Not the Usual Suspect (Part 4)

Chapter 18 – Home   

There was a tense atmosphere when I arrived back to the house in Mullingar.  I surmised that my parents had rowed but I didn’t ask not wanting to get dragged into it.  Instead I was spending my time on the computer and watching television.  My life had become too interesting and I just wanted boredom for now.  But it wasn’t to be.  

It was late Saturday evening when I heard the phone ringing.  At first, I didn`t pay any attention to it as my mother answered it after a few seconds.  Then I could faintly hear my name being mentioned before shouting began for me to come to the phone. 

Immediately I went out to the kitchen wondering who it was.  Strangely my mother told me to say I`d meet him before holding up the phone to my ear which perplexed me further. 

“Hello?” I said wondering who was on the other end. 

Much to my surprise it was Jason that answered. 

“Hello Alan, I was wondering if you’d like to meet up later down town?” 

Remembering what my mother had just said I replied that I would.  We set the place as the Gaelic Bar in the town centre, in particular the pool room for nine o’clock.  It wasn`t my favourite spot but at least I was fairly sure he would get served, him being an underage drinker and all. 

With that he said that he’d see me later and I nodded to my mother to put down the phone. 

She then told me why she was so anxious for me to meet Jason.  His mother had rung her a few days ago telling her that he was very depressed and she was very worried about him.  He blames himself for what happened to Karen and had no real friends he could confide in.  She wondered if someone in the family could talk to him again. 

My mother suggested that I would.  Then she told me that Karen would want us to help him and that it would do me good too to chat everything over with someone.  Dad would drop me down to the pub and back.  If I was short on cash, she`d give me some more.  I couldn`t fault her logic and Jason seemed like a nice lad that I could get along with.  Anyways, I was practically getting bribed to go drinking and that was a good enough reason in itself. 

It seemed strangely ironic that I was getting to know Karen’s boyfriend better in her death than perhaps I ever would if she was living.  Now it was only a matter of waiting till it was time to go.  I spent it watching the Discovery Channel.  As per my usual tactics I made sure to go to the toilet before leaving.  The last thing I`d want to have to do is go home to the toilet while I was there.   

The Gaelic Bar was renowned in Mullingar for its underage drinking especially the large pool room to the back which was brightly lit and had three pool tables.  It used to be one of my favourite haunts.   

My father parked the van right outside the pub.  It was raining which always made me more anxious.  I had to have absolute trust that the person behind me would guide me correctly onto the ramps.  He was an old hand at it and soon I was on the road without any trouble. 

It was now only a matter of getting onto the footpath.  I already knew where the kerb reached its lowest point and easily drove the wheelchair up onto it. 

Now my father gave me the customary warning not to overdo the drinking before opening the doors of the pub.  He asked me if I needed him to go in but I told him I’d be alright on my own. 

The lounge seemed pretty busy even with a haze of smoke and darkness obscuring my view.  But my destination was towards the back and I carefully drove past the stools and through the narrow door to the pool room. 

Immediately I saw Jason.  He was sitting at one of the tables in front of the first pool table.  The pool room is far brighter and less smoky than the rest of the pub.  The crowd is sparse but that will change over the next hour or so.   

Jason gives me a big hello when he sees me and thanks me for coming.  He then apologises for sitting at a high table.  I tell him not to worry about it, in any event he didn’t have a choice as they were all high.   

Now that the pleasantries had been exchanged, Jason asked me what I’d have to drink to which I responded a vodka and orange.  Remembering his visual impairment, I told him to make sure he got a straw.   

It was a few minutes before he was back.  The barmen were concentrating on the lounge which had a far bigger crowd.  As I waited memories began to flood back.   

This was my old spot and I had plenty of happy albeit hazy memories.  I was sixteen when I had my first illicit drink.  It was a night that would live long in my memory.  As I sipped my first taste of beer, I was sure the barman would ask me to leave.  But the barman had customers to serve and he didn’t care about my milestone.  I was with a group of school friends and we had received our Junior Cert results earlier that day.  It was a clandestine operation and I was only able to stay for an hour that day before going home for my dinner.   

Jason seemed flustered on his return complaining that the bar had too few staff on. 

Deciding to ease into the conversation I asked him how school was going.  At first it appeared like he didn’t want to answer but then he said it wasn`t going too well.  Tears welled up in his eyes as he described how he was haunted by the memories of what had happened. 

He cursed God almost every night for his visual impairment.  If he didn’t have it maybe could have saved Karen. 

It saddened me to see him in such anguish but I thought it best not to disclose my plans, instead concentrating on how Karen cared about him and how she would want him to move on in his life. 

He listened to what I said nodding in agreement then asked how I was coping.  For some reason it was a question I had not been expecting and hesitated before responding.  Then my answer spilled out.  Not too good I responded telling him that she was in my dreams every night.  A lot of nights I woke with tears dripping onto my pillow. 

Then Jason told me that Karen would want me to move on with my life too.  I told him I would though I left out the bit about getting revenge first. 

The conversation gradually turned to a lighter note for a time as we discussed football and I told him what college life was like.  The drink was now flowing freely.   

Jason told me how he`d like to go to UCD too and study Social Science.  Trying to encourage him I told him so long as he did a bit of study he’d be there. 

The mood then turned gloomy once more.  The trigger was Jason asking me what time I was leaving.  When I informed him that my father was collecting me at eleven the thought of me leaving seemed to bring the loss of Karen back to the fore of his mind.  

“I can’t believe he`s going to get away scot free,” Jason said gloomily. 

I could feel that the alcohol was starting to affect my judgement.  Part of me wanted to tell him that he should have testified but I knew that would achieve nothing and just managed to hold back.  Instead I just said that life was cruel.  There was only half an hour to go now and I didn’t want to say something I’d later regret.  

Jason didn’t seem to have the same level of control and his eyes began to well up.  Instinctively I knew that this would be an embarrassing spot for him go into tears.  The pool was now fairly crowded.   

It just came out, as if I was talking about crossing the road. 

“Don’t worry Jason.  He’s a dead man.” 

Jason looked at me stunned wondering whether to take me seriously or not.  But there was no holding me back now.  I told him that I knew people and they were going to fix my problem but I would have to do something in return. 

“What?” he asked intensely listening to what I was saying.   

Speaking more quietly now realising the seriousness of the conversation I told him that I didn’t know, I would only find out when he was dead. 

“Wow man, you’re a dark horse, fair dues to you,” Jason said excitedly, “I always thought there was something different about you.  Karen was right, you’re a special guy.” 

In truth it’s hard to know what to say to someone who speaks of you in such high admiration.  I concentrated on the basics telling him that I shouldn’t really have told him about it and I needed him to keep it to himself. 

“Of course, man!  I won’t tell a soul.  He has it coming,” he said it sincerely, “Let me know if I can help you in anyway.  I will do anything I can.”   

Then I felt a tap on my shoulder.  It was my father; he had arrived a few minutes early.  Fortunately, the background music and the noise of people talking were so loud he couldn’t have heard a thing.   

Jason gave him a big hello and my father asked him how he was doing.  A thankfully short exchange of pleasantries followed.  It made me nervous that Jason could divulge my plans.  But I steeled myself that he was someone I could trust.  I was a good judge of character and anyways he was motivated by the same desires as I. 

Then I told Jason that unfortunately it was time for me to leave but that I would see him again.  My father interjected asking him if he needed a lift home but he said that his mother was collecting him shortly. 

With that the arduous journey to get out of the pub began.  My father went first with me following closely behind.  His job was to ask people to move so that I could trundle through.  There wasn’t as much space as the bar in UCD.   

Soon I had passed the last obstacle.  When I got outside it was nice to feel the cool air on my skin.   

The conversation on the drive consisted of how Jason was doing.  My line was he was recovering gradually.  He found it good to talk to me.  I said nothing that wasn’t already known.   

It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep and once more Karen appeared in my dreams.  She was helping me find her killer, I was to do the rest. 

The morning arrived far too quickly, my head pounding away and lips bone dry.  For a minute I struggled to remember what happened the previous night.  I had drunk too much although I wasn’t the sort of character to have regrets.  Then it him me – disaster.  It felt like my heart had stopped beating when I suddenly remembered I had divulged my plans to Jason. 

But I calmed myself back down.  It was probably no harm to have at least one ally who knew what was really going on.  It was difficult to keep everything to myself and in any event, what was done was done.   

Chapter 19 – Exam Preparation 

It was no longer possible to ignore the fact that the end-of-year exams were fast approaching which would define the academic year as a success or failure.  When you have a serious disability, the consequences can be even starker.  There may be no second chance not too mind a third or fourth.   

Any sympathy for the death of my sister would quickly evaporate when it came to funding my Personal Assistance requirement for an extra year.  I knew that this was my one and only chance, I had to take it.   

It was one thing to fail because of my disability and quite another to fail when I had success in my grasp.  It was such internal motivation that now drove me onwards. 

Now I made a serious attempt to make every lecture.  No more lazy mornings or spending days just chatting away in the smoking area.  Sometimes I felt envious of the students who could afford to be nonchalant about their exams.  A few thought it would be a shame to go through college too quickly and thought they deserved another year just to relax. 

But in fairness the vast majority of students dreaded the thought of repeating a year although that didn’t necessarily mean that they thought they should attend lectures or spend a few hours studying every day. 

Strange stories about how particular students tried to pass their exams started cropping up in the Bar. 

There was the story of the student who took the drug speed the night before his exams for instance so he could stay up all night studying and be able to write faster during the exams.  It must have been desperate measures time. 

He did indeed stay up all night studying and well he did write a lot.  The only problem was he never turned the page of his copybook and wrote over the same page again and again.  Also, you don’t get marks for what you wrote on the table. 

Some people told me that I should smoke some hash before studying.  Allegedly it would you make concentrate that bit more over every sentence.  The suggestion seemed so patently absurd that I could not help but challenge it telling them that it was because they kept on forgetting what they had just read and they had to do read it again and again.  But there was no convincing them which shouldn’t have surprised me as it was sacrilege to say anything negative about the drug during the rest of the year.   

Overall focussing on my exams was helping me to return to a happier state.  It was the lesser of two evils and took my mind off worse things.  I started socialising again when I was in the bar and even my classmates commented that I seemed a bit happier. 

My Personal Assistants Patrick and Leanne were starting to grow anxious about what would happen to them during the summer holidays wondering would they be expected to go to help me in Mullingar or would they have to work for someone else. 

I didn’t know what was going to happen but most importantly I didn’t want them finding alternative employment before the college year had ended.  It would be difficult to find a replacement.  Therefore, I kept long fingering the issue telling them that everything would be fine and I’d start looking into it shortly. 

My life seemed to be becoming a series of cloaks and mirrors and I wondered if I would lose sight of what the truth was. 

I hadn’t spoken to Jason since but our mothers had become the best of friends and I was constantly getting updates on how he was doing.  Fortunately, I could be sure that he had kept my secret. 

I was unsure though how exactly my plans for revenge were going.  Weeks had passed and nothing had happened.  It made me wonder what if anything was going on.  Casey and John were now coming to the bar less often and when they did, there would be other people there making it impossible to discuss. 

About a week ago I did manage to finally get talking to Casey on our own.  He reassured me that I needed to be patient and that it would happen soon.  The most important thing was to keep my mouth.  If word got out, the hit would be called off. 

I lied telling him that I hadn’t told a soul and wasn’t going to either.   

It was an unusual Thursday evening.  I and Lucy were both busily studying away while Leanne watched the television in the sitting room.   For some reason I never thought that this would be the way I’d spend my last few weeks at college; unlike Lucy though I had a tendency to look at the clock.  I had promised myself an alcoholic reward for if I spent two hours studying microeconomics. 

The first hour went well and I had given the task my full attention.  The next half hour I found myself starting to get bored and now I was mostly counting down the time and watching a small insect slowly climb up the wall.  The apartment was dead quiet.  Maybe I should have organised a small television for this room.  No, I thought, I wouldn’t get any study done then at all.   

There was no point in staying any longer so I shouted out for Leanne.  Nothing stirred so I shouted again.  Then I could hear rumblings in the distance and after a few seconds Leanne opened the door followed quickly by Lucy who said with a large grin that she hoped I wasn’t giving up on the study already.  Apparently, it would be harder for her to study knowing that I was out enjoying myself.   

I told them that I had done enough study for the day.  Leanne heartily agreed stating that I had done enough and working too hard wouldn’t be good for me which drew laughter from Lucy.  She told Leanne not too mind me that I had just twitched my fingers for the last hour. 

Now Leanne began to laugh quietly and then suggested that Lucy should go with me.  It was a most unexpected suggestion.  But I had no real plans and said that it sounded like a good idea. 

At first Lucy equivocated but then decided that she would come with me but would need a few minutes to get ready.  I knew that I now had little choice but to wait for her.  I went into the main room talking to Leanne for a few minutes while I waited.   

Tick, tick that was the sound of my drinking time slowly disappearing.  I tried to pretend that I was interested in what Leanne was saying but couldn’t help but ask her what time it was every so often.  My mind was telling me that I should have come up with some excuse as to why I should go alone, my body pulsing with the thirst. 

But then she came out.  She looked stunning with a low-cut top and a short dress showing plenty of leg.  I tried in vain to put the feelings of arousal to the back of my mind.  It was only a pity we were heading out as flatmates and not as something more. 

We said our goodbyes and were out the door.  It was a cold night and I wondered how Lucy coped in her short dress.  The only pity being that I couldn’t slow down & admire her legs.  It just didn’t seem appropriate.   

Lucy was in good form, although she didn’t seem overly confident about her exams.  Like a gentleman I pretended to care about her problems.  Within a short few minutes, we had reached our destination. 

There was a good crowd in the bar.  Immediately I asked Lucy what she wanted and to my surprise she said that she’d have what I was having.  The thought crossed my mind that this could be an interesting night.  I ordered some vodka and went over to the table that Lucy had picked out. 

After a few minutes it was clear that she was in an unusual state of mind.  Maybe it was the thought of the academic year coming to an end and she was thinking of how she was going to miss me.  I don’t know but she was definitely flirting with me.  She was holding up my drink for me when I wanted some meaning that I was right beside her.   

I instinctively knew that it was time to turn on the charm and starting telling her that I was really going to miss her once the exams were over.  She started to reminisce about different things that had happened during the year.  I had a feeling that this was going very well. 

But then I got a pat on my shoulder.  It was Casey.  My heart sank, this really wasn’t a good time for a friendly chat.  Surely, he would have known to leave me on my own.  To make matters worse John and Ruth were also there. 

Lucy being a naturally friendly girl started to chat to them telling them that we were flatmates and then asking all about them.  I thought to myself that I might as well try and get a few drinks in anyway. 

Then Casey whispered to me that he needed to talk to me about something outside.  Immediately I thought to myself that it must be about the hit so I told Lucy I was going outside for a few minutes.  She queried why but fortunately John interrupted asking her where she got her necklace. 

It was cold, dark and sprinkling rain outside.  Casey threw my coat which had been resting on my wheelchair over me and told me we were going for a short walk.   

On the way he told me that we were going to one of the car-parks on the other side of college to see some people that wanted to meet me.  I asked was that such a good idea given the number of cameras around the campus but he told me not to worry about that. 

My heart pounded as I realised this would be a critical moment.  It took a few minutes to reach the car-park in question.  All the lights were switched off but Casey pointed to a car which was only barely visible telling me that there were no obstacles in the way. 

I always found it hard to trust someone completely so I drove slowly to the car despite his reassurance.  As I approached two men got out of the car and told us to stop.  I could tell that they were both tall but little else. 

Then in a thick northern accent one of them began to speak. 

“Are you Alan Hayes?” 

“Yes,” I replied fearing for a brief second that it was me they were going to shoot and then he continued. 

“You live in Lakelands, Mullingar with your two parents and you are currently studying Commerce in this fine institution.  You see, we know a great about you and all about what happened to your sister. 

It is important that you bear that in mind at all times.  This is a very serious business.  I hope you understand that?” 

“I do,” I replied trying to show no sign of fear in my voice. 

“This fella we’re sorting for ya; it would be a routine matter for us in the North as we’re the people who police our communities but down here it is a different story and the operation carries significant risk. 

That is why ya’ll be expected to do something in return.  Now I want to be very fucking clear about this, there will be no backing out of it or I swear to Jesus I’ll fucking shoot you myself.  You are now a real fucking IRA operative & we don’t give a toss about you being in a chair, you’ll be shot like any other informer or traitor.” 

He now raised his voice even further, “Are we fucking clear?” 

It was a more aggressive prep talk than I had been expecting but I was undeterred. 

Raising my voice, “We are fucking clear.”  

Casey then patted me on the shoulder and whispered that it was time to leave.  As I drove away, I could hear the doors of the car slam and them drive away. 

“Are you ok Alan?  Man, sorry about that.  I never thought they would threaten you.  What have I got you involved in?” Casey said nervously.   

But I wasn’t feeling fear only determination to avenge my sister and told him that he had done as I requested – Hugh Stokes was a dead man.  Then I told him that on the way back he should tell me everything he knows about these people. 

Casey told me that he had a friend in Sinn Fein who when he told him my story put him in contact with a crowd from the North who he said may be able to help.  However, the whole Republican movement itself has been in a state of convulsion over the Peace Process and it was now difficult to tell who was for it and who was against it. 

Casey feared that he might have got me mixed up with a radical splinter group called the Real IRA.  The so-called Real IRA was made up of radicals still determined to overthrow British control in the North by violent means.   

It was still possible that he could contact other elements that may get me back out of the situation I faced but I stopped my wheelchair on the spot and told him that all that mattered was revenge.  Once more I felt the anger and hatred flow through my being, the desire to tear my enemies limb from limb.   

Casey got the message.  There was to be no intervention.  I understood that I had gone beyond the normal boundaries and was solely responsible for the consequences.  I also knew that I was now within reach of my goal. 

It only took a few minutes to get back to the Student Bar.  They had by now stopped serving behind the bar and the pub was already nearly empty.  Lucy asked where I had been with a very puzzled look on her face.  I was lucky that she had company or she probably would have been angry rather than puzzled. 

Casey told her that I was helping him with something personal letting me off the hook.  Lucy had already finished all her drink so I drank the remaining bit of mine quickly.  We said our goodbyes and went back to our flat.   

I tried to start flirting with her on the way but the moment had been lost.  Instead she was full of questions about John and Ruth and how I’d got to know them.  But I didn’t mind, something much more important had been achieved… 

Chapter 20 – Summer Heat 

If it wasn’t for the exams this definitely would have been the best part of the college year.  The warm days put everyone in that bit better of a mood and most tried to combine the studying with the sunshine by lying down on any piece of grass they could find with their books. 

A week ago, I went to see the Access Officer about my requirements for the exam.  It may have been only the fourth time I went to see her throughout the year and the only time I felt something had been achieved. 

She was still looking as gorgeous as ever but this time I managed to stop my mind wandering from the task in hand.  I informed her of the compensations that I had received for the Leaving Certificate, ten minutes extra per hour and the option of using a scribe in case my hand got too tired. 

Fortunately, she said that my requirements should not be a problem but that ideally, I should have come to her sooner.  My mind temporarily drifted as I pondered if that was a standard response, she said to everyone.  She always seemed to want more time as if the thought of getting things done quickly was repugnant. 

It was a relief to get it out of the way all the same.  Now all I had to worry about was the exams themselves.  I felt like I was well prepared for them and the only one I was really worried about was the Statistics.  I had made sure to go to the tutorials though and I wasn’t overly worried. 

Sometimes though the worries of others were infectious and I would begin to doubt myself.  Lucy in particular was taking the upcoming exams very seriously.  It made me nervous that she was studying so much more than me and I wondered if the exams would prove to be a lot harder than I thought.   

She found the fact that I was out drinking while she was studying especially galling but I told her that she was studying too hard but sometimes wondering if my bravado would come back to haunt me. 

The Student Bar was still doing great business.  In the warm and bright weather, it was losing its physical barriers as students brought their drinks out into the adjacent field.  The first day it happened it took me a while to realise where everyone had gone.  The bar was practically empty and I wondered where all the regulars had gone.  It was unlikely they had suddenly become studious.   

But once it got cool outside, the bar suddenly packed up and I realised where everyone had been.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy the outdoor drinking experience.  The main problem was that the field was quite hilly and bumpy; I couldn’t risk the wheelchair toppling over.  So I had to spend more time on my own, sometimes even hoping for rain.   

My hit has still not taken place.  But I knew it was only a matter of time.  I found myself asking Patrick and Leanne to turn on the television to watch the six o’clock news to see if the headlines contained anything about a murder in Mullingar.  Alas, not yet.   

Casey was once again a regular presence in the bar but John was ever present.  I had been unsure of the extent of his knowledge about my plans.  He had always been more boisterous than Casey in his overt Republicanism but I had never once discussed what was planned with him.  Then all that changed. 

John was already jarred and talking to Ruth when I came in at eight o’clock.  He called me over to them when he saw me going to the bar.  They were having a theoretical argument about whether it was justifiable to kill to end the British occupation of the North. 

I immediately sensed that this would be a conversation best avoided but I now had little choice. 

Ruth was on the offensive, speaking full of passion.  It would be wrong to kill as it lacked a democratic mandate.  The vast majority of the people on the island of Ireland were opposed to violence and they had not given anyone permission to act on their behalf. 

John was having none of it though laughing in response.  He mocked her querying if weekly surveys should be carried out to ascertain when it was okay to defend one’s country. 

Then he asked if the Irish could be said to have a free choice in the matter when a gun is being held to their heads. 

After another minute or so of bickering I got dragged into the discussion and suddenly I had the casting opinion.  I tried to avoid the situation by switching the subject to how they were feeling about their upcoming exams but to no avail. 

“No Alan, keep to the subject.  Who do you think is right?” Ruth said alluringly and then with a quick wink when John went to sip his point. 

John then retorted asking if I was some sort of Brit lover while he laughed quietly to himself. 

“I don’t believe in violence,” I said without even a hint of sarcasm.  I was surprised that I could lie so absolutely without flinching. 

Ruth clapped her hand and with a wide smile told John that she had won the argument. 

John who was sitting on a stool leaned down towards me and whispered “Bollocks” in my ear. 

Immediately I knew my face had turned red but fortunately John wouldn’t tell Ruth why even though she asked repeatedly. 

The ease with which I had grown uneasy scared me.  There was always the possibility that I could face Garda questioning in the future. 

The topic was not brought up again that night.  Well, at least not that I could remember anyway. 

On my journey home I started to think how I was going to miss college during the summer.  It was going to be tough getting through each boring day of nothing happening after the experience of college.  At least there was always next year. 

I knew all was not well when Leanne opened the door.  It was written all over her face and the dour hello I received. 

There was an eerie silence when I asked for a cup of tea.  I wondered what had gotten her in such a bad mood.  She had seemed fine when I left. 

Deciding not to let the matter fester I asked her if everything was ok as if I was unsure. 

“I was having a chat with Lucy…” 

Damn I thought to myself, a third party probably not understanding my precarious position has upset my support network and I was left to pick up the pieces while she probably relaxed in bed.  But such were the challenges of living with a severe disability. 

Leanne continued telling me that Lucy thought she would be let go once my first year in college was completed.  It was exactly what I thought but ambiguity would be to my advantage.  The last thing I wanted was Leanne finding a new job before I was finished.  It would be a major disruption when I least wanted it. 

So, I did what I felt I had to do.  The first part was to discredit the messenger, then say that I would look into it and finally propose hypothetical solutions even if I thought they were a non-runner myself.   

“Sure, what would Lucy know about it?” I asked as if I was perplexed. 

“Well I don’t know Alan; Lucy is a smart girl…”  

Unfortunately, that was true and I knew I would make little headway querying her intelligence.  So instead I concentrated on the fact that she didn’t have the full picture and emphasised what she didn’t know.   

“Sure, she doesn’t know anything about how the system works.” I said authoritatively 

At this stage Leanne admitted that was correct but then asked me the obvious question of what was going to happen.   

Now I went to part two.  I reassured her that I was sure some sort of acceptable accommodation would be made for her.  Then I followed up with how I would look into it in the week or two.  She was getting a bit happier now.   

Then she moved the conversation onto part three suggesting possible solutions; maybe she and Patrick could work for me down in Mullingar.  It would actually be a shorter journey for her than what she was doing at the moment.  Or perhaps I could rent somewhere in Dublin.  After all I was now trying to live an independent life. 

Neither of these two solutions were viable.  I was never going to ask my parents to allow strangers into the house to live with them, especially after the hellish year they’d been through.  The other suggestion wasn’t much better.  It would be a waste of money; I wouldn’t be staying up in Dublin for no real reason.  Also, I’d have nothing to do and would likely be very bored.   

But I said none of this to her.  Instead I told her that they were good ideas and that I’d take them on board.  Sometimes I even sickened myself.  But it was effective and that was all that mattered.  Her mood had changed once more and I knew I could fall asleep knowing that stability had been restored.   

I woke up early the next morning which was always irritating as I had to wait for whatever Personal Assistant was on to get up first.   

Excitement had got the better of me.  I was getting the schedule for my exams later today.  Now it was getting to crunch time.  Ideally my exams would be well spaced out.  That would mean I could study for one exam, get it over with and the concentrate on the next.  The worst-case scenario was all the exams tightly packed together meaning I would have to study for more than one exam at a time. 

I laughed to myself thinking that I liked exams in a masochistic kind of way. 

As I waited outside the wheelchair area for my first lecture of the day it quickly became apparent that it was on my fellow students’ minds as well.  The schedule was being given out from ten o’clock in the Administration Building. 

It was still a little before nine in the morning so nobody knew anything concrete yet.  But even then, it was too easy to sense the tension from some of my fellow classmates.  I guessed that like me some of them had a lot to lose. 

It was during the middle of the lecture that I realised I had a problem.  The Administration Building was one of the few that had steps up into it.  Patrick was due to begin work with me at twelve o’clock so I decided I’d get him to go in for me. 

Until he arrived though, I got a drip feed of information.  The good news was that it was far from a worst-case scenario.  The exams were spread over a two-week period.  There were some days however when there were two different subjects on the one day.  Such days would be difficult but pivotal to my overall success. 

Patrick looked puzzled when I told him that I needed him to go to the Administration Building to get my exam timetable and I was hit with a series of questions like where was it and what course was I doing anyway.  He didn’t fill me with confidence even after I explained it all to him so I decided that I would go down with him and wait outside the building, that way if he forgot anything he could simply come out and ask me. 

It really wasn’t that much of a commitment on my part; it was only a short journey from my flat to the building.  As we reached the steps up to the building, I once more reminded Patrick that I wanted the timetable for the first year Bachelor of Commerce Degree. 

Then off he went.  I was pretty sure nothing could go wrong.  I tried to wait patiently, saying hello to the other students as they walked in and out.  

Then after a few minutes I saw him coming out the door.  Worryingly he didn’t seem to be carrying anything.   

“Did you get it?” I asked hopefully. 

“Afraid not.” he said grinning. 

He then explained that when he got inside, he went into the queue along with everyone else.  But when he got to the counter, they asked for a Student ID.  When Patrick told him why he was there, he was told that the building was accessible via the Arts Building. 

Patrick was perplexed but I understood.  I looked up at the flyover and told Patrick we needed to get onto it. 

“How do we do that?” he said in bemused laughter. 

I told him that we’d find a way and told him that we’d head back to the Arts Building.  This was to be my adventure for the day.  On the way I tried to work out which floor the flyover must be on and which lift should bring me closest to it. 

Patrick seemed content to just follow me and see where we ended up.  The Arts Building was pretty deserted.  The students were already in the lecture theatres.  We made our way towards the nearest lift. 

I told Patrick that we should go towards the first floor.  The flyover didn’t look like it was that high up.  Once the lift opened, we went in a clockwise direction trying to keep to the outer walls to see if we could find the flyover corridor.   

It eventually became clear that we were going around in circles and it wasn’t on this floor.    So, we went into the lift again and went up a floor. 

Patrick was by now starting to get agitated wondering if we were ever going to find this corridor.  I started to wonder if his lack of focus was why he ended up in a such low wage job but fearing I was being judgemental tried to put such thoughts to the back of my mind. 

In any event I had time to spare and was prepared to keep at it.  This floor looked just like the last.  There were lots of doors to small rooms and narrow corridors.  This time though Patrick’s patience was exhausted.  He asked the first person we came across who happened to be scruffy old professor if they knew anything about it.  He was very helpful and told us it was another floor up.   

Back we went to the lift once more and up we went.  I felt like I was in a maize but I knew it had to be here somewhere.  The lift door opened once again.  This floor looked only a little different to the last.  We split up and went in different directions hoping to find it quicker.  I drove the wheelchair at a fast pace trying to keep to keep to the outer wall.  Then after only two or three minutes it appeared before me. 

Finally, I had found it.  Then at maximum speed I went back in the direction from which I came looking for Patrick.  He hadn’t gone too far and a big smile came on his face when I said that I had found it.  

The flyover consisted of a long, narrow corridor which had a white floor but was covered in what looked like transparent plastic that gave it panoramic views.  Patrick went first so he could open the door at the other side.  I followed close behind. 

I was surprised by how high we were.  The students below us looked so small.   

When we went through the door at the other side it was obvious that we were off the beaten track.  The corridor we went into was very narrow and I found it difficult to go round the first corner I came across.  This was an unusual event in what generally was a very accessible university, but common in the real world outside my closeted existence. 

Fortunately, we quickly found a lift that we just managed to squeeze into and pressed the button for the ground floor.  The noise in the distance told me I was making progress. 

It was now only a matter of manoeuvring two tight bends and driving down a narrow, slowly descending ramp and we had reached the main area where we could finally join the queue. 

After a few minutes of waiting, I finally got hold of my timetable and got Patrick to hold it up for me so it could be properly assessed.   

The first three days of exams would be difficult but they were well spaced out after.  Now it was only a matter of retracing our steps and putting the timetable somewhere prominent in my room. 

Chapter 21 – A dish best served cold 

It started out just like any other day but it was always going to be special as it was my last day of lectures.  I felt a sense of accomplishment from the moment I woke. 

I had just managed to get through the academic year.  Yes, there are still the exams to do but when my future had once looked so bleak it felt like an important milestone. 

There were also tactical considerations.  I had made enquiries about what would happen to my Personal Assistants over the summer holidays.  Once they exhausted their leave they would have to work for other people with disabilities as needed.  They could be asked to go anywhere in Dublin. 

Patrick didn’t seem too concerned but Leanne was very worried.  She was dependent on bus routes and preferred to work with one person.  All I could say is that it was out of my control. 

The chances of her looking for alternative employment were shooting up but at least now I reckoned the consequences would not be as devastating.  If I had to, I could study in Mullingar and come up the day before or of the exam 

Two weeks previously I had been informed that I would be doing my exams on the first floor of the Arts Building rather than with my classmates in Blackhall due to the concessions I was getting.  

This was most satisfactory as getting to and from Blackhall would have proved difficult.  But it did mean that this would be the last day I would meet my classmates till the following academic year. 

Therefore, I tried to say goodbye to as many of them as possible during the morning.  Most were perplexed wondering what I was going on about and I had to explain them that this would be the last they’d see of me for a while.   

It was when I was saying goodbye to Dave that the day took a dramatic turn.   

He asked me would it not be too dangerous for me to go back to Mullingar during the summer in a sarcastic tone. 

“What do you mean?” I replied wondering what he was on about. 

It was then that I learned that someone had been shot dead in Mullingar.  My thoughts immediately raced to the idea that it might be Hugh Stokes. 

Dave noticed that I my mind had wandered and then apologized worried that he had reminded me of the death of my sister.   I told him not to worry about it anxious not to tell him what I was really thinking about. 

There was still one more lecture before I was due to head back to the flat for my lunch and I decided to keep to my normal schedule so as not to arouse suspicion.  

Also, the next lecture was Business Law.  It was an important one not to miss.   There were rumours that this lecturer gave useful tips about the exam in his last lecture and I wanted to hear them first hand. 

It turned out the rumours were correct.  I tried to take in as many of the hints as possible but thoughts about what had happened in Mullingar kept racing through my mind. 

Fortunately, the lecturer was direct and to the point leading to the lecture ending early.  Once it was over I knew what I had to do, head straight back to my flat to watch the one o’clock news. 

There were still people to say goodbye to but I couldn’t wait any longer.  I pushed the door open with my wheelchair and drove at maximum speed back to the flat. 

Fortunately, the corridors were clear as the other lectures were still ongoing.  It was a lovely and warm day outside, any other day I would have stopped soaking it up and admiring my beautiful surroundings.  But not today. 

Instead I sped onwards towards my flat which I quickly reached.  Leanne was sitting down looking out the window waiting for me so I didn’t have to wait outside for long. 

“Hello Alan, how was your morning?” She said happily as she opened the outer door. 

I replied that it had been a good day but that I had heard a bit of bad news. 

“Oh no, what?” She asked concerned as we made our way in. 

“Ah no, it’s not too bad Leanne.  Just that someone has been shot in Mullingar.  It’s a terrible country we’re living in.  I’ll have to watch the news to see what happened.” I replied as if disgusted.  

She was immediately horrified at the thought of such violence being brought to such a small midland town. It was different when these things happened in Dublin.  The country folk understood that murders happen in Dublin; but Mullingar was different.  If it could happen there, it could happen anywhere. 

As I hoped Leanne immediately turned the television onto RTE1.  The reception was poor and grainy, but still intelligible.  The ads were on and Leanne brought over my cheese sandwich.  She guessed I wasn’t going over to the table further away from the television. 

Then the headlines started.  The shooting dead in Mullingar came last after news that Ireland’s exports were up and a poll showing that Fianna Fail were on course to form the next government. 

The other topics were of little interest to me as I anxiously waited for the news from Mullingar The blonde newsreader with short cropped hair then turned to the matter in hand – 

Mullingar is in shock today after a man named locally as Hugh Stokes was shot dead last night in McKeever Park in the town.  The Gardai have said that they suspect that the Real IRA is responsible although the motive remains unknown. 

That was it before she continued on to the weather.  I immediately felt a huge sense of elation but it was tempered by hearing that the Real IRA was suspected of being involved.  There were two major reasons why. 

The first was how did the Gardai already know that Republicans were involved? 

It should have been a murder from nowhere but they already had a scent.  That was far from ideal. 

The second was the mention of the Real IRA.  They are a radical faction opposed to the peace process that had recently split from the main Provisional IRA.  If it was the Real IRA that had been involved then I was dealing with real extremists and there is no telling what they’d want me to do for my part of the bargain.  

Still Karen had been avenged and that was the most important thing to me.  I wondered if he had the time to feel fear before he was shot or was, he day dreaming when his life instantaneously came to an end. 

“You look pleased Alan?” Leanne said perplexed wondering in her innocence how I could be happy that someone had been shot and killed. 

Without hesitation I told her that was the guy who had murdered Karen. 

“Oh,” she said startled, “maybe he had it coming so…” 

After that she couldn’t quite think of what to say so she gave me my lunch in comparative silence. 

My original plan for the day had been to study for a few hours in the afternoon but I knew I was too pent up emotionally to stare at a book all day.  In truth I wasn’t sure what to do but I decided to go for a stroll and have some time to myself. 

There wasn’t really that many places to go though, and I didn’t want to run out the batteries of the wheelchair.  So after a few minutes I decided to go to the Arts Building and took up a position beside one of the tables watching my fellow students go about their business.  I wondered what would they think if they knew what I had done.  Maybe they’d be impressed that a wheelchair bound individual could achieve such a feat or maybe they would be horrified.  It was irrelevant of course; it was now already done and my aim now was to ensure that I suffered no consequences as a result. 

Then I thought about my parents and I wondered what they would think of it all.  I wondered if I did end up somehow being implicated in the murders would they stand by me or have nothing to do with me.  Hopefully I wouldn’t have to find out. 

It didn’t take me long to notice that the building was practically empty of life.  It occurred to me that everybody’s lectures must be over also.  This wasn’t the way I envisaged celebrating my revenge so I decided to head over to the Student Bar to see what was happening. 

I was amazed by what I saw.  There was a long queue to get in.  Fortunately, the bouncer who knew me well by now waved for me to come towards him.  The ramp was blocked so he simply got behind the wheelchair, tilted it up and then after I drove forward, lifted up the back of the wheelchair over the step and I continued in.  It was something I had taught him earlier in the year.  It was such an advantage knowing everybody. 

There was a complaint from the queue but that didn’t bother me.  I didn’t want to wait the twenty or thirty minutes, possibly longer to get in.  That wasn’t my idea of a good time.   

The bar was hot, loud and packed once I got in.  It was one of those days that I wasn’t going to be able to set up as usual adjacent to a table so I would have to find someone that I knew.  There was no turning back now.   

I decided to try and make my way to the right of the bar where I usually went.  Progress was slow and I soon found myself going in the opposite direction more by accident than by design.   

Then I saw Dave at a table close by along with other people that I recognised who were from my class and I inched my way towards them.   

“Hey Dave, hows things?”  I shouted so that he would hear me. 

“Ah man!  Hows things?  Fancy meeting your here…  Are you out for a few scoops?” 

I laughed and joked that I was always out for a few scoops.  He told me that originally, he was going to go home but the fellas at the table had managed to change his mind.  He then offered to get me a drink which I accepted. 

Immediately I decided that his was the best way to spend my last day in college.  This was the dream and, in any event,, I had a lot to celebrate. 

The banter was good and the drinks flowed.  The crowd got bigger with time swollen mostly by girls from the class many of whom were quite pretty.   

Far too soon it was time to head back to the apartment for my dinner.  Fortunately, the lads said that they’d be there a while so I said that I would head straight back down when I was finished.   

The queue was gone when I got back outside.  The fresh air hit me and I realised that I was already quite intoxicated.  It was raining slightly so I headed back to the apartment at maximum speed zipping along the empty footpaths. 

The dinner was ready when I got back.  There was no sign of Lucy and Leanne was in a talkative mood telling me not to worry about what would happen to her over the summer; that I had enough to worry about.  She would go wherever she was sent. 

It was a welcome concession probably given because of the turmoil she knew the latest happening in Mullingar would have.  I had mentioned the idea of Leanne helping me back in Mullingar but my parents were not too keen on it. This was one less thing to worry about.  

Deciding there was no point hanging around I went straight back down to the bar.  After all I would never be in the first year of college again; it was a day to go wild or at least my version of it. 

There was no queue this time so the bouncer only had to open the doors for me.  The bar was still busy but not packed like it had been.  My classmates were still there and I immediately joined them. 

The elated mood had by now somewhat dissipated perhaps by thoughts of the impending exams.  I tried in vain to tell them the only thing to fear is fear itself but with little success.  Still the drinks went down well and I barely noticed as the group slowly filtered away.   

Dave was the last to leave and we wished each other well over the forthcoming exams.  It was now my usual time to be in the bar so I decided despite my intoxication to see the night out.   

 After a few minutes I felt a hand on my shoulder.  It was Casey and John.  Casey whispered a “congratulations” in my ear and John gave me a wry smile. 

It turned out that I was going to be able to celebrate my other major accomplishment that day too.  They were both in good form.  Casey had been in the library studying for the exams but the lure of a cold pint had proved too much leading him to contact John to go for a jar. 

They were anxious to drink as many pints as possible before the bar closed but I was by now drinking slowly trying to make it to the end of the night. 

“Well now Alan, you did it for your sister.  I’m sure she would be very proud,” Casey said emphatically towards the end of the night. 

I nodded in agreement but wasn’t altogether sure.  Karen had been a peaceful and conscientious girl who detested violence.  But perhaps she would have made an exception for this given the circumstances and the lost future that had been ripped away. 

The siren to signal closing time started to go off in the bar which was already fairly empty by now.  I was wrecked and after saying my goodbyes decided to head straight home.  It had been a long but very eventful day.  A day I would never forget… 

Chapter 22 – Paranoia 

Perhaps I should have known that life is never that simple.  There was always going to be few rocky moments.  A murder would not just be forgotten. 

I was very hung-over the next day and I knew my mother would be able to tell the instant she saw me.  But there was no way around it, it was the only way I was getting back to Mullingar for the weekend. 

She collected me at the usual time; twelve midday.  Much to my surprise she didn’t look much better than I.  There was only one topic of conversation – Hugh Stokes and there was no delay getting straight to the point once she had me bolted into the van. 

“Did you hear what happened in Mullingar during the week?” 

Pretending to act stupid would only draw suspicion so I admitted that I heard that someone had been shot. 

“It was the guy that murdered Karen!”  

“Well that’s good news.  He got what he deserved so.  I won’t be shedding any tears,” I responded defiantly. 

“Yes, he did,” she replied more quietly, “I won’t be shedding any tears either and it’s not like the Guards were going to do anything for us.” 

There wasn’t much else said on what felt like the long journey home.  I felt it was better to say as little as possible about the murder but no other topic of conversation seemed appropriate and I didn’t want to bring up the topic of how I spent my last day of lectures.  Instead I spent the journey wondering what she would say if she knew the truth.  It was hard to know if she would be disgusted or considers me a hero; if everything kept going smoothly, I’d never know.   

When we got back to Mullingar I decided to go for a stroll in the wheelchair.  I love the summer; the sun bathing my body in warmth.  It was just what I needed as all my troubles seemed to drift away in the light breeze.  If only everyday could be like this.  It was a beautiful place to be on a warm summer’s day.  Just to look at the great Beech trees in the distance towering over the bungalows.   

When I arrive back an hour later my father barely mentioned the happenings in Mullingar to me and I began to feel that everything was destined to work out for me.  Maybe the Lord was on my side and I tried to relax. 

But as we were half way through my dinner we heard a loud unexpected knock on the door.  We looked at each other wondering if anyone knew who it was, but there was nothing but bewilderment. 

My Dad got up from his chair and went out to answer it.  We stayed quiet in the kitchen trying to listen to see who it was.  Dad opened the front door and I could hear at least two other voices talking through the closed kitchen door. 

Then the voices momentarily stopped and I could hear muffled footsteps coming towards the kitchen door just before it opened. 

“The Guards want to have a quick chat with us,” my father said looking towards my mother. 

It was then that I could partially see men behind him. 

“Oh ok, I’m coming out now, Alan I’ll be back in a minute,” she said sounding suddenly concerned as she left the room closing the door firmly behind her.   

Immediately I could feel that my heart was beating ferociously as I broke out into a cold sweat.  Never before had I felt so terrified and time itself seemed to slow.  It seemed apparent to me that I might well be enjoying my last few moments of freedom.  But my mind reasoned with my body lest it be betrayed without a valid reason. 

Then a second later she popped her head out back into the kitchen and told me that I better come into the other room too. 

It all seemed so clear now.  The Guards must have had an informer inside the Real IRA.  There was no other way that they could have figured it all out so quickly. 

So I slowly drove out to the sitting room expecting the worst, trying to work out a decent strategy for a probable trial. 

There were two tall Gardai waiting there patiently for me. 

“This is Garda Inspector McWilliams and this is Garda Murphy,” my father said in a surprisingly calm tone. 

Then Inspector McWilliams began to speak.  His lyrical accent immediately telling me he was from Cork. 

His message could not have been sweeter.  Hugh Stokes had been their prime suspect in Karen’s murder and they were now closing their investigation.  He hoped that it would be of solace although not ideal to us that he got what he deserved. 

Much to my relief I realised they had no idea that I had been involved.  My heart started to beat less rapidly. 

My father then asked if they knew anything about who was behind the murder.  

He shook his head saying that that they knew very little except that it seemed to be a very professional killing.  My mother no longer able to hold back her curiosity any longer asked why was the news reporting that there was Republican involvement. 

“The manner of the shooting had all the hallmarks of a particular Republican sniper,” he said nervously as if he had already given away too much. 

“But why?” my mother said probably wondering like almost everybody else in the room how he became a target. 

“We’ve really only started our investigation,” Garda McWilliams said, “but sometimes people like this are going to get themselves killed one way or the other.”  

With that the two Gardai made their way to leave shaking my parent’s hands and nodding their heads in my direction.   

The front door closing had never sounded so good.  I was free for now but I wondered for how much longer.  It had been far too close.  I felt like I had just escaped the firing squad at the very last moment. 

It took me hours to feel relaxed once more and incredibly my parents didn’t seem to notice.  Perhaps they found the unusual events disconcerting and were not sure of what to make of anything anymore. 

After watching television for a few hours I finally asked my Dad to put me to bed.  It finally gave me time to think to myself during what seemed to be a very hectic day.   

My mind tried to think through all the different possibilities of what could happen.  There only seemed to be bad endings.  It seemed almost impossible that I would get away with murder and manage to pass my exams.  Then in a sudden moment of clarity everything seemed to become clear.  I needed to aim for total victory.  It was not enough to merely get away with revenge, I also needed to pass my exams for it to be a true triumph. 

Chapter 23 – A Close Shave 

My eyelid slowly opened with the sound of Patrick closing the kitchen door.  Today was to be a very different day. After a long wait my exams were finally going to begin.  I already felt a nervous anticipation.  It could still all go so wrong but I had to make sure that wasn’t going to happen.   

As Patrick raised me into the air into the hoist, I thought about the possible questions which may arise this morning.  Microeconomics was first up in little over an hour from now.  I had studied hard and was feeling fairly confident.  But I knew there was still plenty to worry about. 

For instance, hopefully the scribe was competent.  All I knew was that it would be a woman, her name is Angela and that I’d have her for all my exams.  It was a writing heavy exam so I figured that I would be depending on her.   

Patrick was his usual jolly self-first thing in the morning but my mood was more sombre and I already felt focussed on what would be coming later.  He was full of conversation but I kept any required response to a minimum.   

I gulped my breakfast down hoping to make up as much time as possible to chat to the scribe before the exam started.  A quick brushing of my teeth and wash of my hands later and I was on my way.     

In a change to my routine, I had Patrick accompany me.  The campus was far more deserted than during term so I could no longer depend on passers-by to open doors for me.  Also, I knew that help would be required getting up the lift to the first floor where my exam room was.  

It was a damp, breezy morning and I told Patrick to try and keep up as I drove the wheelchair at maximum speed towards the Arts building.  It seemed like we were the only people on campus but I knew that there must be others hidden away. 

As we reached the lift, everything seemed to be going according to plan.  The exam was not due to start for another twenty minutes.  Soon we had reached the exam room and I was saying goodbye to Patrick asking him to meet me here in three and a half hours.  

He suggested waiting for the scribe to come but I told him that at such times I preferred to be my own.  Then he wished me luck and I was all alone. 

The room was ideal.  There was plenty of room to manoeuvre my wheelchair, large windows which let in a lot of natural light and a long, smooth table. 

Then what seemed like a long wait began.  Every time I heard footsteps from the corridor I wondered if it was her but it wasn’t.  I gradually began to grow more nervous and realised that I had been wasting my time getting down early. 

It was now ticking down to the exam starting time and I began to wonder at what point if I’d try to seek someone else out to tell them there was a problem. 

Tick, tock..  This was the last thing I should be thinking about.  But there were less than two minutes to go.   

Then a pretty girl with short brown hair looked in the door, “Are you Alan?” 

“Yes,” I replied thinking that it must be Angela. 

Fortunately, I was correct and she rushed into the room.  She immediately apologised for being late blaming heavy traffic and told me that she’d be back in a minute after she got the exam paper.  She was well dressed but I was surprised given the circumstances by how much cleavage she was showing.  In any other circumstance I’d be trying to think of ways to chat her up but I knew that I had to concentrate on the task in hand. 

A minute later she was still apologising but telling me not to worry that any missed time could be added to the end of the exams.  She then sat down beside me and asked me if I wanted her to do all the writing. 

I told her that I would do it for most of this particular exam but might switch over to her about half way through. 

She put her digital watch on the table and told me the exam would start in two minutes. 

Then it was off… 

The first thing I did was to read through the exam paper.  There were eight questions of which I could do any six.  There was one question I definitely wanted to avoid and two others I was a bit iffy on.  I decided to start on the easiest question to put some marks on the board. 

As it was only my first-year exams I just needed to pass.  It would have no other bearing on whether I got an honours degree or not, meaning there wasn’t the same pressure to score as highly as possible as there was in the Leaving Certificate a year previously.   

After an hour and a half of writing my hand began to get tired so I handed the task over to the scribe.  Even at this point in the exam I was certain that I was going to pass. 

Now all I had to do was speak out what I wanted to appear on the page.  At first like I knew it would be, I found it disconcerting but quickly got into the rhythm. 

I barely noticed the time flying by and finished the exam with about twenty minutes to spare.   

Angela then sealed the exam paper into a brown envelope before leaving to give it to another official.  She had asked me if I needed assistance to get back downstairs but I told her that I would wait for my P.A. Patrick. 

Even though he was only a few minutes late, it seemed like an eternity.  At least one hurdle was now over.  It was now time to go back to the flat and have my lunch, then study for the Mathematics exam the next day. 

Maths had always been something that I had been very good at and I didn’t think there was any risk of me failing.  The study I did do later was fairly half hearted and instead I thought about my study plans generally and the summer that lay ahead. 

As night approached, I decided there was no need to change my routine and I went down to the bar as usual.  The result was a borderline disaster. Instead of having a quiet drink or two, I ended up drinking away with a bisexual female student and discussing which Spice Girl we fancied the most.  She was beautiful with long flowing black hair and I was entranced.  Her exams were coming to an end just as mine were beginning.  Now this seemed to me what college and opening my mind should be all about.   

Needless to say, my head didn’t agree with me the next morning.  A throbbing headache was no form to be in an hour from any Math exam.   Nevertheless, I drove myself on and still felt confident.   

I arrived in the exam room with ten minutes to go.  This time Angela was there waiting for me and I got to have a quick chat with her.  She was an English PhD student originally from County Offaly and currently halfway through her thesis.  The scribe work was her way of making some extra dosh over the summer.   

Soon the time of the exam approached and she left the room to get the paper.  I anxiously tried to get into exam mode and put thoughts of the night before out of my mind.   

Once the exam began though I realised all was not well.  Math never lies and my proofs were not adding up correctly.  So, I skipped the question and went on to the next one but to avail. 

Panic was beginning to set in.  My head ached and I was perspiring heavily.  This wasn’t supposed to happen to me.  I suddenly worried that my mind might go blank altogether.  The fact that Angela must have known I was struggling seemed to make me even more anxious. 

I realised that I needed to get a grip on the situation.  All though was not yet lost, there was still a lot of time left and I only needed forty percent to pass.  For ten minutes I did nothing but try to clear my head. 

Then I looked back at the work I had already done and noticed I was making silly mistakes by trying to multiply and add things in my head rather than using a calculator.  Normally I would be proficient at doing this but not today. 

So, I took a few deep breaths and started the next question.  Slowly and methodically I made my way through it.  It gave me some badly needed momentum and gradually I brought the situation back from the brink. 

At the end of the exam I knew it was a poor performance but it had been enough and that was what really mattered. 

At least I learned a lesson before it was too late.  I made sure from then on that I was on the ball each day of an exam.  Every exam was well prepared for whether I was confident about it or not. 

The Statistics exam proved to be as difficult as I’d imagined but the extra hours of concentration, I spent on it paid off.  I got the first half of the exam almost all right and the second half which I had less time to familiarise myself with almost completely wrong. 

The final day in Dublin before returning to Mullingar for the summer holidays felt strange.  The campus was by now now almost completely deserted, leaving it eerily quiet.  It had turned into a ghost town but still part of me was sad to be leaving and most of all hoped that I would be back in a few short months. 

Chapter 24 – A strange Summer Vacation 

Weeks passed and I settled back into the slow dreary pace of life in Mullingar, an endless monotony of recurring events each day.  Unfortunately to add to it all it was turning into a damp and dismal summer. 

I had to get up early in the morning before my parents left for work during the week leaving me with long days of daytime television.  It was a big change from the excitement I had been through. 

At least Darren was occasionally around to keep me occupied, whether it was heading out at the weekend or simply going for a stroll down the town.  He always seemed to be in good form which was a welcome change from my parents’ depressed mood as they still struggled to get over Karen’s death. 

The Real IRA had still not contacted me to say what they wanted me to do and the comforting thought that they were unsure of my whereabouts or I was no longer of any use of them entered my mind. 

Such thoughts however were however to prove to be a dangerous folly.   

That afternoon seemed like any other.  It was raining heavily keeping me indoors and I was switching from channel to channel looking for something at least mildly entertaining but to no avail.  

Then the sound of the phone ringing woke me from my half slumber.  I immediately drove out to answer it.  After three attempts I finally managed to swing my hand up and press the speaker button, then I shouted “hello” hoping that the person at the other end of the line would be able to hear me. 

The sound at the other end of the line sent a shiver down my spine.  It was the Real IRA operative I had met up in UCD.  Immediately I wondered how he gotten the telephone number and how much trouble I was now in. 

“Are you alone?” 

“Yeah,” I replied still having to shout into the phone. 

“Meet me at three o’clock tomorrow by the swimming pool in the town park.” 

“That could prove difficult…” 

“Be there or pay the consequences.  We know where you live.” 

Then he abruptly ended the call.  What had I done? 

When my parents returned that evening, I pretended that there was nothing out of the ordinary.  But internally I was in a panic trying to plan out the following day.  Even though I wasn’t due to meet him till three, I would have to leave the house at two as that’s when my Dad would be returning to work.  Any later and I wouldn’t be able to close the front door behind me. 

I would tell my parents that I was meeting Darren or something.  It would work but unfortunately, I’d have to wonder round town for an hour before meeting him.  Guess I could look round the shops or something. 

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night and was plagued by vivid nightmares of my me driving into the house to find my parents murdered or the thought of being shot at close range.  There would be no pulling out now, I would have to meet him. 

Fortunately, the next day turned out to be warm and dry so my father was not suspicious or concerned when I told him that I was heading out for the afternoon merely telling me to enjoy the warm day.   

It only took me fifteen minutes to drive to the town centre in the wheelchair so I still had a lot of time to kill, which I spent going from shop to shop looking at goods I had no intention of purchasing.  I pondered what I should say to this Real IRA man but could come to no conclusion or plan. 

Eventually I asked a pretty passer-by for the time.  It was ten to three so I decided to make my way to the park.  The park in Mullingar is quite large and located just off the town centre.  It is a large inconspicuous green area which contains a playground for kids, a pond and the town swimming pool.  

As I approached the pool, I could see a tall man with a shaved head raggedly dressed in a jumper and torn jeans leaning up against the wall of the swimming pool.  This could hardly be him I thought as I continued on to see if there was someone at the other side but he quickly called me back and told me we were going for a slow stroll around the park. 

I could tell it was definitely the same guy from before. 

“Welcome to the ‘RA.  We have big plans for you!” 

My heart sank, that was the last thing I wanted to hear. 

“What do you mean?” I asked unsure if I really wanted to know. 

Then he bluntly told me what I would have to do to repay the debt. 

“The new British Secretary for State Mo Mowlam is to attend a function in the Estate Hotel in Belfast in a month’s time.  She is the ultimate symbol of British oppression in Ireland. 

The night prior there is a disability event being held in the same hotel.  You are going to be invited and you will meet an IRA operative who will both assist you and carry out his mission.” 

“What is his mission?  It’s to plant a bomb isn’t it?” I quizzed. 

“You don’t need to know,” he replied angrily and then staring right at me, “but let’s be clear if you turn down the invitation or rat us out, I’ll personally shoot you and your parents as traitors!” 

Oh no I thought to myself, what have I done??