‘He’s going to be all right ?’ Binnie said.
‘On the contrary,’ she told him calmly. ‘He’s going to die and very soon now. As I had feared, there was damage to the heart as well as to the lungs, but much worse than I would have thought possible.’
Binnie turned away. I said, ‘He’s a good man, Sister. A fine man. I know the Church does not approve of the IRA’s actions, but he deserves a priest.’
‘I’ve sent for one,’ she said simply. ‘But first, he wishes to speak to you.’
‘Are you certain?’
‘He is quite rational though very weak. He said I was to bring the Major quickly. There isn’t much time.’
She opened the glass door and I followed her through. I paused beside the oxygen tent and waited, the voices of the nuns in prayer a soft murmur. Cork opened his eyes and looked up at me. Sister Teresa unzipped the plastic flap that we might speak.
Tm going, Vaughan,’ he whispered. ‘At the end of things at last and full of doubts. I’m not sure if I’ve been right. If it’s all been worth while. Do you follow me?’
‘I think so.’
‘Connolly and Pearse – Big Mick Collins. They were names to conjure with, but what came after ? Did it really measure up to their sacrifice ?’ He closed his eyes. ‘I could have been wrong all these years. I can’t risk another death on my conscience.’
He opened his eyes. ‘Get back to Stramore if you have to walk through hell to do it. Tell Barry that if he wants that bloody gold he’ll have to swim for it It’s six fathoms down in the middle of Horseshoe Bay on Magil Island. That’s where I sank the launch. I haven’t been back since.’
Which was interesting, and for a second I got a flash of the place again in my mind’s eye as I had last seen it, gtey, windswept and lonely beneath the barren rocks of the island in the morning rain.
He stared up at me in mute appeal. Til see to it,’ I said and something made me add in Irish, ‘I’ll settle Barry for you, Small Man.’
His eyes opened again. rWho are you, boy? What are you?’
I said nothing and he continued to stare up at me, a slight frown on his face and then his eyes widened and I think a kind of understanding dawned.
‘Holy Saints,’ he said. ‘There’s irony for you. My God, but I call that rich.’
He started to laugh weakly and Sister Teresa pulled me gently away. ‘Please leave now,’ she said. ‘As you promised.’
‘Of course, Sister.’
She turned back to the bed as the priest was ushered in
andI went into the ante-room and took Binnie by the arm. ‘Let’s get out of here. No sense in prolonging the agony.’
He looked once towards the bed where the priest leaned over Cork, turned and walked out. I followed him along the corridor and out of the front door to the courtyard, where the Land-Rover still waited at the bottom of the steps.
Binnie said, ‘What now ?’
‘Stramore/ I said. ‘Where else?’
His eyes widened. ‘He told you, then, where the stuffis ?’
‘Not ten miles from Spanish Head. Remember that island we stopped at yesterday morning – Magil? He sank the kunch in the bay there.’
Binnie glanced at his watch, then slammed a fist against his thigh in a kind of impotent fury. ‘Much good will it do us.’
His despair was absolute, which was understandable enough. He had just lost the one man he respected above all others, was now faced with the knowledge that Norah Murphy would almost certainly end the same way, and there was nothing he could do about it.
‘No chance of reaching Stramore by six o’clock now, Major. No chance at all.’
‘Oh yes, there is,’ I said. ‘If we don’t waste time dodging round the back country, stay on main roads all the way.’
‘But how?’ he demanded. ‘It’s asking to be lifted.’
‘Bluff, Binnie,’ I said. ‘Two paratroopers in an army Land-Rover taking a chance on the Queen’s Highway. Does the prospect please you ?’