‘Only the mud stuck.’
‘And now you sell guns.’
‘To people like you.’ I raised my glass and said gaily, ‘Up the Republic.’
‘Exactly,’ she said.
‘Then what are we complaining about?’ I took the rest of my whiskey down carefully. ‘Mr Meyer is waiting to see you not far from here. He simply wanted me to meet you first as a – a precautionary measure.’
‘We know exactly where Mr Meyer is staying. In a hotel in Lurgan Street. You have room fifty-three at the Grand Central.’
‘Only the best,’ I said. ‘It’s that public school education, you see. Now poor old Meyer, on the other hand, can
never forget getting out of Germany in what he stood up in back in ’38 so he saves his money.’
Behind us the outside door burst open and a group of young men entered the bar.
There were four of them, all dressed exactly alike in leather boots, jeans and donkey jackets. Some sort of uniform, I suppose, a sign that you belonged. That it was everyone else who was the outsider. The faces and the manner of them as they swaggered in told all. Vicious young animals of a type to be found in any large city in the world from Belfast to Delhi and back again.
They were trouble and the barman knew it, his face sagging as they paused inside the door to look round, then started towards the bar, a red-haired lad of seventeen or eighteen leading the way, a smile on his face of entirely the wrong sort.
‘Quiet tonight/ he said cheerfully when he got close.
The barman nodded nervously. ‘What can I get you ?’
The red-haired boy stood, hands on the bar, his friends ranged behind him. ‘We’re collecting for the new church hall at St Michael’s. Everyone else in the district’s chipping in and we knew you wouldn’t like to be left out.’ He glanced around the bar again. ‘We were going to ask for fifty, but I can see things aren’t so good so we’ll make it twenty-five quid and leave it at that.’
One of his friends reached over the bar, helped himself to a pint pot and pumped out a beer.
The barman said slowly. ‘They aren’t building any church hall at St Mick’s.’
The red-haired boy glanced at his friends enquiringly, then nodded gravely. ‘Fair enough,’ he said. ‘The truth, then. We’re from the IRA. We’re collecting for the
Organization. More guns to fight the bloody British Army with. We need every penny we can get.’
‘God save us,’ the barman said. ‘But there isn’t three quid in the till. I’ve never known trade as bad.’
The red-haired boy slapped him solidly across the face, sending him back against the shelves, three or four glasses bouncing to the floor.
‘Twenty-five quid,’ he said. ‘Or we smash the place up. Take your choice.’
Binnie Gallagher brushed past me like a wraitli. He moved in behind them without a word. He stood there waiting, shoulders hunched, the hands thrust deep into the pockets of the dark overcoat.
The red-haired boy saw him first and turned slowly. ‘And who the hell might you be, little man ?’
Binnie looked up and I saw him clearly in the mirror, dark eyes burning in that white face. The four of them eased round a little, ready to move in on him and I reached for the bottle of Jameson.
Norah Murphy put a hand on my arm. ‘He doesn’t need you,’ she said quietly.
‘My dear girl, I only wanted a drink,’ I murmured and poured myself another.
‘The IRA, is it?’ Binnie said.
The red-haired boy glanced at his friends, for the first time slightly uncertain. ‘What’s it to you ?’
‘I’m a lieutenant in the North Tyrone Brigade myself,’ Binnie said. ‘Who are you lads ?’
One of them made a break for the door on the instant and incredibly, a gun was in Binnie’s left hand, a 9 mm Browning automatic that looked like British Army issue to me. With that gun in his hand, he became another person entirely. A man to frighten the devil himself. A natural born killer if ever I’d seen one.