Read Blind Arrows Online

Authors: Anthony Quinn

Blind Arrows (20 page)

BOOK: Blind Arrows
2.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

‘They look like the pencil markings of an idle hand,' said Kant.

She shook her head.

‘They're part of Mick's secret code. He has examined these accounts and picked out some sort of pattern associated with O'Shea's signature. He has tracked the transactions back over the past six months.'

He saw that, amid the indecipherable marks, Collins had placed a black dot next to
O'Shea's signature on several sets of the accounts. What did the dots represent? Since Collins the master bureaucrat had made them, they must have had something to do with time or control or money. The former civil servant's delight in documenting something secret, a little stream of information kept hidden from everyone else.

‘They must mark the time and place when something exceptional happened,' she said. ‘Something calculated and secret.'

Kant sat hunched over the files, examining them in detail, feeling that he was close to the dark heart of a conspiracy. O'Shea had instructed Isham to burn the files. There had been an urgency about his actions, even tonight, before the hunt, which suggested a degree of panic. Why hadn't he and O'Shea just dropped out of circulation and gone on the run? Why were the files still so important, long
after the money had been siphoned off?

‘You can't hide secrets from Mick,' said Merrin. ‘He finds out everything, even the darkest plots against him.'

Kant stared at the pages. The most recent transaction marked by Collins was a payment for the chartering of a boat from Bray harbour. He looked at the date. It was due to leave at dawn the next morning.

‘What if Isham had been
told to burn the files so as to cover up a grand crime that took place not sometime in the past but in the future?'

‘We're not fortune tellers,' she replied. ‘How can we predict what's going to happen in the future?'

He waved the page he was holding. ‘O'Shea has signed for a b
oat to leave Bray harbour tomorrow morning. The
Cygnet
has been chartered to sail in one direction only, across the Irish Sea to Wales. Why would the IRA need a boat to sail to the mainland but not return?'

‘They use boats to smuggle weapons to Ireland. Surely, they're not smuggling the weapons back?'

‘What if something else is bei
ng transported to the mainland? Something more destructive than guns and bullets. What if the boat is delivering a bomb?'

He let the page fall among the ashes. ‘Wars are unpredictable. Like people. One never knows how they're going to turn out.'

TWENTY-FIVE

The sea air was softening the grimy darkness when Kant arrived with Merrin at the harbour. He felt light-headed
from the lack of sleep and the novelty of having her at his side. Merrin agreed to keep watch at the harbour entrance in case of an ambush, while Kant pressed on, hoping that his weary feet would lead him to his dawn rendezvous with the
Cygnet
and its crew.

He followed the cries of the seagulls to the far corner of the harbour. He felt as though he was weaving his own walkway through the darkness, like a spider scuttling across a vast web. The spear-like masts of moored boats pierced the gloom, their tonnage nestling close to him as he hurried across the walkway. The sea swelled over the harbour walls, foam seething in the dawn light. Somewhere in the dim light, the blast of a ship horn signalled a departure or arrival.

It was almost dawn, that in between time of the day, when shadows turn to solid objects. His mind raced to complete the shapes before they fully emerged from the retreating gloom. Out of the overlapping silhouettes, he connected a sail here, to a stern there. In the same way, he tried to connect the events of the past week. His thinking was more like dreaming, and there was a lot of material
to churn through. Why was there just one man on board? What was he loading onto the yacht? Guns? A bomb destined for London? The yacht took shape, shimmering with gold at its edges, swaying slightly in the water. Shadows drained from the boat; a port-hole window burned with the light of the rising sun.

His suspicions had a single, clear subject now. The dawn light intensified, and out of the murk rose the figure of O'Shea, standing alone on the deck of his yacht. He was dressed in a thick sea-faring jumper and moleskin coat, grinning at the sooty dawn with a daring that had put him beyond the reach of Dublin Castle and Collins' squad. All that desperate searching for a set of accounts, all those incoherent conspiracies swirling in the air, boiled down to this one act of audacious theft.

‘
Mr Kant, you've come early to see me off.' O'Shea seemed full of good humour.

He swung a final wooden crate into the boat's hold. It clattered heavily below.

‘Throwing around explosives like that is not a good idea,' said Kant.

O'Shea laughed. Whatever he was transporting, it wasn't bombs.

Kant wondered where the rest of the crew was
. It didn't seem feasible that O'Shea was carrying out a smuggling operation single-handedly. O'Shea seemed reluctant to leave. His grin bordered on a taunt.

‘Be sure and say goodbye to Mick for me.'

Daylight revealed an urgency in the sky, dark clouds crowding in from the east. Against the backdrop of an approaching storm, O'Shea stood as still as a statue.

‘Is this it?' Kant raised his voice. ‘You're leaving Ireland. What about the revolution? I thought there was money to be made. What about all those opportunities you talked about?
'

The light of sunrise was submerged in the gathering gloom.

‘Believe me, I've been waiting months for this particular opportunity.'

He removed a gun from his jacket pocket and levelled it at Kant. ‘I'm taking away Mick's little treasure trove. The remainder of the National Loan that he converted into gold coins. With so much money washing in, Collins was afraid Dublin Castle would seize the cash if it were left sitting in bank accounts. He arranged for it to be converted into gold and hidden away. Which was very inconvenient for a businessman like me.'

‘Why inconvenient?'

‘Don't you know your economics? Idle capital is a destructive force. It drives the economy down a very slippery slope to ruin. Every single ha'penny should be in circulation, not locked away in secret chests. It became much harder to get my hands on the cash.'
O'Shea took aim at Kant with his revolver. ‘No one is going to stop me now. Certainly not a snooping reporter.'

‘But you've made mistakes. Big mistakes. You've left a trail of evidence that will point Collins in your direction.'

‘You're stalling for time, Mr Kant.'

‘Not getting rid of me earlier was a mistake. Instead you tipped me off about Isham.'

‘
I needed you to answer some questions. Like how much you and Merrin knew about my little smuggling plans, and whether you'd told anyone else. Whether Collins would be waiting for me at this harbour. Until I found out those answers I still had some need of you. Tipping you off about Isham was a way of sidelining you. I knew you'd go running to rescue Merrin.'

‘If you don't believe that was an error, then I'll tell you a more serious mistake. Isham didn't burn all the account files. I've examined them. Mick knows you've chartered this boat for a one-way journey to England. He marked the transaction with a black dot.'

O'Shea paused for thought. For the first time, he looked capable of being surprised, of being wrong-footed. He looked at the entrance to the harbour, scanning the shadows for signs of life. All was quiet apart from the mewling of the gulls. His face assumed a calculatedly blank expression.

‘Perhaps Ireland's military mastermind was doodling before he fell asleep.'

‘
No. He's been keeping your transactions under surveillance.' Kant spoke quickly, wanting to build on O'Shea's growing uncertainty. He began edging sideways to a tin storehouse. ‘He's tracked them back. It might not be days from now, or weeks, but Collins will come after you. He'll simply appear at your bedside in the middle of the night with a gun raised to your head.'

O'Shea shrugged his shoulders and fired the revolver at Kant, who ducked for cover. The bullet struck him in his left arm, the impact knocking him to the ground. O'Shea jumped from the boat and stood over him with the gun. Kant closed his eyes, waiting for the shot. When it came, he was surprised to feel no pain. Another shot rang out, and this time he recognised the retort of a rifle from further along the harbour
. He looked up in time to see the grin on O'Shea's face shrink back into his skull. The insurance manager's hands groped at two buds of deep red that were blossoming through tears in his moleskin coat. Like rotten sacking, he slumped to the ground, blood gurgling from the wounds.

The profiles of three men emerged from a tarpaulin covering a nearby boat. The metal sheen of their guns gave them away. They slinked from the inky darkness of the boat onto the pier. The only sound Kant heard was the gulping of saltwater against the moored boats. He watched their gleaming eyes approach, their looming figures silhouetted against the murky dawn. Kant recognised the shoes worn by the lead shadow. Smartly polished and made of the finest French leather. It was Mick Collins and two of his henchmen. Collins ignored Kant and stood over O'Shea's body. He spoke in a language Kant did not understand. It might have been a prayer or a curse. The strange syllables made it hard to determine whether anger or regret was the dominant tone.

‘Did you hear what O'Shea told me?' asked Kant when Collins had finished talking over the dead body.

Collins looked straight at him and the light in his eyes became more intense.

‘His confession? Every word of it.' He smiled stiffly at Kant.

‘Did you know he was planning to clean out the IRA's finances?'

‘Why does it matter now?'

‘It matters to me'

Collins looked at him with interest. ‘How?'

‘So that I can report what happened here.'

Collins smiled and nodded. ‘
I was hoping you'd come along and see his greedy little escape bid for yourself. A crime like this needs an objective observer, someone to put the record straight.'

His henchmen lifted O'Shea's body and heaved it into the water. His arms were the last part of him to disappear, giving what looked like a tired little wave before sinking beneath the waves.

‘When did you discover his conspiracy?'

Collins shrugged. ‘Even a conceited gombeen from Cork can't be fooled forever. O'Shea
's mistake was to involve himself with a madman like Isham. His mistake but my good fortune. His murderous scheme will embarrass Dublin Castle as much as it will the republican movement.'

‘Why didn't you stop him earlier? You had ample opportunity.'

‘I didn't want to move against him until the trap was fully set. He wasn't the only enemy from within I had to contend with.'

‘Brugha?'

‘That's right, Mr Kant. In the end, Brugha did me the greatest favour, carrying round that briefcase as though it was the trigger of my destruction. It forced me to go back over all the accounts.' Collins watched as his men clambered onto the boat and began unloading the crates of gold. ‘The books are clean now, and Brugha has lost his grubby little hold of history. He and the hardliners in the army council will be sidelined now, and the IRA will follow my vision.'

Kant could see Collins' brilliance as a strategist, using Brugha's accusations to weed out the malcontents in the IRA's ruling council, the colleagues who held secret grievances against him, or misgivings about his military leadership. They had united behind Brugha and his crazy plot to discredit Collins, and now their positions had been exposed and undermined.

‘Revolutions are dangerous things. There's the enemy without and the enemy hiding within. Every now and again, one has to smoke the bastards out. Brugha will have to live with the realisation that all his efforts have only strengthened my position.'

He removed a gun from his jacket pocket. ‘I feel like I've been trying to bid you goodbye forever, Mr Kant.'

‘I was hoping you might give up.'

‘On the contrary, I'm going to try one more time.' He let the weapon dangle in his hand. ‘You've earned another two days on your account, no more.'

‘What account?'

‘I want you gone by St Stephen's Day.
There's a mail boat leaving Dublin harbour at midnight. Be sure to be on it.'

Like a bare dagger, the rising sun forced its way through the storm clouds, filling the harbour pier with glinting light. To Kant, the patch he was standing on felt like the brightest place on earth. Watching Collins walking away, he thought how much he would miss the darkness of the Dublin nights, the refuge of shadows and gloom. The morning leaned closer,
magnified by the reflective sea, the salt air stinging his eyes.

As Collins suggested, he had his ticket booked for the boat by that same evening, but he was not yet ready to make his exit. He met Lily Merrin one final time on the empty promenade along the beach at Bray. It was twilight and the gas lamps had not yet been lit when she arrived. He almost did not recognise her in the fading light, dressed in an elegant white dress and wrapped in a fur coat. She seemed more alone than
she had ever been before, standing in front of him without removing her hands from her pockets.

‘At last, we're in the clear,' she said.

‘Part of me wishes we were back in the dark,' he replied.

They went for a long walk, dodging the waves that came frowning over the promenade. He walked with more urgency than she did, turning towards her, gesticulating as he spoke. He was trying to persuade her to leave Dublin and join him on the mail boat to Liverpool, but the roar of the waves kept drowning his voice, and she kept turning her face in the opposite direction.

‘I must tell you my fears for you and your son,' he shouted
. ‘You are at the edge of a precipice. All that remains for you in this country is darkness and danger. Come away with me to London. There you will be free of history and politics.'

She turned to him, unable to look him in the eye, her face wearing the faintest expression of sorrow. ‘If we leave Ireland, we will leave defeated. And my son will taste that defeat for the rest of his life. This road we are taking may be the wrong one, but it is ours to take. I know you mean well, but you are not the rescuer I need. Not now.
'

‘I'm pleading with you to think of your son and his future.'

She gave his hand a final squeeze, and walked away without looking back.

The thought of losing her now, after she had dominated his thoughts for so long, frightened him almost to death. He called out her name one last time but his voice choked. He stared at her retreating figure, unable to tear himself away.

The dim stretch of beach fell away to churning darkness. He felt the cold touch of the sea on his cheeks. He listened to the labour of the waves, grinding against the pebbles piled to protect the beach, each wash lasting as long as his breath. His doomed breath. The darkness was everywhere, stretching away unbearably. He knew he would have to adjust to this
separation so he gave up looking back at her.

He walked away from the promenade to a small church that had opened its doors for the Christmas vigil mass. The charge of the waves against the beach was replaced by something else, the chanting of the faithful as they recited the rosary.

The mass goers crowded around him as he entered the church doors, pressing against him with a steadfast force. They were families who had emerged from freezing terraces, their faces in shadow, ragged clothing wrapped around them in layers,
their half-sleeping children staggering around their legs. He listened to their praying voices filling the candle-lit interior, praying for the blind, praying for the prisoners, praying for everyone who was lost and lonely. He felt the flow of emotion and faith from their lips, mouthing the same prayers repeatedly, offerings to a God hiding in the darkness. It occurred to him that, if he concentrated hard, he could hide himself amid them, fill the gaping shadows of their faces with the ghost of himself, be one with them, inhabit their bodies,
and grow to understand how they could create faith and devotion out of this infinite darkness. He joined in the prayers, following their repetitive words, his voice gaining strength, his chest swelling, his loneliness rising up like a final roar of love.

BOOK: Blind Arrows
2.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Ink Me by Anna J. Evans
Point, Click, Love by Molly Shapiro
Nightingale Girl by M. R. Pritchard
A Long Lonely Road by Tj Reeder
Broken by David H. Burton
Whisker of Evil by Rita Mae Brown