Glasgow’s west end.

I had stepped on to the property ladder.

Six months later ‘the Nose’ joined my mother in Maryhill cemetery.

He died in a fire.

As I stood outside the shell of his house a policeman, with the hint of a smile, told me that ‘the Nose’ was no more. What the policeman didn’t tell me was that ‘the Nose’ had, prior to being burnt alive, been divested of both hands, his genitals and a large proportion of his face.

‘the Nose’ had been in debt to people far uglier than himself for more cash than he could ever pay back. There’s irony in there somewhere.

‘the Nose’ had met his match and I was out of a job.

The next few months were hard. As soon as word got round that ‘the Nose’ was history a range of suitors came to call on my customers. I was on my own and my competition came with a heavy mob attached. I tried to keep some of the customers but in the end I lost them all. The new boys on the block simply wiped a percentage of ‘the Nose’s’ slate clean and they were suddenly heroes. I was booted off my patch and fell back on what little savings I had.

In the scheme of things my next move could have been smarter but I was badly missing spare change in my pocket and, when Michael gave me the name of another contact I went along for the ride.

This time it wasn’t loan sharking. It was lower than that.

I was a look out.

My first job was keeping watch for a local gang on the back lot of an old disused bus station. I was there to ensure that the gang could carry out their various escapades without fear of being caught. It was down to me to give them the few vital seconds to make good an escape when the law, or other interested bodies made an unexpected appearance.

For my pains I would catch a pay packet of three quid for the job. I moved into ‘look out’ land and, on a good week, I could pull in six jobs. It kept me in beer and fags.

It was then that I discovered I had more than a small gift for breaking and entering. It wasn’t something I had ever tried but it was something that I would excel at.

I stumbled upon my talent when Jimmy Call, the leader of my new gang, turned his attention to the local betting shop and the safe that squatted in the premise’s back room.

Rumours had abounded for years about the amount of money that lay in that little grey treasure trove. The fact that it had sat untouched for more than ten years was down to the evil bastard who owned the bookies — one Malcolm Smillie, a man of little compassion.

Jimmy hatched a plan to do over the shop and make off with the safe. It was a crazy plan from the start. At its best it would seriously hack off Malcolm and at worst we would all end up in the canal wearing the latest in heavyweight body bags. But Jimmy was short on the smarts, cased the joint for over a week and announced that the back door was the weak point — everyone knew weak points were not the issue but this passed him by.

On the day of the job, Andy Hall, the gang’s break-in wizard, was caught stealing a car and was out of the equation. Jimmy decided to go in anyway and I was roped in to help cart the safe away while Jimmy’s wee brother, John, took on the look out duties.

I stood back and watched as Jimmy tried to use the lock pick that Andy had given him. Getting nowhere quick he changed tack and took an axe to the door but, after half an hour, the back door showed no signs of budging. Metal doors are pretty effective barriers to entry.

In frustration Jimmy threw the lock pick away and for reasons that were pure serendipity, I picked it up and asked if I could have a go. The gang laughed but Jimmy said he didn’t care so I tried my hand.

To tell you it felt right from moment one is an understatement. It felt great. As soon as I poked the wire into the key hole I knew I was on a fresh road. It just felt perfect. Like an extension to my hand.

I twisted and turned and the clicks of the levers being worked were Mozart playing in my ears. I hadn’t a Scooby what I was doing but after a few seconds the lock popped open. Jimmy swore for ten seconds before pushing past me and into the back shop.

It would have been nice if my first job had been a success but it wasn’t to be. True, the safe existed but it was bolted securely to the concrete floor and would have taken ten men ten days with a pick axe each to even worry it. On top of this there was a sign, taped to the front of the safe, which read:

‘Jimmy. If you are reading this, I’d think about taking a holiday — permanently.’

We all ran and three days later we heard that Jimmy was in the Southern General with an assortment of broken bones.

Shit happens like an evil dose of the runs when you play with the big boys.

Chapter 5

My new found skill was soon in demand. I foolishly bragged about it and I was picked up by Martin Sketchmore, a rare anglophile in our midst, an old acquaintance of Michael Tolt and, to top it all, a fellow Partick Thistle nutter — go figure.

‘Been hearing that you are good with locks.’

His accent was thick with somewhere in England, but not thick enough for me to place it. I nodded.

‘Got a job for you.’

It was a doddle. A little house breaking. The home of a Mrs McCafferty as it turned out. Top floor flat in Meadowpark Street in the east end of the city. Easy pickings. She was at the bingo and Martin had his eyes on her husband’s paypacket.

‘She keeps it behind the clock. Friday night, the old man brings it in, takes out his beer money and the rest is for her. Today was bonus time at Mellowes.’

Mellowes was a small engineering works that Martin skivvied in and Mr McCafferty gaffered for. Hence his intimate knowledge of all things mantle-piece in the McCafferty household.

Martin had planned to go in earlier in the evening but a few pints got in the way and, later that Friday we could be found climbing the stairs to the McCaffertys’ home — ears alive for any sounds.

At the top of the last flight I was faced with a storm door. It was locked but a few seconds with a piece of wire and a nail file and it was open.

The inner door was all glass — swanky as hell for those days. Martin pushed me to one side and booted the glass. Shards showered around us and before they could settle Martin was in and out, pay packet stuffed in his pocket. The McCaffertys didn’t make it out of the bedroom before we were gone.

It hadn’t occurred to me that they might be in.

I got a tenner for that job — Mrs McCafferty’s old man must have got a hell of a bonus for Martin to pay me a tenner.

And so it went on. I was a gun for hire. You want in. I get you there. But mostly I worked with Martin. It was a hell of a time. I wish I could tell you more. I really do but the clock is ticking.

I was on the up again but on a downward track — if that makes any sense. I was rising up the criminal world but sliding down the social scale on the polite side of society.

After a year of lock picking with Martin I wanted to go freelance. I fancied the lion’s share of the profits from a job — after all Martin would have fuck all if it wasn’t for me. I’m sure you know what I mean? So I bided my time, waiting for the right job.

It arrived in the late summer of 1976.

We were working the south side of Glasgow as the west and east were getting a little too hot. The police were on to us and word was on the street that there was some money in it for anyone that could turn us in. Forget CSI — it didn’t exist back then — grassing up was far more effective and some of my fellow thieves would be happy to drop me in it.

Especially those who kept their freedom by dropping the odd word in the police’s ear.

The south side was proving fruitful and my ten percent was starting to weigh down the bed. I was in the cash and a happy bunny. Finding good jobs was easy with the help of one Rachel Score — a pro from the Gorbals

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