A LESSON

“Was this the same kind of work you did for Jimmy McMahon?” I said.

Connor laughed, one bark. “A wee bit heavier,” he said. Ah wiz growin’ taller and fillin’ oot a bit. Ah could throw a fair bit o’ weight aroon masel’”

“When,” I asked, “did you become a fully-fledged . . . um, journeyman?”

Connor smiled tightly. “It wiz the Yanks’ fault,” he said. “At the tail end o’ the war the city wiz loupin’ wi’ GIs. Whit happened wiz, ‘Cully’ came intae possession o’ guns, rifles and ammunition. He gi’ed the Yanks dough and they supplied the firearms. We wurrnae the only wans tae get American guns. Every halfpenny gangster in Glesca’ goat himsel’ a gun and bullets tae go wi’ it..”

“How much were they paying the American soldiers?” I said.

“Never mind,” Connor said, fluttering the fingers of his right hand. “If supplies dried up, ‘Cully’ wi’ five or six ‘handers’ armed wi’ clubs and bicycle chains wid think nothin’ o’ jumpin’ a couple o’ MPs up the toon at night and takin’ their side arms aff them. That’s how he got his hauns oan a wicked Luger 9mm. Ah’ll tell ye later oan aboot the time me and Bambi McCulloch took aff a squad o’ Scrap Metal Dealers, usin’ guns. No’ the noo, though. We hid tae work oor way up tae big-time robberies like that. A typical afternoon’s work wid be how we persuaded a young fire fighter, Robert Weir, tae pay his debts.”

“No firearms were involved?” I said.

“Jist the blade Ah hid tucked intae ma belt,” Connor said. “The guy we wurr efter wiz a pretty decent fella. Drank in the Bonnington Bar, so he did. That wine shop wiz on the geographic border between ‘Bambi’ (‘Cully’) McCulloch’s territory and the Gorbals district, controlled by some other hooligan. And it wiz at the side door tae the pub, roon the corner fae Nelson Street, that ‘Cully’ and me waited furr the bold Robert the Fireman tae come oot As Ah say, he wiznae a bad guy, wife and weans, stayed in a red sandstone block o’ flats reserved furr firemen. Seemed he couldnae see his way clear, pay that seventy quid debt he’d built up since he’d ta’en a tenner aff McCulloch a while back. Kept sayin’ he didnae hiv the money – ‘Ah know Ah should pay, ‘Bambi’, and if they hidnae shortened ma hoors, Ah wid, honest: Ah’m jist pure Borassic Lint (skint) the noo. Blah, blath, blath . . .’ and maybe it wiz the truth. Too bad, but he still hid tae be taught a lesson.

It was at this point the door to the single end opened and the young girl whom I had seen dancing at the street party entered the room. Ignoring me, she plonked herself on Connor’s lap and kissed his neck.

“Miss,” I said testily, “you have to get out. Mr Connor and I haven’t finished our business yet.”

“Don’t move, Maggie,” Connor said. “Don’t listen to this wee numptie.”

I rose and collected my book and pencils from the table. “Mr Connor,” I said, my voice higher than I intended. “You pair can sook the faces off one another, if you want, but I don’t want to be a witness. Unless she leaves this minute, I’m trapping.”

The girl squirmed. “I’d better go,” she said.

“I can hurt you, son,” Connor said. “I can break every bone in your hands and you’ll never be able to hold a pen ever again. You understand?”

If there was going to be a fight, I was going to get beat. I just held on. I had shown myself. This is it, I thought.

The girl’s nerve had fled. She freed herself from Connor’s embrace as he grabbed at her, and then the single end door opened for her.

Connor sat back, fists clenched. In a high public voice he declaimed: “Son, this is the second time you’ve disrespected me. There won’t be a third.”

I sat and stared a cold hole through the man.

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