The evening’s principal entertainment – jiggin’, bevvyin’ and winchin’ – hadn’t quite started yet when Connor’s opening act wheeled into the street under the giant banner which stretched between two top floor flats and bore the legend LOUSY BUT LOYAL. Some customers from the pub emerged from the side door and lined the edges of both pavements. These men, young and old, had witnessed the barman’s capture inside the pub and they all adopted the same street-wise pose intended to display alert interest accompanied by cool control of emotions. They linked the fingers of both hands, palms down, across their upper thighs and from time to time ejected a stream of saliva through their upper front teeth. The ladies and the furniture arrangers all ceased their activities. Everybody seemed to know that a belter of an opening act was imminent.
“Now then, Mister Ritchie,” Connor said pleasantly in a high, clear voice. “I don’t think you understand the kind of business you’ve been doing in my patch . . .sir.”
The barman ran a finger round his collar and remained silent.
“Ye’ve been o’er oan this side o’ the water five weeks noo,” Connor said. He kept the alto voice low and pleasant.
“Uh-huh,” Mister Ritchie croaked.
“Ye’ve been flyin’ the ‘Mammy’ – Glaswegian slang for ‘Mama Mia’ meaning wine – oot o’ that dunny in Mair street. (A ‘dunny’ was a dark, dank underground cellar in the slum tenements of inner city Glasgow.) Six times you’ve loaded up that wee white A33 van wi’ boxes o’ that cheap, fortified British Sherry, hivn’t ye, Fred?”
The barman turned his head to one side and lowered his gaze.
“Twice,” Connor continued, “loads went to coffee stalls in Windmillcroft Quay and St Vincent Street. Once a load went to a shebeen in the Gorbals and a rake o’ wine went o’er tae another shebeen in Anderston. This’s some work you and yer boys hiv been daein’ here – boilin’ up that vile smelling jelly stuff, strainin’ the liquid intae bottles and taking it tae yer distribution centre in Mair Street. No one bothered you at any time, yous wurr daein’ it. Ye’ve been roon the block a few times o’er in Whiteinch and ye know that’s no’ an accident here in Plantation. For that coverage ye pay me.”
Ritchie shuffled his feet and did not speak.
“And since ye’ve met guys like me when ye ran that Ferry Tavern in Whiteinch,” Connor said, “ye’ve goat tae know ye goat aff oan the wrang fit wi’ me. Ye should hiv come tae see me before you started usin’ Mair Street. Ye didnae. Ye should’ve come tae see me as soon as ye took o’er this pub in my patch. Ye didnae. Right, ye think ye’re a wide man – ye know it a’. Or, maybe ye’re jist a retard.”
Already, I am resenting Connor’s lacerating humiliation of Ritchie. I get the impression that the man I have been charged with describing is not, as we used to say, the ‘clean totty.’ The sense of entitlement and his innate belief in his own superiority is becoming increasingly sinister to me. Perhaps the characteristic that unsettles me most is his scarcely concealed willingness to resort to violence if anyone disagrees with him. He is undoubtedly a classic psychopathic bully.
The realization is dawning on me that I’ve made a mistake in joining the gang. All I know that with Connor the end result will be ‘pow!’ The type of boy I am, I tell myself, is a watcher. I am a wordsmith who writes about what I see, hear and feel. I am not a fighter, particularly. I’m happier transcribing Connor’s memories, back in the single end. Annoyed with myself with being out on the street with this crew of small-time hoods, I suddenly feel nauseous. First, I taste something metallic and sour in the base of my throat. My backbone arches and my hastily gobbled ‘tea’ rains on the pavement.