The Papers of Tony Veitch

Free The Papers of Tony Veitch by William McIlvanney

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Authors: William McIlvanney
    â€˜Still,’ Laidlaw said. ‘Maybe it’s just as well he couldn’t.’

    T hey had settled for the function suite of the Coronach Hotel. Just beyond the south-eastern edge of Glasgow, at one of the points where the city suffers natural erosion from the countryside, the hotel seemed well enough named. A coronach is a dirge.
    It belonged properly to the time before the Clayson Report relaxed the drinking laws, when only hotels had a seven-day licence and Sunday drinking was for what the law called bona fide travellers. Like a village pump in a place where the plumbing has been modernised, it stood as a slightly tatty monument to the old Scottish Sabbath, that interesting anomaly whereby the Kirk’s insistence on the observance of the Lord’s day of rest resulted in a country busy with Scotsmen transporting a thirst as heavy as luggage from one place to another.
    The Coronach was still a drinking hotel, but quieter, especially on Sundays. To ask for a room there was as naive as expecting to meet Calpurnia in ‘Caesar’s Palace’. The only acknowledgement that hospitality could go beyond the dispensing of drink was the function suite.
    It was called the Rob Roy Room, which meant thatthe carpet was MacGregor tartan and there were a couple of targes on the walls, framed in crossed claymores. Today its occupants were outlaws unromanticised by time.
    When Macey ushered in John Rhodes, Hook Hawkins and Dave McMaster, Cam Colvin was already installed. Two of the small tables had been placed together with chairs around. Cam sat at the head of one of the tables, sedate as a committee-man.
    John Rhodes and he were a conjunction of contrasting styles, like a meeting between shop-floor and management. Cam was conservative in a dark-striped suit and black shoes as shiny as dancing-pumps. The shirt was demurely striped and the tie was navy. John looked as if his tailor might be Oxfam. The light-brown suit was rumpled, the shirt was open-necked. He was wearing a purple cardigan.
    Cam registered nothing when John Rhodes came in. But the fuse was already lit in John’s blue eyes. Cam and he nodded at each other. Cam indicated the man who was sitting on his right.
    â€˜This is Dan Tomlinson,’ he said. ‘He’s the manager.’
    Dan Tomlinson was a thin man in his fifties. He looked worried, as if he couldn’t remember whether his hotel insurance was up to date. Mickey Ballater was standing nearby and nodded. The only other man in the room, who had been trying to stare down the one-armed bandit beside the small bar, ambled across to join them.
    â€˜Oh,’ John Rhodes said. ‘And Panda Paterson.’
    â€˜Correct, John. Your memory’s good,’ Panda said.
    He extended his hand to shake and John Rhodes punched him in the mouth. It was a short punch, very quick and verymeasured, costing John nothing, the punch of a man in training, emerging from reflexes so honed they seemed to contain a homing device. It was only after it had landed you realised it had been thrown. It imparted awe to some of the others, as if thought was fait accompli .
    The effect was reminiscent of the moment in a Hollywood musical when the mundane breaks into a Busby Berkeley routine. Suddenly, Panda Paterson was dancing. He moved dramatically onto the small slippereened square of dance floor and did an intricate backstep. Then, extending his improvisation into what could have been called ‘The Novice Skater’, he went down with his arms waving and slid sitting until the carpet jarred him backwards and his head hit a radiator like a duff note on a xylophone.
    â€˜That’s the price of a pint in the Crib,’ John Rhodes said.
    There was blood coming out of Panda’s mouth. He eased himself off as if to get up and then settled back, touching his mouth gently.
    â€˜Ye’ve made a wise decision,’ John Rhodes said, watching

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