Read by Angus King
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How does a gunman retire? Frank MacLeod was the best at what he does. Thoughtful. Efficient. Ruthless. But with his health failing him, how long before he’s no longer of use to his employers? A new job. A target. But something is about to go horribly wrong. And up-and-coming hitman Calum MacLean will be called upon to pick up the pieces.
Most gunmen say goodbye to the world with a bang. Frank’s still here. No longer in his prime, certainly. But with decades of experience at the top of his profession. Underestimating such a man could prove to be deadly.
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An Excerpt from The Sudden Arrival of Violence
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Careful on these stairs. That would be some return, falling flat on his face the first day back. Not the first time he's been to the club since he had his hip replaced. He's been haunting the place for the last two weeks. Letting everyone see he's back. New hip, same old Frank. Someone got the message. Frank had a phone call this morning from John Young. Young's the second in command, Peter Jamieson's right-hand man. When Young calls you up and invites you to the club, it's usually because Jamieson wants to see you. For some people, that could be very bad news. For Frank, it's good. The recovery, the holiday–that was all fine. Enjoyable, for a while. It's nice to put your feet up and not even think about work. It got boring, though. When your work is your life, a long holiday is a bad thing. He's been itching to return to work. To be back in the loop. It's taken a couple of weeks to convince people, but it seems to have worked.
In through the double doors at the top of the stairs. Into what's known these days as the snooker room. The club and dance floor are downstairs, but they're for customers. People in the business, people who know what the club's really about, tend to stay upstairs. There's a bar to your right as you come in the door. The main floor is taken up with snooker tables. They became Jamieson's passion a couple of years ago. He has plenty of little hobbies. Harmless things to pass the time and relieve the pressure. He'll get bored of snooker eventually and drift along to something else. Golf, probably. Right now, it's snooker and horse racing. Not too many people in the snooker room at this time of day. A couple of hardy alcoholics at the bar. A few recognizable faces at the tables, killing time. One of them's a loan shark that Frank's seen at the club in the last couple of weeks. Seems to be hanging around a lot. Kenny McBride, Jamieson's driver, is there too. Nobody that could be mistaken for important.
At the far end of the room is a short corridor. Rooms on both sides, offices, but only one that matters. Bottom of the corridor on your left-hand side, Peter Jamieson's office. The room in which he runs his organization. He has a number of legit businesses, like the club, but they exist only to serve their illegitimate counterparts. Money is cleaned through the club; people like Frank are given fake jobs here to explain their income. He's the security consultant for the club, apparently. The security consultant is walking along the corridor, making sure he hides the last trace of his limp. He's fit enough to work, but he has to prove that to everyone. If they see the slight limp that remains, they'll think he's still an old cripple. He's sixty-two now, which is old enough. But he's no cripple. He's quite determined about that.
Knocking on the door and waiting for a response. Someone's calling for him to come in. He's opening the door, seeing the familiar scene in front of him. Jamieson's sitting behind his desk on the far side of the large room, facing the door. There are a couple of televisions behind him, usually showing horse racing. Not today. Today they're both switched off. John Young is sitting on the old leather couch to Jamieson's left. He's always there. It's a little trick they pull. Means that when someone sits opposite Jamieson, they can't see Young, but he can see them. They're a sharp pair, these two.
'Frank,' Jamieson's saying, and standing up. 'Good to see you, pal.' This is more of a greeting than he expected. He was in the club a couple of days ago, saw Jamieson then. This is different, though, and they both know it. This is the official return.
He's shaken hands with both Jamieson and Young, very uncharacteristic, and is now sitting in front of the desk.
'It is good to have you back, Frank,' Jamieson's saying. 'A relief, to be honest with you.'
Frank's nodding politely. Better not to look too pleased with yourself. Better to remember what's happened in your absence. Things change, even in the space of three months. They hired Calum MacLean, for a start. That was Frank's recommendation. Calum has talent, and he's smart. He's young, too; Frank can't remember if he's even turned thirty yet. Jamieson would never say it, but Calum is Frank's long-term replacement. Right now, he's his backup, but he can't even play that role. Injured on a job, both hands badly cut up. Frank hasn't seen Calum for a while. Not since before the trip to Spain. It's probably past time to pay a visit. Keep up to date. Things change, and you have to know about it to stay fresh.
'You'll take a glass of whiskey,' Jamieson's telling him. 'You driving? Och, you can still have one.'
He's filling two celebratory glasses. Celebrating the return of Frank MacLeod.
'Oh, you know, I think your tan is fading,' Jamieson's saying with a smile. He sent Frank away for a couple of weeks, to stay in his little Spanish villa. Frank's first foreign holiday in twenty years. A lovely relaxing break, if you like that sort of thing.
'Good,' Frank's saying. 'Hard to blend into a crowd round here, looking like a fucking Oompa-Loompa.'
Jokes out of the way, down to business. 'Good to have you back, because we're in need of your talents,' Jamieson's saying. 'We need to send out a little message, and you're the man for the job. I might have used Calum, but he's out of action. That's meant things running longer than they should have. Made us look a little weak.'
'How is Calum?' Frank's asking. Making it sound like genuine concern for the boy. More concerned about the state of play within the organization. He respects Calum, but this is a cut-throat business. A boy with Calum's talent doesn't stay as backup for long.
Jamieson's taking longer than expected to answer the question. Puffing out his cheeks, glancing at Young. Frank's watching carefully. He knows Jamieson's not convinced of Calum's loyalty. That's why Frank went to see Calum before flying to Spain. Tried to persuade him that organization-work is the way to go. The old head, winning round the young freelancer. Didn't quite work.
'Honestly? I think the boy's still swinging the lead. Only one of his cuts was serious. It's been patched up long enough for him to come to me and tell me he's ready to work. I sent our doc round to have a look at him a couple of days ago. I don't want to push him too much, but he reckons the boy's good to work.'
Frank's nodding. It all makes sense. Calum was a freelancer. Never worked for an organization before. He was brought in for the Lewis Winter job. Kill Winter, a dealer for Shug Francis. He did the job well, by all accounts. Shug worked out it was Calum who killed his man. Stupidly decided to strike back. Sent big Glen Davidson to kill Calum. It didn't go well. Davidson's knife may have slashed Calum's hands, but it ended up ripping a hole in Davidson's side. Another one of Shug's men dead.
'Best not to push him,' Frank's saying. 'He's not used to being in an organization. Freelancers get to run wild. Give him time.'
Frank might not want to be replaced, but it'll happen eventually. When it does, it should be Calum who takes over. For Jamieson's sake, it needs to be someone like Calum. Someone who lives the job, respects and understands it. There are far too many silly little buggers running around thinking they're gunmen. They're not. They're just men with guns. He was thinking about this a lot in Spain. Thinking that he might just be the last of his generation. Frank, Pat and Bob are being replaced by Kyle, Conner and Jordan. Kids doing grown-up work. A talent like Calum is rare. Always was, but more so now. You have to handle him with care, make sure you don't lose him to someone else.
'I'll speak to him again, if you want,' Frank's saying. Hoping Jamieson will be smart enough to say no.
He's grimacing. 'Nah. You can only pass off that conversation as friendly once. Any more and he knows it's me putting the squeeze on him.' Jamieson's sharp all right. 'Never mind the boy,' he's saying, 'it's you I want to talk about. How's the hip?'
'Hip's good,' Frank's saying with a smile. 'Much better than before I went off.'
Jamieson's nodding. This is what he wants to hear. 'Good. I have a job for you.' Lowering his voice now, getting more serious. He's about to order a man's death–it seems right that it should be solemn. 'Shug's been hard at work trying to get networks set up. He has more than one supplier. I think he's getting his supply from down south. Can't find any locals he's using. We've managed to put a stop to a few of the networks, but one of them's become a problem.'
This is what Frank expected to hear. It tallies with the rumours. Shug getting a little desperate. Word is Jamieson's hired Nate Colgan to make sure no network gets off the ground. Intimidation and beatings. Stops anyone becoming enough of a problem that they have to be removed. Obviously one got through.
'There's a kid called Tommy Scott,' Jamieson's saying. 'Wee bastard of a thing. We didn't think much of him. He used to be a peddler. Street stuff. Ran with a gang, sold to them–shit like that. Used to do deliveries on a bicycle. A fucking bike! I guess I underestimated the bastard. I've been getting complaints. The kid cutting into our market, up Springburn way. I tried sending a warning, but the little bastard's tough. Determined, too. Got one of his gangs providing security for his peddlers. Only has three or four guys delivering for him now, but a couple of months ago he had none. He's growing fast, and stepping on toes. I'm fed up of hearing people complain. I need my people to know I'll protect their patch. I need Shug-bloody-Francis to know his men aren't safe.'
No great surprises here. Shug tries his luck with a bunch of ambitious young men in the business. One proves to be better than the rest. Now Frank has to deal with him. It's bad luck for the kid.
Before he leaves the office, Young is showing him a photo of Scott. Telling him the address. A tower block, second floor from the top. Well, that's just bloody brilliant. Very few places worse than that. Having to make an exit from a tower block is never ideal. You're always a long way from your getaway. But location apart, it's a soft job. They're breaking him back in gently. Jamieson will be preparing a big move against Shug Francis. He must be. Should've done it by now. Shug's been targeting Jamieson, so Jamieson must squash him or be considered feeble. This may be the first strike in that squashing. Scott looks like a typical council-estate kid. Greasy hair, tracksuit, probably a bunch of silly tattoos up his arm. It should be easy. He has one little mate who hangs around with him a lot, according to Young's info. Andy McClure. Known as Clueless.
Frank's walking out of the club now. A few little butterflies beginning to stir. Three months away. His last job had been a couple of months before that. It's a long time idle, especially at his age. He's nodding a polite goodbye to a few of the familiar faces on his way out. He's dropping into the driver's seat of his car. Those who know his business will understand that he's back. A visit to Jamieson without stopping at the bar means work. Jamieson said it was a relief for him. He has no idea. When you live the job, you realize how empty life can be without it. Those three months began to drag. Spain was nice, but it's not Frank's style. Sunshine retirement is for other people. He wants the rain of Glasgow. The tension of the job. The thrill of it. That's his life. Oh, it's so good to be back.
A typical day in the life of Tommy Scott. Out of bed about ten o'clock. Used to get up late because he'd been drinking and partying late the night before. These days it's because he works late. Out of bed and into the shower. Didn't used to shower every day, but you have to make an effort now. Presentation is important. They taught him that at one of the workshops the job centre made him attend about six months ago. He didn't care then, didn't listen. Stuck in a room with a bunch of junkies and no-hopers. Tedious embarrassment. He remembered that advice when Shug's right-hand man, Fizzy, made a little remark suggesting that he looked like he'd just stumbled out of a tower block. He had. Point was, he needed to look like he hadn't. So now it's a shower every day, and a new wardrobe. Nothing fancy, just new and clean. Then breakfast. Then work.
He used to hate his work. Walking the streets, trying to compete with the other peddlers. Hell of a job. The things he had to do. He used to go around the estates on a bicycle to save time. You can't be credible on a bicycle. On reflection, it was an embarrassment. He understands better now. He's done with the bike. Done with all the low-grade shit he had to do. All the mistakes of the past will stay in the past. There's a lot back there. Even at the age of twenty-six he's managed to drop the ball a good number of times. A victim of the lifestyle. Started out as a teenager who liked to party, then became a teenager who lived to party. Weekends. Then all week long. Did some drugs. Slept around a lot. Had a kid at nineteen that he's seen twice since it was born. Had another at twenty-one. Never seen that one. Hasn't seen the mother since she was six months gone. Mistakes of the past. Can't carry them with you–too much weight. Hasn't had a girlfriend for a couple of months, too busy with work.
Breakfast time. A bowl of cornflakes with a sprinkling of sugar and some milk that's on the borderline of whiffy. Gulp it down; he has more important things to do. A meeting. A business meeting. Who would have thought, three months ago when he was pissing about on a bike, selling badly cut coke and any other garbage he could lay his hands on, that Tommy Scott would have a business meeting. Back then, it was house parties through the week, clubs at the weekend. Now it's work. Just work. Nothing else matters, not until he has what he's looking for. That's money, by the way. Real money. Not just enough to live on. Not just enough to see him through a wild weekend and pay the bills. Enough to buy a car. Enough to buy a house. He's going to get it too, he's convinced.
It was a fluke, if we're being honest. But then, it usually is, isn't it? He'd heard a few stories on the street about Shug Francis. Word was that he was trying to force his way in. Trying to take territory from Peter Jamieson. Tommy had done work for Jamieson before, peddling. Didn't last. The prick running the network for Jamieson didn't like Tommy's lifestyle. Shug was struggling to find anyone to deal for him. Peddlers he could get. Easy to find a halfwit to stand on a street corner and hand out sweeties for money. He needed better people. People further up the chain. Someone who could build and run a network, not just be a part of it. The word going round now is that Jamieson had Lewis Winter rubbed out. There's a counter-rumour that says it was Winter's girlfriend and her bit on the side, but that sounds too much fun to be true. Winter's death scared people away. If that's what happened to the last guy running a network for Shug. Another guy was beaten senseless before he could even start. They say Nate Colgan did the beating. Scary bastard, that one. A couple of other guys were bought off; they're both working for Jamieson now.
So Shug's severely short-handed. Beginning to look like his attempt at muscling in is going to peter out, like so many others. Then Tommy bumps into David 'Fizzy' Waters in a petrol station. Completely random. Fizzy was filling up his car; Tommy was buying a lottery ticket. You have to dream, don't you? Fizzy was on his way out. Tommy abandoned the magic numbers and chased after him. Fizzy had no idea who he was, but Tommy introduced himself. How often will a chance like this come along? He told Fizzy he was interested in helping Shug out. Told him he knew the streets well, which was true. Told him he was connected, which was less true. Gave him his number, told him to call. Couple of weeks went by–nothing. Then the phone call. A couple of crappy, menial jobs peddling and delivering, proving your worth. Then they stepped it up.
Initiative. That's what they were looking for. Someone who could think for himself. Act without having to run to them all the time. People in charge don't like you running to them with every little problem. So he did things for himself. He used the clout that working for Shug gave him, to get new contacts. In no time he became the employee he had told Fizzy he already was. Now he's much more than that. Now he has a list of good contacts to sell to. He has a number of people working for him, too, as peddlers and couriers. He set up the sort of local network in a couple of months that Shug expected to have to build himself. Would have taken Shug six months, easy. And Tommy's making the money he wants.
They didn't trust him at first. They didn't say so, but he's not daft, he could tell. They thought he was another dimwit from the estates. A peddler and nothing more. Actually, his background has helped him out. His years partying, hanging around in a street gang, throwing time and opportunity away. That's become useful, because he knows useful people. He's close enough to one of the street gangs to use them. They've carried out a few beatings for drugs. They've done some peddling for money. Mostly small-scale, but it helps that people know they're backing you up. They have to be handled carefully, they're volatile and untrustworthy, but good PR. Your own little battalion of thugs. Very useful.
Used to be Tommy and his best mate from childhood, Andy McClure. Just the two of them. Tommy and Clueless, to use his unfortunate but accurate nickname. Partying together, working together and, when money trouble dictated, living together. They shared everything. Money, needles, women. They still do. Tommy understands the importance of having someone he can trust. All these new contacts, all these new colleagues, only interested in him because of cash. Same reason he's interested in Shug. They'd throw him over the first chance they got. Not Andy–he'll be by his side to the end. You need that. Just someone you know you can turn to. Doesn't take Clueless to big meetings, though; he has nothing smart to contribute.
He's thinking about that as he leaves the flat and makes his way out of the building. Clueless is going to be pissed off that this is another meeting he's not at. He thinks he should be there. He sees himself as the right-hand man, a key player. But he's not. Not bright enough to be a useful right-hand man. Besides, Tommy isn't important enough yet to need one. He's still a low-scale dealer, although he's rising fast. He has a good number of peddlers; he's pushing into good areas. He's sending the right messages. But he's not a big player. Important to Shug, sure, but not to anyone else. This meeting might help change that. A couple of guys who control the patch on a few large estates in Lanarkshire. Big area with big demand. They're known, but not important to the big organizations. They have ambitions too. Good to have on board. Men of ambition should stick together.
They're eyeing him up as he's walking into the pub. Trying to decide if he's serious or not. They've heard he's a rising star. They need a new supplier. A rising star with good connections would be ideal. They're cousins, apparently. Ian and Charlie Allen, although he doesn't know which is which. They don't look like family to Tommy as he's walking over to them. Both middle-aged. One of them's tall, has a mop of fair hair, pockmarked cheeks. The other one looks short and tubby, with a shaven head and glasses. None of that matters, although the age can be an issue. Tommy's young, and he looks young. Middle-aged men don't like that. They want someone with their own experience level. Makes them feel comfortable, thinking they're working with someone like themselves. But they can live with discomfort, if the deal's good.
Shaking their hands. Smiling to both. Introducing himself and sitting opposite. Projecting confidence. He's nervous, but he knows how to hide it now.
'I've heard you're looking for a new supplier,' he's saying quietly, the pleasantries out of the way. People like this don't play about. Get to the point–they respect that. 'An operation like yours needs someone reliable, consistent and with good variety. I can offer that. I can match your need.' He's been thinking those words over on the way here. They sound good to him. They sound like what the Allens will want to hear.
'We've been let down by our last supplier,' the chubby one's saying. He won't say more than that, no detail. You don't bad-mouth a supplier publicly, even if he's let you down. If he finds out you've blackened his name, he might choose to do something about it. Suppliers tend to be dangerous men. 'How big is your operation?'
'Bigger than you need,' Tommy's telling them.
That's true. Shug has a deal with a major supplier, but the supplier's getting tetchy. Shug isn't moving enough gear yet, that's why a deal like this will impress the boss. Tommy isn't supposed to know that they're struggling to shift gear, but it's obvious. A big supplier doesn't want someone small on his books. Shug needs to increase deliveries or lose supply.
'We have everything you need,' Tommy's telling them, 'and then some. We can match your demand with ease. If your demand increases, which I'm sure it will, then we'll have no trouble with that. We only provide quality product. Your customers will like what we provide.' It's good sales patter. Ingratiating. A little bit creepy.
'Good to know,' the chubby one's saying, and nodding. 'We'll be in touch in the next couple of days.' They're getting up and leaving. Business meeting over.
It went well. They were never going to commit one way or the other just yet. They wanted to meet him, hear what he had to say. See if he was a serious kind of guy. They heard what they wanted to hear. No need to discuss money. Both sides will know what the market price is when the transactions are being done. It'll vary, deal to deal. Tommy's convinced they're going to call and agree to the hook-up. They won't get a better one. This'll be a big boost with Shug. Such a rare opportunity. Shug, struggling to get people on board. Tommy could be his most important dealer. He could become senior. Not just have good money, but be truly rich. Powerful too. That's what he's thinking as he's walking back home. Get some lunch. Check on some of the peddlers. Only a couple should be running low. It's a Wednesday, sluggish demand. Top them all up tomorrow, before the weekend burst. Keep business ticking over nicely. His business.
Sitting outside a tower block, watching the rain bounce off the windscreen. Waiting and watching. Making sure you're not seen. A boring but necessary part of the job. The most boring part of this job tops the most interesting part of a normal job. People would think him odd, sitting in his car like this. Any passer-by could see you and remember your face. Take your registration. A couple of days later they hear about a man being murdered nearby; they do their civic duty and report you to the police. Frank's heard every story there is to hear. All the different ways people are caught out. The sob-stories of a hundred halfwits, locked up because of one mistake.
Frank long ago learned how to be careful. You sit, and you watch, and you wait. You are patient. You scout a location properly. Then you move quickly. The speed at which he does his work, from order to completion, has always been his trademark. It's one of the things that will separate him from Calum. Calum's good, but he's slow. Ponders the job. Takes too long in scouting. It reassures people like Jamieson to have things done quickly. Makes them think it was nice and easy.
Watching the clock. Watching the door. He doesn't know if it's the right door to watch. Doesn't even know if he's on the correct side of the building. Scott could be tucked up in bed already. Or he might have a squad of spotty-faced little mates in there with him. Better to wait, play it safe. He's thinking that he should probably have parked further away from the building. His eyesight isn't perfect, less so in this rain. Better to be close enough to see the door. Better to reduce the amount of walking he has to do as well. Sort of dump where the lifts could be out of order. That might be too much for him. Climbing all the way up there and back down again. Nope, that wouldn't do. Even if he were young and fit, that would mean too long an exit time after the kill. Something else to worry about. Still, that's what scouting is for.
It's nearly two o'clock in the morning now. Enough waiting around. Nobody's used the door he's watching. There isn't a single light visible on this side of the building. Many of the flats are empty, Frank knows that. One by one, they're ripping these monstrosities down. Good riddance. They seem like horrible places to live. They're certainly horrible places to do a job. As people move out, their flats are left empty. When there's only a handful occupied, the council moves the occupants. The fewer people living in the building, the more unpleasant it becomes. Other people start using the building for their own ends. Homeless people. Junkies. People dump things there. Can't be a nice place for a guy like Scott to live. No wonder he's taking the stupid risk of working for Shug. Taking the risk of following in Lewis Winter's footsteps. Living like this is a reason to be desperate.
Frank's getting out of the car and pressing the button on his key to lock it. Hip's a little stiff. Sitting in the car like that isn't good for it. Doctor told him that. Told him he needed to be careful with it for a little while. Don't overreach, that's what he said. Frank told him he was a security consultant. The doc smiled, said something about an office job being a good thing. Frank nodded along. Now he's walking towards the door of the building, pulling up his hood. It's raining, but there might also be CCTV. Most of the cameras don't work, but you still take the precaution of pulling up your hood. And it is raining, after all.
- "[Mackay's] Glasgow Trilogy is classic . . . The subject is organized crime, but it's the author's blunt eloquence that matters. Don't pick up a Mackay book unless you've got spare time. They're habit-forming."—Janet Maslin, New York Times
- "It's been a long time since so many pages went by so fast .... Mackay is a natural storyteller [with] a voice to which we're happy to surrender. Surprisingly rewarding .... a thriller trilogy that thrills. "—Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post
- "Bracing ... remarkable."—Adam Woog, Seattle Times
- "Gripping and surprisingly poignant . . . Frank and Calum are brutal criminals, but Mackay never robs the characters of their humanity."—Publishers Weekly (starred)
- "How a Gunman Says Goodbyeis even better than its remarkable predecessor . . . The author is already being hailed as a new star of tartan noir and if the third book in this trilogy can maintain the impetus of the first two the existing clan of Scottish writers may have to look to their laurels."—Daily Express
- "You know how among all the kids acting tough at school there is one that stands out, the only one who convinces? Malcolm Mackay is that man. His characteristically urgent prose style drives his narrative at a remorseless pace as the Gunman - old and approaching the end of his career - works out what options he has left . . . Don't worry that it's set in Glasgow - there's no dialect. Nor that it's the second in a trilogy - it stands alone. By all means read the first book; you'll enjoy it. But it's time to get on board. Hail the new king of Scottish crime. This is a superb book. It should win prizes."—Crime Time
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- Apr 21, 2015
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