The knock on the front door was loud and urgent. Three aggressive rapid bangs, a short delay and then another. An identifying signature call sign.
With her impromptu 10-rounds prematurely shortened, China skipped the high-speed punching and head weaving in preference for brutal raw power.
She unleashed her anger on the heavy bag. Unloaded a dozen blows with the full force of her 72 inch, 168 pounds light heavyweight body.
They knocked again.
Same combination. They could wait.
Sweat dripped from her aching body onto the large mat that served as a small boxing ring.
The impromptu work out had temporarily distracted her mind as she waited for her guests to arrive at Candy’s World.
‘I am coming,’ she shouted.
Armed police and forensics should be smashing down her door waving a search warrant.
Instead, she was told to babysit Chip’s merry men until a taxi took them out of the city.
To make life less cluttered, Chip had organised childcare for her daughter.
‘Just having a leak.’
She flung off blue 16-ounce heavily padded gloves. Left her hands wrapped in red tape. The fight interrupted, not finished.
She grabbed a white towel. Started to dry herself. Conscious she was leaving little to the imagination in black lycra pants and cropped top.
She removed the chains. Undid the door’s deadlocks. The duo barged into the open plan downstairs. Bypassed her like she was invisible.
She recognised one but not the other. Their entrance was followed by the stench of human excrement that overpowered pans of chilli and bolognese simmering on her Aga.
Switchblade Eddie in bulging badly stained jeans was the culprit.
He reached into her drinks cabinet and grabbed a bottle of Tennessee’s finest sour mash without asking, men taking what they wanted as if it was a right.
Swigged long and hard from the bottle that didn’t belong to him like the hapless drunken thief he was.
‘You want a slug?’ asked Eddie. He chucked the Jack Daniels towards the stranger who made no attempt to catch it.
When the bottle bounced noisily against the wall and smashed on the wooden floor the stranger was nonplussed.
Looked through her as if she did not exist before he looked at the shattered glass and golden liquor puddled around his feet.
Maybe he was checking out the boxing kit in the corner of the room. He looked like he was a street fighting man who could handle himself.
She noticed ice-cold clear blue eyes. China was big on eyes. The windows to the soul, if you looked deep and hard enough.
‘You were a bloody liability sober, if you actually were. Drunk is hapless,’ said the stranger.
‘I got you here in one piece without being caught?’
‘More luck than judgement. Did you know you shit your pants?’
‘Bloody wanker,’ said Eddie, acne-scared face reddened more than usual. ‘Your fault.’
That’s all she needed.
A bloodbath in her house to clean up. China stepped back out of harm’s way.
She didn’t want to get hurt in the crossfire. She had seen Switchblade Eddie kick the unconscious further into unconsciousness without any sign of remorse like the bully he was.
‘You make me nervous being in the same room. Off you fuck,’ said the stranger.
He switched on a twenty-four-hour news channel without asking permission.
All three watched the scrolling newsflash at the bottom of the two grand 85 inch smart television: city centre shooting, unconfirmed police reports say four people dead.
‘Four,’ the stranger said to himself. ‘Four, the fourth?’
‘Jak, we need to call Chip,’ said Eddie.
‘You still here?’ asked Jak.
‘Got to keep him in the picture.’
‘Can’t he watch TV like the rest of us?’
China glanced at the two-way mirrors that dominated the open-plan ground floor. Behind them CCTV cameras.
A mobile rang. She answered her phone. ‘China, I believe our friends have finally arrived. Entertain them until darkness falls,’ said Chip.
‘Shall I fuck them?’
Jak noticed her when the ‘fuck’ word was aired. He turned from the TV screen. Gave her the once over. Like she was a second-hand motor on its last legs.
He wasn’t the first to view her as white trash and would not be the last. She eyed him up too. Although she did not want a fuck buddy. China lusted after a white stallion man.
A hero not intimidated by Chip and his cronies.
‘No need to be so crude, I was thinking of a cup of tea, a slice of cake, maybe brunch,’ said Chip. ‘Ask Eddie and Jak if their mission was successful?’
‘Yes, your man is toast.’
‘A total fuck-up. Jimmy’s bloody dead. Saw it with my own eyes. Jesus, Chip. A fucking nightmare,’ said Switchblade Eddie.
‘The man lost his head.’
She heard a snort from Chip. He didn’t give a toss about Jimmy Doyle’s death. Or Christian DeVeres.
‘No more cock-ups. Stay put until collection. No calls. Understand, China? You’re responsible. Tell them and get their approval.’
She did as she was told. They nodded, imperceptibly.
‘Fucking them might be a good idea. Stop them killing each other. Better still, let them fight. Save us a lot of bother,’ said Chip, before he cut the call.
‘You two better behave or I’ll give you both a spanking.’
They ignored her. The two of them a dozen paces apart. Eddie produced a blade. Eight inches of Sheffield cold steel. Clasped in his right hand.
Jak was nonplussed. ‘You as good at maths as your brother was at riding a motorcycle? What happened to the shooter?’
He took off his jacket and black t-shirt, pulled off black boots, unbuttoned 501 black jeans. Stood there almost naked in CK boxers.
‘These need washing and drying. Did you count? How many bullets left? How fast are you, Eddie? Faster than a Black Talon bullet?’
Eddie backed off towards the door, away from Jak.
‘Chip said stay.’
‘Open the door,’ said Jak. ‘Put the knife down, unless your mum wants a two-for-one funeral deal.’
A single loud sob from Eddie broke the tension.
Bizarrely, China felt sorry for him. She didn’t know if sorrow and hatred were complementary emotions. She was an emotional cripple herself. Only Rose kept her sane.
‘You’re not having my blade, you cunt,’ cried Eddie.
She opened the door. He glided out into the cold and the wet. She slammed the door shut.
China looked over at Jak to see what would happen next. She searched for the words to make the right impression.
He took the decision away from her.
Pointed to his dirty laundry.
Pulled out a pistol from his jacket.
‘One bullet left. We only had five. He made the right choice. Put my clothes in the wash. Now, about this fuck?’