(Back to Glasgow- where Julie reflects on her family background.)
“Don’t you remember a couple of New Years ago we went to a party at my Uncle Hughie’s after the bells?” said Julie. “He has a house in Govanhill not that far from my mum and dad’s place.”
“Mm…, come to think of it I do, but that can’t be him, your uncle must be seventy if he’s a day.”
“Nearly eighty, if not more, I’d say. No, not him, it’s his son young Hughie.”
“Young Hughie! Look, this dead man is in his forties…”
“Yes, yes, I know that but they just called him that to distinguish him from his father.” Julie replied patiently.
Des looked at the image again and thought for a minute.
“Ah yes!” he said, slapping his head lightly “I do remember him. It’s coming back to me now. I only spoke to him for a few minutes. Irish guy, big tip for himself, likes to talk like a gangster. I know he’s a relative of yours but not quite my cup of tea – if my memory serves me right.”
“Wrong on the Irish bit, he’s one of these ‘plastic paddies’ as my dad used to call them. Start talking about the old country, give them a few drinks and the ‘Oirish’ accent becomes more pronounced and more bizarre. Almost right about the gangster bit, though more what you would call a fly man rather than muscle. Building trade, supplying labour, a bit of stolen goods, fencing gear in the black-market, general fraud – usual stuff. He had a few contacts over in Belfast that he liked to boast about. Tried to make out he was well in with the Provos and the like.”
“For a pharmacist you seem well up in the world of petty criminals!”
“Kind of grew up with it I suppose, not directly. But when I was younger we went to Ireland every year and met a lot of relatives, usually stayed with them. If you’re brought up in a city you tend to romanticise the countryside a bit. But believe me there is lots of tacky behaviour in the rural areas as well. One of my granddad’s brothers-in-law sold dodgy poteen and was a general drunken no-user. Uncle Hughie’s lot always seemed to me to be crafty, sly, always trying to get one over you. My sister absolutely loved it, still does. Loved to wander around, talking to the old ones, drinking tea and having the crack as they say, but I was a bit less enthusiastic. I always thought they considered us as outsiders – they often called us ‘the wee Scotties’. Eventually, as I got older, I started to go to Spain and Italy with the school and began to find Ireland a bit of a bore. I’ve only been back about two or three times this past ten years, mainly for weddings and funerals. I also felt that the Toners and the others seemed to get more troublesome and more course and uncouth the older they got.”
“Ah yes, a refined young lady like yourself …”
Julie picked up a cushion and threw it.
“Be quiet, I’m enjoying reminiscing here.”
“Sorry, carry on, so you knew young Hughie then.”
“Well, he was a bit older than me but I knew the rest of them, his younger brother and his sister Eileen who was much more my age.”
She paused for a minute reflecting.
“Yes, Eileen was nice but the rest of them were, in my mother’s immortal words, ‘stamped with the same brush’.”
Des laughed out loud.
“Great one for the mixed metaphors, my mother,” sighed Julie.
“In case you’re wondering,” she continued. “Uncle Hughie – Old Hughie Toner – was my father’s brother in law. He was from Donegal, around from where my father’s lot came, and a bit of a waster as well. He ended up married to Noreen, my father’s younger sister, so fair game for criticism from my mother. My mother thought that some of her husband’s family were nothing but a bunch of low lifers. Her own family were in her eyes, of course, perfect.”
Des poured another glass of wine for each of them.
”You Irish guys seem to revel in your family history, something I lack an interest in. Other than my immediate family, back to grandparents is enough for me. In fact, one of my grannies was Irish. The family name, Capaldi, originated in a place called Picinisco in Italy, or so my dad says. He knows that his great granddad was Italian and that’s going back well over a hundred years, that’s as far back as I want to know. What’s the point?”
“I couldn’t agree more. I’m quite happy about the Irish background bit, but some of my relatives like to wrap themselves in a tricolour and relive the Irish wars as if they were yesterday.”
She stood up.
“There’s an old school friend of mine who called her daughter ‘Bealtaine’ I mean, for God’s sake, no one seems to know how to even pronounce it! It apparently means ‘May’ in Irish Gaelic, and from what you just told me, she’s probably less Irish than you are.”
Julie paused, and then added.
“You know, sometimes it makes you wonder if some people will ever want to be become part of the indigenous population.”
“Never mind – carry on.” said Des.
“Yes. There was always bit of an atmosphere about. My grandfather, Charlie McKenna, spent most of his life here, in Glasgow, although he often talked of his time in America and occasionally about his time in the army during the First World War. Come to think of it, I’m sure I seen a photograph of him in a uniform somewhere. Spoke decent French, believe or not.”
“Not many of you paddies speak French.”
“Oh aye! And you speak fluent Italian of course…”
“Morte fascista!” shouted Des flattening up his palm and giving the socialist salute.
Julie closed her eyes.
“I learned that from old Aldo who ran the fish and chip shop in Allison Street.”
He went silent.
“It means death to the fascists, by the way,” he added lamely.
“Can you be quiet for ten minutes?”
“Apparently,” she continued “Charlie, my granddad, learned the language in France while he was there during the War. I always got the vague impression that he was involved in the troubles after the War, somewhere down south, around Cork. I remember him going down there a couple of times to look up some old friends, usually went by himself, maybe my dad could tell us more. Strange, even although he never talked that much, he seemed a lot smarter, more… how would you put it? …more worldly wise than the rest of his family. He seemed to have a fair bit of money as well, he left my father a real tidy sum, round about £200,000, and that was fifteen years ago.”
Des gave a silent whistle.
“That’s a lot of cash!”
“Yes I know. Caused a real family argument too. My mother was embarrassed. We were reasonably well off, had a big house, well educated, went good holidays and always had a car and the rest. My dad, as you know, was a faculty head in a college and was well paid. My grandfather’s remaining relatives over in Ireland were really shocked to find out that old Charlie was pretty well loaded.”
“I’ve never thought about asking, but what exactly did your grandfather do for a living?” said Des.
“He had retired for years even before I was born, but I think he worked on building sites for most of his life but seemed to have a decent job on the management side of things, mostly working for old Glasgow Corporation.”
“Seems a fair bit of savings even with a good job,” said Des. “I wonder how he managed it?”
“I suppose you’re right. I never gave it much thought, couldn’t imagine him doing anything untoward though. He was a steady sort, unadventurous. Seemed quite happy to potter around the garden. My mother’s family didn’t want for much either, come to think of it, pretty middle class by the standards of the day.”
She glanced up at the clock.
“Look, Des, I must call my mother. Young Hughie was a bit of a toe rag, but he was family after all.”
“Wait a sec Julie. Let’s get a few facts confirmed. Do you think that Toner was killed for his Irish connections?”
“I don’t know one way or the other. He never struck me as having any interest in politics, but stranger things have happened I suppose. Anyway he ran about with a bunch of low life hoodlums so I expect anything could have happened.”
“True,” said Des. “The biggest fallacy of all time is honour among thieves. Most of these guys would maim and murder their best pal if it suited their purpose.”
“Anyway,” he continued, “if you’ve got to phone your mother tell her you’ve heard a rumour and for goodness sake, tell her not to contact his family – that would be a disaster for everyone, particularly Hastings. In fact, let’s leave it until I contact him – he should still be at home.”
“Right then,” said Julie. “I’ll clear away these dishes while you do that.”
He picked up the phone – he was lucky. Hastings had just finished showering and was about to head out shortly. Des told him that Julie was almost sure that it was her dad’s cousin Hughie and was about to launch into all he knew about young Hughie.
“Its okay, Des. He has already been identified as Hugh Toner. I think who ever done him in was disturbed before he could rob him. He had his wallet and stacks of I.D. on him. His family have been informed.”
“I think I know why you thought he was familiar. Julie says you might have met him with us. He was at a New Year party a few years back. Do you remember that house in Mount Florida? We all arrived after the bells.”
There was a short silence.
“Let me think. Was that the night we had to walk from Central Station because we missed the last train?”
“That’s right!’ said Des. “I’d almost forgot about that.”
“Yes, I remember that night well, we all had great time. Ah! Just a minute, of course, I remember now. I didn’t speak to him much. Bit of a loud mouth if I remember.”
“Got it in one old chap – the very man!” said Des “Julie’s going to phone her mother for a natter, any problems with her mentioning this?”
“Don’t suppose so, just tell her not to mention my name or I’m in big trouble.”
“She won’t. She is quite discreet.”
After Julie left to make the call home, Des pulled out his laptop. He knew from long experience that for Julie this would be a half hour phone job. While waiting for the computer to boot up, he poured himself a glass of light beer. The hard part, as Des knew, was making up the heading, so settling down, he gave the story his usual working title “Glasgow Man Murdered in Frenzied Knife Attack!” The writing flowed easy; there were two approaches – Red Top Tabloid and Broadsheet. For a run of the mill story at this stage he knew exactly what the sub editors were looking for. He ran off a first draft and sat back:
“Last night Strathclyde Police launched a murder hunt when the body of a forty year old man was discovered in Renfield Lane in Glasgow city centre. Detectives were called in after police discovered the body early yesterday evening. Officers and forensic specialists were yesterday scouring the surrounding area for clues as to how the man met his death. It is believed that the murder weapon may already have been found in a nearby dustbin. Detective Chief Inspector Peter McKinney, who is leading the investigation, said: “Our inquiries are still at an early stage and we are examining CCTV in the area.”
Satisfied, he emailed this off to his tabloid contacts. A bit of rearranging and a few more erudite additions like:
“Police said because of the nature of his injuries, the death was being treated as murder.”
“Police were awaiting formal identification before naming the victim.”
The quotes were entirely fictional of course, but few detectives or senior policemen objected, particularly if the quotes were suitably bland and, more importantly, their name and rank were mentioned.
Again he emailed this off to his contacts. An easy £200 at least, he thought. He could hear Julie starting off the usual long goodbye to her mother. He drummed his fingers along the side of the keyboard and decided to have a look at some examples of sovereigns on the net. Incredibly, well, for him at least, he found an illustration of the exact coin he was looking at that very afternoon – George V 1916 gold sovereign. A rough guide to price showed them to be worth, just as he thought, around £200 a pop, not a great amount but he had seen men murdered for less.
As Julie entered he turned the screen around.
“I forgot to mention this,” he said, “but your cousin Hughie had one of these in his hand when he died.”
Julie moved closer and closer to the screen.
“Well now,” she murmured, “isn’t that interesting!”