Charlie the barman hovers around the five-foot mark and looks like King Louie from Junglebook, a comic figure, who knows everybody that is anybody, the way a cuckoo clock knows the time. When Jaz glances over towards the bar he notices Dougie follows his gaze. Charlie is duck and diving around the stout barmaid behind the bar with a fixed grin on his face, but the customer, a fairly big man with a fat arse hanging out of black dress trousers, isn’t having it, he’s giving the bar staff a hard time. Sammy is yattering about football again, but nobody is really listening, while making the right noises. Del’s chair scraping across the floor, and him standing up, has the effect of scraping a blackboard with a wire brush. Dougie jumps up at his back and follows him to the bar. Jaz’s fingers dip down into his coat pocket hanging on the back of his chair, feeling for the bone handle of his razor. But it’s all over before he can get up. A man lying on the ground, his head bleeding after being cracked against the bar, Del with his foot on his throat, finger pointing like a gun as the disgruntled customer is lectured on manners.
People from other tables look over, but just as quickly look away. Penny Arcade plays on the jukebox. A drunken woman, a red plastic hairband keeping long hair from spilling onto her face, springs up from her seat, clapping her hands together, like a children’s toy, and sways her bony hips as she draws her aged beau up to the dance floor to show off their moves.
Dougie squeezes in past Jaz into the table. ‘I heard about your wee bit of trouble, with your wee sister,’ he says to Jaz, leaning across, lifting his pint and taking a swig, before sitting down.
Del passes them on the dance floor, his hand scrunched up on the blazered neck of the guy that had been sparked out, who is half walking, his feet not quick stepping enough, half being carried on his way out of the hall.
‘Aye,’ says Jaz. His hand trembles a little as he sculls a drink of his lager. ‘But I dealt with it, the best I could.’
‘How?’ It’s spoken quietly, a whisper in the mayhem of hi-jinks on the dance floor, where women and men have gathered on the dance floor to relive their youth. But Dougie’s gaze scrutinise him making what is happening over his shoulder an irrelevance.
‘I took a razor to him.’ Rab sitting beside him is watching and listening, as are a few others at the table. ‘From here to here,’ Jaz draws a line down his own cheek with his index finger. ‘But I really wanted to kill the cunt.’
‘How did you no’?’
Jaz shrugs, ‘no sure, I didnae have time’. And he knows he’s played it right, casual, something that can be picked up again. ‘But I’ll no’ be so slow the next time’.
‘We can help with that.’ Dougie’s eyes lit, by the fuse of dealing with his own hassle at the bar, burn bluer than the faded lines in his crumpled shirt.
‘Aye, that’d be good,’ Jaz says, ‘but I’d want to do the job myself.’ He sits very still after his declaration, only searching for his fags when he gets a nod of affirmation.
‘I want to dae the cunt tae,’ slobbers Rab, his shoulder nudging against Jaz’s.
Closing time is marked by standing for ‘God Save the Queen’ and God help anybody daft enough not to stand up and hold themselves upright. Even the drunken woman with the headband grows sober with the experience before falling backwards, her body splashing into the chairs and knocking down what’s left of the drinks at her table.
When Jaz wakens the next morning his head is like the match ball used in the Old Firm game. Numb from the thoughts down he’s no idea how he got home, and wishes he could remember if he had a good time. His attempt at burrowing back into the pillows is thwarted by the lump of flesh in a frilly orange nighty beside him. Karen’s mouth is open and she snores, making her uglier than she is. He kicks her leg under the blankets and her eyes blink open.
‘Any Irn Bru?’ he asks.
‘Nah,’ she says. ‘You should know better than that. Angela drank it aw. I tried tellin’ her, but the wee cunts got a mouth on her.’
Angela sleeps hockey-stick horizontal at the bottom of the bed, blankets over her head. Jaz wouldn’t have known she is there, until Karen mentions her. Then he remembers. The gap in the curtains helps his eyes adjust, and he looks across at the broken down settee and telly trying to work out what time it is. The noise of the traffic doesn’t seem too bad, which makes him think it’s still early.
‘Shut up! And goin’ run me a glass of cold water.’ He lifts a bum cheek and farts loudly.
‘That’s mingin’,' she says, sliding out of bed.
He puts his head down and shuts his eyes, listening to the water running and waiting for her coming back. But it’s no good. He needs the toilet on the landing below and he needs to be quick, or it could be messy. He flings himself out of bed and pulls on his Y-fronts and keeps running. Barefoot he tackles the lock on the front door. Stepping onto the cold stone of the landing, he gallops down the stairs. Only when on the throne of the lavvy pan does he realise his mistake. No toilet roll. No scraps of newspaper. And his stomach is having a rodeo and the shites running out of him, his arse on fire. He doesn’t know how long he sat, his head jerking him awake. Listening and looking through the broken down door, waiting for the indiscrete cough, the boot against the door, in case anybody else wants in. He uses his Y-fronts as a dirty bandage and toilet roll, wiping down his arse and flinging the stinking mess into the toilet bowl. When he flushes the water rises and keeps rising. He doesn’t hang about to see if it’s going to overflow, skipping naked up the stairs, close to the wall as a shadow. He feels better when he shuts the front door behind him.
He stumbles through to the kitchen, his feet cold, anger rising at the stink from the sink and because he can’t find a clean cup for water. The tap is left running. He goes on a safari in the big room to hunt down his clothes. His bellbottom denims are still damp, loose change ballast as he pulls them on. A sock is in one shoe, the other one giving him the run-around. He pokes about under the bed, before giving up. His polyester shirt is hanging on the floor. He glances down at his softening belly. Dressed he doesn’t feel any better, but doesn’t feel any worse. He lifts Karen’s bag from the side of the sofa and takes it back through to the kitchen. When he gets a mug and fills it with water, he puts the bag on the work surface and roots about. Less than a quid, in her purse. Better than nothing. Then the real search is on.
He pokes about in the cupboard by the sink, searching for her tablets. The bottom shelf is a place where spiders hide. A heavy soup pot sits like a wishing well, with a metal lid on it. Karen’s predictable that way. A child that hides behind a curtain and forgets that you can see her feet. He pops one tablet out for luck, and swallows it down with a mouthful of tepid water. He takes another two to quell the knot that is in his head and thinks about hiding them to teach Karen a lesson. He did that with his mum’s Mogadon. But she’d cried for a week and they’d taken her to the loony bin. He didn’t want to think about the hassle that caused. He pops another tablet to help him sleep.