'Oh,' John Rhodes said. 'And Panda Paterson.’
‘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 very measured, 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. lt 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.
‘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.
'Ye've made a wise decision,' John Rhodes said, watching him refuse to get up. 'You're right. Ah've got a good memory. Ah don't know where you've been lately. Watchin' cowboy pictures? Well, it's different here. Whoever's been kiddin' you on ye were hard, Ah'm here tae tell ye Ah've known you a long time. You were rubbish then an' ye're rubbish now. Frightenin' wee boys! Try that again an' Ah'll shove the pint-dish up yer arse. One wi' a handle.'
If you could have bottled the atmosphere, it would have made Molotov cocktails. Practised in survival, Macey was analysing the ingredients.
John Rhodes stood very still, having made his declaration. What was most frightening about him was the realisation that what had happened was an act of measured containment for him, had merely put him in the notion for the real thing. He wasn't just a user of violence, he truly loved it. It was where he happened most fully, a thrilling edge. Like a poet who has had a go at the epic, he no longer indulged himself in the doggerel of casual fights but when, as now, the situation seemed big enough, his resistance was very low.
The others, like Panda Paterson, were imitating furniture. This wasn't really about them. Even Panda had been incidental, no more that the paper on which John had neatly imprinted his message. The message was addressed to Cam Colvin.