It always comes as a shock. The “off”, I mean. Even when you know it’s been brewing. Like when you know thunder’s coming. The first clap always makes you jump. Can’t help yourself.

The truth is only one person had kept their nerve. And he was standing in the middle of the room with two snooker balls in a sock and Big Dog lying on the floor in a puddle of blood and snot. Big Dog. At the end of it he never even barked, let alone bared his teeth. Not that he had many left. All talk. “Everyone’s got a plan till they get punched in the face.”

If he had got up and taken a swing, well, who knows? He was a popular boy. All those lads lining the walls. Half of them would have leapt across to the winner but showing no bottle never goes down well. You could tell it crossed his mind. Little eyes darting left and right. But he was outnumbered and he knew it. He’d claimed most of the Smoke but the plain fact was only about fifty had shown. Sat there like puddings, staring at their shoes. They looked embarrassed as much as anything. The young lad, what’s his name, Rishi, had over a hundred at his back and all of ‘em tooled up. Big Dog. F*cking neutered.

Which, by way of connection, left only that bird from the South Coast firm in the bar. Mordaunt. No bite, funnily enough. No minerals. Took one look and chucked the towel in. Offered tribute on the spot. Her mob joins his to keep her share of the takings. 

Trouble is, what were they? Mate o’ mine was in her firm. “Nice woman”, he said. As if that’s a qualification in this game. Worse, everything they said was true. Even back at her manor – where’s that, Portsmouth innit? – never down her clubs or her pubs. Never checking the takings, not a “face”. Hangs about with all sorts ‘n all. Not that I mind, this ain’t a saints gallery. But if you want to run an empire, well, up north they might not give a f*ck whether you’re Arthur or Martha or somewhere between but they don’t want to have to join in. Know what I mean?  

She’s a Penny. Not a pound. Never led a serious gang, never pulled a major blag. Small time. And it shows.

So that only leaves the boy in the middle. Stood, looking more surprised than anyone over Big Dog who’s trying to slide away before anyone notices. Suddenly, he’s the guv’nor. Scrawny little kid whose mum saved up to send him to one o’ them posh schools. Fancies himself cleverer than the rest of us. One day that’ll cost him.  

Other things too. For all those boys cheering him on, they all know what he did. He’s got a name for being an alley boy. Stabs in the dark when your back’s turned. Not the first time neither. And he won’t be putting much money in the right pockets. Not his way.

Numbers, see? For him it’s all about numbers. Numbers, numbers, numbers. That’s all right for the moment but if you want to command loyalty, well, best not to come it like you’re the smartest boy in the room. Best to see someone alright for a drink. Best to put in the occasional act of enforcement for everyone to see. Right here, right now. 

And, for the moment, fair play, he’s the daddy. He runs London. F*ck it, he runs the country. He’s sliced up Big Dog and left him wandering round with the scars for everyone to see. Whoever thought he had it in him?  Done him. Done him where others had tried and come home second. 

The Press will like it. They took against the Dog some time back. Some of them took it all very personally. Who knows why? They get bored easy. Big Dog. Old story. Odd ‘cos they thrive on chaos and he gave ‘em plenty of that.

It’ll change though. When it doesn’t go away. The chaos I mean. There’s Benny Wallace and the Whitehall firm. He’ll still fancy his chances in a scrap if Rishi doesn’t stick some notes in his top pocket for all his bits and pieces. Needs it to keep the Russian boys at bay. That’s mutual interest that is. But numbers, see, numbers.

And then there’s the poor bloody infantry. Fact is they’re not keen. They thought the last capo would see ‘em alright. Didn’t like the look of Rishi, for all they call him dishy. And if he starts turning up and asking for money with menaces, “tax” as he likes to call it, they’ll give through gritted teeth but they won’t like it. That can only last so long. Especially when they remember he was Johnson’s consiglieri but left after the Filth showed up over the illegal booze racket.

Starmer too, north of the river. Some of his mob are very, very lairy and looking for a tear-up. It’s all very Montague and Capulet and, if I’m honest, that goes off and I don’t fancy our boy’s chances. That geezer Keir, as he never fails to tell everyone, is handy with a tool.

And then there’s all those boys leaning on the walls and hiding in the snug. Playing with their bats and pocketing the knuckle dusters. They’ve seen it all come and go. The May gang. The Truss firm. And now Johnson ruining the saloon bar carpet hoping Rishi doesn’t follow up with a quick trip to Epping Forest in the boot of the Jag.

They’ll turn on him quick as you like. It’s all about them. Nobody else. Monday, Tuesday any other day, is just another Long Good Friday.  

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