Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

‘I see.’ She nodded with a kind of clinical detachment on her face. ‘And Mr Hui Li?’

‘Shottrying to escape.’

‘You expect me to believe that?’

I laughed, and without the slightest bitterness. ‘Absolutely true and that’s the most ironic part of it. I was quite prepared to take him down to the coast and let him stand trial, but he tried to make a break for it the night before we left.’

There was silence for a while. I opened a window and took a deep breath of fresh sea air.

‘Look, what I did to him he would have done to me. The purpose of terrorism is to terrorise, a favourite tag of Michael Collins, but Lenin said it first and it’s on page one of every Communist handbook on revolutionary warfare. You can only fight that kind of fire with fire.’

‘You ruined yourself,’ she said and there was a strange, savage, concerned note in her voice. ‘You fool, you threw everything away. Career, reputation, everything, and for what?’

‘I did what had to be done,’ I said. ‘Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, Aden. I’d seen it all and I was tired of people justifying the murder of the innocent by pleading that it was all in the name of the revolution. When I finished, there was no more terror by night in Kota Baru. No more butchering of little girls.That should count for something, God knows.’

I was surprised at the feeling in my voice, the way my

hands were shaking. I stood up and pulled her forward roughly. ‘You wanted to take the wheel. It’s all yours. Stay on this course and wake me in three hours. Before if the weather changes.’

She grabbed my sleeve, ‘I’m sorry, Vaughan, I really am.’

‘You live long enough, you get over anything,’ I said. ‘I’ve learnt that.’

Or so I told myself as I went below. Perhaps if I repeated it often enough, I might really come to believe it.

I slept on one of the saloon bench seats and when I awakened it was almost three o’clock. Binnie was snoring steadily in the aft cabin. I peered in and found him flat on his back, collar and tie undone, mouth open. I left him to it and went up the companionway.

There was quite a sea and cold spray stung my face as I moved along the heaving deck and opened the wheel-house door. Norah Murphy was standing at the wheel, her face disembodied in the compass light.

‘How are things going?’ I asked.

‘Fine. There’s been a sea running for about half an hour now.’

I glanced out. ‘Likely to get worse before it gets better. I’ll take over.’

She made way for me, her body brushing mine as we squeezed past each other. ‘I don’t think I could sleep now if I wanted to.’

‘All right/ I said. ‘Make some more tea and come back. Things might get interesting. And check the forecast on the radio.’

I increased speed, racing the heavy weather that threatened from the east and the waves grew rougher,

jBThe Savage Day

rockingKathleen from side to side. Visibility was rotten, utter darkness on every hand except for a slight phosphorescence from the sea. Norah Murphy seemed to be taking her time, but when she returned, she brought more bacon sandwiches as well as the tea.

‘The forecast wasn’t too bad,’ she said. *Wind moderating, intermittent rain squalls.

‘Anything else?’

‘Some fog patches towards dawn, but nothing to worry about.’

I helped myself to a sandwich. ‘How’s the boy wonder ?’

She didn’t like that, I could see, but she kept her temper and handed me a mug. ‘He’s sitting up now in the saloon. I gave him tea with something in it. He’ll be all right.’

‘Let’s hope so. He could be needed.’

She said, ‘Let me tell you about Binnie Gallagher, Major Vaughan. During the rioting that broke out in Belfast in August 1969 an Orange mob led by B Specials Would have burned the Falls Road to the ground, chased out every Catholic family who lived there – or worse. They were prevented by a handful of IRA men who took to the streets led by Michael Cork himself.’

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