'A long time,' said Malcolm. 'Folk change.' He looked about him, seemed edgy. 'Another pint?'
'Thanks,' said Brian. He watched Malcolm cross to the bar, amazed at the change in him, and at meeting him at all.
'Cheers! he said, as Malcolm brought the drinks over.
'Yeah.' The voice was as cold, noncommittal, as the hard stare.
'One of those coincidences, eh? What do they call it, synchronicity?'
'You mean us bumping into each other?'
'The thing is, I was just out seeing my folks and they mentioned George. Told me what happened to your dad. I was sorry to hear about it.'
'Were you?' The look made Brian uncomfortable. It was strangely detached, analytic. 'Just the fact of it I suppose. Somebody you knew. He was, now he's not. Dead as everybody else that's ever died. History. But the truth of it is he was a pompous old get and he's no great loss. If there's anything sad about it, it's what he did with his life.' He looked at Brian again. 'So, how you been wasting yours?'
'Teaching,' he said, then as some kind of justification added, 'Housing scheme. In Edinburgh.'
'An area of multiple deprivation no doubt!'
'It is actually.'
'So you turn out dole queue material. Or cannon fodder like Eddie Logan.'
'I do what I can within the system. Helped organise the strike over wages.'
'But essentially it's just one big control mechanism. And you've been programmed to keep it going.'
'So tell me something I don't know!'
'I always thought you had possibilities.'
'Hell of a sorry if I've disappointed you.'
'The old repressive tolerance trap. Gets just about everybody. You just said it. You settle for doing what you can within the system.'
'Well that's me summed up and dismissed. What have you been doing with your life?'
'This and that. Carrying on the struggle.' Again he looked around. 'Bastards are trying to nail me.'
'It's a long story. Right now I'm out on bail. That's why Mutt and Jeff over there are keeping an eye on me.'
Brian looked across at two men in the far corner, sitting, not talking. One middleaged, grey hair cut short in a fierce crewcut, the other younger, dark.
'I wouldn't stare,' said Malcolm. 'Probably arrest you for it.'
'Are they really watching you?'
'You think I'd make it up?'
Brian didn't answer. He had no way of knowing. This stranger spouting jargon at him might well be completely paranoid, psychotic.