HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for The Brutal Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website.

Keep an eye on our social media for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release of The Brutal Issue…

Just a Game

Jake Kendall


To pull up on a Saturday morning wasn’t suspicious in itself. The busier periods genuinely require extra drivers at the weekends. But still, they were dependant on luck. If today’s guard was the fastidious type and checked the recent orders, their lie would be exposed; the cover story would then have to be used, written down and recorded for the bosses to see on Monday.
Sid would be the worst-case scenario: that wide eyed bastard checked every detail, crossed every T, and challenged every statement – like a man hoping for confrontation and arguments. Ryan would be the best bet: well-meaning, docile, and basically lazy. Chances are Ryan wouldn’t even look up long from whatever film he was streaming at the time.
They ended up with neither, but the on-duty guard was still a reassuring sight.
Today’s guard, Bryan, had a healthy attitude towards monitoring a site of little real importance and where incidents were few and far-between. Generally if everything appeared to be correct, Bryan would assume it was so. Equally, Bryan had a reputation as someone capable of smiling and joking: making him one of only a few security guards on earth who hadn’t formed their social skills in a simmering cauldron of truculence and personal failures.
As he approached, Paul noticed Bryan was eating a supermarket pasty and reading the sports pages of a red top. He remembered Bryan’s car and the bumper stickers that had told him all those years ago that they were on the same side. For a moment it seemed tempting to tell Bryan why he was really there; he might even see the pure necessity of their mission, perhaps side with them enough even to erase the CCTV footage of their coming and going.
But no, the fewer people who knew about this, the better. That was for sure.
With a security guard, or policeman, it is always best to start the conversation – establish a human connection, and to lead the suspicious types away from the prying tendencies that must come as part of the job.
           ’Alright Bryan, mate, I see we both drew the short one this weekend.’
           ‘Aye. It would seem so.’ Bryan wasn’t in a friendly mood and started reaching for his incident report.
With no other choice, Paul had to go straight for the emotional jugular. ‘Of all the days to pull a shift though, we’re set to miss the big one – home against Wanderers. Reckon we’ll do it?’
           Bryan dropped everything to look upwards, perhaps hoping for some sign in the sky. Finding none he reluctantly uttered the blasphemy they had all felt for weeks now and dared not utter. ‘Not a chance, mate. I want to keep faith, but with Bell’s form and all…’
           ‘Oh, I don’t know – he’s still got the legs of a man half his age – just a pity they belong to Augustus Gloop.’
Bryan cracked a smile. Good. We need that goodwill; that tribal affinity fully recognised in order to grant stage two.
           ‘Anyway, Bry – kick off’s at three, reckon you could do me a solid and wave me through quick enough to maybe catch the second half?’
           ‘Rather you than me, mate. Tell you the truth, work or no I’ve stopped going.’ Bryan muttered as he began hitting the barrier release button.
           ‘That’s a sound choice, probably, for a healthy mind. Me, I’m a bit into the kinky stuff and on balance the season ticket works out a little cheaper than the Dominatrix – and I need regular humiliation myself.’
           Bryan chuckled as he waved the van through.
The warehouse by Bay 17 was the best of all Paul had access to. He knew it inside out and was reassured by its thick walls, distance from the gates and, most promising of all, the multiple blind spots to hide from the cameras.
Paul pulled up so that the rear of the van faced the warehouse door. There were no cameras at the front of this one, and the nearest exterior camera would be obscured by the front end of the van. Paul disembarked and made a show of ostensibly checking his tires, while in reality he listened and glanced around for signs that there might be anyone else on site. Satisfied with the heavy silence, Paul took out his keys and unlocked the warehouse door before hitting the button to raise up the shutter. He did not need to check where the camera was but compulsion drove his eye nervously up anyway: sitting there at the back left corner, it was static and fixed onto the centre of the warehouse. Experience had shown that virtually all the edges were blind spots but no more so than the front left corner. He reassured himself further, all footage is silent. They proved this theory daily by singing ‘Sid’s a prick, Sid’s a prick, Sid’s a prick’. Nothing had ever come of it.
Paul left the warehouse, checked his watch – 13.18. Most days it took him 20 minutes to load his van, so out by quarter too to avoid suspicion. He took a deep breath and threw open the van.
           ‘Take your bloody time, mate!’ Greg was angry. As careful as Paul had made the drive, standing freely in the back wasn’t a pleasant experience at the best of times.
           ‘Sorry, mate, had to look around first – can’t be too careful.’
           ‘Where’re we taking him?’
           ‘Just in here, be careful though. Keep hugging the wall, left hand corner. Do. Not. Stray near the centre.’
           Greg grimly nodded and grabbed one end of the chair; Paul tried not to look too closely at the man bound up in it or listen to his muffled protestations as he took the other.
           ‘Right now, lift, quick. Do you want to go backwards? No, OK I’ll go… mind him, mind him, there we are. Quick now, along this wall…’
           The two of them rested their captive right against the corner and stood, partially catching their breath, partially surveying what they had just done. Greg dropped his eyes and murmured, ‘Reckon we should to speak to him?’
           Paul rubbed one hand across his brow and thought about it, the man nodded vigorously, eyes open wide pleading to get across his point of view. ‘Well, OK then. It’s gonna be difficult but we probably owe him that.’
Paul moved back to the entrance and bought the shutters back down. He tried his best to quell the stuttering in his voice as shouted over the noise. ‘It’s just us here I’m afraid, no one else works weekends. So don’t go screaming the place down, just stay calm, keep things dignified, OK?’
           Greg waited for him to return before moving his hands round to the back of the man’s head to loosen the makeshift gag. Both of them expected a barrage of screams, shouts, and abuse and winced momentarily. But the man just sat staring wide–eyed; as only a man expecting a very different day could. After long seconds the man started nervously.
‘Look, I don’t know who you are, in fact, I don’t care, but I reckon you know who I am and you think I’m worth a few quid. Well, yeah a bit, but not as much as you’re probably thinking. I reckon I could get you two hundred and – twenty though? If you just let me go. I can give you my wife’s number; she’ll wire it over to whatever account you’ve got going….’
The man tailed off, aware of the stony-faced silence his offer was getting.
‘Honestly, guys, I shit you not, that’s the best I can cough up.’
‘I believe you, mate. We don’t want your money, some things just don’t have a price, do they? Yes, I do know who you are: you’re Mike Bell, captain of Boston Athletic, played your three hundred and sixty third appearance for the club last Sunday – a shocking 5-1 defeat to Wolves; club all-time top scorer with a solid 168. Personal best season 10/11, with 31 beautiful goals: those were premiership numbers right? You had Villa sniffing after you, but you turned them down. Was that loyalty for us? I sometimes wondered if you weren’t holding out for a better offer…if so, that never came. The goals dried up after that year, didn’t they? Here we are now, January, and you’ve got two goals, one assist for us this season. But you’re a club icon now, took the captaincy from Tom Jowett when he stepped down. Course I know who you are. I’ve spent years of my life watching you play mate, you’re a hero of mine.’
Greg nodded in agreement. ‘Aye. Fucking legend.’
Mike looked from Paul to Greg and back again.
‘Well, lads, what is this then? You can’t just…look, I was only out to the shops, if you wanted to meet under…better circumstances there were ways we could organise it. But look, you know I should be at the stadium now, they’ll be looking for me.’
Paul felt his bottom lip tremble. ‘You aren’t playing today, mate. See we saw you alright, wondered how many opportunities like this a person gets.’
‘Opportunities? What do you mean – why the fuck did you shove me in your van? Why am I here tied to this fucking…chair?!’
‘Remember March third last year? Remember that cross Bavitz put in for you? You would’ve made that run in your prime, got us the three points.’
‘Yeah,’ Greg chipped in, the lump in his throat audible too. ‘How about the penalty you missed November 12th?’
‘September 26th 2009, that slip.’
‘October 4th 2012. Gave away the ball leading to a counter, we lost 2-1. You didn’t even seem to care.’
‘2011 – handball, penalty, loss.’
‘2008 – transfer request – to FUCKING WANDERERS!’
They were crying at that point, all three in floods. Greg’s voice had broken so badly that it sounded like a pubescent break. Instinct took over Paul and he hugged his friend, supporting him before his knees gave way.
‘I’m sorry, lads,’ Mike whispered. ‘I’m sorry for the mistakes, but there were more good times than bad. Everyone ages, everyone declines, even the best. It’s just natural.’
‘Aye – and no one’s blaming you, Mike. As I said, you’re a legend. The club, man, it’s your life – that’s how it should be – more important than a marriage, right? Like a marriage, you got to take the rough with the smooth; forgive each other our trespasses, that sort of thing.’
‘Exactly, so why don’t we just agree to go our separate ways and no more about it then, eh?’
Paul shook his head. ‘You don’t get it mate; in this scenario, Athletics’ my wife, not you. With respect to who you are and what you were – it’s no longer what she needs… You’re a favourite dress she once looked her best in. But you’re old, the colour is gone, there’s too much wear and tear… You – you’re for the bin.’
‘You want me to retire? Fine, end of the season, I’ll do it, I promise. As you say, the best days are behind me anyway.’
‘Not that, mate, not that. We came within an inch of relegation last year, that’s two on the trot, we’re on course for another and my heart can’t take it again. Look, I make it January for two more weeks. We need a new striker. We get one now it’s enough to turn the season around, maybe.’
Greg walked a little distance over to a rucksack he had discarded on entering. Covering his eyes and sobbing he pushed it over to them.
‘What are you doing? What’s in the bag?’
‘They won’t let you retire mid-season, same as they’re never going to drop an icon like you mate – whenever you’re available you play, that’s true ‘til the day you’re gone. They won’t want to fork out for a new striker either, that’s the last resort for the club. So we’ve got to force them. Sorry. This is for the good of Athletic.’
Paul produced a claw hammer from the rucksack and let out a heavy sigh.
Finally, Mike started screaming – ‘HELP, THIS GUY’S A FUCKING PSYCHOPATH…. Mate… IT’S JUST A GAME’.
Sid was always antagonistic to Paul and all his mates. But then, wouldn’t you make your colleagues lives harder when all you heard from them every day was them singing abusive songs about you?
Athletic finished bottom of their division that season without winning another match; the atmosphere at the club becoming so miasmic that many players and boardroom staff started running for the exits. But, despite it all, from his jail cell Paul would come to think of Mike Bell’s final words as the biggest disappointment of his year.

JAKE KENDALL writes sad jokes and nonsense from his hometown of Oxford. His writing can be found in Here Comes Everyone, Burning House Press, Idle Ink, Coffin Bell Journal, the Mechanics Institute Review and the Cabinet of Heed. His twitter is @jakendallox