The man touched Morag’s elbow to steer her across the Gallowgate. She stole a glance at him and her stomach twisted up with nerves and excitement. He was even more handsome than she first thought.
He put her in mind of him off those old cowboy films that are on telly on Sunday afternoons. Tall and fair with a long straight nose. Gary Cooper. That’s it.
Not a bad lumber for her first time at the dancing.
Frost twinkled on the pavement, but Morag was toasty in her brand new coat with the fur trim that’s exactly the sort of thing Audrey Hepburn would wear. Her feet were freezing in her good dancing shoes, but she’d be on the bus soon enough and can change into the furry boots she’d worn out. She’d thought about putting the boots on when they left the Barrowland Ballroom, but he’d seemed in a bit of a hurry and her legs look better in heels anyway.
She’d had the time of her life tonight. When the latest Beatles number came on she’d hopped up on a table and a crowd had gathered. With her flaming auburn hair in a short pixie cut, and her brand new green and pink dress barely skimming her bum, she felt like Lulu on Top of the Pops. She’d done the routine that she’d painstakingly learned off the telly, wishing there were some magic way you could freeze or rewind the picture to watch the tricky bits again. Luckily, the song had been in the charts for weeks and weeks so she’d had plenty of chances to practice.
‘I wouldn’t want to take you out your way,’ she said now, shivering as an icy wind slithers under her collar. She hadn’t felt her toes since Glasgow Cross and was beginning to regret the decision to carry her boots in her bag. ‘If you could just see me to the bus station, that will be quite, sufficient,’ she added, hoping against hope that ‘sufficient’ did indeed mean what she thought it does.
‘I wouldn’t hear of it,’ the man replied, and Morag felt a flush of pleasure. His voice was posh. It was the voice of leafy gardens, indoor toilets and being sent away to schools that look like castles. His family probably played board games.
‘I wouldn’t have you on a bus on your own at this time of night,’ the man continued. ‘Not a pretty girl like you.’
Morag smiled. He was lying. Glamorous, yes. Striking, maybe. Pretty? No.
‘Especially not with that madman on the loose.’
‘Ach I don’t believe in all that boogeyman nonsense,’ Morag laughed. ‘I think reporters get folk all riled up just to sell papers.’
‘Is that right?’
Morag shrugged. ‘Aye, it is right. He’s only killed that one lassie last year, then the nurse this summer. That’s two a year. For a madman he’s a right lazy so-and-so.’
Her bus was already at the stand as they approached St Enoch’s Square. She could see the glow of the driver’s cigarette as he sat leafing through the evening paper. If she was going to get a wee kiss goodnight, Gary Cooper had better get his skates on.
‘You know they call him the Shadow?’ he asked suddenly.
Morag was busy thinking about kissing. She had never done it yet, but Rita, who got her first winch when she was fifteen, said it’s easy enough. ‘Just don’t open your eyes,’ Rita advised. ‘You never want to see a man that close up. They’re all eyebrows.’
‘The madman terrorising the city.’
‘Terrorising? Who’s terrorised?’ Morag laughed.
Then the man’s expression changed. It was nothing but the tiniest flicker of something in his eyes, but Morag felt her stomach twist. She took a step backwards.
‘Anyway my bus is leaving, so I’d better —’
He moved forward, so close she coul smell his cigarette on his breath. She glanced behind her. The bus was a the other end of the square. The driver coughed as he turned to the back page of his newspaper.
‘Maybe you’ll get a dance next week if you play your cards right,’ she said. ‘I need to get this bus. My da’ll be waiting up and he’ll be raging if I’m late.’
Morag was conceived in the midst of a lively VE Day celebration in a wee lane round the back of George Square. The American GI had melted back into the crowd with nothing but a cheery wink, according to family legend, and was never seen again.
Knowing her mother, Morag didn’t blame him for a second.
They were at the mouth of a narrow alleyway. Inside the alley was pitch black, the darkness so complete it was almost like a palpable thing. Like a shroud. She couldn’t step backwards again, she’d be swallowed whole.
Those strong hands that guided her round the dance floor. She’d stumbled at one point, tripping over her own two feet, and he’d righted her as though she weighed nothing. Something cold and hard settles in her stomach.
‘You should know if anything happens to me, it won’t be the police that comes after you.’
The man’s smile didn’t falter. He reached out and ran his finger gently down the side of her face. Ice slid down Morag’s spine.
She glanced behind him, her smile bright, relieved. ‘Rita!’ she shouted. ‘Might have known you’d make the last bus.’
The man hesitated, half-turned —
With a swift, single movement Morag slipped her razor out her coat sleeve and slashed his cheek cleanly open. The man screamed, clutching his face as blood gushed through his fingers. He swiped for Morag and she sliced his fingers for good measure.
Angry voices echoed in the alleyway. Morag turned and ran like hell.