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Authors: Anthony Quinn

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BOOK: Blind Arrows
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He spoke gently. He wanted the two of them to develop a special relationship of trust, one that would take certain, interesting paths. He outlined some of the risks she would have to take. ‘But trust me; everything will go according to my plan. When this war is over, in a few months'
time, I will reunite you with your son, and then you will have your revenge. But first, you must wait and be patient.'

Her face sharpened at the mention of revenge. He recognised that look. He knew that there were betrayals in the wars between nations and entire continents that were infantile when compared to the betrayals of the human heart.

TWO

Lily Merrin, a typist employed by the British intelligence service, stood on the stone-flagged floor of First Section's archive in the cellars of Dublin Castle. The building was the nerve centre of Britain's colonial and military bureaucracy in Ireland, a fortified mass of granite stonework comprising a central block, a barracks and a rat-infested prison famous for its executions. She peered through the keyhole into the corridor, waited, paced up and down, waited, and then, as soon as the guard walked off, she flung open the door and
ran down a darkly coiled staircase into a side courtyard visible only through the barred windows of the prisoners' cells. She would have preferred rain or blinding snow, anything that might have concealed her passage out of the castle and through the streets, but that afternoon the weather was dauntingly bright for December. Exiting through a door in the Liffey side of the outer wall, she could see, in the distance, a cordon of policemen blocking the monumental gateway to the castle, and the dark figure of a man in a long coat and riding boots leering at the queue of office girls being searched at gunpoint.

For a moment, she was at a loss what to do. She contemplated creeping back and returning the files, which she had secretly removed from the dusty stacks of the intelligence archive and hidden beneath her coat. The long shadows cast by the winter sun made the fortress seem more sepulchral than it was in reality, the windows and entrances eerily deep and dark. Its gloom seemed to reach out towards her like a pair of possessive hands eager to take back its secret knowledge.

She knew there was no way back now, and that she
should hurry with her familiar lunchtime routine. The less energy and time she expended worrying about the dangers of what she had undertaken, the better for all concerned. The consequences of not carrying out the mission were so dire for her son, she could not jeopardise his safety by losing her nerve now. In any case, the guard might have returned to the archive section, removing any chance of safely replacing the files.

The heavy-set policemen worked their way through the queue of staff and visitors. She heard the rumble of their broad Ulster accents as they shouted out orders. They were predictable and concentrated in their efforts, like hunting dogs sniffing at every hole in the ground. She could tell that it was not a routine search from the nervous expressions of the workers and the behaviour of the man in the riding boots, whose presence, as he circled the policemen, had the effect of galvanising their efforts. They proceeded with increased urgency, working their way through the line, pulling roughly at coats, emptying handbags and briefcases, ushering a few of the secretaries back into the confines of the castle. The low sun fixed the scene like a moment from a nightmare.

Hearing footsteps approaching
from behind, she stepped off in the opposite direction, tightening her handbag around her shoulder. To allay her anxiety she tried to imagine herself as a fragment of a larger picture, a shadow scuttling away from the main action, a page ripped from a book that no one dared to read. She did not know the importance of the files she had hidden beneath her coat, nor would she ever understand the repercussions of her actions. She had cast her eye over them briefly, seen the numbers and names, and wondered why they were so important. Her knowledge would always be incomplete; that was how Michael Collins, the IRA leader, and his intelligence men worked. It was for her protection as much as for theirs.

‘Lily!'
The male voice behind her spoke with devastating clarity and authority.

It was too late to look around. Pretending she had not heard, and without losing a fraction of her poise, she quickened her step, moving in the direction of the city centre. She heard the call repeated, and this time recognised the smooth military voice of her boss, General Jack Stapleton. Without a sideways glance, she veered towards the shadows cast by the high boundary walls, and ghosted along the bullet-pocked stonework towards Grafton Street. Very soon, the stream of pedestrians engulfed her on their way towards Dublin's teahouses and restaurants.

She hurried through the crowds, weaving an unplanned route through side streets; glancing back now and again to check that Stapleton's big military figure was not bounding after her. At the corner of Trinity Street, she stopped and tried to bring her breathing under control. She could not get used to the idea that what she was doing was the most serious form of treachery imaginable. She leaned against a lamppost, her head feeling dizzy.

Normally, she could have made her way to the anonymous boarding house on Victoria Way with her eyes shut tight, so carefully rehearsed was the fifteen-minute journey. However, that afternoon her anxiety filled the city's streets and squares, making her unsure of her bearings, distorting her familiar route into a black maze. She felt oppressed by the sense that someone was watching and following her. She imagined herself stalked, not so much by the policemen, or Dublin Castle's spies, but by the looming fortress itself. The castle seemed fastened at the edge of her vision, towering above the jumble of Georgian terraces and thoroughfares. A church bell struck half past the hour. She ducked down a little side street, only to find the building sitting in the near distance, its dark mass floating in the bright sun, an ugly exhibition of shadows and secrecy. She turned her back on it, forcing herself not to think of its sinister influence, the turmoil of history that spilled through its gates, its daily disgorging of spies and assassins into a city that was filled this afternoon with the amiable chatter of salesgirls and the cries of market traders.

She found her bearings and rushed past the shops on Grafton Street without casting a glance at the windows full of shoes and winter clothes.

The sound of quick footsteps made her start and look round. She was relieved to see an irate shopkeeper in pursuit of a boy running with a brown bag. However, in his haste, the child ran straight into her, the force of the impact knocking her to her knees. A bunch of red apples
emptied from the bag and rolled along the cobbled pavement. The boy stood stock-still, gazing at her anxious face. She drew in her breath. He was the very image of her son, only more wretched looking, with starved cheeks and eager eyes that chewed a hole in her heart. She reached out to stroke his face.

‘Isaac?' she asked, uncertain of herself. It was the first time she had mentioned her son's name in a month, but it wasn't him, not her dearest boy, whose image she kept alive in the most secret recesses of her heart. The boy saw her vulnerability, the unsteadiness in her legs, her eyes clouded by grief. Something strange and vicious
ate at his face. He snatched at her handbag and tried to wrest it free. Emotion rose in her throat, thick and choking. Reaching out, she smacked his cheek so hard tears welled in his eyes.

The shopkeeper's burly arms intervened.

‘For the love of God I'll strangle you,' he roared, grabbing the boy by the scruff of the neck. She blundered away from the commotion, moaning to herself, bumping heavily against people. The possibility that Collins had arranged for the child to collide with her on purpose flashed through her mind. He was always presenting her with tangible reminders of the inescapable power the Irish Republican Army held over her.

Someone blocked her path; a masculine, soldierly face with unblinking eyes. ‘
Are you all right?' he asked, in a clipped English accent like the general's. A crowd of curious pedestrians gathered close, threatening to entangle her further.

She felt for the files beneath her coat, and then pushed through the onlookers. Time was running out for her and her child.

‘Excuse me,' said an angry voice.

‘Watch where you're going,' shouted another.

‘
These people think they own the street,' they said, following her with their angry eyes.

She veered onto the road, and pulled back as an army truck, nosing its way through the horse-drawn carts, hooted at her. Sirens and similar truck signals echoed in the distance. She slipped back into the obscurity of a side street before emerging onto Lombard Street. From there it was only a short distance to her secret destination.

Her footsteps grew heavier as she approached the boarding house at 6 Victoria Way. The afternoon took on a greater coldness and depth, the brightness of the sky dissolving in the shadows cast by the three-storey building.

Assuming an air of ownership, she opened the unlocked front door and stepped inside. The hallway seemed as
neglected as the exterior. She listened for signs of life and then climbed the stairs to a room on the first floor, a bleak room, empty of furniture apart from a small desk with a black typewriter and a seat in a corner. A clock and an untidy-looking notice board hung in front of the typewriter.

She was only in the room a minute, when she heard someone turn the key in the door, and the lock click into place. It was the first sign that afternoon of her normal routine, the sense that everything was proceeding smoothly. The IRA had chosen the room with care. They wanted her to be alone, undisturbed. She had been coming to the boarding house every lunchtime for the past fortnight and in all that time, she had not met anyone in the hallway or landing. Whoever held the key to the room was at great pains to protect her privacy.

She was half-relieved, half-saddened to see no letter waiting for her. She looked up at the board, which was covered in newspaper clippings, describing the mysterious disappearance of eight-year-old Isaac Merrin from his grandmother's home in England, the police investigation and the growing fears that he had been abducted. She pulled her coat tightly around her shoulders. The boarding house was cold. She had a sense of her life suspended, stopped in its tracks. The clock on the wall counted down the unfilled minutes of her lunch break. Eventually she pulled out the file of papers she had hidden in her coat, drew up the chair to the typewriter and began attacking the keys. Occasionally she stopped at the sound of a creak. Once, she rose and listened at the locked door. The house was submerged deep in silence.

She leaned over the typewriter, losing herself in the flurry of keys. There was no ambiguity about what she was doing. Her fingers did not hold back, punching out the details of the secret file, the financial transactions, the money moving from account to account, cash for guns, cash for ammunition, the names of beneficiaries, men-on-the-run, widowed families and prisoners' wives; an intelligence dossier on the republican army's finances, the numbers blurring past her.

When she had finished typing the document, she sealed it in an envelope and placed it in a drawer. She returned the original file to her inside coat pocket, stood up and put on her hat and coat. A button popped from her lapel and rolled into a crack in the floorboards. She spent several minutes searching for it, even though she risked being late. She never left behind a single trace that might link her to the room.

As was the usual routine, someone had unlocked the door. She stepped into the empty landing, hurried down the stairs, and walked out into the street. Her eyes watered in the winter light. She was aware of a few dim figures swimming on the periphe
ry of her vision. She slowed her gait, trying to look at ease, but something felt wrong.

Everything depended upon her remaining calm, she told herself. She comforted herself with the assurance that she had one powerful ally left, the man with the silver-tipped cane. However, it was difficult to keep going with confidence when she felt so alone. She glanced behind her and saw a tall, dark figure bobbing towards her, followed by more shadows.

It seemed so theatrical to her, the brightness and the black approaching figures, the hushed street, the sound of her footsteps. As though the scene had been cleared of everything extraneous to the drama that was about to unfold. She glanced behind again, and made an anxious calculation as to how quickly the men were gaining on her. She wondered should she stop and surrender herself
, but she was frightened of the world her pursuers represented, the corridors of prisoner cells and rooms full of intelligence files, a bottomless well of paranoia and suspicion, which she hated just as much as the empty boarding house room, its black typewriter and the key quietly turning in the door.

Ahead of her, she saw the figure of a man in a long
coat climb into a hansom cab. He looked round at the last moment, and touched the brim of his hat, lowering it a little so that his eyes were shadowed. He seemed to acknowledge her presence. As he closed the door behind him, he swung a cane in the air, a silver-tipped cane glinting in the sunlight.

Finally, he had come, she thought with relief. She increased her pace, and immediately the footsteps behind her quickened. She heard an English voice call out her name. Trying not to alarm
whoever they were, she kept a brisk pace, pretending not to hear. With difficulty, she resisted the impulse to break into a run. The cab moved off slowly, the driver pulling back the horses, giving her just enough time to jump in. Then he shook the reins and the team took off in a canter.

The curtains of the cab were drawn, and in the darkness she leaned with a sigh of relief towards the outline of
the man waiting for her.

‘Thank God, you came. They must have followed me to the boarding house. I think our game is finally up.'

The shadowy figure gave a slight nod of the head. His movements were stiff and reserved. She could hear the hoarseness of his breath. She leaned closer, and brushed her fingers across his face, br
inging her lips to his mouth, but something about his lack of responsiveness to her touch made her stop. It was neither shyness nor reserve, but something else. She felt an absence of feeling and warmth from his dark corner of the cab. She pulled back the curtains and took a sharp intake of breath. She saw a cold-faced stranger watching her intently. It wasn't the man she'd been expecting. This one was thinner and grey-eyed, treacherously gripping his silver-tipped cane. His face registered and analysed her shocked recoil.

BOOK: Blind Arrows
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