‘Gi’s a go on the Trusty, Mr O’Keefe, please! Please!’
The Cunningham boys are waiting on the footpath in school uniforms of grey jumpers and short trousers as O’Keefe wheels his Trusty up the steps to the street, wondering, as he does, if the boys do anything other than chart his movements. Still, they are a hard pair to dislike. Thomas has his hands jammed in his pockets and young Henry’s hair appears to have resisted the comb, but there is a look of bright, youthful anticipation on their faces as if to say that nothing starts a schoolboy’s Tuesday autumn morning better than an auld gallop on a Triumph motorcycle.
O’Keefe lifts the bike onto its stand and checks his wristwatch. It is one of the few things he has kept from the war besides his scars and nightmares. A quarter to nine. It will take him an hour at least to get to the Free State Army internment camp at Gormanston Aerodrome, barring any obstacles on the road or checkpoints. At the best of times, road travel in Ireland can take longer than it may appear on a map, but for the past three and a half years of war in the country, trenching and blocking roads have become a favoured tactic of guerrilla warfare, meaning an hour’s trip could take a day.
There is no rush, however. Father O’Dea had given no specific time when his man in the prison camp would be expecting their visit, and O’Keefe has no intention of collecting Just Albert. If Ginny Dolan’s man wants to be there, he can make his own way.
But anxiety niggles behind his bravado. He tries to suppress thoughts of his father’s illness, unable to stop himself from wondering if his father even remembers his debt to the madam, whatever it might be. Would it matter if he did? He resolves to view his search for the brothel madam’s son as a normal job of work, a case like any other he’d worked in the past.
At very least, the trip is the excuse he needs to drop in on his sister Sally in Balbriggan. He is not sure what good may come of questioning Dominic Mahon, the head of the docker family, or any other Irregular he may stumble across in the camp in his quest to find Nicholas, but it will do his heart good to see his older sister and her new baby. His spirits lift as he lowers his tinted goggles against the morning sun.
‘Please, Mr O’Keefe, gi’s a backer on the bike, would yeh?’ the younger boy says, unable to contain himself.
‘Right, lads,’ he says, swinging a leg over the Trusty. ‘Who’s first?’
He should have known better than to ask, he thinks, carrying both boys now on the back of the bike for a spin up and down Leinster Road, their laughter—proud shouts of ‘Look at us!’ to their schoolmates on the footpath—pitched high above the growl of the Trusty’s four-stroke. O’Keefe is smiling as he brings the bike to a stop in front of the Cunningham house, drops off his pillion passengers and roars away again with a crisp salute to the boys, determined to enjoy the ride out to Gormanston.
It is the one thing that will always make him happy. Speed. Motion. He must get more of it, he thinks, as he moves through the gears. Abandon the paralysis of the pub. Take the Trusty out more often. Up into the Wicklow Mountains. Trips to the country with a bedroll and fishing rod. Once this job is done, it is what he will do.
He is still smiling when he comes upon a manned checkpoint on the Drumcondra Road.