‘So you’ve studied Greek, young man?’ said McCroft. He handed Dug a fresh glass of wine. Every Glasgow Writers Circle shopping lister was crammed into the room, all of them craning their necks, envious of the attention being bestowed on this nobody.
‘Yes,’ said Dug. ‘I did the Anabasis for ‘O’ Grade.’
McCroft’s eyes widened as he performed mental calculations as to Dug’s age. ‘Ah, Xenophon,’ he said. ‘The sea! The sea! Although I’m much more of a Plato man myself.’
‘Aye,’ Dug laughed. ‘I’ve met him.’
McCroft leaned in. ‘Really?’ he said. Andrew caught a whiff of the perfume – Aramis meets pipe tobacco. Young poets beware, he wanted to shout. The man was not to be trusted. It was time to put a stop to this...
‘It’s a long story,’ said Dug. ‘I read Book 1 of The Republic at Uni.’
‘Mmm,’ said McCroft. ‘The standard introduction. In translation, of course?’
Andrew fashioned a fist with the fingers of his left hand and coughed lightly into it.
‘Yes, I see you, Andrew,’ said McCroft, although his eyes never left Dug. ‘Well, young man, I hope you enjoyed my poems this evening.’
‘Aye,’ said Dug. ‘The one you did about Nemesis – the story of my life!’
The old fraud looked crestfallen. Andrew had to stifle a smirk. Then he thought, fuck it, and let it shine.
‘Oh, that wasn’t one of mine,’ McCroft admitted. ‘I did that as a wee nod to Norman – he’s hovering about somewhere.’ He smiled, and offered a hand. ‘However, I’m glad we, eh, connected.’
‘Is there anywhere I can buy your book?’ said Dug.
Andrew let out a laugh; a guffaw. Your book?! He’d have to remember that one.
McCroft, reluctantly, turned to him. ‘How’s it going, Andrew?’ he said, his voice devoid of interest. ‘Still typing out other people’s poetry? Not mine, I hope. It’s rather too well known to be of any use to you.’
Andrew felt his face reddening, but checked it. ‘Wouldn’t dream of it, Melville,’ he smiled. ‘I don’t write for the teenage market.’
McCroft’s left eyelid twitched. He raised his voice slightly to an effeminate grate. ‘Wagging tongues would have it ,’ he said, ‘that one of your recent efforts in the Scottish Poetry Organ was more than insignificantly inspired by my ‘Margaret in Half-Light’.’
‘Not at all,’ said Andrew.
‘And as for cribbing the scribblings of the insane...’ said McCroft. He still had a grip of Dug, who was following this doe-eyed. ‘Don’t get me wrong, Andrew. Rumour and whispering are things I abhor, but plagiarism is something...’
‘Yes,’ said Andrew. He positioned his glass under the box and pressed the button. A red bubble appeared at the end of the plastic then sucked itself back up the nozzle. ‘It’s a terrible thing.’
McCroft’s tone changed in an instant. ‘It stinks, Andrew!’ he shouted, killing every conversation in the room. He sounded like an angry teacher berating an errant pupil. Pretentious old wanker. Everyone knew that his career was built on ripping off Norman MacCaig something rotten. He’d proved it earlier on, for Christ’s sake. ‘By the way, young man – oh, it’s Dug, is it? – if you do any writing yourself – original writing, I mean – why not send something along to the SPO? I’ll be lowering myself into the editor’s chair in a few weeks. The current incumbent has decided to move on to something slightly more remunerative. Nothing to do with poetry, of course.’
Andrew’s hand tightened round his glass. He inhaled slowly to stop the noise that was forming in his throat.
‘Same goes for you, Andrew,’ said McCroft. He winked at Dug and moved off into the crowd.