The Spoils of War

Lance Corporal Jack Shaw is discharged from the Army after extended tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. He returns to his birthplace of Bradford where he meets Parminder Sherwani in a local bar. Parminder's an attractive, confident University student who's not adverse to a bit of fun.

To date, Jack has 100% record with Asian women. They can never say no to him, but then again Jack's always been a soldier, and soldiers carry guns.

The relationship gets off to a flying start and it seems romance in the air but when Jack's physical advances are met with resistance, the result is serious conflict.

Parminder claims she was raped. Her comments go viral on Twitter. Parminder's brother and his friends hunt down Jack and beat him half to death, leaving him wheel-chair bound. Bradford quickly finds itself reliving the riots of 2001; Asian gangs and students are fighting the English Defence League on the streets.

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3. 3

CHAPTER THREE

 

Sauce for the Goose, (Bar) Bradford Town Centre

 

Parminder's head bobbed as she chewed the top of the polystyrene cup containing her latte. The bobbing stopped, abruptly. She focussed on her laptop screen. "Shut up!" Her eyes scanned the text whilst her face contorted into various pictures of discomfort. "Complete rubbish!" She set the cup down in apparent disgust. "You dunno what you're talking about. Richard-the-third was not Shakespeare's greatest villain," she said, reaching across the table for her iPad. "Iago made Richard look like a saint."

The bartender turned from the adjacent table. "Talking to your electrical appliances again?" He observed her iPhone, iPad, and laptop, together with various chargers and adapters littering the table.

The Asian girl appeared to ignore him. The head resumed bobbing for a few seconds then suddenly stopped again. "You're talking complete shit!"

The barman pulled one of her earphones out. "Mindy, you're shouting again."

"Sorry," Parminder apologised, completely removing her earphones. "Who writes these revision notes? They're complete bollocks."

"Americans, probably."

Parminder checked the address bar. "You're right. It's a dotcom. That'd make sense. What would Americans know about Shakespeare?"

"Who cares about Iago?" The bartender shrugged. "I'll take a villainous dick any day of the week."

She laughed. "Stephan, you are one sad individual."

"I'd rather be sad than lonely, my pretty. . . . Where's your friend today? – the big-boned girl with the bad hair and dodgy skin, the one with whitegirl problems."

Parminder chewed on her lip to avoid laughing. "Emily said if she's not here by six-thirty she wasn't coming."

"Sweetheart." The bartender checked his watch. "Six-thirty was twenty minutes ago. You've been stood up, my little buttercup." He raised her cup. "Another?"

"No, thanks." Parminder reached and tied her hair into a pony-tail. "I'm going to finish up and get out of your way before the buffalo turn up."

"They'll be hours yet. It'll be dead in here 'til about nine. Then your lot will turn up."

The Asian girl raised her eyebrows sharply. "Your lot?"

The bartender grinned. "Yeah, your lot, my pretty.  The great unwashed . . . bloody students."

"Oh."

"Are you coming in tonight? The £1 shots will be flowing."

"I should take the opportunity. . .  Rosie's away all week. So I can go out to play secure in the knowledge that my housemate's not going to spread details of my private business all around campus. She needs to learn; what happens in the house stays in the house. Anyway, no. I'm not coming out tonight. I can't. I'm knackered. I'm skint, and I've got a shit-load of work to do."

"True . . . you can't party, party, party 24-7. So, more caffeine, my pretty?"

"No, like you just reminded me – I'm a student. I didn't saddle myself with a lifetime of debt just so I could finance this place by drinking your overpriced shitty coffee."

Stephan turned over his bottom lip. "But sweetie, it's so dead in here. There's just us chickens - you and me. Don't leave me all alone. Keep me company."

"No. I really should go home."

"But why? You look perfectly at home, perched up there on that stool. You look like a little baby gnome in a high-chair."

Parminder shot him a look of contempt. "A gnome?"

"Oh, look." He pointed to floor by the table. "It's a sign, especially for you."

Parminder leaned forward, stretching as far as she could across the table, a coin lay on the floor. "That's not really going to help my situation."

"You know what they say; find a penny, pick it up . . ."

"And all day long I'll have good luck."  She dismounted the stool, retrieved the shiny penny and tossed to the bartender. "I didn't find it, you did. Besides, I'm in such a bad place right now, the only way is up."

"Sweetheart, bless your little cotton socks." He encased her hand with his. "How about I buy you a coffee? How about that?"

"Stephan, you're not going to buy me a coffee. You're going to give me a coffee without putting it through the till – it's called stealing."

"I'll steal you a coffee, then." He scurried away, pausing by the toilet door. "I need a quick pee, first. Keep a look out."

"Don't be long." She hopped back onto her stool, and resumed her research.

The main doors swung open. A burly young man entered and headed toward the bar. He waited a few moments before calling out. "Shop!"

Parminder slid down from her perch and approached the visitor. "Hold on. He won't be a few minutes. He's just . . ." She gestured towards the men's room. "You know."

"Okay, thanks," said the visitor, surveying the room. "Say, does it get any more lively in this bar?"

"No, you won't see anybody in here 'til later. It'll be like a morgue until around nine-ish." She steered him in the of direction the 'Student Night' poster. "And then it becomes the most liveliest bar of all."

"Nobody comes in this early?"

"Not a soul."

"Ah!" he replied. "But I'm guessing you're obviously not a nobody, and you have a soul."

"Maybe."

"So, what brings you to this place, at this hour?"

"I'm supposed to be studying." She pointed over to the table strewn her paraphernalia. "It's quieter than the library, less messy than my house, and there's free Wi-fi, so we hang out in here sometimes, but my study partner hasn't turned up. So, today, I look like Billy Nomates."

"Nah, Billy Nomates is nowhere near as good looking as you."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

"What are you? . . ."

Stephan returned. "I feel so much better for that."

"Nice meeting you." Parminder said her goodbyes. She backed away, offering him a cute little wave before returning to her table where she commenced packing away her work.

"What can I get you, sir?" said the bartender.

"Budweiser," replied the customer, still watching Parminder. "And whatever the lady wants."

"Parminder!" Stephan's raised voice echoed across the empty bar. "This poor, misguided gentleman is under the illusion that you are a lady. He wants to buy you a drink."

She smiled at the guest. "Thanks, but I'm gonna go." Her eyes lingered whilst checking him out. "Another time, perhaps?"

"Mindy, my pretty." Stephan bellowed across the bar. "What have I told you about early birds and worms?" He took a bottle of Budweiser and a bottle of Blue WKD from the glass-fronted fridges, snapped the tops off, and set them down in front of the customer. "Ignore her. I always do. She's playing hard to get – it's so seventies . . . Eight pounds, please."

"I'm off worms. They are not nice creatures." Parminder zipped up her bag. "I really should go."

"But that'd be rude," said Stephan.

The student ambled over to the bar, her wide smile revealing strong white teeth. "I'd really hate to be rude. That sort of reputation can seriously tarnish a girl," she said, taking up the bottle.

The bartender giggled. "You, girlfriend, are way past tarnished."

"Piss off." Parminder turned her back to Stephan in favour of the customer. "Thanks. Cheers." She touched her bottle against his.

"No problem. I'm glad of the company."

The student took a healthy swig of the blue beverage. "I'm Parminder, by the way."

"I'm Jack."

"And I'm a gooseberry. Shout me when you want a refill." The barman disappeared into the kitchen.

Jack leaned forward to whisper. "Is that guy some kind of shirt-lifter?"

"Is the Pope Catholic?"

"And nobody around here gives him any trouble?"

"Why would they?"

Jack pursed his lips. "A lot of things have changed around here."

Parminder installed herself onto a bar-stool. "So, Jack, what brings you to this den of iniquity?"

"Just re-acquainting myself with the Bradford scene. I ain't been around for a while."

"Why?" She laughed. "Where have you been, in prison?"

"I've just finished a long tour."

"You've been on tour? Are you a rock star or something? Should I know who you are?"

"No, I was in the Army."

"Oh, right." Parminder reached across the bar and helped herself to a straw. "A soldier?"

"Do you have a problem with that?"

"No, not really - each to their own. At least it's a job."

"It is, that."

"I suppose it's better than being a musician. I swear I'll never date a musician. . . not that I have any intention of dating you, I might add, but who knows . . . the night's still young." She pulled the straw out of the empty bottle. "It's a shame I have to leave, because it had a lot of potential."

"Then why end it?"

"Because I've got to go," she insisted. "Hey, tell you what, give me your number. I'll call you."

He raised his eyebrows. "Will you?"

"Yes, I promise."

"But I shouldn't hold my breath, right?"

"For fuck's sake." She sighed. "Mr Action Man, I'm not normally this forward but I'll give you my number so you can call me. Does that work for you?" She took her phone from her pocket. "And just so you know I'm not giving you some bogus number, I'll prank you – what's your number?"

He shrugged. "I don't know."

"What do you mean, you don't know?"

"I don't know what my number is."

"Yeah, right." Parminder scowled. "Oh, it's like that is it? You want my number but I can't get yours. I might ring you when you're at home with wifey and the kids." She slipped off the stool and turned to leave. "Find yourself a hood-rat coz that ain't me. That's not how I roll."

"Wait. Don't leave." Jack reached out and grabbed her arm. "It's not like anything. I don't know my number." He pulled a very new, very shiny phone from his inside pocket. "And I don't know how to get it."

"Ouch! What do you think you're doing?" Parminder glared at his hand on her arm. "Let go of me."

"Sorry." He released her from his grip.

Stephan reappeared. "Is everything okay, my lovelies?"

Parminder rubbed her arm whilst she thought. "Everything's just fine."

"Sure?"

"Sure, I'm sure. It's all good."

"Okay, if you need me. I won't be far away, just holler." Stephan proceeded to hover, polishing fixtures that he'd polished not half-an-hour ago.

"Give it here!" Parminder snatched the phone from Jack's hand. "Dimwit."  She frowned as she examined the phone. "First, it probably helps if you switch the thing on."

"I thought it was on."

Her fingers tapped rapidly on the touch-screen. "There's your number. . . see. . . and  . . . There you go – done. I've put my number in."

"Oh, right, cheers . . . And how do I save that?"

Parminder leaned tight into him to share a view of the screen. "You could try pressing where it says save to contacts."

"Oh, sorry. I didn't see that."

"What planet did you say you came from?"

Jack took a moment to savour her feminine odour. "I only got this thing this morning. One more question. If I want to find your number again, how do I do it?"

"You're not going to do it by sniffing my hair – weirdo!" Parminder studied his face momentarily before bursting into laughter. "Lighten up, soldier boy. I'm just fucking with your karma."

"I wasn't sniffing your hair . . . you just smell . . . nice. I like your perfume."

"I'm not wearing any perfume." She untied her hair, brought a silky black lock around to her nose, and shiffed. "I smell of Tescos Rinse and Go Conditioner. Perhaps I should have done more rinsing before I did the going part."

"None of this shows me how to retrieve your number."

"You're unreal. Have you been lost in the rainforest for the last twenty years?"

"Kabul for three; Basra for two, but no, I've pretty much avoided rain forests."

"Seriously? You've been away for five solid years?"

He nodded.

"Don't you get holidays in the Army, or, what do you call it? . . . Leave."

"Of course, but what's the point of coming back here. There's nothing here for me."

"Whatever." She proceeded to work through the menus on the phone. "Look." She pointed at the screen. "That's me, Parminder. If you want to call me, press here. If you want to text me, use that button. Email . . ."

Jack yawned and signalled for two more drinks.

"Pay attention!" Parminder continued. "Facebook is here. The like buttons are self explanatory. If you want to follow tweets . . ."

"Tweets?"

"Yeah, tweets. Twitter. . . . You really need to set this phone up properly." She hopped back onto the stool as Stephan served the drinks. "What's your email address?" she asked before taking a swig from the bottle.

"Erm . . ."

"Never mind." She continued to tap away at the screen.

Jack watched her perfectly manicured, clear-coated nails dance their way around the phone's screen.

 

Within twenty minutes Parminder had registered a new email account for Jack, made him a new member of every social media site, and downloaded every app she felt appropriate. "There you go." She returned his phone. "You are a fully fledged member of modern society. Now I've got to go – call me."

"Don't go."

"I have to go." She placed the empty bottle on the counter. "I feel drunk already. I'm going to go home and get something to eat. We can do something tomorrow night, if you like."

He smiled. "But we're here now."

"I'll give you good points for tenacity. You're like a bloody dog with a Frisbee. But you're not going to win this battle, soldier. I'm going home. I'm starving." She slung her bag over her shoulder.

"Wait." He barred her exit. "If you're hungry, I can get you something to eat."

She laughed, and touched his arm. "I wasn't hinting."

"I didn't think you were. I'm hungry too."

"I'm not really big on take-away food . . . " Parminder puffed out her cheeks. "Okay, your call." She took a menu from the bar, and quickly scanned through it. "Get me some chicken goujons with Mexican salsa dip, and I'll stay for another drink. But I warn you, whatever ideas, plans, or schemes you've got going on inside that head – forget it. It's not gonna happen, not tonight."

"Mexican salsa?"

"Yeah, Mexican. Problem?"

"No. It's just not what I expected. You don't look like a Mexican salsa type of a girl." He took the menu from her hand and began to read. "I'm intrigued. Where do you come from?"

"Bradford," she replied.

He rolled his eyes. "Before that?"

"Wolverhampton," she offered. "I was born in Wolverhampton. We moved up here when I was four."

"No, I mean . . . where do you originate from?"

"I knew exactly what you meant. I was just fucking with you. My parents come from Pakistan. And just for the record, I've never been to Pakistan and have no plans to go there – ever."

Jack discarded the menu.

"Nothing you fancy?"

He offered her a cheeky grin and a flick of the eyebrows. "Not on the menu, no."

"Down, boy." She wagged a finger.

Stephan continued about his duties, however, as promised he kept a watchful eye on Parminder as he unloaded the glasswasher. Cupid's struck a bullseye. Still watching, he carried the cradle of clean glasses toward the shelves. I bet they're going to kiss. Not looking where he was going, he tripped over the broom he'd left out earlier. The tray of glasses went flying, smashing into the stainless steel sink.

This woman is so beautiful. Jack caught himself staring into the depths of Parminder's brown eyes. Then came the mighty crash. Incoming! He hurled himself to the floor, grabbing Parminder on the way down, covering her body with his.

Stephan leaned over the bar and peered at the two of them on the floor. "Sorry, my bad." He shrugged before proceeding to sweep up the broken glass.

Jack rolled away and let Parminder up. "Sorry, force of habit. Over there . . . "

Parminder straightened her attire. "It takes more than one drink, you know."

Stephan stopped sweeping momentarily. "Mindy, you've had two," he teased.

"Excuse me." Jack's eyes found the toilet door. "I won't be long. I don't know why I drink Budweiser. It goes straight through me."

Stephan waited for the toilet door to close before edging close to Parminder. "Find a penny, pick it up . . . It seems like you're luck's in. You've pulled, my pretty."

"Some girls say they want to be swept off their feet. Is that what they mean?"

"Poppet, he's as rough and ready as they come – get in there!"

"Don't even go there. I'm not on that mission. I'm going home in a bit – alone."

Stephan rubbed his hands together. "What a waste. That soldier could unload his weapon into me – any time."

Parminder laughed. "Try your luck. I'll nip off and leave you two alone."

The toilet door opened. Jack marched toward Parminder. "You're hungry, right?"

She didn't have to time respond.

"Come on, love." He took her hand. "I'm sure we can do a bit better than this crap. There must be a decent restaurant somewhere around here."

Parminder stood fast, and looked down to her feet. "You need to give me a minute."

On seeing her fluffy pink slippers, Jack spat a laugh. "What on earth have you got on your feet?"

She pulled the slippers off and wiggled her toes. "What? I came here to study not to socialise. I can't concentrate if I'm not comfortable," she said, reaching into her bag and taking out a pair of black pumps and some lip gloss.

"What else is in that bag? You seem prepared for every eventuality."

"I'm prepared for most things." She glanced down to the spot where they'd been on the floor. "The rugby tackle – that was a new one."

"Sorry."

"Right, I'm good to go."

"Where we off to then?" said Jack, still smiling.

"No idea."

"I love Italians," offered Stephan. "Mario's is across the road. It's bloody expensive but their carbonara is luscious – absolutely to die for."

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