I was dressed in one of the camouflaged uniforms and a flak jacket inside five minutes and that included fixing the Major’s crowns to the epaulettes. Binnie, once he started moving, wasn’t far behind. When he was ready, I moved close to check that everything was in order and adjusted the angle of his red beret.
‘Christ Jesus, Major, but you’re the sight for sore eyes.’ There was a small broken mirror on the wall and he tried to peer into it. ‘My old Da would spin in his grave if he could see this.’
I found a webbing belt and holster to hold my Browning. Binnie stowed his out of sight inside his flak jacket and we each took a Sterling from Cork’s armoury. When I followed Binnie out through the trapdoor to the barn, old Sean was waiting at the bottom of the ladder. He showed not the slightest surprise at our appearance, simply picked up the ladder when I reached the ground and carried it across to the hayloft again. It was only as we went out into the rain and started across the farmyard that I realized he hadn’t spoken a single word to us since that first meeting in the church.
Binnie led the way at a brisk pace, cutting up into the trees on the opposite side of the valley from the way we had come. It was quiet enough up there, the only sound the rain swishing down through the branches or the occasional noise of an engine from the road. Once, through a clear patch in the mist, I saw a red beret or two in the trees on the other side of the valley, but there was no one on our side.
We by-passed the village altogether, keeping high in the trees, only moving down towards the road when we were well dear of the kst houses.
We crouched in the bushes and waited. A Land-Rover swished past, moving towards the village, the old Morris Ten appeared perhaps three minutes later, and we stood up and showed ourselves instantly. Binnie scrambled into the rear seat, I got in beside Cork, and he drove away.
In his shovel hat, clerical collar and shabby black raincoat he was as authentic-looking a figure as one could have wished for, a thought which, for some reason, I found rather comforting.
I said, ‘So far so good.’
‘Just what I was after telling myself.’ He gknced in the driving mirror and smiled. ‘Binnie, you look lovely. If they could see you in Stradballa now.’
‘Get to hell outa that,’ Binnie told him.
‘Come on now, Binnie,’ I said. ‘I thought any sacrifice was worth making for the cause.’
Which made Cork laugh so much he almost put us into the ditch. He recovered just in time and the Morris proceeded sedately down the hill at a good twenty-five miles an hour.
The first few miles were uneventful enough. Several
military vehicles passed us going the other way, but we didn’t run into a road block until we reached the outskirts of Plumbridge. There was the usual line of vehicles and Cork moved to join on at the end.
I said, ‘We’re on military business, aren’t we ? Straight through to the head of the queue.’
He didn’t argue, simply pulled out of line and did as I told him. As a young sergeant came forward, I leaned out of the window. He took one look at those Major’s crowns and sprang to attention.
‘For God’s sake, clear a way for us, Sergeant,’ I said. ‘We’re due in Stramore in half an hour to make a most important identification.’
It worked like a charm. They pulled aside the barrier and the spiked chain they had across the road a yard or two further on to rip open the tyres of anyone who tried to barge their way through.
‘Now I know what they mean by audacity,’ Cork said.
We were already moving out into the countryside and Binnie laughed delightedly. ‘It worked. It actually worked.’
I think it was at that precise moment that the rear nearside tyre burst. Not that we were in any danger considering the relatively slow speed at which we were travelling. The Morris wobbled slightly, but responded to the wheel reasonably enough as Cork turned in towards the grass verge.