At half past nine, on the dot, the following morning, Saturday the 30th of May, I was standing with my back to the corrugated iron close mouth. Cradled against my chest was the leather bound notebook. Tales of mayhem, theft, stabbings and assorted villainy awaited me, I was certain, and I looked forward with a mixture of keen anticipation and a frisson of fear to recording them. I acknowledged that I had always nourished a morbid fascination for the devil-may-care outsider. Richmal Crompton’s William and his Outlaws were my first heroes, to be supplanted by the nebulous members of La Légion Étrangère with their newly created identities and their willingness to confront death full on.
I was bouncing from one foot to the other when Jackie Connor turned into MacLean street from the Govan Road. He was wearing a white cashmere polo necked sweater, tailored silver grey mohair slacks with fourteen inch turn-ups. His shoes were gleaming blood-red leather slip-ons with tassels. A grey Borselino soft hat enclosed his long, wavy flaxen hair, and his face was expressionless behind aviator sunglasses.
He stood motionless about four feet in front of me for five seconds, looking me up and down. Eventually he bared his front upper teeth in a sneering smile and announced: “You know, kid, ye’re wearin’ gear that looks like whit ye’d wear furr getting’ shot by a firing squad . Best get ye inside afore ye frighten the horses.”
Once inside, I saw that he had re-arranged the furniture. Between the sofa where Connor lolled, his hands clasped behind his head, and an over-stuffed easy chair, which was where I had to sit, a bare wooden kitchen table stood. On it Connor had placed two dumpy bottles of strong ale, already opened, a bottle of Martell brandy, two glasses, an ashtray and two packets of cigarettes and a Dunhill gold plated lighter. My host poured two generous measures of brandy and indicated that I should drink along with him. This I did at frequent intervals during the following half hour. I placed my notebook and a freshly sharpened pencil on the table and drew the Luckies towards me. “Alright if I smoke?” I enquired.
“Nae problem,” Connor said. “Ah smoke like the Polmadie Furnace masel’. He picked up the pink packet and proffered the exotic cigarettes to me. “Keep the Yankee fags furr later,” he said. “Try wan o’ these. They’re English and they’re called Passing Cloud.”
I accepted one and lit it with a single smooth thumb stroke of the Dunhill. Already I felt richer, more sophisticated, more powerful. “You live well, Mister Connor,” I said. “And I envy your sartorial elegance. Your good health, sir,” I proposed before almost emptying the strong ale ain three gulps.
My host looked pleased. His green eyes showed a spark of light. More brandy followed as he described in detail the provenance of his clothing. It gradually became clear, as he trotted out names like Moishe the tailor at Charing Cross, shoemakers from Milan, silk and mohair suiting’s from Paris, that, unless I shut one eye, Jackie Connor would split into two. I felt weirdly sober with one eye squeezed tight, and I felt completely trashed when I opened it.
“I’m impressed,” I said. Picking up the pencil, with calculated suavity, I wrote in the notebook: “Sbjct v. shrp. drssr.”
Although I had enjoyed a modicum of success at writing in school, this gig was different. Before I committed crayon to paper in this venture – paid for in advance, mind – I had determined that a slicker approach to what I’d hear was required. My home-knitted shorthand would surely impress the subject himself.
Whether or not it would work with Connor would depend largely on my being able to stop squinting and how successfully I controlled the sudden vertigo I was feeling.