“What d’you do that for?” I asked.
“Sorry,” he said, and punched me again.
He was having to punch upward to reach my face and he didn’t have much meat on him, so it didn’t have much weight behind it, but it caught me on the lip which stung a bit so I nutted him.
I felt bad about that. Looking down at him, I saw he wasn’t as young as I’d first thought but he couldn’t have been more than twenty. I’d have been more restrained if I’d been working, but then you expect some drunk moron to kick off with you when you’re on the door of a club. It’s what you’re there for. This kid caught me by surprise by trying it on at Aldi in the middle of the afternoon, which was why he was lying there groaning with his hand over half his face.
I leaned over him. “You all right, mate?”
“What d’you do that for?” he asked.
“I just asked you that. What do you think I’m gonna do if you punch me in the face? Look, you’re OK. I didn’t get your nose. Better a lump in the face for a few d
ays than six months inside, which is what you’ll get if you go around punching strangers.”
I gave him my hand and pulled him to his feet. He looked shaky but there was no blood leaking from under his hand and the eye it wasn’t covering looked focused. That eye was fixed on me like I was speaking Hungarian.
“Ain’t you Big Jeff?” he asked.
“No, they call me Little Baz.”
His brow furrowed as he looked up at me from below the level of my collar bones. “They told me to punch Big Jeff. Said he’s the guy with short hair, a goatee and a blue T-shirt.”
I looked down. My T-shirt was blue. I’ll give him that.
I nodded up the street, where another kid was skulking next to the recycle bin. He was five foot nothing and looked like he’d need help lifting himself out of bed in the mornings, but he had short hair and a goatee and he was wearing a blue T-shirt. He saw me looking and ran away.
“There goes Big Jeff,” I said.
The boy who’d punched me sagged against the plate glass window of Aldi. “Now what am I going to do? I’ve messed it all up.”
“You’re going to stay out of prison, son,” I said. “That’s the main thing.”
A tear ran down the cheek I could see.
“What’s so bad about that?” I asked him.
“They’re gonna kill my mum.”
“My mum’s already inside. She owes money. A lot of money, you know? They said they’d wipe the debt if I got myself sent down so I could take a condom full of heroin with me. They said I should punch Big Jeff, he’ll call the cops and I’ll get six months. Out in three and my mum’ll be out by the end of the year.”
I looked him up and down. “And you think that’ll be the end of it? Once these people get their hooks into you, they don’t let you go. Sounds like you’ve already seen enough to know that.”
He shuffled his feet. “It’s me mum.”
I should’ve walked away then. Should’ve said it’s not my problem.
I said, “Why don’t you come back to mine and tell me about it over a chicken tikka masala. You look like you could do with a meal.”
So he did.
That’s how I ended up here, asking you nicely to clear his mum’s debt. You don’t know me, so there’s something you need to understand. I’m a good doorman. Never did like the word ‘bouncer’. When you step out of line, I ask you nicely not to do it again.
If I have to ask again… well, you’re hanging out of a fifth floor window with your door kicked in and your mate in there spark out. That was part of me asking nicely.
So what’s it to be?
Do I have to ask twice?