Chapter 14 – The Meeting
Tagh Kennelly was indeed the fearsome, brutish character I had been warned to expect. Now for a fleeting moment he was staring right into my eyes. I stared right back knowing not to show the slightest flicker of weakness, doubt or fear. He sensed nothing and the plan was now set.
I had been nervous all that morning. A serious slip and I could be dead by nightfall and that wasn’t even that late this time of year. Normally I would love the opportunity to have an Irish breakfast first thing in the morning but I only ate the odd sausage and a small piece of bacon. I didn’t feel like eating or doing anything other than patiently waiting.
So, I went back up to the room and watched the dreaded daytime tv for a few hours. A vacuous waste of time was exactly what I needed. Kevin on the other found it difficult to stay cooped up and eventually decided to walk around the city. I told him to come back with plenty of time to spare for my meeting.
It was good to have some time on my own. I always felt it was something I needed especially as my life became increasingly complicated. Somehow, I had to find a way to get myself and Kevin out of this situation unscathed, or at least alive and out of prison. It felt like I was surrounded by a house of cards that could fall even of their own volition at any time. But I felt more confident once I could collect my thoughts.
The hours passed and eventually Kevin returned. He was full of tales of a bustling city with beautiful buildings and great views by the sea. There were also other less glamorous sides of the city with poverty-stricken areas and boarded up houses. He had read on one of the placards about Liverpool having a long history with Ireland and that the first ever all Irish mass in modern times was held there.
Soon the time to talk had passed and it was now time to prepare. I spruced up and went to the toilet knowing it could be my last opportunity for some time. Life in a wheelchair leads you to having to plan every minute detail of your life. At least I had grown accustomed to it by now.
In a funny twist getting out of the hotel was half the journey, as the pub where the meeting was arranged for was very close. It was down a small street which thankfully was wheelchair accessible. Then it was time to say goodbye to Kevin. Concern was etched all over his face but he had little choice and after opening the door for me he went back to wait for me at the hotel lobby.
It was fairly empty when I entered. I had arrived twenty minutes early and went to a low table near the back where I could have a good view of my surroundings. It reminded me of the Student Bar with its wooden fitting and floor. After a few minutes the barman came over to ask if I wanted anything but I politely told him I was waiting for friends. Perhaps I should have said acquaintance but it was too late now.
With just five minutes to go three men entered. Two of them were well dressed; probably professionals I thought to myself and looking quite out of place. The remaining fella looked rough and working class with a big belly and a mean complexion. One of the professionals broke away from the other two and approached me.
“Are you Alan?” He said with a strong north Dublin accent.
When I replied that I was he said his name was Tagh Kennelly. He was not what I expected but I didn’t show any surprise. He motioned me for me to follow him with his hand and I ended up at a large round table in a closed off room at the other end of the bar. There was no chit chat and things immediately took a serious tone. A sizeable crowd was already inside.
Kennelly took control of the room and was the undoubted leader of the group. It started off like a quasi-political broadcast with the occasional line in Irish thrown giving it a mythical aspect. He railed against Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA as traitors. But it was McGuinness and Adams, the leaders of the overall Republican movement which drew his greatest ire.
He believed that they were in fact British agents whose aim was to finally bring Ireland to heel and that he had it on good authority that Gerry Adams in particular had colluded with Crown forces to get IRA members killed.
The only true Republican movement and heroes left were made up of the people in this room. Over the next few months, a devastating bombing campaign in Britain would bring this peace process to an end and a United Ireland would finally be within reach. In order to do so the war must be brought to the doorstep of the British people.
It was rousing rhetoric and even I could feel my heart pumping that bit faster. But I reminded myself that these people had no mandate for the carnage they were planning and all the innocent people of whatever nationality that would die.
Then some of us including myself were asked to wait outside the room and the door was closed behind us. It was quite cramped outside and I drove up perpendicular to a table. A few minutes passed and I wondered if I should make an effort to talk to the other people around me. Then a nice pretty girl about my age with a Donegal accent appeared in front of me asking me what my name was.
“Alan” I replied hesitantly with the odd sensation I was temporarily back in the Student Bar.
“Oh, has nobody told you we’re not supposed to use our real names? My name is Red Squirrel.”
I responded that I must have missed that briefing and told her she could refer to me as “Wheels”. It was an old nickname from primary school and now seemed to be as good a time as any for its resurrection. She laughed when I told her, telling me sarcastically I was very imaginative.
Fortunately, I got to talk to her for quite some time. She was quite a seasoned operative despite her young age. She told me that the group still inside the room would form one operational unit and the people outside would form the other. Likely we would never see them again.
She then told me that she was delighted to be in the same unit as me and had heard all about the extravagant attack I had nearly pulled off. Seemingly I was now a legend among at least some of my peers. But then her tone changed as she spoke with disgust about the informer that had got in the way. She spoke about him as if he was some sort of vile monster.
Suddenly I could hear his cries for mercy once more. Instead of seeing a beautiful woman in front of me for a fleeting moment I saw a vile witch of evil. She seemed to sense something might be wrong and asked if I was okay. Immediately I drowned out the cries in my mind, telling her I just wished I had done better for my country.
This disarmed her and I could tell she was getting even fonder of me. Then she began to tell me her story. Her family moved to Donegal when she was very young, they were burned out of their home in Belfast by loyalists during the Twelfth. The police just looked on and did nothing as Catholics were ethnicity cleansed. Her brother was lucky to escape, he only just managed to climb out the back window and jump to safety.
Just as she finished speaking the door opened and the other crew walked out not saying a word. We were then summoned back. A table had appeared in the centre of the room and we were told to sit around it. A spot had been left clear for me to drive into. It was right beside where Tadg Kennelly was sitting.
I could now more clearly see the other people involved in my crew. Apart from Red Squirrel there were five men. They looked mean and burly not the type I would normally associate myself with. But these were changed times.
Mr. Kennelly got straight to the point and outlined that that there would be five targets. They were an army barracks, a government building, a pub, a museum and a shopping centre. But then he dropped a massive bombshell. All bombs were to be detonated without warning. This was to be Ireland’s day of rage; a day that the British people would never forget.
There was an audible gasp from the other people seated at table. It was normal practice in the Northern conflict to give at least a five minutes warning to reduce civilian casualties. If this mission was successful there would wholesale slaughter of innocents.
Kennelly sensed the unease in the room but it only caused him to double down as he once again started his rhetoric. There was no such thing as an innocent British civilian in this conflict any longer. They would bleed just as the Irish had done for centuries. But this time one of the men stood up at the other side of the table angrily saying he could not participate in the cold murder of innocent people, that this would sully a just cause.
But Kennelly didn’t flinch telling him that he understood and that he could leave if he so wished; which is exactly what he did shaking his head all the way out of the room. But there was no more dissent. Kennelly briefly addressed those remaining saying he understood we might have reservations but the cause was just. Ireland would shortly be betrayed by Sinn Fein and the Provos. We were all that stood between a united Ireland and the abyss.
Then each of us sombrely told him in turn that we were with him. He gave a wide grin and said it was time to get into the practicalities of the operation. No detail was too small. I quickly gathered that I was to be heavily involved mostly to scope the different places out and to take away attention from the people planting the bomb in some instances. I was to work closely with Red Squirrel. Much to my surprise I was told that she had experience helping people with disabilities and would be able to drive my van. It didn’t seem like the right kind of time to bring up insurance issues.
It was when I queried whether I would have enough time to escape myself that Kennelly stared deeply at me. Then he said coldly that this was a military operation and no guarantees could be given.
The missions were to start immediately. Over the next two days myself and Red Squirrel were to scope out the first three targets with a view to the best place to plant the bomb from a concealment and maximising the number of casualties, perspective. We were told that it would be placed inside a briefcase so think of tables they could be placed under or other such opportunities.
Once we had done our task other people in the crew would be responsible for actually assembling and planting the bombs. My services may be required to cause a distraction. My parents would be proud I thought sarcastically to myself.
The meeting then turned to other peoples’ tasks such as assembling the bombs and timers. I listened intently knowing the more I could learn the better. But as the meeting entered its third hour I was getting exhausted and bored. Fortunately, it finally came to an end.
All I had to do now was to arrange when I was meeting Red Squirrel the next day. My hopes that she wasn’t a morning person were crushed when she suggested she could meet at nine in the morning. We changed it to half nine when I told her that would be a bit of a rush for me and the location of where I was staying which was only a ten-minute walk from our first target; a military museum. We decided to sort out the rest of the logistics the next day.
“Martina, that’s my real name. You might as well know, since we’ll be working so close together,” she said with a wide mischievous grin once we were out of earshot from the rest of them.
I replied that now she was just trying to make me feel special. Inside I knew there was a risk I might too fond of her especially if I had to metaphorically stab her in the back. It was going to be tough to keep the right balance. So, I made my excuses about having to leave and said goodbye. She even offered to walk me back to my hotel but I insisted that I would be fine.
The journey back seemed to take much longer than I had expected but I knew it was just my mind playing tricks on me. At least it gave me some time for contemplation. As I passed people on the footpath, I pondered what they would think of me and my associates. It would hardly be good. Maybe they would think a bit better of me, after all I was trying to stop people getting killed albeit my hand was being proverbially held behind my shoulder.
Alas I was never much of a philosopher and decided to refocus my energies solely on the practicalities of the situation. Kevin was waiting in the foyer of the hotel when I returned. He looked anxious and said that he had got really worried as I had been gone for so long. We made our way to our room. Once inside I told him that there was nothing I could have done and things were likely to get far worse before getting any better.
“Fuck it Alan,” he said in exasperation, “what would I say to your parents if they just shot you on the spot and they would you know? They have already lost one child. I don’t think I could face it, they might as well shoot me as well. Who cares if we have to spend a few years in prison?”
It was apparent the gravity of the situation was finally dawning on Kevin. I solemnly told him that what I was now involved in was of the utmost importance and many innocent people were at risk. This was an opportunity for atonement for the both of us, one we couldn’t afford to mess up. After a few minutes he seemed to have regained his composure.
“Yes, your right Alan. We can’t pull out now. As they say we have made our beds. It was just when your female friend approached me earlier it caught me off guard…”
“What?!” I exclaimed wondering to myself how this had not been the first topic of conversation.
“Oh yes a pretty woman with a Derry accent in her late thirties. She said she knew you from the Student Bar. But I guessed she must be some sort of spy or that. She said she was coming to your room here at 7.30pm. I kind of panicked and said you needed rest. She said it was fine if you were laying down, she just needed to chat. Guess we can put you in the bed, don’t want her to think I was lying.”
It must have been Emily I thought to myself. She probably wanted an update after my meeting and my room was probably the safest place to meet. It could prove dangerous to meet outside. An excuse to lay down after I had something to eat could be beneficial given the day that was in it as well.
A few hours later and I was laying down once more in a very comfortable double bed. The room was very hot though especially after having quite a large meal so I told Kevin to take off my trousers and underpants before pulling the sheets over me. It was then just a matter of waiting.
The allotted time came and went but there was no sign of her. We turned on the tv as I presumed what had been a very hectic day was coming close to a close. Just as I felt I was about to drift off to sleep there was a gentle double knock on the bedroom door. Kevin immediately jumped up to answer it.
I could tell from the mutterings at the door it was her. Then I heard my uncle mentioning he would be back in an hour and the door closed. A few seconds later Emily was standing in front of me.
“Hello Alan, and as you say in Ireland long time, no see. I thought your uncle was joking about you needing a rest perhaps trying to cover up your drinking or something. He seems like a decent sort though, perhaps confused as to how he ended up in this mess. How are you anyway?”, sounding somewhat genuinely concerned.
“I am fine; really glad to see you. I have a lot that I need to tell you,” relieved that I could at least discuss the seriousness of the situation with someone.
She nodded in tacit agreement that we would get straight to business. Over the next twenty minutes I relayed the happenings of the meeting – the location, the different people I met and the bombing targets. At times she interrupted me looking for more detailed answers.
When I had finished, she said that it was really important for me to give a description of the people involved in the other cell. I repeated that I couldn’t really remember them. She asked if she could hypnotise me as a last resort. I agreed knowing the importance of what was at stake and tried not to resist. She asked me to look into her eyes. But the rest is a blur until she clicks her fingers.
I can see that she has written something down and ask her if it was a success. She smiles and tells me that she thinks so. She looks at her watch and tells me we still have some time before my uncle returns and she doesn’t want to leave me on my own.
Then she gently caressed the side of my face and looked affectionately into my eyes.
“Can I kiss you?” she whispered.
“Yes,” I replied not quite sure what to expect next.
At first it was a light sensual kiss but then I could feel her tongue longing to enter. I acquiesced and the kissing became more passionate. Her hand went under my shirt as she gently caressed my chest.
Then after a minute she broke away from our tight embrace and gave me a cheeky grin as she unbuttoned my shirt. It was as she got to the one at the bottom that she noticed I wasn’t wearing any trousers under the sheets. This further excited her. Now she slowly began to take off her top and then her bra.
Now she ignored my mouth and instead started kissing my chest. First near my neck but then further and further down. I could feel my penis grow hard in anticipation. She teased me at first but then I felt a thrill of warmth and excitement.
I closed my eyes to enhance my pleasure as I felt her tongue roll back at first. It was unlike anything I had experienced up to that point and I knew I wouldn’t be able to last long.
Another minute or two later I felt an immense surge run through my body as I came followed by a moment of immense relaxation and sense of accomplishment. By now she had stopped and lay beside me at the top of the bed.
“Well, say something!” She said light-heartedly.
But I simply looked into her eyes and smiled. Then she told me that she thought I was very sexy. But it wasn’t just about that. She thought there was a special bond between people like ourselves. We could only be honest and our true selves with each other. Nobody else could understand what it was like to have to constantly lie to those around you.
Then we heard a small knock on the door which we guessed must be my uncle. She shouted out for him to wait a minute as she hurriedly put on her clothes and threw the sheets back over me. Then just as she was about to get the door, she looked back at me and warned me off IRA women.
“Oh yeah,” she winced, “we had quite the chat about the women you like while you were hypnotized.”
For the first time that long day I was unsure how to respond mostly because I couldn’t tell how serious she was; a good secret agent indeed. It didn’t matter in any event because a second later she was gone and my uncle had returned asking if everything had gone okay. I nodded and replied that things were better than expected.
We then quickly rehashed our plans for the next morning before calling it a night. A good rest was definitely something I badly needed. But it was something I struggled to get as different thoughts kept running through my head like the number of lives in jeopardy and the thrill of wondering when I would get my next sexual experience.
Chapter 15 – A Busy Morning
The sound of my uncle shuffling around the room was my first warning that morning had arrived. It was a most unwelcome visitor. I tried to value my last few moments of relaxation as I heard him brushing his teeth in the bathroom. But all too soon he was talking to me telling me it was time to get up; his strong Cork accent now becoming an irritant. He pulled the curtains open and daylight pierced the dark room.
The task of getting up was more difficult than going to bed and the difficulty was magnified many times by the different environment I found myself in. The bed was at a different height than usual. Then there was the carpet floor and the much-reduced amount of space to manoeuvre in.
But just like everything else in my life. It was a matter of taking one step at a time. At least Kevin had experience from the previous day. The hardest part was getting the slight right as I lay on the bed. The key was to make sure the sling crossed just below the knee. If it was crossed too close to my bottom there was a chance of me falling out the front of it; a rookie mistake which hopefully I was too experienced for.
Eventually I was back in the wheelchair and after washing the teeth and hands ready to go and face the day. There was just enough time for a quick breakfast before my appointment with Red Squirrel. As I looked around, I tried to put to clear my mind and think of something pleasant like the long days of summer that were still too far away. Kevin seemed to sense my restlessness and knew to let me have my time of quiet contemplation.
But all too soon it was time for my appointment with destiny. I had already told Kevin to refer to her as Red Squirrel and to hand her, the keys to the van. She was there in the lobby patiently waiting for us. It was a very formal meeting with Kevin just handing her the keys and then walking away.
Her face looked drained and I felt compelled to ask if she was okay. She responded that she had difficulty sleeping and was tired, but that she would be okay. This didn’t fill me with confidence but I had little option but to continue. I told her that we’d better get going; that a long day lay ahead. She agreed and I showed her out to the van which was in the staff parking area to the rear of the hotel.
It was going to be tight to manoeuvre out and I could see she was nervous but I told her to concentrate on one step at a time. She smiled with false bravado and clicked the keys to the van. She smiled with what she saw, presumably as it was a familiar set up.
She then opened the rear door and put down the ramps. I slowly drove onto them and up into the van much to my own relief. She managed to put on the clamps reassuringly easily and got into the driver’s seat. We had decided the day before to go to the shopping centre first thing in the morning when the place would be fairly empty.
She started the van and began our journey. The shopping centre was fifteen minutes away in an out of town location. It gave us a chance to talk some more although I knew my focus had to remain on the task in hand. It didn’t take us long to reach it.
From the outside it looked like a very big complex and was surrounded by a vast car parking area; even at this early stage of the morning though it was already half full. Martina had no trouble finding somewhere to park and picked a wheelchair parking spot close to one of the entrances.
She then got of the van and put down the ramps which I reversed down. She exuded confidence at what she was doing and this put me at ease. Then we went in to scope the place out. It wasn’t much different from malls in Ireland although much bigger than anything in Mullingar.
Just inside the entrance there was a quasi-map of the place. There were three different floors to the place. This was going to take a while. I always hated shopping and shopping centres. Normally I would half fall asleep as I wandered through one with my mother. The place consisted of many small retail units and one large anchor unit on the ground floor.
So, we started our investigations and gradually made our way around the place. Every now and then Martina would enter one of the smaller units as if she was a genuine shopper and I was her companion. We suspected that we would be on CCTV from the moment we stepped into the place.
I knew where the bomb should be placed the moment, I saw it. On the ground floor there was an open coffee shop in the middle of the aisle. I observed it for a few minutes as Martina went into a shop for gamers. People were coming and going without anybody paying much attention. It would be easy to have a cup of coffee, leave the device under one of the tables and walk away.
I mentioned it to Martina on her return and we decided it was time for something hot to drink. The other customers in the place must have considered it somewhat bizarre when I ignored some of the free tables and insisted on them moving out of the way while I went to one of the awkward tables to reach to the side of the counter. But it was worth it. We both agreed this was the ideal location and would result in a mass casualty event.
Martina was now in good form and smiled broadly. We agreed that we should go back to the van and on to the next target, a military museum. All the remaining target would be in and around the core of the city. Hopefully all the locations would prove as simple as this one to plan.
Martina’s happiness was soon to become angst however. She thought she had studied the map of Liverpool well the day beforehand but hadn’t taken into account that some of the streets were one-way. As it became clear that we had driven around in a circle she admitted she had lost her way.
Despite trying to give her a few minutes to get her bearings, eventually I felt compelled to get involved. At first telling her she need to retrace her steps and when that failed; trying to work out where we were from the things we had seen.
Exasperated when that failed, I told her we would just have to ask for directions. Given what we were doing this was far from ideal but we had little choice. Martina rolled down one of the windows and asked an old lady where the museum was. No luck, she was from Leicester. We drove forward another hundred metres and asked again, this time a rough looking older man. We needed to turn around and take a left, then right and right again. At last we were back on track.
Ten minutes later we had reached our destination. It was in an old Georgian building on a busy street. We ended up having to park some distance away and then we went through the procedure of getting in and out of the van once again. It took us nearly ten minutes to walk back to the museum. For the first time that day I started to grow concerned about running out of wheelchair battery power.
By the time we reached it I was also worried that the building would only be partially wheelchair accessible at best due to its age. In Ireland such buildings would be protected and the disability community was constantly told how prohibitively expensive it was to do anything with them.
However, I soon learned that this was England and things were different here. It was fully accessible. All we had to do; the pretty red-haired receptionist with an almost unintelligible Liverpool accent told us was to tell a staff member when we wanted to go up or down a level.
The building was much bigger than I had expected and it took us quite some time to even explore the ground floor. It was a place I would have always loved to visit. Each floor was a different era in military warfare. The ground floor concentrated on the iron-age and was replete with swords, shields and helmets along with the drawings and models of the different types of fortresses of the time. It soon became clear that Martina didn’t quite share the same level of interest and she was constantly telling me to hurry up and come on. It was a pity as I always felt I would have liked to spend longer in each room.
The second level concentrated on the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England. This was one place I definitely didn’t want to be responsible for destroying I thought to myself. It was also becoming clear that in this military museum there were paradoxically very few places to plant a bomb. The floors were clear and the place was quite well manned by what I had discovered were voluntary staff.
The third floor dealt with British colonial history. Just as I was reading a long text about the Munster Plantation, I got a tap on the shoulder. It was Martina who I hadn’t seen in about fifteen minutes. She had gone ahead of me and searched the rest of the building and now wanted to leave saying we had been there too long. I might have argued with her except that I knew it would be wise to go to the toilet in the next hour or so.
It wasn’t till we were back in the van that we felt safe to speak about our mission. She had no idea where a bomb could be placed either. But I had come up with an idea – it could be placed in the lift. She looked at me bemused wondering what I was thinking of. But it was simple. The strike team could get a push wheelchair and pretend one of them has a disability and needs to be pushed. They ask to use the lift and overcome the staff member, leaving the bomb in it and then just walking back downstairs.
“What if another wheelchair user comes along?” She replied.
I told her that the plan we were told was that there would be only a few minutes delay before the bomb detonated and it was unlikely that anybody; with a mobility impairment would come during the time.
She didn’t smile though and looked somewhat sad. I asked her what was wrong. She replied that it was just that the staff there had been so nice and now we were organizing their deaths. It caught me somewhat off guard but I knew that I couldn’t let my mask slip. I quickly responded that it wasn’t us but them that started the war. That quietened her and she said where to next.
I told her that I needed a pit stop back in the hotel and then we’d decide where next. Fortunately, she knew how to make it back to the hotel fairly quickly. As planned Kevin was waiting for me in the lobby. I was a bit surprised cause we were late and I didn’t have him down as the most patient of types. I was by now in dire need of the toilet and we went straight to our room.
Kevin and Martina exchanged chit chat while I was occupied but both knew the importance of not divulging anything important albeit for different reasons. When I was finished and back in the wheelchair, I told Kevin that I had to head straight back out and I’d be back again by half five.
I asked Martina where next on the way down the lift. Much to my joy she said that maybe we scope out a pub. Seemingly they had no particular pub in mind so we could go wherever we wanted. I suggested going somewhere close to the hotel as then we wouldn’t have to get in and out of the van. The wheelchair was running low on power too.
We left out the front of the hotel and headed in the general direction of the city centre. Irritatingly the first two pubs we came across had a large number of step into them so they were a no go. Then we passed by an Irish bar which we decided wasn’t a legitimate target in one glance at each other.
Then we found it. A pub called “The Druids Mantle”. Martina opened what was quite a stiff door and we went inside. Much to my surprise it was quite a large and busy bar. It only had the one floor with a layout of an inverted u-shape with the counter in the middle. All macabre thoughts were now banished to the back of my mind and replaced by the sweet thoughts of vodka.
I immediately told Martina it was time to reward ourselves after what I had felt was a hard day’s work. She went to get the drink while I found somewhere for us to sit near the back. It gave me a perfect view down both sides of the place even though it was quite dark. There was a mixture of people drinking while others were just having something to eat.
The bar had a good ambience with the noise of chatter drowning out low playing popular music. I picked somewhere at the counter so we could easily order more drinks later. It didn’t take long for Martina to join me with drinks. Irritatingly though she had drowned out my vodka with an excessive amount of orange. I jokingly admonished her telling her she would have to get it right next time if we were going to keep working together.
She laughed and told me not to worry. One drink turned into two and before I knew it we were on our third. It felt good to finally be able to relax for a while. A solution for where to put the bomb became obvious from early on. If you wanted the barman was happy to put bags behind the counter, say for instance if you wanted to pop out for a while. It was terrible to use peoples’ generosity against them but such is the nature of terrorism.
Martina gradually started to tell me more about herself. It was clear that she was somewhat a vulnerable person as she told me that she had battled with depression since she was thirteen years old. There were times she had cut herself to take her mind off the psychological pain. There were days of elation such as today and days of absolute despair.
At one point I interjected that it might not be wise for us to be drinking. But she replied that it was okay, she wasn’t on any medication. This didn’t exactly put me at ease. Instead I changed the tone of the conversation and asked about her love life but she was coy and just put back the question to me. Not exactly what I wanted.
There was someone I told her, an older woman. But things are complicated. She nodded in agreement as if things were always complicated in relationships with people around our age. Nothing more needed to be said. Then she wondered if she would ever get a chance to meet her. The irony of the suggestion was not lost on me.
The drinks continued to flow and I was now starting to feel quite tipsy. This was turning into the best day of the trip. Martina must have been feeling the same way as she soon struck up a conversation with one of the barmen. It didn’t take him long to guess that yes, we were from Ireland. He was a tall bald man of muscular build. That must be what she likes I thought to myself. It wasn’t long before he was cracking jokes and it was clear there was a mutual attraction between them. She did quite a cute smile and it felt such a shame she was making a mess of her life. But we all have our own decisions to make.
Too soon we decided that it was time to leave and we said our goodbyes. It would be so different if they knew why we were really there. Nevertheless, I didn’t drop the act. In fact, the vodka seemed to numb my mind to the potential bad consequences of my actions. Instead it felt like I was part of some strange dream and not necessarily even a bad one at that.
On the walk back in between our jokes and general high spiritedness, we went over our plans for the next day. Martina was to relay the intelligence we had gathered that day in an hour or two after she had sobered up somewhat and I would be meeting her the following morning to do it all again.
She brought me up to the hotel room before leaving. Kevin was waiting for me. I could tell from his silence that he wasn’t best pleased with the state I was in. He convinced me that it would be a good idea for me to lay down from a while and in truth, I didn’t protest.
It was faint at first but gradually grew louder. At first, I wasn’t sure what it was but then I realized it was woman saying my name repeatedly. I opened my eyes. It was Emily and she didn’t look too pleased with me either. No getting lucky tonight I thought to myself. Then came the questions mixed in with judgement and a bit of contempt.
“Do you not realize the seriousness of the situation?”
“Have you no conscience?”
I told her to relax which riled her further. But she calmed herself and asked me to recount my day which is what I did once I collected my thoughts. I told her about the different places we had visited and where the bombs would be placed. She seemed to be impressed by my level of recall, perhaps not expecting it when she first heard of my intoxicated state.
Then she showed me a picture of a man and asked me if I knew who he was. I recognized him instantly and told her so. It was the man at the meeting who had walked out. She looked at the photo nervously and I told her to tell me what had happened.
He had been found a few hours earlier in a remote location by a farmer out walking with his dog with a bullet to the back of his head. The information would not be released to the public until after my mission was completed.
“What?” Emily said probably wondering why I had fallen silent.
It was Kennelly. He had almost certainly callously murdered a fellow republican just because he wouldn’t follow him. I wondered what sort of psychopath I was really dealing with. He was going down no matter what it took.
Then Emily asked me if everything was sorted for the following day. I told her, we would be looking at the final two targets – an army barracks and a government building. She nonchalantly nodded and told me she had to go. But not before writing a telephone number on a piece of paper she had in her wallet and leaving it in a drawer under the television in case of an emergency. Then she was gone.
Chapter 16 – A stroll down a Lane
Strangely I had slept like a baby, as if I had allowed myself for one brief night not to worry about anything. Which I have to admit was strange because never before had I so much to fixate on. But it was as if a calm acceptance had come over me and although I would try my best, whatever would be, would be.
Kevin pulled back the curtains and the light shone in. It was to be a good day weather wise at least. It was the same routine to get ready as the previous day but this time I decided to just have a cereal for breakfast. I never liked to delineate from my usual routine for too long.
Strangely Martina wasn’t waiting for me this time so I had to wait with Kevin in the reception area for her to come. After a few minutes I began to grow nervous. It wouldn’t take much for things to take a dramatic turn for the worse. I tried to make small talk with Kevin but to avail. He was happy to talk but my mind wouldn’t listen.
Then twenty minutes late and just as I was about to go back to my room she appeared. I was annoyed but mostly just felt relieved. She was apologetic of course saying that she had some sort of problem with her alarm. I told her not to worry although I would have liked to say something else.
There was no time to delay so we abruptly said our goodbyes to Kevin and headed out to the van. Once inside I asked was everything going to plan to which she responded in the affirmative. They were impressed by what we had achieved to date. This was good news.
She then ignited the engine and we were on our way. This time she seemed to know exactly where we were going. The traffic was unfortunately heavy though and we seemed to be constantly stopping and starting again. She shouted back to me that we were going to the Liverpool City Council offices.
I had wondered where they would choose. Local authority offices were definitely not top of my list. After all, it related to local government and had nothing to do with Irish partition. But it did when I thought back to what Kennelly had said. The war was now against the British people not their government. He had said it with religious zeal and it was now obviously something he truly believed no matter how preposterous.
The offices were in a modern glass building right beside the river Mersey. It was an unusual shape and the area of each floor was bigger than the last as it went upwards. There was a free wheelchair parking spot right in front of it, Martina eagle-eyed quickly took it lest the opportunity was lost.
She was a dab hand by now with the van and getting the wheelchair out. Pity I couldn’t take her back to Ireland I thought to myself rather than let her rot in jail. But I had no control over that and needed to concentrate on the here and now.
Once I was out of the van I waited for her on the side of the footpath. In order not to appear suspicious I reckoned we had to have some sort of cover story ready. It was something she hadn’t thought of but I quickly thought of something.
I was thinking of moving permanently in the future to Liverpool and wanted to know about the different housing options for wheelchair users if any. She nodded in agreement and in we went. One inside there was a large atrium with a counter quite a distance away. It was not the layout I had expected and it threw me somewhat. There were crowds constantly coming in and out so nobody seemed to notice us loitering.
With a nod we split up. I went to the left and her to the right. I immediately saw that there was a housing sub office with a public counter. Fortunately, there was a long queue so it was easy to avoid any questions. I just pretended to read some of the leaflets from a distance that were on a board on the wall.
Then after a few minutes I went to the back where interestingly there were meeting rooms that were not been used. I got a tap on the shoulder from Martina who said there was nothing interesting on the other side.
I nodded at her to follow me and we went to the side wall in between the Housing Office and the meeting rooms. There we pretended to chat but instead just observed the comings and goings for about an hour. Then it all became clear to me.
Due to the rooms being so under-utilized the bomb could be placed inside. There were three rooms so it’s unlikely they’d all be taken. There was a fire alarm right beside one of the staff doors. This would cause a rush of people to evacuate forcing them to pass by the bomb when it detonated.
Our work was done and we headed back out to the van. The next target was a military base on the outskirts of the city. This was always likely to be the most difficult I thought to myself. The roads were far busier now. It was something that I always hated; heavy traffic.
At least it afforded me an opportunity to look at some of the pretty women that were walking along. There was a greater diversity than in Dublin and especially Mullingar, I thought to myself. There were black women, Asian women and women of all creeds and sizes. It proved a positive transaction from the worries going through my mind. It felt like everything was on a knife edge now.
As we drove, we went from a dense urban environment to a suburban one and finally to a more rural setting. The hedges and undulating green fields reminded me of Westmeath. Oh, how I wished that’s where I was now, perhaps on a drive to see my grandparents who lived just over an hour from Mullingar. But unfortunately, I was brought back to reality by a roar from Martina that we were reaching our destination.
Surprisingly it was a small village. There seemed to be little more than a few two-storey houses, a church, a medium sized shop and a few pubs. Martina pulled up the van at the side of the street. The place was so quiet, for the first time there was no need to look for a wheelchair car parking spot.
Before getting out of the van I felt compelled to ask her if she was sure we were in the correct location. She said we were, although with somewhat of a bemused look herself. There was little choice but to follow her come what may.
Apparently, the barracks was close to the church so that’s where we headed. There was a laneway to the side of it which piqued my interest and I told Martina to follow me. Sure enough, after a hundred or so metres, it proved to be the entrance to the barracks. I almost stopped when I saw a soldier manning the barrier but he had spotted me first so I kept going.
I grew nervous but realized that I could just act like a dumb tourist. He roared out that this was a restricted area in what sounded to my Irish ears, like a London accent. I played dumb asking him why and telling him that I was visiting from Ireland, all the time still driving the wheelchair down towards him.
Soon I was right there beside him. He was irked, with a stern look on his quite youthful face telling me that this was a restricted area and that I should turn around my chair and go back. But all I had were questions in response and made sure to look excited about my little discovery.
All the time though I was looking at what was behind the barrier. The roadway continued into a field with buildings in the distance. “Stanley Barricks” was written on one of them. There was machine gun pointing at the roadway in the distance. I could see the odd soldier walking around the place.
This wasn’t a good target like the others. No bomb could just be planted and then walked away from. I wondered what sort of reconnaissance had previously been done. I had seen enough.
With that I turned and thanked the soldier for the conversation and went back up the lane. Martina was waiting up beside the church for me. I thought she’d think I was great but she admonished me, telling me she thought I had been captured and all the plans were gone down the drain. Women are never happy I thought to myself. I told her not to be silly; why would the soldier capture me. He would hardly suspect what I was up to.
“Anyway,” I told her, “it was not a viable target for bombing.”
She knew nothing more than me about how it made it onto the list. Befuddled we decided that there was little more we could do that day. She would leave me back to the hotel and discuss what was to happen next with Kennelly.
We would meet the morning after tomorrow so she could inform me what was happening next but I knew we were now getting close to putting these plans into action. On the way back, I thought that I would now have quite a bit of free time and wondered how I would spend it but I needn’t have worried.