Parcel of Rogues. By Zack Wilson.
Another Sunday, another session. Me and Gordon, Elaine and one or two others are sitting at a table by the windows, talking and laughing and drinking our second or third pints. Mayhems lurching around somewhere, sun-burnt and Sheffield Wednesday shirted, knocking into knees and tables, his face slowly adopting its maroon snakebite shade. Its a sunny day outside, and the gardens thronged with students getting in the way of the spliffers. Even Bob Browns in a good mood, sipping cider with ice and smiling and laughing with an aggravated Jewish Dave, whos trying to watch cricket on the telly because Kent are playing in a big one day game.
Theres pretty girls, all flowery and flip-flopped and fresh with cheerful drunken boyfriends shaking their heads clear of hangovers and laughing about things that seemed so serious last night. Itll all end in tears later, but it feels good now, fizzy like cold lager.
Even Gordons cheerful in his shirtsleeves. Hes in the middle of an amusing story about some ex-bird of his from Middlesborough. Hes rolling a cigarette and shaking his head and smiling ruefully, enjoying the applause of our laughter. Then his eyes go back to their usual disappointed hurt look and he says, Oh Fucking hell. He looks past me to my left towards the door, and then back down at the unfinished cigarette between his fingers. He completes its rolling with a precise, over-careful violence, and spits a piece of loose tobacco out from between his chapped lips.
Whats wrong? I ask. Elaine and the others look quizzically at the door.
That twat, says Gordon, almost whispering with rage. I turn to my left and see an unremarkable looking dark haired man, thin, not that tall, and angry looking. Hes sharp-nosed and his dark blue eyes dart about suspiciously. Hes got the raw looking suntan of a man who works outside. Hes dressed in jeans and white trainers, with a rather odd looking combination of a white short-sleeved shirt with a royal blue T-shirt underneath it. A young lad of about 13 or 14 accompanies him, and he barks instructions at him in a Glasgow accent. Theres drunken aggression in his voice, but its confident, hard, bad-tempered hungover growling rather than rowdy slurring.
Billy! he barks at the youngster, Billy! Find a fuckin table! Doon there, by the fuckin windaes near they c*nts! He points a finger at us, and I turn away from him to follow his sons progress.
The young lads dressed in a tracksuit and a baseball cap. He looks nervous and awkward rather than hateful and aggressive, but hes got his fathers sharp nose and deep blue eyes. Red hair shows from under his black Nike baseball cap. Hes got a big, white, blushing face with buck teeth, like a 1930s soap advert. Hes polite and asks about vacant chairs amongst the students and locals that surround us. He does well to secure two places at a small, round table next to the fruit machine that a dining couple have just vacated. Its not by the windows, but its as close as hell get.
I can hear his dad at the bar, barking orders at Emily the barmaid. Aye! Two fucking pints! Export! Thats whit Ah fuckin telt yoo! I watch and bristle slightly as he flings a five pound note onto the bar. Em handles it better than I would, carefully taking the money with her cool, white hands and crouching rather than bending to get the two packets of beef flavour crisps he demands as an afterthought. She stands, smiles and asks him for another ninety pence, please.
Ah thoat they pints was two poond forty-five each! Thats four poond fuckin ninety!
And the crisps, Em smiles, fifty pence each.
Fuckin rabbin me fuckin blind! He chucks a pound coin onto the bar and Em catches it on the half volley and smiles again and its enough to make my heart go. Might as well keep that fuckin change! he spits. Whit fuckin use is ten fuckin pee tae anywahn! Hes only got little hands, so he has to put the two packets of crisps in his mouth whilst he carries the pints to the table and his son.
He puts the pints down on the table and lets the crisps drop out of his gob. There ye go, son, get that doon yir Gregory Peck! He indicates the pint of Export with an aggressive nod. His son nervously takes a sip. His hands are small too, and the pint slips slightly in his grasp and he spills a tiny drop. Mind yir fuckin pint! Ah peyed fae that! the father lovingly instructs. His son nods nervously and makes an indeterminate low whining noise. His dad sits down and lights a cigarette, then he gives his son one and lights it for him. They both sit and smoke and sip lager. The fathers blue eyes look round for a challenge, the sons look at the floor.
Ems out from behind the bar and collecting empties, with a fresh smile for each punter, skilfully stacking pint glasses and pop bottles, stuffing empty crisp packets into them and clearing rubbish from tables. Her freckled face with its small-toothed smile discreetly interrupting the slurred, summery conversations. She even keeps smiling when she gets to the father and son combo sat by the bandit. She looks hard but sympathetically at the son, assessing easily his young age. She catches his blue eye with her own and he looks down, he wants no part of his fathers crime.
Are you 18? she asks. The young lad doesnt answer. He blushes and looks at the floor.
Yoo doant hauv tae tell her, his father instructs.
Is he eighteen? Em pleasantly directs the question towards the father.
Whit thi fucks it goat tae dae wi yoo? he challenges.
If hes not eighteen hes not really allowed in here, and hes certainly not allowed to drink beer.
Its no his beer, its mine.
Well, hes drinking it.
Whits that goat tae dae wi yoo? Yoo cannae jist come ower here and tell the likes ay us whit we can and cannae dae! Ahve goat ivry right tae sit here wi ma fuckin son and drink fuckin lager! Its ma fuckin right! His thin chest is bulging almost as much as his eyes. He half rises from his seat, but doesnt stand as his finger points six inches from Ems now unsmiling face.
Ive turned to watch and this rigid digit is making me angry. Im actually pretty sure I could do okay against this character. Theres probably quite a few more in here who could too, more than he thinks anyway. For the first time I notice that the electric blue thats showing from underneath his white summer shirt is some kind of Rangers T-shirt, one of those stupid cup-winning commemorative things.
Em says, Its rude to point. And he cant drink that in here. Unless he gives it back youll have to leave.
Thirs nae fuckin way Ahm goin anywhaire! Ahm entitlet tae hauve a fuckin beer wi ma son! Yoo jist get tae fuck. Yoo tell her son, get that bitch telt! Get tae fuck!, fuckin say it, son, say it!
Get too fook, his son mumbles, a little ashamed, high-pitched Yorkshireman.
Thats it! Thats her telt, son! Now. FAAAAAHHHKKK AAAAHFFFFF! He yells the last bit with foam on his lips and Em has to turn away from a fountain of saliva and lager. She turns her back, and then turns left, up the stairs into the Back Room where Duncan McAllister, the landlord, is chatting to two plumbers he was at school with in Rotherham.
And whit the fuck ur yoo lookin at! the Rangers fan yells at scouse James behind the bar. To be fair, its not just James looking at him. Fuckin set ay c*nts eh son? Yoo telt her though. Well done, he pats his son on the back, then takes a gross handful of crisps and stuffs them into his mouth, chomping them hard so that bits stick to his lager and foam flecked lips. He knows that everyones watching him out of the corners of previously cheerful eyes. Hes enjoying the tension. Hes enjoying spoiling things.
Everyone tries to resume. Elaine and the rabbit faced girl she brought in for the session are talking falsely about some ear-rings Elaines wearing. Gordons shaking his head and staring at the wall, smoking with considered precision the cigarette hes finished rolling. He refuses to catch my eye. Only Mayhem seems completely unaffected. I can hear him ranting about immigrants from somewhere over by the TV screen.
I shrug and sip. Im not going to start anything with this prick. No one will. Em returns behind the bar with a stack of glasses collected from the Back Room. Duncan trots down behind her, his brows furrowed beneath his shiny, deliberately utterly hairless head.
Duncans not a tall man, or particularly broad, but Ive seen him lift barrels with a shocking ease. He addresses the Glaswegian in his Rotherham accent, He your lad mate?
Aye. So fuckin whit? Whoo thi fuck ur yoo?
Duncans eyes are round and clear and bright. Its my pub, mate, he says confidently and happily, with almost a touch of pride, and he, he points to the son whose face is now uniformly scarlet, the colour of a Third Lanark shirt, cant drink ale in here. And you, mate, cant abuse my staff.
Aw, gi it a fuckin rest ye Inglish c*nt, the Glaswegian says, and stands up. His lad looks at the carpet.
Steady on pal, Duncan says, Im as Scottish as you. I might not have taccent like, but I were born in Airdrie.
Well I bet youre a fenian c*nt then! Nae need to pick oan me an ma son!
Steady on pal, Duncan repeats, holding the Huns gaze, and beginning to roll back the sleeve of his dark-blue Adidas sweatshirt. The Huns eyes are looking at his arm and widen in amazement as a Rangers FC tattoo is revealed on Duncans lean, smooth bicep. Its not some crappy red lion with a Ready motto either, but the full entwined RFC with a Red Hand of Ulster above it and 1690 beneath. The Hun shouldve been paying more attention to something else because as his eyes cease widening and become all clear and perfectly blue Duncans clenched fist or maybe just a couple of pointing fingers jab into his solar plexus. He doubles over and Duncan grabs his collar and heaves him so hard through the door that it slams back into its frame and rattles. Id heard that Duncan was a black belt in some brutal martial art or other. Now I believe it.
He returns to the table and tells the son, Now go outside and help your dad. And tell him never to come back in here otherwise hell get worse than that. Young Billys stood up now and Duncans standing, paternally, with his hand on his shoulder. The boys nodding and cant help looking pleased. As he walks out through the door I can hear his dad retching in the car park. He leaves with a little relieved trot of his Niked feet.
Duncan looks over at me and holds my eye. We shared fist-pumping salutes and clenched teeth cheers when McFadden put that second one in against Moldova a while back, he knows where my parents are from. He knows Ill understand.
Didnt you know you had a Rangers tattoo, Dunc? I say.
No. I try to hide it. Its a bloody embarrassment.
Having seen what I just have, I can only agree.
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