“You need a hand with that?”
It was easier to buy four Peronis at a time, than queue twice at the crowded bar, but Jack’s hand had started shaking carrying them over to the waterfront table.
“I would have got up but… I couldn’t be bothered,” said Scot.
“That’s okay,” said Jack, flexing his bony mitt. “Old war wound. ‘Nam.”
“You were hardly the Army type at college.”
“No, but I sure was clumsy. I, uh, broke my hand again a couple of months ago, and bones take a hell of a lot longer to heal than they used to.”
“Tell me about it,” said Scot, and tapped his head.
It had been twenty years since college. Facebook had put them back in touch, and “Interstellar” at the Imax had provided the excuse to finally meet up again. Post-movie they struggled to sketch in the massive blanks. Scot had done well for himself, married with two great sons and a job that offered global travel. Jack had moved back home.
“It’s been a weird year,” said Jack. “As opposed to the nineteen before that. I’ve had a few… self-inflictions recently.”
Somehow it was easier to talk about recent events than the big ones they had missed in each others lives, but doing so reminded them both who they were. Jack had dropped a weight onto his right hand failing to “work out” in the garage. A week later, he’d cracked a rib on his left flank failing to Fosbury Flop over a beer garden table in a drunken dare.
“So your mid-life crisis health kick is really paying off then,” said Scot. “Try cycling, that’s what I do to keep my natural obesity at bay. Although there may be too many Audis on the road for your luck.”
“You haven’t heard the third fail yet. That’s the real sucker punch.”
“If it’s that good I think we may need whisky,” said Scot. “There’s a cocktail bar down the way. Let’s get a little Don Draper.”
When they finished the beers they careened down the Southbank as the London skyline began to light up in the dusk. It took several attempts to walk through the sliding glass doors of the Mondrian hotel before they realised there was a touch panel that opened them, much to the amusement of the receptionist.
Over the first round of Manhattans Jack continued with his ego bruising. “It went a little something like this…”
After drinking £50 in his local, and in the process of running up a further £55 tab, Jack had mistakenly insulted Chelsea Dave by commenting on his hoodie. Dave had glowered and threatened him repeatedly. He had been ready to leave but, because Scottish Angus and his wife Denise threw a jeering yellow hat over his head, Jack held his ground, stayed well past his bedtime and got even more legless.
When Angus called him a coward again on the way out Jack had lurched over to confront him. Angus’ steel toed shoes kicked two more ribs in before he straddled Jack and tried to strangle him. The foaming Scot was pulled off and sent packing by Dave. Ironically enough, the Chelsea fan was the only one who helped Jack. The barman was apparently stopped from intervening in the violence by the drunken landlady.
A further irony was how the gossip was respun in the following weeks, so that Jack became the bully picking fights. This compounded the suspicion his life was a bad sitcom on the wrong channel, especially when the idiotic ginger barman imitated 1970s canned laughter by hollering ‘oh no’ at Jack whenever he walked through the doors.
“Look I’m Scottish too, and that turd was no Braveheart,” said Scot.
“You’re Scottish? I never knew that. Isn’t that a bit weird, given your name?” said Jack.
“You never knew that? You can also have a Frenchman called Francois and an American called…”
“Right. Okay, look ‘tardo, I’m going to explain something to you, using small words. There are two types of Scot. There are the warriors, and then there’s the weasels. The weasels may pretend they’re warriors, but they’re not.”
“Okay, I’ll bite. What’s the difference?”
“Glad you asked. A warrior wants and enjoys a fight. But he wants a good one, he’s not going to beat up a cripple.”
“I wasn’t a…”
“You couldn’t raise your left, or swat a fly with your right, and you’re English. To a true Scot, you’re a cripple. Being legless is by the by. Anyway, a warrior will wait until the cripple can stand up straight. Then he’ll beat the tar out of him. Fair fight, y’know with real punches and stuff. Seems that Chelsea had a bit more Scotch than the Scot. But a weasel would rather kick a man when he’s down, a wheelchair wouldn’t stop him. You, mon frere, were beaten by a weasel.”
“That actually makes it worse.”
“Well, you were screwed either way. They wanted a target, and saw seven foot of drunk at the bar, Goliath that makes them David. From a distance you don’t look too much of a wimp, must be the shaved head and scars.”