Thursday, 3 September 2009
SUCKER PUNCH - by Nick Quantrill
A huge TKnC welcome for Hull's main crime writer, Nick, introducing the P.I. from his forthcoming novel, BROKEN DREAMS...
I tried not to flinch in my chair as the punches landed. One after another. Relentless. The taller boxer was on top. A left hook connected with his opponent’s nose, which exploded on impact. Those nearest the ring were on their feet, encouraging the fighters to continue. Another left hook landed, quickly followed by a sharp right. The combination rocked the smaller fighter and forced him backwards, and onto the defensive. And then it happened. The smaller man sprung forward, and with one vicious swipe of his right hand, sent the taller man sprawling onto the canvas. The crowd went silent for a brief moment. Even the winning boxer looked surprised.
A click of the remote and the television screen faded to black. A drink was placed in front of me. I didn’t want alcohol at this time of the day.
‘What do you think?’
I turned to Burrows, not sure what I was expected to say. ‘Looks like it was a good fight.’
Burrows laughed. ‘Not from where I was sitting. It costs me a lot of time and money to organise that fight.’
I swallowed the alcohol, forcing it down, not sure why he’d called me to his office. I didn’t want the job. I didn’t have a choice.
‘The tall lad is called Jordan. He’s fought for me a few times. Not a bad fighter as it goes, but as you can see, he lacks ring craft. He’s got a punch, but he’s not really going anywhere. Too many flaws. You were a rugby player, weren’t you?’
‘You’ll understand there are certain things you can’t coach into people, then. They’ve either got it or they haven’t. It’s about natural talent. The point is, Joe, I can’t do any more for Jordan, so we came to an arrangement.’
He left it hanging there, forcing me to ask what the arrangement was.
‘I’m a man who cares, so when I have to part company with someone, I make sure they’re well looked after.’
Burrows reeked of insincerity. I knew of him by reputation but this was the first time I’d met him. One of his men had collected me from my office. I was hired. End of discussion.
‘There’s a problem, though.’ He flicked the fight back on and searched for the final punch. We watched it again in silence. ‘I’m told you’re good, Joe. Probably the best in this city.’ He forced me to meet his stare. ‘Jordan took a dive and cost me a lot of money. And as the bookmaker, I think I’m entitled to a few answers. Now I can’t find him.’
I’d left Burrows office with a list of Jordan’s known haunts and a couple of hundred pounds in my pocket. I’d get the same again if I found my man. The nearest place on the list was a boxing club on the edge of the city centre. I decided to walk there, feeling like I needed the fresh air. The club was situated in the loft of an old warehouse. Downstairs was a fitness gym. I assumed the club had little spare money. The room was dominated by a tired looking ring. Two teenagers were sparring and feeling each other out in front of a watchful coach and small crowd of other boxers.
I turned around. He was in his early sixties, but he was still in good shape and I had no wish to mess with him.
I passed him a business card and introduced myself. ‘I hope so. I’m looking for someone.’
‘I need to speak to Jordan.’
‘He doesn’t have anything to do with us anymore. He left a while back.’
‘I was told he did.’
‘I’m telling you he doesn’t.’
‘Fair enough.’ I looked around the club. ‘Nice place you’ve got here.’
‘And it’ll be staying that way.’ He introduced himself as Bill Armstrong. ‘I opened this place over thirty years ago to give teenagers somewhere to go, something positive to do. I got nothing given to me, so I built it up over the years by myself. I’ve even produced some good boxers over the years. Some have gone on to bigger and better things. It’s a shame Jordan’s gone down this road. I thought he was really going to kick on, but the lad he was fighting the other night, Shane, he was something else. He could really have pulled up some trees.’ He stared at me. ‘I assume Burrows sent you?’
I nodded. ‘I need a quick word with Jordan, get last week’s fight straightened out.’
The man laughed. ‘It’s unlicensed boxing. Things happen. You take your chances in that kind of game. I understand the attraction of it for people like Jordan, but it’s not something I approve of or encourage my fighters to get involved in. It’s a dangerous game.’ He paused and stared at me. ‘For everyone.’
It didn’t take me long to find Jordan. I sat in the pub opposite his flat with a newspaper and waited it out. He had to go home at some point. It seemed the most likely option on the list of potential places. He wouldn’t be looking out for me. He sat down in the corner, watching Sky Sports News, well away from the front door. I’d done my job, but I held off making the call to Burrows. I walked across to Jordan and sat down.
‘Alright?’ I said.
He looked like he was going to run, but I’d angled my chair to block his only escape route.
‘Who are you?’ he asked me.
‘I need to talk to you.’
‘Touch me and I’ll go to the police.’
‘I’m not going to touch you.’ His face was a mess from the fight.
He looked younger in the flesh. On the fight footage I couldn’t see the acne or the wispy facial hair. Still a teenager.
‘I know who sent you’ he said.
‘He needs to speak to you.’
‘About the fight?’
‘I can’t talk to him.’
I said nothing. I wanted to walk away, but I knew Burrows would hold me responsible. I’d been warned at the boxing club. Unlicensed boxing was a dangerous game and I didn’t want to be involved. ‘He won’t go away’ I said. ‘It needs to be dealt with.’
I saw a tear in his eye.
‘I know you are.’
‘I hate those fights. Everyone’s stood right up close to you, shouting at you. You can’t hear yourself think and it gets so hot. Part of me wishes I was back in Billy’s gym, doing it the right way, but it’s gone too far for that now. If I fight, it’s for people like Burrows. I hate it. I hate what I’ve become.’ He paused. ‘You need to speak to Shane.’
Jordan called Shane on his mobile and he joined us five minutes later.
‘That was quick’ I said. Shane’s face was in a similar state to Jordan’s.
‘I’m staying in Jordan’s flat until this blows over’ he said.
‘Until what blows over?’
Shane shrugged. ‘Burrows was going mental after the fight, so we got out of the place. I got a text message from a mate at the gym telling me he was looking for me.’
‘Looking for you?’
‘I didn’t realise you two are friends.’
They both nodded.
‘It was just a fight’ Shane said. ‘Nothing personal.’
I gave Jordan a note from the bundle I had and told him to buy us all some drinks. I waited for him to leave. ‘Unlicensed boxing?’ I said to Shane. ‘And Burrows?’
He shrugged. ‘I need the money.’
‘I spoke to Bill at the club. He said you were a good boxer. You don’t need to be doing this.’
‘I don’t have a choice.’
‘Of course you do.’ Any sport requires dedication if you’re going to do it at a high level, but it’s the price of the ticket. ‘Why don’t you go back to the club?’
‘There’s no point.’
‘Why not? You can start again, work your way back up?’
‘I can’t. I’m diabetic.’
Jordan put the drinks on the table.
‘I was good, wasn’t I’ Shane said to Jordan. ‘A couple of years ago, I could really fight.’
‘It was going well. I was clearing up at junior level and I had a chance of making it as a pro. Bill was going to put me in touch with some people who could sort me out.’
He shook his head. ‘Proper boxing people. A proper manager.’
‘But the diabetes stopped that?’
He nodded. ‘It’s not easy to fight professionally with it. It’s a big hassle and nobody would touch me now I’ve got it. I’m damaged goods.’
I sympathised with him. My rugby career had been ended by injury when I was barely out of my teens ‘So you turned to unlicensed boxing?’
‘It’s not illegal.’
‘I know it’s not.’
‘I’ve got debts to pay. I need to earn some money and all I know is how to fight. There’s no jobs about, anyway.’
Fair point. ‘How did you end up fighting for Burrows?’
‘He runs all the unlicensed stuff in the area. Billy wasn’t able to help me anymore, so I went to see Burrows, told him what my position was like. Said I needed the work.’
‘And he signed you up?’
‘He’s always looking for new fighters.’
I didn’t know much about unlicensed boxing but it was obviously going to be more dangerous. I knew I’d be wasting my breath. He needed to fight.
We drank up in silence. I suggested we go back to their flat.
‘How did you end up fighting each other?’ I asked. I’d moved the newspapers and cans until there was space to sit on the settee.
‘Burrows told us we had to’ Jordan said.
Shane nodded. ‘Since we were kids. We practically live together like a married couple nowadays.’
I mulled it over and got down to business. ‘Why did you throw the fight, Jordan?’
Jordan looked terrified. ‘I didn’t throw no fight.’
‘Burrows says you did.’
He looked at Shane. ‘I wouldn’t throw a fight, would I?’
‘Course not. We’re proper fighters.’
‘Why would Burrows tell me you’d thrown it?’
Jordan slumped back further into chair. ‘He’s mentioned it to me before. He said it was the only way I’d make some money because he was thinking of getting rid of me.’
‘Why would he get rid of you?’
He shrugged. ‘Don’t know. It’s his business.’ He leant towards me. ‘You’ve got to tell him I didn’t throw the fight. I wouldn’t do that.’
I doubted Burrows would listen. I looked up as Billy walked into the flat. He unzipped his jacket and sat down with us. ‘I take it you’ve all got yourselves into a spot of bother?’
Billy sat there silently as I explained what had happened. And that the overriding problem of Burrows.
‘Throwing unlicensed fights?’ Billy looked appalled, but I suspected not too surprised. ‘Is that what it’s come to? If you needed money, Jordan, you only had to ask. I would have found you something. I always need people at the gym. Anything so you didn’t have to mix it with the likes of Burrows.’
Both Shane and Jordan were shaking their heads. ‘We wouldn’t do that to you, Billy’ Shane said.
‘I didn’t throw the fight’ Jordan repeated.
‘Neither did I’ said Shane.
I looked at both of the fighters. ‘I believe you. Both of you.’
‘What do you mean?’ said Billy.
‘Jordan didn’t throw the fight’ I said.
‘Why is Burrows looking for him, then?’ asked Billy.
‘Because he knew Shane wouldn’t be far away. He’s the one Burrows really wants.’
We all turned to Shane. ‘I didn’t throw the fight.’ He looked away from us. ‘I didn’t get the chance. I was supposed to go down in the third. It wasn’t meant to happen. I didn’t mean to put Jordan down.’
It would have been an unpleasant surprise for Burrows. An expensive one, seeing as he was the bookmaker and organiser. Shane was the one with the talent, the youth champion. I assumed most of the punters would have been betting on him winning. Maybe he wasn’t able to help himself. Maybe he got lucky. Either way, one punch was enough to bring the fight to an end. It could happen. I looked at Billy. ‘Can you sort this?’
He nodded. ‘I run a gym full of the city’s finest boxers. I can sort it.’ He paused. ‘I could use some new equipment for the gym, though.’
I smiled and took the money I’d got from Burrows out of my pocket. Passed it to him. ‘Will that cover it?’
He counted it before putting it in his pocket. ‘Perfect. I guess sucker punches can come in many forms, Mr Geraghty.’
Nick Quantrill's creation, Joe Geraghty, stars in BROKEN DREAMS published by Caffeine Nights in December 2009.