I finally slipped out from under the boards and peeked up to find Mam looking at me in question. “Brendan, what have you done?”
I painfully forced myself to climb out from behind the bed and tenderly over Mam as Mairead proudly came up the stairs.
“Did you hear it?” she said.
“Every word,” I replied. “You’re a wonder, Mai.”
“Just because I want the war to end doesn’t mean I can’t handle the bastards in the meantime.”
“Brendan Kinsella, what have you done?!” Mam’s voice was tight with anger.
I looked straight at her and said, “They want to know who helped Eamonn plant the bomb. They know I know his name.”
“Bren," Mairead asked, "was it the RUC who beat you?” I nodded, still looking at Mam. “And they’re still looking for that name?” I nodded.
Mam looked at me as if she didn’t know me, the purest confusion on her face, then she turned away. “Mairead, I -- I’m out of water and I need my pills.”
“Aye, Mam,” she said, absently. I heard her leave.
My eyes were still focused on Mam, but she would not look at me. She fucking would not look at me. I finally show her that I'm not the weak-kneed nothing she thought I was, and she can't face me over it. A grin crosses my lips, and I know it looked cruel.
“Mairead’s story has enough truth in it to keep them confused for a while, but they’ll return wanting to meet this 'Mr. Landau.' So it’s best I leave.”
She seemed not to hear me. I finally left the room and met Mairead as she came back up with water for Mam’s medication.
“Get word to Colm,” I said. “I want to meet him -- where we used to get drunk.”
“Bren -- .”
“He’ll know where. Tell him it has to be now.”
Her eyes welled with tears. “It’s never going to end, is it? This war’ll take all of you. All of you.”
I just smiled at her and went into my room to dress. I still ached and had to move carefully to pull on my socks and boots, but I could be mobile, again. Then I removed the plaster from my nose. It hurt like a bastard but it wouldn’t do for me to be out looking like that. I was still bruised and my eye was as black as pitch, but that couldn’t be helped. I’d just have to keep my profile lower is all -- meaning I’d have to wait till it was dark
I mentioned it to Mai and she shrugged, “Good; he won’t get the message till late, anyway, and even so, he might not be available and -- .”
“He will be,” I said then went upstairs to rest.
As it began to finally grow dark, Mai fed me a massive fry-up -- “It’ll keep you all night, if need be” -- then I left by the back door, just in case they’d left someone to watch. Our back fence had no exit so I used a dust bin to climb over into the next yard. Mrs. Donnelly came to her kitchen window and saw me then opened her back door and turned away. I crept through without a word, passing her family as they sat at the table saying grace, not one of them even wanting to notice me.
I kept to the side lanes and roundabout ways leading to Groarty Road. Sometimes I’d hear a PIG or a Saracen roaring close but they never came within sight, and the choppers were few and far between. Seems everyone was trying to be on their best behavior, and that includes the confrontation just that morning. Had the Brits wanted to, they could have called in reinforcements, held the women back and torn the house apart. There was no law to stop them; in fact, the laws had been twisted by the British courts to protect them against being held to the standards of any civilized nation. It was maddening but it was also reality and nothing could be done about it.
But because St. Bobby was on death’s door and everyone could sense the growing anger in the community now that nearly a dozen young men were starving themselves to death for Mother Ireland, while the mother bitch, Thatcher, dismissed them as if they were little more than rodents to be exterminated...well, no one wanted to waste resources on chasing a ghost until they had to. And Mairead’s story, with her backed up by her neighbors, had given them an excuse to pause. I truly think that’s the only reason I was able to slip away and make it clear to the border without being found out.
I snuck over down by Upper Groarty Road, under a thicket of trees not far from where I’d slipped Joanna across. I jumped the brook, landing half in mud that nearly sucked off my boot, but still managed to scramble up the side even though it tore at my aching balls. I had to sit in a bush and not move for ten minutes before they stopped hurting enough for me to rise, again, and creep across the meadow to the nearest fence. I crawled over it, leaned against it for a bit to catch my breath and headed up the lane straight for the fort.
The moon was playing hide and seek with the clouds, giving more light than I wished for, but I cared not. I was in The Republic, and none of the bastards tightening their grip on Derry could get to me -- legally, anyhows. Sure they could always just jump the border and grab me, have me down in The Maze before anyone knew better, but I figured I’d make it a hell of a time for them if they tried, and the way I looked now would seem ten times worse if Paras were caught on this side of the border.
I cut across field after field, rolling over fences and crossing narrow roads and aiming solely for that round pile of rocks. I figured Colm wouldn’t even leave for the meeting till it was pure dark, and I wanted to be there before him. I wanted to see how he arrived -- if by car or by foot or any other mode of transportation. If he came alone, as I asked, or had more with him. And if more were with him, if he’d approach me on his own or have his “backup right there,” as the phrase goes in America. It was hell on my side and groin, crossing that uneven ground, slashing through grass that soaked my jeans and foliage that tore at my legs. I stumbled a few times but never actually fell, despite my headlong push, and soon my adrenalin was up so I didn’t even feel the pain.
And then I was there, and a weak iron grate lay across the low entrance. I pulled it away, so I supposed it was meant only to keep out stray dogs. Too bad for them this one knew his way about it. I slipped inside and quickly climbed to the top tier and looked out over the dark, cold land.
The distant water was silvery blue, as always. Gleaming in the moonlight under tender clouds. The land a patchwork of blacks and the deepest greens. The incessant wind bit at my cheeks and my breath danced away from me as if nervous about it all. Even jammed into my coat, my hands were cold enough to where my fingers would have dropped off were they not held on by gloves, and my feet ached from being frozen but my ribs and balls barely made themselves noticed, anymore, and my eye and nose were numb. I felt more alive than I had since the last time I was here.
And I thought, “She would love to have seen this,” forgetting for just an instant that she had, little more than ten years ago. Both of us children still thinking all would be right with the world. I had to smile at the thought.
Hours passed like clouds whispering across the sky, some moments racing along, others being slow, all softened by the elegant ease in which they moved. I walked around the fort to keep a vague sort of warmth about me, even though my cheeks were stung by gusts of wind. The more I hurt in these tiny, simple ways, the more I felt real and human and ready for anything God could toss at me.
Then I finally caught the gleam of a car’s headlights and leaned atop the wall to watch them peek around the hillocks and shrubs as the vehicle approached. Then the lights were gone, but I could still hear the car’s engine...and it was a car, not a truck -- or lorry, if you prefer. It stopped down the lane that lead from the road to the fort and I heard a car door slam -- and then just barely heard another close.
Colm was not alone.