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.


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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