This was years ago. The blood on the pub carpet will have long dried. The broken cues will have been binned and Martin (not his real name) is maybe happy somewhere in the world.
The holidays offered the pretence of more pay and perhaps some tips. The Grassmarket, back then, was not yet part-gentrified or given to continental style outdoor cafes. The return of the Scottish Parliament was but an ember in a devout heather-hugging Nationalist’s heart-fire while Thatcher, the Prime Minister of Greater England had from Imperial Westminster taken to imposing the Poll Tax.
We: Martin and I worked in the Grassmarket part of Edinburgh’s smoke-filled bars and sometimes worked in the same one. The businessman, (later) politician and small-time crime boss had two pubs. The one further away from Princes’ Street was nearer the Men’s Hostel. Sometime there were problems with men who had the drinking disease.
My pub was small and songs like the Highland Drover or Wha’ll Be King But Charlie would be belted out while barrack troops from the Castle or weary office workers would drink on or up.
The customers seemed to be hated. The small man who was the owner was only interested in the large folded sentries of money in his pocket.
This one time a customer got paint on a new leather jacket. There were no signs put out; his protests were halted as the manager threw him onto the pavement. The owner-Robert or Rab, as staff and minions called him, watched with a smile that was nothing to do with humour. The crease of it happened below the pale, chubby cheeks.
A thin trickle of blood started running down from the customer’s fringe as got up from the greasy rain covering the pavement outside. Easily done. He was on his own and the small girl friend his money had ensured this Friday night stood behind as he banged on the window and headed down the road that headed past the bottom of the castle.
Only later would Martin fill me in about the scams, relationships and dodgy deals that the owner would be up to. While the manager, John, who ran both pubs was a thin wasp of a man whose sneer never seemed to put off the determined drinkers of Edinburgh. Busy arranging the storing of smuggled cigarettes and booze along with the more high-tariff items he would snap and hurl abuse at us or whoever was on. Even on a quiet evening it was the same drill.
John, with his pale features and thin lips, forever in a snake-like line at the end of his narrow head would ghost up behind you as you grabbed change for a round of twelve drinks-knowing you were at least two pence off your actual total. This as the pools of Special and orchestra of glasses built up on the bar itself and the small wooden tables in the bar.
Too close. He would ask why you weren’t smiling or happy as a line of customers waved notes or swore at the pushing in this, one of the smallest pubs on the Grassmarket.
The Christmas rush of parties and drunk workers building up to Christmas Eve was a chance for at least some tips we could pocket as our wages would be docked for spilling drinks or customer ‘complaints’.
Martin who had been in rugby before his knee got smashed got away with a lot. He could come in late or hung over and ride the crap that would come at him when cleaning the classes or the beer lines.
It was then that it happened and it was when he was in the other pub. It’s a Mexican or whatever now while my pub is still there minus the cloud of smoke killing the customers over Snake Bite or their chosen poison.
It was late and it was just into the day of Christmas Eve when he ran in. The detritus of the night was being collected into one stinking pile while the stale smell was slowly going as the chill air came in from the wedged open door.
‘It’s a mess. They came in and hell..Not a table left up and they, they left him…’ Martin had said as he barged in the door with a face that looked like I did when I cut open my foot.
No one was about, Don, the old bartender was in the cellar. A close friend of the manager and owner he was best left alone.
We ran back and the blood, glass and body of the man were all there. About half a cue was on the road while the rest-broken in bits were inside.
‘I’ll call the police-see to him but dinnae move his head.’ Martin said as he went to the end of the bar.
The man was breathing so slowly and the cut on his head seemed unreal but for the smell and run of blood that soaked into his jumper and jeans. The bent shape of him would have been comical in another life.
A mirror advertising the McEwan beer was cracked into slivers radiating out from a silver bruised heart.
Later when we could speak and after the statements had been taken we had a whisky and the sun would be up soon. Rolls at the Leith bakery were an option.
After a week at university it was the weekend shift.
‘Flying solo, mate.’ Martin said as I wandered in, freezing; it was safer not bring a coat.
‘I got a visit, same guys and it was the next night.’ He said.
He had withdrawn his statement from the police. It was simple. They knew. His address. His name.
A few weeks later I was out. Daft how only later you wonder. And that snivelling shape of a manager. I was lucky as the customer who lost a £200 pound coat was in some ways.