I am determined to do a bit of soft-soaping. “Well, when you finished your punch bag routine with a right cross,” I say earnestly, “it seemed like a powerful punch to me.”
“Ahh,” he sighed regretfully. “You’re just a wee toff that goes tae Bellahouston Academy. Ah mind o’ ye fine. Ye’re bright enough and daring in yer ain way, but ye know nothin’ aboot fightin’.”
A low chorus of assent rises from the rest of the gang.
“I beg to differ,” I say indignantly.
“Oooo,” is the chorus from the followers now
“Look,” Connor says speaking levelly and slowly as if to a dim infant. “Ah’ve goat fast hauns, right enough. Sure, Ah’ve pit a few guys in hospital efter disputes in pubs, taxi ranks, cinema queues – stuff like that. Ah’m pretty good wi’ the mitts and . . .” He paused briefly to point at his feet. “. . . and Ah’m very good at getting in wi’ the leather. But, Ah’m no’right sure if Ah’ve goat a really lethal dig.”
I shake my head in mute disagreement.
“Listen, Ah skelp somebody oan the jaw,” he says, “he may go down . . . maybe not. Maybe he’ll be tooled up and come back at me wi’ a blade, or something worse. So . . .” he allows his voice to trail off.
“So?” I say.
“So Ah employ Big Andy here. He does the heavy liftin’ furr me noo. A fella gets hit in the mooth by Big Andy, he’s gonnae be sookin’ milkshakes furr six months efter the doctor wires up his jaw.”
I nod thoughtfully.
“Hing aboot, son,” he says, “Ah’ve goat a wee proposition furr ye. Jist wait till a pit these deadbeats tae work.”
There follows a series of rapid fire commands: “Danny, o’er tae the Chevalier, see if there’s any phone messages furr me, and Charlie, Ah want ye tae dive up tae that villa in Dumbreck, see if that auld wumman’s new Mercedes has been delivered by the dealer yet.” And finally there’s a slightly longer exchange between the boss and Jerry – this is the young guy.
“We need cigarettes, Jerry, “Connor says.
“Why’s that?” the young man asks.
“It’s simply supply and demand, son. Pubs, no jist roon aboot here, want mair fags,” Connor says.
“Ah suppose we’ll aye need mair cigarettes,” the young man muses. “We’re buyin’ them furr a tenner a carton fae them sailors doon the docks, we’re puntin’ them tae the pubs furr twenty quid a carton and they’re chargin’ the puntersa half-croon a packet.”
“Cannae fool you, wee man,” Connor says. “Ye’ll get a tram doon tae Linthouse, sneak through the dock gates at King George V and board every boat that’s there. Don’t need tae tell ye whit comes next. Ye haggle wi’ officers, deckhands, whatever.”
“But, Jackie,” the boy pleads, placing his hands in supplication on Connor’s bare shoulders “Ah hate talkin’ tae people that cannae unnerstaun me and Ah cannae unnerstaun them.”
“Paws aff,” Connor barks. “Ah soil real easy.” He flicks spread fingers down the front of his chest. “Ah don’t like talking tae furriners either, ” Connor says grimly, “but Ah’m the boss, and that’s why you hiv tae go.”
We are now alone in the single end. Connor takes off his boxing gloves, walks over to the oven and rummages in the interior for a minute. He walks back to where I’m standing carrying a leather-backed notebook and a fistful of pencils. As he hands these strange gifts to me he says: “Sonny boy, this is your destiny. You are going to write the story of my life. Go home now, but be back here first thing tomorrow and we’ll get started.”
A tiny metronome of panic is now ticking within me.