Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

‘Shut up and listen,’ I said.

The announcer’s voice moved on, “The police are also anxious to trace James Aloysius Gallagher.’ There followed as accurate a description of Binnie as any hardworking police officer could reasonably have hoped for.

He was behind the wheel in an instant and we were away. I kept the radio on and it couldn’t have been worse. The bodies of Captain Stacey and Sergeant Grey had been discovered by a farmer during the past hour and the absence of the Brigadier and the three of us could only lead to one conclusion.

‘God save us, Major,’ Binnie said as the broadcast finished. ‘At a conservative estimate I’d say they’ve got half the British Army out on this one.’

‘And then some,’ I said. ‘How much further?’

‘Ten or fifteen miles, that’s all. I by-passed Draperstown just before I stopped. You’d see the mountains on the right here if it wasn’t for the rain and mist.’

‘Have we any more towns to pass through ?’

‘Mount Hamilton, and there’s no way round. We take a road up into the mountains about three miles on the other side.’

‘All right,’ I said. ‘So we go through, nice and easy. If anything goes wrong, put your foot down and drive like hell and never mind the gunplay.’

‘Ah, go teach your grandmother to suck eggs, Major/ he said.

The young bastard was enjoying it, that was the thing. This was meat and drink to him, a great wonderful game that was for real. Always for real. He sat there, hunched over the wheel, cap over his eyes, the collar of his undertaker’s overcoat turned up, and there was a slight pale smile on his face.

We were entering Mount Hamilton now. I said,

‘You’d have gone down great during Prohibition, Binnie Al Capone would have loved you.’

‘Ah, to hell with that one, Major. Wasn’t there some Irish lad took that Capone fella on?’

‘Dion O’Bannion,’ I said.

‘God save the good work. With a name like that he must have gone to mass every day of his life.’

‘And twice on Sundays.’

We slowed behind a couple of farm trucks and a milk float, all waiting their turn to pass through the checkpoint. There were four or five Land-Rovers, at least twenty paratroopers and a couple of RUC constables who leaned against a police car and chatted to a young para-troop lieutenant.

The milk float moved on through the gap between the Land-Rovers and I repeated my previous performance, holding my identity card and movement order out of the window and calling to the young officer,

‘Lieutenant, a moment, if you please.’

He came at once, instantly alert, for whatever else I had become, I had spent twenty years of my life a soldier, and, as they say in the army, it takes an old Academy man to recognize one.

‘Captain Hamilton, Field Security,’ I said, “We’re in a hell of a hurry. They’ve got a terrorist in custody in Strabane who might be able…’

I didn’t get any further because one of the policemen who had moved to join him, a matter of idle curiosity, no more than that, leaned down at my window suddenly and stared past me, the eyes starting from his head.

‘God love us, Binnie Gallagher!’

I put my fist in his face, Binnie gunned the motor, wheels spinning and we shot through the space between

the two Land-Rovers, bouncing from one to the other in the process.

But we were through. As he accelerated I screamed, ‘Head down.’

A Sterling chattered, glass showering everywhere, the Cortina skidded wildly. And then he had her again, in full control, we were round a bend in the road and away.

It was raining harder now, mist rolling down the slopes of the mountains, reducing visibility considerably. Beyond that first bend the road ran straight as a die for about a mile. We were no more than a hundred and fifty yards into it when the police car came round the bend closely followed by the Land-Rovers.

Binnie had the Cortina up to eighty now, the needle still mounting, and the wind and rain roared in through the shattered windscreen so that I had to shout to be heard.

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