Fandom: Life on Mars
Word Count: 5620 words.
Notes: Sam/Gene, set 1988. Title from ‘Changes’ by David Bowie. Part eight in the Changes Series. You need to have read never caught a glimpse, time was running wild, the taste was not so sweet, how the others must see the faker, strange fascination, fascinating me, just gonna have to be a different man, and i turned myself to face me first for this to make any sense.
Warning: Prior character death.
Summary: Everything seems to be going well, which should set the alarm bells ringing all on its own. It’s just gone eleven when there’s a thump at his door... it’s Sam, his uniform torn, his face bloodied. He about collapses when Gene opens the door and drags him in.
Gene arrives at the community centre on Saturday to find Sam already there, strumming a guitar and singing as Jackson, Tyrone and Patricia watch. He’s been there a while, maybe an hour, judging by how friendly everyone’s being. He was probably checking up on Gene, the pain. Asking around about what he’s like. He’s shown an unnatural interest in Gene’s community work, but then, that’s no different to all of the interest in Gene he’s shown.
Every so often, Jackson adds in a back-up vocal to Sam’s singing, and Gene’s surprised, but they sound like they could be a successful duo, with a bit of practice. Jackson’s got a good voice, and Sam can sing --- smooth and rich and steady. Gene feels like he should know that, but he hadn’t. Ray was always a songbird after five drinks, and Chris would occasionally join in, hell, Gene himself would lark about if he was really past it, but Sam was always silent. Gene stands at the end of the hall and watches the free, happy way Sam interacts. This is the first time Gene’s seen him with a guitar where he’s seemed at ease, the first time he’s been performing and come across as confident. A dark voice in his mind suggests that with the cut on his lip and his general swagger, he fits right in among the delinquents.
But they’re not really delinquents, as Gene well knows, and it isn’t exactly shocking that Sam should be getting along with them. The truth is, even though Gene constantly keeps Sam’s age to the forefront of his mind, it’s still hard to think of him as nineteen. It’s not that he doesn’t seem young, because he does. More that there’s a disconnect between acknowledging that youth and realising what it means.
Sam’s midway through a line when Gene steps closer, arresting his attention. He stops and puts the guitar to the side, causing Patricia to whine.
“Sorry, my tutor’s here,” Sam explains with a winning smile. Patricia can’t sulk against that. Gene’s fairly sure her fifteen year old hormones prevent her from anything other than falling madly and deeply in lust.
Jackson looks from Sam to Gene. “Your tutor’s Oink?”
“You call Gene ‘Oink’ and you’re still alive? That’s impressive.”
“Jackson doesn’t like our boys in blue,” Gene says with a pointed look. “And I’m not your tutor, Roger is.” He gestures towards Roger, who’s a former boxer and, as such, far more qualified in giving sound advice.
Sam looks about to protest, his mouth opening and closing twice, a flash of anger in his eyes, but he clearly thinks better of it. “Why didn’t you tell me before? I could have been practicing this whole time.”
“Didn’t know you were planning on turning up early, did I?”
Neither Jackson nor Patricia seem to realise there’s a conversation ongoing underneath the words they’re speaking. That Sam’s all ready to pack up his toys and go home, because he expected Gene to teach him, because this was one in his long line of ploys to get too close. That Gene himself knew this and therefore took appropriate measures to ensure that wouldn’t happen. Gene wouldn’t know this conversation was ongoing if there wasn’t the hint of betrayal around Sam’s glance at Roger, a tightening of his lips.
They walk over to Roger together and Gene introduces him to Sam. He’s an amiable, jolly bloke, despite his appearance; built like a brick shithouse and covered in tattoos all down his right arm. He casts an assessing glance over Sam that has Sam puffing out his chest. Gene wills himself not to laugh. When Gene first met Roger, he severely underestimated him, assuming that because he’d no doubt been knocked round the head a hundred dozen times, he’d not remember how to tie his shoelaces. He’d been wrong. Roger’s sharp as a tack. He braces Sam by the shoulders and nods his head.
“You’ll be quick and light on your feet. Soon as you have the basics, you’ll be more than a match for any tossbag who tries to threaten you.”
It’s clever on two counts, Gene reflects. The first because it gets Sam on side and boosts his confidence; the second because it is, actually, true. Gene thinks back to their fight, on that fateful first meeting. Sam had the strength to throw a mean punch, fair enough. What he hadn’t had was balance.
“The most important thing you’ll learn is the stance,” Roger says. “You’ve gotta think of your stance as like the base of a good cheesecake. It’s comprised of only a couple key ingredients, but without it, the whole thing flops. It’s gotta be firm, but needs some flexibility. Now, are you right-handed or left-handed?”
Gene wants to watch the entire lesson, wants to see how Sam fares, but it’ll look a little strange, and he’s got a tonne of work he could be doing. He’s setting up a fundraising carnival with a lovely lady named Meg; a blue-rinsed elderly lass who reminds him of his long-passed mum. It’s only going to be the very basics today, anyway, so stretching, hand-wrapping, stance. Roger might have Sam throwing a jab, but he’s not going to go much further. Boxing’s an art-form and Sam’s going to realise it takes time and discipline. Gene’s not sure if he wants Sam to stick with it or not.
He gives a curt wave and goes into the office to make some phonecalls. Jackson comes and hangs in the doorway.
“Is he your son?”
“No. Does he look anything like me? Anything at all?”
“I don’t look like my dad. Different colour and everything, and I’m glad of it. It’s possible.”
Gene takes a deep breath and fakes a close-lipped smile. “He’s not my son. He’s a family friend.”
“Didn’t think you had a family, let alone friends.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me young Mr Jackson. Now, I don’t want to be spoiling your fun, but I’ve a lot of work to be getting on with.”
“He may not be your son, but you care about him, yeah?” Jackson continues. Gene frowns, not knowing where he’s going with this. “I mean, you’re all protective and shit. More so than with us.”
“As I said, he’s a family friend.”
“But you’ll still be coming here, won’t you? You know, you’re not gonna abandon us, just ‘cause you’ve got a new pet.”
Gene rolls his eyes. “He was my pet before I met any of you. Of course I’m still gonna come. In fact, I’m trying to organise a fundraising day so as we can get more resources. If you’d shut your trap and shove off.”
“Will you bring him again?”
“I didn’t bring him this time, did I? Why? D’you want me to?”
Gene starts to think that letting these worlds collide was incredibly thick.
“He may be coming here for regular boxing lessons. We’ll see in about an hour as to whether he chooses to come back.”
Jackson beams, then mercifully leaves Gene in peace. Gene gets on with his calls, getting them a marquee for the yard outside and the use of a sound system. But he’s distracted. He’d thought he’d sorted the dilemma out by asking Roger to teach Sam, but even just allowing Sam to come here feels like a risk too big to have taken. He’s almost tempted to go and tell Jackson that Sam’s soon to be on the beat, that he’s already in a band and couldn’t really be seen consorting with a lad who’s already got a two-page rap sheet. Instead, he makes a couple of other calls, then oversees a football game in the yard.
An hour and a half later, Sam sidles up to him, covered in sweat, huffing, puffing, and squinting every so often. Looks like Roger taught him more than just a jab. Must be a quick learner. And why is that not surprising?
“Can we go get lunch now?”
“You could go get lunch any time you like. I’m not your keeper.”
Sam winces as he takes a breath too deep. “Yeah, except I paid last week and this week it’s your turn.”
“I’ve gotta save my pennies. You’ll soon be rolling in it.”
“C’mon Gene, you bait and switched me, the least you owe me is a pasty.”
Gene glares. “You seem to think I owe you the world, over the smallest infractions!”
Sam settles onto the bricks next to him and looks a mixture of confused and determined. He doesn’t waver from his spot for a good fifteen minutes, all the while catching his breath, and unwittingly scrunching his hairstyle into a mock-mohawk as he drags his hand against his scalp, attempting to dry his hair. He looks just this side of pitiful, and much as he’d like to, Gene doesn’t have strength against that.
“Come on, then. But you’re not getting dessert.”
“Don’t think I could stomach it,” Sam says cheerily, and they walk to the local café together.
Sam eats two Cornish pasties with ketchup, and, despite saying he couldn’t stomach it, sneaks half of Gene’s sticky bun. He drinks four coffees and as the lunch hour progresses, puts Gene in mind of a wind-up toy. He starts off lacklustre, and ends up far too revved up.
“I like Roger,” Sam says. “But I’m still kind of annoyed you shoved me onto him, when I didn’t really want anyone else getting involved in this.”
Gene had been hoping they could avoid this conversation. He really had. “Better to be taught by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing than a dick who makes it up as he goes along.”
“Still, some forewarning might’ve been nice.”
“Would you have gone through with it?”
“I’d probably try to change your mind.”
Sam pouts at his fingers, flexing them a few times. “I’m not trying to trick you, you know. I don’t have designs.”
“Could’ve fooled me.”
“No, I mean it. I don’t know any other way to be with people. I don’t know any other way to get what I want other than making a game of it all. But I expect you to know the rules, Gene. I’m not counting on cheating you.”
“You can’t just trust that I’d want to spend time with you?”
“Well, no, and frankly, in this case, I was right.”
Gene dips his head in admission. “Fair cop.”
“Roger’s gonna give me another lesson next Saturday. He says I’m a natural, but he’s not getting paid, so I don’t know why he’d be buttering me up.”
“You are a natural,” Gene says. “You might be skinny as pot-noodle, but you’re wiry with it. Don’t sell yourself short.”
Sam attempts to hide how pleased he is with this statement. He fails, badly. “I’ve gotta be at Sedgley House in an hour. I guess I’ll see you next Saturday.”
“Call, if you like,” Gene says as Sam stands up. “Tell me how the week goes. I’m curious.”
“You know it’ll just be one long lecture after another, but okay.”
A month goes by. The fundraiser is an unmitigated success, raking in a fifteen hundred pound profit that goes towards new sports gear and a couple of new cassette players. Gene admits that he’s proud of himself in a way he hasn’t been for a long time. Sam is finally unleashed on the world in full regalia, with a baton and everything, which Gene thinks is probably a mistake. He also comes to the community centre for a boxing lesson every week, and seems to enjoy it more than he’s willing to let on. Patricia starts insisting on being called Tricia, Sam and Jackson make sure to sing at least one song together when Sam’s at the hall, and Meg wins a writing competition. Everything seems to be going well, which should set the alarm bells ringing all on its own.
It’s just gone eleven when there’s a thump at his door. He wasn’t asleep anyway, he was watching late night telly, but he does wonder who’d be calling round at that time of night.
It’s Sam, his uniform torn, his face bloodied. He about collapses when Gene opens the door and drags him in. Gene hauls him onto the sofa and cradles his jaw.
“Jesus fuck, what happened?”
Sam slurs. “Couldn’t go to mum’s like this, she’d worry.”
“Okay, I get that, but what happened, Sam? Do I need to call the police?”
Sam gives a hysterical giggle. “I am the police.”
“Sam, was it a gang, or what? I need to know.”
Sam gives a great, hacking cough, and falls to the side of the sofa, curling his legs up under him.
“It was Carlton,” Sam croaks eventually, teeth bloodied as he bares them in a grimace.
“Carlton did this to you? What did you do this time?”
“I existed. It was enough.”
Gene doesn’t get any more sense out of Sam. He washes him up, helps him undress, changing him into the smallest shirt and pair of shorts he has. He does it methodically, telling himself it’s just a body, and a battered one at that, but he can’t help but notice that there’s muscle where once there was a slight podge. Sam’s slimmer now than when they first met and that doesn’t come across as a good sign. He also notices the St Christopher’s Medal that Sam still wears, contrasted against the pale of his skin.
He lays him on his bed and watches as he falls asleep. He keeps a vigil, worried he might have concussion. Sam cries in the night. Gene doesn’t know what it is at first, the snuffling and whimpering, but tears roll thick and fast onto the pillowcase, and Gene rubs Sam’s forehead.
In the morning, he goes to get Sam a cup of tea and comes back to find him changing back into his uniform. Bruises have started to form over his face, his eye is swollen. He wheezes like he has a cracked rib.
“Sorry,” Sam says distantly. “I’ve been a burden again.”
Gene steps over and takes Sam’s shirt from his fingers. He gently presses Sam’s shoulders until he’s against the bed and sits him down. “You’re not a burden. Tell me what’s going on. You said Carlton beat you because you exist. Is he completely mental, or what?”
“Well, I think he is, but no one else does,” Sam says, staring at his feet. “He’s homophobic. He recognised me from the club scene, the first day during training. He’d seen me with this guy I used to hang around with, Frankie. Decided to show me that the force was no place for a bender like me.”
“Why didn’t you say so before?”
“I thought I could handle it.”
“Pride got in the way of common sense, you mean.”
“It’s not pride. At least, not the way you’re thinking. I wanted to show him I’m not weak. I may take it up the arse, but that doesn’t mean I’ll fall to pieces with a little tap.”
Gene resists the urge to pull Sam into a hug. It all slots neatly into place. He’s been defending himself the entire time. He hasn’t been going off half-cocked because he’s a screw loose. Isn’t unstable, lacking in control. He’s been trying to stand up for himself. And he hinted as much to Gene, more than once, and Gene was too blind to realise it. All this time he’d thought it was schoolboy antics, a personality conflict that had its out in punches because of Sam’s natural and as yet unrepressed tendency towards the physical.
“You attacked him, that day of the lecture, to prove to him you were every bit the fighter he was.” Gene shakes his head. “You weren’t too upset being thrown out of the training programme, because at least then you’d be out of his reach.”
“Something like that, yeah.”
“Don’t tell me, you explained what was going on to Vertue.”
“How’d you know?”
Gene takes a shuddering, self-loathing breath. “Instinct.” He gives Sam the once over. “When you say you need to learn how to fight, you mean it.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t being metaphorical.”
“Tell you what, we’ll get you patched up and I’ll see about upping your training programme.”
Sam gives a dark chuckle. “I did everything Roger’s taught me, you know. Had the stance, had the formation. He still beat me.”
“It takes practice, that’s all.”
“I don’t think that’s all.”
Gene rubs his hand against Sam’s back, gliding his thumb over the nubs of his spine. “So, what, you’re gonna give up?”
“No. I just don’t think boxing is gonna do much help.”
“You might be right, there.” Gene stands, goes for his coat. “As I said, we need to get you patched up. It’ll probably look dodgier than a ten p hooker’s muff if I take you to my GP again, so we’ll have to go find another clinic.”
It turns out no ribs are cracked, in the end. Sam’s bruised, but not broken. The best he’s offered is some paracetamol, which he takes gratefully. They go back to Gene’s, and Gene makes scrambled eggs on toast. He sets the plate in front of Sam and is immediately worried when he doesn’t start shovelling down forkfuls.
“What are you gonna say, then? To account for your appearance?”
“I don’t know. I’m not on shift again until Tuesday, maybe this’ll clear up by then.” Sam stares hopefully at Gene and successfully interprets his expression to the contrary. He grimaces. “I somehow doubt Carlton would get kicked out were I to say why he attacked me, and I am known to deliberately antagonise him. If I said it was him, I could be in as much trouble, officially.”
“If you say it was a gang of street kids, you could get the department wasting resources on catching perps who don’t exist.”
Sam nods. “It’s a conundrum.” He pushes his plate away and looks apologetic. “I can’t eat this.”
“You need to keep your strength up.”
“Go get some more rest, then.”
“Do you mind if I have a bath instead?”
Part of Gene wants to ask Sam why he can’t go home to do that, but the other part that wants to keep close watch is only too happy. It’s clear that Sam is in no hurry to be alone, and Gene’s the only person he can rely on who he isn’t scared of worrying. He either underestimates Gene’s capacity to worry or doesn’t care as much about the results.
Gene collects a couple of towels and places them on top of the lavatory lid, watching at Sam drags his hand through the water to check the temperature.
“Use your elbow,” he says.
“It’s easier to tell if the water’s too hot. Did your mother never tell you that?”
“I’m guessing yours did?”
“No, that was my wife. Many moons ago.” Gene looks around the bathroom and gives a dissatisfied grunt. “We should’ve got you some clothes. I’ve nothing that’ll fit.”
“What happened to your trendy 70s stylings?”
“They got left in London.”
“My uniform will do.” Sam turns off the taps and stands, looking at Gene. Gene finds himself looking back. Sam quirks an eyebrow and makes a gesture towards the tub. “Well, I’m gonna get in the bath now.”
“Right. I’ll leave you to it.”
Gene goes downstairs and considers his plan of action. He has a dark and desperate urge to seek Carlton out and beat him within an inch of his life. He thinks it’s best not to show that rage and fury to Sam, who’d no doubt tell him to get his nose out of his business anyway. He doesn’t know how to help. Should he risk her ire and tell Ruth? Probably better to convince Sam to do so himself. He can’t guarantee she isn’t every bit as murderous in defence of her son as he is --- in fact, judging by their last encounter, she’s more. And chances are, she’d blame him, think he’s the source of all Sam’s ills. He wonders if she wouldn’t be in some ways right.
Sam comes down after forty minutes, half in his uniform and half out of it, rubbing a towel against his head. He looks refreshed, rejuvenated, but like he’s gone five rounds with Frank Bruno.
He sits down on the sofa next to Gene. “Would you do me a favour?”
“I think we’ve already established that I would.”
“Will you help me in a training session? I don’t think Roger would and I want to at least feel I could stand up to another pummelling, if I had to.”
“In your state,” Gene says, “you must be joking?”
“I can’t handle feeling so vulnerable all the time,” Sam says, closing his eyes for a moment. “Bet you’ve never felt weak in your life.”
“’course I have,” Gene mutters. He’s a second from saying, ‘I feel weak now.’
“I don’t wanna wake up tomorrow and realise I’m scared of my own shadow.”
“Punishing yourself won’t fix that.”
“Getting some stamina would.”
“Not today, Sam. You’re not going anywhere near a boxing ring today.” Gene looks Sam up and down, taking in the defeated bow of his head, the shudder in every breath. His urge to both hug and punch rise exponentially. “How about I take you home for now and we have a session in the morning?”
“You mean it?”
“Yeah. Give you a few more hours for your muscles to mend at the least.”
“I appreciate it, Gene, more than words can say.”
“You won’t be saying that when I’m punching the living daylights out of you.”
Sam gives the semblance of a smile. “And there I was thinking you’d be all noble and deliberately take the fall.”
“No such luck. You’re gonna have to earn any victory against me.”
That evening, when he hopes Sam’s safely tucked up in bed, Gene tracks down Carlton’s address. It doesn’t take much doing, and getting there’s no problem either. He’s out, by the look of things. Possibly out on shift. Gene waits two and a half hours, all the while revising and adding to what he’s going to say to Carlton. It starts off simple and gets more and more elaborate as time wears on. He ensures there’s the requisite number of ‘gobshite’s and ‘knob-head’s, decides to include ‘pissant’. There’s no doubt in Gene’s mind that Sam’s not the only victim of Carlton’s abuse --- that he gets his kicks from terrorising others. Gene wants him to feel some of that terror.
It gets so late that Gene decides he’d be better off at home, especially since he’s meant to be ready for seven in the morning. He reminds himself there’s more than time enough for vengeance. What’s immediately necessary is mending what’s been damaged. He drives back to his place and gets as much shut-eye as he can, having fitful dreams filled with revenge.
Sam’s early again. He arrives at just gone six forty-five. Luckily, he’s not so early that Gene hasn’t finished preparations. The coffee table’s in the kitchen, the stand-up lamp in the bedroom, the sofa’s pushed right back against the wall; there’s plenty of space in the living room.
Sam states the obvious. “We’re doing it here.”
“Probably safer that way. Then, after I’ve creamed you, you’ll have a nice cushiony sofa to rest on.”
Sam’s good eye crinkles around the edges. “You’re so not as menacing as you wish you were. I think it’s the use of cushiony. Cushiony is never scary.”
“The cushiony bog monster?” Gene asks as he begins to wrap his hands.
“Margaret Thatcher’s cushiony derriere?”
“That’s just gross. And anyway, it’s generally accepted fact she’s a hard arse.”
Gene finishes wrapping his hands and passes the tape over to Sam. Sam binds methodically, and then goes over a series of stretches, limbering up. His bruises are darker today, but he’s moving more naturally, and he’s stopped wheezing, which is a good sign. Gene isn’t keen on this, is sure it’s on the thicker end of bad ideas, but Sam wants it, needs it, and he can’t deny him. As far as Gene’s concerned, Sam needs someone in his life who’ll help him unconditionally, someone he can rely upon and trust, someone who’ll have his back --- and okay, he’s not the best fit, not by a wide margin, but he’s the only one here.
Sam steps into position. Gene has avoided every single one of Sam’s lessons with Roger, so he didn’t know how Sam would look when holding the correct stance. He looks like a miniature version of a professional boxer and it makes Gene want to laugh. There’s fight and determination in his glance, the promise of fury in his punches. It’s sweet, really. Darling. He’s a little boy with big aspirations. Gene quashes the sensation. He reckons Sam would think he’s making a mockery of him, and he most likely would be.
“I’m not gonna go easy on you just ‘cause you’re a day away from getting a seniors card,” Sam says.
“Got one already,” Gene says, unperturbed. “Discount flicks on Tuesdays. It’s a dream come true.”
“I don’t want you to go easy on me either.”
“Oh, believe me, I won’t.”
They start to spar, dancing around each other like prize-fighters in a ring. It’s been a long, long time since Gene’s done this with any formality and he was always more of a watcher than a participant. He trusts in his abilities, though, because while Sam’s playing it by the book, he’s not so restricted. Sam’s goes for a right cross, but Gene ducks to the side and grabs his arm. He pushes it back and spins Sam around, grabbing him so that he’s tight against his back, Sam’s right arm sandwiched between them.
“What’re you doing?” Sam asks, high-pitched.
“You wanna learn how to fight, Tyler, you've gotta learn how to fight dirty,” Gene says.
“You said I needed discipline.”
“And now you have it. Show me what else you’ve got.”
Gene loosens hold and half-expects Sam to leave the room, shout that he’s crazed, go home --- but Sam swings his leg back and tries to trip Gene. He isn’t quick enough, doesn’t quite get the right angle.
“Nice try,” Gene taunts. “My great aunt Agnes has better form than you.”
Sam moves into a one-two combination and succeeds in landing a blow, but Gene simultaneously strikes to his side, causing Sam to cry out in pain.
“And she’s pickled in gin and missing an eye.”
Sam throws a double jab, then a left hook. Gene jabs, right hooks. They exhaust all the combinations they know, breathing becoming steadily more strained on both their sides, muscles cording with the effort. Sam has a strong punch and balance, now. He has the basics down to a tee. He’s got good reflexes and he uses them. But he’s lacking the overall picture in bringing down his opponent. He concentrates too much on one thing at a time. He wants it to be over with, so he goes for easy shots.
Sam spends a lot of time going for Gene’s head, but Gene concentrates on Sam’s body. He doesn’t like seeing the pain displayed in his eyes, but he’s trying to teach him a valuable lesson, and it’s important for Sam to realise this. Eventually, he seems to catch on, because he starts to aim lower. He keeps a strong stance, but he changes the nature of his punches, and at one stage he gets up close to Gene and sweeps his leg while punching three times quick in succession.
“Fucking ow,” Gene yells, attempting to pay Sam back in kind, but Sam’s too fast. He knocks Gene in the head.
This turns out to be a mistake, because Gene grabs hold of his middle as he does so and catapults him to the floor. Sam writhes as he pins him, swears, tries to knee him in the balls. There’s a sheen of sweat over him, damp hair curled against his forehead. He doesn’t look like a little kid playing pretend. He looks lithe, muscular, splayed out for Gene’s attentions. The reason Gene never wanted to do this in the first place becomes blindingly apparent and he lets Sam go. But Sam doesn’t know how to leave well enough alone and he climbs on top of Gene, pressing down onto his wrists; his thighs tight against Gene’s sides.
“What was that about fighting dirty?”
Sam’s just heavy enough and he’s just tired enough that he finds it difficult to get free. Struggling only intensifies his unwanted physical reaction to Sam’s body pressed against his. Sam grabs hold of his hair and pulls his head back, leans down low and speaks in his ear.
“What tips do you have for me, then? How can I improve?”
“I think you sorted them all out as we went along,” Gene admits. He does his level best to make his voice sound light and casual. “You can get off me now.”
“I like it here,” Sam says.
Gene stiffens as Sam nuzzles against his neck and licks along his jaw. It’s only for a couple of seconds, but it’s definitely a lick --- wet and rough and tantalising. He quells a groan as Sam rocks his hips three times before climbing off and resting against the sofa.
“That was inappropriate,” Gene chastises, wanting to cuff Sam round the ear and drag him into a kiss at the same time.
Sam barks out a laugh. “I do apologise. Next time I’m on top of you, I’ll try to keep it all strictly professional.”
“Carlton’s about twice your size, isn’t he?” Gene asks as he sits up. He wants to distract Sam, but he also has to make the point.
“How can you tell?”
“He’d never trounce you so thoroughly otherwise. You have about as much fight in you as is physically and psychologically possible.”
“What you’re saying is there’s no hope.”
Gene rubs the back of his head, thinks of a way to frame his response without causing offense.
Sam sucks in a deep breath, rubs a hand against his jaw. “I hate the thought of him winning.”
“Trying to take him down with his own game might not be the best answer.”
“What do you suggest?”
“If I had any helpful suggestions, I’d’ve given them already.”
“I try.” Gene stands, shakily, holds his hand out to help Sam up. “Maybe keep an eye on him, see if he’s into anything not strictly by the book. I know the type. He fits it.”
Sam launches himself to his feet and nods a couple of times, as if considering this tack. “And in the meantime, run the hell away if he comes near me?”
“Do your darnedest not to be alone with him, at any stretch.”
“I sound like a fucking wimp.”
“Having a brain is not the same as being a wimp.”
Sam suddenly stands to full height, tipping up his jaw. “You didn’t cream me.”
“No. And it’s not like I didn’t do my best.”
“So I think that means I won. What’s my prize?”
“You get to buy me breakfast. It’s your turn and you owe me compensation and gratitude, which equates to eggs, bacon, sausages and beans, plus copious amounts of coffee.”
Carlton arrives at his place at eleven that night. Gene’s been waiting an hour and change. Carlton’s in uniform, he’s dragging his feet; it’s been a long day. He’s every bit as massive as Gene predicted, though. Six foot four, solid muscle. Looks like the lovechild of the Incredible Hulk and Henry Cooper. This doesn’t deter Gene as much as it should.
Before he can close the door, Gene pulls it from his grasp and barrels Carlton in. He shoves him to the ground and stands on his chest with his right foot. Carlton looks like he’s about to twist Gene’s ankle off when he sees the barrel of the gun and halts, eyes growing wide. He’s too young and stupid to check if the safety’s on. Too ignorant to realise it’s not loaded.
“What d’you want?”
“I want you to stop being a pissant,” Gene says slowly, emphasising each word to make his point. He remembers what it’s like to have blood rushing in his ears and he wants Carlton to come away from the experience knowing exactly what’s expected. He wouldn’t want this to get any crueller than it has to be.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Carlton whines.
“You do,” Gene says, pressing his foot down harder. “Throwing your weight around, making a name for yourself.”
“I’m a cop,” Carlton says, starting to wriggle. “You can’t do this.”
Gene cocks the gun to one side, goes low and presses it into the centre of Carlton’s forehead. Carlton whimpers, going still.
“Your job as a cop is to serve and protect, but you haven’t been doing that, have you? You think it makes you a big man, threatening your own? You think it makes you look powerful? It shows how weak you truly are, you pathetic little gobshite.
“If I hear that you’ve been up to the same old tricks, Carlton, I’m not just gonna wave this gun around, I can promise you that.”
Carlton starts to cry. “What’ll you do?”
“I’ll kill you,” Gene says, with finality. “You touch a hair on anyone else’s head, ever again, and I will kill you.”
Part nine: grow up and out of it
1. never caught a glimpse, 2. time was running wild, 3. the taste was not so sweet, 4. how the others must see the faker, 5. strange fascination, fascinating me, 6. just gonna have to be a different man, 7. i turned myself to face me, 8. the days float through my eyes, 9. grow up and out of it, 10. still don't know what i was waiting for