Paradigm (Part 1)


Alan, a college student with a severe disability has reaped his vengeance against the murderer of his sister but now it is it is time for payback.  He immediately finds himself on a covert mission for a fanatical dissident republican faction intent on destroying the fledgling peace process.  Over three thousand lives have already been snuffed out in the conflict. 

But the failure of the mission hurtles him even deeper into the quagmire of indebtedness and violence as he is forced to watch the brutal murder of a volunteer.  There is also beauty as he becomes entranced by a beautiful British agent almost twice his age.  All the while he must continue with college if he is to have any chance of a better life in the future. 

Just when he feels that he has done enough to escape his predicament, he hears the name of his ultimate nemesis – Tadg Kennelly.  A ruthless monster who with religious zeal will stop at nothing to bring about his dream of a united Ireland.  There is no such thing as innocence or non-combatants in his mind. 

This is not just a thrilling tale of subterfuge and deception but also a coming of age story of someone fighting for their very soul.  Torn between different allegiances he must make his way in a murky world where nothing is at it really seems. 


Chapter 1 – The Horror 

It was the serenity I had loved; the silence.  That is except for some branches gently shaking in the wind.  It was only a short distance from the house and used to be a secret refuge.  But now the thought of going there would terrify me. I needed noise to drown out my thoughts.  The shame and guilt for what I had done.  My parents had never intended to raise a monster but that is what had happened. 

There was simply nowhere else to go.  My parents were anxious for me to spend some time outside perhaps so they could escape my foul mood.  As if theirs was any better; they barely spoke to me or anyone else any more.  Now the sound of women crying out for their loved ones from the rubble, images of the missing limbs and faces covered in blood permeated my mind.  Surely there are things that can never be forgiven and I must have crossed that point just about an hour ago. 

It was never supposed to be like this.  All I wanted was revenge against my sister’s murderer.  Surely after what he had done to her, it was what any decent brother would have done.  But with a crippling condition since birth called Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita revenge was to be had by an invisible hand.  The condition caused by multiple joint contractures left me wheelchair bound with only limited use of my hands.  It was a friend from college who first put me in contact with a faction of the IRA that rejected peace.   Blinded by hatred I cared little for the consequences of the alliance I had entered into. 

It was only when I tasted my revenge that my thoughts turned to the North.   The Good Friday Agreement had been signed in May which promised a historic lasting peace in Northern Ireland.  Both sides had grown weary of a bloody but low-level conflict that had led to the deaths of over three thousand people over twenty years.   On the one side you had moderate nationalists, Republicans including the IRA and the Irish Government; on the other unionists, loyalists including terrorist organisations such as the UVF and the British Government. 

There were minorities on both sides which opposed the peace deal.  But its most deadly opponents were dissidents from the IRA.  To them there could never be a peace deal while Ireland remained divided into two different artificial state-lets and British soldiers remained on the island of Ireland.  They saw their comrades as sell outs who had betrayed their country.  The struggle had already lasted centuries; there was no end in sight for them. 

These were the people I had become indebted too and I had become an instrument of their destruction.  I had never really thought about it before but planting a bomb and then scurrying away really was a cowardly act.  At least television would give me some indication of my heinous crime; I deserved to be punished. 

It was now approaching dinner time so I turned the wheelchair back on and began trundling the short journey home.  The skies were slowly turning grey as I drove horizontal to the front door and knocked on it three times.  My father struggling to smile opened the door and welcomed me in telling me the dinner was ready. 

My mother was already sitting at the table ready to help feed me.  Their lives had been shaken to the core by Karen’s death but recently I could feel they were trying to move forward with their lives.  The Gardai had told them that the case had been effectively closed as the primary suspect was himself dead.  They were sure he was the perpetrator and to try to take at least some solace from what had happened even if it was not ideal. 

It was a typical setting for an Irish dinner with beans, potatoes and pork to eat with the television in the corner of the kitchen.  My father went to turn on the news as he always did.  It would only be seconds now till their questions would start. 

“Alan, wasn’t that the hotel you were at?” 

“Did you notice anything odd?” 

Or maybe they will tell me how lucky I was, that it could have happened to me.  Probably best to act surprised I surmised and that I was so thankful nothing so awful had happened to me when I stayed there.  Fortunately, I had learned I was a good liar…  Not the kind that would let something slip easily. 

The Angeles snapped me back from my thoughts.  It lasted the customary sixty seconds and then the news headlines were read out.  I was surprised when it wasn’t the first item mentioned but shocked when there no mention of it whatsoever.  Perhaps the news still had to filter through.  Then at the end there was a brief mention of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair visiting the North for peace negotiations.  The attack had demonstrably failed. 

A million different thoughts started to run through my mind.  Perhaps there was a cover up to stop panic breaking out or maybe the bomb had failed to detonate.  Either way things were not good and I could feel a heavy weight on my shoulders…   

Perhaps sensing my unease my father asked me if I was alright.  I struggled to reassuringly smile and nod that I was fine.   

The news continued till the end without any mention of an attack as I slowly ate my way through the dinner.  Once I was finished, I went to check my mobile swinging my arm onto the coffee table where I had left it hours earlier but there were no messages or phone calls.  What did this all mean?  Or maybe, just maybe… 

Chapter 2 – The Debt 

It felt good to return to return to UCD for Second Year of my Bachelor of Commerce Degree, anything to take my mind off the summer’s events.  It is the largest university in Ireland with approximately eighteen thousand students.  During the day there is a constant flow of activity and at night The Student Bar is the place to be.   

Just like my first year I would live in a ground floor apartment on campus with fellow student Lucy and Personal Assistants.  It is close to the centre of everything which makes my college life that much easier.  The only drawback is that almost all the rest of the student accommodation is inaccessible. 

Lectures provided an opportunity to exercise my mind without feeling a cold sweat pour over me.  The Student Bar was once more in full swing with queues forming before lunch hour to get in.  Just the way I liked it.  My friends were thrilled to see me if a little amused that I had made it this far after spending so much time in the pub. 

Casey gave me a big hug when he saw me.  It was the second night back and I was reacquainting myself with my favourite table and my beloved vodka.  The music was pulsating through the bar and the large crowd were in vibrant form.   

At times shouting into my ear as people barged past, he told me about him summer.  He had spent it in Lyons in France teaching English and had become besotted with a French girl.  He had told her that he would return but now looking forlorn was doubtful he would.  He never asked about my summer; perhaps wanting to distance himself from events. 

The party atmosphere continued throughout the night. 

Fortunately, fewer hours of lectures were scheduled than my first year at the university.  There would be plenty of time for recreational activities between lectures which would probably consist of drinking tea and watching daytime TV for me.  I had different subjects than last year; but being a Commerce student; there was nothing, not related to business or which I felt could give me a sleepless night. 

Economics was always a subject which made total sense to me and business organization couldn’t possibly be arduous.  Hopefully accounting wouldn’t be too boring this year. 

But a shadow constantly lingered over me.   

Just a week before I started back, the mission had been outlined to me.  It was a bomb plot to murder the British Prime Minister.  Originally there was a different target but this was apparently too good of an opportunity to let pass.  He was to give a key speech about the peace process in two months at the Langton hotel near Belfast city centre.  One month from now I would be attending a disability related conference at the same hotel where my co-conspirator would plant the bomb. 

All I was told was that there was a republic sympathizer involved in an organization called People with Disabilities in Northern Ireland (PDNI) who would ensure I would be invited and that suitable accommodation was booked.  I would be accompanied by another IRA agent who would both seemingly look after my needs and plant the bomb while I was there. 

“Where?”  “Why?” and “How?” is a summation of my parents’ thoughts regarding my forthcoming trip to Belfast.  Telling the truth that I was on an IRA mission was totally out of the question so instead I told them that I needed time to get over Karen’s death; that a trip away would be cathartic for me, that I needed to spend some time away from everything, where people didn’t know my name or what I’d been through.  When they started to accept that the questions about who I was going with started. 

These were far more difficult to answer.  I was only meeting my “handler” every two weeks at best, sometimes beside a bench in the town park in Mullingar and other times in the Arts Centre on campus.  He gave little information away stressing that people had to be protected.  He had seemingly been assigned to me by central command and had a long terrorist history.  Shabbily dressed with a long white beard and ever-present blue cap he liked to remind me endlessly that I should be honoured to get a chance to serve my country. That the British had been oppressing the Irish for over eight hundred years and it was now time for them to leave. 

He suggested telling them that I was going with “Jimmy”; a mature student.  The rest of the details were to be kept as vague as possibly lest they were to guess for instance that “Jimmy” had no idea where UCD even was.  This was not very reassuring.  Pointing out that I needed someone who understood how to use a hoist and could drive the family’s accessible van drew a quizzical look before looking away and saying it would all be sorted.  

Eventually he told me that my accomplice would be a masquerading as a mature student who had some previous experience helping people with disabilities.  Whether he actually had any experience helping someone with a disability was seemingly another thing entirely but the leadership were confident I could direct him appropriately, something which reassured me little. The date of the conference was now fast approaching. 

Two weeks later I got the call.  My Dad called out my name to tell me that “Jimmy” was looking for me on the phone.  I nervously drove into the kitchen to take the call.  My Dad had to had to hold the telephone to my ear which made me worry he might hear something he shouldn’t. 

The first thing I noticed about Jimmy was his thick Dublin accent.  It was unexpected as I thought it would be a Northerner but nevertheless the sense of familiarity made me more comfortable.  The conversation was short and snappy.  He would be calling at 10 am the following Saturday and driving me up to the conference.   We would be staying for two nights; he had used a hoist before and there was nothing to worry about.  In response I just responded that was fine and I would see him then.   

That ended the conversation and I nodded to my father that he could put down the phone which led to him looking at me a bit bewildered.  Seizing the initiative, I then informed of my plans for the following week.   

He was concerned but then said he hoped everything would go smoothly.  That it would be good for me to get some time away from things.   It made me feel sick to lie to those closest to me. 

Chapter 3 – The Trip to Belfast 

The rest of the week passed in a blur.  All I could think about was the coming Saturday.  Even the thought of alcohol after hours of tedious lectures couldn’t break me from my slumber.  Instead I stayed in my room sometimes studying but often just staring at the wall. Occasionally one of my PA’s or my flatmate Lucy would come in to see if I was alright.  It was unusual for anyone to spend so much time studying at the start of the year let alone me.   

But I knew that I was doing the right thing even if it was by default – saving my money and making sure I was in good health for when I met this Jimmy guy.  I had to be in top shape and ready for the unknown.  Eventually the week passed and I found myself nervously trying to sleep the night before I was due to leave.  I thought about all the events that led to this point; my beautiful sister Karen whose vitality had been so cruelly and violently extinguished; then my first meeting with the dissidents on the grounds of the college as we came to our understanding. 

It did not prove conducive to a good night’s sleep and I felt restless and tired the next morning.  But I tried to think positively, it would be all over in a day or two. 

I anxiously watched television waiting to Jimmy to arrive; flicking through the channels hoping to find something at least mildly interesting to take my mind off things.  But there was nothing.  Then I could hear the house doorbell ring.  Although expected, it felt sudden and my heart seemed to skip a few beats as I heard footsteps moving towards the door.  I would have driven out in the wheelchair only the sitting room door was closed. 

Then the front door opened and I could hear my father and Jimmy exchange pleasantries in the distance.  I tried to reclaim my composure remembering I had to act like I knew him well.  Then the sound of talking stopped and I began to wonder what had happened.  A few minutes passed before I heard something in the distance.  Within a few seconds they both entered the sitting room with Jimmy greeting me in a thick Dublin accent which I now recognized as being more specifically from North Dublin.  He was wearing a dark black jumper with jean looking worryingly nothing like a student. 

“Hows things Alano? – Are you ready to go?  Your father was just showing me the set up for the van and your hoist.  Those are some fine ramps you have,” Jimmy said in a thick Dublin accent. 

I smiled trying to maintain the false pretence and said I was really looking forward to the trip.  My father then interjected to ask Jimmy which roads he was going to take and double checked that he had the correct insurance.  Jimmy reassured him that he knew the roads well and there wouldn’t be any problems.  We then headed out to the van where I drove up the long ramps and got clamped into the van.  With that we said goodbye to my father and we were on our way. 

After going a short distance Jimmy stopped the act and began to speak more candidly.  Still he couldn’t seem to shake his positive attitude; he used to be a PA for people with disabilities so looking after me wouldn’t be a problem.  He couldn’t understand how I ended up as his partner on the mission but everything would be fine. 

Then in what must have been a break in the code of omerta he said they must be hanging something over me too.  That I was far from a classic IRA operative; from a good background not even considering my disability.   

But I said nothing in reply.  It could all too easily be a ploy to test me.  So, I simply replied to get on with it; neither confirming nor denying his thoughts.  It was best to be an enigma. Then I asked matter of fact what time we would arrive at our target; I would not be easily fooled. 

He replied that he didn’t know; that we had orders to take a detour.  The Chief Commander wished to discuss the mission with us first.  Not exactly what I wanted to hear but there was no point complaining.  I had never felt such sadness to see Mullingar fade into the background.  Soon we were driving along through narrow windy roads and through villages I didn’t recognize.   

Fortunately, Jimmy liked the CD that was in the van so that helped to pass the time.  I could feel myself warming towards him but tried to fight it.  He was not the kind of person I wanted to like.   

After about forty minutes of driving we pulled into a house with a farmyard.  This wouldn’t be good for my wheelchair I thought to myself.  We drove to the rear of the premises and Jimmy immediately got out of the van to open the rear door of the van and put down the ramps.  As he began to take the clamps off the wheelchair, I could hear the sound of footsteps in the distance which then came to an abrupt halt.  

I then reversed out of the van with Jimmy’s guidance hoping all the time that one of the ramps wouldn’t slip to be met by three men in typical IRA regalia wearing military uniforms with balaclavas. There were no hugs or warm embrace.  Jimmy and one of the men immediately headed off leaving me with two of the men.  After a few minutes I asked where we were but they just completely ignored me.  An age seemed to pass before they returned with Jimmy carrying a brown bag.  They finished talking as they approached me.  But even in the distance I recognized the thick Ulster accent of the other guy.  It was the same man I met in the car park in UCD to arrange the hit. 

Jimmy said it was time to go and as I drove back up the ramp the other three men left.  With a big smile Jimmy told me that they wanted to put a device in my wheelchair but that he had just about convinced them it was a bad idea.  All I could say was a very relieved “thanks”. 

“What’s in the bag?” I inquired meekly. 

 “You know what’s in the bag!  Don’t play the innocent with me,” he replied giddily, “I’ve just heard all about you.  You’re a right dark horse.” 

Then he affectionately patted me on the side of the face and said it was time to go. 

It would take another two hours for us to reach our destination.  I had wondered if we would encounter difficulties trying to cross the border but there was no checkpoint.  The only noticeable change was that the Irish language no longer appeared on any of the signs and the speed limits were in miles per hour rather than kilometres. Then the Union Jacks and Tricolours appeared. It was as if buildings and pavements were themselves nationalist or unionist.  Every square inch was fought over. 

The landscape itself was very beautiful.   I found myself captivated by hills and valleys; it was just a pity about the people.  I wondered how many people had died fighting over each hill down the centuries. 

It was a relief to finally reach Belfast as I was tiring of the journey and needed the bathroom.  It was a sunny day and the beautiful red brick buildings that I guessed were from Victorian times were a sight to behold.  There was evidence of the conflict everywhere with flags on most of the buildings.  Suddenly I became conscious of the van’s southern registration and wondered what the likelihood of coming under attack would be if we stopped on the wrong street. 

Finally, we reached our destination right in the centre of Belfast.  It was a large modern looking hotel with a packed car-park to the front.  Jimmy cursing under his breath grew increasingly frustrated trying to find a wheelchair parking spot and joked; it would be no harm to blow the place up. 

Then as we neared the front entrance and without hesitation, he got out of the van shouted that he would be back in a minute.  So much for not drawing attention to ourselves I thought to myself.  After a few nervous minutes he replied that they had a wheelchair parking spot behind the hotel. 

At this point I didn’t care where we went so long as I got to a bathroom fast.  Another few minutes later I was de-clamped, and out of the van, finally able to feel the sun upon my face.   

Jimmy shouted that he had already got our keys and so we headed to our rooms.  There was a lift just inside the door and we headed to the third floor and after quite a long walk through what seemed a maze of narrow corridors, we reached our destination. 

I immediately felt a sense of relief when we reached the room which was spacious which would help with the hoist and that the beds had legs for the hoist to go under.  Jimmy switched on the television for me before returning downstairs to get my hoist and the device.  I flicked through the channels using the remote but there was nothing interesting on. 

When he returned, I no longer had any fear of the device.  It was just about getting into the hoist and onto a toilet.  Fortunately, Jimmy knew what he was doing and I only had to give him some guidance with which hooks of the sling to use; then finally relief. 

Chapter 4 – The Conference 

The conference wasn’t due to start till two o’clock which was still over an hour away.  For a while we switched through the different channels before Jimmy abruptly asked me was I ready for the really bad news. 

“What?” I exclaimed thinking things could hardly get much worse.   

“Well,” he replied with a large smirk, “the title of this conference is called – Dividends of Peace for People with Disabilities.  You are down as one of the speakers for tomorrow, so you better think of something to say for ten minutes” 

“You’re joking!” I replied in derision.  

But he wasn’t.  It gave me a terrible sinking feeling.  Jimmy said the commander told him when we were back in Cavan.  He said that I’d think of something and mentioned that he was hungry so we headed downstairs to find something to eat.    

The hotel was suave with excellent decor and wide-open spaces on the ground floor.  Jimmy seemingly knowing the way led me straight to the restaurant where we were promptly shown to a table.   It was only then that we discussed our overall plan for the weekend. 

Jimmy said that it was important that we fitted in, that we needed to make it look like we were taking a full part in the conference.  We were here for two nights so for today we would forget about the mission and get down to business tomorrow.  I nodded in agreement.   

It took nearly an hour for us to eat which was quite fast considering Jimmy had to help me with feeding.  It was delicious and I savoured every moment.  Jimmy told me snippets of his prior history. He had previously been a PA (Personal Assistant) for an old disabled man in Dublin who he still considered to be like a second father to him.  No names were mentioned and I wondered that if in another life it would have been possible for us to be good friends.  

Just as we finished Jimmy mentioned that we should head out the front door for a quick smoke before the conference started.  I rarely smoked when I wasn’t drinking but quickly decided to make an exception this weekend.  His cigarettes were obviously counterfeit with branding I had never seen before.  As we puffed away a few people with disabilities passed us and Jimmy said the conference must be about to start.  We agreed that there was no need for Jimmy to stay with me, that I would meet him at allotted times in the foyer.  I instinctively knew that this was the best way to proceed.  Jimmy didn’t seem like the kind of man who could sit patiently for a few hours. 

With that he stubbed out the smokes and we headed back inside.   After inquiring at reception what room the conference was in, I arranged to meet back up with Jimmy at 5pm. Then I said my goodbyes to him and went down a side corridor off the foyer.  I was met by a long queue in front of me.  If there’s two things I hate in life it’s queues and traffic jams.  This was a mixture of the two with wheelchairs dotted throughout.  

Gradually the queue moved forwards with a few joining behind me and eventually I reached a table where they were taking names.  I gave my name three times and eventually they understood what I was saying.  My eloquent southern accent proved difficult to understand.  Then a small guy using crutches motioned for me to sign my name in the book of attendance they were keeping.  But the table was too low for me to reach so I asked him to write my name in for me which he did after a brief look of puzzlement.  I could only hope things would get better. 

He then told me in a barely intelligible Ulster accent that I was at table number twelve.  With that I entered the conference room or to be more precise a large conference hall with a large glistening chandelier hanging from its very high ceiling.  It was already nearly full and I cursed myself for not coming sooner.  The table numbers were held up on a small sign on each table.  

Nervously I surveyed the large room to find my table trying not to make a fool of myself.  Just as I felt someone was about to approach me to offer guidance, I spotted my table at the other end of the room near the back.  Things were only going to get worse as more people sat down so I hastily chose what I thought would be the easiest route and began my journey.   

After a few minutes and many utterances of “excuse me” leading to chairs both with and without wheels being moved out of my way; I finally made it to my table and not a moment too soon.  There were four other people at it, all also from the South.  It was Georgina who immediately took my attention.  Also, a wheelchair user she had shoulder length blonde hair, beautiful blue eyes and a lovely smile.  I reckoned she was in her early twenties; a few years older than myself and given the accent from some part of North Dublin.  I was unsure what her disability was other than she was missing her legs.  This was someone I wanted to get to know and more.   

Arlene who was in her forties and a plain looking woman with very short brown hair was her Personal Assistant.  She was sitting beside her and they seemed to have a good rapport.   The two others at the table were older men with walking impairments.  Annoyingly they immediately started asking me what organization I was with.  I paused knowing I had to say something but not sure what. Well I thought to myself say something, so I spluttered out that I was involved in a disability group which operated in the midlands. 

Just as they were about to ask more questions a voice in a strong Ulster accent boomed through the microphone that the conference was about to start and asking for “quiet”.  Just in the nick of time I thought to myself.  Then he introduced others that would be speaking later before going through the itinerary of the conference for the two days.   Fortunately, a lunch was being provided at half five which gave me something to look forward to. 

Then the first speaker started.  I was facing the wrong way so I turned the wheelchair round to see him.  It was about a plan to increase the number of wheelchair accessible buses in Belfast.  It was something that would normally pique my interest but I found it hard to settle constantly thinking about the real reason I was there and so instead of listening I tried to think about any problems that may arise over the two days.  The thought of doing a speech particularly bothered me.  It was something I had never done previously and anyway I would have thought I should be keeping a low profile.   

When the speaker finished, I turned the wheelchair round to Georgina and asked her did we have to do some sort of speech tomorrow. 

“No,” she replied with a wide grin, “just you!”   

My heart skipped a beat as she told me that I was the one giving the talk tomorrow titled “The Peace Process – Nobody left behind”.  She giggled while asking did I not have something written up already. 

“I’ll come up with something,” I replied nervously.  

At least it wasn’t till three in the afternoon the next day.  Surely, I’d think of something.  The meeting dragged on until it was time to meet Jimmy.  I scanned the room and noticed if I went along the front of the large room I wouldn’t have to ask as people to move out of the way.  The only drawback was the embarrassment of driving in front of the table with all the speakers hoping that everybody wasn’t staring at me.    

There was no sign of Jimmy when I went out to the reception so I found myself nervously waiting hoping he would show up.  After what seemed like a long time of trying not to make eye contact with any of the receptionists Jimmy showed up saying he had fallen asleep. 

He wanted to go out for a smoke but I told him that we didn’t have time.  There were already other people leaving the conference.   So, we headed back to our room so that I could toilet.  As I dangled in the hoist hovering over the toilet, I told Jimmy about how the conference was a bit boring and about the people I had met.   

His interest immediately peaked when I mentioned Georgina and Arlene and I found myself bombarded by questions about what they looked like and if we were going to get to talk to them later.  Once I was finished, we quickly headed back to the foyer where progress slowed considerably in a wheelchair jam into the restaurant. 

We would have time for that smoke after all as we left the jam and headed out the front.  As Jimmy lit the smokes, he told me we should try and let our hair down and enjoy the night.  It was important to be seen to fit in after all.   

“What about you know? 

Seemingly he would have plenty of time while I was attending the conference.  There was no harm having a bit of fun tonight and anyway we needed to get to know those women better.   

We quickly puffed our way through the smokes and headed back inside where the queue into the restaurant had now dissipated.   On entering a waiter immediately began to fret over where to put us.  Just as I began to worry that I might be in for a long wait for something to eat he returned telling us that there was a place at the very back which he then led us to.  

We ended up with a table right beside a window which looked on to a green area.  It was so serene and beautiful.  I wondered if anybody would be sitting here when the bomb detonates, If the nice green scenery would be blemished by a river of blood.   

I tried to turn my mind back to the matter at hand.  There was no point in immersing myself in self-loathing right now.  The menu had a wide selection and I decided some fish would be nice before settling on salmon.  Jimmy had already decided that he would like some bloody steak seemingly oblivious to the irony. 

As we waited to be served, I asked among high background chatter what the specific plan for the night was.  Much to my surprise he insinuated that we should try to take things as they come but definitely get chatting to some of the lovely women around the place.  Then he whispered in my ear that he would have plenty of time to get things ready while I was at the conference tomorrow, not to be worrying about it.  I said that was fine.  He was the seasoned operative; he surely knew what he was doing.  I thought to myself that tonight would be interesting and it was better to go with the flow than be obstinate. 

Gradually the crowd in the restaurant began to fade away as they went back to the conference room.  The meal was delicious but I decided it was best not to be late back and indicated to Jimmy that I was going to return.  Jimmy nodded in agreement as I began to trundle away. 

The rest of the table were already there when I arrived.   Georgina immediately asked if I enjoyed my dinner.  Her wide smile made my heart melt but I just about managed to say that I did.  My thoughts wandered to whether I might be able to sneak a kiss later that night.  After all I had little to lose at this point.  The thought of our lips locking made my heart flutter just for a second. 

But then the meeting restarted and I was brought shuddering back to reality.  Only another few hours to go I thought to myself.  The afternoon seemed far longer and more drawn out.  It mostly centred on ways of ensuring people with disabilities took advantage of the expected peace dividend in terms of jobs.  There was more back and forth with questions being asked from the floor and people telling of their failure to find employment despite years of trying. 

It was a predicament I hoped would not be in my future, but then again, I was well on track for things to be far worse.  Suddenly I felt a burst of remorse for what I was involved in.  But I tried to quash those feelings and convince myself that I was merely a victim of circumstance.  Slowly I regained my composure.  

It was a relief when the conference finally came to an end for the day.  The people at the table all agreed that we would keep an eye out for each other later that night which quite happily would give me an opportunity with Georgina. 

Chapter 5 –   The Night of Debauchery 

After the conference I once again met Jimmy in the foyer.  We went for some sandwiches in the bar area which was adjacent to the restaurant.  It would be good for soaking up the alcohol later.  There I told him how the rest of my day went and how my crush on Georgina was developing.  He excitedly suggested that I make a move on her later that night and that he would chase her assistant.   It was unclear to me whether or not he was serious.   

Once we had finished, we headed back up to the room.  It was a mess.  The beds were on their sides and some of the carpet was pulled back.  At least the hoist and battery charger were fine I thought trying to reassure myself.   

Jimmy perhaps noticing I had gone suddenly quiet told me he had really good news. 

“What?” I inquired thoroughly perplexed by what he would come out with. 

With a mischievous smile he began to wave some paper in front of me.  He couldn’t contain himself for long.  It was my speech for tomorrow. 

“What?” I exclaimed feeling an unexpected sense of joy. 

He had an unexpected visit from one of our comrades while I was at the conference.  Apparently, the dissidents were a bit more organized than I had given them credit for.  A weight had been lifted from my shoulders.   We then prepared for the night ahead.  Jimmy was more determined than ever that the night was to be enjoyed.  I pretended to watch the television while he meticulous put the room back the way it should be in case someone else entered the room however unlikely. 

It was then straight to the bar.  I found myself feeling a whiff of excitement as we headed down the lift.  In reality things were so dire I might as well try to enjoy whatever good times I could.  From Jimmy’s good mood made it was easy to glean that he had a similar sentiment. 

The bar was eerily quiet when we arrived.  Jimmy seemed to sense my disappointment and said the rest will probably be down in a while.  Apparently, they were probably not all alcoholics like myself.  A vodka for myself and a Guinness for Jimmy and the night will have begun. 

We sat at a small table close to the bar and ordered some drinks. Jimmy started to tell me a bit about himself.  Once more he mentioned that he had worked as a Personal Assistant for an elderly disabled man in Dublin.  The man had had become disabled in later years through a car accident.  It was more like looking after a family member for him though.  All I did was nod as he told me that the man had recently died, his eyes welling up.  Trying to lift his spirits I told him that I was sure all his help had been appreciated. 

Perhaps sensing the night was going off course Jimmy started asking me about my studies and what I thought of Belfast.  I told him about how I thought it was a beautiful city with lovely red brick buildings.  We both laughed when he mentioned they were proudly built by the British.  Then I told him that I was finding it difficult to concentrate in my studies with all that was going on.  He nodded understandingly before suggesting we go out for a smoke.  I queried why not have it at the bar but he insisted.  

When we got outside, he said that it gave us a chance to talk privately.  There could be listening devices in the bar.  I laughed incredulously but quickly stopped when his face grew stern.  For two minutes nothing was said but then the banter restarted.  On the way back I spotted Georgina and Arlene.   Arlene gave me a big accentuated Dublin hello and Georgina a warm smile; the talk immediately veered to how long I had been in the bar and introducing Jimmy.  

Jimmy quickly suggested that they join us in the bar to which they agreed.  Soon the drinks were flowing freely and I noticed that Jimmy and Arlene were becoming quite enamoured with one another.  Although I was trying my best to chat up Georgina asking her about her interests and where she was from; she seemed far more interested in what the other two were talking about. Maybe she thought I was too young for her or something I thought to myself. 

Perhaps worried that I wasn’t playing my part Jimmy whispered cheerily in my ear that if I wasn’t careful, I would be watching him having a threesome.  If nothing else it motivated me to give it another try.   But she was having none of it.  Eventually feeling I had little to lose I asked her about her love life.  She smiled and told me that she was engaged.  Just my luck I thought to myself as I congratulated her.  I’d just have to make the most of the night. 

The drinks were still flowing as midnight came and went.  Jimmy who was now in great form nudged me to go outside for a smoke.  Arlene who was by now holding his hand asked where we were going in drunken bewilderment.  He reassured her we wouldn’t be long and out we went. 

It was much cooler now but that didn’t bother us.  At first, we chatted about the number of drinks we had but quickly changed to Arlene.    Jimmy was planning a good night of sex ahead.  I jokingly queried what about our mission to which he responded in a rant. 

“Alan I couldn’t give a fuck about those people.  They make out that they are doing it for Ireland; total bullshit.  Will I tell you why they do it?  Will I?” he asked rhetorically.  

Wondering what he would come out with next, I just simply nodded for him to continue. 

“Money, they are making millions from this conflict.  It’s just pure greed.  They don’t want this so-called war to end because they are making so much dosh from the rackets and the smuggling.  I don’t know how a nice fella like you got messed up in all of this.  Those bastards.  Well if it wasn’t for…” 

He stopped mid-sentence as Arlene opened the door.  Apparently, the girls were missing us.  I cursed my luck.   He was speaking plainly and it would have been a great opportunity to get a fuller understanding of his character.  Back in we went.  The bar had packed up without me noticing.  I recognized many of the faces from the conference earlier.  As I went back to the table a group of two women and two men called me over for what I thought would be a quick chat.  They were from Derry with strong accents and very impressed that I had journeyed from Westmeath to be there. I was hit by a myriad of questions. 

“What was I doing there?” 

 “What would my speech be about tomorrow?” 

Inebriated and in a somewhat philosophical mood I responded that I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing there and had no idea what I was going to talk about the next day.  Fortunately, they just laughed in response.  One of the guys then offered to go get my drink from the other table.  I nodded and smiled giving him the direction to do so.  Gradually an able-bodied woman called Elaine who seemed quite tipsy took charge of the conversation and insisted on helping me when my drink showed up.  Through inebriated eyes she looked to be in her mid -thirties, of slim build with a nice body and shoulder length hair. 

She asked me about my trip and whether it was my father that was helping me which made me laugh. 

“He’s not my father!” I replied in humorous derision. 

Perhaps I should have replied in the affirmative.  As she looked seductively into my eyes, I struggled to explain how he was a temporary personal assistant.  Fortunately, she didn’t seem to care. 

Leaning closer I could now feel her hair occasionally brushing against one of my ears.  Now she began to tell me how she really admired people like me.  What normally I might consider condescending now seemed acceptable given the allure of a simple kiss or maybe more. 

I felt strange not quite sure what to do.  But then a thought I never had before crossed my mind.  I was not the cripple in the wheelchair; I was a murderer and a terrorist.  There was nothing I should fear.  So with much Dutch courage and quite possibly not congruent with the rest of the conversation I asked if she would like a kiss. 

Startled at first, a warm smile came across her face as she leaned in towards me.  My heart skipped a bit as I felt her lips touch mine.  Then I could feel her tongue probe for an opening and I quickly acquiesced.  Our tongues then locked in pure pleasure as my drunken mind tried to contemplate the unexpected events.  As the kissing continued, I could feel myself getting more and more aroused. 

Then I thought I could hear my name being called in the distance.  Then unfortunately I heard it again but much closer this time before I felt a hand on my shoulder causing to pull away from the embrace.  It was Jimmy who seemed to ignore my sense of bewilderment. 

“Sorry everyone; time to get this fella off to bed.” 

“Are you serious?” I replied incredulously.  

It was then pointed out to me by Jimmy and others that it was after two in the morning and I had an important speech the next day.  Coming to my senses and remembering the bizarre predicament I was in I said my goodbyes telling everyone I would see them tomorrow.  I did get one last kiss from Elaine in however. 

As I reached the lift it was became apparent that Jimmy was at least as intoxicated as I was.  I found him leaning on the side of the wheelchair for stability and I wondered if I would get to bed at all.  He was in great form though at first congratulating me on scoring.  Then he laughed as he pondered would our terrorist friends would make of it.   

“Shsh,” I extolled worried that someone would hear him as we entered the lift. 

But his riotous form continued and with a wide grin started tapping me on the shoulder telling me I was a dark horse.  I laughed but feared that maybe it would have been better for him to continue to underestimate me.  Jimmy finally managed to open the door after fumbling with the key card for a minute or two. 

Then we were in.  Now in our drunkenness we just had to use to hoist to hover over the bed and then lay me in the bed.  Baby steps I thought to myself.  If we took each stage at a time, I might just about manage to get some sleep in what was an increasingly enticing bed. 

Just as Jimmy reached the hoist he nearly fell over.  I could feel myself growing increasingly nervous and began explaining each step to him very slowly.   He had done it all before which made things easier, it was more about making sure that he kept his concentration and didn’t do something like fall asleep while I was hanging serendipitously in the hoist.   

After much longer than usual I was finally in the bed.  Then we realised I was still wearing my shirt.  It would just have to stay on at this stage so Jimmy just took off my trousers and underpants and threw a light bed sheet over me.  The sense of relief having completed the task was more than matched by my need to close my eyes. 

Just as I was expecting Jimmy to turn off the lights and get into his own bed he garbled that he was heading back downstairs to try and meet Arlene.  I couldn’t hide my astonishment and asked if he was serious.  It mattered little.  He merely pledged to be back in the morning to get me back up.  Then he switched off the lights and closed the door behind him.   

Chapter 6 – Speech 

The light was shining through the window when I opened my eyes.  Jimmy had failed to close the curtains.  My head was pounding and my mouth was drier than the Sahara.  I had turned to one side facing the window during the night and was now unable to roll back in the bed.  I shouted out for Jimmy hoping he was in the room but to avail.  There was not much to do in this situation.  Jimmy would either return or he wouldn’t.  Things would either work out fine or they wouldn’t. 

So, I tried to close my eyes and return to sleep.  But thoughts of doom insisted on running through my mind.  Perhaps the bomb was already activated and would accidentally detonate blowing the room to pieces or perhaps even worse Jimmy had done a runner and I would be left explaining everything to the police maybe never returning home.  It would be very difficult to explain to my parents in particular.   

Eventually I managed to put everything to the back of my mind and drifted back to sleep where I relived my experience with Elaine.  Except this time, we were in a hotel room and there was nobody to disturb us.  We began to kiss passionately; just as she was about to remove her bra though my sweet train of thoughts were cut short. 

Jimmy entered the room giving the door what seemed like a loud bang immediately raising mixed emotions in me.  Part of me was relieved that he had shown up but another was disappointed as I still felt tired and drained.  His cheery tone although strained by the night further antagonised me. 

 “Come on man, time to get up.  We’re running a bit late…” 

He knew better than to wait for me to respond and pulled back to sheets.  I was dripping in sweat so a quick decision made through a nod to change to new clothes.  However, I had to quickly tell him to make each movement slowly.  A move too quickly and I started to feel very queasy.  He laughed but took notice all the same probably hoping that I wouldn’t throw up all over him.  Gradually and much slower than normal I ended back in my wheelchair and somewhat ready for the day ahead.  

During the process Jimmy kept me quite entertained telling me of his antics from the night before.   After leaving me he went back downstairs to meet Arlene in particular.  He got there just in the nick of time as they were about to head to bed as the bar was closing.  Thinking very quickly for someone quite so intoxicated he suggested they head back to one of their rooms to have one final drink. 

He was sure he was going to score, but he was unable to prise Arlene and Georgina apart and apparently, they were not up for a threesome.  Laughing, I told him that I felt his pain.  At least he managed to make me forget my terrible hangover for a minute or two. 

Then when he did return to our room I was snoring very loudly and he was unable to get to sleep.  He had gone for a walk around the city to clear his head and that was what he was doing when I first half-awakened.  I apologized half-heartedly for keeping him awake to which he responded in jest that he should have just thrown me out the window. 

Now I was back sitting in the wheelchair and ready to go although a tad bit suspicious of the shave I had been given.  I asked if we could just go back down South as I was in no mood for spending hours at a conference not to mind giving a speech later.   But Jimmy simply replied that he wished we could but he still had work to do concealing the bomb. 

Making sure to take the speech in my hand we headed downstairs.  I was adamant that I at least deserved some breakfast.  We barely spoke to each other as we tucked into sausages, rashers and some pudding.  It made a big difference and I now felt much better although far from perfect.  Then Jimmy suggested that we go for a quick smoke outside just as I was about to make my way to the conference hall now over thirty minutes late.  It wasn’t hard to convince me and out we went.   

It was very warm and the sun was shining in a clear blue sky.  Groups of people carrying their bags were entering the hotel.  Some of them smiled at us and wished us a good day.  It made me feel queasy to think what I was part of.  I pondered what these people would think if they knew why we were there and I sensed Jimmy felt the same and wondered how he had gotten himself into this predicament.  We went over the plan for the day.  I would see for him dinner around one o’clock when I expected there to be a break.  This would give him plenty of time to finalize his wretched work. 

Jimmy walked with down to the conference room to open the door so I could enter before closing it behind me.  I could hear the person speaking temporarily stop and quite a few people glanced in my direction.  I slowly made my way back to where I had been the day before presuming and hoping my seating/parking area would be in the same location.  After asking quite a few people to move so I could pass my hunch was proved right as I saw the empty spot there waiting for me.   Georgina gave me a quiet hello and a warm smile; but there was no sign of Arlene.  Something told me it was best not to ask so I merely nodded at everyone there and placed my speech on the table so I could practice it for later on. 

The hours passed slowly.  Normally I’d probably be interested in the topics of “Disability in the workplace” and “Independent Living” but not now.  I struggled to keep my eyelids open and at least the veneer of paying attention.  More than once Georgina had to prod me to keep me awake.  It was embarrassing but at least nobody else seemed too concerned.   The rest of the table actually found it quite amusing. 

There was an unexpected highlight however I got a light tap on my left shoulder.  It was Elaine giving me a quick hello on the way back to her table.  She was just as beautiful as I had remembered which was strange as I thought maybe the drink had fooled me. 

Finally, it was time for lunch.  Much to my chagrin Georgina asked me if she could join me as there was still no sign of Arlene.  A day earlier this would have excited me but now I knew she had a boyfriend and I was just too tired to talk much in any event.  But I’m a gentleman so I said of course not. 

We waited for the room to clear and then headed out meeting Jimmy in the hallway.  He gave her a big hello and without any qualms asked where Arlene was.  Georgina giggled and told him that she was still wrecked from the night before activities.  I sensed the innuendo in the comment.  Jimmy had told me lies.  However, I cared little. 

We went into the restaurant.  Georgina told us a bit more about her life as we ate.  She worked for the Irish Wheelchair Association in Clontarf as an Employment Support Officer.  It was only part time and she wanted something full time.  Being naturally inquisitive I enquired about her boyfriend.  They were childhood sweethearts.  No chance then I thought to myself. 

Too soon we had to make our way back to the conference.  I was starting to feel nervous about the speech now and on reaching our table read it over and over again trying to make sure I didn’t mess it up. 

An hour passed and then it was time.  My name was announced and how I was an important speaker from the South.   Now my heart started to beat faster as Georgina wished me good luck.  I turned the wheelchair around and went to the front table.  I put my speech down in front of me and after confirming I was ready to speak began – 

Ladies and Gentlemen thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak.  My name is Alan McManus and I am here to talk about the peace process and people with disabilities from the perspective of a person from the South.  In particular due to the relatively small population of each state there is a great opportunity for bodies on both sides to merge and for services to be provided on an all-island basis – 

At this point I heard some groans come from the audience.  It made me feel even more nervous.  Suddenly I felt like I was speaking out of place in a land I didn’t understand.  But I had nothing else prepared so I continued –   

Some disabilities are so rare that the current division is unsustainable – 

Well that tipped things over.  Now I heard something being shouted out in a thick Ulster accent from the back.  Other people told him to shut but it was enough for me.  I stopped reading from script and just started saying whatever came into my mind with awkward silences at times.   

So, I talked about the importance of friendship and how much I enjoyed my trip to Belfast.  It was probably terrible but I just wanted to leave.  At some point I decided that I had rambled on for long enough and brought things to an abrupt end.  There were some claps while I drove back to the table but I didn’t feel much enthusiasm overall.   

Georgina just giggled at me.  Fortunately, I was one of the last speakers and the conference itself came to an end shortly thereafter.  Once more we waited for the room to clear before we headed out where we found both Jimmy and Arlene waiting for us. 

They both looked terrible with sunken eyes.  She tried to raise a smile and ask how our day went but quickly focussed on trying to find somewhere to sit down.  By now all I wanted to do was to go home and was much relieved when Jimmy said that it was getting late and we better go.   

He already had most of the stuff packed but we had to go back up to the room one last time to go to the toilet using the hoist.  As I waited for the hoist to lift me off the wheelchair, my curiosity finally got the better of me and I asked where he had placed the bomb.  

He merely sniggered and said it was somewhere nobody would ever find it.  It was probably best that I didn’t know anyway I thought to myself.  Although there was something, maybe my conscience niggling at the back of my mind tell me otherwise.   

Soon we were leaving the hotel.  I turned around to look at the beautiful hotel that I would be responsible for destroying one last time before driving up the ramps into the van.  

The drive back was largely uneventful.  Jimmy though had to stop occasionally to take a break as he was still so tired.  During one of them Jimmy couldn’t contain himself anymore and told me of his night of passion with Arlene.  Apparently, herself and Georgina booked separate rooms as Arlene tended to snore quite loudly.  She jokingly told him her room number in the bar but Jimmy knew he was in. 

With a wide smile he told me they had gone at it for hours with him at least having multiple orgasms.  I told him his story had been a bit suspect and inquired if they had made any arrangements to meet again to which he replied no and that was the best thing about it.  With that he got back into the van and we restarted the journey.  

Another hour and we finally reached Mullingar.  It was a good feeling to be back.  Jimmy didn’t hang around at all once I was out of the van.  He seemed anxious to go probably so he could sleep for a few hours.  My parents gave me a warm welcome and seemed to be happy to see me.  I told them a sanitized version of what happened on the trip, naturally leaving out the bits about the bomb, Elaine and Jimmy’s sex antics.   

It was a relief when my head finally hit the pillow that night but I found myself waking up during the night.  Images of burned bodies kept interrupting my dreams.