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Authors: Anthony Quinn

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BOOK: Blind Arrows
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‘You're looking forward to this, Mick,' said their leader, a middle-aged man in a dark fisherman's sweater with a woollen cap pulled low over his heavy brows.

‘I am, indeed.'

‘
Here.' He passed a cigarette to Collins. His eyes glittered in the firelight.

‘This is a new kind of danger you're getting us into Mick.' There was a warning note of displeasure in his voice.

Collins drew on his cigarette, exhaled and smiled broadly at him. A tension grew in the air. The other men glanced gingerly at his fathomless grin.

‘How long must we look after the package? Hours,
days?' asked the man.

‘As long as it takes,' said Collins.

The sound of a chugging outboard engine floated above the wash of the waves. Their attention turned to the sea and the slight swaying of a lamp that marked the approach of a
fishing boat. They made their way down to the shore and waited as a smaller rowing boat struck off towards the beach.

The waves picked up in a strengthening wind, thrusting the rowing boat towards the rocks. There were several rebuffs and much scuffling before the men on board were able to row into shallow water. Collins and his men waded in and secured the vessel with ropes so that it would behave itself while they unloaded the cargo. Collins led his men, stripped to his shirt, leaping in and out of the waves, hoisting the crates of rifles onto his shoulders, racing across the sand and pitching them onto a small cart that the flying column had hidden at the head of the beach. When they had added the last teetering layer, and covered it with fresh straw, Collins roped the load tight and sent the driver on his way.

The wind picked up again. The men's shirts flapped black and chill with the sea. The tension between Collins and the flying column returned. Some of them shuddered; they had one more load to lift from the boat.

The
vessel had swung away, its weight lightened, the ropes loosened by the action of the waves. Collins splashed through the waves and drew its nose to shore. One of the men approached the stern, and lifted out a loose bundle, a small limp body wrapped in a thick blanket, head covered with a hood.

He stood the bundle on the sand, and it stiffened into life, making a little grunt as it found its feet. Collins removed the hood. The moon shone on a boy's sleepy face, hair matted and damp. The child took some moments to react to his new surroundings. His legs wobbled and he lurched forward. The men positioned themselves around him, uneasy, watching him adjust his stance. Pale sea spray filled the moonlit air, giving them all a dazed, blinking expression. The leader took out a knife and slashed the ropes securing the boat. He could have untied the knots and saved the rope, but he wanted Collins to see the knife. It was a signal, a gesture that he was reluctant to put into words. He ran the blade along his rough sleeve.

For several moments, the boy stood without moving, absorbed by the task of keeping his balance against the retreating waves. He seemed unable to get the attention of his feet. He stared around him. The sea where he had come from seemed less treacherous than this wild shoreline and the circle of shadowy men. For a moment, they all shared his stillness, wariness etched on their faces.

Collins put his hand on the boy's shoulder and coaxed him forward.

‘Come on, Isaac, my boy. We've a bed in a warm cottage awaiting. You can sleep like a babe till morning and no harm will come to you.'

The boy made some tentative steps, and fell into line behind Collins and his squad.

‘He'll get in the way,' warned the leader. ‘
How are we to feed and look after a child?'

‘There's a woman coming down from Furry Park. She'll be a help.'

‘Your hostage will make us hunted men. He'll remember our faces and our voices.'

Collins grinned, but he knew the man was correct. The boy's abduction had set in motion dangerous forces. Despite all his preparations, his meticulous planning, he knew Dublin Castle were on the boy's trail.

‘Think of the child as business.' He waved his hand dismissively. ‘A fine young calf you're taking to market. Weapons aren't the only things traded in war.'

They filed up the beach, through the plantation, towards a tiny cottage hidden amid the bushes. The young woman that Moya Llewelyn Davies had sent was waiting for them at the half-door. She ignored Collins and his men at first, focusing her efforts on the boy, correcting his stumbling movements, wrapping him in freshly warmed blankets,
guiding him into a fire-lit side room.

The squad of men watched her reappear after several minutes. She smoothed her skirt and stared candidly at Collins, her composed features communicating a shared secret. They stood together closely in silence. She reached up and touched his hair and his cheeks.

‘You're covered in dust,' she said. She held up a cobwebby skein of flour, dampened by the sea.

Collins did not reply. He followed her into the side room.

‘Women will be the death of Mick,
' said the middle-aged man to his companions. ‘It's shameful how our leader brings disgrace on himself chasing after these casual women.'

His eyes grew murky with the dregs of contempt and envy.

TWELVE

A strange terror overcame Kant in his sleep. He felt as though a blinding light was shining upon him, stripping away the comforting darkness of sleep, and then he saw the figure of a man striding out of the light, the steep-shouldered figure of Michael Collins, looking as though he had been marching for a week, with his right shoulder set forward, cleaving the air before him. He made no sign of slowing
down; the grim face with its buoyant eyes sweeping up to Kant's bedside, its bottomless grin invading the reporter's deepest sleep.

He awoke, bleary-eyed,
to find rough arms pinning him to his bed and a cold Cork voice whispering, ‘Mr Kant, when something goes wrong I always blame an Englishman. You were the first I could think of.'

The arms released their hold and Kant sat bolt upright in bed, rapidly awakening as he took in the dim shapes of his early-morning intruders. Someone turned on the gas lamp, and shone the light in his face.

Michael
Collins had changed since the last time they had met. More solid and extroverted, broad-shouldered as a bull. However, he was dressed in the same neat grey businessman's suit, while his henchmen in their double-breasted waistcoats and dapper outfits looked more like a bridal party still up from the night before.

Collins regarded
Kant with a look of appreciation, which immediately darkened into suspicion.

‘According to your landlady, you're registered under the name of Mr Greer. Why have you come back to hide in my city, Mr Kant? What trouble are you planning against me?'

Kant shrugged. ‘
The
Daily Mirror
sent me to report on your war. If I don't work, I'll starve.'

‘A sensible man would have signed himself into a London poorhouse rather than come back to haunt me.'

Kant tried to swing himself out of bed but broke into a racking coughing fit. He wiped his mouth with a handkerchief, covering up the spots of blood.

‘I have a duty to my employers that I must fulfil, plus I have an allegiance'. Kant swallowed thickly.
Due to the pain in his chest, he struggled to remember the full details of his story. Another coughing fit spittled his handkerchief with blood. He stared at Collins' henchmen. A new expression formed on their faces.

‘What are you staring at?' he asked.

‘What sort of employer sends an invalid to war?'
one of them asked Collins with a note of disgust in his voice.

‘Don't you know that Dublin Castle is full of men with death-wishes like Mr Kant,' said Collins regarding the reporter with interest. ‘A craving for
one's own demise is a kind of madness in itself. I've seen it in men before. In poets and intellectuals, men like Padraig Pearse and Roger Casement. It's the most dangerous disease of them all.'

Kant lay back against his pillow, still as an animal trapped in a snare. Collins sat down at the edge of the bed, and removed a dark object from his pocket, something neat and practical. To
Kant's relief it was a notebook, not a gun. All Collins' energy and will seemed focused on the book, which he brushed with the tips of his fingers.

‘I've told you before, Mr Kant. This war I have started is not just about guns and bullets. It's about the contents of notebooks like this one.' He leaned back and waggled the book
in the reporter's face. ‘It's about words and information, messages and codes. You see, I have devised for myself an extensive and secret bureaucracy. Everything is documented and analysed. Sometimes the burden of paperwork becomes unbearable, and I struggle to keep a sense of clarity, even though I have several teams of secretaries working for me. I listen carefully to every voice that reaches my ear and I write down every word I hear, but sometimes in the deluge of information, I am overwhelmed and make mistakes.'

He stood up abruptly, flashing
Kant a lopsided grin. ‘Which is why I was so attracted by your neat little report of missing women.' He paced up and down by the bed. ‘However, I worry that your true purpose is to betray me. That you are trying to deceive me with your facts and figures.
' He stepped into the middle of the floor to give himself more space. ‘Since the British placed an enormous reward on my head, the streets of Dublin have filled with touts and cut-throats, a stranger gallery of characters you would not find in even the most sensationalist of your colleagues' imaginations. Believe me, I know, because I have had them all checked out by my men, every one of them, spies and adventurers on the make, fanatics and plain lunatics, thieves and murderers.'

As Collins spoke, Kant
watched his men poke and pry through his private things. They rummaged through drawers of clothes, and thrust their arms under his bed, only stopping short of ripping open the floorboards. He said nothing, just breathed heavily.

Collins struck his chest with his fist. ‘God damn it, if you weren't such a wretched creature, I'd wrestle you to the floor myself and squeeze the truth out of you.'

The men knocked over Kant's wardrobe, sending it crashing to the floor.

‘You haven't told me on what grounds you suspect me of being a spy,' said Kant.

‘On the grounds that you concocted the details of these disappearances in order to track me down.'

‘Why should you entertain such a ludicrous thought?'

‘These disappearances strike me now as strange. They never appeared in any other newspapers or in any police files. Not even in our own reports of atrocities.'

‘It disturbed me also that the disappearance of these women did not seem to matter to anyone but their nearest relatives. Remember, I was the first to gather the reports for the whole of Dublin city. Your network of secret cells
is only aware of volunteers missing within their own small circle of volunteers. No one had looked at the pattern of disappearance on a wider scale,' said Kant.

‘All right, you've made your point. You discovered a pattern, a possible connection between these women. What concerns me more is the fact that an army raid interrupted our first meeting. The following day, another of my offices was searched while I was on the premises. And then an informer tells me that a British general
has been boasting how his new Englishman managed to track me down in a matter of days.'

‘You can't honestly believe that I am after your blood money.'

‘What I believe and what's the truth may not be the same thing.'

Kant watched from the corner of an apprehensive eye as one of Collins' men studied the trapdoor in the ceiling.
He had hidden Merrin's secret file of accounts there, and he knew that if they found it, his game was up. He caught the man's eye and glanced nervously at his bookcase. The squad member followed the surreptitious cue. He toppled the bookcase and began shovelling through the reporter's books and papers. The reporter averted his eyes from their brutal efforts. His innards convulsed as though they were poking his vital organs.

‘Don't rip up my papers.'

The men hesitated for a moment, stared at him, and then promptly began ripping up the files, scattering the pages across
the floor. Collins paced about, studying the scattered notes.

‘I have an idea how to settle my suspicions,' said the IRA leader eventually. ‘I plan to take you to my informer at Dublin Castle. He will be able to say whether you're in the pay of British intelligence or not. It shan't matter if you lie or tell the truth then.
'

Kant wondered was he talking about Corporal Isham? For the first time he considered making a run for it, but before he could weigh up his chances, Collins' henchmen grabbed him by his shoulders and forced him to get dressed. Then they hauled him out of the bedroom and down the stairs.

‘Come my intrepid reporter,' said Collins
, ‘we are going on a little trip together. I would advise you not to make a run for it. Remember you are walking a tightrope and I am the man holding the rope.'

Kant felt a cold terror settle in his gut. He had thought consumption had mapped out his future and the manner of his death, but now he realised his life and death no longer belonged to him or the disease
that he carried in his festering lungs.

BOOK: Blind Arrows
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