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Authors: James Kelman

A Chancer

BOOK: A Chancer
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A CHANCER

Also by James Kelman in Polygon

The Busconductor Hines

Not not while the giro

An Old Pub Near the Angel

This eBook edition published in 2012 by
Birlinn Limited
West Newington House
Newington Road
Edinburgh
EH9 1QS
www.birlinn.co.uk

First published in 1985 by Polygon Books.
This edition published in 2009 by Polygon,
an imprint of Birlinn Ltd

Copyright © James Kelman, 1985

The moral right of James Kelman to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-84697-040-5
eBook ISBN: 978-0-85790-144-6

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

I dedicate this novel to my parents, Ronald and Mary; and to my brothers, Ronnie, Alan, Philip and Graham; and also to my parents-in-law, Mary and Pat Connors; and to my
brothers-in-law, John and Kevin.

Aside from the low droning noise it was quiet in this section of the factory. In the smoke-area around a dozen men were sitting at a big wooden table, involved in a game of
solo. Only four were players but the rest gave it their full attention, each positioned so that he could watch the cards of at least one of them. Although voices were seldom raised quite a bit of
laughter occurred, controlled laughter, barely audible beyond the smoke-area. One of the players was a man in late middle age by the name of Ralphie. He wore a bunnet and smoked a pipe. While he
was tapping a fresh shot of tobacco into the pipebowl somebody told him to hurry up and get a move on, it was his shout. Ralphie nodded then nudged the youth sitting slightly behind him. This was
Tammas; he lifted the cards immediately and sorted them out. You’re going a big yin, he said.

Ralphie grinned and exhaled smoke from the corner of his mouth. He took the cards back.

You cant get beat, said Tammas, you’re a certainty.

Ralphie laughed at his three opponents. Yous mob better be listening to this boy of mine’s, he says I’m a certainty!

A few jeers in answer and then the game continued. About an hour on came the sound of somebody whistling loudly and the solo halted. The cards were covered by sheets of newspaper, the men
sitting back on the benches. A couple of them rose, yawning and stretching. And the foreman appeared from behind a large machine; he entered the smoke-area carrying a cardboard box under his left
arm. Missed yous again! He smiled: Never mind but, one of these days, one of these days.

He took the lid off the box, began issuing each person present with a wage packet. Once he had replaced the lid and was turning to leave a man called: Any news yet?

Nah, not a whisper . . . And without further comment the foreman walked out of the smoke-area, the box tucked beneath his arm.

Some of the men had their wage packets open and were checking the contents. Others had thrust them straight into their pockets without breaking the seal. And a general conversation started.
Almost at once one of the former solo school rose from his seat and walked a couple of paces towards the exit. He was shaking his head. No use kidding yourselves, he muttered, if that bloody
order’s no in now it’ll never be in.

The rest of the men were looking at him.

I’m talking about redundancies, he said, that’s what I’m talking about. And yous better get bloody used to the idea.

One of the men shrugged: Ach well, we knew it was coming.

That’s as maybe but they should’ve gave us notice. Formal. It’s no as if they’ve told us anything. I mean all we’re doing’s fucking guessing and we shouldnt
have to be fucking guessing!

Aye but they might no know for sure yet.

Hh! the man frowned then shook his head. He left the smoke-area. A silence followed. An elderly guy coughed and cleared his throat, dropped a mouthful of catarrh onto the concrete floor; he
stroked at it carefully with the heel of his boot, at the same time withdrawing a cigarette packet from the bib pocket of his dungarees. Somebody else leaned to lift the newspaper sheets from the
top of the table, gathered up the cards and began shuffling them briskly. Come on we’ll finish the game! he said. Eh? might as well.

A spectator volunteered for the vacant playing spot but most of the others who had been watching seemed to have lost interest. And within ten minutes the game ended.

As the solo players got up to leave a couple of former spectators returned and some others were bringing out their wage packets once more. Ralphie took the pipe from his mouth and grunted, Yous
and your fucking pontoons!

He was answered with jeers and a younger man lunged at him as though trying to knock off his bunnet. Ralphie dodged past, laughing.

Small piles of coins now lined the table and a man was shuffling the cards very thoroughly and now cutting them and cutting them again, and offering them to the guy sitting next to him so they
could be cut yet again. And he dealt the cards, one to each person in the company. First jack takes the bank, he called.

Pontoons began. At the outset the stakes were restricted to a 50 pence maximum but the man holding the bank was also holding the initiative in this. Eventually the limit was raised to £1.
Later it was scrapped altogether. The deal was now being held by the youth named Tammas. And as he shuffled the cards he shouted, Hey Ralphie – come on and post for me eh!

The older man had been sitting near to the exit in conversation with a couple of folk. He squinted across then grunted something and got onto his feet, rubbing at the small of his back and
making groaning noises. He muttered, I hate this fucking pontoons. The sight of all that money flying about. Goes to my fucking head so it does!

A player laughed: You’re just feart to open your wages ya auld cunt!

Others laughed. Ralphie glared at the man. You trying to say I’m henpecked or something? Aye well you’re fucking right I am!

Tammas held out the cards for the former banker to cut. He said to the other players, Will yous space yourselves out a bit eh!

There was a bit of muttering in response. One of them grunted: Always the same when he gets the fucking deal. We’ve all got to change about just for his convenience.

Aye! Cause I like to watch what you’re fucking doing with these cards!

Ralphie laughed.

One of the other men cried, It’s that auld cunt you should be watching Tammas, no fucking us!

Tammas grinned while beginning to deal.

By 7.30 am most of the non-players, including Ralphie, had gone from the smoke-area to the washroom to get ready for clocking out. Some of the dayshift had arrived already.
Two of them were involved in the pontoon game although not having received their wages yet their stakes were minimal. The bank had been won and lost many times since the start, and now it had
landed back with Tammas. Within five minutes only two men were left in against him. The other had gone to prepare for going home while the two dayshift workers had lost their money and were now
spectating. The first cards had been dealt and Tammas was lighting a cigarette while the bets were being made. One man put down £1 and the other put down £5. Then the second cards were
dealt and the bank won both bets. The guy who had gambled the £5 shook his head and stubbed out the cigarette he was smoking. He glanced at the other player and frowned, shaking his head
again.

From outside the smoke-area somebody shouted: That’s the two-minute!

What . . . The man who had lost the £1 bet cried: Jesus Christ! and grabbed his money from the table; he paused to call: See yous on Monday!

Tammas glanced across at the remaining player. Time we were moving as well Murdie eh?

Aye okay, make the next yin the last.

Tammas nodded, he dealt the cards. Seconds later the dayshift chargehand came striding into the smoke-area and raising his right arm he jerked his thumb: Okay – out!

Last hand, muttered Murdie.

Last hand nothing, you’ll get me fucking arrested.

The two dayshift men who had been spectating moved away from the table and the chargehand looked at the money lying between the players: it amounted to £20. He snorted and shook his head:
I dont fucking believe this, yous pair must be crazy!

Last hand, said Tammas, surely we can play it out.

Naw, can you fuck.

Murdie sniffed, then he glanced round at him. Come on man eh? Give us a break.

The chargehand was silent for a couple of moments. Then he muttered, Stick that fucking dough out of sight . . . And he turned and walked out of the smoke-area. The two dayshift men had gone
before him.

When they had taken the money off the table Murdie lifted his two cards, and asked for a twist, he was dealt a 10. He threw down the cards.

Tammas collected them in silence, left them on the centre of the table. He came out from behind the table and sat down on the bench next to Murdie, bending to take his shoes out from beneath it.
He unknotted the laces on his boots, exchanged them for the shoes. Murdie had been doing likewise; now he paused a moment, and he said: Fancy a last hand?

Tammas looked at him.

Eh?

It’s a waste of time man your luck’s right out. Anyway, I’m still waiting for the twenty quid.

You’re getting the twenty quid. Dont worry about it.

I’m no.

Murdie paused. Come on, he said, last hand.

Naw, no point.

No point! What d’you mean no point? the fucking money I’ve lost the night!

Tammas inhaled twice on his cigarette, the last deeply, and he laid it on the floor and ground it out beneath the sole of his shoe.

Okay, said Murdie, a cut. One cut – double or clear.

Naw.

Come on a cut, just one cut.

Christ sake Murdie.

Murdie was about to say something in reply but stopped. The dayshift teaboy had entered and was sitting noisily down on the edge of the bench near to the exit. He grinned over at them: Yous
still here yet!

Naw, said Murdie, we’re some fucking place else.

The chargie’s standing down at the gaffer’s office.

Murdie glanced at Tammas: Come on eh? one cut, double or clear.

After a moment Tammas shrugged. And Murdie nodded; and he reached for the cards from the table and he passed them to Tammas: It’s still your deal.

Tammas shuffled quickly.

Plus a tenner, Murdie added.

Plus a tenner?

Aye . . . double or clear, plus a tenner.

Fuck sake.

Aw come on Tammas I’m losing a fortune, a fortune, no kidding ye.

Tammas shook his head but he shuffled again, and held the pack towards him. Murdie took it and cut immediately; showing a 3; and when Tammas cut an 8 to win his eyelids flickered shut and he
made a sound which resembled a chuckle. The teaboy had been watching it all and now he took a step closer, and he said: Was that for thirty pound?

Neither answered. Tammas was already up from his seat and lifting down his jerkin from one of the nails on the wooden board attached to the wall above the table. And he also lifted the jacket
hanging next to it and gave it to Murdie. They left the smoke-area together, walking the length of the section without speaking. Most of the machines were now in operation. At one of the silent
ones a man was wiping down a flat bit with a paraffin soaked rag; he glanced at the two and laughed: Did yous sleep in!

They ignored him. They continued on to the timecard board and they clocked out without appearing to glance in the direction of the gaffer’s office where the chargehand was standing; he had
a cigarette in his mouth, he inhaled and took it out of his mouth, blowing smoke towards the floor. On through the doorway they walked down the sloping corridor, down into the yard and across to
the big gate at the works’ entrance. They passed out by the window of the timekeeper’s office.

BOOK: A Chancer
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