Binnie ran his hands over me from behind, presumably looking for some sort of concealed weapon, giving me no more than three opportunities of jumping him had I been so disposed.
‘Satisfied ?’ I demanded. He moved back and I turned to the girl. ‘Simon Vaughan.’
I know who you are well enough.’
‘And there you have the advantage of me.’
More American than Irish to judge from the voice. An evening for surprises. I said, ‘And are you for the Oban boat, Miss Murphy?’
‘And back again.’
Which disposed of the formalities satisfactorily and I pulled a chair back from the table and sat down.
I offered her a cigarette and, when I gave her a light, the match flaring in my cupped hands pulled her face out of the shadows for a moment. Dark, empty eyes, high cheekbones, a wide, rather sensual mouth.
As the match died she said, ‘You seem surprised.’
‘I suppose I expected a man.’
‘Your sort would,’ she said with a trace of bitterness.
‘Ah, the arrogant Englishman, you mean ? The toe of his boot for a dog and a whip for a woman. Isn’t that the saying ? I would have thought it had possibilities.’
She surprised me by laughing although I suspect it was in spite of herself. ‘Give the man his whiskey, Binnie, and make sure it’s a Jameson. The Major always drinks Jameson.’
He moved to the bar. I said, ‘Who’s your friend?’
‘His name is Gallagher, Major Vaughan. Binnie Gallagher.’
‘Young for his trade.’
‘But old for his age.’
He put the bottle and single glass on the table and leaned against the partition at one side, arms folded. I poured a drink and said, ‘Well, now, Miss Murphy, you seem to know all about me.’
‘Simon Vaughan, born 1931, Delhi. Father a colonel in the Indian Army. Mother, Irish.’
‘More shame to her,’ I put in.
She ignored the remark and carried on. ‘Winchester, Sandhurst. Military Cross with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in Korea, 1953. They must have been proud of you at the Academy. Officer, gentleman, murderer.’
The American accent was more noticeable now along with the anger in her voice. There was a rather obvious pause as they both waited for some sort of reaction. When I moved, it was only to reach for the whiskey bottle, but it was enough for Binnie whose hand was inside his coat on the instant.
‘Watch yourself,’ he said.
‘I can handle this one,’ she replied.
I couldn’t be certain that the whole thing wasn’t some prearranged ploy intended simply to test me, but the fact that they’d spoken in Irish was interesting and it occurred to rne that if the Murphy girl knew as much about me as she seemed to she would be well aware that I spoke the language rather well myself, thanks to my mother.
I poured another drink and said to Binnie in Irish, ‘How old are you, boy?’
He answered in a kind of reflex, ‘Nineteen.’
‘If you’re faced with a search, you can always dump a gun fast, but a shoulder holster…’ I shook my head. ‘Get rid of it or you won’t see twenty.’
There was something in his eyes again, but it was the
girl who answered for him, in English this time. ‘You should listen to the Major, Binnie. He’s had a lot of practice at that kind of thing.’
‘You said something about rny being a murderer?’ I said.
‘Borneo, 1963. A place called Selengar. You had fourteen guerrillas executed whose only crime was fighting for the freedom of their country.’
‘A debatable point considering the fact that they were all Communist Chinese,’ I said.
She ignored me completely. ‘Then there was a Mr Hui Li whom you had tortured and beaten for several hours. Shot while trying to escape. The newspapers called you the Beast of Selengar, but the War Office didn’t want a stink so they put the lid on tight.’
I actually managed a smile. ‘Poor Simon Vaughan. Never did really recover from the eighteen months he spent in that Chinese prison camp in Korea.’
‘So they didn’t actually cashier you. They eased you out.’