The four of them cowered against the bar, utterly terrified. Binnie said coldly, ‘Lads are out in the streets tonight spilling their blood for Ireland and bastards like you spit on their good name.’
‘For Christ’s sake,’ the red-haired boy said. ‘We didn’t mean no harm.’
Binnie kicked him in the crutch, the boy sagged at the knees, turned and clutched at the bar with one hand to stop himself from falling. Binnie reversed his grip on the Browning, the butt rose and fell like a hammer on the back of that outstretched hand and I heard the bones crack. The boy gave a terrible groan and slipped to the floor, half-fainting, at the feet of his horrified companions.
Binnie’s right foot swung back as if to finish him off with a kick in the side of the head and Norah Murphy called sharply, “That’s enough.’
He stepped back instantly like a well-trained dog and stood watching, the Browning flat against his left thigh. Norah Murphy moved past me and went to join them and I noticed that she was carrying in her right hand a square, flat case which she placed on the bar.
‘Pick him up,’ she said.
The injured boy’s companions did as they were told, holding him between them while she examined the hand. I poured myself another Jameson and joined the group as she opened the case. The most interesting item on display was a stethoscope and she rummaged around and finally produced a large triangular sling which she tied about the boy’s neck to support the injured hand.
‘Take him into Casualty at the Infirmary,’ she said. ‘He’ll need a plaster cast.’
‘And keep your mouth shut,’ Binnie put in.
They went out on the run, the injured boy’s feet
dragging between them. The door closed and there was only the silence.
As Norah Murphy reached for the case I said, ‘Is that just a front or the real thing ?’
‘Would Harvard Medical School be good enough for you?’ she demanded.
‘Fascinating,’ I said. ‘Our friend here breaks them up and you put them together again. That’s what I call teamwork.’
She didn’t like that for she turned very pale and snapped the fastener of her case together angrily, but I think she had determined not to lose her temper.
‘All right, Major Vaughan,’ she said. ‘I don’t like you either. Shall we go ?’
She moved towards the door. I turned and pkced my glass on the counter in front of the barman, who was standing there wailing for God knows what axe to fell.
Binnie said, ‘You’ve seen nothing, heard nothing. All right?’
There was no need to threaten and the poor wretch nodded dumbly, his lip trembling. And then, quite suddenly, he collapsed across the bar and started to cry.
Binnie surprised me then by patting him on the shoulder and saying with astonishing gentleness, ‘Better times coming, Da. Just you see.’
But if the barman believed that, then I was the only sane man in a world gone mad.
It had started to rain and fog rolled in across the docks as we moved along the waterfront, Norah Murphy at my side, Binnie bringing up the rear rather obviously. Neither of them said a word until we were perhaps
half way to our destination when Norah Murphy paused at the end of a mean street of terrace houses and turned to Binnie. ‘I’ve a patient I must see here. I promised to drop a prescription in this evening. Five minutes.’
She ignored me and walked away down the street, pausing at the third or fourth door to knock briskly. She was admitted almost at once and Binnie and I moved into the shelter of an arched passageway between two houses. I offered him a cigarette which he refused. I lit one myself and leaned against the wall.
After a while he said, ‘Your mother – what was her maiden name ?’
‘Fitzgerald,’ I told him. ‘Nuala Fitzgerald.’
He turned, his face a pale shadow in the darkness. ‘There was a man of the same name schoolmaster at Stradballa during the Troubles.’
‘Her elder brother,’ I said.
He leaned closer as if trying to see my face. ‘You, a bloody Englishman, are the nephew of Michael Fitzgerald, the Schoolmaster of Stradballa?’