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It's said some people must "burn to learn."

In The Gutter, such lessons come too late. 

Clickbait by Tess Makovesky

Click. Clickety-click. Click-click-clickety-click-clink.

Markie was nervous. Hands sweating, heart going like he'd run for the bloody bus, instead of ambling down the road from where he lived. He hated new jobs, and this one was more terrifying than most. The boss had a reputation, he'd heard. Didn't like fools, or disrespect. Didn't like his employees being late. All a bit old-fashioned in this day and age, but jobs were jobs. Hard to get hold of, even harder to keep. Especially in Markie's line of work.

The lighter was a comfort. He'd never smoked, but this was a relic from his mum's old dad. Been through the wars a time or two, rather like the old man himself, but solid, well-made, built to last. It fit in Markie's hand just perfectly, curve to curve, thumb curled round to click the spark wheel down.

Click. A satisfying sound. Good, honest, British workmanship. Not like those foreign plastic ones that splintered if you so much as sat on them. Who cared if it was plain? Who cared if it didn't have bright red sides or a skull and crossbones on the top? It served its purpose well enough.

Click-click. Click.

Uh-oh. The chap in front was turning round. His neck was like a malformed turnip, face to match. There were purple splotches on his cheeks and he had a fat mouth with the sides turned down.


The fat man yelled. You could hear it all over the bloody bus. "You click that fucking lighter one more time and I'll chuck it and you straight out the nearest window. And I won't bother opening it first."
Geez. The manners of some people. The boss wouldn't like this bloke, wouldn't like him at all. Neither did Markie, much. He had a right to click his lighter, free country and all that. Still, the bloke was huge. Better do as he said, at least for now. Markie buried the lighter deep in his jacket pocket, where he couldn't get at it accidentally and click it again. "Fine. You only had to ask."

"Well I'm asking now. So fuck off." A triumphant look crossed the man’s flabby jowls. Happy to have scored some points and won. Made his day, no doubt.

Markie sat and seethed. He hated being the little guy, the one all the rest thought they could bully and control. Give him his way and he'd drag this arsehole off the bus and teach him some manners at the wrong end of a fist. Like that was going to happen, though. Markie had always been the runt. It was why he'd developed the skills he had. Skills he might be tempted to use, with the new boss's permission, of course.

The bus was stopping. He peered through the grime-smeared window and realised it was his stop. Two minutes' walk and he'd be clocking on: talking to the new boss face to face. The nerves were jangling now, but at least he had something to focus on. Something that might pay dividends, if he could make it work.

The arsehole also stood ahead of him. Not much surprise there; Corporation Street was the most popular stop in town. He was probably heading for work at a shop, office, or construction site. Off to work, like Markie himself.

Markie followed the massive back, swung himself off the bus, and glanced at his watch. With five minutes to spare, there was time for a bit of fun. The arsehole was huffing and puffing up the street: past Rackhams, and past where the Old Square subway used to be. Markie could just about remember that, with its weird oval of shops and its threatening air. He'd never worked it himself, but it was where his mum's old dad had learned his trade. A mugger's paradise. Pity they'd filled the tunnels in. He could have used them now.

Traffic lights changed. A crowd of office workers surged across the road and blocked Markie’s view. He panicked. Had he lost the guy? Then he saw the oblong shape, still waddling along the road, heading for the Square Peg pub, which opened all hours and served liquid comfort for those who hated their jobs. Markie had never seen the need. He might be nervous, but he knew he could prove himself without blunting his senses with alcohol.

The bloke pushed through the nearest door. Markie's work was done. Two minutes to spare: just long enough to scarper to the anonymous gym where the new boss waited for him. 

Click. Click-click.

The first day at work was better than Markie had ever hoped. The boss liked him, his enthusiasm, and his skills. And talk about luck. The arsehole had still been in the Square Peg drowning his sorrows when the boss sent someone to check on him. 

They followed him once he left, and wrestled him down some out-of-the-way deserted alley amongst the litter, the trade waste bins, the dog shit, and the rats. Nobody ever went down there, except the bin men on their weekly pick-up trip. What a prize they'd find.

Markie stepped from out of the shadows to where the arsehole knelt. He was a quivering, jelly-like wreck propped between two of the boss's boys, ex-boxers the pair of them. He put up a fight, but they'd got him on his knees.


Markie’s thumb was back in its accustomed place. The spark wheel hit the stone and made a flame. It was a tiny, insignificant thing, but great oaks as they said. Markie knew the damage it could do. He had seen and done it for himself. He held it to the welding torch, and nodded at the boss to turn on the gas. Blue fire shot from the nozzle, sparked and hissed, then steadied itself. It was a joy to watch, pure, deadly, and beautiful.

Markie flipped his goggles down.

The areshole screamed. "No!  You can't!  What have I ever done?"
Markie advanced. The nerves had gone and his adrenaline surged. He loved his work.

"Think you can threaten people smaller than you? Think you can throw your weight around? Pity you didn't think to check who you were dealing with first. Big mistake. Huge."

Liverpool lass Tess is now settled in the far north of England where she roams the fells with a brolly, dreaming up new stories and startling the occasional sheep. Tess writes a distinctive brand of British comédie noir and her short stories have darkened the pages of various anthologies and magazines. Her debut novella, a psychological noir called 'Raise the Blade', is out now from Caffeine Nights Publishing.