Fighters

It's Saturday afternoon and he's missing the match because of these bastards. He'd been on the way over to Maine Road when the call came through; reports of a violent assault out the back of a pub in Rusholme, the victim stabbed and critical. He'd sworn, of course, and did a U-turn in the street, forced to squeal off in the opposite direction. When he got there, Ray and Chris were standing around while the ambulance drivers loaded the bloke in – one glance made it pretty clear they'd have to get any information out of him as soon as he woke up. If he woke up. He'd sent a couple of uniform off with him, trusting that they'll get something before he carks it.

'Where's Tyler?'

'Dunno, Guv. Haven't seen him. They haven't been able to raise him on the radio.'

He swears again. 'Send that plonk round to his place. He'll answer the door to her. An' then you two, get in there an' bloody find me someone who knows something.'

'Right, Guv.'

They don't look too chuffed at having their weekend interrupted either, but he couldn't give a toss. They didn't have tickets for the match – a tasty little number, Liverpool at home. He's starting to think he shouldn't bother getting a season ticket anymore, the amount of games he misses.

An hour later, and it seems like the patrons of the Queen's Head are all shiny, squeaky-clean examples of humanity. Not one of them knows anything about the two men who were supposed to have done this, none of them saw or heard anything. Just a bunch of fat, hairy, beer-swilling bastards who were in this shithole of a pub, on a Saturday afternoon, on match day, for a quiet pint and a game of dominoes. Because that happens all the time, doesn't it?

'Ray? Pick the two biggest sods, and bring them into my office.'

He opens the door to the pub kitchen, which looks like a place nothing edible should ever see the inside of. Ray grins and drops his fag. 'Yes, Guv.' Five minutes later, with two likely looking victims placed inside, Gene shuts the door.

'I don't care which one of you speaks first. I won't tell your mates you squealed, so if you promise to keep it between yourselves, no one'll ever know. But make no mistake, gentlemen, one of you – or both, if you like – is going to tell me what I want to know.'

They both sneer. They're big, beefy twats, easily his height, and look like builders or something. He couldn't give a toss. If he has to be here on a Saturday afternoon, then there's no reason they shouldn't suffer as well, particularly as they're making his scumbag radar scream like an air-raid siren.

'Sod off, pig. We don' know nothin', an' we wouldn't tell you if we did.'

'There's where you're wrong. Ray.'

The mouthy one gets a punch square in the nose. He chooses to start on the ribs of the other one. Probably a good thing Tyler's gone AWOL, really. It's a nice little scrap. The blokes, big as they are, are wary of hitting coppers for the first few minutes. It's only when it becomes apparent that getting done for assaulting a police officer isn't going to be an issue here that they start fighting back. Ray takes one on the chin, and a glancing elbow splits his own eyebrow, and that's when they have grounds to really go to town. The two of them have done this so many times before, nothing needs to be said. At the first sight of blood, the adrenaline kicks in and three minutes later, one of the bastards is out cold and the other is handcuffed to a chair.

'What shall we do to him, Guv?'

He walks to the door and opens it a crack. 'Chris, fetch me a lamp from the bar, and a roll of tape.'

Ten minutes is enough time to fill the room with the smell of burning skin. 'It were the Morton's OK? OK! Jus' stop, alright? The Morton brothers, that's what I heard. The bloke owed them money from a card game an' couldn't pay in time.'

'The Morton brothers?' He and Ray exchange a glance. It isn't a name that's come up before. 'Right then. You, my friend, are going to accompany my good DS here down to the station and tell us everythin' you know about these blokes.'

'I can't, they'll kill me!'

The expression he pulls seems to get the message across. The bloke starts looking properly scared. Gene doesn't care about that either, and leaves Ray to mop up.

'What do we do now, Guv?' Chris had been left on guard duty, told to keep inquisitive punters out of the way. Punters, and Tyler, if the nancy-boy ever decides to show his face. Gene lights a fag, and flexes his hand, ignoring the sting of his split knuckles.

'Help Ray get them two back to the station. Write up your reports, an' be sure you mention how willing and eager they were to help us with our enquiries. Model citizens, who we barely had to ask a question of before they were fallin' over themselves to help, got it?'

'Yes, Guv.'

'Stick it on my desk, I'll get to it Monday mornin'. Oh, and keep an ear out for word from the hospital. If that fella wakes up, get round there an' take a proper statement. I don't trust uniform to do it right. We need descriptions of these Morton brothers.'

'On it, Guv.'

Chris disappears into the kitchen, and Gene blows out a lungful of smoke. A cracked mirror, set into the old crockery dresser by the kitchen door, reveals a line of blood painted down his cheek from his eyebrow, and what looks like the start of a nice black eye. Oh well. He'll just have to cancel that modelling contract he'd planned for tomorrow.

He flicks the radio on as soon as he gets in the car. 3-0 City at full time. Bloody bastards. They could at least have had the decency to lose, if he wasn't there to see it. Still. Good result, and United lost so that makes it even better. By the time he pulls up outside his front door, the afternoon hasn't seemed such a waste. The Morton brothers. New names on his patch – a violent assault, and the hint of organised gambling is a hell of a way for them to introduce themselves. Definitely ones to look out for.

When he opens the front door, he's greeted by the smell of something in the oven, and the tones of Roger Whitaker. In the kitchen, Barbara is facing away from him, peeling onions and singing along. He leans on the doorframe and watches, running his gaze down her body. She's had that old dress for years and would never be seen out in it; she doesn't even like him seeing her in it, anymore. But he thinks it suits her, just a bit too tight these days. She's filled out in the last five years, and he doesn't mind. He always liked a bird to have a nice, round arse and it's displayed well this evening. He lights a fag with a snap of his Zippo, causing her to squeal and spin round, brandishing the knife in her hand.

'Gene!' She puts the knife down and places her hand over her chest instead. His gaze stays on it for a moment. 'Bloody hell, you about gave me a 'eart attack! What're you doing here?'

'I live here, last I looked.'

She's taking in the state of his face, he knows. Her expression turns from fear to concern, and he doesn't move as she walks over; her thumb brushes his hair off his forehead so she can get a good look, and he doesn't flinch. 'Either City lost an' you didn't take kindly to some comments made, or you never made the match. Seein' as you're early an' you don't smell like a brewery, I'm guessing you got called into work.'

'It's nothin'.'

'It's always nothin', with you. Sit down, I'll clean it up. Dinner'll be an hour – oi, get your hand off that! - - if you're stayin' for it.'

He drops his hand from her breast reluctantly, and shrugs his coat off before sitting down. Barbara looks a bit sorry, like she might have snapped too fiercely, but he can't blame her. Saturday evenings are usually her own. Most of Saturday night, too. He only turns up on the days he hasn't made the football and the job doesn't require him too long. His dinner is always made. He usually takes it from the oven about midnight, and eats alone.

'You off down the bingo tonight?'

'Well, I was going to.' She puts a beer down next to him, and waits for him to open it before wetting a ball of cotton wool. 'But if you're going to be in, I'll stay.'

He can't work out if that means she wants him to be in or not. He has the suspicion that she really quite likes it when he stays out. She can see her mates then, and gossip about whatever it is girls gossip about when they're on their own.

Sometimes he thinks he should really stop thinking of her as a girl. She's nearly forty. But she's always nineteen in his head, and her smile hasn't changed over the years. Nor has her body, really, unblemished as it is from the lack of children.

'Think I'll go to the fights, seein' as I missed the footy.'

'Oh.' She looks disappointed, and there's a swell of something in his chest. Relief, maybe. Her hands are so gentle as they tend to him. 'Well, all right.'

'They don' start 'til nine though.' His hands run up the outside of her thighs, under that dress. This time she doesn't snap at him. She smiles a little bit.

'Bingo's at half seven.'

'An hour off. What're you goin' t'do with the other forty-five minutes?'

'You mean fifty minutes. It'll give me time to have a bath, an' look presentable.' She is perfectly deadpan, right up until she cracks a grin at his sour expression. The cotton wool gets tossed on to the table, and she leans down and kisses the cut, then his lips. 'Daft sod. Come on.'

He follows her up the stairs, thankful as he always is that ten minutes in her presence can stop him from being just a copper. He might not get any proper dinner tonight, but it'll be worth it.

8 8 8

The Grand Theatre hasn't been grand for thirty years. Before the war, it was apparently the place to go for a posh night out, all red and gilt, and no entrance if you weren't dressed up to the nines like a nancy poof. These days they try to maintain the illusion, but nothing can hide the flaking paint and threadbare seats. It doesn't help that it's used less as a theatre now, and more somewhere for staging bouts like this. Gene looks down at the ring from the top of the stairs. Its sagging ropes and patchy surface conceals the stories of ten thousand dancing feet, countless broken faces, any amount of shattered dreams. It's hard to believe that a ring like that can be freedom for these men, even if only in their heads – they dream of titles and championship bouts, the big prizes and money. It even happens for some of them, and good luck to them. But they're not the ones Gene comes to watch. He likes the ones who are not just fighters. The ones who are men that fight, those are who he stays out for. Not the lads who shine, and sail through with ease, but the ones who come out as underdogs and scrap their way through it, put their balls on the line, fuelled by passion and heart and spirit. Whether they emerge victorious or not, it doesn't matter to him. Just by laying themselves out there, they prove their worth. He has all the time in the world for men like that.

'Gene! You made it.'

'Terry. Yeah, found myself at a loose end.'

Terry Haslam's hand is large, and uneven. When he shakes it, he's always put in mind of a bag of carrots – bits stick out where you don't expect, but it's firm and strong. A fighter's hand. Haslam's another that pulled himself up out of the gutter, using nothing but his fists and his brain.

'Come on then, Chief Inspector. Nothing but ringside for Manchester's finest, eh?'

'Cheers, Terry.' He knew it would happen, of course. It always does. He hasn't sat anywhere but ringside for years. But unlike the bankers and judges he sits next to, he hasn't bought this seat. Not with money, anyway. And that never used to be a problem. Haslam's already leading him down though, and he follows, cigar in hand. Just once more won't hurt, will it? He can ignore that animal in his stomach, and Tyler's voice, for one more night.

Davie Mackay is fourth on the bill. He's always worth a watch. By the time the first round is over, he's forgotten any lingering doubts over whether he should be here; he's forgotten how much the loudmouth git on his left is annoying him with his swish clothes and faux-posh accent. He's just roaring with the rest of the crowd, bobbing his head and mentally weaving along with Davie, muttering instructions under his breath as he follows his every move. Stay tucked in...mind his left...c'mon, Davie, use your feet... He lives and dies with the man in the ring, and things are looking bad at the end of the second, when Terry comes to sit next to him.

'He's in trouble, Terry.'

'Wilkes'll sort him out. Dunno how the man does it. Every time I think he's about to fall over, Pete says something in the corner and he comes out like someone's branded his arse.'

'Fighting spirit, I think that's called.'

'Well, he wouldn't be much without it.' Haslam eyes his man as the bell rings again. 'He'll be at the club tomorrow morning, Gene. If you want to come down, you know you're more than welcome.'

He hesitates, his eyes riveted on Mackay as he takes a bruising left to the eye-socket. 'Might do that, ta. I'll see how much work I've got on.'

Haslam laughs and stands up, clapping a hand on his shoulder. 'You look like you've had a job or two today. I reckon you won't look much better than Davie there, come morning. Well, it's up to you, Gene. We'll be there from ten.'

He has no real intention of going. Meeting the fighters, going down to training sessions – they're not a favour to a friend, no matter how much they're made to look that way. And he's been trying to stop that kind of behaviour. But then, in the fifth, Mackay goes down. He thinks it'll probably be a miracle if he isn't in hospital at ten tomorrow morning, judging by the state of him. His opponent, some Geordie twat wearing Newcastle United shorts, starts blowing kisses to the crowd; he can feel the mood turning ugly, even before the booing starts. By the time the next bout kicks off, half of the posh twats down here have legged it, but he has no intention of going anywhere. If the place kicks off, that's just fine with him.

He wakes to an empty bed, though there's a bacon sarnie and a cold cup of tea on the nightstand next to him. A note reads, My turn to take Mrs. Williams to church. Probably stop for tea after – back by one, for lunch. Your Sunday suit's in the bathroom. See you later, B x

He eats the sandwich, and drinks the tea. His head hurts, but not as bad as it usually does on a Sunday morning. The one advantage from missing the football, obviously. His thoughts are on Davie, lying unconscious on the mat with the ref counting ten over him, and that young Geordie lad riling the crowd. Rumour has it a few blokes met him as he left out the back of the theatre last night, but he hadn't seen anything. Or heard anything, even though he'd been leaning on the wall at the end of the alley when the ambulance flashed past. Sometimes a few drinks puts that animal in his stomach straight to sleep, and Tyler's voice is never that hard to quash when he wants to. He isn't changing his behaviour to please him, after all.

The boxing club has looked the same for as long as he's been coming here. He'd paid a couple of visits when he was a lad, mainly to look for Stu. It has that same smell of sweat and testosterone, the same dirty cream walls, and he swears those are bloodstains on the floor by Haslam's office.

'Didn't think you'd make it Gene, after the trouble last night.'

'Weren't nothin' to do with me, Terry. Alright, Pete? How's Davie doing?'

'Ask him yourself, Mr. Hunt.'

He follows the man's nod, and turns to see Mackay over in the corner with the skipping rope, sweat running in rivulets down his broken face. 'Bloody hell. Thought they'd have kept him in hospital.'

Haslam and Wilkes both laugh, as though he really should have known better. He probably should. 'Jus' fifty more, Davie. Don' overdo it now.' Pete Wilkes has the air of a football manager about him, despite being a scrawny old bastard. But it's clear that his word is law when it comes to training. Gene has no doubt that any one of these fighters would walk through fire for this man. He recognises the same respect from his own lads, most of the time.

'Scotch, Gene?'

'Aye. Ta.'

Sitting in Terry's office these days has that uncomfortable doctor's-surgery feel to it. You're faced with a man who knows intimate things about you, yet you're forced to talk like the balance of the relationship is equal, or thereabouts. The thing with doctors is that they're bound by oath, and law, to keep their mouth shut about your dirty little secrets; with Haslam, there's only the equilibrium to maintain that privacy. Gene knows that an hour's probing by his team, directed by him, could turn Haslam's life to shit. It's just that an hour after that, the bloke would use his phone call to ring his lawyer, who'd then deliver some pertinent information straight to the Chief Constable. They both know it. So he sits here as a boxing fan, nothing more. They watch some sparring and he points out where he thinks the weak points are. Wilkes nods, and yells over the ropes, 'You hear that, lads? Don't even need t'be a boxer to see where you're goin' wrong. Concentrate!'

Terry laughs at that. 'Wouldn' be so sure, Pete. Gene here's a bit handy with his fists, isn't that right, Chief Inspector?'

'Never stood in a ring, though.'

'Don't have to stand in a ring to be a fighter.'

It's not a conversation he's comfortable with, especially when he sees Davie standing nearby, and easily within earshot. Haslam notices him too, and calls him over to greet their 'esteemed guest', which only makes him feel worse. The man is a mess, his face one big bruise, his lips swollen to double their usual size. But his eyes are sharp as ever. Gene's careful when he shakes his hand, in case it's damaged, and the scorn he sees in them makes this whole visit that bit more awkward.

'Bad luck last night, Davie.'

The pause seems indeterminable. Mackay's eyes flick to Haslam, who clears his throat. Gene pretends he doesn't notice. 'Aye.'

His broad Scottish accent is made flatter by unenthusiasm, and the damage to his mouth. There is nothing relaxed about his stance; Gene takes him in and then turns away. He needs to get out of here. But Haslam is calling another one over, 'championship contender, this lad!' and he's shaking another hand, looking in another set of eyes, only these ones hold nothing but willingness to do what they're told. He feels Davie standing behind them, next to Wilkes, and feels like he's become of those twats he shares ringside with, the ones he despises.

It's half an hour before he can get away, claiming a previous engagement. It happens to be true; Gene doesn't miss Sunday lunch at his mam's for any reason except an emergency at work, and not just because she'll shout if he does. He's almost at the door when a voice stops him.

'Mr. Hunt.'

Mackay is in the ring, his arms hanging over the ropes, looking loose and comfortable. Gene lights a fag and nods, wondering when he became a man that someone like Davie can't relate to.

'Pete says you've got a good eye for a fighter.'

'Nice of him.'

'What'd you really think of last night?'

He doesn't hesitate. 'Either you'd had a hell of a curry for lunch an' were still too full to move, or your legs are goin', son.'

It's hard to tell what his expression would be if his face were normal, but Gene thinks maybe the steel in his eyes lessens a touch. 'Maybe.' There's a pause. 'If you've never stood in a ring, where'd you learn to fight?'

Gene snorts, turning away and flinging his cigarette to the floor. He's done with this. 'Me ol' man taught me.'

He vows, as he leaves, that next time he'll be watching from the cheap seats, where the real people sit.

8 8 8

'I don' know why you insist on makin' me wear me Sunday best. It's not like Mam's never seen me in a work suit before. Not like I go to church, either.'

'Wouldn't kill you, you know. An' bloody slow down, would you? You're not at work now.'

He sighs and sends a glare over to the passenger seat, but Barbara became immune to those years ago, if they'd ever bothered her in the first place. He does slow down too, because otherwise he'll have to sacrifice his normal Sunday afternoon of dozing in front of the telly as punishment. They'll gang up on him and decide that today's the day he needs to take his washing-up refreshers course, or something. 'Anyway, what's gettin' at you, luv? You've been in a right mood since I got in. Still got a hangover?'

'No, I have not. Never had one in the first place. Stop blabberin', woman. I'm fine.'

'You call me 'woman' in that tone of voice again, you won't be.'

He can't win. Barb's normally the sweetest of lasses, but he wouldn't have married her if she couldn't hold her own. Trouble is, sometimes she can hold her own and his as well, and she's not averse to applying pressure like a vice when she wants to. So he shuts up, and tries to shake the feeling that's been hanging over him since yesterday. He doesn't like feeling uncomfortable in his own life, but he does, and he knows just whose fault it is too.

Dinner is its normal self. They're joined by two of the neighbours, Len and Brenda – his mother's age, but he's known them forever. Closest thing to an aunt and uncle he's still got, really. Len's a nice old bloke who can talk endlessly about sport – which they do, in front of the TV while the women sort lunch out – and people in the area, which is a subject they can all join in on. Gene's lost count of the amount of times he's been given the heads-up on a scumbag in the making, just from dark looks exchanged round his mother's lunch table, amid mutterings of, 'he's trouble, that one'. Occasionally, he's even gone to have a word and set a couple back on the straight and narrow before they veer on to his professional radar. Today, it seems there are no new troublemakers on the horizon, just gardening plans and what so-and-so said about Mrs. Whatsit down the supermarket, et cetera; he lets it all wash over him, and eats his dinner, his mind playing back over the visit to Haslam's this morning. He's been at that club dozens of times. It had never felt like that. He'd usually walk in, and shake hands with people, banter with Terry and the fighters; he's always refused the offer to step into the ring and spar (it wouldn't be right; he refuses to dwell on why), but he could watch them go at it for hours.

This morning though, it was different. He doesn't like different. He doesn't like different so much that he's barely watching this snooker match he's parked in front of, and the beer is growing warm in his hand. Brenda and Barb are helping his mam clean up, and Len's popped next door to sort out the Parkers' lawnmower. It leaves him time to think, replay every word spoken to Haslam – in the end, there's only one conclusion he can draw. Sam started him thinking about cleaning up his act, and he decided to listen. And now, seeing Terry goes against that. It was only ever a perk, getting to meet the fighters, and the seats, but maybe Tyler's right. Maybe they really do have to be whiter than white. It's a bloody pain in the arse, but it is what it is.

But it's not that that's bugging him. It's Davie. It's that look on his face, when his handshake was less than strong because he was trying to go easy on the bloke. And then the simple fact that he was playing the fat-cat; accepting the perk, meeting the blokes who really fight for a living. They were probably all making 'wanker' signs behind his back, and he'd deserve it as well. The thought makes him sick. Those are his people, those men. They're the working-class kids who come from nothing, and make it on their own. They're him.

'What's botherin' you, luv?'

'Eh?

...oh. Nothin', mam. Nothin' at all.'

'Give over. The only time you sit quiet through dinner is when there's somethin' up, or you're too damaged to eat an' talk at the same time. An' you don't look too bad today, so there's somethin' on your mind. Give it up, son, or I'll send Barb in here to take your beer away.'

'You bloody wouldn't.'

'I bloody would, an' you mind your language.'

The double standard passes as perfectly acceptable in Betty Hunt's house, and always has. He takes it without thinking, even while noting it. He doesn't give his mam gyp about the little things, anymore. He just meets her blue gaze, a perfect match to his own, and shakes his head. 'It's really nothin', mam. Just something someone said to me this morning.'

Betty doesn't take her eyes off him, her expression expectant. Gene sighs and hauls himself up, walking to the window to look out. Aldcliffe Road looks the same as it always has, more or less unchanged since he was a boy. A new coat of paint here and there, a few upgraded windows but that's about it. It's eerie sometimes. He can close his eyes and be seven years old again. He has no idea why she never moved after his father died.

'Barb said you went to the fights last night.'

'So?'

'So, you normally come in on a Sunday with a big smile on your face when you've been t'the boxing.' Her tone is disapproving. He can understand why. 'What's the matter, did you lose money?'

'No.'

'Then what, Gene? I had a late night meself, I'm too tired for guessing games.'

'No one's askin' you to guess.'

He pulls himself up the instant it comes out. He doesn't talk to his mother that way. But he gets tired too, and things feel different these days, like there's all this stuff that's been lying untouched for years, and now someone's blowing the dust away and exposing it all to the air. Gene's never been much of a one for self-examination, but it's hard to avoid at the moment. He can't think why.

He turns, and perches against the window sill. His mother looks very small over there in her chair, her hands folded in her lap. She was always small, but never frail. Except when his dad had worked her over. He remembers her less then whole then.

'That dent in the doorframe of the kitchen. You remember how it got there, mam?'

He could be wrong, but it seems like her hands tighten on her pinny for a second. 'No. It's an old house, luv. It was probably there when we moved in. Why, you offerin' to fix it?'

He'd been twelve. Stu had been fifteen, and had taken to disappearing early on Saturday mornings. He caught him once, sneaking back into the house before their dad woke up, and finally demanded to know what was going on. Stu had stalled, but there was enough of a twinkle in his eye that Gene knew he'd cave, if pressed. And he did. Boxing club, Geno, he'd said. Been goin' to the early sparring sessions for three months. Knocked a bugger clean out this morning – next time the ol' man starts in, you watch. He'd looked so happy, so confident. For the first time ever, Gene had felt hope that there was actually some way to end this. Neither of them had ever, ever, talked about fighting back before, not beyond the boyish cries of, 'I'm gonna kill him!' after a particularly painful dose of Albert Hunt's fists. This was different, this was change. This was a concerted, planned, organised effort to make a difference to their lives, and all that day, he'd lived with mounting excitement in his belly – next time, next time. Next time, it'd be the last time. Stu would teach him a lesson. It would be over.

Albert always went to the pub on Saturday, after the match. He'd come in pissed, of course. They'd heard him falling through the door, held their breath when they heard their mother go down, like she was always supposed to. And, as usual, there was a problem. That particular evening, dinner wasn't cooked to his satisfaction. As soon as the first plate broke, Stu had shot out of bed, all skin and bone, wearing pyjama bottoms that were too short. The streetlight coming through the window had shone off the pale skin of his broad shoulders, and Gene remembers that image so clearly, along with the thought he'd had – he wanted to grow up to be just like Stu. So brave.

He'd followed, of course. He was halfway down the stairs when he looked over the banister and along the passage, just in time to see his brother in the kitchen doorway, raising his fists. He can still hear Albert laughing now. Stuart had thrown the punch; their father sidestepped it with a grace a man that size should never possess. And then he'd simply taken his oldest son's head and rammed it so hard into the doorframe that the dent is still there today, not hidden in the slightest by the new coat of paint that was required afterwards. He'd watched his brother crumple to the floor, the hope of the day extinguished like the death of a match flame – one blow was all it took.

Stu had been in hospital for two days. He'd 'fallen down the stairs'. Lads, eh? Get a few jars in 'em at that age, can't stand up. Cracked his head on the floor, clumsy bastard...the doctor never questioned it, and no one ever told the truth. He'd come home, and remained pale and uncoordinated for a week. Sometimes Gene thought that was the beginning of the end for him. He certainly never set foot in a boxing club again.

'Don' know if it can be fixed, mam. Old mark like that.'

'Best leave it then, eh? Wouldn't want t'cause more damage.'

'Yeah.'

He makes love to Barbara that night, as they usually do on a Sunday. It's as reassuring as ever; quality assured from years of practice and familiarity. Perhaps he goes at it with a little more vigour than normal, because she remarks on how he should have more Saturdays away from the football if that's going to be the result. It's easier to let it pass than to tell her that he just wants some things to stay the same, and he'll do anything to keep them that way. That her touch reminds him that this is something he can hold on to forever, and never have to let go of, no matter what else. He may play away sometimes, but he's never going to leave her.

When she's asleep, he lies there and smokes, thinking of that look on Davie Mackay's face when he first shook his hand, and Terry buttering him up because that's what you do with bent coppers that you want to keep sweet. He thinks of those twats he beat up yesterday, and the way he was glad no one had found Sam, because he didn't want to have to face a load of disapproval over his methods of interrogation. Things are changing; he can't deny it, though he wants to.

And then he thinks of Stuart, and the heap he'd made on the floor after their dad nearly caved his head in, the way he'd wanted to scream in horror over the sight. He'd been too scared in case it was his turn next. And now, thirty years later, his mother has developed a case of selective memory – shit, maybe she's earned it. But it doesn't change the fact that it's the crap things in life you can't do anything about.

The fag burns down and he rolls over, grinds it out in the ashtray. None of this matters. Tomorrow he'll be back on the job, his head full of nothing but the Mortons, and the past will be back where it belongs. He knows this. But he also knows that he'll never take a ringside seat at the fights again, and Terry Haslam is no longer a mate. He's just a bloke he knows. And he'll never have to look into Davie Mackay's face, or anyone like him, and see them staring back at him like he's a man he wouldn't recognise in the mirror.

Maybe it wasn't a wasted weekend. Maybe it'll turn out alright, maybe he'll forget all this by the end of tomorrow. It doesn't matter. You don't get to change the shit things, you can only make the best of the pieces left over. So that's what he'll do. It's a good enough thought to go to sleep on, whether it's there in the morning or not.