Which it was, there was no doubt about that, as we crept in towards the shore, the engine throttled right back to the merest murmur. Not that it was particularly dangerous, even when I switched off the deck and masthead lights, for Bloody Passage was a good hundred yards across so there was little chance of coming to harm.
We were close now, very close and I strained my eyes into the darkness looking for that light, but it was hopeless in all that mist and rain. And then as I leaned out of the side window, a foghorn sounded three times in the distance.
Binnie appeared at the door. *Did you hear that, Major ?’
I nodded and replied on our own foghorn with exactly the same signal. I told Binnie to return to the prow, throttled back and coasted in gently. The foghorn sounded again, very close now which surprised me, for by my reckoning we still had a good quarter of a mile to
I replied again as agreed and in the same moment some strange instinct, product, I suppose, of several years of rather hard living, told me that something was very wrong indeed. Too late, of course, for a moment later, a
searchlight picked us out of the darkness, there was a rumble of engines breaking into life and an MTB cut across our bow.
I was aware of the white ensign fluttering bravely in the dim light and then the sudden menacing chatter of a heavy machine-gun above our heads.
As I ducked instinctively, she cut in again and an officer on the bridge called through a loud-hailer, ‘I’m coming aboard. Heave to or I sink you.’
Norah Murphy appeared in the doorway at the same moment. ‘What are we going to do?’ she demanded.
‘I should have thought that was obvious.’
I cut the engines, switched on the deck lights and lit a cigarette. Binnie had moved along the deck and was standing outside the open window.
I said, ‘Remember, boy, no heroics. Nothing to be gained.’
As the MTB came alongside, a couple of ratings jumped down to our deck, a line was thrown and quickly secured. The standard sub-machine-gun in general use by the Royal Navy is the Sterling, so it was something of a surprise when a Petty Officer appeared at the rail above holding a Thompson gun ready for action, the 1921 model with the hundred drum magazine. The officer appeared beside him, a big man in a standard reefer coat and peaked cap, a pair of night glasses slung about his neck.
Norah Murphy sucked in her breath sharply. ‘My God,’ she said. ‘Frank Barry.’
It was a name I’d heard before and then I remembered. My cell on Skarthos and the Brigadier briefing me on the IRA and its various splinter groups. Fanatical fringe elements who wanted to blow up every thing in sight and the worst of the lot were Frank Barry’s Sons of Erin.
He leaned over the rail and grinned down at her. ‘In
the flesh and twice as handsome. Good night to you, Norah Murphy.’
Binnie made a sudden, convulsive movement and Barry said genially, ‘I wouldn’t, Binnie, me old love. Tim Pat here would cut you in half.’
One of the two ratings who had already boarded relieved Binnie of his Browning.
I leaned out of the window and said softly, ‘Friends of yours, Binnie?’
‘Friends ?’ he said bitterly. ‘Major,I wouldn’t cut that bloody lot down if they were hanging.’
The man with the Thompson gun, the one dressed as a Petty Officer whom Barry had called Tim Pat, came over the rail to confront us. On closer inspection he proved to have only one eye, but otherwise bore a distinct resemblance to the great Victor McLaglen in one of those roles where he looks ready to clear the bar of some waterfront saloon on his own at any moment.
Barry dropped down beside him, a handsome, lean-faced man with one side of his mouth hooked into a slight, perpetual half smile as if permanently amused by the world and its inhabitants.
‘God save the good work, Norah.’ He took off his cap and turned a cheek towards her. ‘Have you got a kiss for me?*