Christopher Galt Novels


by Craig Russell

Chapter One

Four weeks and a day ago, I didn’t know Frankie McGahern. I also didn’t 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, Frankie’s 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. Frankie’s nose had been put out of joint when Tam took back full control on his return from the Middle East. With Tam’s brains behind it once more, the little McGahern empire began to grow again.

But while the McGahern operation wasn’t to be sneezed at, it didn’t 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 well.

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 McGahern’s 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 McGahern’s balls now being roommates with his Adam’s apple: ‘Aye . . . of course you will.’ At which point McGahern said, ‘Then I’ll 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 McGahern’s 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 you’d be looking at was St Peter’s. 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t give a toss. I didn’t think of McGahern’s 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 each shoulder.

‘You Lennox?’ Frankie posed the question as if it were an invitation to a fight.

‘I’m Lennox.’

‘My name’s Frankie McGahern. I want to talk to you.’

‘I’m 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.

‘Not here.’

‘Why not?’

‘Don’t 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 weren’t 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 didn’t like. It was, in fact, a surprisingly clumsy and visible thing for Frankie to have done. The joke was that after Tam’s shooting, Frankie now answered every knock at the door with: Who goes there, friend or enema?

‘Where then?’

He handed me a printed business card with the address of a garage in Rutherglen.

‘Meet me at the garage tomorrow night at nine thirty.’

‘What’s this about?’

‘I’ve 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 don’t come looking for me, I’ll come looking for you. Capice?’

There’s 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 violence.

‘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. McGahern’s 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 of himself.

‘We’re not finished with this, Lennox.’

‘Oh, I think we are.’

‘My money’s as good as any of the Three fucking Kings’ . . . as good as anyone’s. You’ll do this job for me. I’m not asking you. I’m 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 McGahern’s 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.

‘Yon’s a bad wee gobshite.’ He nodded in the direction of McGahern’s wake through the smoke-thick air. ‘You would maybe have been better doing whatever it was he wanted you to do. Less trouble.’
I laughed. ‘He wants me to find out who snuffed his brother. Walking that line would bring me more trouble than he’s capable of bringing. All of Glasgow knows that Frankie’s nothing without Tam. And I’m not interested in messing with gangland’s process of natural selection.’

Big Bob shrugged. ‘Just watch your back, Lennox. McGahern’s a treacherous wee rat.’

Things tended to get a bit crazy at chucking-out time. Scotland’s 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, it’s 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 it.

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 hadn’t noticed the Humber and started to walk towards my Austin Atlantic. When I reached it, I looked across again. The Humber hadn’t moved.
There are some things you learn in war that stick with you. Being aware that an attack doesn’t always come from the direction you expect is one. Frankie, who unlike his brother hadn’t 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 don’t 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 wasn’t 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 unconsciousness.

‘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 Frankie’s crumpled figure.

‘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? I’m afraid I don’t . . . I was just passing and I noticed he needed some assistance. Think he’s had a dram or two too many . . . must’ve fallen over.’

‘Funny that . . . he seems to have broken the fall with his nose.’ McNab leaned down and turned Frankie’s 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. I’m sure in your career in the City of Glasgow Police you’ve 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.’

‘It’s good to know that an officer of your experience and rank is patrolling Glasgow’s streets, Superintendent.’ McNab glowered.

‘Goodnight, Mr McNab.’

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all material © Craig Russell