I breathed wetly and hung back at the street corner. I tried to see, but not to be seen.
Ritchie wet his lips and swallowed.
“See me,” Connor said, “Ah’ve been runnin’ aboot the streets o’ Plantation for a long time and Ah know how tae deal wi’ baith kinds: deal wi’ either wan – as Ah hiv in the past and will in the future. In your case, Mister Ritchie, Ah’ve decided Ah’ll make a special effort, try and make ye understand. Ah made up ma mind tae come and see ye, as Ah’m daein’ here, right noo. Watch closely, fat man here Ah am.” He spoke in the calm, reasoned tones of a philosophy lecturer explicating a tricky concept to an attentive student. “The price is a ‘pony’, twenty pounds, tae come in here. That’s permission. A tenner a week tae stay. The twenty plus the five weeks ye’ve been here plus the next week in advance comes tae eighty quid. Ah’m gonnae come roon every Saturday tae collect the rent, right?” He smiled, baring only his front upper teeth. “Listen carefully, fat man,” he said. “If ye fold on me, Ah’ll find ye, and hurt ye, ye follow me?”
The man from Whiteinch dried his hands on his white apron and nodded. He moistened his lips again. “I thought that’s what you would say,” he muttered.
Blow!” Jackie Connor issued the command in a much harsher tone. “Get back in that pub, crash the till and hand o’er the takings tae Big Andy here.” He glanced at his watch. “Ye’ve goat five minutes tae gi’e me whit ye owe me.”
Jackie Connor was checking his watch when Big Dan emerged from the narrow doorway, brandishing a bundle of banknotes. Connor smiled, took the proffered money and proceeded to distribute it randomly among the growing throng. The result was increasing pandemonium. Whoops and yells filled the air.
Suddenly, from Craigiehall Street, a thoroughfare that bisected MacLean Street about 200 yards away, a fully-fledged Orange marching band swung into view. They had come from the Lodge in Lorne Street, which was situated one block away from where we stood..
Brrrr, brrrr, tuk-a-tuk, tuk-a-tuk, brrrr, brrrr, tuk-a-tuk, tuk-a-tuk rattles out from four snare drums. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! thuds from two bass Lambeg drums. The shrill trilling of twenty wooden flutes floats against the tenement walls as this uniformed company slowly advances towards us. The antics of the tall, lanky drum major who led the parade are thrillingly dangerous. He frequently bends his loose-limbed upper body at the waist and turns it from side to side, swaying in time to the booming drums. His marching style, indeed that of all the band members, is strange. The feet of these youths have not adopted the orthodox heel-toe arrangement favoured by the rest of the earth-people. With the soles of their footwear gliding, or skliffing, across the ground in the manner of people attempting to get into backless slippers without using their hands, they advance in unhurried spurts. All eyes are on the outrageous drum major. His domination over the ground beneath his feet – for this was doubtless the motive for the jabbing, gliding motion of his progress – was exaggerated by the arrogant way he sent his mace spinning wildly into the air. This was no controlled twirling. The mace spiraled recklessly upwards to the level of the attic flats on the tenement buildings on either side. Shouts of approval greeted the action. The uniforms, blue bonnets with diced bands, short cutaway jackets in white with blue braid, and fitted black trousers, projected a look of military menace. This was a company of soldiers who were slip-sliding away to engage with an unidentified enemy.
I was drawn to the triumphant music and nodded my head in silent agreement when Big Andy declaimed theatrically: “You may talk of piano, or fiddle, or lute, but there’s nothing that sounds like the old Orange flute.”