and Martin’s snitch.

Rachel was blonde, over made up, over padded, corseted to the hilt and wore dresses that promised much if you could just figure how to release her from them. She let Martin know when houses were going to be empty and in turn she earned a cut of the take. Martin also paid her a little extra, in return for some extra marital exercise that Mrs Sketchmore was unaware of. As to me I never got a sniff of Rachel’s charms. Martin saw to that.

‘Don’t get involved with the tart. She’ll turn on you in a second.’

That didn’t stop him.

The gigs Rachel found us were easy. On a Friday night Martin would make a visit to the Gorbals, partake of Rachel, and come back with an empty ball sack; a full list of all the houses on the go for that weekend in his pocket.

All was roses and wine until, one weekend, Susan Sketchmore got her claws in and grounded Martin. In his absence I was despatched to meet the lovely Rachel with strict instructions to pick up the list and nothing else — chance would be a fine thing.

I met Rachel in the pre-arranged close only to find her giving one of her regulars a knee trembler. Without pausing she reached into her handbag, took out a piece of paper and handed it to me. If her ‘friend’ noticed I was there he never gave a sign. I left to the sound of a deep grunt as her customer finished his business.

Once back on the street I was tempted to look at the list but, around me the Gorbals was alive with eyes and ears and it wasn’t until I got home that I scanned the list of names and addresses.

All, bar one, were alien to me. The familiar name was David Read.

I knew David’s dad of old. He had been a big customer of my old engineering company and a man with contacts at Ford. Money was not an issue but he was a Gorbals man through and through and wasn’t for moving to some fancy detached house in the suburbs. Over the years he had purchased every flat in his close. A bit of cash to the council and a front door appeared where the communal entrance had once been. Then he set about converting the whole building into the home of his dreams.

The old man had died the year before and David now had a four-floor house with nine rooms to a floor and more toilets than was good for a man.

Read’s name was removed from the list — it wasn’t going to Martin — this one was for me.

I re-wrote the list in my best forged handwriting and Martin and I spent the weekend emptying valuables from homes.

On the Sunday night Martin called it quits around ten and told me we should both get going while the going was good. I made my excuses and told him I was walking into town for a drink. He shrugged his shoulders and told me to pass by his house the next morning for my share and left. I waited until he was well gone and then some.

Chapter 6

The Read’s house was down near the river and by the time I got to it, it was nearer twelve than eleven. The front door was flush to the main wall. This meant no shadow to work in. If someone walked along the street, I would stick out like a sore thumb. I needed to work quickly and I needed to be lucky.

I remember standing at the corner of the street looking at the front door wondering what lay behind it. All weekend we had lifted cheap jewellery and cash. The jewellery would be fenced by one of Martin’s friends for a fraction of its worth and for three nights’ work the amount of cash would seem poor.

I knew that, had I given the Read’s address to Martin it would have been first and if the pickings had been rich there would have been no need to scrape away the hard earned belongings of the Gorbals poor further down the list.

I had to hope that there was a jackpot behind the door. Not least because I knew my deception would be discovered — Rachel wouldn’t forget to ask Martin how he had fared with a house like the Reads. All I could hope for was a score big enough to free me of Martin and set me up on my own.

That was, is, and always will be my problem. Nothing was ever enough. I always wanted more and I always wanted more far quicker than made sense.

In my life I wanted round the corner before I had reached the end of the street. I wanted over the next hill before I’d climbed the one in front of me. Tomorrow was too late, today was a touch tardy and yesterday meant I already had it and didn’t want it anymore.

To add to my drive I felt the world owed me something for taking my mum and dad away. Some big fucking favour that I was entitled to call in whenever I needed it. There had to be an upside to losing your parents, even if one of them had pissed your life away at the feet of horses that were never quick enough.

As I waited in the still of that night I thought this is my time. A time for change. Come morning, I’ll be a new person. Fresh out of the wrapper. The past buried in the dustbin with my last packet of Golden Wonder.

I remember the wind on my face as if it was carrying a new soul for me to try on. Wrapping me in a warm blanket of optimism.

I was so right and I was so wrong — a two-edged simultaneous equation.

Chapter 7

I stood at that corner of the Read’s road for an hour before deciding the moment was right.

I slid along on the opposite side of the street like a limpet, eyes peeled, ears wide open. A man emerged from a close further down the street and I froze but he turned away and I saw the cloud of breath follow him as he hurried against the growing cold.

With a last look up and down the street I crossed to the door, pulling out my toolkit as I walked.

I had now acquired a regular locksmith’s wallet of assorted picks and files. I removed one of the picks from the wallet and, as I reached the door, bent down and slid it into the keyhole. I pulled a second pick from the wallet and pushed it in beside its brother.

Back then I didn’t know any of the technical jargon that goes with picking locks. Pins, shells, hubs and plates meant nothing. I just moved around bits of metal and if I was lucky opened the lock. The street faded from my mind and all my effort focussed on springing the lock. If someone came along now it was too late to do anything else but try and open the door and make it look like I was supposed to be there.

The lock turned out to be a penny drop — my name for the easy ones. Why penny drop — well when I was scavenging as a kid one of the favourite scams was to drop a penny in front of someone. When they bent over to pick it up, me and my mates would rush them, push them over and grab their bag, wallet, purse, coat — you name it. It was an easy way to earn if you had the balls and could run.

The lock clicked, I flicked the handle and I was in.

It was dark as sin in that house. I closed the door and the noise echoed along the walls. Clearly the close was still lined with tiles. I thought the Reads would have decorated the hall — to make it more like part of the home but it smelled and sounded like a thousand other closes across the city.

It was only then that I realised how ill equipped I was for the job. I had no torch. Martin always brought his along. I had no idea where to start looking either. Remember this used to be a building that housed fourteen families over four levels. Where the hell would the bedrooms be — always a good start point when doing over a house.

But I was in and I wasn’t going back. Strike that — I couldn’t go back. I either made this job pay or Martin would be over me like a rash. A little extra cash from this job and maybe I could hire some muscle to keep him at bay.

I ran my fingers along the close wall as I walked, feeling the cool of the ceramic surface on my fingers.

I reached the bottom of the stairwell and tried the first door. It opened easily and, as I stepped in, I could smell the bleach and fat fighting — the kitchen.

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