How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 8

McNair enjoyed propping up the bar in some of the pubs in the Haymarket and Tynecastle areas of Edinburgh. It was very much Hearts’ territory and he enjoyed it when fans came up to him in the pub and started to talk to him about some happy memory of his playing days in maroon. Tonight was one such evening as he lined up another pint of heavy for himself and one for his new-found friend in the Athletic Arms which was known locally as Diggers.

His drinking buddy rambled on about the good old days when they won the league and cup thanks to that young Bradley Gardner. Shame he had to move on, but that sell-on clause when he transferred from Arsenal to Barcelona certainly came in handy and his legacy meant that Hearts would be a major contender in the league and in Europe. They even got a new stadium out of it.

The mere mention of Bradley’s name normally got McNair’s hackles up, especially after he got the finger recently. Not wishing to upset his friend, he joined in with the praise of Tynecastle’s prodigal son, and even told him what a lovely boy he was and what an honour it was to play in the same team as him. His friend was really impressed that McNair was still good friends with Bradley and they had only spoke just the other day.

After a couple of hours of listening to the Bradley Gardner Appreciation Society, McNair decided it might be time to go so he drank up, shook the guy’s hand and walked out into the cold December air. He could walk back from there, or he could get a taxi into town to see what was happening there. In the end, he decided to grab a large doner kebab and walk home eating it, trying not to let the grease dribble down his sleeve.

Walking the mile or so home gave him the chance to think about how he was going to get Bradley to get some information for him. By the time he arrived at his door, doner grease down his arm and chilli sauce on his shirt, he still hadn’t come up with anything other than kidnapping one of his family. He’d leave those sort of tactics to McInally, he thought as he put the key in the lock.

Once inside, he pulled another beer from the fridge, removed his shoes and slumped on the sofa. On a whim, he decided to call Bradley’s number and try to soften him up. There was no answer and his call went straight to voicemail. Oh well, he thought. It was Christmas and he was probably taking time off from football. He had heard about the injury he picked up against Las Palmas and was monitoring the situation closely in case he was going to miss a couple of games for Barcelona. Once he learned it wouldn’t he looked up the next weekend’s list of games and worked on another list of winning bets for McInally. He probably shouldn’t do it after eight pints of heavy as it could cloud his judgement, that’s what that Bradley would tell him when he lectured him about not drinking. Sod him, he thought, as he got his laptop out.

Traditionally, the Boxing Day games threw up quite a few upsets which meant McNair would have to be on his game this time if he didn’t want to upset McInally. After a couple of hours deliberating and researching, he came up with four banker bets for him. Not as good odds as the previous week’s winners, but decent, nonetheless. He called McInally to impart his wisdom but got no reply so he had to leave another voicemail message.

He went online to his William Hill account and placed his bets in another £1 Yankee before getting himself another beer from the fridge. That’s unusual, he thought. McInally always answered his phone, even on Christmas Day. Maybe he was away somewhere and he hadn’t told anyone. As far as he knew, McInally had no close family as they had all disowned him years ago. All he had was his two goons, Marek and Ludo who were like sons to him and he trusted them implicitly. He had other staff at his more legitimate business ventures like the biggest taxi firm in Edinburgh where he employed ten office staff and almost two hundred drivers catering for the minicab trade as well as limousines and weddings. McInally had done well out of these operations, but he always wanted more. He always said the big money was to be found doing business ‘off piste’ as he called it. That included bookmaking primarily, but there were also rumours that McInally was a bit of a drugs baron and people smuggler; both lucrative, but highly dangerous areas to be in. It was easy to make enemies who were nastier than him. And that was nasty.

McNair logged off once he’d placed his bets and put the TV on the Sports News channel. It was on mainly to hear another voice in his empty house, but also because he was interested in finding out if there were any last minute injuries to take into account. It was a pretty slow day as it was Christmas so he left the bets as they were and tried McInally once more. This time, he got an answer.

‘Happy Christmas, Kevin. Hope you are having a wonderful time surrounded by family and friends, haha!’ McInally teased, knowing full well that McNair didn’t have a close family or loads of friends he could get together with.

‘Same to you, Mr McInally. I suppose you’re surrounded by love ones as well.’ He replied somewhat sarcastically.

McInally laughed again. ‘I’m spending it with the people who mean the most to me – Me!’ He replied. ‘What have you got for me this week?’

McNair gave him the run down on his latest predictions and wished him luck. Every week was going to be like this and it scared McNair a lot. He was going to have to come up with some winners as the consequences of backing losing bets didn’t bear thinking about. Still, he was good at this so he shouldn’t worry too much. There were bound to be the odd result that went the wrong way, surely McInally realised that he wasn’t going to get 100% every week.

He switched his attention back to the TV, flicking through the hundreds of channels looking for something to interest him, and falling asleep on the sofa somewhere near channel 249.

Waking up the next morning in the same position, clinging on to the remote with greasy kebab dribble and beer on his chin, he rubbed his head and pulled himself up from the sofa and stretched, clicking his arthritic bones awake for the new day.

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