‘You’ll never guess who the Rhetor was?’ Jaz says to Rab. Despite the dim light, Jaz had recognized Chief Inspector Collins at once. He was a tall man, thin as a cut blade of grass. He had an ungainly gait and a policeman’s kisser more horsey nose than face. He’d loped towards him out of the darkness towards the table and picked up a pair of leather gloves and put them on. He wore a different uniform. A white leather apron covered most of his chest and part of his legs. A necklace with strange symbols hung around his neck, but it was difficult to see because above it a white ruffle from antiquity lit up his long chin.
‘Fuck knows,’ says Rab. ‘I got wee McGrorty.’ He laughs. They both had known years ago as the school janitor and he was never off their back for fighting or spitting or defacing school property. None of which they’d claimed to be guilty of. Rab perches his bum against the bar, a half finished pint of Tennent’s lager at his elbow, an Embassy Regal dangling from his bottom lip peering through layers of grey fag smoke winding and drifting up to the lights and high ceilings. Everything in the hall, the carpet on the floor, the tables and chairs merge into the darker wood tones of old dressing tables. He felt the spreading warmth of three pints and whisky chaser spreading through his body and needs more. The colour comes from the two barmaids laughing behind the bar. One of them is matronly, not worth looking at, the other sparkling with red hair, red lips painted on and a ready smile catches the eye and it’s her he wants to serve them when some other mug orders them a round of drinks. It’s a place they are childishly familiar with, but not to stand shoulder to shoulder, and have a beer with other, older, wiser men, who share a common secret and bond to change the world for the better. The bar extends into two large halls, separated by a plasterboard walls. Near the double doors, standing at a table by himself is Billy the Bouncer that worked up the town. He is Rab’s uncle, around fifty, with a baldy heady and fat gut looking across at the snooker tables, anxious that no one should skip on before him. He sees his nephew looking and nods in acknowledgement. He’s wearing his uniform of crumpled white shirt, flared black trousers and black brogues. All of his stories revolved around who he had battered and who he was shagging, but he had never married and Rab had never seen him with a woman.
Although Sammy has disappeared into one of the rooms for a meeting they know several members who shake their hand and buy them drinks because they’ve been newly initiated. The hall is the size of a football pitch, most of the men squeeze into the last third near the bar, waiting for the last bell. Members change out of their Masonic robes and their dour expression lighten, like Superman rippling and reshaped in an American phone box from billowing cape and costume into everyday attire, some of the more senior Masons change into smart suits and expensive shirts and ties. Others into denim and donkey jackets with patches on the sleeve. Up above and below, to the right and left Masons and their guests met in secret and not so secret rooms. The bar is the right spot to lean or stand or sit and have a smoke and a laugh, talk about football, and the Rangers, and to hold forth with a pint and half and get bevvied.
Jaz is drunker than Rab and he sniggers. ‘That stupid cunt Collins asked me “what do you seek from us? Wisdom? Virtue or enlightenment?” I mean, I didnae know what he was talking about. I just said, “aye, mate,” which worked a treat.’
‘Fuckin’ hell man,’ Rab says. ‘That bastard wee McGrorty gave me it tight. It was as if we were back at school and he was accusing me of having pulled the sinks from the wall in the toilet. “Whit is your conception of Freemasonary?” he asked.’ I nearly burst out laughing, because all I could think of was The Three Musketeers and I said, “one for one, and one for all”. But the wee cunt quite liked that. But never cracked a light. He cleared his throat and crossed his gloved hands over his chest before giving a big spiel about the chief aim of the Order. And how the foundation rested, or could not rest on any human power, but the fate of mankind depended on us.’
Jaz slaps his pal on the back and takes a spill of his pint drinking it down to the dregs. Another pint waiting. ‘That’s the last fuckin’ thing I need, is the fate of fuckin’ mankind depending on the likes of you.’ He picks up another pint from the bar and starts drinking. The stout barmaid touches him on the arm and points to two old men playing dominoes a few tables away. ‘They bought you a round,’ she says. Jaz grins and holds his hand up in acknowledgement when the one wearing a rain mac looks over. He turns to Rab, ‘Collins whittered on some shite about seven virtues corresponding to the seven steps of Solomon’s temple. And he told me them, but I forgot them right away. But come to think of it, he did mention “generosity”.’ When the other domino player looks over Jaz holds his pint up in acknowledgement. ‘The only virtues I know are gettin’ bevied and gettin’ my hole.’
‘C’mon,’ says Rab. ‘You must remember “The Love of Death”. Even I remember that wan.’
‘Oh, aye, I remember that alright. But it wisnae my death I was thinkin’ about.’ He turns and looks at Rab. ‘You know what I mean?’
He leans across and whispers. ‘Whit about they guns you’re da was talkin’ about?’
Rab splutters into his pint, held his hand up. ‘Sshh, don’t talk about it here. Walls have ears.’
‘Fuck off,' says Jaz. ‘You’ve been watchin’ too much fuckin’ telly.’