Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘You’re wasting your time. This will get you nowhere.’

He touched her cheek with the rip of the poker, there was a plume of smoke, the smell of burning flesh. She gave a terrible cry and fainted.

Binnie forced himself up on one knee and put out a hand in appeal. ‘It’s the truth she’s telling you. Nobody knows where the gold is except the Small Man himself. Not even her because that’s the way he wanted it.’

Barry looked down at him, frowning for a long moment, then he nodded. ‘All right, I’ll buy that. Where is he now?’

Binnie got to his feet and stood swaying, a hand to his back, not saying a word. Barry grabbed the unconscious girl by the hair again, the poker raised in threat.

‘You tell me, damn you or I’ll mark the other side of her face.’

‘All right,’ Binnie said. ‘But much good it’ll do you. He’s in the old hidey-hole in the Sperrins and there’s nothing he’d like better than for you and your men to try and take him there.’

Barry underwent another personality change, became once again the smiling, genial man I’d taken wine with earlier. He dropped the poker into the fireplace and nodded to Dooley.

‘Take her into the bedroom.’

Dooley picked her up effortlessly, crossed the room and kicked open a door on the far side. Barry moved to a sideboard and poured himself a whiskey. When he turned he was smiling. ‘I wouldn’t get within ten miles of that farmhouse. There isn’t a farm labourer or shepherd or snotty-nosed little boy in every village you touch on up there who isn’t another pair of eyes for the Small Man.’

‘Exactly,’ Binnie said.

I know,’ Barry nodded. ‘But you, Binnie, they’d welcome with open arms.’

Binnie stared at him amazement on his face. ‘You must be mad.’

‘No, I’m not, old love, I’ve never been saner in my life. You’re going to go and see my old friend Michael for me and you’re going to point out the obvious and unpleasant fact that I’m holding his favourite niece. If I get the gold or details of its whereabouts, he gets her back in one piece. If I don’t…’

‘By God, they broke the mould when they made you,’ Binnie said. ‘I’ll kill you for this, Barry. Before God, I will.’

Barry sighed heavily and patted the boy’s face. ‘Binnie, Cork’s milk and water religion, his let’s-sit-down-and-talk, isn’t going to win this war. It’s people like me who are willing to go all the way.’

‘And to hell with the cost?’ the Brigadier put in. “The slaughter of the innocents all over again.’

When Barry turned to him there was a madness in his eyes that chilled the blood.

‘If that’s what’s needed/ he said. *We won’t shirk the price, any price, because we are strong and you are weak.’ He turned back to Binnie. “With that gold I buy enough arms to take on the whole British Army. What will the Small Man do with it?’

Binnie stared at him, that slightly dazed look on his face again, and Barry, calmer now, patted him on the shoulder. ‘You’ll leave at dawn, Binnie. It’s a good time on the back roads. Nice and quiet. It shouldn’t take you more than a couple of hours to get there. I’ll give you a good car.’

Binnie’s shoulders sagged. ‘All right.’ It was almost a whisper.

‘Good lad.’ Barry patted him again and looked straight at me. ‘And we’ll send the Major along, just to keep you company. That public school accent of his should be guaranteed to get you past any road blocks you run into, especially with the kind of papers I’ll provide him with. All right, Major Vaughan?’

‘Do I have any choice?’

‘I shouldn’t think so.’

He gave me that lazy, genial smile of his, looking more than ever like Francis the Fourth of the portrait up there in the gallery. I didn’t smile back because I was thinking of Norah, remembering the stink of her flesh burning, considering with some care exactly how I was going to give it to him when the time came.

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