Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

When we entered the drawing-room Barry was sitting alone at the table by the fire finishing a meal. There was a decanter and several gksses on a silver tray and he nodded towards it.

‘Have a glass of port, old lad.’

The logs spluttered cheerfully in the Adam fireplace. It was all quite splendid with the oil painting on the wall, the silver and crystal on the table. Rather like the officers’ mess in one of the better regiments.

An Admiralty chart for the coastal area was opened out across the lower end of the table. I glanced at it casually as I poured a couple of glasses of port and pushed one across to him. He was, I think, mildly surprised, but took it all the same.

‘Very civil of you.’

I raised my glass. ‘Up the Republic.’

He laughed out loud, head thrown back. ‘By God, but I like you, Vaughan. I really do. You have a sense of humour., that’s what it is, and so few of us do. The Irish, in spite of their reputation, are a sad race.’

‘All that rain,’ I said. ‘Now, what do you want?’

‘A few words about the job in hand, that’s all. I had that chart brought up from theKathleen. As far as I can judge there isn’t more than five fathoms anywhere in Horseshoe Bay,’

I had a look at the chart. ‘So it would appear.’

‘It should be easy enough,’ he said.1 mean, you can stay down there at that depth for as long as it takes. You won’t need to decompress or anything like that ?’

It seemed likely that he was simply testing me so I decided to be honest. ‘Not really.’

A slow smile spread across his face. ‘You told the truth. That’s encouraging.’

‘My mother always said I should.’

‘I’m glad you decided to follow her advice.’ He took a small book from a drawer and tossed it on the table. ‘I found that on the boat with your diving gear so I was able to check the situation for myself.’

It was a Board of Trade pamphlet containing various tables relating to diving depths, decompression rates and so on.

I said, ‘One thing that doesn’t tell you is that I only have about an hour’s air left in my aqualung.’

‘Then you’ll have to work fast, won’t you ?’

He obviously hadn’t bothered to check how many ingots went into half a million in gold bullion. There didn’t seem to be any point in trying to tell him because I didn’t know myself, although I suspected it must be a considerable number.

I said, ‘All right, when do we go ?’

‘Not me, old lad, you,’ he said. ‘With Dooley and another of my men to keep you company. Anything smaller than theQueen Elizabeth brings out the worst in me. If you leave at five you’ll be there by first light.

The more I thought about it the less I liked it, for I could imagine what Dooley’s orders would be the moment I delivered the goods.

‘One small change,’ I said. ‘Binnie goes with me.’

He shook his head sorrowfully. ‘Still don’t trust me, old lad, do you ?’

‘Not one damn bit.’

“All right,’ he said cheerfully. If it makes you feel any happier, Binnie you shall have.’

‘With a Browning in his pocket?’

TSIow that really would be expecting too much.’

He went back to the table, poured two more glasses of port and handed one to me. ‘Well, almost at the end of

tilings now, Vaughan, eh? What shall we drink to?’

‘Why, to you,’ I said and gave him, in Irish, that most ancient of all toasts.

I had expected another of those laughs of his, but instead saw only a brief, reflective smile. ‘A fine toast, Major Vaughan, an excellent sentiment. Better by far than Shiloh and another man’s war.’

He drew himself up proudly looking more like Francis the Fourth than ever and raised his glass. ‘Up the Republic.’

It was only then, I think, that I realized just how seriously he took himself.

Dooley took me back up to the bedroom and locked the door on me again. I stood at the window smoking a cigarette and looked out at the night, an old Irish custom.

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