Connor continued his narrative, all the time staring balefully at me.

“We grabbed him as he came roon the corner, wipin’ his mooth wi’ a hanky. ‘Time’s up, Robert,’ McCulloch said. And we frog marched him up the street intae the deserted playgrunn (playground) o’ a wee Primary School. We stood him in the middle o’ the playgrunn, me in front and ‘Bambi’ behind him. Ah closed ma right fist roon the haun’le o’ ma knife, which wiz aye tucked intae ma belt. ‘Robert here,’ McCulloch announced in a low voice, ‘didnae un’erstaun’ who he wiz dealin’ wi’. Thinks he goat the poppy aff his daddy, so no hurry payin’ back.’ Withoot any warnin’ McCulloch launched himsel’ furrit. He landed oan the back o’ Robert’s neck and they baith landed oan the deck, Robert oan the bottom, face doon. McCulloch started tae pound the fireman’s heid oan the grunn (ground). Apart fae a wee bit twitchin’ o’ his limbs the guy wiz oot the game.

“‘Cully’ ma teacher then done a strange thing. He hopped, baith feet, ontae the back o’ the prone figure’s knees and shouted: ‘Right, Jackie, gi’e me yer best stroke. Take yer blade and cut his Achilles tendon –it’s doon there by the side o’ his ankle – jist wan neat slice’ll dae it. He’ll only lose a wee drap o’ blood, but he’ll no’ be able tae walk right furr the rest o’ his life.’ Well, Ah done whit “Bambi’ McCulloch asked me tae dae and we trapped, leavin’ Robert crippled in the playground.”

“Did you get your money back?” I asked.

“Look,” Connor said, “even wi’ a gammy leg Robert managed tae come up wi’ the dough that very night. Even found some mair money tae get himsel’ aluminium crutches. But the word still got aroon, nae doubt aboot it. The week efter we sorted Robert oot, in Tradeston at least, quite a long time efter that, everybody paid on time. Naebody wiz late.”

Connor sniggered and I also pretended to be amused, but I couldn’t have been very convincing. I was forcing a chuckle when Connor took a step closer to where I was sitting and looked down on me. “Somethin’ up wi’ ye,kid?” he said.

“No, no . . . not at all,” I protested.

“Ye disapprove, don’t ye?” he said.

“Well, to tell you the truth,” I said, playing for time, “I think the Achilles tendon move might have been a bit . . . extreme.”

“Uh huh,” Connor said: he nodded once, his green eyes displaying anger

“I want you listen very carefully to what I am about to say,” he enunciated very carefully and slowly. “I told you before that after my father died I wanted money. And, to this day, after I’ve made some money, I like to see if I can make some more money. That’s why I’ve been buying up flats all over the Southside and renting them out.”

His expression was calm, his tone a patient monotone, varied by occasional emphasis. “Now like I said, ‘Cully’ was a good mentor. It was from him I learned how to do all these those things you consider ‘extreme’. Like him, I wanted money and that’s never going to change. Always have more than I need. What else is there? Money more than anything. If possible, money today. Now.”

I wondered what he was doing with his riches. He certainly had a taste for luxury clothing and expensive jewels. I had no evidence that he splurged out on a lavishly appointed residence in the suburbs, that he favoured hot girlfriends, fast cars or a champagne lifestyle. For all I knew he could be living with a personal harem of beautiful young girls in Whitecraigs and they could all be patronizing upmarket restaurants in the city centre every night of the week. And as for fast cars, I never saw one. When Jackie (The Hat) Connor arrived in Plantation it was always in a black Hackney cab.

The sparkling wine of becoming a confidant of Connor was gradually curdling into vinegar.


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