It was fairly quiet in the office, a light rain was falling – again, and the dogs had been dozing while music played softly in the background, their little snores almost in time with the song.
I must have sighed or something because they were both suddenly alert and staring at me intently.
‘What? did I wake you?’
‘You seem sad, are you OK ? Are you? Are you? is it us? is it? is it?’
‘No, not you at all’ – they both relaxed slightly – ‘I just have a few friends who need more help than I can give them and that makes me a little bit sad.’
‘No, you can’t help either, sorry.’
“Tell us a story, tell us something from the BeforeTime.’
‘Hmm, what sort of story? – I’m not doing anything sad.’
‘Something interesting, fights and bravery, cowards and excitement, tell us, tell us.’
I could see that I wasn’t going to get any peace and to be truthful; it at least took my mind out of the state that I’d been in.
“Ok, this is a long, long time ago, before your own mums or their mums were born, before mobile phones and being able to work from an office at home like this.’
‘Yes, The BeforeTime, tell us.’
‘OK, let’s start on New Years Eve 1982, I was in a pub in Essex with two of my brothers and it was near closing time. I was talking to a barmaid and I noticed that a fight had started. I made my way outside with my brothers and a splinter group of five or six from the fighting people attacked us as we walked past.
We had short, sporadic fights with them for the whole of the walk home – almost two miles. A couple of them got hurt but we made it home unscathed. They had gone for reinforcements and were outside our house in cars.
It would have got much worse as we’d had time to go indoors to pick up some sharp bits and pieces, but as luck had it, the police turned up and broke everything up for the night.’
They were watching me closely.
‘Is that the story?’
‘No, it’s just how the story starts, because after that night, I had an enemy and he wanted my blood.’
Their eyes widened.
‘ I never found out, it may have been as simple as me talking to the barmaid, but it made life interesting for a while.’ I used to work at the back of a hospital and went to parties in the nurses’ homes at least once a week and every now and again he’d turn up with some of his mates and it would get tense.’
‘I got asked by some nurses to ask him and a few of his mates who’d got rowdy, to leave a party once and had just convinced his group to go, only to find that somebody had called the police, so that didn’t help – and it just rolled on, he’d see me, he’d make threats and i’d mostly ignore him, if he was going to do anything on his own, he’d have done it. I was his enemy, but he wasn’t mine, I didn’t care enough.’
Cairo looked at me intently.
‘Do I have enemies?’
‘Yes. sort of, yours are hardwired into you, you killed one yesterday.’
Her eyes glowed.
‘Yes the French. They must die.’
“Hang on? the fucking French? what’s that about?’
“No, I said RATS, RATS, you heard French, I think that says more about you than you’d like people to know.’
I wasn’t convinced that the two little bastards weren’t winding me up, but what could I do?
‘Anyway, time went on and I forgot all about him as usual. And then I went to the same pub where the fight happened with three friends for a midweek evening drink. We’d had one beer each when in he walked with eleven of his mates, he looked very happy.’
“You’re fucking dead tonight.’ He stated flatly and I was doing the maths in my head.
Twelve of them and four of us. None of the others were fighters really, although one of them claimed repeatedly to be a Kung Fu expert, but I was never convinced.
So, one ‘fighter’, one borderline alcoholic who was very overweight and one normal bloke who worked as a lab technician – and me.
We were fucked.
The odds were three to one and one of the other lads on his side was almost seven feet tall.
I turned round to look at my meagre group of friends, only to find that two of them, the ‘fighter’ and the fat lad had run through the back door without even saying goodbye.
We were really fucked.
I turned to the lab technician and told him the plan.
‘Right, you need to go outside, go to the phone box and call the police and an ambulance, I’m going to need both. Off you go.’
The idiot surprised me.
“Fuck off, I’m staying, I’m not leaving you alone for this.’
“GO TO THE PHONE BOX. YOU STUPID CUNT. THIS ISN’T YOUR FIGHT.’
‘FUCK OFF – I”M STAYING.’
I glanced behind me, all twelve were watching intently, I couldn’t be sure what was going on but nobody had thrown a punch yet.
I spoke to my friend.
‘Fine, don’t blame me if you get killed, you stupid bastard, we can’t win here and they all know it.’
I turned to them.
‘Don’t you?’ I asked softly and they had to lean in to listen.
“I know that I’m getting a kicking here, although I don’t remember what it is that I’m supposed to be getting it for, but that’s fair enough. I’m not walking away tonight under my own power. ‘
A few of them grinned.
The dogs looked even more alert.
‘Were you scared? Were you?’
‘Yes, of course I was, there was no way on earth that we could win. But I also couldn’t let my friend get hurt, so I spoke a little bit more softly.’
‘So, I’m going down tonight, that’s OK with me, but he’ – pointing to my friend – ‘isn’t anything to do with this, he’s brave but he’s fucking stupid. But twelve on one isn’t really fair is it?’
I looked at them all, a few, the toughest looking ones were nodding, so I kept talking.
‘Here’s what I think we should do, me and you’ – pointing at my self-appointed enemy – ‘We go outside and the winner walks back in here. If it’s you, then we’re done. If it’s me – then…’
I looked at the group.
“One of you is next and we go again. And again if need be. I know that I’m going down and it might be you..’ – pointing at him again and touching him on the shoulder. ‘I know you have a decent reputation as a fighter, but I dunno. Anyway, I’m getting fucked up tonight, we might as well get on with it.’
I watched him hesitate.
‘Or, like I said earlier, I can’t remember what it was that started this and I don’t really care, we could just say fuck it and have a beer. Your call, I’ll buy the first one.’
He clapped me on the shoulder and shook my hand. I sat on the barstool and started ordering drinks, my face hadn’t changed but my legs had given way.
The dogs were starting to doze again.
‘And your friend, the brave one, is he still a friend?’
‘Yes, he was there at my wedding and had a big part to play in my stag do.’ ‘https://smallthunderdog.blog/2022/07/29/netflix-one-off-special-pitch/
“And i was Best Man at his wedding some time ago, I also saved him from a couple of beatings – and I just messaged him again because it’s been a few years and friends should be for life.’
The sun had now come out and the dogs were asleep again – and…..
I felt slightly better, we can only do what we can, it’s the trying that’s important.