Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Mashups

No Going Back

p))<>{color:#000;}.

 

No Going Back

 

 

Published by Mick Moran at Shakespir

 

Copyright 2016 Mick Moran

 

This is a work of fiction. All characters are fictitious, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Table of Contents

 

Prologue

Chapter 1. Monday morning

Chapter 2. The Cabin

Chapter 3. Mary’s lodging house

Chapter4. The Wedding

Chapter 5. Maggie

Chapter 6. Martin.

Chapter 7. Decision time

Chapter 8. Back to Brum.

Chapter 9. Alan

Chapter 10. Getting concerned

Chapter 11. Joe Casey

Chapter12. Moving on.

Chapter13. Pastures new.

Chapter14. Martin in hospital

Chapter 15. Joe’s plan

Chapter 16. Martin on the mend.

Chapter 17. Alan’s decision

Chapter18. Mary’s decision

Chapter 19. The letter

Chapter 20. Good news

Chapter 21. Happy Reunion

h1<>{color:#000;}.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

Prologue

 

The past is not dead. It’s not even past. (William Faulkner)

 

It seems Martin can never move on. He is again cruelly reminded of the tragic event that happened when he was just a teenager. Will his enemies ever give up?

 

Although not guilty of the crime he was blamed for, there was no way Martin could prove his innocence. Instead, he had to flee for his life, never again to return to the country and friends he loved.

 

Martin was another victim of the Irish civil war: a war, which although short, left Irish people divided and embittered for generations.

 

In England, like many Irishmen, Martin worked in the building trade, moving around the country to wherever the work was. As advised, he didn’t use his own name. He called himself Michael O’Malley.

 

After many years he moved to Broadfield. It was where the work was at the time. The ‘open-cast’ was hiring lots of men. But it was also a place where many people from Mayo had settled. The likelihood of meeting someone that knew his real name was high. Martin decided the time was right to use his own name again.

 

It wasn’t a problem. He lodged at ‘Mary’s’. It was a rough and ready but homely place. He was himself again. He enjoyed the craic. He enjoyed talking about home when he met people that came from places close to where he would always call home. Although it was never mentioned no one seemed to care about his past.

 

Martin was happy there, but it didn’t last. The job finished and there was no more work. He moved back to Birmingham, again calling himself Michael O’Malley, as he was previously known. There, he led a quiet seemingly contented life. Then, one day he is recognised.

 

Martin was not alone in having to leave his native land. Thousands of others, including many that had taken part in the struggle for independence found themselves in a similar position. Independence was achieved, but it did not end poverty or emigration. The small farmers in the West of Ireland where Martin came from still found it impossible to make a living on the land.

 

Forty years later the situation is little improved. Andy Horan, who grew up on a farm next to where Martin grew up, has to leave his family and girlfriend behind and go to England to find work. By chance he meets Martin. On discovering who Martin is Andy feels a kinship with Martin as only neighbours from where they both come from do. The feeling, however, does not appear to be reciprocated.

 

Andy writes and receives letters from home frequently. Martin, however, has long sense lost all contact with his family in Ireland, something Andy is determined to remedy, but is baffled as to why his attempts are rebuffed.

Chapter 1. Monday morning

 

Andy Horan took a last look around the room. The painters should be satisfied with that, he thought, downstairs is now complete, better go upstairs and see how Jimmy is doing. Aware that his progress was probably faster than expected, Andy was tempted to linger a while, but immediately dismissed the thought: it was not a time to be caught slacking.

 

Andy looked out of the window. Driving rain against the pane reminded him how lucky he was to be inside, if only for a few hours. Like the rest of the navvies on the site, he had worked out in the cold all winter. It was the middle of February then, but there was still no sign of the weather warming up. In fact the previous week was the worst they had experienced all winter and the severe weather was still with them. That Monday morning there was still no let up of the harsh winds blowing across the site. Also squally showers added to the discomfort of anyone unlucky enough to be outside.

 

It was to be their last week on that site. Most of the men had already moved away. The work was almost done: just some footpaths and drains to complete and the last few houses to paint. The remaining men would be gone by the end of the week.

 

It was a bleak site on the side of Cribden hill. They wouldn’t be sorry to leave it; at least those who would still have a job wouldn’t. Andy was still waiting for the word that he would be required on the new site. It was an anxious time.

 

That morning Andy and Jimmy McCarthy were given the task of cleaning the last three houses in readiness for painting. Apparently the painters had complained that the plasterers, who had then moved away, had left an ‘awful mess, plaster all over the floors.’ In the first house, Andy did downstairs, while Jimmy went upstairs. They weren’t complaining. They were in out of the cold.

 

Martin Prendergast was not so lucky. Through the window Andy watched him climb out of a manhole. Was he coming in out of the rain?

Earlier Andy had heard the ganger tell Martin not to stay outside if the rain got any worse. Surely he would come in now. If so, Andy would risk staying a little longer. He badly needed to talk to Martin. But, Andy’s hopes were almost immediately dashed. Martin had got out of the manhole simply to get his shovel. Andy watched him disappear down the manhole, seemingly oblivious of the rain, leaving Andy as puzzled as ever.

Andy knew Martin was in trouble; even his life may be in danger. There was a look of real concern in Father Downey’s face when he ushered Andy to one side after Mass on Sunday. “Keep an eye on Martin. Don’t let him draw attention to himself” the priest whispered hurriedly, then quickly added “but don’t tell anyone” before they were interrupted. Andy had already guessed that Martin had a problem. His behavior recently had been strange to say the least. The priest had confirmed Andy’s suspicions but left him no closer to knowing what the problem was. He felt burdened with a responsibility he had no idea how to deal with.

 

Andy quickly collected his shovel and brush, also his donkey jacket, which he placed over his arm. Even on this cold February day the exercise and the relative warmth of the house had made Andy sufficiently warm to remove his donkey jacket.

 

 

Upstairs Jimmy McCarthy was in his favorite working position: leaning on a shovel and smoking a cigarette. “This job will do nicely for Monday morning” he thought as he gazed down at the floorboards. Several lumps of plaster were stuck to the floor-boards, but not nearly as bad as Mountain seemed to think: the painters had clearly exaggerated the task to avoid doing it themselves. Jimmy, however, was not complaining. He was in no state for anything more demanding.

 

Monday morning was always bad for Jimmy, but, he thought, his head never felt that bad before. It was the wedding at weekend. The craic was good and the Guinness was flowing freely, although it all seemed a bit hazy then.

 

Alerted by the sound of footsteps on the stairs, Jimmy had a quick last draw on his cigarette, before throwing it on the floor and stubbing it with his hobnailed boot. He then, feebly scraped at the floorboards with his shovel as the door opened. It was Andy carrying a brush and shovel. Jimmy looked surprised.

 

“Andy! What are you creeping around up here for? You frightened me to death. I though it was Mountain.”

 

“I’ve finished downstairs. There wasn’t a lot to do.”

 

“A lot! We don’t want a lot. It’s bloody Monday morning. Let’s have an easy day today. Mountain doesn’t know how much there is to do.”

 

Andy leaned his brush against the wall, then looking at the floorboards asked“ Have you done anything this morning?”

 

“No, and I don’t intend to if I can get away with it. It’s our last week on this site. Let’s make the most of it.”

 

Steps were heard on the stairs again. Jimmy stopped leaning and held his shovel in a more workman like manner. Then from the side of his mouth urged “Look busy, we’re getting company.”

 

Both were scraping at the floorboards with their shovels when the door opened. Two men entered. One in his early twenties was obviously a painter in white overalls. The other probably in his forties was a very tidy looking navvy: the bottom of his pants tied with string. Jimmy, relieved that it was not Mountain, greeted them.

 

“Des O’Malley, the complaining painter, and Michael O’Donnell the philosopher himself. Have you come to help us?”

 

Des answered “Jimmy McCarthy! I should have known we’d find you hiding up here. I suppose you had a rough weekend. I just came to see how you are getting on. We’re ready to start painting here now. It’s too wet to paint outside.”

 

“Will you stop bloody rushin’ us? You’re worse than Mountain.

Downstairs is ready, start there when you like.” Then Jimmy turned to Michael. “Have you come to pester us as well Michael?”

 

“No, I’ve just come to visit. Mountain told me to get in out of the rain.”

 

Andy, looking concerned turned to Michael. “Have you seen Martin, Michael?”

 

“I, he was cleaning out that manhole, But I heard Mountain tell him go inside ‘til the rain eases off.” Michael looked through the window. “I can’t see him. He must have taken the advice. He’s looking very rough this morning. It must have been a great wedding all together. I believe they carried on all day yesterday as well. I never saw Martin looking that bad. But, I suppose he’s not the only one. You were there too Andy?”

 

Andy, deep in thought didn’t seem to hear. Martin’s behavior was puzzling him. He had been happy to let Michael believe that it was too much drink at the wedding that made him feel so rough. But, Andy knew different. It was true the wedding party carried on all day yesterday. Although, in reality there were two parties: one in Nora’s pub and the other in the club. Andy, however, was aware that Martin was at neither.

His thoughts were interrupted by the wave of Jimmy’s hand in front of his face.

 

“Will you wake up?’ Then Jimmy answered Michael’s question. “Oh! He was there, all right, but he won’t be rough. Orange Juice won’t make him rough.”

 

“I suppose you’d know,” said Des sarcastically. Then turning to Andy

“Don’t you drink at all Andy?”

 

“No, I don’t bother.”

 

Jimmy again chipped in “Bother! He doesn’t bother with anything. Sends all his money home to his mother.”

 

“Wise man.”

 

Jimmy just shook his head.“ Ah, he’d be better off giving it to a whore.”

 

“Or pissing it against the wall, like you do.”

 

“At least I enjoy it.”

 

It was Michael’s turn to shake his head“ The usual level of conversation.”

 

Andy attempted to change the subject. “What did you do yesterday Des?”

But Jimmy again butted in. “Do! He’ll have done what he’s done all his life in Dublin stand on the street corner waiting for a Kiltimaugh man to throw him a shilling.”

 

“You know nothing about Dublin. You only passed through,” Then,

in answer to Andy’s question, Des silenced the room. “I was at the hospital visiting my uncle”.

 

Michael, holding his pipe, but making no attempt to light it, asked. “Michael O’Malley is it?”

 

“I, that’s the man”.

 

“What’s the matter with him?”

 

“He was attacked and badly beaten on Friday evening. He was unconscious until yesterday. The family didn’t know if he would live or die”.

 

Michael looked stunned. “That’s shocking, and how is he now?”

 

“Well he looked an awful mess, but he was conscious yesterday afternoon and knew everyone, or nearly everyone. He didn’t know Martin though”.

 

Andy didn’t know Michael O’Malley and wondered how Martin knew him. Martin had only lived around there about twelve months; a little longer than Andy himself. Michael O’Donnell must have been thinking on similar lines.

“I didn’t know that Martin knew him”.

 

“Oh he did. I met him Saturday evening and as soon as I mentioned the name he seemed very concerned. He wanted to know the ward he was in and all that”.

 

Michael nodded. Andy remained silent, although far from satisfied with Des’s answer. How could Martin possibly know Michael O’Malley well enough to wish to visit him in hospital, and why did he keep it to himself?

 

“It’s strange that he didn’t know Martin” remarked Jimmy, “Now that’s a face you wouldn’t forget in a hurry”.

 

“Well he could hardly see. One eye was totally closed and the other was barely open.

 

“That’s shocking” repeated Michael, clearly upset “and him such a quiet man. Any idea who did it?”

 

“No, he can’t remember a thing. The police talked to him yesterday.”

 

“Was he robbed?”

 

“No, that’s the strange thing. The police said the attacker might have been disturbed. They are looking for witnesses.”

There was a brief silence. Then heavy footsteps are heard on the stairs.

 

“That’ll be Martin now” said Jimmy with a motion of his head. “We can ask him how he knew Michael O’Malley.”

 

“No” Michael raised his hand. “Don’t be upsetting him.” There was general agreement.

 

The door opened and Martin entered: a big man about sixty, slightly bent forward, with a big red face, a cap on the side of his head, and a scarf wrapped round his neck. Jimmy greeted him.

“Come in Martin. You’re a decent West-of-Ireland man.”

 

Martin ignored Jimmy. In fact he ignored everyone. He leaned his back against the wall just inside the door next to Des and started to light his pipe. Des, pleased to change the subject, continued on Jimmy’s theme.

“You’re all from the West-of-Ireland except myself. I suppose you won’t have seen much of Dublin either Martin.”

 

“No, it was dark when I came over.”

 

“That’s a good few years ago now I bet?”

 

“’T is.”

 

Martin turned away to light his pipe. Michael, still looking out of the window commented. “Those top houses must have been occupied over the weekend. I can see a woman at the window.”

 

Martin raised his eyes. “Don’t I know? She’s been pissin like an owl mare all morning.”

 

Unintentionally Martin amused them all. Michael asked “Is the manhole clear now.”

 

“Yes” Martin grunted.

 

There was a long silence: Martin was puffing at his pipe, but clearly not enjoying it, not that Des noticed. Then, turning to him, and not knowing him very well, in a bid to start a conversation, jokingly asked the old question. “Do you think you’ll ever go back now Martin?”

 

Martin made no reply, puffing at his pipe and looking somewhat annoyed. Nevertheless Des pressed on. “You’d like to go back though?”

 

“Why?”

 

“You must have some feelings for the place.”

 

“Shut your mouth.”

 

Des got the message at last. Martin’s feelings were definitely not up for discussion. Best leave him alone. Then Jimmy tried a bit of banter.

“I notice you haven’t brought your shovel Martin.”

 

Martin ignored him. Then Michael continued the banter. “I notice yours isn’t getting much use.”

 

“I’m sociable. I stop and talk to people when they visit.”

 

“Well, I won’t be stopping you.”

Martin opened the door and left. All was quiet except for the sound of Martin’s heavy steps descending the stairs. Then in a concerned voice Des broke the silence.

“I must have upset him there, but I never meant it.”

 

“Ah” said Michael reassuringly, “It didn’t take much. It’s the way he is this morning. And, you weren’t to know, Ireland is a bit of a sore point with Martin at the best of times.” Then turning to Andy,

 

“He never did go back; did he?”

 

“No, he didn’t.”

 

Michael looked for elaboration, but Andy just slowly shook his head. Then Jimmy offered his own opinion.

“Back! Back! He doesn’t need to go back. Sure he never left the place. In his head he’s still living there.”

Michael nodded “For once I think you’re right. But, you should have known better than upsetting him all the more.”

 

“I was only having the crack.”

 

“Didn’t you have enough crack the weekend?”

 

Michael again looked out of the window. “I see Martin is going back to his work. The rain has eased off. I’ll be going out myself now.”

 

Michael headed for the door, making way for Jimmy to look through the window. “I, he’s going to attack the work all right.”

 

Des looked out. Attack seemed the appropriate word. The way Martin lifted his shoulder with each step as if psyching himself up for the work ahead. Des was amused.

 

“Will you look at the gemp of him? He’s a proper Kulshi. Is his cap on the Kiltimaugh side as well?”

 

Instead of answering Jimmy just laid into Des. “Don’t you Dublin Jackeen blaguard us decent West-of-Ireland men. I think it’s true Dublin men don’t like Irishmen.”

 

Des just laughed and left the room.

 

Jimmy immediately sat on the floor with his back against the wall and lit another cigarette, while Andy, to Jimmy’s annoyance, resumed the task of cleaning the floor.

“Can’t you rest yourself while you have the chance? Mountain will have us out in the cold when he knows we’ve finished here.”

 

“Mountain knows there isn’t a lot to do.” Then, Andy stopped scraping and looking thoughtful turned to Jimmy.

 

“I wonder how Martin knew Michael O’Malley?”

 

“I don’t know. Maybe they had a drink together in the club, or something like that, answered Jimmy dismissively. Why? Does it matter?”

 

“No I suppose not.” Resisting the temptation to tell Jimmy about the Priest’s warning, Andy thought it better to leave it at that.

 

Then Jimmy remembered something. “You know, I think it was Michael O’Malley that a man was asking about at Mary’s a few weeks ago. Yes, I’m fairly sure that was the name. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but, I remember Martin was very interested.”

 

“What do you mean Interested?”

 

“You know. Asking what he looked like and all that.”

 

Not wishing to seem unduly concerned, Andy turned away and recommenced his scraping, while pondering the priest’s words. “Don’t tell anyone.” the priest had said. “Don’t let him draw attention to himself.” That puzzled Andy. What did he mean? And what could Andy do about it anyway? Did the priest think that he shared digs with martin? But, mainly, Andy only saw Martin at work and then not so much. Apart from the last few days, when Martin had joined them to do some pipe laying, Andy and Martin were in different gangs and rarely saw each other. On that basis, Andy had tried to put the warning out of his head. The news about Michael O’Malley, however, renewed his fears. Maybe there was a connection, he feared. Martin may be in danger of suffering the same fate, or worse. “Don’t let him draw attention to himself.” Well as far as Andy could see there was no problem there. Martin was the least obtrusive man he knew. That opinion, however, was about to change somewhat.

Andy crossed the floor to get the brush, which was leaning against the wall by the window, while Jimmy watched disapprovingly.

 

“Can you see Mountain out there.”

 

“No I …”

 

Andy suddenly went silent. His jaw dropped and the blood seemed to drain from his face, alerting Jimmy to the seriousness of whatever was out there.

 

“What the hell have you seen, a ghost?’

Jimmy jumped to his feet and rushed to the window.

 

“Not too close he might see us.”

 

But, ignoring Andy’s caution, Jimmy put his face right up to the glass.

“It’s Martin. What’s he doing? Is that a dog at his feet?”

 

“I can’t believe what I just saw. I just saw Martin kill that dog with his shovel.”

 

“I didn’t think he had it in him. What did the dog do to him?

Did it attack him?”

 

“I don’t think so. Hi up, he’s looking round.”

 

They both stood back a little from the window but continued peering out. For a minute nothing is said. Then Jimmy broke the silence.

 

“Well good on you Martin. That drain came in handy. I wonder if those drains have been inspected?”

“I, a man came on Friday.”

 

“That’s it then. The dog will be about four feet under. No one will be any the wiser.”

 

But Andy was not convinced.

“I don’t know what came over him. It’s not like Martin to do that. And he could get in serious trouble.”

 

“ I think not. He’s buried the evidence. I bet he’s never worked so hard back filling though: Monday morning and all.”

 

Jimmy was enjoying it all, but Andy was still worried.

“I, he was rough this morning, and you and Des upsetting him didn’t help.” But, killing a dog is still out of character. Do you think that, maybe, he didn’t mean to kill it?”

 

“He smashed its skull with the shovel, didn’t he?”

 

“I, but, maybe he expected the dog to dodge the blow. He just wanted to chase it away. It was probably getting on his nerves.”

 

“His nerves were bad last night alright. He got back the same time as myself. But, he couldn’t get his key in the door. I offered to do it for him but he refused. He said, No just keep the house steady.”

 

“Stop fibbing, this is serious.”

 

“I am serious. The craic will be good in the cabin at dinner time though.”

 

“No! No! You mustn’t mention it. Martin will be in serious trouble if it gets out about the dog.”

 

Regretting telling Jimmy about the incident Andy continued. “If he loses his job he might not be able to get another one.”

 

“ He’s a good pipe-layer. He’d always get a job.”

 

“I don’t know. It’s slack round here on the building. He’d have to travel and he’s getting a bit old for that.”

 

“You’re very concerned about him. He’s a towny of your.

Did you know him over there?”

“No, Martin left before I was born. It was said there was a disagreement between himself and his brother about who got the land. But, that’s a long time ago. All I know is that he never went back. He’s been all round this country though.”

 

“A long distance kiddy. I bet he can look after himself. I bet he’s done worse things than kill a dog in his time. Hi up. Look busy.” Footsteps are heard on the stairs again.

 

As they grabbed their shovels Andy gave Jimmy a stern look

“Don’t mention the dog.”

 

John Mountain entered: a rather thin wiry man. Nothing like what his name suggested. “You’re doing well. I see you’ve finished down stairs.”

 

Jimmy was eager to make the most of the praise

“We are. We need a rest now though. We’re tired.”

 

But Mountain knew him too well. “You’re what I’d call a tired man,” he said

 

“You don’t appreciate a good worker. A man can’t keep going for ever you know.”

 

“You might be going for ever on Friday. From this firm anyway.”

 

“Now you don’t mean that.”

 

Jimmy didn’t seem to care. Andy however was more worried. “Will there be work for us all at the new site?” he asked

 

“Oh there will be.” Then with a hint of a smile, John, looking at

Jimmy, who had turned away from him, added, “well, maybe with one or two exceptions. But,” he continued “don’t you worry Andy your job is safe.”

John then looked out of the window “I see Martin has got a sweat on. I suppose the beer is coming out. He seemed rough this morning.”

 

Interested again Jimmy chipped in.

“I, he was: dog rough. Wasn’t he Andy?”

 

“I suppose he was.” Wishing to quickly change the subject Andy turned to Mountain. “Is Martin staying in our gang now?”

 

“No this is his last day with us. Then he’s back with Eddy. He only came with us to do that pipe laying. I think he’d like to stay with us, though. He’s too much of a perfectionist for Eddy. But, Eddy needs him. He has no other pipe-layer. We’re not too badly off in that respect. Michael is a good pipe-layer, and yourself Andy; I saw how you shaped last week. I could see you you’d done a bit before.”

 

Jimmy chipped in dismissively. “Another one chancing his hand, just cause he worked with the donkey.”

 

The revelation, however interested John. “Delaney, a good man. How long have you worked with him Andy?”

 

“Only a few weeks, that job was coming to an end too when I got the start.”

 

Jimmy shook his head in almost disbelief at Andy’s belittling of his experience with Delaney. A golden opportunity might have been wasted.

He would have to give Andy a good talking to sometime. But John was positive.

 

“Never mind Andy the experience will do you good.”

 

Andy nodded. It was a time he wouldn’t forget.

***

 

 

Young and inexperienced, Andy was nervous and apprehensive that first day on the site. If it hadn’t been for Delaney its doubtful if he would have stuck it. The ganger that he first had to report to was far from welcoming. His greeting was more like a bark.

 

“Where were you at eight o’clock.”

 

“I had to go to the office with my insurance cards and P45”.

 

Big Jim Mcloughlin, a big brutish looking man, probably not untypical of navvy gangers in his attitude, glared at Andy as if Andy’s meek explanation was insolence. Then, in a lower but still hostile voice said,

“Go over to the Donkey. He’ll show you what to do”.

 

Unquestioning Andy quickly walked towards the middle aged man big Jim had pointed to, though doubtful that anyone called the donkey could show him much.

 

It was Andy’s second job since leaving Mayo. His first, in a factory, which rarely allowed him to see the light of day, was such a far cry from the open-air life he was used to. He was told that he looked pale. “Factory life wasn’t agreeing with him”. “He was more suited to working outside”. “Aren’t Irishmen born with picks and shovels in their hands”.

 

After his encounter with big Jim, Andy wasn’t so sure. Big Jim’s accent was familiar, like Andy might have heard back home, but far from reassuring. The tone of voice would have been more appropriate if directed at a misbehaving dog. Then, it seems, navvies, especially inexperienced ones, are thought of as little better than dogs. Maybe that’s why brutes like Big Jim are made navvy gangers.

 

Delaney was different. With a friendly smile he held out his hand.

“You’re w w welcome”.

 

Ignoring the stammer Andy took Delaney’s hand. It was such a relief to see a friendly face.

“I’m Andy Horan”.

 

“And I..I.. I’m Paddy Delaney”.

 

On hearing the name ‘Delaney’ Andy realized what gave the nickname it’s familiar ring, and probably caused it to stick. It was the comic song ‘Delaney’s donkey’ which was popular at the time.

 

Of course there was also the stammer. An impatient listener might at first get the impression that he deserved the nickname. But Andy was soon to discover that was totally wrong.

 

Pipe-laying, flag-laying, foundations, Delaney demonstrated his proficiency in all those and many other aspects of the work. Although only regarded as semi-skilled, those are jobs that few men master. That is probably because the men that practice them are very reluctant to impart any of the tricks of their trades. I suppose you can’t blame them. They don’t wish to loose the slight edge those abilities give them. Delaney however was different. Impressed by Andy’s hard work and willingness to learn, he not only showed him, but he also encouraged Andy to do jobs that others would be wary of him touching.

 

Andy was too new on the job to fully appreciate how lucky he was. Thinking back, his naiveté in other ways must have obvious too. He then realized that he was set up on the last dinnertime on that job.

 

They were all in the cabin except Delaney, who was late coming in that day, when Jimmy Flynn casually asked; “How are you going on with the donkey”.

 

“All right, but why do yon call him the donkey”.

“Ah it’s only the craic”.

 

“It’s not fair though, is it”? Andy’s voice betrayed his feelings. He had so much to learn. Navvys don’t have feelings, and fairness certainly doesn’t get in the way of the craic. Andy had broken those unspoken rules, which Jimmy Flynn was quick to exploit.

 

“You know Andy, I was just as concerned myself when I first heard big Jim call Delaney the donkey. So I asked him straight out. I said to Delaney why did big Jim call you the donkey and you such an intelligent man, and do you know what he said.

 

Andy shook his head, allowing Jimmy to get in his punch line.

 

“He aw…he aw. .He aw…. He always calls me that”.

 

Andy knew it wasn’t true. Even big Jim wouldn’t call Delaney the donkey to his face. Nevertheless Andy was annoyed and refused to join in the laughter. Grabbing his sandwiches he stormed out of the cabin, ignoring the pleas of, “come back Andy, its only the craic”.

 

The craic that day was too much for Andy. Delaney was heading toward him, but Andy turned the other way. He had no wish to speak to anyone, especially Delaney. Out of the building site Andy walked up a lonely country road. After walking for about ten minutes, Andy sat on a dilapidated stonewall and fed his sandwiches to the birds. In many ways the north of England was similar to the west of Ireland. It even had the same species of birds, as far as Andy could tell. He could have stayed there all day, but there was only half an hour for dinner.

 

Andy took his mother’s letter from his inside pocket and reread it. He almost knew the words by heart then. Nevertheless he studied the letter again.

 

 

20th October1964

Dear Andy,

I got your letter yesterday. I’m so pleased you’re doing so well. Thank you for the cheque. It was a Godsend. I paid off the grocery bill at Larry’s. The bill was mounting up. I was afraid he wouldn’t let me have any more.

I was able to get a good pair of strong boots for Johnny as well. He was all right in his bare feet all summer, but now the winter is coming.

Mr. Mac says he’s doing well at school, just like his older brother he says. The rest of us are all fine. They all sent their love.

We have the most of the praties dug now, thanks to the men of the village. We had a mahal last Tuesday. Every man from the village came. They worked hard all day, god spare them the health. Johnny and Teresa stayed home from school that day. Johnny worked in the field as good as any man and Teresa helped me make dinner for the men. Larry didn’t want to let her have that much bacon. He relented when she told him about the men, but she said he still had a sour face on him. That changed yesterday when I paid the bill. He was all smiles then.

 

Jim Prendergast is a wonderful neighbor. He offered to dig the rest of the praties for us, but I couldn’t be troubling him any more. Johnny and myself will manage what’s left. Jim has been so good to us all year. He mowed that field of oats for us last month and never took a penny.

 

His daughter Mary has gone to the convent. I hope they can afford it. He didn’t go to England at all this year. His wife Mary isn’t in the best of health, but he doesn’t say much.

 

I told him you met his brother Martin. He’d love to hear from him, but martin never writes home. Maybe if you found out his address Jim would write to him. Jim says, he doesn’t think Martin stays long anywhere.

 

I hope you make it home for Christmas. We’d all love to see you.

God bless you

Your loving mother.

 

 

The last three years had been tough. Andy left school at fourteen, the year his father died, to work full time on the land. He had two brothers and a sister. They were all younger than Andy. It was a small farm and the land was poor. His mother struggled against impossible odds to make ends meet.

 

Andy’s headmaster recommended that he go to college. Aware that Andy’s mother couldn’t afford to pay he offered to enter Andy’s name for a scholarship. He said Andy stood a good chance in spite of his poor attendance in the last year because of his Father’s illness. Mr. Mac even offered extra tuition if Andy was willing to take the exam. It was, of course, never possible. Even if he got the scholarship, to leave his mother on her own was unthinkable.

 

Andy hoped his brother’s and sister’s education wouldn’t be too disrupted. Things he hoped would be better for them. He would keep sending whatever he could.

 

Mainly, however, Andy thought about young Mary Prendergast. He wished he could talk to her now. She would understand him. He puzzled a lot recently about their last evening together. Did he see a tear in her eye or was it just his imagination? Were her parting words “write to me” just words or did she really mean it. He decided then that she must have meant it. She wouldn’t say what she didn’t mean. He felt he knew her better than anyone. They grew up together, living on adjacent farms. They were like brother and sister. But since leaving he often wondered if they could have been more. Was it too late to write to her? Six months had gone by and he hadn’t been able to do it. Now, she is in the convent,

would a letter from him be just an embarrassment to her?

 

Andy was back on the job before Delaney. They worked mostly in silence that afternoon: their last afternoon together. There was no mention of what happened in the cabin.

***

 

 

 

As navvy gangers go, John Mountain was an amiable kind of man. Bullying was not his style. He had more subtle ways of motivating men.

After exploring the upstairs part of the house he commented,

“I expect you’ll be finished here by dinner time”.

 

Andy nodded and recommenced scraping at the floorboards. However it would take more to get Jimmy going. Still looking out of the window he merely muttered, “you expect plenty”.

 

John moved over to the window then looking over Jimmy’s shoulder observed, “Looks like Eddy’s preparing to pull down their cabin. In which case you two can finish the back-filling that Martin’s doing”.

 

John paused, then looking at Jimmy’s back added, “instead of just watching him through the window”.

 

Jimmy shook his head. “You’d be surprised what I see through that window”.

 

Moving away from the window towards his shovel Jimmy winked knowingly at Andy. Andy’s suspicious glare only seemed to quietly amuse Jimmy. John, however, was just gazing through the window with a far away look. But Jimmy was enjoying Andy’s discomfort too much to leave it at that.

 

“You learn a lot looking through that window”. “ Don’t you Andy?”

 

Andy made no reply. In near panic he studied John’s face. Then following John’s gaze, which appeared to be at the completed houses, and desperate to change the subject he stuttered.

 

“W.. we’ve done well with these houses, haven’t we”?

 

John turned to Andy with pride. It was his favorite subject.

“We’ve done very well Andy. We’ve completed a house a day on average”?

 

Andy looked suitably impressed. Jimmy, however, just mocked.

“A house a day; isn’t that marvelous? Even flowers growing in the

garden, I suppose”.

 

John, getting slightly annoyed at his attitude, decided to have a go at Jimmy. “They were doing the gardens of those top houses over the weekend. I saw some of your friends, policemen, move in on Friday”.

 

John looked for Jimmy’s reaction, but it was Andy who seemed most concerned. He turned to John. “Police did you say”?

 

But, it was Jimmy that John addressed his answer to. “I, and their families, Jimmy, I bet you’re glad this is our last week here”.

 

“You think I care”.

 

“You did the other week, I heard: the night you changed digs”.

 

“I, the bastards locked me up and gave me a good hiding for nothing. They said I was trying to break into my own digs. Bloody Mary gave me the wrong key”.

 

“Well you have a reputation. They knew where you lived”.

 

“They knew where I used to live. I don’t have to tell them when I move”.

 

“What time did they let you out then?”

“I don’t know: four or five in the morning, without a word of an apology. The bastards”.

 

“Well you were drunk, and you have a reputation”.

 

“I’m paying for it now, even when I do nothing”.

 

“But, you were drunk”.

 

“A man’s entitled to a drink. You’ve forgotten what it’s like to have the craic: living like an Englishman in that posh part of the town”.

 

“Now, now, you know very well we can’t keep separate. We have to integrate. You’ll be doing plenty of that next week: at work anyway. There will be lots of Englishmen on that site”.

 

“I bet there will be no navvies”.

 

“What makes you say that’.

 

“It’s too much like hard work for them”.

 

“You’re wrong there. You’re only showing your prejudice”.

 

“I’m not prejudiced. It’s a fact. Only Irishmen can do this kind of work. Why do you think firms like McAlpine’s keep bringing us over: paying our fares and all”?

 

“Well yes, that’s how I got here myself. Englishmen were employed in other work. But, not all. I’ve worked with lots of Englishmen good workers an all. Of course I’ve heard the tales, like you had to gemp to get a job as a navvy, but they’re mostly not true. On one site where I worked, they all seemed to be mighty men, it was said a man had to be eighteen inches from tit to tit to get a job there. Well look at me and I got a job there. I’ve worked with men all shapes and sizes and nationalities, and I’ll tell you the biggest men aren’t always the best workers. And, about what you were saying, Englishmen around here mostly work in the factories.

“They won’t have the graft. They’d sooner go to Australia”.

 

“All this immigration”, sighed Andy “Irishmen having their fares paid to come over here and Englishmen being paid to go to Australia”.

 

“I Andy” said John “that’s the way it is. There’s nothing we can do about it”.

 

“It’s still wrong, so many being forced to immigrate”.

 

“We weren’t forced,” corrected Jimmy “We were invited”.

 

“Still, we had to leave. There was no work for us there”

 

“I didn’t come for the work. I came for the adventure”.

 

“Don’t I know that” said John as he moved towards the door.

“I’m going to see how Michael getting on”.

 

John left the room. Jimmy lit cigarette and resumed his position leaning on the shovel. Andy glanced out of the window. “I wonder if it was a police dog”

 

“Are you still worrying about that bloody dog? It’s dead and buried now”.

 

“Martin could be in serious trouble if it was one of those trained police dogs. It was big enough you know”.

 

“He’s gone up in my estimation if it was one of those dogs”.

 

“But, surely they wouldn’t allow one of those dogs to wander off Michael O’Donnell would know”.

 

“The philosopher. That bastard knows everything.”

 

“He’ll be in the cabin at dinner time. I wonder if we could ask him without giving away why we want to know”.

 

“He’ll bore us to death if we get him on about dogs”.

 

“Well, he does seem to know a great deal about them”.

 

“He’d like us to think he does”.

 

Andy chipped the last piece of plaster from the floorboard while giving some thought to the situation. “We’d better say no more about it. That’s the best. Just say nothing”.

 

“That’s what I’ve been saying. It’s dead and buried now”.

 

They both continue sweeping the floor in silence. The Andy suddenly stops.

 

“Suppose another dog sniffs out where that dog is buried”.

 

“Will you shut up about that bloody dog? No one knows it’s buried anywhere, so why should they bring snifter dogs round”.

 

“If they come looking for it, they might come with dogs and if they see that drain just filled in they might suspect something and the dogs might sniff something there”.

 

“I’m getting sick of this. Will you stop bloody worrying? It won’t happen and even if it does martin can handle it. I bet he’s not worried”.

 

“I wonder if I should have a word with him”.

 

“Are you a born worrier? Look, Martin knows about the dog. We don’t know if it is a police dog. If it is then maybe there’s to worry about. But, probably, it is not. Anyway it’s time we were going for dinner. I promise not to say a word. Looking at Martin’s face will be enough”.

 

Andy looked through the window. “Oh Jesus! Will you look what’s down there”.

“Two cops. The bastards”!

Chapter 2. The cabin.

 

The brew cabin fulfilled its function, barely, with few extra comforts that might tempt a man to linger longer than the allocated half an hour.

The seats were scaffolding planks on breeze- blocks and there was a small table, on which the little gas stove, which boiled the kettle, rested. The gas stove was the only source of heat. On that cold February day it was only marginally warmer inside the cabin than it was outside. So no time was wasted removing donkey jackets. Nevertheless, the half an hour was looked forward to as a break from work and the craic.

As they entered the cabin Jimmy turned to Andy. “Lend’s a brew. I was in a rush this morning.”

 

“What’s new there then?”

 

Michael was already in and had the kettle on the stove. “It’s self-catering this week” he informed them “Jack has already gone to the new site.”

 

“Good” responded Jimmy “We won’t be poisoned this week then.”

 

“Now you shouldn’t say things like that.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Why not! You know well why not. You’d get a man hung. Saying

he boiled his socks in the kettle. Now that was malicious.”

 

“You believe what you want. I know what I saw.”

 

Martin was next in followed by John Mountain who had a question to ask.

 

“The cops have lost a dog. Any of you seen a brown Alsatian?”

There was shaking of heads all round. Then Andy asked

“Was it a police dog?”

 

“They didn’t say. They seemed very concerned about it though.”

 

“Oh! They would be.” Agreed Michael “If it was one of those trained police dogs the handler should never let it out of his sight. He’ll be in deep trouble if his superiors find out that he’s let it wander off.”

 

“Why is that?” Asks Andy.

 

Michael drew on his pipe pleased that an interest was being shown. “Well the dog is trained so it will only respond to its handler. It won’t obey anyone else. That’s why they must stay together all the time. If anything happens to the handler, they say, the dog has to be put down.”

 

“This gets better all the time.” Jimmy was suddenly amused “And if anything happens to the dog do they put the cop down? No wonder they were worried; the bastards.”

 

“Now you’re being silly again”

 

John laughed, then looked puzzled, as the rest remain silent.

 

“Well, we’re all in a jolly mood this morning.” “You know a bit about training dogs then Michael?”

 

“Yes, I learned it from my father.” Savoring the fact that he had an audience Michael drew on his pipe again, then, ignoring Jimmy’s groans, continued, “My father was the best trainer for miles around. Of course we had a lot of land. We needed a well-trained dog to round up all the cattle in the evening.

 

Scornfully, Jimmy agreed. “I suppose they’d take a lot of finding amongst the rocks. You need a lot of land when its mostly rocks.”

 

But, there was no stopping Michael. Totally ignoring Jimmy, he continued

“When I was a kid we had a great bitch. Shep, she was called. She always brought the cattle home in the evening and only once do I remember her ever missing any. It was a summer evening and she came home without one young calf. My father tried to send her back for the calf. But, she was stubborn that time she wouldn’t go. She just lay there whimpering, and watching my father doing the milking. When he finished milking the cow he said to me. “We’d better look for that calf before it gets dark.” But, when he put the bucket down, up jumps shep and stuck her tail in the milk, annoying my father all the more. He shouted at her again but she just ran off over the hill. “I don’t know what’s wrong with that bitch this evening.” He said. “She won’t do as she’s told, and now she’s ruined the milk.” But, I knew we had plenty milk and we could always give that milk to the pigs. Shep knew that as well.”

 

Michael puffed on his pipe before continuing. “Anyway when we got half way up the hill all was forgiven. The sight we saw cheered my father up no end. Shep was heading towards us and following behind was the calf sucking on her tail.”

 

“You had a great dog there Michael.” Remarked John. But, Martin, who had been silently puffing at his pipe, his face glowing red, was less appreciative. “I wish you’d stop telling your flaming lies.”

 

Jimmy too couldn’t resist having a dig. “I suppose you read that in Ireland’s Own.”

 

Annoyed, Michael turned on Jimmy. “You know nothing about training dogs. Sure you never traveled any further than a cow shite.”

 

Martin jumped to his feet. “I’ve heard enough. I’m going for a pint.”

 

Jimmy couldn’t resist it “Hair of the dog is it Martin?”

 

Martin glared at Jimmy, his big face redder than ever, but made no reply. Then he turned to John. “I’ll be back at one-o-clock to carry on with those drains”.

 

“Sound as a bell Martin. Enjoy your pint”.

 

As Martin left he briefly turned his glare on Michael who was sat nearest the door. But, Michael puffing on his pipe didn’t seem to notice. Then the rickety cabin shook all around them as Martin slammed the door. The door was slammed so hard it flew open again. An icy blast of air entered the cabin, as they watched Martin continue on his way without a backward glance. Without getting up Michael reached to close the door. Then John rebuked Jimmy.

 

“You’ll go too far one of those days. I thought he was going to hit you then. Martin’s done very well this morning. I didn’t expect that drain to be finished yet.

 

“Well, that’s praise coming from you. You expect plenty. Did you get what you expected from us?”

 

“No, but I didn’t expect I would.”

 

“A bit of a Joker yourself now!”

 

“I have to be with the likes of you or I’d go stone mad. Is there much to do in that house? The painters are ready to start there.”

 

Andy answered, “No we won’t be long. Just one room to clean out.”

 

In the period of silence that followed, Jimmy, fearing he’d taken the banter too far, studied Michael’s face from across the table. Michael, quietly smoking his pipe, didn’t seem too upset. A friendly approach, Jimmy thought, may be accepted. In a more conciliatory voice he ventured a question. “Weren’t you one of McAlpine’s men too Michael?”

 

Looking a little surprised, but not one to sulk, with a hint of a smile, Michael first turned to John, then faced Jimmy.

“I. Myself and John, we were both brought over together.”

 

“And were you well looked after?”

 

“Well, we had our fare paid and accommodation found: such as it was. We lived in cabins right on the site; nice and handy for the work. We got good money, especially in summer. We could work all the daylight hours. But, we had to earn every penny.”

 

“McAalpine’s God was a well filled hod.” Jimmy quoted from the well-known song.

 

“That’s very true. He got his money’s worth out of us for sure.

Although some said he softened a bit when he got near his end. There’s a tale about him going along in his Rolls Royce one day, when he spotted an old man shuffling along by the side of the road. The man had a bad hump. He was so bent over that his head was nearly touching the ground. McAlpine, that time, took pity on him. He said to his chauffeur “stop and give that man a lift. It was me made him like that.”

 

They all laughed. Then John shook his head.

 

“I don’t know. I don’t believe he ever softened, ‘til the day he died: and even then. There’s a tale about when he was dead and being carried out. The bearers heard a voice from the coffin, saying, “I’m sure two men could do this.”

 

There was a knock on the cabin door. When told to come in, a very well dressed man appeared at the door, but did not come in.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

“May I have a word with the foreman?”

 

John went out with the man and closed the door behind him. There was a short silence, which was broken by Michael.

“That was a well spoken man. I don’t think he’ll be after a job here.”

 

True to form, Jimmy responded “He’d be no good at this kind of work anyway. We don’t need the likes of him.”

 

“He wouldn’t want this work anyway. He’ll be a clerk-of-works or something like that, from the town hall.”

Andy got to his feet and peered through a crack by the cabin door.

“He’s not the one who came on Friday.”

 

That got Jimmy going again. “Sure the town hall is full of them clerks.

I don’t know what they’re all doing there. Different ones come every day. They’ve nothing better to do I suppose.”

 

Michael disagreed “Ah now the council is paying for this work. They have to make sure it’s done right. A lot of planning and costing is involved.”

“Planning, I, looking after their own jobs. And costing, making sure don’t get paid too much.

 

“Well yes” mused Michael “It’s only natural to look after your own job and it’s true the tendering system does tend to keep wages down. If our man paid us too much his tender would have to be too high and he wouldn’t get the work”.

 

“He wouldn’t be able to run his Jag, more like.”

 

“You might have something there. It’s said the tendering system is not all that competitive anyway. It’s generally believed that all the contractors get together beforehand and agree on who should put the lowest price in.”

 

“The bastards, they all piss in the same pot, I suppose they also agree on how much—or how little, more like—to pay us.”

 

“I, we get no say in it, tradesmen have their unions, but us navvies,”

Michael shakes his head, “I don’t know.”

 

Shouting in the distance abruptly halted the debate. There was a hush while they all listened.

 

“It’s Eddy. He’s excited again.”

 

Jimmy got to his feet and peered through the little window.

“I can’t see anything.”

Michael partially opened the door as the shouting continued. “It’s definitely Eddy, but he’s too far away to tell what it’s about.”

 

Michael quickly closed the door again, to, at least partially, keep out the cold. “He’s an excitable man. Leave him to it. John must be there as well. He’ll tell us.”

 

Soon after the door opened and a harassed looking John entered. All the attention was on him, but they waited patiently as he sat down in silence. His hand shook when he reached for the cup, still half full of tea.

 

“Here, that’ll be cold. I’ll make a fresh brew.” Michael moved to put the kettle back on the stove, but John waved him away.

 

“Never mind.” John had a sip of the cold tea. “I have to go out in a minute.” John put the cup down “Did ye hear the shouting?”

 

“Indeed we did. What’s upset Eddy?”

 

“He’s a silly man, arguing with the clerk-of-works.” John shook his head. “It won’t get him anywhere. Then he turned on me because I wouldn’t back him up. I had to walk away from him.”

 

“A wise thing to do.” Michael understood, but was curious. “What did the clerk want?”

 

“He wants to test some drains again.”

Andy was suddenly interested. “Do you mean the ones Martin was filling in this morning?”

 

“I, the same ones, and some he did for Eddy last week. It seems they weren’t tested properly on Friday.” That clerk was inexperienced. He didn’t do the proper test. He just looked at the pipes.”

 

“Jesus, and will what he filled in this morning have to be dug out again.”

 

“I, it might come to that. But, Andy, don’t look so worried. It just means we will be here a bit longer than we thought.”

 

Jimmy was amused. “I can’t wait to see martin’s face.”

 

“It’s not Martins fault. It needn’t worry him.”

 

“I bet it will.”

 

Andy, still looking worried, turns to John. “Did you say it might not come to that?”

“I. That’s right. He’s checking with the office now.”

 

“What about our office? The extra work for nothing won’t please them, I’d say.”

 

“Well, you’re right, and I’ll have to inform them. But, they like to keep well in with the clerk-of-works, so I don’t think there will be much fuss from them.”

 

Jimmy was still amused. “I think there will be a bit of fuss from Martin though.”

 

John looked puzzled. “You keep saying that, but I don’t see why. A day’s work is a day’s work for Martin. I’ll make sure we don’t loose any bonus.”

 

Jimmy winked at Andy. “I don’t think it’s the bonus.”

 

Andy looked warily at Jimmy, before quickly turning to John. “But, aren’t we jumping the gun? It might not come to that at all.”

 

“That’s right Andy. Let’s wait and see.”

 

Chapter 3. Mary’s lodging house.

 

A week earlier it was a much more relaxed and cheerful Martin that welcomed Jimmy to his new digs. Martin must have been as aware as Jimmy was about the uncertainty of Jimmy’s future there. However Martin’s cheerfulness encouraged Jimmy to maintain, at least outwardly, his normal carefree attitude.

 

“ What’s on the menu this evening?” asked Jimmy, jokingly, eyeing the table as he entered the room.

 

Martin, who was sat nearest the table, removed the pipe from his mouth. “Hello Jimmy” he greeted. Then, with an almost mischievous motion of his head, Martin put his finger to his closed lips before continuing in a lower voice “I think it’s a tee-bone steak.”

 

“I suppose you’re well used to that here,” whispered Jimmy, warily glancing at the closed door, which Martin had drawn his attention to, behind which was the kitchen and probably Mary.

 

Jimmy turned his attention back to the table. His more immediate concern, which his joviality masked, was not what food there was. Forewarning had kept his expectations low in that respect, and anyway such was his hunger that any food would be welcome that evening. Deep down he had doubts about whether he would be included in the meal at all. It was Monday evening. If included it would be Jimmy’s first evening meal at “Mary’s.” But Mary’s attitude that morning had left him in considerable doubt about whether she would allow him to continue as her lodger.

 

Knives and forks were set for five places. That was promising he thought. Mary had told him there were four other lodgers. Relieved, he thought she was giving him another chance, although he could hardly blame her if she didn’t. Keeping up the facade, he turned to Martin.

 

“Will I get my steak well done?”

 

“Oh; you will, if that’s how you like it and will you look what’s over there.” With his thumb, Martin indicated towards the far side of the room. “That only came last week. Just in time for you.”

Martin was referring to the television in the far corner of the room next to the fire. It was, however, the warm glow from the fire on that cold evening, that mainly attracted Jimmy and somewhat diverted his attention away from the clutter of mismatched, shabby furniture. Two men, Mick Hunt and Henry Clark, who Jimmy recognised, were sat on an old settee in front of the television. So engrossed were they, that they weren’t even aware of Jimmy’s presence.

 

“Will you look at them,” sneered Martin, “like zombies, not a word out of them.”

 

A big brown cat, seemingly in agreement with Martin rose from the rug it was laying on in front of the fire, stretched itself, then, turning it’s back to the television, walked purposefully over and, apparently in a gesture of friendship, rubbed itself against Jimmy’s leg. Jimmy liked it. It was a good sign: such a rare occurrence. Lodging house cats, in his experience, kept well clear of the lodgers, often diving for cover when a lodger approached. He also liked the television. Having one in the digs would be another new experience. Up to then he had only seen them in pubs. Maybe it would help to keep him out of the pubs.

 

However, Jimmy wished to keep with Martin. “I,” he agreed, “The television certainly kills the conversation.” But,” he added “it’s a pastime when a man’s on his own. Better than looking into the fire.”

 

But Martin was having none of it “I don’t know. Sometimes you’d see better pictures in the fire.”

 

“Aren’t you the dreamer? I’m going for a wash.”

 

Unlike the previous evening this time Jimmy had little difficulty finding his room. The street light, directly across from the landing window shone, unimpeded by curtains, into the landing, and also partially lit the long corridor, which led to Jimmy’s room. That was fortunate, as there was no other light in the corridor. Mary had said something about a wiring problem. However, thanks to the streetlight, it wasn’t in total darkness.

 

There was no lock on Jimmy’s door. Just as well, thought Jimmy, in that light he’d never find a keyhole, especially after a few pints. Security, he felt, wasn’t a problem. His few belongings would be safer there, even in an unlocked room, than in most places he’d stayed at. He knew, at least fairly well, all the other lodgers and Mary, by all accounts, if a bit tight, was well respected.

 

She had a big house, with more rooms then than she had lodgers. Therefore every man had his own room, unlike in the past, when often three or four men slept in a room, sometimes just on mattresses on the floor. That was when Mary’s mother and father ran the place. Work was plentiful for Irishmen then and many were looking for the cheap lie-down. Or the rough lie-down as some said. Rough and ready it certainly was, but, to give them their due, it was also said that they made sure no Irishman stuck for a bed for the night was ever turned away.

 

Jimmy switched the light on and closed the door. Having a room unshared was a wish fulfilled, especially as the price did not reflect that luxury. He could overlook its shortcoming’s. Pealing wallpaper and yellowing paint weren’t important, or so he’d told himself. Then, however, looking round the dimly lit room (Mary clearly didn’t believe in wasting electricity) in a more sober state, he thought it better not to dwell on such reasoning. At least the craic would be good. It better be.

 

As well as two beds, the room contained a wardrobe and a chest of drawers, neither of which were yet used. His clothes, other than those he was wearing, were thrown on one of the beds or still in the suitcase on the floor. The other bed, the one he’d slept in the previous night, was still unmade: room service was minimal, he knew that, just a change of sheets once a week, or was it once a fortnight?

 

After removing his donkey jacket, Jimmy shivered. The room was colder than he’d remembered. That’s being sober for you, he thought; best not hang about. At least it was warmer downstairs.

 

The bathroom was just across the corridor. After a wash and change of clothes he felt better and warmer in his best thick Jumper. Jimmy sat on the bed. Going downstairs could wait a little while. He had things to think about. But, as often, other thoughts kept intruding. Going through his suitcase, he had come across again the unanswered letters from his mother. He had, again, pushed them to the bottom of the suitcase, burying, once more, the darker feelings, the letters had briefly aroused.

 

Jimmy concentrated on the changes to his lifestyle that that day he’d resolved to make. The changes were partly prompted by Mary’s words from that morning, which were haunting him all day.

 

I’m not putting up with it. Are you listening? Are you listening?

 

So bad was his hangover that he didn’t know whether she was throwing him out or not. He had just nodded. He had nothing to say in his defence. He had only spent two nights there and had caused disruption on both nights. He knew it couldn’t go on.

 

The resolutions were simple: to cut down on his drinking and keep out of trouble. Neither was in keeping with his image, and therefore only he knew about them. Of course he’d made those resolutions before, on most Mondays in fact. This time, however, he was more determined, and was reasonably pleased with his success so far. That day, much to John’s surprise, he had refused the usual Monday “sub”. Although during his brief visit to “Nora’s”, on his way from work that evening, things could easily have gone disastrously wrong.

***

 

 

 

Alone at the bar, Jimmy savoured his pint- it would be his last for a while- as he watched Nora stack the shelves. “Nora’s” was known as an Irishman’s pub, but that evening, unusually, no other Irishman was there. That suited Jimmy fine. After the weekend he had he was almost broke. He couldn’t afford to get involved in a round of drinks. He just called in for one pint to clear his head: hair of the dog, or something like that.

 

He wasn’t the only customer though. Behind him, at a table, sat some men who had just finished work at a nearby factory. They often came in at that time, but they never mixed with the Irishmen: or maybe they were never invited to. The missing Irishmen, however, didn’t go unnoticed at that table.

 

“The Paddies must hit a rough seam today.”

 

The comment was loud enough for Jimmy to hear. Maybe that was the intention. He couldn’t be sure. He didn’t look round, not sure if he was being taunted. He wasn’t one to dodge trouble. But, he thought about his resolution and held fire.

 

Nora also heard the comment. Although she had her back to him, Jimmy noticed her stop what she was doing and appear to momentarily freeze. Jimmy continued staring at Nora’s back, who, without looking round, commenced stacking the shelves. If he was being taunted, Jimmy knew that to look back meant inevitable confrontation. The sound of suppressed laughter, however, was making it increasingly difficult to resist doing so.

 

It was the sound of the door opening that caused Jimmy to turn. Suddenly the atmosphere changed. Concealing his relief, Jimmy casually remarked to Nora, “its big Paddy”, as he watched Paddy Foley squeeze past the door.

Paddy cheerfully greeted all in the pub. “Good evening Nora,” “good evening Jimmy.” Then turning round, “Good evening Men”.

 

The men at the table acknowledged the greeting with nods. Paddy’s cheerfulness brought a smile to Nora’s face. She also must have been relieved by the change of atmosphere. “The usual Paddy?” she asked.

 

“I, and one in there”. Paddy pointed to Jimmy’s almost empty glass.

 

“No, no, I have to go.” Jimmy placed his hand over his glass

“Go! Where would you be going? Have a drink and tell me how you are settling in.”

 

Jimmy had just become Paddy’s fellow lodger and was aware that soon Paddy would be more than that. Mary and Paddy were to be married in a week. Tempted as he was by the offer of a drink, Jimmy stuck to his guns.

 

“That’s the reason I have to go, but we’ll have a drink soon.”

 

Jimmy drained his glass. Then, as he watched a disappointed Paddy pay Nora, he noticed that, although he could hardly be described as well dressed, Paddy was not in his working clothes.

 

“Not working today Paddy?” asked Jimmy as he moved to leave.

 

“Oh, I was. But I was back and changed.” Then, as Jimmy walked away, Paddy grabbed his arm. “You won’t be telling Mary you’ve seen me here, will you?”

 

“Don’t worry” Jimmy gave him a knowing wink.

***

 

 

 

When Jimmy returned to the dining room, Joe Frain, who was not one of Mary’s lodgers was chatting with Martin. Jimmy was aware that Mary kept an open house: people were free to drop in at any time. Nevertheless Joe was keen to explain his presence.

 

“I just called in to have a word with Martin.”

 

“I’ll leave you to it then.” Jimmy started to move towards the other side of the room, where, in any case, the fire was beckoning.

 

“No, no, stay here.” Joe pulled a chair closer to himself, which he indicated was for Jimmy. “Aren’t you on the same Job as Martin? I was wondering if there were any jobs going out there. Martin was telling me that job is nearly finished, but the firm has a new job starting in a few weeks over near Burnley.”

 

“I, they should be starting men then all right. But, didn’t you get the start with Casey? You seemed to be getting on well last night.”

 

“Don’t talk to me to me about that man. Didn’t I think I was in last night and me buying him drinks, whiskeys and all? But, when I went out this morning you’d think he didn’t know me, the way he looked at me. He just said he was full up. The owl bastard wasn’t full up last night.”

 

Jimmy succeeded in keeping his face straight. It was no joke for Joe. However, Joe’s outburst, louder than intended, interrupted Mick and Henry’s television viewing. As they turned around their obvious amusement angered Joe all the more. Jumping to his feet he approached them, his fingers clenched into fists.

 

“I’m a laughing stock now am I?”

 

“No one’s laughing at you Joe.” Martin stood up and placed a hand on Joe’s shoulder. But, Joe angrily turned away and rushed out of the house, followed by Martin who prevented him slamming the door.

 

Mary appeared at the kitchen door looking suspiciously at Jimmy.

“What was that all about?” she asked

 

It was Henry that answered. “Joe Frain, he got a bit excited.”

 

“The man’s out of work,” added Mick “He’s upset.”

 

Mary just nodded. Then, giving Jimmy another wary glance, she returned to the kitchen.

***

 

 

 

When Martin returned the meals were on the table.

 

“A man didn’t value the bacon and cabbage when he had it every day” pronounced Henry checking that Mary was out of earshot.

 

“You’re right there,” said Mick weighing up the plate of beans poured on top of a slice of toast. “She’s gone proper vegetarian now.”

 

“Ah it’ll do us no harm,” said Jimmy, cutting into his toast.

 

Henry turned to Martin. “Did you manage to calm Joe down?”

 

“Oh, I did. I told him to come out with me in the morning. I’ll put in a word for him with John. If he doesn’t get the start then He’ll probably get his name taken to start in a few weeks at the Burnley job. He’s a good worker, but I don’t think he ever worked with John. Although John will know who he is.”

 

“Don’t everyone know who he is, the pipe-layer Joe. I hope you don’t tell John he’s a pipe-layer.”

 

“No. That ploy worked once. But, I don’t think he’ll try it again. He won’t even talk about it now.”

 

“He didn’t mind at the time. He enjoyed talking about it then; every night in “Nora’s”. Nora knew the tale as well as anyone.”

***

 

 

 

Nothing much got past Nora. She knew the craic. She knew Irishmen. Why wouldn’t she? Most of her customers were Irishmen. Her father and mother were Irish. Her husband, then dead a few years, (killed in an accident on a building site) was an Irishman. It was said she knew the building trade better than a lot of men that worked in it, and was often a source of information not to be dismissed.

 

Few doubted that the interest Nora took in her customers was genuine. She knew Joe was out of work. That evening she could sense his unhappiness. She wouldn’t allow his uncommunicative mood to prevent her passing on information that may be helpful.

 

“That job might suit you Joe,” said Nora

 

“What job?”

 

Joe seemed uninterested, sat on the high bar stool, hunched over the bar, and clutching his pint with both hands as if nothing else mattered. Nevertheless Nora continued although apparently talking to his cap.

 

“Wimpey are after pipe-layers at their new site.”

 

She understood his disillusionment. Work was slack in the area. All the building sites for miles around were full up: not taking on any more labourers. At least that’s what Joe was told when he inquired. He had confided in Nora. In fact, she was the only one that he could talk to. He hadn’t tried Wimpey, because he was led to believe that they had brought all their own men with them from Manchester. But, Nora’s information was not to be dismissed. Joe looked up.

 

“How do you know?”

 

“Jimmy Cassidy went out there for the start, but he was told they only wanted pipe-layers.”

 

“I’ll give it a try in the morning.” Joe was interested at last.

 

Joe finished his pint and left. His drinking habits had changed since loosing his job: just a pint or two an odd evening, and leave before any of his mates got in. He couldn’t afford to get involved in a big round he’d said.

 

It was true Joe had to watch his money. The dole wasn’t much and his savings were few. But, Nora knew it was more than that. His pride was hurt. Without a job he felt less of a man. He couldn’t face his mates who were all working. She hoped he would be luckier in the morning.

 

How things had changed, Nora thought. A few years earlier Joe would have got fixed up with a job right there in the pub. “The Irishman’s Labour Exchange,” it was known as then. A man wouldn’t be out of work for long. All the sub-contractors were in. Most of them were looking for men. Nora saw and heard it all.

 

“How are you fixed for the start?”

“Come out with me in the morning.”

 

Nora saw many a man hired in her pub, and a few fired as well. After a few pints it was not unknown for a man to give the “subbie” a frank evaluation of the job, and sometimes of the pedigree of the “subbie” as well.

 

On his way back to his digs, Joe thought about what Nora had told him. He trusted Nora. He knew she was being helpful. She wouldn’t send him on a wild goose chase. He would have been more wary if one of the “boys” had given him the information, especially as the Job involved pipe laying.

 

Joe was as aware as anyone else that his nickname, “The Pipe-layer”, was not for his proficiency as a pipe-layer: rather the opposite. His pipe-laying attempts were a joke at every building site he worked at. He wouldn’t have put it past his so-called mates to invent the job for a laugh at his expense. He could imagine the craic round the bar, about Joe, being out at Wimpey looking for a job as a pipe-layer. But, not Nora, although she liked the craic, she wouldn’t do that to him. The more he thought about it, though, the more he realised it would be a good job to get. There would be no pipe laying to do for a few weeks at least. The drains would have to be dug out first. He would get a few weeks work anyway. If only he could get the start.

 

Joe was familiar with the questions a man got asked when looking for a job on a building site. (What’s your name? Did you ever work for us before? Do you know anyone that works here? Etc.) Even in better times, unless they were very short of men or if you had a skill that they needed badly, it was very hard to get a job on a building site, unless you knew the ganger, or at least someone on the site that would recommend you. But in this case, the ganger, like the rest of the men travelled from Manchester and didn’t know anyone in the area.

 

Now many people attribute Joe’s nickname to how he got that job: in other words that he gave it to himself in order to boost his chances. But, those who have known him for longer know that he had the name already. However he certainly used it to his advantage that day.

 

When the ganger, which he approached for the start, asked his name, Joe replied, “I’m best known around here as “The pipe-layer Joe”

 

 

That night in “Nora’s”, Joe was a different man. “You know, the only other question he asked me was could I start straight away.” He told them all.

 

“Well good on you Joe. And you didn’t tell a word of a lie”

 

Nora was pleased to see Joe back to his old self. He was enjoying being the centre of attention. His pride was restored.

 

“And as a pipe-layer I’m on a tanner an hour more than the others.”

 

“Well fair play to you. How are you getting on with the pipe-laying though?”

 

“Ah there’s none of that yet. There’s a lot to do before we are ready for any pipe laying. The ganger told me to muck in navvying with the others for the time being”.

 

“Well that’s no trouble to you”.

 

Joe was a good navvy. Some said he should have stuck with it, instead of chancing his hand at other things, which, it’s believed, he did after that job. It’s thought he never did do any pipe laying at Wimpey. Another job came up after a few weeks and Joe left Wimpey, his reputation intact. But he will always have the nickname “the pipe-layer” because of how he used it to get that job.

***

 

 

 

Mary entered the dining room and placed a loaf and a tub of margarine on the table. “Help yourselves to some bread.”

 

Henry was looking curiously at the empty place at the table.

“Where’s Paddy?”

 

“He was here earlier,” replied Mary. “He’s gone to try on his new suit.”

 

“He’ll be an awful smart man at the wedding.”

 

“I, he will.” Mary sounded less than convinced.

 

Jimmy thought it best to keep quiet as they grabbed a slice of bread each.

 

Waiting his turn for the margarine, Martin watched disapprovingly, as Henry, sparingly and meticulously, spread it on his bread.

“Are you putting any on, or are you just wiping the knife on the bread?”

Henry smiled, “It’s marvellous stuff this” he mused, “You’d butter some bread with it.”

 

“You would anyway, and butter did you say? You’re getting like the woman on the television that can’t tell the difference.”

 

“That bitch,” chipped in Mick “must never have butter in her lif…”

 

The sound of the kitchen door being closed abruptly silenced Mick, who was sat with his back to it. Mary had changed her mind about entering the dining room. Mick glanced warily over his shoulder. “I hope she didn’t think I was talking about herself,” he whispered nervously.

 

“Don’t worry” reassured Martin, who was sat opposite the kitchen door and was obviously amused at Mick’s unease “She only opened the door and closed it again.”

 

Mick looked relieved. Complaints about the food were avoided in Mary’s presence. And more recently, also when Paddy was there. However, it wouldn’t have taken a great deal of perception on either of their parts, for them to suspect that there was less than total satisfaction with the food.

 

After a period of silent eating, and after apparently giving careful thought to the situation, Martin observed,

“Do you know? I think the grub has deteriorated since we got the television.”

 

“Maybe you’re right and all. But I suppose the telly has to be paid for somehow,” said Henry.

 

“Our bellies are paying for the telly”

 

“That’s poetry Martin,” said Henry “You know, it reminds me of Pa. Forkin in Kelly’s bar once.”

 

Attention turned to Henry. His stories were always worth listening to.

 

“Pa was a great man for giving the advice” he continued “whether it was called for or not. Although that time he only said what wanted saying. But, no one else would say it; not to the man’s face anyway. There was a great deal of concern about how Micky Durkan was treating his donkey. The poor animal was left to graze on top of Crockan hill, where there was hardly a blade of grass.”

 

“It was the fair day, and Pa called in to Kelly’s bar for a drink. When Pa got in Micky was already at the bar. In fact, Micky spent a great deal of his time there, which is why it was not just the donkey, but all of his farming that was being neglected. Pa didn’t get along very well with Michy anyway, and wouldn’t waste an opportunity to publicly put Micky down. Everyone in the pub could see that Pa meant business as soon as he spotted Micky.

 

He went straight over to where Micky was stood with a few others and wasted no time letting Micky know what was on his mind.

 

There’s no grass for your ass on that hill.”

 

Pa looked pleased with himself. He had everyone’s agreement in putting Micky in his place; or so he thought. But, he had underestimated Micky, who, although taken aback at first, then looked pa in the eye and said, No, but look at the view he has. Micky’s answer was talked about for years.”

 

Mary, who had re-entered the room to clear the table, caught the end of the tale, and, unaware of the analogy with her food, joined in the laughter.

 

The laughter was cut short when a knock was heard on the outside door.

Mick, who was nearest, answered it and returned immediately.

“It’s someone for you Mary.”

 

“Who is it.”

 

“I don’t know. It’s a stranger.”

 

Mary went to the door. Then Martin, true to form, commented, “It might be the butcher.”

 

Mary didn’t hear the remark about the butcher. However she couldn’t fail to hear the laughter that followed in spite of extreme efforts being made to keep it under control, even by Henry, whose loud laughter could normally be heard in the next street.

 

“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourselves.” Mary looked puzzled. But, to the relief of the men she didn’t pursue it. It wasn’t the laughter that puzzled her. “That was strange.” She said. “A man was at the door looking for Michael O’Malley. He was sure he lived here. He tried to give me a letter for him. I told him that I knew a Michael O’Malley, but that he doesn’t live here. I don’t think he believed me.”

There was shaking of heads all round. Martin, however, Jimmy thought, seemed somewhat concerned. “Did he ask you where he lives?”

 

“No. I didn’t give ‘em the chance. I shut the door on him. I didn’t like the look of him.”

 

“Good on you.” Henry agreed. “Tell ‘em nothing.”

 

Martin was still curious. “What did he look like?”

 

“A youngster, maybe twenty, but not from round here. Could be a Birmingham accent.”

 

Martin just nodded but made no reply. He then got up and left the room.

 

Mary started to clear the table, while the three men moved to seats nearer the fire, and from which they could view the television.

 

“There should be a news on now,” said Mick twiddling the knobs. With only one channel, the BBC, there would be no arguments about what to watch. Interruptions, however, rarely allowed much continuous viewing. Before they even got the news summary Paddy entered.

 

“Good evening all.”

 

They all turned round with a chorus of “evening Paddy.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with Martin,” said Paddy “He’s upstairs looking out the front window with a long face on him. I waved to him, but he looked straight past me, like I wasn’t there.

 

Mary shrugged. “He was all right here, a few minutes ago.”

 

“Ah well, I suppose he’s dreaming about Ireland again.” Then, changing the subject, Paddy asked, “Any tea left. I could eat a donkey.”

 

“I, I saved you some in the kitchen. You can have it in there.” Then Mary noticed the envelope in Paddy’s hand. “What’s the letter?”

 

“Oh, it’s for Michael O’Malley.” Paddy placed the letter on the table while he removed his coat. It just had the name on it but no address.

 

“You’re a postman now, are you?”

 

“Well, a man gave it to me outside, just now. He thought he lived here.”

 

“I knew that man didn’t believe me.” Mary was not too pleased. You should have let him deliver his own letter.”

 

“Sure he doesn’t know where he lives.”

 

“Do you know where he lives?”

 

“No, not exactly. But, he’s usually in the club on a Friday night. I’ll give him the letter then.

 

“Aren’t you the obliging man?” said Mary sarcastically…

 

Chapter 4. The wedding.

 

“Paddy will never settle down.” “He’s too fond of the drink.” Such opinions on Paddy were freely given. But, there was no telling Mary.

While not doubting her friend’s good intentions, no amount of warnings would sway her. Paddy was the one for her and she was determined to go ahead with the wedding.

 

It wasn’t that her friends didn’t like Paddy. They did. He was a popular man. He was always the life and soul of the party. They just couldn’t see him as the marrying type. He was too restless. “A long distance kiddy” He’d lived and worked all over England and Scotland. He said he was following the good-money-work, but few believed it was just that. He was seen as the roving type who couldn’t settle in any one place. He did, however keep coming back to Mary. He was Mary’s lodger, off and on, for many years. But, when work around there got slack on the buildings, as he put it, he always moved away. If it weren’t for the wedding, that time would be fast approaching again.

 

Paddy had enough of “all that moving around.” A steady job would suit him better then he said. Hard as that was to believe, after the initial shock, all his mates seemed to go along with it, and even gave him plenty of encouragement. “You’re a wise man,” they said, and “you’re lucky to be getting such a fine woman.” In the weeks before the wedding Paddy loved it all.

 

For a drifter, Paddy had a lot of friends. When word got round that he was having “a bit of a do” in the Irish club on the Friday evening, the eve of his wedding, the response was enormous. On the night, the club was packed. Every Irishman for miles around was there and the craic was mighty, as was said. The music and singing was “making the rafters roar”. There were accordions and fiddles, banjos and tin whistles, Joe Frain on the mouth organ and Jimmy Flynn blowing on the comb. Paddy, himself, did a step dance and sang a song and everyone was so happy for him, as was demonstrated by the loud cheering at the end of the song, which was clearly not for the singing.

 

With all that was going on Paddy had, again, of course, forgotten the letter for Michael O’Malley, leaving Michael still unaware of its existence.

Michael stayed downstairs that night. While he enjoyed Irish music as much as the next man, wild, rowdy, parties were no longer his scene. Even in the little taproom by the bar, it was still too crowded for his liking. Earlier, he was in two minds about whether to go to the club at all that night. However, when he expressed his fears to a committeeman he was assured that “it would be quiet enough in the tap-room.” Everyone would be upstairs in the main concert room, he was told, and the domino games, which he enjoyed, would go ahead, undisturbed, as usual. Although, not totally convinced, he nevertheless decided to go. It was more the thought that he would be letting his friends down that decided him: four of then played dominoes there every Friday night.

 

The decision, however, proved disastrously wrong. The advice from the committeeman proved to be totally wrong. Nowhere in the club was quiet that night. The taproom was as crowded as everywhere else, filled with the queue for the bar. Although there was a bar in the main concert room, the long queue up there, caused many to decide to try their luck at the downstairs bar, resulting in that bar being as busy as the one upstairs.

 

In the bustle and excitement no one took much notice when a man, being served at the bar, casually asked the busy barman if he knew a Michael O’Malley. The barman pointed Michael out. Then, again unnoticed by anyone, the man did no more than note who Michael was, before taking the two drinks he was served with into the other downstairs room.

 

After one drink Michael decided he’d had enough. He had no wish to queue for another one. In any case, his friends were nowhere to be seen, and the domino games would be out of the question. He should have taken Martin Prendergast’s advice, he thought. When they met, one evening, outside the little corner shop at the bottom of Michael’s street, Martin had strongly advised him not to go to the club that night. Martin had rightly predicted how crowded it would be and that the domino games would be impossible. It was nice of Martin to talk to him, he thought, although he hardly knew him. Next time he would listen to him better.

 

As Michael entered the ginnel, he thought of Martin’s other advice. Martin had warned him against using the ginnel, especially in the dark. But, it was a quiet area and Michael saw no danger. He’d used the shortcut many times. Also, his arthritis had being playing up lately and he didn’t wish to walk for longer than was necessary. He never suspected that he was being followed.

***

 

 

 

Paddy was there early to welcome all and again was relishing the compliments. He couldn’t get enough of being told what a wise thing it was he was doing and what a fine woman Mary was. He was feeling a lucky man.

 

A few there, though, didn’t think Paddy so lucky. Jimmy McCarthy and a few of the younger lads, who were sat at a table near the door, saw the whole thing as a joke, and were there just for the craic. They all knew Mary: they had either previously lodged there or had visited the lodging house at some time. As a landlady they had few complaints about her: for what she charged, most felt, she did a good Job. However the Mary they knew, fat, the wrong side of forty, with greying and seemingly always uncombed hair, was difficult to picture as a bride.

 

Some of their remarks, which were far from complimentary to the bride and groom to be, were causing Henry Kelly much concern. Henry was to be best man next day and had the responsibility of looking after Paddy. Mary had made him promise to keep Paddy out of trouble as well as making sure he got home safely. Henry took his responsibilities very seriously. While Paddy was totally oblivious to any disparaging voices, Henry was, maybe a little over sensitive to some of the comments coming from Jimmy’s table. When the accordion player started on the tune of Mary The Rose of Tralee, a fine song, but one that, at that time, was heard so often, many were weary of it, Jimmy was heard to groan, “They’re putting Mary through it again.” On hearing the mention of “Mary” Henry rushed over and delivered a firm warning to Jimmy. Under Henry’s wary eye there was no more trouble from that table for the rest of the evening.

 

It was towards the end of the evening that Henry’s real problems arose. All evening Paddy’s friends were buying him drinks, and it wasn’t in Paddy’s nature to refuse such generosity. At the end of the evening, therefore, Paddy’s legs seemed to turn to rubber, leaving Henry with the problem of getting him safely to the lodging house. The Journey was only a few hundred yards, but part of it was on the main road, which also had to be crossed.

 

Henry, although not too steady himself, struggled to keep Paddy upright and moving. His efforts were not helped by the comments from Jimmy and a couple of his mates, who were following behind. They were finding it all very funny, even when disaster nearly struck. As they approached the main road, Henry, momentarily distracted, released his grip on Paddy, who then staggered across the road on his own. A terrified Henry, rushed, grabbed Paddy and dragged him back on the footpath, just in time to prevent him being run down by the last bus.

 

“We’re lucky he wasn’t killed stone dead then,” screamed Henry at his tormentors, who he blamed for distracting him.

 

Jimmy, much the worse for drink himself, dismissed Henry’s fears “He might be better off than doing what he’s doing tomorrow,” he slurred.

 

“I’ll deal with you tomorrow,” Henry, angrily shook his fist at Jimmy, and then quickly turned back to Paddy who was hugging a lamppost.

 

One of Jimmy’s mates, who were relatively sober, got hold of Paddy’s arm and urged, “Come on let’s get him across while there’s no traffic.”

 

Getting hold of the other arm, Henry agreed. “You’re right. He never looked either way that time.” But, Jimmy wasn’t giving up.

 

“Sure he’s nothing to loose. Has he?”

 

There was no answer. Jimmy’s wit was wearing a bit thin.

***

 

 

 

Mary took it all in her stride. She wasn’t one to get very excited about anything. While there was no doubting her commitment, for her, the wedding was no big deal either. If left to herself, who knows what she would have looked like on her wedding day.

 

But, Mary had lots of friends and, although their initial reaction was to warn her against it, when they realised that nothing they said would stop her, they rallied round and gave her their full support.

 

Amongst her friends were a hairdresser and a dressmaker. Although she had previously given either of them very little business, with, not a little pressure from other friends, they rose to the challenge and, with perseverance overcome her aversion to their services.

 

She complained about “all the fuss.” Nevertheless, she was not put off by it. The remark “I wish I never bothered,” which she was heard to make while straightening her hat on the way to the Church, on her wedding day, was thought to refer to the enormous efforts made on her appearance, rather than any wavering in her determination to go ahead with the wedding.

***

 

 

 

Henry was up early on the wedding morning. He was feeling quite refreshed. He had slept well. The drink probably helped: he just had sufficient and no hangover. He congratulated himself for keeping his drinking in control. He felt a responsible man. He hadn’t let Mary down.

Mary was away that morning. She’d stayed at a friend’s house the previous night and wouldn’t be seen before the ceremony. Therefore Henry was in charge of the lodging house.

 

He liked being in charge. He felt a natural leader. He worked as a ganger whenever the opportunity arose. But, sadly, it rarely did. There was a surplus of gangers around there. His talent, therefore, as far as work was concerned, was largely unappreciated.

 

But, Mary appreciated him. She said he was the only one she could rely on to do the many duties that required doing that morning and Henry was determined to rise to the challenge. He checked his notebook. It was all planned and written down. He was leaving nothing to chance. He always carried a notebook. It was the sign of a good ganger: the notebook and pens (sometimes three or four pens) in the top pocket.

 

The wedding was not until one o clock in the afternoon. But, Henry was eager to start. On his list, tapping the barrel was underlined. It was underlined because he was a little concerned about it. He knew that if not done right, it could be disastrous. He heard of an occasion when most of the drink was lost through an inexperienced tapper not fitting the tap correctly.

 

Henry had assured Mary that he had the necessary expertise. However, that morning, weighing up the barrel on the table, which occupied a central position in the room, he felt a twinge of apprehension. He hadn’t been completely honest with Mary. Although he’d seen the job done he’d never actually done it himself.

 

The job was planned for later in the afternoon, when all returned from the wedding ceremony. That was what worried him. Although it seemed straightforward enough, doing it in front of the thirsty and impatient onlookers he would have in the afternoon might not be so easy and his inexperience may become obvious.

 

Henry decided to do the job then while he was alone and under no pressure. After all tapping the barrel early could do no harm.

 

He was wrong. Although the job itself went well, no sooner had he fitted the tap and filled a mug of porter (just to satisfy himself that it was working O K) than a very sheepish looking Jimmy McCarthy appeared at the door, looking like death warmed up. “I’m very sorry,” said Jimmy holding out his hand. “I had a lot too much to drink last night.”

 

Jesus, thought Henry, he’s smelt the drink. Focusing on the morning’s duties, Henry had put the previous night’s episode to the back of his mind. Being reminded of it brought the anger back. Irritated, ignoring the hand, he placed the mug on the table, to let the froth settle.

 

“You can say that again.”

 

“I. You’re right.” Jimmy nodded in sorrowful agreement. “I was very stupid.”

 

Henry turned to face Jimmy. He had no wish to prolong the friction, especially on that day, but the anger was too deep. The apology, he thought seemed genuine enough. But, was it motivated by the need for a livener? He didn’t fully trust Jimmy and suspected he was being taken for a fool. He no longer felt like drinking his mug of porter. But didn’t invite Jimmy to either.

 

“All right,” he grunted. Then added, “I have a lot to do.” Henry left the room.

 

Henry had a lot to do. In the hall he checked his list again. Most important, of course, was getting Paddy ready and to the church on time. But, that could wait. Paddy needed his rest. The women who were doing the food had to be visited in their various homes; he had a list of names and addresses. Much food was planned: sandwiches, pies, chicken pieces, cakes, etc. The rest of the drinks had to be sorted. Then there was getting Paddy and himself ready. There wouldn’t be a minute to spare.

***

 

 

Jimmy thought about what to do next. His throbbing head was making thinking difficult. He had to decide whether to go to the wedding or not. Mary said, “All in the digs were invited.” But, would Henry see it like that? And Henry was in charge. The grudging acceptance of his apology was the best Jimmy could have expected in the circumstances. However, in his befuddled mind he felt that Henry would prefer he stayed well clear of the wedding.

 

He looked at the mug of porter. The froth had settled. It was just right for drinking. He couldn’t let it go flat. Maybe it would make him feel better. It couldn’t make him any worse. He almost emptied the mug in one. Then he refilled it and sat down to have a quiet think.

 

That wasn’t to be. “Is the barrel tapped already?” It was Mick Hunt at the door. The question required no answer. Jimmy, nevertheless, painfully, turned his head, only to hear another question. “Is the drink in good form?”

 

“Not bad. I’m just stopping one going flat.”

 

“And why wouldn’t you? Sure I’ll be doing the same myself. Just the

one, mind you.” Mick winked at Jimmy.

 

As Mick helped himself to a glass from the cupboard, he heard Joe Frain’s voice at he door. “I saw the front door open. I wondered if everything was all right.” Henry had so much on his mind that he forgot to shut the door.

 

Without replying Mick got a second glass from the cupboard and handed one to Joe. “Help yourself to a drink.” Unnecessarily, Mick pointed to the barrel.

 

“You’re a daysent man.”

 

They were a cosy few then, and they would have stayed that way, if they closed the front door. But, they didn’t, and soon after, Paddo Murphy looked in with a similar concern. No glass could be found for him, but not wishing to be unsociable, he went home for one: he didn’t live far away. That was the big mistake they made. They could have got him a vessel from the kitchen. Any drinking vessel would have done: he’s not fussy. They should have known that if they let him out he wouldn’t come back alone.

 

On the way back the empty glass attracted the attention of a few of the neighbours. His explanation, “to drink to the health of Mary and Paddy,” was as good as an invitation. Word spread round the neighbourhood like wildfire.

 

Jimmy slid to a corner and observed the rapidly increasing gathering in the room. They were all wishing Paddy and Mary the best of health and hoping they’d be very happy in the future. It didn’t seem to matter that neither of them was there. Following Paddo’s example, all brought their own glasses and were queuing up to fill them. Mick was playing host and enjoying it.

 

As Jimmy’s head cleared somewhat, --the drink seemed to help—he became increasingly aware that more trouble was brewing. The way things were going the barrel of porter, which was meant for the reception, would soon be dry.

 

There would be ructions when Henry returned and there was no doubt in Jimmy’s mind about who would be blamed for it all. There was only one thing for it and there was no time to lose. He had to get out of the house before Henry returned. As for attending the wedding, it was on longer an option. A bus ride out of town was more appealing. He would decide later whether to join them in the club in the evening.

***

 

 

 

Where’s Jimmy gone, asked Joe of no one in particular, as he looked around the room. Paddo shrugged, but didn’t give it much thought. He was enjoying himself too much to bother about Jimmy. A few others shook their heads. Jimmy had slipped away without anyone noticing. The craic was too good.

 

“You’ll never miss the beer ‘til the barrel’s dry.” Pronounced Paddo, as he refilled his glass.

 

Mick laughed. It was Paddo’s favourite saying when he had a few drinks and the craic was going strong. “I never heard that said so early in the day.” Remarked Mick. Little did he know how true Paddo’s statement would soon turn out to be?

 

It was shortly after, as he watched Joe Frain tip the barrel in order to fill his glass, that the seriousness of the situation he was in dawned on Mick. He was the only resident there. All the blame would be on him when there was no drink in the afternoon. In desperation he looked around the room for someone to share the problem with. But, he knew he was on his own. Jimmy was the sly one, he thought. Jesus, what will I do? Henry will be back any minute and there will be Hell-to-play.

 

Mick rapped on the table with his knuckles. When he got the revellers attention, trying to keep the panic out of his voice, he requested that they all leave. “We need the room tidy for the afternoon,” he informed them. “In any case” he added mournfully “the barrel’s dry.”

 

Maybe it was the last piece of information that did it. Anyhow, to Mick’s relief, they all left promptly, taking their glasses with them. Then, he made a desperate attempt to tidy the room, mopping up, as best he could, the spillage around the then empty barrel. Luckily for Mick, Henry was delayed, and didn’t return until the room was somewhat tidier. By that time Mick was safely back in his room, giving the appearance that he hadn’t left it all morning. In any case, Henry was too busy getting Paddy, who had slept through the morning’s events, ready for his big day, to notice anything wrong with the living room.

***

 

 

 

Martin Prendergast graciously declined the wedding invitation. “You won’t miss me,” he said. Mary disagreed and seemed genuinely disappointed. Nevertheless she told him she understood that his job was important. She was unaware of course that he’d unequivocally refused an offer of the day off.

 

For John Mountin, however, Martin opting to work was a godsend. Although he could ill afford it, he hadn’t felt he could refuse Martin the day off and had assumed he would be without him that day. But now, the drain-laying, Martin’s speciality, could be completed. John was under pressure to complete the work on the site by the end of the following week. He couldn’t see that it was possible, considering the number of men he had and the time of the year. He was a good judge of work. In better weather and longer days, the problem could be solved with overtime. In February, however, there was no such option. They already worked all the daylight hours. And eight hours in the cold and damp was as much as he could expect from any man.

 

John also asked Andy to work that day. Andy was always glad of the overtime, and was extra pleased when told he would be working with Martin. It would be a chance to get to know him. Andy’s mother asked about Martin in every letter, but Andy rarely got a chance to talk to him.

It wasn’t that he expected a long conversation with Martin. He knew that for quiet a cheerful man (although he seemed far from it that morning) Martin was a man of very few words. Nevertheless Andy saw working together as an opportunity to get to know Martin a little better.

 

On that expectation he was disappointed. The weather of course was not conducive to much conversation. It was so cold. The overnight fog had not lifted and the bitter easterly wind made it difficult to think about anything other than the cold. Also, the task they had that morning was one of the worst for such conditions. It involved no digging (the trench was already dug) or much physical exercise of any kind that might help them to keep warm: just handling cold pipes and cold mortar.

 

In spite of everything they made a good team. Martin laid the pipes and Andy did the jointing. At first Martin seemed wary of Andy’s ability and watched him do the first joint. He needn’t have worried. Andy had a good trainer in Paddy Delaney. He aware of the importance of pressing the mortar right into the collar of the pipe, especially at the bottom, where leakage is most likely. Martin clearly approved of Andy using his fingers, as Delaney had recommended, rather than a trowel. Using a trowel may look more professional and would certainly be easier on the hands that cold morning. But, with that method, it would not be possible to get mortar into the bottom of the collar and would fail the leak test. Before the trench is filled in the clerk of works must examine the pipeline. Only on rare occasions does he carry out a leak test. Therefore, the importance of doing the jointing correctly is not always appreciated.

 

Bent down in the trench they were sheltered from the cold wind. Wearing their donkey jackets and woolly jumpers the conditions were just bearable and steady progress was being made. After about an hour Andy saw that he gap between them was lengthening. He wasn’t keeping up. The cold seemed to be having little effect on Martin, except maybe to make him work faster. But, Andy’s fingers were so cold he’d lost the use of them altogether. He removed his rubber gloves. The gloves were necessary to prevent the mortar burning the skin of his fingers, but gave little protection from the cold. As he rubbed his hands together and breathed on his fingers he thought there must be a better way to make a living. Not for the first time he wondered if leaving the factory was such a good idea after all.

 

“It’s a cold job Andy”

 

Startled, Andy looked up to see John Mountin stood on the edge of the trench. “The kettle’s boiled,” he continued. “Come on Martin”.

 

Andy nodded. Any excuse for getting out of the cold for a while was welcome. Martin, however, was less enthusiastic. Remaining bent over his pipes, he half turned his head.

 

“Its not that time yet is it?”

 

“Never mind the time. You’ve been in the cold too long.”

 

Andy feared Martin would disagree. He was a hard man to understand. However, he did straighten himself up, albeit with some difficulty. The cold was, indeed, having its effect on Martin, thought Andy, as well as all the years of navvying.

 

“Did any of ye go to Paddy’s do last night?” Asked John as they sat down in the cabin.

 

They both shook their heads. John continued, “I thought you’d be there Martin. A fellow lodger.”

 

Martin remained silent as he lit his pipe.

 

“I thought it would be too crowded. That’s why I didn’t go myself,” continued John. I might go tonight for an hour. Take the wife.”

 

Michael O Donnel entered the cabin. As he sat down he turned to Martin.

 

“Did ye have a good do last night?”

 

Martin, puffing on his pipe, seemed not to hear. Then John answered. “None of us were there.”

 

“Maybe I’ll go tonight,” said Michael. Then turned to John, “Aren’t the painters working today?”

 

“Kevin is finishing off the top house. Des should be working too, but the sent word with Kevin that he can’t make it. It seems his uncle was taken bad during the night.”

 

“Would that be Michael O’Malley?” asked Michael.

 

“I think so. He has no other uncle around here as far as I know.”

 

Martin, for the first time showed an interest. “What’s wrong with him,” he asked.

 

“I don’t know any more.”

 

Martin stood up. “I’m going to the toilet he said,” and left the cabin.

 

After he’d gone John expressed concern about him “I hope he’s all right,” he said. “He’s very quiet this morning.”

 

“Ah, he’s often like that.” Michael was dismissive.

 

Andy finished his mug of tea. Feeling somewhat warmer he stood up.

 

“I’ll be going out now.”

“No rush Andy,” said John.

 

Andy smiled “If I get back before Martin maybe I’ll catch up a bit. I’m a long way behind.”

 

“Don’t worry Andy,” said John reassuringly, “you’re doing a good job.”

 

Andy mixed more mortar in his bucket and continued with the jointing. Maybe he was more prepared for it mentally, but the cold seemed more bearable than it did earlier. Andy worked on steadily. It was not until he was jointing the last pipe laid that Martin returned, just as Andy was getting concerned about him.

 

“Were you waiting for me to catch up?” asked Andy. The question was meant as a joke, but it got no reply from Martin. Instead, without a word Martin continued laying the pipes, leaving Andy feeling totally snubbed. Andy picked up his bucket and walked away to mix some more mortar. Pondering on martin’s unsociable behaviour, he realised it was not just him. Everyone that came in contact with Martin was aware of it. But, he was getting the brunt of it and could think of no reason why. Martin was so uncommunicative. Whatever it was that was troubling him, he was keeping to himself.

 

By lunchtime, most of the pipes were laid, although Andy had fallen considerably behind with the jointing again. Martin didn’t go in the cabin at lunchtime, which seemed to cause Michael some concern. “Where’s Martin” he asked, looking at John.

 

“I think he’s gone for a quick pint.”

 

“He’s a strange man.”

John just shook his head. It was no big deal, he thought, Martin often goes for a pint at lunchtime. Andy remained silent. There was no other mention of Martin.

 

 

After lunch the fog had lifted but it wasn’t much warmer. The wind still felt bitterly cold. Andy hurried to get into the trench, where it was sheltered from the wind. He was surprised to find Martin already there. He was even more surprised at Martin’s almost friendly acknowledgement and comment.

 

“Another hour and we should be finished here.”

 

“I wonder what he’ll have us doing then.”

 

“The drains I laid yesterday need back filling. He might have us doing that.”

 

Andy nodded. He didn’t relish it. Although the physical exercise would be welcome, they would be exposed to the cold wind. Then they heard John’s voice above them with a much more attractive proposal.

 

“Ye’re doing very well. When ye’ve finished here I think we’ll call it a

day.”

 

Andy looked at Martin, fearful that he would disagree. But, to his relief Martin nodded. “Right O,” he said

 

Maybe it was the pint he had, but something, thought Andy, had put Martin in a better mood that afternoon. Although conversation was still minimal, strictly work related, Andy could sense that Martin was more relaxed and at ease.

 

John walked up to the top house to inform Kevin that they would be finishing soon. Not that he was in charge of the painters: they were sub-contracting the work and worked the hours that suited themselves. John was just being courteous.

 

“I won’t be long after you,” said Kevin “as soon as I’ve finished

this room.”

 

“Aren’t you lonely here all on your own all day?”

 

“Oh I get an odd visitor. Martin came to see me earlier.”

 

“Martin!”

 

“Oh yes. He was keen to know about Des’s uncle. He seemed

very concerned.”

 

“Strange. I didn’t know that he even knew him.”

 

“Oh, he did. But, I’m afraid I couldn’t tell him much at the time. I had better news for him later; after I talked to Des’s wife on the

Phone.”

 

“He came to see you again?”

 

“No I saw him in the pub.”

 

“Oh, he likes his dinner time pint.”

 

“He does. But, he didn’t seem to be enjoying it very much today.”

 

“No. He seemed a troubled man today all right. Did you say you had

better news for him.?”

 

“Oh I did. It seems Kevin’s uncle will pull through after all.”

 

“That’s good news. Well, I’ll leave you to it.”

 

As Kevin finished his painting he thought about what John had said about Martin being a troubled man. When Kevin saw him at lunchtime he certainly looked troubled. It was as he was finishing his phone call that he spotted Martin hurrying past the phone box. Martin, with his head down, apparently deep in thought, hadn’t seen Kevin. In fact he seemed oblivious to everything that was going on around him.

 

On finishing the phone call Kevin called after Martin. He’d just got more information, which he thought would interest him. But, Martin was too far away to hear his call. Kevin, however, knew Martin was going to the pub and decided to follow him. In any case, he hadn’t brought any lunch and would get a sandwich there.

 

When Kevin entered the taproom, martin was already sat down with a pint of Guinness. Kevin wondered if Martin ever ate anything at Lunchtime. He thought, probably not. Maybe Martin was living evidence that there is something in what they say about Guinness; “there’s eating and drinking in it.”

 

Kevin wasn’t sure how to approach Martin. On the few occasions when Kevin had called in the pub previously, Martin was always sat on his own. He didn’t like company it was said. Nevertheless, Kevin always found him friendly enough, although only the odd word was exchanged between them.

“Hello again Martin,” greeted Kevin as he walked to the bar. The greeting was acknowledged with just a nod from Martin.

 

Carrying a pint and a sandwich Kevin took a chance and sat down at Martin’s table opposite Martin, then ventured a joke.

 

“I bet the sweat was rolling off you this morning.”

 

Looking sullen and unsociable Martin eyed Kevin with suspicion, before replying gloomily. “I was sweating all right; from the nose though.”

 

Kevin laughed. He was pleased that Martin had responded, if not cheerfully. “I bet a lot of navvies were sweating from the nose this morning. I suppose they keep the ground moist.”

 

Looking doleful Martin made no reply.

 

Kevin decided that that was enough of the joviality. “I talked to Des’s wife on the phone,” he said. That got Martin’s interest as Kevin continued. “Des was at the hospital, but he rang to say that the uncle was improving and would be all right.

 

Visibly pleased, Martin asked, “do you know what’s wrong with him?”

 

“No, I didn’t ask.”

 

Martin nodded and had a drink of his Guinness. Then, looking more relaxed, he got his pipe out and started to light it. Kevin decided to leave before the smoke choked him.

 

 

Chapter 5. Maggie.

 

It was about two 0 clock when Andy returned to Maggie’s that Sunday afternoon. He let himself in. He had his own key. He was well trusted. When he opened the door the strong smell of boiling bacon and cabbage made him realize how hungry he was—he hadn’t eaten all day—and temporary put to one side the priests words which were still going round in his head. Maggie heard him close the door.

 

“Is that you Andy?”

 

Who else could it be thought Andy, but answered politely “I it’s only me”

 

“Sit down. The dinner will be ready soon”.

 

“It smells good”.

 

“I hope you’re hungry”.

 

She must think she’s still got half-a-dozen lodgers thought Andy as he eyed the big pot of potatoes on the hob. Maggie was a widow then and Andy was her only lodger. She stopped taking lodgers a few years earlier when her husband got ill, but made an exception of Andy because he was her “nephew”. She wasn’t really Andy’s aunt, just a distant cousin of his mother as far as he knew. He never heard of her until just a few weeks before he left Ireland. His mother got the address from another cousin. Letters were exchanged and before he knew it he had somewhere to go to. That had been his mother’s main concern once she realized Andy had made his mind up to go.

 

Andy sat at the table in the kitchen/dining room. Maggie had her back to him testing the potatoes with the fork. Maggie liked having Andy stay with her. He was her only lodger and almost certainly the last one she would have. She hoped he would stay a while. While he was with her she could postpone the decisions on the changes she would have to make to her life.

 

The house would have to be sold. It was much too big for her. She was a pensioner then and, although she didn’t like to admit it, running a lodging house was too much for her. But, it was what she had done for forty years and was reluctant to give it up. While Andy was with her she didn’t have to. Also it was nice having him around.

 

She just wished he would talk to her more. She felt she understood some of the problems he must be experiencing in an environment very different to what he was used to. She went through it all herself many years earlier.

 

Unlike Mary she wasn’t born into running a lodging house. She was brought up on a little farm only a few miles from where Andy grew up. She came over to Lancashire as a young girl with little knowledge of what to expect. Although she had heard a lot about the place, the image she had in her mind was very different from the reality. She expected to have the excitement that she felt her previous life lacked. The reality, however, fell far short of her expectations.

 

She understood how Andy felt in his first job in the factory. Her own first job was in a cotton mill. After the peaceful life she was used to it was horrendous: humdrum, exhausting and the deafening noise from the machines were still buzzing in her head when she went to bed at night.

 

“You’ll get used to it,” she was told. She didn’t. Yet she stuck with it for a whole year—she had little choice—before she got a job in the hospital as a trainee nurse.

 

Life got better then. It was in the hospital that she met Tim. She nursed his father who was very ill. Tim and his mother were regular visitors. Maggie knew Tim’s father didn’t have long to live and was very sympathetic. From the first time she saw him she fancied Tim and was delighted when he asked her on a date.

 

Within a year they were married. But sadly his father didn’t live that long.

 

Tim was a bricklayer and had been working away from home, but had moved back to be with his mother in her hour of need. Maggie, of course was another reason for him wising to stick around. Getting a job locally was no problem then. With all the building that was going on bricklaying was a good trade to have.

 

As a wedding present, Tim’s mother gave them the house. “It’s much too big for me now,” she said.

 

“It was always too big for us,” Tim commented later. “I don’t know why they ever bought such a big house.” They had no other children. Tim was an only child. Maybe they expected to have more children. Maggie didn’t know.

 

“It’s the ideal house for a big family,” Maggie and Tim were told on their wedding day and although they shrugged off such comments it was what they really wanted, especially Maggie.

 

After a few years, however, they knew that was not to be. Then came Tim’s accident, which left him incapable of doing his job. Although he recovered somewhat it seemed unlikely that he would ever be capable of doing a conventional job. When his mother died they reluctantly decided to sell the house: it was too big and expensive to run for just the two of them.

 

Just in time came Tarmac and the opencast. Suddenly there was a desperate shortage of accommodation for the large amount of workers, mostly Irishmen, which the opencast attracted to the area.

 

They had the ideal lodging house. It was just a short bus ride away.

 

Tim immediately saw the opportunity. Also it was something he could do. He hated being idle. Maggie was not so sure. She was a trained nurse then and was enjoying the work. But Tim was so enthusiastic. “Let’s give it a go,” he said. “We’ll make a good team. You can always go back to nursing if it doesn’t work out.”

 

They did, of course, give it a go. Maggie had intended it to be for a short time only: a few years at the most. Then, she planned to return to nursing. The years, however, slipped by and it never happened. What regrets she had she was mostly too busy to dwell on. For many years they had a full house and they were working flat out. Tim was so determined to make it a success. And he was right at least in one respect: they did make a good team

 

Maggie missed Tim. Life was empty without him. Apart from her sister and niece and nephew in Birmingham she had no other relatives in England. She had some friends, but none she could call close friends. Her whole life had been about Tim and the lodgers.

 

Lodgers came and went, she thought, maybe hundreds over the years. While the opencast was going some stayed for years? Maggie preferred that: she liked to get to know her lodgers. But since the closure of the opencast demand dropped off and the length of time the men stayed got shorter. It wasn’t personal. They were following the work.

 

She knew Andy’s job was coming to an end. Maybe he would be going soon. She hoped not. Of all the lodgers he had she liked Andy the best. In many ways he was like the son she never had. She could trust him. On a couple of occasions, when she went away for a few days to visit her sister, she had no worries about leaving Andy alone in charge of the house.

 

“I’m fine. Stay as long as you want,” he told her. She returned to find the house as neat and tidy as she left it.

***

 

 

 

While preparing the meal Maggie thought about Andy and how she fitted into his life. He looked so worried lately, she thought. She was concerned for him and wished she could be more involved in his life. However, she was sensitive enough to know that he would prefer it if she didn’t. He was a good lodger, but he had no wish to be anything other than that. He was too polite to say so, but, she knew, that he would like it better if she kept her distance and let him get on with his life in his own way. That, however, was not in her nature. Maybe it was the nurse in her, but she had a need to look after people, and Andy, whether he knew it or not needed looking after.

 

But, how was she to go about it? He wouldn’t welcome what he might see as an intrusion into his life. She decided to play it by ear. She would be there for him if needed, but otherwise she would lay off. Maggie had learned that, in spite of her instincts, sometimes it was better to back off.

 

Similarly, with her sister: although she enjoyed her visits Maggie could no longer treat her as her baby sister.

 

Maggie’s sister also ran a lodging house. She got into it for very different reasons. Her husband had deserted her leaving her with two young children. With no help from her husband, taking in lodgers was her means of survival. Luckily she was left with a bigish house and there was a shortage of accommodation for the many building workers in the area. Her lodgers were also mostly Irishmen. And Maggie had a lot of experience in dealing with them.

 

It was shortly after Tim died that Maggie’s sister’s husband left her. Maggie had no lodgers then and was able to spend some time with her sister who was in a very vulnerable state.

 

The idea that her sister should take in lodgers came from Maggie, who was also able to give much practical help and advice. With so much building work going on in the area, the demand for accommodation was high. Soon, with Maggie’s help her sister had a thriving business. Maggie’s last visit was to view the extension that her sister had added to the house to accommodate more lodgers.

 

Maggie’s sister suggested that Maggie sell up and move down there. Maggie didn’t think so. She was happy to be there when her sister needed her. In fact, putting all her energy into helping her sister had also helped her deal with her own grief. But, her sister, quite the entrepreneur now, thought Maggie, had grown in confidence and no longer needed her. In fact she would be better off without Maggie interfering.

 

Not so with Andy though. Watching him sitting quietly at the table she thought he looked even more worried than usual. She would, however, have to thread carefully. She ventured a comment.

 

“I saw you talking to the priest”.

 

Jesus, thought Andy, she doesn’t miss a thing. He considered telling her what the priest said. He really needed to get it off his chest and Maggie knew Martin: at least she knew who he was. So she told Andy when he first mentioned meting Martin. Maybe she could even offer some advice. She was always keen to know about everything that was going on in Andy’s life: too keen, mostly, for Andy’s liking, but she would be a sympathetic listener. Surely telling her could do no harm. But, then, he remembered how adamant the priest was that no one else be told, and Maggie of all people would have difficulty keeping it to herself. However, from her glance, he knew that some explanation was required.

A white lie would have to suffice. Andy remembered what someone else said to him on the way in to church.

 

“He said I was a hard man not wearing a coat this cold day.”

 

“He should have said you’re a silly man. You should have put on your

coat. You’ll get your death of cold.”

 

Andy smiled at Maggie’s back. She was worse than his mother, he thought. His coat was very shabby, but winter would soon be over. He’d get a new one for next winter.

 

Maggie placed a plate of boiled bacon and cabbage in front of Andy and another, with smaller portions, opposite him for herself. Pleased that at least he was talking she continued the questioning.

 

“Where did you go after Mass?”

 

“I had a walk round to Mary’s. I thought I might see Martin

Prendergast. Andy answered truthfully.

 

“Don’t you see enough of him at work?”

“Well, it was about work that I wanted to see him.”

 

Andy was again being untruthful and was pleased that Maggie did not push him any further. She placed a basin, full of potatoes in their jackets, on the table.

 

“Help yourself to the praties.”

 

As Andy peeled a potato with his knife, wishing to continue on the subject of Martin, he reminded Maggie of what she previously told him.

 

“You said you knew Martin?”

 

“Oh, I did, a long time ago. At least I knew of him. I lived a long way away from Martin. But, at one time he was a bit of a hero was Martin. He was talked about for miles around.”

 

“Now you’re telling me something. I never knew that. What did he

do?”

 

“Well, the story was that Martin was the only one from around there

that stood up to the Black-and Tans.” Maggie studied Andy’s face.

“I thought you’d have known that.”

 

“No, that’s news to me. How did he do it?”

 

“Well.” Maggie hesitated. “We didn’t see much of the tans in that part of the country. Just sometimes they’d drive past in their wagons, but when we saw them coming we usually kept well clear. They had such a fearsome reputation. Sometimes they’d fire shots in the air to frighten us. But, I never heard of anyone being shot, not like in other places. But, that Sunday afternoon it came near to it.”

 

Maggie hesitated as if undecided about whether to continue, but, continue she did.

 

“ Martin and a few of his pals -they were little more than schoolboys

-were in the ball-alley when the tans were passing. The wagon stopped and the tans got out, pointing their guns at the boys. They ordered all the boys to lie down. Except for Martin, they all did. But, Martin refused, telling the tans that they were too cowardly to shoot.

 

Afterwards, the boys told how terrified they were: lying there, face down, not daring to look, expecting Martin to be shot any time, and maybe themselves as well. But, the tans must be in a good mood that day. It was said they just got in the wagon and drove off.”

“Martin was a brave man.”

 

“He was a fool. He could have got them all killed.”

 

“It’s strange that I never heard that story, and Martin would have been my next door neighbour if we were both still there.”

 

“Not that strange. It was what happened in the years after that stopped the people talking about it.”

 

“You mean the civil war?”

 

“I, but that’s another story. Eat your dinner.”

 

They both eat in silence. Andy thought about what he knew about the civil war, which wasn’t much.

 

“Was Martin involved in the civil war?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

Noting that Andy was somewhat taken aback by the abruptness of her reply, Maggie went on to explain. “Like I said, I lived a long way from Martin.”

 

Andy could see that there was something else Maggie was not telling him about Martin: something that happened during the civil war perhaps.

But, pressing her, at that time, he thought wouldn’t get her to reveal it. He tried another line.

 

“It’s strange, that’s a time I know very little about. There wasn’t

much mention of it in the history lessons at school, and the old people that lived through it never talked about it.”

 

“Oh, they wouldn’t. There was too much bitterness. They just

wanted to forget about it.”

 

“Was it that bad?”

 

“Oh, it was terrible. Neighbour turned against neighbour. Sometimes

even brother against brother in the same house.”

 

“It must have been awful.” Andy shook his head. “And as you said, the tans didn’t bother you much around there.”

 

“No. It was after the treaty was signed and the tans left that the real

trouble started around there: The Republicans against the Free Staters.

The Republicans didn’t agree with the treaty. I suppose they had a

point. They didn’t get all they wanted out of it. But, the most of the

people were just glad that the fighting had stopped. It was a great relief to the families whose men went to England every year. It was

rumoured that if the fighting continued they’d be stopped going, and

they couldn’t survive without the money from the few months in

England. But, the Republicans, or the I R A, as they were still called,

had no time at all for England. Most people, though, had no choice. It was either that or starve.

 

Andy nodded. He knew how important the money from England was to the people back there. Forty years later they were still relying on it. Many’s the time he heard his mother say, “I don’t know what we’d do without it.”

 

Andy’s father, up to the year before he died was one of the ‘spalpeens’ who spent a few months of each year in England: at the harvest and potatoes in Lincolnshire. Andy remembered the eagerly awaited letters that came every few weeks while his father was in England, containing the all-important cheques, which made such a difference to their lives.

 

Nevertheless, inevitable as it was, Andy was always sad when the time of year came for his father to go. He dreaded the arrival of the letter from the big farmer in Lincolnshire, summoning his father to “come at once. The harvest is ready and bring the same men again.” Short and to the point, never more than a couple of lines, the letter demanded, and got, an immediate response. The harvest couldn’t be kept waiting.

 

It was often on arriving home from school that Andy learned of the letter, and then it was his job to immediately inform the other men. The same gang of men went every year to that farmer, but only Andy’s father, being the eldest and most senior, got the letter. Andy knew who all the men were. He didn’t have to be told. Working for the same farmer in England, brought the families closer.

 

Worst of all, and most vivid in Andy’s memory, was the last such letter to arrive. His father was dying, but no one told the farmer. Andy’s mother opened the letter. The other men had to be informed as always. That time it was an extremely arduous task for Andy. All the families he had to visit were aware that his father had only weeks to live, but Andy had not then come to terms with that awful fact. He resented the expressions of sorrow, genuine, as no doubt they were, and the offers of help. More help. Most of the work on the farm, that year, had been done by the neighbours; ploughing, turf cutting, haymaking. But, Andy just wanted his father. “You must be strong for your mother” he was told more than once. But, that day Andy didn’t feel strong. In the lonely Boreen on his way home from the last house he had to visit he burst into tears: tears nobody saw, he hoped, as he wiped his face with his jacket before entering his house.

 

The letter was not shown to his father. Neither did his father know that another man had already been chosen to take his place. It was a coveted position. Little as that farmer seemed to care for their welfare –Andy heard them talking about having no beds to sleep in, just sleeping bags on the barn floor—the men must have thought he was better than most.

Before Andy could brood, Maggie rose from the table. “You’ll have a mug of tay,” she asked, jolting Andy into the present. “And a piece of cake.”

 

“Just a mug of tay please Maggie.

 

“Ah. Go on. Have a piece of cake.”

 

“No, I’m full up.” Andy patted his midriff. “I’d love a mug of Tay though.”

 

As Maggie made the tea Andy’s thoughts returned to Martin.

 

“Was Martin a spalpeen?”

 

“No. He cleared out soon after that. But, never did return, as far as I know.”

 

“After what?”

 

“I mean as soon as he could.”

 

Maggie sounded a little flustered, making Andy more convinced than ever that there was something she was not telling him: something she knew about Martin that she was not prepared to reveal. But, why, he puzzled, couldn’t she tell him. Was it something so awful that she couldn’t bear to talk about it? Or was it just a generational thing, which he still couldn’t understand. She was nearly fifty years older than Andy and he knew that there were many things that generation were not prepared to pass down. But, surely then he thought, in a different age,

in a different country?

 

 

Chapter 6. Martin.

 

“You’re first in this evening,” remarked Nora in her usual friendly voice, as she pulled him a pint of stout.

 

“Yes mam”

 

Nora was content with the response. She didn’t expect an explanation from Martin, who she knew as a man of very few words, especially with women. While he would never be discourteous, she got the impression that mainly he didn’t talk to women. Nevertheless she liked Martin. “It’s such a cold day, I’ve kept the fire going all day.” She informed him. She knew that Martin who worked out in the cold all day appreciated the fire more than most.

 

“Thank you mam” replied Martin

 

Nora watched him slope towards his favourite seat by the fire. His big stocky frame seemed to bend more than usual. The hard work as a navvy, she thought, was taking its toll.

 

As she prepared the bar, she occasionally glanced down at Martin, although no word was spoken. She wondered why he finished work so early and thought he looked a little sadder than usual. Although someone who didn’t know him so well might see him as the picture of contentment, as he sat looking into the fire with his pint and his pipe, his face glowing from the heat of the fire.

 

Martin had a lot on his mind. He’d just lost his job. Some would say it was his own fault for walking away. But he was a proud man and anyone who knew him, knew that staying and grovelling was just not in his nature. There was a time when he would have physically fought Eddy and “to hell with the consequences.” But, the years had mellowed Martin. He had just walked away, shaking his head in disgust, saying, “I’ve had enough of you.

 

Martin had enough of Eddy. He had enough of being put under pressure to cut corners. He took pride in his work and hated not doing it properly. Martin knew those pipes would leak. Martin had laid the pipes but it was Eddy himself who did the jointing. It was a rushed job. Eddy had said he couldn’t wait for Martin.

 

Eddy had done the job so quickly that Martin knew that it couldn’t have been done properly, but who was Martin to complain. Taking the blame for it, though, was something else. Shoddy workmanship, Eddy had said. That was more than Martin could take.

 

That evening Martin was feeling his age. Although, in a way relieved to be out of that job, looking for another seemed more daunting than it used to. Previously, for Martin, loosing his job was no big deal. It happened so many times before. But, times were better then. Job security was given low priority. It was unusual, some would say even unnatural to stay with one firm for long. Those who did were often looked upon with suspicion; seen as company men. Martin, however, had reached the age where he was expected to have a bit of security. Not that Martin could ever be called a company man. Although, a consciences worker, “sucking up to the gaffer” was never his style. It wasn’t the first time Martin had walked off the job because he disagreed with the foreman.

 

Nora brought Martin another pint. She wouldn’t do that for anyone. Customers had to go to the bar. But she was pleased to sometimes make an exception of Martin: even that evening when he barely looked at her as she put the glass down in front of him. He hardly seemed aware of thanking her as he handed her a pound note. But, she didn’t wish to disturb him. His thoughts seemed far away as he sat gazing into the fire and puffing at his pipe.

 

There was a warm glow from the fire. That was what mainly attracted martin to Nora’s pub that cold February evening, purely and simply, he would say because he spent all day out in the cold. He was not one for flights of fancy or reminiscences. That evening, however, maybe he was more vulnerable, because, the red and blue flames took him back over forty years, to the warmth and security of a thatched cottage in the West of Ireland.

 

Much bigger flames from a turf fire danced round a black pot, which was hanging over the fire. The little boy’s face was level with the flames, sat on the tiny three legged stool, made especially for him by his father who had recently returned from England. As he clung to the corduroy britches of his father, who was sat on a chair next to him, he thought how good it was to have his father home again. He felt so warm and secure.

 

Other big men also sat around smoking pipes. They often came to his house in the long winter evenings. Some of them had also recently returned from England. Martin loved the smell of tobacco and the tales they told about working on the big farms of Lincolnshire.

 

It was the talk about what was politely called the troubles that really fascinated Martin. However, much to his frustration, he knew that it was a subject that should not be discussed in his presence. Whenever it was brought up he was aware that it was immediately dropped when it was realised he was amongst them. Therefore the subject was left until after Martin had gone to bed; or so the adults thought. Children, however, are often more aware of what is going on than adults give them credit for. Martin understood very well what was meant by the troubles, and the apparent secrecy only served to increase his curiosity. But, he was a lonely boy and kept his interest to himself. Although many an hour was spent listening at the door, when the adults believed he was safely tucked up in bed.

 

Later, when the black-and-tans came, Martin knew more about them than almost anyone his age. Less excluded then, Martin had his youthful passions fired by tales of great battles with the tans. The tans were a bad lot, he knew, only there to deny the Irish the freedom they longed for. Tales of heroism in the fight against them were constantly circulating. In his dreams, Martin was one of those heroes, a great patriot.

 

Martin wished there were some action in his area. It seemed to be happening everywhere else. All over the country Irishmen were taking on the tans, and winning, but around there the tans had it all their own way. Martin was angered by stories of the tans helping themselves to whatever they wished for from farms and shops. The people were too frightened to resist. The tans had such a fearsome reputation. But, Martin also heard the tans were a “cowardly lot:” a theory he would soon put to the test.

***

 

 

Martin’s past had caught up with him again, he thought. It seemed he would never get away with it, no matter how he tried. He had spent all his life running away from it, and for long periods, he was able, to at least partially put it out of his mind. Now he was reliving it again. It was the letter that confirmed it. Martin knew that letter was meant for him, although addressed to Michael O’Malley. He had a similar letter when he lived in Birmingham. There, he went by the name of Michael O’Malley. Only a few knew it was not his real name, but they thought little of it. On building sites, or in the places where Martin lived, an assumed name wasn’t questioned.

 

Then one day, after twenty years of peaceful living in Sparkhill Birmingham, a letter arrived. He didn’t know who sent it. It was left for him while he was at work. But, it was clearly from someone who knew about his past or at least the version that was widely believed at the time it happened. It was not really a letter, just a short mote.

 

Remember Jimmy Casey?

Don’t think you’ve got away with it.

You’ll still pay.

 

Martin wasn’t unduly worried. It was just a crank, he thought, who would never carry out the threat. Nevertheless, soon after, when his job came to an end, he decided to leave Birmingham and headed up North. He went back to ‘Mary’s’ where he’d stayed twenty years earlier. Mary, as she does with everyone, made him feel very welcome. He liked the sound of his own name again. He felt like he’d come home.

 

In the last year he was often described as a very contented man. Recent events, however, changed all that. A week earlier he’d opened the letter. The opportunity arose one evening when he was alone in the house. As he boiled the kettle, to make himself a cup of tea, he steamed open the letter, which had been lying on the mantelpiece for over a week. As he feared, it was an identical note to the one that he got in Birmingham. He put it in his pocket and resealed and replaced the empty envelope. There was no need to frighten Michael O’Malley. However, Martin’s worst fears were confirmed when he heard what happened to Michael. He felt responsible and helpless.

 

On Saturday, in desperation he went to his priest and told him everything. Father Downey was sympathetic and seemed to understand. Nevertheless Martin felt very uncomfortable talking about events he hadn’t discussed with anyone for over forty years. The priest urged him to go to the police. But, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He never trusted the police. He always felt he could sort out his own problems. Whatever came he could take.

 

Now it wasn’t just him and that was what was tormenting him. Another man, a decent man, was lying on a hospitable bed and maybe would die, because of his inaction and, of course, a misunderstanding of what happened in the past.

 

Over forty years had passed, but the memory of that terrible event was still so vivid it might have been yesterday, he thought. Although, Martin’s role was a minor one he knew that it was his name that was remembered and hated for it.

 

Martin thought, again of that turbulent time of his youth. Although he didn’t know it that the time, he realised later that he was propelled into something that he was too young and naive to handle. That short period of his life, which he remembered so vividly, was almost totally out of his control. In his previous quiet peaceful existence he longed for more excitement. Then, suddenly he had more than he ever wished for. To the local people, for a short time he was a hero, then a villain. It was, he realised, the short-lived hero status that got him carried away. It went to his head despite doubting that he ever deserved it.

 

It all started that warm, autumn, Sunday afternoon. The six boys met as usual in the ball-alley. When the tans wagon stopped outside the alley, initially the boys were just curious. Even when threatened by the tans, in his naivety Martin showed no fear at first. His peaceful upbringing and youthful spirit had made him a bold boy. Looking back then, Martin thought it was probably his youth that saved him. The tan, always on the lookout for conspiracies against them, would have been relieved to find such young boys playing an innocent game of handball in the alley.

 

Nevertheless the guns were pointed at the boys who were ordered to lie down. Only Martin was aware that his refusal was not taken seriously. The other terrified boys, lying face down were unaware of the smiles on the faces of the tans as they climbed back into their wagon that Sunday afternoon.

 

Martin thought if only the people who thought him so brave knew how short lived his bravery was and how almost immediately he regretted it.

It was true he didn’t lie down as the others did and he did say no, although he doubted if the tans heard him. However, no sooner had he uttered the word than had the sight of those fierce men with guns levelled at him, left him terror-stricken, believing his death was imminent. It was only because he was paralysed with fear that he didn’t then lie down with his pals.

 

He felt himself trembling. He was ashamed that it was the smiles on the faces of the tans- the smiles that ridiculed his stance- that helped him to somewhat regain his composure. He knew then that he wouldn’t be shot.

But, as the wagon drove off he was still shaking. His pals, hearing the wagon go, started to rise, but Martin still unable to speak walked out of the alley. He took deep breaths as he watched the wagon disappear over the hill.

 

“Have they gone now?”

 

Martin made no reply to John Grogan’s question. Standing with his back to the alley, with his back to his pals, he was still struggling to keep himself together. His voice, he knew, would surely betray his terror. Eventually he turned and walked silently to the far wall. He sat on the floor, with his back to the wall alongside John Grogan and Jimmy Moran. He was convinced that his lack of courage was obvious. But, his palls were too shaken themselves to notice.

 

There was no more handball played that day. They were all in a state of shock. A few left the alley and went through the motions of searching for a ball that was earlier lost in nearby rushes. Martin remained on the floor with John and Jimmy. For a long time no word was spoken. Then Jimmy turned to Martin. “Martin, you were very brave,” he said.

 

“You’ll be a hero when we tell people what you did,” added John.

 

But, whatever bravery Martin had that day had vanished. He certainly felt no hero. He wished to say no don’t tell anyone, but he was still unable to speak. He just shook his head.

***

 

 

 

The boys couldn’t wait to tell everyone they knew. Martin’s reluctance was taken as modesty. Inside a week his fame had spread far and wide. In the telling and retelling, as often, his bravery was much exaggerated. The story seemed to take on a life of it’s own. Each time it was told the brave act became braver and braver. It was said that Martin boldly faced the tans, ordered them to put down their guns and told them to leave the ball-alley. After a week the tale that was circulating was not recognisable to the boys that were there. But they didn’t deny it. Their memory of the event was far from clear in any case. What they mainly remembered was their own petrifaction.

 

Martin had no idea how to handle his new reputation. When told how brave he was, he just shrugged. He didn’t know what to say. In many ways he felt a fraud. He knew he should have revealed how terrified he was that day. But, he didn’t and as time went on, to do so became more and more difficult.

 

After a while, however, the feeling of guilt diminished and he started to enjoy the praises. After all, he justified, he never asked to be a hero.

 

At that time Martin was already highly regarded in the neighbourhood for very different reasons. With fathers away, as they were every late summer and autumn, working on the big farms of Lincolnshire, it was a time of year when boys of Martin’s age become men. Although he was only fourteen, Martin, the eldest boy was expected to take on much of the responsibility of running the farm.

The farm, like most of the farms around there, was small. The land was poor and hard to work. Nevertheless, it provided most of their food. They had chickens, pigs and cattle. The cattle comprised of two cows, one milking and the other in calf, and four “dry stock” aged between a few months and two years. Martin remembered how proud he was to be involved in some of the decisions, even if his mother had the final say.

“We’ll have to sell one of those bullocks,” he said to his mother after stabling them one evening. “We haven’t enough hay to feed them all winter. I should take them to the fair next week.”

 

“You’re right,” she agreed. “But, I’ve heard the prices are very poor lately and you know what those jobbers are like at the fair. They’d try to take advantage of you. We’d better wait ‘til your father gets home.” Martin, though feeling aggrieved that his mother did not trust him to haggle with the jobbers, decided to leave it at that.

 

Apart from providing most of their food, there was little income from the farm. They sold a pig, or maybe two, a year and some eggs during the laying season. But, mainly, they relied on the sale of a few cattle. Therefore it was important to get the best possible price. The land around there was too poor to fully fatten the cattle. Therefore they were sold to jobbers who then sold them on to the rich farmers in the better lands of the north or midlands, who would then fatten them up ready for the butcher. However there was a strong suspicion that the jobbers were ripping them off.

 

Martin knew that in most other things his mother was more than satisfied with him. He was a steady and reliable boy who did everything that was expected of him, and more. He was a big boy for his age. Cutting the field of oats was no trouble to him. It was said he could swing a scythe as well as his father. He was a man before his time. The neighbours commented on how well he was coping. His mother was proud of him.

 

Then it all changed. That evening as he drank his third pint he thought of the anguish that his suddenly changed life must have caused his mother.

He lost interest in the farm. But’ it was the secret meetings he was having that really upset her. Because of his reputation, men came from afar and sought him out. His mother intensely distrusted those men.

Not understanding the secrecy (Martin was sworn to secrecy) she did not understand why Martin could not divulge what was discussed at the meetings. When she warned him about getting into something he was too young to understand, he got so angry, saying he understood things far better than she did. Looking back then he was not so sure. As often before, he bitterly regretted the pain he caused his mother and what he put his whole family through. There were three children, a boy and two girls, all younger than he was. The girls were in America: he knew not where. The boy had the farm.

 

Martin’s head was in the clouds. Those men with such radical ideas got him so excited. Joining them was all that mattered whatever the cost. He felt so grown up and honoured to be invited to their meetings. Because of his size they probably at first assumed he was older. But then his over-eagerness worried them and even they advised caution. He was told to abide his time and was not allowed to join in any action they planned. Reluctantly he accepted, but he continued to attend the meetings, to which he travelled long distances on foot, often returning in the early hours to a very anxious mother. No matter what the time she always waited up, only to be berated for her interference in his life.

 

Eventually the burden on Martin’s mother became so great that she could no longer bear it alone. She knew that Martin’s attendance at those meetings should be kept secret. Nevertheless she felt compelled to confide in a neighbour.

 

Martin knew he shouldn’t have blamed his mother. Even at the time when he became aware that the whole neighbourhood knew of his involvement, deep down he knew it was not his mother’s fault. Although the woman confided in didn’t keep quiet as asked, she only confirmed what was already suspected. Previously another neighbour, attending to a calving cow, spotted martin returning home at a very late hour. That, and other late sightings of him, had got the neighbours already whispering.

 

But martin did blame his mother, although it was no longer just her that got on at him. Almost everyone he met advised him to be careful and reminded him of his young age. There was genuine concern for him and for his mother, but he would have none of it. He resented the criticism.

 

Of course, he only attended meetings, and not important ones at that. After a while he realised that he was kept away from the meetings at which action was planned. That really upset him.

 

Then Martin suddenly stopped attending the meetings. Much to the relief of neighbours and especially his mother, he stopped altogether. It wasn’t that he was worn down by the constant goings on of almost everyone he knew, nor that there was any waning in his commitment to the cause. On the contrary, his commitment was stronger than ever. It was the frustration at not being taken seriously that he could no longer stand. But, he never explained this to anyone. Most people thought his involvement had been much greater than it was. He let them think that. It made him feel important.

 

Martin was again a changed young man; no longer sullen and broody. Relations with his mother were improving. At least they were talking again, and with that she was more than pleased. Her prayers were answered. She had got her son back.

 

He was again showing an interest in farming, and the timing could not be more appropriate. The acre or so of potatoes required digging before the frost. His mother had made a start, but her progress was very slow. It was on the side of a hill and the ground was very hard. Martin still remembered the conversation they had one day. Looking up at the field of potatoes, his exhausted mother remarked. “Your father will be home in a few weeks. Wouldn’t it be grand if we had the praties dug then?”

 

“We will,” said Martin reassuringly,” don’t worry.

 

“It will be a lovely surprise for him. Last year he had the most of them

to dig after he got home and some of them were lost to the frost.”

 

“I was at school then. You wouldn’t let me stay off.”

 

“Your education was important. You should go back to school again.

When your father gets home; for the winter anyway.”

 

“Maybe I will.”

 

Martin did return to school that winter. He was not alone in doing that. Schooling was very interrupted in Martin’s school days. It was usual for boys, and some girls, to stop going to school during the summer and autumn months, when there was a lot of work to do on the land (especially those whose fathers went to England, and they were the majority around there) only to return to school in the winter. There seemed to be no fixed finishing age then. They came and went as they pleased. The teachers didn’t seem to mind. Some continued at school for the winter months until they were twenty or more. Some boys even went back to school after returning from England. In winter there wasn’t much else to do. They tried to catch up on the education they had missed out on in earlier years. But, it didn’t work like that.

 

It was one of the harshest winters Martin remembered. The school was a cold uninviting place, especially the large classroom he was in, not at all conducive to any kind of learning. Martin and the other winter only irregulars were put at desks at the back of the classroom, furthest away from the fire, which, in any case, failed to heat even the front part of the room.

 

The master, Mr Regan did his best, but he had to concentrate his attention on his younger regular pupils, leaving little time for those at the back. Nevertheless he did try. He set them tasks, which he took home and marked. However, the very mixed abilities of those older pupils, and their differing attitudes to education, made his job almost impossible.

 

School that winter may have been of little academic value to Martin. Nevertheless the experience would never be forgotten. On reflection, it was educational in many ways. The poverty all around him was so obvious. Yet, at the time, he barely noticed it. They were all in the same boat, or nearly all. There were a few desperate exceptions.

They called themselves hard men, and they were. They had to be tough to survive. At the back of that classroom, often the frost remained on the windows all day. The clothes they wore were inadequate; ill fitting handed down and patched. Martin’s overcoat (a coat that had been on his bed the night before) although obviously repaired in several places, was warmer than most. Yet on most days he was too cold to concentrate on the task the master had set. His fingers were too numb to hold a pen. His feet too sometimes lost all feelings. The master got annoyed when they all stamped their feet.

 

Tom Ward, a tinker boy (he came to school occasionally when the family camped nearby) was the hardest of all. They laughed at him because he had no shoes or socks on. The master told him off for not washing his feet. Sympathy was in short supply in those days. They said tinkers were harder than the rest of them. However, Paul Henry arrived at school one morning with a pair of clogs under his arm, sent by his parents for Tom. But, Tom never got those clogs. The family had moved away the precious day.

 

Martin remembered some good times too. At break times, and sometimes at other times when the master noticed how cold they were, he told the to go outside and exercise. In the field next to the school they played football, often with a pig’s bladder. Tom Ward could kick the ball with his bare feet as well as those with boots or clogs on.

 

When the nearby lake froze over, as it did most of that winter, they used to slide on the ice. The clogs were best for sliding on the ice. Martin, in his clogs, could slide from one end of the lake to the other in one go. Tom Ward was not allowed on the ice. It was said that once his bare feet started to melt the ice and spoiled it for the others.

***

 

 

 

Hearing his name spoken jolted Martin back to the present. Men who had worked with him until that afternoon (Eddy’s men) were standing at the bar. One of them made a gesture of recognition. There would be much sympathy with his position. Eddy was far from popular, even with his own men. But, Martin had no wish for sympathy. He acknowledged the gesture, quickly finished his pint and left.

***

 

 

 

When Martin returned to Mary’s, to his surprise, Andy was sat at the dining room table with a cup of tea. The table was set for the evening meal. Paddy was sat in the corner apparently asleep. Looking at Paddy, Martin shook his head disapprovingly. “Mary said he’s been on the bear all day,” said Andy in a low voice. “She’s mad at him.”

 

Martin nodded. Then turning to Andy asked, “Nothing wrong, is there?”

 

“No. I just came to see if you’re all right, and I have a message from John.”

 

“I could be worse.”

 

“John asked me to tell you that there’s a job for you in his gang, at the new site next week, if you want it.”

 

Martin sat down shaking his head. “I don’t think so. Sure

won’t that edjet be there as well.”

 

“Well think about it anyway,” insisted Andy. “John said you have ‘til

the weekend to make your mind up. He said you can call round to his

house to have a chat about it. He’ll be in every evening. That’s his

address.” Andy handed Martin a piece of paper.

 

Martin glanced at the address, nodded and put in his pocket. Then, a loud snore from Paddy reminded them of his presence. Paddy shuffled in his seat and continued sleeping.

 

“You should have a word with John anyway,” urged Andy. “Sure you’ve nothing to loose.” With no response from Martin Andy continued, “There isn’t much other work around here.”

 

“Maybe I won’t be staying round here.”

 

“Where would you go?” Andy was surprised.

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“I thought you were happy here.”

 

Again there was no response from Martin. Instead he took his pipe from his pocket and all his attention seemed to be concentrated on preparing it.

Andy watched for a while in silence and thought of his other reason for visiting Martin. It was a subject he was wary of raising and the timing was far from appropriate. However, as Martin talked of leaving the area, it might be his only opportunity.

 

Andy nervously cleared his throat. “My mother, in her last letter,” he began, studying the side of Martin’s face. “She said, your brother Jim is worried because you haven’t answered his letters.” Martin’s face seemed

redder. Otherwise he might not have heard. Concerned, Andy asked, “are you sure you’re all right?”

 

“Clearly annoyed, Martin turned to Andy. “Yes, I’m all right,” he replied angrily. “Just stop interfering in my life.” Martin rose and left the room, slamming the door after him, leaving Andy more puzzled than ever.

 

Andy finished his tea and rose to leave. Clearly, his business there was over. Then Jimmy entered. “I see you’ve got your feet under the table,” remarked Jimmy jokingly.

 

“I, Mary made me a cup of tea,” explained Andy. “I came to see

Martin. John asked me to see him.”

 

“I saw you talking to John. But, what have you done to Martin? He

seemed in an awful mood. He nearly knocked me over on the stairs.”

 

“He’s very upset. He says he’s all right, but I know he isn’t.”

 

“It’s Eddy. That bastard will get what’s coming to him on of these days.”

 

“I, Eddy upset him badly all right. But, I think it’s more than that.”

 

“What makes you say that?”

 

“I’m not sure.”

 

“Maybe he’s got a health problem he’s not telling us about.”

 

“Maybe, but I think it’s something else. He talked about clearing

out again.”

 

“He’s getting a bit old for all that roving round. Is it the work? It’s

a bit slack round here.”

 

“Well that’s what I came to see him about. John offered him a job in

his gang. But, he didn’t seem interested.” “Maybe if you had a word with him,” added Andy hopefully.

 

“I don’t think he’ll listen to me. He just ignored me on the stairs when

I spoke to him.”

 

“Well, try anyway.”

***

 

 

 

Upstairs in his room, Martin sat on his bed, his head buried in his hands. The pints of Guinness, after a hard day, had left him feeling groggy and the wash had only slightly revived him.

 

It was a difficult day, but he wasn’t thinking about that. The problems of the day, he could still shake off. Many’s the time he had dealt similarly with what he was then finding so burdensome. Then, however, it was making him uncharacteristically depressed.

 

His past had caught up with him again. The past he had so often tried to forget. The past he once again thought he had moved on from. Then, he feared, he never could.

 

He had blamed Andy, but he knew it was not Andy’s fault. Andy couldn’t have known the consequences of what he wrote in his letters. However, Martin was convinced that it was Andy’s letters home that caused his location to be revealed to the person (or persons) who was his avowed enemy. Andy’s mother, no doubt, would have told many more than Martin’s brother. News got around quickly in those country areas. Forgotten grievances may well have been revived. Then, maybe innocently, the news might have been mentioned in correspondence to relatives in Birmingham.

 

Martin wasn’t normally one to dwell on the problem. Maybe it was his age, he thought, but this time he couldn’t shrug it off as he used to. Feeling morbid, in his mind, he once again went over the events that happened so long ago.

 

That spring, Martin ceased school again and worked on the farm with his father. His father rarely talked about politics and what was happening in the wider country. “You’re better keeping out of it,” was the advice he always gave Martin. But, Martin didn’t wish to keep out of it. Although he gave the impression that he was taking his father’s advice, with no more than a passing interest in what was happening in the country, he wasted no opportunity to keep himself informed. He read every newspaper he could lay his hands on and listened to every opinion on what was happening.

And it was all happening then.

 

The treaty was signed. The Black-and -Tans left the country. The Irish Free State was established. In many ways things looked good. Some said they had won a great victory. Most were just pleased that the fighting had stopped. However, when the details of what had been achieved emerged, many felt badly let down. Six of the thirty-two counties remained under British rule. And, although the other twenty-six counties would have a parliament in Dublin, those elected to that parliament would have to swear an oath of allegiance to the crown. It was a divided country: not the republic they had fought for.

It was the end of August. His father was again in England. Martin didn’t tell his mother that he planned to attend the republican rally in Ballahadereen. He thought she might get the wrong idea. He had no intentions of becoming involved again. Although his anti-treaty feelings were intense, and he was happy to be called a republican, he had no wish to fight fellow Irishmen. He simply wished to be counted with those who opposed the treaty.

 

The rally was planned weeks in advance. Speakers from all over the country were to be there, including a man who was involved in the siege of the Four Courts in Dublin. Thousands were expected to attend.

 

It was, however, a time when tensions were highest. It was less than a week after Michael Collins, commander-in-chief of the new government forces, was shot dead by republicans, in County Cork. His death had shocked the country. Even most republicans were horrified. As leader of the I R A, in the fight for Independence, Michael Collins bravery had won the admiration of the nation. Martin was bewildered. For years Michael Collins had been his hero. Martin attended the rally, but without much of his previous enthusiasm.

 

That week, the mood of the country hardened against the republicans. There was a renewed determination by the government to stamp them out. Therefore, the rally, which if left alone, would have been little threat to the authorities, was so ruthlessly broken up.

 

The unnecessary and unprovoked brutality angered Martin to the extent that he could no longer stand idly by. He rushed to the aid of a man being viciously kicked while on the ground. Before Martin could reach him, however, he felt a tug on his jacket. He was being held back. “Leave it Martin,” said a voice from behind. “Let me go,” screamed Martin, lashing out with his fists, “they’ll kill him.”

 

But, the man didn’t let go. Then another man also grabbed hold of him. It took both of them to hold him back. “You’ll only get yourself arrested,” he was told, “or maybe killed, the way they are today. What good will that do?”

 

“But, we can’t do nothing,” protested Martin, still struggling to get away. Turning round he recognised the men restraining him: Ted Foley and Michael Keane, I R A men he hadn’t seen for a year.

 

“Don’t worry,” said Ted. “Come with us if you want to do something.” Ted released his grip on Martin, as did Michael. Then free, Martin hesitated as they both walked away. The man who he had attempted to aid was struggling while being dragged away. Martin feared for the man’s fate, but realised then that intervention would be futile. Still angry, he decided to follow Ted and Michael.

 

“Where are we going,” asked Martin when he caught up.

 

“We’re going to visit the barracks,” replied Ted. “But, first, we must pick something up.”

 

“The barracks will be empty now,” added Michael, “they’re all here.”

 

No more was said as they walked briskly, soon leaving the town behind. They left the main road and continued along a little used gravel road, Martin breathlessly following behind. “Where are we going,” he again asked.

 

“You’ll see,” was the only answer he got. They continued up a steep hill, then down into a valley, stopping eventually at a bridge over a fairly large stream. “You wait here Martin,” ordered Ted “Keep your eyes peeled. If you see anyone coming give us a shout.” The road there was raised high above the land. Martin watched the two men descend down a grassy slope to the stream below. They quickly removed their shoes and socks and rolled up their trouser legs, before wading into the water. It was a high bridge for such a shallow stream. The water was barely knee deep, yet Ted, who must have been close on six feet tall, only slightly lowered his head as he went under the bridge. As they disappeared under the bridge, Martin sat on the wall above them wondering what he had let himself in for. He was a lookout. What for? He was not sure. But, nevertheless, a more important role than he had previously been allowed to play.

 

The men shortly emerged, carrying a sack between them. “It’s a great place that,” said Ted to Michael. “It’s as dry as a bone.” They both sat on the bank of the stream with the sack between them. Then, looking up, Ted said “Martin run to the top of the hill. You’ll see more of the road from there. But, if you see anyone coming, don’t shout. Just run down and tell us quietly.”

 

Martin wished to watch them, but obediently did as told. He had seen enough for him to guess that they were making a bomb. More questions, he then knew, must be asked at the first opportunity.

 

Eventually Ted appeared at the top of the bridge and beckoned Martin to come down. Not waiting for Martin, Ted descended the grassy slope. “Come on down here,” he called as Martin approached the bridge.

 

Martin joined them on the bank of the stream. He noticed each man was holding a small bag, like a school satchel. Their shoes and socks were back on and the large sack had been returned to its hiding place. “Follow us,” said Ted. “There’s no time to waste.” He set off at a brisk walk, on the narrow path by the stream followed by Michael and Martin.

 

Led by Ted, they continued in single file along the little used path, by the stream, which was mostly overgrown. Soon they were in a wood. Before entering the wood, Ted had a good look around, to ensure that they were not observed, then continued quickly, still keeping close to the stream.

 

Following behind, Martin was having some doubts. He wasn’t sure what he was involved in, or whether he even wished to be. He still felt that he was being treated like a kid; that he was being kept in the dark, not fully part of the operation, whatever that was. He caught up with the others and ventured a question. “What are we going to do?” he asked.

 

“You’ll see,” replied Ted dismissivly. Noticing that Martin was not satisfied, Michael added, “We’ll give them something they won’t forget in a hurry.”

 

Still not satisfied Martin stopped walking.

 

“Come on Martin. Don’t waste time.” Ted sounded impatient. But, Martin didn’t move. Ted returned to where Martin was stood. “What’s wrong with you?” he demanded angrily, “I thought you wanted to be involved.”

 

“I do,” said Martin resolutely. “I just want to know what I’m involved in.”

 

“The barracks will be empty if we hurry. We’re going to blow it up.”

 

Martin just nodded. As they set off again, he thought, I’m all for that, let’s blow up the barracks. He was still angry at how the army had behaved that afternoon. However, unlike previously, when the fight was against the black-and-tans, he had no wish to kill, or even injure anyone. Blowing up an empty barracks seemed an appropriate response.

 

They continued walking briskly in the wood, for what seemed like at least an hour. At a point where the stream bent to the right Ted stopped, then turned to his left and continued walking away from the stream. Martin could see daylight streaming through the trees ahead of them. They were nearing the edge of the wood. Ted stopped and placed his bag in a clump of undergrowth. “Let’s leave our bags here for now,” he said to Michael.

 

From the edge of the wood they could see the barracks, probably less than a hundred yards away, on the other side of the road. Clumps of bushes were growing all along the road. Cautiously, they moved to some bushes across the road from the gates of the barracks. The gates were closed. The barracks looked deserted. Ted turned to Michael. “Get the bags, while I have a look around. Martin, you stay here. Keep an eye on the road.”

 

Ted crossed the road and looked through the gates. Then he walked briskly by the wall (the barracks was surrounded by a high wall) and disappeared round the corner, apparently to check the back. Martin could feel his heart pounding. He was unsure what to do if anyone came. Luckily no one did.

 

Within minutes Ted returned. “Come on let’s go,” he urged. “It’s all clear.” He took one of the bags, which Michael had fetched. Ted and Michael walked briskly following the route that Ted had just taken, with Martin following behind. At the back, part of the wall had fallen down and at that point appeared to be easily scalable. Michael picked a stone off the damaged wall. “That should do nicely,” he said. Ted nodded approvingly, then turned to Martin. “Go to the front and look out for the wagons.” Ted seemed to have everything in control.

 

On reaching the road Martin stopped abruptly, startled by the sound of a creaking gate. The gate was being opened. Panic-stricken, Martin carefully stepped back out of sight behind the wall, and peered round the corner. It was a soldier who was opening the gates. The soldier had his back to Martin and was unaware that he was being observed. The sound of the gates had drowned out Martin’s footsteps.

 

Martin didn’t know what to do. His mind was racing. The soldier, he thought, must have come out of the barracks; the barracks they thought was empty. What if others were there? Ted and Michael were about to blow up the building. Was it too late to stop them? Could he stop them? Did they care if soldiers were inside? Suddenly it was all much more than he bargained for. He was almost overcome by an overwhelming urge to run away, when the soldier walked on to the road. Martin then recognised him. It was Seamus Cox, one of Martin’s old IRA friends. Seamus looked in the direction of the town, then turned and walked quickly towards the barracks.

 

Throwing caution to the wind, Martin rushed to the gates and shouted, “Seamus don’t go in.” Simultaneously the sound of breaking glass, coming from the rear of the building, partially obscured the warning. However, at the door, Seamus stopped and turned round to face Martin, who was then within a yard of him. Breathlessly, Martin repeated the warning, “Don’t go in.” Then, leaving a bewildered Seamus, Martin turned and ran back out through the gates. He ran as fast as he could round the wall to the rear of the building, thinking, in his confused state of mind, that there might still be time to stop the explosion. He would be quicker staying inside the wall, but he wasn’t thinking straight.

 

Oh my God.”

 

The cry from inside the building confirmed Martin’s worst fears as he scrambled over the broken down wall.

 

There was at least one more inside. Almost immediately there was a loud explosion, then a groan of a man in agony. Smoke was coming through the broken window.

 

“Jesus,” exclaimed Michael, “there’s someone in there. What’ll we do?”

 

“There’s nothing we can do.” Ted glared at him. “Leave that bag.” Then seeing Martin asked, “is it clear at the front?”

 

“No. There’s a soldier, Seamus Cox.”

 

“The traitor! Let’s have a look.” Ted seemed unruffled. “Lets go. Follow me,” he urged. He climbed over the wall followed by Michael.

 

Taken aback by Ted’s apparent callousness, Martin, feeling somewhat resentful nevertheless followed. Ted carefully led the way along the wall, stopping briefly to pick up a stout stick that was lying on the ground: a weapon, no doubt, thought Martin. Martin feared for Seamus Cox, who he still regarded as his friend, if on the opposite side. However when they reached the front, to Martin’s relief, there was no sign of Seamus. He must have gone inside to help his friend, thought Martin. Martin couldn’t tell how dangerous it was inside. From the front here was no sign of damage. Martin considered rushing in also, when Ted, seemingly reading his mind, grabbed his arm. “Come on. Let’s get across the road. There’s a wagon coming.”

 

Martin hesitated. He was still feeling resentful. Any loyalty that remained was overridden by the desire to help Seamus.

It was the sight of the wagon in the distance that decided him. Help was on the way. Relieved, he dashed across the road with the others

 

Back in the wood, led by Ted, they continued running. Following behind, Martin’s anger and resentment was increasing by the minute. He was annoyed with Ted and Michael for what hey had done. But, mainly, he was annoyed with himself for getting involved.

 

When they reached the stream Ted turned to his left, going in the opposite direction to the way they had come. Martin didn’t know where they were going. Again he was not informed. This time, however, he didn’t care. He had no wish to follow them any more. Without a word he turned the other way and set off at a brisk walk along the path they had originally used. That way, he knew, he could find his way home. Also, he intended to quickly put as much distance as possible between himself and the other two.

 

It wasn’t to be. Almost immediately Ted glanced and noticed Martin hurrying away from him. Ted turned and chased after Martin, waiting until he got within a few yard of him before calling firmly, but not too loudly, “Martin stop.”

 

Without looking back, Martin started to run, but Ted caught up with him and grabbed his arm. Martin struggled to get away. “Let me go,” he demanded angrily.

 

But, Ted wouldn’t let go. “Where are you going,” he asked.

 

“Home.”

 

“O K I’m not stopping you. But, let’s have a little talk first.”

 

“I don’t want to talk.” Martin angrily freed his arm.

 

“Just a few things to clear up.”

 

“What things?”

 

“You said you saw Seamus Cox?”

 

Martin nodded

 

“Did he see you?

 

“Yes.”

 

“Did he recognise you?”

 

“Yes. He must have.”

 

“Jesus! You ejit.” Ted flew into a rage. With his face like thunder, just inches from Martin’s, he hissed, “do you know what you have done?”

 

Martin made no reply. Then Ted turned away in disgust. He picked up a large stone. For a brief moment Martin feared Ted was going to throw the stone at him. Instead he flung it violently to the ground as Michael looking worried joined them.

 

“What’s up?” asked Michael

 

“What’s up? What’s up? He’s only got himself seen by Seamus.”

 

Michael looked at Martin with more pity than anger. Then turning to Ted, his voice quivering in near panic, he urged, “Let’s go. We can’t hang around here any longer. We’re too near the barracks.”

 

“I’m going this way.” Resolutely Martin set off again. “I’m going home.”

 

Ted followed him and again grabbed his arm. “Martin! You can’t do this to us.”

 

“I’m going home,” insisted Martin, struggling to free himself from Ted’s grip.

 

“All right,” agreed Ted. “But, the way we’re going is shorter.”

 

Martin hesitated. He no longer trusted Ted.

 

“Come on. We’ll show you the best way.” Urged Ted.

Reluctantly, Martin followed.

 

No more was said. They quickly set off again along the route chosen by Ted. Ted led the way, in places battling through thick undergrowth. Martin, then beginning to understand the need to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the barracks, kept up with the others. He wasted no more time asking questions. However, he fully intended to leave the others as soon as he reached a road that led back to the town. From there he knew his way home.

 

In his naivety, Martin did not realise the seriousness of the position he was in. He understood the enormity of the deed carried out by Ted and Michael. However he didn’t see himself as part of that operation. He still saw himself as an outsider looking on, which, in reality, that was what he was. Getting home was uppermost in his mind. And as they scrambled along he was becoming increasingly worried about that. There were only a few hours of daylight left. He couldn’t possibly make it before it got dark. However, as there was a full moon, if only he could make it to the road he was familiar with, before dark he’d be OK. But, that was on the other side of town.

 

That, of course, was never to be. Never again would Martin set foot on that road. Deep down he must have been aware of the gravity of his position. However, as he trudged along behind Ted and Michael, any thought of anything other than going home that evening was unthinkable.

 

After about an hour, to Martin’s relief, they finally reached a road. “This road must go into the town,” pronounced Martin hopefully.

 

Ted and Michael turned to face Martin, both gravely shaking their heads. Martin could see that what they were about to say was more serious than information on the road. Looking him in the eye, Ted informed him solemnly. “Martin you can’t go home tonight.” He could have added, Martin thought later, or any other night. But, Ted left it at that, watching for Martin’s reaction.

 

Martin, not unexpectedly, was outraged. “Of course I’m going home tonight,” he retorted angrily. “Where else would I go?”

 

“Don’t worry about that. We know where you can stay.” Clearly, it was something Ted and Michael had already discussed. But, Martin was having none of it.

 

“I’m going home and that’s that.”

 

“Martin, if you go home, the soldiers will be waiting for you. They’ll pick you up long before you reach your house.”

 

“I’ll take my chances.”

 

“Martin, they know you. You were seen.”

 

“Seamus might not tell.”

 

“Of course he’ll tell: he can’t not tell.”

 

“But, I have to go home.”

 

“Martin, you’re putting all our lives at risk.”

 

“I wouldn’t tell on you.”

 

“Martin, you don’t know those soldiers. They’d make you.”

 

It was just until things blew over, he was told. His stay at Michael’s house would be short. Then he could go home. If Martin thought for a minute that he would never see his family again, there would have been no question of him agreeing to it, whatever the danger. He firmly believed that within days, at the most, he would be back with his family.

 

“You just need to lie low for a few days,” was what Ted said. “Until we get news that it is safe for you to go home.

 

“Lie low! Where can I do that?”

 

“You can stay at Michael’s house. It’s not far away.”

 

Martin looked doubtfully at Michael who was nodding in agreement. No doubt, Michael had already given it some thought. “There’s a room there, going spare,” he said. “There’s only myself and my mother. We’ll be glad of the company.”

 

“Your Mother. What will she say?”

 

It was Ted that answered. “Don’t worry. She’s a nice woman.” Then turning to Michael, “Don’t ye often have a man staying?”

 

“Indeed we do. When we can get one. There’s too much work on the farm for the two of us. We had a man up to last week, but he’s gone to England. He said he he’ll get more money there than we can afford to pay him.”

 

“There you are,” says Ted. “a job and all.”

Martin shook his head. “I don’t want a job. I’ve plenty work at home.”

 

“Sure, we know that. We’re only trying to keep you safe, and there’s no where safer than Michael’s farm. Hardly anyone ever comes near it.”

 

“What about the army?”

 

“No one knows Michael’s involved. You’ll be dead safe there.”

 

In other circumstances Martin would have enjoyed his stay at Michael’s farm. He had a comfortable bed and Michael’s mother fed him well.

Of course, she was not aware of his reason for being there. She thought he came to work on the farm.

 

“It will be best,” said Michael, as they approached the house that evening, “if I tell my mother that you’ve come to work for us. That‘ll stop her asking awkward questions.” Martin just nodded. He was past arguing. He was in Michael’s hands then. He had, eventually, to the relief of the others, agreed to stay, “for a day or two,” at Michael’s farm.

 

“I think we’ll give you a new name as well,” said Michael. “When my mother goes into the town, She might be telling people about the new man she has working for her. What about Jim? Jim Cassidy.

 

Martin again just nodded. Then, looking at him, Michael added, “You could add a few years to your age too.”

 

Before they entered the house, Michael stopped and, seemingly unsure that Martin had understood, him asked, “What’s your name?”

 

“Jim Cassidy.”

 

“And how old are you?”

 

“Eighteen.”

 

Michael smiled. “You’ll do,” he said.

 

Michael’s mother was friendly and made him welcome. Also she seemed pleased with his work and he gave no indication that he was unhappy. But, he was never one to show his feelings. In reality he hated every minute of it. He couldn’t wait to get away and get back with his own family. His mother, he knew would be worried sick. Ted promised to get a message to her, assuring her that Martin was O K. But Martin was not convinced that it would happen.

 

Martin’s way of coping was to throw himself into the work. It would have been interesting work in other circumstances. It was a mixed farm, like his own, but much larger and the land was richer. He had often wondered what such a farm was like. Then, however, his only concern was getting away from it. What kept him going for the first few days was the belief that his stay would be a short one.

 

It was on the third day that the life shattering news came. About noon, martin was assisting Michael cleaning out the cow-house, when Ted appeared at the open door. For a brief moment, Martin, hoping for news that he could go home, was pleased to see him. But, his hope was immediately dashed.

 

Looking deadly serious, Ted put his finger to his closed lips. Then he nervously looked round before closing the door. “Where’s your mother,”

he asked Michael in a low voice.

 

“She’s in the house making dinner.”

“It’s best if she don’t see me,” Ted was clearly worried. Michael was puzzled. His mother didn’t trust Ted and had previously made it clear that he was not welcome on the farm, but that wouldn’t normally bother Ted.

 

“I’m afraid I’ve brought bad news. Jimmy Casey is dead.” Ted looked for reaction from one face to the other. They were both simply stunned. No elaboration was necessary. Nevertheless, to clear any lingering doubts, Ted continued. “The man who was in the barracks.”

 

Michael nodded. He must have been half expected it, although that made the news no less devastating. For Martin, it was the outcome that, up to then, he couldn’t bear to contemplate. Both had their worst fears confirmed. For a time nothing more was said. All three just stood motionless, Michael and Martin absorbing what they had just heard. At last Michael broke the uneasy silence. “Ted,” he asked, fearfully, “what’ll we do?”

 

Ted clearly, had already given his answer some thought. “Don’t do anything different,” he said. “Just carry on as before. Only go into the town if you have to. Don’t let on to your mother or anyone else that you know about this. If anyone mentions it act surprised.”

 

“Don’t worry Martin. We’ll look after you.”

 

Although Martin made no reply, Ted knew that his reassurance was less than convincing. The fear in Martin’s eyes was enough.

 

“We must keep calm,” continued Ted. Clearly, in that respect, it was Martin that mainly concerned him. It was vital that no one panicked. All of their fates depended on it. And it was Martin who was the least predictable.

 

It was martin that was probably- at that stage, no one could be sure- wanted by the law, such as it was. It was a time when justice was rough, swift, and brutal. No mercy could be expected, especially for killing a soldier. If caught, even at his young age, it was unlikely that Martin would get away with his life. And, no doubt, however unwillingly, he would also bring the others down with him.

 

Whatever plan they came up with, therefore, relied, crucially, on Martin’s co-operation. Ted knew that Martin must be fully aware of the seriousness of his position, yet not be so frightened as to become panicky.

 

Ted repeated his reassurance, trying to show as much conviction as possible. “Martin you’ve no need to worry. We’ll keep you safe.” “But”, he continued, “You have to realise that this is a dangerous time. We never meant this to happen. But, a man is dead, and you were seen at the place where it happened. So, it’s likely they’ll be after you. But, they won’t get you. We’ll make sure of that.”

 

Ted watched, anxiously for Martin’s reaction. He needn’t have worried. Martin still felt numb. From then on, he became docile and compliant, accepting, without question, that his fate was in the hands of others.

 

Next morning Martin was put an early train to Dublin; the boat train.

“You’re not safe in this country any more,” he was told. He left the farm before Michael’s mother got out of bed. “It’s best if she don’t see you,” whispered Michael. “I’ll explain to her later.”

 

Michael carried the suitcase, which he’d helped pack the night before: the suitcase, which Michael had presented to Martin only three mornings earlier. Before martin had got out of bed on his very first morning, Michael carried the case into his room and placed it on the floor by his bed. “This case is yours,” me informed Martin, keeping his voice low so his mother didn’t hear. “If you didn’t have one, she’d want to know why.” Michael opened the case, which had seen better days. “I think these clothes will fit you. They’ll do for working here.” The case was full of old clothes, which did fit Martin, more or less.

 

“There are couple pairs of boots there as well. What size do you take?”

 

“Nine.”

 

“There’s a pair of nines and a pair of tens there.”

 

Three days later Martins stay was over. Michael didn’t leave the farm. Another man, with a pony and trap, met them at the farm gate and took Martin to the station.

 

All the stops were pulled out to get Martin safely out of the country. He was accompanied all the way to the boat. On the train journey, the man escorting him, who he only knew as John, gave him advice on where to go and what to do when got to the other side. Soon all that would be forgotten, he was told: but, in the meantime how he behaved was vital. He was told not to use his own name and to say he was a few years older than he was. His youth was taken away from him.

 

Martin was given an address in Manchester of a man who he was told would help him. Also he was given some money, “to tide him over until he got some work.”

 

All that happened over forty years ago, he thought, and here he was, still in cheap digs. Still looking over his shoulder.

 

There was a knock on his bedroom door, and a shout. “Martin. They’re boiled.” It was Mick.

 

“Thank you,” Martin replied, without much enthusiasm. He felt weary, more tired than hungry. He looked at his pillow. To lay his head down and sleep was the more inviting option. Nevertheless he resisted the urge, but decided to wait another few minutes. If the food were already on the table the pressure to make conversation would be reduced

.

.

Chapter 7. Decision time.

 

Tuesday morning Martin had breakfast with his fellow lodgers as usual. With no job to go to he could have stayed in bed longer, but he was always an early riser. Even on Sundays when he was not working he always got up early. Although sleep had been patchy he was feeling much better that morning. His mind was made up. He knew what he had to do.

 

Conversation that time of the morning is kept to a minimum. He got some curious glances, but no one asked Martin what his plans for the day were. It was common knowledge that he’d lost his job and how he lost it. Although all were sympathetic with Martins position the subject was too touchy for that time of the morning. However, dressed in his Sunday best, as he was, it seemed unlikely that job hunting was on his agenda for the day.

 

They all left for their various jobs. Jimmy, as usual, was last out, leaving Martin alone at the table: he was hanging on to have a word with Mary.

 

Feeling a draught, he turned round to see Jimmy holding the door open and talking quietly to the cat. “Pussy, pussy, come on pussy.” He must be going soft thought Martin. Jimmy never has time in the morning to bother about the cat.

 

After ushering the cat in with his boot, Jimmy quickly closed the door and left. Only then did Martin realise that Jimmy was up to his mischief again. The cat was holding a big dead mouse with his mouth.

 

Although feeling better, Martin had no wish for the drama, which Jimmy had clearly engineered. He rushed and opened the door in an attempt to get the cat, and mouse, out again before Mary saw it.

 

He was too late. Mary entered the room just as the cat, looking pleased with its action, proudly put the mouse down in the middle of the floor. Mary screamed and swung the brush at the cat. The cat scrammed through the open door, leaving the dead mouse behind.

 

“That bloody cat,” exclaimed Mary. “That’s it now. Henry’s will have to get rid of it. I don’t know why he brought it here in the first place.”

 

“It was a stray. I think it just wandered in.”

 

“I, and Henry took to it, buying it cat meat and all that. No wonder it

won’t go away. Well this is the last straw. It’s the second time it’s brought a mouse in the house.” Mary wrapped the dead mouse in newspaper, being careful not to touch it with her hands. “If the food inspector saw it, he’d shut us down.” Holding it at arms length she took the dead mouse out to the dustbin. “I wonder what excuse he’ll have this time,” she said after disposing of the dead mouse.

 

Martin smiled behind Mary’s back. He was remembering the last time the cat brought a mouse in the house. It was a Friday evening. It must have happened shortly before Martin got in from work. As he entered the house he could hear raised voices in the living room. Normally he would go straight upstairs for a wash. But, amused he stayed in the hall for a while listening.

 

Henry was claiming that, being a good Catholic cat; it couldn’t eat the mouse on a Friday. “It was saving it for Saturday,” he said. It sounded like Henry was giving no indication that he wasn’t deadly serious.

 

If it was a joke Mary certainly didn’t get it. “Well let him save it somewhere else,” she shouted angrily. “Not in my house.”

 

Then Mick, siding with Henry stuck his oar in. “If the mouse is left outside,” he said. “Some other Protestant cat will come and eat it.”

 

“Just bloody get rid of it,” screamed Mary. The kitchen door slammed. Martin quietly climbed the stairs.

 

 

“Today is Tuesday,” said Mary. “He can’t use that excuse this time.”

 

Martin shook his head, wondering if she was serious. “But, you know,” he said, struggling to keep a straight face. “Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. Maybe the cat just got the day wrong.”

 

“Martin, I’m surprised at you.” Mary looked shocked. “You’re as bad as the rest of them. That’s blasphemy you know. I’ve a good mind to tell the priest about the lot o’ you”.

 

Mary left the room. Martin decided that the time was not right for the conversation he had planned to have with her. He opted for an early morning walk instead. Not that he needed either the fresh air or the exercise; he got plenty of both. It would be just pleasant, he thought, to have a long walk while he gave some more thought to what he planned to do. However, although he was wearing his heavy coat and scarf, the biting February wind was worse than he had expected. Approaching the church, after about twenty minutes walking, he noticed people, mostly elderly, entering. Morning Mass was about to begin. Martin made the sign of the cross as he passed the church. Then cold raindrops on his face caused him to stop. He returned to the church and entered, just in time for Mass. It would do him no harm, he thought, even if it were the shelter that the church offered, that was his main reason for attending.

 

When Mass was over Martin remained in the pew after all the people left. He assumed they would be chatting outside for a while and he had no wish to join them. He didn’t know any of them, really; some he’d seen on Sunday mornings, but he didn’t know them. It was his first time at morning Mass. For that reason, however, someone, feeling obliged to make Martin welcome, might introduce himself, and that was the last thing Martin wished. He had planned to leave before the end. However, deep in thought, not all prayerful ones, he noticed the people leave before he realised it was over.

 

“Martin, I’m glad you’re still here. I thought I’d missed you.” Father Downey had entered the church by the rear door. He looked relieved to see Martin. It was because he’d spotted Martin in the pew, that he’d hurried to get to the door in time to shake the hands of the people as they left the church. He didn’t manage it every morning. But, when Martin was not amongst them, he feared he’d missed him: that Martin had left before the end of Mass. Sometimes, he knew, strangers, not wishing to talk to people, did that.

 

Not that Martin was a stranger. It was only the previous Saturday that they had a chat. That, Martin knew, was the reason the priest wished to talk to him again.

 

The priest sat in the pew next to Martin, making Martin feel slightly uncomfortable. Sympathetically the priest asked, “How are you feeling this morning Martin?”

 

“All right father.” Martin sounded irritated, barely glancing at the priest. Sympathy was not doing it for Martin and the priest soon came to realise that. In a more everyday voice he informed him. “I have a bit of news for you.” Martin looked more interested as the priest continued. “I was in the hospital to see Michael O’Malley yesterday afternoon. He was much better.”

 

“That’s good father.”

 

“Do you still feel responsible?” Martin made no reply as the priest continued. “You know, you shouldn’t blame your self in any way. It’s the person, or persons, that did the deed that’s responsible: not you”.

 

Martin was still silent. Then the priest turned to him. “Martin have you had any breakfast?” He asked.

 

“Yes father I had my breakfast.”

 

“Ah well. I was going to ask you to join me. But anyway come round to the presbytery and have a cup of tea.

 

Martin immediately brushed the invitation aside. “No. No father. I couldn’t be bothering you.”

 

“No bother. No bother at all. I have a bit of spare time this morning, unless, of course, you have something more pressing to do”.

 

Put like that Martin could think of no good reason for refusing. And the sound of rain on the stained glass window ruled out any more unnecessary walking.

 

It was Martin’s second visit to the presbytery in a few days. This time, however, he was more relaxed. He was put in a comfortable chair, and Father Downey made every effort to make him feel at home. “I’m just having a boiled egg and some toast,” said the priest. “Are you sure you wont join me?”

 

“No thanks father. Just a cup of tea.”

 

“Ok then. I wont be long. Have a smoke if you wish.”

 

The Priest disappeared into the kitchen. Left alone, Martin, thanks to the priest’s efforts, felt sufficiently at ease to get his pipe out.

Then, seeing the religious images on the walls, the crucifix and other objects, he thought better of it and put the pipe back in his pocket. Smoking seemed disrespectful in such a place.

That said, the room was warm and cosy: warmed by the coal fire, which Martin sat facing, although the just added coal by the priest had temporarily suppressed its glow. Also, in front of the fire was a comfortable looking settee. By the window were a small dinning table and a couple of chairs. In the corner there was a writing desk. The room was clearly the priest’s office as well as his living/dining room.

 

Martin thought about why he was there. The priest was clearly concerned about him and would be asking about his future plans. Martin wondered about how much he could tell: clearly not all. His mind was made up. He knew what he had to do. He didn’t need anyone trying to talk him out of it.

 

“Strong with one sugar.” The priest remembered how Martin liked his tea. He placed the tea on a little table, which he pulled to the side of Martin’s chair: also a plate of biscuits. “Have a biscuit at least while I have my breakfast,” he said. “And how are the happy couple?”

 

Happy, Martin thought, didn’t seem like the right word. Mary seemed slightly less happy that morning. But mainly nothing had changed. In fact, that morning, Martin had forgotten all about her changed status. Being a married woman seemed to make very little difference to her. And, ask for Paddy, there was no sign of him. Martin assumed he was still in bed. But, there was no need to go into detail. The priest was only making small talk, while he got on to what was really on his mind.

 

“They’re all right,” replied Martin.

 

“That’s good.” The priest then went straight to what was really on his mind. “I don’t suppose you took my advice about going to the police?” he asked

 

Staring into the fire, Martin just shook his head.

 

“Well, never mind. I didn’t think you would.”

 

Martin’s continuing silence got the priest slightly concerned. “Don’t worry Martin,” he said. “I don’t wish to pry. I’m sure you have your reasons.”

 

Martin, however, felt the priest deserved some explanation. “Maybe I got it wrong,” he said. “I have to be sure before starting talking to the police.”

 

“Yes, I agree, of course. But, you seemed very sure when you talked to me on Saturday. Has something happened to make you change your mind?”

 

“No Father. Not recently anyway. But I’ve been going over it a lot in my mind. There is something else that I haven’t told you about: something that happened one evening not long before I left Birmingham. Something that makes me think that I could be blaming the wrong people. Or maybe they’re not as much to blame as I always thought they were”.

 

“Would you like to talk about it?”

 

Martin nodded. “It’s a long story,” he said

 

“Well I have the time if you have.” The priest left the table and sat on the settee next to Martin, as Martin commenced his story.

***

 

 

 

It all started a few years earlier, when Martin lived in Birmingham. He finished work earlier than usual that evening. On his way home from work he called for a pint, or maybe two, in his favourite pub, the antelope. It was early evening and he was the only customer. That was how he liked it. He took his pint to the table, which was furthest from to bar, where he felt he was least likely to be disturbed. There, alone, he could enjoy his pint and his pipe. He was happy with his own company.

 

When the two youths entered with their leaflets he just wished they’d keep away from him. He had come across them, or their mates, previously: he recognised the badges. Stop immigration the badges said. He had seen them on the street corner handing out their leaflets, trying to stir up anti- immigrant feelings. They called themselves the angry whites, one of a number of anti-immigration groups that had, worryingly, grown in popularity among working class Brummies in recent years.

 

Martin was surprised to see them in that pub, an Irish pub. Although they claimed to have no problem with Irish immigration, they didn’t normally target Irish people. Was it a sign that they were growing in confidence? At that stage they were probably just testing the water. No doubt wary of the reception they’d get, they came in when they expected the pub to be empty. Probably they intended to place some leaflets on the tables and leave before any customers arrived.

 

Seeing Martin they seemed slightly taken aback. Nevertheless, one of them approached him saying, “Here you are Paddy. Have a read of that.” as he handed him a leaflet.

 

Martin was used to being called Paddy and he didn’t mind at all. It was just people telling him that they knew he was an Irishman, and he wouldn’t ever deny that. Not that he could, even if he did wish to. Without speaking a word his typical Irish face gave his nationality away.

 

That time, however, the condescending way it was said annoyed him. Also his peace was disturbed. The young man pulled up a stool and sat opposite him, encroaching on his space, while waiting for Martin’s verdict on the leaflet.

 

Trying not to show his anger, Martin looked at the leaflet. Stop Immigration was the headline. They’re winding me up he thought, but I won’t react. I wont give them that satisfaction. Looking disinterested, rather than angry, annoyingly for the man opposite, he threw the leaflet on the table without reading any more.

 

Martin concentrated on his pipe, ignoring the man across the table, for which the blinding puffs of smoke conveyed Martin’s opinion clearer than any words. Coughing and waving the smoke away from his face with his hand, the man rose from his stool and stepped back, while Martin, barely concealing his amusement, observed him through the barrier of smoke.

 

He got the message. “Come on; let’s go” he said to the other young man who had then finished placing leaflets on each table.

 

“I, and take your rubbish with you.” Brendan, the landlord spoke from behind the bar. Taken aback, the leafleters stopped briefly. It was the first time they’d seen the landlord. Then they recommenced walking towards the door, ignoring the instruction.

 

But, before they reached the door, they found their exit blocked. For such a big man, probably close on twenty stones, Brendan was an extremely fast mover. There was no need to repeat the instruction; just a slight motion of his head and the two men immediately set about collecting the leaflets of the tables.

Brendan opened the door for them as they hurried to leave. Then, looking towards Martin, he changed his mind. “You missed one”, he grunted, still blocking their exit and pointing towards Martin who was holding a leaflet at arms length as though it was contaminated with something horrible. The young man moved quickly and angrily snatched the leaflet from Martins hand. Martin, without looking, from the side of his mouth, sent another puff of smoke in the man’s direction, as the landlord stepped aside and allowed them to leave.

 

“Good on you Michael. You smoked him out.” Martin hadn’t noticed Brendan approach from the side. He was again deep in thought and didn’t immediately respond. The name ‘Michael’ didn’t always register as being his, although it was the name he was known as for a number of years. “You gave him your answer without saying a word,” continued the landlord.

 

Martin laid his pipe carefully on the table. “They were very upset,” he said. “I hope they don’t come back and do damage to your pub or something: maybe bring their mates.”

 

“I don’t think so. I feel sorry for them in a way. They’re being led astray. Sure they’re only kids. I think I know one of them. I couldn’t be sure, but I think he’s one of the Caseys. You didn’t recognise him yourself? I thought he was looking at you as if he knew you.”

 

“No. Not that I took much notice.”

 

“Did you read the leaflet?”

 

“I read enough.”

 

“I don’t think they realised the significance of giving it to you. They have a lot to learn.”

 

“I thought they were winding me up.”

“I. Stop immigration. Sure weren’t you in this country before they were born?”

 

“Indeed I was. And yourself.”

 

Brendan went on to explain. “They are a fairly new group, he said. “They hold their meetings in the Queen’s. I know the landlord there. He’s not too keen on them, but he let’s them carry on. The Angry Whites they call themselves they say they have no problem with the Irish, or that’s what the say when they’re talking to the likes of you and me. But, believe me, that’s not true. A couple of them called in here last week; not that pair, a different pair. They seem to keep in pairs.”

 

“It was early evening; about this time. It seemed like they just came in for a drink. They had no leaflets with them or anything like that. But, I think they were sounding me out. It’s just blacks they are against they said. They want to send them all back. They got a bit annoyed when I didn’t agree with them. The Irish are white, so they are all right. They gave me the usual shite, you know, some of their best friends are Irish. When I mentioned their involvement in anti-Irish demonstrations, they said it was just the I R A they are against. They hate the I R A. That probably comes from their connections with the ‘Orange’ groups in the north.

 

“Did you say he’s called Casey?”

 

“I, if I’m on the right one, and I’m fairly sure I am, because they all look alike. He’s the youngest of a big family. A couple of the older brothers come in here sometimes: nice lads. I’ll have a word with one of them when I get the chance: warn him about the crowd his brother is getting mixed up with. I know the Father well, Dom. I worked with him a few years ago for Murphy’s: a decent hard-working man. I hardly ever see him now. He moved up to Shirley. But, the sons are living around here.

***

 

 

 

 

Martin stopped and drank the last of his tea. The priest noticed.

 

“Will you have another cup of tea Martin?”

 

“Yes Father I’d love one.” Martin was fond of his tea.

 

The priest took the two mugs into the kitchen, leaving Martin to contemplate what he’d just told him. “You know Father,” he said, when the priest returned with two fresh mugs of tea, “When I think about it, maybe that lad did recognise me.”

 

“What makes you say that?”

 

“Well, something happened a couple weeks earlier that makes me wonder.”

 

“Go on.” The priest settled down again with his tea, as Martin told of that embarrassing incident. So embarrassing was it that he had tried to put it out of his mind; to pretend it never happened.

***

 

 

 

 

“Martin Prendergast!”

 

Martin was momentarily stunned. He could hardly believe it. He had always known that sooner or later someone would recognise him. But, not like that. So public; his real name shouted out from across the street. The group of men he was with stopped chatting. The man rushing towards him excitedly waving his arms to attract Martins attention repeated the name, “Martin, Martin Prendergast.”

 

It was Sunday morning outside the English Martyrs church in Sparkhill. Mass was just over. It was usual for groups of men, or women, to hang around for a while chatting after Mass. Martin had got to know those men quite well and enjoyed their short get-together every week. But, they all knew him as Michael, Michael O’Malley.

 

The men looked from one to the other, puzzled as to who the man was addressing. On the spot, Martin simply stared at him, unsure of what to do.

He recognised the man all right, but, at first, tried to conceal the fact. Stumped and embarrassed, he took the man’s extended hand, while shaking his head.

 

“You must remember me,” said the man. “Michael Ruane.” Martin still shook his head. But, he was never going to get away with it. The man was not giving up. “The open cast job,” he prompted.

 

Martin could no longer deny it. Realizing that the man was not going away he at last acknowledged him. “Oh, yes, of course, the open cast, Michael Ruane. How are you doing?”

 

“I’m fine. And you’re looking well yourself. Sure I needn’t ask how you are.”

 

Seeing Martin’s embarrassment, John Murphy placed a hand on Martin’s shoulder. “Michael I have to go,” he said. The other men in the group took the cue, and all promptly moved away.

 

Chapter 8. Back to Brum.

 

Martin suddenly stopped, as he was about to enter the train. Was it his imagination? Or was one of the two youths entering the same train further down the platform the one he’d seen outside his lodging house a few weeks back? The resemblance he thought was uncanny and it was the Birmingham train. However, opening the door, he dismissed the thought. It was too much of a coincidence, and a week had passed since the incidence he suspected the youth was responsible for. Surely he wouldn’t hang around that long. You’re becoming paranoid he told himself as he took his seat.

***

 

 

 

“Well; did you get the paper,” asked Tommy excitedly, as he followed Alan into the train.

 

“Yes.” Alan turned and hissed angrily, “Just keep your voice down.” He then proceeded quickly along the corridor, followed by a rather apprehensive Tommy.

 

No more was said until they entered a compartment. Then, after closing the door, Tommy ventured, “What’s the matter? Is it not in?”

 

“Oh; it’s in alright.” Alan handed the folded newspaper to Tommy, before throwing himself on the seat. Tommy sat opposite him. They were the only occupants of the compartment. The rush period was over.

 

“What’s wrong with it?” Tommy unfolded the newspaper on his lap.

 

By way of answering, Alan indicated that Tommy turn over the page. “Middle of the page,” he said

 

Spotting the relevant news item Tommy smiled. “Hurrah,” he cheered after reading it, further irritating Alan.

 

“Shush; I’m warning you. Keep your voice down.

 

“No one can hear us. What’s wrong with you? You’re in a terrible mood. Was the journey bad?”

 

“I’ll say. Three hours on crowded busses, just to get a newspaper.” It was Friday, the day the local weekly first appears in the newsagents. Alan had travelled back almost to the scene of the crime. Not that they saw it as a crime. On the contrary: it was long overdue justice. However, after reading the news report, Alan was less sure.

 

“Well; you can relax now. I like these corridor trains. This is civilised travelling.”

 

The compartment door opening interrupted them. An Asian man entered. Passing the newspaper to Alan, Tommy jumped to his feet. “Excuse me,” he said. “This compartment is occupied.” The man looked at the empty seats, then at Tommy. For a moment it seemed he was about to argue. Then, seemingly rising above it, he shrugged. “Sorry,” he said and left.

 

Tommy laughed. Alan just shook his head “You’re a cheeky sod,” said Alan.

 

“Well I’m not sharing a carriage with a Paki, We’d stink of garlic all day. Like I was saying, this is civilised travelling. Let’s keep it that way. Here, I got you a ‘sannie.’ You must be starving”

 

“Thank you.” Alan took the sandwich but didn’t unwrap it, puzzling Tommy. Then, studying Alan’s worried face, Tommy said, “there’s something you’re not telling me.”

 

“The man might die.”

 

“No he won’t. He wasn’t hurt that bad.”

 

“ Have you read what it says in the paper.”

 

“Yes. Here; pass me the paper. Let’s have another look. Tommy reread the report

 

“Elderly Irishman, Michael O’Malley, was taken to

hospital on Friday evening with severe head injuries.

He was found unconscious in a dark alley near his

home in Broadfield. Police, who are appealing for

witnesses, said there appeared to be no motive for the

attack. The hospital reported his condition to be serious.”

“Serious it says. That doesn’t mean he’ll die.”

 

“He might though. It’s a good job I pulled you off when I did, or it would definitely be murder.”

 

“Stop worrying. This is exactly what we need. Big Dave said bring back proof. Well there it is; all the proof we need. I bet he never thought we’d do it.”

 

“You just went too far.”

 

“I had to. Anything less wouldn’t be in the paper. Look how small that piece is.” Alan made no reply and Tommy continued. “Anyway, if he does die, no one will suspect us. We got clean away.”

 

“Yes, luck was on our side.”

 

“Luck?”

“Yes. It was lucky that the party was on in that club that night. No one took any notice of us. It was too crowded and they were too busy singing their Paddy songs. It was a stroke of luck him leaving early too. We were on the bus and probably well on the way back to Manchester when he was found.”

 

“Luck or not, we did the job. We’ve earned our money. When do we collect the rest of it?”

 

“I’ll see big Dave tonight.”

 

“Did he say he’d have the money for you tonight?”

 

“No, but you have to be careful about what you say on the phone. Don’t worry. We’ll get it.”

 

“Where do you think the money comes from?”

 

“I don’t know. I was told not to ask that question. It’s best left like that.”

 

“I was told it comes from Ireland.”

 

“Maybe, who knows? Big Dave doesn’t know. It comes in an envelope and the person that brings it, I’m told, doesn’t know where it comes from.”

 

“Like the envelope we had to deliver. Do you think he ever got that letter?

 

“Yes, I trusted that man, and he was right about him being in the club that Friday evening. That was another stroke of luck we had.”

 

“Why do you think he pretended not to know what we were talking about when we asked him about it?”

 

“I don’t know. But, the important thing is that he answered to the name Michael O’Malley. There was no doubt then that we got the right man.”

 

“There never was any doubt. Was there?”

 

“No, But, we had to be doubly sure, especially with him not being at the address we were given.”

 

“That sour faced woman that came to the door wouldn’t tell you anything. I could have smashed her ugly face. But then that nice man came along and told us everything we needed to know.”

 

“And the absolute proof is here.” Tommy folded the newspaper and handed it back to Alan.

***

 

 

 

“Hello Michael. You’re welcome back.” Brendan was clearly pleasantly surprised. He held out a welcoming hand. “Are you back to stay with us?”

 

“No.” Martin took the hand. “Just for the weekend. I have a bit of business to do.”

 

“Well, it’s good to see you. The usual is it?” Brendan took a pint glass to the Guinness pump.

 

“Yes please.” Before settling on the bar stool, Martin took a pound note out of his pocket.

 

Brendan glanced up from watching the flow of Guinness. “Put that away,” he said. “This one’s on me. I’m just delighted to see you, as a lot of others will be if you stay a while. Are you fixed up with somewhere to stay?”

 

“Yes. I’m staying up in Sparkhill, where I stayed before.” Martin had a drink of his Guinness. He needed it. “Brendan,” he said. “I have something to ask you.”

 

“Yes,” said Brendan attentively

 

“I need an address; Dom Casey’s.”

 

Brendan hesitated before answering; maybe waiting for elaboration, thought Martin. Martin however didn’t feel he could say any more.

 

Eventually Brendan answered. “I don’t know it off hand. But, his son Paddy often calls in after work for a drink, especially on a Friday. In fact he should be in any time now.” Brendan looked at the clock on the wall. “He’ll tell you.”

 

Martin was disappointed with the reply. He was confident that Brendan would know the address. Maybe he did, thought Martin, but didn’t wish to reveal it. Martin had no wish to explain himself to the son. After a pause Martin said, “This might seem strange to you, but it’s Dom I need to talk to. I’d sooner not talk to his son.”

 

“Is something wrong?”

 

“No. No. I’m not bringing bad news or anything like that. I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t.”

 

“All right. Don’t worry about it.” Brendan seemed to understand. “Our problem is,” he went on. “Paddy usually sits at the bar, roundabout where you are yourself. But if you don’t want to meet him, I’ll tell you what to do. You go and sit in the singing room before he comes in and I’ll see if I can get the address off Paddy.”

 

“Thank you Brendan.” Martin took his drink into the singing room. Alone in the room, he chose to sit by the wall furthest from the bar and nervously got out his pipe and lit it. He was in a position where he could see Brendan moving about behind the bar.

 

Brendan started to pull a pint. Paddy must have come in thought Martin, but he couldn’t see that side of the bar. Brendan was carrying on a conversation, but Martin was too far away to hear. Brendan sat on the high stool behind the bar still deep conversation. Martin drew hard on his pipe. It did little to ease his anxiety. He sensed he was the topic of the conversation, and he was becoming increasingly doubtful about whether he would get the address he had asked for. Brendan’s glance in his direction, he took as a check that he was out of earshot. Was Brendan asking for Paddy’s permission? or were they planning how to fob him off? In which case he would have no choice but to approach Paddy himself.

 

He finished his pint. He didn’t want another; maybe later; much later. Brendan glanced over at Martin who, in spite of how he felt, must have looked his usual, contented self, quietly smoking his pipe and gazing into space. Seeing the empty glass, Brendan called, “Martin are you all right?”

 

“Yes, thank you.” Martin could have done with another drink. But, what had to be done that evening required him to be as sober as possible. His next move, however very much depended on Brendan getting him the required address. He had almost given up hope when Brendan handed him the note.

***

 

 

 

Martin was feeling increasingly apprehensive as he rechecked the address. 126 Wood St. That was it. It was the right house. A neat little terraced house with a small garden, he was told. He immediately climbed the few steps and knocked on the door with the shiny brass knocker.

 

As he stood on the doorstep, barely aware of the biting cold wind blowing down the street, he could feel his heart racing. He half hoped there would be no reply. Doubts about the wisdom of what he was doing returned. In a moment of panic he considered running away before anyone came to the door. But he immediately banished the thought. There was no going back then. Whatever the outcome, he must go ahead. It was something he should have done many years ago.

 

The door opened and a grey haired, but trim looking lady, probably in her sixties, appeared at the door. “Hello,” she said looking surprised.

 

“Oh; ah, hello.” Martin was not expecting a lady. He always felt awkward in front of women. “Is, is Dom in,” he asked

 

“Yes.” She looked him up and down. “Who are you?” Her tone was less than welcoming.

 

“I’m, I’m Michael O Malley.” Martin had decided to use the name that he was known by in Birmingham; at least initially.

“Oh,” she said as though, Martin thought, the name had slightly startled her, but if so she immediately regained her composure as Martin continued. “I used to know him some time ago.” Martin did know Dom. But he wasn’t sure if Dom knew him. They never had any close dealings. Martin had made sure of that, without, he hoped, Dom’s knowledge. “I’d like a word with him.” The lady’s continued scrutiny was making him more and more uneasy. Then a man shouted from inside the house, “Who is it Peggy?”

 

“He says he’s called Michael O Malley. He wants a word with you.”

 

“Well don’t leave him stood there. Tell him to come in.”

 

“You’d better come in.”

 

“Thank you mam.” Martin followed her into the small but cosy living room.

 

“Come in. You must be famished.” Dom had got to his feet, albeit with some difficulty. Whether he recognised him or not, unlike Peggy, clearly Dom had no qualms about admitting Martin to his house. He held out his hand: a friendly welcoming hand.

 

Feeling slightly guilty Martin took the hand. “I don’t know if you know me.”

 

“I do, but it’s a good few years since I saw you. Take off your coat and sit down.” Dom indicated an empty chair.

 

“Here, let me take your coat.” Peggy’s voice had softened. Apparently satisfied that the men knew each other., her attitude towards Martin had clearly changed. On returning from putting the coat away, she asked, “Will you have a cup of tea Michael.”

 

“Thank you mam. Just one sugar.”

 

In total contrast to what he had expected Martin was enjoying the hospitality of this nice friendly couple. After being out in the cold, the room, heated by the coal fire was so warm and welcoming as was Dom, and also Peggy after her initial suspicions. Martin sat on the chair by the side of the fire almost facing Dom, who was on the settee in front of the fire.

 

Dom was older and frailer than Martin had expected and suddenly a worrying thought occurred to him. The effect on himself of any reaction to his revelations, he was prepared for. But, what he hadn’t thought of up to that moment was the effect it might have on Dom.

 

However, it was not a time for second thoughts. He had come such a long way to get here. Although, some of what he had to say would be too upsetting and would be best left unsaid, the rest had to be got off his chest.

 

“Have you been away,” asked Dom. “I haven’t seen you for a long time. Not that I get out much these days.”

 

“I, I was working up in the north of England for the last year.” Martin appreciated not being rushed into telling the reason for his visit. Although, the question must be uppermost on Dom’s mind.

 

Peggy returned carrying a tray, “Michael,” she said “Will you pull that little table over in front of the settee.” Martin did as asked and Peggy placed the tray holding three mugs of tea and a plate of biscuits on the table. “Help yourselves to the biscuits,” she said, as she settled down next to Dom.

 

“Thank you mam.” Martin cleared his throat before continuing. “I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here.”

 

“I,” responded Dom. “You must have something important to tell us for you to make this journey.”

 

“Yes; it’s important to me that I tell it. I just hope it won’t be too upsetting for you.”

 

“I’m sure you wouldn’t be upsetting us deliberately. I’ve always thought of you as a decent man.”

 

“Well you might change your mind about that when you hear what I have to say.”

 

“Come on. Let’s hear it. I’m sure it’s not that bad.”

 

“First of all, let me tell you my name is not Michael O Malley.” Martin watched their faces. They both just nodded. Then he braced himself as he continued. “My real name is Martin Prendergast.” It was the name Dom must have hated for such a long time: the name, he felt, the mere mention of in this house would be the cause of horror and outrage. Instead, nothing: the couple, again just nodded their heads. Thinking that they must not have heard him properly, Martin repeated the name, “Martin Prendergast.” Still there was no reaction. Not even a raised eyebrow. Martin paused, puzzled by the calm dispassionate acceptance of his revelation. “Dom,” he asked. “I’ve got this right; haven’t I? It was your brother that was killed at the barracks in Ballaghaderreen many years ago?”

 

“I, our Jimmy God rest him. It was a terrible time.”

 

“And you know who was blamed for it?”

 

“Indeed I do. And for a long time we did blame him, and if we caught him: my brothers and me, God help us, we might have killed him. There was so much hatred then. But, over the years, I came to realise that he couldn’t have done it on his own. Others, older than him, must have been involved. To tell the truth, at his young age, it wasn’t fair to put any of the blame on him. But, we did, because we had to blame someone, and he was the only one we knew was involved. It was easy to get a bad name then.”

 

“We got news lately that he had nothing to do with it. He was at the front of the building at the time, well away from where it happened.

 

Martin was astonished. What he was hearing, although excellent news, was so contrary to what he expected that it was almost unbelievable. Trying to contain his excitement, keeping his voice as calm as he possibly could he asked. “How did you find that out?”

 

“Well, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, it came as no surprise that your mane is Martin Prendergast. You might remember you were called that outside the church over a year ago.”

 

Martin nodded. How could he forget?

 

“Well,” Dom continued, “I wasn’t there, but my son John was: not in your company, but close enough to hear. The name rang a bell, but at the time he couldn’t remember why.

 

“It came back to him later and when we met a few days after, he told me about it. It was the name I had talked about to my family many years ago in connection with,.”. Dom paused. “I think you know what I mean.”

 

Martin nodded. Then Dom looked him in the eye. “Tell me honestly,” he said, “Before we say any more. Did you have anything to do with killing my brother?”

 

“Yes,” replied Martin. “I’ll tell you honestly. That’s what I’m here for. Yes, I did have something to do with it because I was there with the men that did it. But, I only met them that day for the first time in over a year. And, believe me, I had no idea that anyone would be hurt: let alone get killed.”

 

“Yes I believe you.”

 

“Thank you Dom. You’ll never know how much that means to me.”

 

After a pause Dom continued. “You know, when I discovered who you were I didn’t like it at all. It brought back very bad memories: memories about very troubled times. It was years since I told my family about it and how my brother was killed in those times. And, of course your name came into it: it had to. But, it was something we hadn’t talked about for many a year. I thought we had put it all behind us. I hoped we had.

 

Then, when the word got around about who you were, they all started asking questions again, especially young Joe. He was living at home then and he was pestering me every day about it. We didn’t know what to do, if anything. If left to me we’d have done nothing. There was a time when I felt different, but then I believed it should be left in the past: that’s where it belonged. Some of my lads, though, didn’t agree. They thought we should as least confront you. And then there was my brothers; Paddy in London and Joe in Cardiff. I’m not sure about Joe, but I know that Paddy still has strong feelings on the subject. If we told him I don’t know what he’d do.”

 

“The next Sunday afternoon, as many of us as could make it, met at my daughter Theresa’s house. There is a big family of us: four boys and two girls. I think they were all there except young Joe. They asked me to remind them again about that terrible day, especially about your involvement. I told them what I knew, which was, briefly: Seamus Cox and our Jimmy were the only ones in the barracks that day. Seamus who survived reported that he saw you running away.”

 

“It was Theresa who asked some awkward questions of me. She asked if I knew for certain that that was what Seamus reported. I had to admit that I didn’t know for certain, but it was what was widely believed at the time.”

 

“She gave me a rough time over that. ‘It was no more than a rumour that Martin was there; let alone done anything,’ she said. ‘Yet you might have killed him.’

 

“She made me feel ashamed. But, that was how it was, I told her. Justice was rough. It was revenge; not justice. We wanted revenge that much we didn’t stop to think. We had someone to blame and we didn’t give much thought to what evidence there was of his guilt.”

 

“Well, it’s not like that now” she said. She’s a bossy bugger, our Teresa. She made us all listen. She pointed out that the time for revenge was over; if ever there was such a time. So telling my brothers, at that time was a bad idea.”

 

“We talked about whether we should approach you, as it only you and Seamus Cox, as far as we knew, that witnessed what happened that day.

We didn’t think that at that time it was wise to approach you. It would be difficult, we thought, rightly or wrongly, to get the truth out of you. If you were guilty, we didn’t think you would admit it, and if you were innocent we wouldn’t know if you were telling the truth. In any case you moved away, to where we didn’t know, so the option was not there. But we did agree that we should try to get more evidence that you were who we thought you were.”

 

“That just left Seamus Cox. He was the only other person who could help us, and I’d heard nothing of him for over forty years. I knew he cleared off to America soon after that day, but I had no idea where he was then, or even if he was still alive. I thought his brother Tom was still living on the farm in Ireland, but I wasn’t even sure of that.”

 

“Hearing that Theresa said, ‘leave it to me.’ She wasted no time. The next day she sent a letter off to Tom, asking if he knew where his brother was and if it would be possible for her to write to him. We didn’t have much hope, but within a week we got an answer back from Tom, giving the address of his brother in Boston. ‘It’s a long time since I heard from him,’ wrote Tom, ‘But as far as I know he’s still there. Write to him if you wish. You might do better at getting a reply than I do.’

 

“It seemed that he gave her the address without even getting permission from his brother. So, again, we didn’t think there was much chance of a reply, but she wrote anyway.”

 

“About a month later, when we’d almost given up hope, this letter arrived. Peggy,” asked Dom “Will you pass that letter to Martin: the one behind the clock.” Peggy handed Martin the letter. “Take your time now and read it for yourself.”

 

Dear Theresa.

Thank you for your letter. I’m sorry for not answering sooner. But, believe me, since receiving your letter, I’ve thought about little else. No, I don’t think you’re being intrusive in asking that question. Some years ago that’s how I would have felt, but not now. I now know, at last, that I must face up to what happened on that dreadful day in Ballaghaderreen. So I’m glad you asked the question. It’s true it’s upsetting. It was such a dreadful experience. Even now, after over forty years, the nightmares occasionally come back. Of course, not like in the weeks, or months, immediately after. I was in a terrible state then. I used to dread going to sleep for fear of the nightmares.

 

Then, when I got a little better, I just wanted to get as far away as possible. When I got the opportunity to go to America I jumped at it. Here, I’ve tried to put it totally out of my mind. I never talk about it. My family, apart from my wife, don’t even know about it. It’s only since receiving your letter that I have been able to think about it. And now I’m ready to confront my demons, as they say.

 

I have a lot of regrets about what I did and what I didn’t do. You mentioned Martin Prendergast. Well, I’m convinced that he was totally innocent of what he was blamed for. I don’t know what part he played in that terrible deed. But, I’m satisfied that he never meant to hurt anyone. And he probably saved my life.

 

From what I can remember, Ireland was in a terrible state at the time. At a time when we should have been united we were a divided people. And it was so important that we worked together. Instead we were fighting each other. We hated the “Tans” and with good reason. But, when the “tans” left we seemed to turn that hatred on each other. Each side was too ready to blame the other for everything that went wrong.

 

Jimmy and me had been palls for a long time. We both enlisted on the same day. Being young and adventurous, like joining the IRA previously, for us, joining the army was just another adventure. And we were very excited about it: so excited that we didn’t notice that it made us so many enemies.

 

Our sergeant though, was well aware of it. That was the reason he gave for not allowing us into the town on that fateful day. The town, he said, would be full of republicans and us locals might be inviting an attack. We were to be sent away to some other part of the country soon. Also, I suppose, because we were new and inexperienced, we were left behind to guard the barracks.

 

We weren’t happy about it. We wanted to be where the action was. But, in the army you did as you were told; even in that makeshift Free State army.

 

The rest of the men left immediately after dinner. We had instruction to wash and tidy up after them, but there was all afternoon for that. At the kitchen table, we started playing cards. We played cards all afternoon. Then, suddenly we realised that the men would be back soon, and we hadn’t even started to tidy up. In a panic we rushed around putting everything in place. I left Jimmy to finish off while I went to the front to open the gates for the wagons to enter.

 

As I approached the front door, after opening the gates, I heard my name being shouted. “ Seamus, Seamus, don’t go in.” I turned round to see a young lad running towards me furiously waving his arms. He stopped just a few yards from me and repeated the warning, “Seamus don’t go in. It was then that I recognised him, Martin Prendergast. But, before I could say a word he turned and ran back out through the open gateway, leaving me puzzled and confused. I didn’t know what he meant. I considered chasing after him, but decided against it. We were instructed not to leave the barracks.

 

I stood in the doorway for a few minutes wondering what to do. Then I heard a God almighty bang and a scream from Jimmy. I was terrified. I didn’t immediately rush to his aid. Petrified and panicky, I was torn between wanting to run away and knowing that I must go to Jimmy’s aid. Eventually, (after how long, I don’t know) I ventured in. I could see smoke coming from under the kitchen door. I opened the door. Flames were everywhere. Jimmy was lying on the floor just inside the door, but the ferocious heat forced me back out. In a second attempt, on my knees, I got hold of his collar and somehow managed to drag him out to the hall.

 

When I looked at Jimmy, he was an awful sight, which I can’t bear to describe. I was sick on the floor and I think I briefly passed out just as the men arrived.

 

I was barely aware of what happened next. I know we were both taken to hospital, where, sadly, Jimmy died that night.

 

I was told I could go home next day. Physically, I was all right, but mentally I was far from it. I returned to my parent’s home never again to go back in the army.

 

My parents had a rough time with me for a long time. I couldn’t eat. I was having nightmares. I kept seeing jimmy’s face: what was left of it. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. What little talking I did I bitterly regretted after. I should never have told the sergeant about Martin Prendergast. Martin probably saved my life.

 

I agonised over my actions, or lack of then. If I had gone in sooner could I have saved Jimmy’s life? If only I understood what Martin meant and rushed in immediately. But, Martin said, “don’t go in.” I now don’t believe Martin knew that there was anyone else in there. But, Martin got blamed for it all. I owe that man a big apology.

 

I should never have mentioned his name. It was a time when I wasn’t thinking clearly. Stuff, was going round and round in my head, but I couldn’t talk to anyone about it: it was too painful. On the morning that I left the hospital, the sergeant was so persistent, asking the same questions over and over again. “Did I see anyone that shouldn’t be there.” Desperately wanting the questions to stop I gave him Martin’s name, and immediately regretted doing so. I tried to add that Martin couldn’t have been responsible for what happened but he sergeant wasn’t listening. He got a name. That was all he wanted.

Yours, Seamus

 

 

Martin read the letter slowly, intently observed by Dom and Peggy, who were awaiting his opinion on it. Occasionally he nodded his head as in agreement with what he read, but no verbal opinion came. However, there was no mistaking the tears in his eyes as, without comment, he handed the letter back to Peggy.

 

Embarrassed, Martin wiped the tears away with his hand. He didn’t understand what was happening to him. Such a display of emotion was not in his nature. Was it a dream? Even in his wildest dreams he hadn’t considered such an outcome. He was there to plead his innocence. The best he had expected was a fair hearing. But, he was prepared for hostility, even to be ordered out of the house and told never to darken the door again.

 

Eventually, it was Dom who broke the long silence. “Well Martin, what do you make of it?” he asked.

 

Martin, staring into the fire as if in a trance, after a long pause turned to Dom, but the only reply he could manage was an emotional “thank you.”

 

“Don’t thank us. It’s not Just Seamus Cox who owes you an apology. We all do. We should never have jumped to conclusions the way we did.”

“Well,” said Martin pulling himself together, “that’s the way it was. But, I’m grateful for the trouble you took to find out the truth, especially your daughter Theresa: she’s a great girl.”

 

“Oh, indeed she is. When she sets her mind on something there’s no stopping her. But, she hasn’t finished yet. She wants to meet you herself. It’s a pity, herself and her husband, they’re both teachers, are away this weekend at some kind of conference.”

 

“Yes, I’d like to meet her and thank her myself.”

 

“Aren’t you staying down here now?”

 

“No. I just came down for the weekend.”

 

“Are you going back to Broadfield then? Yes we know where you were living.” Dom was responding to Martin’s surprised look. “Although it’s only lately we found out.”

 

“When you disappeared, like you did,” Dom continued, “a lot of people were concerned about you. Big Brendan, in ‘the antelope’ said the number of people who were asking about you was unbelievable. Our son Paddy goes in there a lot. We asked him to keep his ears peeled but not to tell anyone why he was interested in you.”

 

“A couple of things caused people to be concerned about you. Your real name not being what people thought it was and then you disappeared. Neither of those was very unusual. Lots of Irishmen use false names, avoiding tax or for some other reason. And, of course Irishmen are always moving to where the work is. But, the two things happening together got people talking. Brendan though allayed their fears somewhat. He said you were always a loner and you wouldn’t want anyone to know your business..”

 

“One man, though, kept asking about you. You know the man: Michael Ruane, the man who shouted your name outside the church.” Martin nodded as Dom continued. “He’s a bit of a loud mouth, as you know. I don’t think he started coming in ‘the antelope’ until after you left. He doesn’t come in very often. He lives out in Aston, but he comes in the odd weekend because he likes the Irish music and the craic.”

 

“The reason he kept asking was because it turned out that his landlady knows you and after he mentioned meeting you she kept asking if he heard any more about you. Then one Saturday night about a month ago he announced at the bar that he knew where you were. It seemed that week his landlady Ellie had a visit from her sister Maggie. Maggie lives up in Broadfield near Manchester. Well, Michael heard the sisters talking: by accident he said, but you know what he’s like. Anyway he was in the next room when he heard the conversation. It seems an awful lot of people are interested in your whereabouts. Maggie said Martin Prendergast was living in Mary’s lodging house in Broadfield. I think the lodging house is well known around there.”

 

“Oh, Indeed it is.” Martin stood up. “Well thank you for your hospitality and everything else. But I’m afraid I can’t stay. I have a few other things to do.”

 

“Thank you Martin.” Dom struggled to his feet. “I hope we’ll see you again soon.”

 

“You will.” With no more ado Martin left.

***

 

 

 

There was an extra spring in Martin’s step as he walked briskly to the bus stop. He was feeling elated. Suddenly his life had changed for the better. The outcome of the visit he had so dreaded was more perfect than he had ever dared to expect. The Casey family were aware of the truth. That was all he could ever ask for. It was like a cloud lifted from his brain.

 

Although it seemed likely that the youngest son was part of the gang that carried out the assault on Michael O’Malley Martin didn’t then believe that the rest of Casey family had had anything to do with either that assault or the previous threats on him. From them, he had on longer anything to fear.

 

Neither had he anything to fear from those who were responsible for the assault. They would be satisfied that their mission was accomplished.

 

Martin could then leave his past behind. He could go back to Broadfield and carry on with his life, no longer looking over his shoulder. He could forget everything he’d planned for the weekend and simply get the next train back to Manchester.

 

But, of course, he couldn’t. It was a tempting thought, but one that had to be put out of his mind. He reminded himself of his reason for being in Birmingham. Ingratiating himself with the Casey family, satisfying as it was was no more than a distraction from his objective. His reason for being there was solely because of what happened to Michael O’Malley. Michael was still lying in a hospital bed, and Martin, in spite of Father Downey reassurances, felt responsible for what happened to him.

 

Martin knew that he should have gone to the police when he read the threatening letter. Also he should have warned Michael O’Malley of the danger he was in. Martin knew Paddy Foley had told that man that Michael O’Malley would be in the club that Friday evening. Simply advising Michael not to go, without telling him the real reason why, was clearly ineffective. However, to explain the danger to either Michael or the police would have resurrected Martin’s past: something, for his own selfish reasons, he was not prepared to do.

 

Then, a week after the assault Martin was in a totally different frame of mind. Unfortunately, he thought, a man had to almost lose his life, and might still die, in order to bring about the change of attitude. On the bus, approaching Sparkbrook, emboldened by the unexpected turn of events at Dom’s, Martin was determined to do whatever it took to get justice for Michael O’Malley.

 

No longer was anything to be excluded, even, in spite of his past reservations, going to the police. He had, in fact, then come round to believing that was exactly what he must do. He would go the police and explain, as he should have done immediately after he heard of the assault, that it was he who was the intended victim. In doing so, he knew, he could no longer hold anything back: his false identity, his many false declarations as well as his distant past, would all have to come out

 

He didn’t know how much trouble revealing all that would get him into with the law. But, he didn’t care. All the mattered was that justice be obtained for Michael O’Malley. He had then come to realise the wisdom of Father Downey’s advice. The priest had said that without that information, the police would be on the wrong track.

 

Then all that was stopping him from immediately going to the police was the uncertainty about whether he would be believed. He had doubts about whether they would take him seriously. Although convinced himself, he thought, that in order to investigate his theory, the police would probably need more evidence. Therefore, before going to the police, he would try to get something more to bring to them. That, after all, was why he was in Birmingham. Although he knew he was no detective he could still snoop around.

 

His original plans, however, would have to change. He had planned to tell Dom about the assault on Michael O’Malley and about the suspicions he had about the son’s involvement in that assault. However, seeing how frail Dom was, Martin hadn’t felt able to burden him with the problem.

***

 

Entering The Queen’s, Martin was still feeling good. On his walk from the bus stop, the frosty air was invigorating. But, it also made him appreciate the warmth of the pub and he quickly closed the door after entering.

 

He looked around. The pub comprised of just two rooms, one each side of the hall that led to the bar. Martin remembered it vaguely. He used to occasionally drop in when he needed a quite drink. Unlike The Antelope, in Martins experience The Queen’s never got crowded.

 

That evening, of course, he was there for a different reason and, at least at first, was disappointed that the pub was even quieter than he had expected. He looked into the empty room on the right hand side of the hall before entering the other room in which two young men were sat in a corner.

 

Martin’s cheerful “good evening” was barely acknowledged by the men. The barman, leaning on the bar, continued reading his paper without a glance at Martin even when he reached the bar. It was only when Martin politely asked for a pint of Guinness that he, apparently grudgingly put his paper to one side. No wonder he hasn’t many customers thought Martin. Martin remembered him. He was the pub landlord. He had been for a number of years. He was never a very friendly man. That wouldn’t normally bother Martin. In fact that’s how he liked it. But, that evening, Martin would have liked a chat: hoping to discover a thing or two about the pub’s customers.

 

With that landlord, however, he had no chance. Without even a glance in Martin’s direction, the landlord’s whole attention was on watching the flow of Guinness. Martin waited for the glass to fill up. Then handing the landlord a pound note, he remarked, “It’s a cold night.”

 

The landlord was not playing ball. He took the pound note to the till. Then, in silence, put the change in front of Martin and returned to his paper, as if he hadn’t heard the remark. He’s even less sociable than usual thought Martin. Giving up on conversation he looked around the room.

 

It was then that Martin took notice of the two young men in the corner of the room. It was the same two that he saw getting on the train in Manchester. He was almost certain of it. As one of them looked in his direction, Martin, not wishing to be caught staring, turned back to the bar and had a sip of his Guinness. He picked up his drink and without giving the men another glance, took it to a table at the back of the room. He removed his coat and, not seeing anywhere to hang it, placed it on the seat next to where he sat.

 

He was in a position where he could observe the two young men, without, he hoped, arousing any suspicion: not too close, but close enough to be able to hear, if he was lucky, some of the conversation. However, his hearing was not what it used to be. The years spent on noisy building sites listening to concrete mixers, pneumatic drills etc had its effect. Also the men seemed to be keeping their voices down as if, Martin thought, they were wary of being overheard. They appeared uneasy, mostly communicating in whispers. Although the odd glance was thrown in his direction, he didn’t think it was just his presence in the room that worried them.

 

Martin, smoking his pipe, and drinking his pint appeared totally disinterested in his surroundings. His natural demeanour was one of total contentment even when the opposite was true. If someone spoke to him he would respond politely. But, he gave the impression that he would prefer to be left alone. He seemed happier in his own company. Sometimes people even forgot he was there.

 

That’s how it was that evening. After a while the two young men seemed barely aware of Martin’s presence. But, Martin was taking everything in. The men were clearly agitated, apparently waiting for someone who should have been there earlier. They were getting more and more restless. Their voices got louder, although Martin could still only pick out the odd word. He heard the word Broadfield a few times. No doubt there were other Broadfields. Nevertheless a picture was emerging. Although he showed no sign of it Martin was getting excited.

 

Then he heard it clearly. “Michael O’Malley.”

 

Martin immediately looked at the men. On saying the name the man instinctively covered his mouth with his hand, while his mate shook his head disapprovingly.

 

That was it. No longer was there any doubt in Martin’s mind. He then knew for certain that it was those two men that carried out that terrible, cowardly assault on his friend. Martin, then, had all he needed to go to the police and that he intended to do without delay.

 

Confrontation, at that stage was not planned, but when Martin looked again and saw both men laughing he felt his anger rising to such an extent that he could no longer contain himself. Putting his pipe away he turned to face the men. Then, slowly and deliberately, he rose from his seat.

 

At that moment, unaware of Martin’s anger, the men’s attention was suddenly diverted to a man approaching the bar. “It’s big Dave at last,” said one of them excitedly. Martin dropped back on his seat as a big man in a dark stripped suit swaggered to the bar. Martin took an instant dislike to him, even before the man looked back and acknowledged

the two men in the room with a thumbs up gesture. That, to Martin, could only mean one thing. The man knew and approved of what they had done to Michael O’Malley

.

Two pints of bitter?” The man pointed to the men’s almost empty glasses. Then the man looked at Martin. “Would you like a drink sir?” he asked. Shaking his head Martin declined desperately trying to hide the hatred he felt for the man.

 

Unlike in Martins experience, the landlord appeared pleased to serve Dave. “And one for yourself,” said Dave, seemingly not wishing to leave anyone out. The two pints were placed on the bar. Then Dave took his whiskey and, signalling with a motion of his head, that the men follow him, proceeded without a backward glance into the other room. Like sheep, they both followed him taking their drinks off the bar on their way.

 

Alone, Martin was seething with anger. His hand was shaking that much he was unable to pick up his glass. He sat there for a while taking deep breaths hoping his nerves would calm. Eventually, with both hands on his glass he finished his drink. He didn’t get another. He just sat there staring at his empty glass, thinking. He should go to the police and tell them all he knew. But, his nerves were so bad. Would he be able to explain himself clearly enough? Brendan, in The Antelope, was the man that sprung to mind. But, at that time The Antelope would be full. Brendan would have no time to talk to anyone. But, what Martin had to tell couldn’t wait any longer.

 

He decided to give his nerves another few minutes and then set off for the police station. Sparkhill police station was close to his digs and, he believed, it was open all night.

 

As Martin was about to leave the Landlord put a pint of Guinness on the bar. “This one’s for you Paddy,” he said “Paid on.” Dave had not taken no for an answer. Martin was taken aback. He didn’t want another drink. Definitely not one that Dave had paid for.

 

Then a thought occurred to him. His nerves had calmed down somewhat and the landlord seemed in a better mood. Before going to the police he thought he would have another stab at getting more information about those he was about to accuse. He really needed a name or two.

 

Martin approached the bar is if to get his drink. The landlord, rearranging bottles on the shelves, had his back to him. Nevertheless Martin asked hopefully “Who is that Dave fellow,” making the question sound as casual as he could.

 

“Dave Campbell,” answered the landlord, without turning round.

 

“Thank you.” At least, Martin thought, he had one name; maybe even the name of the ringleader. “He’s a generous man, I’ll have to thank him,” continued Martin, hoping to engage the landlord further. But there was no reply. He’s certainly a man of few words, thought Martin, or is it me? Then Martin tried a direct question. He had nothing to lose.

 

“And who are the two young fellows,” he asked, keeping his voice as calm as possible, although he could feel his anger rising again.

 

The landlord stopped what he was doing as if contemplating the question. Then he slowly turned to face Martin.

 

“You’re asking a lot of questions.”

 

Martin shrugged. He resented having to explain himself. Another time he would have just walked out, but then, in a vain attempt to soften the man’s attitude he looked the landlord in the eye and offered; “I haven’t been in for a while. I was working away.”

 

He should have saved his breath. The landlord, while continuing to weigh him up, did clearly not trust him with any more information of the kind Martin was hoping for. The last question was totally ignored. Then, eventually, when he was ready, the landlord grumpily offered his advice on Martin’s earlier comment.

 

“If you want to thank Dave, he’s in there.” The landlord pointed to the door leading to the other room.

 

Martin, of course, already knew where Dave was. He was being treated like a kid. His anger got the better of him. He knew he was being irrational. But, he was unable to control his anger. He did a silly thing. Without another word he turned and rushed to the door that was pointed out to him and stormed into the other room.

 

All three were sat round a table. A newspaper was spread out on the table and they were studying its contents. On seeing Martin rushing towards them Dave immediately started to fold the paper.

 

“I know what you’ve done,” screamed Martin

 

Surprised, they just stared at him. Then Dave calmly asked, “What’s the matter Paddy,” putting the folded paper in his pocket.

 

Martin looked him in the eye. Then, controlling his voice as best he could, he answered, “I’m Martin Prendergast. I’m known around here as Michael O’Malley.”

 

“You can’t…” The young man was stopped dead by Dave’s glare. Dave tried to intervene with, “Martin calm down please.” But Martin, picking upon the attempted protest, would not be put off. Turning on the young man he raged.

 

“What do you mean, I can’t?”

 

The Young man obviously frightened just shook his head as Dave again

tried to intervene. “Martin please, calm down”

 

But martin was not calming down. Still addressing the young man he yelled, “You killed a man thinking it was me. Didn’t you?” He meant to say nearly killed, but in the excitement, that was how it came out. He didn’t correct himself.

 

The young man just shook his head. “I didn’t kill anyone,” he protested.

 

Martin could see he’d got him rattled. “I know you did,” he said in a slightly calmer voice. “You and your mate.” Martin turned to the other young man, who, under Dave’s watchful eye, remained silent. Then Martin turned on Dave.

 

“And you Dave Campbell, I know you’re part of it.”

 

“Paddy, please, you’ve got this all wrong.”

 

“Don’t call me Paddy, and you know I’m not wrong. I’m going to the police.”

 

At that Martin turned and left the room as quickly as he’d entered it. In the hall, the landlord, who was on his way to investigate the shouting, was violently pushed to one side in Martin’s rush to leave the pub.

 

“Don’t go. Let’s talk about his,” pleaded Dave who had followed Martin in a desperate attempt to stop him leaving.

 

Martin wasn’t listening and was through the door before Dave, who was impeded by the landlord, could reach him.

 

“Oh, let him go,” urged the landlord, pulling himself up from his sprawled position, “I’m glad he’s gone. He’s a madman.”

 

Out of the pub Martin knew he’d acted like a madman. But, there was nothing he could do about it then. He also realised he’d forgotten his coat. Cold as the night was, however, he didn’t return for it. All that mattered was that he got to the police station as quickly as possible.

***

 

 

 

“What was all that about,” asked the still bewildered landlord as Dave impatiently helped him to his feet. “I thought he was a very quiet man.”

“Like you said, he’s a madman,” snapped Dave.

 

Then one of the others remarked, “He’s gone without his coat.”

 

“Oh Jesus,” cried the landlord. “We’ll have more trouble when he comes back for it.”

 

“Don’t worry,” said Dave “He won’t be coming back.” “Get the coat,” he ordered one of the young men. “Come on. We’re going after him.” “You too” he urged the other one impatiently, and all three rushed out.

 

Chapter 9. Alan.

It was the early hours of Saturday morning. Alan was already almost in despair. His fate, he knew was in Dave’s hands, but he was fast loosing confidence in Dave. Then, they saw the flashing headlights of the vehicle behind.

 

“Oh no,” cried Dave, “it’s the police”. He was in the wrong lane. Alan could see that he wasn’t concentrating on his driving. In a panic, Dave swung the Ford Transit into the inside lane, while Alan and Tommy held their breaths in terror. The vehicle whose lights were flashing then sped past. It was not the police, just an impatient motorist. They could breath again. Dave wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve.

 

But the panic was still on. Something had to be thought of fast. They knew, from experience, that the van they were in was one that the police frequently stopped, especially when driven at that time. But, it was down to Dave and clearly he couldn’t think. He did what seemed to Alan like the worst possible thing. He pulled in and stopped in the next lay-by.

 

“Why have we stopped?” cried Alan fearfully looking around. “We can’t stop here.” He was getting desperate. “Let’s get off the road.” In the lay-by, he knew that they were in a more vulnerable position than when they were moving. If the police came along they would almost certainly be checked upon: the consequences of which didn’t bear thinking about.

 

“Just shut up,” screamed Dave. “I’m trying to think.” He banged his head on the steering wheel, terrifying his passengers all the more. Then, with both clenched fists on his ears he pressed his face on the wheel.

 

Cowed into an uneasy silence both Alan and Tommy just stared into the blackness of the night. The sky had clouded over. There were no streetlights. Traffic at that time of night was almost non-existent. It was almost total darkness. The only audible sound was the rattle of the still running engine. Alan felt Tommy shiver. The heater as not working, but that was the least of their worries.

 

Sat between Dave and Tommy, Alan was becoming increasingly edgy. He looked at Tommy. It was too dark to see faces. He could just see outlines. Tommy appeared to have turned his head away, probably, Alan thought’ detaching himself from everything that was going on: typical of Tommy.

 

Alan turned round. He couldn’t see anything. The back of the van was in total darkness. He considered switching the interior light on: the switch was within his reach. But, thought better of it. He listened carefully for any sound, but could hear nothing other than the rattle of the engine. The man stretched out on the floor of the van, amongst the tins of paint and rolls of wallpaper was probably dead.

 

What a mess they were in. To Alan the situation looked dire. He could see no way out. He felt ill. He was cold, scared and angry. He was angry with Dave. This was all down to Dave. It was Dave’s sweet talk that got then into it all. He was also angry with Tommy. But, mostly he was angry with himself. He should never have let Tommy loose on that man in Broadfield. They were only supposed to rough him up a little bit, but, as usual, Tommy went far beyond that.

 

But, it was Dave’s vicious assault, with the stating handle, on the man who was then in the back of the van, that really sickened Alan. The man never stood a chance. Dave was ruthless. Alan regretted not trying to stop him. But, it all happened so fast. Dave was out of the van and had hit the man before Alan realized what was happening. Without a sound, the man fell to the ground, like a sack of potatoes.

 

Horrified, Alan cried, “did you have to hit him so hard?”

 

“Hush. Keep your voice down.” Dave had no time for explanations. “Come on, quick, let’s get him in the van.” He was a big man. It took all three of them to lift him in the van.

 

“Quick. Back in the van.” Dave replaced the starting handle under his seat. It was a quiet, mostly industrial, area. As far as Alan could tell no one witnessed the incident, which, in all only took a few minutes.

 

It was after they got going that Alan got an answer to his question, in the form of an angry rebuke. “Yes Alan, I did have to hit him so hard. You must toughen up you. It’s all your fault anyway for bungling that job up north.”

 

Alan made no reply. It was not the time to argue with Dave. He was then seeing the Dave that his father had warned him about: the Dave that would certainly get him in trouble, the Dave that was capable of anything. Alan’s father, aware of Dave’s criminal past, had fiercely opposed Alan working for him. “He’ll get you in trouble,” he warned. “If it’s painting and decorating that you want to get into there are other firms.”

 

That was three years earlier. Alan, of course, was too headstrong to heed his father and went to work for Dave. He had served his time and could then call himself a qualified Painter and Decorator. Last month Dave had put him on full pay; something he still had to tell his parents about. Alan didn’t live with his parents any more, but he did visit occasionally. He was looking forward to telling his parents the news. They would be proud of him. He had proved his father wrong. Dave had not turned out to be the monster his father had described.

 

That was until a couple of hours ago. If this came out how could he ever face his parents again? Alan looked at Dave; still no sign of movement. He just wanted to run away. Anywhere. As far away from Dave and Tommy as possible. But he didn’t know where they were: somewhere in the country, on the Coventry road he thought. There were no streetlights. It was almost total darkness and he had no money. He felt trapped. What had he let himself in for?

 

How could have been so stupid? He thought he was agreeing to no more than a bit of an adventure. Now he was involved in a murder; maybe two murders.

 

It was all because on that Friday afternoon Dave had caught him yawning. They had just finished the job and were getting ready to go home. “You’re bored,” commented Dave. “Is life not exciting enough for you?”

 

Alan shrugged.

 

“The job is no longer a challenge,” Dave continued. “You’re good at it now. You picked it up fast.”

 

. Alan had no idea what Dave was leading up to. Praise from him was such a rare thing. Was he going to sack him, now he was on full pay? Alan knew that sometimes happened. Another apprentice would be much cheaper. Also work seemed a little slack recently. That, Alan suspected was because Dave had taken his eye off the ball; he was not giving the business the attention it deserved. His other interests, like organizing the “Angry Whites”, were given priority.

 

. Or was this going to be another attempt to get Alan to join. Unlike Tommy, Alan had never joined the “Angry Whites.” Alan’s father had warned him against that too. “Don’t go there?” was his warning, when Alan once mentioned it. “Do your job, but be wary of anything else he tries to get you into.”

 

On that, at least, he had taken his father’s advice: or so it seemed. It was Dave’s ranting about immigrants ruining the country that far from persuading him, had, in fact, put him off. Maybe Dave was right. Alan didn’t know. But, he heard enough at work. He had no wish for any more in his spare time.

 

What Dave was getting at, however, was something totally different. “If it’s excitement you want,” he said. “I’ve got just the job for you.”

 

Alan was puzzled, having no idea what was coming.

 

“First, let me ask you a few question,” continued Dave. “You’ve heard of the IRA?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“What do you think of them?”

 

“Not much.”

 

“Do you think that they should be allowed to go around murdering people?”

 

“Of course not.”

 

“What do you think should be done with them?”

 

“They should be locked up; maybe hanged.”

 

“Yes. That’s what I think. In fact I’d hang the lot of them. But, did you know there are IRA murderers in this country that cannot be touched?”

 

Alan looked dubious. “No,” he replied.

 

“It’s hard to believe, I know, but they are among us. They are not even denying it. In fact some of them brag about it, knowing that the law cannot touch them.”

 

“Why.” Alan was still dubious. “If they are murderers, surely they can be arrested.”

 

“Not when the murders were committed in Ireland. There they are not recognised as murders. But, often it was our solders that they murdered, and now they are living here and enjoying our hospitality. The law can’t touch them and in their own communities they are treated like heroes. Life for them couldn’t be better. It makes me mad: we are so soft in this country.”

 

Alan nodded. He was paying more attention than usual. At least this was different. It was usually Asians who were the object of Dave’s diatribes. But, he still had no idea where it was going.

 

“You remember young Joe Casey,” Dave continued. “He used to work for us, but he left about a year ago. Well, his uncle, his father’s brother, who, I believe, was a policeman over there, was murdered by the IRA. The man who did it used to live round here. He was well known.”

 

“What did Joe’s family think about that?”

 

“Of course they were angry when they discovered who the man was, especially as they had known him for many years and for most of that time they had no idea that he was the man who had murdered their father’s brother. You see, he had changed his name. They do that when it’s one of their own they murder, in case they meet friends or family of the victim. The family had never met him in Ireland. They only knew his name. It was chance meeting with someone who knew him in the past that gave him away.”

“That put the family in an awkward position. The man that, with good cause, they hated for so long was then known to them. In fact he was someone they frequently saw around. Joe has two brothers older than him. Neither of them are violent men. But, even if they were, they couldn’t touch the man. The law is on his side. IRA men are protected. It’s all wrong.”

 

“So, what happened?”

 

“Leave it to us, we told Joe. We have ways of dealing with such men.”

 

Alan knew that by ‘we’ Dave meant the ‘Angry Whites’.

 

“But he’s a white man.”

 

“He’s anti British. That’s the important thing. The IRA is against everything we stand for. Most Irishmen are against then too, especially Ulstermen: Loyalists. They are loyal to us and feel strongly that those men should be brought to justice.”

 

“So. What did you do?”

 

“We ran him out of town. It didn’t take much. Just a letter letting him know that he was caught up with: that his identity was known and that he hadn’t got away with what he did.”

 

“But we still haven’t finished with him. Recently we discovered where he now lives and have reason to believe that he is up to no good. This is where you come in. You wanted some excitement. Well here’s your chance.”

 

“Oh no. Not me.” Alan resolutely shook his head.

 

“Just hear me out,” Dave persisted. “You wouldn’t have to commit a murder or anything like that. Just listen to what I have to say and then you can decide one way or the other.”

 

Reluctantly Alan agreed to hear what Dave had to say.

 

“You could consider it a public service: a much needed public service. The police can’t do anything, but that’s where we can step in. These are dangerous men; loose. We have to watch them, or who knows what they will get up to. They have been known to kill a lot of people in this country too. But we can stop them simply by letting them know that we are on to them.”

 

“There is a fund; a special fund, set up by people who care and want justice. They are prepared to put their money where their mouths are. It’s secret. I don’t know who’s in it and I don’t care. I just know that the money is there. So here is a chance to do something useful for society. Something exciting, and also make yourself some money.”

 

“I still don’t like the sound of it. What would I have to do anyway?”

 

“The job couldn’t be easier. The man who killed Joe’s uncle; we now know where he lives. It’s up in the North of England. We now know his address. In the first instance, all you would have to do is to deliver a letter to him.”

 

“Couldn’t it just be posted to him?”

 

“No. We can’t risk the letter going astray. Enquires would need to be made to verify that he still lives there: he moves around a lot. And, after he’s read the letter, maybe a few days later, he will have to be confronted, to leave him in no doubt that we mean business. The man is a loner, so you would have no trouble getting him on his own.”

 

“Why me?”

 

“You’re intelligent. You can be trusted. Tommy is keen, but I’m not so sure about him. Now, if you went with him, we would have no worries. You could treat it as a holiday; only, instead of it costing you money, you would be getting paid. In fact Blackpool is not far away: just a train ride. You could stay there, some of the time at least, if you wished.”

 

Dave was good. Alan was persuaded. What was on offer was the excitement his life lacked. Apart from work, life had not been so good recently. A couple weeks previously his girlfriend had left him. Then, a week later his best mate moved away. He hid his feelings well, but the break up with his girlfriend had upset him badly. They had been together for over a year and planned a future together.

 

Alan still hoped that they would get back together again. That was his main reason for not joining his mate. His mate, also a painter and decorator, got a much better paid job in Coventry. There was a job offer for Alan too. He declined because he wished to stick around while he felt there was still a chance that his ex girlfriend, who he still loved, would come back to him.

 

However, the coupla weeks away, that Dave was offering, might be just what he needed. Also, he was persuaded that it was almost his public duty to do it.

 

What a fool he was. In the early hours of that Saturday morning, as he stared at the darkness, it felt like his life was over. What was to be a wonderful adventure had turned into a nightmare.

 

Dave suddenly raised his head, startling Alan. “I know what we will do,” he declared confidently, like he was again in control of the situation.

 

“Good.” At least something was happening, thought Alan. “Let’s get out of here,” he urged,” he urged. Much as he hated Dave, he was still his only hope.

 

“Not yet. Get out of the van,” ordered Dave, switching the interior light on. “And come to the back.”

 

Without hesitation Alan and Tommy did as told.

 

Dave flung the rear doors open. The back of the van was then lit up. Alan looked for any sign of life and concluded that the man must be dead. They had a dead body on their hands. Gripping the legs, Dave commenced to drag the body out of the van.

 

“Come on, one either side,” he urged. “But, hang on a minute.” Dave went through the man’s pockets. Some of the contents, probably money, thought Alan, although the light was too poor to see, he stuffed in his own pocket. Something else he pushed between a paint can and the side of the van.

 

“Right, come on now.” Alan and Tommy got hold of a shoulder each. “Where are we putting him?” asked Alan.

 

“On the road.” Dave was resolute.

 

The body was placed on the road, on their side of the broken white lines marking the middle of the road, which was just made visible by the light from the van.

 

“Right. Back in the van,” ordered Dave. “Quick”

 

Alan hesitated protesting, “we can’t leave him here.”

 

“Just come on,” barked Dave, opening the driver’s door

 

“Oh. Come on,” urged Tommy. “We can’t hang about.”

 

Alan did as told

 

Dave manoeuvred the van on to the road so that the headlight was shining on to the lifeless body. He then reversed a little before changing into forward gear again.

 

Alan, realizing for the first time what was about to happen screamed, “You can’t do that.”

 

Then, Tommy, looking in the rear view mirror, shouted, “A car’s coming. Behind.”

 

“Shit,” muttered Dave. He could see the headlight in the distance. “O K,” he said changing into reverse gear again, and swinging the van around “Let’s go.”

 

With a jerk they set off at top speed back towards Birmingham. The approaching vehicle dipped its lights. Dave didn’t bother.

***

 

 

 

The speeding police car with its siren blaring startled Alan. His nerves were in a terrible state. The walk along the Warwick road was meant to clear his head, but it wasn’t happening. In a way the previous night was then a blur, unreal, like it as all a terrible dream. If only. The blaring siren reminded him that it was all too real.

 

It was about noon on Saturday. Alan didn’t know how long he’d been walking, or when it was that he’d given up on sleep, such was the state of his mind. It was daylight when he went to bed and, although exhausted, the events of the previous night going round and round in his head, made sleep impossible. He watched the police car vanish round the bend and thought, how long before they came for him. In his addled state of mind, exacerbated by lack of sleep, he could see no way of avoiding it.

 

There was one thing he was certain of, though; he never wished to see Dave again. He wouldn’t work for him or have anything to do with him ever again, whatever the consequences.

 

Another day it would have been a pleasant walk. Sheltered from the cold February wind, by the high wall on his left, he would have enjoyed the warm sun on his face, as he approached the pretty town of Acocks Green. It was a walk he had become familiar with since moving into his flat six months previously. On a Saturday, if he wasn’t working he often walked into Acocks Green to do his shopping.

 

In the town people were busy shopping and doing the normal things they on a Saturday. For Alan would life ever be normal again. He had no food in his flat. He should do some shopping. That was what he was there for. But he couldn’t be bothered. He had very little money on him in any case. He had some savings, but the bank was closed: closed at twelve noon. Something else he’d forgotten about.

 

Dave owed him some money. But, he wanted nothing more to do with Dave. He could keep his money.

 

Then he saw it: the ford transit drawing up by the footpath in front of him. Oh! No. Dave must have spotted him. But, Alan had made his mind up. He turned back and walked quickly away from the van. Then he dodged down a side street. Dave, however, saw where he went and was quickly after him.

 

“Alan, Alan wait.” Alan started to run but Dave was not giving up. Eventually he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Alan, why are you running away? We must talk, and I have some money for you.”

“The money you took from the dead man? I don’t want it.”

 

“No Alan. Not that. It’s your money: what you’ve earned.”

 

“I don’t care. I don’t want it.” Alan turned away from Dave and moved towards a low brick wall.

 

They were on a residential street. Behind the wall was a high but neatly trimmed conifer hedge. Over the top of the hedge could be seen the roof of a large detached house, set well back from the street.

 

Alan sat on the wall and buried his face in his hands. All was quiet on the street, except for the clanging of a gate, which was being opened further down. Then there was the sound of a car approaching.

 

“Is he O K?” The lady sounded concerned.

 

“Yes. He’s fine,” Dave assured her.

 

Alan uncovered his face and nodded. The lady in the passenger seat of the large car seemed less than convinced. Nevertheless the car moved away.

 

“Alan, get up, ”urged Dave. “We can’t stay here. Clearly Dave wished to avoid a repeat of the interest the lady had shown.

 

Alan, however, huddled under his overcoat just turned away. All he wanted was for Dave to go away. He felt himself trembling. It was a cold spot. They were shaded from the sun by the hedge, but there was no shelter from the cold wind blowing from the opposite direction. He tried to pull the coat tighter round him.

 

Dave noticed him trembling. “Alan get up,” he demanded harshly. “You’ll get your death.”

 

Getting no reply Dave sat next to Alan and put his hand on his shoulder, causing Alan to shudder and move away.

 

“Ger off me. Leave me alone.” Alan no longer saw Dave as his boss. He no longer worked for him and never would again. “Go away. Leave me alone.”

 

“Alan, why are you like this?”

 

“You know why.”

 

“I know bad things have happened. But, we’re in the clear now. No one suspects us.

 

Alan turned towards Dave. “That’s all you think about. Isn’t it? You murdered a man in cold blood.”

 

“Now Alan, stop there,” Dave interrupted getting annoyed. “It wasn’t in cold blood as you well know. It was in the heat of the moment.”

 

“Whatever. You killed a man and then you robbed him. I saw you do it.”

 

“Alan, keep your voice down.” Dave looked around him before continuing. “You don’t understand. I emptied his pockets so he wouldn’t be identified. That was all. In any case I did it for you, to save you from being done for that job that you bungled up north. Remember, you killed a man too.”

 

“I didn’t kill anyone.”

 

“So, you’re blaming Tommy. Are you? Well, you were there too. You’re just as much to blame as he is; more so, I’d say, in the eyes of the law. Tommy is a bit of a nutter. You’re the one that will be held responsible for it. If you’re caught, your prison stretch will be much longer than his. You’ll get life. But, don’t worry. I’ll keep you safe. Ow! This wall’s cold.”

 

Dave stood up. “Come on. Let’s sit in the van. At least well be out of the cold wind.”

 

Alan didn’t move. The exchanges with Dave had got his blood flowing. He didn’t feel as cold. And he didn’t like the suggestion that his safety depended on Dave. Dave was only thinking of his own skin.

 

“How will you keep me safe?” he asked angrily. “By killing someone else?”

 

“Alan, why are you like this? You know that if we let that man go to the police you were in deep shit.”

 

“I don’t care. I wouldn’t have done what you did.”

 

“You want to give yourself up then?” Dave threw his hands in the air. “Is that what you want?”

 

“Maybe it is.”

 

“You’re annoying me now. I’m not staying here in the freezing cold any longer. Come on. Let’s walk to the van.”

 

“I’m not going anywhere with you.” Alan turned away again.

 

“You’ll do as your fucking well told.” Dave had lost all patients with him then. “I’m still your boss.”

 

“No, you’re not. I’ll never work for you again.”

 

“Alan, for the last time.” The time for smooth talk was over. “You can’t do this to me. I’ll not allow it.”

 

There was a pause. Alan, still facing away from Dave didn’t look, but he could sense Dave’s fury. Was Dave going to physically attack him? Maybe even kill him. Dave was a powerful man. Alan was no match for him. Dave also always carried a knife. Alan considered running when he heard a gate rattling, this time close by.

 

Maybe that was what saved him. The gate belonging to the house they were in front of was being opened.

 

Dave got his voice back. “I’m going to get the van. Don’t you dare move from here,” he hissed. “I’ll be back shortly.”

 

A car emerged from the gateway. Alan stood up and ignoring the driver’s curious look, waited for Dave to get out of sight, before setting off at top speed in the opposite direction.

 

Chapter 10. Getting concerned.

 

On Monday morning John Mountain’s gang was assembled at Burton’s corner. “Well, that’s it now. I think all that are coming are here,” said John as Jimmy McCarthy hurried towards them. “No sign of Martin Prendergast?” asked John, when Jimmy reached them. John knew Jimmy shared digs with Martin.

 

“No. He hasn’t been seen in the digs all weekend.”

 

John was disappointed. Martin would have completed a good gang. On the previous Friday evening John had personally called round at Martin’s digs. Unable to see Martin, he left a message with Mary, Martin’s landlady, telling him, as he’d told all the others, to be outside Burton’s at seven o’clock on Monday morning, if he wanted the start on the new site.

 

“Martin, however, wasn’t John’s only concern that Monday morning. “Ah well,” he said. “At least the rest of us are here.” John counted the men. He had eight men travelling from Broadfield, including three new starters. It was a big job. There would be a lot of navvying to do. He hadn’t been convinced that they would all turn up, and he wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t; the way they were being treated by the company.

 

John was still annoyed about how his complaint about the mode of transport was dealt with. The bus was being repaired and would be out of use for at least a couple of weeks. They were informed that the men would have to travel to work and back –nearly twenty miles each way- on the back of an open wagon. When Jim Butler, the company owner, visited the site, on the previous week, John complained bitterly to him, but with little success.

 

Jim was totally unsympathetic. “What are you complaining about?” he asked. “You’ll be travelling in the cab.”

 

“It’s the men. It will be bitterly cold on the back of that wagon. And what if it rains?”

 

“All right. All right. We have a canopy in the yard. I’ll have that fitted on the wagon. Some seats as well. How’s that?”

 

“If it’s the one I’m thinking of it’s badly ripped.”

 

“I don’t think so. But, if so, I’ll have it repaired.”

 

“That might keep the rain off. Might? But it’ll still be bitterly cold. It’ll be a bad start of the day for the men. Can’t you hire a bus or something?”

 

“”No way. No way. Have you any idea what that would cost?”

 

John knew money wasn’t a problem. In recent years the company had gone from strength to strength. He didn’t answer the question. Instead he said angrily, “It might cost you the men if you don’t.”

 

But Jim knew that wouldn’t happen. Jobs for navvies were scarce at the time, and he was not a man to waste an opportunity to save himself some money. “John,” he said. “Don’t threaten me. I’ve agreed to fit a canopy. If the men are not happy with that they know what they can do.”

 

“In better times John would have told Jim what he could do with his job. However, in the circumstances, annoyed as he was, he held his tongue. He had a dependant family and needed the work, as apparently did all of his gang.

 

John didn’t tell the men the whole story of his encounter with Jim Butler. There was no need to upset them all the more. He just said he’d failed to get a replacement bus, but the company would get the old one back on the road as quickly as possible.

 

“I, when it’s summer and we’re not bothered,” was Jimmy’s angry reply.

 

John nodded in agreement. None of the men were happy about it. Nevertheless they all promised to be there. However John knew he couldn’t rely on those promises. If any of the men got a better offer over the weekend, he would, no doubt, take it. But, at that time, such offers were few.

 

John looked at his watch. It was almost seven. He hoped the wagon would be on time. Although, thankfully, the weather was much improved, it was still too cold to stand around for long. All the men were wearing donkey jackets or some other form of heavy coat. Some were sheltering in doorways from the cold wind. Michael O’Donnell in Burton’s doorway holding a handkerchief to his nose didn’t look at all well to John “Just a bit of a cold,” he said brushing off John’s enquiry.

 

John watched anxiously as the dirty grey tipper wagon approached. When it got closer, he was relieved to see the canopy on the back; it’s canvas flapping in the wind. At least Jim Butler had arranged that. John had doubts about whether even that small concession would be granted.

 

Standing on the edge of the pavement, holding his hand up John called. “Come on men,” as the wagon stopped. As he watched the men climbing on to the back of the wagon, some shivering, he felt slightly guilty about himself travelling in the relative warmth of the cab.

 

Michael was last. He was finding it difficult pulling himself on to the wagon. John moved to help him. Then he made a decision. Placing his hand on Michael’s shoulder he said, “Michael, get down. Get in the cab. It’s easier.”

 

“No,” Michael protested. But John insisted. Himself joining the others in the back as Michael reluctantly got in the cab.

 

“Come in out of the cold,” joked Jimmy, rubbing his hands together as John entered the canopy. “And shut the door after you. You’re last in.”

 

John examined the back of the canopy. “Looks like the back end is missing; if there ever was one,” he observed, much to the amusement of the others.

 

The men were sat on two low benches facing each other. Jimmy moved up a little to allow John to sit next to him on the end of the bench.

 

The wagon juddered and moved forward, causing the men to sway on the bench. Caught unawares, John fell off the end on to the floor. The men moved up to give him more room on the bench as he scrambled to get back on the seat. The bouncing of the wagon was not helping.

 

Although a familiar mode of transport with navvies, tipper wagons were never made for that. Designed for carrying several tons in weight the wagons have extremely strong rear springs, which are totally ineffective when empty. Therefore, when in motion, the back of the wagon is constantly bouncing, which doesn’t bode well for passenger comfort.

 

“You get used to this luxury travel in time,” remarked Jimmy, as John with difficulty got back on his seat. “But you have to hold on to your seat.” Jimmy watched with amusement as John gripped his seat with both hands.

 

John made no reply as Jimmy continued, “aren’t you the ‘daysent’ man, giving up your nice warm seat in the cab.”

 

“Well, it’s Michael. It was too much to expect him to climb up here. He’s getting a bit old for this game”

 

“Sure aren’t you as old yourself.”

 

“I suppose. But, Michael seemed very stiff this morning.”

 

“You’re a kind man.”

 

Not allowing Jimmy’s sarcasm to get to him. John changed the subject. “You seem in a good mood for a Monday morning. No hangover? Have you stopped drinking again?”

 

“Not a drop all weekend.”

 

“Well. I’m proud of you.” John would have clapped Jimmy’s back. But he dare not take his hand off his seat.

 

John looked across at Andy, who was sat opposite, looking sad: his thoughts apparently miles away. “Andy.” John had to shout to be heard over the noise. “Have you heard anything of Martin?”

 

Andy, looking momentarily startled seemed to take a while to gather his thoughts before shaking his head. “No,” he said. “He’s been away for a few days.”

 

“Do you think he’s gone for good?”

 

“No,” Jimmy intervened, “He’ll be back. Mary said the most of his clothes are still there.”

 

“John,” asked Andy. “If he comes tomorrow will he still get the start?”

 

“I wish I could say yes Andy. But if Ginger Burke turns up I’m afraid there will be no job for Martin. Ginger lives in Burnley. He’s going straight to the job.”

 

“Ah,” said Jimmy. “Put him off. Tell him you’re full up.”

 

“If I was sure of Martin. I’d do that. But we don’t know where he is, or when he’s coming back, if at all. And we don’t know that he wants the job anyway.”

 

“Oh, he wants the job all right. Sure there’s no other work round here.”

 

John thought about it for a couple of minutes. Then, turning to Jimmy said, “Maybe you’re right. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll take a chance. I might be loosing a good man. Ginger is a good man, and I don’t think he’ll like being messed about, but it’s all I can do. I’ll tell him there is no job for him this week, but if he comes back next Monday morning there’s a good chance. That will give Martin a week to sort himself out.”

***

 

 

 

Friday evening Father Downey sighed as he got up to answer the door- bell. There was to be no rest for him that evening he thought. . He had just put his slippers on and made himself a cup of tea He had a busy day. Amongst other things he had met the bishop. That on it’s own was tiring.

The nine o clock news was about to begin. He was hoping to relax for the rest of the evening in front of his little television, a much-appreciated present from a parishioner. But it was not to be. Nonetheless opening the door he put on a cheerful face.

 

“Andy; are you o k?”

 

“Yes. I’m all right. But…”

 

“Come in. Come in,” urged the priest before Andy could say any more.

“It’s a cold evening. I’ve just made a cup of tea. Would you like one?”

 

“Thank you father.”

 

The priest turned the television off. “Take your coat off and sit down,” he said, pointing to the chair.

 

“It’s about Martin, Martin Prendergast,” began Andy when they were both sat down.

 

“Yes Andy?” The priest was concerned.

 

“I just called at Mary’s. He hasn’t been seen for over a week. He told Mary that he was going away, but he said only for a few days.”

 

“He was out of work. Maybe he got a job somewhere else.”

 

“ Mary said the most of his clothes are still there. She’s worried about him. She thought you might know something. She said he had a talk with you before he left.”

 

“Yes. We had a chat. But, he didn’t say where he was going. He didn’t even say he was going away.”

 

What Martin told him was not in the confessional. Therefore, that seal did not bind the Priest. Nor had Martin said it was confidential. Nonetheless, Father Downey felt it should be treated as such. Martin had unburdened himself of something he had kept locked up in his head for so long; something the priest felt he had told no one else. Therefore, without very good reason, he believed it would be irresponsible to reveal any of what Martin had told him. For that reason the priest had not gone to the police, although he had urged Martin to do so.

 

Andy, however, was not giving up so easily. “Father,” he asked, “what did you mean when you told me not to let Martin draw attention to himself. The priest hesitated before replying. “Andy,” he said, “you’re someone who cares about Martin and for that reason I going to tell you something that I trust will not go any further.”

 

Andy nodded and the priest went on. “It was Sunday morning when I spoke to you. Well I talked with Martin on the previous evening and he told me things that I believe were meant to be in confidence. However, I think I can tell you this much. You know about the attack on Michael O’Malley. Martin is convinced that it is a case of mistaken identity: that the intended victim was Martin himself.

 

“How could that happen father?”

 

“Well, for a time, when he worked in the Birmingham area I believe, Martin was known by that name, Michael O’Malley. The person, or persons, who carried out the attack on him thought that Michael O’Malley was he. Martin felt guilty, like it was his fault, and he wouldn’t be told otherwise. He seemed very depressed to me. He might have got it all wrong. When someone is feeling low his mind can play tricks on him.”

 

“He wasn’t himself for the last few weeks.”

 

“In what way Andy?”

 

“Well, he was quieter. He didn’t say much. And it didn’t take much to upset him.”

 

“Did you say anything to him?”

 

“I tried, but he got annoyed when I asked him if he was all right.”

 

“Yes. I don’t think he’d let anyone get too close to him. Have you known him for long Andy?”

 

“Only for about a year. But his brother Jim was our next-door neighbour. He had the next farm to ours in Ireland.”

 

“Do you know if they keep in touch at all?”

 

“No. They don’t. I heard that Martin never writes home. His brother didn’t know where he was, even if he was alive or dead, until about a month ago when I told my mother in a letter that I met him. But, it annoyed Martin. He went mad when I mentioned it to him.” I don’t know if I did the right thing when I gave my mother his address. She passed it on to his brother. He wrote to Martin, but Martin never answered him.

 

“ Well, what’s done is done. No point in worrying about it. You can’t do anything about it now.”

“You knew his brother then. Did he ever talk about Martin?”

 

“No. Not that I can remember. I heard there was some disagreement about who got the land. But, I’m not sure. It might have been about something else. It was before I was born. All I can say is that Jim was a very good neighbour. He was very helpful to us when my father was sick. But, when I mentioned it to Martin he just didn’t want to know.”

 

“Andy, you’re a very caring young fellow. That’s very commendable, but right now there is nothing you can do.”

 

Standing up Andy shook his head. “Thank you father,” he said, and left.

 

Walking away, Andy thought about what the priest had told him. It explained a lot. He then understood why Martin had visited Michael O’Malley in hospital. He wondered what Martin had done to annoy someone so much. There was so much he didn’t know about Martin. The priest had only revealed a little of what Martin had told him. No one, it seemed, told everything.

 

The priest had called Andy a caring young fellow. But, also Andy had not told everything. It was true Andy cared about Martin. However his reasons were not totally unselfish. He had told the priest about Martin’s brother. But, he hadn’t mentioned what was uppermost on his mind: Martin’s brother’s daughter Mary. Mary, that still, no matter how he tried he couldn’t get out of his head.

Realistically Andy knew that the likelihood of ever getting together with Mary was slim. But, he could dream. And no day went by without Andy dreaming about Mary Prendergast: her blue eyes. Her brown hair blowing in the wind, her smile and the twinkle in her eye when she told him things.

 

She once told Andy that she would like to be a nurse. He dreamt that she came to work in the local hospital. She could train to be a nurse there. The hospital, he knew, was short of staff. Then, back to reality, so were most hospitals in England. So why should she come to Broadfield. Maybe. He uncle living there could be the reason, if only he would get in touch.

***

 

 

 

Father Downey had just settled down again when the phone rang. It was definitely one of those evenings. “Yes, Father Downey here.” He was desperately trying to keep the irritation out of his voice.

 

“Hello Father. Sorry to bother you at this time. I wonder if you can help me. My name is Teresa Kelly. I’m trying to trace someone who I believe is one of your parishioners. His name is Martin Prendergast. Do you know him?”

 

“Yes. I know someone of that name. Has something happened to him?”

 

“No father. It’s nothing like that. I just need to meet him. Do you know where he lives?”

 

“No. I’m afraid not.” He didn’t actually know Martin’s address. But, even if he did he would have been wary of giving such information to a stranger: especially in the light of what Martin had recently told him. “Are you a relative?” he asked.

 

“No father. It’s a long story. I’m going up there tomorrow. I thought if it’s convenient I would call on you.”

 

“Where do you live?”

 

“I live in Birmingham. But I have business up there tomorrow.” That wasn’t true. She had no other business.

 

“OK. But, if it’s Martin you wished to see it would be a wasted journey. Martin has not been seen around here for over a week. I had a man call on me just before you rang enquiring if I knew anything of his whereabouts. But, I’m afraid I couldn’t help.”

 

“That’s a pity. But, I’d like to talk to you anyway if it’s all right. Would you have a spare half an hour sometime tomorrow? About lunch time maybe.”

 

“OK. About half past twelve would be a good time for me.”

 

“That’s great. See you tomorrow then father.”

***

 

 

 

Andy returned to Mary’s, only to tell her that the priest had no knowledge of Martin’s whereabouts. There was just Mary and Paddy in the living room, each with a mug of tea, viewing the television. Or at least Mary was. Paddy’s eyes were closed, although he did open then briefly when Andy entered. Paddy shuffled when Mary turned the television off.

 

“Thank you Andy,” said Mary. “Sit down for a minute. It’s good of you to come round to let us know.” Mary thought highly of Andy, often remarking, much to his embarrassment on his good manners and smart appearance. She also praised his regular Mass attendance and avoidance of drink as an example to all.

 

Mary even spoke differently to Andy. Using the refined language reserved for a select few. However he wondered if she tried as hard as, for example, when she was in conversation with the priest.

 

“There’s tea in the taypot Andy,” she said. “Will you have a cup?”

 

“No thank you Mary, I’ve just had one.” Andy was too polite to laugh of even show that he noticed the slip in her refinement of language.

 

“Did he say what Martin went to see him about?”

 

“He said they had a chat, but Martin never told him that he was going away.”

 

“Ah; sure that’s Martin,” said Paddy suddenly becoming alive and letting them know that he was aware of the conversation. “Martin never tells anyone his business.”

 

“Well he must have something to tell,” said Mary, cutting him short. “He went to see the priest. Didn’t he?”

 

Paddy closed his eyes again

“If he doesn’t come back this weekend he won’t have a job,” said Andy “John told me he couldn’t keep it any longer for him.”

 

“I know. Jimmy told me. It’s good of John to keep it this long for him.”

 

“Do you think he’ll come back?”

 

“Well, nearly all his clothes are still there. He’ll need to come back for them anyway.”

 

“Didn’t he take a change of clothes with him?”

 

“I didn’t see him go. He might have taken a few things. But, his suitcase is still in the room.”

 

“Do you think something might have happened to him?”

 

Mary shook her head. “I don’t know.

 

“Do you think we should tell the police?” Andy was thinking of what happened to Michael O’Malley and what the priest had told him about Martin believing that he was the intended victim. But, he didn’t feel he could tell Mary that.

 

“Ah, what good would that do?” she said. “They haven’t caught whoever nearly killed poor Michael O’Malley, have they?”

***

 

 

 

Teresa hummed a tune as she joined the motorway. It was Saturday morning and the traffic was light. She would enjoy the drive. It was her first time on the motorway in the new ford. In fact it was her first proper drive in the new car. Her husband, Tom, was not happy about her taking it that morning, arguing that she needed more experience driving it before taking it on the motorway, as it was much bigger that their previous car. She suspected that was partly why he had chosen it, thinking that it was too big for her to handle.

 

They were both teachers, but at different schools. Teresa’s school was within walking distance of their home, whereas Tom needed a car to get to his school. Therefore, as he would be using it most, she left the choosing to him and she was happy with the choice. Serves him right, she thought. She liked a big car. Handing it was no problem.

 

That day it was her that needed it. Tom certainly did not. He was to go to a stag party that afternoon, which, no doubt, would last all night as well. As she would be alone she was using the occasion to go to Broadfield.

 

Tom didn’t agree with that either, arguing it would be a waste of time, especially after what Father Downey had said. “What’s the point in going all that way if the man you want to see is not there?” he said.

 

He might as well have said it’s another of your hair-brained ideas, she thought. But she was not deterred. Much as she loved Tom, she wasn’t letting him rule her life.

 

“Well, he’s not around here any more,” she replied. She was fairly sure of that. She had her brothers looking for him all week. On the previous afternoon she visited the Antelope. Brendan was as puzzled as she was. Martin had promised to return there, but failed to do so.

 

She found out from Brendan the area in Sparkhill where Martin had booked a room. After visiting several lodging houses she found the right one. She guessed correctly that Martin would have used the name Michael O’Malley.

 

On mentioning the name the landlady knew immediately whom she meant. She even seemed genuinely concerned. “Michael O’Malley! Has something happened to him?”

“No. Not that I know of. It’s just that I’d like to see him.”

 

“And you are?”

 

Teresa was prepared for the question. “My mane is Teresa O’Malley,” she said. “I’m Michael’s niece. Would it be possible to come in for a minute?”

 

“I’m sorry. I’m very busy. It’s tea-time you know.”

 

“Yes, I understand. Could you just tell me if he’s staying here?”

 

“Well; he booked a room last Friday, a week today, but he’s never been back to it. I hope nothing happened to him.”

 

“You knew him previously then?”

 

“Yes. He was my lodger for many years. But, I can’t say I knew him. Nobody did; he kept himself to himself. I’m sorry I have to go.”

 

Teresa was about to ask if she could call at a more convenient time, when the landlady, rudely, closed the door, almost in her face.

 

Teresa was about to knock on the door again. Then, changed her mind and walked away. It was a bad time. But, she wondered, was it more than that? The landlady clearly had no wish to discuss Martin with her any more. Was there something she knew that she was not willing to talk about? Or was it just Teresa that she took a dislike to? Well she is mistaken if she thinks she’s seen the last of me, resolved Teresa.

 

It all depended on how she got on at Broadfield.

***

 

 

 

It was twelve fifteen when Teresa arrived at St Joseph’s church, a quarter of an hour early for her appointment. No point in going to the presbytery yet, she thought. The priest would be busy celebrating Mass. She saw, on the notice board that Mass on Saturdays started at twelve.

 

Teresa entered the church. The small congregation were mostly at the front of the church. Being late for Mass, however, Teresa took a seat near the back. After Mass Father Downey walked to the back of the church ahead of the congregation. He smiled as he passed Teresa. He knows who I am, she thought.

 

Teresa remained in the seat until the rest of the people left. She could hear the priest chatting to the people outside the door. When she thought they had all gone she approached the priest, only to be beaten to it by a young man. The Priest saw her approaching, and held his hand up in a gesture of acknowledgement. “I’ll be with you in a minute,” he said.

 

Teresa stepped back into the porch. Browsing the parish notices, she could hear bits of the conversation, although not intentionally listening.

Then hearing the name Michael O’Malley her ears pricked up. She moved closer to the doorway. She could see the priests face. It looked grave. “How is Catherine,” he asked.

 

“Not so good. She’s shocked. She thought he was getting better.”

 

Teresa’s interest was aroused. Were they talking about the man she was hoping to meet? Just inside the doorway she could hear clearly, and it got more intriguing.

 

“Have you got an undertaker yet?” asked the priest.

 

“Connolly’s, but we don’t know what’s happening yet. The police are involved.”

 

“Yes, of course. It’s a murder case now. I’ll announce the death at tomorrow’s Masses. But, no arrangements can be made yet. Connolly’s will be in touch, and together with the family we’ll make the arrangements when we can. I’ll call on Catherine this afternoon. Will she be in the house?”

 

“She will. Thank you father.”

 

“I’m sorry about that.” The priest walked back to where Teresa was stood. Holding out his hand he said “I take it you’re the young lady I talked to on the phone last night. Teresa is it?”

 

“Yes Father, that was me.” Teresa took his hand. “It’s OK. I think you had urgent business there. I couldn’t help hearing a little of the conversation.”

 

“Yes. It’s bad news. Well come in the house. You’ve come a long way. I’ll tell you about it then.”

 

In the priests living room he took Teresa’s coat and sat her down in the comfortable chair. “Did I hear the name, Michael O’Malley?” She asked.

 

“Yes. He died last night. It’s tragic. He was assaulted and badly beaten up about a week ago. He has been in hospital since then. On Saturday I gave him the last rites. But, since then we thought he was getting better. That was his nephew.”

 

“You’ll have a cup of tea?” Moving towards the kitchen he asked, “milk, sugar?”

 

“Just milk, but tell me father?” the question couldn’t wait any longer. “Was Michael O’Malley connected in any way to Martin Prendergast?”

 

The priest stopped and turned to face Teresa. “Why do you ask that question?”

 

“It’s just something I’ve heard. Could they be the same person?”

 

“No they are not the same person.” The priest hesitated. “Let me make the tea.”

 

In the kitchen, the priest thought about Teresa. She made him feel slightly uneasy. This smartly dressed, educated young lady sat in his living room, who was she? And what was her interest in Martin. She said she was not a relative. Could she be some kind of government investigator? Was Martin being investigated for something: maybe for fraud. She knew about him using a false name and what it was.

 

There was some talk recently about ‘lump labour’ being investigated. Could she be investigating that? He knew some of his parishioners were working on ‘the lump’ (cash in hand and no questions asked). He didn’t like it. But, neither did he blame them. They didn’t have much choice. They had to take whatever work was on offer. As a priest he couldn’t encourage fraud. It was said they were ‘cheating the taxman.’ It was true that they didn’t pay income tax. But father knew that in reality it was they who were being cheated: the pay wasn’t that great and they were expected to work harder and less safely than other workers.

 

He’d learned a lot about ‘the lump’ in the last few months. In his parish there was a big fund raising effort for a widow with three young children. Her late husband Jimmy McCann (Father knew the family well) had died after falling from a scaffold on a building site.

 

Jimmy was on the lump and, therefore his widow got no compensation. It was deemed that it was his responsibility to ensure that the safety barrier (which was not fitted) was in place.

 

After the funeral the priest was invited to attend the gathering in Nora’s pub. Not being a drinker, he wasn’t comfortable in such surroundings. However, he didn’t feel he could decline the invitation and called in for an hour. At first he had to see to things in the church and arrived a little late, just as Brian Hunt, the ‘subbie’ who Jimmy had worked for was leaving.

 

“Bold as brass,” commented Nora from behind the bar, as Brian left. “You’d think it had nothing to do with him.”

 

Many of Jimmy’s workmates were there. Hearing Nora’s comments they just shook their heads, clearly not the reaction she was expecting. As Father Downey listened quietly to the conversation, he was amazed at how Jimmy’s death was accepted almost without question.

 

“Sure Brian is no worse than any other ‘subbie’.”

 

“Don’t we all take that chance when we work on the lump.”

 

“Ah, indeed we do. A man couldn’t be wasting time fitting safety-bars, securing ladders or anything like that.”

 

“He wouldn’t last long if he did. It was an unfortunate accident. No one was to blame.”

 

Michael O’Donnell’s was the only critical voice. “The whole lump labour system is to blame, he said. “I for one will be glad when it’s outlawed.”

 

Hear; hear, cheered Nora. Her late husband had died in similar circumstances some years earlier. But again, the opinion got little support.

 

“Won’t that put a lot of us out of work.”

 

“Not at all,” replied Michael. “The work will still need doing. But it will have to be done safely. The main contractor will not be able to pass the responsibility down to a sub-contractor, like he does now.

But,” sighed Michael, “I’m afraid a lot more men like Jimmy will have to die first.”

***

 

 

 

“Is martin being investigated for something?” Asked the priest as he placed a tray with two cups of tea and a plate of biscuits on the little table.

 

“No,” replied Teresa, turning from browsing the titles of the many books on the bookshelf. “Not in the way you’re probably thinking. I’m not an investigator of any kind. It’s just a personal thing. I would like to meet him and talk with him.”

 

“You say that you’re not a relative. But you do seem to know a great deal about him. For example, you know about his other identity.”

 

“Michael O’Malley; yes Father. I think I’d better start at the beginning and tell you all I know.”

 

With a smile, the priest nodded. Teresa told him her maiden name was Casey: how her uncle was killed in the Irish civil war: how they blamed Martin for it, and how they hated him for it. She told how they recently discovered that they had got it all wrong. They owed Martin a big apology. That was her only reason for wishing to see him.

 

The priest believed her. His earlier doubts were dispelled. He knew, of course that investigators sometimes had cover stories to hide their real reasons for making enquiries. In this case, however, he was convinced that what Teresa told him was true. Also it tied in with what he heard from Martin.

 

“So; Martin was in Birmingham last weekend,” mused the priest. “I should have guessed after what he told me. The question is where is he now and on that I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

 

“You said Father, that you had a talk with him.”

 

“Yes: just a day or two before he went away. But he never mentioned that he planned to leave. He did tell his landlady, though. He said he was going away for a few days. She expects him back. Most of his clothed are still there. But, now it’s been over a week. People are getting concerned.”

 

“Why are they? I get the impression that he’s not a man who tells his business to everyone.”

 

“Yes. You’re right. He’s quite a secretive man. But’ he’s also a truthful man. When he told Mary, his landlady, that he would be away for a few days she believed he meant just that. Also, there is a job waiting for him that can’t be held any longer. But, there is something else that he told me: Something more worrying.” The priest hesitated as if considering whether to go on.

 

“Yes Father.” Teresa was eager to hear it.

 

“OK. Martin never said that what he was telling me was confidential. Nevertheless, I would not normally repeat such things. However, in the light of recent developments, it might not be right to keep this information to myself any longer. I’m seriously thinking of going to the police with it. You’ve come a long way and I think you deserve to know the truth. I trust you will treat this information sensitively.”

 

“Of course father.”

 

“You know about Martin’s other identity?”

 

“Yes; Michael O’Malley.”

 

“Well,” continued the priest. “Nobody knew him by that name around here. Here, he always used his real name, Martin Prendergast. However, by coincidence, a man by the name of Michael O’Malley lived nearby. That man, as you heard, has just died, after being assaulted a couple of weeks ago. Martin was convinced that that assault was a case of mistaken identity: that he was the intended victim.”

 

“Do you think he disappeared because he was frightened?”

 

“Frightened! No. I don’t think he was frightened. Bur, he did feel responsible for what happened to Michael O’Malley. He was blaming himself for it.”

 

“That seems illogical. Was his mind a bit…?”

 

“No. He seemed normal to me. Although, the young fellow that I spoke to yesterday evening, said he thought Martin had been acting a bit strange recently. Oh; and there was something else. There was a letter: a threatening letter. It was left at Martin’s digs, I think about a week before the assault on Michael O’Malley. It was addressed to Michael O’Malley, but Martin was sure it was meant for him. A similar letter was sent to him when he lived in Birmingham. He recognised the handwriting. The letter was left on a shelf, waiting for someone to take it to Michael O’Malley. Then, one time, when he was alone in the house, Martin carefully opened the letter.”

“His fears were confirmed. I don’t know the exact words, but Martin said they were identical to the ones in the letter he received when he lived in Birmingham. He knew he should have taken the letter to the police. I think that was the main reason he felt guilty. But, Martin’s life experiences had made him wary of the police, or, for that matter, of any one in authority. Instead, he removed the letter and resealed the empty envelope: to save frightening Michael O’Malley, he said.”

 

“Who did he think was threatening him Father? Did he think it was my family?”

 

“Yes. I believe he did. Although he was not totally convinced, that was mainly what he suspected. That terrible civil war: people have still got the scars over forty years later. Some, God help them! will take those hatreds to their graves.

 

“My father sees the folly of it all now, and, after meeting Martin, he regrets the ill feelings he had for so many years. But, I can’t bear to think what would happen if any of my uncles met Martin: even now. However, I can’t see any of them being involved in the assault on Michael O’Malley.

 

“There is another possibility. Martin told me he had a bit of a run-in with a racist group when he lived in Birmingham. They don’t normally target Irish people. But, they are very anti IRA. Martin fears that they may be aware of his past connections.”

 

“How could they be?”

 

“Well. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but could you have a younger brother who is somehow involved with that group?”

 

Teresa was shocked. “I hope not.”

***

 

 

 

It was a nice bright spring afternoon. Teresa decided to walk to Mary’s lodging house. Just ten minutes walk the priest said. The walk suited her fine. The new car was safer in the church car park and she needed to think. Her brother Joe; she must talk to him urgently. How could he be so stupid? Or was he? Maybe what Martin suspected wasn’t true. In any case she must talk to him. She realised she didn’t know where he lived. She hoped her parents or one of her other brothers did. On returning to Birmingham she must locate him. Having failed to persuade the priest to omit informing the police about Martin’s suspicions about her brother, it was imperative that she talked to him before the police did.

 

Therefore her stay in Broadfield would have to be a short one. However, while she was there she would at least talk to Mary. The priest said Mary was a nice friendly woman, unlike, Teresa thought, the landlady she tried to talk with in Birmingham.

 

The priest was right. Teresa found Mary extremely friendly and helpful, without in any way seeming suspicious of Teresa. She brought Teresa into the living room where she introduced her to Paddy, who appeared to be dozing on the settee. Paddy merely nodded. The comings and goings of the house seemed of little interest to him. Teresa felt guilty about not being able to tell Mary the real reason for her interest in Martin, but it couldn’t be helped. She again said she was Martin’s niece. Mary accepted that without question: or so it seemed.

 

Mary seemed genuinely concerned about Martin. “I hope nothing’s happened to him,” she said. “He’s a decent honest man.”

 

Teresa could see that Mary really cared about Martin. “When he said he’d be back in a few days,” she continued, “I’m sure he meant it, and the most of his clothes are still in his room. But, now it’s over a week.”

 

“And he gave you no clue as to where he was going?”

 

“Not a clue. I didn’t see him on the day he left. I was out at the time. But he left me a note saying he had to go away, but he’d be back in a cupla days.”

Mary shook her head. “That was over a week ago.”

 

“This is very cheeky, but would you mind awfully if I had a look in his room?” Seeing Mary’s hesitation Teresa added, “I’ll understand if you say no.”

 

“Thank you,” replied Mary. “I would normally say no. He’s a private man and I like to respect that. But, in the circumstances, maybe taking a look can do no harm. I don’t like the idea of looking through his stuff. But, I’m thinking of going to the police and if I do, that’s probably just what they’ll do. Maybe if the two of us had a look first. There might be something there that he wouldn’t want the police to see. Like a lot of Irishmen, he probably hasn’t paid all his taxes.”

 

The police wouldn’t be interested in Martin’s taxes, thought Teresa. Nevertheless she decided it was best to agree with Mary.

“Good idea,” she said. “Let’s go

 

“I haven’t offered you a cup of tea. Would you like one?”

 

“No thank you.” Teresa didn’t wish to waste any time. “I’m fine.” She followed Mary up the stairs.

 

Mary unlocked the door. Martin’s was one of the few rooms with a locked door. Looking in the room Teresa was struck by its neatness.

“Have you tidied the room,” she asked.

 

“No. That’s how he left it. He’s a tidy man. I only go in the rooms about once a week to change the sheets, but I ever touch anything else. This room is always tidy.” “Unlike some others,” she added.

 

“I heard that.”

 

“Jimmy! You sneaked up on us. Well if the cap fits.”

 

“Sure wouldn’t you make it fit.”

 

“Go on with you. Have you just finished work?”

 

“I. It’s a short day on Saturday. Have you heard anything of Martin?”

Jimmy was noting that they were about to enter Martin’s room.

“Not a thing.” Mary seemed slightly uncomfortable, probably, Teresa thought, about being seen taking someone into Martin’s room “This is his niece, Teresa,” she said. “Jimmy McCarthy.”

 

Teresa smiled and nodded, as did Jimmy.

 

“I’m thinking of going to the police,” said Mary, probably by way of explanation.

 

“Well, best of luck,” said Jimmy. “I’d give it the weekend first though. He might turn up this weekend. You never know. He has a job waiting for him on Monday. Well nice meting you Teresa. I’m going for a wash.”

 

“He’s a nice polite young fellow,” remarked Teresa after they both entered the room and closed the door.

 

“Oh. He’s the charmer all right.”

 

Looking around Teresa said, “His suitcase is still there.” She could just see it under his bed.

 

“I, and all his working clothes. I had a look yesterday when I started to get worried about him. He got a pile back from the laundry the week before he left. They are all neatly folded and in his drawers.” Mary pointed to the chest of drawers.

 

“The wardrobe too is full of his clothes. Nothing is left lying around, except those boots.” There was a pair of heavy working boots by the wall.

“He’s a reader. Is he?” A book on the chest of drawers caught Teresa’s eye.

 

“I. He likes to visit the library when he can.”

 

Teresa picked up the book. Man and Superman was the title by Brendan Behan. She opened it. “It’s overdue by a couple of days,” she said. More evidence that he planned to be back before then, she thought.

 

“Oh God! I’ve lost his page.” What was probably his bookmark fluttered to the floor. Teresa picked it up. It was a hand written note.

 

Mary, noticing that Teresa looked perturbed, moved over and joined her reading the note.

It was just a few lines

 

To Michael O’Malley

 

Remember Jimmy Casey?

You’ll still pay

 

 

Teresa recalled that Father Downey had told her that Martin had intercepted a letter, which he believed was for him although it was Michael O’Malley’s name that was on the envelope. This must be its contents, she thought. But, as it was told to her in confidence, she couldn’t repeat it to Mary.

 

Mary was puzzled. “I don’t know who Jimmy Casey is,” she said “But this is to Michael O’Malley: a man who was badly beaten up last week. He’s in hospital, in a very bad way I believe.”

 

“A Michael O’Malley died this morning. Father Downey was informed while I was there. You knew him then?”

 

“Oh God rest him.” The news upset Mary. “Yes; I knew him well: a lovely man.”

“Oh my God!” Exclaimed Mary. “This is a threat,” as if it just dawned on her. “And to Michael O’Malley. Why would Martin write such a thing?”

 

“Maybe he didn’t write it. It’s not signed.”

 

But Mary was not listening. “Oh my God!” she repeated. “Maybe he was the one who beat him up.”

“He’s a murderer!” she exclaimed almost hysterically. “That’s why he’s gone away.”

 

“Calm down Mary, said Teresa firmly. “I think you’re reading two much into this note. We don’t even know that Martin wrote it. And if he did, he didn’t give it to Michael O’Malley.”

 

“What’s he doing with it then?”

 

“I don’t know. But, there might be a perfectly reasonable explanation.”

Teresa thought for a moment. “Can you tell if it’s his hand writing?”

 

“No. I haven’t seen his hand writing.”

 

“Didn’t you say he left a note, saying he was going away?”

 

“ Yes; of course. I forgot about that. I believe it’s still in the kitchen. I’ll have a look. Stay there. I’ll be back in a minute.”

 

Left alone Teresa quickly started opening and closing drawers. Like Mary had said, they all contained clothes, until she came to the large drawer at the bottom of the wardrobe.

 

That drawer contained more books and some personal items: his passport (at least Martin hadn’t planned to leave the country) two letters which Teresa picked up. Both were addressed to Martin in the same hand- writing and both were posted in Ireland, she noted, in the last few months.

 

“Dare I open and read them,” she thought. “Mary might not approve.”

 

Teresa heard the sound of Mary’s footsteps returning. She quickly replaced the letters and closed the door with her foot. As Mary entered she was holding the note.

 

Mary was also holding a note. “I’ve found it,” she said.

 

They compared the notes. “ I’m no handwriting expert,” said Teresa. “But, I’d say, with confidence that those two noted were not written by the same person.”

 

Mary nodded in agreement. “What’s Martin doing with it then?”

 

“That’s the puzzle.” Although part of the puzzle was already solved in Teresa’s head, she couldn’t reveal that to Mary.

 

“There was a letter for Michael O’Malley,” Mary remembered. “It was lying around the house for a long time. Paddy was supposed to give it to him, but he kept forgetting.”

 

“Paddy?”

 

“He’s my husband. You met him downstairs, but he’s useless in some ways.”

 

“Aren’t they all,” Teresa smiled. “In some ways. But, how did the letter get here?”

 

“A young man called a few weeks ago, thinking Michael O’Malley lived here. I just sent him away saying I didn’t know where Michael O’Malley lived. I didn’t exactly. But, then he met Paddy. Paddy took the letter off him, saying he’d pass it in to Michael. Maybe he did, eventually. It’s not here any more”

 

“A young man, you say, gave you the letter.” Her brother Joe, Teresa was thinking, could it have been him?

 

“What did he look like?” she asked

 

“I didn’t take much notice.” Mary thought. “I suppose about twenty, dark hair I think, average height. Why? Do you think you might know him?”

 

“No. No. Just trying to build a picture. Did he sound like he was a local lad?”

 

“No. Could have been a Birmingham accent. I had a man from Birmingham stayed with me once. He sounded like him.”

 

It could be Joe, though Teresa. The description certainly didn’t rule him out as she had hoped it would. Could Joe have written the note? She didn’t know. She wouldn’t recognise Joe’s handwriting. It seemed likely, though, that whoever delivered that letter would be, at least, a suspect.

 

Mary was thinking similarly. “Maybe he was the one that assaulted poor Michael,” she said. “I’ll have to tell the police about him.”

 

Teresa wished she wouldn’t, but couldn’t say so. She made no comment.

 

“And that note,” Mary continued. “I’ll have to give them that as well.”

 

“That will implicate Martin. It will look bad for him, especially now that he’s gone missing.” What am I saying, Teresa thought. Mary must tell all to the police. But, maybe she could be stalled a little.

 

“Maybe if you took that young mans advice and waited until after the weekend,” said Teresa hopefully. “Martin might yet come back.”

 

“Even if he does, I’ll still have to tell the police all that I know.”

 

“Yes. Yes, of course. It just might be interesting to hear Martins explanation before the police start crawling all over the place.”

 

“You think that’s what will happen?”

 

“Yes. I’m afraid so; now it’s a murder case. And when they see that note they’ll have no choice.”

 

“Oh; God help us! It was getting too much for Mary. “Maybe I shouldn’t show them the note. I could just put it back in the book.”

 

“You could. But, then you’d be withholding evidence. We both would.

I suppose we should tell the police.” Teresa thought about that. If they both went to the police station they might be detained there for hours, and she needed to get back to Birmingham to locate her brother. She made a suggestion.

 

“Suppose you sleep on it. Leave it until Monday. If Martin hasn’t shown up by then, go to the police station and tell them everything.”

 

Mary thought for a moment. “O K,” she said. “I’ll do that. But I don’t think I’ll sleep much. Have we finished here?”

 

“You’ve checked all the drawers.” Teresa was thinking of the wardrobe drawer.

 

“Not that bottom one.” Mary indicated the drawer Teresa had in mind.

 

“Should we have a quick look?” Without waiting for an answer Teresa bent down and opened the drawer.

“Not clothes.” Teresa feigned surprise. “Books, his passport, some letters.” Teresa picked up the envelopes. “Dare we read them?”

 

Mary shrugged, which Teresa took as “go ahead.” Handing one of the letters to Mary, Teresa sat on the bed to read the other one. Sitting on the only chair Mary nervously did the same.

 

“Sad,” said Teresa, after reading the letter. Brothers not seeing each other for over forty years; not since they were kids.”

 

“I think Andy Horan once mentioned that he knew Martin’s brother in Ireland. They come from the same part. But, Martin never talked about family.”

 

Teresa suddenly remembered that she was playing the role of Martin’s niece. She knew nothing about Martins family either. She could easily get caught out. She considered whether to continue with the facade. She liked Mary. She deserved the truth. But that would mean betraying Martins secret. She couldn’t do that.

“Yes. My Uncle Jim,” she said as they swapped letters.

 

Both letters were from Martin’s brother Jim to Martin. In the first letter Jim expressed delight in discovering where Martin was, and that he was in good health.

 

He was grateful to Andy Horan, who, when writing to his mother, had given her Martin’s address. She lived close to Jim.

 

Jim was living on a farm in the west of Ireland: the family farm that Martin grew up on. Jim wrote about his family: his wife that Martin should remember (he grew up with her) his daughter who he was proud of. She was in the convent school; also his other two children. He wrote about the farm; the changes he had made to it and the features that were still the same as when Martin was there.

 

Teresa could picture it. She had an uncle who lived on what she imagined to be a similar farm. Only once did she visit it when she was just a child. Nevertheless, such was the impression it made on her, that she understood at least some of what Jim was describing.

 

He also wrote about the neighbours. He told who was then living in the houses Martin would have remembered and who was married to whom. Martin would have remembered them as schoolchildren. He wrote about houses that were then empty: some had fallen down. Those were houses that Martin would have remembered families living in.

 

Jim invited Martin to visit. There was a spare room, he said, now that his daughter was in the convent. He said that Martin would be welcome stay as long as he wished. In any case, he said, please write.

 

The second letter, written about six weeks later, was shorter. In that letter Jim expressed disappointment that Martin had not replied to his first letter. He also apologised for the way he had written it. “I know,” he said. “It must have been a shock hearing from me after so long. I’m sorry if in my letter I made it seem that I was pressurising you in any way. That was not what I meant at all. It would be wonderful to hear from you, but, please don’t feel that you’re in any way under pressure to do so.”

 

After reading both letters it was Mary who spoke first. “He’s grateful to Andy,” she said. “Well I don’t think Martin was very grateful.”

 

“Why do you say that?”

 

“Well, when Andy called round to see him one evening, Martin was very annoyed with him. Now I know why. Stop interfering in my life, he said. Andy was upset about it.”

“It seems he wants nothing to do with his brother or his family,” said Mary. “I wonder what happened to make him like that.” Mary gave Teresa a questioning look.

 

Teresa wished she could tell Mary what she knew. Also, she suspected Mary was having some doubts about whether she was actually Martin’s niece. Luckily Mary knew nothing about Martin’s family. “We’re a strange family,” was all she said.

 

“Did you know Martin in Birmingham?” The question was more demanding.

 

“No. Like I said, we’re a strange family,” repeated Teresa. Then, seeing Mary’s bemused look, she added, “I never met Martin. “I didn’t even know that he existed until after he left Birmingham.”

 

To Teresa’s relief, that seemed to satisfy Mary. “He never mentioned family to you then?” asked Teresa

 

“No. Me and him often had a chat, but he never mentioned any relatives of any kind.”

 

“Well, there’s certainly no evidence of family here.” Teresa looked round the room. “It’s sad,” she said. “No photos or anything like that.”

“The only place we haven’t looked is in the suitcase.”

 

“We might as well have a quick look.” Mary slid the suitcase from under the bed. “It feels empty,” she said. She picked it up. “It’s light there’s nothing in it.” She placed it on the floor. “It’s locked. I wonder why he locked an empty suitcase.”

 

Teresa felt the weight too. “It certainly feels empty. Maybe locking it is just habit.” She replaced it under the bed. Then turning to Teresa asked,

“This Andy Horan? You say he comes from the same part of Ireland as Martin?”

 

“Yes. As far as I know they were next-door neighbours, or nearly next- door neighbours at least: Andy and Martin’s brother, that is.”

 

“I haven’t much time, but if I could I’d like to meet him.”

 

“He wouldn’t be able to tell you much about Martin. Martin would have left before he was born.”

 

Teresa got the impression that Mary was trying to put her off. However she pressed on. “I’d still like to meet him,” she said. “If you could tell me where he lives.”

 

“It’s a bit out of town. He lives with Maggie. She used to keep a lodging house like me. But, now Andy’s her only lodger, if that’s what he is. I think he’s more like a son to her. She’s his aunt.”

 

“Just tell me where he lives. I’ll pay him a quick visit.”

 

“I don’t know if he’ll be in now.” Mary was clearly being evasive. Seeing that Teresa was not satisfied, however, she continued. “Jimmy might know. He works with him. I heard him go down stairs. Come on.”

Teresa followed Mary down the stairs.

***

 

 

 

Jesus, thought Paddy, as he hurried towards Maggie’s house, I’ve married a demanding woman. He didn’t normally mind. He knew what she was like when he married her. Her attitude then, just before he left the house, however, was bewildering. She seemed uncharacteristically panicky: rushing round, searching for the note Martin had left. Then, the urgency in her voice, when she whispered, “go and tell Andy Horan that Martin’s niece is here,” caused him to jump up off the settee. And he only had half the tale. “No time to tell you any more,” she’d hissed. “Just go. Hurry.”

 

He was hurrying, going as fast as he could. He always obeyed Mary, although, that time the point of it all was beyond him. Did she want Andy to go over there? He didn’t know. He didn’t even know the girl’s name. Ah, well, he thought as he knocked on Maggie’s door, I’m sure it will all sort itself out.

 

“Paddy. Paddy Foley. Maggie was surprised to see him. “Come in.” Paddy followed her into the living room.

 

“Have you some news?”

 

“No: not exactly. Is Andy in?”

 

“I think he’s having a wash. Take your coat off and sit down.” Mary left the room.

 

As Paddy removed his coat he heard Mary shout for Andy. Paddy sat on a chair with his coat on his knees.

 

Mary returned. “He’s coming down,” she said. “Here, let me take your coat.”

 

“No. I’m all right. I’m not stopping long.”

 

“Have a cup of tea at least.”

 

“Well, if you insist.”

 

She did. She also took his coat and again left the room.

 

Shortly after, Andy entered, looking worried. “Paddy, you want to see me?”

 

“I do. But, don’t worry. It’s nothing bad. In fact you’ll like what I have to tell you.” Paddy smiled. “There’s a gorgeous young girl in our house,” he continued. “She’s Martin’s niece. Mary told me to tell you she’s there.”

 

Mary Prendergast, thought Andy. But, how could it be? Surely, he’d have heard if she was coming over. “What’s her name,” he asked, getting all excited.

 

“I didn’t catch her name.”

 

Mary was Martin’s only niece that Andy knew of, although, he though, it was possible that she had a niece, or maybe more in America.

 

“Did she sound American?” asked Andy.

“No. No definitely not American.”

 

It’s Mary Prendergast. It must be, though Andy, his excitement growing. “Did she ask for me?” His voice was quivering.

 

Paddy didn’t know whether she did or not. But, seeing the effect the mention of her had on Andy he answered mischievously. “Of course. Why do think I’m here?” Also, it was the best way to ensure that Andy accompanied him back to the house.

 

Maggie appeared at the door with a mug of tea for Paddy.

“Will you have one Andy?” she asked.

 

“No thank you.” Not waiting for Maggie to fully enter the room, Andy rushed past her, almost spilling the tea. “I’m going for a wash and change he said. Startled, Maggie watched him take the stairs two at a time.

 

“What’s up with him?” asked Maggie. “He’s just had a wash and changed his clothes.”

 

“Leave him be,” said Paddy. “I think he’s in love.”

***

 

 

 

In Mary’s living room Jimmy was sat on his own watching the television, until Mary interrupted him. “Jimmy, will Andy be home now?” she asked.

 

“Oh, he will. We both came home on the wagon together.”

 

“I would like to see him,” said Teresa.

 

“Wait here. I’ll go and get him.” Jimmy stood up.

 

“Good on you,” said Mary. She turned the television off. Then she turned to Teresa. “Sit down. I’ll make you a drink while you wait, and something to eat. You must be starving.”

 

Clearly, Andy was the one she must meet, thought Teresa. Much as she needed to get back to Birmingham, she couldn’t leave Broadfield without meeting him. He came from the same place as Martin, and despite the fact that he wouldn’t have known Martin over there, she was confidence that there was much Andy could tell her about him.

 

Her knowledge of the area that Martin came from may be somewhat scant. However her father came from somewhere nearby and after years of listening to her father and friends of his, one thing she had no doubt about was that the people knew their neighbours. As her father once crudely put it, “You couldn’t have a shit without the neighbours knowing.”

 

Her uncle’s death would be still remembered. She was certain of it: also Martin’s involvement in the death. Andy, no doubt would have heard it discussed on numerous occasions. It would be interesting to hear what people, not so close to the case as her father, thought about it.

 

On problem, though; with Andy she wouldn’t get away with pretending to be Martin’s niece. Andy would know the family too well. But, thought Teresa, Andy would know all about Martin’s past. What she felt that she couldn’t tell Mary, Andy would be familiar with. Therefore, there would be no need to pretend to Andy. She could tell him her real reason for wishing to meet Martin.

 

Not in Mary’s presence, however. That would lose Teresa’s credibility in Mary’s eyes. She had no wish for that. Therefore, she must go to Andy. Allowing Andy to come to her was out of the question. Both Mary and Jimmy, however, were almost demanding that she wait there while Jimmy got Andy. She couldn’t allow it.

 

“No. That’s too much trouble,” insisted Teresa. “I need to be getting going anyway. I’ll get the car. Just tell me where he lives. I’ll pay him a quick visit on my way.”

 

“Ah, sure it’s no trouble. No trouble at all.” Jimmy was resolute. “Sit down. Have something to eat. I’ll be back with Andy before you know it.”

 

“You’d have a job to find the house anyway,” added Mary. “It’s a bit off the road.”

 

Teresa was fighting an uphill battle against the two of them. Turning to Jimmy she tried another tactic. “O K,” she said, using what charms she could muster, “come with me then. Show me where the house is. I’ll drop you back after.”

 

That did it. She had found Jimmy’s weakness. He clearly warmed to the idea. “OK,” he said. Then turning to Mary, “no use arguing with her any more.

 

Mary just shook her head.

***

 

 

 

“I left the car at the church,” Teresa informed Jimmy as he closed the door.

 

“I wondered where it was,” replied Jimmy, as they set off walking at a fast pace. “I thought I’d have noticed it when I came in if it was on the street. We don’t get many cars on this street.”

 

“Well, the children are safer for that.” Many children, Teresa observed, were playing on the street.

 

“I suppose. It’s just as well. There’s no where else for them to play.”

 

“Isn’t there a park?”

 

“There is. But it’s a long way off. Sure the mothers don’t have time to take them there. Most of them are working full time in the cotton mill down the road.”

 

“How do they manage that, with such small children?”

 

“I think it’s a matter of having to. Mostly, I think, they’re working different shifts and taking turns looking after each others kids.”

 

“Your very knowledgeable on the social arrangements.”

 

“I wouldn’t say that. Just certain things you couldn’t but know.”

 

“Your accent is like my father’s,” said Teresa, changing the subject. “Are you from Mayo too?”

 

“Oh, I am, but a long way from where Martin and Andy comes from. It’s a big county; Mayo.”

 

“Is there anyone left there now? They seem to be all over here.”

 

“I, there’s a lot of Mayo people here all right. But there’s still plenty there. There’s a lot going back and over, as they say. They come to this country to make a bit of money and then go back. Their homes are still over there.”

 

“Do you still think of over there as home?”

 

“I suppose I do. But it might be a good while before I see the place again.”

 

“Do you thing Martin still thinks of over there as home.”

 

Jimmy hesitated before answering. “It’s hard to know what Martin thinks. It’s over forty years since he was there, but he’s still the most Irish Irishman I know. Sure, you only have to look at him to see that he’s a Kiltamagh man. I’m told he used to like talking about the place, but lately even the mention of Ireland annoys him.”

 

“Martin is a moody man then?”

 

“Only lately. I don’t know what’s come over him. I’m told he’s normally a jovial kind of man. I thought that myself when I first came here. I’ve only been at Mary’s for about a month. Martin was very friendly at first. But, then he changed. I thought it was me at first: that I’d done something to upset him. But he’s been the same with everyone.”

 

“And now he’s gone away. You’ve no idea where he is?”

 

“No. No idea. Mary says she’s going to the police, but I don’t thing that they’ll be much help. They won’t care about a missing man, especially an Irishman. They might only use it as an excuse to harass us all.”

 

“Yes. I’m afraid you’d better be prepared for your place being the centre of a police investigation.”

 

“What?” Jimmy gave Teresa an incredulous look. “Over Martin going missing?”

 

“Yes, That, and have you heard about Michael O’Malley?”

 

“He was assaulted last week. But, what has that got to do with us?”

 

“I’m afraid it’s worse than that. The man’s dead.”

 

The curious look on Jimmy’s face was saying, how can you, a stranger to the area know that? Teresa explained. “I called on Father Downey earlier. He was informed of the death while I was there.

 

“That’s bad news, but I still don’t see what it’s got to do with us”

 

Teresa had said too much. She couldn’t reveal any more of what she knew. “It’s just a feeling I have,” she said dismissively.

 

Jimmy, however, was not put off so easily. “You think Martin going away has something to do with the assault on Michael O’Malley?”

 

“I don’t know. I don’t know what I think.”

 

To Teresa’s relief Jimmy didn’t pursue the matter any further. Nevertheless, as they continued walking in a kind of uneasy silence, she sensed that he knew that she was not telling all she knew. Then Jimmy broke the silence.

 

“There’s Paddy. Paddy Foley, and I think its Andy, the man you want to see, that’s with him.

 

Teresa could see two figures approaching. “It’s definitely Paddy,” continued Jimmy. “There’s no mistaking big Paddy in that donkey jacket and flat cap.” Jimmy waited until they got closed before proclaiming, “Yes it’s Andy all right, still not wearing a coat. Silly man.”

***

 

 

“Did she have an Irish accent,” asked Andy as he and Paddy hurried along at a fast pace.

 

“Yes. I think she did.” Paddy wasn’t sure. He’d hardly heard her say anything. “Anyway, you’ll soon find out. That’s her coming towards us. I recognise the red coat. I think it’s young Jimmy that’s with her. Come on. Don’t lag behind.”

 

Andy had slowed down to compose himself. He could feel his heart racing. The excitement was too much. He could barely speak. “O K,” was all he could manage.

 

When they got closer, however, and it became clear that it was not the girl he had expected, his excitement changed to disappointment and anger. He was angry with Paddy for misleading him. But, mostly, he was angry with himself. He should have known that it couldn’t be Mary Prendergast.

 

“This is Andy Horan,” said Paddy. Then, turning to Teresa, “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name.”

 

“I’m Teresa,” she said with a smile, holding out her hand, which Andy dutifully but reluctantly took, the disappointment still showing on his face.

 

Jimmy was puzzled. “She’s Martin’s niece,” he said, attempting to get Andy interested. “She came to see Martin but of course he’s not here.”

 

“I was in the area,” said Teresa. “So I thought I’d look him up. It was bad timing.”

 

Teresa’s refined Birmingham accent was not one that Andy recognised. It was not American. At least Paddy had got that right. But, he should have known that it was not Irish. Convinced that she was not Martin’s niece, Andy felt his resentment growing. Finally he spoke.

 

“You say you’re Martin’s niece?”

 

Teresa sensed the hostility in the question. Andy clearly knew that she was not Martin’s niece. She was on the spot. She decided to dodge the question.

 

“You grew up close to Martin’s brother and his family (Teresa didn’t say my uncle. It would be less to correct later) I thought we could have a chat. I’m sure there’s so much you can tell me.”

 

Andy shook his head. “I’ve nothing to say to you.”

 

Paddy was shocked. It was so unlike Andy. “Don’t be like that Andy,” he pleaded. “It’s not like you.”

 

Jimmy too was taken aback by Andy’s apparent rudeness. “What’s wrong with you Andy?” he demanded to know. “The Lady only wants a chat. What harm can that do?”

 

Andy, however, remained silent.

 

Then Teresa spoke. “Never mind Andy. You needn’t talk to me if you don’t want to. I just thought it would be nice. But, it’s up to you. I’m sorry for wasting your time.” Then, turning to the others, “well I must be on my way. It’s been nice meeting you all. Thanks for your help Jimmy.” With that Teresa set off walking

 

Annoyed, Jimmy turned on Andy. “There was no need for that. You’ve upset the lady. Go after her and say you’re sorry.”

 

Again, Andy shook his head. “She’s not Martin’s niece.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Yes. I’m sure.”

 

“Well in that case Andy,” said Paddy. “You did the right thing not talking to her. Good on you.” Paddy slapped Andy on the back, which Andy obviously didn’t appreciate. “Sure she could be anyone, pretending to be Martin’s niece; you never know what you’d be telling her. Mary must have suspected her. That’ll be why she asked me to get you. There’s no flies on Mary, I’ll tell you.”

 

As Teresa hurried away without a backward glance, Jimmy remarked, “I think she realised her game was up, whatever her game was. I was starting to have some doubts myself, but I put them out of my head again. For a stranger she knows an awful lot about what’s going on. She told me Michael O’Malley had died. Now, why would she be interested in that?”

“Oh, God rest him.” It was clearly the first time Paddy had heard of Michael’s death.

 

Andy silently shook his head, as Jimmy continued, “I think she knows more than she’s letting on.”

 

“What makes you think that,” asked Paddy.

“Well, for one thing, she said our house would be the centre of a police investigation.”

 

“Oh, Jesus! That’s just what we need. But why?”

 

“That’s the strange thing. Mary told her that she was going to report Martin going missing to the police. But, when I said that I didn’t think the police would be interested in a missing Irishman she said it would also be about Michael O’Malley’s death.”

 

“What’s that got to do with us?

 

“That’s what I asked her, but she didn’t give me straight answer. Maybe she realized that she said too much. When I asked her if she thought that Martin disappearing had something to do with the death of Michael O’Malley she said she didn’t know what she thought. But, it was her that made the connection.”

 

“Sounds like she has something to do with the police.” Paddy was worried. “We’d better get back and warn the others in case she’s right about that investigation.”

 

“Ah, don’t mind that,” said Jimmy. “Sure we’ve nothing to worry about.”

 

“I don’t know. You never know what they’d find. Andy you must be freezing with no coat on. Come back with us for a warm.”

 

“No. I’ll be going back to my own place now.”

***

 

 

 

Teresa quickened her pace. She was in very agitated state: a state she hoped she’d concealed from the three men she was hurrying away from. She could almost feel their eyes piercing her back. She knew that her hasty retreat would only confirm their suspicions of her. It couldn’t be helped. She had to get away.

 

Teresa regarded herself as a reasonably strong woman. She was certainly no weakling when dealing with men. Growing up with three brothers (she was the only girl) she couldn’t be. Andy however, was something else. What she saw in his eyes was pure hatred.

 

Clearly Andy knew immediately he set eyes on her that she was not Martin’s niece. For that she was at least partially prepared, but the degree of hostility he had shown her was beyond her comprehension. She was bewildered. Andy loathed her and, no doubt, so would the others once he told her that she was not who she said she was.

 

It was not a good end to her visit to Broadfield. Nevertheless the end it must be. Her business there was finished. There was no point in hanging on any longer. Martin was not there and Andy, the only one who could tell her about Martin’s past’ was clearly not willing to do so. Even if he was she couldn’t face him again.

 

As Teresa approached the car she felt faint. She needed to sit down. To steady herself she leaned her back against her car while she fumbled in her handbag for her keys. She was unaware of the priest’s approach until she heard his voice.

 

“You have a nice car Teresa.” On his way from the church to the presbytery, Father Downey had stopped to make the friendly comment.

 

Teresa however was in no mood for a conversation about the car or anything else. “Thanks Father,” was all she could manage.

She found the keys. Then, from a shaking hand she dropped them on the tarmac.

 

“Are you Ok?” Father Downey sounded concerned. Seeing Teresa stumble retrieving her keys it must have been obvious to him that she was not OK.

 

“Yes Father. I’m OK.” Unsteadily Teresa put the key I the door lock. “I just need to sit down.”

 

“Come in the house. I’ll make you a drink.”

 

“No Father. I meant in the car.” Teresa opened the door and collapsed into the driver’s seat. She didn’t wind the window down or look at the priest again. After a few seconds she composed herself, started the engine and drove off, ignoring the Priest’s protests.

 

 

Chapter 11. Joe Casey.

 

Joe Casey was feeling pleased with himself that Saturday afternoon as he drove his van on the Warwick road. He’d just collected the van, of which he was then the proud new owner. It was a small five cwt ford; second hand of course. The back doors seemed to rattle more than on it’s test-drive the previous evening. Nevertheless it handled well.

 

It was his first step in launching his new career. He was a painter and decorator and was about to start on his own. He had already done some of the preparatory work. He’d approached some contractors and got some positive responses. So confident was he that he’d planned to give up his job. He would hand in his notice on Monday. All he had been short of was transport and then he’d got it.

 

It would only be a one-man business: although, he envisaged, not for long. He had given much thought to how it would go. He didn’t need premises at first, other than his flat, which would also be his office. He would have a telephone installed. He would keep his materials in his van. His name would be on the sides of the van. He pictured it,

 

JOE CASEY

PAINTER & DECORATOR

 

His girl friend would be impressed, as would his parents. He was on his way to see his parents then. Such visits were rare, especially since he moved to Smithwick, as his brother, Paddy, who he occasionally met, was always reminding him. “They could be dead and buried and you wouldn’t know,” Paddy stated. when they last met.

 

“You’d tell me”

 

“If I knew where you lived. Give me your address then.”

 

Reluctantly, on Paddy’s insistence, Joe gave him the address of his flat.

“Don’t be giving this to anyone else, especially Teresa,” Joe stressed.

“I don’t need her coming round complaining about the state of the flat.”

 

“Don’t worry,” Paddy laughed. “It’s just in case of an emergency.

***

 

 

 

Suddenly Joe had to brake hard to avoid hitting the car in front. He wasn’t concentrating on his driving and hadn’t noticed until almost too late that the traffic ahead had come to a halt. There was a queue of traffic approaching Acocks Green. He was still an inexperienced driver. It was only a month since he’d passed his test and, apart from a test drive on the previous evening, this was the only driving he’d done since then.

 

He was telling himself that he must concentrate harder when he spotted the big man on the footpath ahead, walking briskly towards the town. It was Dave Campbell. Even from the back there was no mistaking him.

He must have come out of the side road, Dudley Park Road, on Joe’s left, thought Joe. Could he have seen him? Thankfully, Joe thought, probably not. In any case, he seemed to have more pressing things on his mind, like getting to wherever it was he was hurrying to get to get to. He was the last man that Joe wished to see, or to be seen by. Amongst other things, Joe was planning to take some of what Dave might think of as his work.

 

The traffic started to move. There was a danger that Joe would have to stop again where Dave would see him. To avoid that he took a left turn into Dudley Park Road. That was a close one, he thought as he drove along Dudley Park Road. It didn’t matter if he did a detour: the drive was mostly to test the van. He held his hand in front of the air vent. He felt warm air. The heater was working. On the whole he was pleased with the van. Then he noticed that the fuel gauge was showing almost empty. Better get back on the Warwick Road where he’d seen a petrol station. He took a left turn. Another left turn should take him back on the main road.

 

The strange behaviour of a man on the footpath caught Joe’s, attention. The man in a heavy overcoat was running and occasionally glancing over his shoulder as if he was being chased. As Joe got closer he thought the man seemed vaguely familiar. He slowed down to have a closer look. When level with the man he recognised his ex workmate, who was clearly in some sort of trouble.

 

Joe stopped the van, wound the window down, and called “Alan.” Alan continued running, giving no indication that he’d heard. Joe piped his horn. That seemed to startle Alan, but with barely a glance in the direction of the van, he continued running.

Joe drove the van forward to again draw level with Alan. He called again, “Alan, what’s wrong?” That time he got his attention. Alan stopped and turned. Joe got out of the van and repeated “Alan what’s wrong.

 

Alan didn’t answer. He just stared at Joe with a wild and frightened look on his face. Then, apparently on recognising Joe, suddenly and unexpectedly, he dashed to the van, opened the door and dived into the passenger seat

 

Drive.” Alan sounded Panic stricken. “Hurry, Hurry,” he screamed, before Joe had even got back into the driver’s seat.

 

“Where to?”

 

“Anywhere. Just go.”

 

Joe did as told. Approaching the end of the street, he indicated that he was turning left, which would take him back on the Warwick Road.

 

No. No.” Alan panicked. “The other way.”

 

Again Joe did as told. There seemed no point in arguing or even trying to talk to Alan. He just kept on driving. Being unfamiliar with the area he didn’t know where he was heading. They reached another t-junction. Glancing at Alan, Joe indicated a left turn. That time Alan made no comment. Joe reasoned that it didn’t matter to Alan where they went as long as they kept away from the Warwick Road. With that in mind he continued driving in silence, not knowing for how long it would continue or where they would end up. Alan’s constant turning of his head, apparently checking if they were being followed, was also unnerving Joe.

 

Joe noticed the fuel gauge was showing empty. He’d forgotten about that. “Alan,” he said. “We need petrol. We’re going to run out any time. We need to get back on the Warwick Road.”

 

Alan checked the gauge. “No,” he said. “Not the Warwick Road. “Keep going on this road. It will take you to the Coventry Road. You’ll get petrol there.”

 

“If we make it.”

 

“We have to.”

 

Alan was clearly desperate. Unquestioning Joe continued doing as told. He was helping a friend although he had no idea what his problem was. It was months since they had last met. But, there was a time when Joe and Alan were good friends as well as work-mates. He wondered what it was that Alan was so scared of. Was it the law? If so, it was so unlike the Alan he used to know. Joe used to belong to a small gang that occasionally had brushes with the law. Alan, however, was never really part of that gang. Alan was the well-behaved lay abiding one. While Joe and others were sometimes reckless Alan urged caution, or, more often walked away. Joe couldn’t see him changing that much.

 

Yet something was scaring him; terrifying him even. Sooner or later Joe would find out. Probably it was nothing too serious, he thought. It was just Alan being Alan. What Alan often regarded as deadly serious, Joe saw as trivial.

 

“We’re in luck,” said Joe “There’s a petrol station.” They had just turned on to the Coventry Road. Alan’s only reaction was a brief nod.

 

It was a self-service petrol station. “I won’t be long.” Joe got out of the van, leaving Alan staring at a car that had driven up by another pump.

As Joe approached the van, after paying for the petrol, he couldn’t see Alan. He looked around. There was no sight of him. Maybe he’s gone to the toilet, thought Joe. I’ll wait for him in the van.

 

On opening the van door he saw him, crouched down in front of the seat, out of sight from the outside. “Alan,” he said. “What are you doing? Get up. No one’s looking.”

 

Alan did get up, but, not to sit on the seat. Instead, with difficulty, he scrambled over the seat into the back of the van, where he sat on the floor, while Joe watched with indifference. Nothing Alan did surprised him any more. “Just drive,” said Alan. “Get out of here.”

 

Obediently Joe started the engine and drove off. Out of the petrol station Joe turned left, heading for the city centre. Alan made no objection. He was too intent on watching, through the back window, what was happening behind. Was he worried about being followed? It must be the man who filled up from another pump. There was no one else.

Joe didn’t recognise the man. He was on his way in to pay as Joe was coming out. But, as far as Joe could tell he’d shown no interest in Alan. Probably he was unaware that Alan was even there. Almost certainly it was just Alan being paranoid.

 

What was Joe to do with him? He couldn’t throw him out. Maybe he was in real danger, although Joe doubted it. But, what did Alan want from him? Where did he wish to go? Joe had a full tank then and could take him wherever he wished. Joe just needed to know.

 

“Alan,” he shouted. He had to shout to be heard over the rattling of the rear doors. “Where do you want to go?” It was no good. He wasn’t heard, or if he was Alan gave no indication of it. In his interior rear view mirror Joe could just see the back of Alan’s head, which obscured his view from that mirror. It didn’t matter. He could use his wing mirror, in which he saw that a car was about to overtake. He pulled in to allow it to pass. It was not the car that was at the petrol station. There was no sign of that car. It must have gone the other way.

 

Right, thought Joe, it’s time to sort this out. He took the next left turn, then a right, before stopping in front of what appeared to be a lock up workshop. There was nobody about. He shut the engine down. It was quite. They could talk.

 

“Alan,” he demanded. “It’s time you told me what all this is about.”

 

“I’m sorry.” Alan shuffled himself round to face Joe. “You deserve an explanation.” Alan paused while he tried to make himself more comfortable.

 

“Why don’t you come back in the front seat? We can have a proper talk then.” Alan looked slightly dubious, but didn’t dismiss the idea. “Don’t worry,” continued Joe. “There’s no one about. I’ll open a back door. It’s easier that way.” Joe jumped out and had the door open before Alan could disagree.

 

Alan didn’t disagree. He even seemed relieved to be back in the front seat. “Would you like a drink?” Joe handed him the large bottle of coke that he’d bought in the petrol station.

 

“Thank you.” Alan eagerly drank from the bottle. Joe wasn’t rushing him. Alan handed the bottle back and cleared his throat. “It’s bad, what I’ve got to say.”

 

“Go on. Let’s hear it.” Joe wasn’t expecting it to be very bad.

 

“I was involved in a murder; maybe two murders.”

 

The revelation caused Joe’s eyebrows to rise. Maybe it is bad after all, he thought, still finding it hard to believe.

 

“What I thought would be no more than a bit of an adventure has turned into a nightmare.” Alan told of what happened in Broadfield, ending with, “I should never have done it. I was so stupid.”

 

“Yes, you were. We all do stupid things. But, it’s so unlike you. What came over you?”

 

“I don’t know.” Alan just shook his head.

 

“It’s that bastard Dave Campbell. He got you and Tommy to do his dirty work while he kept well out of it. He’s in the clear while the Police are after you. I take it that’s what’s frightening you?”

 

“No. Not the police. Not yet, I don’t think.” Alan hesitated. “I haven’t told you the worst yet.”

 

“Go on.” The gravity of Alan’s situation was at last dawning on Joe. Alan told of the events of the previous evening and night. About the man telling them that he knew what they’d done and that they’d got the wrong man. He told how Dave had killed the man with the starting handle and how they’d left the body on the road.

 

“You’re sure he was dead?”

 

“Yes. There was certainly no sign of life. Dave wanted to make it look like a road accident. He was going to run the van over the body. But he changed his mind when he saw a car coming.”

 

“Yes,” Joe agreed. “It’s bad all right. Dave; he’s a ruthless bastard. But I don’t understand. What is it you’re running away from? You say it’s not the police?”

 

“It’s Dave. I think he wants to kill me.”

 

“Why?”

 

“He thinks I will tell the police about what he did.”

 

“Is that what you plan to do?”

 

“Maybe… I don’t know…. I might.”

 

“What did you say to him?”

 

“I told him I might tell the police.”

 

“ Oh! Jesus. That was suicidal. You are stupid.” It was as bad as Joe imagined it could be. He knew Dave. He knew what he capable of. Alan was not exaggerating. Dave would be desperate. He would stop at nothing, including murder –another murder- to prevent Alan going to the police. Why was Alan so stupid? If he was going to report Dave to the police, surely Dave was the one person that shouldn’t be told about it.

 

“Let me get my head round this,” said Joe. “You’ve just been talking to Dave?”

 

“I was trying to get away from him. He followed me up that street.”

 

“And when he caught you, you told him that you were going to report him to the police?”

 

“Yes. Sort of. We were arguing. He dared me to go to the police and I said I might.”

 

“I just saw Dave heading for Acocks Green just before I saw you.”

 

“He was going for his van. He warned not to move until he came back for me.”

 

“At least you did the right thing then: not waiting for him. You’re lucky you got the chance. What are we going to do with you? Where do you live?

 

“I have a flat, just off the Warwick road. But, I can’t go there. Dave knows where I live.”

 

Joe shook his head. “I don’t know how you’ll get out of this,” he said. He thought for a minute. Then he made a decision. “Right,” he said. “For now, you’re coming with me. I have a flat. It’s about half an hour’s drive away, in Smethwick. Dave won’t find you there.”

 

“I’m very grateful,” was Alan’s only reply.

 

The journey was mostly in silence. After a while, glancing at Alan, Joe noticed that his eyes were closed. “You seem very tired. I don’t suppose you got much sleep last night.”

 

“No. None at all.” Alan closed his eyes again.

 

Although Joe had many more questions to ask, like, who was the man in the petrol station that Alan seemed so scared of, he decided to leave it,

and let Alan rest. The constant rattling of the back doors and the hard suspension in any case, made the conditions far from conducive for conversation: or for sleeping. Nevertheless every time Joe glanced, Alan had his eyes closed.

 

Parking was some distance from Joe’s flat, which was on the first floor. “Did you actually sleep with all that noise?” asked Joe as they climbed the stairs.

 

“No. I just needed to close my eyes.” Alan seemed barely awake even then.

 

“It’s nice and warm,” remarked Alan as they entered the living room, which was also a dinning room and kitchen.

 

“Yes. I left the heat on. It costs no more.”

 

A large settee in the living room left room for little else. The little table in front of it was obviously Joe’s dinning table. On it was the unwashed plate and eating utensils from the last meal. Tidiness was clearly not Joe’s strong point. Socks, underpants, and other items of clothing were strewn on the floor.

 

“I wasn’t expecting visitors. I’ll be taking a trip to the launderette soon, said Joe, picking some clothes of the floor and tossing then towards a corner of the room where there was a bag full of dirty clothes.

.

Joe showed Alan the bathroom the small bedroom. The flat was clearly designed for just one person. “I think you need sleep more than anything,” he said. “You can use that bed.”

 

“No. I couldn’t take your only bed.”

 

“You must.” Joe had given the matter some thought. If anyone came to the door, he didn’t wish him to see Alan. “Believe it or not, I changed the sheets this morning. That’s what’s in that bag, waiting to go to the launderette.”

 

“I didn’t mean about the sheets. I just can’t take your only bed.”

 

“It’s not my only bed. That settee makes a comfortable bed. But, first lets have something to eat. When did you last eat?”

 

“Not today, but I’m not hungry.”

 

“Well, I’m making a bacon sanni for myself. I’m sure you’ll manage one too.”

 

Joe decided that he was going to look after Alan. On the journey back to the flat he had given much thought to the situation. He concluded that he (Joe) was at least partially responsible for Alan’s plight. It would never have happened if he hadn’t, with his idle chat, drawn the Angry Whites attention to his family’s predicament.

 

He hadn’t asked them to do anything. He just wanted to impress the gang that he so wanted to be part of. They hated the IRA and the IRA had murdered his uncle. Joe thought that by revealing his own good reason for hating that organisation would make him more acceptable to the gang. How stupid he was.

 

He did become part of the gang. But not for long he soon became disillusioned; so disillusioned that he no longer felt he could work for Dave.

 

It was on his last day that, as a parting gift, Dave informed him that they, the gang, had “sorted his family’s problem.”

 

“What do you mean, “sorted?” Joe asked.

 

“We ran the man out of town. He won’t bother your family any more.”

 

“How did you do it?”

 

“Don’t worry. We have our ways. We can’t tell you. You’re not one of us any more.”

 

“No. I’m not, and I never asked you to do whatever it was that you did.”

 

“I bet your family is glad that we did.”

 

Joe said no more. He hadn’t told the family that he’d mentioned their problem to anyone else. He had left home then and contact with his family was minimal.

 

Joe hardly gave the matter another thought, until months later when he met his brother Paddy and the subject was raised.

“The man seems to have disappeared,” Paddy told him.

 

“Oh! That’s good. Isn’t it? Joe felt slightly uneasy, knowing what he did.

 

“I’m not sure if it is,” replied Paddy. “The old man is now thinking that he might have got it all wrong, And Teresa has got very interested in what happened. She’s writing letters to everyone that might know anything.”

“Don’t mention this to anyone.” Paddy added, giving Joe a stern look. “Lets keep it in the family for now.”

 

It was too late for that. Nevertheless Joe nodded. He regretted his blabbing. But there was nothing he could do about it then. Telling Paddy would only cause more upset, or so he justified not doing so.

 

Again Joe put the subject to the back of his mind, until weeks later when he met his brother Paddy again. Paddy told him that, thanks to Teresa and her letter writing, it was then thought likely that the man they thought guilty of murdering their uncle had nothing to do with that crime.

 

“Oh!” Joe was taken aback. What had he done to an innocent man? “Do you know where he lives now?” he asked

 

“Yes. We discovered that too. He is, apparently, living happily in the north of England, where he used to live previously.”

 

“Do you know why he left here? Was it because his true identity was discovered?”

 

“Well, I talked to Brendan, in the Antelope, about that. Brendan knows everything. He thinks it was because his Job had finished. A man comes in to Brendan’s pub occasionally that seems to know all about Martin. His landlady is Martin’s landlady’s sister or something like that. He says Martin just moved back to where he had lived previously. He has lots of friends there. Although he’s a secretive man and tells no one his business, Brendan thinks that his moving there had little or nothing to do with his identity being discovered. He moved to where he’s happiest: to where most of his friends are.”

 

Joe was glad to hear it. Instead of being “run out of town” as Dave had put it, the man had left of own free will. His leaving was not a consequence of Joe’s blabbing. Joe could sleep easy.

 

He should have learned from that. But, no, I never learn, thought Joe.

A few weeks later he met Brian King. It was on a building site where Joe worked. Joe was painting the outside of a window when he felt the tap on his shoulder.

 

“Joe Casey. Remember me?”

 

Joe turned to face the smartly dressed man. He remembered him all right, but what his business on the site was Joe didn’t know. He was too well dressed to be a building worker of any kind. Probably some kind of sales rep, Joe thought. Joe never did know what he did for a living. He just remembered that, along with Dave Campbell, he organised the “Angry Whites”.

 

Joe was not pleased to see him. He had grown to intensely dislike the man. Also he reminded Joe of a time of his life that he would prefer to forget. “Yes, I remember you,” he said coldly.

 

“You never told us why you left us.” There was no mistaking the hostility in the comment.

 

“Did I have to?”

 

“Yes. I think you owed us that courtesy.”

 

Joe had moved on. No longer in awe of Brian, he looked him in the eye.

“I didn’t owe you anything.”

 

“What about the big favour we did for you?”

 

“Favour?”

 

“Yes. Remember, the man who murdered your uncle: the man we drove out of town for you.”

 

“I never asked you to do that.”

 

“Come on. You came crying to us. You and your brothers were too frightened to do anything. The man that killed your uncle was there laughing at you and there was nothing you could do about it.”

 

Joe was riled. He was especially angered by the way his brothers were being put down.

“You’re talking shite as usual,” he retorted. “It wasn’t like that and you know it.”

 

“Oh! Wasn’t it? How was it then?”

 

“For one thing, you didn’t drive him away. He was going anyway. His job had finished.”

 

“You know that do you?” Brian smirked

 

“Yes. I do.”

 

“So. Where is he now then?”

 

“He’s back in the north of England, in a place called Broadfield, where he lived before, where he’s got lots of friends. But his going there had nothing at all to do with you, or your stupid friends.”

 

Joe was full of anger, but Brian was not rattled. “What’s come over you?” he asked calmly. “There was a time when you wanted nothing more than to be one of us.”

 

“What’s come over me? I grew up. That’s what’s come over me. Now piss off. I’ve got work to do.”

 

Brian turned and walked away without another word, or a backward glance. Joe resumed his painting feeling that he’d got the better of the exchanges. Although he regretted loosing his temper, he was pleased that he’d got off his chest what he’d longed to say for some time.

 

He had no regrets, not until that Saturday, when the consequences of words hit him for the first time. Joe then realised that it might well have been his outburst that prompted the “Angry Whites” to reassess how they’d dealt with Martin. Up to then, they had apparently believed it to be a job well done, and had drawn a line under the episode. Also, in his angry outburst, he’d given Martin’s location to Brian King.

 

Joe, in his quarrel with Brian King, had only been interested in point scoring, with no thought for the long-term consequences of his words. On reflection, what he said that day might well have set in motion the terrible chain of events that followed. Enough, however of dwelling in the past.

 

After eating. Joe persuaded Alan to have a sleep. “You’re too tired now,” he said. “Have a sleep and we’ll talk later, or maybe we’ll leave it ‘til tomorrow.” Alan didn’t take much persuading.

 

Joe sat down and thought about Alan’s predicament: their predicament. Joe had made it his problem too.

Alan, clearly, had no idea what to do next. If he wished to go to the police there was nothing stopping him. But, he was in too deep. He was looking at a lengthy prison sentence: probably, not a good idea.

 

Also, grassing on Dave didn’t bear thinking about. Dave would get his revenge. Joe had no doubt about that. Dave’s connections with the criminal world would ensure it. Joe knew how hated grasses were. Even if Dave was locked up and Alan wasn’t, Dave would have friends that would get to Alan. Even in prison Alan wouldn’t be safe from Dave. Dave would have friends there too. Dave was certainly not one to get on the wrong side of.

 

Joe was feeling restless. He went to the corner of the room and switched on the little television, turning the volume down so as not to distract Alan. It would take his mind off other things, he thought. He wondered how “Villa” had got on. But, it was five thirty then. He wasn’t thinking straight. The football results were over. He turned the television off and decided, instead, to have a walk for an evening paper. He’d get the results from the paper.

 

Walking to the paper-shop, however, much as he was interested in football, he found it impossible to concentrate on anything other than what Alan had told him. Then, a thought occurred to him. Would there be something in the paper about a body being found on the road?

 

Back in his flat, after thoroughly searching through the whole paper, an item at the bottom of page five, caught Joe’s eye.

 

Unconscious man found on country road.

A man found unconscious on Spencer’s Lane near

Beckinswell in the early hours of Saturday, was taken

to Coventry University Hospital. On going to press,

no more information was available.

 

Could this be it? Could Martin still be alive? Joe got out his A to Z of Birmingham. Beckinswell was outside the area covered by the map. But, it was still shown, and on the Coventry side. Martin was still alive.

***

 

It was about one O clock on Sunday after noon when Teresa decided to ring Father Downey.

 

“Yes. Father Downey here.”

 

“Father. It’s Teresa.”

 

“Teresa. How are you? I was worried about you.”

 

“ I’m fine now Father. Thank you. I want to apologise for my behaviour yesterday. I was very rude to you. I’m sorry.”

 

“Oh, that’s all right. Just, you didn’t seem at all well, and you had a long drive ahead of you. You got home all right then?”

 

“Yes father. Once I got going I was O K. But, when I saw you I was very upset. I’m sorry. I must have seemed very rude to you.”

 

“Oh, don’t worry about me. But, would you like to tell me about what it was that upset you?”

 

“If you’ve got a few minutes Father.”

 

“I have. Take all the time you want.” Teresa could hear the Priest pulling up a chair.

 

“Well, it was my fault really father,” Teresa continued. “I didn’t feel I could tell Mary my real reason for wishing to see Martin, so I pretended to be Martin’s niece. Mary was fine with that and was very helpful. You’re right. She is a lovely friendly woman. She told me all she knew about Martin. She even showed me his room. She seemed genuinely concerned about him too.”

 

“Of course, as far as I know, she is not aware of Martin’s past, at least not the part that concerned my family. But, she told me about Andy Horan, who grew up on the farm adjacent to the one that Martin grew up on. I expressed a wish to meet him and arrangements were made for that to happen. That, I’m afraid, was a disaster; the worst part of my visit.”

 

Teresa told of her encounter with Andy. “The look on his face when he saw me. The sheer hatred in his eyes totally took me aback. I just couldn’t cope with it. I had to get away. I just couldn’t talk to anyone. That was, I’m afraid, when I saw you.”

 

“I understand, totally. What I don’t understand, though, is Andy Horan. His behaviour seems to have been totally out of character. I know him. At least I’ve met him a few times. I got the impression that he was a very placid type of young man.”

 

“Of course, he must have seen immediately that I was not Martin’s niece. I was half expecting that, but I couldn’t explain in the presence of the other men. It was the degree of hostility that totally knocked me back. Andy totally lost it.”

 

“Oh God. How did the other two react?”

 

“They were surprised at Andy too. They were on my side. But I doubt that would have continued when Andy told them that I was not who they thought I was.”

 

“Andy is the one that I can’t understand. I might see him this evening. I’ll have a word with him. We have evening Mass now. I didn’t notice him at Mass this morning. He might have been working. In which case I’ll probably see him this evening.”

 

“Thank you father. But, don’t bother on my behalf. I don’t think I could face him again and I’m certain he wouldn’t want to meet me. It’s a pity because Andy will know more about Martin’s past than anyone else in this country.”

 

“You might be right. But, I got the impression that that civil war was something they very rarely talked about. That’s the time you had in mind I think?”

 

“It is.”

 

“Well, I had a talk with Andy and when that subject came up I didn’t think Andy knew anything about Martin’s involvement. Now, his landlady, Maggie Murphy, she knows all about it, although she grew up quite a distance from Martin.”

 

“Maybe she’s the one that I should have talked with.”

 

“Maybe we’d better not talk too much about it at present. There’s a murder inquiry going on. If Martin is right and the man was killed because he was mistaken for him then, once the perpetrators realise that they got the wrong man, Martin’s own life may be in real danger.”

 

“I’ve been to the police and told them about Martin’s suspicions. I know you weren’t keen on me doing that But I couldn’t put it off any longer. I don’t know how seriously they took me. But, they did say that they would be speaking to Martin. When I told them that he was no longer around, their interest seemed to increase. I fear Mary, and maybe all the lodgers, will be questioned.”

 

“Oh, don’t worry about that Father. She was planning on going to the police herself in any case, to report Martin missing. We found what was probably the threatening letter you talked about in Martin’s room. It got Mary really worried.”

 

“That’s interesting. Did you find anything else that might throw light on Martin’s whereabouts?”

 

“Maybe. We found a couple of letters, which we took the liberty of reading. I know that was cheeky. But, we felt that, once the police got involved, nothing would be private any more. At least that’s how we justified it.”

 

The priest made no comment as Teresa continued. “The letters were from his brother in Ireland. In both letters he invited Martin to come and stay with him. Maybe that’s where he’s gone.”

 

“I suppose it’s a possibility. Although, Andy said the brothers didn’t keep in contact at all. Recently, however, Andy gave Martin’s address to his mother who passed it on to Martin’s brother, although Martin wasn’t too happy about that.”

 

“Yes. Mary said the same thing.”

 

“Have you seen your young brother yet?”

 

“No Father. But I’ve got his address. I’ll try to see him this afternoon. After talking to my other brother, though, I’m fairly sure that he’s no longer involved with that racist group.”

 

“That’s a great relief.”

***

 

 

 

“I enjoyed that.” Joe patted his stomach as he rose from the little makeshift table that was set up in the kitchen area of the room. “A proper Sunday lunch. I could get used to this.” Joe started to clear the table. “Let me wash up. It’s time I did a bit of housework.”

 

“No. No.” Alan insisted. “Leave it to me. You’ve had a hard week.”

 

“O K. But, next week it will be different. You’re all set for tomorrow?”

Joe studied Alan from the side, still fearing he may change his mind. His face looked drawn. He’s worried, thought Joe; probably not sleeping. Also, he hadn’t shaved all week. Was he trying to disguise himself? A week’s growth of facial hair, however, just made him look scruffy. Again not the Alan Joe used to know.

 

Alan turned to face Joe. “Yes. You know I am.”

 

“Good.” Joe was pleased, for as far as he knew Alan had not ventured out of the flat all week. But, to Joe’s surprise he’d agreed to come and work with Joe the following week.

 

It would be Joe’s first week self-employed. He had subcontracted the painting on some newly built houses on a small development: maybe a dozen houses. When Joe visited the site on the previous Friday two houses were already complete, ready for painting. One was to be the show-house, which the contractor required painting as quickly as possible: quicker than Joe could do it on his own. Joe hadn’t told the contractor that he was a one-man band. Alan would be his saviour.

 

He just hoped Alan was up to it.

 

It had been a busy week for Joe. He had his week’s notice to work, and in the evenings he had meetings about future work. Also, because Alan wouldn’t leave the flat, he had to fit in shopping as well as a couple of trips to Alan’s flat to pick up belongings.

 

It was a week when he could have done without Alan and his problems. But, that’s life, thought Joe. Alan’s problem had not been discussed all week. Apart from sleeping, Joe had spent very little time there. Even so Joe did try to raise the subject a couple of times, but Alan seemed reluctant to talk about it. Joe didn’t press him. Alan would talk when he was ready and Joe had other things to deal with. Clearly, however, the problem could not be put off for very long. The living arrangements were far from ideal, only bearable because Joe spent so little time there. But, Alan, he sensed, was as much aware of that as he was.

 

Alan did all the cooking and cleaning- the flat had never been so neat and tidy-but, not contributing financially clearly worried Alan. “I’ve got savings,” he said one evening. “I’ll pay you back when I can get to a bank.”

 

There’s a bank just five or ten minutes walk from here.” Joe was not pressing for payment. He just thought it would be good for Alan to get out of the flat for a while. Then, seeing the look of horror on Alan’s face he changed his mind. “Forget it Alan,” he said, “It really doesn’t matter.”

 

The money didn’t matter. It was Alan’s fear of going outside that concerned Joe. In spite of Alan’s assurances Joe still had doubts about his readiness to go to work on Monday.

***

 

 

 

There was a knock on the door. Wary looks were exchanged. Then, in a whisper, Joe urged. “Quick. Get in the bedroom. Make sure there’s nothing of yours in this room.”

 

Joe answered the door. “Teresa! How did you find me? … Something wrong? Joe was mindful of Paddy’s assurance that it would only be in an emergency that he gave the address to anyone else.

 

“No. Nothing’s wrong. At least I hope not. Aren’t you going to invite me in? You don’t seem too pleased to see me.”

 

“Come in.” Joe forced a smile. His sister followed him into the living room.

 

“How long have you been here?” she asked, while having a good look round.

 

“Only about a month.”

 

“It’s really tidy.” She sounded surprised. “I’m impressed. Are you going to show me round?”

 

“No. But, take your coat off and sit down. Would you like a cup of tea?”

 

“Please.”

 

Joe put the kettle on, while keeping an eye on Teresa fearing she would look in the bedroom.

 

“Who have you got hidden in the bedroom?”

 

Joe froze, before it dawned on him that she was joking. He played along “Wouldn’t you like to know?” But, was she joking? Or did she suspect something. She wouldn’t have got the address off Paddy without giving a very good reason.

 

“Is there a girlfriend somewhere?”

 

“Maybe.” He could play this game.

 

Joe had a girlfriend. At least he hoped he still had. They were out together on the previous evening. But her attitude towards him was, to say the least, cool. His explanation for failing to call for her during the week was clearly not good enough.

 

“Who’s this?”

 

Joe turned to see Teresa holding a photograph of his girlfriend that she’d taken of the mantelpiece.

 

“She’s called Sylvia.”

 

“Sylvia!”

 

“What’s wrong with Sylvia?”

 

“Never mind. Just milk. No sugar. Tell me what you’ve been doing with yourself and why you haven’t visited your parents. They worry about you, you know.”

 

“I’ve been very busy. I planned to go last weekend, but something came up.” Joe brought two mugs of tea and placed them on the little table that was in front of the settee. Then he walked to the window. “Is that your Ford?” Teresa’s car was parked next to his van. He parked his van where he could see it from his window.

 

“Yes. Never mind that. Come and sit down and tell me what you’ve been up to.”

 

Joe, wishing she’d get to her real reason for her visit, sat on the settee next to his sister. He told her about his work plans and about his van.

 

“I’m impressed. But, now that you’ve got transport, you’ve no excuse for not visiting.”

 

“O K Very soon.”

 

“I’m also impressed with how clean and tidy your flat is: what I can see of it. Sure you’ve not got Sylvia hidden in your bedroom?”

 

“Yes I’m sure.”

 

Joe could wait no longer. “Come on,” he said. “Tell me. Why are you here?”

“Charming. Can’t I visit my brother without having an ulterior motive?”

 

“Yes. But, I have a feeling there’s something you’ve not told me yet: something important.”

 

“O K. Teresa smiled as if to say there’s no fooling you. “You’ll never guess where I was yesterday.” Joe shook his head as she continued. “I was in a place called Broadfield in Lancashire, where I believed Martin Prendergast was living. Do you remember that name? He is the man, who we always believed was involved in murdering your uncle.”

 

“Yes. I remember. Paddy told me you’ve been writing letters about him.”

 

“Yes. I was trying to discover all I could about his involvement in that terrible event. Did Paddy tell you that we now believe that Martin is totally innocent?”

 

“Yes. He did. Did you meet the man?”

 

“No. I’m afraid not. But I learned a lot in the short time I was there. Did you know that while he was living down here he was known as Michael; Michael O’Malley?”

 

“Yes. I did know that. Joe was wondering where he came in to all this.”

 

“Well, a man called Michael O’Malley was murdered recently. He lived in Broadfield. Martin told the priest that he believed that it was a case of mistaken identity; that it was he who was the intended victim.”

 

“But, you didn’t see Martin?”

 

“No. He’s vanished. He hasn’t been seen around there for over a week. I talked to his landlady. She’s worried about him. She thinks something’s happened to him. All his clothes are still there and there’s a job waiting for him that he hasn’t showed up for. She’s going to report him missing to the police.”

 

“Could he have something to do with the murder?” Joe, of course knew the answer to that question. Asking it was his way of hiding the fact that he knew from Teresa.

 

“No,” she replied. “I don’t think so. The police, though, will want to speak to him. His disappearing after the murder will look suspicious to them. Also there was a note; a threatening note, addressed to Michael O’Malley, the man who was murdered, which we found in his room.”

 

“You were in Martin’s room!”

 

“Yes. I didn’t tell you. Mary, his landlady was kind enough to show me his room.”

 

Responding to Joe’s disapproving look, Teresa explained. “She was really worried about him and thought she might find some clue to his whereabouts in his room. For over a week she had resisted doing that. I think she felt that having me with her made it all right. I told her I was Martin’s niece.”

“Oh!”

 

“Yes. I thought it best not to tell my real reason for wishing to see Martin. I didn’t know how much, if anything, she knew about his past: a past he might not wish people to know about.”

 

“So, you found this threatening note?”

 

“Yes. If he doesn’t return by tomorrow Mary will report him missing to the Police and show them the note. That, as well as him going missing, will probably make him a suspect. But, it can’t be helped. Not to do so would be concealing, what might be regarded as vital evidence.”

 

“You’re confident that he’s innocent. How can you be so sure?”

 

“Well, he didn’t leave immediately after the assault. He hung around for the most of a week. Then we know where he went; at least at first. He came to see my father. You know about that?”

 

“Yes. Paddy told me.”

 

“Also, he was in The Antelope that same Friday. The mystery for me is why didn’t he return to Broadfield as he told my father he would.”

 

Joe could have told her why. Instead, he suggested. “Maybe he got a job down here. All the subbies go in The Antelope. He could have got fixed with a job there. Irishmen are always moving around to where the work is.”

 

“That’s true, and certainly Martin moved around a lot following the work. But, this time it was different. I had a talk with Brendan. Martin wasn’t looking for work, he said. In any case it was early evening when Martin called. No subcontractors were in then. Also he’d booked a room, in a lodging house where he had stayed previously, but he never came back to it. I talked to the lady. She seemed worried about him too.”

 

“You have been busy.”

 

“To get back to the murder. There was a young man with a Birmingham accent seen lurking in that area some time before the assault. It’s thought he was involved in some way.” Teresa gave Joe a hard questioning look.

 

“But, why?” Joe had a drink of his tea to avoid Teresa’s gaze.

 

“Martin believes it was he who delivered the note and as you know, Martin used to live down here. Someone with a grudge against him could have followed him up there to do him harm.”

 

“But, he got the wrong man. Surely someone with a grudge against him would have known him.”

 

“Yes. I’ve been thinking about that. Our family had a grudge against him, but not all of us knew what he looked like. Did you know what he looked like?”

 

“No. I never met him. You’re not thinking it was one of us, are you?”

 

“No. That was just an example. But, are you sure you never met him. Martin told the priest he thought it was you that he had a brief altercation with on evening in “The Antelope.”

 

So this is it, thought Joe. She thinks I’m somehow involved.

“Yes,” he replied angrily. “Of course I’m sure. I never even saw the man. But, if he did see me, how could he possibly know it was me?”

 

“I don’t know. After, someone could have told him it was you. Don’t get annoyed. I’m just concerned for you.”

 

“Well don’t be. There’s no need.”

 

“O K. You’re a big boy now. Just tell me though, were you ever involved with a racial group: the white something or other?”

 

Joe hesitated. He considered denying it. Then thought it better not to lie to her. In any case, Paddy may have told her. “Yes,” he admitted. “Very briefly, but I’ve had nothing to do with them for over a year.”

 

“Good. I’m glad to hear it.” Teresa seemed pleased. “From your experience then,” she went on. “If Martin upset them, do you think they would go to such lengths to punish him?”

 

Yes. I know they would, though Joe. However, shaking his head, he replied, “No, we just handed out leaflets. But, as I said, it’s over a year since I was with them.”

 

“And the young man with the Birmingham accent; you’ve no idea who he was?”

 

“How could I?” You don’t think it was me? You do. Don’t you? That’s why you’re here.”

 

“Don’t panic. I’m not accusing you. Better me asking these questions than the police.”

 

“The police!”

 

“Yes.” They may wish to speak to you. As I told you, I talked with the priest in Broadfield yesterday. Well, a couple of hours ago we talked again on the phone. He told me he had been to the police and told them about Martin’s suspicions.”

 

“Did he actually say my name?”

 

“The young Casey lad was, I think, how Martin put it to him. I told him yesterday that I wasn’t happy about him reporting that. But, he didn’t feel he could hold anything back.”

 

“That’s all I need in my first week self-employed: being questioned by the police when I’m trying to create a good impression.”

 

“It might not come to that. I’m just preparing you in case it does. But don’t worry about it. It will be a while before they get to you. I think finding Martin will be priority for the police down here.”

 

“You’ve no idea where he is?”

 

“No. He seems to have vanished after he left our parents house that Friday evening. I fear something happened to him then. Brendan said he promised to return to “The Antelope” but he failed to do so. He didn’t go back to the room he’d booked either. The puzzle is where did he go? It was still quite early; not much after nine o’clock, I’m told. He liked a drink. “The Antelope” at that time on a Friday would be crowded, maybe too crowded for Martin. Brendan said that he normally came in earlier when it was quieter. Maybe he went to quieter pub.”

 

She’s getting too close for comfort, thought Joe. He wished she’d lay off then. If she went round the pubs asking questions she had no idea how dangerous it would be.

“You should leave it to the police now,” he advised wishfully.

 

“You know how slow they can be. In the meantime I can’t give up on finding Martin, and can’t you see how intriguing it’s become?”

 

Joe shrugged, trying not to show his unease. “What are you going to do,” he asked.

 

“I’ve got a few irons in the fire. Father Downey in Broadfield, a nice man, promised to let me know if Martin turns up there. Brendan will tell me if he hears anything. Also, I plan to visit a few other pubs that Martin may have called in that Friday night.”

 

“On your own!”

 

“If need be. But I might manage to twist Tom’s arm and get him to accompany me one evening.”

 

“Make sure you do. Some of the pubs round there are rough. Asking questions in them could be putting you in real danger.”

 

“Don’t worry. I’m a big girl now.” Teresa stood up. “I’d better get going. You’re not on the phone here, are you?” Teresa looked around for a telephone.

 

“No. But I will be very soon. I’m just waiting for it to be installed.”

 

“Good. Let me know your number as soon as it is.”

***

 

 

 

“You were very good,” commented Joe. “I didn’t hear a sound.”

 

Alan stretched himself. “I’m stiff and my legs are aching, with being stood in the same position. I didn’t dare move.”

 

“How much did you hear?”

 

“All of it. I couldn’t help it.”

 

“And, what do you think?” Joe studied Alan, who was pacing the small kitchen area of the room.

 

“Well, now I know for sure.” Alan shook his head. “ We got the wrong man, and he’s dead.”

 

Joe feared the knowledge would diminish, or even destroy, Alan’s resolve to leave the flat next day.

“Not you,” he said, trying to be reassuring. “You didn’t kill him.”

 

“I might as well have.”

 

“Don’t talk like that. It’s Dave and Tommy that are the guilty ones. You were just an innocent onlooker in both cases.”

 

“I doubt a court would see it like that.”

 

“I don’t see why not. It’s the truth.” Joe sounded more positive than he felt. “A good lawyer would convince a court of your innocence.”

 

“Maybe.” Alan was not convinced. “I keep thinking of that man we carried on to the road. He was still alive and I didn’t know it.”

 

“You weren’t to know. Dave bullied you. Anyway, we don’t know for sure that he wasn’t dead. That little piece in the paper might not have been about him.”

 

“I wonder why there was no follow up.”

 

“Yes. That’s strange. If there was, we could hardly have missed it. We both checked the paper every evening.”

 

 

Chapter 12. Moving on.

 

“Have you heard anything else about Alan?” Tommy was trying to sound casual. He hoped the slight quiver in his voice didn’t betray his nervousness as he braced himself for Dave’s response. All week Dave had been in such a foul mood it was almost impossible to talk to him about anything, and Alan, Tommy knew, was a particularly touchy subject.

 

A few days previously, when Alan was mentioned, Dave flew into a rage, another rage. That week Tommy had witnessed a few, but none so violent as that one. Dave flung the stepladder across the room screaming “I’ll kill him. I’ve had to turn work away because of him. He won’t get away with it. I’ve taught him all he knows about the job and this is how he pays me. Just like Joe Casey. He’s another one. I’ve heard he’s bad-mouthing me now to everyone he meets. He’ll regret that too.”

 

Tommy came to expect such outbursts. It was almost every time he saw Dave that week, which, thankfully, was not very often. Mostly he was given his work and left to get on with it alone. He thought about Alan a lot. He was concerned for him. He should be warned about Dave. Tommy had tried. He visited Alan’s flat on two occasions, only to get no response to his knock. He’d even asked the neighbours, but no one had seen Alan for days.

 

Since that fateful Friday night, a week earlier, Tommy had seen nor heard nothing of Alan, except for the odd snipped which Dave had reluctantly given him. But, Tommy suspected that Dave knew more than he told. It was Friday afternoon. They were preparing to finish work. Not wishing to spend the weekend not knowing, Tommy had finally plucked up the courage to ask the question.

 

To his surprise, however, Dave stopped what he was doing and calmly replied. “No Tommy, I’ve heard nothing. I’m afraid we’ve lost him.” To Tommy’s puzzled look Dave went on to explain. “I don’t think he’ll be working with us any more. And, about what we talked about early in the week, don’t worry about it. He hasn’t gone to the police.” Dave apparently reasoned that Alan must have thought better of it. Otherwise the police would surely have questioned them by then.

 

“But, you thought he would?”

 

“I thought it was a possibility; that’s all. It was best to be prepared. Of course, it’s still possible that the police will question you. If that happens just remember what I said. Deny everything. You’re shown in my books as working for me all the time you were away.”

***

 

 

 

It was Sunday evening. “For tomorrow,” said Alan, as if he’d suddenly remembered it, “I could do with getting some overalls and some other things from my flat.”

 

“O K,” replied Joe, “I’ll run you there.” It was just the opportunity that Joe wanted. He was still not totally convinced that Alan would leave the flat next day, to come and work with him. However, if he got him to go out then, Joe would be more confident that he would do so next morning.

 

Alan hesitated. It was, apparently, not what he had in mind. Joe held his breath. Then, to his relief, Alan thanked him before apologising. “I’m a nuisance.” He said.

 

“Never mind that. Get your coat. Let’s go,” urged Joe, not wishing to give Alan any time to change his mind. “The roads should be quiet now. It won’t take long.”

 

As they rattled along in the van, Alan was a different person. He seemed quiet relaxed. He even chatted about football when Joe brought the subject up. Alan gave his opinion on Aston Villa’s poor position in the league and the team’s chances in the next game. The ride in the van seemed to bring Alan out of himself. Joe was pleasantly surprised, although he couldn’t quiet fathom what it was that brought about the change. Was he just happy to be out of the flat? Or was it the conversation they had prior to leaving? More likely the latter thought Joe.

 

Alan had expressed concern about not having work documents, (Insurance cards and P45) and there was no way that he could get them from Dave. Joe, however, had reassured him that it would not be a problem.

 

“That’s the least of your problems,” he said. “Working with me, you won’t need them for a long time, and when you do. There are ways of getting them without going anywhere near Dave.”

 

“What ways?”

 

“I don’t know exactly, but I know people who do. Believe me it won’t be a problem.” That seemed to satisfy Alan. He appeared relieved. Maybe, thought Joe, it had been preying on his mind. But, would the good mood last?

 

The good mood lasted only until the reached the flat. The flat was on the ground floor and parking was right outside.

 

“Maybe we shouldn’t park so close.” Alan seemed jittery

 

“Don’t worry. There’s no one about. Come on.” Joe jumped out.

 

But, Alan didn’t move. Getting annoyed, Joe went round the van and opened the passenger door. What’s the matter Alan?”

 

“I’ll wait in the van.” He offered Joe the key.

 

But Joe was having none of it. “Don’t be silly. You know where things are. Look.” Joe had a good look around. “There’s no one about,” he repeated angrily.

 

Reluctantly Alan got out of the van. “O K,” he said. “Let’s be quick.”

***

 

 

 

At the Bar of The Queen’s Tommy was not enjoying his pint. He had a lot on his mind. Work next day was a daunting prospect. He didn’t know how long he could stick it. Neither did he know how he could leave the job. He needed Alan. But where was Alan?

 

Tommy looked round. A few people were in the side room but none of his mates were in the pub yet. He was the only one in the bar area except for the landlord who was engrossed in his newspaper. Everything about the place looked dull: the furniture, the decorations, the pictures on the walls and especially the company.

 

It was hardly the most appealing of public houses. Nevertheless, Tommy decided to have another pint. He drained his glass and placed it noisily on the bar to attract the landlord’s attention. With that landlord, who had perfected the art of ignoring customers, however, it was a futile gesture. Tommy picked up the glass and waved it around, but still to no avail. He dropped it on the bar again and walked out. He didn’t want another drink anyway.

 

Tommy looked at his watch. It was still early: only nine O’clock. Once again he walked to Alan’s flat, feeling it was a waste of time, but he had nothing better to do. He had so much on his mind. He needed to talk to Alan. In fact Alan was the only one that he could talk to about what was uppermost on his mind. Dave had left him in no doubt that the mere mention of it to anyone else would have dire consequences.

 

Suddenly Tommy’s spirits lifted. Could that be Alan’s flat with the light on? He quickened his pace, his excitement growing. Yes, he thought, when close enough to be certain. It was his lucky night. He’d caught Alan in at last.

***

 

 

 

There was a knock on the door. Both Alan and Joe froze. “Don’t answer it,” whispered Alan

 

“It’s the light. He knows someone’s in.” But, they remained motionless.

 

There was another knock: louder “He’s not going away.” Joe moved silently into the small hall. The letterbox rattled. Someone’s trying to look through the letterbox, he thought.

 

“Alan, are you in.” called a voice through the letterbox.

 

“It’s Tommy,” whispered Alan. He’d crept up behind Joe.

 

“Are you on your own?” asked Joe.

 

“Yes. It’s only me.”

 

“Joe looked back at Alan who nodded. Joe opened the door, only inches, keeping his shoulder behind it; until he was satisfied that Tommy was alone. He then opened it fully.

 

“Tommy. Tommy Parsons. How are you?”

 

“Not too bad. Is Alan in?”

 

“Come in Tommy,” called Alan.

 

In the living room Alan played the friendly host. “Take your coat off Tommy and sit down. Tell me how things are at work.”

 

“Terrible.” Tommy removed his coat and threw it over a chair, on which he sat.

 

“In what way?”

 

“Every way.”

 

“It’s Dave, isn’t it? He’s giving you a rough time?”

 

“You could say that.”

 

“What are you going to do?”

 

“What can I do?” Tommy shook his head.

 

“You could leave,” suggested Joe.

 

“He wouldn’t like that.”

 

“Sod him. You do what’s best for yourself. He’d soon get rid of you if he didn’t have work for you. How many men does he have now?”

 

“Just two others on another site, but I never see them.”

 

“So, he leaves you on your own.”

 

“Since Alan left, yes, except when he’s with me himself, which isn’t very much.”

 

“Are you on full pay now?”

 

“No. Not yet. I will be soon, he says. I can’t leave until I get my apprenticeship papers.”

 

“You should have them now of you’re working on your own, and you should be on full pay. Ask him next time you see him.”

 

“It’s hard to ask him anything these days, and if he thinks I’m going to leave….”

 

“ Yes. I know. He’s a bastard.” Joe had a think. “It might be better if you don’t mention the papers, he said. “Just say that you should be on full pay, now that you’re working on your own. Then, next time you’re in the office, ask Joan- she’s a nice lady- for your papers. This is where being in a union would be useful. But, that bastard Dave bullied us into not joining, saying it was a waste of time and money.”

 

“What’s he saying about me leaving?” asked Alan.

 

“Not nice things, I’m afraid. That’s why I’m here: to warn you. You best keep out of his way. He’s making all sorts of threats. You too.” Tommy turned to Joe.

 

“Oh! What’s he saying about me?”

 

“He thinks that you’ve been talking about him. You’ll regret it, he said.”

 

“Did he now? Well he doesn’t frighten me. What’s he think I said about him anyway?”

 

“I don’t know. He didn’t say.”

 

“Who’s he been talking to? I don’t suppose he told you that either.” Tommy shook his head. Joe, however, knew the answer. It had to be Brian king. “Does he say anything about that Friday night.”

 

Looking dubiously at Alan, Tommy made no reply.

 

“It’s all right Tommy,” said Alan. “Joe knows all about it.”

 

“Don’t worry,” added Joe “I’ve not told anyone else.”

 

Apparently reassured, Tommy answered the question. “No.” he replied. “ It hasn’t been mentioned, except at first when he warned me not to say a word about it to anyone.” Turning towards Alan, Tommy continued, “He was worried that you would report him to the police.”

 

Joe smiled. “Is he not worried now,” he asked

 

“No. I don’t think so.”

 

“Maybe he will be soon. Does he know that the man’s not dead?”

 

“Not dead!” Tommy looked puzzled.

 

“Yes. The man he smashed over the head with the starting handle. The man he thought he killed. Well he’s wrong. The man’s in hospital, but he’s still alive.”

 

“No, No. He doesn’t know that.” Tommy was bewildered. “But how do you know?”

 

“It was in the paper: the next evening.”

 

“He didn’t see it. I didn’t see it.”

 

“It was only a small piece; in a middle page. You say he was worried about Alan reporting him Well he should be more worried about what that man does, if he hasn’t already done it.” That should make him sweat thought Joe, gleefully expecting the information to reach Dave.

 

Joe put his coat on. “I’ll have to go,” he said, winking at Alan behind Tommy’s back. “I’ll see you again Alan: and you Tommy. Be wary of that Dave Campbell.”

 

Joe walked down the street. He would return for Alan when Tommy left. It started to rain. He remembered from previous visits, when he’d seen it open, the little shop on the corner of the street he was on and a side street. The wide shop doorway would provide shelter from the rain. Also, it was a good place from which to watch for Tommy leaving. He quickened his pace. There was nobody else about; or so he thought. Then, suddenly, a shadowy figure emerged from the shop doorway.

 

In the dimly lit street Joe was too far away to see little more than the outline of the man (he was fairly sure it was a man) walking quickly away. Had he been watching Alan’s flat? Joe considered chasing after the man and challenging him. Instead, he watched him disappear into the distance.

 

The shop doorway was the ideal place from which to observe Alan’s flat. Joe wondered if he’d disturbed someone else with the same idea. If so, what was the man’s purpose? And how much had he seen?” Had he followed Tommy there, or had he been there longer? Did he see Alan and Joe arrive?

 

All Joe could be sure of was that it was not Dave Campbell. The man was much smaller. But he could have been there on Dave’s behalf. Joe looked down the street again. He was fairly sure that the man had not stopped anywhere. I’m getting paranoid too, he thought. Probably the man was just sheltering from the rain. Best forget him. Joe would certainly not tell Alan.

***

 

 

“Have you got another Job?” asked Tommy

 

“Yes. I start tomorrow.” Alan paused. Fearing the information would get back to Dave, to Tommy’s disappointment, he didn’t elaborate. Although he knew Tommy was trustworthy in that respect, he also knew how persuasive Dave could be. Instead, Alan asked, “Are you going to tell Dave that you’ve seen me?”

 

“Should I?”

 

“It’s up to you. I don’t care. I just know that I never want to see him again.”

 

“It’s all right for you. You don’t have to.”

 

“Do you think that I’ve abandoned you?”

 

Tommy made no reply. Then, in an attempt to explain, Alan said, “After what I saw him do I couldn’t stand being around him any more.”

 

“He said he did it for us: to stop the man reporting us to the police.”

 

“I know. That’s what he told us. But, I don’t think he cares about anyone but himself. He did it for himself. If we go down he knows he will go down too.”

 

“Only if we tell on him.”

 

“How could we not tell? We only did what we did because he talked us into it. He made it sound like it was almost our duty to do it: a patriotic thing. Something we should be proud of and we fell for it stupid us. Also, of course there was the money. I wonder how much he got. Probably a lot more than he offered us,”

 

“But, what we did, we did to a bad man: a man who did murder and things.”

 

“You’re forgetting that we got the wrong man.” Alan thought Tommy had no concept of the gravity of the situation they were in. “The man that you, we, attacked had done nothing. And the man we were meant to confront was not as guilty as we were led to believe.”

 

“How do you know?”

 

“Joe told me. His sister has done some research into it.”

 

“She knows about us?”

 

“No. Don’t worry. The research she did started a long time before we got involved. It’s a family thing. Remember, it was Joe’s uncle that that man was supposed to have murdered. Well, she has discovered that although he was there he had nothing to do with the murder.”

 

“It gets worse and worse.”

 

“Yes. It’s a mess all right.”

 

“ What do you think will happen now?”

 

“I don’t know. Lets just keep our fingers crossed.”

 

“If that man talks….. He said he knew what we did. How could he know that?”

 

He must have heard us talking. He was sat not very far away. I told you to keep tour voice down.”

 

Tommy went silent, looking at the floor. Joe continued. “I’m not blaming you,” he said. “I’m as much to blame as you are, maybe more so. It was me that choose the wrong man.”

 

“Dave said you threatened to tell the police?”

 

“Yes. I threatened.”

 

“But, you didn’t do it.”

 

No, I didn’t. You know I didn’t.” Alan was loosing patience with Tommy.

 

“What made you change your mind?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know. It was just a threat that I didn’t carry out. Although at the time I didn’t much care whether the police knew about us or not.”

 

“But, you feel different now?”

 

“A little bit.”

 

“Do you think that man could identify us?”

“Yes. He probably could. Although, I think, the only name he knew was Dave’s; he actually said Dave Campbell. Maybe, that’s what got to Dave so much. Yes. I’m sure of it. It wouldn’t have bothered him if one of our names that was said.”

 

“So what would you advise me to do?” Tommy stood up.

 

“I don’t know. It must be hard, but probably it would be best to carry on until you get your papers. Then, like Joe said, you should leave. In the meantime just keep your head down.”

 

 

Chapter 13 Pastures new.

 

On Tuesday morning the men were again assembled at Burton’s corner. It was another cold overcast morning, but at least the rain, which had been heavy overnight, had stopped.

 

The men were getting concerned. The wagon was due any minute but John had still not arrived. It was so unlike John to be late. Then Michael O’Donnell made the announcement. He had been waiting until all the men were there.

 

“He’s not coming,” he said. “His wife had to go into hospital last night. His son came round to my house with the news. That’s all I know,” Michael concluded as the wagon arrived.

 

On stopping the wagon, the driver got out. “Before you sit down give the seats a wipe with this,” he said, handing Andy who was nearest him a towel.

 

“I knew that bloody canopy would leak,” muttered Jimmy climbing on to the wagon.

 

“You’ll be all right. The rain’s stopped now.” The driver returned to the cab.

 

Andy wiped the seats, which were not too wet and they sat down.

 

The wagon set off in jerks causing water to run off the roof and pour down over the open entrance of the canopy. Joe Frain, who was sat nearest the entrance, swore when, to Jimmy’s amusement, icy-cold water ran down the back of his neck. They all shuffled up on the seat to get Joe further away from the entrance.

 

“Are you very wet?” asked Andy sympathetically.

Shivering, Joe replied, “not too bad.” However his stern look caused the grin to dry on Jimmy’s face.

 

“So. We’re leaderless,” mused Jimmy, thinking it better to change the subject.

 

“Maybe Michael will be in charge,” said Andy “He’s done it before I believe. Michael was again travelling in the front with the driver.

 

“I hope so but I don’t think he’ll want to do it. We might have that bastard Eddie telling us what to do: shouting at us. He’ll love that. He was gloating yesterday about his gang travelling in a nice warm bus while we had to come on the back of this bloody wagon.”

 

“I, he can shout all right,” said Paddo, who had just started on the job the previous day. “That poor driver who came with the load of bricks didn’t know what hit him.”

 

“One of these days,” said Jimmy. “Eddie will know what hit him. Maybe today will be the day.”

 

“Now Jimmy,” cautioned Paddo. “Don’t do anything hasty. Jobs are hard to come by. John might be back tomorrow.” Others joined Paddo in warning Jimmy.

 

“Ye’re all too soft,” retorted Jimmy.

 

Only Joe didn’t get involved. He was too busy dodging the downpour of water every time the wagon moved away after stopping. Looking up he noticed the large sag in the canvas over his head and realized that that was the source of the water.

 

I’ll fix that, he thought.

 

He stood up, and with both hands he pushed the canvas upwards. However, instead of the water running off the roof, most of it flowed into another very leaky depression in the middle of the roof.

 

This time it was the rest of the men, caught unawares, that the water rained down on.

 

Joe saw it coming and quickly got outside the canopy. The others didn’t notice what was happening until it was too late. Jimmy got the brunt of it. He was right under it, but none of them missed it. There was much cussing and swearing. Paddo slipped on the wet floor; not helped by the movement of the wagon. In their panic to get away others fell over him. Before they knew what was happening they were all in a heap on the floor with the ice-cold water raining down on them.

 

On his knees on the wet floor, Jimmy realized what happened.

 

“Joe Frain,” he screamed. “You bloody edjit.” Jimmy scrambled to his feet only to fall on his face again as the wagon stopped suddenly. On hearing Jimmy’s scream the driver had stopped to investigate. In any case they were within yards of their destination.

 

That was good enough for Joe, who quickly got himself out of the wagon.

 

As he got down from the wagon Michael emerged from the cab. “What’s wrong with Jimmy?” asked Michael.

 

Ignoring the question, however, Joe turned away and hurried towards the cabin where they left their coats and bags before starting work.

 

The others were no more helpful.

“Don’t bloody ask,” he was told before he could ask anything. However, following the rest of the men, as they made their way to the cabin, he couldn’t but notice how wet some of them were and he gathered that for some reason Joe was being blamed for it.

 

“I think he did it on purpose,” declared Jimmy angrily. “He saw us laughing at him earlier.”

 

“No,” replied Paddo, sensing that the situation could get nasty, “He didn’t do it on purpose. I saw it all but it didn’t register at the time. Joe was just trying to get the water off the roof, but it went the wrong way on him.”

 

That wasn’t good enough for Jimmy. “He’s still a bloody edjit. He should have left it alone.”

 

“Maybe, but it’s not his fault that the canvas had holes in it.”

 

“That’s another thing,” said Jimmy. “Butler must have known that canopy was no good.”

 

“Talking of Butler,” interrupted Michael, who had caught up with the others, “That’s him waiting for us.” Jim Butler, the company owner, was stood outside the cabin along with Eddie apparently awaiting the men’s arrival.

 

“Great,” said Jimmy. “This is our chance. “Lets give it to him.”

 

“No. No. Not you,” said Paddo. “You’re too hot headed. You’d get us all sacked.” Then turning to Michael he pleaded, “Would you have a word with him Michael. You know him the best.”

 

“I will if that’s what you want.” Michael was pleased to be asked. “But you’ll have to put me in the picture. No one’s told me anything.”

 

“Right O. Lets stop for a minute while we tell you.” Jimmy however carried on walking, worrying Paddo. “Jimmy,” he shouted. “Wait for us.”

 

“Reluctantly, Jimmy stopped. “I don’t know what they’re bothered about,” he said to Andy who was nearest him. “Let’s just give to Butler straight.”

 

Andy was uneasy for a different reason. “Butler is watching us,” he said. “We’re keeping him waiting.”

 

“Good,” said Jimmy. “Let the bugger wait.”

Jimmy removed his donkey jacked and shook it. “Come on,” he shouted. “It’s too cold to hang about.”

 

But, Michael wasn’t moving until he was fully briefed.

 

He needn’t have bothered. Jim Butler had already got hold of Joe Frain, who was there ahead of them.

“What’s the delay?” he asked impatiently, “I haven’t got all day.”

 

Before Joe could answer, seeing Jimmy’s antics with his donkey jacket Jim Butler exclaimed, “What’s he playing at?”

 

“His coat’s wet. That canopy is very leaky.”

 

“What are you talking about? It’s not even raining.”

 

“There was a load of water on the roof. When the wagon set off it poured down on our heads,” replied Joe, omitting to mention his part in the event.

 

“Well, you seem dry enough.”

 

“I was at the outside. Some of the men are soaking wet.”

 

Jim Butler turned to Eddie. “That’s it,” he said “I’ll get the mini bus. Tell the men that they’ll have a bus to take them home. I’ll have to go I can’t wait any longer. Clearly, he didn’t feel it was the right time to meet the men.

 

“You’re too soft,” stated Eddie as Jim Butler hurried away. Then turning to Joe, with a wink “don’t tell the men about the bus, not yet.” Eddie was in a mischievous mood. Joe looked puzzled.

 

“What were you doing yesterday?” asked Eddie

 

“I was digging out that main drain.”

 

“Never mind that today. That would be a bad job. There will be a load of water in the cutting. Instead help Michael with the fencing. The fencing is priority today.” Jim had informed him that a lot of material was to be delivered to the site that day. Therefore, it was important that the fencing around the site be completed before they left that evening. Again winking at Joe Eddie added “Just don’t tell the men about the bus.”

 

Joe nodded, still a bit puzzled, although he was pleased to be relieved of going down in the main drain.

***

 

 

 

“That’s it, scurry off,” said Jimmy, seeing Jim Butler get in his car and drive off.

 

“Aw, well, another time,” sighed Michael. Then, addressing Eddie, he asked, “is Jim coming back? I need a word with him.”

 

“I don’t know,” replied Eddie dismissively. “But, now you’re all here, at last. (He stressed at last) let me tell you John is not coming so you’ve got me instead. But, you’ll be pleased to know that I won’t be with you very much. I have my own gang.”

 

“Most of you can carry on with what you were doing yesterday. Michael, how are you doing with the fencing? We need that finishing today.”

 

“I’ll need more men then. John was helping me yesterday.”

 

“I’ve already told this man to go with you.” He nodded towards Joe.

“You can have those two as well.” He pointed out Jimmy and Andy.

 

Michael was satisfied with that. “Have you any spare donkey jackets?” he asked. “It’s a cold job; not like navvying.”

 

“The company don’t supply donkey jackets.”

 

“It’s the company’s fault that the coats are wet.”

 

“Is it now?” Eddie was not having it, but Michael stood firm.

“You know it is he said.”

 

Eddie relented probably realizing how much he needed the fencing doing. “We have some waterproofs. Will they do?”

 

“They’re better than nothing. They’ll keep the cold wind off I suppose.” Michael looked at Andy who nodded.

 

“Wait in the cabin. I’ll bring them over to you.” When stood up to Eddie was not so bad.

 

Michael was well in charge of the work. “With four of us, we’ll easily finish this job today. All the posts are already in place. It’s just a matter of fixing the wire netting to the posts. But, it’s heavy we’ll have to work in pairs. You and me Joe.” Aware of the tension between Jimmy and Joe, Michael planned to keep them apart as much as possible.

 

It was unnecessary. Although Jimmy is quick tempered he soon cools down. That morning was no different. To Michael’s relief within an hour friendly words were exchanged between Jimmy and Joe.

Consequently. the work went smoothly and progress was fast. As dinnertime approached more than half the fencing was complete.

 

Eddie never bothered them except initially to ensure that they had all the materials they needed.

 

“Eddie’s not as bad as I thought he was,” remarked Joe.”

 

“His bark is worse than his bite,” said Michael. “Hi up. Talk of the devil. Here he comes now.”

Eddie was impressed. “You’re doing well,” he complimented.

 

“Thank you, replied Michael. “You put good men on the job. Have you come to check up on us?”

 

“No. No. Not at all. I know I can trust you Michael.” It wasn’t the Eddie they knew. Eddie didn’t do complements. “I was just passing by. I was on my way to that little shop. I need a bottle of milk. But, you’ve blocked my way. I’ll have to walk all the way round now.”

 

Then Eddie had an idea. Ignoring Jimmy’s ‘ah’ in mock sympathy, he called to some boys who were across the road. There was a school nearby; it was their mid-day break. In response to his call one of the boys came across.

“Get’s a bottle of milk from that shop,” ordered Eddie, passing a half-a –crown through the wire netting.

 

The boy eagerly took the coin and ran across the road towards the shop. Instead of entering the shop, however, he was seen to run past it down a side street by the side of the shop.

 

Jimmy laughed out loud.

 

For a minute Eddie was speechless. Then, when he got his voice back, he said, “maybe he’s gone to another shop. They might not sell milk in that shop.

 

“More likely he’s buggered off with your half-a-crown,” laughed Jimmy.

 

Eddie was not giving up yet. “Don’t they sell milk in that shop,” he shouted at the other boys across the road.

 

“Yes sir,” answered one of the boys politely. “They do. Shall I get you a bottle?” The boy started to cross the road towards Eddie, but seeing Eddie’s face thought better of it.

 

“A fool and his money are soon parted.” Jimmy was making the most of it, annoying Eddie, who failed to see the funny side of it, all the more.

 

Without another word Eddie turned and walked away, his face like thunder.

 

“Come on,” said Michael. “It’s dinner time.” Then turning to Jimmy he warned, “You’ll pay for that. He doesn’t like being laughed at.”

 

“I don’t care.” Jimmy was still laughing. “I enjoyed that. Did you see his face?”

***

 

 

 

After dinner the work progressed even faster. “Now we’re in the swing of it we’re going too fast,” complained Jimmy. “This job has to last all day, or God only knows what that edjit will have us doing.”

 

Jimmy stopped and lit a cigarette. Andy, not being a smoker, busied himself kicking a stone around. It was too cold to stand around. For that reason mainly, Michael and Joe carried on regardless while Michael gave his opinion on the fencing “This wire fencing gives no shelter from the wind” said Michael. “Butler’s doing it on the cheap again. It’s not the best protection for the site either. It might keep kids out but it doesn’t hide anything. If someone wants to steal something all he has to do is to cut the wire.”

 

“It’s thick wire. Wire cutters wouldn’t cut it.”

 

“Bolt cutters would. That’s what they use.” Then Michael suddenly called. “Hi up! Jimmy and Andy. Watch yourselves.”

 

It was too late. Eddie was upon them. Then they heard him.

 

“Have you two finished?”

 

“No,” replied Jimmy. “There’s a lot to do yet.”

 

“Well, standing around smoking won’t get it done. Michael,” shouted Eddie. “You and your mate can finish the fencing. I have another job for these two.”

 

No one argued. “Come on,” ordered Eddie.

 

Jimmy and Andy followed him. “What have you got for us?” asked Jimmy, trying to be as pleasant as possible.

 

“That main drain. You can carry on with that. You’ll find picks and shovels in there.” Eddie pointed to a cabin.

 

Jimmy had a look in the drain, which was already partially dug out.

“It’s full of water,” he shouted. That was an exaggeration, but there was at least a foot of water in the cutting.

 

Eddie, who had started to walk away turned. “It will be,” he agreed, “after all the rain we had.”

 

“Have we wellies?”

 

“No. Some will be sent out tomorrow. You’ll find a couple of buckets in the cabin. You’ll have to bail the water out.”

 

“I’m not going down there without wellies.”

 

“You’ll do as you’re fucking told,” said Eddie aggressively, taking a few steps closer to Jimmy. “I know about you. You’re a trouble- maker. Then he turned to Andy. “Do you want to stand around all day as well?”

 

“No,” replied Andy. “But, you’re not being fair.”

 

“Look,” screamed Eddie. “Either ye do as ye’re told or ye can have ye can have ye’re cards, both of ye.”

 

But Jimmy wasn’t for budging. “Right,” he said angrily “Get our cards.”

 

“Don’t worry. I will. Ye’ll have them before ye go home this evening.” Eddie walked away.

 

“Make sure we do,” shouted Jimmy after him.

 

“Now what?” Andy was taken aback by it all.

 

“Let’s go and tell Michael the news.”

***

 

 

 

“That’s was all because you laughed at him,” said Michael. “I’ll go and have a word with him; see what I can do.”

 

“Thanks. But, don’t bother.” Jimmy was resolute. “I’m not working for him any more.”

 

“You’re a proud man. But, sometimes a man has to swallow his pride.”

 

“Not me. Not this time.”

 

“What about you Andy?”

 

“I don’t want to work for him either.”

“Jobs aren’t easy to come by; not round here anyway.”

 

“Maybe we’ve been round here too long,” said Jimmy.

 

“You’re thinking of moving on, are you?” Without waiting for an answer, Michael cautioned, “You know what they say, the grass is always greener…”

 

Andy stopped kicking a stone and turned to Jimmy. “My landlady’s sister,” he said. “She lives in Birmingham. She says there’s plenty of work down there. She runs a lodging house.”

 

“Well,” said Michael. “She sounds like a useful person to know, if you’re thinking of moving down there.”

***

 

 

Brendan was slightly perplexed. It was a rare sight in his pub: two

young men drinking orange juice. He didn’t recognise them. As far as he could tell it was their first time in the pub. Maybe, he thought, they’re new to the area.

 

He had no other customers. It was eight o’clock; always a quiet time, especially during the week, and that Thursday evening was no different. It would probably be an hour before his night customers started to come in and his early evening customers, who usually called for a drink or two after their day’s work, had all left.

 

That was how he liked it. He always urged his early evening customers to go home for their teas. He used the quiet time to tidy up and prepare the bar for the evening. Also, there was less trouble that way. The pub was doing well. Brendan didn’t need those men that came in early and stayed all night. Often, when the worse for drink, they would upset his night customers.

 

He didn’t force them to leave. That wasn’t his way. Mostly he did it affably, often making a joke of it. “Go home to you’re darling wives,” he’d say, and most of them, quite cheerfully did.

 

It was all good humoured. Only once a man, who was not a regular and probably a little deaf, took offence. He thought Brendan said, “go home to you’re starving wives.” It got a laugh afterwards. His regulars knew Brendan would never say that.

 

Of course, sometimes, in spite of Brendan’s efforts, one or two would insist on staying. That was ok but he would have to watch them later.

 

The two young men at the bar, however, would be no bother. He wished more of his customers would drink orange juice. As he approached the bar after wiping the tables, he thought they looked slightly uneasy. Brendan was curious. He liked to know his customers. They were Irish: there was no mistaking that, maybe just over from Ireland, he thought. If so they might need some advice.

 

Brendan was always free with the advice, and with young Irishmen, especially those newly arrived from Ireland, he felt it was his duty to offer guidance. He was a mine of information.

He knew which contractors had the best reputation. He knew the good digs and the ones to avoid.

 

“I haven’t seen ye two before. Are ye new around here?”

 

“We are.”

 

“Well, my name’s Brendan.” Brendan held out his hand.

 

“I’m Jimmy McCarthy and this is Andy Horan.” They both shook hands with Brendan

 

“If I can be of any help…?”

 

“Maybe you can,” replied Jimmy. “We’re after work. We were told some contractors come in here, but it seems we came at a bad time.”

 

“Yes. But, don’t worry. I’m sure one or two will be in later.” It was no bad thing that no contractors were in the pub, thought Brendan It gave him the chance to explain a few things and to learn a bit about the boys

 

“It’s the building trade ye’re interested in then?”

 

They both nodded

 

“Have ye experience?”

 

“Oh, we have,” replied Jimmy “Years of experience.”

 

So, they’re not just over, thought Brendan, nevertheless, they’re young and new to the area. A bit of advice won’t go amiss.

 

“Have ye cards?”

 

“Oh, we have.” Jimmy answered for both of them. Andy nodded.

 

“That’s good. Is it cards in work ye’re looking for?”

 

“Yes. I think so.” Jimmy shrugged. “But, we’ll take whatever’s going.”

 

“Good. Well ye won’t be out of work for long then. There’s a lot of work going on right now. From the looks on their faces Brendan saw that that was exactly what they wanted to hear. “But,” he continued, “I’d advise ye to think about what ye want before ye jump into anything.”

 

“There are subbies offering cash–in-hand: no cards. Paid by the day in some cases. If that’s what ye want, go for it. Summer’s coming; Ye might do all right for a few months. But, be wary. There will be days, weeks even, when ye’ll get very little or nothing. And when the weather’s too bad to work, what do ye do? I’ll tell ye. I used to do it. Ye’ll be expected to be in the pub spending what money ye got the day before.”

 

“There is the odd exception, but most of the men on those jobs are always broke. Although they talk about getting big money, believe me, that’s all it is, talk: pub talk. Maybe, as a landlord, I shouldn’t be saying this, but that’s how I see it. Over the year, the man in the steady job with cards inn is far better off.”

 

“I notice neither of you are drinkers.”

 

Jimmy smiled. “I used to drink but I’m giving it a rest for a while”.

 

“Wise man.” Brendan waited for elaboration.

 

“I was slightly overdoing it.”

 

“Slightly!” Andy gave Jimmy a look that said he knew different.

 

Brendan got the picture. “What about you Andy?”

 

“I don’t drink. You were saying about work?” Andy clearly wished to stay with the subject that they were there for.

 

“Yes. Of course: First of all, are ye staying around here?”

 

“No. We’re a long way off: in Aston. But, we’ll move if we have to.”

 

“If ye do, there are lots of digs around here. From what I hear, some of them are good and others are not so good. But, if ye decide to move that’s something we could talk about another time.”

 

“The work isn’t local. But, buses and wagons take a lot of men from around here to where the work is. In the morning you’d see gangs of men in lots of different places, waiting to be taken to their work.”

 

“This seems like a good place to stay then.”

 

“I suppose so. But, again, don’t rush to change digs. There might be work out your way, or maybe you could be picked up there and taken to where it is.”

 

“Jim Regan. He comes in here occasionally. He’s a foreman for Langs. Langs have work all over the Midlands. From what I’ve heard, it is a good firm to work for.”

 

“I have Jims number. I’ll give him a ring.” Brendan wasted no time. He found the number in his notebook. “He should be in now,” he said as he dialled the number.

 

“Is that Jim?”……….”Brendan at The Antelope.”………”I’m fine. I have a couple of good lads here looking for work. How are you fixed?”

“Yes. They have cards.”……”No. They’re living in Aston. But they’ll move if they have to.”….. “Address: just a second.” Brendan turned. “Have ye the address of where ye’re staying?”

 

“Andy took a piece of paper from his pocked and handed it to Brendan. Brendan read the address into the phone.

“Start: straight away.”

 

Behind Brendan’s back Jimmy put his thumb up and winked at Andy. Andy, disapprovingly kept a straight face. Jimmy quickly composed himself as Brendan turned around.”

 

“Can ye start in the morning?

 

Friday was an unusual day to start in a new job. They hadn’t expected to start before Monday at the earliest. This was excellent.

“Yes,” said Andy enthusiastically. Jimmy nodded too.

 

“Yes. They can.” Brendan was writing in his notebook, while behind his back, to Andy’s annoyance Jimmy was rubbing his hands in excitement.

 

“Thank you Jim. I appreciate that.” Brendan put the phone down and tore the page that he’d written on out of the notebook.

“This is where ye’ll be picked up,” he said. “I don’t think it’s not too far from where ye’re staying. I’ll get the A to Z.”

“A couple of other men will be there too,” he said, finding the page in the A to Z. “It’s outside a pub called the New Inn. Yes. It’s only a coupla streets away. This might help.” Brendan drew a little map on the page. But, ye can always ask for the New Inn.”

 

“Thank you Brendan,” said Jimmy. “You’ve been a great help.”

 

“Yes,” agreed Andy, “I don’t know what we’d have done without you”

 

“I’m glad I could help. Where did you live before?” Brendan felt that he’d earned the right to know some more about them.

 

“Not far from Manchester,” replied Jimmy. “In a place called Broadfield. You won’t have heard of it.”

 

Brendan smiled. “It’s a smaller world than you think. It wouldn’t have been Mary’s lodging house you were in, would it?”

 

The both laughed. “Not Andy,” replied Jimmy. “But, yes, that’s where I stayed. But, how——-?”

 

“It’s better known than you thought. Did you know Michael O’Malley?”

 

”The man that was killed lately?”

 

“Oh, yes,” said Brendan. “I heard about that. Terrible business. But, no. That wasn’t the man that I meant. This is confusing. You might have known the man that I had in mind as Martin: Martin Prendergast. Did ye know a man by that name?”

 

They both nodded. “Indeed we did,” said Jimmy. “We knew him well. Sure wasn’t he a neighbour of Andy’s back home. And we both worked with him. “He stayed at Mary’s like myself, though last week he disappeared. No one knows where he went to.”

 

“It’s worrying,” added Andy. “He told Mary he’d be back in a few days and the most of his clothes are still there. You knew him then?”

 

“Oh, I did. Sure he lived round here for a number of years: a decent quiet man. I liked him a lot. He often came in when the pub was quiet. I think that’s how he liked it. Many’s the chat I had with him. Not that he ever told me much about himself. He very much kept himself to himself. It was only after he left that it became known that his real name was Martin Prendergast. He was always known round here as Michael: Michael O’Malley. No one knew why. His was his business and he told no one. But, I’m afraid it’s now common knowledge. He cleared off without telling anyone as well. Some people were concerned about him at the time. But, it seems that’s what he does. And you say he’s done it again lately?”

 

“Yes,” said Andy, “but this time his landlady believed him when he told her that he’d be back in a few days. All his clothes are still there and he had a job waiting for him. It looked like he intended to come back from wherever it was that he went to.”

 

“He came down here.”

 

Both Andy and Jimmy looked surprised.

 

“Yes,” continued Brendan. “He was here on a Friday evening a coupla weeks ago. He didn’t stay long. He wanted an address of a man that he needed to see. I gave it to him and he left saying he’d see me later but he never returned.”

 

“So, he came down here,” mused Andy. Do you know if he went to see that man?”

 

“He did. I know that.”

 

“He told Mary he had a bit of business to attend to. Maybe it was with that man.”

 

“Yes. It looks like it was. But’ he gave me no hint as to what he needed to see the man about. In fact, he said he wished he could tell me more but he couldn’t. I know that he called at the man’s house that same evening. He stayed for about an hour. After he left that house no one’s seen him since.” We thought he’d gone back up north.”

 

“I’ve heard,” Brendan continued, “that some up there think that his leaving had something to do with the murder of that man called Michael O’Malley.”

 

They both shook their heads. That was obviously news to both of them. “I can’t see Martin having anything to do with the murder,” said Jimmy. “But you seem to know more than we do.”

 

Brendan smiled. He could see they were both astonished at how much he knew. “I like to know my customers,” he said, “and Michael, I mean Martin was a good customer. Andy, you were his neighbour back home. Did you know him there?”

 

“No. He left before I was born. It’s his brother that has the farm next to ours: a great man. He couldn’t do enough for us when my father died. And even now, whenever we need help he’s there.”

 

“Did he ever talk about Martin?”

 

“No. I never heard Martin mentioned. It was after I came over here that I learned about Martin’s past and me his next door neighbour.”

 

“I,” said Brendan expectantly.

 

“Well, I never knew until my landlady told me that one time Martin was seen as a hero for standing up to the Black- and –Tans. And she lived a long way from us.”

 

“He was more than just a local hero then. I knew there was more to Martin than met the eye. Did she talk about him a lot?

 

“No. Not much.” Andy shook his head. “But I think she knew a lot more about him than she was prepared to tell me.”

 

“What makes you think that Andy?”

 

“I don’t know. It was just the impression I got sometimes.”

 

“Did you ever hear your neighbours talk about him?”

 

“No. Not a word.”

 

“Strange, and, as you said he was a hero once. Even years after the event, you’d expect it to be talked about at least sometimes. Do you think something else happened that made people want to forget about him altogether?”

 

“Maybe. Maggie, my landlady, said the civil-war that came after was something no one talked about.”

 

Brendan was again ahead of them. He knew, at least a little, of Martin’s involvements in the civil war. A few nights previously Paddy Casey, when slightly the worse for drink, had told him about Martin being blamed for the murder of Paddy’s uncle and the recent discovery, thanks to Paddy’s sister that they’d got it all wrong. After telling him, however, Paddy had regretted doing so. He had revealed a family secret and begged Brendan not to breathe a word of it to anyone else. Brendan, of course agreed. Pub landlords hear many things that are best kept to themselves. But, it was an interesting story and, without betraying Paddy, he wished to know more.

 

“Was Martin involved in the civil-war?” he asked

 

“I don’t know. I asked Maggie that question and she said she didn’t know. She said she lived too far away to know. But, the way she said it made me think that she knew something she didn’t want to tell me.”

 

“Excuse me,” interrupted Brendan. “I’ve a customer the other side.”

 

“WE need to go anyway,” said Jimmy. “Thanks Brendan you’ve been a great help.”

 

“Ah, you’re welcome. Nice meeting ye both. I hope the job is all right.”

 

Brendan moved to the other bar.

 

“Teresa,” he welcomed. “How are you?”

 

“I’m O K.”

 

“Will you have a drink?”

 

“No thank you. I can’t delay. You asked me to let you know if I found out anything about Martin. Well, I believe I have.”

 

“That’s good. But, will you excuse me a minute. I must catch those two lads before they go.”

***

 

 

 

“Good,” said Brendan, as Andy and Jimmy were about to leave, “ye’re still here. If ye can wait a little longer, I have someone the other side that, I think, would like to meet ye.”

They both nodded.

 

“Come through this way.” Brendan lifted the latch and they both followed him through the bar area.

 

“Teresa,” he explained. “These two lads know Martin well. Andy was his neighbor.”

 

Seeing Teresa’s jaw drop Brendan stopped mid sentence. She looked stunned. He turned to the lads. They were equally shocked.

“You you’ve met before,” he stuttered.

 

This time, however, Teresa composed herself.

 

“Yes. We’ve met.” She forced a smile.

 

Both Andy and Jimmy remained silent, waiting for Teresa to make the next move.

 

She did “First of all,” she said, “let me apologise for pretending to be someone else. I think, Andy, you knew immediately.”

 

“Yes…yes,” stuttered Andy looking all embarrassed. Then composing himself somewhat he apologised. “Sorry,” he said, “about the way I behaved. I don’t know what came over me. I was expecting to meet Martin’s niece. But…”

 

“Never mind.” Teresa stopped him. “I deserved it. I should have been honest with you.”

 

“I’m sure you had your reasons,” intervened Jimmy.

 

“Thank you Jimmy. You’re very understanding. Yes there was a reason for it; a reason that I’m afraid I still cannot explain.”

 

“You were saying,” reminded Brendan, relieving the awkwardness, “that you have some information about Martin.”

 

“Yes. Maybe. This might interest you boys too.” She turned to Andy and Jimmy.

 

“Excuse me,” interrupted Brendan. “I have a customer at the other bar.”

He didn’t go there. He simply took a few steps in that direction and shouted, “I’ll be there in a minute.” Then, turning back he apologised. “Sorry about that. Go on Teresa.”

 

“There is a man that fits Martin’s description in hospital in Coventry,” she told them. “I had a phone call this evening from the priest in Broadfield: Father Downey. You boys will know him.”

 

Andy and Jimmy both nodded. “He got a call,” she continued, “from the hospital, or maybe it was from the police; I’m not sure. The man is unconscious but something was found on him, a church newsletter I think, with the address and the priest’s phone number on it. The priest had my phone number. He wondered if I could help in identifying the man. He’s anxious to know if it is Martin. But I can’t do it. I never met the man.”

 

“I’ll do it,” said Brendan without hesitation. “I’ll do it in the morning before I open up. I know you boys could do it. But, it’s your first day in the job. If one of you gives me a ring, I’ll tell you if it’s him and how he is.” Brendan got a card from under the bar and handed it to Andy.

 

After they all left Brendan hurried to the other bar. He didn’t like keeping customers waiting. However, to his surprise, there was no one there.

 

 

Chapter 14. Martin in Hospital.

 

“I’ll be leaving you on your own this morning Mary,” said Brendan.

 

“If I’m not back before you go don’t worry. Just lock the door after you.

Brendan trusted Mary Frain. She had been his cleaner for a good many years. She just did a few hours each morning.

 

“Right O,” she replied. “Something wrong?”

 

“I’m going to see a man in hospital in Coventry. He’s unconscious. They don’t know who he is, but I’m told that there’s a possibility that he is a man who used to be a customer of ours: Michael O’Malley: a nice man. If it’s him I hope he pulls through.”

 

“Please God. Well, good luck.“

It was a bright sunny morning. The low February sun was dazzling. Otherwise driving conditions were perfect. The rush period over, traffic on the wide Coventry road was light. Adjusting the sun-visor, Brendan thought it was good to be out on the open road for a change. He rarely got out of the Pub these days.

 

The car, however, was not performing well. The engine was coughing and spluttering. A service was long overdue. The car was used so little that maintenance was neglected. It was over a week since it was last used. He hoped that when it warmed up the engine would perform better. But it wasn’t happening.

 

The sign showed 40 mph. Brendan’s car couldn’t even reach thirty. All the traffic was passing him. When yet another car appeared in his rear view mirror, although unnecessary on that duel-carriageway, Brendan drew closer to the side in anticipation of it passing. It did not do so. In fact the gap between them widened. That driver was maybe having similar problems to himself thought Brendan.

 

Then he noticed the high reading on the temperature gauge. The radiator must be short of water again. Maybe that was the problem. Why hadn’t he thought of that? It had happened before. But, this time he was prepared. There was a can of water in the boot. He pulled in to a lay-by.

Steam was coming from under the bonnet. He shut the engine down and remained seated. Experience had taught him to wait until the radiator cooled down before removing the cap.

 

Brendan thought about the hospital visit he was about to make. He was feeling a little apprehensive. On the previous evening he was convinced that the offer to make the visit was the right one. Now he was less sure. Hospitals brought back bad memories. It was five years since his wife died in hospital. He hadn’t been in one since then.

 

The car that had been following passed. It was a black estate car. As it drew level it seemed to slow down. Was it going to stop? Maybe the driver would offer to help. No. Instead he accelerated away. Nothing wrong with his engine, thought Brendan dreamily.

 

They were on a long straight part of the road. Shielding his eyes, Brendan watched the estate car until almost out of sight, where it seemed to turn off the road and stop. There wouldn’t be another lay-by so close. Perhaps he was having car trouble after all.

 

After topping up the radiator Brendan set off again. The engine ran much smoother. He had temporarily cured the problem. But, he must get it seen to. Passing the black estate car, which was parked on the grass verge, Brendan considered stopping to ask if he could be of any assistance. He slowed down, but couldn’t see the driver. Perhaps he’s having a nap, thought Brendan, best leave him be. Brendan needed to get on.

***

 

 

 

Brendan explained his business to the girl at reception. She was very helpful.

“Yes,” she said. “The intensive care unit. I’ll find out if you can see him.” She picked up the phone.

 

“I was told I could visit at any time.”

 

“It’s just that they may ask you to wait if there’s a procedure being carried out.”

 

“It’s O K,” she said, putting down the phone. “Just go up. The nurse will be expecting you.”

 

The nurse, a large middle-aged woman, met Brendan with a friendly smile. “I’ll take you to him,” she said.

 

Brendan followed her silently, feeling more and more uncomfortable passing sleeping or unconscious patients attached by wires and tubes to bleeping, blinking machines.

 

“He’s still in a coma,” she informed him, when they reached the patients bed. “He won’t respond, but you could try talking to him. You never know what a familial voice would do. Oh! I’m sorry. I’m jumping ahead. First of all, do you recognise him?”

 

His head was in a bandage like a turban. A tube was clamped to his mouth, presumably to keep him breathing. Wires snaked from his head and chest to monitoring machines. Brendan had started to hope that it was not Martin. However, there was no mistaking, it was definitely him.

Martins face could be recognised anywhere.

 

“Yes. It’s Martin. What happened to him?”

 

The nurse shook her head. “We don’t know. At first we thought he was involved in a road accident. But, his injury is not consistent with that. He has just one head injury. If he was hit by a car we would expect many more injuries.”

 

He was assaulted, thought Brendan. “Do the police know?”

 

“Yes. They’ve been informed,” the nurse replied. “They’ll need to speak to him when he regains consciousness.” “If he regains consciousness,” she added. “They’ve been here. They talked with the ward sister. She could tell you more, but, I’m afraid, she’s not here today.”

 

Martin showed no awareness of Brendan’s or anyone else’s presence.

Brendan turned to the nurse. “You said talk to him. Do you think he will hear me?”

 

She shook her head. “I don’t know. Possibly. Talking to him, though, especially by someone he knows, is thought to be good, like I said, a familiar voice, you never know.”

 

“What can I say?”

 

“Anything. Call him by his name. Tell him who you are.”

 

Brendan moved closer to the bed. “Michael.” Brendan deemed it best to call him by the name he’d always known him as. Aware that he’d told the nurse that his name was Martin, he whispered. “I’ll explain later.”

 

The nurse, however, was distracted by the sound of an alarm by another bed. “I’ll have to leave you,” she said. “I’ll be back shortly.”

 

Alone with Martin, Brendan repeated “Michael. Michael O’Malley. I’m Brendan: Brendan from The Antelope. Remember me?”

 

There was, of course, no response. Not even a flicker of an eye. Nevertheless, Brendan continued telling Martin that he hoped he would be better soon. He said many Antelope customers sent their best wishes-a white lie, but he knew it would be true if they knew about Martin- and hoped for a speedy recovery.

 

 

The nurse returned. “What did you say his name is?” she asked, Producing a notebook and pen from her pocket.

 

“Martin. Martin Prendergast.”

 

The nurse started to write in her notebook. “You called him Michael?” she queried. “Would that be his middle name.”

 

“Maybe. He’s always been called Michael in my pub. By the way, I run a pub. But, I was told recently, on good authority, that his real name is Martin.”

 

“It’s for our records. I’ll put Martin Michael. How’s that?”

 

Brendan thought for a few seconds. “No,” he said. “On second thoughts, I don’t think his middle name is Michael. I’d just put Martin.”

 

“O K,” she agreed reluctantly. “An address?”

 

“No. Sorry. He lived up in the north of England. He was just down here, for a day or two, he said, on a bit of business.”

 

“Previously. He did live down here for a number of years. I got to know him well then: a nice quiet man. I don’t know why anyone would want to hurt him.”

 

As Brendan left the Hospital, a young man who had stopped at the door to light a cigarette asked politely, “have you got the time please?”

 

“A quarter past twelve,” replied Brendan checking his watch.

 

“Thank you.” As Brendan walked towards his car the man walked with him. “It’s a nice day.”

 

“Yes.” Brendan was not in the mood for small talk. He was not in the pub then.

 

The man, however, was not giving up. “Been visiting someone?” he asked.

 

“Yes.”

 

“So was I: my father. He’s not well at all.”

 

“Sorry about that.”

 

“It’s O K. Was it a relative you were visiting yourself?”

 

“No. A friend.”

 

“You seem upset. Is he not very well either?”

 

“No. He’s unconscious.”

 

“Oh dear. An accident, was it?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Has he been unconscious long?

“Over a week.”

 

“Do you think he’ll get better?”

 

“I don’t know,” replied Brendan curtly. “My car’s this way,” he said following the path to the right.

 

“So is mine: a bit further on,” said the man, still accompanying him.

 

“Is he in intensive care then?”

 

“Yes.” Brendan had reached his car. Not looking at the man he opened the door and got in.

 

“I hope he gets better.”

 

Brendan wasn’t listening. He slammed the door.

 

Putting the key in the ignition switch, watching the man walk away, Brendan felt slightly guilty about being so short with him. After all, he thought he was only making polite conversation.

 

Only then did it occur to Brendan that there was something strange about what the man said. The man’s words, which he had ignored when spoken, were still going round in Brendan’s head. The man said his car was further on than Brendan’s, but, how did he know where Brendan’s car was? Strange man. Had he watched Brendan arrive in the car park? And why was he so interested in Brendan and his business in the hospital?

 

His curiosity arisen, Brendan delayed starting the engine while he waited for the man to drive past. As far as he knew there was no other way out of the car park. He needed to get back to open the pub, but a few more minutes wouldn’t matter.

 

But no car passed. After about five minutes, Brendan decided to go. He could wait no longer. Instead of turning left out of the car park, however, he turned to his right. Something told him that he must satisfy himself that there was no exit in that direction. Also he needed to see if the man was sat in his car.

 

It was, as he had thought, a dead end. A brick wall stopped him going any further. Also, the half dozen or so cars parked on either side were unoccupied. Unless the man was crouched down he wasn’t in any of those cars. He had disappeared.

 

Brendan had wasted enough time. What was he doing anyway? The man was strange. So what. Feeling embarrassed, Brendan quickly did a three-point turn and left the car park.

***

 

 

 

It was about eight o’clock on Friday evening. Andy was sat on the bed trying to write a letter. He was very tired. He just wished to lay his head on the bed and sleep. But the letter had to be written. He’d just talked on the phone to Brendan and Andy’s mother had to be told about Martin. She would then pass the news on to Martin’s brother. It would be upsetting news. Nevertheless Andy felt it was his duty to communicate it. Not that Martin’s brother could do anything about it. He couldn’t leave the farm or his wife, who was in poor health.

 

Andy also must inform his mother of his changed circumstances. She liked to know all about him. He couldn’t send any money this time, but hopefully he would soon be able to. The job was promising. As the days got longer there would be more and more overtime. It was hard work, but he’d get used to it. He’d spent all day shovelling concrete and pushing wheelbarrows full of it. He was exhausted. But, he wouldn’t put that in the letter. He would just say it was a good job.

 

The light was barely adequate and Andy was struggling to concentrate. He looked around the room, which he shared with Jimmy. It was very basic, containing little other than two single beds and a wardrobe. They would have to share the wardrobe. Andy had already put some of his clothes in. The rest, underclothes socks etc, would have to be left in his suitcase, which he’d pushed under his bed.

 

Jimmy hadn’t bothered to unpack. His suitcase was still on his bed since he’d changed his clothes after getting in from work. His work clothes were strewn on the floor. Sharing with Jimmy was not ideal, but Andy was not complaining. At least Jimmy had left him alone to write his letter. Jimmy had stayed in the lounge after their evening meal.

***

 

 

 

The three men, Dave Campbell, Brian King, and Sam Wilkinson were sat in Dave Campbell’s living room. It was not the cosiest of meetings. Brian clearly resented having his Saturday afternoon disrupted. Also, he expected others to be there.

 

“Is this it?” he asked, in almost disbelief. “You gave me the impression that lots of others would be here.

 

“Yes Brian. Sorry to disappoint you, but I had to make sure that you came. This is it. We mustn’t involve more than is absolutely necessary.”

 

“But, others are involved, if it’s about what I think it’s about.”

 

“I, Brian, you know what it’s about. Are you sure that you won’t have a cup of tea or something.” Dave saw how restless Brian was.

 

“Yes. Yes. I’m sure. Just get on with it.”

 

“O K. Well, you both know why you’re here. There’s been a major cock up. A project, which should have been very simple, was messed up. I know there have been rumours and whispers about what happened and who was involved. Well, that must stop. You know what they say about idle talk.”

 

“Are you accusing me?” Brian was annoyed.

 

“No Brian, I’m not accusing anyone. I’ve asked you here so you know exactly what the situation is and how serious it is.”

 

“It’s serious for you.”

 

“We all planned this project. No one can wriggle out of it now.”

 

“We planned it. We left it to you to implement it. Nothing could go wrong, you said.”

 

“Something unexpected happened, which was out of my control. Let me explain.”

“You know what the project was. We all talked about it. Two boys were sent to the Manchester area to carry it out. I know some think that I personally went. I didn’t. I sent those two boys. You both know who they are. They’re smart lads, especially Allan. There was no reason to suspect that here would be any hitches. But, I’m afraid they bungled it. They got the wrong man and now he’s dead.”

 

“How could that happen?”

 

“It wasn’t entirely their fault. It turned out that the name the target was known by down here was not his real name. Down here he was known as Michael O’Malley but up there he used his real name, Martin something or other. Now it turns out that a man by the name of Michael O’Malley lived in that area: not at the address the boys were given but close by. The man was older and frailer than their intended target. So they should have known that he was the wrong man but they didn’t.”

 

“Didn’t they warn him first like we agreed?”

 

“Yes. They said they did but he ignored the warning.”

 

“Yes. Of course he did. He was the wrong man. He wouldn’t know what it was all about. So, what did they do?”

 

“Their instructions were to make sure that he knew that they meant business. But, they went too far.”

 

“They killed him.”

 

“Yes. It didn’t take much. Like I said, he was old and frail.”

 

“Jesus, what a cock up. Didn’t you know about the man’s real name? I thought you did the research.”

 

“Yes. I did know something about it. But, I thought, to tell the boys would only confuse them as it seemed he no longer used his real name.”

“You thought. You thought. It looks to me like you didn’t fucking think at all. It’s a right cock up. But, it’s your cock up. Don’t drag us into it.”

 

“Brian, what was done was done was done on behalf of the group. If those boys are arrested a lot of stuff will come out. None of us have clean hands: not least you Brian. For example, the raid on that Paki shop: You were lucky to get away with that, if you have got away with it. The case is not closed yet.”

 

“Those boys don’t know anything about that.”

 

“Tommy does and he’s probably discussed it with Alan.”

 

“Well, it must have been you that told him.”

 

“He was there when it was discussed. Don’t worry. It’s been impressed on him the importance of not talking about it to anyone else. But, in police custody, who knows what would happen.”

 

“He’d break. That’s for sure. What about the other one?”

 

“He’s the one that I’m really worried about.”

 

“Why’s that?”

 

“Well, he doesn’t seem to have the stomach for all this, and I don’t know where he is.”

 

“He works for you, doesn’t he?”

 

“Not any more and he seem to have disappeared.”

 

“Don’t you know where he lives?”

 

“He’s not there anymore. He hasn’t been back to his flat for over a week.”

 

“Why do you think he hasn’t the stomach for it?”

 

“It was the way he reacted to how I dealt with the man who was going to report us to the cops.”

 

“You’d better tell us about that. What did the man know that he could tell?”

 

“The man was the intended target. He knew what the boys did and he followed them down here. He confronted us in The Queens. He told us that he knew what the boys did: that they killed a man, and that he was going to the police. He had to be stopped.”

 

“So, what happened?”

 

“I stopped him. I did what had to be done.”

 

“Did you kill him?”

 

“No. He’s in hospital, unconscious, though.”

 

“Fuck. Can’t you do anything right? When he comes round he’s going to talk.”

 

“From what I’ve heard that’s very unlikely.”

 

“How do you know?”

 

“Sam will tell you.” Dave turned to Sam Thomson, who had been silent until then “Tell him what you know Sam.”

 

Sam didn’t work for Dave. He was, however, a recent enthusiastic member of “The Angry Whites”. Unlike Brian he felt privileged and delighted to be there. The invitation to join Dave and Brian was an aspiration fulfilled. In awe of the two heavyweights in the organisation, he had been a silent listener up to then. But, given the chance, he relished the opportunity to impress.

 

Sam cleared his throat. “I talked with the landlord of The Altelope after he’d been to see him. I followed him to the hospital and waited for him coming out. Then, making conversation like, I got him to tell me that he’d visited a man who was unconscious. He seemed very worried. From what he said, I don’t think the man will recover.”

 

“You don’t think!” Clearly that was not good enough for Brian. “You don’t know, though, do you?”

 

“No.”

 

Brian turned to Dave. “So, you’re in the shit whatever happens. If the man recovers you’ll be done for attempted murder and implicated in another murder: If he doesn’t its two murders. But, all this has nothing to do with the rest of us.”

 

“That’s not right Brian. If he doesn’t recover we have no problem. It was only him that linked us to what happened in Manchester. And if he does recover we don’t know what he’ll remember. He certainly won’t know what hit him that night.”

 

“Who does know? Who was there?”

 

“Just me and the two boys that he was going to report to the cops.”

 

“You said that you feared that one of them might blab?”

 

“Yes. Alan. That was over a week ago. He threatened to go to the cops. But I think it was just a threat. He’d be dropping himself in it if he carried it out. If he had done it we’d have heard something by now.”

 

“I don’t get this at all. Why would he go to the cops? He’d be reporting himself.

 

“He got himself into something he can’t deal with. Apparently it was Tommy that beat up the man who later died. But, Alan was there. Whether he likes it or not he was part of it, and now he regrets it.”

 

“Well he needs to be found and made aware of the consequences of any blabbing he might do. And I don’t mean the law. What are we doing about finding him?”

 

“Don’t worry. We’ll find him. We’re keeping an eye on his flat. He’s been back to it once: at least once. Tommy visited him. Tommy wasn’t going to tell me but Sam, who was keeping an eye on the flat, saw him enter and told me. He’s a good detective is Sam.” Dave patted Sam on the shoulder causing Sam embarrassment.

 

“Anyway, when I confronted Tommy he told me about it. Apparently Alan has got a job but he wouldn’t tell Tommy where it was. Tommy thought Alan was back living in the flat. But apparently he had only called to pick some things up. Joe Casey was there too. Remember him?”

 

“That bastard. I’ll kill him one of these days.”

 

“Don’t worry, he’ll be dealt with. But right now we have more pressing problems.”

 

“Yes,” said Brian, “that man in hospital mustn’t be allowed to talk.”

 

“Like I said, it’s unlikely he’ll recover.”

 

“We must make sure he doesn’t.”

 

“Brian, he’s in intensive care. There is always a nurse with him or close by,”

 

“We could at least warn him. We scared him before. We could let him know that this was just a warning.”

 

“How could we do that? He’s unconscious.”

 

“I meant when he wakes up.”

 

“That’s unlikely. But if it does happen we can’t be there.”

 

“What do you propose that we do then? Nothing?”

 

“Yes. That’s our best course of action: just carry on as normal. There’s nothing to link us to that man Michael O’Malley’s death. During the time that they were away, those boys are shown in my books as having worked continuously for me. I’ve taken care of that. The books even show the jobs that they were on.

 

“It seems that wasn’t good enough for one of then, though. Was it? Alan is it? He’s not carrying on as normal,”

 

“I’m not bothered about him any more. Sooner or later we’ll catch up with him”

 

“He must meet with an accident,” said Brian. “Maybe a fatal one.”

 

Dave grimaced. “Careful Brian.” Clearly Dave was concerned about what Brian might do. “Don’t worry, he’ll be dealt with. But, please, leave him to me.”

 

Brian was not having it. “Like we left the Manchester job to you,” he retorted.

 

“They’ll know in ‘The Antelope.’ Sam sensing the heat in the debate and in order to change the subject spoke. He’d been thinking “The man in hospital,” he explained. “There’s a lot of interest in the man in ‘The Antelope.’ The landlord will know how he is.”

 

“You’re right,” agreed Dave. “Those Paddies stick together. It would look suspicious, though, if someone else who wasn’t a Paddy went in there asking questions.”

 

“Not if he was a friend of the man,” said Brian. “He could say that he used to work with him.”

 

Although dubious, Dave didn’t totally dismiss the Idea. “It would have to be someone who wasn’t known in there,” he commented. “None of us are regulars, although the landlord will probably know you and me Brian.” Dave turned to Sam.

 

“Sam, did you say that no one saw you that night you found out about the man being in hospital?”

 

“No. I was in the other room when I heard the conversation. But, the landlord will know me. I talked with him at the hospital.”

 

“Yes, of course. That rules you out.”

“I’ll find someone,” said Brian confidently.

 

Dave shook his head. “We mustn’t involve anyone else. The fewer that knows about this the better.”

 

“What about Tommy,” asked Sam? “He’s already involved.”

 

“Yes,” mused Dave. “We could trust him. But, he’s not the brightest spark.”

 

“He doesn’t have to be a brain surgeon,” said Brian.

 

“No. I suppose not. I’ll have a word with him.”

Chapter 15. Joe’s plan

h1={color:#000;}.

It was early Sunday evening in The Antelope. Andy and Jimmy were sat on their own in the music room. They were early because they had come straight from evening Mass. Andy had insisted that they go to Mass. Jimmy went along reluctantly, complaining that he was too tired. They had worked all day that Sunday. The visit to the pub after Mass was Jimmy’s enticement. He’d never be too tired for that thought Andy.

 

But Jimmy was not happy. “This is no craic,” he complained, dolefully sipping his orange juice. He was still on the wagon; clinging on grimly.

 

“You’ll get used to it,” said Andy, though doubting it. The encouraging words, however, were not helpful. Jimmy turned on Andy.

 

“You’re enjoying this,” he grumbled.

“No; not at all. Aren’t I on orange juice myself?”

 

“It’s all right for you. You never drank.”

 

“You were all right with it here the other night.”

 

“That was different: we were here on business. But, on a night out, it just isn’t right.”

 

Their attention was diverted to the door. Jimmy’s face suddenly brightened on seeing who entered. “It’s Teresa,” he said.

 

“Andy, and Jimmy,” she exclaimed. She seemed surprised but clearly pleased to see them. Smiling, she approached them holding out her hand.

 

Happy that she remembered their names Jimmy stood up and eagerly took her hand. Andy did likewise.

 

“Is Brendan about?” asked Teresa.

 

They both shook their heads. “We haven’t seen him,” replied Jimmy.

 

“He should be down shortly.” The barmaid appeared at the bar. She’d overheard the question. “He’s having a rest. He had a busy afternoon. But, if you need to see him, I’ll tell him you’re here.”

 

“No. It’s O K thank you. Let him rest. I’ll see him when he comes down.”

 

“Will you have a drink Teresa?” asked Jimmy.

 

Andy smiled to himself. A bit of skirt, he thought, Jimmy can’t resist.

 

“Thank you Jimmy,” replied Teresa. “I’ll have an orange juice.”

 

Jimmy seemed momentarily taken aback. He’s paranoid, thought Andy, sensing that Jimmy had briefly thought that Teresa, by her request, was alluding to Jimmy’s own orange drink. Maybe I am enjoying this, he thought. Serves him right. It’s my turn. Bet he buys that pretty barmaid a drink too, thought Andy, even though money is in short supply, which was one reason, maybe the main reason, why Jimmy was still on the orange.

 

Teresa sat down facing Andy. She was still slightly wary of how he would react towards her. “How is work Andy?” she asked by way of conversation.

 

To her relief, this time Andy was relaxed with her. “It’s good,” he replied. “We worked all weekend. We were lucky: we got work straight away. Thanks to Brendan,” he added

 

“Brendan was helpful then?”

 

“ Oh, yes. It was him that got us the jobs. The other night- the night we saw you- when we told him that we were after work, Brendan knew the foreman and got on to him straight away. We started work the next day.”

 

“That must have been a relief. Being out of work in a strange town wouldn’t have been nice.”

 

“No, it wouldn’t. We were lucky; we had no time at all out of work.”

 

Jimmy returned with Teresa’s drink. “I have good news,” said Teresa when Jimmy sat down next to Andy. Then, after glancing over her shoulder, to ensure that she was not overheard, she leaned forward and, in little louder than a whisper, continued. “I was at the hospital today. Martin is conscious now.”

 

To hear her they both had to lean forward. “That’s great,” said Andy. “Did you talk to him?”

 

“A little. He was very tired.”

 

“Did he say what happened?” asked Jimmy.

 

“No. I don’t think he could remember anything. But, he had only just recovered consciousness.”

 

“Do you think he will be all right?” asked Andy

 

“It’s still early days. He’s certainly not out of the woods yet. I didn’t see a doctor but I talked with a nurse. She said his chances have improved.”

 

“Did he know you?”

 

“No. But, I never met him before today. Even if I had I don’t think that he would have known me. I tried to tell him who I was but I don’t think he understood.”

 

“One thing,” Teresa continued, again glancing over her shoulder, I talked with my brother Joe after I saw Martin. He warned me not to tell anyone about Martin recovering. He said there are men out to get Martin. I told him that I must tell Brendan because I had promised to keep him informed.” He said O K but I must impress on Brendan that no one else be told. However as you’re friends of Marin’s I think you have right to know. But, please keep it to yourselves.”

 

 

Brendan entered the room. “Teresa,” he asked. “Have you got news for me?”

 

“Brendan, I haven’t disturbed you I hope?”

 

“No. I wasn’t disturbed. It’s just now, after I came down, Kate told me that you wanted to see me.”

 

“Yes.” Teresa hesitated until Brendan sat next to her.

 

“Would you like to go somewhere else?” he asked, thinking that what she had to say was just for his ears,

 

“No,” she replied, glancing over shoulder. “These boys already know what I have to tell you. But, for now, I don’t want anyone else to hear it.” Keeping her voice down, she repeated what she told the boys about Martin and also what her brother had told her about keeping his recovery, if that was what it was, quite.

 

“O K,” Brendan said. Don’t worry I’ll keep it to myself. But, I can’t believe that Martin would have enemies of any kind, let alone ones that would hurt him that badly. Sure wasn’t he the quietest man in Birmingham.”

 

“He is now, but maybe he wasn’t always that quiet.”

 

“Well, I’ve known him for over twenty years and I never heard of him falling out with anyone. I know that in his youth, back in Ireland during the troubles he was involved. But, surely that’s all forgotten now.”

 

“I don’t know. Some people have long memories.”

 

“He was a brave man during the troubles,” said Andy. “I heard that he once stood up to the Black-and-Tans on his own.”

 

“Wow!” Teresa turned to Andy. “Tell us about that Andy.”

 

“It was when he was just a kid, thirteen or fourteen maybe. He was in the ball alley with a few other boys, when the Black-and-Tans came along in their wagon. They stopped their wagon and ordered the boys to lie down pointing their guns at them. It’s said that they all did except Martin. Martin refused to lie down, telling the Black-and Tans that they were too cowardly to shoot him. It’s said that they just got in their wagon and drove off.”

 

“He was a hero,” said Teresa. He must have been famous around there Andy.”

 

“No. That’s the strange thing. It was only after I came over here that I heard that story. I never heard it mentioned over there. It was my landlady that told me and she came from a place a good many miles away from us.”

 

“Do you know anything else about his activities in that time?”

 

“No. I don’t. I know that he left when he was very young. It was said that there was an argument about who got the land. But, I don’t know. Maybe there was another reason.”

 

“I think I’ll go to see him tomorrow,” said Brendan. “It might be good for him to see someone he knows.”

 

“Yes.” Teresa nodded. “I’m sure it will be.”

 

“I ought to go too,” said Andy “Sure he has no relatives in this country. His brother in Ireland will want to know how he is. He’ll be relying on information coming from me. But, the way work is, I don’t think I can manage it; not before weekend anyway.”

 

“Well, if you give me a ring tomorrow evening, like you did the other evening,” said Brendan. “I’ll be able to tell you how he is”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“What time do you finish in the evening, Andy,” asked Teresa.

 

“It was nearly eight o clock when we got back to the digs last Friday. But it might not be that late every night.”

 

“That would be too late. Visiting finishes at eight.”

 

“There was a lot of concreting to finish that day,” said Jimmy. “I don’t think it will be that late very often and if it’s raining it’s likely that we’ll finish a lot earlier.”

 

“If you finish early one day,” said Teresa, “give me a ring.” Teresa produced a notebook in which she wrote her phone number. She tore out the leaf and handed it to Andy. “I’ll come and pick you up in the car and take you to the hospital.”

 

“Thank you,” said Andy. “That’s very good of you. It’s a lot of trouble for you though.”

 

“Not at all. My husband Tom uses the car to get to work. But, he’s rarely later than five o clock getting home and I’m usually home by four.”

 

“That’s sorted then,” said Brendan. “But, in the meantime, just ring me tomorrow evening.” Then, turning to Teresa, “I think it’s your brother that’s just come in the other side.” Nothing happened in his pub without Brendan knowing.

“Which one?” she asked

 

“The young one. I don’t know his name.”

 

“Joe. He probably wants me.”

 

Joe appeared at the door, beckoning to Teresa to come to him.

 

“Excuse me,” she said, standing up. “I’d better see what he wants.”

 

Holding the door open Joe ushered Teresa outside. “I’ve just been to your house,” he told her. “Tom said you might be here.”

 

“Yes. Like I told you, I promised to keep Brendan informed about Martin.”

 

“You convinced him, I hope, that he mustn’t tell anyone else.”

 

“Yes. Don’t worry. But, I don’t understand the need for secrecy. What are you not telling me?”

 

“That’s your car over there, isn’t it?” Joe was looking at Teresa’s car, which was parked across the road.

 

“Yes,” she replied. Then reading his mind, “let’s sit in it. It’s still warm.”

 

“You’ve told no one else?” Joe sounded worried, when they were both sat in the car.

 

“Just a couple of others, but don’t worry, it won’t go any further.”

 

“Who?” demanded Joe angrily?

 

“Just those two boys that I was sat with.”

 

“Jesus!” exclaimed Joe. “Why didn’t you just announce it to all in the pub.”

 

“Joe, please, calm down. Those two boys are friends of Martin. I felt that they had a right to know about him. But. I’ve made it clear to them that they mustn’t tell anyone else. I sure that they won’t.”

 

“Teresa, I don’t think you’re aware of the danger that you could be putting yourself in here.”

 

“I wont if you wont tell me. What is it that you know that is so dangerous?”

 

Joe hesitated. Some of what he knew couldn’t be revealed. Yet, Teresa had to be made aware of how dangerous the situation was.

“Look,” he said. “Martin was assaulted. The man, or men, that assaulted him meant to kill him. Of that, I have no doubts.”

 

“But why?”

 

“Martin knew stuff. If it was told to the police it would put some men away for a long time.”

 

“Joe, how do you know all this? I’m worried about who you’re associating with.”

 

“Don’t worry. I don’t associate with those men any more. But I know enough about them to know how dangerous they are.”

 

“And you know that it was them that assaulted Martin?”

 

“Yes. I do.”

 

“Why don’t you go to the police?”

 

“I have no proof.”

 

“And Martin has?”

 

“Yes. I believe he has.”

 

“Why don’t you tell the police about your suspicions?”

 

“That wouldn’t be wise.”

 

“Teresa didn’t pursue that line any further. “I don’t understand,” she said. “Martin lived more than a hundred miles away. Why was he a threat to someone down here? Or was he followed down here?”

 

“It’s complicated.” Joe hesitated, not sure how to proceed. “A man by the name of Michael O’Malley was assaulted in Broadfield. You know about….” Joe stopped mid sentence. Something across the road had got his attention.

Teresa followed his gaze. A young man was entering The Antelope.

“Do you know him?” she asked.

 

“Yes. I used to work with him.”

 

“So? What’s the big deal?”

 

“He’s up to something: going in there.”

 

“It’s a public house.”

 

“Not one that he’d normally go in. He’s been send, to get information, Probably about Martin. I hope no one talks.” Joe went quiet. He was thinking.

 

Then he suddenly turned to Teresa. “Or better still.” He was excited.

“I’ve got an idea. You’ve got to know Brendan quite well recently?”

 

Teresa shrugged.

 

“He’ll do this for you.” Said Joe

 

“Do what? What do you want?” Teresa was apprehensive.

 

“Tommy Parsons,” said Joe, “that’s just entered the pub. We need to feed him some false information about Martin.”

 

“I don’t like the sound of this.”

 

“Just listen to what I have to say.”

 

“O K,” she sighed.

***

 

 

 

Tommy Parsons was feeling excited, thrilled even, at how well his mission had gone. His previous trepidation had proved to be totally unfounded. The Antelope, he found, was not at all the hostile place that he’d feared. He’d heard that it a rough pub that only wild Irishmen, all spoiling for a fight, frequented. Anyone that they didn’t know would be picked on.

In fact he was barely noticed and he didn’t even have to ask the difficult question that he was so fearful of asking. It was mission accomplished and with ease. Also, the answer he got was exactly what he believed Dave was wishing for. Making his way to The Queens he was confident that his successful mission would put him in better standing with Dave.

 

 

In The Queens Dave Campbell and Brian King were sat in the snug. They were the only ones there. “This pub is going to the dogs,” commented Brian, locking round the otherwise empty room. “Nearly nine o cock and still no one in. Mind you it’s not surprising I suppose. It’s not the most inviting of places and that miserable landlord would put anyone off his drink.”

 

“By the way, how much does he know about your problem, our problem?”

 

“Nothing, it’s sorted,” replied Dave dismissively.

 

But Brian was not to be put off. “What do you mean, sorted,” he insisted. “It was here that it all started, wasn’t it?”

 

“Don’t worry about him. I’ve had words. As far as he’s concerned we were never here that night, me or the boys.”

 

“And you can trust him?”

 

“Absolutely. He knows better than to say anything different.”

 

“So, it’s only the man in the hospital that we need to worry about.”

 

“That’s right Brian. Tommy should be here anytime with news about him.”

 

“Let’s hope it’s not good news: for the man I mean.”

 

“Don’t worry,” replied Brian with a hint of a smile. “Anyway, we’ll soon find out. That’s him at the bar now.”

 

Tommy ordered a pint at the bar. He got served immediately. The landlord, thought Tommy, was more attentive to his customers than usual. Was it because Dave and Brian were in the pub? Tommy had noticed that they were in. After paying for his drink Tommy joined them in the snug.

 

“You seem pleased with yourself,” remarked Brian. “Was it a successful journey then.”

 

“Yes. Of course.” Tommy made no attempt to conceal his delight as he seated himself opposite Dave and Brian.

 

“You found something out then?”

 

“Yes. Of course,” repeated Tommy.

 

“Well?”

 

“He won’t live long.”

 

“Shush, keep your voice down,” hissed Dave, also gesturing with his hand.

 

They both leaned closer to Tommy “How did you find out?” asked Brian, “Did you ask the landlord?”

 

“No. I didn’t need to. A lady standing next to me at the bar asked him. I overheard what he told her.”

 

“That was convenient.” Brian sounded dubious as Tommy continued.

 

“The landlord wasn’t there when I first went in. There was just a young girl behind the bar. I ordered a pint and she served me; friendly enough, she was. Then she went talking to a couple of men at the other end of the bar leaving me on my own. After a while the landlord appeared, but I couldn’t talk to him because he kept moving from one side of the bar to the other, checking, I think, on the drinks.”

 

“I was drinking my pint and leaning on the bar, casual like, waiting my chance to ask the question when this smart looking lady came in and stood next to me. She knew the landlord. She called him by his name: Brendan. He seemed pleased to see her. He came over to her straight away. I thought that was spoiling my chance of getting him on his own. But, then she asked him the very same question that I would have asked him if I got the chance.”

 

Tommy had a leisurely drink of his pint savouring the fact that he had both Dave and Brian listening to his every word, but stretching Brian’s patience “Go on then,” urged Brian. “What was it?”

 

Not to be rushed, Tommy carefully put down his glass before continuing. “She asked the very question I would have asked,” he repeated.

 

“Yes. Yes. You told us that. What was the question?”

 

Ignoring Brian’s impatience Tommy continued. She asked him if he’d heard anything about Michael O’Malley. I pretended not to be listening: just leaning on the bar and drinking my pint. But I heard every word. Brendan told her that he had bad news. He said that he was at the hospital this afternoon and that Michael O’Malley was worse. He said that he was talking to a doctor and the doctor told him that there was no chance of him coming out of the coma. The doctor told him that he wouldn’t last more than a couple of days at the most.”

 

“You did a good job Tommy,” said Dave, although Brian seemed less sure. “That’s it then,” stated Dave. “We can forget about that man.”

 

Brian shook his head. “Don’t be too sure about that,” he said. “Even if this is true, it will still be murder. The Police will be sniffing around.”

 

“Of course it’s true. Why wouldn’t it be?

 

“I don’t know. It seemed to go too well in there for Tommy.”

 

“I was very lucky,” said Tommy

 

“Maybe. But, like I said, it will still be murder. The police are bound to come sniffing around.”

 

“They will have nothing to connect us to it,” said Dave.

 

“Unless someone squeals.”

 

“That won’t happen.”

 

“What about that lad? You said he once threatened to go to the police.”

 

“He won’t. He knows better.”

 

“Have you found out where he is yet?”

 

“No. But, I’ve got my spies. We’ll find him sooner or later.”

 

Brian turned to Tommy. “Wasn’t he a mate of yours?” he asked. “Haven’t you some idea where he is?”

 

“Yes he was a mate of mine but I don’t know where he is now.”

 

“Has he got family?”

 

“Yes,” replied Dave. “Tommy has been to his parents house. They don’t know where he is either.”

 

“Did you believe them Tommy?” asked Brian

 

“Yes. Yes. I think so.”

 

“Well, he must be found,” stated Brian. “Maybe he won’t go to the police. But, we don’t know who he’ll tell. Maybe he’s already talked to people.”

 

Well, if he has there’s nothing we can do about that,” said Dave. But, I don’t think we need worry about him. He’s a smart lad. He’s not one to go round blabbing. He’s not that type. He never had a lot to say for himself.”

 

“I hope you’re right.” Brian was far from convinced. “I’d still like to talk to him, though.” Then, turning to Tommy, “Tommy are you sure that you have no idea where he is? Has he any mates that he might be staying with?”

 

“ Well, when I saw him at his flat- the last time I saw him- Joe was there.”

 

“Joe Casey?”

 

“Yes.”

 

That Bastard,” Brian exploded.

 

“Brian, keep your voice down,” urged Dave. Then, turning to Tommy, “you never told me that.”

 

“It d.d.. didn’t seem important,” stuttered Tommy, clearly embarrassed.

 

“That’s another one that we must find,” stated Brian. He must be taught that there are consequences for walking away like he did.”

 

“Yes. Definitely,” agreed Dave. But, concerned about what Brian might do, cautioned, “we must let this lot die down first. We can’t make things any worse.”

 

“We wouldn’t be making things worse. We’d simply be clearing up unfinished business.”

 

“And how do you want to do that Brian?”

 

“Maybe they will meet with accidents; a couple of accidents, down some dark alley. Much like you dealt with your problem. Only I would do it properly.”

 

“Yes. Yes. Of course you would,” said Dave sarcastically. You would have to find them first. You don’t even know where they are.”

 

“I know the firm that Joe works for. I’ll find him if he’s still there. Even if he’s not I’ll find him said Brain confidently. We can’t let him take the piss. Can we Tommy? he asked, slapping Tommy, who seemed to be in a trance, on the back.

 

Tommy simply shook his head. He was regretting mentioning Joe.

 

Brian drained his glass. “I’ve got to go,” he announced. “I’ve a busy day tomorrow. I’ll be in touch”

 

After Brian left, a worried Tommy turned to Brian. “What do you think he’ll do?” he asked.

 

“Nothing”, replied Brian dismissively, seeing how worried Tommy was. “He’s all talk. He won’t do anything.”

 

“He sounded like he would.”

 

“Like I say, he’s all talk. I’ve often heard him talk like that. He likes to pretend that he’s as hard as nails. But, nothing ever comes of it. I wish you’d told me about seeing Joe with Alan though.”

 

“Sorry. Why? What would you have done?

 

“If he was round at Alan’s flat, then probably he knows where Alan is. Did you talk to him much?”

 

“Just a bit. Like I told you, it was him that told me that the man was in hospital. Then he left soon after I got there.”

 

“Yes. You told me that. Thank you.” After a pause Dave said, “Joe Casey; we’ll have his address at the office, at least his parents address. He probably doesn’t live there now but they’ll know where he does live. Do you fancy a trip there tomorrow evening? You’re very good at getting information.”

Tommy, still looking worried, made no reply.

 

“Better that we find him before Brian does,” continued Dave

 

“O K,” replied Tommy. His last mission, although successful, had not gained him the respect that he had expected. Maybe another one would.

***

 

 

It was Monday evening. Teresa was about to leave her parents house.

 

“I’d better get back. I promised to make tea,” she said when they heard the knock on the door. As she was on her feet she walked down the short hall to answer it.

 

“Does Joe Casey live here?” asked the caller.

 

Teresa stared. Did she recognise him from the previous evening? However, she immediately recovered. She was probably mistaken, she thought. Outside The Antelope the street lighting was poor. And inside she didn’t get a proper look at him. Mostly, he was turned away from her.

 

“Sorry,” she apologised. “No. He doesn’t live here any more.”

 

“I’m Tommy Parsons,” the caller explained. “I used to work with Joe.”

 

On hearing the name her doubts were dispelled. He was the young man that she was stood next to at the bar of The Antelope on the previous evening. She wondered if Joe’s plan had worked. Or had it backfired? Was that the reason that Tommy was here? If he recognised her he gave no indication of it. Could he be pretending? She thought not. He’d barely looked at her the previous evening.

 

“Do you know where he lives?” asked Tommy.

 

She did know. But, from she heard from her brother, she deemed it best not to reveal it.

“He moved recently,” she said. “He hasn’t told us his new address.”

 

“But,” Tommy insisted. “Is there any way that I can get in touch with him?”

 

“I don’t know. Is it important?”

 

“Yes. He’s owed some money from his last job. We need to get it to him.”

 

Before she could answer her dad called from the living room. “Who is it Teresa?”

 

“It’s someone after Joe,” she answered.

 

“Will his parents know where he is?” asked Tommy Trying to look past her.

 

She shook her head. “No. They won’t.”

 

“Tell him to come in,” came the voice from the living room.

 

Jesus, she thought, everyone that comes to this door gets asked in. She was sorry she left the door to the living room open.

“Do you want to come in for a minute,” she asked.

 

Tommy, having no luck so far had nothing to lose. “O K,” he replied

 

“Come on then. Close the door.”

 

Walking towards the living room Teresa thought maybe she could get Tommy to go some way to satisfying her curiosity. It was more than curiosity. What her brother had said or, more importantly, what he had not said had left her seriously worried. Maybe Tommy would be more forthcoming. But, she must be on her guard. Also she was concerned about what her parents might say. As she entered the living she tried to warn them.

 

“Tommy wants to know where Joe lives. Its strange,” she said, winking as she said it, “we’ve just been talking about that. I already told him that we don’t know Joe’s new address.” She hoped they got the message.

 

“There’s some money from his last job that we need to get to him,” repeated Tommy to Teresa’s parents after he sat down.

 

“Well if you leave it here we’ll make sure he gets it,” said Dom.

 

Tommy was prepared for this. “I’m afraid he has to sign for it,” he said.

 

“Is it a lot of money?”

 

“A week’s wages, I think. Have you no idea where he is?”

 

Teresa who was sat behind Tommy shook her head. He parents took the cue. They both shook their heads. In fact she was worried that her dad would overdo it.

 

“He’s a strange one, our Joe,” he said “I don’t think he wants us to know where he is. I don’t know what he’s getting up to.” Then, changing the subject, he asked “What’s it like working for Dave Campbell now? That’s who you work for isn’t it?”

 

“Yes.” Tommy nodded but didn’t elaborate.

 

“Well, is he as bad as they say he is?”

 

“He’s all right.”

 

“Does he treat you good?”

 

“All right,” repeated Tommy. Teresa noticed how uncomfortable the questioning was making Tommy. “I’ll have to go,” he said.

 

“There were questions that Teresa would like to ask Tommy. From what her brother had said Tommy was somehow involved with those who wished to harm Martin. She didn’t think that Tommy’s part would be a big one but he probably knew what was going on. It might be easer to get information from him than from her brother. She was convinced that there was much that Joe was not telling her. However, she couldn’t ask Tommy those questions in the presence of her parents. The answers would probably worry them. Then she had an idea.

 

“Where do you live Tommy?” she asked

 

“In Sparkhill.”

 

“How are you getting there?”

 

“On the bus.”

 

“I’m going now. I’ve got the car outside. I’ll drop you off.” She didn’t give him the option to decline.

 

“Thank you.” He sounded reluctant.

 

Teresa quickly said her goodbyes and they got going

.

“It’s cold now but it will soon warm up,” she said by way of conversation when they were both sat in the car. “That’s one good thing about this car.”

 

Tommy made no reply. Getting him to open up would be difficult. But, at least Teresa was convinced that he hadn’t recognised her from the previous evening.

 

“So, you never see Joe now?” she asked, as they got moving, keeping her voice as friendly as possible.

 

“No. Not since he left.”

 

“You wouldn’t leave? You’re happy working there?”

 

“Yes. It’s all right”

 

“Your boss, Dave Campbell. He has a reputation. Does he involve you in things other than work?”

 

“No.”

 

“Oh! That’s not what Joe said. I got the impression that that’s why he left. The work was O K, he said. It was the other stuff, as he put it, that he didn’t like.” She glanced at Tommy. He was staring ahead as if he hadn’t heard a word of what she said.

 

“What about Dave?” she asked. “Is he still involved in other things?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“Oh, come on Tommy, you must know. What about that group he was running: The Angry something or other? Is that still going?”

 

“Yes. I think so.”

 

“Aren’t you involved?”

 

“No.”

 

It wasn’t working. She was getting nowhere. Tommy was clearly instructed to keep his mouth shut. She would have to try harder. She pulled the car into the side, stopped and turned to Tommy.

 

“Tommy, I know,” she stated emphatically. “I know that’s not true. I saw you,” she bluffed, ”handing out the leaflets.”

 

“Oh! I did that, a little,” replied Tommy dismissively. Teresa could see the questions were making him uncomfortable. “It’s O K I’ll walk from here.” He fumbled with the door controls, unsure how to open it.

 

“Hang on Tommy, ordered Teresa. “Don’t go. I’ll take you where you wherever you wish in a minute.” Then, in a friendlier voice, she continued, “I’m just curious about a few things Tommy. I believe you can help me.”

 

Tommy looked dubious but settled back in his seat.

 

“For a start,” Teresa continued, “tell me why you want to contact Joe.”

 

“I told you.”

 

“Tommy, I know that wasn’t the truth. Joe is in danger, isn’t he?”

 

“Tommy,” she stated. “I know Joe. He wouldn’t walk away without what was owed him.”

 

“He did.”

 

It was no good. She was getting nowhere. Tommy clearly didn’t trust her. To get anywhere, she would have to win his trust.

 

“Tommy,” she said keeping her voice as friendly as possible, “I know you’re afraid to tell me anything. You’ve probably been threatened. I understand that and, believe me anything you tell me will be confidential. I’m not trying to get you in trouble. But please,” she pleaded, “tell me the truth about why you need to know where Joe lives. It’s not because he’s owed money, is it?”

 

Tommy shook his head but made no reply.

 

“He’s in danger, isn’t he?

 

Tommy again shook his head. “I don’t know.”

 

Teresa studied him. He was frightened. His hand again fumbled with the door controls.

 

“Joe was your friend,” continued Teresa. “Surely you wouldn’t wish him any harm.”

 

Tommy shook his head.

 

Teresa pressed on. “Does the name Michael O Malley mean anything to you?”

 

Tommy turned his head away, seemingly unable to look Teresa in the eye.

 

“Tommy, I know it does. You know what happened, don’t you? Look at me Tommy.”

 

Suddenly Tommy’s door opened and Tommy was out of the car. In dismay she watched him leg it. Her couldn’t get away fast enough. He didn’t even close the door. Teresa got out of the car and walked round to close the passenger door. She thought about calling after Tommy. But, there was no point. She had lost him.

 

Chapter 16. Martin on the mend.

 

It was about eight o’clock on Monday evening, a quiet time in The

Antelope, when Brendan’s phone rang. It was Andy.

“Did you get to see Martin,” he asked.

 

“Oh, I did Andy, and it’s good news. He’s doing well. I think he’ll make a full recovery.”

 

“That’s great. You were talking to him then?”

 

“I was. He was sat up in the bed, talking away.”

 

“Did he remember anything about what happened to him?”

 

“No. I don’t think so. But, he didn’t seem to want to talk about it and I didn’t press him. The police had a talk with him, he said, but I don’t think he could tell them much.”

 

“He was definitely assaulted then?”

 

“Yes. There’s no doubt about that. He’s not as bandaged as he was. Some of the bandages have been removed, but the wound is still covered. It’s on the back of his head. Maybe he didn’t see anything.”

 

“Why do you think Teresa doesn’t want us to tell anyone else about him getting better?”

 

“I don’t know Andy. She seems to think that there are men out to harm him. But, if I know Martin, and I think I do, he had no enemies. He wasn’t that kind of man. Sure, everyone liked him.”

 

“That’s what I thought.”

 

“But, you never know. We’d better be on the safe side and do as she says.”

***

 

 

 

“No coffee?” Tom sounded disappointed. On work mornings there was always a cup of coffee waiting for him when he got downstairs. Although Tom had to leave before her, Teresa was always up first. That Wednesday morning, however, her mind was on other things.

 

“Sorry,” she apologised. “I’ll do it now.”

 

“Never mind that. What’s wrong?”

 

Teresa deep in thought, made no reply. She was sat at the dining room table holding a note, which she’d read over and over.

 

“What’s that?” asked Tom. “Has the post come already?”

 

“No. Not the post, but this was put through our letter box sometime during the night.”

 

Tom snatched the note. It was just a few lines typed on plain paper.

 

Teresa

Lay off. Keep your nose out of

things that don’t concern you.

You know what happened to Michael O’Malley.

 

“Some crank,” said a puzzled Tom “He didn’t even sign it. I wouldn’t worry about it. You must show it to the police though.”

 

Teresa had been thinking about that. On balance she thought that Tom was probably right. But, she was worried. The note was clearly about her unsuccessful questioning of Tommy Parsons on Monday evening: something she hadn’t told Tom about. She had hoped Tommy would keep it to himself. But, clearly, he had told all to the person or persons that sent him.

 

But, how did they know where she lived? That was the worrying thing. Teresa turned to Tom.

“There’s something I haven’t told you.”

 

“Why am I not surprised?” Tom sounded angry. Glancing at his watch he helped himself to some cereal.

 

Ignoring his anger, Teresa made two cups of coffee and placed one in front of Tom, while she told of the events of Monday evening and about Tommy running off.

 

“You scared him away. But why did you doubt his reason for wishing to see Joe?”

 

“It was what Joe said on the previous evening. Sorry, I haven’t told you about that.”

 

Tom sighed. “I think we need a long talk about all this.”

 

Teresa agreed. She needed to share her problem.

 

“But,” Tom continued, “I’m afraid it will have to wait until this evening.” A quick peck on the cheek and he was gone, leaving Teresa alone wit her thoughts.

 

Then it was Teresa that was annoyed. Tom hadn’t even offered her a lift. Though, to be fair, when he did she usually refused it. Only when the weather was exceptionally bad did she accept his lift. She enjoyed the walk by the canal. That morning, however, she was apprehensive about taking that lonely route and would have welcomed a lift. She would go by the busy streets instead. The note had unsettled her a lot more than Tom had realised.

 

Teresa sat down again, pondering her situation. She never expected it to get to where it was. Should she go to the police? Joe had said that telling the police about his suspicions was a bad idea. She hadn’t pressed him enough on that. There was so much he was not telling her. Should she talk to him again before doing anything else? Would he understand her fears? He had warned her against getting involved. He’d be angry and probably shout at her. She didn’t feel that she could take that right then.

In any case she couldn’t phone him. She didn’t know his number, or even if he was yet connected.

 

She told herself that it was just an idle threat: like Tom said, a crank, but why? And how did he know where she lived? Thinking back to Monday evening, it seemed likely that she was followed home that evening. Tommy had lied about catching a bus. Probably someone was waiting for him outside in a vehicle. That person had then followed her all the way to her home. Thinking about it, when offered a lift Tommy was very reluctant.

 

Teresa deemed it best not to dwell on it any longer. It was time to set off for her school. She must put the whole business out of her head, at least until she got home that afternoon.

 

She achieved that. She was able to shut it out by giving her work her all, as she always did. Even walking home in the rain it was the problems of the day at school that occupied her mind, as well as trying to get home out of the rain as quickly as possible. The morning was dry and she hadn’t bothered to take her umbrella.

 

After getting home she had just dried her hair when the phone rang.

“Teresa, it’s Andy. We’re finishing work early today; it’s so wet.”

 

“Yes Andy?” She was momentarily puzzled. Then she remembered her promise: to take him to the hospital if he finished early one day. He said that would only happen on a wet day. She should have known.

 

Andy sensed her hesitation. “If it’s inconvenient don’t worry.”

 

“No Andy. It’s fine. When time can you be ready?” It wasn’t fine, but what could she do?

***

 

 

 

Andy was stood in the bus shelter as arranged when Teresa drew up. He looked cold and miserable. However, on seeing Teresa his face lit up and he hurriedly entered the car. It was still raining.

 

“You’re wet Andy,” remarked Teresa

 

“Not too bad. I hadn’t far to come.”

Teresa noticed how cold he looked, but refrained from commenting on him not wearing a coat. At least the car was warm. He appreciated that.

 

“It’s a nice warm car,” he said “I’m very grateful for this. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

 

“It’s fine Andy. I intended to go myself in any case. The poor man won’t get many visitors.” Teresa smiled, masking, she hoped, her still agitated state of mind. Things had not gone as smoothly as she hoped to give Andy the impression they had. It was one of those days. Tom was not happy with her going out almost immediately after he got in. Her brief apology and explanation had clearly not satisfied him. Of that he’d left her in no doubt. There would be more explaining to do when she got home. But, for now, she must put it to one side.

 

“I believe he’s on the mend,” she said. “Brendan saw him on Monday”

 

“Yes. I talked to Brendan too.”

 

“I’m sure seeing you will cheer him up.”

 

“I hope so.” Andy didn’t sound very confident. Then, turning to Teresa, he asked. “Why do you want to keep it quiet about him getting better?” It was clearly something that had been preying on his mind.

 

“That’s a good question Andy,” she replied. It was something that she hadn’t planned to talk about. However, she felt Andy deserved an explanation. Not taking her eyes off the road, the conditions didn’t allow it, she continued. “It’s my brother Joe, he’s convinced that Martin was attacked to keep him quiet.”

 

“I thought he was robbed.”

 

“Yes. He was robbed. But, according to Joe that wasn’t the only reason for the attack. Joe believes that the main reason for the attack was to stop him telling the police what he knows.”

 

Momentarily taking her eyes off the road, she glanced at Andy. He was shaking his head.

 

“I know it’s hard to believe Andy,” she continued, “but Joe is of the opinion that Martin has information that if told to the police would put certain people in prison for a long time. The person, or persons, that attacked him meant to kill him. It’s best that they think they succeeded. Otherwise, Joe believes, they will try again.”

 

“When Joe told me this, at first I dismissed it. Joe has quiet an imagination. But, the more I think about it the more I’m getting round to believing that there might be something in it.”

 

That afternoon, while waiting for Tom, Teresa had been going over it in her mind. First of all it was what Father Downey had said; Martin was convinced that the assault on Michael O’Malley in Broadfield, which resulted in his death, was meant for him. Then, Martin himself was attacked and left for dead. The threatening note that morning was clearly about her questioning of Tommy a couple of evenings previously. It was the mention of Michael O’Malley that panicked him into running away.

 

She thought it best not to mention all that. Hoping Andy didn’t question her any more she just added: “so to be on the safe side, let’s keep it quiet about Martin getting better.”

 

Andy, however, was thinking on different lines. “All right,” he replied. “But, I’ll have to tell my mother when I write home.”

 

“Yes. I’m sure that will be fine Andy.”

 

“She’ll be telling his brother: they’re neighbours. I already told her that Martin is in hospital. I hope I did the right thing.”

 

“I’m sure you did Andy. His brother has a right to know.”

 

“I hope Martin sees it like that.”

***

 

 

 

 

“He must be better. He’s out of bed,” observed Teresa, as she and Andy approached Martin’s bed.

 

Martin, sat in the chair by the bed, smiled when he saw them. He obviously recognised Andy, but he also looked somewhat puzzled. He stood up holding out his hand.

 

Andy took his hand. “How are you Martin?”

“I’m a a lot better thanks Andy.”

 

“You’ve met Teresa.”

 

“I’m sorry,” replied Martin taking Teresa’s hand.

 

“Don’t you remember me Martin? I saw you a few days ago.”

 

“I’m sorry,” repeated Martin, shaking his head. He clearly didn’t remember.

 

“Don’t worry. You were very tired that day. But, it’s great that you’re so much brighter today. Sit down.”

 

“Thank you.” Sitting back down, Martin turned to Andy. “Get a couple of chairs Andy,” he said, pointing to some chairs stacked by the wall at the end of the ward.

 

While Andy went for the chairs, Teresa, resting on the bed, said, “I’d better tell you who I am. I can see you’re looking puzzled. I’m Teresa Kelly. My maiden name was Teresa Casey. You know my father Dom Casey.

 

Martin nodded. “I do.” Then it dawned on him. “You must be the girl that wrote those letters.”

 

Teresa smiled. “Yes. That’s me.”

 

“Oh, thank you. I’m so grateful to you. It was a great thing that you did. It meant so much to me. A lot of people blamed me for what happened to your uncle and Seamus Cox. Your father let me read the letters from Seamus. It was great to find that he didn’t blame me.”

 

“Yes. We were all pleased about that. Mind you, my father stopped blaming you a long time ago. And, not only did Seamus say he didn’t blame you; he said you actually saved his life. You were a hero.”

 

“Now, I don’t know about that. That wasn’t the way it looked to me.”

 

“Oh, you’re too modest,” laughed Teresa. “And that, I’ve heard, wasn’t the only the only heroic thing you did in your youth. Was it Andy?” Andy had just returned with two chairs.

 

Teresa was trying to be jovial, but seeing Martin’s face immediately regretted what she just said.

 

“No,” replied Andy. He had his back to them while placing the chairs.

“There was the time in the ball alley….” Turning and seeing Martin shaking his downcast head, Andy stopped abruptly.

 

“We’re embarrassing you now Martin,” said Teresa “Sorry. We’re just happy that you’re looking so much better. You’re feeling better too, aren’t you?”

 

“Yes. I am.” Martin looked at her seemingly pleased that the subject was changed.

 

“No headaches?”

“Oh, yes. I get headaches. The painkillers they give me, though, ease them.”

 

“ Can you remember anything about what happened?” asked Andy

 

“No. Not about how I got this.” Martin pointed to the dressing on the back of his head.

 

“Were you robbed?”

 

“Yes. The money I had on me was gone.”

 

“Was it a lot?”

 

“Well, the most of a hundred pounds, I think, and a few other things that were in my pockets. But, they didn’t take my pipe and tobacco, or the knife. They left all them.” Martin smiled looking at the items on top of his bedside cabinet.

 

“Oh, good,” said Teresa At least you can have a smoke then.”

 

“Yes. I can. Not here, but there’s a room down there.” He indicated with his head. “Where I can smoke my pipe. They’ve been taking me down in a wheelchair, but I walked down myself today.”

 

You’re getting better all the time. How are you for money though?”

 

“A lady came a coupla days ago. When I told her what happened, she said she’d sort something out, but I’ve not heard since. I have a bank book in the digs I was in, but I don’t know how I’ll get it.”

 

“I could write to Mary,” Andy offered. “His landlady,” he explained, glancing at Teresa. Teresa, of course, knew all that. She also knew about the bankbook, but she had to be careful what she said. “She’s not on the phone?” she asked, although she knew that as well.

 

“No,” Martin replied.

 

“Is there anyone else we could ring? What about the Priest?”

 

“Yes. Father Downey: a nice man, but I don’t know his phone number.”

 

“Don’t worry. I’ll find it. Leave it with me. In the meantime…” Teresa got out her purse.

 

Martin waved it away. “I’m all right. I can manage.”

 

“Just a little to tide you over.” She pushed a five-pound note into the top pocket of his pyjamas.

 

“Well, thank you. I’ll pay you back when I get sorted.

 

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll sort you out.”

 

“If you’re talking to Mary its in the top drawer of the chest of drawers in my room. Maybe she’ll post it down to us.”

 

“They’re worried about you up there,” said Andy. “They’ll be delighted to here that you’re on the mend.”

 

Martin turned to Andy looking puzzled. “Up there?” he queried.

 

“In Broadfield.”

 

“Yes. Of course: Brendan said you were living down here now. What caused you to move?

 

“It’s a long story. The work mainly: there’s more work down here.”

 

“Brendan said something about you getting a job. I’m a bit confused. There’s so much I can’t remember.”

 

“Don’t worry about it you’re doing great.”

 

Martin shook his head. “There’s so much I can’t remember,” he repeated. “They tell me I was found on the Coventry road. I have no idea how I got there.”

 

“But, you remember being at my father and mother’s house, earlier that evening,” Teresa reminded him.

 

“Oh, yes. I do. Sure, like I said, didn’t I read the letter there?”

 

Andy looked puzzled. He didn’t question it, but Teresa realized that he didn’t know about the letter. She would explain later.

 

“And after you left?” Teresa asked. “Can you remember where you went?”

 

“No. Brendan was here the other day. I was in his pub earlier that evening. He said I promised to come back, but I never did. I remember being in his pub all right. It was him that gave me your father’s address.

But, I can’t remember why I didn’t go back. The policeman was asking me the same question, but I couldn’t help him much.”

 

“I heard a policeman was here Sunday. Did he come back again?”

 

“Yes. I was told he was here Sunday, but I can’t remember that. He came back again yesterday, though: a nice man. But, I could only tell him what I told you. The nurse wouldn’t let him talk to me for long. She said I needed to rest.”

 

“Yes, just rest. I’m sure it will come back to you eventually.” Teresa was wondering if Martin had been questioned about he death of Michael O’Malley in Broadfield. It seemed not. Not yet. Although it must happed sometime. Martin probably didn’t even know that he’d died. She would like to hear his opinion on that. But, it wasn’t the right time to ask him, or even to tell him about the death.

 

“Talking about rest, are we tiring you out?”

 

“No; not at all. It’s very good of you to come.”

 

Andy cleared his throat. He was feeling apprehensive about what he must tell Martin. “I. I hope I did the right thing,” he said nervously, watching for Martin’s reaction. Martin just nodded as if he knew what was coming.

 

“In my last letter home,” Andy continued, “I told my mother that you were in hospital. She’ll be telling your brother.”

 

Martin smiled. “It’s O K Andy. Sure I should have known you would. Thanks for telling me. I just hope he doesn’t think he has to come over to see me, or anything like that.”

 

“Well, I’ll write again tomorrow and say that you’re a lot better.”

 

“Please do Andy. You’re a good lad.”

 

“Would you ever think of writing to him yourself?” I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.

 

“Maybe he would. After all those years though, I don’t know.” Martin shook his head ruefully.

 

Teresa was about to say, of course you know. She knew from the letters she read at Mary’s house, how much Martin’s brother longed to hear from him. But, she held her tongue, not wishing to say anything that might make Martin suspect that she had been reading his private correspondences.

 

Instead she changed the subject. “Do you know how long you’ll be in hospital?” she asked.

 

“The doctor that came to see me this morning said that if I carry on improving like I am doing I could be out of here in a week. But, he didn’t think that I could go back to work for a long time.”

 

“So, what will you do?”

“He said that they will send me to some kind of convalescent place, but he didn’t know where.”

 

“That will be nice. You can have a nice rest there: much nicer than in hospital. When will you know?” Teresa was thinking about Martin’s safety.

 

“I don’t know. I think it’s the same lady that’s sorting out my money that will be arranging where I go. It will be probably be next week before I know anything.”

 

“I think it would be best if you could keep it between you and her: to let as few as possible know where you’re going.”

 

“Why? Although he asked the question, Martin didn’t seem unduly surprised at the advice.

 

“Well, I don’t know.” Teresa had to choose her words carefully. “I wouldn’t expect you to have enemies that would wish to harm you. But, the assault appears to have been more vicious than was necessary if the motive was just robbery. What do you think?

 

Martin shook his head. “I don’t know.”

 

“Don’t worry about it.” Teresa was concerned about the effect that even raising the subject would have on Martin. “It’s probably an unnecessary precaution. I just think it’s best to be on the safe side.”

 

Martin nodded his head, but made no reply. He closed his eyes, thinking, or just tired. Teresa couldn’t tell.

“Maybe we should leave now,” she said. “Let you rest.”

Martin opened his eyes. “Sorry,” he apologised. But, then he startled her with what he revealed. “A name keeps going round in my head,” he said. “Dave Campbell. I must have dreamt it. I don’t know anyone by that name.”

 

Teresa didn’t know what to say. Should she tell him what she knew about Dave Campbell? She thought not.

“Maybe Brendan mentioned the name,” she suggested.

 

Martin shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

 

“Have you told the police?”

 

“No. Sure they wouldn’t care about what I’m dreaming.”

 

“They say you should tell them everything. They’ll decide if it’s relevant.”

***

 

 

“That’s interesting,” said Teresa, trying to sound as matter of fact as possible, as she walked towards the hospital car park with Andy, “Martin mentioning that name Dave Campbell.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“When I say interesting, I mean worrying, frightening.”

 

“You know him?”

 

“I know of him, if it’s the same Dave Campbell, and I fear it is, he’s not a nice man. He has a reputation for violence. He has been in prison for it. Although he has apparently been going straight for a number of years, running his own business, I gather he’s far from a reformed character.

My brother Joe worked for him. According to Joe he’s still involved in some dodgy activities.”

 

“You think it’s this Dave Campbell that attacked Martin?”

 

“It could well be, if Martin upset him. He’s certainly capable of it by all accounts.”

 

“It’s hard to think that Martin would upset anyone that much.”

 

Andy was clearly not convinced. Teresa thought it best to leave it that way. Putting her concerns on to Andy would do no good. She’d already said too much.

 

“Don’t worry about it Andy,” she said. “We’ve probably got it all wrong anyway.” Teresa was trying to sound calm, but the uneasy feeling brought on by the warning note that morning, but which she’d managed to banish all day, had returned on hearing the name Dave Campbell.

 

It was about to get worse. They were approaching the car, which was on the end of a row. At first she dismissed what she saw as a trick of the light, or her imagination running riot. As she got closer, however, it was still there, only clearer. In panic she rushed to the car and felt the mark with her finger. That confirmed it: a deep score mark running the length of the passenger door.

 

“Has this just been done?” asked Andy before realizing what a stupid question it was. Of course it had just happened. Why else would Teresa be in such a state?

 

Not taking her eyes off the damage, she just shook her head. “Come on. Let’s go.”

 

“Shouldn’t we tell the police?”

 

“What good would that do?” Angry and frightened she was lashing out. “Let’s go,” she repeated, making her way round the car.

 

Saying no more Andy entered the car immediately Teresa unlocked the door. At least the door opened and closed OK.

 

When they were both sat in the car Teresa turned to Andy. “Sorry Andy,” she apologised. “I shouldn’t take it out on you. “None of this is your fault.”

 

“It’s O K. You’re upset: your new car.”

 

Teresa was upset. It wasn’t just the damage to the car although that was bad enough. She was already in trouble with Tom. How would she explain this? What was really worrying was the reason for the damage. It was not vandalism, as no doubt Andy was thinking. It was another warning. It had to be: no other car was damaged. She must have been followed all the way to the hospital. What might happen next? She shuddered.

 

 

The drive back was mostly in silence. Although Teresa pulled herself together, somewhat, she was in no mood for conversation. Her situation was dangerous and messy. She could see no clear way out of it. Was she being warned off visiting Martin? It certainly seemed so. What could she do? She couldn’t abandon him; or could she. Would the best option be to go to the police and tell them everything and then leave it to them? Would that be the best for everyone, including Martin? Maybe putting herself in danger was not helping him either.

 

Would the police do anything, though, on such little evidence? All she had was suspicions.

Would going to them only make matters worse and put her, and maybe Martin, in even more danger. Her brother Joe certainly seemed to think so.

 

Then there was her husband Tom. She hadn’t been straight with him. He said they must have a long talk. In the light of the damage to the car that talk was unavoidable: the sooner the better. She wasn’t looking forward to it, nevertheless she felt she needed to get back as quickly as possible and face the music.

 

Andy could have been reading her mind. “Don’t take me all the way back,” he said. Just drop me where I can catch a bus. You need to get home.”

***

 

 

When Teresa got home Tom was sat on the settee watching television. “Have you had dinner?” she asked, postponing briefly what was really on her mind.

 

“Yes. I’ve left you some. It’s in the oven: still warm. Take your coat off. I’ll dish it up.” Tom was a good cook. He was clearly in a much better mood than when she left him. Promising, she thought, but how long would it last?

 

“Thank you, but leave it a while. We need to talk”. She removed her coat. She didn’t hang it up. Instead she just threw it over a chair. Let’s get this over with, she thought.

 

“This sounds ominous.” He’d got up to get her dinner. Instead, he turned the television off before sitting down again.

 

“Sit down.”

 

Teresa sat on the settee next to him. “You’re going to be annoyed. The car is damaged.”

 

“You’re not hurt?”

 

“No. I wasn’t in it. It was done in the hospital car park. I don’t know what to do. I’m sure it’s connected with that note I got this morning: another warning. Tom, I’m really frightened. Someone’s been following me around. What’s going to happen next?”

 

Tom put his strong arm around her and pulled her towards him. “Don’t worry,” he said reassuringly.

 

Teresa rested her head on his chest and closed her eyes. Could he make it all go away?

 

He could. “What am I going to do with you? You’ve got it all wrong. It’s not as bad as you think.”

 

“What does he know?” she thought. Nevertheless his comforting words soothed her.

 

“The damage to the car,” Tom continued. “It’s on the passenger door, huh?”

 

“Yes.” How did he know? Then it dawned on her. “You rotter.” Pulling herself away from him she sat upright. “It happened while you had it. Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“You didn’t give me the chance.” Tom was amused.

 

“Of course I did. It’s not funny. You let me go on thinking all sorts of horrible things.

 

“Come here.” Tom tried to get hold of her, but she pulled herself away.

 

“I’m not friends with you.” But, she was, really, and discovering that the reason for the damage was not what she’d feared was like a weight lifted off her. “So, what happened?”

 

“Oh, driving out of the school yard, I got distracted. I did it on the gate”.

 

“So, that’s why you were in such a bad mood this afternoon.”

 

“Was I?”

 

“You know you were. Teresa was suddenly hungry. The long talk, which still must be had, could wait. “Where’s my dinner.”

 

“Supper you mean.”

 

Chapter 17. Alan’s decision.

It was only six o’clock Friday evening when Joe and Alan

returned to the flat. It was earlier than usual. They normally

worked much later. That evening, however, after completing

a house, Joe decided to call it a day.

 

The job was going well. He was happy with the progress. They were a good team. That day work went particularly well, which fell in well with Joe’s plans for the evening: a meeting was arranged for later about another contract for which he had high hopes.

 

On the journey home, as usual, conversation had been minimal. After a day’s work neither of then had the inclination to raise his voice above the noise from the rattling rear doors, which Joe had, still done nothing about. Eventually better transport would be acquired, but it wasn’t yet a priority. Joe had other things on his mind. Driving home that evening he was deep in thought.

 

Running a business, even at his level, he discovered took much planning and decision-making. There was weeks of work left on their present contract, but Joe had to plan ahead, hence the meeting that evening about a new contract. While he was confident of securing the contract, (It was the second meeting with that site manager. At the first meeting he was, more or less, assured that the contract was his.) the meting was about details and that was where Joe visualised problems. He felt that the site manager wouldn’t wait for them to complete the contract they were on before starting on the new one. In order to secure the new contract he would have to promise to start it some time before the present one was complete.

 

Having two contracts going simultaneously would require taking on extra staff: something he was reluctant to do so early in his business career. He toyed with the idea of leaving Alan to complete the present Job while he started on the new one. However, that way progress on both jobs would be too slow, damaging his reputation.

 

Pondering those decisions Joe had totally ignored Alan. It didn’t matter; he was deep in thought himself.

 

“I can’t carry on like this,” said Alan as they entered the flat.

Assuming Alan was referring to their cramped conditions, Joe was pleased that the subject was raised. He had been giving some thought to it himself and had a plan that he felt Alan would agree to.

 

Clearly the flat was too small for the two of them. The arrangement was only bearable because Joe spent so little time there. On most evenings Alan had the flat to himself: Joe found reasons for not being there, mostly to be with his girlfriend. He was then getting on well with his girlfriend. However there was a major problem. She lived with her parents. Only in the van could they be alone and that was far from ideal.

 

He was then in a position where he could afford somewhere larger. Also his business required it. Storage space was becoming essential. He thought about renting a garage. However he would like nicer living accommodation: somewhere that he would feel happy to invite his girlfriend to, preferably with a garage attached. Joe’s plan was to move out, and leave that flat to Alan.

 

But, Alan was not referring to the flat. “I saw Brian King today,” he said, as the both removed their coats. He sounded worried.

 

“Oh!” Joe was taken aback, but tried not to show it. He threw his coat on the chair and sat on the settee “When was that?” he asked.

 

“Not long before we left.” Alan took both coats and hung them on hooks on the back of the door, before sitting on the chair.

 

“He didn’t see you?” asked Joe, trying not to sound over concerned.

 

“No, I was upstairs. I just saw him talking to the foreman.”

 

“No worries then.” But Joe was more worried than he tried to sound.

 

“You didn’t say anything.”

 

“We were both busy; you downstairs and me upstairs. But, I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

 

Joe saw how worried Alan was. This could set him back again he feared, and just when Alan seemed to be back to his old self. In the weeks they’d worked together, Alan had worked so hard that Joe thought him almost irreplaceable. He couldn’t lose him now he thought. But what could he do.

 

“I know,” said Joe. “That bastard, Brian King. I hate him too. I don’t know what his Job is. I just know that he travels around to different sites.

I thought he covered an area the other side of Birmingham. I didn’t think he came this far. Maybe it was a one off. We’ll probably never see him again.” Joe was trying to sound more confident than he felt.

 

Alan shook his head. “Sooner or later someone will recognise me and tell Dave,” he said. “I have to be prepared for that. It’s only a matter of time.”

 

Joe wished he could reassure Alan, but what could he say. “Yes,” he agreed. “There’s always that possibility. But, that’s life. We take chances every day. Look at this realistically though. The likelihood of any of Dave’s cronies coming on the site is very small and if one of them did come it would be very unlikely that he’d see you because mostly you’re inside a house. So cheer up; it won’t happen.”

 

Alan nodded, but not cheerfully.

 

“I’ll tell you what,” said Joe. “Forget cooking this evening. I’ll go to the chip-shop. If you want to have a wash while I’m out—. I’ll be having a bath after, before I go out.” Although they had washed their hands and maybe splashed a little water on their faces before leaving work, they always had a proper wash when they got home.

 

Walking to the chip-shop, Joe thought about Alan. Seeing Brian King had certainly affected him, reminding Joe of what he was like when he first moved into Joe’s flat. This time he must snap out of it. He mustn’t relapse into that state again.

 

Was there something Joe could do? If he could get Alan to go out it would help. Apart from going to work, Alan hardly ever left the flat: just the odd trip to the corner shop. Staying in the flat alone, probably brooding about his situation, Joe felt was a big part of his problem. But Alan showed no inclination to go out. Was he still worried about who saw him?

 

It was getting dark. Night was approaching. On his journey Joe passed a pub: a pub he’d never been in although it was just around the corner from his flat. Was he slipping? Brightly lit, contrasting with the dull surroundings it was an inviting place. Already there appeared to be quite a few people inside. It gave Joe an idea. He would invite Alan for a drink there. Surely he wouldn’t fear being recognised in there.

 

Joe returned with two portions of fish and chips to find Alan sat on the settee. On seeing Joe he jumped up. “I’ll make tea,” he said.

 

Joe noticed that he was still in his working clothes. He hadn’t even had a wash. Not good, thought Joe; so unlike Alan of late.

 

“Not changed?” asked Joe

 

“No. I’ll wait until after you’ve gone. Then I’ll have a wash and get changed. Would you like a plate?”

 

“No thanks.” Joe liked to eat his chips straight from the paper with his fingers, in front of the television. “What’s on telly?”

 

Alan shrugged. Joe switched it on and sat down. He needed to talk to Alan, but not while they were eating their chips. Instead they watched a quiz programme on the television. There was no more conversation until Joe was ready for leaving.

 

“Right Alan, I’m off,” he said

 

“O K. Good luck”

 

“Thanks. I’m confident of getting the contract; just some details to trash out. I’ll need to discuss them with you too. We could do it in the pub,” he suggested watching for Alan’s reaction. It was noncommittal, which was as good as Joe expected.

 

“There’s a nice looking pub around the corner,” he continued. “We could celebrate getting the contract with a drink.”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

Come on,” urged Joe. “Just for an hour. You haven’t been out for ages. It will do you good.

 

“O K,” agreed Alan, reluctantly. “But, I won’t be much company.”

 

“You never are,” laughed Joe. “I should be back soon after nine. Be ready.”

***

 

 

 

The meeting went well. When Joe returned to the flat he was feeling elated. He wished to share his joy with Alan, although apprehensive about how he would find him.

 

Alan was washed and changed: a good start.

 

Ready then. Come on. Get your coat on. Let’s celebrate. We’ve only got an hour.

 

“O K,” agreed Alan, although, clearly not sharing Joe’s enthusiasm.

“You got the contract then?” he asked, seemingly making an effort to show an interest.

 

“Yes. Yes. Of course; come on. I’ll tell you all about it in the pub.

 

Thanks to Joe’s insistence no time was wasted until they reached the pub.

 

“A pint of bitter,” asked Joe as the entered the pub. He remembered what Alan liked.

 

“Please.”

 

“Find somewhere quiet in the room. I’ll bring the drinks in.”

 

It was crowded around the bar. One of the rooms, from which a jute-box could be heard playing, was also full of Friday night revellers. Alan chooses the other room in which he found a quiet corner and sat at a tiny table.

 

Eventually Joe joined him with two pints of bitter. “Well, how are you?” he asked after sitting down. “Have you got over the shock of seeing that idiot today?”

 

Clearly he had not.

 

“I don’t know.” Alan shook his head. “I don’t know what to do.”

 

Joe could see how worried Alan was. He had a drink before replying. “This is all because you saw that idiot today. You shouldn’t let him get to you. He’s not worth it. Anyway, he didn’t even see you.”

 

“It’s not just that. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I can’t keep hiding away.”

 

“So. What are you thinking?”

 

“Well, I don’t want to leave you in the lurch, but I can’t carry on like this.”

 

“What do you want to do?”

 

“Maybe I should go to the police, tell them everything and take the consequences, before they come for me.”

 

“Joe could see that Alan was deadly serious. “You must think about this,” he cautioned, “before you do anything.”

 

“Think about it! I’ve done nothing else but think about it. I can’t undo what I’ve done. It won’t go away. I’ve been stupid. I’ve done bad things. I must pay for them.

 

“Stupid; yes. You’ve been stupid. We all do stupid things sometimes. Bad, though? From what you told me your part was not as bad as you seem to be imagining. I think, in your head, you’re building this into something worse than it is. Cheer up. It’s not as bad as you think.”

 

Joe had another drink. He noticed Alan had not touched his drink.

 

“Come on; drink up. You’re buying next.” Joe was trying to lighten the mood, but to no avail.

 

“Sorry. I’m not in the mood.” But, Alan did have a drink. “I did warn you that I’d be poor company.”

 

You can say that again, thought Joe. There was no way he could change the subject. Alan’s problems had to be thrashed out. But, just what was Alan thinking?

 

“I thought it was Dave and his cronies that you were bothered about. Why are you suddenly worried about the police coming for you?”

 

“Not suddenly. I’ve thinking about it for a while. I was involved in a murder; maybe two murders.”

 

“Not two murders. The man that Dave assaulted is getting better. The other man, up in Broadfield, yes, that man died, but you never touched him. In fact you pulled Tommy off him. You stopped the assault from being worse. The man’s injuries would have been worse if it weren’t for you.”

 

“How could they have been worse? The man died.”

 

“Yes. Yes. The man died, but we don’t know how much the injuries he got that day contributed to his death, if at all. The man was old and feeble.”

 

“All the more reason why we shouldn’t have attacked him.”

 

“You didn’t. You pulled Tommy off him. What else could you have done?”

 

Alan shook his head “There’s a lot I could have done. I could have stayed, helped him; called an ambulance. Instead I ran away and left him to die.”

 

“You didn’t know how bad his injuries were. In fact you told me that you thought his injuries were not so bad. You’re beating yourself up over things that you didn’t do”

 

“Yes. There’s so much I didn’t do. The man that Dave hit with the starting handle; I didn’t do anything to help him either.”

 

“Alan; I didn’t mean it like that. You’re not responsible for what Dave did. It’s not like he discussed it with you beforehand. He just did it. You weren’t to know that he was going to do it.”

 

“Maybe not, but I didn’t do anything to help the man after.”

 

“Alan. What could you have done with Dave there? Anyway, you thought the man was dead, didn’t you?”

 

Yes. But, I didn’t check. I just took Dave’s word for it. I should have known better.”

 

“Yes. When it comes to Dave, we all should have known better. He took me in for a very long time. I was so stupid then. You, though, were the sensible one. You never got involved in any of Dave’s schemes. Although I didn’t think so at the time, looking back now I can see that is something you should be proud of.”

 

“I don’t know.” Alan shook his head. “He got me in the end.”

 

“Yes. Eventually he got you. I don’t know why you allowed yourself to be taken in by him. But, it happens. The important thing is you’re away from him now. It took me a long time to realize what an evil man he is, but I’m so glad that I got away from when I did. I should have done it a lot sooner.”

 

“Yes. So should I. The thing is I don’t feel like I’ve got away, although I can’t ever go back.”

 

“You still think he’s out to get you?”

 

“Yes. He’ll be angry about the way I left and I did threaten to tell the police about what he did to that man.”

 

“Serve him right if you did. It wouldn’t be wise though,” Joe hastened to add. “He’ll know now that that hasn’t happened. If you had gone to the Police he’d have heard from them by now. Probably he’d be locked up. That would be no bad thing, but you’d be putting yourself in real danger. No. I think it’s best for you to keep away from him. In spite of what you think he’ll give up on you in time, if he hasn’t already. He has other things to worry about right now.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Well, my sister for one. She’s been asking questions about him; not too discretely I’m afraid, and he’s found out.”

 

“He’s found out! How do you know that?”

 

“I met her yesterday evening. She told me she had a note pushed through her letterbox warning her off. It wasn’t signed but she’s sure that’s where it’s from. It will be.”

 

“Oh God! Now she’s in danger too.”

 

“I don’t think so. I’ve warned her to be careful. I think she will. She has no more plans to do any more snooping into Dave’s affairs.”

 

“Has she reported it to the Police?”

 

“No. Not yet. My advice was to ignore it at this stage.”

 

“You think that’s wise?”

“I hope so.”

 

“So do I.” Alan clearly disagreed, but Joe was pleased that he asked no more questions. Instead, he noticed, seemingly for the first time, the empty glass, which Joe had been toying with for minutes.

 

Jumping to his feet Alan picked up the empty glass. “I’ll get you a drink,” he said and immediately headed for the bar.

 

Joe needed another drink. Alan’s glass, however, he saw, was still more than half full. Alan was certainly not in a drinking mood. Was bringing him out a mistake? At least, Joe thought, he got Alan to say what was on his mind, if somewhat perturbing.

 

Left alone Joe thought about Alan. There was a lot he’d got wrong. He’d thought Alan had put his troubles behind him, or at least stopped worrying about them. After the first few days at Joe’s flat almost nothing was said about the events that brought Alan there. Then, after starting work with Joe, Alan seemed much calmer and happier. However, what Joe had just heard, made him realize that things were not what they seemed: Alan was still a very troubled young man.

 

Alan’s way of dealing with his problems was, apparently, to fully throw himself into his work and Joe had taken full advantage of that. Joe was considering asking Alan to be a partner in the business, but first he must sort himself out.

 

Was there something Joe could do? Joe was no counsellor. He could just talk to and advise Alan as a mate, but was he giving the right advice? Alan needed professional advice, but Joe had no idea how to go about getting it.

 

Alan talked about going to the police and telling all. Joe had a bad feeling about that and hoped he’d dissuaded him. But, was he right? If Alan did so he would probably get himself locked up. That would be bad for Joe too, but for Alan, it wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. Alan would then be a grass and Joe knew what criminals did to those who grassed on them.

 

Joe had heard of King’s evidence, or was it then called Queen’s evidence? If Alan told all he knew about Dave’s criminal activities would then any charges against himself be dropped? The police had probably already got a file on Dave and may welcome any new information. Alan knew enough about Dave to put him away for a long time. But, to get charges against himself dropped, he would probably have to stand up in court and give evidence against Dave. Could Alan do that? And if he did, would the police then give him protection? He would certainly need it.

 

Two girls entered the room. As they sat down in the opposite side of the room, one of them gave Joe what might have been an inviting smile. He smiled back, just to be friendly, he had a girlfriend. On the other hand, was that just what Alan needed. Seeing Alan’s sad face returning with the drink Joe immediately dismissed the thought.

 

Chapter18. Mary’s decision

It was about seven o’clock in the evening when Father Downey answered the doorbell. “Mary! How are you?”

 

“Come in.” After she entered, he closed the door and ushered Mary into his living room. “I’m glad you called,” he said. “I’ve being meaning to come and see you. Take your coat off and sit down. Would you like a cup of tea?”

 

“No thanks Father. It’s not long since I had one.”

 

“Well, how are you doing?” he asked when they were both seated. How is married life?”

 

“It’s all right, I suppose.” She didn’t sound very sure, but had no more to say on the subject. The priest didn’t pursue it. It was clearly not what she came to talk about.

 

“It’s Martin, Martin Prendergast,” she said. “I’m worried. I don’t know what to do.”

 

“Martin. Have you heard something?”

 

“No. Not a thing since he left. For all I know he could be dead.”

 

“No Mary, he’s not dead. That’s what I was coming to tell you. He’s badly injured, though. He’s in hospital in Coventry.”

 

“Coventry! What’s he doing there?”

 

“I don’t know. It’s a mystery. I had a phone call last week from the hospital, but I didn’t know for sure then that it was he. He was unconscious and there was no identification on him. All they found was our parish newsletter in his shirt pocket, which was why they phoned me. From the description they gave I suspected it was Martin. I didn’t tell you. I thought there was no point in upsetting you until I knew for sure.”

 

“Thank you Father.”

 

“I had a phone call this afternoon confirming it was him.” Remember that girl, Teresa that came looking for him a couple of weeks ago. Well, she phoned me today to say that she saw him in the hospital. There’s no doubt; it’s him. But, the good news is that he’s conscious now and getting better.”

 

“Oh, thank God for that Father. Poor Martin; I hope he’s all right. Do you know what happened to him?”

 

“He has head injuries. She thinks he was assaulted, but she’s not sure. The police are looking into it.”

 

“Oh, The police; they’ve been at my house three times: twice yesterday and once today, but I haven’t seen them. I don’t know what to say to them, so I kept out of their way.”

 

“Mary, what are you worried about? You’ve done nothing wrong.”

 

“Should I have reported Martin missing before now?”

 

“Maybe, I don’t know. Don’t your lodgers come and go all the time? You weren’t to know that Martin wouldn’t come back. I don’t think you’ll be in any trouble for not reporting him missing. You say the police came to your house, but you didn’t see them.”

 

“Yes, Father. Maybe I did a silly thing. I was coming back from the shop yesterday when I saw the policeman knocking on my door. I thought it might be about Martin and I didn’t want to talk to him, so I kept away ‘till he’d gone. He came back again in the evening, or some policeman did. I didn’t see him. Henry went to the door. I told Henry that if it was the police to say I was out. He did that. I can rely on Henry. But, he was kept talking at the door for a long time. It was about Martin all right. Henry was asked all sorts of questions about him. How long was he living there? How long was he gone? Where did he work? All sorts of questions were asked. And when he came again today I just didn’t answer the door, pretending I was out again. Jimmy Flynn said the police were on the building site where he works asking questions about Martin today as well.”

 

The priest nodded. “Why don’t you want to talk to the police, Mary? What are you frightened of?”

 

“There’s something else Father that I haven’t told you about. When that girl that you mentioned came- she said she was Martin’s niece, and I had no reason to doubt her, but Andy said after that she couldn’t be, so now I’m not so sure. Anyway, she seemed such a nice smart girl. I trusted her. I took her to Martin’s room. We thought that maybe we’d find something that would tell us where he’d gone. We didn’t, but we did find this.” She took a piece of paper from her handbag and handed it to the priest.

 

He priest studied the note. He already knew of its existence, or at least he assumed that it was the same note that Teresa had told him about. But, he didn’t mention that to Mary. Priests have to be careful about repeating things they are told, even things they are told outside of the confessional.

 

“Well, what do you make of it Father?” asked Mary. Do you think I should take it to the police?”

 

“Yes Mary. I think you must.” She should have done it before now, he thought. It was over a week since the note was found. She was withholding what might be important evidence. “Why does that bother you Mary?” he asked

 

Mary just shook her head

 

“Are you worried that it will get Martin in trouble?”

 

“I am Father. Although I don’t think Martin wrote it. We compared the handwriting, that girl Teresa and me, with the writing on another note he wrote. She seemed to think that the writing was different, not Martin’s. But, I couldn’t be sure. It didn’t look much different to me, not that I know much about that kind a thing. She said that she was no expert either. If the police see it I’m still afraid that they’ll suspect him, especially now that he’s gone missing, and I know that Martin would never do anything like that.”

 

“Yes Mary. I know. That’s what I think too. But, this is something that you shouldn’t keep from the police. You could get in trouble if you do. When the police look into it they will know that Martin is not a murderer.”

 

“But, Father, what’s this doing in his room?”

 

“I don’t know Mary. I’m convinced that he’s not a murderer, but Martin is a more complicated man than he appears. I don’t think you know that for a number of years Martin went by the name of Michael O’Malley.” The priest deemed that in the circumstances it was something Mary ought to know: it may help her to see things in a different light. Although discretion was understood, Martin hadn’t asked him not to reveal it to anyone else.

 

Mary shook her head in almost disbelief. If it came from anyone other than a priest she wouldn’t have believed it. “No Father. I didn’t know that.”

 

“It was when he lived in Birmingham,” the priest continued. “The reason I can only guess. When he told me he didn’t ask me to keep it secret, but clearly he didn’t wish it to be widely known. I haven’t told anyone else and Mary, for the time being at least, I feel we should keep it to ourselves.”

 

“Of course Father; I won’t tell a soul.”

 

“The note was probably given to Martin, threatening him, not Michael O’Malley, God rest him. If the police get an expert to compare the handwriting I’m confident that they’ll find it’s not Martin’s

 

“Oh, I hope so Father.”

 

“Now, we hear that he was assaulted,” continued the priest. “Maybe there’s a connection. We don’t know, but it’s possible that this note will help the police find Martin’s assailant. You might be helping Martin by showing it to them.”

 

“Oh! I never thought of it like that. Thank you father. You’ve made me feel a lot better about it. I’ll do it first thing in the morning.”

***

 

 

 

Mary’s mind was made up. Next morning after all her lodgers and Paddy had left she put on her heavy coat and set off for Broadfield police station, which was about ten minutes walk from her home.

 

It was a cold, frosty morning. She walked briskly. She felt relieved that she’d finally made the decision. It no longer felt like the dilemma that had been preying on her mind for over a week. The conversation with Father Downey the previous evening had dispelled most if not all of her doubts of the wisdom of taking the information she had to the police.

 

Mary had few dealings with the police. In that she was heeding her father’s advice. “Don’t go there unless you have to,” he’d told her. “The think we’re all savages.” Maybe that was an overstatement of his opinion. Nonetheless, she knew, his experience of the police was not good.

 

Mary’s own experience was little better. On the rare occasions that the police got involved in her affairs she found them less than helpful. On the last such occasion, just three weeks earlier, what should have been a minor incident was turned into a major event by the cack-handed way it was dealt with by a policeman.

 

It was Jimmy’s McCarthy’s first night there, or would have been if he could get in. When he returned to the house, although the worse for drink, Jimmy was not too late: Mary would have been still up. A knock on the door was all that was required and she would have let him in. Instead, Jimmy clumsily tried to unlock the door with a key that wouldn’t fit the lock. He later claimed that Mary had given him a wrong key, but she didn’t think so.

 

His drunken fumbling alerted a patrolling policeman. The policeman recognised Jimmy- Jimmy had many encounters with the police- and unaware that Jimmy had changed digs, wrongly jumped to the conclusion that he was trying to break in.

 

Again, a knock on the door would have cleared things up. But, no In spite of Jimmy’s pleas, the policeman dragged him to the police station and locked him in a cell.

 

It was about six in the morning: Sunday morning, and all were sleeping peacefully, when the loud knocking on the front door waked Mary.

 

That, and the angry, noisy exchanges between Jimmy and the policeman, much to Mary’s embarrassment, roused the whole household and the neighbours.

 

The policeman was informing Jimmy that he would be charged with being drunk and disorderly. Jimmy, having none of it, was vehemently demanding an apology for wrongful arrest.

 

Neither of them, however, was a match for an angry Mary that morning.

Jimmy was ordered to bed. He didn’t argue. He had no wish for another confrontation, although he knew that he was just postponing the inevitable. The policeman, she sent away with a flea in his ear.

 

Mary just hoped she wasn’t about to meet the same policeman. The anger, that night, had made her braver than she felt then.

On entering the police station she felt apprehensive. There was nobody at the front desk. She looked for a bell to ring half hoping that no one would come and she could just go. Then a policeman appeared. At least it wasn’t the one that she confronted that morning with Jimmy.

 

“Yes, madam, can I help you?” he asked in a friendly voice, in no way intimidating. But, he was so young, barely old enough to be a policeman, she thought.

 

“Yes. I think you can. I have some information that I think I should give you.”

 

“O K,” he said taking a pen in his hand. “What’s your name please?”

 

“Mary….” She hesitated. “Mary Foley.” It was the first time she’d used her married name. It felt strange.

 

The hesitation caused the young policeman to give her a curious look, adding to Mary’s unease, before he wrote the name down.

 

“It’s about Michael O’Malley,” continued Mary composing herself.

She watched the policeman’s eyebrows rise. He put down his pen and looked Mary in the eye.

 

“The man who was murdered?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I’d better get my sergeant. I won’t be long. Have a seat Mary.” He pointed to a chair behind Mary.

 

Mary sat down. What had she got herself into? She wasn’t happy talking to such a young policeman. But, being pushed up a level? She hadn’t anticipated that. It was the mention of Michael O’Malley that caused the policeman to decide that her information was too important for he himself to deal with. Of course it was a murder investigation. She felt slightly panicky. She looked at the door. She could still slip away. It was her last chance. But, she didn’t move. She couldn’t.

 

The policeman returned behind the desk. At the same time, from a door on Mary’s side of the desk, came the sergeant. He seemed pleased to see her.

 

“Ah, Mary. Good to see you,” he said holding out his hand like he knew her. As far as Mary knew they had never met before then, but at least he was friendly. He was a big, middle-aged man. Mary stood up and took his hand.

 

“I’m sergeant Cassidy,” he said. “We’ve been trying to contact you.”

 

“Yes. I know. Sorry, I was out.”

 

“Never mind. You’re here now. You have information for us?”

 

“Yes sergeant. There’s something I think I should tell you.”

 

“Very good. Let’s go where we won’t be disturbed.”

 

Mary was led down a short corridor. “Did you walk here?” asked the sergeant, keeping up the conversation.

 

“Yes. I don’t live far away.” She thought he probably knew that already.

 

“It’s a very cold morning, but this room is nice and warm.” He opened a door and ushered Mary in to what she thought was probably an interview room. There was a large table with some chairs around it, where criminals are interrogated, thought Mary with trepidation, as the sergeant closed the door. However, the sergeant was doing his best to put Mary at her ease. “Would you like a cup of tea Mary?” he asked “Or we’ve got coffee.”

 

“No thank you. It’s not long since I had one.” Mary just wanted to get on with what she came to do.

 

“O K, well sit down. Take your coat off if you like. Like I said it’s warm here.

 

Mary removed her coat and sat on the chair nearest her, placing her handbag on the floor next to her. The sergeant took her coat and hung it on a hook on the wall before sitting on a chair to Mary’s left. That way it seemed more intimate, less intimidating than if he’s sat opposite her.

 

“Well, Mary. How are you this morning?”

 

“I’m all right.” Mary wished for no more small talk. “There’s something I want to show you,” she said, picking up her handbag and removing the note, which she then handed to the sergeant. “I found this in Martin’s room the other day.”

 

“Martin?”

“Yes. Martin Prendergast: my lodger.”

 

The sergeant read the note. “Nasty. It’s addressed to Michael O’Malley.”

 

“Yes. But, Martin didn’t write it: he wouldn’t” Mary had no doubt about that, but feared that she didn’t sound very convincing.

 

“Martin is the man who’s gone missing?”

 

“Yes. But, now I know where he is. He’s badly injured, though.” She thought the sergeant already knew that.

 

“There is some confusion about what his real name is.”

 

Again, the sergeant was ahead of her. Was there anything he didn’t know? However, she was glad that he knew that. To explain the note it was something she would have to reveal.

 

“So I’ve heard,” she replied. “But I’ve known Martin for a long time and I’ve never known him as anything other than Martin Prendergast.”

 

“Tel me about him. What was he like?

 

“A nice quite man. He’d never harm anyone.”

 

“Did he upset anyone?”

 

“No. Never.”

 

“Did he get on with the other lodgers?”

 

“Yes. They all liked him.”

 

“Do you know why he left?”

 

“No. He didn’t say. He had a bit of business to see to, was all he said. He wasn’t a man that talked a lot. He kept himself to himself. So I didn’t ask him any more. I thought he’d be back in a few days, like he said he would be. I’m sure that was his intention. The most of his clothes are still in his room.”

 

The sergeant referred to a notebook, which he produced from his pocket. “You had another lodger leave recently?”

 

Mary thought for a moment. “Yes. They come and go all the time.”

 

“Jimmy McCarthy I believe was the most recent one to leave.”

 

“Yes. He was.” Mary was no longer surprised at the sergeant’s knowledge and, of course, the police knew Jimmy.

 

“Did he give any reason for leaving?”

 

“He lost his job. He went to Birmingham. There’s more work down there, I believe: at least in the building trade, there is.”

 

“He didn’t go on his own, though. Did he?”

 

“No. Andy Horan went with him.”

 

“Andy Horan?” The sergeant referred to his notebook. “He used to visit Martin. I’m told.”

 

“Yes. He came from the same place in Ireland as Martin.”

 

“And did they get on well?”

 

“Oh, they did. Andy knew Martin’s brother. They were neighbours.”

 

“I heard that the last meeting they had didn’t go very well.”

 

“I wouldn’t say that. It’s just that Martin can be a bit grumpy sometimes.”

 

“What was it about?”

 

Why is he asking? Thought Mary feeling slightly resentful. He must already know the answer. However she did answer. “Andy writes to his mother a lot. He gave her Martin’s address and she passed it on to Martin’s brother. His brother then wrote to Martin. Martin wasn’t too happy about that.”

 

“They don’t get on then: Martin and his brother?”

 

“No. It seems not. They didn’t write to each other anyway.”

 

“But, recently Martin did get a letter from his brother.”

 

“He did.”

 

“And it upset him?”

 

“It did.”

 

“He blamed Andy Horan?”

 

“He did.”

 

“It didn’t come to blows. Did it?”

 

“No: Nothing like that. He just told Andy to stop interfering in his business.”

 

“How was Andy about it?”

 

“A bit puzzled, I think. He didn’t expect that from Martin.”

 

“Do you think that Martin leaving had something to do with the letter he got from his brother?”

 

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

 

“Did Martin ever talk about Michael O’Malley?

 

“No. Not that I remember. I didn’t think that he even knew him.”

 

“This note.” The sergeant indicated the note that Mary had given him.

“How do you think it got in Martin’s position if he didn’t write it?”

 

“It must have been given to him by someone.”

 

“Have you any idea who that could be?”

 

“No. I’ve no idea.”

 

“Have you seen any strangers talking to Martin?”

 

Mary hesitated. “There was young chap that called at the house a couple of weeks ago. He didn’t talk to Martin as far as I know, but he was asking for Michael O’Malley. He thought he lived there. He had a letter for him. He gave the letter to Paddy. Paddy told him he’d give it to Michael O’Malley when he next saw him. I don’t know if he ever did.” Mary had forgotten about that. The letter had been on the mantelpiece for a while. She wasn’t sure, but she thought it was no longer there. She’d have to ask Paddy.

 

“Paddy?”

 

“Yes. Paddy is my husband.”

 

“We’ll need to have a word with him. When will he be available?”

 

“He’s at work now, but he’ll be home in the evening. Will I ask him to come round?”

 

“No. We’ll come to see him. We’ll need to have a look at Martin’s room too. What time will Paddy be home?”

 

“It varies: six or seven. Oh! God. Will I have the police all over my house?”

 

“I’m afraid so Mary. It can’t be helped. It’s a murder investigation. The chap that gave Paddy the letter: did you see him?”

 

“I did. I saw him first. It was me that answered the door when he first came. Like I said he was asking for Michael O’Malley. He thought he lived there. I don’t think he believed me when I said that he didn’t, so I shut the door on him. But, then he met Paddy. Paddy was on his way home from work.”

 

“Would you know that man if you saw him again?”

 

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

 

“O K Mary. Thanks for your help. I’ll see you this evening.”

***

 

 

 

“Tommy, come with me.”

 

Tommy Parsons was taken by surprise. The command almost made him jump. Dave shouldn’t even be on the site. Immediately Tommy placed his brush in a nearby jar of thinners and hurriedly fixed the top on the paint can.

 

“Leave that. Come inside.”

 

It sounded ominous. Tommy anxiously followed Dave into the house, of which he’d been painting the outside windows.

 

“Close the door. Come in here.”

 

Obediently, his heart pounding, Tommy did as told and Joined Dave in the empty room. Dave was looking out of the window. He turned to Tommy. “Tell me again,” he asked, “about your visit to Broadfield.”

 

“I told you.”

 

“About the letter that you were instructed to give to the man. You didn’t actually give it to him, did you?”

 

“No. I told you. We couldn’t. But, a man said he would give it to him.”

 

“And you believed him.”

 

“Yes. We were sure he would.”

 

“But, you’re not so sure now, are you?”

 

“No.”

 

“What did the man say?”

 

“He said he’d definitely see him on the Friday night, but he might see him before that.”

 

“On the Friday night the man, the target, you said, left the club early.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And when you asked him about the letter?”

 

“He said he didn’t know what we were talking about.”

 

“So, he probably never got it.”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

Dave turned away to resume looking out of the window. “At last,” he said. “He’s here.”

 

“It’s Brian King,” said Tommy following Dave’s gaze. Brian, looking lost, was on the other side of the open space that separated the rows of houses. “You were expecting him?”

 

“Ignoring Tommy Dave rapped on the glass with his knuckles, to no effect. “The dozy bugger.”

 

Dave went to the front door. He opened the door and shouted, “Brian.”

 

Acknowledging the shout Brian hurried towards him. “What’s this all about?” he called out when he got closer. His face was flushed. He seemed agitated.

 

“Come inside,” urged Dave, not answering the question. “We can’t have the whole neighbourhood knowing our business.”

 

“There’s no one about.”

 

“Walls have ears. Close the door.” Dave led the way back to where a perplexed looking Tommy was waiting.

 

Brian barely acknowledged Tommy before turning on Dave. “This better be good. I’m wasting time here.”

 

“You said you’d be in the area.”

 

“O K. What’s it all about?”

 

“Two bits of news. The man in Broadfield is dead.”

 

“We knew that already.”

 

“Not for sure. Now it’s definite.”

 

“So, what are you worried about?” There’s nothing to link us to it. Is there?”

 

“The other news is the man in hospital in Coventry is getting better

 

“Oh! I thought He was dying.” Turning to Tommy Brian scoffed, “So much for your information”.

 

Tommy, looking sheepish, muttered, “I only told what I heard.”

 

Dave defended Tommy. He had other plans for him and didn’t wish for him to get too upset. “It’s not Tommy’s fault.”

 

“No,” retorted Brian. “It’s all your fault. You sent a boy on a man’s job. Another of your bloody cock ups.”

 

“He wasn’t on his own.”

 

“No. You sent two boys and they bungled it. Why?”

 

Dave remained silent. He had plans for Brian too, and put up with his ridicule. Then Tommy answered.

“We had the wrong name. We didn’t know that he had another name.”

 

Brian turned to Dave. “Why didn’t they know?”

 

“I didn’t want to confuse them. I was trying to keep it simple.”

 

“Simple! It was simple. So, what’s the problem? Why am I here?”

 

“It’s about the letter. We don’t think the man ever got it.”

 

Again Brian scoffed. “It was supposed to be put in his hand.”

 

“Yes. Well, we won’t go into that again.”

 

“What’s the problem then?”

 

“It mustn’t get into the hands of the police.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“It’s in my handwriting. I know. I should have typed it, but I didn’t think it would get this far.”

 

“So? Why would the police go checking your handwriting?”

 

“That man, Martin. He said my name in the pub.”

 

“You said he wouldn’t remember anything.”

 

“No. I don’t think he’ll remember much, but he might just remember my name.”

 

“So? What do you want to do?”

 

“We need the letter back.”

 

“We?”

 

“I need the letter back.”

 

“How are you going to do that?”

 

“Tommy knows the man that it was given to and he knows where he lives.”

 

“He’s more than a hundred miles away. Isn’t he?”

 

“Yes. Someone would have to go with Tommy.”

 

“You mean me?”

 

“I’m sure you wouldn’t bungle it.”

***

 

 

 

“Are you sure this is the house?” asked Brian as he brought the car to a halt.

 

“Yes,” replied Tommy. “I remember the green door and the steps up to it”

 

Brian reversed the car back to stop in front of the house two doors away. “We’re still a bit conspicuous here, but it can’t be helped. You’re sure you’ll know the man when you see him?”

 

“I will.”

 

“And you say it was about half past six when he returned from work that day.”

 

“About that.”

 

Brian checked his watch. “We’re a bit early, but we don’t want to miss him. Hi up, who’s this?” A big tall man was walking towards them.

 

“That’s him.”

 

“You’re sure.”

 

Tommy waited until the man got closer. “Yes. It’s definitely him.”

 

Brian got out of the car and approached the man. “Excuse me,” he said. “Could I have a quick word?”

 

“All right.”

 

“I’m sorry. I don’t know your name.”

 

“Paddy.”

 

“Paddy. Great. I’m James. Maybe you can help me. Do you remember a few weeks ago you were given a letter, which you promised to pass on to a man called Michael O’Malley?”

 

“I. I remember.”

 

“Do you know if he ever got it?”

 

“No. He didn’t. But, sure it doesn’t matter now. The man’s dead.”

 

“Yes. I’m sorry about that. Do you know what happened to the letter though?”

 

Paddy thought for a moment. “I’m not sure. Why? Is it important?”

 

“Yes. I’m afraid it is. Can you remember what you did with it?

 

“I had it in my pocket to give to him that Friday night, but I never saw him. What was it about anyway?”

 

“It was about an insurance that he’d been paying into.”

 

“Well, now he’s dead, it doesn’t matter. Does it?”

 

“Yes, I’m afraid it does. His widow can now claim on that insurance, but there was an important document in that letter. She will need it to make the claim.”

 

“Can’t you just send her another one?”

 

“It’s not that simple. It would be much easier if she had that one.”

 

“Maybe it’s in my other jacket. I’ll go and have a look.”

 

“Thank you Paddy.”

 

As Paddy entered the house, Brian walked back to the car giving Tommy the thumbs up. “I think we’ve cracked it,” he said entering the car to await Paddy’s return.

 

They sat in silence watching the green door. Then the door opened. “He’s coming back,” said Tommy. “Oh! No, It’s that miserable woman.”

 

Tommy remembered Mary, especially the mass of unduly grey hair. Appearing disgruntled, she just stuck her head out and looked critically in both directions, before focusing on the car which she gave a fierce once over, before withdrawing to the house and closing the door.

 

“I’m glad she’s gone,” said Tommy. She’d be no help.

 

Brian, anxiously tapping his fingers on the steering wheel and not taking his eyes off the green door, wasn’t listening. He was getting more and more uneasy as time went by and there was no sign of Paddy.

 

“Hi up!” exclaimed Tommy. “The cops are coming.”

 

That got Brian’s attention. “Where?”

 

“Behind. Coming up the street. Two of them.”

 

Unfazed, at least outwardly, Brian casually looked in his wing mirror. Two policemen were walking towards them.

 

“No worries. Just ignore them. Don’t stare.”

 

Tommy wasn’t fooled. He could see that Brian was worried. Then the door they were watching opened and Paddy emerged holding in his hand what appeared to be an envelope.

 

“He’s got it.” Tommy was excited.

 

But Brian didn’t move. “Better wait ‘til the cops pass,” he muttered.

 

The policemen, much to Brian and Tommy’s relief, seemed to show no interest in the car or it’s occupants. Their only interest appeared to be in identifying a house. They did however stop in front of the car to have a word with Paddy, who had been walking towards the car.

 

Unable to hear the conversation, Brian, slowly and silently wound the window down, wary of making any sound that might draw the policemen’s attention.

 

The words were still unclear, but Paddy’s pointing to the door he’d left open told Brian all he needed to know.

 

“They’re going to his house,” observed Tommy.

 

“Shush.”

 

The policemen headed towards the house. Brian, staying put, simply stuck his arm out of the window and silently beckoned for Paddy to come to him.

 

Obediently Paddy headed towards them. Brian started the engine, noting that the policemen had entered the house and would not be alerted by the sound.

 

“It’s a bit of a mess, I’m afraid, ” Paddy apologised, offering a very crumpled envelope.

 

“Don’t worry about that.” Brian snatched the envelope while depressing the clutch and putting the car in gear.

 

“Thank you Paddy.” Brian drove off leaving Paddy standing there looking even more puzzled than usual.

 

As they drove off Tommy observed, “She’s out again, having another look.”

 

“Don’t worry. We got what we came for.”

 

Chapter 19. The letter

 

“What’s going on?” All that was going on had got Paddy confused. Mary, stood in the doorway blocking his way, was holding a notebook and pen. “Why are the police here? And what are they doing?”

 

Mary wasn’t listening. “Move,” she said angrily, gesturing with her hand. “I’m trying to see that number plate.”

 

“Why?” Paddy stepped to one side and turned to watch the car speeding away.

 

“I think I got it,” said Mary writing in her notebook. “He was in a hurry to get away. What did you do to him?”

 

“I just gave him the letter.”

 

“Letter?”

 

“The one for Michael O’Malley.”

 

“Oh! You idiot.”

 

“Why? What’s wrong?”

 

Mary sighed, “You don’t know who you gave it to. Do you?”

 

“I do. He was an insurance man.”

 

“Was he? Said Mary sarcastically. “ Did he say what it was about?”

 

“It was about an insurance policy that Michael had. There was a document in it that his widow will need to make a claim.”

 

“And you believed him?”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Why not! I’ll tell you why not. I wouldn’t trust him. He might be doing her out of what she’s entitled to.”

 

“I didn’t think of that.”

 

“No. You never do. You should have said you’d give it to her yourself.”

 

“Well it’s too late for that now. Arra don’t worry about it,” added Paddy dismissively. “I’ sure she’ll get it anyway.”

 

“She might.” Mary was dubious. “If that’s what it was. We don’t know. Sure that man could tell you anything and you’d believe him. Was it the same man that gave you the letter?”

 

“No. It was a young man that gave it to me. That man was older.”

 

“Would you know him again? The police will be asking you.”

 

“I think I would, but why would they be asking me that?”

 

“They were asking me if there were any strangers here lately. I told them about that man giving you the letter. They said they would need to talk to you about it.”

 

“Let them talk away. I don’t care.”

 

“Be careful. They’ll be interested in that letter. It’s a pity you gave it away and just as they came and all. They might think there’s something funny going on with the letter addressed to Michael O’Malley. It’s a murder enquiry you know. They’ll be suspecting all sorts.”

 

Paddy thought for a moment. “Maybe I shouldn’t tell them about it at all.”

 

“No. Just tell them the truth. They know about it anyway. If you start telling lies you don’t know where it will end. You could get yourself in all sorts of trouble.”

 

“I’d better check on the pans.” Mary hurried to the kitchen. On her way she placed the notebook on the chest of drawers in the hall. Paddy followed her into the kitchen. “What are you going to do with that number,” he asked.

 

“I think I’ll give it to the police. Do you know what make of car it is?”

 

“No. What do I know about cars? Where are the police anyway?”

 

“They’re in Martin’s room. They’ll be going through everything. Martin wouldn’t like that, but what can you do?

 

Paddy shook his head. “I’m going for a wash.”

 

“Don’t be long. The police will want to talk to you. They might want to talk to everyone in the house. Let’s try and get the meal over first. It’s ready now. Will you tell the others? I think they’re all in.”

***

 

 

 

“We should turn right here for the M6.” Tommy noted that they were in the wrong lane for turning right. Tommy was hungry and wished to waste no time in getting to the motorway services where they’d planned to eat. Without comment, to Tommy’s relief, but almost too late, Brian indicated and moved to the outside lane.

 

Brian wasn’t concentrating on his driving, concerned only, Tommy though, on putting as much distance as possible between them and Broadfield. Tommy could see that, although he tried to hide it, Brian was still in an anxious state. He had driven for an hour without saying a word: not at all like Brian.

 

But, why? They got the letter. They got what they came for. He’d said so himself. Everything, as far as Tommy could see, had gone well. It must have been the police presence that had got him rattled. But, the police had hardly looked at them. As they approached the motorway Tommy ventured breaking the silence.

 

“The police showed no interest in us at all,” he said.

 

“Why should they?” growled Brian.

 

“Yeah. Why should they?” repeated Tommy. “We’ve done nothing wrong.”

 

Who was he trying to convince? The remark only got a disdainful glance from Brian. Tommy said no more leaving Brian to concentrate on his driving as they joined the motorway traffic.

 

On the Motorway Tommy detected a silent sigh of relief from Brian. “Right,” he said. “It’s a straight road now.” He was visibly more relaxed.

 

Brian put his foot down and moved to the fast lane. They passed a sign saying ‘services 1 mile.’ Tommy, getting hungrier all the time, feared that Brian had either not seen the sign or in his hurry to get back had decided not to stop.

 

“The services are coming up,” he ventured, unsure what to expect. The response from Brian, however, left him pleasantly surprised. “Yes. I’ve seen the sign. Don’t worry. I know you’re hungry.”

 

The restaurant was not too crowded. They found a table some distance away from other diners where they ate mostly in silence. After swilling the food down with a beer, Brian patted his belly. “I enjoyed that,” he said. “Just what we needed after a successful afternoon. I hope you watched and learned Tommy.”

 

Tommy smiled. Brian needed recognition. “Yes you did well.”

 

“Full marks to you too Tommy for remembering the man and the house. You had your wits about you.”

 

“Yes. I have a good memory.” Tommy was relishing the praise. He didn’t expect it from Brian. Brian’s comments were usually derogatory. “Dave will be pleased,” he added.

 

“He’d better be. We stuck our necks out for him: you going back to the scene of the crime and me dodging the police; all because of his cock up.” Brian took the crumpled letter from his pocket and placed it on the table. He tried to smooth it with his hand, to little effect.

 

“It’s very creased,” Tommy remarked.

 

“That’s all right. It’s what’s inside that matters. Should we have a look?”

 

Tommy nodded enthusiastically.

 

Brian carefully peeled back the flap. Luckily, it came away without tearing, but then his face dropped.

 

“Fucking marvellous!” he exclaimed; “an empty bloody envelope.”

 

“But, how?” Tommy was puzzled.

 

“Fucking Dave!” exclaimed Brian, “all that for an empty bloody envelope.

 

“But, How can that be?” Tommy was baffled. “I don’t understand.”

 

“How the fuck do I know?” cried Brian, his face bright red.

 

Tommy noticed that people at a table behind Brian were staring.

 

Tommy tried to gesture to Brian to keep his voice down

“People can hear you,” he hissed.

 

“Fuck them.” Brian stood up. “Let’s go.”

***

 

 

 

It was about ten o’clock when the two weary travellers got out of their car outside The Queen. “Dave will be getting worried,” said Tommy. They had arranged to meet at nine.

 

“Good.” Brian was in no mood to care. “I hope he’s bloody sweating”

 

As they approached the bar they saw Dave stood on his own looking gloomy. “He’d better not complain about us being late or I’ll blast him,” said Brian.

 

Dave didn’t complain. Seeing Brian and Tommy cheered him up “Traffic bad?” he asked sympathetically.

 

“You could say.”

 

“Two pints of bitter,” Dave called to the landlord. He knew their drinks

When they got their drinks Dave led the way into one of the rooms. Even at that time on a Friday night the room was empty. “It’s quiet in here,” said Dave guiding them to a table at the far end of the room.

 

“Dead, more like.”

 

“Well?” asked Dave, when they were sat down. He could wait no longer. “Did you manage to get it?”

 

“Oh, I got it all right, for all the good it did.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“This is what I mean.” Brian took the envelope out of his pocket and threw it on the table.

 

Dave picked it up. “It’s empty. Did you open it?”

 

“Yes. I opened it.”

 

“Where’s the note?”

 

Don’t ask me. That’s what I found: an empty bloody envelope.”

 

“You didn’t take it out?” Brian looked from Brian to Tommy. Tommy was shaking his head. “No I bloody didn’t,” answered Brian. “Was there ever anything in it, or was I sent on a bloody wild goose chase?”

“Of course there was something in it. I put the note I myself.” Dave examined the envelope. It just had the name Michael O’Malley written on it. “It’s the envelope all right,” he said. “Someone’s playing games with us. Let’s hope it’s not the police.”

 

“The police were there, two of them,” Brian informed him, taking pleasure in Dave’s fear, which he was in no hurry to allay.

 

“Did they see you?”

 

“Yes. They must have. They walked right past us.”

 

“Bloody hell.”

 

“We were sat in the car,” Tommy intervened noting Dave’s concern. “They took no notice of us.”

 

“You were sat in the car?” Dave turned from Tommy to Brian.

 

“What about the car? A strange car outside the house should have interested them.”

 

“Yes.” Brian decided to stop playing games. “We were outside waiting for that man, Paddy. Like Tommy said, the police walked past on their way to the house, but they took no notice of us.”

 

“They didn’t see your faces then.”

 

“No. No worries. They didn’t see us.”

 

“It wasn’t right outside the house. I parked a few doors away. I’m not that daft.”

 

“At least you did one thing right.” Dave sounded relieved.

 

But Brian was furious. “One thing! One thing! I did everything bloody right. I got what I went for. What more could I have done? You can’t blame me if it was an empty bloody envelope. This is all down to your cock up anyway.”

 

“O k Brian. Calm down. I didn’t mean it like that. Just when did you find out that the envelope was empty?”

 

“When we were at the service station. We were fifty miles away then. No way was I going back, especially with the police there

 

“OK Brian. I understand. We’ll have to leave it at that. Forget about the letter. Let’s just hope it not in police hands.”

 

“You hope you mean.”

 

“Whatever you say Brian.”

***

 

 

 

It was about two O’clock on Saturday afternoon when Brian King arrived home. His wife greeted him with “The police were here. They want to talk to you.”

 

“Oh!” He was taken aback. “What did they want?”

 

“I don’t know. They just said they wanted to talk to you. They’re calling back.”

 

“Did they say when?”

 

“No. They asked when you’d be back, but I couldn’t tell them. I didn’t know. You seem worried.”

 

“I’m not worried. Why would I be worried?”

“I don’t know. You never tell me anything. Why do you think they want to talk to you?”

 

Brian shook his head.

 

“Is there something you’re not telling me?” his wife asked.

 

“No,” he replied angrily. “Just leave me alone. I need to make a phone call. I need to be on my own.”

 

His wife left the room. Brian immediately picked up the phone and dialled.

“Dave, what’s going on?

 

“What are you on about?”

“The police want to talk to me.”

“Well, don’t panic. It’s probably nothing. You haven’t talked to them yet?”

“No. They were at my house when I was out. They’re coming back.”

“Like I said, don’t worry. It’s probably nothing.”

“Do you think they’ll know were I was yesterday.”

“I don’t see how. You said they were there, but they didn’t see you.”

 

“I did. I’m sure of that.”

 

“No worries then. You didn’t break any traffic rules: speeding, jumping light, or anything like that?”

 

“I don’t think so.”

 

“You don’t sound too sure. Maybe your number was taken for some reason. Don’t tell them where you were unless you have to, but if they’ve got your number you can’t deny it. They might want to know what you were doing up there. Have you any relatives you might be visiting?”

 

“No.”

 

“That could be a problem. You’d better come round here. We’ll think of a story. Get out of the house before the police come back.”

 

“Jesus Christ. If you think I’m carrying the can for this….”

 

“Brian, I don’t think anything. Just come round and we’ll talk about it. OK.”

 

Brian put the phone down. “I’m going out,” he called to his wife.

 

“Again! Where are you going?”

 

“I have some business to se to.”

 

“When will you be back?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“What about the police?”

Without replying Brian left slamming the door after him. He needed to get out of the house fast.

 

On the road Brian thought about his problem. If the police were aware of where he was yesterday and questioned his reason for being there he didn’t know what to tell them. He hoped Dave could help there. He’d better. This was all down to Dave. Bloody Dave. But, could he trust him? Dave would only be interested in keeping his own name out of it. Was he Dave’s fall guy? Was that Dave’s plan all along? The more Brian thought about it the less he trusted Dave. His anger was rising by the minute.

 

As he turned down Ivy street where Dave lived, this time Brian was determined to stand for no more nonsense.

.

The house was in the middle of a row of fairly large terraced houses. Brian was pleased to see Dave’s Ford transit in the street in front of his house: at least he was home. As he drew level with the van he slowed down intending to park in front of the van. There was always a parking space there.

 

Not this time. Hidden from view by the van were the two police cars. Brian’s first reaction was to panic. He had many brushes with the law resulting in having an intense hatred and fear of the police. He knew his fear, which was bordering on paranoia, was irrational, but he couldn’t help it. It was a weakness, which he tried to hide from others by pretending to be indifferent the police.

 

This time, however, getting away was all he could think of. Brian immediately speeded up again. He didn’t know why the police were there, but he wasn’t staying around to find out. With no more than a surreptitious glance at the cars he continued to the end of the street. He turned left up South road where he stopped and took some deed breaths.

 

After a while he calmed down and managed to access the situation. One good thing was that no one witnessed his panic. It then occurred to him that he might even have jumped to the wrong conclusion. The reason for the police being there might have nothing to do with Dave. The cars weren’t even in front of Dave’s house, although they couldn’t be because the van was there.

 

Brian needed to know. But, how? Calling at the house was too dangerous. He considered finding a phone box and phoning, but he didn’t feel comfortable with that either. Eventually he decided to drive back to the street and, without getting too close, see what he could see.

 

He stopped the car at what he considered to be a safe distance from Dave’s house on the opposite side of the street where he had clear view of the house and if the policemen were in he would be able to see them when they came out.

 

Not wishing to draw any attention to himself he shut the engine down, although he could have done with it running for warmth. It was a cold day. The heating was poor at the best of times and without the engine running non-existent.

 

However, he didn’t have to wait long until two policemen emerged from the house followed by Dave who was followed by two more policemen.

 

What was going on? Was Dave being arrested? It certainly looked like it. Four policemen wouldn’t be there just to talk to him, but if he resisted arrest it might take that many to restrain him: he was a powerful man.

 

However, he seemed to be going quietly. One of the policemen opened the rear door of the front police car and Dave with his head down appeared to meekly get in. A policeman joined him on the rear seat while two others got in the front. The fourth policeman got in the other car and both cars were driven away.

 

Brian shuddered. It was cold, but it wasn’t that. He was dreading what might happen next. Things had suddenly got extremely serious. Would the police come for him next? What was it they wanted to talk to him about? He had assumed that it was about where he was on the previous day, but seeing Dave arrested made him fear that it was about something far more serious.

 

Dave was involved in a murder, maybe two murders. Did the police know?

It looked that way. Brian’s thoughts were running wild. Was he too a suspect? Was that why the police were after him? Neither of the murders, if that’s what they were, had anything to do with him, but could he prove it? Dave had said they were all in it together. Sod that. Sod Dave. He was not having it. What Dave did was down to Dave. However, sooner or later Brian must talk to the police. He couldn’t keep running away.

 

Ten minutes after the police cars left, and seeing no more comings or goings at the house, Brian concluded that there were no more policemen there. He wondered if Dave’s wife was in. She should be able to tell him something.

Chapter 20. Good news

 

Alarmed by the ringing of the doorbell, Teresa felt herself tense up. In spite of her efforts to move on her nerves were still in a state. She rested the book she had started to read on her lap, but remained seated. Maybe whoever it was would just go away.

It was ten o’clock in the evening and she was alone in the house. She wasn’t expecting any callers. Tom, she knew, would not be back for at least an hour. In any case he would let himself in.

 

The bell rang again, this time for longer. He or she was not going anywhere. Teresa stood up and warily moved to the door. “Who is it,” she called, hoping her voice did not betray how frightened she was.

 

“It’s only me. Open up.”

 

It was her brother Joe. Relieved, she opened the door, but concerned as to what news he was bringing at that time.

 

“Joe. What do you want?”

 

“That’s a nice welcome.”

 

“Sorry. Come in.” Joe followed her into the living room. “Sit down. Would you like a drink or something?”

 

“No. Thank you. I’m all right.” Joe sat on the settee. “I thought you weren’t going to let me in. On your own then?”

 

“Yes. Tom has a parents evening.” Teresa sat on the chair facing Joe. “I wasn’t expecting anyone this late.”

 

“It’s only ten o’clock. Are you all right? You seem a bit on edge.”

 

Yes. She was edgy, although she had tried to conceal it. The threatening note and one or two other things had caused it to at last sink in how dangerous a situation she was in. Joe had warned her. He was right. But, what could she say? If she admitted it he would shout at her and blame her for getting involved.

 

“I’m just tired,” she said. “It’s been a long day.” To Joe’s curious look she explained. “I brought work home to mark.” She nodded towards a pile of papers on the table. “I just finished before you got here. Anyway, don’t keep me in suspense. Why are you here?”

 

“I’ve got some good news.”

 

“You’ve won the pools?” Teresa’s eyes lit up. She was starting to relax.

 

Joe shook his head.

 

“You’re getting married?”

 

“No. Listen. You’re being silly. Remember that note that was put through your letter box; threatening you?”

 

Teresa nodded. How could she forget?

 

“Well,” Joe continued, “you needn’t worry about it any more.

 

“Why? What happened? What do you know?”

 

“The man that sent it is in prison.”

 

“Oh! Who’s that?”

 

“Dave Campbell.”

 

“You know that he is the one that sent it?”

 

“Yes. Maybe not personally, but he’s definitely the one behind it.”

 

“You say he’s in prison.”

 

“Yes, and he won’t be out for a long time.”

 

“How do you know all this? Have you inside information?”

 

“You could say that.”

 

“I worry about who you associate with. Go on then. What do you know?”

 

“It was Dave that assaulted Martin and almost killed him. Dave was also behind the assault on the man in Broadfield that resulted in his death. The two boys did it, but it was Dave that sent them.”

 

“Has he been charged with those crimes?”

 

“No. Not yet. But, he will be. He’s in custody; helping the police with their enquiries I think they call it. They’re still gathering evidence. I’m certain he won’t be out for a long time.”

 

Teresa was still sceptical. “How do you know all this? She asked

 

“It’s a long story. Alan, one of the boys that Dave sent has worked with me for the last few weeks. It was the other boy Tommy that actually did the deed. Alan pulled him off the man.”

 

“That’s what he told you.”

 

“I believed him. I’ve known Alan for a long time. He’d never do anything like that. I was surprised that he agreed to go in the fist place, but we all make mistakes, and Dave can be very persuasive. He needed Alan to go: he’s smarter than Tommy. Dave could rely on him. But, of course, it all went wrong. They got the wrong man. While I know Dave is capable of murder I don’t believe the plan that time was to kill the man; just scare him; make him leave town again; preferably force him back to Ireland.”

 

“Alan was there when Dave assaulted Martin. He saw it all. It all happened so fast there was nothing Alan could do about it, but he was so disgusted with Dave he wanted no more to do with him. He left the job. Oh, I didn’t say he worked for Dave up to then; they both did, him and Tommy. You’ve met Tommy; that evening in The Antelope.”

 

“Yes.” Teresa nodded. “I met him again since then.”

 

“Oh. When?

 

“At our mum and dad’s house. He called one evening when I was there. He said he was after you. Don’t worry, we didn’t tell him were you lived.”

 

“Good, but with Dave out of the way I’m not bothered any more.”

 

“What about his cronies?”

 

“Ah, forget them. They’re all shit scared. I used to think he had a lot more influence than he actually had but one or two things I’ve seen lately has made me change my mind on that.”

 

“Dave liked to give the impression that he had a lot of mates that would stand by him no matter what: no one would grass on him for fear of what those mates would do. I believed it too, but now I’m sure that it was a load of rubbish. His so-called mates are all shitting themselves. I met Brian king today. He liked to think he was Dave’s second in command. He’s too scared to go home. He’s terrified, thinking he’ll be arrested next. I didn’t think he’d even talk to me again after our last encounter, but he was trying to be palls with me today and he was trying to distance himself from Dave saying he was never one of his associates.”

 

“But, about Alan; he’s also in custody. He went to the police voluntarily. I advised him against it, but he wouldn’t be told. He couldn’t live with the guilt of what he did any longer, he said. I managed to get to see him today for the first time. He’s not happy in prison, but at the same time he’s relieved that he has got it all off his chest. He has told them everything. That’s what got Dave arrested. Like I said I was against him going to the police, but after seeing him today maybe he has done the right thing. I haven’t heard yet, but I’m sure Tommy will have been arrested too.”

 

“You’re saying there’s something you don’t know. I’m surprised, but seriously would he tell on his mate?”

 

“I think he told everything, although he’s not blaming Tommy so much. It’s all Dave’s fault he says. Alan knows a lot about Dave; a lot of other things that the police are interested in. Tommy too. He might think he’s loyal to Dave, but in police custody he’ll crack.”

 

“I couldn’t get him to crack.” Ops. Teresa immediately regretted the remark.

 

“What do you mean? What have you been up to?”

 

“It was nothing. Forget it.”

 

“Tell me,” Joe insisted, “I want to know. I worry about what you get up to too.”

 

“OK. It was the evening that I met him at our mum and dad’s. I gave Tommy a lift home. I asked him a few questions about why he wanted to see you and about Dave Campbell. I got nowhere with him. In fact when I stopped the car he suddenly got out and ran away.”

 

“Yes. He’ll have been told to say nothing by Dave: threatened more like, but in police custody it will be different. He can’t run away from there.”

 

“ Yes. You’re probably right. I got the impression that if I had more time with him I would have got something from him. I’m afraid I didn’t handle it very well.”

 

“Well, it doesn’t matter now.”

 

“I don’t understand. You say Dave sent those boys up there to scare Martin. Why? What was in it for Dave?”

 

“Money. There was money in it. Somehow Dave has got involved with an anti IRA group or organisation. It’s very secret. No one knows who’s in this group. There might be Irish connections: I’m not sure. I don’t think even Dave knows much about them, but they have a lot of money. That’s all he cares about. He got money for that job, probably a lot more than he gave the boys that he sent to do it.”

 

“Why did the boys agree to do it?”

 

“I think they saw it as a bit of an adventure, and Dave, like I said, can be very persuasive. He told them it was fool proof: nothing could go wrong.”

 

“How did he know about Martin being involved in the IRA?”

 

That was the question that Joe was hoping would not be asked. It was he that made Dave aware of Martin’s past, or what he thought he knew of Martin’s past. But, he had no wish to talk about that.”

 

“I don’t know,” he answered, shaking his head.

 

Teresa didn’t pursue it. Relieved Joe moved the conversation on. “Do you know how Martin is now,” he asked

 

“Yes. I went to see him yesterday. He’s much better. He says he feels fine now. He’s even talking of going back to work. He’s certainly much improved, but,” Teresa shook her head. “I think he’s a long way off being ready for work. He still looks frail to me and he has a bandage on his head. He said jokingly that no one would see it with his cap on. At least he’s got his sense of humour back.”

 

“Maybe the bandage will be removed soon. A doctor I talked to said he was very pleased with his progress and that he could be discharged anytime. The problem is where to send him. He could go to a convalescent home, but Martin wants to go back to his old lodging house, ‘Mary’s’. He promised her that he’d be back he said.”

 

”I told him not to worry about that: Mary would understand. I think I told you that I met Mary when I was up there. She’s a lovely woman and, I’ve no doubt, she would welcome him back, but there’s a question of the suitability of the place. It’s a rough and ready house for working men. Martin needs somewhere more restful, for a while anyway.”

Chapter 21. Happy Reunion

 

He wouldn’t be told

 

Martin returned to Mary’s lodging house where he was warmly welcomed. She saved his room for him, just as he left it. He was pleased about that. He wanted things to be as normal as possible.

 

Henry wanted to have a big celebration for him in the club, but Martin would have none of that. It wasn’t his way. Even when well wishers called to see him, although he expressed his gratitude and was polite, he once told Mary that he would have preferred it if they didn’t bother. He wanted no fuss.

 

Mary, however, did fuss over him. He said he was fine, but Mary could see that he was far from it. He had lost weight and lacked his normal healthy glow. She made special meals for him when the other lodgers were at work. “You need feeding up,” she said.

 

Martin was appreciative of what she was doing, but hated being in that situation. “You shouldn’t be treating me any different from the others,” he told her. “It’s no bother.” She said.

 

She knew what he really wanted was to get back to work, but they both knew he wasn’t ready. “In your kind of work,” she told him “you’d die from the cold.” It was April, but still very cold. He couldn’t disagree. “But don’t worry, ”she said reassuringly, “we’ll soon have you fit and when the weather gets warmer you can think about work.”

 

Worried about him spending most of his time in his room. She advised him to go for walks. “The fresh air will do you good,” she said.

 

Martin took the advice. He had a long walk every day and seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. Also his health was improving by the day.

 

Then it happened and ironically just when his health appeared to be well on the way to being fully restored; he suddenly dropped dead. It was soon after he set off on his daily walk. A neighbour who found him called an ambulance, which took him to hospital, but he was declared dead on arrival. A massive brain haemorrhage was said to be the cause: probably a delayed effect of the blow to the head.

 

The news of Martin’s death shocked and saddened everyone that knew him. His funeral was well attended. He got a fine send off. The reception of his body into the church on the evening before the funeral was even better attended. Many couldn’t get the time off work to attend the funeral, but they came in doves to the reception. The church was full.

 

After the reception all were invited to Nora’s pub. Henry organized that and Nora provided sandwiches for everyone. “The least I could do for Martin,” she said. It was a fine celebration of his life. Stories were told about happy experiences about working or socializing with Martin. He certainly made a big impression on all that knew him and many travelled long distances to be there.

 

Andy Horan came all the way from Birmingham, taking time off work- time he could barely afford- to do so. The decision to come was a difficult one, but one that he would never regret.

 

That weekend his life was changed forever. He again stayed at Maggie’s. His sister, who’s lodging house he was then living in, arranged it. He was apprehensive about returning to Maggie’s. Her house was no longer a lodging house and he knew that she was unhappy about the way he had left her at such short notice.

 

He needn’t have worried. He arrived at about two o’clock on Thursday, the day before the funeral, and was pleasantly surprised at how happy Maggie was to see him. She put her arms around him and gave him a big hug. Probably sensing his anxiety she told him, “Andy you’ll always be welcome here.”

 

That wasn’t all. She had a much bigger surprise for him. “Take your coat off and sit down,” she said. “Wait ‘till you see who else I’ve got here.” She left the room.

 

Still anxious, Andy didn’t sit down. He listened to the boards of the stairs squeaking as Maggie climbed them. “Mary,” he heard her call. “Are you up?”

 

Mary? Andy’s ears pricked up. Could it be? He couldn’t hear a reply. No. He dismissed the thought. There are lots of Marys. Wishful thinking. He must stop dreaming. Still his heart was pounding as he listened to the stairs being descended and Maggie’s saying, “The man you’ve been asking about is here.”

 

Then he saw her, Mary Prendergast, smiling and looking radiant.

 

“Andy!” She exclaimed.

 

. Andy opened his mouth, but no words came out. He just stood agape as Mary rushed to him and threw her arms around him. “Wh.. wh.. when did you come,” he stuttered when released.

 

“This morning, in the early hours. I’ve been to bed. I’ve just got up.”

“You look great.”

“So do you.”

Maggie smiled. Was there love in the air? Her matchmaking skills would not be spared in the next few days. “I can see there’s no need for introductions,” she said.

 

“We were neighbours,” explained Andy.

 

I, thought Maggie and maybe a little bit more than that. “ Do you know what’s happening Andy?” she asked.

 

“No.” He’d almost forgotten what he was there for.

 

“Well, they’re taking the body to the church at seven o’clock this evening, and the funeral Mass is at eleven tomorrow.”

 

“Thank you Maggie. Where will I be sleeping?”

 

“In the same room as you had before.” She might have added, I couldn’t let anyone else have it. “Take your stuff up when you’re ready. I’ll be making a meal later, but, for now, I’ll make a sandwich. You must be hungry, and you Mary.”

 

“Don’t go to too much trouble.”

 

“No trouble. No trouble at all.”

 

“Can I help?” asked Mary.

 

“No. Stay there and talk to Andy. I’m sure you’ve a lot to catch up on.”

 

“Alone with Mary, Andy was still almost speechless. Although trilled, the situation seemed unreal; like in a fairytale; a dream come true. It was even better than in his dreams. Mary had been asking about him and was clearly overjoyed to see him. Sad as it was about Martin this was a funeral Andy would enjoy.

 

“I.. di..didn’t know you were coming.” Andy was stuttering and felt awkward.

 

Mary, however, was relaxed. “My father couldn’t leave my mother, or the farm,” she said. “I’m the next best.”

 

Andy smiled. He wished to tell her how delighted he was that it was her that came. Instead he asked, “How is your mother?”

 

“Not good.” She didn’t elaborate but went on to say, “I met your mother the other day. She’s great, and the family. She didn’t know if you’d be able to make it to the funeral, but she sent her love anyway.”

 

Mary went on to tell all the news about back home. Of course Andy knew most of it already. His mother in her letters had kept him well informed, but he let her carry on. Hearing her voice again was like the sweetest music to his ears. He soon felt at ease. In fact he never felt happier. In the next few days he would enjoy Mary’s company.

 

Then sadness came over him when he thought that in a few days it would all end, probably forever.

 

Not if Maggie could help it.

 

Maggie returned with a plate of sandwiches, which she placed on a little table. “Help yourselves to a sandwich.” She said. “I’ll go and get the tea. Oh! I forgot to tell you Andy. They want you to be a bearer. When you’ve had a sandwich you should have a walk over to Mary’s; find out the details.”

 

“I’ll do that.” Andy agreed. Then, turning to Mary, Maggie said, “go with him if you like Mary. He can show you around; introduce you to people.”

 

“I’d like that.”

***

 

 

 

“The sun is shinning,” said Maggie as Mary and Andy set off. “Take her through the park Andy. It’ll be a nice walk.”

 

He did. It was not the shortest route, but he had no wish to hurry the journey. On that bright spring afternoon the park was at it’s best: blossoms on the trees, daffodils in bloom, and the birds were singing.

 

“There’s no rush is there?” asked Mary as they approached a bench.

 

“No rush at all.” They both sat on the bench. The bench was facing a little pond where ducks were swimming. Still lost for words Andy was staring at the pond when Mary nudged him. “I should be annoyed with you Andy,” she said. “You never wrote to me.”

 

“I wanted to. I just didn’t know if I should.”

 

“Of course you should have.”

 

“Andy silently pondered her words. Then Mary turned to him. “I missed you Andy,” she said.

 

“I missed you too.”

 

Absence, it’s said, makes the heart grow fonder. For Mary and Andy that was certainly true. In the next few days no opportunity to be together was missed. They tried not to make their feelings for each other obvious to Maggie, but there was no fooling her. She saw what was going on- she’d have to be blind not to- and it delighted her. She liked Andy and could see how happy Mary made him. The made such a lovely couple. Then she thought with a sigh, life is so hard. Soon they must part.

 

Was there something she could do? She thought about it long and hard. Then a plan formed in her head. At the first opportunity she put it to them.

 

“I can see you two get on well,” she told them. It was Saturday evening and Mary and Andy had spent the day in each other’s company. Another time Andy would have resented Maggie’s interference, but not then, even when she went on to ask, “What are your plans for the future?”

 

They both shook their heads. Andy could see no way forward.

 

Maggie could.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if you both lived here,” she said. They both nodded, unsure where she was going, although Andy was starting to guess. Looking at Mary Maggie went on “you finish school soon Mary?”

 

“College,” Mary corrected. “Yes. I finish this spring.”

 

“What are your plans then?”

 

“I’m not sure. I’d like to train to be a nurse. Castlebar is the nearest hospital. It a long way from us and I’m not sure if I could get in there anyway. There are some vacancies, but there are lots of applicants for each job.”

 

Maggie’s eyes lit up. It was just what she wanted to hear. “You’d have no trouble getting in here,” she said. “If that’s what you want to do. The hospitals here are crying out for nurses.”

 

“That’s interesting.”

 

“Think about it Mary.” Maggie turned to Andy. “And you Andy, you’d have no trouble finding work around here if you wanted to come back. I’ve heard the building trade is picking up too. I saw you talking to John Mountin. I’m sure he’d find you work.”

 

“Yes. He said he would.”

 

“Well there you are.” Maggie turned back to Mary who was pondering what she was just told. Maggie didn’t give her time to sit on it. “The hospital is just a short bus ride away. I was a nurse there myself. I’ll take you there Monday: show you around; see what you think.”

 

“I’m going back Monday.”

 

“Can you delay it until Tuesday?”

 

“I would if I could let my parents know. They’ll be worried if I’m not there when I said I would be.”

 

“Yes. I understand. O K. Never mind. Instead, if you like, I’ll get you an application form and post it to you.”

 

“That would be great.”

 

It all went, more or less, to plan. Within a couple of months Mary was training to be a nurse at the hospital and living at Maggie’s. Andy also moved up to the area, but he stayed at Mary’s lodging house. Maggie didn’t think it right that they both stay under the same rook until they were married.

 

That wouldn’t be long. Within a couple of months they announced their engagement and were making plans for their wedding, which was sooner than they had originally planned. They planned to wait a year and then to be married by Father Downey in Broadfield. Then, thinking ahead, they realized that it would be difficult for Andy’s mother to attend and impossible for Mary’s parents. Mary’s mother, in spite of her failing health, expressed a wish to be at her only daughter’s wedding.

 

They returned to their home village to get married in their local church.

It was a beautiful wedding and the church was full. All the neighbours were there. There were no invitations, just the word put around that anyone that wised to come would be very welcome.

 

Andy looked happy and the bride was beautiful. But, there was sadness too. The wedding date had been brought forward and everyone knew why. Mary’s mother was there, but was so weak that it must have taken a supreme effort on her part.

 

In the circumstances there was no reception party and no honeymoon, but those could wait.

 

A week later Mary’s mother died. It was a sad occasion, but Mary was pleased that, at least she was there, and during that week was able to make full use of her nursing skills.

 

After the funeral Mary’s father told them to, “Go off and enjoy themselves.” He would have liked Mary, his only child, to stay with him on the farm. The farm would be her’s: her’s and Andy’s. But, he knew that was not what they wanted and he would not stand in their way. In the future, who knows?

 

Back in England, Maggie gave them the house and she moved into a little bungalow nearby. She got on well with Mary and thought the world of Andy. “Who else could I give it to?” she asked.

 

There was, of course her sister in Birmingham. He sister still expected Maggie to come and live with her and disapproved of Maggie giving away the house, but Maggie would not be dissuaded.

***

 

 

Dave Campbell was sentenced to life imprisonment for Martins murder. When Martin died the original charge of attempted murder was changed to first-degree murder. None of his so called friends were anywhere to be seen. They all disappeared, no longer wishing to be associated with him.

 

Tommy got eight years for the murder of Michael O’Malley. Alan got just three years because he fully cooperated with the police. The evidence he gave helped to put Dave Campbell away.

 

 

The civil war ended soon after the death of Jimmy Casey. Although some sores were slow to heal most people just wished to put that terrible period behind them.

 

No one was ever charged with Jimmy’s murder. It was seen as just another unfortunate incident that happened during that shameful period.

Both Ted Foley’s and Michael Keane’s participation ended then. It had all been too much for Michael. He was happy to return to a quiet life on his farm. Not so for Ted though. After a period of lying low he got involved in politics and soon was a well-known figure in the new Irish Free State.

The End

 

From the author:

 

Thanks for reading this book. I hope you got some enjoyment from it. I certainly enjoyed writing it. Much of the book is based on my own experience. I grew up on a small farm in the West of Ireland and came to England as a teenager. I spent many years working on building sites and living in cheap lodging houses. The work was hard, but the craic, as they say, was good.

Mick.

 

P S I will welcome any feedback.

[email protected]

 

 

 

T

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

360


No Going Back

Martin Prendergast was not guilty of the crime he was blamed for, but there was no way to prove his innocence. Instead he has to flee to England for his life, never to return to the country and friends he loves. Forty years later Andy Horan also has to leave his family and girlfriend behind and go to England to find work. By chance he meets Martin and is delighted when he discovers that he and Martin grew up on neighbouring farms in the West of Ireland. However, he is baffled as to why his attempts to get to know Martin better are rebuffed.

  • ISBN: 9781370599035
  • Author: mick moran
  • Published: 2016-11-08 10:05:32
  • Words: 110100
No Going Back No Going Back