The Big Man

Free The Big Man by William McIlvanney

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Authors: William McIlvanney
walked out on. He was glancing towards Matt Mason as he heard Dan Scoular speaking from the door, which was open.
    ‘Alan doesny like fights in his pub,’ he said and went out.
    As Billy Fleming followed, Matt Mason stood and went to thewindow. The assurance of his action, as if he had declared himself the promoter of this fight, magnetised the still-stunned reactions of the others into imitation. Nobody followed the two men out. Frankie White crossed towards the window and the three domino players rose and moved hurriedly after him. Alan came tentatively out from the carapace of his bar, paused, turned back for his glass, perhaps thinking he might need its assistance to get as far as the window, and slowly joined them. Vince Mabon, not knowing what else to do, took his place there, too. They had become an audience.
    At first all they could see were their images reflected in the curtainless window, a motley group portrait straining into the darkness to look at themselves. Then the headlights of a car came on. They saw Billy Fleming take off his jacket and lay it across the bonnet of the car. Dan Scoular kept on his light jerkin.
    The figures flickered briefly in the headlights of the car and it was over, like a lantern-slide show that breaks down just as it’s getting started. They were looking at an effect that didn’t appear to have had any very clear cause. Billy Fleming’s head hit the ground with a soundless and sickening jolt that some grimacing expulsions of breath in the bar provided the sound-track for. He lay with a peacefulness that suggested he had found his final resting place. A man came out of the car and Dan Scoular started to help him to lift Billy Fleming into the back seat. Billy Fleming had obviously regained consciousness before they got him there but he raised no objections to their assistance.
    The realisation that he didn’t appear to be too seriously hurt opened a valve on the tension of what they had just seen and humour blew out, a gush of relief at not having to go on confronting seriously the reality of violence.
    ‘Ah’m glad Ah didny buy a ticket for that one,’ Sam MacKinlay said. ‘Ah wish it had been on the telly. At least we could see a slow-motion replay.’
    Nearly everybody laughed. Dan Scoular walked back in to a festive atmosphere that caught him unawares. He had been involved in that mood of nervous recuperation that had always followed a fight for him, a dazed sense of having had his self- control mugged by his own violence. Their smiling faces seemedto him contrived. They couldn’t be feeling something as simple as their expressions showed. He felt like a man in quicksand with whom other people were leaning over to shake hands. Nobody had wanted the fight to happen and now everybody seemed delighted that it had. Even the man who had been with the one he hit was smiling.
    ‘Right!’ he was saying to Alan. ‘Everybody gets a drink. Give everybody what they’re having. And a gin and tonic for me.’
    Frankie White was looking at him and saying, ‘What did Ah tell ye? One good hit!’
    ‘Come on,’ the man said. ‘Do it. And a double for yourself.’
    The room was becoming a party and Dan Scoular was apparently the guest of honour. It seemed churlish not to attend. He shrugged.
    ‘Ye not want to get yer big bodyguard a pint on a drip?’ Sam MacKinlay shouted.
    Everybody was laughing. Alan Morrison was hurrying about behind the bar as if the place was crowded.
    ‘A few folk will be sorry that they weren’t here the night,’ he said.
    Before Dan Scoular had cleared his head, he was sitting at a table with Frankie White and the other man.
    ‘Dan,’ Frankie White was saying. ‘This gentleman is Matt Mason. Matt, you’ve seen who this is. Dan Scoular in person. A man with a demolition-ball at the end of each wrist.’
    The talk of the others was like background music, all being played by special request for Dan Scoular. Matt Mason shook hands with him. The man who

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