“I don’t like the guy,” Big Dan announced. He was addressing Jackie Connor, but all of us in the packed single end on that late summer evening heard him clearly. Apart from the two main players, the audience was composed of Rab, three other young men I’d never seen before, the teenager, and me, the diligent scribe.
“Who’s this?” Connor said.
“Peter Bannan,” Dan explained, “fae Kinning Park.
“Name disnae ring a bell,” Connor said.
“He borrowed money,” Dan said, “and ‘Beef’ Ramsey thinks he’s stallin’.”
“Ramsey gi’ed him the money?” Jackie Connor asked.
“Aye,” Dan said. “A fast tenner o’er in Scotland Street aboot a month ago.
“Got it,” Connor said. “Ramsey shunted a’ his deadbeat payers o’er tae us. And this wideboy thinks he’s some kind o’ good cause.”
“Ah think,” Dan said, “we might hiv a problem.”
“How?” Connor said.
“Thinks he’s a hardman,” Dan said. “Six two or three, fourteen stone, mostly muscle. Works as a blacksmith in a foundry in McLellan Street.”
“Where is he?” Connor asked.
“As a matter o’ fact,” Dan said, “Ah met him aboot five minutes ago at the tap o’ the street.” He snorted. “Ah asked him whit he wiz daein’ on this side o’ the Paisley Road West. And dae ye know whit he said tae me? First he laughed, then he said tae me, ‘Ah go wherever Ah want tae go, and naebody’s gonnae stop me. Ah’ll be drinkin’ ma first pint the night in the Chevalier.’”
“How much diz he owe us, Dan?” Connor enquired.
“Tenner fae Ramsey,” Dan said, “plus two pounds a week interest, furr four weeks – ca’ it eighteen notes.”
“Did ye talk tae him aboot money?” Connor asked.
“Naw,” Dan replied. “But Ah did say if he wiz headin’ furr a pint in the Chevy, somebody might want tae hiv a word wi’ him.”
“Whit did he say?” Connor asked.
“He sneered and said, ‘Talk’s cheap, ma man.’” Dan said. “Ah’m supposed to be impressed by his fast mooth. Obviously,he thinks the tenner wiz a contribution.”
“Obviously,” Connor said, “we’ll hiv tae get Mister Bannan’s attention. We’ll hiv tae go o’er tae the pub and say tae him, ‘Whit’s the score?’ Like, ‘Where’s ma money?’ He looked slowly round the single end. “Right, troops,” he commanded. “Let’s go!”
We trooped over to the Chevalier and positioned ourselves in a semi-circle around the entrance. As I stood there with my notebook tucked into my armpit I believed for a fleeting moment that I was almost a gangster myself. It was a strange decision I had made, keeping up with violent people up to no good, and following them into a violent place. I didn’t know it then, but the first time I pretended to be a member of Jackie Connor’s gang was to be my last. I knew myself well enough to be aware that I got a vicarious thrill from hearing and reading about physical violence. The actuality of being involved in this behaviour might prove to be too strong for my delicate sensibilities.