… that this sham state be considered the independent Ireland we fought and died for is inconceivable to me and my comrades in the true Republican Army of Ireland. That traitors, hand in glove with their former Crown masters, should so seek to suppress our striving for a true republic, causes me unspeakable grief and fills me and my men—good and true and virtuous young men—with a righteous rage that will triumph. As God is our witness we will take any measures to ensure the birth of the republic that is divinely ordained as ours by right. We will do anything in our power to resist this rotten compromise of a Treaty brought to the nation by men so seduced by power and prestige that they have abandoned the future of Ireland as entrusted to us by our Father in heaven …
It is after eight when the familiar—but this time unexpected—knock sounds on the closet door to O’Hanley’s hidden room, and he puts down his pen and lifts the Webley from the table beside his journal.
‘Stephen,’ O’Hanley says, letting the young soldier in, Gilhooley’s face as ashen white as the clean sheets on his bed.
Words rush from the young man in a cascade. ‘They followed us, from the hotel. Murphy’s in with them, I’m tellin’ you. He placed a call, down to the front desk while I was there. He was telling someone, I swear to fuck. And the girl, on the desk, she’s one of them. She came with some heavies to the shop. My father …’ His voice chokes with rage and tears well up in his eyes, surprising O’Hanley.
‘Stephen, slow down, please. What happened? In with whom?’
‘With CID or Free State intelligence. Murphy. I swear to fuck, I was there, leaving the money, like you said when he makes me wait and rings the desk lookin’ for drinks. Half ten in the morning, lookin’ brandy and lemonade or some shite. And as I’m hoofin’ it back downstairs to the lorry, who do I see? Only the girl at the front desk, on her way up. And not twenty minutes later does she and two other fellas, Charlie Dillon and another lad with a tommy-gun, show up at Da’s shop and …’ Again, the words lodge in his throat.
‘And they shot me da and the brothers. All three of them shot down dead!’ His voice cracks with emotion and he pivots and raises his fist as if he will drive it into the wall.
O’Hanley places a hand on his shoulder. ‘Are you sure it was the same girl? From the front desk?’
The young gunman lowers his fist and nods. ‘It was.’
The commandant is silent for a long moment. He rubs his face and his hair, rage stirring his own blood now.
‘You left the money, you did?’
‘I did. I didn’t know at the time it was a set-up.’
‘And you weren’t followed here? After …’
‘Of course I bleedin’ wasn’t followed. The two of us legged it and gave them the slip and then waited til dark to make it back. Jesus fuckin’ wept, me? Followed?’
O’Hanley winces at the obscenity but ignores Gilhooley’s wounded pride. ‘Two of ye? Who else was with you?’
‘Nicky is alive?’ O’Hanley’s eyes widen with surprise, and a smile comes unbidden to his lips. His favourite has survived. And as he thinks this, he realises that it had been after sending Nicholas and young Robert O’Donnell to the hotel, to deliver the second of the messages, that the two went missing. Murphy, the traitor. The snake. The smile shunts off his lips under this new weight of knowledge: there will be no shipment. No guns, no gelignite and no detonators. None of the promised field guns for the promised future, and without these things he and his fellow republicans will not take back Dublin; and without Dublin, there is nothing for it but to head to the mountains and wage war like tinkers, taking potshots at armoured cars, robbing banks and post offices. Like common criminals, sleeping in ditches and praying for clear nights while Mulcahy and his Free State henchmen bed down for the long marriage of convenience with the King.
‘We need to get the money back,’ he says. He is breathing hard from his nose. That bag of money being the future of the republic they are fighting for. Fourteen thousand odd pounds.
Stephen nods. ‘I’ll get it back meself if I’ve to hunt Murphy and his two goons to Blighty and fuckin’ back. The three of them are walking dead already.’
This time O’Hanley lets the cursing wash over him. He wishes he was the kind of man to take comfort in swearing, in blasphemy and hard talk. But he is not. He is a man of action who is left to rot in this room directing others to do what is right and just and proper for the republic that is rightfully, by God himself ordained, theirs.
‘Do what you have to, Stephen. Just get the money back.’
Stephen turns to leave.
‘And Stephen? Send Nicky up, will you?’