Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

‘The Small Man again? And Binnie was one of that lot?’

‘Don’t tell me you’re actually impressed ?’

‘Oh, but I am,’ I said. ‘They did a hell of a good job that night, those men. A great ploy, as my mother would have said. And Binnie was one of them? He must have been all of sixteen.

‘He was staying with an aunt in the area. She gave him an old revolver, a war souvenir of her dead husband’s, and Binnie went in search of the Small Man. Fought at his right hand during the whole of that terrible night. He’s been his shadow ever since. His most trusted aide.’

‘Which explains why he guards the great man’s niece.’ She lit a couple of cigarettes and passed one to me. I said, ‘How does an American come to be mixed up in all this anyway ?’

‘It’s simple enough. My father spent around seventeen years in one kind of British prison or another, if you add up all his sentences. I was thirteen when he was finally released and we emigrated to the States to join my Uncle Michael. A new life, so we thought, but too kte for my father. He was a sick man when they released Mm. He died three years later.’

‘And you never forgave them ?’

“They might as well have hanged him.*

‘And you decided you ought to take up where he left off?’

‘We have a right to be free,’ she said. ‘The people of Ulster have been denied their nationhood too long.’

It sounded like the first two sentences of some ill-written political pamphlet and probably was.

I said, ‘Look, what happened in August ’69 was a bad business, which was exactly why the Army was brought in. To protect the Catholic minority while the necessary political changes were put in hand, and it was working until the IRA got up to their old tricks again.’

I wonder what your uncle would have thought if he could have heard you say that.’

‘The dear old Schoolmaster of Stradbalk?’ I said. TBinnie’s particular hero ? The saint who wouldn’t see the children harmed at any price? He doesn’t exist. He’s a myth. No revolutionary leader could act like he was supposed to and survive.’

‘What are you trying to say?’ she said.

‘Amongst other things, that he had at least forty people executed, including several British officers, in reprisal for

the execution of IRA men – a pretty dubious action morally, I would have thought On one particularly unsavoury occasion, he was responsible for the shooting of a seventy-eight-year-old woman who was thought to have passed on information to the police.’

In the light of the binnacle, her right fist was clenched so tightly that the knuckles gleamed white. ‘In revolutionary warfare, these things have to be done/ she said. “There is no other choice.’

‘Have you tried telling Binnie that?’ I said. ‘Or hadn’t it occurred to you that that boy really believes with all bis heart that it can be done with clean hands ? I saw him at Ma Kelly’s, remember. He’d have killed those two Proves himself if you hadn’t stopped him, because he couldn’t stomach what they’d done.’

TBinnie is an idealist,’ she said. ‘There’s nothing wrong in that. He’d lay down his life for Ireland without a second’s hesitation.’

Td have thought it more desirable all round if he’d lived for her,’ I said. ‘But then that’s just my opinion.’

‘And why in the hell should he take any notice of that ?’ she demanded. ‘Who are you, anyway, Vaughan? A failure, a renegade who’s willing to turn on his own side for the sake of a pound or two.’

“That’s me,’ I said. ‘Simon Vaughan, your friendly arms salesman.’

I was smiling again although it was something of an effort and she couldn’t stand that. ‘You arrogant bastard,’ she said angrily. ‘At least we’ll have something to show for our struggles, people like Binnie and me.’

‘I know,’ I said. ‘A land of standing corpses.’

She moved very close, a curious glitter in her eye, and her voice was a sort of hoarse whisper. ‘Better that than

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