Bruno perches on the bed in the muggy heat of his room with his jacket zipped up, and the leather strap of his school bag over his shoulder, waiting for Tony. The tip of his tongue pokes out of the left side of his mouth. On his lap is a colouring-in book with pictures of animals and flowers and stars. Using an HB pencil he copies a clean and sleek looking dachshund onto the back of the rough blue cover of his math jotter. He quickly hides the colouring in book under his pillow when he hears Tony coming back from the toilet.
‘Look,’ he grins, holds up his math jotter to show Tony his drawing. ‘Whit dae yeh think it is?’
Tony’s smile turns to a frown as he studies the drawing. ‘Eh, a wee cow?’
‘Nah, that’ll be chocolate.’
‘It’s a dog.’ Bruno bounces up from the crumpled top bedsheet and jostles against his pal, tracing with his index finger the dachshund’s two sharpened and oversized fangs, dripping with blood. ‘See its big teeth. Cows don’t have teeth like that.’
‘Oh, aye,’ Tony says. ‘You’re right.’ He looks over where he’s left his school bag beside the window. It’s cold outside, he warms his hands against the radiator before they leave.
Mrs Thomson gave Tony two quick licks of the belt for daydreaming during Religious Education. It hurt, but didn’t hurt. He’s sitting the classroom and not in the classroom. Lapses into a kind of cotton-wool stupor and can’t seem to focus. Holding two or three ideas together is like catching flies with chopsticks.
The teacher is reading from the bible. ‘There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot…’
‘Whit page is that again, Miss?’ asks Pizza Face. The classroom behind him bursts into hoots of laughter.
Mrs Thompson snaps the Bible shut and gives Pizza Face two of the belt for mocking the good book.
Her voice trembles as she starts reading again. ‘A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to wear down and a time to build. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn…
That’s when Tony has his revelation. A powerful realization that shakes his body. There is no god. God does not exist, in the same way that Santa does not exist. People just keep wittering on about him to make themselves feel better.
Pizza Face in the desk next to him turns the shared text book pages quicker than him. Nudges him with his elbow to pay attention. Mrs Thompson is watching them and ready to pounce. Everybody knows that Tony’s dad has been murdered. His picture was on the front page of the Daily Record, under the headline: ‘Manhunt’. A snarling Alsatian police dog is shown in smaller grey picture straining on a leash.
Pizza Face has a few ideas who the killer is. ‘Someone that owns a lion,’ he says. ‘A big black man with a spear.’ They crouch hip to hip, with duffle-coat hoods up, the dank smell of damp in their nostrils and play marbles obsessively at playtime, rolling downhill and into a stank outside the kitchens overflowing with water. Pizza Face, because he has steelies, various sized and shiny ball bearings, wins most of the marbles 18 to 8, but neither is willing to give up and concede.
At lunchtime, instead of using their free-dinner ticket, sitting together and scoffing everything put down in front of them, and begging for extra custard from the dinner-woman they both like, Pizza Face takes him to Blair’s and buys hot pies and cakes. He pays for stacks of swedger from Jenny’s, not just stuff from the penny tray, flashes the cash, buys chocolates instead of toffee, not just coins, notes.
They stand at the hairdressers shop, near the Cressie stairs. Tony dangles a liquorice lace, dripping it into his mouth. ‘Where’d you get all the dosh?’
‘He geez you it?’
‘Well no’ exactly.’ Pizza Face grins, which isn’t a pretty sight. ‘I cannae tell yeh, or he’ll kill me.’
‘Fuck off,’ Tony says, his jaw clenched and fists balled.
‘Sorry, I didnae mean it like that,’ Pizza Face says. ‘It’s just stupid. He robs things. And I wisnae to tell anybody. I just go in and have a look about and come out and tell him who’s inside. Then he goes in and pulls a mask on and I hang about and he comes running out and passes me the bag as he runs past me and I take it doon the road for him. It’s easy.’
‘You no’ scared?’
‘Whit kind of places dae yeh rob?’
‘The Rent office is the only one we’ve done so far. But it’s easy. We’re goin’ to dae mair, but he’s just waiting for some boys to come back over from Ulster.’
‘But whit about that pregnant woman that got shot?’ Tony heard a report about it on Radio Clyde at breakfast and although he hadn’t been paying any attention, because the woman was old, almost thirty-five, and old people die, Bob had said they should bring back hanging for people like that. To teach them respect.
‘But you could go to jail.’
‘I willnae. I’d run away, first. They’d never catch me.’