Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

He smiled. ‘I can see we’re going to get along just fine. Did I tell you I knew your father ?’

Tm sure you did,’ I said. ‘But just now I’d much rather know what in the hell you’re after, Brigadier.’

‘I want you to come and work for me. In exchange, I’ll get you out of here. The skte wiped clean.’

‘Just like that?’

‘Quite reasonable people to deal with, the Greeks, if one knows how.’

‘And what would I have to do in return ?’

‘Oh, that’s simple,’ he said. I’d like you to take on the IRA in Northern Ireland for us.’

Which was the kind of remark calculated to take the wind out of anyone’s sails and I stared at him incredulously.

‘You’ve got to be joking.’

‘I can’t think of anyone better qualified. Look at it this way. You spent years in Intelligence working against urban guerrillas, Marxists, anarchists, revolutionaries of every sort, the whole bagshoot. You know how their minds work. You’re perfectly at home fighting the kind of war where the battlefield is back alleys and rooftops. You’re tough, resourceful and quite ruthless, which you’ll need to be if you’re to survive five minutes with this lot, believe me.’

‘Nothing like making it sound attractive.’

‘And then, you do have one or two special qualifications,

you must admit that. You speak Irish, I understand, thanks to your mother, which is more than most Irishmen do. And then there was that uncle of yours. The one who commanded a flying column for the IRA in the old days.’

‘Michael Fitzgerald,’ I said. ‘The Schoolmaster of Stradballa.’

He raised his eyebrows at that one. ‘My God, but they do like their legends, don’t they ? On the other hand, the fact that you’re a half-and-half must surely be some advantage.’

‘You mean it might help me to understand what goes on in those rather simple peasant minds ?’

He wasn’t in the least put out. ‘I must say I’m damned if I can sometimes.’

‘Which is exactly why they’ve been trying to kick us out for the past seven hundred years.’

He raised his eyebrows at that and there was a touch of frost in his voice. ‘An interesting remark, Vaughan. One which certainly makes me wonder exactly where you stand on this question.’

‘I don’t take sides,’ I said. ‘Not any more. Just tell me what you expect. If I can justify it to myself, I’ll take it on.’

‘And if you can’t, you’ll sit here for another fifteen years ?’ He shook his head. ‘Oh, I doubt that, Major. I doubt that very much indeed.’

And there was the rub, for I did myself. I took another of his cigarettes and said wearily, ‘All right, Brigadier, what’s it all about?’

‘The Army is at war with the IRA, it’s as simple as that.’

‘Or as complicated.’

‘Exactly. When we first moved troops in during ’69 it was to protect a Catholic minority who had certain just grievances, one must admit that.’

‘And since then?’

“The worst kind of escalation. Palestine, Aden, Cyprus. Exactly the same only worse. Increasing violence, planned assassinations, the kind of mad bombing incidents that usually harm innocent civilians more than the Army.’

“The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize,’ I said. ‘The only way a small country can take on an empire and win. That was one of Michael Collins’s favourite sayings.’

Tm not surprised. To make things even more difficult at the moment, the IRA itself is split down the middle. One half call themselves official and seem to have swung rather to the left politically.’

‘How far?’

‘As far as you like. The other lot, the pure nationalists, Provisionals, Proves, Bradyites, call them what you like, are the ones who are supposed to be responsible for all the physical action.’

‘And aren’t they?’

‘Not at all. The official IRA is just as much in favour of violence when it suits them. And then there are the splinter groups. Fanatical fringe elements who want to shoot everyone in sight. The worst of that little lot is a group called the Sons of Erin led by a man called Frank Barry.’

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