Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

‘I’m afraid so.’

He turned to Lucas and Riley and the look on his face

was the same look I had seen in the pub earlier when he had confronted the hooligans.

‘Women and kids now, is it?’ He kicked the table over, the Browning was in his hand by a kind of magic. ‘You bloody bastards, here’s for the two of you.’

Norah Murphy had his arm up as he fired, a bullet ploughing through the ceiling. She slapped him across the cheek. He turned, a strange, dazed look on his face, and she grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him as one might shake a recalcitrant child.

‘What’s done is done, Binnie. Quarrelling like this amongst ourselves won’t help now.’

Lucas stood with his back against the wall, the Schmeisser ready, no more than a hairsbreadth away from cutting loose with it. Riley scrabbled on the floor at his feet for the Webley which he had lost when the table went over.

‘Better to move on from here,’ Norah Murphy said. ‘All of us and the sooner the better. Someone might have heard that shot.’ She turned to Mrs Kelly. Tm sorry, Ma.’

The old woman smiled and touched her face. I said, ‘How are we going to work it?’

She shrugged. ‘We’ll have to split up, naturally. Better to take your chances on your own, Major. Did you notice a footbridge over the canal on your way here?’

‘I did.’

‘Cross over, take the towpath for a couple of hundred yards and a narrow passageway brings you into Delph Lane. Half a mile along that and you’ll be in the centre of the city.’

‘Why in the hell should he go first?’ Lucas demanded.

She totally ignored him and said to Binnie. ‘We ought to leave separately. It would be the sensible thing.’

‘And how would I explain the loss of his niece to Michael Cork if anything happened to you ?’

Which was an interesting disclosure.She actually smiled for him, then turned to me.’OS you go, then, Major.’

The old woman went out ahead of me. I turned in the doorway. ‘Up the Republic,’ I said. ‘Right up!’ Then I closed the door gently and moved along the passage.

Mrs Kelly had the door open, and beyond in the yard rain fell in a silver curtain through the lamplight.

I turned up my collar. ‘Thanks for everything,’

There was a strangely uncertain look to her, a slight frown on her face as if there was something here she did not understand. The milk-white eyes stared past me vacantly and her fingers reached to touch my cheeks, to trace the line of my mouth.

And they found what they were searching for, those fingers, and fear blossomed on her face, the kind that a child might feel standing at the top of the stairs, aware of some nameless horror, some presence in the darkness below.

I said gently in Irish, “This is not on you, old woman. None of it.’

She pushed me out into the rain and closed the door.

I found a dark corner of shadows near the footbridge with some bushes reaching over the wall above to give me some sort of shelter. I couldn’t smoke. The smell would have been too distinctive on the damp air, so I waited as I had waited in other places than this. Different lands, hotter climates, but always the same situation.

There was the sound of cautious footsteps and a moment later, two figures emerged from the alley. Binnie and Norah. I saw them clearly in the light of the

lamp as they went up the steps to the bridge. Their footsteps boomed hollowly for a moment, then faded as they passed along the other side.

I returned to my waiting. Strange the tricks memory plays. The heavy rain, I suppose, reminding me of the monsoon. Borneo, Kota Baru, the ruins of the village, the stench of burning flesh, acrid smoke heavy on the rain, the dead schoolchildren. They, too, had been butchered for a cause, just like the little girl and her sister in the square tonight. The same story in so many places.

A stone rattled in the alleyway and they emerged a moment later. Lucas was well out in front. He stood under the lamp, then went up the steps to the footbridge alone, probably to test the ground.

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