Breaking into at trot at Partick Cross, a rumble of thunder and squall of rain followed Badger and Eddie as they crossed Dumbarton Road and pushed through the side door of The Smiddy. Not even mid-day, the bar had the musty smell of the night before and was peppered with clean-shaven men, a fag stuck to their bottom lips, wearing tight-fitting coats and dog-eared shoes topping up and a half pint of beer and quarter-gill of whisky, pondering form in the Daily Record, coupons on the table for a Saturday bet. They took their regular seats with padded backing; pushed up against the wall underneath the windows were the light grey as the smoke that hung in the air with a reflective tinge of green from the peeling paint on the walls.
Badger handed the jowly barman two quid and as he waited for his change drank the froth from the top of his lager. Eddie supped from a pint of heavy placed in front of him on the bar as they waited for wee Tommy’s Guinness to settle on tap.
Tommy lived in Partick, which made him cosmopolitan. He had a dark complexion and a thin moustache. His hair sat like a trained poodle which made him seem taller. He was dapper, with a hint of patchouli oil, in denim jacket and trousers and shiny Adidas Samba trainers. Badger knew of him through his work with trying to get a union offshore. He’d been a student activist and grabbed his hand a bit too long when they were introduced and garbled some shite about his fight being their fight. And something else about the proletariat.
Eddie wasn’t sure about him. He shuffled his feet as he worked out where it was best to sit for their meeting.
He spoke out of the side of his lips. ‘I’m no’ that interested in politics. I’m just interested in gettin’ this thing sorted.’ He waved his hand at a table where a pregnant woman with dyed blonde hair sat with her pal. Thin straps from the smock covering her rounded belly cut into her shoulders and her black bra was visible and supporting enormous breasts. She reminded him of Fatty Patty, but Fatty Patty had a bit of class. She’d have drunk in the lounge bar next door with the other women, and was often caught with a dick in her mouth, but never a burning cigarette.
He picked up his pint and walked towards her. Badger and wee Tommy falling into line behind him. ‘Do you mind ladies?’ he asked the pregnant woman and her pal, as he dragged a seat away from the table, its wooden legs squealing on the tiled floor, as it knocked against an empty cigarette packet.
‘Suit yersel’,’ the pregnant woman’s thin pal replied, eyeing them up, dismissing them, and returning to her conversation without taking a breath.
Eddie sat under the telly and they plonked down on the remaining seats, placing their pints down as markers.
Wee Tommy leaned across Badger. ‘Look, I heard what happened to you,’ he spoke through his nose. ‘But if you’re no’ interested in politics, you’re not interested in life. They set you up, pure and simple. They couldnae get the right man for the offence, so they lifted you. You fitted the bill, because you’re working class. And everybody knows working class people are cut from the same cloth.’
‘Aye, maybe.’ Eddie sucked in his breath and took a gulp of his pint to disguise how nervous he was. It had been a close run thing.
‘Thank God, for the not proven verdict,’ Badger said, echoing his thoughts. ‘Every cunt knew it was that cunt Doyle, but nobody was saying it. If the two witness hadnae confused you wae…’
‘Aye,’ Eddie nodded and gulped down half a pint. The way the press hounded them, a reporter from The Sun made him out to be some kind of sex monster, with a picture of Fatty Patty juxtaposed with a snap of his wife. She was still fragile.
‘Let me put it another way,’ wee Tommy pulled out a packet of Regal King Size out of his top pocket, broke the cellophane and flicked open the packet, crashing them a fag. ‘If you’d been part of the rugby crowd, all middle-class fellows, travelling back from a game in Murrayfield.’ He lit his cigarette, ‘And one of you had done something you shouldn’t have. Let’s say one of you was a doctor. One of you a dentist and one of you a banker. Do you think they’d have arrested all of you, and just randomly prosecuted the wrong man? Guilty until proven innocent?’
‘Not fucken lightly,’ Eddie admitted, lighting a fag, blowing out the match with a flick of his fingers to disguise his hand shaking.
‘Well, that’s politics for you,’ wee Tommy chuckled. ‘It’s all about power and leverage, who you know and what you know.’
‘Basically, we’re fucked,’ said Badger.
‘Too fucking right,’ wee Tommy agreed. ‘But it doesn’t have to be that way.’
‘I hear they call you Tommy, the Commie,’ Eddie said, ‘but I don’t go in for aw that shite.’
Tommy ducked the accusation with a shrug. ‘I’ve been called worse. And I take it as a compliment.’ He took a nip out of his Guinness and wetted his lips. ‘If you mean by communism I don’t believe that those that own the land own the people on the land. The five percent that own the ninety-five percent of Scotland and cleared the land for sheep, and when that didn’t work out as profitably as they liked cleared the land for deer. For royalty and their rich pals to shoot. Then I stand accused, I’m a communist. When your ruling class shout betrayal and preach hatred of the poor and accuse those that create the wealth of being bone lazy, then I stand accused, I’m a communist. When they take away the oil wealth that’s our common heritage and hand it to rich people in London to shut down our industries and pay for unemployment, then I stand accused, I’m a communist. If we did what Norway did and stored it away for the people, we’d be one of the richest nations on earth. But—’
The pregnant woman nudged her pal, ‘You think he’s a Proddy?’
She shook her head, ‘He’s too good lookin’. He’s no’ got one of those big baw faces. And he’s no’ got the ginger hair.’
They cackled together and then erupted into laughter again when she came back with ‘I bet he’s got ginger pubes’.
The three men smiled at each other. Eddie leaned in, hand over his mouth, ‘It’s no’ that they’ve paid me aff. It’s just that every time I call they say there’s nae work. But Badger’s been out three times already and he said they’re crying out for stewards.’ He took a deep breath, ‘I need to sign on and I’m gettin’ fucken pennies to live on. I just cannae dae it.’
‘You’ve paid you stamp and you deserve Unemployment Benefit,’ wee Tommy finshed his pint and held out an empty glass.
‘Does being a communist mean you don’t buy your round?’ Badger asked.
‘Oh, is it my round?’ wee Tommy, smiled. ‘I didnae know.’ He made to stand up, but Eddie put a hand on his knee.
‘I’ll get this one. Just tell us pal. How do I get back offshore? I’m fucken crackin’ up, here.’