Jaz is a different man on the Larne Ferry, a man that now suddenly believes in the hereafter. The crew wear uniforms, blue shirts and grey trousers, the only evidence they are at sea are the smart gilt lapel badges. Even the guy with anchors tattooed to his forearms behind the bar, selling watery lager, is an Admiral, with a wink to his captive audience he talks about a promotion being in the pipeline. Dougie and Del lap it up and Lizzie settles for vodka and coke and Golden Wonder cheese and onion crisps. She laughs when waves hit the windows and lift the ship and the cold currents of the North Sea drags it back down again. Jaz’s head by then is dhobeying in the curved bowl of the lavvy pan. No rationing of water and nobody counting how many times he’s spewed on a twenty minute crossing. His eyes are watery and old, his throat parched, his denims and shirt crumpled and damp. The thrum of the walls close in on him and his body takes on the characteristics of the bilge, the stink of diesel, rubber boots and the spit of boiled veg and something more spiteful, the attar of the deep sea. Jaz swears he’ll never get on another ship as long as he lives, if he lives.
The gantry cranes of Harland and Wolff and the rivers that feeds the shipyard, and the Largan running through the city centre, marks the boundaries of the enclosed worlds of the Falls and the Shankhill in which Jaz is a tourist. His clothes are noticeably too hip and modern, but it’s his Glaswegian accent that marks him out as being other. Soldiers and B-Specials stand beside checkpoints and lippy teenagers at the shop in the lower end of Dover Street joke where Del stops to buy cigarettes and Jaz runs the gauntlet of catcalls wondering, out loud, if he’s a Fenian bastard.
‘I’ll fuckin’ Fenian, yeh,’ says Dougie, standing in the shop doorway, his eyes glinting. ‘I’ll drop the whole fuckin’ lot of yeh over the other side of the wall and there’ll be no comin’ back.’
‘We’re only havin’ a joke mister. He doesnae look like a Catholic’ The boy with a bowl haircut, sloppy-joe T-shirt buttoned to the neck and a checked single-breasted jacket keeps his eyes down and his mates trudge out into the rain at his back.
Jaz is billeted in a house in Scarfield Street. He slept upstairs in between the beds of Jamie and Billy, aged ten and eight. During the night he heard bursts of gunfire but turns over and goes back to sleep.
Mrs Winton, Jamie and Billy’s mum has the same snowy white skin and brilliant red hair of the boys. ‘Just call me Clara,’ she says, placing a mugful of hot-tea and serving him a full English cooked breakfast in the kitchen.
Jamie, being older has sloped off to the living room with Cornflakes. Clara stands smoking, looking out the window. Billy, with his pale face and deep blue eyes has tucked himself in beside Jaz to keep him company. He toys with a sausage congealing on his plate. ‘Is it true that Papish people live beside yeh, and everything?’ Excitement has coloured his face.
Clara turns and smiles at him, grey smoke frizz around her cheekbones. ‘Ah, it’s a quar thin’, right enough.’
Jaz butters another bit of toast before munching into it and answering with his mouth full. ‘Aye, but you can always recognize them – because of their horns.’ He raises his eyebrows and nods, to show that it’s true.
Billy looks at his plate and smirks, then checks out Jaz’s face and turns his head and whole body to see his mum snickering and, finally, he laughs too.
A knock on the door and Del shouts a greeting and they hear his feet in the hall. He stands in the doorway of the kitchen’s cozy glow with a cigarette in his mouth and smiles sideways. ‘C’mon,’ he says to Jaz, ‘it’s time for us to go and see a man about a dog.’
Jaz gets his coat. They walk not very far to an oddly shaped bar, the size of a living room, packed with a crowd of drinkers and the blue haze of cigarette smoke. Del goes to the bar and nods over to the corner table where Dougie is sitting, glasses of Irish whiskey in front of him and beside him in a khaki jacket a middle-aged man with long stringy hair. Jaz sees he’s watching him, as are the others in the pub, but there’s something about the depth of his grey eyes, a small, disquieting gleam that flickers and vanishes that makes him feel uneasy.
Dougie pushes up to give Jaz a seat beside him. ‘This is Bri,’ he says, in introduction. And he nods at Jaz and introduces him in the same way.
‘Get another round of drinks in,’ Bri says.
Dougie slops off to the bar and Bri pushes up a chair to sit beside Jaz. He holds his hand out for Jaz to shake. ‘Heard a lot about yeh,’ he says. Up close his breathe is eighty-percent proof and his nose is the colour of fine wine, but his hands are small, soft and white and his knee presses against Jaz’s. ‘The thing is I need to know I can trust yeh.’ A flicker of those eyes again. ‘Can I trust yeh?’
‘Aye, aye, of course you can.’ Jaz breaks eye contact,.Del and Dougie thread through the crowd with glasses of whisky in their hands. Jaz has never felt the need more for a drink. He flings a glass of whisky back as soon as the first shot glass hits the table. The hot bloom in his stomach makes him more confident. ‘Ask these boys. They’ll vouch for me.’
Bri picks up a glass and holds it to his lips. ‘I have asked them, right enough.’ He flings it back, and wipes at the back of his mouth with his hand. ‘But tell me this, who will guard the guards?’
Dougie bites on his lower lip. Del rolls his eyes, the white showing in the dim light. Bri hold his glass up to the light. ‘Who will fuckin’ guard the guards?’
Some punters look over, but when they see who it is, hunch their shoulders and look towards the lights of the gantry.