He was looking at me strangely, which didn’t surprise me for my voice seemed to be coming from somewhere outside me. I turned and led the way out through the wine cellars and mounted the stairs to where Binnie waited impatiently with Keenan.
‘What kept you, for God’s sake ?’ he demanded, then turned on the Brigadier without waiting for a reply. ‘You follow close behind and keep your mouth shut, do you understand ?’
‘Perfectly,’ the Brigadier assured him.
We went up, Keenan in the lead, and emerged through the green baize door into the hall. It was very quiet. He paused for a moment, listening, then started up that great stairway.
We moved along the corridor, past the stiff ladies and gentlemen of bygone years, set in canvas for all time. Someone was playing a piano, I could hear it quite plainly, a Bach Prelude, lovely, ice-cold stuff, even at that time in the morning. The music was coming from inside Frank Barry’s sitting-room and when we stopped at the door, I paused, caught by the beauty of it.
“They’re in there/ Keenan whispered.
Binnie put a knee into his crutch, turned as Keenan slipped to the floor with a groan, and burst into the room, the Sten at the ready.
Barry was seated at the piano and stopped playing instantly. Norah Murphy was in the chair by the fire. She jumped to her feet and turned to us, the dressing on her right cheek making her face seem misshapen and ugly.
‘Norah?’ Binnie cried. ‘Are you all right?’
She stood staring at us, a strange dazed expression on her face, and then she ran forward suddenly and flung her arms around him. ‘Oh, Binnie, Binnie I’ve never been so glad to see anyone in my whole life.’
In the same moment, she yanked the Browning from his waistband and moved back to a point where she could cover all of us comfortably.
‘I would advise complete stillness, gentlemen, if you want to live, that is,’ she said crisply in the harsh, pungent tones of the Norah Murphy I knew and loved.
Frank Barry stayed where he was, but drew a revolver from a shoulder holster. The Brigadier and I, being sensible men, raised our hands although I didn’t get very far with my left.
‘You know, I wondered about you from the beginning, sweetheart,’ I said. ‘The fact that Barry and his boys were waiting for us on the way in and the speed with which they ran poor old Meyer to earth. That really was rather hard to swallow.’
‘But you took it.’
‘Not really. It was the branding that finally persuaded me I must have been wrong. Now that was quite a show.
What did you do, Barry, fill her up with pain-killer beforehand ?’
‘Just like going to the dentist/ he said. ‘But it needed something as drastic as that to persuade Binnie she was in real danger. To send him running to the Small Man.’
‘But she never was ?’ I said.
‘We wanted to know where the bullion was, old kd, and Cork wouldn’t even tell Norah that. Had a thing about holding it in reserve as a last resort if the talking failed and he needed more arms.’
‘Talk,’ Norah Murphy said. ‘That’s all he ever wanted to do and what good was it ? He’d had his day, he and his kind. Now we’ll try our way.’
‘Force and even more force/ the Brigadier said. ‘Terror on terror, and what have you left after that little lot?’
‘It’s the only way/ she said. “The only way we can make them see we mean business. Frank understands/
‘Which is why you’ve been working together ?’ I asked her.
During all this., Binnie had stood as if turned to stone, the Sten-gun hanging from one hand by its sling, but this final remark seemed to bring him back to life.
‘You mean you’re one of them ?’ he whispered. ‘You’ve been working for Frank Barry all along? A man who would murder – has murdered – women, kids, anyone who happens to stand in his road at the wrong moment for them ?’