towards Robert. ‘Excellent! Very good reflexes!’

Standing behind Robert was Clyde Grainger. Clyde was a former bantamweight boxer with the build and stature of a jockey. He had close cropped blonde hair and brown eyes like a squirrel. He often accompanied Vincent and always wore a neatly-pressed suit. Most people who met him assumed that he was Vincent’s second-in-command, although the title had never been made official. He let out a high-pitched cackle which made Robert Angelis flinch slightly.

‘Calm down Mr. Angelis,’ said Vincent. ‘You mustn’t let Clyde spook you so easily. I can assure you his bite’s far worse than his bark.’

‘Look…’ Robert began to speak but his voice trailed off.

‘Do you know who I am?’ asked Vincent.

There was a pause. Robert Angelis shook his head.

‘I can’t say I’m surprised. Although I’m sure we have a mutual acquaintance.’

Robert fidgeted in his chair and felt pain in his ribs. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he had been leaving the Embassy Club in Mayfair when Clyde had emerged from the shadows holding his favourite weapon of choice. Most people used a pestle for grinding herbs and spices but Clyde found that it fit perfectly into his jacket pocket and could quickly disable even the largest person if employed correctly.

‘I guess I’m what you might call an advisor,’ continued Vincent. ‘I help people… I guide people… And I sort out problems from time to time.’

‘What’s this got to do with me?’ Robert finally found his voice. He sounded a little like a school prefect.

Vincent smiled. His pure white teeth were immaculate. He could easily have passed for a movie star. ‘I have quite a range of clients… Although the majority are athletes. One of my clients, for example, is at West Ham – young but an excellent prospect… Another is rather a big name at Chelsea Football Club, scores a lot of goals… I also have another client who is a very famous central defender who plies his trade with Arsenal. He has more than fifty England caps actually.’

Vincent watched as Robert’s face suddenly reddened.

‘Oh… I see that you might have an idea who I’m talking about,’ said Vincent.

‘Look…’ Robert’s voice trailed off a second time.

‘Look at what?’ asked Vincent sharply.

Robert shuffled about in his chair and groaned a little. He clutched his ribs. ‘Look… I was having a quiet night out with some friends and this man… This man bloody attacked me…’ Robert turned his head in the direction of Clyde. ‘It’s a damned outrage!’

Vincent raised a single eyebrow. ‘Oxbridge?’ he said.

‘What?’

‘Oxbridge? Your accent is public school. Are you Oxbridge educated?’

‘Er… No. Exeter actually. What’s that got…’

‘Interesting… Not quite top of the heap. Second division…’

Robert was still holding the plastic container. He felt its weight in his hands. It seemed to be empty. Although when he looked at it he could just about make out something inside wrapped in tissue paper.

‘My client has a problem. Do you think you might know what it is Mr. Angelis?’

Robert did not reply.

‘Nothing to say? Let me see if I can help you remember.’

‘Look… It’s all a big mistake…’

‘There’s that word again. Look at what?’

‘It’s all an error. It’s silly… We can sort it out. There’s no need for…’

Vincent moved closer to Robert. He leaned over towards him so that the other man was able to smell his breath. ‘I know that we can sort it out. I’m completely sure of that,’ he said. ‘Now take your clothes off.’

The room fell silent. Robert’s mouth gaped open. ‘I’m sorry?’ he said.

‘You heard me correctly. I said take your clothes off.’

Robert set the plastic box on to his lap and gripped the sides of the chair with both hands, unwilling to let go. Vincent shook his head reproachfully. ‘Not playing ball, eh?’ he said. ‘Clyde, would you mind popping out and fetching Tina? I assume that you have the address?’

Robert let out a gasp and now attempted to climb to his feet but was roughly pushed back into position by Clyde standing behind him.

‘No problem, Mister Mortego,’ said Clyde in his market trader accent.

‘Let’s see if Tina minds taking her clothes off,’ said Vincent.

‘Leave her out of this!’ said Robert, his bottom lip quivering.

‘Then please take your clothes off.’

Robert Angelis slowly got to his feet and reluctantly removed his jacket, looking wide-eyed at Vincent as he did so. It dropped to the cold wooden floor. He took off his tie and then his shirt. He undid the laces of his shoes and stepped out of them. Finally he removed his trousers, also letting them fall to the floor.

‘The underwear if you don’t mind,’ said Vincent.

Robert turned to look at Clyde for a moment and then did as instructed. He stood naked before the two men, his body tanned and slim, except for a slight roll of blubber around his stomach. Under his right arm was an angry bruise the size of a grapefruit. Clyde’s smile mocked him.

‘You see, the thing is,’ said Vincent, ‘as an educated man I’m sure you will understand that there is no better way of establishing superiority over another person than the enforced removal of clothing…’

Vincent slowly circled Robert, inspecting every part of his body. ‘…You literally feel naked, don’t you?’

Robert trembled and nodded his head submissively.

‘It also looks like you’ve shit yourself,’ added Vincent, sorting through the bunch of keys and strolling over to the metal cupboard.

‘Some time ago my client came to me with a problem.’ continued Vincent. ‘Namely £175,000 missing from his bank account. He asked if I could help and naturally I told him I could. It cost me a little money I can tell you but I was able to employ the services of a forensic accountant. You do know what a forensic accountant is don’t you Mr. Angelis?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good. Being an accountant yourself I assumed that you would. Anyway, it didn’t take long for him to discover a breadcrumb trail and guess where it led?’

‘Look…’

‘There’s that fucking word again…. Clyde?’

‘Yes Mr. Montego.’

‘I’m getting irritated. Strike Mr. Angelis if he says it again. Hard.’

‘Will do, Mr. Montego.’

‘If I can continue: The point is, Mr. Angelis, is that my client wants his money back. Are you in a position to return it. Yes or no?’

‘I… I… Didn’t…’

‘Yes or fucking no?’

There was a pause then: ‘Yes.’

‘Excellent. Very pleased to hear it.’

‘Can you do this by the end of tomorrow?’

‘It’s not going to be…’

‘Yes or no?’

‘Yes… I think… Yes.’

‘Excellent. There’s also the matter of my commission. I’m going to be charging you my usual 15%. In addition to this my client is entitled to the interest that he has lost as a result of your activities. I’ve taken the liberty of rounding off the figure to 200K. Do you have a problem with this?’

Robert Angelis’s face grew pale. A vein throbbed in his forehead. ‘That’s not fucking fair,’ he finally managed to say.

Once again Vincent Mortego grinned. ‘It’s not is it? But what can you do?’

Robert was silent once more.

‘Because I don’t need to say that if you do not comply with my request Clyde here will be very unhappy. And he’s know for his temper. There’s no telling what he might do to you… Or Tina.’

‘You fucking bastard.’

‘Not so Mr. Angelis. Both my parents are alive and flourishing thank you very much. The question remains, however, is what is to be done with you?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘What I mean is that it’s obviously not going to be enough for you just to return the money that you stole from my client. You must also be taught a lesson.’

‘I don’t understand…’

‘I think you do, Mr. Angelis. As a matter of fact only recently I was having a similar sort of conversation with another acquaintance of mine. He wasn’t quite so educated as your good self. Take a look inside the box I gave to you earlier.’

Robert looked confused. The box was now at his feet. He picked it up and felt its weight once more.

‘Open it.’

Robert Angelis gasped and dropped the box. Its contents rolled on to the floor. ‘My God!’ he exclaimed.

‘I recall we having a philosophical debate,’ said Vincent. ‘We were talking about what made our species so successful, so efficient. We thought about the wheel… We thought about fire…

‘In the end we decided that it was opposing thumbs that achieved this. Wouldn’t you agree?’

Robert said nothing and nodded his head sadly.

‘Needless to say, the acquaintance in question is fifty per cent as efficient as he once was. Or fifty per cent less efficient, depending on how you look at it…’

‘Look… I don’t…’

There was a flash of movement from behind him. Robert collapsed to the floor in agony clutching his ribs. Vincent waited a few moments before speaking again.

‘I told you to stop saying that fucking word,’ he said, his voice for the first time betraying anger. ‘Now fucking get up and lie face down on that thing.’ Vincent was pointing at the massage table.

‘Do it fucking now!

Robert slowly got to his feet. He was trembling as he climbed on to the massage table. He whimpered a little as he discovered what the leather straps were for. ‘You look ludicrous with your hairy white arse sticking up the air,’ laughed Vincent. ‘Shame I don’t have a camera.’

Robert was now bound firmly to the massage table. The leather straps tight around his wrists and ankles, cutting off the blood supply.

‘You mentioned earlier that you were of Greek origin.’

Robert did not respond.

‘Speak man! Jesus Christ! Fucking speak!’

‘Not… Not really – I’m pretty sure my grandfather was half Greek!’ Robert spoke urgently, his voice muffled.

‘Nevertheless an educated man such as yourself may have heard of falanga.’

‘What?’

‘Falanga. Surely you must be familiar with the word? Let me elaborate: It’s a form of punishment that was used by the Greek Junta during the sixties.’

Vincent fished around in the cupboard and pulled out a stiff wooden walking stick. He walked around to the front of the massage table so that Richard was able to see it clearly.

‘They were a brutal bunch the Greeks. Apparently the technique involved striking the soles of the feet with a stick or a whip… Or a cane.’

Richard made a sound like he was in pain and yelled out something unintelligible.

Vincent continued: ‘From what I’ve read falanga is particularly painful in view of the fact that the feet contain hundreds, perhaps thousands of nerve endings. If that isn’t bad enough the healing process can be very protracted.’

‘Please… I didn’t know…’

‘…Who you were dealing with. Well now you do. I hope you’re a good liar Mr. Angelsis. Because your going to have to explain to Tina – and your business colleagues – why you’ve suddenly developed a limp.’

‘Please…’

Vincent moved behind Robert Angelis. He swished the cane through the air. Robert began to shake violently, as if the temperature in the building had suddenly dropped below zero.

‘Left or right, Mr. Angelis?’

‘Huh?’

‘Left or right? Make your choice or I’ll do both.’

Robert began to sob.

‘Left or right? Last chance.’

‘Left,’ said Robert, his voice weak with terror.

There was a loud swish in the room. This was immediately followed by a scream of agony that would have been heard in the next street were it not for the soundproofing.

Vincent moved around to Richard’s front once more. He lowered himself on to his haunches so that his head was at the same height as the crying man’s.

‘Don’t fuck with me, Mr. Angelis,’ he said calmly. ‘Don’t fuck with me. Because next time I won’t be whipping your feet – I’ll be cutting them off. Do I make myself clear?’

In between his sobs, Robert managed to nod his head. ‘Yes! Yes!’ he cried.

‘I want that money back in my client’s bank account by close of play tomorrow. To repeat: that’s 200K in total. Understand?’

Robert seemed not to hear him.

‘Understand!’

‘Yes… Yes…’

‘And if it’s not there Clyde here will come looking for you and your lovely wife. And then things will get really messy. I can promise you that.’

Vincent scooped up the severed thumb and put it back in its container. Then he moved back over to the cupboard to return the cane. He locked it up and put the bundle of keys in his pocket.

‘One more thing, Mr. Angelis. There’s always one more thing, isn’t there? Clyde over there has had a very busy time because of you. He needs some form of compensation for his trouble. Isn’t that right Clyde?’

‘Yes Mr. Montego.’

‘As I said earlier, I really do hope that you’re a good liar Mr. Angelis. Because as well as that limp of yours, you’re going to have to explain to Tina why your arse is bleeding to fuck. I have every confidence that you can do it. Tell her it’s your haemorrhoids. ‘

Vincent moved to the exit of the gym. From the corner of his eye he could see that the diminutive figure of Clyde had already moved behind Robert Angelis and was unzipping his flies. In a few moments the walls of the gym would reverberate with the sound of more screams.

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5

The comeback – Chapter 03

CHAPTER THREE

Angie Fuller was not a psychiatrist. On the front door of her shabby one-bedroom flat at the side of Berwick Street Market was a cardboard sign on which the words ‘YOUNG MODEL INSIDE’ had been roughly scrawled in biro. This was usually ignored by both the local constabulary and any members of the Trading Standards Commission who happened to be passing. Her modelling days were long gone and she was no student of Freud. But she was happy to play that role so long as her hourly rate did not drop.

‘I don’t know why you bother with him,’ she said. ‘He’s always causin’ trouble.’

‘Well I suppose I like him,’ said Dino softly. ‘He’s a decent kid. And he really could have been someone. One of the greats you know. It’s a crying shame.’

Angie was thirty-nine-years-of-age but could have passed for ten years older. The drugs had mostly done that to her but she also suspected that being fucked by up to fifteen different men a day for the last twenty years may have played a part. That and the four kids.

‘You know most fighters hang around outside the gym asking for money,’ said Dino. ‘And most fighters try to tap you up for a couple of hundred, sometimes a couple of grand. But with Ollie it was always ‘Can I borrow a fiver for the weekend? Can I borrow twenty?’. He hasn’t got a bad bone in his body that one.’

‘But you can’t let him hit you like that,’ said Angie soothingly.

‘I know darlin’,’ said Dino. ‘I know.’

Angie was sitting naked in bed smoking a Marlboro Light. Beside her, also naked, Dino was absent-mindedly scratching his balls. Dino had been calling on Angie for almost as long as he had been at Carnaby Street. Although he still paid for the privilege of spending time with her, in many ways they were a couple. They were used to each other: comfortable and at ease in each other’s company. He never felt this way with his wife.

‘What you gonna do then?’ she asked.

‘I dunno. He’s getting that eye checked out. Depends how bad it is. With any luck we can get him training again in a couple of weeks. Problem is, I don’t think the Italians are gonna bite a second time. I could be out of pocket big time.’

‘I told you you should have paid the insurance darlin’.’

‘Thanks Angie, that makes me feel a lot better…’

‘Poor little Dino…’

Angie’s breasts hung loose and heavy, no longer the prized assets that they used to be when she worked in the clubs. As gravity had made its inevitable impression on her body, so the fees that Angie charged had also headed downwards over the years. She knew that she was entering a pivotal phase of her career, if you can call it that. In a year or so’s time she would be struggling to find a punter willing to pay for her services. Christ, it was happening already.

For this reason she was grateful to have Dino as a regular. He visited three or four times a week and stayed for at least an hour. He always settled up, never hurt her, and wasn’t really that interested in the sex. It was a secondary consideration for him. You almost felt that that he was going through the motions because he had to, because it was somehow expected of him. Angie and Dino had much in common: in his heyday he was renowned as a person who could finish off a street fight in seconds rather than minutes; and Angie was equally businesslike when it came to finishing off her clients. 

Dino didn’t come to see her for physical contact. He came mainly to talk:

‘Yes poor little Dino. Well might you say that…’

‘What about Jimmy Smith?’

‘I went to see him, didn’t I?’

‘Did he help you out?’

‘I dunno. He might he might not.’

‘Ungrateful little rat. After all you’ve done for him.’

‘He don’t owe me nothing, Ange. Just cos I knew his father…’

‘You more than just knew him… You and Billy were like that.’ Angie bowed her fingers to illustrate the degree of closeness. 

‘It don’t work that way, love. Jimmy’s his own man, just like his dad was.’

‘What about Vincent Mortego?’

Dino frowned. ‘Why’d you mention him?’ he asked. ‘What’s he got to do with anything?’

‘Well he’s got money, ain’t he?’

‘So he reckons.’

‘He could… Couldn’t he, you know, make an investment?’

‘An investment? An investment in what?’

‘You know – in one of your fighters.’

Dino usually valued Angie’s advice. Lord knows she’d helped him out over the years. But he felt himself growing irritated.

‘Angie, I’ve been managing fighters for thirty years and I’ve never sold a piece of them to anyone.’

‘But…’

‘And I’ve got no intention of starting now. Anyway, Bill Saxon in New York tells me Mortego – and that’s not even his real name –  gets all his money from cocaine. I’m not going anywhere near that.’

‘What about Mickey and Jarvis?’

‘I’m not going to them… It’d be… Humiliating.’

There was a pause. Angie stubbed out her cigarette and lit up another one.

‘They won’t do you any good, you know,’ said Dino.

‘Them’s the least of my problems Dino,’ laughed Angie.

Dino rolled off the bed and began to dress. ‘Well I’m not spending the afternoon catching cancer,’ he said.

‘So what are you gonna do?’ asked Angie, suddenly growing serious.

‘I dunno. We’ll have to wait and see. Something will turn up.’

***

The phone rang almost as soon as Dino had left the building. From a café in the market one of Vincent Mortego’s many lookouts had immediately got on the phone to his employer, who in turn called Angie straight away.

‘Jesus Angie, I don’t know how you can bear to look at that big fat lump of shit,’ said Vincent Mortego.

‘He’s all right Vince, at least he don’t bother me.’

‘Did you do what I said?’

‘Yes.’

‘Is that all?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Jesus, it’s like getting blood from a fucking stone! Explain… Elaborate… Give me a fucking description of what happened. That’s what I’m fucking paying you for!’

‘I did what you asked. I told him to go to you.’

‘What did he say?’  

‘Nothing really.’

‘Jesus fucking Christ!’

‘Sorry Vincent.’

‘Sorry Vincent!’ echoed Vincent Mortego.

‘Sorry.’

‘Anything else?’

‘What Vince?’

‘Anything fucking else! Did he say anything else! Jesus!’

‘Not really. Only that Long’s been cut.’

‘What?’

‘Oliver Long got cut in sparring.’

‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!’

‘What’s the matter, Vince?’

‘Mind your own business Angie.’

2

The Comeback – Chapter 02

Thanks so much for the very nice and very helpful comments yesterday. It’s really appreciated. Here’s the second chapter. Ian x

 

CHAPTER TWO

The sweet scent of liniment when combined with the ripe odour of stale sweat produces its own unique and distinctive aroma. But most of the people who were going about their business that morning in Dino’s Gym smelled nothing at all. They’d gotten used to that smell a long time ago. To them it was like breathing in fresh air.

Barry Pearce, a young looking forty-five in a tracksuit who helped Dino out, was keen to fill the gaffer in on what he had missed while he had been out on his travels. ‘Vincent Mortego was ’round again last night,’ he panted. 

‘Again? What did the flash fucker want?’ said Dino, not even looking at Barry.

‘He wouldn’t say,’ said Barry, whose working arrangement with the older man could at best be described as informal. He had no regular salary as such, but was reliant on sporadic handouts: twenty here, fifty there, a ton if Dino was feeling particularly flush or particularly guilty. ‘Told me he needed to speak to you personally. He had little Clyde with him.’

‘Don’t the cunt know how to pick up a phone?’

Dino had just come out of the shower. He stood naked and steaming on the wooden floor of the gym. Soapy water dripped off his huge hairy belly and flabby white back. Prince Kilimanjaro followed closely behind, all six-feet-five of him. ‘All right boss,’ he nodded seriously, apparently impervious to the contrast that his magnificently muscular black torso provided in comparison to Dino’s grotesquely overweight figure. 

‘All right Derek,’ said Dino, addressing The Prince by his real name. ‘How’d the sparring go?’

‘OK I suppose.’

‘You turning your fist like I said?’ Some weeks before Dino had highlighted a weakness in the way that the boxer administered his punches. 

‘Yeah boss… Most of the time.’

‘Do what I tell you, son. Turn your fist as you throw it. You’re less likely to break your hand and more likely to cut the other fellow up.’

‘I know Dino,’ said The Prince patiently. Dino had a habit of repeating himself these days but it was a small price to pay for what he still had to offer.

There were perhaps a dozen boxers in the gym that morning. Some were doing rope work, others weights and one or two were undertaking stomach crunches that were painful to watch. Anonymous rap music boomed out of the building’s aged speakers.

Nearly all of the fighters had known Dino since they were juniors. They had seen him naked more times they could remember and scarcely batted a scarred eyelid at the spectacle. In a perverse way Dino was almost proud of what he had allowed his body to become. He took four or five showers a day, determined, it seemed, to place his gut on public display. He would sometimes joke that it had been twenty years since he had last seen his cock but no-one really laughed any more. 

The gym was a theatre of contrasts. Situated in a basement underneath a clothes shop in Carnaby Street the passing tourists and shoppers had no idea it was there. While the street above was bathed in colour and light and texture, the gym was like a dark cave, lit only by neon strip lights that added an orange glow to the obligatory fight posters that adorned the walls. The younger generation represented by photographs of Mike Tyson and Tommy ‘Hit Man’ Hearns; the older by images of Jack Dempsey and ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson. In pride of place was a picture of Dino’s old man shaking Rocky Marciano’s hand way back in the fifties.

Dino had been renting the property for nigh on fifteen years but the rent had gone up and up. Among his many concerns was the thought that he might soon have to seek other premises unless he got some money in. And for Dino the best way of getting money in rested on turning one of his boxers into a champion.

Despite his size and the perfection of his body, The Prince was never going to be a champion, Dino knew that. He was too musclebound and not a natural fighter. The best he could hope for if he kept his nose clean was a shot at the British title. Dino had never told him that, of course.

Dino sat down on one of the wooden benches that were screwed to the walls of the gym and pulled on his underwear: white old man’s underpants. Standing with his back to Dino was Simon Clarke. Simon was a middleweight and as close to the real deal as Dino had ever had on his books. Before he had turned pro he had won the ABAs, an essential pre-requisite on a champion’s CV, and despite one small glitch on his record (an accidental cut that stopped the fight prematurely) Simon was definitely going places. Dino knew had been very lucky to sign him.

‘Hey Simon,’ Dino called, unable to hide the pride and the love in his voice.

But Simon did not hear him. He was standing in front of a giant mirror that covered one whole side of the gym. He was listening to his Walkman and staring admiringly at himself, striking up poses, throwing the jab, throwing the uppercut, sucking in air, scowling at no-one in particular, trying to imagine what his opponents would see when he stood before them in the ring. 

Dino squeezed himself into his tracksuit top and struggled into his pants. He got to his feet and tapped Simon on his shoulder. Simon ignored him, unwilling to abandon his posturing. Dino moved in front of the young boxer and pulled off Simon’s headphones.

‘All right, son,’ Dino smiled. ‘How’s the weight? Looking good from where I’m standing.’

Simon did not respond immediately. He regarded Dino with unconcealed resentment in his eyes. Dino stared back.

‘The weight’s good,’ said Simon coldly.

‘Something wrong kid?’ said Dino, although he had a pretty good idea what it was. He’d seen it before. It’s what usually happened when people spotted potential; they’d start whispering in its ear. And lately too many of the wrong sorts of people had been whispering in Simon’s ear. Trouble was, the boxer was not mature or streetwise enough to ignore it and send them on their way. He was a good boy from a nice church-going family.

‘Nothing,’ said Simon, snatching his headphones back petulantly.

Like all boxing gyms, Dino’s place was governed by the bell. Every three minutes it would go off and people would stop what they were doing and rest. A minute later the bell would sound again and people would resume their activities. It was all about educating the body. Life here was measured in rounds and the breaks between rounds. 

Fortunately, the bell sounded right at that moment to break the tension. Simon smiled at Dino like he used to when he was a kid and Dino smiled back, even giving a little wink. Dino made a mental note to get Barry to keep a closer eye on his investment. 

In the meantime Dino had work to do. In the centre of the gym stood a full-sized boxing ring. Prowling around the outskirts of the ropes,  charged with electricity was the dreadlocked Oliver Long. He was Dino’s only current champion – although he could hardly be described as a cash cow. He had ended up on Dino’s doorstep because no other manager wanted him. Despite his manifold talents he simply wasn’t worth the bother. 

In three days he was due to defend his European Welterweight title in Italy. Sitting beside the ring and watching intently was Long’s oriental girlfriend, Paula Chan. She was Yoko Ono to Long’s John Lennon. She followed him around like a bad smell. A journalist she called herself, and a right royal pain in the arse.

Dino climbed into the ring and pulled on the pads. They were upholstered soft vinyl, like a small mattress attached to each fist that allowed the boxer to throw his punches freely without hurting himself or the person wielding the pads. The bell sounded almost instantly. Dino’s body clock was very finely attuned to that important interval.

Oliver Long was thirty-seven-years-of-age, a granddaddy of a boxer whose beard was white when he let it grow, but despite years of self-abuse everything still seemed to be working. He had not lost his speed. If you touched his stomach you would think that it was made of baked clay. Under Dino’s tutelage Long was currently enjoying an Indian summer.

Dino took to the centre of the ring and allowed Long to circle him. Long was singing to himself softly like he always did as he threw a lazy jab followed by three straight right hooks that were heavy enough to knock Long backwards a step or two. ‘Saucy bugger,’ Dino smiled, regaining his position at the centre of the ring. Long was looking good: he had just about hit his peak. Even fighting away from home, Dino knew he was more than the Italian Rossi would be able to handle. And Dino obviously knew all about Italians.

More jabs followed and Dino began to issue his instructions. ‘Three-six-two,’ he called. This was his own special code for a patent combination. Long responded by throwing a left jab followed by a right hook and a right uppercut. Long administered the punches with the grace and style of a ballet dancer.

‘Three-six-two, I said, you dozy fuck!’ panted Dino.

‘Sorry boss,’ said Long, his Jamaican twang muffled by his gum-shield.

Long effortlessly continued his dance around Dino. Skipping like a teenager, holding his arms low and letting them swing freely.

‘Arms up, Ollie,’ urged Dino. But experience told him that he was wasting his breath. Everything about Oliver Long was unconventional: the way that he moved, the way that his legs supported his weight, the way that he threw the jab and the uppercut. What Long did could not be found in any text book.

And ironically, Long’s unconventionality was actually his greatest asset. When he went into the ring his opponents suddenly found that they had only three minutes to unlearn everything that they had ever been taught to do in thousands of hours of practise. Only the very best fighters possessed the ability to make such a profound real-time adjustment.

Added to this was the fact that Long was also a southpaw, he was left-handed – a physical difference that was often enough to tip the scales in a battle of equals. This made Long a formidable opponent. Formidable but ultimately flawed.

A small crowd of boxers had stopped what they were doing to watch Long in action. For a boxer to be admired by his peers in this way was a great tribute. But Long was used to it, it had been happening since he turned pro in the mid seventies. 

‘Cover up!’ yelled Dino. Instructing his fighter to adopt a defensive stance against an imaginary onslaught. 

But Long was having none of it. ‘Don’t need to cover up,’ he grunted, his exertions polishing his body with sweat. ‘Nobody touch Ollie Long.’

Dino smiled at Long’s arrogance and suddenly jumped forward, playfully pushing his fighter into the corner of the ring and buffeting him with the pads. Having fun. ‘Oh yeah? That so?’ he said teasingly.

But the smile quickly turned into a frown at the first appearance of red. ‘Oh fuck!’ said Dino, lowering his hands and waving a halt to the proceedings. ‘You’re cut.’

Long froze in his tracks and dabbed at his brow with a glove. He turned pale when he saw that it was covered in blood.

This was another aspect of Long’s unconventionality: unlike every other boxer on planet Earth, Long refused to wear a head guard when sparring. Dino had lost count of the number of times he had told him to do so. And now it had come back to bite him.  

Dino put his head in his hands and audibly groaned. He took a long look at his boxer, somehow hoping that he had imagined the injury. The cut was in the corner of the left eye. It wasn’t a bad one but it probably needed a couple of stitches. It meant that Long’s title fight was off. It meant that the boxer would not get his purse. And it meant that Dino would lose the money he had already spent on plane fares and hotel bookings. Not to mention the weeks he had spent preparing Long for this fight. This could end up costing Dino thousands.

‘You fucking cunt!’ before Dino had time to speak, Long was yelling at him. ‘You fucking cut me you fucking ras-clat!’

It was all a blur. There was no time to talk about justice or injustice. There was no time to mention the fact that Dino had told Long to use the head guard on innumerable occasions. Because now Long was throwing real punches at Dino. 

As well as his unique approach to boxing, Long was also known for his blinding speed. And before Barry Pearce could haul him away Long had already caught Dino twice in that great big fat open target of a belly of his. And another punch had caught him square in the mouth, staggering Dino and making him taste blood.

Long’s girlfriend Paula Chan had also managed to get in on the act. She was quickly into the ring, talons bared, aiming and missing with swipes at Dino’s face. She was screaming something at him in Chinese.

Dino would have loved to have landed one sweet right hand on her jaw. It would have made him feel a whole lot better. But he stopped himself.

12

The Comeback – Chapter 01

Been a little too busy to work on this blog for the past week. In the meantime here’s a question for my numerous followers (well, about 12 followers actually). This is something that I began a year ago and then abandoned. I sent this one to an agent and was asked for the full m/s. However, I didn’t have the energy to continue past three chapters.

I’d appreciate a little feedback. Anyone?

 

The Comeback

Chapter 01

 

‘Come off it Dino, you gotta be serious about this.’

‘I am serious, Jimmy. I mean it.’

‘But you haven’t done anything like this for… Just how long has it been?’

‘Twenty-five years… Twenty six, I suppose, if you’re counting.’

‘So why now – after all this time?’

‘It’s my granddaughter’s wedding… I just want to make it a special day for her.’

In the back room of the Royal Oak in Canning Town Dino Andretti stood before the desk of Jimmy Smith like a naughty schoolboy waiting for the cane. He was sixty-two-years-of-age: balding, fat, nineteen or twenty stone. In contrast, Jimmy couldn’t have been older than thirty-five: slicked back hair, wiry thin, scholarly glasses. From an elegant leather seat he looked Dino up and down through those glasses. It was difficult to know what was going through his mind.

‘Look Dino,’ he said, almost tenderly. ‘Our families go back a long way, there’s no denying that. But if it’s money you’re after we can work something out. You don’t have to do something like this.’

‘I can do it, Jimmy,’ said Dino, a hint of iron in his voice. ‘Don’t you worry about me. I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t… Some things you never forget.’

Jimmy shook his head slowly. Dino and his father had been at school together. They had been best friends until the day he died. It pained Jimmy to have to say this: ‘I’m sorry Dino, but you have to be realistic. It’s a young man’s game. It always has been. At your age you should be putting your feet up. Doing the garden. Something peaceful.’

Standing beside Jimmy in a smart grey suit was Alan Civil. Alan was a muscular twenty-year-old and this was the first time that he had met Dino. He had none of his boss’s sentiment and simply saw Dino for what he was. ‘No offence, mate,’ he interjected. ‘But you ain’t up to it. Anyone can see that.’

Jimmy shot an angry glare at his boy, who took a step backwards and immediately fell silent. ‘Take no notice of the kid, Dino,’ he said. ‘He means well but he hasn’t learned to control that mouth of his.’

Dino stiffened. The buttons bulged on his too-tight jacket. He loosened his tie to let some air in. ‘He’ll learn,’ he said, slowly turning to look Alan in the eye. ‘If they’ve got a brain they all learn.’

Alan stepped forward, about to say something. But a short, sharp glance from Jimmy once again cut him short. Jimmy slid open a drawer in his desk and pulled out a metal cashbox. He opened it and took out a pristine brick of banknotes. He counted it nonchalantly, accustomed to holding large sums of money, licking the tips of his fingers as he did so. ‘Listen Dino,’ he said at last. ‘Here’s ten. You know I wouldn’t do this for anybody else but it’s yours. Just take it and walk out of the door now. No need to worry about paying me back. You can get me some tickets or something… Get the kids some autographs…’

Dino looked at the money and fell silent for a moment. ‘Thank-you Jimmy,’ he sighed. ‘It’s not that I’m not grateful but it’s… it’s not enough.’

Jimmy Smith looked surprised. ‘Not enough? Come again?’ he said. 

‘He says it’s not enough, Mr. Smith,’ said Alan, anxious to be involved.

‘I need sixty,’ Dino continued.

Jimmy’s eyes widened. ‘Sixty?’ he said. ‘What is this? The fucking royal wedding?’

‘Ha, ha…royal wedding,’ said Alan.

‘I know,’ said Dino, ignoring the boy. ‘These things cost a lot of money these days. There’s the cars, the catering and whatnot. It all adds up. The invites alone are almost a grand. It’s daylight robbery, I’m telling you.’

But Jimmy was already suspicious. ‘You sure you need the money for a wedding?’ he asked. ‘You ain’t in trouble are you? You know you can tell me if you are.’

‘No. Nothing like that,’ replied Dino. ‘I just want to give my little girl a special day.’

Jimmy thought for a moment. ‘Listen, I shouldn’t do this but I can let you have twenty,’ he said reluctantly. ‘But I can’t give it to you for nothing. I’ll need you to buy me a drink some day soon. You know that.’

Dino looked at the younger man awkwardly and dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief. ‘I don’t want to offend you, Jimmy,’ he said. ‘But I need sixty and I hear tell that the purse for this job is eighty.’

Jimmy Smith found himself laughing at the older man. ‘Fucking purse,’ he said. ‘Never heard it called that before.’

Jimmy stopped for a moment and once again looked the older man up and down. He was known for his cold dead eyes. More than once they had seen him though difficult times. Alan Civil took the silence as an opportunity to fill the room with his voice. ‘Listen old man,’ he said. ‘Mr. Smith’s a busy man. Why don’t you just take the money and fuck off like a good old boy?’

Under normal circumstances a speech such as this would have been acceptable. Alan’s main job description was to intimidate people who were getting on his boss’s tits. Today, however, Alan was lacking a proper sense of history. He simply had no idea who he was talking to.

Dino moved fast. And even though the younger man was a good foot taller than him, he instantly had Alan pinned against the wall by his throat. ‘Watch your fucking mouth, kid,’ he said, hitting Alan hard in the stomach, making him gasp. ‘Learn some fucking respect.’

Dino hit him a second time, this time in the balls. Alan let out a yelp and crumpled to the floor groaning. Less than four seconds had elapsed since Alan’s insult.

‘Leave the little wanker alone, Dino,’ said Jimmy, smiling but somehow looking serious at the same time. ‘He don’t mean no harm. He’s just young.’

‘Sorry Jim,’ said Dino. ‘I know that. Yes, I know that.’ He was aware that he had overreacted. But it was a calculated overreaction. Normally he would have let the boy’s insult go but he was keen to prove a point.

‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Jimmy. ‘All the same, that was pretty to watch, Dino. You don’t waste any time do you? You’re still a sight to behold.’

‘Thanks. You know I appreciate you saying that.’

‘Listen Dino, let me think about it for a day or two. I’m not saying that I’m giving you the work but I’ll give it some consideration. You’re no spring chicken any more, Dino, and this job needs a safe pair of hands.’

‘You won’t find yourself a safer pair of hands.’

‘Well that’s arguable,’ said Jimmy, staring at a pile of papers at his desk like an accountant. ‘There’s three or four boys I know who would have this for their breakfast.’

‘I’m sure that’s true,’ said Dino. ‘But they’re not as hungry as I am right now.’