“When Ah eventually made it back hame tae the Calton,” Jackie Connor drawled, “Ah still went oan workin’ furr McMahon.” This performance, a follow-on from his account of being in a ‘Home’ in Oxford, took place in the MacLean Street single end, and it was the same old, same old. The boss man was narrating and his subservient scribe was writing flat out in an attempt to memorialize every word that issued from Connor’s lips.
The man himself was standing, ankles crossed, four feet in front of my writing table. Shod in expensive looking sandals and wearing light blue linen shorts and an open necked crimson cotton shirt, he looked down on me, a smile at his mouth.
Was that a gold earring in his left lobe?
The joabs Ah done furr McMahon’s gang, the Calton Tongs,” Connor said, “went oan furr aboot two years, right until Ah left the Calton furr good. Oh, aye, ma auld lady moved back tae Maryhill tae stay wi’ her widowed sister, Auntie Jessie.”
“What about your siblings, Mister Connor?” I asked.
“Whit aboot them?” he snapped back.
“You told me,” I said, “you had a younger brother called Denis and a wee sister.”
“Correct,” Connor said, scowling. He clasped his hands below his waist and spoke flatly, his eyes narrow and dead. “Denis and Jean goat huckled intae Care. Ah hivnae seen either wan o’ them since.”
I looked up at him. “What are you telling me, sir?” I said. “You’ve lost all contact with your mother, brother and sister?”
Connor nodded his head once, frowned and said: “Right.”
There was not a trace of empathy in this creature. I dared to describe him – in my own head only – as ‘evil’, because in writing his life history I was in the process of discovering some of the most searing and shocking things he had done. He had to be evil to be so ruthless, hadn’t he?
“Can we get back,” I said, “to your move from the Calton, please?”
“Ah moved,” he said, “o’er tae Weir Street in Tradeston. The last thing McMahon did furr me, he arranged ‘digs’ furr me wi’ an auld Irish biddy called Maeve Harrington. She gi’ed me a bedroom tae masel’ and let me come and go as Ah pleased. It didnae take me lang tae make a name furr masel’ in Crookston Street School. Furr the first month, Ah wiz involved in playground fights every single day. Soon, the leader-aff in the district, a man in his mid-twenties, heard aboot me. His name wiz ‘Bambi’ McCulloch, known familiarly as ‘Cully’. He wiz the man that turned a wee guy fae the Calton who’d fight wi’ his shadow intae a fully-fledged gangster. Wan night he came roon tae ma lodgings and we hid a wee chat. Ah suppose it wiz like a kind o’ a job interview.”
“How did it go?” I asked.
“It wiz like playing ‘moashie’ on a flat, dirt pavement, and a’ ma jorries, or marbles as you’d call them, landed sweetly. Cully must hiv liked whit he saw and heard,” Connor said. He recruited me intae his crew. It wiz like a kind o’ apprenticeship, really. It lasted fae the beginning right tae the end o’ the war. I admired ‘Cully’. Every joab he hid me dae, he went right alang wi’ me. We’d strong-arm bookies in closes and burglarize warehooses doon the docks.”
Connor knelt and brought up a half bottle of Brandy. “Fancy a belt o’ this?” he said.
“No,” I replied sharply.
“Just a taste,” he purred.
“That stuff doesn’t agree with me,” I said.
“Yeah,” he grinned. “Noticed that the first day.” He unscrewed the top and tilted the bottle to his mouth. “I’m in charge o’ oor wee team here, you know.”
“Then be in charge,” I snapped. “This isn’t a team. This is a job. Keep on the job.”
I had cast my line and Connor didn’t like it.