I'm the only one left in the dive bar. The two old boys that were slumped in their separate corners have long since left for wherever they sleep before no doubt returning as soon as the doors reopen in the morning. My left hand drags the now half full, no make that a quarter full bottle of Jack Daniels towards the dirty glass, I pour clumsily with my left hand. Left handed, a southpaw, always awkward. That helped in the ring, there's not many of us or at least not as many of us as there are orthodox fighters that jab with their left and use their right for the cross or their heavier punches. Southpaw, always awkward, your opponent has to re-circuit his brain to calculate the different angles he is going to get hit from compared to the familiar angles of attack of an orthodox fighter. Of course he would have sparred with southpaws but when you've trained and fought for most of your life as an orthodox fighter against orthodox fighters it just requires that extra millisecond of calculation to analyze the signs that the body position of your southpaw opponent is giving you; and that's enough to give the southpaw a small awkward advantage. Judging by the bourbon pooling on the old bar top I would struggle to land anything right now.
"You reckon you've had enough?" asks the barmaid in a light Mancunian tone, firm but not overly so, it's a statement of fact not a question. I hadn't noticed her standing opposite me, observing me as she's leaning casually against the drink cooling cabinets on her side of the bar slowly cleaning glasses with a grubby looking tea towel.
"I reckon too" I say, sucking down the remnants of the Jack Daniels swilling around at the bottom of my glass.
"Want me to call you a cab?" Again it's more of a statement than a question, more "I'm going to call you a cab to get you the fuck out of my bar". She's clearly seen many a wreck slumped against her bar through her dark brown eyes, slightly Hispanic or maybe Asian, I can't quite tell through my eyes as the bruises have closed in on them and the drink has limited their capabilities further. I slowly lift my chin off my chest and smile the smile of a drunk with the best part of a litre of bourbon inside him. She doesn't seem overly concerned or impressed by my beat up appearance, her casualness speaks of experience. She doesn't seem the type to ask too many questions of her customers and what's gone before their arriving at her bar or maybe she's just used to beat up fighters stumbling in from the Arena and trying to block out a bad loss with knockout amounts of hard liquor.
"Where you goin to?"
Good question. I don't know. My Manager normally took care of that shit. I didn't normally get beat up, knocked out and disappear from the venue on my own. I'd normally get carried out of the ring on my corners' shoulders, TV interviews then party time with my entourage. Where the fuck were they now? I didn't ever end up in some dive-bar, with a probable ruptured liver and a gut full of bourbon slowly heading towards its way to wreak further damage.
"Bar closes in 30 minutes, so you'd better find somewhere".
Not overly concerned or impressed, she flicks her dark hair in dismissal but doesn't move off from her position opposite me as she continues to clean the few used glasses from tonight ready for tomorrow.
I blankly return her stare, checking her out. She's the only thing that isn't grubby, beat up and destined for the scrap heap in the bar. Like every barmaid on the planet she knows when she's being checked out. She's not an unpleasant sight for bloodshot eyes. Her dark hair is loose and comfortably touching her shoulders, she likes to flick her head to move her hair from in front of her eyes or back in front of her eyes if she wants to avoid direct eye contact, her dark maybe Hispanic maybe Asian eyes look back at me with a blunt defiance that says "don't fuck with me". Her nose is thin and sharp, unlike mine and her mouth is tight and set hard. I've not seen her smile and it doesn't look one is the cards either.
She's dressed all in black, black T-shirt and black jeans to hide the spoils of bar work, both are tight fitting and show a trim figure for a woman in her late thirties, maybe slightly loose around the edges from days spent irregularly snacking on scraps from the kitchen that spill out of the dumb waiter. Philippine maybe. About 5'8", same height as me. The conclusion that my scrambled brain is slowly scrambling towards is "yes, I would" but she's ahead of me.
"Best you finish up and get moving along".
I'm about to agree with her, pushing the Jack Daniels away from me when the double doors to the bar crash open letting in the cold damp air from outside and a gang of rowdy punters, tumbling and jostling with each other, thumping into the bar stools and the bar like storm waves against the harbour wall, four of them, two your average Ben Sherman lads, one big, very big a twenty pint a night lad and the last a small mean looking piece of work, a bit like me, twitching and high on something, straight from the Arena and searching for their last beers of the night. They're regular lads, regular boxing punters, over-excited and fuelled with ringside blood lust. All mid-twenties I guess. I turn away; sink deeply into my hoodie hoping that they don't notice me.
"Bars closed" She says firmly, confidently and with no room for negotiation.
"Ah c'mon. Give us one". Says the fat one, all of them collapse into a fit of loutish giggles.
I used to love the chants of guys like these, packing out the arena, cheering my name, worshipping me even. Not now I want them to fuck off.
"Fuck me. It's fucking Billy "the Hammer" Black, it's the the fuck'in Hammer". That's me. I cringe at the sound of my ring name. It sounds ridiculous in this shit pub, in my shit state and being shouted by a fat drunken twat. I stare straight ahead hoping they'll get distracted and forget about me. But he doesn't.
"You were fuckin useless, fuckin useless". He shouts, closing in on my personal space as he does I can sense he's bristling with anger. I have a radar for violence and right now it's setting of alarms bells. Fuck I don't need this right now. I don't want to have to deal with it; I've done my fighting for tonight.
"Oi lads. Did you fuckin hear me? Bars closed". The barmaid seems more than ready to resolve the situation.
"Yeah let's get out of this shit hole" says Ben Sherman Number 1 to his gang of retards. I keep staring ahead, staring into the mirror behind the bar. My peripheral vision is screwed, my eyes have swollen and are closing in on my eyeballs but from behind the dust in the mirror I know that fat fuck is 2 foot behind me to my left. The two Ben Sherman's are further away, edging slowly towards the door. Their sensible shirts suggest a modicum of sense that is telling them "don't pick a fight with a pro boxer". I'm not worrying about them. I am worried about the small mean little fucker, he's standing directly behind me and next to a table, with empty bottles on it. He's 5 feet away and I guess able to cover that distance with a bottle in his hand in 1 second when it all kicks off. And my radar is telling me it's about to kick off.
"Fuckin hammer? Yah couldn't hit shit. Yah fucking useless cunt". This is low grade abuse. Pretty standard stuff. I'm use to trash talk from my opponents, some of the trashiest, filthiest mouths on the planet. This doesn't phase me. "I dropped a fuckin grand on yah tonight yah cunt". His South London accent sounds ridiculously out of place up here in Manchester. I remain passive, letting him vent, keeping him and his small mate in view in the mirror, waiting for him to lose interest, back down with pride intact or best let his mates drag him out, before any damage is done. It doesn't work out like that. His size eleven boot smashes into one of the leg of my bar stool, causing it to crack and splinter. I'm hammered but still have a fighter's reactions and transfer off the falling stool to my feet, scrabbling to plant them firmly with my back against the bar, leaning back against it as if it was the ropes of a boxing ring. Here we go.
The fat fuck comes in with the bar brawl haymakers, the punches that he thinks are going to create his legend down his local as the 'fat fuck who nailed the Hammer'. I see them coming before he's even thrown them, duck, feint and avoid easily, its second nature to me. His vast body weight throws him forwards against the bar. The Ben Shermans are rooted to the spot looking on in bemused panic as their fat mate kicks off with the guy they just watched go four rounds with the next middleweight champion of the world. I check the mirror, the small one hasn't moved, save for his hand is now holding a glass bottle. Shit this is going to get messy.
I'm 5'8" in my socks, the fat fuck is easy 6'3" and 18 stone to my 10.5 stone. Professional boxer, ex-champion of the world or not I can't win this one with my ring skills, this isn't the Queensbury Rules, it's a bar brawl, a dirty gutter fight - like the old days, completely different. He's soon going to figure it out that his fists won't get near me but 18 stone of blubber will if he goes for the bear hug and messy wrestle on the floor. Here it comes. He's charges towards me, bullish head down, gut bouncing violently in front of him, I fake a haymaker of my own, one hundred percent visible and one hundred times slower than my ring-standard knockout punch. I want him to see it, to stop, think "I don't wanna get hit". He checks his charge, stands up, leans back long enough for me to plant my boot hard in his groin, dropping him like a stone, as his legs crumple beneath him I meet his jaw with my knee, separating it from the main-part of his skull. His scream of pain is cut short as his head hits the filthy floor and he's knocked out cold. I wasn't going to use my fists on this useless cunt and risk breaking the delicate bones, they're the tools of my trade, my most valuable possessions - not that I'm going to need them in the ring anymore. In the calm hollow quietness that immediately follows violence I glare at the Ben Shermans, daring them to step closer. I've not always been a boxer but I've always been a fighter, a scrapper, never taking a backwards step for anyone. They're trapped in two minds, whether to drag their fat mate out of the bar although I doubt they have the collective strength or to run for it, I know they're not even remotely considering trying to take me on as I stand there wild eyed, scary looking, veins pumping in my forehead.
Fuck. They weren't but their mean little mate was. With zero peripheral vision I don't see the bottle until its milliseconds from my head, instinctively I raise my left arm, it's enough to save my skull from the jagged glass but the sleeve of my hoodie is no suit of armour and the broken bottle bites deep, the sharp pain tells me it's bitten through to the bone. Fuck. I spin low to my left, ducking as I come round to face my assailant, enough for the second bottle to whistle past my head and smash and fragment in a shower of green shards against the bar. Even with the best part of a bottle of Jack Daniels in me I still have my raw fighting skills, all be it with the reaction speeds of my Grandmother, but it's enough. Turning on my right hand I thrust the sole of my hand into the small mean one's larynx, a target a pro-boxer will never let you near, he doubles over gasping for breath, grasping for my legs in a desperate rugby tackle like lunge. I stop him short with my boot upwards into his face, smashing his nose inwards. He too drops to the grimy floor, now awash with mine and his thick dark blood, forming into a filthy red paste.
Fuck, the sleeve of my hoodie is hanging heavy and my left hand is painted dark red with oxygenated blood. Fuck. I feel the heavy nausea of blood loss, adrenaline and trauma. As unconsciousness starts to grip it's not just my peripheral vision that is gone, I'm looking down a long narrow tunnel, toilet roll wide with the bar quickly disappearing from sight. Fuck. I can't hold on. I think it was as my legs were about to collapse beneath me that she grabbed me by my good arm and dragged me through the bar, through the kitchen I guess and back out in to the sodden Manchester night air, it's raining even heavier than earlier I think. Sirens are wailing. I'm slipping on the wet cobbles of a small unlit alley way like a very bad ice skater, my knee jars painfully against a cobble the size of a boulder but still she pulls me with urgent force. The sirens sound closer, right on top of us, blue lights light up top of the walls of the alley, after thirty yards or a mile I don't know we turn sharp right I think then left I think through a high wooden gate and into a even darker yard. I've near lost my sense, definitely my bearings and feel relieved when a door is opened and she throws me forwards into a dry room without any lights or carpet.
"Alright, get your clothes of".