Author:Amanda Dick

Jack pushed the conversation with Callum into the back of his mind, compartmentalising it, as he had done so often over the past few years. Shadowboxing, he bounced on the balls of his feet. He didn’t want to think about anything right now. He just wanted to get into the ring and fight.


The warehouse smelt of sawdust and oil, and it put Jack in mind of a garage, although there were no cars to be seen. It was on the outskirts of the city, tucked in behind a factory that looked like it had been closed for years. Grass sprung up from cracks in the broken concrete outside. If you looked up ‘urban decay’ in the dictionary, there would be a photograph of this place.


Ben arrived with one of his heavies, strolling straight into the small storeroom out back that served as the locker room, to clarify the details with him. He was to go down in the third round. He nodded irritably, ignoring the giant who stood next to him, doing his best to silently scare him into submission.


“Third round,” he mumbled. “Got it.”


“Payment after the fight, as usual,” Ben said, preparing to leave. He turned around in the doorway. “There’s a lot riding on this so don’t screw it up, for either of us. You go down in this fight and your next one will earn us both double, trust me.” He paused, giving Jack the once-over from his feet up. “You look tense – loosen up.”


Jack clenched his teeth, nodding brusquely. He needed to concentrate, and if his father didn’t stop invading his head like this, he would never get through it. Tom wouldn’t approve of this – he wouldn’t understand. Frowning, he pushed the thoughts down deep. He didn’t have the luxury of dealing with grief right now, he had a job to do.


He had been aware of the general buzz of the amassing crowd outside, slowly building. Moments later, they erupted into a loud roar. There had to be at least a couple of hundred people out there. By the time he climbed into the ring to the deafening sound of cheering, he was in a trance. His head was on fire and combined with the noise surrounding him, he could barely think straight. Standing up inside the ring, the smell of sweat, stale beer and liniment reminded him he had a job to do. He bobbed up and down, rolling his shoulders, ignoring the crowd and concentrating on his opponent. He had clearly been spending a lot more time in the gym since he last saw him. His ribs ached just looking at him.


“Third round,” he mumbled to himself above the cacophony, throwing punches into the air in front of him.


He never even heard the bell above the roar of the crowd, but he saw his opponent heading straight for him. He shook his head to clear it and headed into the centre of the ring to meet him head-on. They were fighting for money and the crowd was betting large. There was no meeting in the middle to touch gloves, no agreeing to abide by the rules. There were no gloves and no rules. Strangely, he felt at home there.


He ducked the first punch and snapped back to reality in time to feel the second punch connect with the side of his head. His ears rang but he kept his hands up and his feet moving. He stole a quick glance ringside. Ben stared back at him. Jack diverted his attention back to his opponent, dancing around him for a few seconds before bearing down with a series of one-two combinations, ending with a sharp jab to the ribcage. His opponent staggered but stayed on his feet, Jack’s arms and shoulders burning from the recoil. Stray punches found their mark but Jack shook them off.


At the end of the first round, he retreated to his corner and took the squirt of water offered greedily. Panting, he was fairly certain that was more from the effort of trying to keep his mind on the job rather than the physical toll. His father’s voice kept overriding that of the crowd. Blinking, he grabbed the water bottle, squirting it over his face in an effort to wash the voices away.


Heading into the centre for round two, he was anxious and hyper-alert. He dodged his opponent’s first couple of punches easily, swinging his body away from the right hooks – his most powerful. He was too slow to avoid the sudden left swing that hit him though, and it reverberated throughout his body, leaving him staggering.


Unbidden, Ally’s face was suddenly in his head and he shook it to get rid of her, an overwhelming sense of guilt hitting him with the same power as a well-placed roundhouse kick. Groaning, he knew she would never have let him put himself and his body on the line like this. She would hate it, if she knew – if any of them knew.