Tm afraid I’m not satisfied with the answers any of you have given. Not satisfied at all. Under the circumstances, I intend to transfer you to Military Intelligence HQ outside Belfast where you may be properly interrogated. We leave at nine o’clock. You’ll be given something to eat before then.’
He turned and went out, followed by Stacey. The door clanged shut with a kind of grim finality and when Norah Murphy turned to me, there was real despair on her face for the first time since I’d known her.
We left exactly on time in an army Land-Rover, Captain Stacey driving, the Brigadier beside him and the three of us behind them, all handcuffed now, including Norah. Sergeant Grey crouched in the rear with a Sterling submachine-gun.
The rain was really bad now, the road a ribbon of bkck wet tarmac in the powerful headlights. There was a moment of excitement about two miles out of Stramore when Grey announced suddenly that we were being followed. I glanced over my shoulder. There were headlights there certainly, but a moment later as he cocked his sub-machine-gun, they turned off into a side road.
‘Never mind, Sergeant,’ Captain Stacey said. ‘Keep your eyes skinned just the same. One never knows.’
I sat there in the darkness waiting for the big moment, Norah’s knees rubbing against mine. I tried a little pressure. After a moment’s hesitation, she responded. I dropped my manacled hands on hers. It was all very romantic.
From somewhere up ahead there was one hell of a bang and orange flames blossomed in the night. We came round a corner to find a Ford van slumped against a tree, petrol spilling out to where a man lay sprawled in the middle of the road, a tongue of flame sweeping towards him with the rapidity of a burning fuse.
I didn’t fall for it, not for a minute, but Stacey and the sergeant were already out of the vehicle and running towards the injured man.
There were several bursts of sub-machine-gun fire from the wooded hillside to our right, knocking the sergeant sideways into the ditch. Stacey managed to get his Browning out, fired twice desperately, then turned and ran back towards the Land-Rover, head down.
They all seemed to be firing at him then, pieces
jumping out of his flak jacket as the bullets hammered into him. His beret flew off, his face was suddenly a mask of blood. He fell against the bonnet and slid to the ground.
The Brigadier went out head first. Browning in one hand, crouched beside the Land-Rover, waiting in the sudden silence. There was kughter up there in the trees and then sub-machine-gun fire sprayed across the road again.
There seemed no point in letting the old boy do a Little Big Horn, so I did the most sensible thing I could think of in the circumstances, opened the rear door and hit him in the back of the neck with my two clenched fists.
He went flat on his face and lay there groaning. I picked up the Browning in both hands and stood up. ‘You can come out now, whoever you are.’
Tut the Browning down and stand back,’ a voice called.
I did as I was told. There was a rustle in the bushes to our right and Frank Barry stepped into the light.
The Ford truck was going well by now, the kind of blaze that seemed likely, on a conservative estimate, to attract every soldier and policeman in a mile radius, but Barry and his men didn’t seem disposed to hurry.
There were six of them, and at one point he took a small walkie-talkie from his pocket and murmured something into it which seemed to indicate that he had other forces not too far away.
He noticed me watching and grinned as he put it away. !Grand things, these, Major. A great comfort on occasion. The minute you left the police post in Stramore I knew.’
He lit a cigarette and said, ‘What about my firing pins ? Now there’s a dirty trick.’
‘You’re wasting your time,’ I said. ‘They’re in Oban.’
‘Is that a fact ?’ He turned to Binnie who stood beside me. ‘You’ve been a bad boy, Binnie. Tim Pat, Donal McGuire and Terry Donaghue, all at one blow just like the tailor in the fairy tale. I can see I’m going to have to do something about you.’