‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘Only the Small Man can help now. We’d better get moving.’
‘Can I ask where?’
‘He has a place in the Sperrins – an old farmhouse in a valley near a mountain called Mullaclogha. We need to be on the other side of Mount Hamilton on the Plum-bridge road.’
‘Do you anticipate a clear run?’
‘God knows. I’ll use what back roads I can. For the rest, we’ll just have to take it as it comes.’
He drove away at a much more moderate speed this time and I dropped the seat back a little, closed my eyes and went to sleep.
I was out completely for the first hour which passed entirely without incident and dozed fitfully during the next half, so that it must have been somewhere around five-thirty when he nudged me sharply in the ribs with his left elbow.
‘We’ve got company, Major. Looks like a road block up ahead.’
I raised my seat as he started to slow. It was raining again, a slight, persistent drizzle. There were two Land-Rovers, a barrier across the road, half-a-dozen soldiers, all wearing rubber capes against the rain and looking thoroughly miserable, which, in view of the time and the weather, was understandable enough.
I leaned out of the window, identity card and movement order in hand, and called, ‘Who’s in charge here ?’
A young sergeant got out of the nearest Land-Rover and crossed to the Cortina. He was wearing a flak jacket and camouflaged uniform, but no cape. He was prepared to be belligerent, I could see by the set of his jaw, so I forestalled him quickly.
‘Captain Hamilton, Field Security, and I’m in one hell of a hurry so get the barrier out of the way, there’s a good chap.’
It worked like a charm. He took one look at the documents, saluted swiftly as he passed them back, then turned to bark an order at his men. A moment kter and the lights of the road block were fading into the darkness.
‘Like taking toffee off a kid,’ Binnie crowed. ‘I can see now what Barry meant about you having the right manner, Major.’
As a junior officer I once served with an old colonel who had spent a hair-raising three months on his journey to the Swiss border after escaping from a Polish prison camp. Three miles from his destination he paused in a
village inn to wait for darkness. He was arrested by a colonel of mountain troops who only happened to be there because his car had broken down on the way through. It seems he had been a member of a party of German officers who had visited Sandhurst in 1934 when the old boy was an instructor there. He had been recognized instantly in spite of the circumstances, the years between and the brevity of the original meeting.
Time and chance, the right place at the wrong time or vice versa. Fate grabbing you by the trouser leg. How could I speak to Binnie of things like these ? What purpose would it serve ?
The truth is, I suppose, that I was experiencing one of poor old Meyer’s famous bad feelings, which didn’t exactly help because it simply made me think of him with some sadness, and other good men dead on sombre grey mornings like this.
We pulled in at a filling station which was closed as far as I could see. In any case, according to the gauge there was plenty of petrol in the tank.
‘What’s this?’ I demanded.
‘I need to make a phone call,’ Binnie said as he opened the door. ‘Ask a friend to tell a friend we’ll meethim in a certain place.’
He was beginning to sound more like an IRA man in one of those old Hollywood movies by the minute. I watched him go into the telephone-box at the side of the building. He wasn’t long. I noticed it was six o’clock and switched on the radio to get the news.
To my astonishment, the first thing I heard was my own name, then Norah Murphy’s.
Binnie got back in the car. ‘That’s all right then. We’re expected.’