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Authors: Anthony Quinn

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BOOK: Blind Arrows
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Some hens flew off, startled, as the maid entered the front yard of the cottage. She knocked on the door, called out against the wind and the door opened promptly.

The woman at the door seemed unprepared for guests. She curled inwards when she saw Kant
appear behind the maid, collapsing back into the darkness. She had not been expecting him to drop in like this, that much was clear. He followed her into the darkness of a tiny front room, barely lit by a smouldering turf-fire. Even though he had recovered from his fever, he felt out of his depth, unsteady on his feet. He watched Lily Merrin recover her poise, straighten up, smooth the long plain dress she was wearing.

TWENTY-ONE

The sea hissed at the window of the hushed cottage. The sill was filled with speckled shells, pebbles glinting like gems, gnarled pieces of rope and driftwood, the little knick-knacks a mother and son would gather from a beach.

‘Where's Isaac?
' asked Kant.

‘I've sent him to stay with a relative I can trust,' replied Lily.

‘You must leave now. You don't have any time.'

He stepped towards her so that she was squeezed against
the smoking fire.

‘It's true miss,' said the maid. ‘The soldiers are searching everywhere.' She opened the suitcase and began packing Merrin's clothes from a wardrobe. Kant moved closer to Merrin, as though she was a wild creature in need of protection. Even in the dim light, he could see the fugitive gleam in her eyes.

‘I wasn't meant to kiss you that afternoon, or give you the file,'
she said. ‘That wasn't part of the plan. Our paths were never meant to cross.'

‘Part of what plan?'

She stepped to the side and stood against a door leading to a back room. She smiled at him, knowing that she had frustrated his attempt to close down her escape routes.

‘Please,' she said, pushing a chair towards him.
‘Listen to the story that I have to tell.'

‘I don't want to hear it. You don't have any time.'

‘You should hear the truth.'

Reluctantly, he sat down. ‘I've already guessed.'

‘
You can go, now,' Lily commanded the maid, then she turned to Kant. ‘You still have the file?'

‘You don't understand, Lily. I don't want to hear about the file. I'm here to warn you that you don't have much time. You've got to get away.'

She loomed closer. Her short hair made her eyes seem larger.

‘The moment I kissed you, I cursed us both.'

She was so close he could smell the peppermint smell of her skin. He had to lean back to look at her properly, and what he saw was not the face and eyes of his memory, the stricken features that had fed his imagination for the past fortnight. What he saw was confirmation that she was no longer the mysterious woman suffering an inexplicable family tragedy. She had grown
similar to him. Her proximity stilled the panic in his heart, and prompted him to take a risky plunge into the unknown.

‘In the circumstances, being cursed is neither here nor there. It belongs to another world. I don't care about the trouble you have brought upon yourself, or upon me. I'm just asking you to leave with me now. We can catch the next boat to England. It will be easy to make a fresh start. Your boy can join us in London. At least for a year or two until things have improved in Ireland. There'll be a political solution soon to all this fighting and treachery. I'll arrange somewhere for you to stay, help you find a job.'

Her face tightened. ‘
Thanks for the offer, but it won't solve anything. There's no escape plan you can come up with that I haven't gone over in my head dozens of times.'

‘Then what do you intend to do? You can't just wait here to be arrested.' He told himself that she was stunned by fear and that when she collected her thoughts she would realise and accept that he was rescuing her.

‘There are still things you don't know about me.'

‘What things don't I know?'

‘
For a start, you don't know how I met Michael Collins or how he saved me from despair. You think it's you who's been searching for me, that you came to Furry Park by your own powers of detection. You're wrong. I've been following you for the past fortnight, trying to work out if I can trust you or not. You were a mystery to me, why you were in the cab that day, whose side were you on? I followed you to the pub the night you met General Stapleton and his ring of spies. I watched Mick and his men drag you to the train station. I left the bar in Vaughn's Hotel, a moment before you and Mick entered. And it was me that convinced Moya to let you recuperate in the safety of Furry Park, rather than throw you back to Mick and his henchmen.'

As she recounted her story, Kant remembered the lightness and fear in her first caress. He realised that he had lived too long in the solitary confinement of his illness, shunning company, until that fateful afternoon when a strange woman's voice and caress became a web, and her kiss a spider bite. She spoke at length, staring not at Kant, but into the fire, at something private and painful.

‘The IRA kidnapped Isaac, but they were acting under my instructions,' she told him. ‘His disappearance was engineered to look like an abduction, but really they were rescuing him. Last year, my mother-in-law took custody of him, claiming I was an unfit mother. She has no respect for the natural laws of family life, that a son should be with his mother.'

‘What made you trust Collins and his henchmen to do such a thing?'

‘They have a code of honour.
' She raised her chin. ‘It may not be the same as yours, but it is the reason why ordinary Irish men and women entrust them with their future. All I had to do was keep my side of the bargain, and smuggle out certain documents from Dublin Castle. Mick and I arranged it all one winter afternoon in an hotel sunroom overlooking the sea.'

‘But that amounted to betrayal. You handed over secrets that placed men's lives in jeopardy.'

‘Don't talk to me about betrayal. You will never understand the betrayal a mother feels when she is deprived of her son. Please don't mention that word again.'

‘
What about the courts? You could have taken legal action. Pressure could have been applied to your mother-in-law in all sorts of ways.'

‘The courts would have dragged the case out for months, years even. Time that I would never get back with my son. My options were limited. Abandon my son to my monstrous mother-in-law, or trust in the slow and indecisive justice system. The first was unacceptable. I agonised over the decision for weeks.'

Kant dropped the line of questioning. The agony of her separation was a formidable emotional obstacle, impossible to scale by logic or reasoning.

‘And what about you?' asked Merrin. ‘You've yet to tell me why you were in the hansom cab that afternoon
.'

‘Very well, let me confess. I've known more about your case than anyone else in Dublin Castle. My connection with it began in London, through a
Daily Mirror
colleague who wrote the initial reports about your son's disappearance. He confided in me your mother-in-law's suspicions that you might know something about Isaac's whereabouts. He thought it would make a more interesting story, a front-page headline, but all he had to work on were the misgivings of your mother-in-law. He asked me to follow you while I was in Dublin. Unfortunately for him, I'm not a very good detective or a spy either. Our paths crossed, something passed between us, and from that moment I haven't been the same.'

‘Not the same as what?'

‘I mean I was no longer myself. A reporter dabbling in the dangerous game of propaganda and spying. I became your servant, linked to you for ever, not by your kiss or your touch, but by the certainty that we were both operating alone, abandoned by fate to a city teeming with crooks and murderers.'

For a moment, she appeared to relax, as though acknowledging there was no longer any need for secrecy or deception. He needed stronger confirmation of her feelings, so he grabbed her hands. He wasn't afraid of bruising her. She yielded under his pressure. She understood his need, even though her hands were limp, boneless almost. He held her hands so tightly she couldn't grip back, but her face and eyes welled towards him, as though mentally she was reaching out towards him. He wanted more from her so he pressed himself closer. Alarm flashed across her face.
For a moment, he wondered had he miscalculated, misread her signals. She shrunk back, her eyes blooming with fear. She wasn't looking at him, he realised. She was staring through the window, at a grey horse standing motionless in the front yard.

The front door of the cottage shook. A sharp blow struck it and a chink of light flooded in. The bottom half of the door caved in and then the top. The figure of Isham shouldered his way into the cottage holding the butt of the rifle he had used as a battering ram. At a remove behind him stood
a row of soldiers, their guns raised ready to fire.

TWENTY-TWO

The arrest of Lily Merrin was a sad little ceremony. Two soldiers led her out with rifles raised. Now that she was a prisoner, she looked transformed, remote and almost unapproachable, a peasant shawl draped about her head as she carried her small suitcase of belongings. The wind tossed her shawl, screening her face, so that Kant was unable to see what expression she was wearing.

General Stapleton had arrived in a military car. He stood respectfully at the threshold, as though he were making a formal visit to the cottage. He looked reluctant to enter and examine Merrin's hiding-place, as though it involved crossing a frontier to a dark, rebellious country. He turned smartly, saluted Isham, and
conferred briefly with each of the soldiers, barely acknowledging the silhouette of Kant, who was kneeling on the ground.

Under Isham's interrogation, Kant tried to avoid revealing what he knew about the kidnap plot involving Merrin's son.
With a fiendish look on his face, Isham took out his gun and raised it to the reporter's temple.

Kant kept his mouth shut and wondered, when Isham squeezed the trigger, why the hammer had not moved. The gun was only on half-cock, he realised.

‘This is the last time you play this game of secrecy with the British Army, sir,' Isham warned him as he pulled the hammer back a notch, and levelled the gun again at the reporter's head.

Kant listened to the sound of his heart beating in his chest. Although his body was weak, his heart felt strong and warm. He wondered what would happen to Merrin now that she had been arrested. He felt a generous burst of blood fill his veins at the thought of her vulnerability as a prisoner. It struck him that she needed his protection more than ever
. He stared at Isham's face, but he didn't see the corporal. His gaze was inward, imagining the terrible dangers Merrin might face in Dublin Castle. At the risk of losing all, Kant gave in, and reluctantly briefed Isham and the general on the story he had gleaned from Merrin.

When he had finished, Stapleton merely hesitated, as if conscious that a rebuke or threat was required, but all he gave Kant
was a brief look of confusion. The reporter knew that, as far as the general was concerned, he no longer existed. Stapleton climbed into his car and sped off. His abrupt departure left Kant feeling more like a sacked employee, an unwanted visitor, a man whose role and name belonged to darkness.

Isham mounted his horse, and nudged the beast towards Kant
, who was still kneeling.

‘You deserve my most heartfelt congratulations,' said the corporal, his face wearing a look of undisguised contempt. ‘For a man who looks as though he lives only on memories and remorse, you have a special talent. I knew if I left you to your own devices you'd bring me her head on a platter.'

‘I did what I was
told to do,' said Kant, climbing stiffly to his feet. ‘Find Lily Merrin with a minimum of fuss.'

‘You should have told Dublin Castle about your plans to search Furry Park. You should have sought assistance and advice.' The horse nosed towards Kant, looming with its velvety nostrils, inspecting the reporter's smell, before jerking back its head and neck
.

‘I hadn't time to tell anyone else.'

The look of scorn deepened on Isham's face. ‘You haven't been thinking straight. You went about your job with the mentality of an amateur, and there's nothing Collins likes more than crushing amateurs.' His horse wheeled round with
abrupt, reckless strength. The corporal held out his left rein and swung the animal back into position. ‘Collins has been playing a complicated game of chess with you right from the start, forcing you into positions where the only move you could make got you deeper into trouble. Time after time until the inevitable checkmate arrived. That's what happened to your search for Merrin. Once you made the original error of assuming Collins' men had kidnapped the boy to blackmail her into spying, you made a series of unavoidable moves that could have ruined Dublin Castle's intelligence effort. Your short-sightedness could have led to your death and jeopardised the lives of others.'

‘I don't u
nderstand why Collins allowed me to continue with the misapprehensions in the first place.'

‘It was to keep our noses out of his business.'

‘And what business is that?' asked Kant, thinking of Collins' secret bank accounts and
his countless notebooks.

‘The business of war, of course.' Isham tightened the reins and prepared to set his horse off into a canter. ‘Collins was never interested in peace negotiations with Stapleton or any form of compromise. My informers tell me he's planning an all-out war against England, including a bombing campaign on the mainland. Innocent civilians will be killed, but that is of no interest to these ruthless Irish rebels.'

He gave his horse a crack of
the whip and sent it off on a galloping bolt along the beach, its hooves adding to the leaping sea spray. Kant watched until they were a tiny shadow stirring the stillness of the horizon. He made his own way back through the plantation of fir trees, breathing in deeply the cold pine scent, as though he were a man suddenly freed of an obsession, with duties to no one but himself. However, in reality, a deeper, more unsettling feeling had taken hold of him – the fear that Isham was correct, and that he had been sleepwalking
through the streets of Dublin while Collins had been crystallising a plot more complicated and violent than even Dublin Castle could invent. Above all, he had the nagging dread that, now Merrin was a prisoner, her life was under threat like never before. He thought of his day as a bad dream that still held dreaded events in store.

Back in his boarding house room, he stood at the window overlooking a street filling with marching soldiers and
the dirty slick of sleet. He could hear the mournful shunt of trams carrying their passengers home. Metallic grit and soot mingled with the snowflakes and formed a dark web of melting ice on the glass. He wished he could wipe it clean, and see everything clearly, but his breath formed a layer of mist, obscuring his view further. Dublin was so filthy, the dark trams and horse-drawn carriages moving slowly, everything painted black to hide the grime. Even the uniforms of the policemen and soldiers passing in patrols were sullied-looking, a grubby camouflage merging with the foul streets. He wanted a dawn of unimaginable light to flood the city and rid it of the black melancholy of which he had been a prisoner for far too long.

It grew dark in the room. He turned, feeling how stiff his neck had grown from the stillness. He lit a gas lamp and rolling back the carpet, removed the file of papers from its hiding place. He stared at the file for a while without opening it. He felt troubled by his own stupidity. Gone was the feeling of excitement at his powers of deduction and pursuit. Instead he'd launched a clumsy attempt to rescue a woman who had been the architect of her own disappearance, a willing hostage to the IRA. Somehow he'd forgotten his place in this little war, blurred his allegiances, said the wrong words, became snared in the wrong narrative. He felt embarrassed that General Stapleton had witnessed the fiasco at the cottage. He tried to think with a new clarity, but all he could see was a deeper darkness within himself. The darkness of a man adrift in a city full of conspiracies, with no bonds of loyalty, and no plans as to how to extricate himself from the mess.

He lifted the file and it occurred to him that, if there was a way to comprehend the forces that had gathered around him, it might lie within its black leather covers. He studied the papers, this time with Isham's warning ringing in his ears.
It was to keep our noses out of his business. The business of war.
He read down the list of names, and thought what if they weren't the names of women, but something else, something that was necessary for an all-out war with England, a bombing campaign on the mainland? What if they were the names of chartered boats, and the dates not secret assignations but the sailing times across the Irish Sea?

His thoughts were interrupted by a gentle tap on the door, followed by a whisper in a thick Dublin accent.
‘Are you in, Mr Kant, sir?'

Kant put the file back under the floorboards and rolled out the carpet.

‘Yes?' he said. He opened the door slightly. He didn't wish to examine his visitors too closely, but what he could see in the dim light of the landing was two men dressed in sharp business suits, their hair combed straight back, eyes simmering with a dangerous light.

‘
Where have you been, sir? We've been looking everywhere for you since Thursday.'

He searched the dark perimeter of their faces. ‘Sorry,' was all he could manage to say.

‘I should think so,' said the leader of the pair. ‘You've overrun your account with Mr Collins.' There was something black and fat weighing down his hand. He jolted the door open with his boot.

‘We'd almost given up on you,' he said, his voice expressing exasperation. ‘Mick will not go easy on you. He hates Englishmen who break the rules.'

‘He has rules then in his line of business?'

A passing train made a noise like a barrage of typewriters, their keys battering away automatically.

‘Oh yes, sir. Englishmen must not outstay their welcome. That's definitely a rule of his.'

‘I was detained at Furry Park. Where's Mick? I've something I need to discuss with him. Urgently.'

‘A little patience, sir. You'll have your visit with Mick.'

He checked the pockets of Kant's jacket and trousers, ran his hands along the lining. They conferred with each other.

‘What sort of spy goes about with empty pockets?'

‘Mick said he was unhinged.'

‘This way, I don't have anything to lose,' explained Kant.

‘Everyone has something to lose in Dublin, Mr Kant. Even the poorest man can gamble on his life. What you mean to say is you are trying to avoid further losses.'

Without preamble, he struck Kant in the side of the ribs with his fist. The blow made the reporter double over in pain. He tensed his body, waiting for the series of blows following each other in quick succession, but none came. He was aware only of his wheezy breathing coming in slow gasps.
He took in a deep breath and straightened up. The pain of the blow settled deep in his chest, supplanting the habitual ache in his lungs.

‘I was ordered to bring you with a minimum of fuss,' said his assailant, his face close enough to smell the alcohol and cologne. ‘In my book that means the two of us carrying you out, one at the head, the other at the feet. Of course, you could save us the bother of bringing you out unconscious.
'

Kant nodded, mechanically. It wasn't fear of being struck again that made him agree, just the realisation that it would be entirely pointless to refuse. The first punch had been an indispensable formality, their calling card. The henchmen shoved Kant out the door and down the stairs.

A sense of solemnity had fallen on the deserted streets. They hurried through the wet snow, carving out a path on the thinly crusted cobblestones. Kant felt a rush of fear as though they were descending a mineshaft into a deeper darkness.

They stopped at a bridge over the Liffey. For a moment, he believed they were going to tip him into the swirling waters like a bagful of incriminating evidence, but then the lights of a car swept through the falling snow and centred their blaze upon the three of
them. They lifted their hands to shield their eyes. The engine of the vehicle stopped and a door swung open. The henchmen grabbed Kant and pushed him blindly towards the light. He felt the metal of the car and reached for the door. A familiar face loomed up at him from the rear seat, a smile twitching the corners of his mouth.

‘Climb in, Mr Kant,' said O'Shea
.

The reporter sank into the seat beside him, letting his wet head fall back on the leather upholstery. The car slid into first gear, and he felt himself scooped up and whisked away from danger.

‘I sense your despair, Mr Kant.' O'Shea wore an intent expression on his face. ‘Desperate men make reckless decisions, which means risk, and there is always a financial danger when one encounters risk. As a life assurance manager, it is my job to reduce risk. Which is why I have organised this little trip
with you.'

BOOK: Blind Arrows
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