As I approached the counter I realised that I was interrupting his reading. He finally gazed up at me from behind a copy of Classic Tractor.
‘Serious weather,’ I commented socially. He seemed unaware of the existence of anything outside of the room.
‘D’ya have much work on d’day?’ I enquired.
‘Not a hate, no. I was thinking I might go on the beer,’ he replied putting down the magazine. I thought he would too; Tom usually had a thirst on him.
‘Did ya get the silage done?’ he asked.
‘I did,’ I replied picking up his magazine and looking at the picture of the John Deere on the front. John Deere was the Ferrari of the tractor world (or should that be the ‘pin-up?’). The beauty was not lost on Tom.
‘Has Gerry much on d’day?’ Gerry was his neighbour and never had anything on, except during the summer, when he would cut every blade of grass in the area. He would typically arrive at an undisclosed hour with his tractor, an International 4-wheel drive, animal of a machine, with a rotary mower attached.
He was so in demand this time of year that he usually avoided answering his mobile phone. If you were lucky and got him, or luckier still, he called you the call would usually have the drone of the big tractor in full rev in the background. He was a contractor or a cowboy or maybe both. He was known to fall out with those in his employment as well as the farmers that employed him. He did not discriminate – he hated everybody.
‘Gerry is on the go a lot; well he’s kept going anyways.’ I got the feeling that Tom wanted to slip back into the world of ‘Classic Tractor’ so I came to the point.
‘D’ya think you’ll see him later?’ It was a long shot. Tom might not even be able to see his pint of stout later.
‘I haven’t spoken to that man in weeks,’ he said. I was surprised. Something was up, they were usually constant buddies. Gerry had been over at Tom’s house nearly every evening for months.
‘I’ll tell him you were askin’ for him,’ said Tom reaching for the magazine again.
‘Will ya? Good man, I have just the wee bit at the back of the house to cut and bale.’
‘Will ya be makin’ more silage?’
‘No, I’ll do hay. I usually make the few bales for the horses you know, they like the bit of hay.’
‘Right-o,’ said Tom growing impatient. I reached around and picked up a bag of two-inch nails just not to leave without buying something. He might be talking about me otherwise.
Two days later Gerry finally called me. It seems that he did so as a result of my relentless pestering of him by phone rather than having received Tom’s message.
Gerry stood looking at the field of grass. He gave it a long look and then announced he’d have to charge a bit extra for the work this year because he had a few problems with the bailer.
‘Sure, that comes with the job,’ I informed him, and he should be expecting that things would break and need to be fixed. ‘That’s part of your overheads,’ I mentioned with authority. Gerry was not of the same mind-set.
‘Listen here!’ he demanded, holding out his hand which gradually was becoming a fist, ‘Don’t you dictate to me!’ He took a step closer invading my space.
‘I know my overheads, so I do. You don’t know what it costs to run this thing,’ he said it as he patted the tractor on the front wheel with careful devotion. ‘Don’t you be tellin’ me what it costs.’
He was clearly keen to get back into the tractor and start mowing. Conversation was something he did only with a few pints in him and even then it could be erratic. It would have been more profitable to converse with his beloved tractor than he who was riled so easily.
‘Well, I’ll let you get on with it,’ I said having had about enough of his ignorance. He spat on the ground and then got into his tractor. He would not put much love into the job now, I thought.
Gerry had finished up for the season and was to be found night after night in the foulest smelling of the local bars. He sat at the end of the counter by a wall where he could avoid needless conversation. The pints of stout were going down well, he thought as he looked at the small amount that remained in his glass.
‘Jimmy put on another one there, will ya?’
‘Right you be, Gerry!’ said Jimmy the barman as he picked up a dirty glass and began to pour. Jimmy thought that an effective method of cleaning glasses was rinsing them under the tap for a few seconds. The night was over for most punters as they first put on their jackets and then drained the last out of their glasses. Only 4 drinkers remained. Closing time was two hours ago but this meant nothing to Jimmy the unwashed and un-washing barman. The phone rang. Jimmy picked it up and answered, ‘Well!’ Someone on the other end of the line wanted to know if he was still open. It was a precarious question depending on who was asking. Jimmy, however, recognised the voice.
‘Ah is that you Tom?’
‘Yeah. Would we be fit ta get a pint with ya?’
‘Well, where are ya now?’
‘Up the road at O’Neills. They’re all done here. We’ll be down to ya in two minutes. Is that alright?’
‘Ah right Tom, just give a wee knock on the window. But just to tell ya, Gerry is in here,’ advised Jimmy.
‘Ach, sure me and Gerry’s the best a friends!’ Tom informed.
‘Alright see ya in a minute.’
Jimmy dropped the phone and strolled over to Gerry.
‘Listen! Tom McGivney is on his way in here now, just to let ya know like.’
Gerry wasn’t going to be moved by no man and simply responded. ‘Sure, what’s that to me?’
The last time Gerry and Tom had the pleasure of meeting, Gerry had thrown a hammer at him. The time before that was worse. Jimmy the barman was doing the decent thing by putting Gerry in the picture.
Gerry picked up his pint, drained it and ordered another. He thought about his last encounter with Tom. He had been driving down the road when he saw Tom standing outside his house working on his fence. Gerry stopped to give out to him about money that he still owed for work done the year before.
‘Any sign of ya payin’ me for that bit a work, for the love of Jesus?’ Gerry asked out of the driver’s window.
‘Sure, I told ya I’d give it to ya when I’m good and ready!’ said Tom defiantly.
He got out of his jeep and walked up to him. ‘But sure, it was done last year. What are ya playin’ at?’
‘Listen here you, get back into that jeep and get off down the road with ya,’ said Tom.
Gerry looked at him squarely. ‘I’m not goin’ nowhere till ya tell me you’re gonna pay me.’
‘Go away ya hoor ya!’ said Tom without sweetness.
Gerry swung for his left jaw. Tom caught a clean box in the face. He immediately swung back but Gerry was tough and too hard to hit. Gerry hit him again, this time in the nose. Tom’s nose exploded. Little rivers of bright red blood cascaded down onto his lips and chin.
Tom drove forward and clattered into Gerry sending him backwards. Tom swung and missed again. Gerry was off balance trying to avoid the blow. Tom went forward, blood dripping off his chin. He shoved Gerry towards the briars. Gerry lost his footing and went tumbling into the ditch. He was enveloped in a labyrinth of briars and nettles. He could feel thorns and stings on his hands. There was a small stream of water running underneath and this soaked his rear end. Tom backed off laughing loudly.
‘Now look at you, ya auld bollox.’
Gerry struggled for a few minutes to untangle himself from the mess of briars and bushes that held him. He got up finally and stepped out onto the road, his ass soggy and his pride drenched. Tom stood a distance away by his house laughing at the poor creature.
Gerry had passed by in his jeep again a few days later and seeing Tom out in front of his house he got ready. He gripped a hammer from his toolbox and rolled down the window. Gerry slowed down as he neared but Tom spotted him coming. Tom’s eyes opened wide, expecting trouble. Gerry let swing with the hammer aiming for Tom’s head. Tom ducked and it flew by him. Gerry put the foot down and drove on.
That was a few weeks ago. Presently he sat in the bar awaiting Tom’s entrance. He sipped quietly at his pint. The secret knock came at the window and Jimmy the barman scurried out obediently to open up. Tom and two others arrived in, well oiled.
‘Well Gerry!’ Tom shouted over when he saw him. Gerry didn’t like the tone of it. He looked over at Tom for a second and back at his pint. Tom and his cronies sat down and drank.
Half an hour later Gerry got up and made for the toilet. Tom waited a few seconds and then followed him. It transpired that Gerry was in bad shape, even worse shape than Tom. He struggled to walk with any elegance.
Tom opened the toilet door and watched as Gerry gave it a shake and put it away. Then he swung. A helpless Gerry, little more than a sitting duck, took one to the cheek, then another to the chin. He fell back against the urinals. His ass was soaked again only this time it was notably worse.
His pride took another one in the nose. Gerry, however, tough as an old boot, managed to stumble forward and clock Tom one in the nose. Tom’s nose opened again. He could feel the blood reach his chin. He lost the appetite for violence and returned to the bar.
‘Have you an auld bit of a tissue there Jimmy?’
Gerry struggled out of the toilets head spinning, ass soaked. He waddled onwards past Tom and out of the bar. Tom roared at him. ‘Ya auld bollox!’
Tom’s cronies looked at the mess that was Tom’s nose. ‘Why didn’t you pay Gerry in the first place and avoid all this trouble?’ they wanted to ask. Instead they humoured him saying, ‘You gave him a hell of a doin’! He won’t be throwing any more hammers at ya now! Are ya havin’ a pint?’