by Craig Russell
Four weeks and a day ago, I didnt know Frankie McGahern. I also
didnt know that this was a state of affairs much to be desired.
My life was, admittedly, not without its ups and, more often, downs,
and I knew a lot of people that others would cross the street to avoid,
but Frankie McGahern was a bright star that was yet to cross my sky.
I knew the name McGahern, of course. Frankie was one of a matching
pair: the McGahern Twins. I had heard of Tam McGahern, Frankies
older brother by three minutes, who was a well-known middleweight
gangster in Glasgow, one of those whom the big guys left alone, mainly
because it was more trouble than it was worth.
The funny thing about the McGahern Twins depending on how you
define funny is that although they were outwardly identical,
the similarity ended there. Unlike his brother, Tam McGahern was smart,
hard and truly dangerous. And he was a life-taker. The viciousness
he had learned in the back streets and closes of Clydebank had been
professionally honed during the war in North Africa and the Middle
East. Tam the alley rat had become a decorated Desert Rat.
Frankie McGahern, on the other hand, had evaded military service courtesy
of a dodgy lung. While Tam had been away on active service, his less
capable brother had been left in charge of the McGahern business.
Frankies nose had been put out of joint when Tam took back full
control on his return from the Middle East. With Tams brains
behind it once more, the little McGahern empire began to grow again.
But while the McGahern operation wasnt to be sneezed at, it
didnt make much of an impact on the Three Kings: the tetrarchy
of Glasgow crime bosses who controlled almost everything that went
on in the city. And who provided, between them, a fair amount of my
workload. The Three Kings set the limits for Tam McGahern but other
than that left him and his brother alone. Tam was more than a sleeping
dog they let lie: he was an evil, rabid, vicious psycho of a dog that
they let lie. But on a short chain.
Until eight weeks and two days ago.
Eight weeks and two days ago, Tam McGahern was spending the evening
in a grubby flat above a bar in Maryhill servicing a nineteen-year-old
girl, no doubt with the direct, no-nonsense disregard for finesse
that has made Scotsmen the envy of every Latin lover. McGahern owned
the bar below, and, to all intents and purposes, the girl above as
At about two thirty in the morning, the coitus was interrupted by
someone banging loudly on the downstairs door of the flat. The caller
had also, apparently, shouted obscenities through the letterbox, mainly
casting doubt on Tam McGaherns dimensional capability to satisfy
his companion. McGahern had come running down the stairs, dressed
only in a Tootal shirt and monogrammed socks and clutching a kitchen
knife. But as he had flung open the door, he had been faced with two
large, sharp-suited gentlemen, each with a sawn-off shotgun. Slamming
the door shut, McGahern turned to clamber back up the stairs. His
callers, however, had shouldered in the door and let McGahern have
it with both barrels times two.
A lead enema, they call it in Glasgow.
I found out all of this from Jock Ferguson, a friend I have in the
City of Glasgow CID. Well, more of an acquaintance than a friend.
And probably more of a contact than an acquaintance. Ferguson also
told me that Tam McGahern had still been alive when the first police
Wolseley 6/90 patrol car arrived. The two PCs apparently found that
the retreating McGahern had been blasted more or less up the backside,
and his buttocks and groin were reduced to a bloody mass of raw flesh.
All blood and snotters, as my police chums are fond of saying.
In a classic and inspired piece of police intelligence gathering,
one of the attending constables asked the injured gangster if he had
recognized the men who had shot had him. When Tam McGahern asked:
Am I gonna be okay?, the police constable replied, despite
McGaherns balls now being roommates with his Adams apple:
Aye . . . of course you will. At which point McGahern
said, Then Ill get the bastards myself. And died.
In much the same way as the story was being told in bars across Glasgow,
it was related to me over a whisky and a pie in the Horsehead Bar
by my police contact. There was a lot of talk across the city about
Tam McGaherns demise; the one big difference was that with killings
like this it was usual to whisper the list of names in the frame.
But there were no names with this one. Although McGahern had his fair
share of enemies, he had removed most of them from Glasgow and many
from this life. If Tam had recognized the gunmen at the door, he had
taken their identities to his grave.
Everyone knew that none of the Three Kings was involved. There was
talk of an outside job. Of an English connection. There was even mention
made of Mr Morrison. Mr Morrison, which certainly wasnt his
real name, had the same kind of arrangement with the Three Kings that
I had: he worked for them all in total confidence and his impartiality
and independence was valued. But, unlike me, Mr Morrison didnt
investigate things for the Three Kings. He was in the removal business:
specifically removing people from this vale of tears. No one knew
what Mr Morrison looked like, or anything about him. Some doubted
that he even existed, or thought that he was just a bogeyman invented
by the Three Kings to keep the rank and file in line. Rumour was that
if you ever did come face-to-face with Mr Morrison, then the next
countenance youd be looking at was St Peters. But even
Mr Morrison was out of the frame. The killing had been professional,
but too public and messy. Anyway the Three Kings had made it clear
Mr Morrison wasnt involved. And that made it official. Nevertheless,
the conjecture and rumour continued, but it was just the morbidly
excited speculation of minor players in a game they did not understand.
Me, I didnt give a toss. I didnt think of McGaherns
murder much at all until four weeks and a day ago, when his brother,
Frankie, made my acquaintance.
It was no accidental encounter: in Glasgow, anyone who wants to find
me can. Officially, I had rented a one-room office in Gordon Street,
but my main regular consulting hours between seven thirty and
nine in the evening took place at the Horsehead Bar. And that
was where Frankie McGahern found me. My first impression of Frankie
was of a Savile Row suit hung on the wrong hanger. Despite the expensive
tailoring and the chunks of gold jewellery, he had the typical Glasgow
look: small, dark, with bad skin and weighed down by the chips on
You Lennox? Frankie posed the question as if it were an
invitation to a fight.
My names Frankie McGahern. I want to talk to you.
Im always amenable to conversation, I said, with
my usual disarming smile. In a city where most of the punters you
come up against have anything from a razor to a .45 stashed in a handy
pocket, it pays to make your smiles disarming.
Dont fuck me about. You know why.
And I did. More than a few of the bar grazers were working too hard
at looking as if they werent straining the blue-grey cigarette
haze for every word exchanged. Many were probably not seeing Frankie,
but the ghost of Tam McGahern. The McGaherns were the hottest gossip.
Frankie approaching me made me part of that gossip. Which I didnt
like. It was, in fact, a surprisingly clumsy and visible thing for
Frankie to have done. The joke was that after Tams shooting,
Frankie now answered every knock at the door with: Who goes there,
friend or enema?
He handed me a printed business card with the address of a garage
Meet me at the garage tomorrow night at nine thirty.
Whats this about?
Ive got a job for you. Your kind of job. Finding out things.
There are some things I avoid finding out, I said. What
I think you want me to find out is one of them.
The small shoulders squared inside the Savile Row. The pockmarked
skin on his face went tight, like a cat pulling its ears back before
leaping on a mouse. Except I was a big mouse. He leaned forward.
You can decide whether you turn up or not. But if you dont
come looking for me, Ill come looking for you. Capice?
Theres something about Italian or any other Latin language spoken
with a Scottish accent that I find hilarious. Frankie picked up on
my twitch of a smile and he took another step closer to me and to
Then we have a problem, friend, I said, turning from the
bar to face him square. It was usually at this point that Audie Murphy
or Jack Palance reached for their holsters. If there had been a honky-tonk
piano in the corner, it would have stopped playing. As it was, our
little dance had muted the talk around us. McGaherns small eyes
seemed to become even smaller. Rat small. Hard and bright with hate.
He suddenly seemed to sense we had an audience and looked less sure
Were not finished with this, Lennox.
Oh, I think we are.
My moneys as good as any of the Three fucking Kings
. . . as good as anyones. Youll do this job for me. Im
not asking you. Im telling. Be there tomorrow night. He
turned abruptly and walked out.
I ordered another whisky and weakened it with water from the brass
tap on the counter. I realized I still had McGaherns card in
my hand and slipped it into my jacket pocket. Big Bob the barman leaned
Popeye forearms swirled with blue-grey tattoos on the bar.
Yons a bad wee gobshite. He nodded in the direction
of McGaherns wake through the smoke-thick air. You would
maybe have been better doing whatever it was he wanted you to do.
I laughed. He wants me to find out who snuffed his brother.
Walking that line would bring me more trouble than hes capable
of bringing. All of Glasgow knows that Frankies nothing without
Tam. And Im not interested in messing with ganglands process
of natural selection.
Big Bob shrugged. Just watch your back, Lennox. McGaherns
a treacherous wee rat.
Things tended to get a bit crazy at chucking-out time. Scotlands
Presbyterian licensing laws encouraged a culture of against-the-clock
drinking. Not that Glaswegians needed much encouraging. And when men
who have drunk too much too quickly are thrust out into the night
air full of murderous cheer, its like an explosive chemical
reaction. So, after another couple of whiskies, I hit the street about
nine thirty to get home before the raging began.
Glasgow was inky sleek with rain that had stopped falling. The Second
City of the Empire was a black city, its impressive buildings made
shadows with the dark grime of its toiling; there were children here
who thought that the natural colour of stone was black. The rain,
which was heavy and frequent, never washed the city but oil-rag smeared
I saw the black Humber parked across the street and a couple of hundred
yards back. Oh, Frankie, I thought, why do we have to dance? I made
as if I hadnt noticed the Humber and started to walk towards
my Austin Atlantic. When I reached it, I looked across again. The
Humber hadnt moved.
There are some things you learn in war that stick with you. Being
aware that an attack doesnt always come from the direction you
expect is one. Frankie, who unlike his brother hadnt served
in the war, made the mistake of taking a step to the side to improve
the angle of his assault while still in the shadow of the doorway
behind me. He was as predictable as he was clumsy and I recognized
the bright arcing flash in the streetlight as a razor. You dont
fuck about when someone comes at you with a razor, so I spun round
and kicked him in the centre of his chest. Hard. I heard the air pulse
out of him and swung the leather sap I always carried in my jacket
pocket. It caught him on the side of the head. I swung the sap again
and deadened his wrist and the razor dropped with a clatter.
I knew it was already over, but I was pissed at Frankie for not letting
it go when I told him I wasnt interested. I pocketed my sap,
grabbed a handful of Brylcreem-slick hair, and snap-punched him hard
and square in the face. Three times, rapid succession. The punches
hurt my hand, but I felt the cartilage of his nose crack with the
impact of the second blow and his expensive shirt turned black-red
in the streetlight. I punched him again, this time on the mouth to
split his lips. I was done. I pushed him against the wall, wiped my
hands on his Savile Row, and let him slide down the wall and into
Do we have a problem here, gentlemen?
I turned to see that the black Humber had drawn alongside. The passenger
was a huge, thick-set man in his fifties, dressed in a grey suit and
with a wide-brimmed hat tight over bristle-cropped white hair. McNab.
No problem at all, Superintendent. I took a deep breath
and smiled charmingly. Not charmingly enough to stop McNab and his
uniformed driver getting out of the unmarked Humber. McNab looked
down from an altitude of six-and-a-half feet at Frankies crumpled
Well, well. The brother of the recently deceased Mr McGahern.
Now what, Lennox, could you possibly have to do with a wee piece of
shite like this?
You know him? Im afraid I dont . . . I was just
passing and I noticed he needed some assistance. Think hes had
a dram or two too many . . . mustve fallen over.
Funny that . . . he seems to have broken the fall with his nose.
McNab leaned down and turned Frankies face to the light. His
nose had an ugly break in it, right enough. And a welt of black-red
blood creased his swollen lip. But, there again, Frankie had been
no matinee idol beforehand.
It happens, Superintendent. Im sure in your career in
the City of Glasgow Police youve encountered many such unfortunate
accidents in the cell block.
McNab took a step towards me and eclipsed Glasgow. He was silent for
a couple of seconds, obviously a practised intimidation technique.
I tried not to show how good he was at it. Thankfully, his attention
was drawn back to Frankie, who started to make groaning and gurgling
noises. The uniformed constable hauled him upright.
What happened, McGahern? You want to make a complaint?
Frankie looked at me with a dull, unfocused hate, then shook his head.
On your way, Lennox, said McNab. But make sure you
stay easy to find.
Its good to know that an officer of your experience and
rank is patrolling Glasgows streets, Superintendent. McNab
Goodnight, Mr McNab.
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