Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

‘I spoke to the commander of the North Antrim Brigade of the official IRA this afternoon. He was the man whose people were waiting for us on that beach last night. As a matter of interest, he was notified within one hour of your friend Meyer’s arrival at Randall Cottage yesterday, just as he’s told immediately of any stranger moving into a house anywhere in his district these days. Unfortunately, Frank Barry and his organization hold just as much sway in this area.’

‘And last night?’

‘All right.’ She nodded heavily. ‘There was a leak, but at least twenty people were on that beach. It could have been any one of them. If I know my Barry he would be cunning enough to leave a sympathizer or two within the ranks of the official IRA when he broke away.’

It was all plausible enough. In fact, the truth of the matter was that it was beginning to look as if I had been about as wrong as a man could be.

I said, ‘All right then. Did you speak to your uncle ?’

‘I did.’

‘Where is he?’

The hate in her eyes when she looked up at me was really quite something. ‘I’d burn in hell before I’d tell you that now.’

I don’t know where the thing might have gone after that, but as it happened, the door opened and the police constable appeared.

‘Would you be good enough to come with me, ma’am/ he said to Norah.

‘Where are you taking me ?’ she demanded.

‘To the nearest wall,’ I said, ‘where they have a firing party waiting for you. A bad habit the British Army have – or don’t you believe your own propaganda ?’

She went out fast, like a dipper under full sail, the police constable closed the door. When I turned, Binnie was sitting on the edge of the bed watching me.

‘What did you have to go and say a thing like that for, Major?’

‘I don’t really know.’ I shrugged. ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time. There has to be some explanation.’

‘She gave it to you, didn’t she?’ he said violently. ‘Christ Jesus, but I will hear no more of this.’

He jumped to his feet, eyes staring, the handcuffed hands held out in front of him and for a moment I thought he might have a go at me. And then the door opened and the police constable appeared again, this time with the paratroop sergeant at his shoulder.

‘Major Vaughan, sk. Will you come this way, please?’

Everyone was being too bloody polite to be true, but I winked at Binnie and went out, the police constable leading the way, the paratroop sergeant falling in behind me.

We went straight out of the front door and hurried through the teeming rain across the yard to what looked like a church hall. The entrance was sandbagged and a sentry stood guard beside a heavy machine-gun. We moved past him along a short corridor and paused outside a door at the far end. The sergeant knocked, and when he

opened it I saw the Brigadier seated behind a desk in a tiny, cluttered office.

‘Major Vaughan, sir,’ the sergeant said.

The Brigadier looked up. ‘Thank you, Grey. Bring the Major in and wait outside – and see that we’re not disturbed.’

I advanced into the room, the door closed behind me. The Brigadier leaned back in his chair and looked me over. ‘Well, you seem to have survived so far.’

‘Only just.’

He stood up, got a chair from the corner and put it down beside me. ‘Sorry about the handcuffs, but you’ll have to hang on to those for the time being, just for the sake of appearances.’

‘I understand.’

‘But J can offer you a cigarette and a glass of scotch.*

He produced a bottle of White Horse and two glasses from a cupboard in the desk and I sat down. ‘This place seems snug enough.’

He pushed a glass across to where I could reach it and half filled it. ‘Used to be the Sunday School. This was the superintendent’s office. Rum kind of soldiering.’

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