The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid (Lennox #5) - Craig Russell
I liked Quiet Tommy Quaid.
Everyone liked him: every thief, thug, racketeer and ne’er-do-well in Glasgow liked Quiet Tommy Quaid; every street-corner kid, every shopkeeper and publican had a good word to say about him; women in particular had a fondness for Quaid’s quiet but potent charms. Even the police liked him. In fact, I had heard it had been the police who had christened him ‘Quiet Tommy’ in the certain knowledge that whenever they caught him – not that they caught him often these days – Tommy would invariably put his hands up and ‘come quiet’. And, of course, in all the many crimes he had committed over the years, Quiet Tommy Quaid had never once used violence.
In fact, violence seemed to be a language Quaid neither spoke nor understood, which was somewhat at odds with his wartime service as a commando – a highly decorated commando, I’d been told. I dare say that Adolf’s Kommandobefehl notwithstanding, if they had captured him, the Germans would probably have liked Quiet Tommy Quaid too.
And everyone seemed to like him totally: without that hidden ire we tend secretly to reserve for the naturally amiable. Yep . . . Quiet Tommy Quaid was a thoroughly likeable cove. He had practically no vices – except for equally excessive womanizing and drinking, which in nineteen fifty-eight Glasgow were pretty much looked on as virtues, not vices. And in that respect I myself was to be considered virtuous to the point of sainthood. But unlike me, Thomas Quaid was the most equanimous person you could encounter: a calm, easy-going, friendly sort who accepted the occasional misfortune – especially the misfortune of arrest – with calm resignation.
The strange thing was Quiet Tommy Quaid also happened to be one of the wisest men I’d ever known, with a calm, deep-flowing intelligence that he shared seldom and only with those he chose to trust. I felt honoured to be amongst the few allowed the odd rare glimpse into the deep waters beneath the still surface.
But Quiet Tommy did have one flaw – a mental deficiency, I suppose you’d call it. Everybody has something they find difficult to understand: I personally struggled to wrap my mind around the musings of Niels Bohr or Albert Einstein; the City of Glasgow Police failed to understand the lexical difference between the nouns ‘Catholic’ and ‘suspect’; but for Quiet Tommy Quaid, the one concept that eluded comprehension was that of private ownership. That isn’t to say he was one of Glasgow’s many red-flag-waving, Lenin-quoting, class-warrior idealists – it was simply that Tommy couldn’t seem to understand that if something belonged to someone else, he couldn’t just up and take it.
I’m not saying that Tommy was some kind of common thief: Quaid was most definitely a thief, and every bit as definitely anything but common. He had intelligence, he had flair, he had style. He had inches on other Glaswegians. When it came to the population’s height, Glasgow was the kind of place where Snow White would have felt right at home – generations of bad diet, hard labour and equally hard drinking, coupled with appalling living conditions, had stunted the city’s population – but Tommy Quaid was unusually tall for Glasgow; he was always immaculately groomed, his expensively barbered, copper-coloured hair sleeked but not oily and combed back from a broad-browed, handsome and vaguely aristocratic face, a neat moustache lining his top lip. Speaking for myself as someone who was known for his appreciation of good tailoring, I can tell you that the perpetually well-turned-out Tommy Quaid’s suits were always top-notch. I had once been tempted to ask him who his tailor was, but thought better of it, realizing that he probably gave new depth to the concept of prêt à porter – prêt à porter through the skylight window of a tailor’s storeroom, usually.
But the thing I liked most about Quiet Tommy Quaid, and I guessed that everyone else liked most, was that you knew exactly where you were with him, exactly who it was you were dealing with. Here, everybody realized, was someone who was precisely, simply and totally who and what he seemed to be.
We had no idea how wrong we were.
I would have good cause to remember that day; most people would remember it, but for a different reason.
Friday the eleventh of July, nineteen fifty-eight was an auspicious day all right. An auspicious day for Glasgow – for all of Scotland, for that matter. The reason that day would live in