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Authors: Anthony Quinn

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BOOK: Blind Arrows
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Neither Mulcahy nor Brugha said anything in response. Collins looked at them as if to say, ‘are you done?'

Brugha opened his briefcase and removed a thin envelope. ‘This is
an unofficial report I have compiled on your management of the National Loan. Next week I'll be handing it into the ruling council.' He placed it in front of Collins, who ripped it open and read its contents.

‘Is that all you have against me?' he asked, throwing the letter onto the beer-stained table, his face going pale. He began to drum his feet upon the floorboards. Brugha pushed his seat backwards, while Mulcahy raised his playing fingers,
like a priest fending off an attack with a blessing.

‘You know nothing about running an army,' shouted Collins, rising to his feet. He brushed roughly against Brugha. ‘For the last six months you've been waging a jealous vendetta against me, ever since I usurped your role as Minister of Defence. You've been trampling through my personal life, trying to sniff out scandal. And now you dare to call me an embezzler.' Blood spurted into his cheeks. ‘You can't imagine the onerous burden
it is to run the IRA's finances. Never in my life have I come across such cowardice, envy and meanness.' Spitting out a string of curses, he spun on his heels and barged out of the room, almost taking the door off its hinges in the process.

O'Shea grabbed the letter, his fingers shaking. He made a visible effort of pulling himself together as he read it. He dropped it back onto the table as though it were a ton weight.

‘This scrap of paper will destroy Mick's career,'
he warned in a low voice. ‘You're accusing him of mishandling money, and worse, corruption. A volunteer could be shot for less.'

Even though Mick had left, Mulcahy and Brugha looked wary, as though they were still in the presence of the IRA leader's heated temper, his force, his capacity for violence. Brugha lifted up his briefcase and turned to leave. ‘I've examined the most up-to-date figures for the National Loan,' he said. ‘
There are a number of entries I can't find an explanation for, and I'm not talking about £10 missing here, or another £50 there. I'm talking about large regular sums of money going missing. Mick has one week to supply me with the full accounts, including receipts, before the ruling council passes judgement.'

Mulcahy spoke with pale-faced civility. The authority in his voice and soft hands had returned. ‘Mick should know that, if
there are discrepancies in the accounting, the ruling council will investigate them with determination. We can't let this war be run with the mentality of men enjoying an unexpected windfall.'

When they had left, O'Shea poured Kant a glass of whiskey.

‘I have made you privy to an explosive secret.
'

‘You have my word – I will tell no one.'

‘Your promise must be sealed by more than words.'

Kant nodded. He had already surmised that O'Shea had invited him to the back room in order to secure his assistance.

‘
Brugha is nothing but a stooge for Dublin Castle,' explained O'Shea. ‘They're to blame for this entire mess. British intelligence has been gathering a file on Mick's spending. They've been collecting receipts, investigating bank accounts, raiding offices.'

Kant frowned. ‘Why are they so interested in his finances?'

‘The file they are putting together is political poison. An idea hatched by the Dirty Tricks Brigade. It paints a picture of embezzlement and corruption, millions of pounds flooding in from America, and Mick swept along on their tide.'

‘
What do they plan to do with the file?'

‘They want to make him run.'

‘To London?'

‘And a peace settlement. It all fits together nicely for them. They want the charges of financial impropriety hanging over Collins so he'll do a deal quickly. They're threatening to ruin his reputation, and toss the shreds to the press and his enemies. It's been done before. Look at what happened to Parnell. The country turned against him when they discovered his affair. Nowadays, a leader accused of corruption will draw a similar public outrage. Brugha doesn't realise it, but he's fallen completely into their trap.'

‘
If Mick is innocent of these charges then he will be able to clear his name.'

‘Unfortunately he can't. For once, he's unable to produce his meticulously prepared accounts. Earlier this year, the British seized an important set of financial documents and locked them away in Dublin Castle. They include the records Brugha is now querying. He expects every sixpence to be accounted for in spite of the raids. Poor Mick is at a loss as to how the money was spent. He won't be able to clear his name unless he finds the file.'

‘Which is where I come in
,' said Kant.

‘Correct. I want you to retrieve the documents from Dublin Castle.'

‘What if they are no longer there?'

‘Then Mick is sunk, and the British will win the war. Do you have any reason to believe they're not there?'

He looked into O'Shea's eyes. He was not by nature an untruthful man, and he wanted to tell the truth, that he suspected the
documents either had been burnt or were sitting in the attic above his bedroom, but something about the agitated look in O'Shea's face made him hold back.

‘No,' he said, looking him firmly in the eye. ‘This is the first time I've heard of their existence.'

He was beginning to understand the magnitude of the file Lily Merrin had removed from the intelligence archive
, and the reason why she had forced it upon him. He felt the deadweight of its political importance. God help her, he thought. She had not asked to have her and her son entangled in such a sinister plot, an enterprise hatched to derail the course of the war. It helped explain why she was still in hiding, lost, beyond help from Dublin Castle, General Stapleton and Mick Collins. It was hard to accept that none of them seemed to care about her plight, especially Collins. He didn't know for certain if the IRA leader had refined or altered his plans for her, or completely abandoned her.

The clock on the wall began to chime the hour.
Kant looked up and saw that it was still showing the wrong time. The hands indicated 5 o'clock but it could only have been one or two at the most. Somehow, the mechanism was working but the hands were stuck. How long had they remained like that, he wondered. It was another intimation that he was in a world where things did not make sense, where rules and loyalties were casually abandoned. Perhaps Ireland was a country where order and allegiances never existed in the first place, where even the contraction of time and a mother's bravery were pointedly ignored
by everyone.

SEVENTEEN

A dinner party was in full swing at Furry Park mansion when Kant mounted the steps to its main entrance. He glanced up at the looming flank of the east wing. Electric lights blazed from the conservatory
, illuminating it like a glass cage, revealing a world of immaculately dressed men and women gliding about on a dance floor, sipping glasses of champagne under sparkling chandeliers, their faces absorbed, enraptured, oblivious of the looming dangers to their exalted way of life.

He rang the bell and waited. In the distance, the sea churned endlessly. A red-stockinged doorman answered his call, eyed him with suspicion,
and took him into a little side room, where he was made to wait again.

He heard the sound of excited laughter in the hall, and then a slender hand carrying a cigarette in a long holder pushed opened the door. A tall, agile-looking woman appeared, wearing a brown, gold-brocaded frock with clinging sleeves. She was carefully groomed, with chiselled features. H
er glistening eyes bore a look of disappointment when she saw the strange, hollow-faced visitor standing there, as though she had been expecting someone else.

At first, Kant thought one of the guests had strayed from the dinner party for a secret assignation. He quickly introduced himself as a reporter from the
Daily Mirror
, and watched her eyes turn hard and uninviting.

‘What justification do you have for gate-crashing my party?'

‘I must speak to Moya Llewelyn Davies urgently.'

‘Must you, indeed', she replied sarcastically. From a dining room came the clatter of plates being stacked and chairs slithering back.

‘I'm trying to find a missing woman called Lily Merrin.'

Her shoulders stiffened slightly. ‘I am Lady Llewelyn Davies. What reason do you have to believe I might know the whereabouts of this woman?'
She regarded him with a superior air, as though her presence might be enough to make him retreat and disappear back into the night.

Kant removed the letter about the widow's pension and flourished it in the air. ‘I have evidence in this document that you assisted the Republican Army with their finances. You are obviously an acquaintance of Collins. Perhaps you can shed light on his involvement in this woman's disappearance.' Kant was careful not to suggest he was blackmailing her with the letter.

She flinched slightly and the look of suspicion deepened in her face.

‘
I'm surprised you think it's worthwhile troubling me with this matter. I might be a supporter of Mick Collins, but I'm not a kidnapper or a murderer.'

‘Three women have died and another is missing, and so is her son. I don't know where they are, but I believe they are in grave danger. Every moment is precious. Which is why I have come directly to you with this letter, rather than report it to the authorities.'

‘Is that a threat?' she said, taking the letter from him.

‘
No. I just want to speak to you in private. If you are busy, I can wait here.'

‘That won't be necessary.'

Kant observed her as she read the letter, trying to glimpse beyond the unfriendly manner. He saw awkwardness and impatience, but little surprise or worry.

She gave him a level gaze. ‘I hope you know what you're getting yourself into.' She walked back into the hallway. ‘You'd better follow me upstairs. Away from my guests
.'

A butler eyed Kant from the conservatory and turned up the volume on the gramophone player, as though the music was an instrument to blot out unwanted guests. Moya led him up a sweeping staircase and into a library, where she bid him sit on a luxuriously soft arm
chair.

She took a deep breath. ‘I should really give a cove like you the marching orders. However, I'm concerned you might bring this letter with my incriminating signature to the authorities.'

‘That is not my plan, at all.'

‘Perhaps you are trying to trick me into some sort of confession. If my husband w
ere here he would set the dogs upon you and have you horse-whipped, or worse.' She began to describe the cruel ways in which her husband, Crompton, the Solicitor-General to the post office, had chased off uninvited guests in the past.

‘I just want to find out the importance of this letter'. Kant's chest wheezed as he spoke. ‘It must be important because it has Mick Collins' signature and yours. But at the moment, it's meaningless to me.'

‘I don't want to disappoint you, but it's meaningless to me as well. I haven't a clue what your letter is about. Mick is always sending me letters and cheques, and I sign them all without looking.'

‘Does he coerce you into signing them?'

‘No, not at all. I sign them out of boredom, to keep myself from falling prey to drinking or gambling.' She laughed and for the first time he realised that she was tipsy. ‘My husband is busy in London, and things are very quiet this winter; you know,
I'm attending only one dance a week.' Her eyes widened as her hand trailed through the air. Behind her upper-class veneer of superiority, he detected a recklessness, a willingness to flirt with the unmentionables of high society. He saw how a woman of her wealth, hopelessly exiled on such a lonely estate, would be susceptible to the dangerous charms of men like Collins. ‘Here I am in this big old house full of servants with nothing to distract me. But thankfully, I've developed an
interest in Irish politics. I've discovered there's something dangerous and addictive about being associated with Mick Collins, the most wanted man in Europe.'

Adventuresses, thought Kant. That was how the London press had labelled women like Moya, young, educated women who steeped themselves in political pamphlets, cut their hair and revoked their pampered upbringing for a revolutionary cause, and were ready to wallow in prison cells for their beliefs.

‘A few months ago, I set up several bank accounts for Mick when all this money started coming in.' She sounded as though she was showing off her revolutionary
credentials. ‘There was so much cash flooding in from the fat accounts of Irish Americans, the IRA didn't know what to do with it. They'd have flushed it down the lavatory to keep Dublin Castle from getting their hands on it. As I'm the wife of a top British public official, Mick reckoned my accounts would be the last place they'd think of looking.
'

‘Aren't you concerned about what happens to the money you're signing for, or where it's going? Aren't you afraid there might be a rotten apple in the IRA, squandering the funds?'

‘Well it's kind of you to point that out to me. I'll certainly be more discreet about what I sign in future.' For a moment, her slightly inebriated air of superiority gave way to a look of schoolgirl adoration. ‘To tell you the truth, the only cheque I'm afraid of signing for Mick is the blank one to my heart. Do you know why Mick is so successful in his war against the British?
'

‘No.'

‘Because he has a modern vision of women's place in society. We belong to the centre of Mick's campaign, doing dangerous things, smuggling weapons, hiding bombs, stealing state secrets. This is why Dublin Castle has started hunting female rebels and murdering them. They feel threatened by us, by our burning convictions, our unwavering loyalty.'

‘What dangerous things have you done?
'

She eyed him carefully. ‘I've done nothing dangerous.'

‘Apart from signing letters and cheques you don't read. Are you afraid of becoming a hunted woman?'

‘Is that what you've come here to talk about? I thought you wanted to find Lily Merrin.
'

‘I want to hear about your involvement in Mick's war. How he persuades women to do dangerous things. Women like you and Lily Merrin.'

‘That's the crazy thing about the whole business with Lily,' she said
with a smile. ‘Mick didn't contact her, she contacted him. She wanted to strike a deal with him. The spying at Dublin Castle was based on mutual interest.'

What was she talking about, he thought. He felt an unpleasant tightening in his chest. The look of discomfort in his face made her hesitate from any further explanation. He knew he should have spent a few more days recuperating in London. He'd exhausted all his strength in getting to Furry Park, and now he no longer had the energy to interrogate the tipsy wife of a senior government official
, whose favourite pastime involved filling her salon with dangerous revolutionaries.

‘Would you like a drink?' she asked. ‘You look like you need a hot whiskey.'

An elderly servant brought him a brimming glass. The sweetness of the whiskey-scented air made his eyelids droop.

‘
Your letter and Merrin's disappearance are connected in one important way,' she told him. ‘They're not about war or freedom. They're about money. The darkest and most urgent anxiety of our time.'

The music had stopped in the conservatory below, and the hallway echoed with the clicking of ladies' heels deserting the dance floor.

He tried to speak b
ut another coughing fit took hold of him. He could smell the infection in his chest. He was ashamed to realise that everything about him reeked of sickness, his hoarse breathing, his pale face, the unsteadiness in his legs, his blurred vision. His fever was preventing him from seeing and hearing things clearly. He blinked to try to correct his vision. He got up to leave the room but stumbled. Everything went spinning and he fell back into his seat.

She rose calmly, adjusted her tight-fitting frock, and walked towards him.

‘You smell like Mick,' she said.

‘What do you mean?'

‘I smell the whiff of a life on the run. The odour of back-street boarding houses, trains, and dank cellars. The aroma of a fugitive.'

The heat of the room really was overpowering. A racking cough took hold of him, blunting his thinking, as though he were drunk. He stared at Moya, glassy-eyed, as she drew closer. His sudden weakness seemed to give her a more sympathetic face, her skin appearing softer, her eyes more penetrating. She muttered something and leaned towards him, looking deep into his burning eyes. Behind her elegant long eyelashes, there was no trace of fear or anger, just a cruel-looking amusement. His final thought before he slipped into unconsciousness was one of regret, that she had discovered his weakness before he could pinpoint hers.

BOOK: Blind Arrows
13.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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