The International Circuit
achann fought the circuits; a huge man, whom they said had the strength of five, but was wiry and fast, and carried his knuckles wrapped in bloodied cords of bed linen, torn from his own mattress. He could kill a pretender with one punch, could blind another, or hemorrhage a third, as well as look at any of them. He was odds-on-favorite and wherever he fought, in the car-parks, abettors, or garages, he made the touts a lot of money, and they said there was no fighter alive who could beat him in a straight fight. And Eachann was proud of that reputation of his, and said, let any rival challenge him and he’s send him back in pieces.
Then there was the bout at the bus depot on Edinburgh’s Fanmuir Street, surrounded by dead buses, looming like maroon dinosaurs, and the smell of antifreeze and scorched asbestos hanging in the air. There were thirty punters, slips in hand, screaming and shouting. And when the job was done – a grotesque Russian by the name of Viktor Gorovich, who worked as a deck hand on the Moskaw, was lying pooled-out on the floor – Eachann’s arm was held aloft and great handfuls of notes passed hands, tied with chains of elastic bands, and the touts were licking fingers to count, and Eachann’s man, Haden, was gathering up their cut: a huge stack of child’s play-blocks with Lord Islay on the front and Inverness Castle on the back.
“Ach, it is terrible shame,” said the last to come forwards, shaking his head in theatrical disgust. He was dark and swarthy, but smart in that suit of his. “These Russian’s are not what they were, after the collapse, hey? Your rabble-rouser, Eachann, he’s all right for a farm boy. But how would he do against the Greek? Hey?”
“He’d dae just as well” said Haden. “Now gie us what you owe.”
“Kolotripa, pfft.” But he handed over his block of money. “I tell you this, I have a one who could beat your man.”
“Aye, is that right?”
“Ha. I heard his challenge. Smart mouth, always talking. Back in Greece we really know our fighting; have seen off many provincial fighters. There’s not so many ready for what the international circuit has to offer. Your Scotch man, he is not so much.”
And Haiden took a good look at this foreigner, who in truth was a nasty piece of work – dark eyes, long fingernails, but immaculately dressed, hair hanging in oily curls – but was undoubtedly Greek, and said, “The challenge stands. You think your Greek can beat The Big Man? Bring him on.” and they shook on it, with Kostas Malandris staring him in the eye, with a calculating look, while his mouth wore a faint sneer of contempt.
“One month,” he said, “and we do it at abettor near stadium.”
“Sure, aye, it’s our best venue; with a gid hame crowd.”
And the Greek snorted, and held out his fist as if to give him a coin, and said, “Your man will be needing these, hey” and dropped three teeth knocked from the Russian’s head into Haden’s palm, who dropped them like a hot cinder, and wiped his bloodied hand on his jeans, cursing. Kostas walked away laughing.
A month later, the bout was ready to go. But the Greek had added two stipulations which Haden didn’t like; didn’t like one bit.
“He wants the round ahind closed doors; just you, and his man. So we all stan’ ootside hudin’ our baws, while you two beat the shite out of each other. An’ he wants yis to fight ’til dawn – last man standin’. It’s nae gonna happen. He can get tae fuck. We’ll hand back the money.”
“The hell it isna,” said Eachann. “That Greek daesna scare me.”
“But his fella cud pull a pipe, a shiv, or a gun; wrap lead in his bindings; hell, even pish in your whiskey. We don’t even know who it is. Maybe they’re just efter gettin’ you oot the way.”
“There’s nae body goin’ I cannie beat, fair or foul. Bring him on. I’ll fight him alane if I haf tae.”
And Haden said a lot more, thinking of everything he could to dissuade the bout, but Eachann was full to thinking he was unstoppable, at the top of his game, and was already to binding his hands, when Haden bent to help him.
At midnight, the Greek was there, as contemptuous as ever. “He’ll need more than just those bandages on his hands, hey – our man is a monster.”
“Away an’ shite,” said Haden, and Eachann had pushed aside the hefty door like it was only paper and tape and had gone inside to wait.
Twenty minutes there was nothing, then the sound of a truck pulling up. Chains rattled. There was the whine of a hydraulic winch; the creak of a metal door; the sound of low Greek voices; the clatter and bang of metal being kicked, shouts of alarm; a dull thump, thump, thump, and then plaster dragged off the wall, scattering like gravel on the floor.
In the shadows something huge and heavy moved, breathing like a steamer in hot coffee; each breath a long, drawn-out thing. Then the clopped footsteps, dropped like bricks on stone, grinding the rippled concrete, and into the arena of light – from one dirty bulb, hanging on a chain – horns straight and tall, as long as a man’s arm, cream turning to black at the tips, and the steam that rolled from its huge body, and then dog’s teeth bared beneath a bull’s curled lip, black beard, wet with slather, dank beneath its chin, nostrils snorting, wet and wide, eyes black, ears notched and long, fuzzed with coarse black hair, twitching as Eachann circled on the sawdust – appraising it; still convicted of fighting this thing, spitting on his hands. Body of a man, head and legs of a bull, seven foot tall, neck corded like bridging cable, chest as wide as a truck, forearms like girders. It stank of blood and silage. It was something out of fuckin’ legend. It had the look of a killer.
Eachann raised his fists and beckoned it on. “You dinnie scare me, ya big beastie.”
At six am, the agreed end of the fight, the punters went back to see what-was-what, slips in hand. When they opened the door, they found blood up the walls and hoof prints everywhere, and matted chunks of black hair. Eachann was beaten so badly he was more a pile of purple and blue meat, than he was a man, and he’d been gored in three places – chest, thigh, and hand – wounds that pooled with dark blood on waxy flesh. He looked like he’d been trampled by a herd of cattle, and given the venue, inquiries were made, but there was no cattle in the place.
Of the Greeks – Kostas Malandris and his unknown fighter – there was no sign, and they never came to collect their money.