The messenger boy is no longer sobbing, but tears well in his eyes and run down his face when he blinks, his cheeks hot with shame because crying is not what proper soldiers of the Irish Republican Army do.
Nor do they wet themselves in terror, as he had done, in the back of the motor car as they brought him here, the man seated next to him letting out a roar when he felt the piss encroaching onto his side of the bench seat and driving his elbow into the boy’s mouth, cutting the boy’s lip against his teeth.
The messenger boy sniffs back blood and snot and tries to wipe the tears from his face with his shoulder. He cannot use his hands because they are cuffed so tightly behind him that he has lost all feeling in them. His legs are also bound with the belt from his own trousers, and the men have left him on the muddy floor with his back against the damp wall of this derelict cottage, the interior of which holds a cold darkness all its own, colder even, the boy imagines, than outside.
Shivering, unable to warm himself, he swallows back his fear and wonders how long he has been here, in the dark. And he wonders where the other boy has been taken. They had brought him in the car as well, the thief curled up on the floor of the Ford, resting their boots on him, digging their heels into his ribs, his balls, when he whimpered. The messenger wonders whether the other boy had pissed his trousers as well. Would serve him right if he had, the filthy, robbing gouger.
The enemy is everywhere, he thinks, Free State traitor bastards and street robbers; dippers and tenement scum like the lad with the fish-knife. When the Republic comes—the proper, goodo, decent republic the IRA had fought the Tans and Tommies for and not this half-arsed, cap-tipping Free State model sold to an ignorant people by Collins and Griffith and their mob of Crown stooges—they will clean up the streets right enough. No more dark lanes and mugger boys with knives. The streets are full of them, his mother has always said, and it flashes through his mind to tell his mother what has happened, how the two had tried to rob him. She was always on to him, when he was younger, about minding himself on the streets.
Tears well again in his eyes, and he swallows down the hard lump of sadness and fear in his throat. Another thing no proper soldier of the Republic would do: cry for his mammy when his prick is in the fire. Like his is now.
He sniffs again, and resolves to buck up and act like a soldier. No more tears, for the sake of all that’s right and holy. I’m fifteen years old, he thinks. Not some youngfella in short trousers mitching from school, but a scout, a messenger, a soldier of the IRA, Dublin Brigade, and now, a prisoner of war, no less. He is momentarily pleased by this realisation. I am a prisoner of war, he tells himself, thinking of the letter he will write his mother. Dear Mother, fear not for my safety. I am currently a prisoner of war ....
And he resolves to say nothing to the men who have brought him here, no matter what they do to him. The message to Mr Murphy in Burton’s Hotel had been delivered, as ordered, mouth to ear, and no evidence of this can be found on his person. So he will keep the head down, the mouth shut, no matter what they try on him. He is certain of this. He will make Commandant O’Hanley proud, he will, straightening his back against the wall and wishing he had a cigarette, though he has only recently begun smoking.
For some time he lets his mind wander in the dark, images of himself in the uniform of a soldier—in his fantasy it is a British Army uniform, as familiarity brings it to his mind first, and the army he fights for does not yet have one—of himself on a gallows, his eyes blindfolded, a rakish cigarette dangling from his lip, a fine, sweet weeping girleen dabbing at her eyes. He smiles to himself. A prisoner of war, I am. He only wishes his friend were with him. At least then he would not be alone in the dark. Even that thieving bastard of a robber would be company. Even him.
He wonders again what has become of the other boy, and as if his thoughts have provoked it, the thief boy begins to scream. The scream comes from outside the cottage and is piercing and girlish. One word is intelligible. The word is No.
The messenger boy shivers in the cold. The tears overflow his eyes and run down his cheeks, and this time he does nothing to try to staunch them. Different images now parade through his head.