The Brigadier had told me quite dearly that I was to avoid contact with the military on any official level at all costs, and it seemed to me that no purpose was to be gained by disregarding his instructions in the present circumstances. If the Guards Parachute Company itself was dropped in on Spanish Head, the Brigadier and Norah would be the first to go.
Not that I believed for one moment that Barry would keep his promise and release the gkl, and the Brigadier, of course, had never been a party to the agreement in the first place.
No, whichever way you looked at it, the only thing to do was to go in and play it by ear in the hope of extracting every possible advantage from the fact that I had something he wanted very badly indeed.
We were somewhere past Londonderry on the coast road before we ran into any kind of trouble and when it came, it was from the most unexpected quarter.
We went round a bend and Binnie had to brake hard for the road in front of us was jammed with vehicles. In the distance I could see the roofs of houses amongst the trees and smoke drifted across them in a black pall.
There were two or three isokted shots followed by the
rattle of a sub-machine-gun as Binnie pulled out to bypass the line of traffic. I heard confused shouting faintly in the distance.
‘This doesn’t look good/1 said. Is there a way round ?*
‘No, there’s a central square to the place and everything goes through it.’
I told him to keep on going and we reached the outskirts of the village to find a couple of MP Land-Rovers blocking one half of the road. As Binnie braked to a halt, a corporal came forward and saluted.
I said, ‘What’s going on in there ?’
‘Riot situation, sir. Local police arrested a youth they found painting slogans on the walls of the church hall. After half an hour, a mob collected outside the police barracks demanding he should be freed. When the petrol bombs started coming in they sent for us.’
‘Who’s handling it?’
‘Haifa company of Highlanders, sk, but there are more on the way.’
I turned to Binnie. ‘All right, drive on.’
As we started to move, the corporal ran alongside. ‘You want to watch it on the way in, sk. That crowd is in a bloody ugly mood.’
Binnie accelerated and we moved down the centre of the street. People stood outside the small terrace houses, huddled together in groups. As we passed, heads turned and the insults started to come thick and fast. A stone bounced from the canopy and then another.
But worse was to come, for when we turned the corner the streets were jammed with an angry mob and beyond them in the square the Highlanders were drawn up in a phalanx, transparent riot shields held out before them. A petrol bomb curved through the ak and exploded, carpeting the area in front of the troops with orange
flame. They moved back in good order and the crowd surged forward.
Binnie said, “This doesn’t look too good. What do we do?’
‘Drive like hell and don’t stop for anything. If that lot get their hands on us it’s a length of rope and the nearest lamp-post.’
At that moment someone at the rear of the crowd turned and saw us and raised the alarm. The howl that went up was enough to chill the blood. I ducked instinctively as a shower of stones came towards us, though most of them rattled harmlessly enough from the bodywork of the Land-Rover.
A petrol bomb soared through the air, Binnie swerved violently and it exploded to one side. And then we were into the crowd. He slowed instinctively, couldn’t help it as they crowded in, men, women, even children, howling like wolves, hands tearing at the Land-Rover as we passed. Some madman jumped into our direct path, arms wide, bounced from the bonnet into the crowd like a rubber ball. Binnie slammed his foot on the brake.
It was like that kst great wave one reads about sweeping in. I did the only possible thing, leaned out of the window and fired a burst from the Sterling above their heads. The effect was all that I could have hoped for and everyone scattered.