A bolt was withdrawn, the door opened. An old woman stood revealed, very old, with milk-white blind eyes and a shawl across her shoulders.
‘It’s me, Mrs Kelly,’ Binnie said. With a friend.’
She reached for his face, cupped it in her hands for a moment, then smiled without a word, turned and led the way inside.
When she opened the door at the end of the passage into the kitchen, Lucas and the bomb-thrower were standing shoulder to shoulder on the other side of the table, Lucas holding the Schmeisser at the ready, his friend clutching an old.45 Webley revolver that looked too big for him.
‘Well, would you look at this now?’ Binnie said. ‘Rats will find a hole, so they say.’ He spat on the floor. ‘You did a fine job on the women and children back there.’
The youth with the Webley turned wildly. ‘I told you,’ he said and Lucas struck him across the mouth, his eyes never leaving Binnie.
‘Shut your mouth, Riley, and you just watch it, Binnie,
or you might get some of the same. Who’s your friend?’
‘None of your affair.’
‘And what if I decide to make it mine?’
‘Don’t mind me,’ I put in.
For the first time Lucas lost some of that iron composure of his. He stared at me in astonishment. ‘A bloody Englishman, is it?’
‘Or as much an Irishman as de Valera,’ I said. ‘It depends on your point of view.’
‘He’s here on business for the Small Man,’ Binnie said. ‘For Cork himself, so keep your nose out of it.’
They confronted each other for another tense moment, then the old lady slipped in between them without a word and placed a pot of tea in the centre of the table. Lucas turned away angrily and I sat down against the wall and lit a cigarette. I offered Binnie one, but he refused. The old lady brought us a cup of tea each then moved to the others.
‘She doesn’t have much to say for herself/ I observed.
‘She wouldn’t,’ Binnie replied. ‘Being dumb as well as blind.’
He stared into space, something close to pain in his eyes, thinking of that child whose hand he had held, I suspect.
I said, ‘Remember what you were saying about my uncle coming out of the schoolhouse so the children wouldn’t be harmed, to shoot it out with the Tans like a man?’
He turned to me with a frown. ‘So what?*
I said gently, ‘Times have changed, haven’t they, Binnie?’
He stood up, walked over to the other side of the room and sat down with his back to me.
I suppose it must have been all of two hours before there was a knock at the door. They all had a gun out on the instant, including Binnie, and waited while the old lady went to the door. Norah Murphy came into the kitchen. She paused, her eyes narrowing as she recognized Lucas, then she placed her case on the table.
Td love a cup of tea, Ma,’ she said in Irish as Mrs Kelly followed her in.
She was as crisp and incisive as she had been at our first meeting. It was as if nothing had happened in between at all and yet the skirts of her trenchcoat were stained with blood. I wondered if anything would ever really touch her.
Binnie said, ‘What happened ?’
‘I helped out till the ambulances arrived.’
‘How many were killed ?’ Lucas demanded.
‘Five,’ she said and turned to me. TU have that cigarette now, Major.’
‘And soldiers ?’ Young Riley leaned on the table with both hands, his eyes wilder than ever. ‘How many soldiers ?’
Norah Murphy turned from the match I held for her and blew out a long column of smoke.
‘And who might you be ?’ she enquired.
TDennis Riley, ma’am,’ he said in a low voice.
‘Well then, Dennis Riley, you really will have to put in some practice before your next free show. The score this time was a mother and her two children and a couple of eighteen-year-olds who’d just got engaged. No soldiers, I’m afraid.’
Riley colkpsed into a chair and Binnie said quietly, “The little girl – she died, then ?’