Mick Bennett wrapped his fingers round the handle of the baseball bat under the counter, caressing its hard wooden surface. There were four of them. They hadn’t started anything yet, but Mick had been in the game long enough to recognise the signs. The glazed eyes, the faces as red as the crosses of St George on their t shirts – consequences of too much sun, alcohol and partying. The Costa del Sol was littered with an endless supply of such Brits abroad. Out for a drink and a laugh but always with that hovering edge that could tip in a blink into violence.
They were already pissed when they had staggered into the bar. They’d ordered four pints of Tenants and two carafes of sangria. Mick watched as his brother, Tony, poured the pints.
‘Mixing the grape and the grain, eh lads?’ Mick tilted his chin at them, his expression stony.
‘Yeah? So fuckin what?’ snarled one of the thugs, lolling on the bar. ‘You got a problem with that, old man?’
Mick adjusted his grip on the baseball bat and felt the weight of it in his hand. He shook his head.
‘Me? No, I got no problems at all. But you will have tomorrow morning.’
He pulled down the corners of his mouth and cocked his head on one side. Go on. Just try it, he thought. Just give me an excuse. Tony darted him a warning glance. Cool it, he communicated. It’s not worth it. Mick curled a corner of his lip in a sneer. It would have been better if Tony had directed his advice at the bloke on the other side of the bar, who was leaning over to leer in Mick’s face.
‘I don’t remember askin for your opinion,’ he slurred. ‘So why don’t you keep your fuckin nose out of our business? We’re on holiday, right? Me an my mates …’ He gestured to his friends with a flailing arm. ‘So don’t fuckin tell us what we can and can’t drink.’
He looks like a pig, Mick thought. With his blond, cropped hair, squashed nose and sunburnt skin. Like a roast pig.
‘Oh, leave it, Vince,’ one of the others rasped, pulling at his friend’s sleeve.
‘Maybe I don’t want to leave it,’ Vince snarled, shaking his arm free and eyeballing Mick.
He sprawled over the bar still further, his face twisted with the aggression of the very pissed and very stupid. Mick returned his gaze without flinching. He felt his heartbeat accelerate and the first trickles of adrenalin seep through his veins. Keep it up, lad, he thought. Keep it up. Until the trickle becomes a surge and I take your fucking head off. He lifted the baseball bat clear of its shelf but still kept it out of sight below the bar.
‘Now, lads, come on,’ Tony soothed. ‘We don’t need no trouble and nor do you. Tell you what, you promise to stay cool and not start no hassle, I’ll chuck the sangria in for free.’
Yeah, thought Mick. And then they chuck the sangria up again and we get to clear up the puke. Nice one, Tony. And not even the satisfaction of splitting the little fuckers’ heads open. His mouth twisted in a grimace of contempt as he turned to glare at Tony. Tony gave a tiny shrug in response. Just not worth it, his expression said. Mick knew Tony was right. And that pissed him off even more. With a growl, he replaced the baseball bat on its shelf below the counter. The lads picked up their drinks and made their way over to a table in the corner.
‘You want to watch it, y’know.’
The clamour of noise in the bar was deafening, but the voice spoke directly in Vince’s ear. He turned, staggering as his head failed to keep up with his body resulting in a stomach-turning tilt to the room. Beer slopped over his hand.
‘You what?’ he asked the owner of the voice.
He struggled to focus, taking in a man in his sixties with a battered face.
‘That bloke behind the counter. He don’t work here. He owns the gaff. You don’t want to piss him off, believe me.’
Vince threw Mick a look, but he had to make do with his back which was now turned to him as Mick punched keys on the till. The back was broad but otherwise unremarkable. He couldn’t remember anything particular about his front to excite attention…
‘You ever hear of Mick Bennett?’ the man inquired.
‘Never heard of him,’ Vince replied, slurping from his pint.
‘How about Mickey Tiptoes then?’
Vince spluttered into his beer, shooting froth up his nose and down his throat through an unexpected source. He staggered again and almost fell. One of his mates steadied him.
‘’Ere lads,’ he slurred. ‘This geezer says the bloke behind the bar’s called Mickey Tiptoes.’
Two of the others were too far gone to respond. One of them was trying to light a fag. There was a faint smell of singed eyebrows. The fourth still had the wherewithal to both understand and speak.
‘Mickey Tiptoes?’ he barked. ‘Sounds like something out of the fuckin Teletubbies.’
He and Vince doubled over with laughter. The old man shook his head and walked away.
‘Don’t say I didn’t warn you,’ he murmured as he went.
Jen stared in disbelief at the tiny plastic strip. The blue line was unmistakable. She’d had to work hard to develop her highly refined ability to deny the glaringly obvious in life. But even she couldn’t deny this particular piece of incontrovertible evidence.
She’d been able to ignore the agony in her breasts, the expanding waistline, nausea and lethargy. She’d managed to convince herself she hadn’t skipped a period at all – just forgotten to record the last one. Or was it two? She’d even turned a blind eye to her sudden overwhelming desire for double decker white bread crisp, cheese and jam sandwiches.
But even her superlative powers of denial were no match for that faint blue line on the testing strip. Oh shit. Shit, shit, shit.
Should she tell Ali? She asked herself, not stopping to calculate that he was the only person who could have left the kit in her bathroom. She was convinced he would freak out. What would he want her to do? Get rid of it, she supposed. So what did she want to do? The question shocked her. It had never occurred to her there might be a choice. What on earth would she do with a baby? A baby! Why was she even thinking of it as a baby instead of what it was – a cluster of cells …?
An egg’s not a chicken, she told herself with grim determination. An acorn’s not a tree … And yet … and yet … She tried to pinpoint the exact time when she’d half noticed the johnny was ripped when she’d chucked it in the bin. If it was more than six weeks ago, there would be a heartbeat discernable on a scan …
She shuddered and retched. Heartbeats! What was she doing thinking about heartbeats? Heartbeats made it real. They made it alive. A living creature. Inside her. She felt a wave of bile rise in her throat and wheeled round to the toilet.
When she’d finished throwing up, she leaned over the sink and splashed cold water on her face. She looked up into the mirror. She was paper pale, her dark spiky hair contrasting with the pallor. I look like a natural Goth, she thought. A natural pregnant Goth …
Oh shit. Shit, shit, shit …