ESCAPE

“What’s McMahon’s Law?” I asked.

“Whit Ah’d learned in McMahon’s crew wiz this: it’s aye better, if ye’re gonnae attack somebody, tae get the first blow in when the victim least expects it. There wiz a big torch stood oan tap o’ the desk. Ah grabbed it and, still grinning pleasantly, smacked the auld guy oan the side o’ his heid wi’ it. It wiz ‘Goodnight, Berlin’, for the doorkeeper. Collapsed in a heap behind the desk, so he did. I turned away, opened the door o’ the gaff, slipped outside, and ran up the street tae the city centre.”

“You weren’t picked up by the police and returned to the Home, were you?” I said. “Would they not have missed you right away?”

“Nae chance,” Connor said, swatting my query aside. “If the Matron or the auld Vicar came across the jannie laid oot behind the Reception desk, they’d jist think he wiz havin’ a wee doss. Nah, Ah widnae be missed until bedtime. Plenty o’ time furr me tae buy fags and ginger and hitch a lift tae Manchester wi’ a travellin’ salesman in an auld Jaguar. We arrived in Picadilly at eleven o’clock at night and, after buyin’ a fish supper, Ah made ma way tae a park bench and ate it.” He licked his lips. “Anyway,” he continued, “Ah spent the night in the park – oan the bench. In the mornin’ Ah asked shopkkepers and pedestrians where the long-distance lorry park wiz.”

“Were you not . . .you know, frightened?” I blurted out.

“Nah,” he said scornfully. He narrowed the dead, green eyes and started to speak in RP English. “If I have a knife tucked inside my belt,” he said, “and somebody – anybody – tries to interfere with me, I’ll definitely stab him and clear off as quickly as I can.”

“Really?” I said.

“Oh, aye,” Connor replied forcibly. “I was well aware of the existence of what we in Glasgow called ‘stoat-the-ba’s.’”

“What’s a stoat-the-ba’?” I asked.

“You know, one of them,” he spat out.

“What’s that got to do with a ball?” I asked.

“Somebody who is attracted to a child or children,” he explained, “goes into a playground or park and bounces a brightly coloured tennis ball between his knees, saying, ‘Want tae play bouncy ba’ wi’ me, kid?’ The boy or girl approaches and the freak is well on his way to tampering with another young victim.”

I said nothing. Connor looked defiant. I believed everything he had said.

“So you’ve always got a plan for when you’re in a tight spot?” I said.

“Nae plan,” he retorted.

“I mean,” I tried to clarify, “you almost seem to be expecting trouble.”

Connor rolled his eyes. “Ah don’t expect nothin’,” he said. “Men like me take what we get.”

“Don’t you ever feel sorry for hurting somebody?” I asked.

“Never,” he replied vehemently.

In my gut I knew it was a lost cause trying to change this psychopath’s persistent and repetitive pattern of behaviour. An old Yiddish saying I had read about caused a memory muscle to flex weakly: ‘Do not try to teach a pig to sing. It never works. And it probably annoys the pig.’

“Look, Connor said, “Ah’ve been tryin’ tae tell ye. Ye’ve goat tae be completely ruthless in ma line o’ work. Cutting somebody is the kind o’ thing that hiz goat tae happen sometimes. – cause it works.”

“I think that should do it, Mister Connor,” I said in a shaky voice. “Do you mind if we . . . ah, adjourn the meeting?” I did not wait for permission, but bundled up my belongings and left Jackie Connor in his single end.

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