Shortly after 5.00 P.M. the same day I am standing with my back against the broad window of Stinson’s, Naval Outfitters, on the south side of Paisley Road West at Lorne School. The traffic streaming in both directions in front of me is heavy – lorries, vans, tramcars whose metal wheels squeal on the tracks, an occasional Vauxhall or Rover car and scattering of horse-drawn carts – all make a din. To calm myself before meeting the local thug, Jackie Connor, I light a Woodbine cigarette purchased as a ‘single’ for two old pennies from Marguerite’s shop in Gower Street.
As I cup the cigarette in my right hand by my side, I imagine I present a nonchalant image to the staring passengers in the number 40 tram, which is making its clanging way to Mosspark. In truth my sartorial get up is that of a walking bruise. The schoolteacher’s leather-elbowed multi-hued Donegal tweed jacket, cavalry twill fawn trousers and clumpy brogues make me look like a displaced Uist cattle dealer. Every item of Billy Ottolini’s hand-me-downs is at least three sizes too large for me.
Suddenly, between an orange double-decker Young’s bus with the legend ‘Largs’ on the destination panel and the pavement where I stand, a mud and rust-streaked white Albion van stops abruptly. The driver, pumps the horn three times and beckons me forward. I drop my cigarette onto the pavement and stand on it before ambling over to the already open passenger door. I climb into the front passenger seat and look expectantly at the tall, gangly young man, one of Jackie Connor’s bodyguards I presume, whose massive fists are drumming impatiently on the steering wheel as he waits for a gap in the traffic. Without turning his head towards me he says, “Ye’re meetin’ the man at the single-end.”
“Have we got far to go?” I ask, hoping the journey would be a long one. I had only once previously been a passenger in a motor vehicle, and that was in Donnchadh Mhurchaidh’s lorry carrying seaweed from Clachan Beag in Grìminis, Benbecula, up to the Seaweed Factory in Boisdale, South Uist.
“Nah,” the big man grunts. The walnut-sized knuckles of his hands protrude as he turns the steering wheel to his right and enters Harvie Street. “Oor single-end’s jist doon at the fit o’ MacLean Street,” he said. “Jackie and the boys go there at least wanst a day.”
“Is that where Mister Connor stays?”
“Whit?” The giant driver has his full gaze on me now.
“Ah mean, is the single-end his home?”
The driver puts his head way back and laughs. “You hivnae been aroon’ much, or ye widnae be askin’ daft questions like that.”
“It’s just . . . you know . . . just . . . um, curiosity,” I stammer.
“Forget It, sonny,”
I tried another question. “Is he married, or is he living ‘caso’ with some girl or another guy?”
“You think he’s buckled, is that it?” the big fellow barks, a warning note in his voice.
“Wait a minute,” I plead.
“Ah’ll wait a’ night, if ye want,” the big man says.
“Ah didnae mean anythin’ bad,” I try to explain. “It’s jist that Mister Connor is a pretty interesting man. He’s very important in Plantation, isn’t he?”
“Very important tae me and a lot of other guys roon aboot here,” the driver says forcefully.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Look,” the big man says, a note of impatience entering his voice. “Jackie is The Main Man aroon’ here. We’ve a’ goat good reasons tae be gratefu’ tae him.”
Who is this man who attracts hangers-on like a regent in a medieval court and who inspires such maniacal allegiance in those drawn to him? I intend to be in orbit around him. I consider it the ultimate chic to consort with a genuine underworld type.