I fired a shotgun twenty years ago. The ricochet hit me today.
So now I’m lying against a garbage bin in the midden. In the back court, some boys are swearing, spitting and throwing stones at one another, a Glasgow tradition that hasn’t altered since I was their age. Two of them are standing near me. I don’t know if they haven’t noticed me or are just ignoring what they think is some jaikey lying among the bins.
I can’t feel anything, but I can hear the blood pouring out of me. At first I hoped it was piss, but I know it’s not, because I hear it pour with every beat of my heart. I know I’m going to be joining the majority before Alec.
I hear the boys singing:
Ah went tae a party on Setturday night
Ra Tongs wur therr an’ they waanted tae fight
So Ah pullt ma blade oot as quick as a flash
An’ Ah shoutit, “Ra Young Team, ra Young Team, ya bass”
The furst wan thit came wis five foot four
Ah liftit ma boot an’ he fell tae ra floor
Ra cunt wis in agony, ra cunt wis in pain
So Ah liftit ma boot an’ Ah fuckt him again
The Maryhill Young Team doesn’t exist anymore, so I didn’t know kids still sang that song. Then I realize I’m not hearing these boys, because they’re not singing, they’re still swearing and throwing stones. I’m hearing Alec and me singing it when we were boys.
We were both in the Team, and we both wanted to be hard men. Everybody else in the gang knew better than to go ahead with either of us, and it looked like it would only be a matter of time till the two of us went at it, but we never got the chance then—I hit a guy too hard and he got paralyzed, so that got me a couple years in Glenochil. I might have got longer, but my lawyer said it was just an ordinary fight, and that I just hit hard because I was so big for my age, and the judge gave me the benefit of the doubt. Stupid people always make life easier.
I was 18 when I got out. I got back in the Team, but Alec had left, because he’d started working for Arthur, who’d been running the city since before we were born. When you were out and about in pubs and clubs, you wouldn’t say Arthur’s name, just his initials. There was a young guy who got angry because the bouncer wouldn’t let him into a club, and he not only said Arthur’s name, he said Arthur was his dad. It wasn’t true, and you could always tell by looking at the guy afterwards, because his face got cut up so it looked like a map of Glasgow.
It might have been Alec who did the cutting.
The big difference between Alec and me back then was that I was a cunt and he wasn’t. So he was getting paid to do what I was doing for nothing. And I mean for nothing. I didn’t get paid for it, and I didn’t have any reason for doing it. I just did it.
When I was twenty, I decided it was time to grow up and get a job, since I had plenty of work experience, even though I’d never been off the Billy Joel except when I was pleasuring Her Majesty. I wanted to ask Alec about maybe working for Arthur, but I hardly ever saw him anymore. I knew this guy Pat—he was the dad of a boy I was locked up with—and I knew he knew the facts of life, so I went and saw him, and he told me Alec was always at this pub, The Ponderosa, which was owned by Arthur.
It was off the Gallowgate, not that far from Pat’s house, so when I left Pat’s I walked there. It was so cold that when I stepped on a piece of dogshit it was like stepping on a stone. When I got to the pub, it was packed arsehole to balls, but I was glad of the heat. People were looking at me like they always look at you in pubs like that if they haven’t seen you before, but nobody said anything to me. I went and stood at the bar and waited to get a pint. When the barman served me, I asked him if he knew Alec Creadie. He gave me a funny look and didn’t say anything.
“Right next to you, cunt. You blind?” Alec put his arm round my shoulders when he said it. He was laughing.
“Sorry, mate. Never saw you.”
“I figured that out myself. How you doing?”
“Could complain, but what’s the point? Yourself?”
“I’m fine. If you did complain, what would it be about?”
“Bugs Bunny, or the lack thereof.”
“Money? You looking for a tap?”
“No, it’s nothing like that.”
“Well, buy me a pint and tell me what it is like, then.”
Typical. Tell them you’re skint and they tell you to buy them one. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, though, so I waved to the barman and pointed to Alec.
We took our pints and moved away from the bar, over to a corner. Now that I was with Alec, nobody was bothering to look at me.
“So what’s the crack?” Alec asked me.
“I actually came down here looking for you.”
He made a face.
“I was wondering if your employer has any openings?”
“For what you’re doing.”
“What is it I’m doing?”
“Whatever is it, I’d like to do it as well.”
“I was hoping you could help me out there.”
We drank our drinks and talked about other things. It was good to see him, which surprised me a bit. We were just talking and getting along fine, and then something changed, the way it just does. Alec downed what was left of his pint and said, “Who the fuck do you think you are?”
“Coming in here.”
“I told you I—”
“You’ve got some fucking neck on you, coming in here.”
“You’re out of order, wee man.”
“Think being big makes you a hard cunt?”
I turned to walk past him, but he blocked my way. “Excuse me,” I said.
“There’s no excuse for you, you cunt.”
I grabbed him by the hair, pulled his head down and started to kick him in the face. But what worked in the back courts of Maryhill wasn’t going to cut it in the Ponderosa. It felt like half the pub jumped on me and dragged me off him, but it was probably only about a half a dozen of his posse. Everybody else in the place just stood around and watched as Alec stood in front of me while his mates held me so I couldn’t move.
“Kicks in the face, is it, big man?” he said. “Okay.” He did a kind of running jump, and rammed the heel of his boot into my mouth. Then he did it again. Then they were all kicking me, kicking me and kicking me as I crawled across the room and out the door.
The cold actually felt good. I managed to stand up, and shit ran down my legs and out over my socks and shoes. Some people in the street laughed at me as I staggered along the Gallowgate till I reached Pat’s house and banged on his door.
“Fuck’s sake, son. I thought it was your mate you were going to see.”
“I thought so, too.”
“Fuck. We better get you to hospital.”
“Well, we need to get you cleaned up. You’ve shat yourself.”
“What do you want, then?”
“Don’t be daft.”
“I know you’ve got one.”
“I’ve only got a shotgun.”
“Fuck off. Have you ever even fired a gun?”
“No, but I’ll figure it out.”
He led me into the bathroom. “Look at the state of yourself.”
I looked in the mirror. My lips were like rubber hoses, and my front teeth were broken. My cheeks and chin were raw meat.
“Give me the shotgun. I’ll bring it back,” I said.
“Look. Clean yourself up, go home and get some sleep, and we can talk about what to do tomorrow.”
“You just want me to calm down so you can talk me out of it tomorrow. Give me the fucking gun. You know I looked after your boy in the jail.”
“Don’t start that. You can have the gun if you want it. Just aim low, okay?”
As I walked back up the road to the pub, I still looked the same way I had when people were laughing at me, but nobody laughed at me now. Carrying a shotgun makes you less amusing.
The pub was still busy, but people scattered when they saw what I was pointing. It was like Moses parting the fucking sea. I had the wrath of God in my hands. Alec was standing at the bar, and when I took aim at him his mates disappeared like ghosts. Realizing he was alone, he started to cry. At the last second I remembered what Pat had said about aiming low. I wasn’t sure of my aim, so I got down on my knees on the ash-covered floor, held the shotgun as steady as I could, and pulled the trigger.
I’d never heard a noise like it. It’s not like it is on TV. I felt like somebody had clapped their hands over my ears, hard. I saw Alec’s clothes turn red, and I saw him fall, and I saw the empty shell fall to the floor.
Then I saw a man in a suit and tie pick the shell up and put it in his pocket. He looked around. “None of you saw what happened,” he told everybody. “Get Alec out of here.”
By the end of the night, I didn’t know if Alec was dead or not. But I knew I had his job.
I worked for Arthur for the rest of his life, which was another fifteen years or so. When two young guys murdered Arthur’s son, but nobody could prove anything, they were found in a car on the day of the funeral, along the funeral’s route, with their heads air-conditioned. That was me.
Alec never worked for Arthur again. In fact, he decided he’d had enough, and got out of the game. He moved to Paisley and got a job in a pub there, and ended up buying the pub. He didn’t seem to hold anything against me. When Arthur died of a heart attack, I saw Alec at the funeral, and we shook hands.
The other day, I got a phone call from Alec. He said he needed to talk to me about something, something he needed help with, and that we shouldn’t talk about it on the phone. For old times’ sake, and because I still quite liked him, I drove up to Paisley and went to his pub.
We sat at a table and he told me whatever I had was on the house. I had some drinks and fish and chips. He drank, but he didn’t eat anything. It didn’t look like the life of a respectable businessman had been good for him; he looked bloated, and his skin was grey. He remarked that I looked like I was still in the same shape I’d been in twenty years ago. “Yeah, aside from being bald now,” I said. “Nice of you not to notice that.” We both laughed. “So, what can I do for you?” I asked him.
“Well, the long and the short of it is that some cunts are hassling me…”
“You want me to sort them for you? How many are there?”
“I might not be in your league, mate, but I’m not decrepit. I’ll sort them myself. I just need the tool of the trade, like.”
That was no problem. I told him the price, he agreed, and I said I’d phone him when I had it.
I phoned him today, and we met for a lunchtime drink at the Woodside Inn in Maryhill. We went into the toilet and locked the door. I opened my bag and took out the merchandise. “This is a Glock,” I said. “Like the American rapper boys sing about?”
He took it. “Very nice,” he said.
“I aim to please.”
“I’ll be able to right some wrongs with this. Thanks.” He dug in his pocket and handed me a wad of notes. I put it in my pocket without counting it. I gave him the bag and he put the Glock back in it.
We went back into the pub and sat at a table and drank. “I’ve got to say, mate, you’ve been a lot more helpful to me than I was to you when you came to see me in a pub twenty years ago,” he said.
“Ah, don’t worry about it. A lot of water under the bridge and all that,” I said.
“Well, it’s appreciated.”
“You’re welcome. Hey, you hungry? Want to go and have lunch somewhere?”
“I wish I was hungry, but I don’t eat much nowadays. If I do, I bring it back up. All this weight’s not fat, it’s edema.”
“What, are you ill?”
“That’s about right. I’m signed up to join the majority soon.”
“The majority of people. Like Arthur. And some people you’ve signed up.”
“Cancer, mate. Game’s a bogey.”
“Are you fucking kidding?”
“I wish I was.”
“Fuck’s sake, Alec.”
“That’s what I said when I got the word.”
“Fuck, I’m sorry. I don’t even know what to say.”
“It could be worse. At least I’m not leaving any kids, or a wife.”
“You never had any?”
“Nah. It’s difficult to do that kind of thing when some bastard shot your cock and balls off.”
“Oh, shit, Alec. I didn’t know…”
He pulled the Glock and fired. I wasn’t sure where it hit me. I felt the impact all through my body.
“I let bygones be bygones, because I wasn’t going to jail for you, Davey.” He fired again. The barmaid was screaming. People were running out the door. “Why would I get locked up for wasting you, you cunt, when you took everything else away from me?” He fired again. “Nothing to lose now, though, mate. Might as well have some fun.”
I stood up. It was so easy to stand up, at first I thought none of his shots had hit me. But I tried to grab at him and couldn’t feel my arms. I turned and walked out of the pub, and he walked after me, firing again, then again.
I went into a close, thinking he would follow, but he didn’t. I think he got in his car. Maybe the Glock was empty now, or maybe he just knew he’d done enough. I kicked a door, hoping somebody would answer and get me an ambulance, but nobody did.
In the back court, I looked for something soft to lie down on, but there was nothing except the bags of garbage in the midden. I lay down, and I’m still lying here, and I don’t know how long it’s been. The boys came in to the back court and threw stones and spat at one another and ignored me. Unlike Alec, I have kids, but I haven’t seen them in a long time. I don’t think I ever will again. I’m joining the majority, but I don’t think any of us see each other there.