This is a work of fiction, a short story of 1300 words.
George had seen better days, he would be the first to admit that. But only to himself, mind. As he knotted his tie, he had a good look at the reflection in the full-length mirror. The sight of the bulge above his trouser waistband made him unconsciously suck his belly in. But overall, he was satisfied. Not bad for fifty-three, he thought.
George had always been called Big George, for as long as he could remember anyway. There were not that many other Georges around back then, but he was deserving of the name, undoubtedly. He stood well over six feet tall in his socks, and cut an imposing figure. Barrel-chested, fists as big as grapefruits, and a no-nonsense stare that had always stood him in good stead. When still in his teens, the local boxing club had been like a second home. Fighting in age categories, he had towered over many of his opponents, and racked up an impressive list of wins. But then he turned professional.
Life was very different after that. He had to do as he was told. Take dives, win in certain rounds, sometimes endure a beating for what seemed like forever, from someone he could have knocked down with ease. He toured the circuit, never rising above the introductory fights, always at the beck and call of the gamblers and their heavies. His youthful good looks were soon gone, a nose broken in so many places, it looked as if it had been stuck on his face at random. Scar tissue over his eyes had grown into unsightly lumps, and even though there were lots of girls around, he never found one to call his own.
He carried on living with Mum. She would have his snack ready when he got home, fussing over his injuries as he ate his sandwich, and drunk his beer. He made a living, but no more. The big boys took all the profits from the side bets, and he was just required to turn up at the venue and do what they wanted. Once he turned thirty-five, the fights didn’t come along so often. Manny told him he could be useful in other ways instead. He went out collecting debts, and evicting poor payers from the flats Manny owned. Most of the time his sheer presence was enough to get the job done, but if they decided to cut up rough, then George would smack them around a bit, until they saw sense. George got on by always being available, and being reliable too. On occasion, Manny would loan his services to some other gang. Maybe the Greeks, sometimes the South London boys. He would tag along, lending his weight to smashing up a taxi office, or letting some up and coming mob know their place.
When Mum died, Manny became like a surrogate parent to George. He fixed him up with a place to live, some rooms above a take-away restaurant in Dalston. There was always something for him to do, and a good few quid in cash after he had done it. One day, Manny called him in to the old gym, and explained what was going to happen. George was going to be working for Les now, he was told. Les was taking over the businesses. Manny assured him that he would do well with Les. He had lots of nightclubs, and needed strong men like George to keep order, and sort out the punters. Regular money and regular hours. At least that would make a change. Manny shook his hand, and wished him well.
Twelve years on the doors followed. Strip-clubs, Disco clubs, Gambling clubs, George worked them all. Keeping out the riff-raff, chucking out the drunks, nodding at the regulars. But life was changing. Too many people carried knives, even shooters. Drugs were being sold inside, and it was George’s job to make sure only the approved dealers were operating. The cops were no longer taking the pay-offs, and the newspapers were catching on to the game too. One night, George turned up for work as usual. The club was full of blokes in overalls. They were going through the stock of booze and cigarettes, placing it all into large plastic bags. Vanessa walked over from behind the bar, and leant against George’s arm. He had always liked her. Twelve years earlier, she had been one of the top strippers. Too much coke, and too many men later, she was past her best. Les kept her on, taking money at the door, helping run the bar. She was grateful for the job.
“Les has skipped, George.” She told the big man. “Those blokes are from Customs and Excise, investigating his tax returns, and where he got the stock. If I were you, I would go home, and look for something else to do. It’s all over here darling.” She reached up and stroked the side of his face, her hand was warm and soft.
Andy Hayter looked across his desk at the big man sitting bolt upright in the chair opposite. His face looked as if some kids had made it from modelling clay, and what remained of his hair was slicked down with some sort of oil. His tie was knotted so tight, it looked like his shirt collar was about to strangle him. The black suit that matched the tie made it appear that this man had just come from a funeral. His paperwork said that he was fifty-three, but he looked at least ten years older.
“So Mr Gallagher. The vacancy is in our gardening department, warehouse section. It mainly involves unloading deliveries. Bags of soil and compost, shingle, paving slabs, that sort of thing. It’s heavy work, mind. Do you think you could manage that?”
George stared at the young man. He couldn’t be more than twenty-five, and he was the boss. He wore a brown polo shirt with the company logo on the chest, and trousers like the sort soldiers had. His hair was too long, and he could do with a shave.
“Call me Big George. Everyone does. As for shifting stuff, well I’ve always been strong.”
“OK George, I can see that you’re strong. The hours are from ten in the morning until eight at night. It’s a five day week, but you will have to work every weekend. You get two twenty-minute breaks, and uniform provided. We pay the minimum wage, and there is a three month trial period. Does that sound alright to you?” Andy smiled as he stopped talking. Something about this man worried him, but he was certainly big and strong, no doubt about that. When there was no reply, Andy continued. “You can start on Monday, but don’t forget to bring in your National Insurance card, and your last P-60 tax form.”
George walked home from the industrial estate. He didn’t know what a P-60 was, but hadn’t liked to ask. And as for a National Insurance card, he thought he had seen one in a drawer once, but he still lived with Mum then. He sat in his flat eating a sandwich, and drinking beer from the tall glass he used just for that. After a while, he realised that it was getting dark, so he got up and walked into the bedroom. He reached into the wardrobe, taking down the package wrapped in oily cloth. It was the heavy pistol that Manny had given him all those years ago. “Just in case, George.” He had said.
Unwrapping the gun, George flicked off the safety catch. He carefully buttoned his suit jacket, then raised the weapon to his face, placing the barrel firmly under his chin. It felt cold against his skin.
Outside of the bedroom window, he could see the top deck of a number 30 bus.