It had been a war zone out there. Saturday night on a bank holiday weekend always was a bit crazy in the seaside town of Portdrum, and this had been no exception. Ian had nearly finished his tour of duty. The usual rounds of pubs, clubs, after hours drinking holes, and the occasional fist slinging session was drawing to a close. Just his luck to see his ex, Lucy at the start of the night. The tone of that short conversation had pretty much set the confrontational standard for the rest of the evening. She'd been looking well though he must admit. Lost a bit of weight, makeup on, some new rags. It was a pity she was hanging off the arm of a suited knob. A guy he'd have happily glassed if there'd been any attempt at saber rattling, but he was all flash and no balls. Anyway, they'd been in one of Ian's regular jump-off points, and it wasn't the sort of place where they’d take any shit so early. As soon as voices started to raise the bouncers pricked up their collective ears, and Ian had barely aired his first "fucking bitch" before he had been steered out pavement side.
It'd been six weeks since she'd dumped him, the "fucking cow". Too many nights with her alone and him out on the lash – or so she said. Ian had long suspected she’d swallowed the bullshit and spew of American TV, which tells everyone they’re entitled to a celebrity lifestyle with every whim satisfied. The office where she worked provided an emergency dick with optional ear to burn and shoulder to cry on. It wasn't long after that he was jacked.
Ian knew he should've done the guy when he found out Lucy was playing away, just to get it out of his system if nothing else. But it was a changed world when it came to concluding that type of dispute. Although he was aching to, these days you usually couldn't resolve the matter by beating the shit out of each other. Now it was more a war of attrition, where the side that held out got the spoils of war and lump sum compensation.
Ian knew if Lucy had been bold enough to turn up at his local, then he was on the side that was losing ground. Usually he'd have been a semi-coherent mess by the time the two of them turned up, an afternoon of footy would normally have set him up for an evening of wasted craziness - and she knew it to. Most people wouldn't have noticed, but Ian knew her too well. He saw it in her eyes and half smile as she wound him up. She couldn’t give a toss about the bloke she was with, and was only there to get a reaction when it would usually have its most impact. She’d pressed a button or two, then stepped back as the bomber jacket brigade brought a swift secession to the hostilities.
"You’ve blown your load too soon there love." He shouted back over his shoulder as he left.
A late start had only put a few pints in him, and though he’d left the pub under escort, at least he’d been free to move on and she hadn’t got what she wanted. He took that small victory with him, and hoped the next place would have more favorable conditions.
Ian tried to put the start of the evening behind him. He tried to ignore the voices in his head, but the taunts and hindsight arguments with no bouncer intervention followed his thoughts like the smell of trodden dogshit, and the flies of trouble closely followed.
A local shagging and fighting hole called “Tracks” was the first club he went in, and he’d barely got a pint poured before one of the barmen who had just came on started pointing at his bruised face and shouting at him.
"You did this to me ya fucker!"
"It’s yer Ma you want to blame for that face mate, naw me." Ian pointed out, neglecting to acknowledge the healing but still painful looking cuts and bruises.
He didn't remember hitting the bloke, but that didn't really stand as a defense and the guy seemed pretty certain. It didn’t take a visionary to tell this conversation wasn’t going to end with everyone as friends, and no matter what he wasn't going to get another beer, so Ian moved on with a minimum of fuss. It was still early, and he didn't want to get lifted by the cops who'd just pulled up over the road from the club to wait for the inevitable kick off.
Things skidded along in a detorating drunken state till Ian came to the last club of his jaunt. They'd taken his money at the door easily enough, but refused to serve him once he'd got inside. It took him by surprise, he’d been in there plenty of times in a lot worse conditions, but the barman wasn’t playing. His condescending manner met Ian's frame of mind head on, and something had to give. Ian left the bloke clutching his face from a drunken but still well aimed head butt from over the bar. It was one to be proud of, a fine addition to the book of lucky shots once he had time to properly reflect. Luckily for Ian the club's security had been poor and made his exit relatively easy. As the barman was still trying to stem the flow, Ian kicked open a side fire door to set the fire alarm off and made his exit while they were dealing with the sirens. Head down, he was straight out the front door and in another street before he looked up again. Cameras were fucking everywhere these days, and although there'd be ones at the bar he hoped they'd be pointing at the tills rather than the counter. Knowing the cheapness of the town, and the crapness of the club itself even those ones would probably be dummies. No matter what there was little he could do about it now, and even if he could all he wanted was to put the night behind him and have a quiet one before passing out on his bed back home.
"The Spring" pub had a reputation for a variety of reasons, the least of which was a flaunting of the smoking ban and a blind eye to most things that would have a normal publican weeping for his revoked license. That sort of environment was exactly what Ian needed. He could forgive a bar pretty much any fault if it was open all night for those who knew to discretely go round the back and knock the door. Here you could get a carryout 24/7, and they didn't rip you off too much. You could be left alone if a quiet corner and few questions were needed, but you never had to wait long for a drinking partner either. Where else would Ian feel one of the crowd, rather than the lone nut that was shied away from.
Ian took a drink of his pint, quickly looked around and checked the place out for potential - well, potential whatever. The pub was still pretty busy, even at this late or early hour depending on if you still counted it that night or the next day. A few small groups, mostly of threes or fours sat around the tables. Bleary eyed but still hyper clubbers necking shots, the last standing lads on the end of a piss-up and the bar dealer with a couple of hangon's in his regular corner. There was a couple in one of the darker corners getting stuck into each other, and not giving a shit who saw what. Ian gave the woman the once over in the dimness. An old fucker, long ago passed her prime if she ever had one. It wasn't the sort of flashing you'd want to see when you were at peak condition, never mind trying to keep the beer down. But it was all part of the natural ambience, hardly something that was anyone else’s concern.
Aside from these groups you had the varying bar singles, the lone wolves and scattered night creatures. Among these few the real crazies worked their magic on the general population. We're not talking crazy in the sense of fighting, bawling folks, who're on the wrong end of a lifelong bender. In the Spring that's not crazy, that's just people. No, these were a class apart again. The invisible ones who no one gives a stuff about until they start looking at little kiddies wrong, or in peoples’ back windows. For the most part no one cared as long as they didn’t make a nucence of themselves. As long as they had the money to buy a drink or two and didn't talk to the invisibles too often they were as welcome as anyone else. A cash only policy iopens doors to even the lowest in society.
Ian heard a voice somewhere behind him. It was one he knew almost as well as his own, and like Ian it came with its own baggage. Even though he wasn't talking to Ian at the moment, he knew it wouldn't be long before he was sniffed out, and Ian was right on the money.
"You not speakin' then?"
Ian turned slowly on his swivel bar stool to face the voice. He was greeted by a set of features definitely not that of a male model or film star. In fact, they could have been classed as the exact opposite if such a thing were possible. Over the years an appetite for long hours in the smoky dark corners of public houses had left the face gaunt and aged. His eyes were bloodshot and the flesh around the sockets was flushed red with the excesses of the last few days. All this character was heftily crowned by a large nose which had been broken so often it would have been easier just to have the crumbled bone removed. The man's features, posture and clothes said more about his recent history than he probably could have told you. Ian looked over him with mixed feelings of both pity and disgust. Sure enough here was a man who could handle a good drink, and he’d proved this many times over the years. But Ian easily saw that the grain had him in its woolly covered steel grip, not the other way around. Ian never wanted to sink like that, and couldn't fathom how anyone would let themselves drift down that far. To him it was only lack of strength that determined whether you had a drink, or it had you.
"Are yeh right Da? Never seen yeh there, how’s it going?" Ian answered the bedraggled creature, knowing that he was opening a path for the latest drunken ramble, and probably his wallet to hear about it.
"Seen your Lu earlier."
"Aye, the cops were trying tae drag her off some guy wi blood down the front of his 2-piece. Outside o that Tracks club.”
Ian smiled and gave a little half laugh. It sounded like the sneaky bitch had tried to follow him for a round two, and had fallen out with her surrogate cock.
"That's the best news I’ve had all week there Da. Worth a wee celebration even."
Ian turned back round to the bar to order drinks while his dad slid onto the seat beside him, assuming the celebration would also stretch to immediate family and the bearer of good news. Ian caught his dad’s reflection in the 'Bushmills Whiskey' motif mirror behind the optics and again began to study the state of his face while his old man spoke on.
"Aye, looked like she was going to get lifted if she wasn't careful, dunno what she sees in a suit like that. I didny think it was her type."
Ian half listened to the ramble till he realised that even though his dad was still talking, his lips weren't moving. Ian blinked and looked away from the mirror to clear his vision, before turning back as his epiphany broke the drunken surface.
“Jesus, it’s nay you – it’s me!” Ian blurted out loud, seemingly from nowhere.
Another voice came from behind him. "About time you started realizing that dickhead. It’d saved everyone a load of bother."
Both gents flipped around in their seats. It wasn't normal for Ian to be snuck up on like that, especially as he was still on edge from the previous few hours, but his revelation still had him reeling. As Ian got up from his seat he backed away, keeping the now empty stool between Lucy and himself incase she started off on one.
"I’ll get these." Lucy threw a note on the counter, ordered herself a drink, and then sat on the stool Ian had just vacated.
"Me getting up wasn't an offer you know. I'm still pissed at you and your new cock bout earlier. Where’s he by the way?"
Lucy pouted and passed the drinks out "You getting up weren’t a rejection either though was it, or maybe you fancy some more cold nights eh? Either way I’m not arguing. I’ve had enough of that shit earlier."
Ian couldn't think of much in response, and thought it was safer just to let it drop for the while. Whatever the reason for her turning up alone he knew wasn’t going to get a straight answer at the time. Ian shrugged, and then sat down on the next stool, looking at the three of them in the mirror. He was still pissed at Lucy, and more than cautious about her being there but she had a point in that he didn’t want another cold one. His thoughts moved over to his Dad again. He’d never been the healthiest living person, but Ian could see the change in him since the divorce.
“You seen me Ma lately Da?”
“Naw son, not seen her in ages. Who needs her eh?”
“Aye Da.” Ian came back noncommittally, not wanting to put the man’s back up. “Romeo rides again eh.”
“Never thought of seeing someone else then John?” Lucy piped up. Probably interested, but knowing the question would wind Ian up and she couldn’t help herself.
“Are yeh mad love? Too much bother wi that at my age. Too many menopausal crazies out there lookin' to trap a catch like me.”
They all gave a bit of a laugh, and Lucy patted John’s forearm.
“You’re right John.” Lucy said. “Bugger that dating lark, yeh never know what you’re gettin’. Better the cunt ya know eh.”
She held up her glass to toast her last statement.
“The cunts yeh know.”
The toast echoed around the bar as others joined in like it’d been staged. It seemed this was something they all could drink to.
Copyright Trevor Nicholl © 2009. www.WebbyBoy.co.uk