By Ronnie McCluskey
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McCrory had been talking about Underwood for weeks, how he was goin to brain the bastard for bumpin him out fifty sheets. I said to him, Relax, he’ll come to you. Underwood wasny the type to go against McCrory, I thought. He’d sold him £200 worth of steroids a few month back and McCrory had sat on them, mulling whether to start a cycle. There was no moral barrier to it; McCrory likes coke and ket, the odd joint, so it wasny that. He’d just heard lots of horror stories about how the gear shrinks your balls and flattens your sex drive. He wasny sure if he was prepared to sacrifice that much just to add some easy muscle onto his frame. He was already quite tidy in terms ay physique. I told him, You don’t need them. Go all natural. But he wasny sure. He hit Underwood for trenbolone, deca durabolin and dianabol. It was a six weeks’ cycle. But shortly afterwards Underwood ran out of his own stash (been on gear for three months, told us his balls resembled marrowfat peas), phoned up McCrory, asked him to sell back the deca. How much, McCrory asked. Underwood wanted it on tick till payday. McCrory still hadn’t seen that half-ton come the night of the Haye-Valuev fight.
‘I’ll fuck him up,’ he said to me after the fight ended. We were all cranked. This was at Wulkie’s bit on Camby main street. The flat was choc-a-block and every cunt was blotto. McCrory and me were leanin out the living room window havin a smoke. He had a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of Gaymers in the other and he kept tilting his head back and blowing smoke rings that threaded into the night sky. I watched them evaporate, told him to take a chill pill. He laughed at that. We discussed the fight and how David Haye must feel.
‘I want to knock suhin out,’ McCrory said.
‘D’you no mean… somebody?’ I laughed. McCrory looked at me.
‘Just as long as he’s no the size ay Valuev,’ I said. ‘Pick anybody else. That cunt’s got a heid like Parkheid.’
We were watchin folk on the main street. Taxis blurred past on the road. I wondered where everybody was goin. It’s always the same on the weekend. The blurred headlights of a taxi do somethin to me. I dunno what. I wonder what’s happenin elsewhere; something secret-seemin and temporary and joyful and no work. That’s the main thing; no work. No work the next day either. Just the night ahead. Anythin could happen. A couple of boys were trippin along on the opposite pavement in the direction of the bus stop. Further past a man and his dog were halted outside a shop window, the dog cockin a leg to piss on the glass facade. It was a bichon frisé. We finished our fags and turned inside.
The living room was a wreckage of beer cans and bottles. Wulkie had unusual taste: he drank shit like Fürstenberg and banana beer. Wiseman liked Tsingtao; Matt was the only one who scooped Brahma. But mostly everybody else drank whatever was on special, usually Tennent’s or Foster’s or maybe Stella – but that got ye mental, I avoided it. I was sober that night. I’d only had a bottle ay Red Square Reloaded durin the fight. I won money on Haye, about seventy quid, but now I wished my conviction had been stronger so I could’ve won more.
Everybody was getting ready to go out. We were team-handed. The rest of them wanted to go into town. When McCrory said, ‘Nah, I’m just gonny go tae the Palace,’ I knew he was hopin to run into Underwood. He knew Underwood went there. But nobody was game.
‘It’s Karbon, it’s got tae be Karbon,’ Wulkie affirmed. ‘Fuck the Palace. Fuck Hamilton.’
‘Fuck it,’ Matt added, pulling on his tan shoes.
‘Karbon, you hink you’re a fitba player?’ McCrory laughed. ‘Palace. Come on. Like we used tae dae back in fourth year.’
‘But we urnae in fourth year any mare.’
‘That’s no the point.’
‘Whit is the point?’ Matt asked, bein argumentative. I never liked Matt.
‘The fuckin point is there’s a time and a moment in your past life that you always want tae capture again, it’s a time when you can imagine what your life’s gonny be like some years fae now, meanin then, ye imagine it then, and you imagine it’ll be a lot better than what this is, right now,’ I answered, suddenly aware I was sweating. I rolled up my sleeve and wiped my forehead.
Matt downed the last of his Brahma and shrugged. ‘Town,’ he mumbled.
‘Fuck yous then!’ McCrory slammed, turning to me.
‘Fuck yous back, and fuck your imagining-the-future-in-the-past bullshit,’ Wulkie laughed, pushing me gently. We were all done up ready to go out as we’d planned to after the fight. David Haye was getting interviewed. We all had shirts on and the scent of our aftershaves commingled in the air like flowers blossoming on a spring day. I couldny be fucked wi the Palace but I knew McCrory. Boy was stubborn enough to just jump in a taxi to the club himself. He didn’t care. I didn’t want him in the Palace on his own. The place was anything but.
So we got in a taxi and rocked up there. McCrory wasny disagreeable, he was in good spirits, but I could tell he felt cheated. As soon as we got in the club we were patted down by bouncers, one of them rapped his knuckles on McCrory’s head. ‘Feelin me up!’ McCrory said. The guy laughed and said, ‘Get that bad look aff yer coupon!’ We went in.
I first met McCrory at a supermarket where we both worked nightshift for a time. We stacked shelves. When I got the job I didny know anybody and McCrory was the first one who talked to me. The warehouse had a shortage of pallet trucks and he loaned me his wheels when I had to pull out stock for my aisle. If I ever struggled to get O/T he gave me one of his shifts. ‘It’s nuthin,’ he said. ‘I hate this fuckin place.’
McCrory got the sack a few months ago. It was about three in the morning and he went into the biscuit aisle. ‘Got any shrink-wrap?’ he asked the guy workin there. The guy told him to go to the end of the aisle, it was on the right. McCrory walked down and looked to the left, half asleep as he was, and the guy – a notoriously sharp-tongued and irritable ex-footballer who’d once played for the national team – called, ‘I said right, ye want me to paint an R and L on your fuckin hauns?’ He was only jokin but McCrory had a temper like an oven’s got heat. He went eyeball-to-eyeball wi the guy and told him no to speak to him like that. ‘Or whit the fuck you gonny dae?’ the ex-striker replied. You have to understand that this guy is about fifty and didny expect McCrory to react like that. But the boy gave him a slap on the face. I didny see it, but he relayed the story to me casually, describing the slap as a gentle open-hander. In any case the guy sensibly backed doon, but reported McCrory and that was it. Right oot the door.
The club was the usual crush of sweatin partiers gyratin tae head-thumpin music and flashin bonewhite teeth. We cut to the bar and McCrory got in a round of Vodka Red Bulls. He’s still outta work, but sellin a bit of grass, plus his da runs a pub in Larkhall. He’s no hurtin for money. I idly wondered to myself why fifty quid would cause some ruptions in him.
About twenty minutes in, we see Underwood. He’s one of those bombastic drunks who whip their t-shirt off on the dancefloor – canny miss the cunt. He’s wearin dark G-Star jeans and Rockport boots and his shirt is hangin like a loose towel from his left shoulder. His body is tanned and deeply muscled due to the gear and his barnet is like the hair on a coconut, thin and fluttering, dyed bright blonde. He’s dancing before two mildly interested lookin lassies, one in an electric-blue dress, the other in a yellow playsuit. I process shit like that quickly. McCrory is already walkin forward. I grab him by the shoulder when I see who’s behind Underwood.
‘Watch, there’s Rusty,’ I say. Rusty I know cause I’ve glanced at his Facebook profile, but the boy’s big, a weight-lifter sort juiced to the fuckin eyelids. He’s Underwood’s right-hand and chucklin appreciatively at his boy’s snaring of the two burds. I wonder to myself what they see in Underwood, who although handsome and tanned is dancing like he’s just slipped on an oil slick, his shirt off, a fruit-machine grin revealing yellow gnashers.
‘You’re gonny have tae kick him in the nuts,’ McCrory mutters, shrugging me off. We move across the crowded dancefloor. I canny recognise the song playin but these pie-eyed fools are actin like it’s The Ride of the Valkyries and losin their minds. I’m quickly tryin to think what to do, and I slope off to the left, briskly walkin around a semicircle of revellers so I’m positioned behind Rusty. Lookin over the bruiser’s shoulder I see McCrory approach Underwood.
I don’t hear what gets said. The music’s too loud for that. But I canny help but laugh at Underwood’s Britvic tan – he looks like a young George Hamilton. He looks like a Ken Doll. He’s feelin confident cause Rusty’s on his back and I watch him brush McCrory off, holdin his wee plastic cup out in front of him like a shield, tryin tae compose himself. He’s sayin, I’m busy, gesturing to the lassies. That’s when McCrory blows a gasket. ‘Your money or your life,’ he growls, and when Underwood laughs, tryin to include the lassies in the hilarity with a flick of his head, McCrory comes across wi a right hook that knocks him to the floor.
Me, I’m no really a fighter, but when this happens – right at the exact moment McCrory throws – I draw back and aim a punch at Rusty’s head. The last thing ye expect is a punch on the back of the head, and if it’s hard enough and fast enough and ye follow through enough – and I do, swarmin all over the big unit’s back like a deranged orang-utan – it can floor anybody. Rusty hunches over and though he doesny go down he’s utterly confused, coverin himself wi his hands, and in a second I’ve tumbled tae the deck, sprung to my feet, and pulled McCrory off the dancefloor, our victory complete.
Outside, round the corner by Bar 147, out of breath and proppin each other up, the whole thing seems so mental, like somethin out a film. Everythin is fast and scary and McCrory is laughin wi excitement and my hands are shakin. I wonder if McCrory’s are as well. It starts to pish doon.
We traipse up Cadzow without any idea where we’re goin. McCrory’s silent but wearing this enraptured look on his face. ‘The next time I see him, he better have the cash,’ he says quietly, looking across the road: more young people getting out of taxis. Saturday night, you could always tell a Saturday night. I could anyway, cause it either meant I was gettin the wean or I was goin out. I got her on alternate weekends, so it was always a good time for me. It’s a shame to admit, but I look forward to these Saturdays wi the boys more, out and about, party time. I’m too young to be a da. And I canny see for myself a future. I restock the meat department in the supermarket, and I canny see anything else but that. They say I’m a good meatboy. That’s what they call me. There’s another meatboy on the nightshift, he mainly does the nights I’m off, and the managers say he canny hold a torch to me. But the way they say it, it’s like, maybe that’s my skill in life, unloadin meat dollies. And part of the reason I think I like Saturdays so much is that, if I’ve got the wean, I’m no a meatboy, I’m a da wi responsibilities to my wee lassie, I kinda have a purpose beyond that, and if I’m out on the lash then there’s skirt, there’s banter, there’s booze: meat dollies don’t fuckin exist.
We’re on Muir Street when McCrory points out the Bentley dealership by the Furlongs. Gleaming supercars relax on the tarmac reflecting streetlights. It’s no just Bentleys they have, there’s Porsche Caymans and Panameras, Rolls Royces and Lamborghinis. ‘Tae own one ay them,’ McCrory says dreamily, lifting his head in the air. He’s been bitter lately, moanin that he needs a better supplier so he can sell bricks. Right now he’s an ant in the jungle. ‘That balloon McDade’s drivin a Qashqai,’ he keeps tellin me. ‘I went tae school wi him, he’s thick as mince. I could dae that.’ I don’t tell him McDade’ll be deid in a couple years; that’s the kinda guff they’d say in a film. I just nod and pull down my lower lip like I’m mulling endless possibilities.
He grabs me by the arm and we run across Bothwell Road, a blizzard of lights buzzing over our faces like lightsabers. We pass the railings and prowl among the silent motors in the unlit show space. The price tags on the windshields mock us. I wonder how many meat trays I’d have to unload to be able to afford such a car. How many wagons would have to roll into the warehouse to get emptied. I look up and there are no stars in the night sky. I pass a Continental GT and my breath steams up a passenger window. I write my initials in it wi a wet forefinger.
I hear McCrory sniggering. He’s managed to get into a red Lambo Gallardo. He’s sittin in the driver’s seat. I walk over and he opens the passenger door for me.
‘Where tae, Cass?’ he asks.
I mind when she told me the baby was mine. ‘Where dae we go now?’ I’d asked. ‘Anywhere,’ she’d said.
‘Anywhere,’ I say.