Lawrence sat in his Cortina, waiting for the police station to open. Rain pattered down on the windscreen. The quaint building, with its old-fashioned glass lantern with ‘GARDA’ painted on the panes, seemed small when a few miles away, on the border, the road into County Armagh was dominated by a huge barbed wire British Army checkpoint.
As it was a Saturday, the station opened at 9.30. Lawrence stepped inside and greeted the sergeant across the mahogany countertop. The sergeant wished him a good morning, enquiring how he might be of assistance. Lawrence looked at him doubtfully.
‘I want to report a missing person, said Lawrence.
‘Oh,’ said the sergeant, picking up a ballpoint pen and looking at Lawrence expectantly.
‘My brother,’ said Lawrence, ‘Sean Lenehan.’
‘How do you know he’s missing?’ asked the policeman, his pen not touching the paper.
‘He’s not come back for his Bonneville. I’ve not seen him since early Monday morning. He left us the bike and his keys, said he’d be back by Tuesday, and we’ve not seen him nor heard from him. He was on a driving job for McGill, I think he was going to Belfast.’
The policeman made a small noise, sucking his lips into his teeth. ‘So, now,’ he said, and started to write.
In the back office, Inspector Mulcahy was on the phone to Inspector Rivers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Mulcahy’s blue eyes gleamed, and his black moustache pulled back in a grin, although he was being serious.
‘Ye see, Rivers,’ he explained, ‘in the Garda we rely on the traditional methods of detection, like obtaining evidence. We don’t accept this notion that detection consists of interning all your suspects in Long Kesh and beating a confession out of them.’
Rivers’ Cockney voice was as soft as a woman’s. ‘Come off it, Mulcahy, you know it ain’t like that. Times have changed, it’s all intelligence nowadays, just gettin’ people to tell us what’s going on. And, you know, how far can I let it go? If there’s a bomb, right, and questions asked about why O’Leary and his mates weren’t pulled in earlier, it’s me for the high jump, ain’t it?’
‘Look, Rivers, just give me a few days, will you? I got something at this end, McGill’s wife was reported missing on Tuesday night, and there’s something between him and O’Leary that I need to get to the bottom of, before you do anything. Also -’
‘Just remind me on McGill?’
‘A haulier, specialises in wood shavings, you know, livestock bedding. He’s a wealthy man. I heard that at the back of his yard is a shed full of his car collection. Ferraris, Lamborghinis, that kind of thing. He’s been seen with O’Leary and I’m wondering if there’s a link.’
Rivers heaved a sigh. ‘OK, Mulcahy, two days, right?’
‘Two working days.’
‘No, two days.’
‘But it’s Sunday tomorrow. I have to go to Mass.’
‘You lot and your bleedin’ religious superstitions! Still, it keeps me in a job. Two days, right, work Sunday afternoon!’
Mulcahy opened his mouth to reply, but Rivers had hung up. Mulcahy stepped into the outer office. ‘Anything going on, Fitzgerald?’
‘Sean Lenehan reported missing, sir.’ said the sergeant.
‘Oh, him. He’s always off doing mad things, that boy. He’ll be back.’
‘That’s what I thought, sir. Only, a few weeks ago, I saw him with Mrs McGill, in her car, the green MG. Funny they both went missing on Tuesday, sir.’
Lawrence drove home in the rain. There was a white Capri parked on the corner of the street, and he scraped a wheel getting round it. He cursed as he dodged the puddles on his drive and stepped around Sean’s Bonnie. He put his key into his front door at exactly the same time as his wife opened it from inside.
‘Well?’ asked Tara, kissing him briefly, ‘Anything from the Gardai?’
Lawrence shook his head.
‘They didn’t seem that interested, they said he’d probably come back.’ Lawrence shut the front door behind him.
Tara walked through into the kitchen. ‘I’ve tried to phone Caitlin again, but the phone’s dead.’
Lawrence shrugged. ‘Oh, the silly bitch probably hasn’t paid the bill. I’ll go up there.’
‘What, all the way to Belfast?’
‘Why not, I can be there in an hour and a half. Something is telling me I need to track Sean down. It’s not like him to leave his bike, believe me. I bet it’s something to do with Caitlin.’
Tara’s reply was drowned out by a colossal noise. The house shook, and a loud bang came from the front door, which rattled in its frame, its crumbled glass showering on to the hall floor. Lawrence’s ears rang, but he and Tara were both unhurt. He opened the front door and peered out. It had been hit by the door of his Cortina, which had been blown apart by the explosion. Flames sprang from the crumpled chassis and the air reeked of smoke.
‘Holy Mary!’ exclaimed Tara.
‘What the fuck is going on?’ Lawrence demanded. The Bonnie had fallen over and he heaved it upright. Sean’s keys and bike helmet were still on the hall table, and Lawrence grabbed them and kick-started the bike.
‘Lawrence!’ objected Tara.
‘I’ve got to find Sean,’ he replied, as he swerved the bike into the road. ‘Call the Gardai!’ he yelled over his shoulder, ‘Not that they’ll do anything!’ He pushed his visor down and roared away.
He thought about Sean as he rode north. Sean was two years younger, but had been a faster developer, so that Lawrence had felt that Sean was tailgating him throughout their childhood. Sean was tall and rebellious, with a long black flag of hair flung over his broad leather jacketed shoulders. He had messed up the kitchen with motorcycle parts, to the despair of their mother, and had taught Lawrence to ride a motorbike. Lawrence had also learned to listen patiently to the woes of Sean’s ex-girlfriends. After Lawrence had gone to college, Sean had moved in with Caitlin, and appeared back in the village every now and again to do odd jobs. He never left his Bonnie for this long. He was bound to be in trouble in Belfast, probably of his own making.
It was early afternoon when Lawrence got to Caitlin’s. He stopped the Bonnie outside a terraced house in the Lower Falls, and banged on the front door – there was no doorbell. A flake of paint fell off and landed on the doorstep. He could hear a baby crying. After a while, a thin pale girl with bags under her empty grey eyes and a wide, sad mouth, opened the door. She had too much mascara, and smelt of cigarettes.
‘Hello, Caitlin.’ said Lawrence.
‘What d’ye want?’ Her voice was as bleak as her surroundings.
‘Sean – is he here?’
‘No.’ Caitlin glanced back over her shoulder to where the crying was getting louder.
‘He’s gone missing,’ said Lawrence.
He followed Caitlin in to the front room, where there was a chaos of clothes, clean and dirty, some in carrier bags on the dirty carpet, some drying in front of the electric fire. Lawrence wanted desperately to leave, to get out into the air away from the cigarette smell. No wonder the baby was crying inconsolably.
‘Hush, Mikey.’ Caitlin wearily picked up the baby and jiggled him in her arms. ‘When I heard the bike, I thought…’
‘Has Sean been here?’
She shrugged. ‘He came here Tuesday evening. He went out drinking with some men, and then he was here until Wednesday morning.’ She bit her lower lip. ‘Then police came and took him.’
Lawrence’s heart sank. ‘Police! Where is he now?
‘Crumlin Road Gaol.’
‘What! Why did you not phone us?’
‘I’d lost your phone number. Anyways, the phone’s been cut off, so I’d have had to go up to the phone box, and I’ve got the baby, and last time I went to the phone box it was out of order anyways.’
‘And why did they take him?’
‘Possession of a firearm – a pistol-’
‘A pistol! What the hell was he doing with a fucking gun?’ Lawrence shouted.
Caitlin backed away, cradling Mikey. ‘Look, I didn’t know he’d got it. He’s hardly ever here these days.’
‘So how did they know it was his? Just because it’s in your house, doesn’t mean it’s his.’ Lawrence looked pointedly at the baby.
‘It was in his coat pocket,’ said Caitlin. ‘I never had no gun in the house, like I said, I didn’t even know it was there.’
‘Look, I don’t believe Sean had a gun,’ said Lawrence. ‘What would he want a gun for?’
‘How would I know?’
‘Caitlin, you know more about this than you’re letting on,’ said Lawrence. ‘My car was blown up this morning, did you know about that? You know something, don’t you?’
Caitlin’s grey eyes met his angrily, blank like clouds. ‘You’d better go,’ she said.
‘I’d better go, or what?’ demanded Lawrence. ‘You’ll send your friends around to see me again?’
‘Just go!’ shouted Caitlin, ‘Go! Get out of my house!’
Inspector Mulcahy drove to Lawrence Lenehan’s house to speak to Tara. She told him that Lawrence had gone to Belfast to see Caitlin. It was difficult to know why the Lenehans had been targeted with the car bomb, as they had no obvious political affiliations. He asked her about Sean and his disappearance. Tara suspected that Sean had run away with Mrs McGill. People had seen Sean’s Bonneville parked on McGill’s drive when McGill was out. The McGills were an ill matched couple, he in his fifties, and she a flirty young blonde from the typing pool.
At that point the telephone rang, and Tara answered. It was Lawrence ringing from a phone box. Her eyes widened as the conversation continued.
‘The Garda’s here, I’ll tell him.’ She turned to Mulcahy. ‘Lawrence is on his way back, and Sean is in Crumlin Road Gaol,’ she said, ‘he’s been arrested in possession of a firearm.’
‘I better get back to the office,’ Mulcahy said, ‘I’ve got some phone calls to make.’
As Mulcahy stepped back in to the Garda Station, Sergeant Fitzgerald raised his hand. ‘I’ve had a phone call from Vincent Phelan. He said he was bringing his tractor back along the road from out towards Ballydurgan, and he noticed a silver line in the lough. He said he thought at first it was a ripple or a reflection, but then he saw there were tyre tracks from the road down to the water, and that the silver thing was the back bumper of a car.’
The Gardai lifted Mrs McGill, and her green MG, out of the Lough. Her face had swollen and turned pure white, and her hair was full of algae. She was like a freshwater mermaid, apart from the bullet holes. She was alone.
‘Rivers will have to wait,’ said Mulcahy. ‘I’d better go and see Mr McGill.’
McGill lived in a large white bungalow on an acre of land. A driveway went past the house and down a hill. Large outhouses were partly screened by hedges. Mulcahy rang the doorbell and McGill answered and showed him in. He seemed to have been expecting a visit. The lounge was modern and immaculate, and Mulcahy sat on a leather sofa in the spot indicated by McGill.
‘Is there any further news?’ asked McGill. He was a tall thickset man, greying, jowly, paunchy, with a harsh Belfast accent.
‘In connection with the disappearance of your wife, Mr McGill, I will be needing you to identify a body.’
McGill looked away, his hand coming up over his brow.
‘I’m very sorry, Mr McGill.’ said Mulcahy quietly.
McGill lowered his hand. ‘I’m in shock,’ he said, gazing at Mulcahy. ‘I don’t know what to say. What happened to her?’
Mulcahy explained briefly. ‘Do you know who could have shot your wife?’ he asked McGill.
‘All I know, is that on Tuesday, when I got back from work, she was out, her car was gone, and she didn’t come back. I thought she’d walked out, at last. I knew there was something going on between her and Sean Lenehan. That filthy little bastard’s disappeared somewhere, hasn’t he? He was supposed to be driving for me on Thursday and didn’t turn up.’
‘So, Sean was doing a driving job for you on Monday. Where was he going?’
McGill shook his head. ‘You’d have to see my foreman, Rathmore.’
Even showing his police ID, Mulcahy had a job getting in past the security to McGill’s HGV yard and finding Rathmore. He followed the foreman into a Portakabin.
‘Killybegs,’ said Rathmore, consulting a stapled bundle of timesheets on his desk.
‘And did the truck come back?’
‘Yes, three o’clock Tuesday afternoon.’ Rathmore indicated the truck standing outside in the yard, with a jerk of his head.
‘And who was driving it?’
‘Lenehan.’ Rathmore carried on flicking through the timesheets, without looking up.
‘Let me see that,’ said Mulcahy, ‘could someone else have signed for him?’ He scanned down the timesheets.
‘No, I don’t think so,’ said Rathmore quickly. ‘I always check.’
There was a signature, or at least a scribble, against Lenehan’s name for the Tuesday afternoon. Mulcahy looked at his other entries. It could have been Sean’s handwriting.
Mulcahy drove back to the Garda station and phoned Rivers. ‘Well, Mrs McGill is dead,’ he said. ‘We found her in the Lough, she’d been shot dead. And you’re holding Sean Lenehan, in Crumlin Road Gaol? I gather he was found in possession of a firearm.’
‘Yeah, we had a tip-off about him. That gun is from an IRA arms shipment,’ said Rivers.
‘Can you be certain?’ asked Mulcahy.
‘It’s a Beretta M1951. We think O’Leary’s importing them from Libya for the IRA. We’re watching him. There’s meant to be an arms shipment that’s come in recently through Killybegs. Just gotta find it.’
‘Well, McGill’s yard sent Sean Lenehan with a truck to Killybegs on Monday. Then he was back here, apparently, on the Tuesday afternoon. McGill says Lenehan and his wife were lovers. Could he have shot her?’
‘Dunno, why would he shoot her – lovers’ tiff or something? We’ll have to wait for the forensics, I guess. Anyway mate, O’Leary’s heading your way, keep an eye out, yeah? He’s just crossed the border, in a white Ford Capri. Don’t say I never do nothing for you.’
Mulcahy paced up and down, thinking. Then he went into the outer office. ‘Come on Fitzgerald, we’ve got to go out again,’ he said.
Lawrence was riding back from Belfast on the Bonnie, putting his head down into the rain, which bounced off his visor. He shivered and wished he’d taken Sean’s bike leathers. As he passed the Ballydurgan crossroads a white Capri pulled out and followed him. Instinctively Lawrence sped up. He was not an experienced rider but he pushed the bike into the bends as hard as he could. It was not far now in to town, he would lose the Capri, its tyres skidding on the wet road, on the bends, but on the straights he could hear its powerful engine getting nearer and nearer. There were three cars queuing at the traffic lights by the petrol station on the outskirts of town, and he finally left the Capri behind. Lawrence rode back to his house wondering if he was getting paranoid.
But he was not long home, and had only just taken off the bike helmet, when there was a knock on the front door, resonating on the wooden boards which had replaced the shattered glass. He opened it.
‘May I come in?’ asked the stranger. He was a big man in a brown raincoat, mid-forties, with a bent nose and missing teeth.
‘Who are you?’ asked Lawrence. Over the man’s shoulder, Lawrence could see the white Capri parked on the road.
The stranger pulled a pistol from his coat pocket. He released the safety and pointed it at Lawrence.
‘May I come in?’ he asked again.
As Lawrence backed into the house, the man followed him in and closed the door. Still pointing the pistol he said, ‘Caitlin told me you had been poking around after your little brother. Listen, Lawrence, I don’t want to shoot you. I don’t want any more of these bullets messing up the evidence now that Sean is in the frame for Patsy McGill. But I will kill you if I have to. So I’m telling you to keep out of all this business, keep your head down, and keep quiet. We blew up your car, so we can blow up your house, and your wife, and your good self if you don’t keep out of the way.’
The kitchen door opened, and Mulcahy and Sergeant Fitzgerald stepped into the hall. O’Leary swivelled around, pointing the pistol at Mulcahy’s heart.
‘It’s no good, you’re caught in a trap, O’Leary,’ said Mulcahy. ‘I know what you’ve been up to. The house is surrounded by police marksmen. You might shoot all of us, but you’ll not escape alive. Now, so, give me the gun.’ His black moustache pulled back in a grin, although he was being serious. Lawrence was conscious of his heartbeat drumming in his ears.
O’Leary stared hard at Mulcahy, then at the pistol. He turned his head briefly to glance at the front door, and turned back to Mulcahy. Slowly, his arm relaxed down. He pushed in the safety button and laid the pistol on the hall table. It was a Beretta M1951.
‘Handcuff him, sergeant,’ said Mulcahy. ‘Take him out to the car.’
The next day, Lawrence visited Sean in prison.
‘You’re alright then,’ said Sean, across the table. He looked haggard and pale. Lawrence thought, he’s grown up too quick, now he’s old, aged beyond his years, like so many men since these cursed troubles started.
‘A lot has happened just recently,’ said Lawrence.
‘They left you a calling card, then.’
‘So, who’s ‘they’, and what was it with you and Mrs. McGill anyway?’
Sean looked down, drawing dark eyebrows together, leaning an elbow on the table and tangling a hand in his long dark hair. ‘Well, I was doing odd jobs over there. I thought she was just a bored housewife at first, but then it all got serious, well, for her, anyway. She started talking about how her old man’d never divorce her because of splitting up the business. Then she was saying she could get him arrested and put away, he’d be away for a good long while and we’d be together. She knew stuff about what she called his business dealings. I told her it wasn’t a good idea.’
‘O’Leary’s business.’ said Sean. ‘Arms, drugs. Shipments coming in on Irish trawlers off the Atlantic. That car bomb was a warning to me. If O’Leary hadn’t been arrested, I’d have been better off to get sent down for the murder and keep my mouth shut. Now I reckon they’ll investigate McGill – they’ll likely find the shipments in one of his sheds.’
‘What about Caitlin?’ he asked.
‘She’ll be all right. She’s always all right.’
‘I reckon he’s O’Leary’s. He had another reason for wanting me out of the way, eh?’
Rivers strode into the Garda station and shook Mulcahy by the hand.
‘I’ve got a lot of questions to ask O’Leary, thanks, mate,’ he said. ‘By the way, how did you get hold of the marksmen so quickly? I thought you lot had to call out the Special Response Unit.’
‘Oh,’ said Mulcahy, ‘that is another traditional method of the Garda. I lied to the suspect, you see.’
© M Wallis 2020