Jaz tries to work his way out of the seat and buy a round, but a hand goes on his shoulder and Bri in a voice that merges pity with outrage shouts him down and tells him to behave himself as he’s their guest. He bows down with a smile in acknowledgement to their tradition, one he recognises from home. When Del goes up to the bar a balding man with the smudge of moustache, short and compact, trails behind him carrying whisky for the group. At each step half his body sags and pulls him to one side threatening to spill the drinks. Loose skin at his neck overflows his starched collar and he wears a shiny blue tie. ‘Get out the way,’ he says in an angry voice, rising above the hubbub, using his elbows. Customers step out of his way, like sheep and step back into the gap his body has left.
Del places the drinks on the table and turns waiting for the gimp behind him to do likewise. ‘I’ll get you a seat, Da,’ he says, looking out over the heads of the punters in the crowded bar.
Dougie abruptly stands up, pulling back the wooden chair. ‘Take my seat, Craigie,’ he says. Jaz pulls his chair in closer to the table and Dougie shuffles behind him and the whitewashed wall stained with fag smoke.
The little man sticks out his chest, heavy eyelids and shiny eyes look down at him and his face tightens and his lips stretch. ‘You’ll need to move son,’ he says, his accent like the rattle of a tractor.
Jaz scrambles out of his seat and lets him past. ‘Sorry,’ he says, which seems to satisfy him.
Craigie makes a wide-angle approach, his left shoulder slopes lower than the right and he taps the ground with his right foot, before testing the weight of his body and swinging his left leg forward. He claims the seat by flopping into it, with an ‘Ahh’ sound, and looks left and right as if surprised to sitting in company. Bri looks at him sympathetically and nudges a whisky glass towards his shaky hand.
Dougie wanders away to claim another chair and for a moment Craigie sits as rigid as he can, in a military posture, his lower jaw moving. When he raises the glass of amber fluid to his lips his face softens. ‘What’s the crack then?’ he says with a thin smile, his eyes aglow.
Their group splutter laughter into their drinks. Jaz picks up from what the other had been saying that Craigie had worked in the yards, but he seems to him too old and misshapen for work.
‘Taigs,’ Craigie says, and spits the word out like an expletive. 'You give the bastards a house. You give them a job and the quar’n thing it’s never enough. They’d have you bowing down to their Papish beliefs. I was brought up Protestant.’ He bangs the table with his fist making the empty glasses and the ashtray jump. ‘We read our Bible in the front parlour and went to Sunday School. Those Papes aren’t allowed to read the Bible. The Papish tradition is yon priests have to read it for them.’
‘Yer right their, Craigie boy,’ Bri says and slaps Del's dad's shoulder. ‘We’re havin’ nun of that.’ He laughs at his own joke with discoloured brown teeth.
‘There’s always been trouble, as well, yeh know,’ Craigie carries on, without seeming to have heard him. ‘They’re like children. Yeh got to keep them in place. And we’d a particular way of dealin’ with it. You wouldn’t want to be gettin’ your hands dirty with the likes of them. So you’d wait a while and push one of them into the river.’ He smacks his lips. ‘Well, you know what they’re like, always dobbin’ themselves with holy water, so, of course, they can swim like a fish. You’d need to be cute, get a long pole and when he tries to scramble up the embankment, prod him down again.’ He laughs. ‘And when he gets to the other side of the river, yeh’ve got to have a man positioned there, on the other side, with a pole. That settles their hash, quietens them down for a while ’
‘Aye,’ shouts Bri. ‘Drowning is too good for likes of them. You want them to suffer a bit first.’
‘What about you, son?’ Craigie takes a mouthful of drink and turns his attention to Jaz, ‘It must be hell over there with all the Papes taking all the good housing and all the good jobs.’
‘Aye, it’s pretty hard,’ says Jaz, with a hitch in his voice. ‘I even had wan touching up my handicapped wee sister.’
‘Fuckin’ Jesus,’ says Craigie, shaking his head. ‘It doesn’t surprise me. They think that kind of thing is alrigh’.’ He sniffs, weighing his words. ‘The only answer is leavin’ him in the middle of the river.’
‘Aye,’ Jaz says. He glances around at Dougie and Del hunched over the table, listening. ‘That’s whit we did.’
‘Good man,’ Craigie shouts, slaps his shoulder.
Jaz knows that he’s one of them now and he’s passed a test. ‘I’ll get this round,’ he shouts, doesn’t take no for an answer. He winds his way through thin spaces and makes his way to the bar. The barmaid with dishevelled hair and big arms puffed out of dress too tight for her smiles at him. Jaz has the intuition he’s not left home.