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Authors: Anthony Quinn

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NINE

Prison had made her lovelier, exaggerated the darkness of her eyes, the vulnerability of her mouth. Isham had been secretly watching her in the cell for weeks, and had grown obsessed with this pretty brunette, who had flouted all the rules of her middle-class upbringing and renounced so much in joining the female brigade of the IRA. Perhaps she had grown a bit too thin in prison for Isham's liking, but that could not be helped. She was determined to sacrifice everything for the Republican cause and Mick Collins, even her health, and had barely eaten in the past few days.

Through the peephole, he admired her trim figure and the paleness of her skin. When she sat by the barred window in the afternoon, her hair
seemed to grow candescent in the sunlight. She was young and enraptured and that made her irresistible to him. Amid the brutal, clanging cells, she was as strange and conspicuous as a white mouse among rats, and just as doomed.

He doubted that she would survive much longer in such a harsh environment, which was why he decided to spring into action that morning. Into her cell, he slipped a note telling her that Mick Collins had arranged for a sympathetic guard to leave her cell door unlocked during the 6 o'clock Angelus, and that she was to make her escape to the outer wall of Dublin Castle, where
Mick and his men would be waiting for her.

Unfortunately, the guard on duty was new and had expressed his misgivings about Isham's plans.

‘How can it be lawful to release a convicted gun-runner back onto the streets?'

‘Who is going to release her?' asked Isham. ‘No one. She will leave by herself. All you have to do is look the other way while the bells ring out this evening.'
He tightened his lips into what was intended as a smile.

‘But I am responsible for her custody, for the safety of the Dublin public.'

‘Don't you understand? She will lead me to someone who is a far greater danger to public safety.'

‘Mick Collins?'

‘Correct. Of course, there will be a share in the reward money if my plan works out.'

The guard's hesitation had irritated him. But fortunately, everything had gone according to plan, and he was waiting for her when she stepped towards the side gates of the Castle.

She looked up at him in expectation and seemed disappointed when she saw his face.

‘Were you expecting Mick?' he asked.

She raised her chin in an expression of defiance. ‘Yes. Who are you?'

‘A friend. Mick sent me to help you escape.
'

She faltered a little, and took several steps back.

‘What friend of Mick's speaks with an English accent?'

He stared at her pretty face, her blue eyes. He could sense her disappointment and fear. She must have been looking forward to meeting Mick. She had already given up so much in his name. Like the other members of the female brigade, she had probably staved off relationships with men, postponed her education, turned down job offers, clinging to her oath of allegiance to the IRA, while her peers excitedly discussed make-up, the latest dresses and dance invitations. She had already proved her worth to the cause. The gun-running charge she had been convicted
of was as dangerous and brave as anything the male prisoners in the castle cells had committed.

‘Don't be afraid. Mick apologises for not being able to come.'

Warily, she looked him up and down.

‘Mick says it's too risky for you to return to the safe house,' he explained. ‘They're expecting a police raid.'
He hailed a hansom cab.

‘Why should I trust you?' she said. ‘You could be a double-crosser, an agent sent to gain my confidence.'

‘I told you I'm an ally of Mick's.' The cab swung up beside them.
‘Jump in and I'll take you straight to him.'

‘Then prove it. Where does he keep his offices?'

‘Next door to the Life Assurance building on Leeson Street.'

‘Thank you.' She looked relieved. However, she was still reluctant to climb in.
‘Where did you say Mick was?'

‘I didn't.' He took out a pack of cigarettes. ‘Would you like one?'

‘Oh God, yes.' She took one and glanced up at his eyes.

‘You can relax now.
' He lit her cigarette. ‘You're safe. Have you met Mick before?'

‘Once.' She exhaled and gave him a grateful smile. ‘But it was at a meeting. There were too many there for me to even shake his hand.'

He was touched by the desire in her face. But when she stared up at him with those burning eyes
, it was not him she saw.

‘Have you eaten recently? You look famished with hunger.'

‘I've been living on prison rations for the past month.'

‘Mick suggested we should get something to eat first. There's a tea-shop not far from here.'

She took another drag and nodded. He opened the door and they climbed in. Ten minutes later, they alighted onto a well-lit street, and entered a tea-shop, taking seats by the door. He ordered her some soup and bread.

‘Eat up,
you're far too thin.'

She coughed.

‘We don't want you getting sick.'

She took several sips of the soup. ‘You still haven't told me where Mick is.'

‘He's having one of his naps. He was up all night writing letters and notes in those little black books of his.'

She smiled. ‘What's he writing?'

‘Some kind of diary. A defence of himself. An explanation of his movements. He also writes secret letters to women up and down the country. Women, like you, crying out to be rescued.'

‘Has he written one for me?'

‘He didn't give me anything so he mustn't have.' He saw the disappointment in her eyes. ‘Perhaps he forgot.'

She returned to sipping from the bowl.

‘Would you die for him?'

There was no hesitation in her answer.

‘For him and Ireland.'

‘But you know that Mick loves no one but himself. He takes all the love from the women he courts and gives nothing back in return.'

He moved his hand closer to hers.

‘A man like me could love you in return.'

She flinched.

‘Am I troubling you?'

‘No. Not at all.'

‘But I am right in saying that you are upset.'

She stared at him. He felt provoked by the look of coldness in her eyes. It was like a key turning in a lock. He had been enjoying their little conversation, her nervous gaze, and the happy feeling that she was within his control, but now that pleasant sense of power had been banished. She saw him as little more than an intermediary, a helpful figure, who might bring her closer to the true object of her desire. He brooded over his sense of loss. It had been foolish of him to take her to this tea-shop, to try to seduce her in such a public place. He glanced at his pocket watch and patted it with his hand. He gave her a reassuring glance.

‘Well it's time we were off.'

She rose and followed him into the street. What trusting ignorance, he thought. What mindless vanity to believe that Collins had made these special arrangements for her. What lovesick blindness could lead her to think she was no longer in mortal danger? In spite of his scorn
ful feelings, her aura of innocence was a more powerful allure than any physical attraction. Hurriedly, he beckoned a cab and gave the driver directions to a nearby estate.

In the darkness of the cab, she made no sort of sound or movement, and he deduced that she had fallen asleep. However, when he leaned closer, her body felt rigid, unyielding. So far, he had shown great control and composure, but now his body tensed. He sat and stared at her dim silhouette, like a creature about to pounce forward. Patience, he told himself, soon their night expedition would begin.

The cab drew quietly to a halt at a snow-covered gate. He nudged her and they stepped out. She was subdued. Every living thing is born with a potential store of fear, and he could sense hers now. All through her life, she had been holding onto this reservoir of fear, waiting for the right moment to expend it.

He opened the gate and waited for her. She moved away from him, a shiver running through her shoulders. He grew alert.

‘What's wrong?' he asked.
‘You want to go back to your old life, I suppose. You'd rather not meet Mick tonight. Perhaps you've grown afraid of the sacrifices ahead.'

‘I am not afraid. There is no going back to my old life.'

The way ahead was empty, not a soul in sight.

‘Let us take the path through the trees. It will be safer that way.'

He walked on briskly, and after a moment's hesitation, she caught up.

‘I must thank you for taking me to Mick
,' she said, a little breathlessly.

He nodded. This carelessness, her disregard for her safety, only served to increase his desire. For a moment, the audacity of what he was planning almost made him feel dizzy. She barely lifted her eyes, just followed his steps.

For the past six months, he had taken to postponing these expeditions as much as possible, stalking only the most perfect quarry. He no longer hunted as recklessly as he had done during the dark nights of the Great War, when he was able to move freely amid the brothels that sprang up in the towns bordering the French battlefields, his victims of any size or age, the fly-covered remnants of their bodies littering the forests along no-man's-land. It almost nauseated him now to think of the aimless direction of his lust, the boredom that had been induced by his gluttony, the senseless repetition of the killing, his head always throbbing with desire for his next victim. Nowadays, he liked to prolong the intervals between his hunts for as long as he could. He suppressed his desires for weeks on end, surviving only on glances and furtive kisses. He suffered an inner torment, but felt almost purified by his self-denial, like a carnivore forced to survive on roots and leaves.

However, true abstinence always proved unattainable, and his craving soon grew unbearable. Fortunately, the Irish constabulary were easy to elude, and his military commanders could not keep track of his every move. Dublin was full of spies and rebels, anarchists and criminals, and the dangers for adventurous-minded women were innumerable.

He smiled at his new victim, taking in the anxious stare of her blue eyes, the silvery gleam of her skin in the moonlight, feeling almost elated by the days of withheld pleasure, all those unformed possibilities. She had no idea of the turmoil he had undergone, waiting for this opportunity to be alone with her, no idea that she was the prize, the reward.

She began asking him more questions about Mick but he raised his hand.

They had stopped in the middle of a dell, the ring of trees crowding out the moon, and the only light cast by the snow,
the night shadows creeping all around them.

‘I come here often,' he told her. ‘I feel a calm I don't get anywhere else. I like to stare at the hollows and dips in the snow. The way the wind makes patterns, like waves in the sea.'

She grew silent, staring all around her.

‘You know that the wind cares for no one,' he said. ‘It does whatever it wants. Some of these hollows contain my secrets.
'

‘What sort of secrets?'

‘They were the final resting places of your colleagues. I like to come here and stare at the contours in the way the moon stares at the waves in the sea.' He took out a riding whip and a hunting horn, a cold light glittering in his eyes. With the whip he pointed to a path through the trees. ‘That was where my hounds chased Susan O'Brien. And over there in the thorn thicket is where poor Agatha Hughes ended up. They all belong to my little collection of conquests.'

‘Why are you telling me this?' She backed away, watching him with fear expanding in her eyes.

‘I know I won't regret sharing my secrets with you. None of the others have broken their silence yet. They were just like you, girls who had lost their footing in life.'

She veered to the left, making for the closest tree-cover. He raised the horn to his lips and blew a series of long notes. She turned to look at him one last time, her silent, ghostly face. Only the eyes seemed to cry out at him from their depths, and then she ran into the trees. Unfortunately for her, it was the same direction from which his groom had been instructed to release the hounds.

He caught up with the dogs just as they were launching themselves at her, propelling her body deeper into the snow
, her clothes in disarray. He listened to the medley of snarls and yelps, the ripping of teeth through clothes and flesh. The moon disappeared and the shadows wrapped their cloak around the dogs' frenzied feeding.

TEN

The rows of reporters, copy-boys and secretaries pivoted their heads and followed Kant as he made his way to the editor's room in the
Daily Mirror's
London offices. Returning their gazes, he saw the brazen curiosity in the faces of the up-and-coming reporters, and the cynical boredom in the long-serving hacks, the silent and lazy, whose greatest daily adventure consisted of finding the route home from their favourite watering-holes. What did they see in him, he wondered, the famous war reporter returned from a dangerous stint in Dublin? A Lazarus brought back from the dead, marching into the lion's den.

Kant had headed straight for the offices as soon as he disembarked from the train, anxious to write up his report as soon as possible. Normally, when he submitted his copy, the editor kept him stewing for an interminably long time, but on this occasion he was summoned almost immediately.
McArthurs, the editor, was a large-headed Scot with an angry, bull-like face, his neck straining in his collar. When Kant entered his office, he lifted up the report and bellowed, ‘What sort of Fenian pigshit is this?'

‘That is the preliminary report of a much larger story,' replied Kant. ‘It concerns the disappearance and grisly murder of a group of women, who went missing from Dublin Castle.'

McArthurs crumpled up the report and threw it in a metal bin. He stared at the reporter as though he wanted to do the same to him. There was a silence as Kant returned McArthurs' gaze. The editor was breathing heavily.

‘I am appalled by your naivety,' he told Kant. A muscle fluttered in his cheek as he fought to control his annoyance.

‘In what regard?'

‘This is the report of a man who doesn't give a damn for the interests of our readers. Have you considered the impact it will have on our forces' morale in Dublin? News like this will alienate our advertisers, and our friends in Dublin Castle will be enraged to see themselves vilified in such a manner.'

‘
I think even our friends in Dublin will agree that if we are to engage in propaganda by news, then it is important that our coverage should appear complete and candid.'

‘What do you mean?'

‘Readers are discerning and often sceptical. If every story I write about Dublin Castle reeks of rectitude then some might suspect too white a picture is being presented.'

McArthurs gazed at Kant for several moments, as if for the first time taking in his pale, haggard features.

‘On the other hand,' replied McArthurs, ‘many of our readers want the enemy criticised as virulently as possible, rather than presented as a catalogue of victims.
'

‘But in this instance, ignoring the plight of these women might expose the paper as a propaganda machine. Think of the story as a bluff in poker, a sound investment for the future.'

The editor's wide brow knitted. ‘You will have to rewrite the piece.'

‘What changes do you propose?'

‘Present the bare facts and nothing else, removing any reference to the negligence of the authorities. And in the future, remember to leave opinion and deduction to the Irish constabulary and to our readers out there, who will draw their own conclusions in the safety of their parlours and sitting rooms. Make sure that you list the crimes these women committed at the end of your report,
and that they were found guilty of treason by a British court. Hopefully that will lessen the sting of the article.'

Kant nodded. He had no doubt that, for the more patriotic
Daily Mirror
readers, the inclusion of those details would completely remove any negative propaganda effect.

McArthurs countersigned his expenses sheet. ‘Be careful, Kant. You are in a privileged position with our friends in Dublin Castle. The owners of the paper might come to regard your little excursions to Dublin as an expensive luxury, especially if you keep siding with the enemy.'

Kant nodded again.

‘When do you plan to return?'

The question stopped him short. ‘
I'm not sure I know yet.'

‘Why the uncertainty? Are you worried for your safety?'

Kant shrugged. ‘The level of danger is greater than any I have experienced. Yet somehow it doesn't seem quite real.'

‘How?'

‘The war in Dublin feels muted. A game of shadows. At times, it feels more like an hallucination brought on by ill-health.'

McArthurs looked at him dubiously.
‘See a doctor, Kant. And take time off to recuperate.'

Perhaps McArthurs was right, he thought afterwards. He should reorganise his life back in London, allow his fatigued body and mind to rest. He took his expenses cheque and lodged it at his bank. He was so frugal with his money that he was able to save almost all of his commission. He had denied himself any form of debauchery and gained in its stead the banality of a savings account, a burgeoning amount of money set aside for a rainy day. The thought depressed him slightly – as though the more funds he accrued the greater risk of rainy days in the future. He looked at the evening sky. It was utterly blank, like a pane of frosted glass.

He returned to his lodgings on Holborn Street. In his room, he was surprised to find that his pillows were gone, and the bed stripped of its blankets and mattress
. Someone had sealed his clothes and personal belongings in boxes.

The landlady looked shocked at his return. ‘We thought you were dead, Mr Kant,' she explained. ‘We fumigated the room to prevent anything spreading.'

For a moment, he tasted what his future held for him. God save him, he thought, if this were the end that lay waiting. ‘Yet my rent is still being paid every month,' he complained to her.

He began coughing. His gaunt appearance prompted her to fetch some soup and a hard brown mattress for the bed.

That night, as soon as he closed his eyes, his mind flooded with subterranean images of Dublin. They were a welcome relief from the spectre of his death, and he fastened onto them greedily. He saw the billowing, black ashes of Lily Merrin's boarding room, the noticeboard of newspaper clippings where she typed every afternoon, the ugly shadows of Dublin Castle, where spies gathered like night creatures, and the hushed carriage on the day he had kissed Merrin. He remembered the vitality of her body, its impulsiveness. His mind glowed at the memory of her furtive embrace.

An excess of energy took hold of him, more than the muscular restlessness induced by insomnia. He sat up in bed. He was no longer sleepy at all. He weighed up the possibility of returning to Dublin. On the one hand, he had Collins' death threat, but on the other, he doubted there was much of a life left for him in London. He reminded himself that he was still alive, that he had a body and a functioning mind. He had seen Merrin's boarding room, and followed her steps through Dublin. In addition, he had the goodwill of Dublin Castle, and the support of his newspaper. Best of all, he had the memory of Merrin's caress and kiss, a chink of light, a crack in the doorway leading back to her.

He got up and began sorting through his possessions. He was relieved to see that nothing was missing. He chose two new suits and hats, and a set of identity papers made out in the name of Harold Greer. He folded the clothes carefully in his suitcase, and, the next morning, booked his passage back to Ireland. What lay waiting for him in Dublin was the most perfect form of love, one without hope or despair, one based solely on the fleeting memory of a woman who had disappeared without a trace.

BOOK: Blind Arrows
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