Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

As we crossed the road, a priest came out of the porch and stood on the top step trying to open his umbrella. He was a tall, rather frail-looking man in a cassock and black raincoat and wore a broad-brimmed shovel hat that made it difficult to see his face.

He got the umbrella up, started down the steps and paused suddenly. ‘Dr Murphy,’ he called. *Is that you?’

Norah Murphy turned quickly. ‘Hello, Father Mac,’ she said, and then added in a low voice, Til only be a moment. The woman I saw earlier is one of his parishioners.’

Binnie and I moved into the shelter of a doorway and she went under the shelter of the priest’s umbrella. He glanced towards us once and nodded, a gentle, kindly man

of sixty or so. Norah Murphy held his umbrella and talked to him while he took off his horn-rimmed spectacles and wiped rain from them with a handkerchief.

Finally he replaced the spectacles and nodded. Tine, my dear, just fine,’ he said and took a package from his raincoat pocket. ‘Give her that when you next see her and tell her I’ll be along in the morning.’

He touched his hat and walked away into the fog. Norah Murphy watched him go then turned and tossed the package to me so unexpectedly that I barely caught it. Tour thousand pounds, Major Vaughan.’

I weighed the package in my two hands. ‘I didn’t think the Church was taking sides these days.’

‘It isn’t.’

‘Then who in the hell was that ?’

Binnie laughed out loud and Norah Murphy smiled. ‘Why, that was Michael Cork, Major Vaughan,’ she said sweetly and walked away.

Which was certainly one for the book.The package was too bulky to fit in any pocket so I pushed it inside the front of my trenchcoat and buttoned the flap as I followed her, Binnie keeping pace with me.

She waited for us on the corner of a reasonably busy intersection, four roads meeting to form a small square. There were lots of people about, most of them emerging from a large supermarket on our left which was ablaze with light to catch the evening trade, soft music, of the kind which is reputed to induce the right mood to buy, drifting out through the entrance.

There was a certain amount of traffic about, private cars mostly, nosing out of the fog, pausing at the pedestrian crossing, then passing on.

j 4The Savage Day

It was a typical street scene of the kind you’d expect to find in any large industrial city, except for one thing. There was a police station on the other side of the square, a modern building in concrete and glass and the entrance was protected by a sandbagged machine-gun post manned by Highlanders in Glengarry bonnets and flak jackets.

Norah Murphy leaned against the railings, clutching her case in both hands. ‘Occupied Belfast, Major. How do you like it?’

‘I’ve seen worse,’ I said.

Two men came round the corner in a hurry, one of them bumping into Binnie, who fended him off angrily. ‘Would you look where you’re going, now?’ he demanded, holding the man by the arm.

He was not much older than Binnie, with a thin, narrow-jawed face and wild eyes, and he wore an old trilby hat. He carried an attache” case in his right hand and tried to pull away. His companion was a different proposition altogether, a tall, heavily built man in a raincoat and cloth cap. He was at least forty and had a craggy, pugnacious face.

‘Leave him be,’ he snarled, pulling Binnie round by the shoulder and then his mouth gaped. ‘Jesus, Binnie, you couldn’t have picked a worse spot. Get the hell out of it’

He pulled at Ms companion, they turned and hurried across the square through the traffic.

‘Trouble ?’ Norah Murphy demanded.

Binnie grabbed her by the arm and nodded. ‘The big fella’s Gerry Lucas. I don’t know the other. They’re Bradys.’

Which being the Belfast nickname for members of the Provisional branch of the IRA was enough to make

anyone move fast. We were already too kte. A couple of cars had halted at the pedestrian crossing and a woman in a headscarf was half-way across pushing a pram in front of her, a little girl of five or six trotting beside her. A young couple shared an umbrella behind.

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