Paradigm (Part 2)

Chapter 7 – Aftermath 

It was such a joy to return to return to college after the dreaded bomb failed to bring the anticipated destruction.  A huge weight had metaphorically been lifted from my shoulders.  It was like I could suddenly reach out and physically touch the relief. 

It was unclear exactly what had happened.  Perhaps best just to be thankful.  Nobody from the dissidents had been in contact and I was hopeful things would stay that way.  I wouldn’t be contacting them that was for sure. 

No, my focus was now back on my education.  First things first I would go to my early morning lectures.  Maybe even do some study for the Christmas exams.  It was with much disappointment I heard about them and even more when I heard that they held the same weight as the summer ones.  I much preferred everything hanging on the end of year exam.  That way I could relax for the first half of the year.  I would just have to make the best of things. 

Of course, there would still be plenty of time for vodka and women.  Now I could once again enjoy the good things in life unfettered.  There were so many beautiful women in UCD and so many good opportunities to get to know them.  There was Diane, an Arts student who frequented the Student Bar regularly.  Always twisted, she is a real party girl and barely able to stand sometimes at the end of the night.  She nevertheless had a certain Galway charm and I just simply loved her curly shoulder length hair.   

Then there was Eve, an American girl of European and Filipina heritage who was in her early twenties.  Her father was a white American and her mother a Filipina.  Quite simply I considered her to be the most beautiful woman I ever had the good fortune of meeting.  She had a beautiful tanned complexion combined with a feisty Boston accent. 

She didn’t drink and it was perhaps surprising that I had gotten to know her.  She was living on campus too and we met while she was having a walk.  Every now and then I would bump into her and we would arrange to meet up.  It was hard to see how I would ever make a move though without being at least a bit inebriated.   

Then there was Laura who was from a town close to me; a girl from my Commerce class with long brown hair.  We had much in common and I would definitely like to get to know her better.  It was pity though that she didn’t share my predilection for vodka for it would make it difficult to strike up a conversation.  I couldn’t sit beside her in class as I was confined to the wheelchair area at the top of the lecture theatre and there was little point in me going to the gym. 

Of course, there is more to life than alcohol and women.  I was looking forward to chatting to my friends again.  Now I wouldn’t have to fear implicating them by association and could once again chat to them at length. 

I might even get involved with the chess club.  It was a game I had loved as a child but now only played occasionally.  My aggressive but error prone play though was often beaten by a more conservative but diligent player.  But I was more mature now and perhaps had better patience for it. 

It wasn’t long before I bumped into Casey.  It was about eight o’clock in the Student Bar on a Wednesday night.  The bar was quite sparsely populated and I saw him immediately.  He immediately seemed to sense a change in me saying he hadn’t seen me quite so happy in a long time. 

I responded by saying things were now on an upward curve which pleased him.  Then he headed to the bar getting us both a drink as mine was almost gone.  On his return he told me that he had spent the day preparing his first essay of the term.   

As the drinks flowed it became like old times once again.  I asked him what he thought of the current situation in the North.  He was still a real republican in spirit telling me we would see a united Ireland in our lifetimes.  Now a member of Sinn Fein though he had little time for the dissidents and thought the best way forward was through peace. 

“It’s like this,” he exclaimed. 

“The dissidents are nothing more a heavily infiltrated crime syndicate who are far more concerned with lining their own pockets than a United Ireland.  The only way we are going to get rid of the Brits is if all Irish people stand together against the oppressor. 

Look, I know I introduced you to some of them.  It’s something that was eating away at me over the summer.  I shouldn’t have done it and you should try to keep as far away from them as possible.” 

“Not at all,” I replied now slurring my speech from the copious amounts of alcohol. 

“Everything turned out quite perrrfect,” somewhat forgetting all the trouble I had nearly got myself into. 

Instead I felt pride for the revenge of my murdered sister.  He had never seen it coming.  I briefly wondered how many people with disabilities as severe as mine could say they were responsible for a murder, giving me a perverse sense of accomplishment. 

Casey snapped me back to the present with a question of how my studies were going.  It was true that I was a little bit behind but with false bravado I told him I was doing great.  He replied that he was happy to hear it before saying he had to go to catch the last bus. 

I stayed behind and enjoyed the great buzz I was on.  Feeling far more confident than usual I spotted a pretty girl on a table nearby.  Without a second thought I rolled up beside her in my chair.  She was startled but liked my audacity.  Unfortunately, she had a boyfriend but we still chatted away.  Next time maybe the girl wouldn’t.  I felt on top of the world as I made my way back to the flat.  

Chapter 8 – Interrogation 

It started off just like any other Tuesday morning.  Patrick was getting me up and telling me a good day had been forecast weather wise.  That was always good, I hate the rain and  getting wet.   

It was a slow methodical process that I was usually only half awake going through.  This time though he mentioned something that brought me to life a bit quicker than usual.  It was something he had read about the day before. 

A dissident republican group was planning a “spectacular” according to Gardai.  I thought that was just like the Gardai, well off the pace of what was happening on the ground.  Still I found it strange that they would say something like that.  But I put any concerns to the back of my mind.   

Lucy was up by the time I reached the kitchen table.  Unusually she was quite sullen and anxious to go to her classes as quickly as possible.  I thought little of it and happily tucked into my nice breakfast.  A few minutes later she was gone and Patrick wondered aloud what was up with her.  Then it was only a matter of Patrick giving me a quick shave and a brush of my teeth and I was gone. 

It was a lovely bright day which filled me with excitement about what lay ahead.  The place was largely deserted but that was quite normal at this hour.  As usual my mind started to drift off to what I would do after my lectures were finished for the day. 

At first, I ignored the quick patter of steps behind me.  A group of fellow students I thought to myself.  But then I heard thick Ulster accents as they sped up.  They were upon me in seconds as I was in the process of turning to face to them. 

My heart raced as a great sense of dread overcame me.  There was three heavily set men standing before me.  They looked angry.  Then a blue van sped up beside the footpath.  Part of me expected to be shot on the spot but then one of them spoke telling me that I had been summoned by the Counter Intelligence Unit of Oglaigh na hEireann.  I nodded in acknowledgement. 

With that the three of them gathered round me and lifted myself and the wheelchair into the van.   Normally I would protest that this could damage the wheelchair but I kept my mouth shut on this occasion.  They struggled though, to lift the wheelchair high enough to get into it and on more than occasion I thought they were going to let me fall as I bobbled from side to side in the wheelchair. 

One final heave and they were successful.  Almost immediately I said someone will have to put my belt on and to hold onto the back of the wheelchair lest it topple over while we’re driving.  Normally I’d have clamps to hold me in position.  One of them did so and then gave a shout out to go.   

With that the van sped away.  They quickly chatted amongst themselves wondering if they had been spotted.  They were confident that they had not been.  That’s the reward I get for getting up early for lectures I thought to myself.   

Then I wondered would I ever get to go to another lecture.  This was definitely not a heroes’ welcome.  Perhaps they thought I was a rat.  But why not just shoot me in the head? 

Perhaps I was on my way to get kneecapped but I thought they might consider it a waste of time with me already in a wheelchair.   A million thoughts raced through my head.  Eventually I decided the best idea was to insist that I had done as requested come what may.  The fact that it was a failure had nothing to do with me.  If this was to be my final day then so be it. 

It took about a half an hour to reach our destination.  During that time, not a word was spoken.  Unfortunately, I was unable to see out from the back of the van so had no idea where I was when it came to a halt. 

Then they lifted me and the wheelchair out from the back of the van.  I landed in some mud which I always hated driving around in.   I turned around the wheelchair to gauge my surroundings and what I saw horrified me. 

We were in what appeared to be a traveller’s camp beset by caravans on all sides.  Jimmy was on his knees with blood pouring from his beside his eye.  His face was bruised and he looked terrified.  A tall bearded man in his fifties is hovering over him.   Then he punched Jimmy knocking him over and gave out a wild laugh.   

Then he stared at me and nodded at the surrounding men to take Jimmy away.  He slowly walked up to me and with a wide hellish grin asked if I had anything to say for myself. 

I put my plan into action and went on the offensive. 

“What the fuck is this all about?” I roared with indignation adding that hadn’t I done everything I was asked. 

It didn’t have the desired effect.  Instead he grabbed me by the neck choking me.   I struggled to move my head to release his grip but to no avail.  Just as I was about to lose consciousness, he released his grip and I gasped for air. 

“Now listen here you shit,” he said matter of fact, “it doesn’t bother me you’re in a wheelchair.  I’ll happily smash those fucking legs to pieces.  I pretend to do it for the struggle but really, I do it because I enjoy it.   You have a pretty face too.  I can fix that for you.  Give you a nice broken nose to make you look manlier.” 

“Who the fucks, are you?” I said in terrified bewilderment. 

As he went and picked up a baseball bat that was lying nearby, he explained that he and his friend “Johnny” were the lead interrogators of informers for the self-styled “New IRA”.  As I had gone on an IRA mission I now fell under his jurisdiction.  Then I realized with horror that “Johnny” was the baseball bat which was already smeared with blood.  Now he went on another rant although in an even more dark and sombre tone. 

“The Army Council on behalf of the people of Ireland sent you and Jimmy on a glorious mission to strike back against the British.  But one of you is a rat and you betrayed your beautiful country that has done nothing but suffer for hundreds of years.  Fortunately, I Sean of the Interrogation Unit and Johnny are here to exact retribution.” 

With that he ran towards me and made a move to swing the bat at my head before pulling out at the last second and bursting into a vicious laugh.  It was all too much for me.  I began to shake and sob uncontrollably.  I just couldn’t resign myself to the fact that this was the end.  No graduation or falling in love for me.  Just death in some anonymous knackers’ yard. 

“Not such a hard man now, are you!  Some people have talked highly of you but I knew you were just another piece of upper-class shit.  But this is your lucky day,” he said sternly.   

His words just about sunk in.  But how could today be my lucky day or was it just a sadistic ploy?  

He moved back towards me and clasped my face in my hands. 

“You see I just don’t think you’re a snitch, I know it.  Because I’m one too..” 

I was stunned and couldn’t think of anything to say.  For a few moments an eerie silence descended but then he spoke again.   

“So here is the way it’s going to be,” he said as he wiped the tears from my face. “Jimmy was behaving suspiciously at times but you thought nothing of it.  Maybe he even said disparaging things about the leadership.  Yes, I think you remember now.  We all have our forgetful moments silly. 

The good news is that you’ve been cleared of any wrongdoing.  In fact, you’re quite the hero.  That’s why I’m going to recommend you for the next mission in Britain.  When you’re there you’re going to meet your new British friends and you’re going to do as they ask.  Am I fucking clear?” 

I nodded in agreement, now a broken shell of the person I was a mere half hour ago.  Then he left me to get the others again.  I tentatively tried to move the wheelchair but one of the wheels had got stuck in the muck.  Then after a minute or two I heard them returning.    

Never before had I such a sense of dread.  They dragged Jimmy along the ground till he was a few metres away from me.  Then Sean declared that he was finished with his interrogation on behalf of a free Ireland.   He gently swung Johnny in his hand and approached me.  For a moment I thought my heart had stopped beating.  But then he raced towards Jimmy and swung the bat violently at his head knocking him from his knees onto ground. 

But it didn’t stop there.  He swung and swung.  I turned my head away in horror but could hear the sickening sound of each strike.  Then after about two or three minutes but what seemed to be an eternity he stopped.  I tried not to look but couldn’t help myself. 

There was still blood flowing from Jimmy’s mangled head.  At that moment though as selfish as it was all I could feel was relief.  Sean then said aloud pointing his blood-soaked bat at me that I had been fully cleared and to drop me back where they had found me. 

No time was wasted.  They had a better understanding of what they were doing this time round and I quickly found myself in the van once again.  This time though when the doors closed behind me, I was anxious to reach the destination. 

Once we left the encampment a more jovial mood broke out among the others in the van.   The driver stopped the van and asked if I was okay.  They insisted that I drink some soda in case I fell into shock.  I drank when it was lifted to my lips but insisted that I wasn’t the kind of person that would happen to.  They said that they never expected to be bringing me back; that they couldn’t remember Sean giving anyone the all clear before. 

Their awe increased my self-confidence.  These people had no real idea of what was going on or the mess they themselves were ultimately in.  I could yet survive in this world.  They restarted the van and soon I found myself alone back on the footpath they had abducted me from.  Guess there was nothing for it except some statistics lectures. 

Chapter 9 – Mission with Lucy 

The weeks passed after my trip to Belfast but the nightmares remained my constant companion.  I no longer wanted to sleep at night.  So, I would lay in bed trying to keep my eyes opened but ultimately every night I would eventually fail.  Life continued inexorably in any event.   Lucy was now in her third year of studies and taking them much more seriously. 

Patrick and Leanne, my Personal Assistants were in good form although their questioning of my wellness had become irksome.  All I wanted was to be able to tell someone my problems but it would be disastrous.  I was managing to attend all my lectures but felt listless and was finding it difficult to concentrate. 

At times I felt I was on the verge of a panic attack.  My mind would race wondering what would become of me. Learning about business management was all good but it would be of little use in a prison cell.    

Former friends seemed to be distancing themselves from me too and when I did occasionally go to the student bar, I now found myself drinking alone.  In truth I never did try talk to anyone anymore.  Even the most beautiful of girls could not hold my attention.  But it was also the case that the likes of Casey were keeping their distance. On more than one occasion I spotted that he had seen me and then hurried off in the opposite direction.  But I cared little in any event.   

One Wednesday after my lectures were finished for the day, I found myself travelling back to the apartment.  It was raining and starting to get dark.  Fortunately, I had only a short distance to travel.  Leanne was looking out the window of the apartment awaiting my return and gave me a big wave when she saw me. 

With that she headed out to the front door to let me in.  Lucy came out of her room to greet me.  She had a wide smile and I sensed that something was up.  There was a feminist meeting on later that day and she wanted me to go with her in case she didn’t know anybody. 

It would only be a half hour chat followed by some wine.  I asked her if she was sure I’d even be let in or if I was, I wouldn’t not be lynched on the spot.  She laughed and insisted I go with her.  In truth I needed little persuasion once wine was mentioned and I found out it was in a wheelchair accessible building just beside the apartment.  It didn’t start till eight so we had plenty of time to eat some dinner and watch television first.  

As usual it was Lucy who was slow to get ready.  For a while I thought we were going to be late even though the building was right beside us.  But it was worth the wait.  She looked stunning with a short dress and her long curly red hair draped over her bare shoulders. 

We said our goodbyes to Leanne and began the short journey.  In a way my and Lucy’s disabilities complemented each other.  She could hold onto the back of my wheelchair and travel quickly without any fear of bumping into any obstacles.  Then when we reached a door I could not open, she could go in front of me and get it. 

As expected, we reached the destination quickly, having little time for chat beforehand.  It was the Womens Studies Department.  I wondered if many men had entered this building recently. Soon I found some of my apprehensions may have been justified.  I was the only guy in the room.  Admittedly some of the women were quite masculine in appearance though.  Some of them were welcoming each other with quick lip kisses.  Normally I would expect this to be at least somewhat titillating but not on this occasion.  Maybe it was that many of them were quite old like in their late thirties and forties.  It made me temporarily feel sorry for older men.   

I made sure to stick close to Lucy hoping she would provide me protection in this strange environment sitting beside her at the back of the class.  Neither of us got a chance to talk to anyone else.  A lady then addressed the modest crowd of about fifteen people asking everyone to sit down and then began her talk about “The Modern Patriarchy” with the aid of a projector. 

There were terms used such as “safe places” and “micro-aggression”.  It was very much a feminist lecture on steroids or at least that’s what I thought.  The rest of the people there were very much engaged but I found it very boring and silly after just a few minutes.  My mind began to wonder and I started to scan the room.  Then I noticed something strange at the side of the room.  There was a line of computers.  But that wasn’t what was strange.   

One of the computers had been left on.  Normally after a few minutes of not being touched a login screen would appear forcing you to enter your student id number along with your password.   These computers must not be part of the college intranet.  This suddenly really excited me; if I could just get back into this room at a later date.  I could set up a dummy email account and send a warning about the bomb plot to the British.  It would truly be anonymous and there wouldn’t be a way for the dissidents to know it was from me.  I had recently heard about the “dark web”.  If I used the correct software, it would be impossible to trace it back to UCD.  A plan was set in motion. 

In the next few days, I continued to do my research and found out I needed to use software called Tor.  It would anonymize the location of the computer.  I thought about doing it from my parents’ house but it could take hours and they’d surely ask questions about what I was downloading and grow nervous about it.  Once the software was uploaded, I could go to a particular website on the dark web which allowed you to send an anonymous email.  Now I just needed to think about how I would get back into that room.   

Lucy would be the key.  If I went over with her, she could cover me.  I would just be helping her to do some research.  Sunday would be the best day if the building was open as there would be few people around.  Now I just had to figure out how to convince Lucy.  I bided my time and waited for us to be alone in the apartment.  When Patrick left to do some shopping one evening, I shouted for her to come out of her room into the living room area.   

“Yeah?” she said as she slowly entered the room.  

I started off by talking about the feminist lecture we had gone to but she told me that she was studying and to get to the point.  She knew I hadn’t been transformed and probably thought I would start teasing her about all the strange jargon they used.  I told her that I needed to go on one of the computers in that room.  She looked puzzled and asked why.  I told her that I couldn’t tell her but it was very important and that I would be in her debt. Eventually she agreed. 

The following Sunday I got my Dad to bring me up to Dublin a few hours earlier than usual where Lucy was waiting for me.  After my father had left, we immediately made our way back to the Womens Studies Department.  It was with much relief I found the building to be almost empty apart from a cleaning lady.  There was also the faint noise of women chatting in the distance.   

We went straight to the room we had been previously.  One of the computers was already on and I went straight to it.  Lucy’s visual impairment now became advantageous as she was unable to see what I was doing.   Using the mouse and a pencil to press buttons on the keyboard I went to the website to download the Tor software.  It told me it would take forty-five minutes to download. 

It didn’t take long for Lucy to grow restless.  As we waited, I tried to ask her interesting questions but her replies were short.  So, I lied and kept telling her it wouldn’t be much longer.  But after thirty minutes she was adamant that she was too bored and wouldn’t wait any longer.  I asked what I’d do if someone came in to the room and she wasn’t there.  My plan was to say I was helping her with feminist research.  

But her mind was made up.  She said she would come back and get me, asking how long I would need.  Fearing she might return before I was finished, I told her to give me two hours.  She turned and went on her way. 

My mind returned to the task at hand.  I patiently waited for the software to download hoping and praying that nothing would go wrong.    Finally, it was finished and the fun could really begin.  I clicked on the execute file and the Tor system opened. 

I went straight to the webpage to send anonymous emails – sendmymessage.onion. It had taken me a day or two to think of what to say and where to send it to.  Ultimately, I decided on the Belfast RUC branch.    The subject line read “Massive bomb in the Langton Hotel” and the message explicitly stated it was being sent by a dissident IRA operative and that a device had been set to detonate on the day of the Prime Minister’s arrival.  I gave them the floor that I thought it was on but not the number of the room I had stayed in.  I still did not want to get caught.  Not now and not ever. 

Once I had pressed the send button my focus changed to taking the Tor software off the computer.  Fortunately, I knew where to find the instructions to do so and I simply went through the process step by step.  Now my message had been sent and the computer was clean.  All I had to was wait for Lucy to return so I could get out. 

It turned out to be a long wait.  I had really overestimated how much time I would need and now had to pay the penalty.  The first few minutes passed quickly with the excitement of having achieved my goals but that slowly dissipated.  I flicked my pencil against the table but that was only ever going to keep me occupied for so long.  Then I started playing Solitaire on the computer. 

Every now and then I would hear a noise and hope it was Lucy but to no avail.   Maybe I should get one of those mobile phones I thought to myself.  It was something I had always resisted.    I just never did like the idea of being instantly contactable.  It felt like I would lose my privacy and as a wheelchair user any privacy I had was highly valued.  But it would have been very useful in times like this. 

The allotted time came and went but there was no sign of Lucy as I grew increasingly frustrated.  There was no way for me to open the door and I grew increasingly concerned that I would be locked into the building for the night.  The games of Solitaire had long since lost my interest.  I wondered to myself was this some sort of punishment from God but surely he should be thankful for what I had done today. 

Eventually Lucy came back with a wide smile telling me a cheery voice that she had forgotten about me before asking my forgiveness in a more contrite tone.   I just grinned and told her that I was glad she eventually remembered me.  After all who knows when I would need her help next.  With that we walked out of the flat and back to the flat. 

Chapter 10 – A Night in the Bar 

For a few days the horror of what had happened to Jimmy would seep into my mind.  Sometimes, when I least expected like in the middle of a lecture about business management or as I was about to have my last vodka of the night.  But in all honesty, it didn’t affect me greatly; nothing like the death of my sister.   

I guess I didn’t really know Jimmy that well or perhaps it was just that I was getting better at the compartmentalisation of my life.   My life could now be neatly broken up into different segments family, college & I guess terrorist/spy depending on what way you looked at it.  

Anyways he could have been a monster for all I knew.  Perhaps he had already been responsible for many deaths and definitely would have been if not for my intervention.  But on the other side he had been quite nice to me and maybe he had a son or daughter who would miss him dearly.  No; better to put such thoughts to the back of my mind. 

Increasingly my thoughts instead turned to what my next mission would be.  Hopefully not as exciting as the first I thought to myself; hopefully something mundane.  I wasn’t sure my heart could take much more even at my youthful age. 

In the meantime, I made sure my focus changed to my studies.  Well studying and debauchery anyway; the good life.  Hours of lectures followed by some quality time in the bar.  It was during one such day that I bumped into an American Iranian called Sarah from New York.  Her unique genetic mixture an Iranian father and a white mother gave her a beautiful dark tanned complexion.   

She was very talkative, funny and quite intoxicated when we first met and thought it only proper that she introduce me to her friends also from the States.  I thought at the end of the night that it would be the last I’d see of her but I was wrong. 

I was driving up and down the hallway of UCD when I noticed her walking in my direction.  Although very tired she nevertheless gave me a wide warm smile and stopped to have a chat.  Like most New Yorkers she loved to talk.  It turned out that her accommodation was quite close to mine and we arranged to meet up the next day. 

It was the highlight of my day and my mind raced with different possibilities.  She was so beautiful and I wondered could we have a future together.  Definitely she was everything I had ever dreamed of with long dark hair and a perfectly shaped body.  It always amused me that even with a disability I was at least as shallow as those around me.   

But she was a few years older than me and in so many ways, way out of my league.  She probably only had platonic intentions but one has to dream.  In any event she was good company and gave me insight into a world I knew so little about. 

It was surprising though when she arranged to visit my apartment for a chat.  That had not happened to me before.  But I quickly told her that was fine and we arranged a day and time.  Then she was gone. 

My Personal Assistant Patrick was quite amused by the news of our future guest calling me the Casanova of UCD and asking me what was my secret.  I laughed but thought maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.  Lucy wasn’t the least bit enthused by the news.  Perhaps it was the thought of female competition or more likely she just had little interest in beautiful women. 

Soon the allotted day and time arrived.  It was mid-afternoon on a Tuesday in between lectures.  I patiently but somewhat nervously waited.  The doorbell of the flat rang breaking the silence and Patrick went to answer it.   Then in she walked while Patrick made himself scarce by going into my bedroom.  I hadn’t asked him to but he seemed to do so instinctively.  We easily talked the thirty minutes away before she had to leave. 

Small talk dominated the first few minutes with how her day was going and complaining about the typical Irish weather.  It had been raining sporadically that day but now the sun was shining.  Then she began to tell me what brought her to Ireland which she didn’t know much about till she arrived.  Strangely for an American she didn’t even claim any Irish heritage.   

She came here on an exchange program and would be in Ireland till the end of the academic year.   Apparently, it was no big deal to be away from her family for such a long time.  Unlike here you moved out at eighteen and would only expect to see your family twice or three times per year.  It was an alien concept to me. 

She was an adventurous sort and planned to visit the world.  In particular she liked the idea of exploring South America with its exotic cultures and fascinating wildlife.  Brazil was the country that excited her most.  Other than travelling, fashion also interested her. 

It was when she asked me questions though that I started to feel undone.  I had to keep the more interesting aspects of my life secret and struggled to find something to say.  Her piercing brown eyes didn’t make it any easier.  But I struggled on, spending time telling her about Mullingar of all things.   She at least pretended to find it interesting. 

Then as she was about to go she invited me to the Student Bar the following night to meet up with her and her friends.  Without blinking I smiled and said I would be there.  With that she was gone leaving me with mixed emotions.  A sense of wishing she could stay longer but good that her visit had went well. 

Patrick reappeared almost instantaneously as she left the building asking me how it had gone and was very impressed when I said I was meeting her again the following night.  He told me I was a lucky guy but I felt in the back of my mind there was little reason for such optimism.  Only time would tell. 

I tried not to think about it but couldn’t help it as the time to meet her once again, grew closer.  Trying to convince myself to act a bit cooler, I kept reiterating to myself she would be gone at the end of the year anyway and there was no point in getting attached.    But my heart and brain were not in agreement.  Maybe she wouldn’t even show up. 

Usually I would go to the bar at half eight but decided to wait till nine.  If she came in late, I didn’t want to be too intoxicated.  Eventually I could procrastinate no longer and asked Patrick to put on my coat.  Then I was away. 

It was a clear, cold night but at least I didn’t have far to go; just the right distance to be able to think for a few minutes without getting too cold in the meantime.  In no time I reached the bar.  There was a crowd outside and one of them opened the doors for me.  I hadn’t expected her to be there so early but she was and she immediately waved for me to come over to her and her friends.   

They were in good form and obviously had already been out for a while.  Sarah went to introduce me to the rest of them but was stopped when they said they remembered me.  That was a pity because I couldn’t remember their names at all.  Still I made small talk asking how long they had been there and if they were having a good time.  Needless to say, they had been there since the early afternoon and were thoroughly enjoying their night.   

Next thing I know Sarah holds up a vodka and orange with a straw for me to drink which I happily take a gulp of.  There is a good party atmosphere in the pub with a band playing rock type music at one end and I get the feeling it is going to be one of those good nights.  Sarah’s hair brushes against me, as she leans down to talk giving me a tinge of excitement. 

Is she doing it on purpose or is it more by drunken actions? 

My heart raced with the thought that just maybe it was purposeful.  Maybe she felt exactly the same way about me as I did about her.  She made my heart race.  Her beauty transcended what I had known previously. 

But I needed to wait.  Maybe a good opportunity would present itself by the end of the night.  I couldn’t make a move in front of her friends.  That would just embarrass her. 

An hour passes quickly and then two as the bar gradually becomes wedged.    I find myself talking to her be speckled friend Katy.  She has curly blond hair and although quite pretty not really to my taste.  But I am more or less fixed in the position I find myself in with little space around to manoeuvre with the large crowd now in place. 

Then a gossip seems to fly across the table but I can’t quite make out what the other people are saying.  So, I shouted at Katy and asked what was happening.  She said something about Sarah and pointed in the air somewhat across the table. 

The view was very obscured so I drove the wheelchair a little bit forward.  My heart immediately sank.  There was Sarah with a moustached man in a tight embrace kissing passionately.  To say I felt disgusted would be an understatement.  Obviously, I had read things very badly. 

The main thing now was to keep a straight face.  As if nothing had happened or I didn’t care.  But it was easier said than done.  Inside my heart was wrenching with disappointment.  Fortunately, with the busy bar I only had to say the odd thing over all the noise. 

After a few minutes Sarah and her new fella came over to the table.  I tried to smile but I sensed she thought I might be pissed off.  But maybe that was my mind playing tricks on me once more. 

He seemed like an okay bloke and was quite drunk just like me.  But deep down I simply wanted to beat him to a pulp or maybe beyond that.  After all, I was already responsible for one murder.  Luckily the night was already coming to an end.  I made my false goodbyes as if I cared.  Katy threw my coat on and then I was out the door. 

Once outside the anger dwelled within me.  Deep down I knew it had little to do with just that night’s events alone.   Why me and why couldn’t I be with Sarah just like my friends who had beautiful women.  It was bitterness emanating from the alcohol.  I hadn’t asked to a cripple.  Why me and why couldn’t I get the pretty girl apart from a quick kiss? 

It felt like my mind and heart were tearing themselves apart but I determinedly continued on my short journey back to the flat.  I would feel tomorrow I tried to convince myself.  On my return Patrick seemed to sense my foul mood and asked me little about the night.  I didn’t bother chatting to Lucy who was sitting on the couch.  I went straight to my bedroom to get hoisted first onto the toilet and then to bed. 

I tried to sleep but my mind insisted on racing through the night’s events.  Perhaps I should have done things differently.  Maybe my lack of success had nothing to do with my disability but rather I just wasn’t that interesting.  Then I could feel some tears slowly falling down the side of my face and onto the pillow.  Then I slowly cried to myself for a few minutes before deciding it time to stop feeling sorry for myself before finally falling asleep. 

Surprisingly I woke up earlier than usual the next day.  Immediately I felt a sense of regret over the night before.  I hated when my emotions got the better of me but mostly, I just hope I hadn’t come across as a fool before leaving the pub.  Trying to remember everything I said the night before I was pretty sure I hadn’t done anything too embarrassing. 

Patrick seemed to be trying his best to unnerve me when he entered the room.  He took one look at me and started sniggering telling me I was really sloshed the night before.  All I could do was smile in response.  It was in the hoist I realised I really was worse for wear.  My stomach wasn’t quite right and I felt the need to drink something, anything in fact. 

In the end I struggled slowly through my breakfast.  Each mouthful of cereal going down my throat felt like a minor achievement all on its own.  Drinking on the other hand was totally different.  Even water tasted like an extravagant indulgence. 

Just as I was about to go to the washing my teeth part of the exercise Patrick remembered that a note had been left under the apartment door for me the night before.  He said there was no point telling me about it last night given the state I was in.  Immediately I asked to look at it. 

It just gave a time and place in scrawled handwriting – Outside the Restaurant at 8pm. 

Patrick laughed asking me if I knew who had sent such a cryptic message.  He had no idea of the serious situation I found myself in and that was the way it was going to stay.  So, I fobbed him off telling him it must be one of my admirers.  Fortunately, he bought it. 

As I went back to getting ready for the day ahead though I knew there were another storm on the horizon.  

Chapter 11 – The New Mission 

A day that started badly got worse by lunchtime.  Until now I had managed to avoid the dreaded “continuous assessment” but I was reminded during the lectures it was to apply to this, my second year in college.  I much preferred taking it easy for the first half of the year and gradually working my way up to the end of year exams.  But now I would have to do Christmas exams which would be fifty percent of my overall marks.  What a disaster! 

None of my fellow students in the class seemed to feel the same.  They all bought the propaganda about it being in their own interests.  It sickened me but ultimately it was just one of those things I had to accept.  I would just have to cut back on the drinking and do some study. 

Apart from that it was a normal enough day.  Five hours of lectures, a few cups of tea and something to eat all the time wondering how my meeting later that day would go and who exactly it was that wanted to meet me. 

The hours passed till it was time for me to go.  I knew it was an appointment I had to keep whoever; it was.  Fortunately, Patrick was off duty so all I had to say was that I was heading out early although Lucy did try to quiz me. 

It was a short journey and I had by then decided what would be, would be.  As I drove up the long ramp, I could see someone was waiting for me.  It was one of the burly men who had previously kidnapped me in the van.  He was totally bald with a mean complexion and wearing a workman’s clothes. 

I said hello half expecting someone to grab my neck from behind but it never came.    Instead and somewhat amusingly I received a warm smile.  He immediately said it was nice to meet under warmer circumstances to which I responded with a smile.  I still had no idea why we were meeting or if he was another informer.  I was keeping my cards close to my chest. 

He didn’t delay and got straight to the point.   

He spoke quickly but like he was officiating at a ceremony – 

The IRA leadership has requested your participation in a bombing campaign which will commence in mid-January in London.  Only the most trusted volunteers have been selected.  You are integral to its success.  It is hoped that that this campaign will end this British manufactured peace process once and for all.  An Ireland divided can never be at rest.   

This can’t be right to myself but I knew it was Sean’s doing.  The operative couldn’t throw much light on things.   When I said that I had already repaid my debt to the organization he couldn’t comment on that only to say it was a direct order.  Then I asked who would accompany me; after all my last helper had been bludgeoned to death.  Once more I was just met with a befuddled look. 

Inside I was smiling.  Now I had found my get out clause.  Fortunately, I had no scruples about using my disability as an excuse to get out of this mess.  It was easy now.  For the next ten minutes I told him it had always been my dream to fight for Ireland but my disability had always managed to get in my way.  I begged him to help me find someone to bring me as I knew nobody although I would search.  Then I outlined the skills they would need; like being able to drive a van, operate a hoist, know how to dismantle a wheelchair and put it back together again, use a catheter, anything that came into my mind really. 

I made him promise to search through the ranks of what I knew to be a small organization to see if there was anybody suitable; confident that there was no one.  He would get back to me in ten days to let me know the outcome.  Perfect, I thought to myself.  There was no way he’d find anybody and I definitely wouldn’t. 

With that we said our goodbyes and he walked down the steps into the darkness.  I waited a minute or two so as not to be seen with him.  Then I decided that the bar was calling.  After-all surely, I deserved a few vodkas tonight. 

A few days passed during which I tried to get into a better studying routine.  My mother in particular got quite a shock when I asked her to put some of my study books on the table for me to read Saturday.   She even asked if I was sick or if something was wrong. 

But I still felt that I deserved the odd reward and so it was that I found myself in the Student Bar the following Tuesday at my usual table with a nice double vodka stacked up in front of me.  The bar was fairly empty but I cared little as the first drop hit my tongue through the straw. 

Then something startled me.  It couldn’t be I thought to myself and looked again.  I couldn’t believe it and just stared.  Then she waved at me from the other side of the bar.  It was Elaine that I had met in Belfast. 

The odds seemed very long for such a thing to happen randomly and a sense of dread descended on me.  Nevertheless, I plucked up the courage to leave my drink and go and talk to her. 

“Hello Elaine, fancy seeing you here.  What brought to you to my humble abode?” I said cheerfully still hoping it was a mere coincidence. 

But her response was sharp and to the point. 

“We need to talk, somewhere private.  Can we go for a quick walk?” 

I asked about my drink but her stern look made me realize that it should be the least of my worries.  She instinctively threw my coat over me that had been resting on the back of the wheelchair and out we went. 

It was a cold night with a clear dark sky.  You could still make out the odd star even with all the light pollution.  We had only gone a short distance before she started to speak. 

“You need to go to England.” 

It was concise and to the point.  Her name wasn’t Elaine and she wasn’t from Derry.  I was gobsmacked.  Her name was Emily and she was from London.  Her accent now changed to an English one. 

She was an agent for M16 aka The British Secret Service and had been tasked to keep an eye on me during the Belfast operation.  She knew everything about me including that I was responsible for a man’s murder.  There was no need to keep any secrets with her. 

The dissident republican group I was involved with was riddled with informers.  But there was a unit operational in England that they had not been able to infiltrate.  That was where I was going to come in.  If they managed to launch a successful campaign, the loyalists would respond in kind with a campaign in Dublin and the peace process would be over engulfing the North in violence once more. 

She knew about my problem and had looked into it; there is a solution – my uncle Kevin down in Cork.  Immediately I queried why and how I would get him involved.  The last thing I wanted was to get my family involved. 

But Kevin apparently was already in trouble and this was his out.  A plasterer by trade he had managed to get himself messed up with some massive embezzlement fraud from a site he had worked on. 

She had contacted the counter terrorism unit of the Gardai and told them his help was needed.  They then made an offer he couldn’t refuse.  All charges would be dropped so long as he agreed to help his nephew out. 

All I had to do now was meet the dissident contact and tell him the operation was a go.  She also insinuated my non-compliance would result in incriminating information being supplied to the Gardai about my previous criminal activity.  So really, I had very little to think about. 

By now we had reached one of the exit gates of the university.  This was where she would be leaving me for now but she would see me in England.  She gave me a quick wink and with that she was gone. 

I turned the wheelchair around and went back to the bar where a fellow regular insisted, I had just gone off for a quickie with some strange woman.  She had there a few hours, as well as the night before but ignored everyone except me.  He was well impressed; if only he knew the truth. 

Sure enough, that Saturday night I got a phone-call from Kevin while I was my parent’s house.  The phone rang and I could hear my father chatting away behind the closed door.  Next thing he enters the sitting room and tells me that he has great news.  I was going on a special course for two weeks in London and Kevin would be going with me as a Personal Assistant. 

He wasn’t exactly sure how this came to pass, something about some contact Kevin had in the university.  I needed to think quickly now.  i told my father that I hadn’t ‘t told him about the trip previously because I just presumed it would be impossible for me to go.  He looked perplexed but just about bought it. 

With that I went out to speak with Kevin on the phone with my father holding it up for me.  Then I heard the familiar lyrical Cork accent at the other end of the line. 

“How are things Alan?  Looking forward to our trip?” 

I responded that I was.  But he then asked me a series of questions for which I had no answer like when exactly we were going and where we would stay.  The only thing I could really say was that we would be bringing the van and I’d get back to him about the rest later in the week.  He seemed to be happy enough with that.  We then said our goodbyes and ended the phone call. 

The rest of the weekend was spent reassuring my parents that I would keep them more informed about what was happening.  As their only child they didn’t like knowing so little about my life.  If only Karen was still around, I thought to myself.  Then there were the questions about this fictitious course that I was going on.  I pleaded ignorance and although they were unimpressed, it just about got me through. 

The next few days passed quickly and soon it was time to meet the IRA operative once again.  I felt far more nervous meeting him this time.  Now there was an onus on me to move the conversation in the right direction. 

I reached the outside of the restaurant a few minutes early and waited.  It was quiet and dark with very few students around.  After a few minutes I began to get worried he wouldn’t show.  That would really put the kibosh on things. 

Just when I was thinking I should move on I saw a familiar shape in the distance.  It was him.  Within just a few seconds he was beside me and apologizing for his tardiness with the time. 

The conversation went straight to the point.  He wasn’t able to find anybody and wanted to know if I had any success.  He was quite surprised when I told him that I had.  I explained to him about my uncle from Cork who was prepared to help.  The operative was suspicious but I explained to him that my uncle thought I was just meeting up with some friends in London and that he would only be coming along as my assistant.  I could leave him for hours on end and it wouldn’t be a problem. 

He then told me that I needed to be in Liverpool on the twenty second of January at half past two for a meeting in a pub called the “King’s Hand”.  I was to get myself a mobile and send my new number to  He showed me an envelope which he said contained a few hundred British pounds to cover any expenses which he then put into one of my coat pockets.  The operation would require me staying in London for at least two weeks.  I said I would get the mobile and that I was looking forward to serving my country with distinction.  He seemed to pay little attention to my devotion but seemed happy with the way the meeting had gone.  With that he was gone. 

There was no doubt in my mind.  Sure, I could have immediately headed back to update my uncle.  But I felt I deserved a treat and headed to the very close by bar.  It was getting bitterly cold now and I found myself waiting outside for someone to open the door cursing my luck.  After a minute or two I saw a woman approaching from the rear of the pub.   

Within seconds I realised it was Emily.  She was back to addressing me in an Irish accent and immediately joked she couldn’t wait around while I froze.    With that someone exited the bar offering to hold the door open for me.  I gave Emily a quick smile before entering the bar. 

The bar was fairly empty; I had the sinking feeling that I was now well into the studying part of the year.  I saw an empty table towards the back and headed straight to it once Emily confirmed she would get drinks for the both of us. 

It didn’t take her long to get them.  I couldn’t help but give her a knowing smile when she arrived at the table.  She was all business and wanted to know if the operation was a go.  I assured her that everything was fine.  It was a go.  Now I just had to find somewhere to stay. 

Then she said with admiration that I was one of a kind.  If only the people around me knew what I was really like.  Her remarks threw me somewhat and I was unsure how to respond.  She seemed to sense my embarrassment and teased me that I wasn’t quite James Bond just yet. 

Then her tone became more serious as she told me more about the mission.  The primary objective was to gather incriminating evidence against a Tadg Kennelly.  He was the overall commander of the overseas unit.  He was a brash and fiery character who would resort to extreme violence on a whim.  I needed to keep my guard up at all times. 

She then knocked back her drink and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before leaving.  Maybe our kiss in Belfast wasn’t just work for her after all.  I couldn’t help but fancy her even though she was twice my age.  But I doubted I would get a similar opportunity again. 

I turned my attention back to drinking and the planning I had to do to pull this off.  Between England and my Christmas exams it was enough to make me despair.  My plan for the year of women and drink was going badly off track and there didn’t seem anyway to change things back around.   

Chapter 12 – Preparation 

The next morning Leanne was quite bemused when I told her that I wanted to get up straight away.  Normally I would tell her to come back every so often to check on me as I would struggle to wake up in time for that first lecture.  But I knew now that had to change.  I had a serious number of different things to organize. 

This was to be a new me.  I could come through all the challenges currently facing me.  Admittedly neither, Leanne or Lucy seemed overly impressed when I told them that I was a newly invigorated person.  Lucy just laughed and said I would be drunk later that night as always. 

I tried not to let their lack of faith bother me.  I ate my breakfast as quickly as possible before heading off for my first lecture of the day.  It was an IT related class and was painfully boring.  When I went back to the flat, I asked Leanne to look for Kevin’s number in my bag and made the first of what I presumed would be many calls to him. 

It was awkward because I had to use a payphone but I diligently focussed on getting Leanne to ring the correct number and hold the handset close enough to my face.  It rang four or five times before Kevin picked it up. 

I gave him a quick hello and told him I’d have to get straight to the point as I had only a small amount of change.  He offered to ring me back straight away which I gratefully accepted.  I then told Leanne to put the handle back down before picking it up again when it rang. 

It ended up being a short call in any event.  The only information I had for him were the dates he needed to be free.  He thanked me for whatever I was doing because it had gotten him out of serious trouble; knowing my father was not the other end of the line this time.  I simply replied that I hoped he would still be saying that when it was all over and that I would be in touch with him again in a few weeks when I knew exactly where we were going to be staying. 

Later that evening, I went to the computer building for probably the first time that year.  There was quite a lot of research that needed to be done.  Firstly, where was the closest shop to get a mobile phone, then where would I stay in Liverpool.  My instinct told me it would be important to get somewhere close to the meeting point.  Ideally within wheelchair travelling distance to keep all my options open. 

The building was quiet with only a few students hanging around and I easily found a spare computer.  I had to use a pencil to hit each key to put in my student password.  Then I just had to use the mouse to double click on Internet Explorer and I was on the World Wide Web. 

Alas, I immediately ran into a problem.  I almost exclusively stayed on campus and rarely strayed far outside.  In fact, I didn’t know exactly where I was in respect of the rest of Dublin.  I had heard that a relatively new search engine called Google was making things far easier to find on the net and I headed straight to it.   

I spent the next few minutes looking at different maps of Dublin but UCD wasn’t sticking out as much as I thought it would.  After spending a few minutes thinking about it I knew I was on the Southside, not right beside the sea and not in the very south of the city.  After another twenty minutes I had eventually found it.  I made a mental note of the names of the adjoining areas. 

The next phase was to search for mobile phone shops in each of these areas.  After a laborious search I eventually found one quite close to where I was.  It was only a couple hundred metres from one of the exit gates of the college.  My wheelchair should be able to make the journey there and back without running out of power.  I wouldn’t really know about the footpaths and steps until I attempted the journey. 

It was getting late now and I felt that I had done enough for now; turns out Lucy was right; I was drinking once again by the end of the night. 

That weekend was spent studying intensively though.  There was now such little room for error.  Six hours on the Saturday followed by four on the Sunday.  I was back to what I did best, cramming.  I was now starting to feel more assured that at least this part of my life would turn out okay.  It was becoming the rock I could plan everything else on. 

On my return to campus I cajoled Lucy into going to the nearest phone shop with me.  After all there might be a big step at the entrance when I got there.  She was happy to do a bit shopping but curious about my new-found wealth.  I told her the same as I told the Personal Assistants; it was a present from my uncle Kevin down in Cork.  She was indignant that I would have such a generous family compared to her own.   

The trip would take about an hour and a half.  I decided it was worth sacrificing a lecture or two.  As I had expected everything went smoothly up to the college exit and entrance into what I often called “the real world”.  But it was a world I had spent almost all my life in. 

The change was immediate.  You went from a perfectly smooth tarmac surface to a bumpy stony surface.  I knew that a significantly reduced number of ramps also lay ahead.  There was but one significant consolation.  A cycle lane went in the same direction I was going. 

Sure enough, not long into this new environment and where I would have expected a ramp, there was none.  I could see that many similar problems lay ahead.  So, I told Lucy to wait while I drove back to get down on the cycle path. 

Apart from the odd car whizzing by a bit closely it was quite perfect.  In fairness Lucy thought I was crazy but we continued on nevertheless.  As we approached the shop I got back on the footpath.  It was just as well I brought Lucy because there was a step into it. 

I sent her in to try and get one of the salespeople to come out to me.  A very formally dressed guy came out to talk and gave me the different options I had.  I really was quite confused and, in the end, just went with his recommendation.   It was so large and chunky I wondered why anyone would bother with them but I had my orders.   

With that we began the journey back.  This time I went straight onto the cycle lane.  It took a bit more courage this time though as I could see the cars heading towards me.  As a result, I found myself driving more slowly. 

Lucy was unimpressed with my lack of courage and exalted me to go faster.  She just laughed when I told her I was actually being very brave, foolhardy even.  As we approached the college entrance, I got back onto the footpath.  Worryingly though the wheelchair didn’t seem to be going as fast as I thought it should be. 

I looked at the power gauge and could see the battery was quite depleted.  Lucy didn’t hesitate to say there was no way she would be pushing me back.  I continued on my journey and started feeling much more confident once I was back on campus.  The wheelchair limped back to the flat where I had to spend a few hours waiting for it to recharge.  But at least now I had my phone. 

A few hours later once the wheelchair had been recharged, I went to the computer building and sent the email giving my new mobile number.  I also stated that I would check it every few hours rather than having it on me at all times.  Funnily enough exactly the same thing I was going to tell my mother. 

While I was there, I continued my search for the ideal place to stay in Liverpool.  Then suddenly there it was.  A hotel right in the city centre close to the pub where the meeting would be held.  It looked like there were no steps at the front; the beds in the photos had legs which was vital in order to use a hoist properly.  I made a mental note of the telephone number including the international prefix for the United Kingdom. 

Then I headed back to the flat where my Personal Assistant Patrick was waiting for me.  The mobile phone now proved its usefulness.  It was so much easier to use than the pay phone outside the flat.  I knew I had to keep the call short though as it would be very expensive. 

The first thing that struck me was that the receptionist at the other end of the line found my accent difficult to make out and I consciously had to speak more slowly than usual.  I was used to hearing the Liverpool accent from following the soccer so there was less difficulty on that side of things. 

After a few minutes I had ascertained that the place was indeed what I was looking for.  It even had a room with large bathroom which I knew could prove useful.  There was just one snag.  She needed a card number to book the room to which I duly obliged.  Getting a card was one of the first things my Mum had insisted I get when I first went to college.  The deposit required for the two rooms for such a long period proved to be over my daily limit however and the transaction was declined.  A bit embarrassed I told her I would get someone else to ring her back. 

Fortunately, I had Kevin in reserve and I rang him next and told him of the plans.  He was taken aback by the expense but I told him that it was the ideal location and I had the funds to pay for it.  He said no problem and rang me back a few minutes later to confirm all was done.  I wondered if they had much trouble understanding each other although there was a theory that the Cork and Liverpool accents were related.  In times past the main mode of transport was by the sea and travelling time wise Liverpool would have been closer to Cork than Dublin. 

It had been a busy but fruitful day.  My plans were all set.  All I had to do now was to pray and hope for the best whatever that was at this point in time.   

A few weeks passed without further incident and soon it was time for my end of term or Christmas exams.  It was strange to be able to fully concentrate on college for a change.  As the exams came closer the bar became quieter. 

It made it easier to spend time studying.  There was no longer any feeling of missing out or that a major party was happening somewhere.  The cold, long dark night me think about an idyllic summer day. 

The Access Officer had informed me that I would be doing my exams in the Agricultural Building.  It was a bit further away than I was used to but still close enough for me to get there.  I did a dry run the week before I was due to start.  It had a very remote feeling even for a desolate campus.  My Personal Assistants would have to escort me back and forth as I needed to get the main outside door and go up a lift inside.  There would be nobody else around to help.  Leanne was quite a slow walker so this was a bit of a pain but necessary all the same. 

At least my exams were before Christmas.  I would hate to have them hanging over me as well as my upcoming trip for the holidays.  Guess I’d just have to get used to the idea if that was the case.  That’s what I did; persevere no matter what was thrown in front of me. 

It was the night before my first exam.  It was just me and Leanne in the flat.  Lucy had no exams and like almost everyone else had gone home.  To Leanne’s bewilderment I told her that I was heading out.  Mostly she was just worried about the cold but I insisted that I would be fine. 

It was a decision I almost regretted as I patiently waited outside for someone to come along and get the bar door for me.  When I did finally manage to get inside there was only seven other customers in there.  It did mean that I got exemplary service though.  Once I picked my table the barman immediately came over with my drink and extra glasses. 

It was a lonely feeling though.  None of the other regulars were around.  I wondered would this be what my future life would be like when I left college.  After all I was in respects living a somewhat sheltered life.  I had Personal Assistants, ramps almost everywhere and so very close to a vibrant pub.  After college I might not get any PA help, there will be few ramps and the nearest probably dreary pub will be at least a mile away.  Just as I was getting a bit depressed, I felt a tap on my shoulder. 

It was the barman telling me the bar was closing shortly.  Seemingly it wasn’t profitable to keep it open for the night, with few customers.  For a second, I half expected it to be Emily tapping me on the shoulder.  At least that would spice up the night as I wondered if I would ever get a chance to kiss her again. 

There was little reason to stay in the deserted place and after just one drink I made my way back to a rather surprised Leanne.  The only bright side was that I was very fresh and awake for my first exam the next day. 

It turned out to be a rather cloudy day.  It was bordering on miraculous that we didn’t get drenched as I patiently waited for Leanne to catch up.  At least Patrick would be round tomorrow I thought to myself. 

Eventually we made it to the building and went up the lift to the allotted room.  There was no sign of the scribe/exam supervisor.  For a few minutes I patiently waited growing ever more anxious.  It was probably the last thing I needed.  Then five minutes after the exam was due to start, she showed up.  It was a woman just like it always seemed to be. 

Frantic she blamed her delay on a mix up with the papers and said she would add on five minutes at the end.  I was just happy to see her and didn’t bother questioning her too much.  With that I told Leanne what time to come back at and entered the exam room. 

The supervisor’s name was Ellen.  She seemed the studious type with short hair and glasses.  I presumed she was a PhD student but didn’t get to ask.  My first paper was to do with economics, something that I was always good at.  I scanned through the questions and immediately felt relaxed.  Alot of the questions were there that I had expected. 

It always takes a few minutes to build a rapport with a scribe.  But if anything, it seemed even easier than usual.  Maybe it was because I was becoming an old hand at such things.  The time passed quickly as I flew through the paper. 

It was a good harbinger of things to come.  I flew through each paper without much difficulty.  I would be able to enjoy Christmas with only my trip to England to worry about.  I hoped with good preparation that would go as smoothly. 

Chapter 13 – The Trip 

It proved to be an uneventful Christmas.  The ghost of Karen still seemed to hang over everything we did as a family.  I thought that my revenge would have brought closure to everyone or at least dampened the pain somewhat but in the long run it wasn’t the case. 

Sometimes I even questioned if I had done the right thing.  Sure, her murderer was evil but maybe with more time the Garda would have managed to catch him or maybe even he himself may have changed.  It was all just hypothetical now.  I had seen to that. 

Her old boyfriend had moved on and we heard little from him now.  We couldn’t blame him; he was a nice guy and it was after all young love that may not have survived the rigours of time.  I wondered though if he sometimes saw her in my dreams like I did. 

It was a relief to get back to college and back to some sort of normalcy.  All the other students were back and the place felt vibrant once more.  Lucy gave me a warm hug on my return which was nice.   

The lectures once again began in earnest and the bar was back in full flow.  No need to worry about studying for a few months I could soak up the atmosphere, so to speak.   Being surrounded by beautiful women was the dream that brought me to college in the first place.   

But by the second week my thoughts had already turned to the trip to Liverpool.  The only plan I had was to try and make sure myself and my uncle came out of it alive.  Hopefully nobody else would die either but that would just be a bonus. 

Emily made another appearance beforehand; this time bumping into me after one of my lectures.  It was on the second floor of the Arts/Commerce building and it was fleeting.  She just wanted me to confirm that everything was still a go.  When I said it was, she said she would see me in Liverpool.  Then she whispered in my ear to trust nobody, that it was possible that the dissidents were watching me.  I nodded in agreement and then she was gone.  It was hardly a necessary warning.  I knew the danger that awaited me. 

It didn’t take long for me to bump into a dissident again.  It was the usual fella and by now I had christened him “The Handler” in my mind.  This time he just walked up to me in the bar while I was alone.  It unnerved me but I said nothing about it.  He said that we would have always met here if he had known I frequented it so often.  So, I was indeed being watched I thought to myself. 

He got himself a pint and sat down next to me.  He merely wanted to know if everything was a go which I said it was.  After a few minutes I gathered he just wanted to relax after what was seemingly a long day for him.  He told me about his daughter and how he hoped that she would get to go a place like this, not the pub he stressed but the university.  I asked about her interests and if he had any other children.  She was his only one and it was clear he loved her dearly. 

Turned out despite his fearsome complexion he was a quite gently soul.  Perhaps he was a good guy like myself; a prisoner of circumstance.  Fortunately, he left once he had finished his pint.  It was better that I didn’t get to know him too well; I might need to stab him in the back someday. 

Once he left a Sinn Fein student came over to me asking me who he was with genuine concern telling me I’d be better off staying away from such people.  He must have had some recognisable insignia on him setting out he was a dissident or maybe Republicans can just smell each other.  I played dumb and said that it was a random meeting.  I asked why he was concerned.  He had a small tattoo on his arm with an arrow piercing the Tricolour.  It was the insignia of a feared dissident sub grouping.  He left happy enough when I feigned bewilderment even disgust. 

It was important that I kept the different aspects of my life separate.  The last thing I needed was for republicans in the college to know I was fraternising with dissidents.  Apart from making me seriously less popular, they might give me a beating as a warning. 

Kevin was by now ringing me daily and I had arranged to leave Mullingar for Liverpool on the morning of the day before the meeting was scheduled.  He was to drive to Mullingar that morning where he would collect me and the van; from there to Dublin where we would get the ferry to somewhere in Wales.  Then it was simply a matter of driving to Liverpool.  

Lucy and the PAs were bemused that I was going to be gone for the two weeks.  The PAs had to take some of their annual leave if they still wanted to be paid which they were not overly pleased with.   Lucy didn’t quite buy my reason for having to go and asked lots of questions most of which I couldn’t answer.  I fobbed her off telling her that I’d know more when I got back. 

The next few days passed quickly and it was soon the morning of my departure.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to start my day as early as Kevin who had to be on the road by 7.30am such was the journey from Cork. 

I began my day at a much more respectable half nine in the morning.  My father got me up, washed, dressed and ready to go.  He seemed a bit nervous about me going so far away for so long.  It would my first time leaving the island since I was a baby.  If anything went wrong, I was to ring him, he could quickly get a flight over.  My Mum was teary eyed about me going but I told her I would be fine. 

Kevin arrived right on schedule.  As always, he was upbeat and ready to go.  First my father went out and showed him how to clamp the hoist.  Then it was my turn to drive up the ramps into the back of the van.  Suddenly a sense of adventure was starting to build in me as I wondered what lay ahead.  It would be interesting to see what the ferry would be like, having never been on the sea previously. 

After a few minutes everything was packed in the van and it was time to go.  Fortunately, Kevin was used to driving a van and it was plain sailing.  The first destination was Dublin, Dun Laoghaire port in particular.  It would only take about an hour to get there and most of the journey was the same as going to college.  We listened to my favourite CD and I had a real holiday feeling.  It was a pity it took such dire circumstances for me to go places. 

As we approached Dublin Kevin told me we wouldn’t be going into the city rather taking the M50.  At first, I felt relief that we could avoid the city centre traffic but increasing grew frustrated by the queues at each roundabout junction.  I wondered to myself; could they not add a few lanes and get rid of the roundabouts.  If it was frustrating me I could only imagine what it would do to Kevin.  Every now and again I could hear a curse coming from the front of the van as we approached the next one. 

We had left in plenty of time but I was beginning to get nervous when we finally reached Dun Laoghaire.  It was my first time there.  Kevin shouted back to me that this was where all the top knobs lived.  He did seem to have a point.  The place seemed to ooze opulence.  The houses were large especially for such a built-up area.  Some of them even had high walls to the front; I could only guess what was behind them. 

But the best was still to come.  Kevin took me for a spin by the seafront.  He said it was on purpose but I had my doubts.  It was beautiful.  I didn’t get to see the sea much being from the midlands and it served as the perfect background to the yachts and the odd person walking along the promenade. 

Shortly thereafter we reached the port.  It was not what I expected, more like a giant packed car park.  We had to wait a few minutes before Kevin spotted the ferry in the distance.  Fifteen minutes later some of the cars started to move.  It was like a wave and soon it was our turn.  As we went through a checkpoint the ferry came fully into view.  It was huge and the vehicles were entering through its rear. 

Thirty seconds later it was our turn and we drove up the long ramp and into the darkness.  It only took a second for my eyes to readjust.  We were in a parking area within the ship and we soon came to a halt.  I warned Kevin just in the nick of time to leave some space in front of the van from the next vehicle in case we had to get out.  If needed we could then drive forward and have enough space at the back for the ramps. 

It was just as well because a few minutes later stewards were walking down the lines of vehicles telling people to exit the vehicles.  It had been my plan to stay in the van for the crossover but that clearly was not allowed.  On the plus side, at least I would get to see some more of the ship. 

Driving back out of the van and onto the ramps was the first real test of the Alan, Kevin partnership.  It was a leap of faith that the person behind you would guide you properly onto the ramps.  If they or the person driving the wheelchair made an error the result could be catastrophic.  Kevin seemed to sense my nervousness.  First, he told me to go a little bit to the left then a bit to the right.  It didn’t go well and we first had to agree on what was left and right.  First problem solved I drove forward and then began to reverse again. 

This time went better and I could feel that the back wheels had gone onto the two ramps.  I held my breath and reversed.  It went smoothly and a few seconds later I had reached the ground.  I made no big deal of it because I didn’t want Kevin to think I doubted his ability. 

Kevin quickly put the ramps back in the van and locked it.  Kevin then told me to follow everyone and see where they were going.  It didn’t take long for us to meet one of the stewards.  She was petit, chubby with black shoulder length hair.  Fortunately, she was well drilled and told us she would bring us up a deck in the lift which was close by. 

It was a small lift and the three of us only just fitted into it.  It didn’t take us long though to reach our destination where she told us to enjoy our trip in a Welsh accent.  We found ourselves in a totally different environment.  It was bright and bustling with people.  Knowing that we had two hours now to spare; we did our own informal tour of the ship.  There were more facilities than I would have expected – a bar, restaurant even a gaming area with arcades.  The highlight though was the viewing areas to the rear of the ship where you could look out over and smell the sea. 

But after a while I got bored and we ended up going to the bar.  I had my usual while Kevin had some coffee.  We couldn’t add drink driving to our list of problems.  The ferry would be dropping us off at Holyhead.  A place I had heard mentioned on the radio once or twice but little else.  I went over the rest of the journey with Kevin once I finished my drink.  We were getting near the time when I would need to toilet.  We could drive for about an hour after getting off the ferry before it would become urgent.  I told Kevin the best idea would be to look for somewhere with a disabled toilet and if manageable, we would then bring in the hoist. 

We spent most of the rest of the time on the ferry watching a tv in the distance.  Unfortunately, there was nothing too interesting on but at least it passed the time.  Soon it was time to go back down to the van.  We quickly found a steward who appeared to be waiting for us, to bring me back down on the lift.  There was a special key to operate it which only they had. 

We were then back in a maze of vehicles.  A sense of direction was never my forte but Kevin seemed to know where to go.  He took the ramps out of the van and set them up.  It was always easier to drive up and into the van rather than down and out and it went effortlessly. 

The wheelchair was quickly clamped to the floor of the van and we were ready to go.  But we had to wait for the vehicles in front of us to move first.  After a few minutes they did and we were on our way on a large semi-circle round the deck before going down a long ramp and out of the ferry. 

It was my first time in Wales and I felt a small sense of pride in getting there.  We appeared to be in relatively small town, most of which was on the side of a hill.   Kevin asked me if I wanted to get out for a while but I told him we’d keep driving.  I was anxious to reach our hotel before nightfall and knew that a long journey still lay ahead. 

I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the Welsh landscape although it would be the last kind of place where I would want to live.    It would be a killer for the wheelchair.  The hills, mountains and long bridges were alien to someone from the midlands of Ireland which was almost totally flat.   

It only took two hours to traverse Wales.  I knew it was significantly smaller than Ireland but I was still surprised.  It was easy to tell when you had crossed the border.  There were no longer any bilingual signs.  I was feeling anxious now to toilet and have something to eat telling Kevin to look out for somewhere to stop. 

It didn’t take long for us to come across what appeared to be a nice hotel.  We parked up and then Kevin went in to check if the toilet was suitable.  Fortunately, it turned out to be just that, immediately I disembarked from the van and entered the reception area of the hotel.  A few minutes later Kevin followed with the hoist telling me where to go.   Luckily the area outside of the toilet was very quiet and that is where we did the transfer into the hoist which was then driven into the toilet.  A few minutes later everything was sorted and I was back in the wheelchair. 

Kevin brought the hoist back to the van while I went into the restaurant to get something to eat.  Neither of us were the type to experiment and I ordered fish and chips for the both of us.  It didn’t take long for Kevin to find me and he seemed happy to be able to sit down and stretch his legs giving out a loud yawn. 

The rest of the restaurant was pretty empty and there was nobody close-by.  Kevin started to make small talk at first about what he was up to down in Cork and then wondering about what we would do later that night.  He suggested we go for a few drinks and get to know the city of Liverpool.  But I had an important meeting the next day and suggested we do it a different day.  He seemed to be content with that but then the conversation took a darker turn. 

He wanted me to tell him what was going on.  I pointed out that that his criminal activities had led him to this point and something similar had happened to me. 

“Yeah but what could you have done that would be so serious?  Like you’re still in college.  Did you carry out some sort of fraud or something?  No, it has to be much more serious than that.”  

This was a conversation I really didn’t want to have so I tried to stonewall him telling him that it was better if he didn’t know but he was having none of it. 

“Look, I’m your uncle, you’re only one (he wasn’t but it didn’t feel that it was an appropriate time to point it out), you can tell me what’s happening.  We’re blood.”  

I could see I had to tell him.  Maybe it would be good for someone else to finally know what was happening, so I did.  At times he gasped.  It was not what he expected to hear, his sole nephew had organised a revenge killing and was now in the thralls of dissident republicans and the British Secret Service. 

When I was finished, he said that I had got myself into some mess.  But then perhaps sensing my disappointment with his response continued that I was right to avenge my sister.  That one has a duty to protect their family.  That cheered me up somewhat and it was nice to finally tell my secrets to someone.  With that we quickly finished up our meals and got back on the road. 

Liverpool was still a further three hours away and it was by now starting to get dark.  Kevin seemed confident that we would find the place fairly easily.  Most of the journey was very straighttforward anyway.  All we had to do was keep on the motorway. 

For the next two and a half hours I just listened to music in the van and let my mind wonder.  In particular I wondered if I would miss much at college over the trip to England.  I would definitely need that degree if I was to have any chance of getting a job in the future.  My joints were getting stiff and sore now.  This was by far the longest journey I had ever gone on and I could now feel it. 

At last we reached the edge of Liverpool.  I shouted out to Kevin that we needed to head into the city centre.  The traffic started to become congested now and our progress slowed.   Every time we moved forward a few metres we had to pause once again.  It did give me a chance to admire the city though. 

One of the very noticeable things about the city especially as we got closer to the centre was the prevalence of red brick construction.  Sometimes even the road surface and pavements were red too.  Parts of the city appeared to be quite rundown while other places seemed classy and modern.  I knew which part my republican colleagues would be more interested in bombing for sure. 

Eventually after a few wrong turns down some narrow side streets we found the hotel we would be staying in.  It was called “The Hard Days Night Hotel”.  It was five or six storeys high and I wondered what floor we would be staying on.  But our most immediate concern was finding somewhere to park the van.  One side of the street was taken up by a walkway that went along the river Mersey.  The other side was full of cars.   

I told Kevin that they said they had a wheelchair parking area when I rang them prior to the trip and maybe he should run in to the reception to see where it was.  He took my advice and double parked before hopping out of the van.  We were causing an obstruction so I hoped he wouldn’t be long.   

The minutes passed and there was still no sign of him.  I was getting worried.  Maybe they had nowhere for us to park.  Then suddenly he reappeared and he was back in the van.  I quickly asked him if they had somewhere.  He replied in the affirmative saying that they were opening the little gateway under the arch just ahead of us which was usually reserved for staff and there was a spot for us in there. 

With that, I could see a well-dressed woman with short black hair walking quickly to the gateway as we waited outside.  A few seconds later it was open and she waved for us to enter. 

With that we drove in and found ourselves in a small enclosure.  It was tight but Kevin just about managed to fit the van into the parking area.  The last thing I wanted was for it to get a scratch.  It was only a few years old and I wanted to be allowed use it again in the future.  We then went in to see where our room was. 

There was a queue when we got inside.  Kevin said that he had to skip it eventually the last time to find out where to park.  There was a good, vibrant atmosphere to the place and I felt I had made the right decision.  So long as the room met my needs everything would be fine. 

After ten or so minutes we finally got to the top of the queue and spoke to a very polite receptionist who informed us that our room was on the very top of floor.  We took our keys and went to have a look at it.  There was a queue at the lift but they kindly let me go first.  As we zoomed up in the lift the true scale of the hotel became apparent.  Even the lift itself was large and quite a few people had been able to get in after me. 

By the time we reached the top floor only I and Kevin were left.  Then we felt like we had entered a maze.  It was obvious that this was an old building that had been converted for wheelchair accessibility; always a good thing in my mind.  But it did mean that I was going up and down steep ramps where once there were stairs.  That and the thick carpets could easily drain my wheelchair of important power. 

After a few minutes we found the room.  It was perfect.  There was space under the bed for the hoist to go under and the hoist would be able to manoeuvre in the bathroom.  It was a good base from which to plan everything else.  Kevin then had a few trips up and back to do to bring everything to the room. 

Then I settled into a night of watching tv, no drinking tonight.  I needed to be at the top of my game.  Then I went over the plan with Kevin for the next day.  He would walk me to the pub the next day but not enter.  The last thing I need was for him to become a target at some point in the future.