Book: Irregulars

Previous: Chapter 48
Next: Chapter 50

49

Five days pass before word comes from O’Hanley.

Just Albert spends the morning sparring in the John of God’s Boxing Club, waiting for Finch to come with what he has asked him to bring. He stands naked, drying himself with a thick Egyptian cotton towel that no one in the gym would be foolish enough to touch when Ginny enters the club, crossing over to the sink, amidst the racket of gloves on pads, the leathery syncopation of galloping speed bags, the nicking whir of skipping-ropes. The noise dies, the sparring in the raised ring slows to a halt, when the training men and boys see her. No women have been known to enter the club, and at first this is why they stop, but then Ginny Dolan is no ordinary woman. She is well known and both man and boy alike tip fingers to forelocks as she passes.

‘Are you ready, Albert?’

Just Albert clutches the towel to cover his nakedness. ‘Jaysus, Mrs Dolan, the state of me.’

Ginny smiles. ‘Nothing I haven’t seen before, pet. I wiped that arse of yours when you were only a whip, don’t you forget.’

Just Albert smiles back and ties the towel around his waist. He looks past her, and his look is enough to send eyes to the floor, men and boys back to the labour of training. The sounds of the boxing gym slap and patter back to life.

‘I’m ready. Once the fella comes.’

‘Mr O’Keefe’s friend?’

‘He seems sound enough. And he’s been in a scrap or two. He’d an arsenal the IRA’d be proud of stashed in a shed behind an auld doll’s lodgings in Harold’s Cross.’

‘And how is poor Mr O’Keefe?’

‘Poor nothing. If he done what he should’ve done to one or two of the fellas we met along the way, he’d be in no state like he’s in now. He done his part, I’ll hand him that, but too soft by half, our lad O’Keefe.’

‘Not at all like his father, then.’

Just Albert contemplates this as he dresses, climbing into his smalls under the towel, his socks and trousers and shining brown brogues. He remembers how O’Keefe had looked this morning when he had called for Finch at the Cunningham flat to nail down the final details with the Shoreditch man; how O’Keefe had insisted he be included in the exchange. The doorman recalls how he had told O’Keefe that he would be more hindrance than help but had taken no pleasure in saying it.

‘Maybe more like his auldfella than you’d reckon,’ Just Albert says, buttoning his shirt and tucking it, sweet and neat, into his trousers, hoisting his braces up over his shoulders. ‘He can soak a beating like the father.’

‘The mark of a man,’ Ginny says, Just Albert left wondering whether she means this or is being sarcastic. ‘When will you go?’

As if she has summoned it with her words, the door to the club opens, and this time it is Finch, carrying the leather bag that had held the money when Just Albert grabbed it at the hotel. Some of the boxers look up but quickly resume their training.

‘’Allo, love,’ Finch says to Ginny, doffing his trilby. ‘Fine morning for it.’

Ginny does not smile. ‘It will be if you get my Nicky back.’

‘All things going well, missus, and we’ll ’ave ’im back by tea, ain’t I right, Mr Albert?’

The doorman ignores Finch, inwardly wincing at his bravado, willing his demeanour to match the gravity of their mission. In this he is without success.

‘And sort out the men who’ve been holding him,’ she says.

Finch, still smiling, says, ‘All things going well, missus, all things going well.’ Turning to Albert, he says, ‘Bootlace worked a charm, if I do say so myself.’

Albert shoots him a hard look. ‘Not in front of Mrs Dolan, Finch.’

Finch touches his hat brim. ‘What was I thinking? Apologies, right, love?’

‘Just get my Nicky back,’ Ginny Dolan says, and Finch’s smile fades, a chill blanching his back.

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Next: Chapter 50