what we had. I’d rather see the city of Belfast burn like a funeral pyre than go back to what we had.’
And suddenly, for no sensible reason, I knew that I was close to the heart of things where she was concerned.
I said calmly, ‘And what was that, Norah? Tell me.’
There was a kind of vacant look on her face. The voice changed, became noticeably more Belfast than American, and there was a lost, little-girl touch to it that chilled my blood.
‘When my father was released from jail that last time, he didn’t want any more trouble so he dropped out of sight till we were ready to leave for America. They came to our house looking for him several times.’
‘Who did?’ I said.
‘The B specials. One night while they were interrogating my mother, one of them took me out into the back yard. He said he believed there might be arms in the shed.’
My stomach tightened as if to receive a blow. I said, ‘And were there?’
‘I was thirteen,’ she said. ‘Remember that. He made me lie down on some old sacking. When he was finished, he told me there was no point in trying to tell anyone because I wouldn’t be believed. And he made threats against my mother and the family. He said he wouldn’t be responsible for what might happen…’
There was a longish silence, the splutter of rain against the glass. She said, ‘You’re the first person I’ve told, Vaughan. The only one. Not even a priest. Isn’t that the strange thing ?’
I said hoarsely, ‘I’m sorry.’
‘You’re sorry ?’ And at that she exploded, broke apart at the seams. ‘By God, I’ll see them in hell, Vaughan, every last one of them, for what they did to me, do you understand ?’
She stumbled outside, the door slammed. It occurred to me then, and not for the first time, that there were occasions when I despaired of humanity. And yet there was no sense of personal involvement and any pity I felt w; s not so much for Norah Murphy as for that wretched, frightened little girl in the back yard of that house in Belfast so many years ago.
I lit a cigarette and, turning to flick the match through the open window on my left, found Binnie standing there as if turned to stone, die face contorted into a mask of agony, such suffering in the eyes as I never hope to see again.
I put a hand on his shoulder which seemed to bring him back to life. He looked up at me in a strange, dazed way then turned and walked away along the deck.
We raised Rathlin Island just before four a.m., although I could only catch a glimpse of the lighthouse intermittently, due to the bad visibility. From then on we were in enemy waters, so to speak, and I had both Norah Murphy and Binnie join me in the wheelhouse for a final briefing.
She seemed entirely recovered and so did he. I could not imagine for one moment that he would have told her that he had overheard our conversation, or ever would, but in that bleak undertaker’s coat of his he certainly looked his old grim self again as he leaned over the chart.
I traced our course with a pencil. ‘Here we are. Another ten minutes and we round Crag Island and start the run-in to the coast. The channel through the reef is clearly marked and good deep water.’
‘Bloody Passage,’ Norah Murphy said.Is that it?*
I nodded. ‘Apparently one of the biggest ships in the
Spanish Armada went down there. According to old documents, the bodies floated in for weeks.’ I glanced at my watch. ‘It’s four-twenty now and we’re due in at five. First light’s around six-fifteen, which gives us plenty of time to get in and out. Let’s hope your people are on time.’
‘They will be,’ she said.
‘Once we’re into the passage I’ll have to kill the deck lights, so I want both you and Binnie in the prow to look for the signal. A red light at two-second intervals on the minute or three blasts on a foghorn on the minute if visibility is really bad.’