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Authors: Anthony Quinn

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It was shortly after five, and he was late. He walked up the street, telling himself that the appointment with Mr
McAleer had nothing to do with Isham's meeting in the café or their talk of hiding money. He was searching for a missing secretary, nothing else. Once again, the thought of Lily Merrin and her pretty face liberated warm feelings within him, the memory of her kiss filling him with a strange confidence, in spite of the
growing tightness in his chest and the drumming of his heart. He remembered her anxious breath next to his ear, the tingling trace of her fingers, and the desperation of her twisting body. He was no longer the indifferent reporter hiding in a corner of a hansom cab
, the spy weighed down by the aimlessness and apathy of fighting in a war that meant nothing to him. His imperative now was to ensure her safety, and his only available strategy was to let himself be carried towards the dark
centre of things. The sense of moral urgency quickened his footsteps.

However, his optimism was cut short when he looked up at the life assurance building. The low winter sun blazed upon its glass, but he could still make out the shapes of two figures brooding behind the central window. One was O'Shea, the other, hanging a little back in the shadow, was the broad-shouldered man from the cafe. O'Shea raised his hand in greeting and smiled. Kant
slowed his pace, his thoughts spinning in his head. It was too late now to change the course of his path, to turn back without arousing suspicion. Again, he tried to grasp the significance of Isham's meeting with the man he suspected
was Collins, and the appointment that O'Shea had arranged for him. What if Isham were upstairs, too? What if the big man knew everything about his mission? Would Isham allow him to fall into a trap? Whatever the answers he had to continue as if he hadn't overheard the conversation in the café.

This was what it meant to be living in a city full of revolution, thought Kant. People swept along by chance encounters, the
aimless and impatient pulled into the inner rings of dangerous plots, friends and enemies merging into a single stream. He gathered his will and mounted the steps. He glanced up at the window one last time; the golden evening light had deepened, filling the glass with a radiant darkness.

EIGHT

As soon as he pushed open the door of the Dublin Life building, Kant could hear footsteps running quickly down the stairs. He entered an empty reception, and a moment later O'Shea appeared, still wearing his friendly smile.

‘I've allowed the staff to leave early, Mr Kant,
' he said. ‘The only people left in the building are here on appointment to see Mr McAleer. You've nothing to worry about in terms of secrecy.'

O'Shea accompanied him up to the first floor where he unlocked a narrow door that looked like a cupboard. He led the reporter along a dark side corridor, up a short flight of steps and into a gloomy waiting room. At first, Kant thought he was still in the Dublin Life building but a glance at the view from the window led him to believe otherwise. He was in another building entirely. He suspected that the side corridor was a secret passageway joining the two buildings, and that he had happened upon a secret office.
O'Shea pulled out a seat and told him to wait for Mr McAleer's call. He disappeared back through the passageway.

Kant's eyes grew accustomed to the dim light and made out the shape of a figure waiting quietly beside him. He was surprised to see a man in a policeman's dark green uniform, staring grimly ahead. He could smell his sweat, sense the tension in his body, and was reminded of the soldiers dug in at the trenches on the Western Front, dreading the order to advance. They both waited, staring at the door in front of them.

‘
Mr Kant,' shouted a voice from the next room.

The reporter rose and opened the door. At the far end of a mahogany desk, silhouetted against the window, stood the broad-shouldered man from the café. Opened files covered his desk like a bureaucratic form of the card-game patience. Unlike O'Shea's office, the paper had not turned yellow with age. Instead, the pages looked freshly typed, sheathed in gleaming black covers.

The man motioned Kant to approach. ‘My name
is not Jack McAleer, Mr Kant, as I'm sure you've guessed already.' He spoke in a brusque but friendly tone. ‘My name is Michael Collins, and you are most welcome to my paper fortress. Built of memos and minutes by an army of secret typists. Forget about bombs and guns. The real war of independence is being fought here on paper.
' He thumped a stack of files emphatically.

‘It's true,' said Kant, who was surprised he could find his own voice. ‘Information is power. Facts, figures, propaganda…'

‘Which is why my interest has been
sparked by your reports.' Collins walked straight up to Kant, shook his hand and led him to a seat. ‘With information like this we can grab the British by the throat.'

Kant glanced at the desk and saw freshly printed stacks of the Irish Volunteer handbook and heaps of pages outlining what appeared to be a food-rationing scheme. He also noticed a black revolver lying on top of a pile of green membership cards.

Collins sat
down at the other end of the desk, lit a cigarette and gave Kant a quick grin.

‘First, I want you to satisfy my curiosity. What gave you the idea in the first place; coming to Dublin and sticking your bloody English nose in our little war?'

Kant hesitated. Before he could continue, Collins pointed the burning end of his cigarette at him.

‘I'm familiar with the lines you're going to feed me. I've heard them countless times.' He leaned forward aggressively but the tone of his voice was still good-natured. ‘I've seen scores of men like you since the end of the Great War. God save us, but there are more of you every day. Showing up like worms. Some of you a
re rebelling against your upbringing and society in general. With your crudely formed notions of Irish nationhood, you think you can help shape our destiny, mould a piece of Ireland in your bare hands.' Kant shifted uncomfortably in his seat. ‘On the other hand, there are those of you who come with less noble intentions. I have my informants at the docks paying close attention to all new arrivals. I know that the majority of you are more devils than angels
. Come to sniff out my blood money.'

He paused and stared hard at Kant. His face looked magnified; the reporter could see every pore in his broad-jawed face, the thick wave of his brown hair, the lashes of his eyes, the inkblots of his pupils.

‘I understand you have been asking questions about Lily Merrin. What has drawn you to this woman?'

‘She has engaged my reporter's curiosity. I am concerned she might be the latest victim of a lust murderer. One who has already struck several times.'

Collins stood up behind his seat and gripped the backrest.

‘My suspicions have been aroused because this is the wrong sort of story for you and your newspaper. Most of the women in your file were working for the IRA. Why should an English reporter and his readers care about rebel Irish women?'

‘If a series of outrages have been committed against Irish women, then they will be.
'

‘England has grown war weary. I do not think its people are interested in what is happening here.'

‘Then you underestimate the power of public opinion in your fight for independence. England won a war fighting against the oppression of smaller nations. Its civilians deserve to know if a crime has been committed in their name.'

Collins rested his cigarette on an ashtray. His face looked at once serene and fierce, and his eyes were firm, making it difficult to hold his gaze. Blue spirals of smoke wafted in the air.

‘Are you a spy, Mr
Kant? It would be better to tell me the truth now, rather than I find out myself later.'

‘I'm a reporter working to finish a story,' Kant replied with a steady voice. ‘Also, I have no wish to see more young women go missing or be murdered in this gruesome way.
'

Collins relaxed a little and returned to his seat. ‘Mr Kant, my war is completely dependent upon the careful documentation of information. In fact, I would say that information is the life-blood of my war.' He picked up the reporter's file. ‘If that information is wrong or contaminated then it undermines my position and the legitimacy of my operations. Wrong information is more treacherous than a bullet aimed at my back. If I believe
you have submitted wrong information in this report, I will have you shot. Make no mistake about that.'

‘I can assure you that wrong information is just as treacherous to a reporter.'

‘But how can I trust you? If you are the keen reporter you claim to be, you must be giving Dublin Castle a regular nightmare. They have an extensive network of spies. They ought to have gotten wind of you by now and deported you back to England.
'

Kant chose his words carefully. ‘My understanding is that British intelligence is trying to suppress the details of this case. They are sensitive to the value of propaganda.'

‘Then you have been in touch with the enemy. You must tell me the truth. Who are you in this game of Dublin Castle's?'

‘I've heard so much propaganda I'm not sure I know what the truth is myself.'

‘Then let me tell you. The truth is what will hurt you.' He grabbed the revolver from the desk and walked over to the reporter. ‘I have a simple proposal to save your life
. Take my gun, walk out of this office, and shoot that bloody policeman sitting in the waiting room. Then I will know the truth.'

Kant did not move as Collins shoved the gun in his face. The IRA man's hard eyes shone with humour, as though the task might
only be a jest to test the reporter's nerve.

‘I tell you now I'm giving you this chance to gain my trust and save your life.'

Still the reporter did not flinch.

‘Why do you hesitate? The policeman is an enemy of the Irish people. There is not a soul in this building who will stop you. All you have to do is use a little physical effort. Just pull the trigger and release.'

Kant took the gun and stared at it in his hand.

‘What if the policeman doesn't deserve to die? What if he has a wife and five children?'

‘He's a spy from Dublin Castle trying to dupe the IRA with useless information. I've grown tired of his countless attempts to entrap
me.'

Kant's fingers twitched on the gun. He would never be in a better position to gain the confidence of the IRA leader, and prove that he could be trusted with the innermost secrets of the rebel organisation. He tried to summon enough courage to walk out into the waiting room and pull the trigger. But it wasn't courage he needed. It was hatred, a stubborn, pitiless hatred, and all he felt was sadness at the cheapness of life, its transitory nature, and sympathy for the policeman who did not come to the Dublin Life building to die.

‘I thought there would be a purity and nobility in your fight for a new Ireland,' he said.

Collins gave an incredulous laugh. ‘What made you think our war would be any different from other wars? Killing can only be combated by killing, and the end always justifies the means. I'm warning you now, if you don't use that gun, your inaction could lead to the
death of several good Irishmen.'

‘The policeman is no longer effective as a spy if you've blown his cover. Killing him will change nothing. Tell your men to ignore him and he will disappear.'

Collins stroked his hair across his forehead as if soothing a fever. He seemed to be running out of patience.

‘Prove to me once and for all that you're not a spy,' he growled. ‘
And use the gun as I ordered.'

Kant pointed the revolver at Collins. His fingers tightened on the weapon. It was the only way he was going to leave the room alive.

‘My enemy is not the policeman but
violence,' he said. ‘Violence that has become an end to itself. Especially violence against women.'

Collins appeared not to notice that Kant was taking aim. His eyes were still hard, but they were no longer staring at the reporter. He was gazing beyond the reporter at some private domain. To Kant
's surprise, Collins' jaw trembled and water welled up in his eyes. He lowered the weapon and waited. Several moments passed in silence, and then the IRA leader stood bolt upright, his eyes bold and clear again.

‘What's that noise?' he whispered. A lorry rumbled in the street and screeched to a halt.

Before Kant could answer, Collins had grabbed the gun from him and flung open the door. The waiting room was empty, the policeman gone. Rough voices rose from the street below, soldiers' voices shouting out orders.

‘We're being raide
d,' said Collins, his eyes shining with excitement. ‘Do you think they're searching for you?'

‘Most likely they're after you,' suggested Kant.

‘
Not necessarily. Your list of missing women will have made you a marked man.'

They could hear the sound of soldiers hammering on the doors of the life assurance building.

‘Come with me,' said Collins. ‘We'll slip out the back exit.'

‘If they're after you, they'll have the back covered.'

‘
That's a risk we'll have to take.'

They ran down a passageway and climbed through a window onto a low roof. Collins pushed Kant first towards the edge, but the reporter baulked.

‘What's wrong? Do you want to hang, man?'

Kant took a deep breath and leapt to the alleyway below.

Dim figures joined them in the darkness, Mick's bodyguards, or the Squad, to give them their popular title. Young men wearing hats and sharp suits, more like jockeys, than gunmen. They took off in a group and ran parallel to Leeson Street. They came out into a throng of shoppers heading home, women hurrying with heads down, shoulders hunched, carrying brown paper parcels. Mick grabbed a young woman's
elbow and handed her his gun and Kant's report.

‘Take these to O'Neill's bar on Grafton Street. Tell them Mick Collins sent you.'

Without a moment's hesitation, the young woman hid them under her coat.

Collins guided Kant onto a passing tram. Riding on the footplate of the tram were two of Mick's bodyguards, he could see them up-close through the glass, their thin,
seamed faces, floating behind them like malevolent angels. He wondered where they were taking him to, but such was Collins' smiling good humour that he did not feel alarmed. The tram rattled along the cobbled streets until a view of Dublin port swung into view.

Kant looked into Collins' eyes, but could see nothing but plain good humour.

‘You're a foreigner, Mr Kant. We mean you no bitterness but there is no profit in you remaining here. Go back to London and if you
are sympathetic to our cause send us money and guns.'

It almost felt like a convivial farewell, until Collins leaned into him and hissed in his ear. ‘Stop smiling. I mean to have you shot if I ever see you again.'

At the docks, they ushered him down the gangway and onto the mail boat. The final image he had was of Collins watching him from the dockside, smiling like a cherub, as the boat pulled off into the Irish Sea.

BOOK: Blind Arrows
4.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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