Awash with pints and halfs and even mouth puckering gin, with a slice of lemon and whisky in the same glass. Cocktails of his own devising. His day is marked by rhythms of liquor’s licensing hours and Jaz stumbles out of Maggie Scott’s into stinging afternoon sunlight and he’s thinking ahead and The Pine Trees hotel and the extra two hours of freedom to drink that gives him. But he needs his bed more. Waiting to cross the road at the junction of Duntocher and Dunbarton road a taxi passes going up the hill and he sticks his arm up and it stops with the engine running. He needs to be sensible, he’s meeting Dougie later and the blonde with the tits promised to be there, but there’s always time and he tells the driver where he’s going and falls back into the seat and into the twilight world of drink. A clapped out Vauxhall Viktor passes the taxi on the curve of the hill, at Risk Street, and he ducks down. There’s something vaguely familiar about the driver and in the back seat Frank Dunne, gauze bandages and Frakenstein face rougly stiched together with black thread.
‘Mate,’ Jaz says to the driver.
The beefy driver takes his arm off the window, foot off the accelerator, charges down a gear and the old diesel engine rattles like it has loose change in it. His brown eyes shift from the road and he momentarily studies his passenger in the rear-view mirror.
Jaz turns his back and looks out the back window, but he can no longer see the Vauxhall and shakes his head, fumbling in his pocket for his packet of cigarettes. ‘Nothin,’’ he mutters, staring straight ahead.
The taxi picks up speed and the elbow returns to roost on the window inside and outside the cab. ‘Nice weather for Clydebank Fair,’ the drivers says. ‘You on holiday?’
'Aye,' Jaz says.
The fetid stink of burst and overflowing bags and bins from the last bin strike no longer registers with Pizza Face. The drab hues of washhouses, sun-burnt face and shoulders, and the backs of his legs, a backdrop to the blood stirring inside his head as he practices feigning and turning with the ball, weaving in and out. He shoots and scores, rattling a bin. ‘Goal!’ he proclaims. Short snatches of glory to shining tenement windows, no one watching over him, as he retrieves the ball. His T-shirt in his hand, he mops his face and the adulation of thousands of fans chanting his name at a makeshiift Hampden Park of a tenement backcourt.
A man slips out of the shade and shadows of the tenement close. Then two, three more. And a man scurries from the close next door with black stitches on his face. They look around and back up at the building and top storeys and he bounces his ball, shifts his feet. Nobody he knows. They walk towards him with the rehearsed quality of men looking for something and he smiles up at the older man, grateful for an audience for his skills.
‘Watch this.’ Pizza Face flicks the ball up and counts as he plays keepie-up. ‘One, two, three, four, five,’ and he lunges and the ball rolls away from his right foot.
‘That’s great,’ says the older man, shuffling forward. A scalp with long reddish hair around his ears and black NHS specs perched on a beak of a nose. ‘Do you know who Jaz is?’ He adjusts the sleeves of his white shirt.
‘Aye, that’s my brother.’ He bounces the ball. ‘I can dae a lot better than that, you know. I can keep it up to a hundred, or even mair.’ When Pizza Face flicks the ball up, one of the younger blokes steps in and puts the leather sole of a shoe on it.
‘Wee man,’ he says, ‘we hear Jaz lives in the top flat, which one is it?’ His eye twitches on and off like a light switch so that Pizza Face feels a kinship with him and sorry for him. He’s got the same sharp beak as the others, but less red as if he doesn’t venture into the sun much.
‘It’s that wan there.’ He points up at the windows of the wrong flat, where Tony and his dad used to stay and where a widower now lives. ‘But Jaz is away out in a taxi. He’s never in at this time.’
The posse of bodies turned to look where he is pointing. Pizza Face ducks down and makes a grab for his ball under the twitching man’s boot.
‘Hi, wee man,’ the twitching man drags the ball left and right with one foot and then the other and flicks it with insouciant ease up into his hands. ‘You sure he’s away oot?’
The tallest and thinnest, who is also going bald pushes past the one with stitched face and grabs Pizza Face’s wrist and hisses in mock surprise with large teeth in a wide mouth, ‘You wouldnae be fuckin’ telling us porkie pies? Would yeh?’
A fly buzzes around Pizza Face’s head but everything else high and shrill is quiet as the moon. All he wants now is to run, but the thin man shakes his wrist and arm and his body jolts as if an electrical charge has been passed through him. His tongue seems to swell and fill the back of his throat and he wants to be left alone, but there’s an easy laugh from a man at the side of him as the men close in around him.
‘We all makes mistakes, eh?’ the oldest man says, offering him an escape route, standing in front of him, blocking out the light. ‘Maybe your brother is still up there, waiting for you to come in from playing fitba. Maybe you should shout up at him, telling him you’re doon here. It would be a terrible shame to miss ‘im.’
‘No mister, he’s no’ in.’ Pizza Face's eyes dropping to the ground, the fly buzzing in front of him and his mouth hot and dry. ‘I seen him goin’ out myself.’
‘Well, shout up then,’ the old man urges him. ‘No harm done. And then we’ll be sure.’
Pizza Face’s lips twitch a little. He looks up at the semicircle of men facing him and shakes his head. No.
The man with the stitches on his face and bandaged hands breenches through the group of men. ‘Let him go a minute,’ he tells them. The thin man lets go of his wrist.
‘You the youngest? the man with the bandages asks after glaring at Pizza Face for a long minute, his lips slobbering.
‘Aye,’ says Pizza Face and starts greeting. He doesn’t at first feel the razor slashing through his cheeks, one side then the other. His fingers holding his face together, blotching blood red.
‘Tell him I’m gonnae kill him,’ says the man with the bandages. ‘No question.’ He’s first to walk away. The other men following behind him. No hurry. Hands screening their eyes at they look up at the windows above them.
Pizza Face’s squeals in the high notes of a trapped animal suffering. He chokes on blood and snot and tears, gasping for breath and the noise he is making seems to be coming from somewhere behind his ears. He staggers towards the close mouth and home. The stair he ran up and down almost every day jar his thighs. His lungs feel rusted. He labours every stone step like an old drunk, leaning against the banister for support, with tiredness in his legs. Then he sits down and rests, hanging onto a metal railing to keep upright.