don't mess with Dunc
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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. Mayhem’s lurching around somewhere, sun-burnt and Sheffield Wednesday shirted, knocking into knees and tables, his face slowly adopting its maroon snakebite shade. It’s a sunny day outside, and the garden’s thronged with students getting in the way of the spliffers. Even Bob Brown’s in a good mood, sipping cider with ice and smiling and laughing with an aggravated Jewish Dave, who’s trying to watch cricket on the telly because Kent are playing in a big one day game.  

            There’s 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. It’ll all end in tears later, but it feels good now, fizzy like cold lager.  

            Even Gordon’s cheerful in his shirtsleeves. He’s in the middle of an amusing story about some ex-bird of his from Middlesborough. He’s 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.

            “What’s 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. He’s sharp-nosed and his dark blue eyes dart about suspiciously. He’s got the raw looking suntan of a man who works outside. He’s 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. There’s drunken aggression in his voice, but it’s 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 son’s progress.

            The young lad’s dressed in a tracksuit and a baseball cap. He looks nervous and awkward rather than hateful and aggressive, but he’s got his father’s sharp nose and deep blue eyes. Red hair shows from under his black Nike baseball cap. He’s got a big, white, blushing face with buck teeth, like a 1930’s soap advert. He’s 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. It’s not by the windows, but it’s as close as he’ll get.

            I can hear his dad at the bar, barking orders at Emily the barmaid. “Aye! Two fucking pints! Export! That’s 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! That’s 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 it’s enough to make my heart go. “Might as well keep that fuckin’ change!” he spits. “Whit fuckin’ use is ten fuckin’ pee tae anywahn!” He’s 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 father’s blue eyes look round for a challenge, the son’s look at the floor.

            Em’s 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 father’s crime.

            “Are you 18?” she asks. The young lad doesn’t answer. He blushes and looks at the floor.

            “Yoo doan’t hauv tae tell her,” his father instructs.

            “Is he eighteen?” Em pleasantly directs the question towards the father.

            “Whit thi fuck’s it goat tae dae wi’ yoo?” he challenges.

            “If he’s not eighteen he’s not really allowed in here, and he’s certainly not allowed to drink beer.”

            “It’s no his beer, it’s mine.”

            “Well, he’s drinking it.”

            “Whit’s that goat tae dae wi’ yoo? Yoo cannae jist come ower here and tell the likes ay us whit we can and cannae dae! Ah’ve goat ivry right tae sit here wi’ ma fuckin’ son and drink fuckin’ lager! It’s ma fuckin’ right!” His thin chest is bulging almost as much as his eyes. He half rises from his seat, but doesn’t stand as his finger points six inches from Em’s now unsmiling face.

            I’ve turned to watch and this rigid digit is making me angry. I’m actually pretty sure I could do okay against this character. There’s 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 that’s showing from underneath his white summer shirt is some kind of Rangers T-shirt, one of those stupid cup-winning commemorative things.

            Em says, “It’s rude to point. And he can’t drink that in here. Unless he gives it back you’ll have to leave.”

            “Thir’s nae fuckin’ way Ah’m goin’ anywhaire! Ah’m 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.

            “That’s it! That’s 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, it’s 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 everyone’s watching him out of the corners of previously cheerful eyes. He’s enjoying the tension. He’s 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 Elaine’s wearing. Gordon’s shaking his head and staring at the wall, smoking with considered precision the cigarette he’s 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. I’m 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.

            Duncan’s not a tall man, or particularly broad, but I’ve 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?”

            Duncan’s eyes are round and clear and bright. “It’s 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, “can’t drink ale in here. And you, mate, can’t 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, “I’m as Scottish as you. I might not have t’accent like, but I were born in Airdrie.”

            “Well I bet you’re a fenian c*nt then! Nae need to pick oan me an’ ma son!”

            “Steady on pal,” Duncan repeats, holding the Hun’s gaze, and beginning to roll back the sleeve of his dark-blue Adidas sweatshirt. The Hun’s eyes are looking at his arm and widen in amazement as a Rangers FC tattoo is revealed on Duncan’s lean, smooth bicep. It’s 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 should’ve been paying more attention to something else because as his eyes cease widening and become all clear and perfectly blue Duncan’s 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. I’d 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 he’ll get worse than that.” Young Billy’s stood up now and Duncan’s standing, paternally, with his hand on his shoulder. The boy’s nodding and can’t 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 I’ll understand.

            “Didn’t you know you had a Rangers tattoo, Dunc?” I say.

            “No. I try to hide it. It’s a bloody embarrassment.”

            Having seen what I just have, I can only agree.


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