Authors: Cathy MacPhail
So we wound our way through the pedestrian precincts and the streets, passing musicians and beggars and acrobats. We stopped a few times to watch their shows, then ran like crazy when they came round with the hat for money. Finally we came to the river. The Clyde sparkled in the sun, and the bridges spanning the river glittered like silver.
“There’s the Squinty Bridge.”
Gary didn’t even have to point it out, it was so plain to see. Its reflection on the river made a shape like a perfect egg.
“It’s actually called something else.” Gary searched his memory for the name. Snapped his fingers when it came to him: “The Clyde Arc, that’s its name. But here in Glasgow we just call it the Squinty Bridge.”
“Typical Glasgow.” I was beginning to like this Glasgow, with its sense of humour and the way they never seemed to take anything seriously. I was beginning to admire Gary even more too. This was a different side to him, a side I’d never seen before. “You really know your stuff, Gary.”
We walked on towards the bridge. “My dad, he’s really proud of this city. He’s always taking us places, telling us stories about it.”
I felt a sudden wave of sadness. I had once had a dad like that too. I brushed the feeling away. I didn’t want anything to spoil this day. Instead I said, “Good, you’re a perfect tour guide, then.”
So we took the walkway along the Clyde and then headed over the bridge. Gary was a blinking encyclopedia of information. He could tell us all the horrible ways men died in the shipyards that had once been here, and the ships that had been built and launched on the river. “Glasgow is the fourth-largest
city in Britain, and it used to be called ‘the Second City of the Empire’.”
“When we had an Empire!” I laughed. “How do you know all this stuff?”
“My dad can trace our family right back to the time of William Wallace.”
I laughed. “Aye, and they were selling dodgy goods then as well, I bet.”
Gary looked at me, his face suddenly serious. I patted him on the back. “Shouldn’t have said that, Gary. No offence.” I didn’t want anything to spoil our day, and, after a moment, he laughed too.
“William Wallace?” Claude had been thinking about this. “I’ve heard of him. Was he the one with the spider?” And then he had us all laughing like idiots.
“What about you, Logan?” Gary asked me.
“Me? I come from a long line of Scottish peasants, some Irish too, I think. Nothing interesting.”
“I’ve definitely got Welsh blood in me,” Mickey said proudly. “That’s how I’m such a good singer.” Then he began to treat us to a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody.
“I’m just a poor boy from a poor family…”
The rest of us put our hands over our ears and ran. Mickey ran after us, still singing at the top of his voice. Finally he shut up and went into a coughing fit. “Welsh blood, and I can’t sing for toffee,” he said proudly.
Gary started to laugh loudly. Had us all joining in. “That’s a violation of the Trades Description Act.” He turned to me. “What about you, Logan? Any talents we should know about?”
“Well, I play football like a one-legged horse. Does that count?”
“My dad says that’s the kind of horse he always backs in the Grand National,” said Gary.
“I never knew my daddy.” Claude sounded kind of wistful. “Never really needed him. My ma is all I ever needed, me and my sister, Taylor. My ma probably frightened my dad away. She scares most people.” Then he laughed. “My ma is one really scary lady.” He said it with pride.
“Where’s your dad?” Gary asked me.
“Took one look at me and dropped dead,” I told him. Actually, he had died when I was ten, and he had been just a boy himself when I was born.
But I remembered him, still missed him every day.
“Your mum’s married again though, isn’t she?”
I didn’t want to think about that. There was never a man in my mother’s life after my dad. She’d been as broken-hearted as me when he had died. It had just been her and me until this Vince had come along.
“I suppose…” I still hated to acknowledge a marriage. I spat on the pavement. “I mean, getting married again… at her age.”
“I never want to get married,” Mickey said. “As long as I’ve got Ricky, I’m happy.” And that set us all off laughing again.
I learned more about Gary and Claude and Mickey that day than I had learned since I’d first met them. And they learned about me. We talked the whole day as we walked round the city. Talked and laughed. There was no tension between us at all. Why was that? Only one answer came to mind. Baz. When Baz was there we never talked like this.
We ended up at the cinema, and Gary warned me before we went in. “No funny stuff. Don’t want chucked out again, eh?”
I had to hold in the beginning of anger about that. Until I realised he was right. That night before at the cinema I had behaved that way to impress Baz. Baz wasn’t here, so I didn’t have to impress anybody.
On the way home on the train we were treated to a spectacular gold and red sunset. The end of a perfect day.
We parted at the precinct, to go our separate ways.
“Been a great day,” Gary said.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Been terrific.”
Gary patted me on the back as we parted. “Should always be like this, pal.”
It should always be like this. Why wasn’t it? Because of Baz. We were all afraid of him, afraid to go against him. If he wasn’t here permanently, what would happen?
I tried to stop myself thinking like that. It seemed like a betrayal. But it was hard not to. That day was so good. We had laughed together, and talked together. And with no Baz there… it was better.
I could hear Vince and my mum in the living room. They were laughing, getting ready to go out. It was some anniversary or other. I sat in my room waiting for them to leave. Mum popped her head round the door. “You sure you don’t want to come?” She’d been asking me all day.
I didn’t want her to press me to go, so I smiled. “No, Mum. Go, have a nice time.”
Things had been better between us over the past couple of days. Mum and I had talked and laughed, and I knew that pleased her. I hadn’t contacted Baz, nor he me. Was that why it had been better? After the day out I had had with the boys, I didn’t want to see him.
Mum didn’t insist I go with her. She only hesitated a moment longer before she said, “Plenty in the fridge for you to eat. We won’t be late.”
I waited till I heard the door closing behind them before I moved into the living room. I grabbed some milk and made myself a sandwich, then I flopped onto the couch. I relished the luxury of it, having the house to myself. And the remote control. Being able to choose what I wanted to watch. I switched on the TV and began flicking through the channels. I was looking for something with a bit of action in it. Eventually I found an old vampire movie and settled in to watch.
I jumped when my phone buzzed. Gary’s name came up on the screen. Gary? Calling me? Gary seldom called me. I snapped it open. “What is it?”
Gary’s voice was only slightly louder than a whisper. “Have you got the evening paper there?”
I looked around. Vince always brought in the Glasgow evening paper. It was lying folded on the chair. “Yes, it’s here,” I said, lifting it.
I could hear Gary breathing nervously. “Page five. Turn to page five. Read it and phone me back.”
And then he was gone.
I had no doubt the item was about the fire. Why else would he call me? Surely we already knew all there was to know? Could there be any more surprises? I flicked over the pages.
The story actually took up two pages: four and five. On one side there were two photos: one of the blazing flames of the buildings, and another of a grim man who looked like a horse. He was stepping inside the police station, and waving away microphones.
The warehouse fire at a Glasgow estate has now been confirmed as arson. We understand that a man was taken in for questioning yesterday, but has been released today without charge. The man’s name is Michael Machan, sometimes referred to as ‘Mad Mike’. He is the son of the warehouse owner, and was arrested fifteen years ago on charges relating to organised crime, but the charges were eventually dropped when two key witnesses withdrew their statements.
Mr Machan vehemently denies any involvement in this fire. In a statement read by a family spokesperson, Mr Machan declared his anger at the destruction of their property and at the police investigation. He said the family were taking the incident as, ‘an attack on their authority’.
A councillor from the estate spoke of his concern over the potential for this incident to escalate further:
‘The Machans own half the properties here. They have
a great deal of… control. If this is arson, and it
the Machans who were responsible, if someone else deliberately set fire to their property, do you think they’re going to just let this go? I’m afraid I don’t think so. Not the Machans. They don’t forgive or forget. I think there are people out there who should be hoping that the police get to them before the Machans do.’
I called Gary back as soon as I’d read it. “I’ve never heard of this Mad Mike. Who is he?”
“He’s the head of one of the worst gangster families in Glasgow. He started off small time – my dad says he remembers when Mad Mike just ran protection rackets, you know, he made shopkeepers pay him to stop anybody robbing them. Then he would buy the properties of the people he was supposed to be protecting. Didn’t give them much choice: it was ‘Sell, or else…’”
“On this estate?”
“To begin with, but then he moved on to big-time drug dealing. But he’s never been convicted of anything. There’s always somebody willing to give him an alibi…”
“Or else…?” I said.
Gary quickly agreed. “Aye, Logan, or else. He’s a real bad guy. You don’t even want to know the things he’s done to people who have crossed him. He’s terrifying, Logan. My dad read that article and he said Mad Mike is not going to like the fact he was taken in for questioning. My dad says…” He paused again; I could hear him swallow nervously. “My dad says he’s not going to give up until he gets who did it… And that’s us, Logan.”
I lay in bed that night, and couldn’t stop thinking about what Gary had told me. An old man threatening to come after you was one thing, but Glasgow gangsters? And maybe, just maybe, that was what the old man had meant: ‘Don’t for a moment think you’re safe’. We weren’t safe because his sons would come and get us, and his sons were the Machans.
I’d read about the Krays, those notorious London gangsters, seen programmes about them on television too – the terrible things they’d done to people who stood against them, the terrible tortures they’d inflicted on people. It flashed through my mind as if I was watching a film. But it couldn’t happen in real life. Not to me.
Still, I couldn’t get it out of my mind that it just might. I almost phoned Baz, but that would have been stupid. I knew what he would say. Could hear him: ‘Hey, Gary told you that? You and Gary, you worry too much, brother. Gangsters? Hey, come on. Get real.’
Scared of nothing was Baz, at least on the outside. Was he ever as scared as me on the inside?
By the time Mum came back from her big night out I was sweating with fear. She came into my room. I could see she was a little tipsy. Her face flushed, her eyes sparkling. I sometimes forget how pretty my mum is. She has blonde hair, keeps it short, and has what has to be called a rosebud mouth. That mouth was smiling now. “You not sleeping yet?” She sat on my bed, ran her fingers through my hair, felt the sweat on my brow.
“You feel a little hot. Are you all right?”
, I wanted to tell her.
I feel sick, sick and scared
. But I said nothing.
“I love you so much, Logan. You know that, don’t you?”
At that moment I did know. Had no doubts. She did love me. She’d never stopped loving me. She bent and kissed my brow. “Put your TV off. Get to sleep. It’s late.”
I looked at her. She was my mother, I should be able to talk to her, tell her my worries. If she really loved me she would do what I wanted, wouldn’t she? “I want to go back to Aberdeen,” I said.
Away from here
, I was thinking,
. Away from any fear of gangsters coming after me. They wouldn’t be able to find me there.
Her tipsy smile disappeared. Her mouth grew tight. Exasperation took its place. “What brought this on?” She shook her head. “I thought you were beginning to like it here. How can you change so quickly?” She let out a long sigh. “We can’t go back, Logan. That’s not possible, son. You know that.”
Because of Vince, that was why it wasn’t possible. “You care about your boyfriend more than you care about me.”
“I don’t. You know that’s not true. And he’s my husband, Logan. Why can’t you accept that?” She sighed. “You know why we moved here, Logan. Remember what happened in Aberdeen? All I’ve ever done has been for you. We’re moving away from here soon anyway. We’re going to have a new house. In a really nice area. Vince is just waiting for word about it. You’ll see: things will get better then. I wish you would talk to Vince. You know, he does want to be a father to you.”
That just made me mad. “I don’t want a father. I had one.”
“Oh Logan, son. I know how hard it is for you to get over that. But he’s gone. He won’t come back. We both have to face that.” She tried to stroke my brow again. I pushed her hand away. There was no point talking to her. She never listened, not to me. I turned my face to the wall, but she still sat there. Didn’t move until Vince called out to her.
“Marie, honey?” he was a little tipsy too.
And of course, when he called, she went.
“Lights out,” she said, and she closed the door. Giving up on me, way too early.
Next evening, once I met up with Baz and talked to him, I felt better. I knew I would. At times like this, when I was scared, he was the one I needed. He was always strong and confident. He was on the walkway, waiting for me when I left the house. I blurted out everything that had been in that newspaper.
“Nobody saw us, Logan,” he said. “Mate, you worry too much about everything.”
He was right about that, it was true. I did.
He slapped me on the back. “That article, it’s like cop propaganda. It sells papers. They have to say something because they can’t catch anybody. So they put the fear of death into you so you’ll give yourself up.” He mocked a posh voice. “‘Just hope the cops get you before the gangsters do.’ Ha! Never heard such tosh.”
When he said it like that, of course he was right. By the time we met up with the other boys I was filled with as much bravado as Baz.
Gary looked even more worried than I had been. He began to rattle off to the boys everything he’d told me about the Machans.
Baz interrupted him. “You’re overreacting. What do you think this is, a Quentin Tarantino movie?”
Gary got angry. “Even my dad says anybody who touched their properties better watch out. Nobody messes with the Machans. That Mad Mike doesn’t like any involvement with the police. For that alone he’ll find whoever torched that warehouse and come after them, that’s what my dad said. He doesn’t know I’m one of them. I’m too scared to tell him. But
he said whoever it is should go to the cops. They’d be safer then.”
Baz grabbed Gary by the collar. “Well, if the cops come looking for us, we’ll know who to blame.”
Gary shook himself free. “I’m not a grass. Never would be.”
“Better not be.” Baz’s voice was cold. He stepped back.
“We don’t want to be fighting amongst ourselves,” said Mickey. “Come on, no point worrying about something that might never happen.” His dog started barking, as if it sensed the aggression building up between us.
I was worried that we all might fall apart. And I felt guilty for even thinking it, but I thought Baz would be the cause of it if we did. He didn’t seem to understand how scared we felt.