No more than two miles from Burton’s Hotel, just off the North Circular Road, Jack Finch pulls up—the Chevrolet’s engine spluttering, radiator steaming—in front of a house with a plaque reading ‘Doctor’s Surgery’ beside its front door. Holding his side, his trouser leg and trenchcoat tail saturated, he slides off the blood-slick bench seat and out of the car.
He stumbles on the footpath, vision blurring, and lunges a hand out for the support of an iron fence that fronts the redbrick surgery. It takes more than a minute to right himself before he is able to mount the steps to the doctor’s door, fragments of thought coupling, shattering in his head as he shuffles, his boot leaving a snail’s wake of blood on the flagstones. One thought only snags his consciousness: If the doctor’s out, ol’ chum, you’re for the common grave ….
He thumps on the door, oblivious to its brass knocker, and his fist leaves a bloody imprint. After a short wait, a young woman answers the door.
‘Yes? Oh, Jesus, sir …’
‘I’m shot, Miss. Is the doctor in?’ Finch manages before he collapses on the doctor’s doorstep.
Dr Stephen Hyland examines his insentient patient and cleans and staunches the wound as best he can before sitting back and examining his conscience.
There is a simple way to avoid bother, he knows. Simple as undressing the wound and letting the man bleed out and die and say nothing more about it. The man was dead on arrival at his surgery, he could easily enough say, and there had been nothing he could do to save him. Anyone would understand that surely. Neither Irregular nor Free Stater could blame him for the man’s death. If he were to save him and ring the army or police, however, there is no telling who would come looking for an explanation; the same if he simply brought the man to the hospital. This man had come to his humble and unsuitable surgery because a hospital is off limits to him. Hyland has no illusions about this. The wounded man is not a patient of his, nor has the doctor ever seen his face before. Sheer dumb luck has brought him, and he owes this man nothing. But at the same time the doctor knows there is nothing to be gained, in the days that are in it, from making enemies on either side of the conflict. Keeping the head down is the only way, and Hyland has been good at it thus far. Simpler, for all concerned, if this man should die here now.
But is it in him to will a man to die when he can, at very least, attempt to save him? A bullet wound does not speak well for a man’s character, but there are innocent men shot, and can he live with letting a man who might be innocent die?
The doctor thinks of the lethal weight in the pocket of the man’s bloodied trenchcoat and decides that innocence is less than likely, whomever he is fighting for.
Dr Hyland lights his pipe and watches the patient’s slow, laboured breathing. He then sets down his pipe and rifles the wounded man’s trouser and suit jacket pockets, his billfold.
Bloodstained but legible, behind a solid sheaf of pound notes in the billfold, the doctor finds a scrap of paper and on the paper is an address and a name. Seán O’Keefe, 24 Fumbally Lane, Blackpitts, Dublin.
Realising he will not have to let this man bleed out in his surgery, Dr Hyland smiles, relieved to think that the man can now bleed out somewhere else.
‘Janey,’ he calls out of the surgery door to the young nurse receptionist who had answered the door. ‘Ring for a motor cab, will you? Our patient is in need of transport.’