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FIRST 1000 words:
He was a soldier who didn't know what he was doing. It was not a great way to sell himself, he knew that, which is why he tried desperately to keep his head down and avoid looking ignorant. So far it had not been hard. His first year in the army had been spent in London as a fresh faced sixteen year old. It was exciting, being away from home, just training, getting fit, learning the drill. The second year of his army career was spent in Bradford, which was great, because it meant that he could go home most weekends to see
his family and mates.
Now he sat on his bunk and read through the papers in his hand. The bitter taste of dread filled his mouth and for a moment he feared he was going to be sick. He closed his eyes and breathed and looked at the file, once again reading the papers that were responsible for his panic.
A seven-month operational tour of Northern Ireland, which was to begin in the second week of December 1980. He was to be stationed in a camp in a town called Crossmaglen, which was about eighty miles south of Belfast.. It was a rough area, mainly lived in by Catholics who abhorred the British soldiers that patrolled their streets. The troubles, which had exploded in 1969, were on the increase again and the British Army was being drafted in to back up the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The camp where he was to be stationed held around seventy soldiers, and by the photographs that the file contained it looked dull and dreary. Crossmaglen itself had a population of only eight hundred people.
Now Stuart Jackson was scared. The relatively easy life of London and Bradford would be a distant memory. He would spend three quarters of the next year in Northern Ireland and when he returned to England he would be a changed man. In Ireland he would face hatred, based purely on his nationality. As a blue collar white boy he had never faced racism or prejudice. As an army soldier he had never yet killed, and the question he asked himself was, could he?
Many miles away, across the Irish Sea, twenty-one year-old Bronwyn Ranger was getting ready for a night on the town. It was Saturday night, and even though there had been a curfew placed on her hometown of Crossmaglen, Bronwyn knew the places to go where folks scoffed at the word “curfew”. She was waiting for her boyfriend, Danny Adams, to collect her and she swore as she glanced at her watch and saw that he was already half an hour late. She turned to her mirror and appraised her reflection. Bronwyn was a tall girl, almost six feet and with her long black hair and dark brown eyes she had no trouble charming the men in the area. But Danny Adams had been the prize that she had bagged after a lot of hard work. It had been difficult because he had known her since childhood, was her brother’s best friend in fact, and being four years older than her it had taken a lot of effort on Bronwyn’s part to get him to look in her direction. But finally she had snagged him and now they had been together for a year.
Suddenly her pager beeped and she picked it up. Danny’s name flashed up on the screen and she cursed under her breath. It was a secret code that Bronwyn knew well. Picking up her leather jacket and mumbling crossly she left the house and trotted to the phone box down at the bottom of her street.
With a fervent glance around she stepped inside and waited. Within minutes the phone rang and she picked it up.
“Dan?” She said.
“Hey babe, I’m not going to make it tonight.” Said a voice from the other end.
“Shit Danny! One of these days I’m going to…” she broke off and sighed.
There was no use threatening him. Danny knew as well as herself that she was never going to carry out any of her threats after she had tried so hard to get him in the first place.
“I’ll make it up to you babe.” He said.
“I know.” She sighed and twisted the phone cord round her fingers. “Will I see ya tomorrow?”
“I’ll be along later tonight. I’ll let myself in. Oh and Bronwyn?”
“I was with you all night yeah?”
She sighed again and nodded into the phone.
“It goes without saying Dan.”
After he had hung up she stood in the phone box for a while before heaving open the door and looking out into the night. Now her evening was ruined. She couldn’t even go out to meet her mates in case her alibi was ever needed and somebody had seen her without Danny.
“Shit!” She hissed and stomped back up to her house.
When Bronwyn had turned into the gate of her house a young man stepped out of the shadows near the phone box and glanced up the street. He lit a cigarette and for a moment the glow of the match illuminated his face in the moonlight. Anybody who was watching at that moment could not fail to notice that he was Bronwyn’s twin brother. Although they were fraternal twins, the physical similarities between Bronwyn and Barry Ranger were endless. Same jet black hair, same height, same shape faces and features. But that was where the likeness ended. Barry was calm while Bronwyn lived her life in the fast lane. Barry was quiet while you always knew if Bronwyn was in the vicinity. But, different or not, they loved each other fiercely, and knew all of each other’s secrets. Or so they thought…
Bronwyn had no idea that Barry was an agent for the British government, pretending to be an integral member of the I.R.A whilst all the time reporting their plans and movements back to his bosses. Barry had only been an agent for a year, but he had been involved long before it became official. How it happened was a common enough story, a man had approached Barry whilst he had been hanging around the corner shop one day, back when Barry had only been seventeen. The man, who called himself Johnny, had dropped hints about the kind of work he was in, and how beneficial – money wise – it could be for Barry. Just one glance at Johnny had proved how profitable this job could be, with his Rolex and his sharp designer suit, greed made Barry agree to the requests that Johnny had. And oh what easy money it had been at first. Listening out to the men down at the social club, or the guys that chatted easily about their work on the street corners where Barry spent most of his time. Nobody took any notice of a boy like him, being Bronwyn’s sister he was used to being invisible and he found he had a skill for picking up information that he could take back to Johnny.
That was where it had started, and now Barry was in deep. As soon as he turned twenty they offered him the role of an agent. There were many plus sides, the money, the easy hours being only a couple of examples. But there was always the constant threat of being found out by his fellow I.R.A members. And Barry knew that if that day ever came he would, quite literally, be a dead man.
The group, or cell as it was commonly called, that Barry was a part of consisted of four other members. They were a mixed group. There was Andy, the cell leader, a girl in her mid twenties called Kay, and two men of around Barry’s age, Kian and Jones. Out of the I.R.A they were good men, men that Barry would have shared a pint with in the pub. But fraternising was not allowed. If they saw each other in the street they would not acknowledge each other, it was too dangerous.
Another thing that Bronwyn was not aware that he knew was that her boyfriend Danny was a member of the I.R.A. This had been the biggest shock of going in undercover. And it had nearly made him quit the job as well. And the time that Barry had been dreading had arrived. His link to Danny had been discovered, and they had asked Barry to find out information about Danny’s plans, as well as keeping them informed about his own cell. So far he had discovered nothing, which was good news for Danny and good news for him.
For if the truth be told, Barry didn’t want to have to split on Danny. After growing up with him and being in such close fraternity now he was seeing Bronwyn, he loved Danny like a brother.
And the realisation that he could not put off the inevitable forever was devastating.
When Barry arrived home he poked his head round the living room door and called out a greeting. Alia and Bronwyn were huddled on the sofa watching the television.
“Barry!” Alia waved him in. “Come sit with us and take a cup of tea wont you?”
He shrugged and came into the lounge, throwing a halfhearted greeting at Bronwyn.
“Hey bro.” She said and turned back to the television.
“No Danny tonight?” He asked.
“He’s upstairs.” Bronwyn lied without batting an eyelid. “Getting some sleep. Don’t disturb him.”
Barry gaped at his sister and her blatant lie. How did she have the nerve? She should have been an agent herself for sure; she could fool everyone with her acting abilities.
Barry sat down heavily in the armchair opposite Bronwyn and studied her. For all of their life they had confided in each other and shared everything. Now, on the brink of adult hood, she knew nothing about him, and it saddened him.
She sensed him staring and she turned to face him.
“What?” She snapped.
He stood up.
“Nothing. Think I’ll turn in. Night all.”
“Don’t wake Dan!” She called as he left the room.
He didn’t reply.
Across town, Bronwyn’s best friend Rosina James was also up to her eyeballs in a lie. For six months now she had been seeing a lad, Connor Dean. There was a huge problem in that Rosina was Catholic and Connor was Protestant. They say you cannot help who you fall in love with and for these two it was certainly true. And now, as Rosina hurried through the dark streets, head low and glancing around lest anybody should see her, she wondered whether she was doing the right thing.
“But you always wonder that.” She muttered to herself as she turned down an alley to cut through to the Protestant side of town. “And you keep on bloody doing it anyway.”
It was always the same. Each time she and Connor arranged to meet she nearly lost her nerve. And throughout the long journey that she made on foot she almost always talked herself into finishing the relationship. But then she would see him. Connor, standing in the shadows, his handsome face half hidden in the moonlight, seemingly lost in his own thoughts, until she made her presence known and his face would light up at the sight of her, and she knew never, never could she leave him, no matter what the risks.
It happened now, as she came out onto Grosvenor Street and saw him sitting on the wall of one of the back gardens. He jumped down and waved. She stepped up her pace and waved back, her heart beating ever faster and a ridiculous grin on her face.
Suddenly she stopped. Three men had appeared out of the shadows behind Connor, they were wearing black ski masks and she knew, even though she couldn’t identify them, that they were from her side of town. And before Connor even realised that they were there she knew what was going to happen.
She stalled, her whole body froze for a split second as the dangers of intervening splintered through her brain. Then her heart kicked into gear and she broke into a run.
“No!” She yelled and a look of confusion came over Connor’s face before it was replaced by shock, then anger as he was knocked to the ground by one of the men. The third man caught hold of Rosina easily as she tried to get to Connor and held her in a vice like grip as she cried out in fear.
“You watch this Rosina James, and then you tell me if you wanna get involved with Protestant pig shit again.” He whispered in her ear and gripped her chin, forcing her to watch the spectacle unfolding in front of her.
“Face down!” Yelled the man holding Connor and Rosina moaned in helpless terror as she saw the shotgun in his hand.
A dreadful howl rang through the silent night as a bullet ripped through the back of Connor’s knee, and Rosina honestly didn’t know if it were her or Connor who had screamed so terribly.
“You fuckin’ leave our lasses alone.” Hissed the man into Connor’s ear.
He stood up, and turned towards Rosina.
“Keep a hold of her.” He said menacingly and aimed a kick at Connor’s inert body.
“You swine!” Sobbed Rosina and, like Bronwyn had taught her, she aimed her foot high and caught the lad where it most hurt him with her boot.
He released his grip on her as he doubled over in pain, and seeing her window of opportunity she sprinted off down the street. She heard a yell and cursing behind her but it only spurred her on as she ripped through the gardens and back alleys that she had come to know so well. Over garden walls she leapt, not daring to stop, almost feeling the breath of her pursuers on the back of her neck, tearing through the washing that hung on the lines, not caring when she got caught up and it trailed across the gardens behind her. She was literally running for her life.
Finally Rosina stopped running and slumped to the ground behind a dustbin. Tears stung her eyes and she heaved as the horror of what had happened replayed in her mind. Those bastards! He was just a boy, just like them, and their relationship was nothing to do with anyone else and it was so unfair. She sat up straight as the enormity of the incident hit her.
Connor had been shot!
And she knew the way it worked, he would have been left there, in the road, all of the time losing more blood.
She pushed herself up and staggered back to the fence that she had just hurled herself over. And with no longer any regard for her own safety, she started to make her way back to Grosvenor Street.
A curtain twitched and a pool of light fell onto the street where the three lads were working Connor over.
Curtain twitching was not an uncommon occurrence, and the person who dared to look normally did not approach them, even if it were one of their own kind.
But this time the twitching curtain belonged to Connor’s mother, Mary, and as she realised that it was her boy on the cobblestones she opened the window.
She screamed, leaning out of the window, no words forming in her mind, just screaming hard.
The three men simultaneously looked up and paused. Mary continued screaming, and her inability to find her power of speech frightened her into silence. For a long moment they looked at each other, then, as Connor rolled over and raised his head they all looked down at him.
“Ma! Don’t you come out here.” He tried to shout, but it came out as a whisper.
Mary Dean didn't even hear her son's warning, all that mattered was stopping the three men before they killed him. The man who held the shotgun appraised the situation rapidly. He seemed to decide that the woman in the window was no threat and turned back to the task in hand. Mary moved then, heaving herself up onto the window ledge and swinging her legs over. As if they were encouraged by Mary's bravery, several more windows opened in the neighbouring houses. The three men looked at each other, knowing it was time to leave.
Their work done anyway, the three lads melted away into the night as Mary hurried over to Connor.
By the time Mary had returned to her house to call for an ambulance, the three perpetrators were streets away, almost onto their homeland. They stopped at the Divide and silently shook hands before going their separate ways.
When his two accomplices had vanished into the darkness, Danny Adams pulled the ski mask off his face and threw it over a garden wall.
Trying not to think of the lad that they had probably crippled for life, he made his way through the back streets to Bronwyn’s house.
When Danny climbed into Bronwyn’s bed she stirred in her sleep.
“It’s only me.” He whispered.
“Danny?” She murmured and leaned over to switch on the light.
She blinked as her eyes accustomed to the light and she reached out and touched his face.
“You’ve blood on your face.” She stated.
He looked at her fingers, which were indeed blood stained.
“Shit.” He said softly and got back out of bed.
She lay down and listened to him in the bathroom.
A thousand questions ran through Bronwyn’s head. Where had he been? Who had he been with? And whom had he hurt? But she would never ask him. And he would never tell her.
When they had been together for about three months, she had discovered that he was a follower of the I.R.A. Bronwyn, not knowing much about the politics of the land she lived in, knew only of the fearsome reputation of the I.R.A and she begged him not to get involved further. Danny had sat her down and told her not to worry, he knew what he was doing and if it was something he believed in then how could it not be right? Bronwyn listened as he told her about the activities of the I.R.A and he made it sound okay. Yes, the things they did to civilians were bad, but, Danny assured her, they were justified. And so when he became a member Bronwyn found herself covering for him.
When Danny returned to the bedroom Bronwyn had turned the light out and was feigning sleep. Danny heaved a sigh and crawled in beside her. They lay together for the rest of the night, back to back, both awake, both lost in their own thoughts and fears.
It was almost two o’clock in the morning when Rosina arrived back at the place where they had shot Connor down. She shielded her eyes from the glare of the flashing ambulance lights and ran the hundred or so yards down the street. She pushed through the crowds of neighbours that had gathered and as Connor was being lifted into the ambulance and she ran up to the door.
He had an oxygen mask on, and his face was a mass of blood. A virtual river of blood from his leg left a trail as he was moved into the ambulance and for a heart-stopping second she thought that he was dead. But then she saw that his eyes were open, and as he saw her frightened face at the door of the ambulance he held out his hand to her.
“Connor!” She cried and began to climb up into the ambulance.
“You get away from him!” A tall lady came around the side of the ambulance and pushed Rosina away. “You’re the cause of this!”
“Mam please…” Connor took the oxygen mask off his face and called out to his mother. “Leave her alone.”
Mary glanced at her son and looked back at Rosina.
For a moment the two stared at each other before Mary broke the silence.
“Are you coming with us?” She asked quietly.
Rosina hesitated and looked around the sea of faces that crowded around the ambulance.
“If you don’t this lot are likely to lynch you so they are.” Stated Mary.
Rosina nodded and with a last glance into the unfriendly crowd she hauled herself up into the ambulance.
The ride to the hospital was fraught with tension. Rosina sat beside Mary, silent tears rolling down her cheeks. Connor slipped in and out of consciousness while the paramedics worked fixing drips to him.
At the hospital Mary and Rosina were left alone in a side room while they took Connor into theatre.
“How long have you been with him?” Mary asked in her thick Irish brogue.
“Six months.” Rosina stared down at the carpet.
“Connor’s dad was a Catholic.” Said Mary and Rosina looked up in surprise.
“I didn’t know that.” She said. “Isn’t he...“
“Dead. Yes that he is.” Mary looked Rosina straight in the eye. “Killed by your lot.”
Rosina looked back down at Mary’s words.
“I was nearly run out of town.” Mary carried on with her story. “But I stuck it out, raised my boy, worked hard and finally got back a little of the respect I had before.”
“I’m sorry.” Said Rosina.
“But could you stick it girl?” Mary’s eyes glinted in the dim light of the room. “If your family threw you out and your friends spat at you in the street. Could you handle it?”
Rosina raised her head and met Mary’s gaze head on.
“I could. I love your son Mrs Dean and I’ll give up anything for him. We’ll move away from here where stupid politics don’t matter. I can handle it.”
Mary laughed. A harsh brittle sound that was without any humour.
“We’ll see girl. We’ll see how long you stick around now the truth is out.”
It was dawn when Rosina left the hospital. When news had come from the operating theatre that Connor was going to be okay she made her promises to Mary that she would be back that evening and left.
Mary had not commented. Just raised an eyebrow in a way that made her look like she knew better and smirked.
Now Rosina didn’t know where to go. Home was an option that she could not yet face. News would have spread and she couldn’t face her mother. Not yet.
As she stood at the bus shelter and as the bus trundled into view she smiled. During times of trouble there was only one place to go.
Bronwyn had just drifted off to sleep when someone hammered on the front door. She opened her eyes and looked over at Danny who was still sleeping soundly.
“Ma?” She called. “Barry?”
There was a second knock at the door and a flurry of swearing from her mother’s room. Bronwyn sighed and snuggled down further into her duvet. Sleep was almost upon her when her Alia hollered up to her.
Grumbling to herself and clambering over Danny she reached for her dressing gown and made her way downstairs.
Alia hurried back upstairs, shooting Bronwyn a look as she passed her.
“Rosie!” Bronwyn took one look at her tear-streaked face and drew her into the kitchen. “What in hell has happened to you?”
“Oh Bronwyn.” Rosina’s lip trembled and she threw her arms round her friend.
“Oh Jesus come on and sit down. Has someone attacked you?”
Rosina shook her head and tried to get a hold of herself.
“I was meeting Connor last night, and just as I got to where we were meeting he was jumped by some lads. They grabbed me, they made me watch…” Rosina broke off as tears threatened again.
“Christ alive! Did they hurt you?” Bronwyn demanded.
“No, I got away. But they had a…a…” As the memory came rushing back Rosina clapped a hand to her mouth. “Gonna be sick!” She squeaked.
Bronwyn hauled Rosina over to the sink and rubbed her friend’s back as she heaved. When Rosina was spent she led her back to the chair.
“What did they do Rosie?” She asked softly.
“They shot him.” Rosina spoke in a whisper and closed her eyes. "His... in his...” she was unable to finish her words but Bronwyn knew all too well what she was trying to say.
“Kneecapped?” Bronwyn covered her face with her hands. “My God Rosie. One leg or both?”
“One. But it’s bad enough. I spent the night at the hospital with him.” Replied Rosina.
Before Bronwyn could ask any more Barry came into the kitchen.
“Hey what’s all the noise? Oh hey Rosie, Jeez what happened to you?”
As she busied herself making tea Bronwyn recounted the story to Barry. His face darkened as he heard what the men had done.
“Fucking monsters.” He muttered. “But Rosie, what were you thinking of getting involved with one of them?”
“It shouldn’t matter!” Wailed Rosina. “It’s nobody else’s business anyway!”
“Did you recognise any of them? And how did they find out?” Barry fired questions at her.
“I don’t know, Bronwyn’s the only person I’ve told about us. They must have followed me one night.”
Barry turned to his sister.
“And you didn’t tell anyone?”
“No!” She snapped.
But that wasn’t strictly true. Suddenly, pieces of information clicked into place in her mind like a jigsaw. She had confided in Danny, Danny was in the I.R.A, the organisation that opposed mixed relationships, Danny had cancelled their date last night to do something that was obviously to do with the I.R.A, and finally Danny had returned late, covered in somebody else’s blood.
A flush spread over Bronwyn’s face and she turned to the kettle to hide her face. Oh it couldn’t be true, Danny wouldn’t do that to her best friend.
Before she could think further Danny wandered into the kitchen. He stopped short when he saw Rosina and Bronwyn noted the look that came over his face before he recovered his composure.
It was a look of panic and fear. It was a look of guilt.
“Hey Rose.” Said Danny casually. “How you doin’?”
Bronwyn slammed the kettle down.
“How does it look like she’s doing?” She snapped. “And we were having a private conversation until the world and his wife interrupted. Can you all piss off and leave us alone!”
Three faces looked at her in surprise at her outburst.
“Well if it’s private don’t do it in public.” Retorted Barry and turned to Danny. “Fancy heading over to the pub for breakfast?”
Danny pulled his gaze away from Rosina and nodded.
Without another word he left the room.
“Sorry about that.” Said Bronwyn and put a mug of tea down in front of Rosina
“That’s okay.” Rosina sighed. “You don’t know how lucky you are Bron, not only can you see your guy out in the open, your ma even lets him stay over. In your bed!”
“Oh well the last part is easy. When I started seeing Dan my ma knew I’d be for shagging him anywhere. ‘Better under my roof where I know where you are!’” Bronwyn did a passable impersonation of Alia and it at least raised a smile from Rosina.
They sat in companionable silence for a while until Bronwyn spoke again.
“So what now?” She asked.
Rosina drained the mug of tea and stood up.
“I guess I better face the music at home.”
Later that day Bronwyn caught up with Danny.
After breakfast in the Fox and Hound he hadn’t moved. Bronwyn noted with distaste that he was drunk.
“I want to talk to you.” She said as she slid into the booth and sat down opposite him. “Tell me it wasn’t you that did that to Connor last night.”
He regarded her seriously and shook his head.
“It wasn’t me who did that to Connor last night.”
“Bull shit!” She exploded. “I’m not an idiot, I saw the look on your face when you saw Rosina this morning.”
Danny slammed his pint glass down on the table and made her jump.
“Well what do you want me to say? If you already know why the frig are you asking me?”
Bronwyn covered her face with her hands.
“I love you Danny.” She said. “But I love Rosina too, she’s my best friend and you made her watch while you shot Connor.”
“It’s my job.” Replied Danny coldly.
Bronwyn was lost for words. Danny was no good, no matter what cause he believed in it didn’t justify shooting a lad who was only guilty of seeing a girl from the wrong side of the track. But she loved him, purely and simply and that was hard to forget, no matter what he did.
She sat back and looked around the smoky pub where she worked four nights a week. It was like a second home to her and she knew everybody in here by name, indeed had known them all of her life. How many of the men in here were also in the I.R.A? Men that she had grown up with and looked up to. How many others led a double life?
“It’s not right.” She said quietly.
“Oh for fucks sake Bronwyn grow up.” Danny sank the last of the pint.
“I try to understand but I can’t!” She cried. “You’re the only person in my life who is connected to that stupid gang and I can’t get my head around your reasons.”
He leaned in so close she smelt the beer on him.
“I’m not the only one Bronwyn, try looking closer to home.” He said quietly and stood up.
She grabbed his arm as he walked past.
“What? Who are you talking about? Tell me!” She said angrily but he shook her hand off and stalked out of the pub.
Grabbing her coat she ran after him and caught hold of him.
“Don’t walk away from me!” She cried. “What did you mean just now?”
He pushed her away and she stumbled and sat down hard on the pavement.
“Barry isn’t so righteous after all sweetheart. Throw some of your patronising bull shit his way.”
As Bronwyn sat and gaped open-mouthed as Danny walked away.
This time she didn’t follow him.
It looked like World War Three had broken out in Rosina’s street. She groaned inwardly as she saw a cluster of women gathered around her house, her mother standing in the centre of them.
She stopped and glanced around and her blood went cold at the scene around her.
The young kids in the street stared at her, footballs abandoned as a real life rebel walked in their midst. The older kids edged closer to her and she stared in shock as a great gob of spit landed on her shoe.
It was all new to Rosina. Raised single handedly by a mother who ruled with a rod of steel she had spent her whole life playing by the rules. Never had she given her mother a moment of trouble or worry, unlike Bronwyn she had never shop lifted, never skipped school or been in trouble with the law. She had never given anyone cause to chastise her. Until now.
“Traitor!” Shouted someone and the yell made her mother look up.
For a moment they stared at each other, until Rosina hung her head and started walking again towards the house.
The women parted like the Red Sea and allowed her through until she stood face to face with her mother, Kathleen.
Kathleen’s hand came out and gripped Rosina’s arm, and in one fluid movement she was pulled into the house.
Kathleen slammed the door shut and turned to face her daughter.
Kathleen slapped Rosina’s face. Hard.
Tears sprang to Rosina’s eyes and she clasped her hand to her cheek.
“How could you?” Kathleen’s face was ablaze with fury. “Why couldn’t you stick to your own?”
Rosina trembled at her mother’s wrath and wished desperately that she could be more like Bronwyn. Bronwyn would just tell Kathleen to fuck off.
“He’s just a friend.” Rosina whispered and instantly despised herself for not sticking up for Connor and lying about their relationship.
“That’s a lie!” Kathleen roared and Rosina covered her face with her hands and turned to the wall.
“Mam please!” Rosina was openly crying now, which seemed to make Kathleen even angrier.
“A Protestant pig! My daughter and a pig. I’m a laughing stock! I’m being laughed at, my neighbours who always respected me are laughing at me!” Kathleen shouted.
Suddenly, something in Rosina snapped and she span around. She had never felt anything like the fury that boiled up inside her and she stormed back towards her mother until they were face to face.
“I was hurt last night ma! A man grabbed me and they made me watch while they shot Connor in his leg! And they left him on the ground and came after me. I had to run away, I had to hide because I was so frightened and I was all alone out there! And you’re worried about your neighbours? You're worried that people are laughing?” Rosina shrieked. “What about me? What about your daughter? I could have been shot, or raped…” she tailed off and slumped against the wall. “And you don’t care.”
Ashen faced, Kathleen seemed paralysed by Rosina’s outburst.
Before Kathleen could respond Rosina walked back to the door. As she opened it she turned around.
“I’m going to visit my boyfriend in the hospital.” She said and pulled the door open wide.
The crowd that were gathered looked up as Rosina strode down the path, and this time she walked with her head held high. The group sensed her determination and they let her through. When she got to the end of the road she heard her mother’s voice, high pitched and shrill behind her.
“Don’t you come back here!” Kathleen shrieked. “If you see him you’re not welcome in my house!”
“Fine.” Said Rosina quietly without turning around.
And as she walked briskly back in the direction of the hospital she smiled to herself. She felt free, as free as a bird. She had stood up to her mother for the first time in her life and it felt good. God, this must be how Bronwyn felt all of the time! And she was free now; free to do whatever she pleased. She could see Connor and take care of him and they would no longer have to hide their love.
Stu Jackson’s bags were packed and he took a final look around the barracks that had served as his home. He wouldn’t be seeing them again for a long time, but then, that was the life he had chosen and although Northern Ireland wasn’t his choice, at least he had a week at home to look forward to.
Or so he thought.
As he was about to call for a cab to the station the Sergeant crashed through the door, startling Stu.
“Sorry Jackson, leave’s over. They need you guys in Crossmaglen now.”
Stu’s heart sank to the bottom of his boots.
“No buts. Crossmaglen has been put on high alert and things are about to kick off. You’re going over to Ireland with Carter and King. Truck leaves in twenty minutes.”
With that the Sergeant left and Stu dropped his bag and aimed a kick at it in disgust.
“Bad luck mate.” Mitchell, lounging in his bunk called down to Stu.
“This is horse shit!” Said Stu. “Where’s Carter?”
Mitchell shrugged and Stu opened the door into the yard to look for the other two that were supposed to be going with him.
Stu spotted Tommy Carter immediately. He was crossing the yard towards the barracks, with Sam King trotting along beside him. They caught sight of Stu and hailed a greeting. By the look on the two men’s faces they were not too happy with this latest news either.
“What’s this all about?” Asked Stu.
“I.R.A is acting up, the Intelligence got news of some pretty heavy duty shit going down so they’re drafting more men in.” Replied Carter. “We’re the first lot to be going, but they’re taking soldiers from barracks all over the North.”
“I had a weeks leave.” Said Stu mournfully.
“Fuck your leave, I was supposed to be getting hitched in two days!” Exclaimed Sam.
“Sorry man.” Said Stu. “Who knows when we’ll get home again?”
“I’ll be thinking of you guys when I’m sunning myself on a beach in Cyprus!” They heard Mitchell guffawing from inside and the three exchanged glances.
“Let’s go.” Tommy said eventually and together they walked down to wait for the truck to take them into the unknown.
When Barry arrived home after his cell meeting he discovered the house in darkness, and Bronwyn sitting alone in the lounge.
“Hey what’s up?” He said as he flicked the light on.
He stopped short as he saw the look on Bronwyn’s face, pure thunder.
“Sis?” He said, his hand frozen at the light switch.
“How could you Barry?” She said quietly. “How could you lie to me all this time?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” He said.
“Yes you do. You’re with the I.R.A and that makes you part of what happened to Rosina last night.”
Barry felt his face flush and he took a deep breath. This was what he had been frightened of, Bronwyn finding out about his secret life. He didn’t want her thinking that he was in the I.R.A but she couldn’t find out that he was actually there undercover.
“It’s no big deal.” He said and moved over to the couch. “I’m not involved in any violence, that I swear to you.”
She stood up and faced him.
“Everything about it stands for violence!”
“No, you have to believe me, I don’t get involved in any of that, I’ve never done anything like what happened last night and I never will. It was sick what happened to Rosina.” He protested.
Bronwyn looked confused.
“So that means you don’t believe in it fully, what sort of member does that make you?”
“It’s not all black and white Bron, there are grey areas too.” He replied.
Bronwyn stared at him for a long moment before she turned and walked to the door. When she reached it she turned around to face him again.
“I’ve never tried to change Danny’s beliefs about this cause, I wouldn’t try to change yours. But it hurts that you didn’t tell me, and it hurts that you think so little of Rosina that you could support something that has maimed Connor for life.” With that she went out of the room and a moment later he heard the front door slam.
Many thoughts started to move through Barry’s mind; Bronwyn had said that she never tried to change Danny’s beliefs, which meant that she knew that he was a member of the I.R.A. This was something that totally shocked him, he had been certain that only he knew about Danny and his connection to the I.R.A. This made his job much harder; because if he ever had to grass on Danny, there was always a chance that Bronwyn may be involved as well.
When Bronwyn closed the door behind her she stopped and shivered in the cold night air. Where to go now? She didn’t want to go back inside and listen to more of Barry’s lies. She didn’t want to see Danny at the moment either. That just left Rosina. She pulled her coat tighter around her and ran down to the telephone box down the road. Her hands shook with the cold as she dialled Rosina’s home number and eventually Rosina’s mother picked up.
“Hi Mrs James, is Rosie there?”
“No she’s not and she won’t be coming back here.” Kathleen put the phone down and Bronwyn stared dumbly at the receiver.
Well, Rosina must have told her all about Connor. But where had she gone? In times of trouble the two girls always went to each other, but obviously Rosina hadn’t come to the house.
Bronwyn came out of the phone box and turned around just in time to see a bus turning the corner at the top of the road. She stepped off the curb and flagged it down, digging around in her pockets for the fare.
As Bronwyn was getting on the bus Rosina had just made it to the hospital. Connor’s mother looked surprised when Rosina came into the ward and she held her finger to her lips.
“He’s asleep.” She whispered and motioned for Rosina to follow her out of the room.
As they stood in the corridor Mary looked Rosina up and down.
“Well I didn’t expect to see you again.” She said.
Rosina said nothing and stared at the floor.
Mary sensed that Rosina had not had an easy time of it since leaving the hospital that morning and she felt a wave of sympathy for the girl.
“Was it very bad?” She asked softly.
Rosina looked up and Mary saw the tears in her eyes.
“My ma kicked me out. The kids spat on me and called me a traitor.” She said in a small voice. “Just like you said they would.”
“You could get out now.” Said Mary and turned away.
“Never!” The sudden strength in Rosina’s voice startled Mary.
“It’ll get worse.” Mary said.
“What happened to your husband?” The sudden change of subject caught Mary unaware and she turned back to Rosina.
“If you’re serious about my boy I guess you’ll need to know what to expect. Hell, if I tell you it’ll probably make you run faster from this hospital than you did last night when you were being chased by them murdering bastards.”
Rosina reached out and touched Mary’s arm.
Mary nodded and together they went into the relatives room that Mary had been given to use at her disposal.
“Get us some coffee girl, this is a long tale.”
And as Rosina fed money into the coffee machine she listened intently as Mary began to talk.
New Years Eve.
The party was at a house in Hilltown. Mary, who had just celebrated her eighteenth birthday, had a date to the party. Bob was just a casual acquaintance, there was no chance of romance but it didn't stop him hoping.
Just after eleven o'clock a man came in. He was tall, his skin was dark, not Asian but the sort of hue that comes from working outside. He was the kind of man that made women give him a second glance, and when his gaze settled on Mary she blushed. He spoke with the host of the party briefly and just as he walked back out of the front he turned back, sought out Mary and flashed her a grin.
For the rest of the evening Mary fought off Bob's attentions as she looked around in case the mystery man had returned. Then, just before midnight she saw him, standing alone by the fireplace, his eyes on her. As if by some unspoken agreement they moved towards each other as the countdown to midnight began.
“Happy New Year.” He said.
“Yes.” Mary replied foolishly and then he kissed her.
It wasn’t the kiss of two strangers wishing each other a Happy New Year. It was a kiss between lovers and Mary pulled away, quite breathless.
“Who are you?” Mary asked, still in his arms and not wanting him to let go.
“Billy.” He released her and held out a hand, which she shook solemnly.
“What do you say we leave this party Mary?” He asked.
“But Bob...” She gestured to him and Billy cut her off.
“Bob will be fine.” He said and took her hand.
She felt all eyes on her as she and Billy hurried to the front door.
Outside Mary paused, not quite sure what to do. Billy took the lead however, and taking her hand he led her down the drive, out into the road and down the hill away from the main streets of Hilltown. They spent most of the night walking and talking and they ended up at Kilkeel and sitting on the beach, not noticing how cold it was. That night Mary and Billy spent getting to know each other and when the dawn broke over the sea he kissed her again. At that moment Mary, not normally one for fairytales and romance, knew that she had found her one true love. Until he told her he was Catholic.
The troubles in Ireland, although they’d been there for centuries had started to escalate and Mary felt like someone had punched her hard in the stomach. She knew that if she were to stay with Billy they would have to leave Crossmaglen, leave Northern Ireland altogether and as they spoke of this possibility neither of them were certain if they were ready for that. And so their earlier carefree talk now took on a serious tone. By the time the sun had fully risen in the sky over the first day of 1968 they had a plan.. They would keep their relationship quiet until they were sure in their love. And they followed the plan to the letter, for nine months they met up several times a week and made plans for when they would leave Ireland. Billy had been to New York and as he told Mary all about the city she knew that was where they should start their new life. Separately they worked and never spent a single penny of what they earned, stashing it all away in a savings account ready for when the time came to leave. Mary cashed in a life insurance policy and Billy did the same on his savings bonds and come September they had saved four thousand pounds. It was enough to make a fresh start and they planned to leave on October first. It was Mary's job to get the tickets and one Saturday in the middle of September she went to the town centre. As she neared the travel agency she literally ran into her best friend Meg. If they had have looked up at that moment they would have seen the huge I.R.A mural behind them that warned every passer-by in bold, black letters;
Loose talk costs lives. In taxis. On the phone. In clubs and bars. At football matches. At home with friends. Anywhere! Whatever you say - say nothing!
However, they didn’t look at anything except each other as they greeted each other with a hug. Now Meg knew nothing about Mary’s plans, she hadn’t dared breath a word about Billy to anybody yet, but now, when everything had gone so well for months she pulled Meg into the travel agency and as the lady booked the flights to New York in hushed tones she told Meg everything. Meg was at first concerned, well aware of the danger Mary and Billy had placed themselves in, but as a best friend would she hugged Mary and made her promise to stay in touch. In turn Mary told her she must come over to New York to visit, and how much she would love Billy.
It was only as Mary was leaving the shop did she realise that the assistant had listened to everything Mary and Meg had discussed, and the look on her face made Mary’s blood run cold. She looked disgusted, and didn’t reply when Mary bade her goodbye. Mary narrowed her eyes and snatched her plane tickets from her, cursing her inside for being such a bigot and pledging not to let her spoil her day. Because it was a special day, that morning Mary had found out that she was pregnant and as far as she was concerned it was all that was needed to complete them as a couple.
But spoil Mary’s day she did, in fact Mary would now go to say that that seemingly innocent assistant at the travel agent spoiled her entire life. That woman, Joanne was her name, immediately made some telephone calls and told some people very high up what she had heard in her little shop that day.
They were waiting for Billy when Mary went to meet him. Just like they were waiting for Connor twenty one years later. They were different men, more than likely the fathers or uncles of the men that lay in wait for Connor and Rosina. In fact, it was so identical it was ironic.
Mary broke off at this point in the story and Rosina leaned forward and took the empty coffee cup out of Mary’s hand. She sensed not to push Mary into talking; she would resume when she was ready.
“More coffee?” She asked.
“Yes, yes please.” Mary pulled herself out of the past and into the present. “I didn’t realise it was so hard talking about it.”
“Does Connor know? I mean, have you ever told him this?” Asked Rosina as she retrieved two more coffees.
“He knows his dad was a Catholic, but no, he doesn’t know what I’ve told you.”
Rosina came back across the room and handed Mary her coffee.
They sat in silence for a long time before Mary began to talk again.
‘We had arranged to meet at the shipyard in Crossmaglen and it was almost midnight when I got there. The yard was deserted; indeed it wasn’t even used as a shipyard anymore so we were never disturbed there. I saw him at once, sitting on the wall of the dock and I pulled the tickets out of my pocket and waved them at him. I saw his face light up and as I got close to him he stood up on the wall and was about to jump down when three men came out of the shadows and stood behind the wall. I stopped, too scared even to shout and as they pulled Billy off the wall and onto the ground behind it I started to run to him. I had no thought for my own safety, I knew what was going to happen, I’d heard about the kneecappings and the shootings and I’d even seen the aftermath of one once a couple of years before. I knew that I couldn’t stop them from hurting Billy, I just prayed as I ran to him that hurt him was all that they would do.
They hauled him up as I reached the wall that separated us and we all stood there like idiots. Two men each were holding one of Billy’s arms, the third man just behind him and me, standing staring at them.
“Run.” Billy urged me and I saw the despair in his eyes as I shook my head.
“No don’t run. Stay and watch.” Said one of the men and as I stared into his eyes I had never felt such hatred before.
Suddenly they sprang into action, the man on Billy’s left pulled out a handgun and before I knew it a shot rang out. The noise was loud, louder than anything I’d ever heard and I remember clamping my hands to my ears. It didn’t block out the sound of Billy’s screams as they cocked the trigger and pulled it again. I couldn’t see where they had shot him, the wall was in my way but I prayed that it was his legs and not any vital organs. I looked directly at Billy and his eyes locked on mine as he sagged against the two men that held him up.
“Let him go now.” I pleaded.
The two men holding Billy looked at each other. They nodded and I could see that they were just about to release him when the third man stepped closer to Billy. He whispered something in his ear, something that I didn’t hear and suddenly Billy lurched forward, out of the grip of the two men and slumped over the wall. For a second I was confused, and then I saw the knife sticking out of Billy’s back. I screamed and screamed, and to my ears my screaming sounded louder than the gunshots. I was hysterical and it seemed like hours later that I finally got a hold of myself and stopped screaming. The men had gone, it was just Billy and me and I stumbled over to him and fell to my knees in front of him.
I called his name and slapped his face and eventually he opened his eyes and stared blearily at me.
“It’s all over sweetheart.” He said quietly and on reflex I moved back as a river of blood came out of Billy’s mouth as he spoke.
“I’ll get help.” I said and stood up.
It must have taken all of his strength to lift his hand and pull me back.
“Too late.” He whispered. “Stay with me.”
Of course I knew that it was too late, he had two bullets in him and a butcher’s knife sticking out of his back. He didn’t seem to be in too much pain, maybe he had passed that stage, but I knew that he was dying.
I climbed over the wall and stood next to him. Looking back now, I can’t believe that I was so calm, although maybe I realised that this was the last time we were ever going to be together, I couldn’t waste it by getting hysterical.
“Should I move you?” I asked.
He shook his head and so I sat down on the ground and clutched his hand.
“I love you Billy.” I said and then I told him that we were going to have a baby.
The light in his eyes had nearly faded but when I told him that they lit up. He couldn’t speak now, but he gripped my hand and I knew that he was as happy about the baby as I was.
Minutes later his head fell forward and he died.
Mary sat with her head bent as Rosina stared ashen faced at her.
“What happened next?” She asked.
“I left him eventually and went to the police station. I told them what had happened and two officers came with me back to the dock. They didn’t talk to me, didn’t offer any comfort or sympathy. They knew why he had been killed and that I was the reason.”
Rosina felt a sob rise in her throat and she clamped her hand to her mouth.
Mary glanced up and saw the look on Rosina’s face.
“It’s not all bad.” She said. “I got Connor didn’t I?”
Rosina nodded, still not trusting herself to speak.
“That was hard, telling my mother about the pregnancy. She threw me out of course, and the day after Billy died I found myself on the streets, homeless, penniless and pregnant. I got a refund on the tickets to America and went to see Meg. She was my rock.” Mary broke off and smiled at Rosina. “She’s still my best friend now. The only person who didn’t desert me during those black days.”
“You never met anyone else?” Asked Rosina.
Mary laughed, a harsh, brittle sound that echoed around the small room.
“A single Protestant mother with a dead Catholic’s child? No, nobody would touch me after that.” Catching the look of sympathy in Rosina’s eyes she stood up. “And I didn’t want anyone; I’d had my chance, my love. I took Billy’s name anyway so a part of him and me are forever together. Its more than some people get. I was lucky.”
“But you’re…liked now?”
“I am.” Mary held her head up. “I’m respected and I’m respectable. Or at least I was until you came along.”
“But you must understand!” Rosina said desperately. “How I feel about Connor, surely you of all people must understand!”
Mary said nothing.
Rosina leaned back in her chair and thought about all that Mary had told her. She knew that it could get just as bad for Connor and herself, the question was, were they strong enough to handle it?
A nurse coming into the room interrupted her thoughts and she stood up quickly.
“Mrs Dean. Your son is awake and asking for you.”
Mary nodded and as she held the door she turned back towards Rosina.
“Are you coming?”
Rosina’s face broke into a smile and for a heartbreaking second Mary could see why Connor had fallen for this girl. She took a second to pray for them both, for the strength that they would need for the months and years ahead.
“Hey!” Connor’s eyes widened as Mary and Rosina walked into his cubicle together. “This is a sight I didn’t think I’d see.”
Mary hugged Connor and kissed his forehead. She smiled at him for a moment before stepping back and letting Rosina up to the bed. She took his hand and kissed it before bursting into tears.
“Babe, it’s okay, I’m all right, see?” Connor gripped her hand and she nodded and tried to get a hold of herself.
He looked terrible, his right eye was so swollen it was closed, and he had stitches on his forehead from where he had received a vicious cut. Bronwyn sat on the edge of the bed, taking care not to touch his heavily bandaged leg.
“Girl’s been kicked out of her home.” Said Mary as she sat down on the side of the bed.
Connor looked horrified.
“Does everyone know?” He asked his mother.
“Yes.” Mary said.
“What are you going to do?” He directed his question at Rosina but it was Mary who answered.
“What do you think she’s going to do?” Mary pulled a tissue out of her bag and passed it over the bed to Rosina. “She’s coming to stay with us.”