He produced the keys from his pocket, I held out my hands and he unlocked the cuffs. The second of the two guards had faded away, but my friend with the bald head still stood watchfully by, the Sterling ready.
A boat came round the headland a hundred yards or so to our right, the noise of its engine no more than a murmur in the night. It started to move into an inlet in the cliffs below and disappeared from sight, presumably into some harbour or anchorage belonging to the house.
‘That should be yourKathleen,’ Barry said. ‘I sent a couple of my boys round to Stramore to lift her from the harbour as soon as it was dark.’
‘Do you usually think of everything ?’
‘Only way to live.’ He filled a glass for me. T3y the way, old kd, let’s keep it civilized. Dooley, here, served with me in Korea. He’s been deaf, dumb and minus his hair since a Chinese trench mortar blew him forty feet through the air. That means he only has his eyes to think with and he’s apt to be a bit quick off the mark.’
I’ll remember. What were you in ?’
‘Ulster Rifles. Worst National Service second lieutenant in the army.’
I tried some of the wine. It was dry, ice-cold, and I
sampled a little more with mounting appreciation. ‘This is really quite excellent.’
‘Glad you like it.’ He refilled my glass. ‘What would you say if I offered to let you go ?’
‘In return for what?’
“The firing pins and the rest of the arms you have stored away over there in Oban somewhere.’ He sampled some of his wine. ‘I’d see you were suitably recompensed. On delivery, naturally.’
I laughed out loud. ‘I just bet you would. I can imagine what your version of payment would be. A nine millimetre round in the back of the head.’
‘No, really, old lad. As one gentleman to another.’
He was quite incredible. I laughed again. ‘You’ve got to be joking.’
He sighed heavily. ‘You know, nobody, but nobody takes me seriously, that’s the trouble.’ He emptied his glass and stood up. ‘Let’s go downstairs. I’ll show you over the place.
I hadn’t the slightest idea what his game was, but on the other hand, I didn’t exactly have a choice in the matter with Dooley dogging my heels, that sub-machine-gun at the ready.
We went down to the main corridor leading to the grand stairway. Barry said, ‘My revered uncle,.my mother’s brother, made the place over to the National Trust on condition he could continue to live here. It has to be open to the public from May to September. The rest of the time you could go for weeks without seeing a soul.’
‘Very convenient for you, but doesn’t it ever occur to the military to look the place over once in a while in view of the special relationship ?’
‘With my uncle ? A past Grand Master of the Orange
Lodge? A Unionist since Carson’s day? As a matter of interest, he threw me out on my ear years ago. A well-known fact of Ulster life.’
‘Then how does he allow you to come and go as you please now ?’
Til show you.’
We paused outside a large double door. He knocked, a key turned, and it was opened by a small, wizened man in a grey alpaca jacket who drew himself stiffly together at once and stood to one side like an old soldier.
‘And how is he this evening, Sean ?’ Barry asked.
‘Fine, sir. Just fine.’
We moved into an elegant, booklined drawing-room which had a large, four-posted bed in one corner. There was a marble fireplace, logs burning steadily in the hearth, and an old man in a dressing-gown sat in a wing chak before it, a blanket about his knees. He held an empty glass in his left hand and there was a decanter on a small table beside him.
‘Hello, Uncle,’ Barry said. ‘And how are we this evening ?’
The old man turned and stared at him listlessly, the eyes vacant in the wrinkled face, lips wet.
‘Here, have another brandy. It’ll help you sleep.’