Jaz catches Pizza Face a slap on the back of the head when he catches him and Tony smoking a roll-up at the bottom of the stairs. ‘Go up to Rab’s and tell him to meet me in Maggie Scott’s.
Pizza Face rubs the back of his head. ‘Whit’s in it for me.’
‘A boot in the baws, if you don’t.’
The two brothers stare each other out. Jaz sniffs when Pizza Face’s head drops. ‘Alright,’ the younger brother mutters to his sannies. Jaz hardly glances at Tony and nods by installments, distracted, as if thinking of something else, while searching in his coat pockets for his fags.
He tosses a Regal King Size to Pizza Face as payment. ‘Here, ya wee cunt, don’t let anybody know I’m getting soft.’ Coat collar up, shoulders thrown forward like cutlasses on hinges, Jaz shuffles out of the close, and into the hustle and bustle of passing pedestrians and non-combatant bystanders.
Afternoon opening, Wee Dan, the first customer in Maggie Scots. Then he disappears in the wash of a crowd. A fixture at the end of the bar, he stands in place, never sits on a stool, because that would be the wrong thing to do, bleary eyes, seeing everything and nothing, getting drunk and lets the world wash over him. Jaz orders a lager and wee Dan nods at him.
Jaz takes a table under the blacked-out windows, sparks a fag and sits toying with the Tennent’s lager place-mat, pulling it apart, tearing it into strips, gives the door a fleeting look when someone with wavy hair comes in, a pal behind him. Jaz is on his third pint by the time Rab arrives. ‘Better late than never,’ Jaz says.
Rab goes and stands beside Wee Dan, away from the crowd at the bar, waiting to be served. When he comes back carrying two pints Jaz does a double take and bursts out laughing. He sniffs the air. ‘You’ve got the poof juice on, look as if you’ve had a bath.’ Rab flings his denim jacket over the back of the chair. His white open-necked shirt is ironed, his flared trousers are clean and look pressed and even his shoes are polished.
‘Aye, got a date the night,’ admits Rab, ‘goin’ to the Park Bar.’ He takes a drink of his pint. ‘Don’t want to get too pissed.’
Jaz shakes his head. ‘Pissed! They take a photo of yeh and compare it to later in case you crack a smile. They’ll no’ even let you into the Park Bar if you look as if you’re gonnae fart, or laugh too loud.’ He’s enjoying telling Rab how it is, getting louder as his diatribe continues, so that others at nearby tables glance over and smile. ‘And if the bar staff hear you fuckin’ swearing. Fuck sake. They get all upset, demand counselling, phone the police and bar you for life.’
‘Away tae fuck!’ Then Rab concedes. ‘Aye, well, it’s just wan of these things. The barmaids are tasty, though, eh.’
‘Who’s the bird?’
‘Oh, you don’t know her.’ Rab’s wrist slackens and his right hand circles in explanation. ‘She’s my mum’s, sister’s, pal’s, sister’s, daughter, or something.’
Coughing and spluttering, Jaz slaps his chest to get his breath back and takes a mouthful of beer. ‘Whit’s her name?’
‘I know her,’ whoops Jaz. ‘Went to school with our Julie. Binger. Fat. Face like a trout.’
‘She’s no’ that fat.’
‘Aye, and Pinocchio’s no’ really wooden.’
A man in a soft hat shuffles past, whistling through his teeth, and Rab turns to stare at him. But the old man doesn’t notice and carries on his journey to the toilets. His eyes flicker back to Jaz and he gulps down lager. ‘Aye, well, she’s got nice big tits. And we’re no’ aw like you, loved up. Any port in a storm.’
Jaz finishes his pint, stand up to get another. ‘Same again.’ Picks up his cigarette packet and shakes it. Sticks a fag in his gob. ‘Bit of news there myself. She’s up the duff.’
His pal's tentative admission puts a grin back on Rab’s face. He shoots up out of his seat. ‘You sit down pal.’ Hands out, fingers spread and flapping, motioning him downward. ‘I’ll get this wan. No’ often we get to be a daddy.’
‘Fuck off,’ says Jaz, grinning. ‘Runs in the family. My auld man just needed to sniff my ma’s drawers and she was pregnant again.’
‘You’re secret’s safe with me, and everybody else,’ Rab mouths, his eyebrows lifting into his forehead.
When he comes back from the bar he dumps a couple of double whiskeys down with two pints. ‘If we’re goinae celebrate, we need to celebrate.’ He picks up his half, glinting gold and holds it up in salute. ‘Who’s like us,’ he roars, and flings it back, banging the glass on the table.
Jaz picks up his measure and looks through it, as if considering the whisky, before tipping his hand and swallowing it slowly. ‘You hear about Godge?’
‘Aye, heard the bastard got a good haul. House on Kimberly Street.’ An Ella Fitzgerald number's opening bars come on the jukebox. And he tilts his head to listen. ‘Who put that shite on?’ He shakes himself out of it. ‘Aye, boasting he bagged a brand new stereo, colour telly and about a thousand LPs. Cunt cannae keep his mouth shut. Tellin’ everybody whit he’s gonnae dae to you.’
‘That right.’ Jaz plays it unconcerned, arm sprawled out over the back of the faux leather seat. But Rab know he’s needled him. ‘Where’s the cunt drinkin’ now?’
‘Up the Atlantis.’
Jaz picks up his pint and downs what’s left in a oner. Stands up. ‘Mon then. We’ll get a taxi up there now.’
‘Hing on.’ Rab takes a drink of his pint, to give him time to think. ‘Member, I’ve got a big date the night. Besides, by the time we get up there it’ll be near closing time. And he might no’ be there.’
Jaz slumps back into the seat. ‘OK then, get another wan in then. We can get that cunt anytime, but it’ll need to be soon. He’s doing too much fuckin’ talkin’ for my likin’.’
Rab picks up the empties to take them back up to the bar. He leans across, looks over his shoulder to check nobody is listening. ‘My da wants us to meet a few boys over from the Falls Road. Thinks he’s gettin’ too old and we need fresh blood.’
‘The Orange Hall.’