Minutes later, O’Keefe rounds the corner, anticipating sleep, the heat of Nora’s body is still with him after seeing her into her digs, the scent of her hair still rich in his senses. He slows his bike and sees Just Albert, leaning against the bonnet of a Bentley motor car parked in front of the Cunningham house.
Shutting down the Trusty, O’Keefe says, ‘Jesus, Albert. Has me watch stopped or didn’t we say nine tomorrow morning?’
Ginny Dolan’s man indicates the car. All thought of Nora evaporates into the cool night air, the taste of her gone, suddenly, from O’Keefe’s lips.
‘Get in the car. Now. Mrs Dolan is waiting for us.’
‘The morgue. They think they found Nicholas.’
‘What do you mean? Who’s found him?’
‘Some farmer. The bodies of two youngfellas, in a field out in Clondalkin.’
‘It might not be him,’ O’Keefe says, unable to believe that the boy is dead. There is something so unreconciled about this that it seems untrue.
‘A Murder Man came by the shop. He described him to Mrs Dolan. He’d seen the posters.’
‘It might not be him.’
‘His name is on the collar of his jacket.’
Like a schoolboy, O’Keefe thinks.
‘Get in the car.’
Oh, Jesus, what are you at, girl?
Leaving the light off, Nora crosses her small room to the thick, musty drapes and parts them an inch. Surely, they hadn’t been followed. Had they? Carty hadn’t said anything about a tail. She was the tail. They’d hardly spare more men to shadow someone like O’Keefe. A bit player. Nor would they put eyes on his basement flat. On her room. No, of course not. Why would they be watching her room? CID is overstretched as it is, men dispatched throughout the country, hunting proper Irregulars. Fighting men. Carty thinks it’s important to know what O’Keefe knows about the Dolan boy and if the boy’s connected to O’Hanley like they think, but there are far bigger fish to fry than a jobless, war-weary ex-Peeler. O’Hanley himself had been spotted and fired on, supposedly, crossing Leeson Street bridge only yesterday. They can’t be sparing men to spy on the likes of me ...—Nora corrects herself—… to spy on the likes of O’Keefe. No.
But what if she is wrong? What if one of them has seen her kissing O’Keefe? What if one of the stuffed turkeys living in this house has seen them? A safe house in the Tan War—so Spartan and cold it makes her long for her lonely rooms in Ballsbridge—and now used by Free State forces; located conveniently close to O’Keefe’s flat. The owner, a prig of a schoolmaster with a son in the Free State army, would tell his contact in CID, whomever it is, what he had seen through his front window—the embrace, the kiss. Jesus. A phrase from her childhood rises unbidden in her mind. Eating the face off him. She groans audibly. Nora, you foolish, stupid woman.
It had been part of her cover only. Yes. Part of the job. Like with the Englishman before …. She stops herself from remembering. No. Yes. It is what she will tell them. He had wanted to kiss her and she’d let him. But she had leaned into him, hadn’t she? That is the truth of it. He had wanted to kiss her and she had wanted to kiss him back.
She lets the drapes fall closed over the night-quiet street, saying a small prayer that she has not been seen with O’Keefe. She turns on the electric light and the shabby room is cast in harsh glare. A sunken single bed and fraying counterpane. An ashtray with a stubbed-out cigarette standing up like a finger raised to hospitality. A faded hunting print askew on the smoke-yellow wall. A safe house room.
There is a full-length mirror on the back of the door, and Nora avoids looking at it as she undresses. Then, in her undergarments, she cannot help herself and looks. Too tall, too Irish-looking somehow, with her round hips and full breasts and unruly red hair. More country girl than spy, she thinks. A female agent should be cigarillo-thin, black-haired, dark-eyed. Every country had used them during the war in Europe, she had learned in her training. Worldly, well-travelled and world-weary women, she imagines. Nora feels only weary. Mata Hari. Jesus, girl, you’re no Mata Hari. Nora angrily opens the overnight bag she has brought, pulls her nightdress from it and throws it over her head, taking off her bra and panties underneath it, unable to face her own nakedness in the mirror.
Disgust wells up in her belly and she crawls into bed, the sour smell of some other guest’s sweat in the sheets as she peels them back. She reaches down into her purse by the bed, takes out a cigarette and lights it. The owner of the house has told her expressly not to smoke in bed. This is why she does it, thinking, It’s not only the look of you, Nora, that’s putting the dark clouds over your head.
No. You’re taken with this O’Keefe. It’s wrong, but there it is, and Nora can still feel the heat of his lips from when she had kissed him. Let him kiss her. There is something about him, she thinks, blowing smoke at the jaundiced paint on the wall. A sadness, a kindness, that masks something rougher, darker. Even the smell of him. Cigarettes, whiskey and shaving soap and oil from the Triumph. She realises that she has learned nothing of note to report to Carty about O’Keefe’s investigation into the boy’s whereabouts.