I thought I’d left my old life behind in that firetrap tower in Salford, but here it was on my doorstep, blocking out the natural light.
“Alright?” said Ger, grinning like a skull. He was chewing something, and I could smell meat on his breath. I’d seen him look like this before, at people who owed him money. It was sometimes the last thing they saw.
I only opened the door because I was waiting for a pizza. How did you find me? I wanted to ask, but that would have only led to awkward questions, like why I didn’t want to be found.
“Nice place,” he remarked. I looked at the peeling wallpaper and the spreading bruises of damp along the walls. He sat in the one chair – foldable – in the living room. I slouched against the wall and picked at a loose thread from my jeans.
I didn’t say anything. It was best to wait for him. He rested his chin on his interlocked fingers for a few moments. “We need your help, Mickey,” he said, eventually. “We’ve got a situation, and we need your skills to sort it out.”
This was, I knew, bollocks. I had no skills Ger needed. I was seventeen, wiry, a decent corner lookout but no use in a scrap. Enforcement was his responsibility. But you don’t say no to Ger.
“What sort of situation?” I said, playing for time.
Ger sucked some air in through his teeth and shook his head sadly as he spoke. “There’s a woman over on Moss Side who’s behind. We need to have a discussion with her, work out terms of repayment. The thing is,” he said, “I don’t think she’s amenable to reason. We might need you to convince her.”
In five years I’d never been allowed near a job like this; once it had been all I wanted. Now I was getting out, I had Ger himself asking for my help.
“So what do you say?”
I thought about the money, the girls, the thrill of belonging; and I thought about the new life that until ten minutes ago I thought I’d already started. Then I realised I had no choice. Refuse Ger, and I was a marked man. He couldn’t risk a former worker going to the cops. But go with him and they’d have me over a barrel: they would use whatever I did to that woman as leverage to keep me in the team.
This wasn’t an attempt to change my mind. This was insurance.
We arranged a meeting point for later that night. On the way out Ger stopped and picked something up from the narrow balcony outside my door. “Almost forgot, I ran into a fella bringing this up to you.” He handed me a still-warm Domino’s box. “He said he could deliver it himself, but I had to insist.”
I waited until he’d gone before opening it. There was a slice missing, and where it had been lay two yellowed teeth, blood soaking into the cardboard, mixing with the grease.