Have you ever walked through the roughest, most run down part of your town? Have you purposely sought out the darkest alleyways and the grubbiest back streets to see what you can find? I have and I’ll tell you why.
They say violence breeds violence. I’m not sure of that but my story does little to dispel the idea. My job at the time, like most school leavers’ jobs, was awful. It paid pittance and left me with no free time, but most of all it left me frustrated; frustrated with my situation and also stressed out by the fact that I was constantly on the front line of a never ending battle with people who just didn’t understand. On the street they would be called psychos or thugs and many other appropriate titles, but to me in their environment they were Dave, Frank, Joey, Sylvia and so on; allegedly normal folk just like you and I, except if somebody punched you in the street, quite rightly you would punch them back. Not an option I had. This frustration bubbled within me, constantly on the boil, ready to explode. I kept myself psyched at work; it sharpened my senses and on more than one occasion kept me alive. The problem was I couldn’t unwind the tension; a knot in my stomach sat constantly begging for a knife to slice through, release the pressure and let me sleep. Oh glorious sleep, how I missed your sweet caress.
It was a seemingly dull night sitting in the pub which changed everything. It was hard to get drunk back then but lord knows I tried. The answers may not have been at the bottom of the glass but I never lost hope and kept looking. Trouble walked through the door. You know the sort, you’re picturing him now: all mouth and beer fumes. Immediately he was hassling the barmaid. I hate that. Just order your drink and fuck off; do you think they’re paid enough to put up with your drunken bullshit? It was quickly apparent he wouldn’t be playing the game, nor getting served, and he was asked to leave. Along with a couple of the other regulars we ejected him out of the door. I was good at this, I did it all day every day; the deft flick of a wrist which rendered the biggest foe helpless and subservient to your commands. I knew he didn’t like it but what did I care? It was just an arsehole getting his dues.
When I stepped out hours later there he was, patiently waiting to despatch his vengeance. I knew I had to be swift, five six isn’t big. As he stepped up I turned into him elbow first, directed at the rib cage. The wind was truly taken from his sails as he deftly came over my shoulder and gazed up confused from the flat of his back. One swift punch to the face finished a nice neat job. In a matter of seconds my foe was a bloodied, gasping heap of incapacitated pulp. Fighting back felt good!
From there on my decent spiralled. I’d started with the defence of my honour but after that first twist of the valve the tension of my existence ebbed away. In the beginning I could control it; when I felt I needed that fix (for it was rapidly becoming an addiction) I would change my watering hole, seeking out the rougher pubs hoping for the fight. Over the ensuing months many an old school yard debt was repaid; it’s funny how the school bully looks just like every other sorry bastard in the world as they lay prostrate, limbs useless and bloodied. To this day I can justify my actions back then. I was intelligent enough to know that as the sands of time slip through the grate things change and as the ugly duckling becomes the mighty swan I, the school coward, had become a desensitised machine fuelled by anger and blood lust. Soon my town was too small; the police knew of me but I had always evaded court. My victims were known criminals and I had simply got caught up in their sport and had to fight my way out. After all, outwardly I was a good kid, never late, always smart and someone who worked hard to get a start in life; perceptions, as I can attest, can sometimes be wrong. I needed a bigger rush and with it I needed a plan.
I always had free time as I worked shifts and my girlfriend was at University; this last point also allowed me a legitimate reason to cover a large territory, the odd beating here or there would fly under the radar. But I needed something else. Cruising bars was too public. I needed to incite the riot all on my own; I wanted guarantees and I wanted them fast. That was where the suit came in. Initially it was a facilitator; if you walk through the wrong end of town in a suit you attract attention. Hold your head high and look people in the eye you’re asking for trouble and I was there begging for it. I’d walk along dressed impeccably, loiter where I suspected there might be a little sport. Alleyways and snickets were good but I got my biggest thrill simply from inciting people, saying hello and then reacting badly to their comments. It’s amazing how quickly fools rush in. Obviously they were too smart to fight in plain view; what they would do was follow me and then attack me behind the off licence or in an abandoned building without considering why I would be down there anyway. Very smart. I wasn’t interested in theatrics, I’m no martial artist; what I wanted was to feel the heat in my knuckles as my fists connected, to hear the snap as my elbow cracked ribs and to see the exasperated expression of these so called hard men glaring up from their knees as the final blow rained down. I liked them on their knees. It took into account me losing composure. Never punch a nose upwards, brains are fragile. Like I said, the suit was a facilitator to begin with but like all sociopaths (for that is what I was becoming) it quickly became part of the show. A nice close shave, hot shower, immaculate hair and then on to dressing. I laid everything out: crisp white shirt, then trousers, then shoes (always gleaming, always laced). Tie knotted perfectly even if that took eleven attempts, the jacket a close fit but with a little extra room across the back to keep me mobile. Finally came the gloves, black leather like an assassin’s, and depending on the season either a tan trench coat or a thick cashmere overcoat. I liked the look. To this day I think I look good in a suit, great even, and like I said: nobody ever suspects a suit.
I may not have been a theatrical fighter. Efficient, brutal perhaps; but I always liked to add a bit of style to my opening shot. Memorably once in a dingy stairwell of an apartment block I was cornered by three unsavouries; I could see my sands running out, now was my time to go down. I’d been close before but this was a different story. I needed an edge. Slowly I slipped my hand in to my trench coat. There was a tension in the air, all you could hear was the heightened breathing of four alphas spurning for a fight, and as one pulled a knife the adrenalin coursed through my veins; but I had to see this through. I kept reaching behind me purposefully, holding each one’s gaze, searching for any weakness, and there he was to my left: the glimmer of fear. He thinks I’m pulling a gun. Bingo, target acquired! When my hand is completely behind me I pause take a sharp intake of breath, steady my spiking nerves before I strike out. I lunge forth with vengeance; a full heel strike to Knifey’s knee equalises the field a little as he goes down wailing; the satisfying crack of shattering bone tells me he won’t be running anywhere. I move swiftly without delay seizing Fear Boy by his arm. I roll into the void bringing my elbow straight in to his ribs below the armpit (my signature move). I’m aiming for a point behind him so I know it hits hard and hurts. I can feel the euphoria, the massive blast of adrenaline boosting my senses taking me to a higher plain as I bring my foot up high to reach the third unsavoury’s face and there it is: the sweet release as his nose explodes under the soul of my shoe. But I’m not done. If I leave now it would seem like I was running and I never ran. I needed time to adjust my tie and cuffs before I left. Knifey was already down when my foot came up into his stomach sending him clattering down the stairwell. Fists were now flying like in all good fights; once the advantage has been played things even out and it boils down to who wants it more. They were fighting for honour and pride, they didn’t necessarily want to be there; I, however, knew exactly where I wanted to be: right there in that moment locked in unnecessary combat, feeling the sweet relief like a junky with a needle. But like that junky soon the fix has stopped and with one last sickening crunch I’m in the middle of a tangled bloody mess down on one knee my arm still raised bent at the elbow which had delivered the deciding blow down through the cheek bone of my final opponent, gasping for breath and enjoying the calm wash over me as I know that once more I had had my cake and eaten it.
I could go on, in fact I did for nearly a year after that, but I knew my days were numbered. I changed my job and lost my edge, the fights got closer and I suspect If I’d carried on I would have been the bloodied pulp gazing up or at least gazing at the four walls of a cell as I wasted hard time. No doubt my girlfriend coming home from university slowed me down until eventually that part of my life disappeared, but not entirely.
To this day when I pull my suit jacket on and feel that familiar snugness of a fitted garment my heart rate increases and I start to tremble slightly as my muscles load up with adrenaline. Just in case.
To this day some may suspect but none know the truth and when I buy shoes, even now nearly a decade later, they have to be lace ups. That way I know they won’t fly off if I kick someone or have to run. Just in case.