‘What they used to call Lags’ Luck when I was in prison,’ he said as he switched off the engine.
‘Never mind that,’ I said. ‘Let’s have that wheel off and the spare on and out of here double quick. I’ve somehow got a feeling that it’s healthier to stay on the move.’
Binnie handled the jack while I got the spare out of the boot. As I wheeled it round to him, a Land-Rover passed
us going towards Plumbridge. It vanished into the mist, but a moment kter reappeared, reversing towards us.
The driver got out and came round to join us. He was no more than eighteen or nineteen. A lance-corporal in the Royal Corps of Transport.
He saluted smartly. ‘Anything I can do, sir?’
His attitude was natural enough at the sight of a Major getting his hands dirty. I made the first mistake by trying to get rid of him. ‘No, everything’s under control, Corporal, off you go.’
There was a flicker of surprise in his eyes. He hesitated, then leaned down to Binnie who reacted violently. ‘You heard what he said, didn’t you ? Clear off.’
It was an understandable reaction to stress, but delivered as it was in that fine Kerry accent of his, it compounded my original error.
The corporal hesitated, seemed about to speak, then thought better of it. He saluted punctiliously, then moved back to the Land-Rover. He started to get inside, or so it seemed, then turned and I saw that he was holding a Sterling.
‘I’d like to see your identity card if you don’t mind, sir,’ he said firmly.
‘Now look here/ I said.
Binnie straightened slowly and the lad, who knew his business, I’ll say that for him, said, ‘Hands on top of the car.’
Cork walked straight towards him, a puzzled smile on his face. Tor heaven’s sake, young man/ he said, ‘control yourself. You’re making a terrible mistake.’
‘Stand back,’ the young corporal said. ‘I warn you.’
But he had hesitated for that one fatal second that seemed to give Cork his opportunity. He flung himself forward, clutching at the Sterling. There was the briefest of struggles. I had already taken a couple of strides to join
him when there was a single shot. Cork staggered back with a terrible cry and fell on his back.
I put a fist into the corporal’s stomach and a knee in his face as he doubled over that laid him unconscious at the side of the Land-Rover and was better than a bullet in the head from Binnie.
He was already on his knees beside Cork, who was obviously in great pain and barely conscious, blood on his lips. I ripped open the front of his cassock and looked inside. It was enough.
‘Is it bad ?’ Binnie demanded.
‘Not good. From the looks of it, I’d say he’s been shot through the lungs. He needs a doctor badly. Where’s the nearest hospital ? Stramore ?’
‘And life imprisonment if he pulls through ?’ Binnie said.
‘Have you got a better idea ?’
‘We could try to get him over the border into the Republic.’
“That’s crazy. Even if we could pull it off, it’s too far. There isn’t time. He needs skilled treatment as soon as possible.’
‘Twelve miles,’ he said, clutching my flak jacket. ‘That’s all, and I know a farm track south of Clady that runs clear into the Republic. There’s a hospital no more than three miles on the other side run by the Little Sisters of Pity. They’ll take him in.’
One thing was certain. Another vehicle might appear from the mist at any moment so whatever we were going to do had to be done fast ‘Right, get him into the Land-Rover,’ I said.
We lifted him in between us, putting him out of sight behind the rear seat, then I got out again, knelt beside the unconscious corporal and tied his hands behind his back with his belt.
Binnie joined me as I finished. ‘What are we going to do with him?’
‘We’ll have to take him with us. Can’t afford to have anybody find him too soon.’
Binnie’s anger boiled over suddenly and he kicked the unconscious man in the side. ‘If he got his deserts, I’d put a bullet in him.’