Jaz squats on his haunches at the door to the smelly cupboard in the lobby. Under the light of a thirty-watt bulb he inspects the Starr pistol in his hand. Quietly cocking the gun, looking over the composite steel. Fingering the bullets. Placing one in the chamber and snicking the gun closed. Loaded. Sitting at the shiny bottom of a rifled tube waiting to explode into Frank Dunne’s scarred face. He places the gun in the inside pocket of his denim jacket and stands up, feeling the comforting weight of firepower next to his striped shirt.
He decides to walk to Simeone’s Café, rather than get a bus, to clear his head. Pedestrians duck their head down and scatter like loose change on the wide pavements when it rains trying to hide from the grey clouds. Cars swish along Dumbarton Road, some with their headlights on, making the world dimmer. Jaz waves down a Hackney and when it stops steps inside. ‘Simeone’s,’ Jaz tells the driver.
The driver spins his cab into the traffic. The cabbie runs a commentary out of the side of his mutton-chop mouth about the changeable weather and bangs on, a conversation about football, about Rangers next clash with Celtic, trying to figure out what team his passenger supports by asking what school he went to. Jaz his hair dripping onto his denim jacket and the back seat, looks out the side window, answers in monosyllables and the driver gets the message and shuts up. The legend of Simeone’s Café stencilled bright red against the whitewashed walls on a single storey building at the corner, the social hub of Whitecrook, across from the shipyard, quickly comes into view.
A few penniless teenagers hang about on the corner, near the entrance. But Del is waiting for him inside, sitting at a Formica table near the window, fried food and the nip of vinegar hanging in the air. He clatters knife and fork down on an empty plate and picks batter from between his teeth with the edge of a menu and takes a drag from his cigarette in the ashtray. He is dressed in his work clothes of brown leather jacket, denims and shiny brown leather brogues. Jaz knows he is carrying a gun and the car will be parked nearby in one of the side streets behind the tenement blocks, a sawn-off shotgun in the boot.
The blowsy waiteress yawns behind the counter and plops a dollop of ice cream into a glass of lemonade for a boy with slicked back hair who stands waiting, patiently, at the till.
Jaz hold up the palm of his hand indicating he doesn’t want anything and squeezes into a seat beside the wall and diagonally across from Del. He lights a cigarette while Del sips at his tea and drums his fingertip on the table.
‘Whit’s the plan then?’ Del asks.
‘The plan?’ Jaz screws his face up and clears his throat.
‘Aye, the plan.’ Del chuckles. ‘Maybe I’ve been spending too much time with Dougie, who tells you how long it’s gonnae take, who’s gonnae be there. And when you can fart and when you cannae, but you get the drift.
‘I never thought of that.’ Jaz smacks his lips together.
‘You want a cuppa tea?’ Del points at his own cup and stands. ‘I’m havin’ another one.’ His chair scraping against the tiled floor as he edges sideways, squeezing between table and whitewashed wall tinged yellow with cigarette smoke.
‘Nah,’ Jaz waves him away, glad for the time to think, toying with his cigarette lighter. ‘I’m fine.’
Del comes back grinning, the mug of tea, rattling in the saucer, his backchat to the fat counter assistant leaving her smirking with the attention he’d give her.
‘I’ve no’ got a plan,’ Jaz admits. ‘I thought we’d just go up there. Hear whit the fuck they’ve got to say. And if they give us any shite we just shoot them up to fuck.’ He leans across the table, watching Del scooping spoonfuls of sugar to his tea. ‘Let’s face it. I never asked for this meeting. They did. And Frank knows I’m no’ to be fucked about. The scars are there on his face to prove it.’
‘Hmmm,’ Del says. ‘That’s a kinda plan, but no’ the kinda plan Dougie would like. He quickly reconsiders, putting a gloss on it. ‘But he’s no’ here, so fuck him.’ He wipes at his mouth and takes a mouthful of tea. ‘You did well no’ to involve him in this. He doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty at home, taxing drug dealers and the like. And I’m sure he thinks, like the rest of us, all junkies are scum and are better off dead. So we would be providing a kind of public service. But he wouldn’t be happy about this.’
‘Aye, I appreciate that.’
‘But you don’t want to get on the wrong side of him.’ He waves a teaspoon in Jaz’s direction. ‘And another thing. If this comes off you’ll owe me big time.’
‘I know that,’ Jaz says. ‘I’ll make sure you get a cut of whatever’s goin’.’
Del eyes flickers, he nods in agreement, and grows meditative. ‘I don’t mind a regular rammy with bottle and blades. It gets you involved in things and you’re right fuckin’ up for it. Us against them Papish bastards. You know yer doin’ somethin’ and you are somethin’. And if yer feelin’ a bit weak, or are a bit off the boil you pay for it. But you know with all these guns, it’s more like office work. You load the gun and point it and if they’re frightened enough they’ll gie you whit you want.’
‘And if they urnae,’ Jaz laughs. ‘You shoot them anyway’.
‘Aye, that’s about the height of it,’ Del swirls and gargles a mouthful of tea and pushes the mug across the table. ‘You up for it, then?’
‘Aye,’ Jaz says, getting up and heading towards the door.
‘I’ll jist go and pay yon wee woman.’ Del adopts an impish smile. He turns to Jaz, ‘Where is it we’re goin’, again?’
‘No far,’ Jaz say, pushing open the door, wind breezing in. ‘Top of the hill. Cleddans. It’s a shithole. But we’ll be back for dinner time.’