Book: Irregulars

Previous: Chapter 34
Next: Chapter 36

35

The morning streets are crowded with delivery lorries and dray horses hauling beer kegs and coal. Trams full, men hanging on to railings on conductors’ platforms in suits and hats reading folded newspapers, swinging gently with the curve and jolt of the tracks. People making their way from the southern suburbs of Ballsbridge and Donnybrook by horse and trap, motor car, foot. Perfect cover, Stephen Gilhooley thinks, his Morris Cowley butcher’s van full of meat and money.

He turns onto Dartmouth Walk and comes to a stop in stalled traffic at Leeson Street bridge, the canal water below brown and still as glass. Waiting, he thinks of the fourteen thousand pounds in the bag in the back of the van and what a man could do with it. Start a new life, he thinks idly, revelling in the sheer fantasy of it. Head out for California, US of A, and buy a house with its own swimming baths and a soft, fat blond girleen to swim with; tall whiskey cocktails and gin and vermouth, drinks with all manner of fruits in them, jaysus, the sweet taste of one of them and the big round-arsed doll in her bathing costume ….

There is a rapping on the passenger side window. Gilhooley starts, and his hand goes into his white butcher’s coat. Too late, he thinks, as the revolver snags on his shirt and tangles in the folds of the coat coming out.

‘Stephen!’ A smiling face at the window, the door opening.

Gilhooley’s hand releases the grip of the revolver, relief washing through him. ‘Jaysus fuck, Nicky Dolan. Here’s me, thinking I was dead.’

‘I’m alive and well, I am,’ the boy says, misunderstanding Gilhooley’s words. ‘Starving, but. I’ve hardly eaten a crumb since Monday evening.

There is a damp, musty smell to the boy that Gilhooley catches now, his face smeared with what appears to be soot or ashes. He wears no coat, and his long trousers are torn. But he is smiling, his teeth white. A big lark, the whole war is to these lads, Gilhooley thinks. And why not? Sure, half the reason he’s in it himself. Keeps him away from the slow death of arguing with auld ones over cuts of offal for the rest of his days. In it for the craic as much as the cause. A lorry sounds its claxon behind, and Stephen pulls the van forward and turns left over the bridge onto Leeson Street.

‘What happened at the hotel, so?’

‘Fuck it if I know, I’m tellin’ yeh. We came out and were jumped by two gougers first. And then—you wouldn’t believe it—weren’t we jumped by Free Staters with a Talbot motor. One of the gougers stuck one of the Free Staters with a knife and didn’t I take off running …’

‘And Robert? What happened young Robbo?’

‘No idea. He was behind me and then he wasn’t. But he knew nothing about the message, only that it was for Murphy and he doesn’t know where the gaff is. Does he?’ The words rush from Nicholas Dolan in a boyish flow, as if he is recounting some schoolboy’s prank.

‘No, Robbo doesn’t know the way any more than you do.’

‘Then he’ll be grand so. Maybe he got lifted, but even so …’

The boy looks eagerly at Gilhooley as he drives.

‘So where’d you hide yourself these past two days, then?’ Gilhooley asks. ‘Back to mammy’s with you, wha’?’ He smiles to mask the true meaning of the question.

‘To fuck I went back there. Anyone could be on the house. I slept in a burnt-out cowshed in James’ Street, by the brewery, the first night, I was trying to find McKinney’s safe house, but fuck if I could. Last night I kipped in an alley off Pembroke Street. I went to the meet up spot about twenty times yesterday, and then just now was on me way there again. That’s when I saw you in the van here.’

Stephen smiles. Not a fool for fifteen, fourteen, whatever age the fella is. Taking precautions, not heading home at the first hint of trouble, returning to the set rendezvous point confident that someone would show for him eventually. Even more, the boy had not come back to the butcher shop.

‘Will I get in the back of the van, so, Lieutenant?’

Gilhooley smiles again. Only the young lads addressed the other men by rank. ‘Call me Stephen for Jaysus’ sake. And no, stay up here with me. We’re not going back to the house yet. We’ve a job on first.’

‘What is it?’

‘Going back to Burton’s Hotel to drop the gun monger the money we scored in Newbridge. You can mind the van for me while I’m inside. Throw on that coat there …’ The gunman nods to the white butcher’s coat folded and set on the bench seat between them. ‘Nothing more natural than a butcher’s van in the lane behind a hotel of a Wednesday morning.’

Nicholas smiles. He’s a handsome lad, Gilhooley thinks, and no doubt the boss is sweet on him.

‘Jaysus I could eat the meat in back raw, I could.’

‘You mind the van and I’ll fry you a chop or two when we’re done, right?’

The young boy, beaming. ‘Grand, so.’ Then closing down his smile as if it is not something serious soldiers do.

 

Nora is at her post in reception when the call comes in.

‘Front desk, how may I help you?’ She assumes, at first, it is the usual request for drinks or sandwiches. Inquiries about laundry or suits to be pressed or messages received. She is thinking, as she picks up the phone—as she has been all morning—about her evening with O’Keefe. She has resolved that it will be her last with him. She will tell Carty that she can get nothing from the man and that he is not worth wasting a shadow on. She can do that much for Seán O’Keefe at least.

‘Yes …’ the accent of the voice on the line is English, and at first Nora does not recognise it. ‘… Murphy here in room thirty-four. I’d like to order up some drinks, if I could. Brandy and a bottle of ginger ale, please. Yes,’ the order is repeated clearly, ‘brandy and ginger ale.’

Nora’s heart leaps to a gallop as she recognises the code. Brandy and ginger ale. O’Hanley—or his men—are in the room with Murphy. Part of her mind, as she turns to the switchboard to place a call to the Flowing Tide and her colleagues waiting there, wonders if the code is too obvious. Who orders up brandy and ginger ale at half ten in the morning?

The line to the pub is engaged, and she unplugs the cable and jams the socket in its hole to try again. Nothing. She drops the earpiece and runs now, first for the lift and then, pausing in front of it, for the stairs, passing Michael the porter to throw open the door, mounting the stairs two at a time until she hears a door, a flight above her, slam closed. She stops, breathing hard, and listens to footsteps descending. Move up or down, girl, she thinks. Do either but do it now. She decides on up and begins to mount the stairway at a more regular pace, matching the footfalls above, trying to control her breathing and thinking of her bag beneath the counter at reception. Thinking of the Webley revolver she has left inside it. The footfalls halt above her.

Nora has a sudden urge to stop as well, but wills herself on, knowing that to do so will invoke suspicion in whoever it is descending. She continues to climb, takes the turning of the stairs and looks up. Waiting by the door that opens onto the second-floor hallway is a young man—eighteen, nineteen—in a white coat and hat. A butcher, she thinks, relieved for a second—there is a regular flow of butchers and bakers making daily deliveries to the hotel—and then thinks how out of place a butcher’s delivery boy is on the second-floor stairway.

The young man appears to relax as Nora comes into his view, and his hand comes out of his coat. He smiles and tips his hat, waiting for her to pass, and Nora smiles back at him, her face hot and flushed pink. She continues on up the stairwell to the third floor, sweat prickling under her arms and on her forehead, knowing she should have said something to the man. A proper employee would have castigated or questioned him for being where he should not be. She resists the urge to look back at him, and sighs in relief when she hears footsteps below her, quicker than before, descending.

Without thinking she opens the door to the third floor and runs down the carpeted hallway to room thirty-four. She should have brought the brandy and ginger ale at least, as a pretence. She decides, if it comes to it, that she will tell him that they have run out, and would he care for something different. Not great as cover but it will do.

The door opens a crack, and one of Murphy’s thugs peers out and, seeing her, opens the door wide to let her inside.

‘You’ve missed him, love,’ the bodyguard says, smiling.

‘Mr Murphy said …’

‘He was here, and now he’s gone. Mr Murphy?’ the guard calls into his boss.

‘Was he wearing a butcher’s coat? A young man?’ Nora says, her heart pounding.

Murphy enters the room from the adjoining bedroom suite. ‘He was.’

‘He …’

‘… Butcher’s coat and a butcher’s van, look,’ the second bodyguard says, standing at the room’s window. He points down to the lane behind the hotel. Nora joins him at the window and looks down to see the white-coated man open the driver’s door to a black lorry, three stories below, with incomprehensible writing on its side.

‘He was only requesting another meet. Wanted me to go to the zoological gardens in the Phoenix Park this time.’

But Nora is gone, sprinting down the hallway and back down the stairs. Again, she passes Michael as she runs through lobby.

‘Mind the desk, Michael. I’ll be back when I can!’ she shouts over her shoulder as she bursts through the hotel doors and out onto the morning street, temporarily blinded by the sunlight. She runs to the corner of the hotel and peers down the lane. The butcher’s van is gone. Her head swivels as she scans the busy street in front of the hotel. There! Turning onto O’Connell Street. Left, towards the river. She makes out ‘… oy’s Fine Meats’ but nothing more.

A tram clangs its bell and she leaps across its path, trusting only God that there is no tram passing in the other direction. A car brakes hard and she is onto the footpath on the opposite side of the street, aware that her hair has loosed itself and become a red banner in her frantic wake. She has not run like this since school, and is breathless when she reaches the pub. Throwing open the door, she shouts into the dark interior.

‘Dillon, they’ve been at the hotel … a van … a butcher’s van …’

Her eyes adjusting to the dim light, she does not see Dillon until he is at her side.

‘Are they still there?’

‘No,’ she gathers her breath, ‘the van’s turned onto O’Connell Street, towards the quays.’

He grabs her arm and drags her to a Ford Tourer parked halfway up on the path. A man is asleep at the wheel, and the stench of stale alcohol assails Nora as she bundles into the back seat, Dillon, cranking the hand starter and sliding in up front, shouting the driver awake.

‘Left onto O’Connell Street and put the boot down, Jimmy, for fuck sake. O’Hanley’s boys are in a butcher’s van.’

‘Something “Fine Meats”, on the side. A dark van,’ Nora says, leaning over the front seat.

O’Connell Street is jammed with horse, motorcar and tram traffic and Jimmy the driver takes the Ford up onto the footpath, weaving off it and onto the bridge. Nora and Dillon rake the street and quays for the lorry and eye any number that could be it. Navan Finest Furniture. Johnston Mooney & O’Brien Baked Goods. Oxo Meat Extract.

‘There it is!’ Nora shouts.

Turning up D’Olier Street is the van they seek, just visible in the lee shadow of the Irish Times building. Nora is certain of it. Gilhooley’s Butchers and Purveyors of Fine Meats. It halts behind a slow-moving tram, and Jimmy weaves through the sluggish traffic on the bridge, settling in three cars and a horse cart behind the van. In an instant their pursuit has slowed to a crawl in the Dublin traffic, and Jimmy coughs and covers his mouth and retches loudly, cranking down the window glass to spew a stringy jet of bile into the road. He gags again and wipes his brow with his hand, his hat tipping back on his head, the boozy miasma dissipating through the open window. Nora has not met the man before but this is not unusual, the short-staffed CID adding men by the day, some sent away to outlying areas of the country, others taking up desks in Oriel House. And all of them drinking too much, rarely sleeping, hunting and hunted and nerves hardened, then shattered by waiting and war.

Nora winds her hair into its French knot and sets it with pins. Dillon takes out his Luger automatic and ejects the clip before slotting it home again in the grips of the gun. He snaps back the toggle-lock of the pistol, chambering a round, and slips the gun back into the holster under his jacket.

‘I’m not armed,’ Nora says, watching as the butcher’s van begins to move forward, picking up speed.

‘There’s a tommy-gun and a Winchester in the boot,’ Dillon says, his eyes on the van. ‘Jimmy can take the Thompson and you take the shotgun. You’ve fired one before, haven’t you? In training at least?’

‘Are we planning on shooting them or following them or what, Charlie? Or taking them in? I’m not planning on blasting anyone with the Winchester.’

Dillon smiles at this but does not turn around. ‘I don’t imagine you’ll be blasting anyone at all, Nora. We’ll pinch them when they stop. There’s only the two in the van that you know?’

‘Two? I only saw the one get in.’

‘There’s a young lad in the passenger seat anyway,’ the driver Jimmy says. ‘Look.’ His voice is weak and crackles with phlegm.

And Nora sees a flash of a young man, a boy really, on the passenger side of the van as it turns onto College Green. Jimmy cuts off a Chevrolet taxi to the angry squawking of its claxon.

‘We’ll take the two of them then. We’re bound to get something out of them if we sit them down for a chat.’

Nora has never seen one of Dillon’s “chats”, but she has heard of them. They are held in the outbuildings, the former officers’ quarters, at Wellington Barracks. But she has heard the pained braying from the basement cells of Oriel House when her fellow CID men staged their own. Chats. She pushes the thought of what awaits the two men—boys—in the lorry from her mind.

‘Would it not be better to wait and follow them? Put men on them and see. I mean, can’t we just follow them and see if they lead us to O’Hanley?’ Nora is nervous suddenly. This is an end of the job that she has not seen. She is a watcher, and these men are takers. She knows what Dillon will say before he says it.

‘There’s been enough waiting round, and sure they’re sending our lads all over the country along with the army. We’ve not the bodies to be sitting on these boyos for days on end. Our vigil at the pub is up tomorrow as it is.’

Nora had not heard this. If Dillon and the others are standing down, she would be stood down as well. Murphy would return to England and O’Hanley would still be out there somewhere, planning his revolution, orchestrating the murder of his former friends. Friends like Dillon. She stays silent and watches the van as they follow it up Dame Street, their pace improving as the horse and tram traffic thins.

Left at George’s Street, heading south. Onto Aungier and then Camden Street, where they are only two cars behind the van.

‘The Dardanelles,’ Dillon says, almost fondly.

‘Pardon?’ Nora says.

‘What the Auxiliaries called this street in the Tan War for all the abuse and shite their lads got showered down on them in their Crossleys. More than piss-pots and rotten eggs was thrown from these windows, I’m telling you. Conor Hogan, a lad on the run up from Clonmel at the time—a mate of Danny Breen’s—chucked a Mills bomb from three stories up a tenement … there …’—he points up at a building of carbon-blacked brick and missing windows—‘… dead on into the back of a Crosser mashed with Tans. Blew two of them to hell and sent five others home missing fingers and feet.’ Nora cannot see Dillon’s face but she knows he is smiling.

‘Here we are, lads,’ Jimmy says, and they watch the van pull up in front of a shop with a red and white awning, and on its window is painted: Gilhooley’s Butchers and Purveyors of Fine Meats.

‘Drive past it, so. Pull up by the Bleeding Horse, Jimmy.’

‘The wha?’

‘The pub, on the corner there. We need to be close enough so we don’t have their friends picking us off as we march them to the car. You’ve bracelets with you?’

‘I do,’ the driver answers.

‘Two sets then,’ Dillon says. ‘They’ll do us.’

Nora says, ‘Look, if we take them here, O’Hanley will find out about it. You know that, don’t you? He’ll scarper and we won’t get him.’

Dillon turns this time. His eyes burn under the sharp brim of his trilby. ‘You’re not making the shout on this, girl. Is that clear? We’re taking them now. They’ll tell us what we need to know and we’ll pinch O’Hanley to-fucking-day, before he hears of it. If it will calm your nerves, go into the pub and ring CID and have them send a watcher to see who leaves when we’re gone and where they go. Otherwise, stay here or come with us, I don’t give a shite.’

Nora nods, trying to hold Dillon’s stare but finding she cannot. Her eyes flash to Jimmy, who is turned in his seat and watching the exchange. His eyes are rheumy and bloodshot, and in their own way, sad.

‘I’ll go with you.’

‘Fine, then, let’s shift it. We’ll put a bead on them, put them on the tiles and cuff them. Then we’re off, right?’

Jimmy and Nora nod, and the three exit the car and gather at the Ford’s touring trunk. Dillon opens the trunk and hands the Thompson gun to Jimmy, who detaches the drum magazine and taps it against his thigh and replaces it. Nora takes the Winchester 1897 pump shotgun and it is heavier than she remembers. Her training comes back to her. The Yanks called it the Trench Sweeper in the war. Dillon shoves a handful of shells from a box in the trunk into Nora’s fist and she opens the gun’s breech and fingers the shells home as she had been taught. When she is finished, she attempts to rack a shell into the chamber and finds the pump action thick and resistant. She tightens her grip, uses her whole arm and the pump slides back, the shell slotting home with a hollow thack. Only now does she scan the footpath and see the men gathered in the open doorway of the Bleeding Horse pub. She glances at them for a moment, and en masse they turn away from her gaze and drift back into the pub. A bright flare of elation flashes in Nora’s heart at this. The power in her hands. Knowing she could walk into that pub and …. She lets the thought die, and notices now that the footpath around them has emptied of passers-by.

‘Right so,’ Dillon says.

Without speaking, they cross the road, Dillon with his side-arm hanging at his side, Jimmy the driver holding the tommy-gun in the same way, and herself, with the shotgun carried across her chest as if she were on a parade ground. There is a giddy lightness to her step, and she narrows her focus to the front of the butcher shop, a chauffeur-driven Rolls–Royce braking hard and letting them pass, a horse in blinders and its cartload of vegetables obscuring the shop front for the moment and keeping them from the view of whoever is inside. They round the horse cart and a woman pushing a pram gasps and hurries forward, one hand on the pram, the other dragging another small child behind her who cries out in surprise at his mother’s sudden violence.

Low autumn sun between tenements across Camden Street reflects off the front window, and Nora tries to peer through the glare and into the shop. Nothing.

Dillon enters first, Jimmy following with Nora behind them. Again her eyes dilate in the interior light of the shop and she is startled by the sound of Dillon’s voice, a sudden roar.

‘You! You! Get down on the floor to fuck, right now, you!’

He is pointing the Luger at the young man from the hotel. He and a younger boy stand at the back of the shop in front of a curtained doorway leading into the rear of the building. The walls of the shop are white tile, and the meat under the glass is a garish red in contrast. Two men in their twenties in blood-smeared white smocks are frozen behind a thick butcher’s block, which is bowed in the middle from years of daily sanding, scored with dark purple grooves from the running of bloody knives. Next to them stands an older man holding a sheaf of newspaper blossomed open around a cut of beef. The older man is Gilhooley, and the two at the block are his sons, Nora assumes. A customer, a woman of middle age in a black shawl and headscarf, drops her wicker basket of shopping, onions bouncing out and rolling into corners and under feet. The woman begins to mutter, and Dillon turns to her.

‘Shut it, you!’ He waves the pistol in Nora’s direction. ‘Get her out of here.’

Nora tucks the Winchester under one arm and grips the woman by the shoulder with her free hand. She is turning the woman towards the door when her eye is drawn to a flurry of movement, the butcher’s boy from the hotel darting through the curtained doorway into the rear of the shop, followed by his young passenger from the van. Dillon swings his gun back around and fires two rounds blindly through the curtains. Two brassy shell casings clink and spin on the floor amidst the sawdust and loose onions.

‘Stay here, hold these here!’ Then Dillon is gone through the curtain in pursuit. Heavy footfalls, more shots from the rear of the shop, the sound of a door slamming and Dillon cursing, clanking pans and breaking dishes.

Nora shoves the woman out the open door, the woman stumbling onto the footpath where she falls and cries out. A passing pensioner stoops to her aid and looks into the shop. Nora takes the Winchester again in both hands, and levels it at the pensioner through the open door. She waves the gaping barrel at him as he helps the crying woman to her feet and takes her away, his face a mixture of fear and disgust, and in this moment Nora knows she will never forget the look he gives her for as long as she lives.

She re-enters the shop where Jimmy holds the Thompson gun on the older man, and his two younger assistants, one of them holding a pink and white concertina of pork ribs, the other a heavy cleaver. The older man’s mouth hangs open as if the words he had been about to speak are frozen in his throat. Acrid gun smoke hangs in the air making lazy spirals above the glass cabinet of meat. The smell is sharp to Nora’s nose, and a memory of her brief musketry training flashes in her mind and then is gone, her eyes flitting between the three silent men. She notes the Adam’s apple of the man holding the cleaver rise and fall and for a second. It is the only movement in the small shop.

The youngest of the three men, holding the rack of ribs, is the first to speak. His voice is soft with rage and his eyes drag back and forth between Nora and Jimmy.

‘What right have you to come in here? Who in fuck are yis bastards? Chasing youngfellas. Them lads have done nothing, they haven’t, so yis can fuck off out of here. Me da’s only tryin’ to run a business and you barging in here firin’ guns at youngfellas …’

His voice is rising in anger as he speaks, and Nora brings the shotgun to bear on him, moving it next to the young man beside him, then to the older man and back. She wonders should she tell the second lad to put down the cleaver but does not, thinking it not her place, thinking that he might refuse and leave her and Jimmy in a position where further, more drastic action might be their only option.

She turns her eyes to Jimmy and notices the barrel of the Thompson gun is shaking, darting from one man to the next.

‘… like yis Free State fuckin’ cunts own the place now, haring round with yis’r guns and harassing the dacent people of Ireland!’

Jimmy says something above the young man and Nora only catches part of it. ‘… quiet you down, now. There’s no need for that.’

‘Fuckin’ hard man with the big gun, without it you’re nothing, are yeh? And bringing a bint in with yis? Who do yis think yis are?’

Nora watches the senior man set the newspaper and meat onto the counter behind the glass and lift a long carving knife from a magnet on the wall. Nora’s voice is dry and brittle in her mouth. She licks her lips and says, ‘Put that down, sir. Please …’

There is a hint of pleading in her tone and the senior man catches it, disdain flashing in his eyes. ‘You do what you like, young miss, with your shotgun there. I’ve work to finish.’ He lifts a heavy, de-boned shoulder of beef from the glass cabinet, slaps it with a fleshy thud onto the butcher’s block and begins slicing it with a vigour and violence that Nora knows is a show for her and Jimmy. She lets her eyes go to Jimmy and sees him swallow then cough and hack at the phlegm in his throat.

The young man with the pork ribs continues. ‘I’d gut you soon as look at you without your gun, yeh big loaf of shite, yeh.’

Nora realises for the first time that Jimmy is a big man. Big and lumbering, with flat feet and a large arse under the tail of his suit jacket. He is speaking again and Nora can hear his words more clearly, his voice rising to compete with the young man who is shouting now, his face as red as the meat behind the glass.

‘If yis touch a hair on that lad’s head, yis’r fuckin’ dead, yeh hear me, you too, you poxed cunt …’ This, directed at Nora.

‘… Shut yer mouth, I’m telling you, boyo, you shut your mouth …’ Jimmy’s face flushes red then white.

Nora watches a rivulet of sweat bead its way down Jimmy’s cheek, and sees the twitching of muscle under the boozy jowl and a sudden burst from the Thompson gun—a half-second long eruption in the confines of the shop that sends a stream of lead smashing through the rack of ribs in the young man’s hands and on through into his heart and lungs, his white coat blooming a bloody garden, the young man stuttering back to the white-tiled wall behind him, as if the machine-gun fire were music he would dance to. For a moment he rests there, his back to the wall, before sliding down, red wash on the tiles like someone had applied it with a brush.

And Jimmy’s voice high-pitched with manic chatter: ‘I told him to shut it, I fucking told him to shut his hole!’ He turns to Nora now. ‘It just went off … it did …’

There is a second of stunned silence before the young man with the cleaver cries out. ‘Dinnie! Jesus, you’ve shot Dinnie! Da, he’s shot Dinnie!’

The older man lets loose a bellow of such animal rage and sorrow that gooseflesh ripples up Nora’s back and for an instant she is frozen and watches as the young man with the cleaver turns and brings back his arm as if he will hurl it at Jimmy. As he does this the older man pulls the carving knife from where it is wedged in the fibrous folds of the beef and reaches as far as he can over the glass cabinet to swing the knife. He is suicidally out of reach, and Jimmy fires another burst and keeps firing, stippling the glass meat cabinet, shattering the tiles on the wall behind the men, taking splintered chunks from the butcher’s block and ripping into the older man and the younger, the cleaver dropping with a clank over the sound of the tommy-gun before it can be thrown, the butcher now, like his son, jigging under the hail of bullets and then falling forward to smash through the glass case and onto the meat below.

‘Stop! Jesus, stop, Jimmy!’ Nora hears herself now, her voice futile and shrill in the sudden silence as the Thompson’s magazine empties, smoke rising from its barrel, cordite thick in the air to mingle with the viscous metal scent of blood.

Jimmy turns to look at her and his face is white, his eyes red and bloodshot from booze and gun smoke. Dillon bursts back through the curtains from the rear of the shop, his Luger levelled at Jimmy first, then Nora. He sees the butcher and his sons, sprawled on the sawdust and draped over the shattered glass meat cabinet.

‘Fuckin’ Christ, Jimmy.’

One of the younger men on the floor moves, his hand flopping on his chest, his other sifting limply in the sawdust for the cleaver. He makes as if to speak and blood runs from his lips. Dillon steps around the cabinet and fires one round into his chest and he is still.

‘Right, let’s shift it, to fuck. Out to the car and mind we’re not given the jump. I couldn’t find the other lad but if he’s brother to these and he’s heard the shooting, he’ll be back if he’s any kind of man at all.’

Nora swallows and her throat is dry, scorched with smoke and terror. She follows Dillon and Jimmy out of the shop, but instead of scouring the street and surrounding windows, she lowers her head, fearful of being seen.

But the street and footpaths, for the moment, are empty. No men gather in the doors of the Bleeding Horse as they pile into the car, taking their weapons in with them. Nora watches Dillon, the Luger in his hand, resting on the bonnet as he hand cranks the Ford’s starter.

The motor rumbles to life, and Jimmy’s hands are shaking and he grips the wheel so tightly to steady them that his knuckles blanch white. Dillon slams the door.

‘Move, it. We were never here.’ He turns in his seat to Nora. ‘We were never here until I find out who them boys you shot up are. No doubt they’re bent rebel boys, so no need to worry.’

He is smiling as he says all this. ‘There was nothing you could do,’ he says, turning to Jimmy, clapping him on the arm. ‘Was there, Jim? A lad moves on you with a knife … isn’t that right, Nora? How it happened? I didn’t need to be there to see how it went. Clear as day, a clever man shoots first, asks questions later, wha?’

They are rounding Stephen’s Green when Nora shakes Jimmy’s shoulder. ‘Stop the car,’ she manages, before flinging open the door in time to vomit onto the footpath.

 

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