Five o'clock in the afternoon. Jammed solid. Tattoos; dense, swirling smoke; the clatter of pool barely audible above the din. A TV chatters quietly above the bar, all peeling green paint and dark, stained wood. Chelsea 2-0 against Norwich. A good result for the start of the season.
A cradle to grave boozer, full of flushed faces, victims of post-match alcohol. A non-descript local's pub sitting inconspicuously between two roads, going nowhere. Not quite in the council estates but still a few streets away from the haven of the King's Road. The boutiques, townhouses, and Duke of York barracks. The new Chelsea. Another world.
Outside, the sweltering summer heat carries the wafting smell of frying hot dogs and samosas. Groups of fans wander in after the match. Inside, trapped behind the frosted glass, the Stone Island crew are gathering. Men in their 20s and 30s with locked faces, swelling the numbers, hovering around the pool table. All baseball caps and disconcerting silence. Tight white knuckles and the acid tang of cheap, gassy lager.
The Carpenter sits stock still, hunched down within the bomber jacket, despite the heat. He stares ahead at the group by the bar. Huge, neatly trimmed hands clench the orange juice. He doesn't drink. It makes you lose control. He doesn't even much like football, unlike the others. Where's the fun in watching 11 grown men exposing themselves on a pitch?
He just stares ahead.
- It's building.
Commie Kim is the first to get it. Just a slap really. 'Fucking slag!' someone shouts. A hand rips the ANL badge from her chest. She shrieks in surprise as much as terror. 'Oi!' shouts a fat man, starting to stand.
They don't register the sound at first. Then it shatters again across the nicotine-stained walls, echoed in chorus around the room.
It happens quick. A tidal wave of violence. Bottles, glass, pool balls, cues, boots, fists, Stanley knives.
The Dustman jumps onto the pool table and raises his hand, revealing the cue ball, clenched. He leers down at two terrified women a few feet away. He hurls the ball straight at them, quickly picking up another, then doing the same again. He draws back his arm once more...
The guy chatting in the gents - 'watch out, the Fash are in today,' he says, only half-turning - will be next, although the poor bastard doesn't know it. For a split second, he doesn't hear the commotion outside. And he makes the mistake of speaking to one of the Firm. A bottle comes crashing down square on the back of his head as he zips up. Jab it in again just to make sure. The boots come next. He doesn't even feel the shards enter his throat, searching for the jugular.
Outside, the shock travels up Insurance Broker's arm. A wide circle of glass bites deep into an eye. He sees, but doesn't hear, the Fenian bastard cry out. Drink burns in his veins. Once soft, sensitive features are locked into a mask of rage. It has grown these years, unchecked, his own private cancer. Somewhere, deep in the past, deep in memory, his stepfather stands, mocking him. It would be a couple of years yet before he puts a glass through his old man's face.
Carpenter sees a crude spray of droplets - blood - land in the head of a Guinness. Another of the crew brings a table down on the fat man's arm. There's a snapping sound, even above the din. Fat man howls, his one good eye quickly filling with tears and glass. There's screaming somewhere, far away it seems. Sobbing, choking, broken by boot on glass on bone.
Daddy lies on the floor, two big men towering over him, stamping on the side of his face. They draw back his head to slash at the sodden carcass with a broken bottle. Bewilderment ripples over his features, as a cue connects with his ribs. 'Daddy!' The eight-year-old whimpers in terror. Two pint glasses smash by his head. Shards of tiny, glittering fragments lace his blood-matted hair. A slow rivulet of blood begins to run down the child's nose, as his mouth opens to scream.
Pool balls thud viciously off bone, sending a head ricocheting backwards, cracking into the wall. Tumbling, a frozen scream locked onto his lips, pint spilling from hand. He barely feels the second, cannoning into his eye.
Sensing the end, Carpenter makes quick work of it. Table, bottle, boot. Twist - feel the satisfying crunch - and snap. Back home, his fiancíZ worries about her man. He feels nothing as he looks down at the figure, choking, trying to vomit at his feet. An ash tray crashes onto his crown, scattering cold grey ash and burning embers over the women screaming next to him.
At the walls, by the door, the quiet, intense crowd of casuals watch silently; tribal, leering, unshocked, unmoving. A small, ugly guy kicks away an arm reaching out for help, the desperate look melting as it reaches his hard face.
'A great bunch of lads,' says the landlord. 'Couldn't ask for better.'
Human debris, washed up on the piss, blood and lager-stained floor.
They run, whooping like children, out into the warm summer air.