Jaz sits in a haze of cigarette smoke in his usual perch in Maggie Scott’s, back against the wall, watching the door. Rab stumbles in and weaves across, standing drookit and bowed at the table in front of him.
‘The weather?’ Jaz downs a swig of whisky and sniffs, holding in belly laughter, but keeps a straight face.
Rab’s nods in agreement. ‘Aye, the weather.’ Denim jacket frames thin shoulders and trousers dyed woad to the knee. A drip of water falls from the end of his plukey nose. His shoulder-length hair parted, falling like seaweed over a pasty face, with pleading, crab-like eyes. He puts a brave face on it and smiles in an ingratiating way, showing dog-yellow teeth. Waiting for the invitation to sit down, he notes an almost full pint of lager has lost its fizz, near the blackened crud of the ashtray on the table and is pushed away from Jaz. Four empty spirit glasses are nearer to hand, one of them full, another with a spill of whisky.
Behind him a fat elderly couple argue, and the man’s voice takes on a hectoring tone. Rab wets his dry lips. ‘You want a drink?’ He pats the coins in his pocket, wondering if he’ll have enough to cover the round.
‘Wouldnae say no.’ Jaz holds up a spirit’s glass of whisky.
Drew stops nattering to a squat, grey-haired man with faded RFC tattoos on his right shoulder, standing at the bar, a Woodbine behind his left ear. He runs his damp cloth along the work surface as he watches Rab picking his way through punters and empty tables and chairs and meets him with a smile.
‘A whisky and water.’ Rab fingers the change in his pocket, pulling it out and carefully counting it.
‘Jaz doesnae take water in his whisky,’ Drew stretches his white work shirt, sticks his barrel chest out, frowning.
‘Nah, I mean a glass of whisky and a glass of water.’
‘You takin’ the piss?’ hisses Drew. The customer with tattoos Drew had been talking to glances over and sniggers as the barman jerks a head in Rab’s direction. ‘This is a pub son. You want water, go outside and open that big fat gub of yours. We sell booze.’
‘I’ve only got enough for a wee whisky,’ mumbles Rab, fingering coins.
Drew’s eyes dart over to where Jaz is sitting. Watches him light a cigarette from the one he’s smoking and get up from his seat, knocking the leg of a chair out of the way and swaggers across to join them.
‘That’s alright son.’ Drew swivels, picks up a glass from a tray below the gantry and sets it under a bottle of Whyte and Mackay. ‘You should have said,’ he adds in a friendly tone. ‘You want ice with your water?’
‘Eh, no.’ Rab half turns, makes space for Jaz beside him.
Jaz leans against the bar, cigarette dangling in the corner of his mouth. ‘Whit’s he drinkin’?’ Pokes his head into the well-lit space the other side of the bar, blowing cigarette smoke, observing Drew’s actions, as if checking the right measure is being poured and half listening to Judy Garland’s warbling – ‘You made me love you’ – on the transistor radio.
Drew places the whisky glass down in front of Jaz on a Tennent’s beermat, he flicks into position with his index finger and thumb. For his encore, he smirks, and places a half-pint glass filled with tap water and a red straw beside it. ‘He’s goin’ dry.’ Nod towards Rab. ‘Says he wants water.’
‘Don’t be so fuckin’ daft.’ Jaz fumbles in his pocket, pulling out a wad of five and ten and fifty pound notes and wangles out a pound. ‘Get him a pint. And keep the change.’ He lifts and jiggles his drink, sloshing the liquid from side to side and saunter back to the table. He takes a seat, looking around the room, waiting for Rab to follow him.
Rab puts his pint carefully down on the table and sits facing Jaz. ‘Cheers, Jaz,’ he picks up his pint and takes a sip.
‘Aye, cheers.’ Jaz picks up his glass and toasts his companion by reaching across, clinking his glass against the bottom of the pint tumbler. ‘You’ve been avoiding me, pal. And I don’t like that.’
‘Nah, I havenae Jaz, I’ve just been dead busy.’
‘Daeing whit?’ Jaz watches Rab’s hand shaking as he takes a drink, enjoying his discomfort.
‘Nothin’ much, you know.’ Rab keeps it casual. ‘This and that.’
‘No, honest Jaz.’ Rab downs another mouthful of lager. ‘Honest.’
‘You still on that stuff?’
Rab scratches the redness at the back of his neck. ‘Whit stuff?’ He plays for time. Watches Jaz pick up his cigarette packet, flicking it open, tapping a fag out, peering at him, not giving him time to think. ‘Eh, aye,’ he admits. ‘That’s whit I’m here for.’
‘You want to take some of my hard earned cash?’ Jaz, an amused look on his face, shells a Silk Cut towards Rab and he catches it.
‘No, I wouldnae dae that Jaz. But I’ve got a message for you.’
‘Who fae?’ Smoke curls around Jaz’s face.
‘Oh, aye,’ Jaz sniggers through his nose. ‘Whit does that wee prick want?’
‘They want to call a truce.’
‘Fuck off,’ says Jaz. ‘A fuckin’ truce. Whit are we playin’ cowboys and Indians? My wee brother’s in prison because of they cunts. And Pizza Face…’
‘Aye, but Jaz, it’s no as if they got aff Scot free.’
Jaz leans across the table. ‘You takin’ they cunts’ side?’
‘No Jaz, it’s no’ like that. They know about your back up. The boys from Ireland. And they know there’s no way round it. They need to cut a deal. Business is business. Nobody is makin’ money with all this shit. And with your contacts they can move on and take out Drumchapel. Then Maryhill. And that’s half of Glasgow…’
‘Whit’s in it for me?’
‘You get fifty-percent and you don’t need to lift a finger until it gets down to the nitty-gritty with the competition.’
Jaz laughs. ‘Fuck off. I want one-hundred percent. But let’s say I play ball. How do I know you’re know a fuckin’ Judas and it’s a trap? Whit’s in it for you?’
‘Look Jaz, I’m no’ gonnae lie to you. If we pull this off, I’ll have a regular supply of the good stuff and we’ll be rollin’ in cash.’ He takes a quick mouthful of lager, his Adam’s apple jumping up and down. ‘They’ve got it all planned, a big shipment, flood the market. Gie out free samples with a bit of hash. I know how that works, it happened to me. You never think you’ll get hooked, but soon you’re scratchin. And you’d sell your granny for the next fix. We cannae lose.’
‘Your grannie’s deid.’ Jaz shrugs.
‘Aye, but you know whit I mean.’
‘I’ll think about it.’
Rab slumps back in his chair and wipes at his forehead. ‘Please Jaz, I’m beggin’ yeh.’
A woman with fat dimpled arms and holding a shopping bag scrapes back the chair as she gets up and knocks into the back of Rab’s seat and clumps sideways with unsteady feet. A man’s voices rises up in anger, ‘Sit doon, I’m no’ finished with you’.
‘But I’m finished with you, yah bampot’ says the fat woman, in a shrill voice, threading her way through the bar to the door.