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RAY BANKS

Saturday's Child

To Anastasia, mad but magic, there is no lie in her fire.

PART ONE

The Saturday Boy

You will be taken to the prison reception.

Reception made me think of an airy room with a bubbly blonde behind a counter, all smiles and bright eyes. It was a room, that's where the similarity ended. Badly lit. It smelled vaguely of shit, and I couldn't place the source. I didn't mind. I'd get used to it.

Already conditioning myself.

You will be allowed to keep some things. These things will become your ‘property’. You will be asked to sign a form saying that you have seen what is in your bag, and that it has been sealed in front of you.

They asked if I understood what was happening to me. I stared at the fat guy with the pockmarked skin behind the reception desk. I watched the way his face moved. His cheeks buckled around the sides of his mouth. Before he got a chance to ask me again, I nodded. I understood exactly what was happening to me. I leaned over to sign the form. My wrist ached as I pressed down on the pen. When I set it down, I noticed blue ink on the inside of my hand.

You may have a bath or a shower.

I'd already had one that morning. The skin on my face still felt tight, newly shaved.

You will be given a prison number and told where to sleep. You will be seen by a member of the prison health team. Please tell the health staff if you feel very down or panicky or if you can't cope with your feelings or worries.This will be treated as medically confidential.

I went through the examination without complaint. I was fine, I told the doctor. Absolutely fine. I wasn't panicking. I wasn't worried. Everything was fine. Because I'd told myself this was inevitable. At twenty, I'd resigned myself to Her Majesty's pleasure. I'd already gone through the bullshit accusations in my head a long time ago. I'd already spat at the police, kicked off with the duty sergeant, and it had got me this far with a cracked rib (healing) and not much else.

And, Christ, I didn't show it, but I was knotted up inside. Scared wasn't the word. Petrified. Terrified. Stone cold fucking dead on my feet frightened.

Sometimes it doesn't matter if you're innocent or not. Sometimes all that matters is how you do your time.

I had a maximum of five years to look forward to.

Thanks to Mo Tiernan.

ONE

Always get the client to come to the office. Rule number one. Get them to come to the office or they try to fuck you over. Especially when they're out of their heads.

But my client isn't a client. If he was a client, he wouldn't have followed me into the gents' toilets at a pub called The Denton. He wouldn't have that Parkinson's tremble. And his grin wouldn't be so fucking desperate.

'You got the wrong Innes, pal,' I say.

The skinny guy with a face like a rolled-up newspaper shakes his head side to side. He has got the wrong Innes. He's after my brother, Declan. The brother who's now out of the city, in rehab, and a shadow of the junkie he once was.

But try telling that to the quivering psycho in front of me.

'C'mon, I got nowt. Got coinage, but I'm good for it. You know I'm good for it.' When he opens his mouth, he shows bad teeth. A by-product of the methadone, his gums purple in places. His eyes are clouded up like marbles. That's the valium, the temazepam. He should be calm, the amount of sedative in his system, but something sharp looms over the haze. Because behind that stare, there's a million thoughts swirling into one unassailable notion: I'm holding out on him.

'I don't have anything, mate. I think there's been a mis- understanding.' Trying to be diplomatic when my arse is clenching in time to my heartbeat. I start to back away from

him. I'm slow, but the movement's still too fast for him. I'm holding out, and he's not letting me go without a scuffle. A blade falls into his hand. Short, jagged, looks like a chib. I've seen them before. I had one of my own not so long ago.

I wish Paulo was here. He'd know how to handle this. He's been working the doors since Moses wore blue jeans. But he's not here, so I give in. Hands up, show him my palms. Nothing here, mate. Nothing up my sleeve, either. 'C'mon, put the knife away, eh?'

His right hand curls and flexes around the handle, smooth wood, like he's just jammed a blade into a piece of dowel.

'Put it away, man.' My voice hardens. 'Don't be a dick- head.'

He thinks it over and goes for the second option.

He's slow with it. One step forward, and I feel myself pull to the side. My right foot digs into his instep. I hold it there, twist hard and watch him lose his way. His foot stays where it is, but his body crashes through the cubicle door behind me.

There's a clatter as he goes head first into the toilet. The blade skitters from his hand towards me. I toe it towards the door to the gents as he tries to pull himself up, one hand on the toilet bowl. His head turns, one eye closed. Searching for the knife.

What now?

Subdue the bastard. Wash behind his ears. I slip into the cubicle with him, drop to my knees and get a firm grip on the back of his head. There's no hair to hang onto, but I squeeze my fingers tight against his skull. He feels it, squirms under me.

I push his face down sharply. It connects, but the muffled crack tells me it wasn't with water. Blood runs down the porcelain. His body goes into spasm. Tries to pull up, but the back of his head catches the toilet seat, jamming him in place.

He spits blood at the wall, screaming he's gonna kill me, just you fuckin' wait. The toilet seat rattles on its hinges.

I use my weight on his head, make sure his face goes under this time. His right arm flails. His back tenses up. Got to keep him under. Just enough so all the fight's drained out of him. But not too much. I don't want to kill him.

The smackhead's right arm shoots out, elbow catching me full in the cheek. The shock keeps my grip tight, but my head starts buzzing. I can taste blood in my mouth.

He bubbles with rage just under the surface, grabs air when he can. Keep him held down until my arm is soaking wet, the muscles in my shoulder twitching painfully.

Then he goes limp.

About thirty seconds pass before I realise I'm still holding him face down. My fingers loosen on his skull, my knees ready to push up.

His head flies back, roaring, and I'm on my feet. He coughs, gagging on day-old toilet water. His eyes are screwed shut and there's a piece of shit on his cheek. When he coughs, he sprays a mixture of piss and blood at me. I grab him under the arms and yank him out of the cubicle. My feet slip on the floor; his start kicking feebly.

We stumble through the door to the gents, out into the bar. He kicks his legs out at passing tables, rattling ashtrays, spilling pints.

One bloke grabs his glass, lager slopped into his lap, and yells at me to take it outside.

'Fuck d'you think I'm trying to do?'

When we hit the front double doors, I launch him through. He buckles on one knee, tumbles down three steps into the street. Rolls forward onto his stomach, gags again, then spews onto the road. I watch him from the door, shake the water from my arm. Try to massage the knot out of my shoulder.

He pulls himself to his hands and knees, spits the last of the vomit from his mouth and fixes me with a glare. He'll be back. But I won't see him coming.

Oh yeah, I'll look forward to that.

I watch him get to his feet and back off down the road. Fireworks scream through the sky, glowing orange, bonfires raging from Salford to Hulme. A rocket explodes and throws the smackhead's shadow three ways before he disappears. The smell of smoke in the air makes my eyes water. The stench from my jacket doesn't help matters.

     

 

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