MUG’S GAME • by Sarah Hilary

“What’s this, the rumble in the ruddy jungle?” Jackson wasn’t amused. “Can’t you two keep your fists out of each other’s gobs for ten minutes?”

Ray tried to dislodge my heel. The punch I’d thrown had laid him out like a carpet; I’d no trouble keeping him down with my foot in his gut. Jackson jerked his thumb at me. “Off.” I moved and Ray staggered upright, swiping at his mouth. “Bloody lip?” Jackson clicked his tongue. “That’ll teach you to keep it buttoned, won’t it?”

“He started it.” Ray wiped his fingers on his trousers.

“Well boo-bloody-hoo.” Jackson sniffed at him. “Clear off before I add a knuckle-sandwich to whatever Billy here just fed you.”

Ray sloped off, still glaring. I said something self-righteous. Well, you can’t go beating up your cellmates without an excuse. The moral high ground was mine, I’d scaled it, stuck my flag up there–the lot. Jackson shoved the door shut and eyed me with Neanderthal candour. “Are you going to get handy with every bloke in here, or are you trying to make Ray feel special?”

“It’s called testosterone.” I backed off, making room for him in the cell.

He was big, shoulders bunching under the warden’s uniform. He was used to plainclothes, didn’t fit the disguise all that well. He eyed the posters I’d put up, nodding his approval, although the attraction of a tennis player scratching her bum was lost on me. The fetid air made him wrinkle his nose. “Stinks like a whorehouse in here.” Someone stuck his head around the door. “Beat it,” Jackson warned.

I scuffed my shoe at the cement floor. “How much longer, Sarge?”

“You tell me, sunshine. Soon as Raymondo spills the beans, you can start growing your hair, get the tattoo removed.”

I squinted at the ink on my arm. “Can they do that?”

“You’d better bloody hope so, or Her Majesty’s Navy might just claim you for her own.”

The anchor tattoo had been the least of it. Going undercover in this cesspit had meant giving up all manner of comforts, not to mention my privacy, dignity.

“Small price to pay,” Jackson had argued, “to get that bastard in here where he belongs.”

He got to play warden while I was stuck with the role of prisoner. “Privileges of rank,” Jackson called it.

The bastard he was after had evaded arrest for years. Ray was small fry, a bird Jackson hoped to hear sing. That’s why he put me in the same cage, to listen out. So far the only name Ray had let slip was ‘Sophia’, which he liked to groan right around lights-out every night. Just as well. If Ray started whistling the name Jackson was after, I’d be in for a longer stretch than either of us had reckoned on.

When Jackson left, Ray returned, skirting past me to get up into his bunk. “That lardarse giving you a hard time?”

I flexed my fist and told him to shut up.

“Some of the lads reckon Jackson’s The Sid.”

Sid = CID = undercover copper. I made a scoffing sound.

I heard Ray shrugging his shoulders in the bunk above mine. I said, “What’s he undercover for, then?”

“Looking for Mister Big.”

“Give me a break.”

“You’d think it’d be enough for him that he’s got the pair of us slammed up in here,” Ray muttered, fretting at his fly.

God help us, not ‘Sophia, Sophia!’

I was tempted to tell Ray the whole story, just for a laugh. Beat it back out of him afterwards, his head on the tiled wall, nice slice of amnesia to help him keep schtum.

See, Ray doesn’t know that Jackson doesn’t know that I’m the bastard he’s after. You with me so far? Irony being, Jackson may be a lardarse but compared to Raymondo he’s flaming Einstein.

So much for a copper’s instinct.

On the other hand, here I am, exactly where he wants his bastard to be, behind bars, slopping out with the rest of the scum. I have to wonder sometimes if it’s more than irony. Jackson’s got no hard evidence, I know that. Not enough to get me to court. But maybe he knows something.

The bunk above mine starts creaking. No kidding myself; this is Hell. I can’t see a way out, either. If Ray spills the beans–or if I do–things’ll get worse before they get better.

“Sophia…”

What if Jackson knows everything and I’m not undercover at all? What if this was the only way he could be sure of me doing time?

Wouldn’t that be funny?


Sarah Hilary’s dirty secret is safe. For now.


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Every Day Fiction

  • Good work – can’t wait to read your story next month.

  • Thanks, Cate, I’m glad you liked it.

  • M.Sherlock

    Well i dont think i need to go into details…lets face it Sarah you know its all compliments and such anyway.

    I will write a more detailed comment when you actually manage to write a bad story.

    • Well, shucks, M. Sherlock, what can I say? I hate to disappoint my readers and I’d love a detailed comment from you but should I rise to this particular challenge and write something that stinks enough to get your full attention? Hmm…

      • Haha, i do hope i never have to write that very detailed and negative comment….but then again, if you wrote a bad story you would be aiming to do so…so in fact it would be well written.

        I’m creating a paradox here arent i

        • Nice paradox, M! You should turn it into a flash.

  • K.C. Ball

    Nice, Sarah, very nice.

    K.C.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    As always, Sarah – as always 🙂

  • Tracy

    Great story, loved every word.
    Tracy

  • Another Sarah WOW! I particularly like this story because of…
    1)the style: Ray sloped off, still glaring. I said something self-righteous. Well, you can’t go beating up your cellmates without an excuse. The moral high ground was mine, I’d scaled it, stuck my flag up there–the lot. Jackson shoved the door shut and eyed me with Neanderthal candour. “Are you going to get handy with every bloke in here, or are you trying to make Ray feel special?”
    2)the research: SID CID I know you haven’t been in the clink. At least not recently, so I know you worked hard on the authenticity angle.
    3)the structure: a great twist
    4)the milieu: see research.

    • Did I say I loved it? You set the bar, Ms. Hillary.

      • Aw, thanks, chuck. But I think the bar belongs to others, not least yourself with The Breach, still one of my all-time faves from EDF

    • Thanks, Gay! You say the nicest things

  • This is really great!

  • Excellent, Sarah. I absolutely love this–> “eyed me with Neanderthal candour.”

    I love a lot of it. Nice reveal of the twist, nice twist, great writing… It’s a good one.

    • Now I must see if you’ve given away another secret…

    • Cheers, Kevin, you put a big cheesy grin on my face with that feedback.

  • Oh, Sarah! This is great stuff–loved the dialogue. I’d like some more of the same.

    • Thanks, DJ, I really appreciate the enthusiastic response.

  • Top flash Sarah!
    Another winner.

  • mark dalligan

    Good stuff! Great twist.

    Cheers

    Mark

  • That’s delightful. Excellent work.

  • jumbo

    Great writing Sarah!
    Wonderful stuff.
    John

  • Anne-Elisabeth Moutet

    Perfect circle and perfect misdirection. I love the way the title can apply to all three of them. And vivid atmosphere, caught like a glimpse of a sharp-edged realistic noir movie scene.

    • Thank you, A-E. I’m so glad you said that about the title and the misdirection, as I worked hard at the latter and changed the former about three times before I settled on Mug’s Game. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Lisa

    I’m always stunned at how you manage to cram so many twist and turns into so few words. Made me gasp at the end. Brilliant stuff. You have single-handedly got me hooked on flash. Well, you and Neil Gaiman, for different reasons.

  • Thanks, Lisa, and I’m chuffed to be mentioned in the same breath as Neil Gaiman. You’ve made my morning.

  • Rosie de la Mare

    Fantastic Sarah and what a brilliant twist.
    Best,
    Rosie

  • Thanks, Rosie!

  • Justine

    Sarah, it’s a very fine line between making a twist too obvious or too subtle, and you are right on the knife edge! Perfect!

    “The moral high ground was mine, I’d scaled it, stuck my flag up there – the lot.” — my favourite bit.

    • Thanks, Justine! I worried about exactly that fine line you describe, so it’s a relief to know it worked for you. And that line was my favourite, too, so thanks again.

  • jennifer walmsley

    Great story. Excellent twist. Could almost smell them.

    Jennifer

    • Thanks, Jennifer, that’s great feedback. I hope the smell has faded for you now!