Connor had landed on the balls of his feet with the agility of a gymnast and stood in front of the wounded man. Bannan furiously tried to remain upright but was unable to get his balance and slowly toppled forward. Connor stepped forward on his left foot and brought his right knee up fast. The blow landed on Bannan’s mouth. Crack! The wounded giant’s head snapped up. His body sagged off to his left.

Big Dan grabbed the lapels of the donkey jacket and pulled the victim upright. Bannan kept his head down. Blood, teeth and a pink substance issued from his open mouth.

Connor unlooped the lanyard from his wrist. Calmly he wiped the bloody cosh on the donkey jacket and stowed the weapon in the inside pocket of his linen jacket.

“As many times as Ah dae this,” Jackie Connor proclaimed to the stunned audience, “Ah still hate it when Ah come across a moron who disnae know how things work roon aboot here.”

The room seemed to buy this announcement. A low murmur of approval rose from the shadowy figures seated at the tables.

Encouraged, Connor continued to deliver his self-justificatory sermon to his congregation. “Well, I mean,” Connor said with his hands open in appeal, “whit am Ah supposed tae dae? The bam’s four weeks late. He owed me eight pounds, plus the tenner underneath. Ah’m urrnae gonnae write it aff this week. If Ah did write it aff, a’ the wee street corner flymen wid say, ‘Jackie Connor’s getting’ saft in his auld age.’ Cannae hiv that happenin’. Naw, this clown doon oan the flerr here willnae gi’e me any mair trouble. When he get’s his sight back, it’ll be okay noo.” He laughed. His supporting chorus also sniggered in approval.

I had seen and heard enough. Crouching low to the ground I placed the notebook against a table leg and as unobtrusively as I could I backed out the pub. I was about as happy as if I had signed up for an assisted death in Switzerland. The assault I had just witnessed was a reminder that anybody’s light can go out at any time, and often does, when they least expect it. A combination of relief and fear gave wings to my heels as I ran home.

This was not the end of my association with the Connor gang. About six weeks after blood was spilled on the sawdust of the Chevalier I was hunched over an open book in the big chair in the kitchen at 191 Brand Street. I knew that all play and no work made Jack fail his final school examinations I was trying to re-acquaint myself with Cicero and Ovid. While on annual holiday in Benbecula I had decided to get Highers in English, Mathematics, French, Latin with maybe a couple of Lowers in Geography and Chemistry. No clear idea of a future career existed in my mind. Like Mister Micawber I was sure something would turn up.

The outside doorbell clanged. I charged into the lobby and opened the door. There stood a figure from my worst nightmare. It was Big Dan. His rig had certainly never been seen before in our part of the world. Above ankle-hugging red baseball boots he wore yellow baggy shorts topped by a crimson armless singlet.

I must have flinched, because he raised his arms, palms outward, in a gesture meant to convey that he came in peace. “Keys, Master Maclean,” he said in friendly tones. “Jackie asked me to pay ye a wee visit.”

“What does he want?” I asked, my voice trembling slightly.



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