Authors: Patrick Taylor
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Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
BlessÃ¨d art thou among women and blessÃ¨d is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death.
NORTHERN IRELAND. THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 1983
A small handgun, six hollow-point, .25 calibre cartridges, a plastic bag, and an open jar of Vaseline lay on top of the chipped enamel toilet tank. Erin O'Byrne disassembled the revolver, slipped its components and the bullets inside the bag, and tied a short length of white string round the neck. She shuddered as she scooped Vaseline from the jar and lubricated the package.
Someone hammered on the door.
Erin almost dropped the bag.
“Get a move on.” She heard the tension in her brother's voice.
“Christ, Cal, you near scared me to death.”
“You're going to be late.”
“Take your hurry in your hand.” She put one foot on the toilet seat and reached under her skirt. The plastic was cold against her. She spread herself with her left hand and worked at the slippery bag, feeling it slide into her. The stiff gun barrel could have been Eamonâshe felt the familiar tingleâbut the bag was cold and, God knew, Eamon was always so hot. Used to beâuntil the Brit bastards lifted him.
“Move it, Erin.”
She lowered her skirt, washed her hands, and opened the door.
“What the hell are you getting yourself worked up for? I'm the one that's taking the risks. I'm the one going into the Kesh.”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Sited on a disused aerodrome outside Lisburn, âthe Kesh' had been called Long Kesh in 1974 when the Security Forces sent Davy McCutcheon down. They hadn't thrown the book at him. They'd chucked the whole bloody Linen Hall Library. Fifteen years for arms possession. Arms possession. Christ, he'd been the best bloody Provo bomb maker in Belfast. They'd given him another twenty-five for what they'd called the murder of the British soldier Davy'd shot while trying to escape from a farmhouse in Ravernetânot ten miles from where he lay in his cell.
Murder, my Aunt Fanny Jane, Davy thought. In his mind and in the opinion of the Provisional IRA, the Provos, the Brit squaddie had got his in a legitimate military operation. The Brits had been tipped off that the Provos were planning to mount an attack from the farmhouse. Soldiers had launched a raid and trapped Davy there. Davy hadn't even known at the time that he'd killed a soldier.
While the man Davy'd thought he could trustâa man who called himself Mike Robertsâhad been downstairs, greeting the attackers under his real name, Lieutenant Marcus Richardson, the bastard who'd given the fucking Brits the tip-off, one member of the British attack group had rushed up to the bedroom where Davy was hidden. He'd let go a blind burst of automatic fire through the locked door. Heard the thump of a falling body. That was all. Davy'd been too busy trying, and failing, to blow up a bridge over the Ravernet River and, with it, the then British prime minister, Harold Wilson.
Today, Maggie Thatcher was prime minister, the Beatles were history, Bob Geldof was all the rage, the Troubles were into their fourteenth yearâand Davy was nine years older.
Bloody good thing the Brits hadn't tried to nail him for Richardson's death, too. Someone
shot the young man, but Davy had to give the authorities their due. Their forensic experts had shown the bullet that killed him could not have been fired by Davy's weapon. They'd concluded Richardson must have stopped a random shot when the soldier Davy
killed loosed off a burst as he fell.
That had been nine years ago. Nine fucking years, and it wasn't even half of his sentence. The twenty-five years they'd given him for murder were to be served in full without any chance for parole. He could earn remission time for the arms-possession charge, but by his reckoning the twenty-first century would have arrived before he was on the outsideâunless the Brits declared an amnesty or the Provos won the bloody war. He was going to be in the Kesh for a long time.
When he'd first arrived, the prison was a collection of Nissen huts surrounded by barbed wire cages. The Brits had replaced the corrugated iron structures with eight pairs of single-storey concrete cell blocks, each pair joined by a central corridorâthe H blocks. Each block housed 160 prisoners and was surrounded by its own thirty-foot, barbed-wire-topped fence. The entire complex lay behind a twenty-foot-high, antiscale perimeter wall. The perimeter wall was anywhere from half to one mile from the H blocks. There'd be no “great escape” by tunnel.
The British changed the name from Long Kesh to the Maze. The Republicans still called the place the Kesh or the Lazy K, as if it were an American ranch. They were good at that kind of sarcastic naming. A huge housing development on the outskirts of Belfast might be called Turf Lodge by the city planners. To its Republican inhabitants, it was known as the Ponderosa after the Cartwrights' spread in the TV series
Davy had livedâif you could call it livingâin cell 16, D wing, H-block 7, through the weeks of the “blanket men,” Provisional IRA inmates who, demanding the right to be treated as political prisoners, not criminals, had refused to wear prison uniforms. They spent their days naked, draped only in blankets. Davy, although sympathetic, had ignored the suggestions from the Provos' internal command that he should “go on the blanket.”
Even in here there was a strict hierarchy that had nothing to do with the Brits. Each cell block had its own commander, who in turn reported to an overall Provo officer commanding the Kesh. Inmates were meant to “obey all orders and regulations issuedÂ â¦ by the Army authorities andÂ â¦ commanding officers.” That was part of the
Ãglaigh na hÃirann
declaration he had made when he had joined the IRA as a boy.
He'd believed back then. God, he'd believed. Wouldn't any sixteen-year-old whose father had fought against the British in the Black and Tan war in the '20s, whose father ate, drank, and slept Irish independenceâthe Cause? But now? One of Davy's bombs, one he had planted himself with an army patrol as its target, had accidentally killed a farmer and his family, and Davy had been forced to watch as a little girl was roasted alive in the furnace that had been their car. After that, his faith in the Provos and their goal of Irish freedom was shattered.
Jesus, he thought, if I was a priest, the rest of the true believers would consider me an apostate. He didn't give a shite what anyone thought.
Davy had told the self-important little git who thought he ran cell-block H to go fuck himself, and when the blanket men upped the ante with the Dirty Protest, Davy had not been one of the 341 Republican inmates who had stayed in their cells for three years, unwashed, unshaven, with their uneaten food and excreta daubed on the walls. The place was bad enough without having to live with the stink of your own shite.
By then, even the Provo Officer Commanding the Kesh had got the message. Davy McCutcheon wanted nothing to do with any of his 850 fellow prisoners, was putting in his time and that was that. When the hunger strikes started in 1981, no one had bothered to suggest to Davy that he, like Bobby Sands and eight other prisoners, should starve himself to death.
He lay on his cast-iron cot as the screws made their morning rounds, clattering their billy clubs on the doors of the cells. He stared at the walls. Christ, he knew every crack in the cement, reckoned he could call the spiders that infested the walls by name.
He watched as his cell mate rose. Eamon Maguire from County Tyrone was twenty-nine, another lifer caught after a shootout when two Royal Ulster Constabulary men had been killed. Eamon had been in for three years. The day Maguire'd arrived, Davy had recognized the man for what he was. Tough as an old boot, deeply committed to the Cause, but once in a while he let his friendly side show. In their first year together, Eamon had broken through Davy's reticence, called the older man Father Davy, and asked Davy's advice but didn't always take it. Eamon had paid no heed when Davy had tried to warn him off getting mixed up in the circle of that really hard shite, Brendan McGuinness.
McGuinness. Davy shook his head. As Officer Commanding the 1st Battalion, Belfast Brigade, Provisional Irish Republican Army, McGuinness had been the man behind the raid that had cost Davy his freedom. He was a man Davy avoided. Detested. Served the hoor right that he'd been lifted at the same time as Davy. The pair of them had unfinished businessâa lot of unfinished businessâand it was a bloody good thing that McGuinness was in C wing, not in a cell near Davy.
McGuinness was a bitter man, a vengeful man who reveled in the violence of the Troubles. When they had been working together on the outside, Davy had seen through McGuinness's protestations of love for Ireland. He was in the Provos because that gave legitimacy to his love of killing and maiming. And he had treated Davy like a has-been old idiot, someone who was expendable, had even told Davy on one of the rare occasions that they had come face-to-face in here that it served him right that he'd been captured. That he was a liability to the Provos anyway. It had taken three men to pull Davy off McGuinness. Bastard.
Davy threw back the blanket and swung his legs over the side of the cot. He rubbed his left thigh. The ache was always with him. His thighbone had snapped when Davy had jumped from that farmhouse window. Three hundred yards from the Ravernet Bridge, and one hundred yards from the motorbike that would have got him away. If his fucking leg hadn't given way, he'd be in Canada now with Fiona.