Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

I shook Binnie by the shoulder. TSfow let’s get moving.’

We shot forward, swerving to avoid someone lying on

the ground, narrowly missed a lamp-post and drove

through the debris of the square towards the line of

Highlanders. They opened their ranks to receive us and

Binnie pulled in beside an ambulance and an armoured

troop carrier.

A young lieutenant in camouflaged uniform, flak

jacket and Glengarry bonnet came forward and saluted formally. ‘A near thing, sir. For a while there I thought we might have to come and get you. My name’s Ford.’

‘Major Parker, Second Paras.’ I held out my hand. ‘Sorry to descend on you like this, but I didn’t have much option. I’ve been ordered to report to police headquarters in Coleraine as soon as possible to have a look at someone they’ve picked up in connection with the Brigadier Ferguson kidnapping. If it’s the man they think it is I can identify him positively. Can we get through?’

‘I should think so, sir/ Ford said. ‘Only a church and a few almshouses on that side. Not many people around.’

There was a sudden cry, and as we turned, at least half a dozen petrol bombs burst in front and behind his men. There seemed to be flames everywhere, smoke billowing across the square. For a moment, there was considerable confusion and the Highlanders scattered.

One young soldier ran towards us screaming, his legs ablaze, still clutching his transparent shield in one hand, a riot stick in the other. Binnie got to him before I did, sticking out a foot deftly to trip him up. We beat at the flames with our hands, then someone appeared with a fire extinguisher from one of the Land-Rovers and sprayed his legs.

The young soldier ky there crying helplessly, his face screwed up in agony, and a couple of medics ran across from the ambulance with a stretcher. One of them got a morphine ampoule out of his first-aid kit and jabbed it in the boy’s arm.

Binnie stayed on one knee watching, his face very white, the eyes full of pain. I pulled him up. ‘Are you all right?’

‘It was the stink of his flesh burning,’ he said as they carried the lad away. ‘It reminded me of Norah.’

*Now you see how the other half live,’ I said.

The Highlanders were on the offensive now, firing rubber bullets into the crowd, following this up with a wild baton charge to drive them back. It was a scene from hell, pools of fire all over the square from the petrol bombs, black greasy smoke billowing everywhere, shouts and screams from the crowd where hand-to-hand fighting was taking place.

Binnie was looking anything but happy, which was understandable enough so I gave him a push towards the Land-Rover. ‘Time to go.’

He got behind the wheel and started the engine. As I climbed in beside him, Lieutenant Ford approached. ‘Ready for off, sir?’

‘That’s right.’

‘I think we’ve got things under control here now and another company’s due to assist. I’ll just put you on your way.’

He stood on the running-board, hanging on to the door as Binnie drove away. The square was, in fact, L-shaped and we moved round a corner and looked across to a church, the entrance to a narrow street beside it.

‘That’s where you want to be, sir,’ Ford said and pointed.

There was a single shot, a high-powered rifle from the sound of it, he gave a grunt and went sideways. I dropped out, grabbed him by the flak jacket and dragged him round the corner as another bullet chipped a cobblestone a yard to one side. As Binnie reversed to join us, a third round punched a hole in the left-hand side of the windscreen.

The bullet had gone straight through Ford’s right thigh and he lay there on the cobbles clutching it with both hands, blood spurting between bis fingers. The

medics appeared on the run. There was a rumble of thunder above us and it started to rain, a sudden drenching downpour that put out the petrol fires almost instantly.

One of the medics slapped a couple of field dressings on either side of Ford’s thigh and started to bandage it tightly. Binnie had got out of the Land-Rover and crouched against the wall beside me.

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