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Gerry McCullough    award-winning Irish writer & poet


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Short Stories: Stevie’s Luck

This story was shortlisted for the Brian Moore Award, Belfast, 2008.

I missed the worst of it.

Don’t usually go to the Drummond. A bit of a dive. It was Marie wanted to go, my usual’s more upmarket, but hey, I was daft enough to let her take me this once.

Place is jumpin’ when we gets there, Thursday night, wouldn’t expect it. They’ve done it up, lotta white paint, hanging baskets, coupla tables outside.

Marie’s looking about, seems she’s expecting someone. She’s dressed up real nice, short skirt, blonde hair tied up, a few curls hanging down and this sharp, spicy perfume. Top so low you can see white bits where the tan ends. Maybe she’d like me to say it makes me fancy her, but, hey, why give her a big head?

I’m not looking bad myself, mind. I’m not that tall, but so? The chicks say I got the looks, slim figure, bony face, blue eyes.

"What’s up, babe?" I asks Marie.

"Nothing," she says. She gives me a look, and I squeezes her bare knee under the table. Then she says, "See Porky anywhere?"

I don’t. Don’t want to.

"No," I says.

"Oh, right," she says. "Just, I’ve got the cash for some gear."

She knows I don’t like that sort of stuff.

And still I’m sitting there without a glass in front of me.

"Buy me a drink," I says.

She’s looking all ways, like, but she heads off to the bar.

That’s what chicks are for, right?

Totally.

Porky, I have to tell you, is a guy I can do without.

Full of shit. In both senses.

See me, I’m not into all that stuff.

The odd bit of blow, yeah, but the gear, that’s another whole bag of trouble. Not for me.

What Marie does is her own funeral.

So I’m waiting for Marie to get back, when this fella comes up.

"Stevie McCartney?"

I give him a look.

"You owe me big time," he says.

Joe Murphy, from the bookie’s.

Big red-faced guy, crooked nose. Used to do some boxing.

He’s been waiting to collect from me, on account of I missed out a payment.

Marie comes back then with the booze and I sees they knows each other.

"Joe."

"Marie. Hi, babe."

I grabs the drink, and, hey, it’s lager.

I bangs it back down on the table, so’s a big dollop of it spills.

"I don’t drink that muck, Marie," I says quietly. "You know that. Bacardi. Tequila. Even vodka. Not lager."

She’s upset.

"Stevie, maybe just this once - it’s a promo offer? Quid a pint."

I gives her a look.

"Stevie I’ve only got the money for Porky. Till the giro comes. I gotta have the stuff, I –"

She stops and tries smiling at me.

Joe, ignorant git, interrupts.

"Talking about money, Stevie Wonder," he says. A big ugly grin on his chops.

"All right, all right," I says. "You’ll get your money. Next week. Swear it."

Joe grabs me by my shirt, drags me up on my feet, bangs me against the edge of the table, not that he cares less. "Know what, rat face? Now. Or it’ll be too bad for you."

My teeth’s starting to chatter and my leg’s wobbling and I feel sorta sick.

There’s people all around, along the bar, crowded into booths, standing holding their glasses. Nobody pays no heed. I could be dead any second for all they care.

Marie grabs hold of Joe.

"Let him go, you big bully, you! He hasn’t got no money!"

"Hasn’t got no money? Then," says Joe, leering at her, "I better not tell a lady like you what’s gonna happen to him, babe!"

Marie bursts into tears. Then she starts scrabbling in her handbag.

Joe has my shirt scrunched up round my neck so’s I can’t hardly breathe, but I sorta see she’s taking something out of her bag, a white envelope, maybe.

"Here!" she says, and she pushes it at him. "There’s fifty quid. All I got. Leave Stevie be. Give him a chance to get the rest of it together, okay?"

"Chicken feed! His bill’s in hundreds!" says Joe. Then he looks at her and musta changed his mind. Fancies her a bit, maybe.

"Okay, babe," Joe says. "End of the week, right? Not any longer!"

And he drops me back into my seat, looking sorta contemptuous, like, and brushes off his hands. As if he wants to get rid of the feel of me. "Don’t know what you see in this dirty wee squirt, Marie. A right lump of scum," he says. "You can do a lot better for yourself." And he walks away.

So Marie throws her arms round me and she’s all huggin’ me, like, till I has to say, "Whoa, girl! Everybody’s looking."

Still and all, she’s done a really nice thing, hasn’t she, giving Joe her drug money, so I says, "How’s about getting outa here, babe?"

I took her out the door at the back of the bar, what opens right into the alley, and I let her kiss me.

Half-moon’s out by then, stars twinkling in the dark navy-blue sky, a sweet warm summer breeze and the smell of the creamy honeysuckle and pink roses in the hanging baskets, and Marie’s own scent.

I’m telling you, I can feel a bit of a stir when I look down at her with her arms tight round me, putting everything she has into the kiss, and I think, "Hey, guess what, maybe I could do worse?"

Never reckoned on a live-in girl friend, and still don’t want one, but maybe Marie and me could see a bit more of each other? I know she’s been wanting to.

She opens her eyes and looks right up at me, her mouth still fastened on mine. She’s smallish, Marie, and her body fits good against me, and I can feel her all the way down pressing close in, and I have to tell you, honest, I feel my legs go all trembling.

It’s, like, something special, see?

Any road, we goes on snogging for a bit, and then I goes, "Okay, babe, let’s do it!" But she pulls back and says, "Stevie, I gotta go to the bogs," so I acts cool, though I’m, like, ready enough. I steps back and says, "Don’t be long, babes," and I gets out a fag and lights up while she skips off.

I leans against the white-washed stone wall, by the back door, smoking.

The fag’s about done, but I’m not, see, and no sign of her coming back, when I hears this racket going on inside.

So I opens the door a bit, thinking, like, it’ll be a gas to see what sorta fight’s going on.

I’m making sure to keep well behind it, out of sight, like, but I can see big Porky. He’s a huge guy, hard to miss.

He’s yelling at Marie.

Give it to her, the girl, she’s yelling right back at him.

"You owe me!" Porky yells.

"One bag!" Marie yells. "Peanuts!"

"Can’t do business that way," Porky grunts. "Pay on the nail, that’s how it goes. If you wants some, you pays up front, right?"

"I don’t have the cash, okay?" yells Marie back. "Whatta you want from me? Blood?"

Funny her saying that.

I know she’s spent her last, paying Joe off for me, and it sorta crosses my mind I should maybe give Porky the twenty-five she owes him?

I has my hand in my pocket, fidgeting about with the roll I won on the scratch card Wednesday, coupla hundred. But I got plans for that. Horse called Stevie’s Luck, couldn’t lose, a name like that. Mind, I nearly gave it to Joe, would have if Marie hadn’t jumped in.

I’m trying to make up my mind, when the real trouble starts.

Tommy Moore and three or four of his heavies comes into the pub.

Tommy got out on the Good Friday agreement. Kept away from the political stuff. Went for the drug dealing instead.

A wee shrimp of a man, wedgie heels on his cowboy boots to give him a lift, just not small enough for a circus. But the boys with him makes it up.

He’s looking for Porky.

Porky’s been muscling in on Tommy’s territory, it seems.

Not happy enough with his own patch, the eedjit.

Tommy and the boys’re here to teach him a lesson.

Well, that’s what they do, everybody knows that. If Porky’s been cheating on Tommy, he’s asking for it.

"Hey, Porky!" Tommy goes, all friendly like. "Glad to see you sticking to the Drummond, boyo!"

"Yeah, right, this is my patch, Tommy, you know that," goes Porky. You can tell he’s dying with nerves, but doing his best not to show it. A huge big fella like Porky, and Tommy hardly up to his chin, but Porky’s shaking in his trainers. It’s kinda funny to see. I can’t help grinning.

"So it’s a funny thing, Porky," Tommy says softly, "but somebody was telling me they saw you dealing blow down the King’s Head Monday night, Porky. That’s a funny thing, isn’t it, Porky? And an even funnier thing, I’m told you were dealing the gear Tuesday night, Porky?"

Every time Tommy says ‘Porky’, his voice goes up a bit higher and gets a bit louder.

"No, Tommy, you’ve got it all wrong," Porky says. He’s turned a weird sorta colour, dirty white, like his mammy doesn’t use Persil.

"Wrong, am I, Porky?"

Tommy sounds ever so soft and gentle.

Then suddenly he’s screaming.

"Get him, boys! Take him out the back!"

Then there’s a lot of action that I mostly don’t see, but I hears Marie shouting.

There’s punching and screeching and stuff, and I’m just wishing I could see better when there’s a gleam of metal and one of the boys pulls a knife.

So then I’m pretty pleased to be way back and out of it, and I looks round to see no-one’s coming up behind me and I can get away okay if I wants to.

It’s fine, a clear exit.

I takes another look round the door, to see what’s happening next, and then I sees Marie.

Porky has her by the arms in front of him, with her back up against his fat belly, like one of these human shields you hear about, and she’s struggling, and I’m thinking can I do something for her, but, hey, these are all big guys.

It all happens in a minute.

I can still hear Tommy shouting, "Get him, boys!" like a big baby yelling for sweeties, and everybody else is screaming, and Marie’s looking round, sorta wild, her hair coming down over her face and her top lower than ever. Then I’ve a sorta idea she sees me, peering round the door. Her face changes and goes all soft, like she thinks I’m going to come riding in on a white horse and rescue her, but, hey, my shining armour’s away this month for a polish, and just as she’s catching my eye the fella with the knife makes a lunge at big Porky, and Porky sorta swivels round and drags Marie further in front of him and the knife goes thrusting in right up into her belly.

I sees her face going white and her eyes dreadful and a big gollup of blood, like, spurting out of her, and then I’m outa there.

Down the back alley. Straight back to the flat.

And the door locked and no lights showing the rest of the night.

She died in the hospital, not long after they got her admitted, I heard.

Nobody knew I was ever there.

Except Joe Murphy, but he was long gone and not wanting mixed up in it, so he never said nothing.

I was right out of it.

Lucky, wasn’t it?

Mind, the horse came in sixth. Still, you can’t always be lucky.

Yeah. Totally.


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