“You ever hear o’ the telephone?” Dan said. “Ye could hiv called the Chevalier and left a message that ye’d like tae hiv a meetin’ wi’ Jackie, that kind o’ thing.”

“Is that what you’d have done, Dan?” I said.

“Well, actually, yeah,” Dan said. “Yeah, the same as I wid think it wiz the right thing tae dae, if Ah wiz the wan that wanted oot the gang. Yeah, I think ye should hiv gi’en Jackie a call, a’ right?”

“Why didn’t he come to see me himself?” I said.

“We hivnae seen him furr nearly a week noo,” Dan said.

“Where is . . . I mean, do you know where he might be?” I said.

“Could be anywhere,” Big Dan said. “He’s goat a’ these flats a’ready and, knowin’ him, he’s probably ready tae buy a hotel in Bermuda or somethin’ in a couple o’ weeks or so.”

“But he’s disappeared,” I said stupidly.

“Maybe he burned somebody important,” Dan said. “He’s maybe in the boot o’ an abandoned car in Shettleston wi’ a couple in the heid.”

Oh,” I said.

“That kind o’ chat,” Dan said, “ye lap it up, don’t ye?”

“Well,” I said, “actually I do like hearing about these depredations. It’s being involved in them I don’t like.”

“Ah know,” Big Dan said, grinning. “Ah wiz watchin’ ye when Jackie slapped Bannan aroon a wee bit that night in the Chevalier. When the blood hit the sawdust ye looked like ye wurr gonnae boak.”

“Dan,” I said, “look, honestly I wouldn’t have . . .”

Big Dan held up his hand. “Never mind,” he said, handing me a brown paper parcel. “Here’s yer notebook back. Jackie says ye write very well and ye’ll maybe get it published one day.”

I took the parcel from his left hand. “Thank him for me, please,” I said.

Dan turned away to head down the two flights of stairs that led to the close entrance. “Stay home,” he said before descending. “Drink warm milk and crumble up some toast in it.”

As I lowered myself into the big chair, the sole preserve of my late father, a vision jumped out of my head like an animal. Big Neil was sitting in the same piece of furniture some years earlier, moleskin trousers rolled up to his knees, bare feet immersed in a tin basin of hot water. His shins and calves were a glistening red colour. He had been working in the hold of an iron ore boat for ten boring, backbreaking hours. This was the kind of sheer meaningless misery dockworkers endured, day in, day out, for some twenty or thirty years. The idea that 40 to 60 hours of monotony was good enough for me was sufficiently appalling to propel me to pay a wee bit of attention to Trigonometry, Differential Calculus and the writings of Cicero and the Great Russian novelists. I knew that passing the Higher Leaving Certificate was the only way I could get as far away as possible from the River Clyde and its attendant drudgery.

As I prepare at his point to call it a wrap on the Jackie Connor story, a strange thought comes unbidden to my mind. Maybe Connor is still alive. It’s unlikely, since even today the life expectancy of males in deprived areas of Glasgow is sixty-two years, but still. If he’s reading this, I agree with him that I occasionally write well. I impress myself sometimes. However, with regard to publication, I have to report that the habitual reading public has had a bellyful of books about Glasgow hard men. I suspect too that Scottish publishers to whom I’ve sent the manuscript have, to a man and woman, raised their hands skyward and shot out to the street howling, ‘Where are the hills? Where are the hills?’

No cigar, Mr Connor.


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