Book: Irregulars

Previous: Chapter 16
Next: Chapter 18

17

Nora Flynn is reading the log of the previous night’s work at her desk in the CID offices when she hears her name. She turns and sees Carty, the head of CID, standing at his open door, his small, round spectacles reflecting light from a window.

‘You couldn’t join us for a moment, Nora, could you?’

She closes the log. Us? She should have gone directly to the hotel for her shift but had always reported in to read the logs, noting active surveillances, contacts with the enemy and captures—occasionally kills—made while she was off duty. Rarely is there anything in the logs to directly affect the surveillance she is presently overseeing, but coming into the offices, despite the risk, is a way of setting her mind to the job of work that is intelligence. Like an actress, she has come to think, putting on her greasepaint: coming into the office to read the duty logs before taking on her role as a desk clerk in a hotel.

Nora clears her throat. ‘I was … I’m on shift at Burton’s, in …’

‘I’ve rung and you’ll be covered. If the gun merchant leaves between now and then, you can catch up with the boys tailing him. There’s no hurry. Please,’ he opens the door to his office wider, ‘join us.’

Inside the office, seated in chairs in front of Carty’s desk are Captain Charlie Dillon, Free State Army Intelligence, and Micka O’Shea, who Nora assumes is CID like herself, having seen him before in the office—a detective officer, like herself, though no more of one than she is.

‘You know the lads, of course,’ Carty says by way of introduction. ‘Coyle’s not here. He’s still out hunting down the lad … the lads who did for Detective Kenny.’

‘Mary,’ Dillon says, turning in his seat to watch her enter the room.

‘Nora,’ she says. ‘Lieutenant Nora Flynn.’

‘Of course, Nora. Lieutenant Flynn. Our girl in the Castle.’ He smiles, referring to the role that had brought her into the IRA. And referring to something else perhaps. Nora blushes and swallows. She knows the stories some of the men tell about her. Stories of how she had enjoyed luring the young English Secret Service man from the safety of his quarters in Dublin Castle to his death. Stories of how she had gone about it; of what she had done to get him to meet her outside the Castle gates, against all protocol and good sense. She can picture Charlie Dillon, winking, nudging a comrade. I’d imagine she was fierce persuasive, your one, the Flynn girleen. Like putty, the English lad, like a lamb to the slaughter ….

Stop it, Nora. Stop it now. She swallows down the memory. She’d done her job, followed orders. What choice had she had?

O’Shea says nothing, but turns in his seat too. He has a flat labourer’s cap resting on his knee, a bulbous, misshapen nose, thick, unruly brown hair. He holds a cigarette to his lips and does not let it down until he has inhaled half of it. Nora watches as he releases the smoke in two long streams from his nose.

There is something sinister about these men, unsavoury. Nora’s stomach tightens and her heart begins to run hard against her breastbone. She feels hot, suddenly, cold sweat breaking on her forehead. They are her colleagues, she must remind herself, and she is a Detective Officer. And yet there is something predatory in their gaze, their eyes surveying her like a cat would a mouse; her body, she feels more than thinks, like meat to carnivores. She swallows and smiles and hates herself a little for smiling.

Dillon is a handsome man, his grey suit sharp, a strong jaw and the youthful, pink white skin of a clerk or Protestant clergyman—but there is something wrong with his appearance, something off. It is his eyes, she thinks, looking away. The man’s eyes are pale blue; vacant and amused at the same time. Carty passes behind her and takes a seat at his desk.

‘Oh,’ Carty says now, realising there is no place for her to sit. ‘I’ll have a chair brought in … I’m sorry, Nora …’

‘There’s no need,’ she says.

‘Really, I’ll …’

‘No,’ she says, sharper than she intends to. ‘I’m grand standing. I’ve sat the whole way in on the tram.’

Carty sits back behind the desk as if unsure of the set-up. Unsure of things in his own office, Nora realises, and wonders is he afraid of these two men? They are Free State Army Intelligence and do not, as such, answer to Carty.

Dillon and Carty had worked together in Michael Collins’ Squad during the Tan War. Possibly O’Shea as well, though he might be from Cork. She is not certain because she has never spoken to him or heard him speak. But Dillon and Carty. They had surely killed together. How much more intimately could you know a man? And Carty could put the fear of God in men—in women, as she had experienced herself, sitting where Dillon is now—with his ever-staring eye and his questions. But there is something about Dillon that Carty lacks. Or perhaps Carty has what Dillon lacks? A sense of the horror of things. Dillon, still smiling, a slim version of the cocky corner boy’s grin, as if reading her thoughts, says, ‘Sure, she’ll be grand. If she’s able for a man’s work, she’s able to stand for the short minute we’ll all be here.’

Nora shows him a smile that stops at her eyes. A riposte rises to her lips and dies there; her loathing too cut with apprehension to loose it. ‘I’m grand.’

‘Well then,’ Carty says. ‘I just wanted to keep you informed of events, Nora.’ He nods at the two Army Intel men. ‘Charlie and Micka have dropped in their report on the night … on Kenny’s killing, God rest him, and the pursuit that followed. It’s here and it matches yours.’ He smiles as he says this, as if Nora should be reassured somehow by this fact. What? she thinks. Did you think I lied in mine? Got it wrong somehow? Her loathing now turns to Carty. Pandering to these two. The pals brigade.

‘That’s good to hear. And you two couldn’t have turned it in a day or two ago and saved us the waiting?’ she hears herself say.

Dillon laughs and O’Shea takes another endless pull on his cigarette, lowering it to tap a finger of ash into the dish on Carty’s desk.

‘Seeing as we were tracking the little fu … the little so-and-sos from hither to yonder and back again for the past days, that might have been difficult,’ Dillon says. ‘I’ve had four hours sleep since it happened. Your man, Kenny, remember, was CID and a good man. Reports wait. Murderers don’t.’

Nora says nothing, waiting for Carty to interject, but when he does not, she says, ‘I appreciate … we appreciate your trying to find the killer. We could have helped if you’d kept us abreast of … events. You didn’t find the one who did it, did you?’

‘No,’ Carty says now, ‘but they gave it a fair shot and are still looking, aren’t ye, lads?’

‘Sure, Eddie’s still at it, and we’ve a sniff or two left to run down, on the boy with the knife anyway.’

‘And the other two. Surely they’d have given him up by now?’ Nora says.

Still smiling, Dillon says, ‘If we had them. Didn’t the other two scarper in the mêlée as well? Like rats, slipped away when we turned to grab the knifeman.’

‘And no sign of them?’ Nora asks, wondering at her own outspokenness; as if this were her operation. Realising now that she’d been granted the right to boldness when she’d been left holding the dying Kenny in her arms. When she’d scrubbed his blood from her dress in water gone cold in her sink that night and then, finally, when she’d thrown the blouse and skirt into the bin so she would not be reminded of the weight of the dead man on her lap every time she wore them. She thinks: Scarpered in the mêlée? Why then had she seen Mick O’Shea and another detective, Eddie Coyle, raining punches down at someone in the rear seat of the Ford as she held Kenny? She had been on the ground, and the motor car had been several yards away, but she is certain she saw this. She wonders why she had not remembered this when she’d written her report. The car had roared away moments later and she had been concentrating on Kenny’s laboured breathing, his last breaths. Perhaps it hadn’t seemed important at the time.

‘No sign at all. Nor of O’Hanley,’ Dillon says.

‘Nor will there be …’ Nora says, less surprised by her boldness now, ‘… Not if the young lad’s made it back to tell him Murphy is blown.’

‘And why would Murphy be blown, sure?’ O’Shea says, speaking for the first time. His accent is Cork, Nora confirms, and there is none of Dillon’s faux comradely warmth in it. ‘Sure, the two lads we stopped with the messenger boy were robbing him. The messenger boy’s not to know we were on to him alone. And where to fuck else will O’Hanley and the lads get their guns? They need field pieces now or we’ll mop them up in weeks. Murphy is the only one who can source them and sure, didn’t O’Hanley use him himself in the Tan War? They’re bosom chums, them two, so why would a missing messenger boy put him off?’

Nora catches the look Dillon gives O’Shea but cannot read it. It passes from his eyes as quickly as it had come and he smiles again. Dillon says, ‘And even if O’Hanley is spooked, sure there’s others won’t be. Deasy had dealings with Murphy down in Cork as well, as far as I know, and we’ve got the word out that he’s here and has artillery and gelignite to sell. One of them will bite.’ He appears cheerful, Nora thinks, as if this is all a grand game.

‘Of course, which is why we should get you back to the hotel, Nora, and …’

There is a knock on Carty’s office door, and it is opened without waiting for a reply by a CID man in shirtsleeves. Words rush out of the man.

‘We’ve got a lead on Kavanagh. He’s been holed up in Swords and is heading for town by pushbike. We’ve a lad on him but he’s staying back out of sight. Our lad thinks he’s heading for Drumcondra.’

Nora does not recognise the name of the wanted man—Kavanagh—but this is not unusual. CID have hundreds of names on file. Hundreds of targets.

Carty stands now. ‘Dillon and O’Shea will go with you. Take two motors and set up a roadblock. Who’s our lad tailing him?’

‘Duggan,’ the man at the door says.

‘Grand, one of the cars goes back and meets Duggan on the road while the other can set up the checkpoint. Get the word off Duggan on what Kavanagh looks like and what he’s wearing, then head back to the checkpoint before he gets there.’

‘And do we pull him or tail him?’ O’Shea says, standing and ramming his cap onto his head, looking to Nora more like a labourer than a soldier or agent.

‘Or shoot him?’ Dillon says, smiling, standing, donning his trilby at the rakish tilt that all the gunmen seemed to affect.

Carty pauses. ‘Look, make the decision as you need to. If you think you can tail him, tail him. If you have to pull him …’

‘He shot Dessie, you know, Terence,’ Dillon says, no light or humour in his smile. Dessie Galvin had been a fine Volunteer during the Tan War. The first CID man to die, some two months back, gunned down entering a vacant building off Henry Street. Nora thinks that Dillon had been there that day. Possibly O’Shea.

For the first time, Carty’s voice is short with Dillon. ‘I know who he is and who he shot.’

‘So?’

‘So play the game the way the ball falls.’

A chill washes over Nora’s back and she stands aside as Dillon and O’Shea leave the office.

‘Will that be all, sir?’ she says to Carty, who is staring after the men as if he has forgotten she is there.

‘What? Oh, yes,’ he looks down at his desk and will not meet her eyes. ‘Yes, you’d better move out, hadn’t you?’

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Next: Chapter 18