Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Do That Again Son, and I'll Break Your Legs: Football's Hard Men by Phil Thompson (Virgin Books 1996)


Only once did I deliberately set out to try and hurt someone and that was years later in a charity game for a little amateur club in Belfast. The manager told me: ‘There’s a lad playing on the other side who says he’s going to kick you.'

I replied: ‘If he wants to kick me he will.'

It didn’t worry me. I’d spent my professional career playing against players like Smith, Harris, Reaney, and Dave Mackay of Spurs, who was unquestionably the hardest man I ever played against and certainly the bravest. This time it was just a cocky kid with ideas above his station. He was as good as his word, however. He followed me everywhere. He kicked me and he kicked me again. I told him: ‘This is ridiculous, this is an exhibition game. It should be fun.'

He kept on kicking and he started insulting me. All the usual stuff like, 'You’re past it, you’re a has-been, you won’t finish the game.’

I said, 'If you kick me again, you won't finish the game.’ He did. So about ten minutes later I deliberately knocked the ball a little too far forward, or so he would think, knowing he was going to come for it. And when he did I turned him and hit him above the knee. As they carried him off, he was crying like a kid. While he was lying on the ground the captain of our team went over to him and said, ‘Kittens don't fuck cats.’

I felt very upset about it afterwards. I went to see him after the game to apologise. His manager said, ‘Don’t worry, George, it’s taught him a lesson - don't fuck with a truck.’

George Best, taken from The Good, the Bad and the Bubbly

Monday, September 20, 2021

The Dart League King by Keith Lee Morris (Tin House Books 2008)


Because there was something about Vince Thompson that Brice Habersham had almost started to like. He had conducted several casual conversations with Vince Thompson at the convenience store, where Vince often came to buy beer, and had found him an animated and knowledgeable (if somewhat angry) commentator on local history, events, and trends, including the growing problem of meth addiction, interestingly enough. Partly, this was no doubt the result of Vince Thompson’s “business” interests—with homemade meth labs popping up all over the county, there was little demand for his commodity anymore—but he also seemed to feel a genuine moral repugnance at the thought of parents using volatile chemicals to cook up drugs while their babies crawled around on the floor, and at the droves of burnouts now winding up in the jails and prisons, costing the taxpayers money with their rotten teeth. Was it possible to be a virtuous drug dealer? Was there such a thing as a “classic” pusher, a throwback to some nostalgic past of the illegal drug trade? If so, Vince Thompson was established in Brice Habersham’s mind as the prime example. He kept regular hours, going to his job at the apartment complex on Cedar Street five days a week at the same time every morning. He was a regular at several local bars, but never stayed out past midnight. He sold his cocaine almost exclusively to a fairly consistent group of customers who came to his apartment during daylight hours. He was very likely crazy, Brice Habersham knew, but even his craziness had a sort of consistency to it—a constant pent-up bitterness, a dam that could be burst open by the employment of any number of simple phrases such as “How are you, Vince?” or “Are you enjoying this nice weather?” And the flood of expletives would ensue. Vince Thompson’s volatility was so predictable, in fact, that he could almost be Brice Habersham’s alter ego, the yin to his yang, both of them rigidly self-defined in completely opposite fashion.

Thinking along these lines while the current singles match dragged out interminably, Brice Habersham found himself even more puzzled by Vince Thompson this evening. There sat Vince—beerless, bleeding, alone, and (perhaps most alarmingly) silent. What did it mean?

Monday, September 13, 2021

Guilt (2019)


Brothers Keepers by Donald E. Westlake (M. Evans and Company, Inc 1975)

“Have I kept you waiting? I’m so sorry,” Brother Oliver said. “I was painting, in the courtyard. This winter light is so perfect for—”

Dwarfmann gestured that away with an impatient flick of his numerical wrist; I couldn’t see the numbers. “My days,” he said, “are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle. Let’s get down to business.”

I’m sure Brother Oliver was as taken aback as I was. The imagery, in Dwarfmann’s rattly style of speech, seemed wildly inappropriate. Then Brother Oliver said, in distinct astonishment, “Was that from Job?”

“Chapter seven, verse six,” Dwarfmann snapped. “Come, come, if you have something to say to me, say it. Our time is a very shadow that passeth away.”

“I don’t know the Apocrypha,” Brother Oliver said.

Dwarfmann gave him a thin smile. “You know it well enough to recognize it. Wisdom of Solomon, chapter two, verse five.”

“Then I can only cite One Thessalonians,” Brother Oliver said. “Chapter five, verse fourteen. Be patient toward all men.”

“Let us run with patience,” Dwarfmann or somebody said, “the race that is set before us.”

“I don’t believe,” Brother Oliver told him, “that was quite the implication of that verse in its original context.”

“Hebrews, twelve, one.” Dwarfmann shrugged. “Then how about Paul to Timothy, with its meaning intact? Be instant in season, out of season.” Again he tapped those little red numbers, and now I saw them: 2:51. I don’t know why I felt so relieved to know the exact time— something about Dwarfmann’s presence, I suppose. And he was saying, “I’m a busy man.” That couldn’t be Biblical. “My man Snopes told you all you needed to know, we’ll give you every assistance in relocation, given the circumstances we’ll go farther than the law requires. Much farther. But that wasn’t enough for you, you have to hear it from me direct. All right, you’re hearing it from me direct. We’re building on this site.”

“There is a building on this site,” Brother Oliver said.

“Not for long.”

“Why not look at it?” Brother Oliver made hospitable gestures, urging our guest to come look the place over. “Now that you’re here, why not see the place you intend to destroy?”

“Beauty is vain,” Dwarfmann said. “Proverbs, thirty-one, thirty.”

Brother Oliver began to look somewhat put out. He said, “Wot ye not what the Scripture saith? Romans, eleven.”
With that sudden thin smile again, Dwarfmann answered, “What saith the Scripture? Galatians,  four.”

“Pride goeth before destruction,” Brother Oliver told him, “and an haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs, sixteen.”

Dwarfmann shrugged, saying, “Let us do evil, that good may come. Romans, three.”

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil. Isaiah, five.”

“Sin is not imputed when there is no law,” Dwarfmann insisted. “Romans, five.”

Brother Oliver shook his head. “He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.”

“Money answereth all things,” Dwarfmann said, with a great deal of assurance.

“He heapeth up riches,” Brother Oliver said scornfully, “and knoweth not who shall gather them.”

“Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance.” Dwarfmann permitted his own scornful expression to roam around our room, then finished, “But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” Another quick look at his watch. “I think we’ve played enough,” he said, and turned toward the door.

Brother Oliver had two pink circles on his cheeks, and his pudgy hands were more or less closed into ineffective fists. “The devil is come down unto you,” he announced, “having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”

Dwarfmann’s hand was on our doorknob. He looked back at Brother Oliver, flashed that thin smile again as though to say he was glad we all understood one another now, and with another quick glance around the room said, “He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more. Job, chapter seven, verse ten.” And he left.

Brother Oliver expelled held-in breath with a sudden long whoosh. Shaking my head, I said, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”

Brother Oliver gave me a puzzled look. “Is that New Testament? I don’t recognize that.”

“Uhh, no,” I said. “It’s Shakespeare. Merchant of Venice.” I cleared my throat. “Sorry,” I said.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Dog Day Afternoon by Patrick Mann (Dell Publishing 1974)


"If I felt that way about law officers, I’d—”

“Shut up, Boyle,” Joe interrupted, trying not to sound unpleasant. “You just don’t know your ass from your elbow about life. Take the Chase. What do they owe you, man? For fifteen years you been dumb enough to give them loyalty and honesty. That’s so much gravy to them.

“They’re laughing up their sleeve at you, man,” he went on. “They had your ass for fifteen years and they don’t owe you a fart. Not a fart in the wind. To Chase you’re just meat. Buy it, sell it. What did they buy you for all these years? Are you even making fourteen grand a year now? Sixteen? I don’t think so. And for a chickenshit salary you put out something that money can’t even buy, loyalty. What a sucker play, Boyle.

“The first time Chase profits dip below a certain point they won’t hesitate to chop you off like any other bad investment. Cut losses. It isn’t even something another human being decides, Boyle. They feed the problem into their computer and, clickety-click, out comes a name. Your name. Get rid of Boyle at fourteen thousand a year. Let some young black or Puerto Rican run the joint at half Boyle’s salary.”

Littlejoe paused. He saw that Marge was listening to him so intently that she hadn’t puffed even once on her lighted cigarette.

“Sure he’ll steal you blind, because he isn’t a dumdum like Boyle. But what he steals is a business cost that’s already been passed on to the poor, stupid customer anyway. So who cares? Insurance covers it, and the insurance costs are part of what the customer pays for. Fuck everybody, but start with the poor, loyal Boyles of the world.”

Monday, September 06, 2021

Smoothies by Richard Allen (New English Library 1973)


Weller’s clubbed fist ached to smash into his target’s gut. He came forward as the Smoothies and Sorts separated in silent agreement. This wasn’t - for them – the time to pick a fight. None of them had come armed for aggro.

Bright headlights coned into the parking lot as an ancient banger chugged up the slight slope from street to pub.

Acting on instinct, Weller held back. What was on his mind did not require witnesses.

The car turned in a wide circle, weaving through the remaining vehicles on the lot. Like a gigantic insect crawling across an ocean of concrete it finally came to a halt, twin beams spotlighting the frozen tableau of youths and fuzz.

‘Put those damned lights out,’ Ford shouted.

The lights snapped off.

Weller closed his eyes tight. In the obscure gloom he had lost his sight. Cursing mentally he assumed they were all suffering from the same dilemma.

He was wrong!

Nero had not stared directly into the brilliance. He could see. And a tremor of anticipation raced through him.

There were five of them. Climbing from the ancient car they formed a formidable line in front of their transport.


The word screamed from Nero’s brain. He’d heard of them but never actually seen one. And he didn’t mean brass as applied to Soho tramps and stripclub tarts.

These were the Brass - an exclusive formation of ex-skins dedicated to violence, terror and everything touching on the televised portrayal of IRA and UDA thuggery in Ireland.

Weller’s eyes opened. He could see now.

‘Wot’s the scene, man?’ a Brass ‘captain’ asked.

Nero’s lips were dry. ‘Frisk,’ he said with a croak.

‘Fuzz !.. ’ The word spat from the ‘captain’ as he lit a cigarette. In the match flame his insignia showed briefly crossed legs crudely cut from a brass fender.

‘What the blazes,’ Ford said. This was something he had not been geared to expect. The para-military ‘uniforms’ looked familiar - right down to the woollen caps covering skinhead features. Even the pick-axe handles bore a striking resemblance to those yobbos over in Belfast and Derry.

‘This,’ the ‘captain’ said and waved.

Like a swarm of irate wasps the other four Brass attacked. Ford fell to a savage blow. Weller knocked aside when he attempted to grab an axe handle from a flank man.

‘Don’t kill ’em,’ Easy Eileen yelled.

Weller heard her plea, faintly. He saw the brutal blow scream down at his head - and the lights all went out.

‘Kick the bastards,’ the ‘captain’ called.

Boots went in.

‘Youse lucky we came along,’ the Brass ‘captain’ told Nero. ‘Christ, we been lookin’ fer fuzz fer an hour.