The 1916 Easter Rising that kicked it all off

The 1916 Easter Rising that kicked it all off

It may come as something of a surprise to you, dear reader, but time travel was used extensively throughout the Irish war known as The Troubles.

Unfortunately, the outcomes were not always as planned — such as the time the Rev. Dr Ian Paisley was discovered preaching to no one but himself on a Gaelic Football field near Crossmaglen. Time travel, as a means to advancing the cause of either side in the conflict had, in all honesty, rather mixed results.



per·fid·i·ous. adj. Of, relating to, or marked by perfidy; treacherous.

For 30 years, no one wanted the Brits out of Ireland more than the Brits themselves.

With the exception of one man.

First there was collusion.

Then he  found a way to change it all…

COMPOUND 19 is a darkly satirical work of comic fiction set in the near future but situated in South-Armagh in 1981.

When Micksey McVeigh, notorious full-time IRA mortar magician and part time alchemist and distiller of illegal spirits, accidentally discovers time travel, he inadvertently creates a portal for both sides to change the past.

It’s 2018 and Europe is a continent on the edge of war. Islamic State is terrorizing the West, particularly Britain who, with the Trump-led Americans, spearheaded the military invasion of Syria in late 2017.

But what if there could be a greater danger on the streets of Britain? A danger that was manageable?

The resurgence of the IRA terror threat was the brainchild of just one man — George Oliver Dibble, Head of SIS (Secret Intelligence Services), formerly Head of MI5, IJS (Irish Joint Section). His plan is simple: marginalize IS by promoting homegrown terrorism.

Better the devil you know.

And it’s not hard to kick it all off again. Ulster, in the second decade of the 21st century, is as full of psychopaths without a job as it was in the ‘60s.

Billy Farrell, the only Protestant to have joined the IRA in the recent conflict, witnessed his brother gunned down by the Security Forces in 1977, and spent a lifetime avenging his death as a double agent codenamed Fishknife.

Farrell wakes each day to unremitting dullness, the voices of the ghosts that he’s put into the Bogside cemetery outside his bedroom window, and of the promise of a call that he believes will never come — one final assignment to net him a promised pay-day of almost eight million pounds and give him a gilt-edged relocation package with a new identity and the slate wiped clean.

But at 8.55am, on the morning of Friday 18th September 2018 the phone rings. George Dibble, his former FRU handler, tells him exactly what he must do.

Back in January ‘81, a top-secret meeting had taken place between the most senior levels of government on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Charles Haughey, the Irish Taoiseach, had generously offered to donate a strip of land up to ten miles wide in places, so that the jagged, often random demarcation of the border between Ulster and the Republic — endorsed by the Boundaries Commission in 1925 — could be re-positioned along more logical lines.

The Taoiseach’s proposal would also create a ‘buffer zone’ — belonging to Britain — to prevent British soldiers, the RUC or their Intelligence officers from making illicit hot pursuit sorties into the Republic.

In return, he wanted Britain to cede West Belfast and the Derry Bogside to the Republic, creating Berlin-styled walled ghettos under Dublin administration.

But the British were vehemently opposed to the scheme on the grounds that, as far as they were concerned, their unstated aim was to get rid of Northern Ireland — the last thing they wanted to do was to add to it.

However, in September 2018 a huge cache of shale gas is discovered beneath a remote area of subsistence farmland near Crossmaglen — just inside the Republic, agonisingly close to the border with Northern Ireland.

This massive windfall would allow the Republic to clear its debts and acquire an economic status similar to that of the oil-drenched Gulf States.

And standing for the Presidency of this new Northern European super-state is Malcolm McGuinn, the former Chief-of-Staff of the IRA — also formerly a double agent.

Dibble reveals to Farrell that MI6 boffins possess a sufficient amount of McVeigh’s compound to send him back to ‘81 through ‘worm-hole’ linking the MI5 headquarters outside Belfast with South Armagh.

His mission is to broker a deal between Dublin and London that would see the shale field re-positioned in British sovereign territory.

But what Dibble doesn’t tell him is that both he and McGuinn stand to make billions from the shale find if land they purchased, vested by the Irish government, was to be re-located to the other side of the border.

Farrell is unwilling to risk everything until Dibble plays his trump card — he will also have the opportunity to prevent the death of Ellen, his childhood sweetheart, who died in a freak accident for which he has always blamed both Dibble and McGuinn.

This is a chance he can’t pass up. To see Ellen again is worth the risk. And to prevent her assassination would give him something to live for.

But the MI5 boffins believe that the time portal that will take Farrell back to ‘81 can only be relied on for 24 hours, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll return to the present.

To succeed, he has to persuade one former political leader to agree to accept the Taoiseach’s proposal.

And to stand a chance of this, he has to stop the hunger strike that Bobby Sands is about to begin.

The politician’s name is Maggie Thatcher.

He has 24 hours to make the lady turn.


Here, amigos, you can read the ENTIRE book, in it’s current raw, unedited format, full of errors and typos. ENTIRE, that is, apart from the last two chapters. You know, the ones where there’s an unexpected twist… the ending that you just didn’t see coming. Love it!






per·fid·i·ous. adj. Of, relating to, or marked by perfidy; treacherous.

For 30 years, no one wanted the Brits out of Ireland more than the Brits themselves.

With the exception of one man.

First there was collusion.

And then they found a way to change everything.



ONE: The Glorious Twelth


Tuesday12th July, 1978, 6.45pm

County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland


Mid-way between Enniskillen and Lisbellaw there is a straight piece of road over a mile long.

Both Beattie and Farrell had noticed something ahead and something behind them.

Sitting in the front of Beattie’s Morris Marina, neither spoke. Beattie, his cockerel’s mop of ginger hair still bobbing to the beat of Thin Lizzy on the eight-track, pressed the accelerator to the floor. The speedometer nudged above fifty as he shut the music off.

Half a mile ahead, two armoured Army Land Rovers were blocking the road. Four soldiers were setting up a checkpoint.

“Bloody UDR!” said Beattie, jaw contorting his lopsided face into a visceral snarl. “Fucken part-time dross from the ‘B’ Specials, too old or too fucken stupid to join the RUC,” he added.

Ashdown was slumped in the back of the Marina blissfully unaware of anything other than the tsunami of kaleidoscopic images that half a bottle of Teachers and a fistful of halucegenic drugs had created in his brain. He alternated swigs from his bottle of scotch with his own boisterous and unmelodious rendition of Whiskey In The Jar.

His condition had clearly deteriorated since the three sixth-formers had left the Celtic half an hour ago for Beattie’s party.

It was the vehicle behind them that concerned Beattie more.

“D’you think you could shut up a minute, Ash?”

Ashdown, couldn’t. The combination of Mandrax pills and alcohol had numbed the off switch in his brain.

“…As I was going’ over the Cork and Kerry mountains… I saw Captain Beattie and his… fuck all… was he countin’… “

“… Shut The Fuck UP Ash!” Beattie’s eyes were fixed on the rear view mirror. “Yis see that transit behind us? I’ll swear I’ve seen that van somewhere before.”

“He first produced his tattoo, then I produced my… PENIS!”

Beattie had; he told them how the vehicle behind them — or one very similar — had been parked outside his house for two days before the Provos had retrieved it. The mercury tilt bomb in the loading area, intended for the dismemberment of his father had failed to detonate.

“I don’t fuckin’ like this… I’m pulling over.”

Beattie pulled the Marina into a lay-by and killed the engine. He reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a Ruger .357 handgun, borrowed from his father’s armory.

“Jesus… fucking shit! What the hell did ye do that for? They’ve seen it — get rid,” said Farrell, hurling himself into the footwell.”

The blue transit pulled into the lay-by and screeched to a halt twenty yards behind them. A man with an assault rifle dressed in khaki and wearing a balaclava dived out, dropped to one knee and took aim at the soldiers from behind the Marina.

With a flagrant but understandable disregard for the rules of engagement, the first shot came from the Stirling SLR of the UDR soldier kneeling on the far side of the roadblock.

The high velocity bullet penetrated the Marina’s windscreen, shattered Ashdown’s bottle of Teachers, and exited the rear window before embedding itself in something solid behind them. It turned out to be the skull of the man in the balaclava.

“…Whack for my daddy-o… Whack for my daddy-o… There’s whiskey in the jar-ohhh fuck…” Ashdown slumped across the back seat, soaked in urine and whiskey, and finally unconscious.

Two other armed men jumped from the van and took up positions behind the Marina. The firefight that followed was short and decisive.

The soldiers had the better position with the cover provided by their vehicles so one of the terrorists tried to out-flank them. Fire from an SLR tracked him and he was shot dead.

Two of the soldiers, fearful of a much larger attack, managed to scramble into the hindmost Land Rover and hot-foot it towards Lisbellaw, followed by a hail of bullets. They were only paid to inspect identification at checkpoints, not get the fuck shot out of them.

A volley from an Armalite hit the petrol tank of the second Land Rover leaving the remaining UDR men without cover. Dropping their weapons, they raised their arms and walked slowly towards the lay-by. The one uninjured terrorist fired twice, and the soldiers dropped to the road, motionless.

Silence descended.

The terrorist slowly approached the near side of the Marina. Beattie and Farrell were lying on the floor amid a sea of shattered glass. They were both shaking so violently that the Marina rocked as it might have done — were it not owned by Beattie — on a Saturday night. Smoke and the smell of cordite drifted into the shell that was once Beattie’s pride and joy. Ashdown lay unconscious in the back. A gun poked through the window.

“Which one of yis is Farrell?” asked the terrorist, his eyes fixed on Beattie. He leant through the shattered side window and picked up the Ruger from the passenger seat where Beattie had dropped it.

“Well, well, well… what have we here… chaps? That posh fuckin’ school of yis dishin’ these out wi’ yer boaters and stripy blazers?”

Farrell managed to squirm back onto the seat in time to hear the hammer cocked and feel the barrel at his temple.

“Now answer the fuckin’ question, lads.”

“I am… I’m Farrell,” he said waiting for the hammer to fall, wondering if claiming to be Ashdown might have been a better bet.

“Okay,” The terrorist scrutinised the others, apparently satisfied with the response. There was a strong smell of shit in the car, despite the shattered windows, as neither Beattie’s nerves nor his guts had experienced this level of fear before. Since he’d been big enough to hold a gun he’d lived for his chance to use one and now it was all going horrible wrong.

“Okay,” the terrorist repeated, nodding his head. “Someone wants te have a wee word with ya. Get out of the car.” Farrell obliged, his heart thumping like a Lambeg drum. The terrorist walked around the front of the shattered vehicle and prodded the gun into Beattie’s temple. “And as for ye … this is yer lucky day, big fella.” The hammer was replaced. “Now get the fuck outta here, and take that slabberin’ wanker with ye!”

Beattie started the engine and disappeared with as much speed as the shot-up Marina could muster.

Farrell watched as the terrorist examined the bodies of his mates. Perhaps they weren’t mates; maybe they were just in it for the money — or the glory. There was not much glory for them now. He’d only ever seen one dead body before and now there were four lying in front of him.

“You — over here,” he yelled. “Give me a hand with these two.”

Farrell obliged robotically, grabbing the feet of the man who had just died in the ditch while the terrorist grasped him roughly under his shoulders. They carried his body towards the Transit. Doing something, even shifting corpses, helped him calm down a little and focus.

The terrorist dropped his end like a sack of potatoes at the rear of the Transit. The balaclava did little to lesson the thud of the dead man’s skull against tarmac as he swung the back doors open. The terrorist moved in a methodical way, clearing a space in the back if the van. He didn’t appear to be concerned that the road could be crawling with the military or RUC any minute.

Farrell wondered what Beattie would do when he got home. He pictured him inspecting his soiled Y Fronts, considering whether there was sufficient shit in them to merit a change of underwear, or whether they’d do for the rest of the evening.

He studied the terrorist. The man was well built, in his mid twenties, a tad shorter than Farrell but well over six feet. Turning towards him, he theatrically removed his balaclava to reveal long, greasy black hair that came to an uneven halt well below his shoulders. A straggly moustache lay beneath a nose that had been periodically re-shaped and above a mouthful of crooked metal-capped teeth. He bore a striking resemblance to a skinny Rock and Roll version of ‘Jaws’ in the Bond films.

He shook his hair with a pride that Farrell thought it didn’t really merit, and turned towards the dead man at his feet.

“You’re Micksey McVeigh, aren’t ye?” The man opposite Farrell was certainly on the top ten list of Ireland’s most wanted and it wasn’t for his singing.

Farrell knew how lame the words sounded as they left his mouth. He’d once stood behind Pat Jennings as they waited to board a plane from Aldergrove and asked the same question. He’d felt a dick then too.

“Aye, that I am. Ye want me fuckin’ autograph?” It was a rhetorical question. “Right, come on, let’s get this fucker in the back.”

Farrell stood motionless, his eyes drawn to the scene of recent carnage when he noticed that one of the UDR men was slowly crawling towards an abandoned rifle.

“He’s still moving.”

This was his chance; an opportunity to prove to one of the most notorious IRA henchmen that he was deadly serious. Do this, and he would have a foot through the door. Anyone could plant a bomb, but to kill in what was literally cold blood? Taking a deep breath, he walked towards the wounded man and picked up both SLRs.

It was the first time he’d held one gun, let alone two. He swung one over his shoulder, and tucked the other, in what he hoped was a casual manner under his arm, staring at McVeigh with a confidence he didn’t feel.

“Please… please… help me.” The mortally wounded man’s voice was weak. Pathetic. No dignity, just a forlorn whimper resonating across the empty road on the last summer’s evening he would see. Farrell turned to look at him. His addled seventeen year-old brain told him this was all wrong, terribly wrong, but the memory of what happened to Owen justified it. The tables were turned now.

The lake of blood on the tarmac shone a deep crimson in the evening sun, oozing from the man in a curiously macabre way that gave Farrell a sense of detachment, like watching himself in a film. One thing he shared with his English teacher was a hatred of the word ‘surreal’, but if it ever had an application, this was it.

It was clear the man wasn’t going to live for much longer.

“Are you going to shoot him, or what?”

“Shoot him?” It was as if the idea hadn’t occurred to McVeigh. He studied the dying man and shook his greasy mane. “Nah… he’ll be dead in a minute.”

“Well… what if he’s not? What if he lives? He’s clocked you.” Farrell could not believe he was saying this. Ten minutes ago he’d been in Beattie’s car laughing and fucking about on the way to a party to celebrate the Glorious Twelfth and the start of the school summer holidays.

Now he’d just witnessed three men shot dead, and was suggesting that the man responsible for all this — who had also just abducted him — should shoot dead the man lying in the road.

He hated to admit it, but surreal just about nailed it.

“And for that matter,” he added, “He’s clocked me as well. When the peelers turn up in a couple of minutes, they’ll want to know what the fuck I’m doing here.”

McVeigh stood as if rooted to the spot. Farrell made the decision for him.

“Give me your gun.”

“What? No fuckin’ way!” He still didn’t move.

Farrell could see that the terrorist was paralysed by indecision. Despite his ultra hard man reputation, he could see that McVeigh was used to following orders, not thinking for himself.

“Give me yer gun.” Nothing. “Give me your gun now, or I’m fuckin’ off, and ye can explain that to whoever wants te see me.”

Farrell gambled that if he leapt over the fence and legged it across the fields McVeigh was unlikely to shoot him. He couldn’t decide whether to piss or shit, this guy. To return with two dead volunteers and the body of the man you’d been sent to bring in, leaving two dead UDR soldiers in the road was hardly likely to win him Terrorist of the Month Award.

Clearly the same thought had occurred to McVeigh. Pulling Beattie’s Ruger from his waistband, he released the safety and reluctantly handed it to Farrell.

The metal was warm from being close to McVeigh’s groin. It felt natural in his hand and for a moment Farrell considered turning the gun on McVeigh. He could demand that he drive him to where he wanted to go, arriving there like the White Knight in his Transit charger. How fucking cool would that be?

Bad plot.

It took Farrell’s overwrought brain three nano-seconds to work out that this wasn’t about being cool; this was about justice and revenge.

He walked steadily across to the soldier. The man was now convulsing and slipping in and out of consciousness. McVeigh was right; he would die soon.

Farrell thought he knew what to expect when he pulled the trigger. The first shot caused his shoulder to recoil and the bullet glanced off the soldier’s forehead and ricocheted from the road onto a rock with an almost comical Wild West twang. He braced himself for the second and this time the bullet entered the man’s skull in front of his ear formally putting an end to his life. There was no more blood to come out.

“That’s for Owen,” he said quietly. “And that’s just the fuckin’ start.”

He snapped on the safety, walked briskly back to the Transit and handed the gun back to McVeigh, his heart still going like a Ginger Baker solo.

Without speaking, they loaded the two dead paramilitaries, the soldiers’ SLRs and the Armalites into the cargo area and slammed the doors.

“Right,” said Farrell, “Now can we get the fuck outta here?”













TWO: Checkpoint Charlie and psychopaths without a job


The Bogside, Derry.

8.40am, Friday 20th September 2019


Farrell woke with an ache that hammered his head like a pneumatic drill.

Another day.

Another drab, Derry day.

Rain pounded the single glazed bedroom window that wasn’t up to the job of holding out the weather blowing in from the Donegal hills; even in late summer, the room was bloody freezing.

He groped for the packet of B&H on the bedside cabinet and lit one. Pulled the quilt closer against the wind that danced the curtains, and did a mental reckoning of how much he’d had to drink last night.


Enough to put him to sleep, but not enough to bury him there.

It had woken him again, the dream; kept him awake until he’d managed to shake it off only for Mrs. Cassidy’s wee skitter of a dog to drag him back to reality.

Ya’know the worst thing about it? Not knowing when it would come.

Sometimes it would forget about him. Forget to torment him for nights; weeks even. Sometimes he was brave enough to try to sleep without getting wrecked.

He clicked the radio on. Q102 FM. Derry’s finest. The weather forecast, normal for Ireland: If it’s not raining where you were, it soon will be. Elvis Costello singing: ‘There was a checkpoint Charlie He didn’t crack a smile…’

Jeasus… this is all ya need to begin another inglorious day in this dump.

There were days when he felt sorry for himself and there were days when it was mere self-loathing that stopped him from taking the easy way out.

Or was it?

He pulled out the Ruger from the drawer in the bedside cabinet.

Why not?

Why fuckin’ not?

Held it.

Stroked it. Turned it round and round in his hand. Long time since he’d used it but he always knew he’d use it again. Thought about it, thought about the past. Thought about a promised resolution that he knew, deep down would never come; a perfidious promise he’d waited 16 years for. Thought about where he was right now: a very long way from anywhere.

Chambered a round.

Put it in his mouth.

He’d never got this far. Heart beat faster, sweat on his top lip. Sweat on his palms.

            ‘Only takes one itchy, trigger… One more widow, one less white nigger,’

It would be easy. So fuckin’ easy.


And it would be all over. No widow; one less…


He released the hammer, replaced the safety, and put the gun away. Hands shaking violently.

Christ Jesus. Jesus Fuckin’ Christ.

At least the headache had gone.

Stubbed out the cigarette, lit another. Shifted his 6’4” still raw-boned frame off the bed and sidled stiffly across the bare-boarded floor to the window. Stretched. Felt better.

The rain was in for the day all right. Blowing in from the Atlantic off the Derry hills with a vengeance that only Irish weather could muster. If you couldn’t see beyond the City cemetery by now you never would.

Out there lay Owen, decomposed and unremembered.

His were the only flowers on his grave. Twice a year: birthday and the anniversary of when it happened. They’d be fading now, the birthday ones, so he’d take a dander later and clear them away. Give him something to do before he hit McAlesse’s again. It would, of course, mean listening to the ghosts of all those other cunts he’d put into the ground, but that couldn’t be helped.

If Owen wasn’t there, none of this would have happened.

None of it.




Almost forty years ago, but the nightmares hadn’t stopped.

He still woke sweating on one of those nights; a night like the one just passed. Like a mosquito in the room — you knew it was there but you never knew when, or how intent it was on bothering you.

The face of the UDR corporal bending down towards him, motioning him to wind the car window down.

Torch in his face… grinning, laughing, turning away to talk to another soldier, swinging round. The rifle-butt smashing into his face. The blood, the pain and the sudden realisation that the world was a place that he didn’t understand any more.

Stale-tobacco rasping asthmatic breathing, quickened by the excitement of violence, of payback for a trivial comment. A manifestation of the bloody, sordid, disproportionate power the man held.

He remembered everything about that face, every detail. No danger he’d forget. He saw it every night.

Farrell turned away from the rain-spattered window. Lit another cigarette.

“Aye…” he repeated to himself softly, “… checkpoint Charlie… if Owen wasn’t there, none of this would have happened… none of it.”

Un-dug graves over-looking the Bogside. Dead men walking… signing on… bragging about how fuckin’ hard they were. Psychopaths without a job.

And what about him? Who would he be? A middle-aged man with a career? An engineer, beavering away, regenerating the 2013 City of fuckin’ Culture? ‘A game changing moment,’ as Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers had once called it. Game changing, my arse, he thought.

A normal man with a normal past, a normal family… three, no four, perhaps four kids… decent house, maybe a Waterside Edwardian semi… a holiday place in Donegal… winding down to a normal retirement… a normal death and normal people saying nice things about how normal he was when he carped it?

But Owen was there, and he was here.

With former terrorist on your CV instead of Chemical Engineer the only interview you were ever likely to have was when you signed on.

It didn’t matter a fuck that he’d spent over twenty-five years cleaning up either sides’ messes.

And no one gave a toss whether the blood on his hands had accelerated the departure of the perfidious fucking Brits who wanted out of Ireland even more urgently than Ireland wanted them out.

No one cared that the Intelligence Services at the highest level had sanctioned most of it.

Or that all those layers of collusion that someday would unfravel, had worked towards ending this dirty war, this dirty Irish War, instead of prolonging it.

A war that he’d joined because of Owen.

And a war that he’d fought because he believed in it. The Brits could never be trusted to use the six counties for anything other than a buffer zone. Never. And for their own perfidious ‘game changing’ motives.

Just where the fuck had it got him?

Few years’ back, he’d fucked Alison, a pretty, cherub-faced girl who’d worked at Laneside for Dibble, his MI5 handler. It hadn’t taken much to persuade her to copy the summary sheet in his file. It was way above her security clearance but in ’96 Dibble gave less of a fuck about his keys than his promotion and a ticket out of Ulster.

He recalled exactly what it said: ‘Codename ‘Fishknife’. Born William Adam Moreland Farrell, 8th August 1960. Operationally inactive. 25 Fahan Street, Bogside. Derry, (rented). Believed to be the only Protestant to have belonged to the IRA in recent conflict. Assassinated two SAS soldiers, August 1978 while still a schoolboy. B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering, Manchester University 1982: military scholarship. Officer training at RM Sandhurst 1983, 2nd Lieutenant. Worked as deep undercover operative for FRU and MI5 joint-Irish branch 1983-96 but believed to have retained deep-seated republican sympathies. Directly or indirectly responsible for over 60 military deaths and the murder of 38 civilian personnel, mainly informers. Central to Nosterantus incident (refer to Davey Nesbitt… )


Enough. It had been enough to tell him that he was little more than a scapegoat, an untraceable ghost buried and forgotten to limit MoD compensation.

If one single word of this got out, he’d hinted to Alison with a smile, his biog would hitherto refer to his responsibility for 39 civilian deaths. Nice arse, though, he’d thought.

Marking time.

That was where it had got him; wallowing in his loathing and self-pity, sixteen years and counting. Waiting for a call that would never come.

He realised his eyes were wet, wondered whether his tears were for his brother or for his own situation; lit another cigarette as he heard the metallic clack of the letterbox and went downstairs.

Normally he’d have waited until the third brew of the morning had cleared his head to sort out the bills from the junk, but the thump of a package on the dog-eared carpet tiles drew him to the front door of the Fahan Street tenement he’d rented for the past 20 years, like a dog to last night’s leftovers.

On the floor lay a small brown Jiffy bag, addressed to him by hand. He examined it suspiciously, having sent a few packages like this in his time, set to detonate and remove the hand of the unfortunate bastard who opened it. The postmark said Belfast, and on the back was a return addressee: G.O. Dibble, followed by a box number.

Farrell’s heart raced — this was what he’d been waiting all this time for. With fingers that trembled more than on any trigger he’d pulled or sticky bomb he’d placed beneath a car, he ripped the small package open and a mobile phone dropped onto the floor.

He picked up the small entry-level Nokia handset, and examined it carefully.

And then he turned it on.


THREE: Getting noticed — the road to Crossmaglen


Tuesday12th July, 1978, 9.45pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland


It wasn’t until McVeigh realised that it was impossible to hold Farrell at gunpoint at the same time as tying his hands behind his back that he agreed to allow him to sit up front. As Farrell had surmised, thinking wasn’t Micksey’s long suit.

Farrell helped him reach the decision; he wasn’t going anywhere. As he pointed out, if he’d wanted to leg it, he would be long gone by now.

He agreed to the terrorist’s proviso to move into the back with his hands bound and a sack over his head for the last half hour of the journey.

The alternative, McVeigh told him, was to spend the entire trip in the loading area with two dead men.

Farrell didn’t get much more in the way of conversation from the driver than he would have done from the two corpses in the back. He didn’t care; he was on this way, the first part of his plan achieved.

After half an hour it became clear that no one was following them. McVeigh tapped agitatedly on the wheel, lit a cigarette, and turned the radio on. The news bulletin came and went. Another bomb in Belfast city centre, an Ulsterbus hijacked and set on fire in Ligonel, rioting practically everywhere from the Falls to the Newtownards Road following the Orange marches; all the usual shit that went with the Glorious Twelfth.

But no mention of two dead UDR men in Fermanagh.

Farrell heaved a sigh of relief. The last thing he wanted was be interrogated about the shootout. This would complicate, if not completely scupper his plan.

McVeigh didn’t appear to share his relief.

“Home free, kiddo,” the terrorist shot Farrell a sideways glance, a curious mix of satisfaction and disappointment embedded in his copper framed smile. “Job done. Still, it’d be nice to get a wee mention.” He threw a packet of Peter Stuyvesant to Farrell who took one and lit it, trying to stop his trembling hands betraying his emotions. He could feel bile in his throat as the adrenalin subsided and a cigarette might help.

“What I don’t get,” said the terrorist, exhaling deeply, “is how the fuck did a wee Proddie public school skitter get involved in this… this shite?”

Farrell smoked and said nothing. The nicotine hadn’t helped.

“Stop the van.”

“What the…?”

“… Stop the fuckin’ van now… I’m gonne…”

The penny dropped as McVeigh heard the unmistakable retching sound of Farrell’s guts. He slammed on the brakes just in time for Farrell to fling the door open and hurl the contents of his stomach into the ditch. He wiped his mouth, climbed back into the van and lit another of McVeigh’s cigarettes.

“Fuckin’ Stuyvesant… always make me hurl.”

“Aye… ‘the international passport te smokin’ pleasure.’ Not used te the high life kiddo?” McVeigh threw back his head and roared with laughter.




They drove through the quiet Ulster market towns of Lisnaskea and Newtonbutler then crossed the border at Clones and stuck to the winding back roads through the villages of Newbliss and Ballybay.

“You know what?” The terrorist tossed the butt out of the window, palmed his greasy mane. “You’ve got yerself in some fuckin’ deep water, kiddo… whoever the fuck ye are. Where I’m takin’ ya, yer way outta yer depth.”

Farrell knew he was fishing. Whoever was in charge would have primed him to gather background information about his captive. He thought about telling him about Owen — about why he was here — but sensed that talking to McVeigh would be about as much as waste of breath as talking to his parents. Neither would listen past the first sentence nor give a flying fuck.

“Really?” Farrell replied with more confidence than he felt. “Well, if ye can survive after losin’ two men to them incompetent wankers, I don’t think I’ve too much te worry me.”

Farrell reclined into the Transit’s rock-hard passenger bench seat, placed his head against the passenger window and pretending to dose off. He braced himself for a slap from McVeigh.

It never came.

As the miles slipped by, Farrell stared with unseeing eyes at the desolate and uninhabited countryside, more accustomed to winter rain than summer sunshine, thinking about the past with a curious sense of discontinuation. The moral code hammered into him since he could talk told him that what he had just done and what he was planning was wrong.

There was no going back now. This was the beginning of the promise he had made to Owen. He knew he should feel revulsion and guilt but all he felt was anticipation at what lay ahead at the end of the road.

The man who wanted to have a word with him had gone to a lot of trouble and needed him alive.

It was therefore unlikely — although in keeping with the insanity of the times — not impossible, that he would be killed. So however absurd it may have seemed, given his situation, he believed that his immediate destiny, unlike his past, was in his own hands.

As the transit bounced over the rutted country lanes, Farrell relaxed a little and allowed his mind to drift back to the past.




Will Adam Farrell had been nicknamed ‘Captain’ at Port Royal School — as were most boys with whom he shared the surname, for prosaic but ultimately prophetic reasons.

He was born to elderly Quaker parents on 8th August 1960. Farrell grew up in Sion Mills, a peaceful village close to Londonderry, quite untouched by the Troubles and where Protestants and Catholics didn’t throw explosives at each other.

At the age of seven Farrell was shipped off to boarding school in Fermanagh, a remote and rain swept corner of south-west Ulster. The physical and sexual abuse he experienced at Devonshire House was quite normal for the times. This, combined with an almost complete lack of parental interest in either his pastoral or academic progress, helped him to develop an emotional void; an independence which would serve him well in later life.

At thirteen he made the transition to Port Royal senior school in the nearby garrison town of Enniskillen where he became friends with Robert Ashdown.

Ashdown was into gratuitous violence, explosives, barbiturates and pretty much anything for which expulsion was virtually guaranteed; to which end his academic goals appeared clearly defined.

He found in Farrell a willing partner, and before long, Farrell had demonstrated an aptitude and ability for chemical pyrotechnics with a diligence that would have impressed the founding fathers of the 1944 Education Act.

By the time he was ready to sit his ‘O’ Levels, not only had his handiwork seen off the south-facing wall of the chemistry lab, he had also entirely obliterated the ancient cricket pavilion, almost dispatching Monty Amerslie, the venerable alcoholic cricket master.

Amerslie had been sleeping off several bottles of his homemade Chablis behind the score hut. Luckily the heavy roller saved him from the worst of the blast. If that was what homemade wine could do to one, he reflected from his hospital bed, he would have to bite the bullet and buy the overpriced French plonk that Blakes sold.

Naturally the Provos were blamed for these atrocities, which — at the time — as far as Farrell was concerned, was good news.

Being more intelligent and ambitious that Ashdown, Farrell saw explosives merely as a hobby, in much the same way as the 1st X1 worked — rather pointlessly, he considered, now that there was no pavilion — on their forward defensives in the cricket nets.

Unlike Ashdown, he had absolutely no intention of being expelled. He held every expectation that he would progress to university. From there, he would enter a profession that would provide him with a comfortable standard of living, and the means to continue his love of electronics and chemically induced explosions. He might even to able to combine the two.

But the Saturday before the Christmas of 1977 had changed all that, and in so doing, dramatically changed the entire course of his life.

Two months before his ‘abduction’, a further explosion, which had reduced the town’s Imperial Hotel to rubble, got the attention of the Enniskillen Brigade commander of the Provisional IRA, Noel O’Gallagher.

O’Gallagher was regarded by the Provo hierarchy as little more than a local thug incapable of blowing up anything more significant than an RUC breathalyser. And this, to the cost of his driving licence, he had done on two occasions.

But the explosions at Port Royal, a bastion of Loyalist supremacy, set high on a hill overlooking the largely Roman Catholic town of Enniskillen, and then the demolition of the town’s pre-eminent hotel, also raised the eyebrows of Malcolm McGuinn, the second-in-command of the Provisional IRA’s Northern Division

McGuinn, known colloquially as ‘The Mortician,’ decided to have a word with O’Gallagher.

On the one hand, hitting soft but high profile targets such as Port Royal and the Imperial was excellent publicity, especially as the only casualty was an inebriated, ancient, English cricket master.

But on the other, it had been unauthorised, and unauthorised actions spelt danger to McGuinn. Unauthorised actions were almost always the work of renegade or splinter groups, and splinter groups could not be tolerated for sound fiscal as well as ideological reasons. Splinter groups were almost always about protection or drug money, and that vital stream of income had to be strenuously protected. Also, there was the very real danger that they might assassinate a politically sensitive target, and that would create a significant backlash to republican support on both sides of the Atlantic.

Therefore the outcome of unauthorised actions for the perpetrator was generally a visit to HQ closely followed by an unscheduled but urgent visit to the knee surgeon.

The only thing that stopped McGuinn putting a bullet in O’Gallagher’s right knee was the utter conviction that he was incapable of any greater menace than shooting his mouth off in the public bar of the Celtic Tavern. Either that, or swearing at the part-time soldiers who waved through his fake driving licence at the UDR roadblocks, as he drove away.

“Well if ye didn’t do it, then who the fuck did?” demanded McGuinn, thumping the desk with his fist so hard that the angle-poise lamp fell to the floor, leaving the room in a body-odoured sickly fug of darkness. The quivering O’Gallagher had been dragged from his bed at 2am, bound gagged, blindfolded and bundled into the back of a Ford Transit. He was then driven for two hours to the Provos’ ‘Operations Centre’, a farm spanning both sides of the border, deep in the heart of South Armagh.

“I’m fucked if I know!”

“Yer fucked anyway, ya fat useless cunt!” The blindfolded O’Gallagher heard the mechanical click that he knew prefaced the shattering of his patella.

“Thing is… Jeasus… thing is… it’s only a rumour, mind… but, word is… one of the young toffs did it themselves.”

What? You expect me te believe that some… some silly cunt wearing a stripy blazer and a fuckin’ straw boater blew up a chemistry lab… a fuckin’ pavilion and a hotel…” McGuinn paused both to anchor the question and to consider its grammatical precision. He had a keen sense that some day oratory would define his future. “… Or should that be an fuckin’ hotel? Fuck sake!”

The masked figure standing behind the chair to which O’Gallagher was tightly bound, slammed the butt of his rifle between his shoulders as if to emphasise the absurdity of the idea. “From what I’ve seen of them cunts, there’s none of them’s capable of lighting one of their own farts, let alone makin’ a fuckin’ bomb!”

The room fell silent, other than the stream of urine from O’Gallagher’s leg trickling onto the concrete floor, as McGuinn considered his options. Shooting O’Gallagher, however tempting, would serve little purpose, other than to rid Enniskillen of an objectionable lout whose existence was as pointless and irritating as the RUC station in Crossmaglen.

However, if what he claimed was true, and one of the ‘young toffs’ had carried out these explosions, perhaps he could be of some use. If he could be located, maybe he could be groomed for further more significant activities. Moreover, the fact that one of the targets had been the cricket pavilion — and cricket was about as English as the Royal Family — a good deal more English than some of them, then he may already be sympathetic towards the republican cause.

And the Imperial was where the well-suited Church of Ireland faithful congregated to consume over-priced coffee and lunches after contributing serious amounts of folding to St McCartin’s Cathedral’s silent Sunday morning collection. No loss.

McGuinn drummed his fingers on the table and adjusted the angle poise so that it shone directly into O’Gallagher’s eyes, from which the blindfold had been removed.

At last he spoke.

“Right. This is what yer gonne do.”

O’Gallagher’s relief was palpable. Everyone smelt it.

“Yer gonne find this wee fucker.” He paused. “And then yer gonne ring this number.”

McGuinn scribbled a number on a piece of paper, folding it carefully then motioned to the guard who stuffed it roughly into O’Gallagher’s top pocket. “Mind ye don’t fuckin’ lose it, not unless ye’ve lost all further interest in walking.”

He studied O’Gallagher’s lard-coated frame and wondered if this would actually be much of a deterrent, as he clearly had about as much interest in walking as the indigenous population of the Galapagos Islands.

“And how exactly am I supposed to find who did it?” O’Gallagher had recovered a little composure, if not dignity, now that it appeared that his knee was likely to remain intact; at least for now.

“Well, that’s yer fuckin’ problem. But if I were ye, I’d start off in yer own local, The Celtic. If I know anythin’ about those Port Royal wankers, it’s that they like to do two things: drink… and slabber.” He also knew that some of them had a penchant for fucking nice young Catholic girls, especially those employed to skivvy in the kitchens. “So if I was you, I’d buy them drink and get the fuckers talking.”

O’Gallagher was tempted to ask for appropriate expenses for his enquiries. McGuinn read his thoughts:

“And as yer so fuckin’ clueless, ye can pay for this yer-self.”

And with that, O’Gallagher was gagged, blindfolded again and bundled back into the Transit, and from thence, back to his bed.




In the event, finding the perpetrator of the explosions had proved rather easier than either McGuinn or O’Gallagher had anticipated.

The summer term ended at Port Royal on 12th July but neither Farrell nor Ashdown were planning to go home. Instead, they had been invited to a ‘Bottle of the Boyne’ party, hosted by Arnie Beattie. Beattie was a day pupil — or ‘Bogman’ — as they were un-affectionately but usually quite accurately referred to.

He lived in Lisbellaw, a village about ten miles to the east of Port Royal. Despite being in the same year as Farrell and Ashdown — the Lower Sixth — he was in fact some three years older, as he had yet to pass sufficient ‘O’ Levels to progress to the Upper Sixth or pass sufficient years on earth to attempt to sign his name and join the RUC.

In return for cigarettes and large sums of cash, Beattie, who had recently passed his driving test, would obtain some of the components necessary for their hobby, which were not readily available at school or through the CCF. Ashdown either looted the cash from his father’s supposedly secret extra-marital activities stash, or from the Cathedral collection each Sunday.

Already a well-known local character, Beattie was respected by his peers, and hated by the local Catholic adolescent population in equal measures. His massive, heavily muscled frame, flaming mop of red hair and apparent inability to feel pain made him a regular prop forward in the Irish Schools rugby team.

Each morning during term time, on his way to Port Royal, he drove past the St. Columb boys walking to the local Roman Catholic school. Nothing gave Beattie greater pleasure than to wind down the window of his Morris Marina and brandish his tattoo-ed forearm, bearing the legend ‘For God and Ulster’. He would generally accompany this middle-fingered gesticulation by yelling: “Fuck the Pope!” at the top of his voice.

The fact that his ‘Boyne’ party would interest absolutely no members of the opposite sex was neither here nor there to Beattie, nor the small but select and malleable gathering of young Loyalist nutters who would attend it. None had actually been invited.

What attracted Farrell and Ashdown to this dubious soiree, while most of the boys from their year were engaged in the more traditional pursuits of getting drunk and chasing skirt at the annual Collegiate School Prom, was that Beattie’s parents were on holiday.

Moreover, Beattie, whose father was a sergeant in the RUC, had promised to break into the weapons cabinet and showcase his father’s impressive collection of weaponry. He also promised to crack open his father’s drinks cabinet, and what with that and what the guests would supply in terms of strong drink and narcotics, it promised to be a memorable evening. The plan was to inspect the weapons, get drunk and stoned, loose off a few rounds to celebrate the great Loyalist victory some 300 years previous, get even drunker and then crash out.

There would be no need to worry about getting home as Beattie had sufficient floor space for his guests to bed down, provided they promised to cook him an Ulster fry and to clean up their own vomit the next morning.

Beattie collected them from the gates of Port Royal, as arranged at 6.30. It was at Ashdown’s insistence that they took a detour to the Celtic. This was for two reasons: firstly, he needed to score some dope from the local dealer, Robbie Culhearn, whose habitual place of business was the public bar. Secondly, he wanted a pint, and even though they were no longer under school jurisdiction, the Celtic, being a republican watering hole, was the last hostelry in town where they were likely to run into any of the staff.

The landlord of the Celtic was sufficiently financially orientated to put his hatred of all things Protestant behind his love of all things of all things pecuniary. He had even been known on one occasion to switch the ancient television which was balanced precariously above the dart board, from the horse racing on RTE to the BBC for the rugby when Ireland were playing England.

O’Gallagher looked up from his seat at the bar where he nursed a hangover, held at bay by a large Bells and a half pint of Tenants. He knew Beattie by reputation; the sleeve of his polo-necked jumper rode up his arm sufficient to reveal the lower portion of his motif as he slammed a huge fist containing several 50 pence pieces pirated from the cathedral collection on the counter. The other two youths were unknown to him but if this was Beattie — and the tattoo would seem to confirm that it was — then if anyone were likely to know anything about the Port Royal explosions, it would be him.

Beattie ordered three pints of Smithwicks.

“Here, let me get them for yis, lads,” offered O’Gallagher, slightly queasy at the prospect of buying Protestants a drink with his own money.

Beattie regarded him suspiciously. However, it was his round, and drink was drink.

Ashdown took himself off to the public bar to conduct his business with Culhearn. The other two retreated to a table facing the television. Beattie half-emptied his pint with a single gulp, lit a No6 and looked at the television screen. The News was on. The footage showed the devastation of another bomb in Belfast — a car packed with 500lbs of explosives had somehow gained access through the controlled area in Anne Street, near the city centre. The bomb had completely demolished the grandiose Victorian building, which had formerly housed the ancient department store, Robertson & Beaver.

“Cunts,” mouthed Beattie, finishing his pint with a second gulp and banging the tankard down on the table.

“Fuckin’ awesome,” muttered Farrell in his soft Derry accent, to no one in particular, overwhelmed by the efficiency of the device.

O’Gallagher’s ears pricked.

“A big one, eh?” Beattie incorrectly assumed that he referred to Betty, the barmaid, and nodded in agreement, pushing his empty pint pot hopefully towards the edge of the table. Farrell had hardly touched his drink.

“Top up?” O’Gallagher pulled a wad of pound notes from his back pocket as Ashdown re-joined the others.

“Don’t mind if I do,” replied Ashdown, who had completed his business. He drained his glass.

Three fresh pints arrived on the table, ferried by the buxom Betty.

“Yis all off to the dance tonight then?” O’Gallagher asked, in the hope of opening dialogue from which he could obtain the information he sought. It was more than obvious from what they were wearing that they weren’t.

“No way,” replied Ashdown, whose sudden animation and dilated pupils suggested he had already sampled some of his purchases. “School dances are for wankers. We’re doin’ somethin’ way more interesting.”

Beattie glowered at him.

“What would that be then…?”

“… Like mindin’ our own fuckin’ business, for starters,” replied Beattie, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. O’Gallagher may have been almost ten years his senior. But to Beattie, whose physical prowess was seldom questioned and very rarely upstaged, O’Gallagher was exactly what he appeared to be — a nosy Fenian bastard who asked too many questions. “Come on, yis two, we’re done here.”

O’Gallagher could feel the moment slipping away. Now was the time for a more direct approach.

“Been any more explosions up at Port Royal, lads… any test tubes going off accidentally?”

Ashdown took the bait.

“Pretty fucking cool that Imperial job, wasn’t it?

“Yis wouldn’t have had anything to do with it, would yis?

“No they fuckin’ well wouldn’t,” intervened Beattie, hitching his sleeves up, revealing ham-sized forearms and the full glory of his tattoo. “Come on yis two, we’re going.”

“And the chemistry lab,” offered Ashdown. “That one was fuckin’ way better! And the pavilion make the front page of the News Letter and the Irish News!”

“You wouldn’t happen to know who was responsible for it, then?”

“Course I do.” Ashdown laughed at his own self-importance, putting an arm around Farrell, pulling him closer. “Bonny & Clyde, Butch Cassidy & Sundance, Ashdown and Farrell: ‘The Demolition Twins!’” He laughed again, loudly. Conversation had stopped; the entire bar was listening, waiting for something to kick off. “Mind you, mainly Ashdown, if the truth be known, he’s the real brains behind it.” Farrell winced.          “You don’t think any of the other thick wankers up there could do it, do you?”

Farrell saw his opportunity: feigning anger, he rose and grabbed Ashdown with both hands by the lapels of his leather jacket, pulling him from his seat to within an inch of his face.

“Yea, like ye’d anything te do with the Imperial, arsehole.” Farrell shoved Ashdown backwards with such force that he slammed into the table, knocking it over breaking two of the glasses. “You were too busy pilferin’ the fuckin’ collection money and finishin’ the communion wine.”

“What… the fuck…? Ashdown picked himself up straightened his jacket. “What’s this all about then?”

Beattie stood and advanced on O’Gallagher, still perched on his stool. The big schoolboy reached into his pocket and withdrew a five-pound note, which he slapped down on the bar. His broken nose was about an inch from the Catholic’s.

“That’s for the drink. Right, the two of yis, I’ve got things to get ready for tonight.” He glowered at the fat republican, held his gaze with unbridled hatred in his eyes, then turned and made for the door. Ashdown and Farrell followed.

As they left the bar, O’Gallagher lit a cigarette. With a contented grin, he pulled the strip of paper with the number he was to ring from his top pocket and headed for the public telephone in the corridor.
















FOUR — The importance of shale and a united Ireland


The Bogside, Londonderry.

8.55am, Friday 18th September 2019


Farrell stared at the phone, feeling his sense of anti-climax turning to anger at its inertia.

He removed the back, the battery and the SIM card in the hope that a number may be concealed somewhere. He carefully examined the packaging. Nothing.

Had it exploded in his face, at least that would have been something, he thought. Sixteen years he’d waited for Dibble to contact him and now the cunt was playing mind games with him.

“Fuck!” He yelled, managing to resist the urge to hurl the handset at the tiled fireplace. “Fuck!”

He sat down and lit a cigarette, his mind drifting back to their last meeting in ’97.

He’d sat in the passenger seat of Dibble’s Lexus. There was a suit in the back, of course, with a gun trained on him beneath his jacket. There was never any trust — no more now than there was back then, he thought. And why should there have been? It was every man for himself, and the only rule was that there were no rules. And to think all this was supposed to have been about religion?

“We’re closing the operation down,” Dibble had said. “Consider yourself retired… it’s over. There’s going to be another ceasefire — only this time — it will hold.”

Farrell had let this sink in.

“I see. What about McGuinn? Surely to fuck ye’re not gonne let him stand for public office? The cunt practically tripped over himself to become Chief of Staff.”

“That’s as maybe,” Dibble lit a cigar, blowing smoke through the half-open window. “All in the past now. We live in enlightened times, Billy boy, with a common respect for shared values and for diversity; at least that’s what it says on the tin. This country has got to get used to looking to the future instead of wallowing in the past.”

Having clocked the Rolex beneath his neatly cuff-linked designer shirt, Farrell thought that if anyone should know about wallowing, it was Dibble.

“Diversity my arse.” Farrell lit a cigarette, glowered out of the window. “But what about the evidence? He was responsible for atrocities on both sides. The cunt sold out to the highest bidder, for fuck sake! What about Ellen…? He fuckin’ killed her — we have proof… the wee Filipino would testify… so he would,” his voice tailed off with the realisation that Apollo’s enthusiastic but dubious record of events, combined with the passage of time, would be as much use as a cookery book to a hunger striker. In any case, he was last heard of doing time in Manila for murdering a policeman; a crime he had committed before fleeing to Ireland and ‘accidentally’ joining the IRA.

“That was an unfortunate accident,” Dibble replied. “Nothing more.”

“Accident?” Farrell laughed sardonically. “There’s been a lot of those, hasn’t there? Was it an accident that he tipped off MI5 about the Brighton bomb, and you cunts did nothing about it? Was it an accident that he told M16 that there’d be a parcel bomb sent to Terry fuckin’ Wogan?” Despite his annoyance, Farrell laughed. “Mind you, if they’d checked, they’d have seen that the fucker was away on holiday. And was it an accident that those three poor cunts were shot dead in Gibraltar without so much as a fuckin’ water pistol on them?”

He took a deep drag from his cigarette. Dibble remained impassive. “Ever wondered how 14 Intelligence came across that one? Cunts couldn’t find their pricks in a pair of Y Fronts.”

Dibble cleared his throat.

“He was…”

“…He was on your fuckin’ payroll… so he was. We’ve known that since we found the cunt snoopin’ into Ellen’s room with a fuckin’ gun in his hand. But we kept quiet all these years ‘cos you said he was more use alive than dead. Aye, and look at him now… in ten years’ time, I’ll bet the cunt’ll have met the Queen, won the Nobel Peace Prize… and have a fuckin’ knighthood!”

Dibble turned to look at Farrell, opening his door.

“Let’s walk.”

Reluctantly Farrell got out of the car, parked outside the newly refurbished Exchange Bar and Grill, and joined Dibble on the river walkway. The Exchange was one of the new trendy gastro-pubs that had sprung up in Derry in the wake of the pace accord. Farrell had eaten there a couple of times with women he’d been trying to bed and liked both the food and the atmosphere. The owner had a reputation for even-handedness and was well respected by both sides throughout the Troubles. This allied to copious amounts of protection money, was probably why he was unique as a publican in that none of his establishments had ever been bombed.

The weak November sun danced on the Foyle as yellow earthmovers pirouetted on the east bank of the river, picking at the bones of the old Ebrington Barracks. More fuckin’ symbolism, Farrell thought — dismantling the British army’s infrastructure to make way for affordable housing. And all for the marginalised fuckin’ Catholics who wouldn’t live on the Waterside even if the Virgin Mary herself moved in.

The suit followed ten metres behind.

“Let me ask you a question, Billy boy,” Dibble’s phone rang, but he ignored it. This must be bloody important, Farrell had thought. It was.

“Who do you think was responsible for the deaths of, oh let me see… let’s round it up to forty shall we? Forty innocent Catholics murdered to protect your identity?

“On whose instructions?” ‘We saved a lot of lives by preserving anonymity,’ seem te remember someone sayin’.”

“And then there’s the death-list of loyalists, RUC officers, soldiers and innocent protestant civilians. Must run into three figures, I’d say.”

“Like you said, Dibble, all in the past now — we live in enlightened fuckin’ times, don’t we? Anyway, think of all those cunts standing in the dole queue today that would be pushin’ up daisies without…”

“… And that’s not to mention the indexed £100K a year that was paid into a numbered Swiss bank account with your name on it.”

“So? That was all part of the deal when I joined the FRU. At your invitation, if I remember rightly, Dibble.”

Dibble winced slightly as the suit’s radio crackled.

“Turn that fucking thing off,” his soft south Belfast accent exuded measured control.

“So…” he continued, inspecting his manicured fingernails, “… did it not ever occur to you, that we might check to see whether this arrangement was paying dividends?”

Farrell didn’t like where this was going.

“And to see whether there was anything remotely useful which you saw fit to pass on to us? Anything we hadn’t already got from McGuinn?”

He stopped and turned to face Farrell, really getting in his face. “You see Billy boy — McGuinn — for all his faults and his political ambitions, saved a lot of lives as well. He was, if you like, one of us. Unlike you, he could see which side his bread was buttered on.” Dibble paused. “Whereas you… well, you never lost your republican sympathies, did you? You can dress it up as loyalty, revenge for your brother or even cultural fucking diversity if you want to be politically correct. You took your responsibilities for silencing informers very seriously, didn’t you? Particularly those who were starting to ask awkward questions about you. But most of those lives lost protecting your identity… were protecting it… from whom, Billy Boy? From your Provo paymasters?”

“That’s bollocks.”

“Is it?” Dibble tossed the butt of his cigar into the river. “Is it bollocks, Billy boy?” He smiled at Farrell, moving even closer and put his hand on his shoulder as if they had been best buddies for years.

Dibble was slightly younger than Farrell, but looked older. The lines on his face evidenced thirty years of sourcing and nurturing unpredictable assets, often to be found abandoned on country lanes, shoeless, trousers round their ankles and a bullet in the back of their heads. His dark hair was thinning now, greying at little, and he wore it shorter these days. Fashions came and went but not Dibble’s siddies. The Jimmy Nesbitt dimpled cheeks and the smiling blue eyes hinting he was more fun to be with than he actually was. Belfast’s very own GQ Man-of-the-Year wannebe.

Dibble had been one of a new breed who went in at what was known as ‘board-room level’. No officer training required; no countless wasted hours of saluting, square-bashing and ironing.

“We knew exactly where your loyalties lay, Billy boy. But we also knew that someday…” he gently slapped Farrell’s face — a gesture to put him in his place “…someday, we’d have a use for you, and all this investment would be worthwhile.” He smiled, slightly disappointed at the lack of reaction from Farrell. “I love the sound of chickens coming home to roost, Billy boy, don’t you?”

They walked back to the car in silence.

“But as I said,” he started the engine of the Lexus, “That’s all water under the bridge now. You’re officially retired — although to pass Go and collect…oh let me guess, around £6.5 million by the time it’s all indexed up, I’m going to keep you on hold for one final job.”

“On hold? What do you want me to do?”

“Oh it won’t be for a while yet — maybe ten years before the dust settles on this one — maybe even longer. So I’d find something else to do in the meantime, if I were you, ‘cos your giro won’t get you very far.” He smiled at Farrell, a mischievous twinkle in his Fred Astaire eyes. “But the time will come, and when it does, I’ll be in touch.”

He stuck the car in Drive and pulled away very slowly, looking at Farrell. The perma-smile had faded and his face held a hint of menace. “You do what I say, Billy Boy — exactly to the letter — and you’ll have your gilt-edged pension, new identity and the slate wiped clean. Fuck it up though, and you’ll never see a penny. And that’ll be the least of your worries.”




Farrell was jerked from his reverie by the cigarette that had burned, unsmoked down to his fingers.

He hastily stubbed it out and lit another, staring at the handset on the table.

He’d begun at give up hope, after all these years. At first it had been okay. He’d even gone back to college and got some qualifications. He set himself up as a ‘life coach,’ believing that some of the self-betterment he taught might rub off on himself.

But there wasn’t much call for his services in Derry, where anyone who tried to better himself — let alone tell anyone else how to do it — was instantly regarded as a pretentious wanker.

However, what started out with the grandiose but ultimately pointless — even he thought — aim of helping people work towards better lives, morphed into a sort of counseling service for former terrorists. His main precept, he freely admitted, was ‘look at my life, look at what I’ve done, then do the opposite.’

Over the years he’d grown bored and missed the adrenalin that the Troubles had pumped through his veins. Since he was seventeen, his life had been consumed by planning who he was going to shoot or blow up, and how he was going to do it. Either that, or lie in wait for whoever was next in line to try to kill him. There was hardly a week went by when some bunch of useless fuckers hadn’t put a price on his head.

And then, how to stay one step ahead of those who suspected him of colluding with the other side, and ultimately walk behind their hearse to the graveyard.

And then there was Ellen.

He’d never gotten over her. As time passed, his mind flitted back more frequently to the summer of ‘78, recalling every detail; every evening they’d spent together. It was the last time he’d felt genuinely happy. Fuck — that was forty years ago. He’d been seventeen. There’d been other women, of course, but none that he’d formed an attachment to.

McGuinn was to blame for this. If it hadn’t been for that cunt, he felt sure Ellen would still be alive. And who knows, they may even be living in some sort of domestic harmony, now that there was peace in the land?

Someday, the time would come, he knew, that he would get a chance to get even with McGuinn. Fuck knows he’d had enough opportunity when they’d fought together but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He could have shot him in the back on a hundred operations. But that wasn’t what he wanted. He yearned to tear the cunt down from his high office; to see the pain and recognition on his face at the pleasure he’d get from discrediting the bastard, and to push that shiny fuckin’ suit back into the bog where it came from.

That day would come; that was all that kept him going. The money would be a bonus.




At first he didn’t notice the handset vibrate.

It wasn’t until the screen lit up and displayed the words ‘No Caller ID” that he realised the phone was ringing.

He stared at the thing in disbelief before he picked up and answered it.

“Dibble?” There would be no need for code. This would be a secure line although there’d be plenty of FRU and perhaps even M15 cunts listening in.

“Mr Dibble to you, Billy.”

“Crap on. Moved onwards and upwards, have we?” Farrell added a noise that he hoped would sound like a derisive snort, but came out as more of a high-pitched sneeze. “Hope you weren’t in charge of that London Marathon fiasco? Made thirty years of our little squabble over here look like a fuckin’ scrap in a kids’ playground.”

He referred to the bomb at the finishing line of the London Marathon in April, claimed by ISIS, that had killed 56 and injured hundreds amongst them were 15 elite runners, ironically many of them North African Muslims.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, hours before the atrocity, a Bryanair passenger plane had been shot down over London by roof-top ground-to-air missiles in the mistaken belief had it had been hijacked. Over three hundred people had been killed in the air and on the ground. Again, Islamic State took the plaudits.

When it transpired that the alert had been raised by an elderly lady in seat 24b who had sat on her mobile phone, unintentionally making a 999 call while complaining to her neighbour that her hold luggage had cost her a bomb, the Home Secretary was naturally accused of something of an over-reaction. Like many, he held the view that Bryanair had such a dismal safety record that they were more than capable of crashing the things on their own without military intervention.

And the same day, almost unreported, a bomb had exploded in the Whitehall office of a junior cabinet minister charged with the handling of a sensitive inquiry concerning internal security in Northern Ireland.

No one had been injured as Special Branch had received a tip-off prefixed by a well-known IRA code and the building had been cleared in time. This information had been kept well away from the public domain. ISIS were blamed for the outrage.

“That was a fuck-up in a class all of it’s own.” Farrell lit another cigarette. “And that Whitehall bomb was nothing to do with ISIS, was it?”

Farrell paused for Dibble to react; he wasn’t surprised when he didn’t.

“For one thing,” he continued, “it wasn’t their SP, was it? No one died and nobody blew themselves up in the name of Allah, so far as they were concerned it would have been a total waste of explosives.”

Dibble ignored Farrell’s barely concealed implication that Dibble himself may have had something to do with it.

“This isn’t a social call, Billy boy.” His voice was tense; clearly he had touched a nerve. “It’s time.”

The line went quiet, Farrell thought he’d rung off but the handset told him he was still connected.

“From your knowledge of current affairs, I’d say that you have a television set in that hovel of yours?”

He ignored the taunt.

“I’ll take that as a yes. Turn it on. There’s a bulletin at nine I want you to see: BBC News channel.

Farrell found the remote by the arse crack on the settee where it settled when he passed out the night before. He flicked it on as Bill Turnbull shuffled his papers in Reginald Bosanquet style and cleared his throat.

A huge discovery of shale gas in the Republic of Ireland is set of re-boot the ailing Irish economy.

            Dublin-based Energi Oil claim that there may be up to 170 trillion cubic feet of gas in the areas it is licensed to explore, a 115-square kilometers site in North Monaghan, adjacent to the border with Northern Ireland.

            Shale gas has revolutionised the US energy market and our energy industry correspondent believes that this discovery could catapult the Republic of Ireland’s net worth to rival that of even the wealthiest of the Gulf States.

            We now cross to our Science Editor, David Shukman:

            David… how significant, is this find?

            Well Bill, I’m standing in a field to the north of the picturesque and busy market town of Carrickmacross in County Monaghan. As you can see, land here is so poor as to have little agricultural value, but joy at this newfound wealth is tempered by concerns raised about the process for removing the gas from the ground as well as quibbling over who the land actually belongs to.

            The gas will need to be extracted using a controversial process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This, essentially, is pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into rock to release gas.

            David… leaving aside those concerns for a moment… have you any idea as to the potential worth of the find, and who will be the beneficiaries of this windfall?

            Bill, I spoke to John Smithers, CEO of NRG Expert this morning and he believes that this field has the potential to generate as much as £800 trillion over the next few years. This, of course, comes at a particularly good time for the Irish economy, as oil prices have recovered to an all-time high of $155 a barrel, following the 2015 slump. Investors also have flocked to oil and other commodities this year as a hedge against high inflation and a weak dollar. As to ownership, Bill, two private individuals acquired around twenty acres of the site thirty-five years ago, but the Irish government’s Ministry of Defence controversially vested the land by compulsory purchase shortly after this, under a rapidly introduced piece of legislation referred to as The Boundaries Commission Amendment Act. The landowners, who have remained anonymous, were compensated at a figure of around £200 per acre, the going rate for agricultural land at that time. Naturally, they will not be too happy about this morning’s news!

            Thank you David. Now… to other stories in the news this Friday morning, the 18th September…

“Am I missing something, Dibble?

“Ach, come on Billy. I thought you were a bright boy.”

“Well ye’ll have te enlighten me, Dibble. ‘Cos other than sendin’ his fuckin highness-president-almost-elect McGuinn a congratulations card, I can’t see how it has anything te do wi’ me.”

“That’s close to your old stomping ground, Billy. I’d say, dead close isn’t it? So close you could almost see the gas as it comes out of the ground from good old Blighty. In fact, I’ll bet you’ll be able to sniff the scent of new money all the way down Crossmaglen High Street.”

“Aye, well that’s their good fortune. And bad luck on the two losers who had te sell. Anyway, as far as I was aware, Dibble, you can’t see gas.”

“Such a shame, Billy, isn’t it…. such a shame. Just ten miles further north… not even ten miles… two would do it… and all that money would pour right into the Chancellor’s coffers. Just think what Her Majesty’s government could do with that Billy? New schools, new hospitals, the best welfare in the world… even enough to fix most of the potholes in the North of England…and that’s without even thinking about a defense budget that would put us right back at the top of the heap.”

“Well, you’d better get used to seein’ a tricolour at the top of the heap, Dibble…”

“Not entirely sure I agree with that, Billy…”

“… ‘cos unless ye can get Mr McGuinn to re-route the border…”

“… Oh, he’d do that easy enough, Billy. He’d do away with it entirely and unite the 32 counties if it wasn’t for a wee bit of legislation called the Nineteenth Amendment. But there’s a much easier way of reversing this bit of good fortune. Much easier… and you’re going to do it.”

Farrell could sense Dibble’s smirk at the other end of the phone. “And do yourself a bit of good besides. It’s a wee bit unorthodox, mind… even I didn’t believe it myself until I saw it with my own two eyes.”

Farrell waited, sensing Dibble’s pleasure at holding the trump card.

“You can cancel your busy schedule for today, Billy. There’ll be a car outside in twenty minutes. Be ready.”















FIVE: No place for a Proddie-dog


Tuesday12th July, 1978, 9.45pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland


McVeigh pulled the van to a halt after past the tiny settlement of Doohamlet.

Farrell spent the next half hour bound and gagged, bouncing around the back of the Transit, wedged between the two dead republicans. But a combination of wild driving and rough roads at least freed him from the corpses, and his heart raced at the uncertainty of the welcome that lay ahead of him.

At last the van stopped, he was bundled out and led firmly across an uneven area into a building smelling, he thought, in equal proportions of tobacco and cow shit.

He was pulled roughly up a short flight of stairs and shoved into a room at the end of a corridor. The blindfold was removed to reveal his captor and two other men in similar garb.

No one spoke.

The door was closed and he was left alone to survey his surroundings. The room was clean but sparsely furnished, with only a metal-framed bed, similar to his bed at Port Royal and a curiously painted uncomfortable looking wicker chair. There was a toilet on a plinth in one corner and next to it a wash hand basin with a cracked mirror hanging precariously from a rusted chain above it. He noticed a clean towel folded at the end of his bed and an unopened bar of Imperial Leather soap beside it.

There were no pictures on the walls. Opposite the bed was a dormer window with bars on the outside, from which he deduced that he was in some sort of chalet bungalow. Outside the window, the light was fading. He imagined that it must be around 10pm, and looked at his wrist only to find that his watch had gone.

In the foreground were an assortment of farm buildings and a collection of vehicles and machinery. Several of the vehicles appeared to be unmarked oil tankers and others were animal transporters.

Beyond the buildings were fields, mainly large fields populated by sheep; he had never seen so many sheep. The land was undulating, and the marsh grass suggested that not much else other than sheep could prosper on it. Beyond the fields were hills.

Putting it all together, Farrell guessed, quite correctly, that he was in the Ring of Gullion, South Armagh.

And this, for a Protestant, was the worst place to be on the planet.

But he was still alive and precisely where he wanted to be.




For three days, Farrell was left to his own devices in a weird kind of limbo, floating between the security of his comfortable past and insecurity of his uncertain future.

In the days before goal setting became schematic for any operation more complex than taking a shit, Farrell knew exactly what his objectives were and understood the consequences of screwing them up.

His isolation, he knew, was the melodramatic preamble to interrogation by one of the most powerful and dangerous men on the planet. When the time came — and it would come at any moment without warning — if he were to leave any trace of doubt in the mind of this man as to why he wanted to be the only Protestant to join the IRA, he could expect to be found in a country lane with a bullet in his head, trousers round his ankles and a booby-trapped bomb up his arse. His heart raced at the thought he’d tried to push back from his mind, but for an instant the warmth of tears pricked at his eyes, wiped away angrily as he chastened himself for the weakness.

His plan had been hatched six months ago, shortly after poor Owen had been lowered into the cold winter ground, when he had come to realise that there would never be any justice after the inquest judge had ruled that Owen’s death had been a lawful killing.

‘Lawful killing my fuckin’ arse,’ he’d mouthed at the judge. That had been the only outburst he’d allowed himself. Since then he had kept his own council; a powderkeg, self-programmed to explode and the fuse was nearly at the end now.

The irritation of the tears blurred his vision. This would not do, he thought. He’d shed all his tears for Owen. That was done and this was now the time for action. If he marked his card as emotionally unstable, he would be laughed at before he was shot. He had made a pledge that he would not flinch until this was over.

He walked to the wash hand basin, filled the sink with cold water and splashed his face before submersing his head as far as the sink would allow. He felt his heartbeat thump beneath the water and gradually slow to its normal level. Farrell took the towel and dried his shoulder-length black hair. The face had looked back at him from the mirror wore more than seventeen years. He blinked away the fuzziness of emotion and fought to get his head straight. Hazel brown eyes, slightly blood-shot, blinked back at him. He finger-combed his hair and breathed deeply. The door would burst open at any moment and he had to be ready for it.

He pulled off his T-shirt and washed his armpits, surveying his lean, broad-shouldered 6’4” frame in the mirror; the habitual confidence had drifted. At fifteen, he’d easily passed for eighteen and now the past six months had aged him so that he no longer resembled the youth with a final year of schooling ahead of him.

On impulse he stripped and washed his genitals and arse, soaping himself in the cold water that instantly turned grey with the grime of the last three days.

He didn’t want to smell of shite, he thought, before the interrogation. If he shat himself during it, well that was a different matter.




For three days, trays of food had been passed through a flap at the foot of the door. The food was edible, if obviously prepared by men for whom cooking was not a passion. It was in fact, he reflected, much better than the rubbish served up at Port Royal.

When he banged on the door, someone came. He asked if he could have a notebook and a pen. They arrived within minutes.

He’d asked if he might have a newspaper, and a copy of the Irish Independent was posted through the door flap. On the second day, he asked if there was any chance if he could have a radio and, for the first time, someone talked to him: he was told to go fuck himself.

There was a column in the newspaper devoted to the Lisbellaw shooting. Predictably, the two surviving UDR soldiers claimed that they came under mortar and heavy automatic fire from a large detachment of paramilitaries — at least ten — perhaps more.

Editorial comment was skeptical of this. Farrell found no mention of his abduction and he wondered if Beattie had got so drunk that he had forgotten about him. Ashdown had been so stoned that he wouldn’t have remembered had aliens abducted Farrell.

Or perhaps, he thought, Beattie had reported it, and, as often happened, the RUC had demanded a news blackout on the abduction until someone claimed it and demands had been announced. That way, there were fewer nutters to jump on the publicity bandwagon.

Farrell passed the time by observing the comings and goings outside his window, recording them in his notebook. There was quite a lot to observe.

Each morning, unmarked tankers would appear, and pipes leading to an outbuilding were attached to them. Then other tankers, bearing the logos of prominent       Ulster oil merchants would park on the other side of the building. A chain-smoking midget with a limp, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, dressed in blue overalls and what appeared to be a Japanese kamikaze pilot’s helmet, attached pipes to the tankers and directed operations.

To believe the boredom, Farrell diligently recorded each tanker movement, its make, colour and registration in his notebook. On the second day, he logged eighteen visits by unmarked tankers, eight by tankers belonging to ‘Comber Fuels; and six belonging to ‘Ards Oils’.

The other movements that Farrell recorded were sheep. The day would begin with a transporter being reversed into the gateway of the field to the west of his window.

The limping midget would hobble across and supervise loading. Farrell noted that he looked foreign: Polynesian or Filipino perhaps. Although Farrell wasn’t sufficiently bored to count the sheep, he guessed that each transporter held around one hundred of the things.

Throughout the morning, four further transporters arrived and were loaded. He estimated that somewhere in the region of five hundred sheep were removed from the field.

Then, during the afternoon, transporters arrived and sheep were unloaded into the huge field to the east.

To his surprise, he discovered that the registration numbers of the transporters removing the sheep were identical to those who returned them. From this, Farrell deduced that the sheep that were unloaded in the afternoon were, in all probability, the same sheep that were collected that morning. This pattern was repeated the next day, leaving Farrell to ponder why on earth anyone would want to take sheep on a day trip.

Then on the third day, shortly after breakfast, he received a visit.

Two men, dressed in combat trousers and balaclavas entered the room and tied his hands behind his back.

“Where are you taking me?” He asked.

One of them put a pillowcase over his head and the other cuffed him across the shoulders.

“Never ye fuckin’ mind! Boss wants a word.”

He was shoved along the corridor, down the stairs and into a room on the ground floor. One of the guards pushed him roughly into a chair, and removed the pillowcase, which, as hadn’t been taken outside the building, he assumed was purely to add to the drama.

His eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room. He registered a solidly built man in his early forties with receding fair hair, sitting behind a desk. He had an unmistakable air of authority, undiminished by a lump of cotton wool on his chin where he had cut himself shaving.

Two other men flanked the leader, suggesting to Farrell that he was involved in some sort of bizarre interview, which in an odd sort of way, he knew he was.

The windows were shuttered sufficient to exclude most of the daylight, and the only artificial light came from an angle poise lamp on the desk, pointing in his direction. For what seemed like an eternity, no one spoke.

“Let me introduce ourselves,” said the man in the middle, lighting a cigarette and tossing the packet of unfiltered Gallaghers Blues to Farrell. “Smoke?” It was more of a command than a question.

Farrell took one of the unfiltered cigarettes, put it to his lips and one of the guards lit it for him. He coughed, as the heavy tobacco smoke hit the back of his throat. He tried to pull the cigarette from his mouth, but the paper stuck to his lips so that his fingers slid down the tube, burning them as they reached the tip.

Farrell yanked the cigarette from his mouth, spat out tobacco and stamped it out on the floor. Laughter followed in order of hierarchy; first the leader, then the men on either side of him, and finally the guards.

“Enough!” yelled the leader. The laughter faded. One of the guards picked up the discarded cigarette, broke off the end that had been in Farrell’s mouth and put it behind his ear.

The men behind the desk conferred. Farrell felt more anger at his humiliation than fear.

The leader spoke.

“My name’s Tom Dempsey. Folks round here call me ‘The Bear’. I’m Chief of Staff of Northern Command of the Provisional IRA. That’s the Provos”. Dempsey let this sink in, before continuing. He turned to the man on his right: “This here’s Malcolm McGuinn. He’s known as ‘The Mortician’ — ye might have heard of him.”

Farrell nodded. McGuinn’s repertoire was already well known to him. It included gunrunning, holding up banks and post offices and the blowing up of anything belonging to the army more or less as soon as it left the barracks. His handiwork was the reason that the army had now abandoned road transport in South Armagh and only travelled by helicopter.

“And this here,” Dempsey turned to the man on his left, “Is Micksey McVeigh, better known as ‘Metal Micksey’. Mind, ye’ve met him already. “Ye know why he’s called “Metal Micksey?”

Farrell nodded.

“He’s called ‘Metal Micksey’ ‘cos he’s got more metal in his fuckin’ legs than bone. Thanks to the Paras, he’s a fuckin’ bionic man. Mind ye, he’s put enough lead into yon cunts. Can’t go through Aldergrove airport without setting all the fuckin’ alarms off, not that he’d want to, ‘cept te blow it up.”

Dempsey allowed the muted, nervous laughter to interrupt him.

“He’s the only man te have escaped from Long Kesh. Know how he done it?” Farrell knew. “The lads managed te lower a fuckin’ industrial magnet from a cherry picker over the perimeter wall. Micksey was playing goalie for the Provos team on the outer compound. Magnet lifted him clean out… clean out, eh? Mind ye, he knocked his teeth out on the crossbar, ‘cos the magnet took that fucker too, so his mouth’s full of metal now as well.”

McVeigh grinned, exposing a mouth full of metal dentures. “Best fuckin’ goalie in the six counties… so he is. Glentoran was after him, ‘til they found out he was only any good when there was a big fuckin’ magnet in the ball.”

Farrell decided to test the water.

“What is it, exactly,” He cleared his throat nervously, “what is it… that ye actually want with me?”

“That should be obvious. I’d have said ye know fuckin’ well why yer here, wouldn’t ye now, Billy boy?”

It was the sort of thing his housemaster, Mr Robinson, would have said to him on a Sunday night after chapel, minus the swear words, of course. Farrell would then select, from a weekend’s worth of misdemeanour, which was the least likely to result in serious reprimand: usually smoking. Robinson would then accept this confession in good faith — irrespective of his suspicions or tip-offs from staff or prefects — of other wrongdoing. He would either cane or gate Farrell, and the slate would be clean for another week. That was the way the game was played.

But sitting here is a darkened room with men wearing balaclavas and holding assault rifles, Farrell was aware that this not the same game; this was not a game that would end in six of the best or minor curtailment of his freedom. This, he sensed was either a bullet in the head or the chance to bring closure to Owen.

He decided that the same rules most probably applied:

“Is this anything te do with the explosions at school?”

“Now we’re getting somewhere, Billy Boy! That’s your starter for ten. Yer bonus questions are how and why did ye do them? And why did ye put a bullet into that squaddie? And what is it ye want wi’ us? ‘Cos unless yer totally fuckin’ stupid, ye’ve gone te a lot of trouble te draw attention te yerself?”

“Can I have another cigarette?”

Dempsey threw him the packet. Farrell accepted a light, this time drying his lips before putting the cigarette to them. He inhaled deeply, and exhaled without coughing. Dempsey lit a cigarette himself, and Farrell’s eyes had grown accustomed to the light sufficient for him to observe that the terrorist’s smoke came from a different packet — one that bore the name ‘Consulate’.

“That’s better, Billy Boy. Now answer the fuckin’ questions, before I get impatient.”

And so Farrell told how he had made and placed the bomb that had demolished the chemistry lab. He told them how he had blown up the cricket pavilion, and the Imperial. He told him how he had intended to work alone, but Ashdown, an incompetent, doped-up, adrenalin seeking maniac, had stumbled upon the unused staff garage in which he prepared the bombs and had threatened to report him if he refused to include him. After all, Ashdown wasn’t there to dispute his version of events.

“Not very good at covering yer tracks, are ya, Billy boy? Still we can learn ya that.” Dempsey leant back in his chair. “Someone learned ya how te make a bomb and blow a target up without blowin’ yerself up, and that’s more than half the fuckin’ eejits that work for me can do.” He tilted his head backwards and launched a procession of perfect smoke rings towards the ceiling. “The thing I don’t get is… why the fuck did ya do it?”

Farrell thought for a moment. He knew this was the critical bit. Boldness had never been a part of the game he played with Mr Robinson. But it might work here.

“Why not? I don’t like the fuckin’ place any more than ye. I didn’t ask te be sent there. Besides, I’ve already got the skills to work for ya and anythin’ else I can learn. Just give me a chance te show what I can do.”

“But ye are there, and yer one of them.” Dempsey inhaled and mouthed more rings upwards. “You know who founded that school?” Farrell knew, but considered it prudent to listen to Dempsey’s history lesson. “King Fucking James the second. That cunt was about as fuckin’ Protestant as it’s possible te be. Just like ye. And why would I want a Proddie workin’ for me? ”

“I’m not a Protestant.”

“Yer not a fuckin’ Catholic either… looked in the mirror recently? Yer eyes are too far apart!”

Farrell hesitated, suddenly aware that he had strayed onto the quicksand of Irish religion. He decided the truth was the best course.

“I’m a Quaker. If I’m anything, that is. At least that’s that I was born,” he said, apologetically, aware that this lacked the gravitas of more traditional religions.

“A WHAT?” boomed Dempsey. “Quakers make fuckin’ porridge! I had some for me breakfast this morning.” The room filled with laughter. “Read it on the packet, I was that bored listening to these cunts slabberin’”. The laughter abruptly faded away.

“Well — are ye a Protestant Quaker or a Catholic Quaker?” There was an air of expectancy as most of those in the room, even if they had failed to follow the lesson on comparative religions, sensed that Farrell’s answer would be significant as to how events would play out.

But before Farrell could answer, the door burst open and a man in a balaclava entered the room, approached the desk and whispered something into Dempsey’s ear, placing a notebook in front of him. Farrell recognised it as the book he had been given.

Dempsey picked up the book, and, staring menacing at Farrell, tapped it steadily on the table, like the rhythm of a heartbeat.

“I think we’re doing ya a wee injustice”. The tapping stopped; there was silence in the room. “You’re more fuckin’ organised that I’d thought.” Dempsey stood up, walked around the table and stood directly in front of Farrell. He placed the notebook beneath the boy’s chin, tilting the youth’s head backwards. “Just what exactly, were ya planning to do with this information?”

“N…n…nothin’,” stammered Farrell, now, for the first time, genuinely fearful for his life. McVeigh had been right: his was deep water and the sharks scented blood. “I was bored, so I just made a few notes.”

“Well fuckin’ note this,” Dempsey removed the notebook from Farrell’s chin and squatted until their eyes were level. Farrell held his gaze. “If I even get a sniff that yer up to something dodgy, ye’ll be on the road back to King Fuckin’ James’ school with the biggest proxy bomb strapped to yer fuckin’ kitbag that ye can carry. And another beneath yer fuckin’ stripy boater! Understand? Dempsey ripped up notebook, dropping the torn paper on the floor.

Farrell took a huge breath, swallowed the bile that had reached its penultimate destination and nodded. His relief was premature.

Dempsey returned to his seat. Suddenly he pulled a Glock from his shoulder holster and cocked the trigger. Leant forward pointing it at Farrell.

“I just don’t buy this, Billy boy. Ye don’t get yerself brought here… and that’s what ye’ve done, just ‘cos ye’re bored wi’ yer privileged fuckin’ background. So, unless ye can come up wi’ somethin’ a whole lot more convincing…”

Dempsey let the threat hang. He lit a cigarette.

“It’s time te talk, Billy boy.”







SIX: Owen, The Point and a few just men


Tuesday12th July, 1978, 10.15pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland


Farrell talked.

It had been Saturday before Christmas, ’77.

They’d been drinking in the Mourne Bar on Foyle Street, him and Owen, his big brother.

As they often did on a Saturday night, they’d decided to cross the border to Donegal and the Point Inn. Farrell had just turned seventeen but looked much older. He was secure, confident; even clothed in a cloak of arrogance not unusual for a privately educated middle-class Protestant in the mid ‘70s.

He’s never had trouble getting a drink; barmen didn’t give a shit back then. Too busy keeping an eye on anyone suspicious who might pull a gun and strafe the place to care about under-age drinkers.

The Point usually had a decent band; the bar stayed open until two, and it was only a twenty-minute drive from Derry.

There’d be a checkpoint near the border, but it was usually manned by UDR thickos and a flash of a driving license was enough to get you through. Occasionally, there’d be a gardaí checkpoint on the border, but they weren’t interesting in traffic from the North, unless they’d had a tip-off.

Owen was on good form.

He’d flown home for Christmas, although he would have stayed in Canterbury had his brother not begged him to come back.

He was in his second year at Kent University studying Electrical Engineering, and, although he was still only 19, he’d grown up a lot — or so Farrell thought. There were two years between them, but Farrell was taller and carried himself with more confidence so that he appeared the older of the pair.

Owen was a soft touch, happy to go with the flow. So when his kid brother wrote to him and told him how the Christmas holidays stretched ahead like a prison sentence, and how he wouldn’t be able to go anywhere, as he had yet to take his driving test, Owen had changed his plans and booked a flight home to Belfast.

It was a measure of his affection for his brother that he wouldn’t let him suffer three interminable weeks banged up alone with his aging parents who, for almost twenty years, had consistently managed to show zero interest in their offspring. They used to joke that it was a bloody miracle that two of them had been born.

Owen hadn’t told him, until they’d had a couple of pints, that he’d met a girl at University he was sweet on. To Farrell’s certain knowledge, this was the first time he’d shown any interest in the female sex.

Owen was slightly chubby with fair unkempt hair that perpetually appeared in need of a wash, a moustache that looked unplanned and uncared for, and a dress sense that suggested a total indifference to fashion. He was more interested in electronics, music and the odd bit of blow than chasing skirt.

His girl was called Debra Johnson and wasn’t actually at college. She lived in a village outside the town with her parents and worked in a pub called The Wool Sack. An Irish guy called Gerry McGough who was on Owen’s floor in halls, had introduced him to her.

Debra had invited him to stay with her and her parents for Christmas, but what are brothers about, Owen had said, if you don’t put a sibling in need ahead of girls? She’d also showed a real interest in his course, and was hell-bent on starting an electronics business herself. In fact, he’d helped her to make some switches for the prototype of a telephone-controlled burglar alarm system which she said would make them a fortune in the rapidly developing security market.

A relative of hers who lived in California had sent Debra a batch of ‘tone frequency selector switches’, unavailable on Britain, They were impervious to interference and impossible to jam the signal, she said. Even the most sophisticated housebreaker, Debra’d told him, wouldn’t be able to override them. Owen had made the necessary modification she asked for to transform them to match the burglar alarms.

Owen was more animated than his brother had ever seen, both about his personal and potential business relationship with Debra. But something had bothered Farrell; something not quite right. He didn’t want to let it spoil the evening, so they talked mostly about school, and the news that Farrell had been selected for the Ulster Schools’ rugby team.

They’d borrowed their dad’s car. He knew that Owen would drive after a few drinks but he also knew that he was careful and that the chances of being caught for drink and driving were almost nil. Back then, you had to virtually walk into an RUC station and give yourself up to stand any chance of prosecution. If you could find one open.

Besides, the alternative was to have the pair of them moping around the house and playing loud music.

They were quite drunk when they left the Mourne. In fact they nearly didn’t bother with The Point. Farrell had got off with a pretty, leggy girl with short blonde hair and huge breasts called Mandy who he’d fancied for a while. Her halter-neck top served little other than to accentuate her best assets and Farrell was tempted to accept her invitation for a drink at her parents’ house, particularly when he learned that her parents were in London — but he wanted to spend time with Owen.

His brother suggested the traditional one for the road, which literally meant taking a couple of pints for the journey. Farrell held onto both glasses as his brother started the car.

“You got your license?” He asked Owen.

“Mais oui,” he replied, putting the car into drive. “Here, let’s have that wee pinty.” He pulled the family car, a nearly new Audi estate, out of the car park and onto the Donegal Road. “Now, what’s the betting the squaddie asks us for our ‘wee’ license at the checkpoint?”

“Nah — 50p says he doesn’t. My money’s on him calling you ‘Sir’ in a condescending manner.”

“Ooooh! Good one! I see where this is going.” Owen threw his head back and laughed and it occurred to Farrell that he’d never seen his brother this pissed before. He wondered if he really should be driving. “You’re on, but only if he’s a fuckin’ Jock!”

Farrell lost the bet.

Nearing the border, they were slowed down at a checkpoint by a soldier slowly waving a powerful torch across the road. It was a UDR patrol, and Farrell could see two armour-plated green military Land Rovers pulled across the road, forming a chicane so that anyone tempted not to stop would either have to slow right down or plough through them. He also noticed two RUC Land Rovers, and what he guessed was a Special Branch unmarked car parked in a layby beyond the roadblock.

Owen slowed the Audi to a halt and wound down the window.

“Evenin’ Ossifer,” he slurred, pretending to be drunker than he was. He took a swig from his pint glass — playing on the fact that the UDA had no jurisdiction over drink driving —and bent down to grope for his license, spilling beer in the footwell. “Oh fuck, dad’s not goin’ to like that is he? Cleaning job for you tomorrow, Billy boy. Let’s hope there’s no puke to mix in with it later.”

“Had a good evening, have we mate?” asked the soldier. He had two stripes on his arm. “Can a have a look at your wee license, please?”

Farrell and Owen had exploded with laughter.

“Fifty pee… fifty pee… fifty pee…!” Owen chanted, “Aye… give us a wee minute… to find my wee license…” Owen groped around the car’s various cubbyholes. Farrell could see from his body language that the corporal didn’t share their amusement.

“Hurry up,” said Owen, “I’m desperate for a wee wee-wee.” The pair dissolved into hoots of laughter again.

“Oh, I think I must have put in in this wee glove compartment… oh here it is.” Owen held it up to the window. “Here’s me wee license… it is quite wee, isn’t it? That’s why I couldn’t find it in the wee glove compartment.” He laughed as the corporal took the document and examined it beneath his torch.

“Where are we heading, sir?”

Wee…’re heading to the Point Inn. I don’t know about you, Corporal. Home to your wee bed, I’d say.”

The corporal walked slowly around the car, checking the registration plates and the tax disc before tapping his rifle on Farrell’s window.

“Who are you?”

“Billy Farrell. His brother.”


Farrell produced his passport. The corporal checked it and handed it back.

“Well Billy Farrell… be careful.” The corporal started at him. “We wouldn’t want you to have a wee accident, would we? Sir.” He smiled at him and held his gaze long enough for Farrell to be in no doubt how about the kicking that he would love to give him. He was a local, probably Limavady, to judge from the accent; a part-timer working the late shift to bolster his Christmas pay packet. But then, he could also be UDA or even a moonlighting RUC man.

The corporal walked slowly round the front of the car, deliberately shining the powerful beam through the windscreen, so that the brothers had to shield their eyes. He approached Owen’s window and handed him back his license. Owen appeared to have sobered up a good deal; the corporal’s arrogance had dissolved much of his bravado.

“Get out of the car.”

Owen obliged.

“Now open the tailgate. I want to take a look inside.”

There was nothing in the luggage area and the corporal could see that, but he kept them standing in cold for a good ten minutes while he examined it.

“Okay,” he said eventually. “Now get back in the car.” He bend down so that his face was very close to Owen’s and tapped the license on the open window before dropping it onto his lap. “Here’s yer wee license. We’ll see you on the way back.”

Owen selected drive and pulled away slowly, his heart beating fast. He carefully negotiated the narrow space between the Land Rovers, throwing his pint glass out of the window as he cleared the barricade.

“What the fuck was that all about?” He asked. “Don’t they know it’s Christmas, after all?” He laughed half-heartedly, “That’d make a good title for a Christmas song, wouldn’t it?”

But the carefree ambiance of the evening had dissipated.

Farrell looked in his wing-mirror. He had noticed the unmarked car that had been parked in the layby pull out behind them and was now following at a discreet distance.




The Point’s car park was packed.

If you couldn’t fill a place on the Saturday before Christmas you never would.

Farrell had lingered in the passenger seat of the Audi pretending to look for his wallet while Owen tried to get the key in the lock.

“Central locking, brov… fucking amazing… when you get the key in, that is. You know, I reckon this’ll soon be done remotely. In ten years time, you won’t need a key to open a car… won’t even need one to start it. Dead handy when you’re pissed.”

Farrell watched the car from the checkpoint slink into the car park. It parked in the only other space on the far side, triggering the security lighting. Two men dressed in jeans and black leather jackets got out and walked towards the pub. Farrell watched them carefully to see if they’d look across at the Audi. They didn’t. They were pros; they knew they were being watched, and even at seventeen he’d seen enough to know they were Special Branch.

The fact that they were across the border and out of their jurisdiction didn’t make him feel any easier.

But why the fuck were they following them? What the hell was Owen into?

The pub was rammed fuller than a rent boy’s anus when the navy was in town.

Farrell went to the bar and found himself in a throng that was at least three deep no matter which way he jostled.

And then he saw Mandy at the bar. She was with a mate called Maggie he knew vaguely. She smiled at him and motioned the offer of a drink. He nodded and mouthed: ‘two pints of Smithwicks’.

He hardly noticed the band so they can’t have been that bad he’d thought afterwards, on one of the thousands of occasions he’d re-played the evening in his mind. Big Jake and the Mainliners.

It was too loud to talk but they’d found a booth about as far away from the stage as you could get. Mandy had snuggled up to him, leg pressing against his, her intimacy intoxicating him more than the Smithwicks.

She was a couple of years older than Farrell and at the Manchester Poly School of Theatre. She told him she’d got a small part in a Soap — something called Emmerdale. He’d never heard of it.

He didn’t want to leave Owen out of the loop, but he seemed distracted and had hardly touched his drink. Farrell wasn’t particularly surprised that he’d made no effort to hit it off with Maggie. She soon got fed up and went to join another group.

Mandy placed her hand gently on the inside of Farrell’s thigh. As she cupped his ear to be heard above the music, he felt the first stirrings on an erection and began to relax and forget about the incident at the checkpoint. Her scent still out-weighed the fug of tobacco and other substances in the bar.

It wasn’t really an incident in any case. The UDR squaddie had been an irritating cunt. But if he were to be honest, they’d probably deserved to be taken down a peg or two. And there were a hundred reasons why plain-clothed peelers would drive behind them to The Point. Top of the list was to have a Christmas drink as everywhere else was shut.

He realised that Mandy had stopped trying to talk to him. Her hand still on his ear, but she had slipped her tongue into it provocatively, then nibbled his earlobe and ran her lips down his neck, making his skin tingle. It felt good. Her other hand firmly gripped his crotch.

She said something he couldn’t hear, and he asked her to repeat it. With this sort of noise, he’d usually have had a guess at what she was saying, but he figured this was important.

“Where’s Owen?” she shouted. “Why don’t you get his car keys and we’ll go outside?” She squeezed his balls. “You’ve got an estate car haven’t you?”

The words ‘where’s Owen’ sent his mind into turmoil. He looked up and saw his brother had gone. Okay, he’s probably gone for a slash, Farrell thought. But then he clocked the two peelers seated in the next booth, directly behind where Owen had been. They were staring at him. He couldn’t see if they’d nabbed Owen — he could be out of view in the seat opposite them, with his back to Farrell. He went to stand up then checked himself.

To get up, walk over and have a look would be tantamount to saying: ‘Hello have you grabbed my brother? I don’t know that the fuck he’s up to but if Special Branch want to know, he must be in some serious shit.’

The band had taken a break and the DJ was getting full use from his Christmas record collection. The only benefit of this was that he couldn’t match Big Jake for decibels so that Farrell was able to tell Mandy he was going to find Owen. He stood up and pushed through the crowd swaying on the dance floor to John Lennon’s War is Over — an interesting choice of music for Christmas in Ireland at the moment, he thought — and walked urgently towards the toilets, a growing sense of foreboding gnawing at his guts.

It was about to get worse.

Close to the toilets, he saw two other plain-clothed peelers loitered against the wall smoking and making very little attempt to conceal the fact that they hadn’t crossed the border just to have a drink and admire Big Jake.

Farrell burst through the double doors and found himself in a huge, neon-lit tiled room with a bank of urinals along one wall, three of which were jammed with cigarette butts, seeping piss onto the floor. The room stank.

Next to them was a row of wash hand basins.

Big Jake, clearly a consummate musical professional, was vomiting noisily into one of them, but managed a cheery ‘hello’ to Farrell.

His cowboy boots were covered in puke but he’d managed to keep it off the acres of denim that clothed his huge frame.

On the other side of the room were half a dozen shitters, and Farrell could see that all but one were vacant.

Someone was singing War is Over behind the closed door. They were badly out of tune; even John Lennon couldn’t sing it that badly, he thought. It had to be Owen.

“Owen?” Yelled Farrell.

“Who wants him? He’s terribly busy. Have you got an appointment?” Manic laughter came from the cubicle.

“Stop fucking about.” Farrell shouldered the door. It didn’t budge.

Big Jake looked round, a bungee rope of snot and vomit dangling from his moustache.

“Open the fucking door, Owen. I need to talk to ye.”

Cautiously Owen slid the bolt back and opened the door. He was sitting on the toilet seat fully clothed and looked normal except for a stupid grin and eyes that appeared to be dancing to their own Christmas tune.

“Okay Owen… either you’ve forgotten to pull your pants down to take a shit, or you’ve fucking popped something. Which is it brov?” Owen sat there, the grin stretching from ear to ear. “You’d better pull yourself together ‘cos you’ve got some explaining to do as to why four Special Branch peelers are shadowing us.”

Farrell knew that Owen did the odd bit of blow, occasionally popped something stronger. Drugs was a hobby that he had no interest in but figured it was none of his business if his brother got off on them, as long as he did it at the right time and place.

And right now this was neither. Owen was pissed enough already without compounding his inebriation with chemicals. Fuck knows how he thought he was going to drive home. And that was without four peelers hanging around to pounce on them the moment they crossed the border.

At the very least Farrell was going to have to telephone their father and get him to pick them up in his mother’s Datsun. That would result in them both being grounded indefinitely with no more use of the family car. And God knows what the atmosphere would be like in the Farrell household for the rest of the holidays; it was bad enough at the best of times.

“What have you taken, Owen?” he asked.

Owen just grinned at him.

“War isss ooooover…” he swayed on the toilet seat, grinning inanely.

Farrell slapped Owen’s face, which had very little effect.

“Owen, listen to me. Why are the peelers following you?”

“Maybe they didn’t like the way I said: ‘wee wee-wee.’ Owen dissolved into hysterical laughter and started to sing. ‘… And so happy Christmas… For black and for white… For the taigs and the proddies… Oh this song is shite…’

“Ah Jesus… Owen, shut the fuck up, will you?” Farrell slapped him again, harder and this time and the grin faded.

Outside the cubicle, the room was beginning to fill up. Big Jake had cleaned himself up and re-gained something of his showbiz razzmatazz.

“Hey… you guys all right in there?”

“Yes… No — no, we’re not,” said Farrell. An idea suddenly hit him. A long shot, but it might be worth trying. He had to get Owen out of here, somehow get him home. Then they could start to sort this mess out.

If they walked out now, at the very least the peelers would follow them back across the border and throw the book at him for narcotics, let alone what they were interested in Owen for. All the windows in the toilets were barred on the outside, but there must be a back exit where the band had brought their equipment in.

“There’s a couple of guys outside after my brother. Two of them outside the toilets… and there’s a couple more on the far side of the bar.”

“That makes four, not a couple.” Big Jake had clearly sobered up for his second set, sufficient at least to showcase his mathematical ability.

“Aye, well… he hasn’t done anything to deserve it, but he’s goin’ to take a beating if I can’t get him out of here.”

Big Jake looked at Owen. This clearly wasn’t going to be a fair fight, and his plight appealed to his sense of fair play. With or without excessive alcohol and chemicals, Owen had an innocent face; the sort of face that women liked to mother — with the notable exception of his own mother. Whatever he’d done, he was in no state to defend himself.

Big Jake stood a good 6’8” even without his puke-stained cowboy boots, and was built like the proverbial brick shit-house. He looked at the pathetic teenager sitting on the toilet seat.

“What’s he done… tell me, like… honestly, man?”

“He said a couple of things…” Farrell shook his head dismissively. “Took the mickey out of this bloke’s accent… just something he said… nothin’ really”.

“Nothin’ really?” Big Jake pursed his lips, making a sort of inverted whistling sound as he weighed it up. “Takin’ the mick out of a bloke’s accent’s worse than fuckin’ his missus round here, son.”

He pushed his long, lank black hair behind his ears, walked over to the mirror and checked himself. Farrell noticed that his denim shirt had shoulder patches with flowers embroidered on them.


The shirt was more faded than his Levi jeans, but overall Big Jake was reasonably comfortable with his rock god image. Not quite out of the Ian Gillan scrapbook, but it would certainly do for The Point Inn.

He ran a tap and rubbed his teeth with his fingers.

“Ya haven’t got any Wrigley’s have ya, kid?”

Farrell pretended to check his pockets, patting them down.

“Nah… must be out. Look. Are you going to help us or not? These cunts will be in here any minute. He’s… he’s taken something. Think he thought it would help, but it’s just made things worse.”

“Oh I can see that.” He looked at Owen, as a hospital consultant might look at a patient, appraising him from a safe distance. “I can see that all right. What have you taken, son?”

The slap seemed to have had some effect. The grin and the giggling had gone. Owen looked almost sorry for himself, as if he had finally realised that he was in the shit.


“Acid?” Big Jake pursed his lips again, emitting a “Whiooooo” noise that Farrell now realised accompanied any reply requiring some sort of decisional balance. Farrell could imagine him asking Mrs Big Jake what was for tea. ‘Spaghetti hoops,’ she’d say, to which he’d reply: ‘Spaghetti hoops? Whiooooo!’

“Right,” he said, arriving at a decision. “This is what’ll we’ll do. We’ve been paid for the night anyway, and I’ve had enough of this fucking place, so I’ll create a bit of a diversion. Give it five minutes then get the fuck out of here. Turn right and follow the wall to the stage. Get onto it, and at the back you’ll see a door. That leads to what they call the dressing rooms. Follow that corridor and you’ll come to a fire door that opens to the car park. You get out there.” He looked at Owen, wondering if he had any hope of making it.

“Got any of that acid left, son?” He asked, hopefully.

Owen stood up and pulled a small silver-foil wrapped package from his underpants.

“No, but try this, mate.”

“What is it?”

“Moroccan skunk,” he replied enthusiastically.

Big Jake pursed his lips again.

“Moroccan skank? Whiooooo! Sounds erotic.”

“Exotic. And it’s skunk.”

“Look… ” If this was a diversion, Farrell thought, they’d still be arguing about erotic skunks when the cleaners arrived. “… I really appreciate your help… whatever it is you’re going to do, but can we just get on it? Please?”

Big Jake looked at him as if he’d forgotten what it was he had to get on with.

For a moment Farrell considered leaving them both there. Mandy’s kiss on his neck, hand on his groin and the prospect of losing his virginity suddenly seemed a whole lot more attractive than this pantomime in the men’s bogs.

Five minutes later, Farrell had managed to get Owen to his feet, splash his face with water until he could move under his own steam, and lead him out.

The word ‘diversion’ hadn’t quite prepared Farrell for the sight that greeted him outside the toilets.

The dance floor was a seething mass of people, mainly, but not exclusively men, fighting. The disco ball that rotated slowly from the ceiling slightly confused the scene, but virtually everyone in the room seemed to be on their feet punching, kicking, head-butting or smashing glasses over the person nearest to them.

It was the perfect orgy of pub violence.

He wondered if Mandy was okay but his priority was to follow the wall to the stage, dragging Owen behind him.

There was no sign of the peelers and he correctly assumed that they had become embroiled in the mêlée.

Later, Mandy, who had remained in her booth until a busload of guards arrived to calm the thing down with a baton charge, told him how it had started.

Apparently a huge bloke dressed in a Father Christmas costume had leapt off the stage, grabbed two of the bouncers, punched one and nutted the other. Those in close proximity who had been jostled joined in, and the brawl had spread outwards until it reached the periphery of the dance floor, consuming everyone in its path like a nuclear explosion.

Farrell had reached the stage and dragged his brother onto it. Thankfully Owen was regaining some measure of control over his limbs and Farrell began to entertain the hope that he may even be able to drive.

The Mainliners were bashing out a passable version of a Jackson Browne number without their leader as Farrell and Owen slipped unnoticed across the stage and found the door behind the curtain. As Big Jake had told them, it led to a corridor at the end of which was a fire door. Farrell slammed it open and suddenly they were outside. It was cold and raining heavily.

They stopped to get their breath back.

“I’m sorry bruv,” Owen slumped forward, hands on his knees and Farrell thought he was going to throw up. “Let’s go home.”

“Can you drive?”

“If you can open the car and get the key in the ignition, I’ll have a go.”




Farrell began to relax a little as they pulled out of the car park.

Owen appeared to have sobered up significantly, although he had to sit bolt upright and squint at the windscreen to see where he was going.

It helped a little when Farrell turned on the lights and the windscreen wipers.

Farrell kept glancing in the wing mirror. Nothing. It was late, gone one, and there was no traffic coming towards them either.

“That was some bloody punch-up,” said Owen. “What the fuck was that all about?”

“Search me. Just high spirits, I’d say. You know, people letting off steam before Christmas.” He made a mental note to get down to Moore’s record store on Monday and buy a copy of Big Jake’s album. It was the least he could do — he might even buy two — give one to his parents for Christmas; that should really piss them off.

They reached the border and slowed so that the guard could look up from his paper in the portacabin and wave them through.

About a mile later they came to the UDR checkpoint. A soldier waved a torch, slowing them down.

“Bit of luck and that cunt’ll have fucked off home,” said Farrell. “Right, no lip this time. Let’s just through this and home to bed. Got your license?”

Owen nodded and patted his breast pocket. He was concentrating so intently on the road that he didn’t see the soldier who was now standing in front of them. He stood on the brakes.

“Fuck’s sake, Owen! Run the cunt over and we’ll be here all night!”

Farrell’s heart sank and he recognised the corporal from earlier approach his window.

He motioned Farrell to wind his window down.

“Well, well, well… what have we here?”

Farrell produced his passport and pulled Owen’s license from his pocket, passing them to the corporal.

“I don’t need to see those again. Sir. We’ve seen yer wee passport an his wee license, so we know who yis are.”

The corporal stood there, rifle not quite pointed at them but in a position of obvious readiness. He wasn’t waving them through. The soldier Owen had nearly run over remained in front of the car blocking their way.

No one was going anywhere.

“Okay,” Farrell said, alarms bells suddenly ringing. “So… we’re okay to go? Only it’s kind of late. We’d like to get home to bed.”

“I’m sure we’d all like to get home te our wee beds sir, only there’s someone wants te have a wee word with ye.”

“Oh yea… well, where are they?” Farrell made a big show of looking round. “Don’t see anyone here.” Fuck this, He thought, this bastard was just getting his own back for earlier. The Special Branch guys would be fully occupied, and probably didn’t know that they’d slipped out anyway.

He went on the offensive.

“And on what grounds are you holding us here, corporal?” That sounded quite official, as if he knew his rights. About the right tone; he didn’t want to come over like some wanker from Amnesty International.

The corporal bent down so that his face was inches from Farrell’s and smiled at him. He smelt stale tobacco and heard the rasp of his asthmatic breathing. He stared at Farrell, holding the smile then turned away and yelled to one of his mates.

Laughter somewhere in the darkness.

The red glow of cigarettes.

He’d no idea how many of them there were or exactly where they were standing.

The corporal swung round slamming the butt of his rifle into Farrell’s face. He didn’t see it coming and had no time to react. He knew his nose was broken from the sound and the impact. Blood in his mouth, on his face, all over his shirt and the dashboard. He’d had his nose broken on the rugby field before, but a loose elbow didn’t do the damage a rifle butt did.

“I think ye’ll find these grounds are sufficient — Sir,” said the corporal, turning towards the invisible others and laughing. “Insolence, failing to stop when requested to, almost running over a member of the Security Forces… more insolence, and that’s just for fuckin’ starters… Sir. Now if you have a problem with that, yer welcome to get out of the car and we can discuss it further.”

Farrell didn’t. He sat still and said nothing, blood oozing from his nose. Adrenalin numbed the pain.

He felt one of his front teeth loose but for now it stayed put. Pushing at it with his tongue gave him something to do as they sat there… waiting. Owen looked at him questioningly. The effect of the drink and the drugs had completely worn off. Farrell tried to smile back but it hurt his face.

Lights of a car approaching at speed behind them. It slammed to a halt inches from their rear bumper, penning them in. Doors flew open. Two men leapt out. The corporal stood back in deference to superiors. They opened the Audi’s front doors and pulled Owen and Farrell roughly from the car. Farrell was thrown against the side of the Audi.

“Face the vehicle and spread ‘em… hands on the roof, nice and slowly where I can see them.” A south Belfast accent. “That goes for you too, Wonder Boy.” ‘Wonder boy?’ Farrell had heard Owen called many things but never ‘Wonder Boy’.

He opened his legs as far as they would go and put his arms on the roof of the car. He risked a glance at Owen across the vinyl as the rain spattered off it into his face. It was a pleasant sensation, but even in the torch-lit darkness he could see the blood mingle with the rain and wondered if it would stain it. That would be something else for his dad to complain about.

Experienced hands patted him down. This was no half-hearted body check you get at the airport. This was the one carried out by men who genuinely expected to find something and wanted to do it in a hurry. Thank fuck Owen had given Big Jake the skank.

Hands went between his legs. The man grabbed his balls. The last hands that had been in this sensitive area had been Mandy’s — that seemed a very long time ago.

“Fuck off — there’s no need for that!”

Something coshed him on the back of his head. He thought, for a moment, he was going to pass out.

“I’ll be the judge of what there’s a need for, son.” The hands stopped. The search was over. “Right, you two. Get into the car.”

A hand grabbed his arm, expertly pinning it half way up his back. The pain was excruciating; he thought the man was going to break his arm. He was marched to the car behind theirs and bundled in to the back seat next to one a man he had last seen loitering outside the toilets in The Point. Owen was shoved into the front, diagonally opposite. Another man he recognised sat behind the wheel. Both men had longer hair than RUC minions and regulation black moustaches.

The doors were slammed and there was silence apart from the windscreen wipers sloshing the rain away. It was raining so heavily now that it beat like a drum on the roof.

The driver lit two cigarettes, and passed one back to his partner in the back.

“Ghastly night,” he said.

No one spoke.

Farrell’s seventeen year-old brain was in turmoil. This can’t be happening, he thought. Surely to fuck we can’t be hit, held, shoved into a car… and for what?

“Mind telling us what this is about?” he asked. He was genuinely scared now. “Are you peelers or something? Don’t you have to caution us?”

No reply.

“Aren’t we allowed a phone call?”

The men smoked and stared at the rain. The driver chewed gum. There was an acrid smell in the car. The last person where he sat had probably shat himself.

At last the driver spoke.

“Caution you?” He laughed softly to himself. “We’re just havin’ a wee chat. As for a phone call, this isn’t Dixon of Dock fucking Green.” He threw a cloth into the back to Farrell. “Try not to bleed on the upholstery, son. Someone’s got to clean it up.”

He turned to face Owen.

“That was a clever stunt you pulled, son. Who’s idea was it, as a matter of interest? Almost got away with it… might even have, without the diligence of Corporal Kerr. The man’s a credit to his uniform… so he is.” Farrell thought he detected more than a hint of sarcasm.

The driver turned and looked at Farrell.

“I’m Detective Inspector Ian Jackson and this here’s Detective Constable John Dunn. Try not to upset him, or he’ll recite his fucking poetry at you.”

Jackson turned back towards Owen.

“Before we start, let’s be clear about one thing.” He pulled a warrant card from his jacket and shoved it in front of Owen. “We’re RUC Special Branch and we’re acting on information received from an undercover source. No one knows we’re here and no one knows you’re here… well apart from those lads outside, but their memories aren’t too good. So if you don’t co-operate, things could get a whole lot more messy.” He pulled a revolver from his shoulder holster, pointing it at Owen.

“Jesus… we haven’t done anything… what the fuck have we done?” Owen’s voice was quivering and the car smelt of shit.

“Fuck… which one of you cunts done that?”

Jackson wound down the window. “Jesus! You dirty fucker!” The smell lingered. “Right, Owen… none of us wants to sit here and smell that all night. So you can start by telling us what you know about switches.”

“Switches… What sort of switches? You mean… like light switches or something? They turn things on an off.”

“Oh very funny, Owen. Very fucking funny. I’d hoped to keep things nice and simple but I can see that’s not going to work.” Jackson lit another cigarette from the one he’d just smoked, throwing the butt out of the open window. “How about FX401 ‘tone frequency selector switches’, unavailable in the UK and very handy if you don’t want to have a signal jammed. Particularly when they’re set to a frequency that’s not used in this country. Not even used in Europe, come to that. Know anything about them?”

“Jesus Christ, Owen!” Farrell had listened to what his brother had told him earlier and remembered thinking there was something wrong about it. How would a pub barmaid come up with an idea for telephone-controlled burglar alarm systems? Let alone fancy Owen? It hadn’t sounded right.

Jackson continued.

“’Cos one of them was adapted and used to blow up a Ferret scout car in Crossmaglen last month. Killed a young Para. Nasty business. What age are you son?”


“Funny that. ‘Cos that’s how old he was too. Want to know his name?”

“I… I didn’t do it. I don’t know anything about it. I don’t even live here…”

“… Oh we know all that. And we know about Debra Johnson and we know about Gerry McGough. Been watching them for some time, as it happens. John Millar, that was the kid’s name, by the way. The one your switch blew up.”

“I didn’t have anything to do with it. I fucking swear… I was just helping Debra…”

“Of course you were, Owen… course you were.” Jackson stopped. The sound of Owen’s hysterical sobbing drowned out the rain hammering on the roof. No one said anything.

“Would you take a look at this fucking weather? And it’s Christmas next week.” Jackson turned the wipers off. They sat in silence, as the rain pelted down even louder. “Santa’ll have to build a fucking ark.” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.

“And then last week, forensics found another one of your clever little switches. This time from what was left of a radio-controlled car bomb in Forkhill. Killed a Marine private on foot patrol. This lad was a bit older — 22, so that should make you feel a bit better. Not quite such a waste of a life, but he probably wouldn’t see it like that.”

“She only asked me to help her make something.” Owen’s voice was weak. Pathetic, with an air of resignation, almost acceptance that there was nothing he could do to make them believe them. “She had this idea for a telephone-controlled burglar alarm system. It didn’t have anything to do with bombs… I swear. She said it would make us a load of money. I don’t know anything about radio-controlled bombs… or any bombs. I fucking swear to God… I didn’t have anything to do with them!”

“Clever that, using the American Weather Alert Radio frequency — very clever. But then you are clever, Owen, aren’t you? Clever and fucking devious… like how you got that fight started, and how you like people to think that you’re just a fucking simple pothead.”

Jackson slowly pulled back the hammer of his handgun and pointed it at Owen.

“How about I just shoot you now, Owen, and save us all the fucking trouble of a trial, huh? Course…” he swept the gun round to point at Farrell. “…we wouldn’t want any witnesses, would we?”

“Jesus, man… you’re fuckin’ insane! Listen to him. He didn’t do it… he wouldn’t hurt a fuckin’ fly!” Farrell’s heart was thumping like a drum. His mouth was dry. He’d heard about what was called the ‘Special Branch cleanup rate’ but this was fucking madness. This was lynch mob justice: Special Branch as judge, jury and executioner.

“Son… let me tell you something. I’ve known men who’d spend half an hour rescuing a daddy-longlegs from a pub toilet,” the Special Branch man turned to face Farrell, the gun steady, inches from his face, “then walk into the bar and empty an AK47 into poor, luckless bastards guilty of nothing more than having no way out.”

Jackson testified later that he had absolutely no intention of shooting Owen; that the gun was just to scare the kid. All he wanted to do was get him to go back to Canterbury, keep an eye on Johnson and McGough, and find out where the switches were coming from. Hell, they’d even give him a few quid.

In fact, they’d even ‘lose’ the beer glass that Owen had chucked out of the window on the way to The Point.

The one they took a print off that tied him in to the two bombs and would get him two life sentences. And all that crap that Farrell alleged about saving the trouble of a trial and not wanting witnesses… well, that was just total ‘fantasy island’. There’s no way he’d have said that… no way… DC Dunn would confirm that.

The gun frightened Owen all right.

He’d never been so frightened in his life. So he did the only thing he could think of and opened the car door, sprinted the short distance to the Audi, jumped in and started the engine. The keys were still in the ignition, which was both a good thing and a bad thing.

Good, in that it gave him a head’s start before Corporal Kerr could release the safety of his SLR and place Owen squarely in his night-sight.

Bad, because if he’d had to fumble with the keys — even for a few seconds — the car would not have exploded and he would probably still be alive.





SEVEN: A man called Quota and a Codename Fishknife


The Bogside, Londonderry.

9.30am, Friday 20th September 2019


Farrell sat in the black unmarked BMW X5 experiencing mixed emotions.

The driver, a tall, athletically built young man in his late ‘20s with ginger hair, highly polished shoes, a black suit and tie framing an immaculately pressed white shirt, had opened the passenger door for him.

Farrell ignored this and climbed into the back, where he sat diagonally opposite him. The privacy glass obscured his departure from Fahan Street but the curtain twitchers already had their tongues wagging.

On the one hand, whatever was in store for him, this would put an end to the mind-numbing stagnation that he awoke to each day. This was what he had waited for. Do this — get it done, and life, such as it is, can move on.

But the menace in Dibble’s voice, combined with an uncharacteristic vagueness surrounding the job troubled him. What was he to do? If this were a hit it could be carried out by any number of undercover operatives, so it could only mean one thing — whatever it was, Dibble would have found a reason why he couldn’t refuse whatever sanction lay in store. And if there were a significant chance of it going tits up, he would be collateral damage.

Whatever Dibble had planned for him would be bound to leave MI5 or the FRU, or whoever pulled Dibble’s strings these days, without the slightest trace of egg on their faces.

And the other thing that bothered him was a nagging doubt concerning his own efficacy. On an emotional level, he had absolutely no problem about killing. His impassive detachment to dispatching low-life was as unfettered now, as it had been when he had last pulled a trigger on 11th June 1997, to end the life of Kieran “Basher” Baldwin, a UVF thug and founder member of the notorious Shankill Butchers.

A smile flashed across Farrell’s face at the thought that Baldwin, who had been had been convicted on ten counts of murder but was referred to as “an easy-going, decent fellow, and a man of good-standing” by his Orange Lodge. For Farrell, this was as good an historical footnote to 30 years of sectarian violence as you were likely to get.

Unfortunately for Baldwin — as it turned out — he was released under the Good Friday Agreement by the government funded Life Sentence Review Board only for the government funded FRU to sanction Farrell to dispatch him.

Unlike scores of paramilitaries such as Baldwin who had passed their time in the Maze or Magilligan ‘discovering’ religion, passing a few O Levels or even adding a BA in sociology to their CVs, Farrell had never wavered from his belief that killing was justified if the ends demanded it.

And Baldwin, he considered, was an excellent case study.

Farrell found it hard to suppress the smile that flittered across his face as he recalled the UVF man’s hunger strike in the Maze prison shortly before his release. It had lasted 27 days before he was found to have put on over a stone — thanks to high calorie packages smuggled in by friends, wrapped in cling film and concealed up their arses. One screw had been heard to say: “… if we don’t put an end to this hunger strike soon, we’re not gonne get a coffin big enough to fit the fucker.”

Here was a man who took pride in the membership of a gang that abducted innocent Catholic victims in their black taxi, then tortured them for hours before messily slitting their throats with a lack of surgical competence that rivaled their lack of ‘good-standing’.

No, what bothered him now was whether he was still physically up to the job. His broad-shouldered 6’4” frame still retained the leanness of his youth, but although he punished himself at the gym five days a week — mainly, he freely admitted — to nullify the effect of the Guinness — he knew he wasn’t as sharp at when he’d last seen combat. He knew, inevitably, he had gone soft.

Farrell opened the window a shade, lit a cigarette and exhaled, pondering his physical condition.

“I’m sorry sir,” the addition of a pair of Ray-Bans completed the driver’s Men in Black façade. Only the ginger hair spoiled the effect. “But smoking is not permitted in the vehicle.”

Farrell took a deep drag, exhaling smoke in his direction.

“What’s your name, son?”

“Bond, Sir. Seamus Bond.”

“Jesus,” Farrell muttered beneath his breath, “yer having a fuckin’ laugh. Well let me ask ye this, Bond — are ye some kind of fuckin’ galaxy defender?”

Bond, who Farrell had correctly guessed was yet to progress from the lowest rung of the Intelligence Service ladder and clung to it fairly precariously at times, glanced nervously in the mirror, wishing he’d just let the fucker smoke. He’d sneaked a look at Farrell’s file and knew that he was one of the last hard men, one of the few who had survived more than 30 years of violence, and he knew why.

“’Cos if you are, let me give ye a piece of advice, son: ‘Walk in shadow, move in silence… guard against extra-terrestrial violence.’” Farrell cocked a pistol at him with this index and middle fingers, blew imaginary smoke from their tips, and smiled. “And pay particular heed te the bit about fuckin’ silence.”

Bond glanced in the mirror, this time with the hint of a smile on his face. Farrell had a legendry ability to piss Dibble off, and that alone earned his respect. He shrugged, pulled a packet of Silk Cut from his jacket pocket and lit one.




They drove in silence, Farrell smoking and deep in thought.

They were headed towards Belfast, through the Glenshane pass, a road that traversed some of the highest ground in the province. Countryside that was barren — wildly beautiful in summer, often inaccessible in winter, unwanted by the Protestants, and therefore sparsely populated by Catholics. He ticked off the names of the towns and villages they passed through, linking them with the violence he’d seen in each.

An informer that he and McGuinn had executed in Dungiven. McGuinn had pulled the trigger, but he had broken the man’s leg with a karate kick as he dragged him from a stool in Murphy’s Bar before bundling him into the back of a Cortina and pulling a sack over his head.

He’d sat in the back with a gun to his temple as the tout whimpered and pissed himself while McGuinn drove three miles to the Glenshane Forest. Together they’d peeled off his shoes and socks, dragged him along a muddy forestry track before removing his belt so his trousers fell round his ankles. McGuinn had shot him in the knee, then the abdomen and finally the head before kicking his corpse into a bog where he would lie until Farrell told the victim’s still-grieving mother twenty-five years later where her son lay.

They’d then had a pint in the bizarrely named Ponderosa Inn, a dump that prided itself with the claim that it was Ireland’s highest pub. It was also Ireland’s emptiest, which was why when they often frequented it after a job.

“Was that strictly necessary?” he’d asked McGuinn, referring to the level of violence with which the informer had been dispatched.

McGuinn had simply turned and smiled at him, his dead slate grey eyes lingering with a sadistic menace that confirmed that it was.

Bond broke the silence.

“D’you mind if I ask you something, sir?”

Farrell did. But not any more than he minded what he was thinking about at that moment.

“Probably,” he replied. “You mind if I ask you a question?”

“Shoot,” replied Bond, suddenly reflecting that this may have been an injudicious choice of words, mindful of Farrell’s notoriety. “Umm… you go first.”

“Are you a Catholic, son?”

This question would have been unthinkable a few years back.

“Not that it matters. Personally I don’t give a shit either way,” he added truthfully. Since Dempsey had asked him the same question as a seventeen year-old in a darkened room, surrounded by masked gunmen all those years ago, it was a question he understood had the power to reveal a great deal about a person. Asked in the right way, the question could just about bare a man’s soul.

Of course he knew the answer already. The name was the main indicator, but sometimes there were outliers, hard-men dads who figured that continual sectarian playground beatings for having the wrong name would make a man of their brats.

And then there were the ‘Super-Prods,’ Loyalist bastards like Kieran Baldwin who’d been handicapped — in the same way as someone born a victim of thalidomide or with Downs’ Syndrome — with names such as Kieran, Murphy or O’Callaghan. Freaks of sectarian nature whose destiny was forever to commit grizzly atrocities on random Catholics, simply to prove that their surname was an undeserved life sentence.

Farrell had terminated a few of these in his time. Paddy McCormick, another member of the Shankill Butchers came to mind. That hit had also been sanctioned by the FRU but they knew nothing about that fact that he’d already been given instructions from Dempsey. No one complained about finding McCormick swinging from a gantry in an east Belfast warehouse, both legs shattered and a bullet in his head.

“Aye,” replied Bond, “How’d you know?”

Farrell could have replied that it had been the red hair; the eyes set a fraction too close together, the feckless, furtive way he glanced in the mirror. He’d had thirty years of sniffing out a Catholic and he was rarely wrong. “Just a wild guess.”

“They call me ‘quota’ in the office,” he said proudly. “I was called ‘token’ when I joined up but there’s three of us now.”

Farrell watched the countryside roll by. He smiled and lit another cigarette.

“So, what was your question then, Bond?”

“Oh… it wasn’t important. Just something I was curious about, that’s all. No big deal.”

Farrell knew that he would have read his file, at least if he had any gumption he would have. Not that there would be many of the old ‘contact forms’ or Military Intelligence Source Reports which detailed every meeting between agents and their handlers to be found. It was without question that Dibble would have destroyed these with the same systematic secrecy with which he had assigned Farrell to spill blood. Any incidental paperwork which linked Farrell to M15 would have well above Bond’s security clearance level but things were more lax these days.

But even if he hadn’t managed to access it, he’d have heard about the Nosterantus affair or one of a host of other ‘incidents’ Farrell had been officially involved with for the FRU over the past thirty years.

“Well, I probably won’t answer it, but yer welcome te try me.”

Bond deliberated, then asked nervously.

“It’s just… well we’ve been dying to know in the office, how did you get the codename ‘Fishknife’?

Farrell smiled.

“That’s classified son. I could tell ye — but if I did I’ve have te gut ye.”




Farrell hated Belfast; always had done.

It was the worst sort of city, a metropolis that wanted to be something that it could never be, no matter how much money was lashed on it.

Where else would you find such polar extremes of bigotry spouted, from the Upper Newtownards Road to Andersonstown, under the same square mile of slate grey sky? And as long as he could remember, the only people he knew who lived in Belfast had one aim in life and that was to get out of the place.

Or they had to get out.

They drove in silence down Cave Hill along the M2, skirting the dockland and the city. Not long ago the streets around here would have been among the most dangerous places in the world, if your face wasn’t known, and maybe more so if it was.

Gallaghers’ old mill and the once elegant Edwardian industrial York Street linen buildings had enjoyed a brief renaissance during the boom years. They had been turned into short-contract swanky office space for developers’ agents to park their Filofaxes full of the names and numbers of the wankers queuing up to buy their latest projects. They couldn’t get enough of them: city-side, Lagan-view, Titanic Quarter developments bought straight off the plans, with the guarantee of a nice wee twenty per cent mark up sewn in before the fuckers were even built.

But that didn’t last. Like everywhere in the old industrial end of the city, they were festooned with banners: “To Let — may sell”. Yerrite — Farrell thought. If anyone made them an offer, the banks who’d re-possessed these obsolete edifices, built long before post-modernity had got its tendrils into the city, along with the thousands of empty sum-prime mortgaged city apartments, they’d bite their fucking hands off.

And d’you know the worst thing about Belfast? He said to himself, managing to stop himself sharing this view with Bond.

The worst thing, Farrell had long thought, was the ‘brought-in’ crime that now pervaded the city, festering unattended like a weeping sore. Crime that had spilled over like a syphilic pustule from Eastern Europe; as if Belfast needed any more psychopathic fucking lunatics. And the old tradition of the paramilitaries policing their own areas was a thing of the past. Or it certainly was in the Loyalist areas.

The break-up of the Soviet Union was to blame for this. Farrell firmly believed that history would come to place the blame for this new bout of cancer in his country on the fragmentation of an old order; an order where everyone knew exactly where they stood. Belfast had been flooded with a deluge of eastern European economic migrants who had come to feed on the leftovers of the Celtic Tiger’s prosperity, pushed north to pollinate the new peace.

The old work ethic that lead to the proliferation of traditional industries that made Belfast the home of ship-building, and the rope and linen industries were a distant memory. Okay, those industries had provided work for the Protestant workforce, but at least the fuckers worked. Now the Poles took all the jobs, while the lazy bastards who’d got fat on easy money from the boom years, signed on.

Some of these migrants came in peace, but many saw it as an unencumbered new market for rackets that were out-priced in their own countries; drugs and prostitution and people trafficking were at the top of that list. The republicans had done a better job in limiting their influence than the Loyalists. The plight of the Romanians in West Belfast, and how the former Provo paramilitary hoodlums had treated them had made the national press. Knee-cappings and old school iron bar beatings had eventually removed them from republican turf.

What the media hadn’t reported was how the Romanians had been stupid or arrogant enough to try to out-muscle them; and how they’d nearly succeeded.

But the Loyalists had embraced these new fellow-Europeans and worked with them. They even cut them a share of their markets but soon found, to their horror, that the Liths and Albanians were cleverer than them. They had taken control.

And although the PSNI — part of the legacy of the new post-sectarian order — was much changed, old habits died hard. Close links between serving officers and senior Loyalist paramilitaries — usually greased by money, survived, and this arrangement benefitted what both sides referred to as the ‘gypos’.

In short, Farrell, had thought, the Loyalists had lost the plot.

Another reason to hate Belfast.




















EIGHT: The probationary recruit


Tuesday12th July, 1978, 10.00pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland


For an eternity Dempsey said nothing. No one moved.

Eventually he put the gun back in the holster.

“Okay… Okay. Now…” He nodded pensively, “… Now let’s get down to business.”

For the next three hours, Farrell was quizzed, tested and examined on his knowledge of explosives, firearms and his temperamental aptitude for the position of trainee terrorist.    Satisfied, Dempsey offered him a two-month trial or ‘apprenticeship’, as he called it. There was no discussion as to what would happen should Farrell not prove to be a suitable candidate for the job, come September.

The plan was that Farrell would tell his parents that he had gone to stay with a friend in Liverpool for the summer, and had managed to pick up a job on a building site that paid roughly twice what it was possible to earn at home.

Farrell’s parents were somewhat mollified by this, particularly as building sites in Ulster were generally seen as sectarian targets. Most of the building work was simply reparation of previous bomb attacks in preparation for the next. Farrell’s mother was further satisfied with the arrangement when her son gave her the Liverpool address and telephone number of Dempsey’s elder brother with whom he would allegedly be billeted.

Then he got down to work.




His main role was to assist Apollo, whom he had previously observed orchestrating oil tanker and sheep movement operations from his bedroom window.

Apollo was from the Philippines, and spoke his own particular brand of ‘pigeon English’. Dempsey maintained, however, that he was easier to understand than most of the locals. He ran the smuggling operation for Dempsey.

The Dempsey farm complex spanned the border dividing the North from the Republic of Ireland.

Smuggling was a business with an annual turnover of hundreds of thousands of pounds. But it was more than a business to Tom Dempsey.

Smuggling was one of the only four things in life in which he had any interest, the other three being Gaelic Football (he had been a fine player in his youth) darts and blowing up anything British.

Oil and petrol tanks were placed inside a huge open-ended barn, on both sides of the hedge that marked the border. A gravity feed system took the fuel underground from one country to another.

Due to the low value of the Irish pound, fuel bought in the Irish republic was transferred to the tank in Northern Ireland. When Stirling become weaker, the system worked in reverse.

Once the fuel was in the northern tank, it was piped into a shed used as a loading bay, and a portable electric pump was used to fill tankers that came from all parts of the province and transported it to be sold.

At the time that Apollo joined Dempsey’s outfit, this operation was in its infancy. Within weeks, he had demonstrated an aptitude for the work, which not only surpassed Dempsey’s expectations, but also had refined the procedures considerably. It was at Apollo’s suggestion that Dempsey founded his own oil companies, which vastly increased the distribution of oil, cut out the ‘middle-man’, and gave it an air of legitimacy.

He even suggested that they registered the companies and employed an accountant. To Dempsey, paying any tax to anyone was just plain wrong. The accountant, a Newry republican sympathiser, initiated a system of multiple invoicing, so that the paper trail went back and forward from Ulster to the Republic like a shuttlecock.

And just to make sure that neither the Customs and Excise nor the Inland Revenue could get a foot in the door, the parent company was registered in the Cayman Islands. Bingo.

The other wing of the operation was the smuggling of livestock, much of which was funded by European subsidies. Apollo’s role was to arrange for the transport of sheep or pigs from the Republic (land to the east of Dempsey’s farmhouse) to Northern Ireland (land to the north-west of Dempsey’s farmhouse).

He would have conducted the operation himself, were it not for the fact that his feet were some way short of reaching the lorry’s pedals. This was where Farrell’s 6’4” frame came in useful.

The livestock was transported to the UK customs Post in Newry, ten miles away, where a claim was filed for a subsidy of six pounds per sheep and eight pounds per pig. The well-travelled animals were then driven back, ready for another trip.

Farrell knew, from conversations around the diner table that Apollo found his job considerably more fulfilling than his previous employment, but no one talked about that.

His duties meant that he rarely come into contact with people, particularly the sort that would taunt him until he lost his temper. Those that he worked along side kept him at a distance, accepting him as one of their own, but respectful and slightly wary of his reputation for an unpredictable ability to end life abruptly.

This suited Apollo perfectly, and soon his reputation was further enhanced by use of his initiative, a characteristic largely unknown in Dempsey’s men.

Micksey had told Farrell that last July, his first summer at the Dempsey complex, Apollo had discovered that a farmer named Paddy O’Donnolly, whose farm was near the border town of Dundalk, was hiring out his pigs to anyone who wished drive them over the border and back again, thus also profiting from the subsidies.

Apollo persuaded Dempsey that this was rich stream of income that they were missing out on, and suggested that he should approach O’Donnolly and offer him ‘protection’ in return for a cut of his lucrative trade.

The Filipino midget was told in no uncertain terms where he could stick his offer. The result of this was an unscheduled and fatal total colostomy for O’Donnolly, and Apollo’s nom de guerre being temporarily switched to ‘The Dundalk Disemboweller.’






























NINE: Three With Blade, Three With Gun


South Armagh, Northern Ireland

Friday 31st July, 1978


“So how the hell did ye end up here?” Farrell asked Apollo one sunny morning, as they loaded a consignment of sheep bound for Newry hired by Dempsey’s neighbour, Danny McIlroy.

It was almost a month since Farrell had arrived in South Armagh. Most of that time, he had spent working with Apollo; the rest had been spent in the advancement of his knowledge of explosives.

The two men had little in common, and conversation was perfunctory, mainly due to Apollo’s lack of interest in either people or small talk.

“That none of your need to know,” Apollo replied. “That before you got here — since you get here only your need to know.”

“Oh. Fair enough.” Farrell shrugged. He lit a cigarette, tossed the Filipino the packed and changed the subject. “Bear said we can go out tonight. Fancy a few jars at the Steps?”

“Jar? What is jar?”


“Drink? No… I no drink.”

“Ok. Well ye can drive then. Hang on, what do ye mean ye don’t drink? I’ve counted more empty bottles of rum outside yer door than a flippin’ navy would drink in a year.”

“Well maybe odd tipple… only to piss whistle.”

“You mean wet whistle?”

“You say wet whistle. I say piss whistle”.




That evening, Farrell drove the pair of them to The Three Steps in McVeigh’s car, an ancient, rusting Ford Zephyr.

He had learned to drive in his father’s ancient Volvo estate, but hadn’t taken his test, which didn’t matter as Dempsey had provided him with a false license anyway.

It was the first time he had been to the Inn without the company of Dempsey, McVeigh or McGuinn, as that he took as a measure of the progress in had made in gaining their confidence. Dempsey and McGuinn had wanted to watch an RTE documentary on migrating elephants, and McVeigh was too hung-over to go anywhere other than the barn workshop to test out further experimental blends of his beloved potcheen.

Farrell drank several pints of Guinness, while Apollo ‘pissed his whistle’ with rum. They played darts until Apollo got bored. Farrell tried to teach Apollo to play Scrabble but the game ended abruptly when the Filipino lost his temper and threw the board on the floor when Farrell refused to allow the word ‘cuntlips’.

“So… go on, tell me. I’m dyin’ to know,” fished Farrell. Apollo picked up the letters and shuffled them. “I mean… yer a fuckin’ long way from home.”

“I tell you: not your need to know.”

“Aye, so ya say,” replied Farrell, “but ye know about how and why I’m here, so… if we’re te work together, it only seems fair.”

Apollo sighed and finished his tumbler of rum.

“Ok, you have point. Suppose I tell you, but you buy rum first.”

Farrell returned from the bar, placing a pint of Guinness and a large rum in the table.

What had brought Apollo to Ireland was somewhat murky, but the little Filipino told Farrell how he had obtained employment at the Security Force base at Forthkill, where the SAS were secretly billeted. Secretly that is, except to the entire population of South Armagh and North Monaghan. Apollo’s duties placed him somewhere between waiter and batman, and, having no political or religious axe to grind, he was perfectly happy with his duties, status and with the masters he served. Although raised as a Catholic in Manila, he had seen enough of life to form the opinion that upholding religious beliefs was likely to lead to more problems than not upholding them. Consequently he saw himself as an atheist — a Catholic atheist, at Dempsey’s insistence.

However, one night, shortly before Christmas in 1975, Apollo had been in attendance at a formal dinner in honour of a visiting politician — a junior cabinet minister, held in the officers’ mess. Most of the diners had adjourned or retired and he was left to serve port, brandy or coffee to a few stragglers, in whose number was the commanding officer, and the minister.

It was past two am, and Apollo felt tired and irritable. He had been taunted endlessly by the kitchen staff throughout the evening — which was nothing new, and had just about managed to control himself.

He was well aware that he had a fearsome temper not helped by his passion for rum. The result of this was two dead Filipino policemen, which was the reason that he’d had to leave Manila in a hurry.

Standing by the door of the mess, daydreaming of home, he was suddenly aware that someone was talking to him: it was the CO.

“I say! You stupid little man! How many times do I have to ruddy well ask for the port? Are you as short of brain as you are of stature?”

In an instant Apollo had leapt onto the mahogany dining table, drawn his 33cm flick knife and had slit the throats of both the CO and the politician, who, until the gurgling of his rapidly escaping life-blood prevented further laughter, had found the latter’s comment quite risible.

Before anyone could react, he had stabbed the guard outside the barrack room, taken his Stirling semi-automatic rifle and had shot his way out of the compound.

Half an hour later, at around 2.30, McVeigh was returning erratically to the Dempsey farm complex from The Three Steps Inn.

The South Armagh brigade of the Provos had defeated the North Monaghan brigade in a darts match; a victory which meant that the former retained the Saracen Trophy — so named as it had been constructed from pieces salvaged from an exploded army Saracen vehicle and welded into something that resembled exactly what it was: a piece of life-ending bomb damage placed on a small wooden plinth.

The South Armagh brigade had enjoyed the traditional lock-in and a good sing-song, culminating in The Three Steps’ favourite song: There are Three Steps to Heaven; the final step in this particular version being the one taken by the hapless paratrooper, bringing him into the sight of a sniper.

Coaxing the Zephyr around the lanes towards Crossmaglen with one hand over an eye to prevent the other sending conflicting information to his addled brain, Micksey rounded a bend near Forkhill.

What his functioning eye informed his brain suddenly caused him to stand on the brakes with more alacrity than had he encountered an army roadblock.

In front of him, walking in the middle of the road, was a midget wearing a blood red coat like that of a bandmaster, carrying a rifle that was at least half the length of his body over his shoulder.

The man in the road stopped and turned to face McVeigh, raising the gun and pointing it at his vehicle.

McVeigh dropped his hand from his eye; the shock of the apparition causing both eyes to form a truce and function in some sort of reluctant unison.

The midget in the road was wearing what appeared to be a Japanese Kamikaze pilot’s helmet, horn-rimmed glasses and was walking towards his Zephyr with a pronounced limp. He stopped about ten yards from Micksey’s car, and stood pointing the semi-automatic rifle at its rapidly sobering occupant.

“I want lift,” he yelled in a curiously exotic accent, which prompted Micksey to wonder if the Monaghan boys had commenced their revenge campaign already by slipping something mind-distorting into the winners’ drinks.

The midget took a step closer. Micksey heard the unmistakable sound of the safety being released and instinctively raised his hands. This certainly wasn’t the first time he had had a Stirling pointed at him, but never before by such a ridiculous looking human being.

“You give me lift, or I shoot you — fucking cunt.” Micksey wound down the window and made to open the driver’s door. In an instant, the midget had covered the distance to the car and had kicked the door shut.

“Steady on fella — for the love of fuck!”

“Lift, NOW! You drive me to border where fuck cunt soldier no go or I shoot you full of fuck cunt lead!”

“Jeasus… just calm down, fella –— why don’t ya hitch… y’know… stick yer thumb out like any other…”

“… You stick thumb where sun don’t shine. I have gun — you have not… so drive, fuck cunt!”

For a second Micksey considered proving the little man factually incorrect by pulling the Glock he kept for emergencies in the glove compartment. But there was something about this midget that made him wary. And, if he was on the run from the army, they might just be on the same side.

He raised his hands and slowly leant across and unlocked the passenger door. Apollo got in, keeping the gun trained on McVeigh.

“Where te?”

“Away from soldier fuck cunt barrack.”

Micksey put the car into gear and drove in the direction of the Dempsey farm complex.

Apollo placed the gun in the foot-well, but as an afterthought, drew the flick-knife from his jacket pocket. The metallic click of the 33cm blade worked like a magnet to draw Micksey’s head.

“Jeasus… is that blood? What the fuck have ye been up te?”

Silence, except for the midget’s rapid breathing.

“Listen, fella… I don’t know who the fuck ye are… and I don’t like them cunts any more than ye do. But if ye’ve fuckin’ killed one of them, they’re gonne be all over these hills like flies on shite on no time.” Silence. The midget’s breathing slowed.


“You WHAT?”

“Three with blade, three with gun.”

McVeigh was now stone cold sober. “Jeasus. Who the fuck are ya?”

Apollo told him, which left Micksey no clearer as to who and what Apollo was, apart from his lack of physical stature, which, from his account of the evening’s events, he felt disinclined to call into question.

But what he was quite clear about, was that there were five dead SAS soldiers and one junior cabinet minister within a stone’s throw of them; and this unlikely assassin’s handiwork was about to trigger unprecedented troop movement and reprisals in the area he called home.

“Well ye won’t be getting’ much e a reference off yon cunts, will ya?”

“Reference? What reference?” The Filipino stared at Micksey, confusion on his face.

“For fuck’s sake… for yer next fuckin’ job.” Apollo shook his head, conveying his lack of understanding. The tension of the moment had gone. Micksey felt laughter building in his gut. Suddenly he was having such violent hysterics that he had difficulty in controlling the Zephyr. A smile contorted Apollo’s face, and then the infection of the laughter hit him. Micksey pulled the Zephyr to a halt and it sat rocking for several minutes until they both had managed to regain some level of composure.

“Listen, ye need help, fella. And I know who can help ya. Fuck knows, he might even have a job for ya.” McVeigh could feel the laughter building in his guts again. “That is if yon cunts’ll give ye a fuckin’ decent reference…”

An hour later, Apollo had drunk the best part of a bottle of Captain Morgan, and narrated every detail of his background, employment and subsequent unscheduled departure from Forkhill to Dempsey several times. He fell into a deep, restful sleep in a metal cot in a clean but featureless room, feeling, for the first time on these strange shores, a real sense of purpose.

This was home.

The next morning, the first thing that Dempsey had done was to issue Apollo with some false identification documents.

He was safe while he remained on the farm complex, but he would be required to run errands in his new capacity of ‘store man’, which would mean he would be stopped and asked for ID on almost every occasion that he went out.

The Mortician suggested the name Paddy Short as a new alias, but hard men as they were, no one volunteered to suggest this to Apollo. In the end, Seamus Jose Manbarumba went on his British and Irish passport and his driving licenses.

There was a good deal of debate over this, but Dempsey insisted upon it.

“He still needs a nom de guerre, though,” the Mortician insisted.

“A nom de fuckin’ what?” Asked Micksey. “Ever since ye watched that ‘Last Fuckin’ Tango in Venice’ ye think yer the fuckin’ intelligentsia.”

“’It’s Death in Venice’ Micksey. And it’s ‘Last Tango in Paris’,” replied The Mortician. “Anyhow, a bit of self-betterment never did nobody no harm… nobody any harm,” he corrected himself. “Jus ‘cos the only book ye ever touched was the Bible, and only ‘cos ye were told to fuckin’ swear on it in court, doesn’t mean we all have to be thick as shite.”

Micksey rose from his chair, squaring up to The Mortician. But before he could fully extend his lanky frame, Dempsey pushed him back down.

“How about The Forkhill Finisher?” suggested someone, and the name stuck.




Midway through the evening Dempsey had come in and sat at the bar sipping a half of Tenants, engaged in critically observarion of the darts game in progress.

The inside of the bar was institutional and it was debatable whether it looked worse from the inside or the outside.

It had a huge triangular wooden floor, used on rare occasions for dancing, and a small stage for a band, although this was difficult to imagine as women rarely set foot in the place.

On the walls there were paintings of peasants hunting; of the mythological Cuchulainn, bizarrely engaged in a game of hurling with Maeve, the Queen of Ulster. The poet Art McCooey was depicted writing his epic work mourning the death of McNeill of the Fews as the chieftains of the Fews plotted, with furrowed brow, the rebellion of 1641.

The site of the Three Steps Inn was steeped in history. There had been a soup kitchen here in the mid-19th century during the Great Famine, and in keeping with its fine tradition of insurrection, the place had been burned down by the RUC in 1922.

It had been re-built in the 1950s and Davey McCrumm, the landlord, had run the establishment since his father had dropped dead of a heart attack while pulling a pint ten years ago.

McCrumm junior hadn’t thought it worth his while to conduct any refurbishments in that time, although he had replaced the ancient darts board with a slightly newer one. He had also installed a television in the alcove next to the door for the twin purposes of watching the Gaelic Football and the national news for reports of his clients’ handwork.

Tables and chairs were arranged around the outside of the room and the bar stools were for the use of members of the South Armagh Brigade only and in a strictly hierarchical order.

McCrumm, a lean, grey man with a dower, pock-marked face in his late ‘40s, stood behind a long log-fronted bar that gave rise to the notion that it had either been hewn by the landlord himself or that it had been imported from Scandinavia. It had, in fact, been sourced from a local DIY outlet.

On the wall behind the bar were displayed a host of self-penned certificates for good management and a gaudy collection of willow pattern crockery.

On the outside of the building, the windows wore a thick wire mesh and huge, bullet-proof metal plates shuttered them on the inside when the bar was closed or when a ‘lock in’ was in progress, so that the Inn more resembled a fortress than a drinking establishment.

Which, in fact, was exactly what it was. It wasn’t a place for passers-by.

The car park, long overdue to resurfacing, was the site of many a brawl between members of the South Armagh Provos, members of other nearby brigades, the Official IRA and, latterly, the Real IRA.

“All set for Sunday?” McCrumm directed the question at Dempsey.

“Aye, all set, Davey.”

“Should be a grand day. They give the weather fine.” McCrumm absent-mindedly towelled a Guinness glass. “Will yis be wantin’ ham or cheese in yer sandwiches? Mind, I could do yis up a nice wee salad if ye’d prefer?”

“Jeasus no, Davey!” Dempsey punched the bar-top with a clenched fist. “No fuckin’ salad!” McCrumm polished the glass, shaking his head as if to expurgate the strange notion of salad that had somehow popped into it. But the word was out there, ricocheting around the room like a rubber bullet dipped in salad cream.

“No fuckin’ salad,” repeated Dempsey. “Jeasus, Davey!”

McCrumm changed the subject.

“Sure, it’s gonne be a great game… a grand day for us all.”

“Aye, as long as we win, Davey, as long as we win. Friendly or no, there’s still pride and a trophy at stake, y’know”.

McCrumm placed his elbows on the bar-top conspiratorially.

“How’s the trophy comin’ along then, Bear?”

“I’ll show ya.” Dempsey reached into the inside pocket of his jacket — an act which caused several drinkers on the periphery of the room to duck beneath their tables, more out of habit than concern — and produced a small wooden shield. The plaque was a roughly hewn piece of wood with several bright but incongruous pieces of metal hammered onto it, the largest of which contained a written legend. Dempsey passed it to McCrumm.

“The Shorland Shield!” read McCrumm, holding the object cautiously, mindful of the crude and lethal metal adornments. “Sure that’s a fine trophy, Bear.”

“Ye know where that came from?” Dempsey was warming to his theme. “That’s what was left of a Shorland armoured Land Rover. This one’s special mind ya, Davey”.

He leant forward and tapped two fingertips on the bar.

“Last one those RUC cunts ever used in these parts; hit the fucker with a land mine… so we did.” Dempsey sipped his beer. “Know what they did with ‘em after that?” McCrumm, like everyone else in South Armagh, knew exactly what the RUC had done with the unfortunate and inadequate Shorlands. But like any good barman, he allowed the raconteur his stage, particularly as this raconteur was the most wanted man in Ireland.

Dempsey swivelled on his barstool, addressing his fellow drinkers like a Roman orator in the senate: “Gave the fuckers to the UDR!” Dempsey laughed and others joined in nervously.

“Can ye imagine that? ‘Here yis go lads,’ says Mr Chief Cuntstable Shillington, ‘yis can have ‘em. They’re no good te us ‘cos we keep getting’ blown the fuck up in them!’”

Dempsey tapped his glass twice with his fingernail; McCrumm poured another half pint.

“Got the new posts up Bear?”

“Aye, they’re lookin’ grand, Davey, lookin’ grand. Least I could do mind ya. Good to give something back to the community, isn’t it?” Dempsey sipped his beer. “Like ye puttin’ that telly up over yonder as a tribute to yer da.”

The fact that McCrumm’s motivation to purchase a second-hand television had been prompted by a need to relieve the hours of tedium behind the bar, he kept to himself. He also kept to himself the thought that, with the fortune Dempsey turned-over annually from his smuggling enterprises, a new set of wooden goal-posts for the local Gaelic pitch was the very least he could give back to the community.

“Who’s the match against, Bear?”

“Jeasus, have ye not got a flier? Sure I’ve got one here ye can stick up above the bar!” Dempsey reached into the other inner pocket of his jacket, which again caused furtive-looking men, drinking quietly in corners to dive for cover.


McCrumm studied the flier dubiously.

“Is that how ye spell Phantoms, Bear?” McCrumm had run out of glasses to polish and, in the absence of further custom, had surreptitiously poured himself a large Bells whilst inspecting the optics.

“Course it is, Davey,” replied Dempsey, equally dubiously, “course it is. Right come on yis two eejits…” he rose from his stool and walked towards Farrell and Apollo, “… time to go home!”




























TEN: A Triumph in Bad Taste



Friday 20th September 2019, 1.00pm


The Cafe Vaudeville on Arthur Street was the latest incarnation of a building that had begun life as the headquarters of Dunville & Co., tea traders who gave up that operation in favour of the more profitable business of distilling whiskey.

It had also been a bank. You could imagine it being robbed by bowler-hatted men with moustaches, dressed in three-piece suits waving long-barreled revolvers at screaming women in ankle-length skirts flushed with unaccustomed excitement.

In short, it was easy to conceive that it was a building whose walls had witnessed more than their fair share of fascinating interchanges over the years.

But none perhaps, as bizarre as the conversation that took place between a serving member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service and a former terrorist that early autumn afternoon.

A waiter with dirty-dyed blond hair wearing a black waistcoat over his well-pressed white shirt showed them to their table. Dibble had asked for privacy and they got it, stowed in the library corner beneath the stairs to the champagne bar. In front of the antique bookshelves was a chaise longue, sufficient to seat two people looking for a bit more intimacy than was appropriate between Dibble and Farrell.

Dibble seated himself on the divan with his back to the library. Farrell sat opposite.

The waiter handed them menus, diligently slipping Dibble’s name into his spiel as he rattled off the specials of the day. One of the benefits of a generous expense account, Farrell thought, was tipping the waiter enough for him to remember your name. Dibble winced slightly as Farrell ordered a pint of Guinness, and ordered a bottle of Chateau Perron Lalande de Pomerol, which Farrell clocked on the wine list at forty-seven quid a pop.

“What is this place?” Farrell asked as the waiter ponced off to process their order.

“All things to all people, Billy.” It was the sort of answer he’d come to expect from Dibble, who was avidly studying the menu. Farrell’s eyes swept the room. It was the sort of place, he thought, that wanted to be something it could never be; as such, it was perfect for Belfast.

The décor was so wildly incongruous as to make the furniture look ordinary. Everything clashed: the palm trees in the over-sized plant pots jarred with the rubber plants, the glass-domed atrium conflicted with the blue backlit cornicing, and the antique cut-glass chandeliers screamed at their fringe-shaded colonial Cairo cousins.

It was a triumph of bad taste in interior design such as he’d never seen, even in Ireland, and that was quite a challenge. Eclectic rococo rubbed shoulders with over-the-top baroque while the overall ambiance hummed art deco fused with the earthy sweat of Wild West music hall.

He turned his attention to the menu realising, that with the unaccustomed excitement of the day, he’d missed breakfast.

“Very popular with the local yuppies, so I’m told. Not that’s there are many of them left. The peace process flushed them out and the recession flushed them away.” Dibble said. “But it’s the best grub in town and it has a half decent wine list.”

The waiter brought the drinks and by the time Dibble had satisfied himself that the wine was fit for consumption, Farrell had put away half his pint. He ordered another.

Dibble selected duck liver parfait with Madeira jelly, spiced fig chutney & toasted pain de champagne to start, and Irish Angus beef burger — extremely rare — with both streaky bacon and cheese, relish, gherkins & triple cooked chips to follow. Farrell ordered the pan-fried sea bass and was mildly surprised when Dibble omitted to cross-reference his menu selection to his codename.

“Triple cooked chips eh?” asked Farrell.

“Mmmm… to die for.”

Farrell sincerely hoped so. Dibble took a large sip of wine.

“Now… down to business. You’d better read this,” he pulled a piece of paper from his jacket pocket and handed it to Farrell.





















ELEVEN: Two Fewer meddling Brits and a close brush with salad


The Three Steps Inn, near Crossmaglen

Friday 31st July, 1978, 9.30pm


In the event, McCrumm hadn’t had to agonize for long over his careless suggestion of salad for the post-match tea.

In fact, he didn’t have to agonize about anything at all, as he was about to spend the next ten days in the Intensive Care Unit of Daisy Hill hospital, oblivious to all but the weird goings on in his head, stimulated by the drugs which kept him unconscious.

A neighbour had dropped off Dempsey at The Steps, so Farrell drove him home. They had barely travelled a hundred yards, when Dempsey suddenly decided he wanted to inspect the Gaelic pitch. In particular, he wanted to stand by the changing room doors and read the newly erected plaque that bore the legend:




AUGUST 2nd, 1978

There was, of course, no reason for Dempsey to make the detour to read the plaque, as he had commissioned it himself. None-the-less, he had put a good deal of work into Sunday’s proceedings, and it wouldn’t hurt to check that no small detail had been missed.

And so, he instructed Farrell to drive to the ground. It wasn’t much of a detour, as it was less than a mile from The Steps, at the head of a heavily pot-holed lane, which had the Zephyr’s suspension groaning by the time they reached it. Whether it was the bumpy ride or Farrell’s erratic driving, by the time the car had stopped, Dempsey felt distinctly ill — what he was about to see would make him feel considerably worse.

The pitch was situated on a piece of relatively level ground raised above the car park, so that it was necessary to climb a small flight of stone steps to reach the dressing rooms and playing field.

There was one other car parked in the car park.

Dempsey didn’t recognise it — a Morris 1100 with local plates and a colour that reminded him of baby sick. He assumed that it belonged to one of the Forkhill lads conducting a little pre-match espionage.

In this assumption, he was partly correct.

The sight that greeted Dempsey at the top of the steps stopped him dead in his tracks.

At the far end of the pitch, were two men. They were dressed in the unmistakable uniforms of the SAS, complete with red berets and maroon and blue Pegasus patches. Neither appeared to hold a weapon other than a saw. With this, each soldier was absorbed in an act of gross vandalism: the dismemberment of Dempsey’s new goal-posts.

“Jeasus … Fuckin’… Christ!” Dempsey’s mouth fell open as his brain struggled to make sense of what his eyes were telling it. “What … the fuck…?”

He reached into his jacket pocket — this time it was to draw his weapon. Farrell stood beside him; Apollo had joined them at the top of the steps. The goal to their right had been sawn into small pieces, placed in two piles where each upright had been. The metal stanchions were placed neatly behind the goal and the net had been hacked apart, wound into a rope, and laid along the goal line.

At the other end of the pitch, the soldiers worked on oblivious to their observers. One mounted a stepladder and sawed at the upright above the crossbar whilst his colleague sawed through the same upright at ground level.

“Right,” Dempsey hissed through gritted teeth, breathing rapidly as he struggled to contain his anger, “That’s fuckin’ it. Them cunts is gonne have their brains splashed all over yon plaque as a fuckin’ reminder whose fuckin’ country this is!”

Dempsey drew his Walther PPK, released the safety, and was about to stride forward towards the soldiers when Farrell put a gently restraining hand on his arm.

“Jus’ hang on there a wee minute Bear. There might jus’ be a better way te do this.”

Apollo also had a suggestion:

“You want me to cut them, Boss?” He pulled the index finger of his right hand across his throat animatedly, although further explanation was quite unnecessary.

Dempsey stopped, his breathing slowed.

“Well, Billy Boy… jus what do ye fuckin’ recommend we do wi’these cunts?”

“I can ‘fix’ their car.” He paused, allowing the clarity of his proposal to sink in. “There’s something in the boot of the Zephyr that’ll take care of them.”

Dempsey deliberated. Already he saw in the youth standing next to him, both something of himself thirty years ago, and something of the son he never had. “Think about it, Bear… if you kill ‘em here, we’ve got two bodies te dispose of. We can’t very well leave the bodies here, with the game on Sunday, can we?”

“There’s not gonne be a fuckin’ game now, is there… thanks to them? Mind ye, if there’d been two more of them, we could’ve used the cunts as goal-posts when they stiffened up.”

“Look Boss…” Farrell summoned all the tact he had acquired from ten years of private education, and maturity beyond his tender years. “… there’s gonne be a game.” He turned to face him. He had no idea how the most dangerous man in Ireland — if not the planet — would react. “There has te be a game. Me and Apollo’ll get these fixed for Sunday. If this gets out… well it could make you look…”

“… Like a stupid cunt who’s been ass fucked by the Brits?” There was silence, as each pondered the implications of word of this flagrant disregard for the rules of engagement spreading through the local community and beyond.

Not only that, it would be the greatest morale boost for the SAS since they had set foot on Irish soil — either officially or unofficially.

“Jus how the fuck are yis gonne fix that heap of firewood?”

“Leave it te us Boss. We’ll get it done.”

Dempsey hesitated. He reluctantly holstered his weapon.

“Right, do what ye have to. Let’s get the fuck outta here.”

Dempsey took one last look at the soldiers who had by now removed the uprights and were in the process of dismantling the stanchions. He caught the sound of laughter, his eyes narrowed and his hand jerked towards his gun momentarily before he turned and led the way down the steps to the car.

Farrell opened the boot of the Zephyr and removed a dinner-plate sized object coated in a slimy substance.

“What the fuck’s that?” asked Dempsey.

“Good ‘ole fashioned ‘sticky bomb’: mix twenty pounds of gelignite with a splash of semi-liquid nitro-glycerine, place in silicon casement — add a dab of birdlime to hold it together, stick it te the underside side on one Morris 1100, set the timer, and — hey presto — two fewer meddlin’ Brits. Pretty much the same job that saw off the cricket pavilion at school — just a bit more nitro.”

“I like yer style, Billy boy!” the Bear chortled. “Hey, Apollo, how the fuck about that, eh? Two fewer meddlin’ fuckin’ Brits!” Dempsey slapped the little Filipino on the back, visibly cheered as he watched Farrell wedge the bomb between the exhaust back-box and the chassis. If the soldiers examined the underside of the vehicle, as they often did, they’d be looking for a device placed towards the front; also, Farrell knew that it was possible for the engine to protect the occupants from an explosion detonated at the front of a car. His only dilemma was when to set the timer for.

He guessed, watching the unhurried rate of the soldiers’ work, that they would be a further twenty minutes. Allow ten minutes for them to have a smoke and admire their handiwork, and half an hour, he figured, should be about right.

There was always the chance that they might make it back to base where vehicles were subjected to a more thorough search before being admitted, but if the bomb was set to detonate too soon, there was the probability that all he would achieve was to blow up a ridiculously coloured car.

And so, with the bomb set to detonate at 21.55, in the fading light of a glorious summer’s evening which had been scheduled to be the last on this earth for two members of Britain’s most elite fighting unit, Dempsey, Farrell and Apollo left the sports ground.

At Dempsey’s insistence they manhandled the cumbersome Zephyr around so that they could roll it down the lane to reach the road before starting the engine.

At 9.55 the timer clicked, detonating the bomb at the precise moment that the Morris was passing the Three Steps Inn en route to Forkhill barracks.

The soldiers were killed instantly. They melded with the chassis of the Morris as it impacted with the front elevation of The Three Steps public house, obliterating the wall and spreading debris and destruction through the bar.

The only person left in the Inn was McCrumm. The scowl from a poor evening’s takings was left on his face, but the rest of it — along with his false teeth and toupee — went south with the furniture.

At the Dempsey farm complex, Dempsey poured himself a Cinzano and lemonade, lit a Consulate, switched on the television, and sat down to watch the UTV ten o’clock news.


















TWELVE: Cowboys, Indians and the art of good publicity




The Dempsey farm complex.

Friday 31st July, 1978, 10.00pm


It didn’t need Reginald Bosanque at ITN, to slur the news that Farrell’s sticky bomb had worked. From some two miles away the explosion shook the bungalow and showered the occupants of Dempsey’s living room in plaster.

McVeigh and McGuinn had joined Dempsey, Farrell and Apollo in the front room when word of the evening’s events had reached them. The announcement came towards the end of the bulletin, as a ‘news just in’ item. This, according to Danny Maguire, the Provos’ director of publicity, was the best sort.

Shortly after the explosion, Maguire had telephoned Dempsey. He had intercepted a military communication that confirmed that two soldiers had been killed in an explosion at the Three Steps Inn. It was unclear, at that stage, whether the explosion had been caused by a device attached to their car, or whether it had been due to a land mine placed in the road near the public house.

Dempsey’s reaction to the obliteration of the Three Steps Inn could have gone either way.

“Do they think we’re fuckin’ stupid?” He asked Maguire, who thought it better not to answer. “Why the fuck, in this shitehole of a country, would we pick the one building that any of us puts on a clean fuckin’ shirt te go out til, te set off a mine?” Again Maguire had no answer. “Solves another problem mind… we won’t be havin’ fuckin’ salad on Sunday.”

“We need to call it in Bear,” said Maguire.

“How about we don’t call it in?”

“I don’t follow you — this is great fuckin’ publicity — despatchin’ two of the cunts in their own car — and in our own backyard, huh? If we don’t call it in, some other fuckers’ll claim it.”

“Let them. And then call a press conference and announce that ye have evidence that this was a deliberate attempt by the British military machine to blow up The Three Steps Inn.”

Dempsey let Maguire digest this.

“And what evidence would that be, Bear?”

“We have a Filipino workin’ for us. Wee fella but hard as nails — used to work for the Brits at Forkhill… overheard a lot of what was bein’ planned in the officers’ mess… so he did.”

Dempsey had conveniently omitted to mention that the reason that Apollo now worked for him was that he was responsible for the demise of five the of SAS and one junior cabinet minister. “He’s yer fuckin’ evidence. Put him on the platform. Mind, no one’ll be able te understand a word he says.”

“But why would they have blown themselves up planting the…?”

“… Cos they’re no less fuckin’ stupid than some of yon cunts who plant bombs for us!”

Maguire considered this. “Aye, remember Edentubber Mountain? We lost five good men there, blown up by their own hands.”

“Blown up by their own fuckin’ incompetence, more like.”

Maguire deliberated; there was little time to waste. A decision had to be made.

“Aye… okay, I see where you’re going with this, Bear. If it’s done with an interpreter and subtitles, it might just work. I’ll give it a go.”

“Oh, and one other thing…”

“What’s that?”

“We want the fuckin’ Steps re-build by Sunday as compensation.”

Maquire laughed.

“It’ll not be this Sunday Bear, but we’ll push for it. Imagine the Brits havin’ to compensate McCrumm for blowin’ up the bar where our military strategy and most of our operations are planned?” He laughed again. “That’d be like us having to re-build the Europa every month!”

“Aye, the fuckin’ Hardboard Hotel!”




The next morning, Dempsey summoned a meeting of his senior council.

He also instructed Farrell and Apollo to attend.

“Right,” he said when everyone had lit up and settled down. “We’re met here today te swear these two in.” A short ceremony followed, in which, first Farrell, then Apollo, took the IRA’s Oath of Allegiance. Farrell’s ceremony took significantly less time than Apollo’s as the Filipino insisted on having each sentence explained to him, which only confused the matter further. Eventually, Dempsey, who was beginning to regret the idea, accepted that it would be sufficient for Apollo to hold up a copy of the oath with his left hand, hold the Bible with his right, and say: “I do.”

The main reason for Apollo’s participation in the ceremony was perfunctory: if he was going to be put on a public platform, he would, to keep everyone happy, need to be a Green Book-carrying sworn-in volunteer.

Ceremony complete, Dempsey cracked open a bottle of Hirondelle wine he had been saving for such an occasion, and proposed a toast: “Raise yer glasses to Billy boy – a boy no longer — to mark the occasion of his first successful mission. May there be many more of ‘em ‘til the Brits fuck away off home from these shores!”

He walked over to a small chalkboard wall chart which was divided into two columns: on the left-hand side, under the heading: “COWBOYS” was the number, 49. On the right, under the heading: “INDIANS” was the numeral, 2. Dempsey picked up a duster and a piece of chalk from the tray and wiped away the number 49, replacing it with the number, 51.

“How come we’re the Indians?” asked Farrell.

“Good, question, Billy boy, good question,” replied Dempsey. “Few years ago, this squaddie decided te sell his story to the press when he quit. He said that the Brits was the cowboys livin’ in the forts and we was the Indians running around in the hills. Said they were in our killin’ ground and we was scorin’ left, right and fuckin’ centre. Best publicity we ever had.” Dempsey paused and topped up Farrell’ drink. “Only thing is though, until Apollo came along, we hadn’t fuckin’ scalped any of ‘em yet.”

Farrell sipped the sweet tepid liquid and basked in the warm respect of his comrades. Each acknowledged his initiation with a hug and a slap on the back. He felt indifferent to the fact that he had ended the lives of two men, probably not much older than himself. This was the start of the justice he craved for Owen.

This was just another phase of a war that had being going on almost forever. It was, after all, his country, whatever his religion. His actions, and the actions of his fellow volunteers were legitimate. This was the only way they could fight an enemy of the magnitude of the one that had occupied their homeland. And the fact that he was hooked on the adrenalin, he considered, was neither here nor there.

He glanced at Dempsey’s crude but informative scoreboard and wondered how long it would take him to move the COWBOY column into three figures.















THIRTEEN: The Match, the Girl and the Potcheen



Sunday 2nd August, 1978


Sunday was glorious.

Farrell and Apollo had managed to obtain timber and netting and replace the vandalised goalposts.

There was a huge crowd at the match and Dempsey was delighted, both with the goal posts and the result: Crossmaglen won by a point, the margin being 4 goals and 9 points to Forkhill’s 20 points. Farrell had an outstanding game, keeping a clean sheet in goal.

As the post-match festivities scheduled for The Three Steps had been cancelled due to Friday night’s activities, Dempsey had decided to host the party back at his farm complex. Apollo was put in charge of the barbecue. An oil drum cut in half, filled with charcoal and covered with part of the wire mesh that had been procured from the shell of the Steps.

“Mind there’s no blood on that, will ya?” Dempsey warned him, “I don’t want my steak tastin’ of them fuckin’ Brits.”

Micksey, whose long sinewy frame, greasy shoulder-length hair and droopy moustache contributed to the rock impresario image that had served him well with some of the less discerning local females, was put in charge of the disco.

Food and speeches complete, most settled down to the serious business of getting totally wrecked. Dempsey, who seldom drank to excess, disappeared into the bungalow and re-emerged with an armful of vinyl, which he handed to Micksey.

“Here, put these on. I’ve had enough of that shite yer playin.’”

“Shite? Jeasus, that’s Rory Gallagher, Bear. He’s fuckin’ one of us,” replied Micksey, wistfully. “Met him once, ye know? In Cork, two years ago, Metropole Hotel. Drank a crate of Smithwicks together, discussin’ whether Ritchie McCracken or Gerry McAvoy was the best bassist he’s played with. Turned out it was neither, it was Eric Kitteringham — whoever the fuck he is.”

“Micksey, if I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it fuckin’ twenty times. Now put some proper music on before I dunt ya.”

Mickey studied the LPs.

“Slade? For fuck sake! They’re fuckin’ Brits. No way I’m playin them — rather play the fuckin’… Crapenters!”

“They’re not proper Brits, Micksey — see, they’re from Birmingham — and they’re called Brummies. There’s more discrimination against them cunts by the Brits than there is against the fuckin’ Blacks or the Pakis — or us even. They’re sometimes referred to as ‘The Niggers of Europe’. So they’re jus like us — a fuckin’ marginalised minority shafted by those Imperialistic fascist cunts.”

“So why the fuck did we bomb New Street then, Bear?”

Dempsey looked around to check that there was no one else within earshot.

“I’ll tell ye somethin’ Micksey, but don’t tell no one else, mind. That was nothin’ te do wi’ us. We claimed it all right, but we didn’t do it. Ye know who did it?” Dempsey paused. “It was the fuckin’ Brits themselves… MI6… and ya know why?”

More intelligent creatures than McVeigh — and there were quite a few of those — would have had difficulty comprehending why the British would have wanted to blow up one of their city centres, killing 21 and injuring 162.

“’Cos Special Branch knew what “The Six” had already got up til on the mainland, but they couldn’t fuckin’ pin it on them. And not only that, Micksey, they knew what they were plannin’ te do in London. So they pulled them off the boat at Heysham and planted the evidence… so they did. Then they took them to Morcambe, beat the shite outta them and fitted them up with the Griess test. Them bombs was meant to be discovered long before they went off — fact is they were discovered by a Brummie peeler MI6 had tipped off, but Special Branch couldn’t understand a word the fucker said… thought it was some fuckin’ simpleton havin’ a laugh.” Dempsey paused, and sipped his Cinzano. “See… thing is Micksey… we’d never have bombed Birmingham… Coventry maybe, but Birmingham? Jeasus no!” The two stood in silence. “Now, are ye gonne put Noddy on or do I have te do it me fuckin’ self?”

Reluctantly Micksey dropped the stylus onto the first track of Slade in Flame, and Noddy Holder launched enthusiastically into How Does it Feel?

McVeigh lit a cigarette, reflecting on what Bear had just told him.

“Fuck me, Bear, I never knew that!”

“No one does, Micksey, no one does. Now keep it ‘til yerself, mind.”

“What were they plannin’ te do in London? Blow up Westminster?”

“Worse than that, Micksey. They were gonne hit the Hammersmith Apollo — Cliff Richard was playin’ there. Plan was to kidnap him and hold him hostage.”

“Jeasus! Fuckin’ shame that.”

“Ach, I know. British government would have folded on that one. Either that or the fucker would have had a bullet in the head. Either way, everyone would have been a winner. Anyway…” Dempsey was anxious to dispel the sombre mood that his history lesson had caused. “… the thing about Brummies is no one can understand what the fuck they’re talking about — bit like Apollo. Ye know what a kipper tie is Micksey?”

“Aye, like the one I wear out to Mass? What the fuck’s that got to do with Brummies?”

“Well… it’s what they call a CUP OF TEA.” Bear spoke the words as if giving an elocution lesson. “KIPPER FUCKIN TIE, eh? Get it, Micksey?” He laughed loudly.

Micksey’s brain worked overtime.

“Ye want to know what I think, Bear?”

Dempsey didn’t particularly, but he didn’t want to spoil Micksey’s day by telling him.

“I think the only reason ye like the fuckin’ Brummies is ‘cos them cunts make us eejits sound intelligent.”




Farrell was too tired to feel like reveling.

The events of the last forty-eight hours had denied him much sleep, and were now talking a toll. He took a bottle of Jack Daniels from the improvised bar at the rear of a sheep transporter, and sat down on a grassy bank some distance from the party, as far as possible away from the sound of Slade, looking up at the clear night sky.

No sooner had his head touched the grass than he felt the urgent need to pee.

As he emerged from the toilet outside his room, he was aware that there was someone else in the bungalow. There was a thump as a sash window slammed shut in the kitchen followed by a muffled yelp.

The light had faded by now, and with everyone outside, the bungalow was in darkness. He was abruptly aware that the compound was totally unguarded on the south side and, with the party in full swing; this would be a prime opportunity for the SAS to commence leveling up the scoreboard.

He pulled out the Browning 9mm pistol that Dempsey insisted they carry at all times. His eyes soon adjusted to the darkness, and he noticed there was a light on in the kitchen, filtering through the ill-fitting frame. Silently he approached the door, and released the safety on his pistol. He stopped, two yards from the kitchen and listened intently, his heart beating fast. Whoever had slammed the window shut didn’t know that the sash was broken and that, on these long hot summer nights, it was held open by a wooden baton. And if they didn’t know that, they had no business being in Dempsey’s kitchen.

Farrell kicked open the door so violently that it swung back on his shoulder. He scanned the room — nothing. It was empty. Mindful that he was clearly visible from the outside, he doused the strip light, plunging the room into darkness. Whoever had been in the kitchen must now be on the outside. He retraced his steps silently down the corridor, exiting the building and followed the contours of the bungalow until he rounded the gable wall, which gave him a clear view of the land south of the kitchen.

Twenty metres from where he stood, he could make out a shadowy figure, motionless in a relaxed pose with legs crossed and one arm folded over the other. The outline oozed confidence, arrogance almost. Suddenly there was a sharp crack, followed by a light; Farrell realised, just in time, that the shadow he had stalked was lighting a cigarette.

“Want one?” It was a woman’s voice.

Farrell lowered the gun and replaced the safety, the adrenalin draining away.

“How did you know I was here?” he asked.

“Stealth isn’t your strong point, Billy boy, is it?” She laughed. “When you’ve been around Uncle Tom as long as I have, you learn to be aware of who’s stalking you.”

“I wasn’t… er… stalking ya… well, not as such. I heard a noise from the kitchen — the sash window — anyone who knows the bungalow knows about that.”

There was silence.

“D’you want a cigarette or not?”

Farrell walked slowly towards her. His eyes had adjusted to the gloom and by the light of the moon he could see that she was beautiful. He took a cigarette and cupped her hands as she flicked the flint wheel of the metal lighter.

“Maybe I wanted you to stalk me.” He caught her smile in the flicker of the lighter.

“Why would ya do that?”

“You’re good, Billy boy… and funny.” She laughed softly, flirtatiously. “Here, I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Ellen… Ellen Dempsey. The Bear’s my uncle” She offered a hand formally. Farrell took it awkwardly.

“What’re ya doing here?” he asked.

“Having a fag. If Uncle Tom knew I smoked, he’d bloody kill me!”

“No, I mean… here, at the farm. I didn’t see ya today. I mean, I’d have remembered if I had.”

“I saw you, though… at the football. You were in goal, you played well.” She took a long pull from her cigarette and exhaled elegantly. “Hey, I heard about the goal posts…”

“… Who told ya? That’s supposed to be classified.”

“Oh it’s classified all right. I’ve classified it as bloody hilarious.” She laughed.

“ELLEN!” It was Dempsey’s voice booming from the front of the bungalow.

“Oh Christ… I’ve got to go!” She stubbed her cigarette out, flicked the kitchen window open with a knife, and in an instant had vaulted athletically back inside the building.

“Could I… I mean, can I…?”

“… See me again?” She leant out of the open window, in which she had dexterously replaced the baton. “Of course. Tomorrow night, meet me by the playing field at seven. Oh — bring some booze… and don’t be late!”


















FOURTEEN: One Version of the Past


Friday 28th February, 1981. 8.45pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland.


Ellen slewed the big car around a right-hand bend that was tighter than she’d thought.

She eased her foot back on the accelerator reluctantly; she wanted to get home; longed to get this over and done with, and be gone.

She was used to big cars… big American cars. But they were cars that had power steering and heaters that worked well enough to penetrate the chill of a Connecticut winter. It had been cold enough to freeze the nose off your face when she’d picked up the Maxi hire car from Aldergrove.

Unusual this, for Ulster in December. Normal service was mild and wet which suited her fine. She’d had enough cold in New England. It was colder still now, here in the depths of Ulster.

She took one hand from the wheel and held it to the vent that warmed the car as effectively as the dying breath of an asthmatic octogenarian.

She’d taken the back roads from Newry through Camlough and Lislea.

Although the Brits didn’t venture out by road any more, some of the braver or stupider peelers did — the undercover maverick ones. Cunts, she thought, like the Bessboro Support Group, out to make a name for themselves. Christ, how could anybody take them seriously? They sounded more like a refuge for battered wives than an undercover RUC unit.

False id or not, the blond wig mightn’t have fooled anyone with greater intelligence than the dullards on airport security or the bored Special Branch suits who stood behind the wooden lecterns like bookends.

Ellen glanced in the mirror again. Her eyes were drawn to the lights of a car some way behind.

She kept the Maxi at a steady 40 for a moment then let the needle drop to 30.

The car behind her kept its distance. She cursed again; these were pros, and she was their mark. She had been sure that she hadn’t been followed since Newry — even doubled back a couple of times to cover her tracks before taking the isolated country roads. She knew she’d been taking a calculated risk, coming back here, but it was a risk she’d considered worthwhile.

She slammed her foot savagely on the throttle and the Maxi picked up speed.

The car behind closed the distance between them.

It was gone nine, the dashboard clock told her. There were no pubs to go to around here, none that hadn’t been blown or boarded up. This was self-imposed curfew country so anyone out on a night like this, even the Friday before Christmas, must be either stupid or up to no good.

Ellen’s mind was racing. Maybe the Special Branch wooden-tops at the airport had made her and tipped off the FRU, the clandestine wing of MI5 that even the Home Secretary didn’t know about. Or perhaps they were dissidents who knew what she did for a living.

And then there was Uncle Tom. He had almost as many republican enemies as Brits that he’d sent to the graveyard, mainly due to his entrepreneurial enterprises.

Perhaps they could just be plain hill-billys out for a laugh, joy riders high on drugs looking for a soft hit for their next fix. Or it may just be someone going home following her tail-lights on an icy winter’s night.

Ellen shuddered and withdrew the Glock from the holdall on the passenger seat, releasing the safety.

Clouds parted and the moon lit up the frozen countryside. Foreboding lumps of granite rose on either side of the road: Aughhandulf Upper Mountain to her right and Mullaghbawn Mountain to the left. Mountains named to sound grander than their stature, guarding the secrets they held of the disappeared. Nameless corpses buried in their shadows. This was the back yard of terrorism, the Provo proving ground and killing ground.

This was Bandit Country.

Beyond Silverbridge is Ford’s Cross, an ideal place for an ambush, Ellen thought. As if this needed confirmation, above the road-sign was a red-framed triangle announcing: ‘Sniper at Work’.

She knew these roads. Beyond the crossroads the lane fell away to the south, sloping steeply down to Creggan and then to Crossmaglen. High banks on either side made it resemble a culvert. An old cattle foot-bridge linked fields on either side that could be reached by crudely hewn steps which led up the escarpment.

She was nearly at the crossroads.

The car behind was less than fifty yards away.

Ellen glanced in the mirror. Two men up front, the passenger held a gun.

The car had closed to twenty yards. The gunman held the weapon outside the window, taking aim.

The first bullet shattered the rear window, missing her head by an inch and exiting through the windscreen. Ellen was at the crossroads.

Ten yards between them.

This was her only chance. She floored the throttle and shot across the junction. The car behind slowed momentarily, unaware that this was a three-car a day crossroads.

Ahead of her, she glimpsed a van blocking the road beyond the footbridge. Three men stood beside it holding automatic rifles. Her brain registered that one of them was very tall, and one was very short.

The second bullet passed through the rear window, embedding itself it the roof, underlining that what was in front of her was not a priority right now. Then eighty yards from the footbridge, she slammed on the brakes.

They bit at first, washing off most of her speed. But the Maxi didn’t stop. It was picking up speed, heading towards the rock wall of the culvert.

Fuck — must have hit ice, she thought.

A burst of automatic fire came from the gunmen in front of her shattering the windscreen of the car in pursuit. She could see that the small guy wore a red jacket, horn-rimmed glasses and something resembling a Japanese kamikaze pilot’s helmet. She breathed a sigh of relief as she realised that it was Apollo. The tall man must be Micksey and the other was The Mortician — Uncle Tom’s closest and most loyal men. Thank fuck.

The car behind braked sharply. Tyres screeched, then it was gone, taillights fading west towards Forkhill. SAS — she thought — as she focused on somehow regaining control of the Maxi. She managed to steer into the skid that at least kept the rock wall at bay.

Then everything seemed to happen in slow motion.

There was something large and dark crossing the bridge.

The road sloped away abruptly. She braced herself, knowing that she was destined to hit either the culvert wall or the van.

She pumped the brakes again. Still nothing happened.

Another burst of automatic fire came from the gunmen ahead of her. All three were pumping bullets into the night sky from semi-automatic rifles, waving manically like fucking third world revolutionaries.

This is wrong. Shit, this is very wrong, she thought, half expecting to awake and find it was a bad dream.

The large dark object on the small footbridge became a seething mass. Ellen realised they were cows, probably Uncle Tom’s Frisians.

Suddenly there was a sea of the things jostling for space on the narrow bridge, backing up onto the beast in front, stampeded by gunfire amplified by the culvert walls.

And then, as she was almost beneath the bridge, the car turned sideways. The crack of ruptured timber, something falling from the bridge and a dull thump as she slid into a solid mass and stopped moving.

Ellen sat very still, heart pounding. Silence. Relief like she had never felt it before.

“Thank Christ… oh fuck… thank Christ,” she moaned, forcing herself to breathe deeply and expel slow, deep breaths as Uncle Tom had taught her.

Blocking the passenger door, and arresting the Maxi’s sideways progress, lay half a ton of motionless Friesian.

“Christ I need a cigarette,” she sobbed and reached for her handbag.

Her hand never made it.

The second Friesian struck the Maxi’s A frame with a force that pinned Ellen pinned to the seat, crushed and barely able to breathe.

The rear of the car shot upwards like a trebuchet, catapulting her suitcase on the rear seat out of the back window to land in the road twenty yards away.

As the last of the stampeding cattle cleared the bridge and thundered across the moonlit field, there was utter silence, except for Ellen’s moans, as her life ebbed away.




She wasn’t going to die here. No fucking way.

There wasn’t any dignity in it, let alone glamour, pinned to the seat of a rental Maxi by a dead cow.

It had been the glitz and glamour that had drawn her in and this certainly wasn’t how she was going out.

Gunned down by the SAS in a fire-fight maybe. Shot by MI6 while attempting to mortar bomb the PM. Even a lucky bullet from some UVF wanker. But not this. No way.

But that didn’t stop the retrospection of life flashing in front of her. She’d always been a bright girl, not wildly academic, but quick-witted and intelligent. Like most teenagers, she’d had an answer for everything. Uncle Tom had tried to steer her down the politico route saying that Ireland would need good negotiators when this was all over and the tricolour flew in all of Ireland’s thirty-two counties.

But Ellen was bright enough to know that this would never happen, and anyway — she said — you had to be dead ugly to get anywhere in Irish politics. Just take a look at Bernadette McCrumb.

The compromise was to send her to America where, as an eighteen year-old, she impressed both the elders of Noraid and the Irish-American sympathisers with her charm, dazzling good looks and fashion sense. The funding was doubled within a year.

Despite the cold, she loved the winters in Massachusetts, but loved the summers in Martha’s Vineyard more, and the trips to New York and DC were just the best. She was treated like a celebrity and she knew how to milk it, totally at ease with movie stars and the politicians on the Hill.

She stayed on the right side of discreet and hinted at, rather than boasted about involvement in paramilitary activities and the paparazzi loved her. In the spring of 1977, when she was 20, she met Spielberg at a Manhattan cocktail party and was offered a small part in a movie with Liam Neeson. Ireland is sexy — he’d said — terrorism is cool, everybody wants a piece of it. The fact that she had never acted put no one off. She could do anything, and everything lay before her. In the end, like so many cocktail party schemes, it came to nothing.

And then that summer of ‘78, visiting Uncle Tom, she met Farrell. Dear, sweet Farrell, three years her junior and a brooding, smouldering powder-keg of everything that the Provos had been looking for. Intelligent, emotionally detached, loyal but with no sectarian agenda — just a doer. He was a blend of charisma and machismo. He was the perfect killing machine.

Handsome, witty and charming and she fell in love with him.

Much to her surprise, Uncle Tom had been brilliant when he’d found out about their relationship. She’d thought he’d go spare when he found out she was going with a Proddie, but he hadn’t. In fact, she’d thought, the way he dealt with it was almost as if somehow he’d been through this scenario before.

Ellen had flown back to America within two months of Farrell’s return to Port Royal and had resumed her work with Noraid and the lifestyle she loved.

She desperately missed him and they wrote and talked on the telephone regularly, but their time together became less and less as their divergent paths seemed to cross less frequently.

And then she’d had the phone call, two weeks before Christmas.




Ellen was aware of people moving outside the Maxi.

“Can you hear us, Ellen?” she recognised the voice. It was Micksey. They must have come back for her. She had no idea how long she’d been trapped for; it could have been hours or just minutes.

She tried to talk but could only grunt.

“Don’t ye worry love, we’re gonne get ya outta there.” She smelled the sweet smell of tobacco and longed for a drag.

“Is Okay, sweetheart… is okay — we just move fuck cow off car and then we have nice barbecue later, huh?” It was Apollo.

Her breathing was short and shallow now, despite her efforts to keep her lungs expanding, and her chest hurt like hell. Before she passed out, she saw the cow being levered from the bonnet and felt the rear wheels of the car bang down on the frozen road.



Ellen came round in a room that seemed curiously familiar.

She had a plastic mask over her face and a drip in her arm, but it didn’t seem like a hospital room.

There were pictures on the walls of the Pope and Mother Theresa and someone playing Gaelic Football. Three chairs were arranged by her bed, and she thought it curious that no one occupied them at the moment that she awoke. She supposed that meant that she must have been out for ages. She had no recollection of the accident or of how she’d got here, and she found it annoying that there was no one here to tell her what had happened.

As her brain slowly to re-boot, she realised that this was Uncle Tom’s bungalow. It was the room she had stayed in four summers ago.

Then she was aware of someone entering the room.

She could hear muffled voices, so there were at least two of them. She felt nothing. She tried to move but couldn’t.

She focused very hard and found she could make out certain words from the muted conversation. It was Uncle Tom who spoke.

“We’ve got te move her Micksey… she needs a proper fuckin’ hospital. Got te get her to Dundalk… ”

She strained but couldn’t make out Micksey’s response.

“… Aye, Micksey, I hear ye… I don’t want te move her either. But we can’t risk leavin’ her here with Doc Twomey. That drunken eejit’s about as reliable as one or yer fuckin’ mortars… ”

The two men fell silent. Ellen sensed them moving closer to her bed.

“Ellen, can ye hear me love?” It was Dempsey. “We’re gonne have te move ye… get ye across the border te a decent hospital.” There was a long pause. “Can ye hear me, love? If ye can, lift a wee finger for me?”

Ellen strained with all her might to move something… anything, but nothing responded. This was what real fear was, she thought, being totally helpless, trapped in the unresponsive shell of a fractured body.

And to add to her fear, she was being moved to Dundalk hospital. That meant only one thing: they didn’t expect her to live. Badly injured volunteers were often taken to a hospital in the republic if there was a significant chance that their injuries may prove fatal. It was easier to remove the body before an autopsy, and death in the North precipitated a hoard of Special Branch agents swarming over the cadaver, collecting prints and swabs.

Micksey spoke.

“What the fuck was she doin’ here, anyway Bear? She’s supposed to be in America, isn’t she?”

“I don’t know Micksey… I just don’t know.” He paused and Ellen heard him strike a match and smelt the sweet smell of tobacco as he exhaled. At least that sense hadn’t gone. “Did she say anythin’, Micksey, when she was conscious?”

“She was mutterin’ something about havin’ to see ye, Bear, when we pulled her from the car. Something about ye only havin’ weeks te live.”

Dempsey snorted, smoke jetting from his nose like a factory chimney.

“So now she’s a fuckin’ fortune teller? Better give these bloody things up then,” he said, savagely stubbing the cigarette out on the ashtray by Ellen’s bed. “Mind ye, I’ve never felt better meself, but who knows? Right… there’s nothing more we can do for her, Micksey. She’s comfortable here. We’d better go and fetch Doc Twomey. The old fucker’s not answering his phone… probably comatose by now.”

They left the room, the last to leave closing the door softly, leaving her with a sensation of loneliness she had never experienced before.

It was coming back to her now. The phone call two weeks ago. She could recall it word for word. She’d been in New York for a meeting with the actor Mickey Rourke, a staunch republican sympathiser, when the phone rang in her hotel room.


“Who’s this?” she’d vaguely recognised the accent, Irish — a blend of west Belfast and narcissistic self-betterment; someone wanting to lose their roots.


It had sounded like McGuinn right enough, but she couldn’t be sure. It wasn’t a great line and the transatlantic delay didn’t make it any easier. And so she asked for the code word.

“Ok McGuinn… where do you take your wheel-barrow if it has a squeaky wheel?”

“To McElroy’s, of course,” he replied, without a second’s hesitation.


“Ask yer mother. She’ll know.”

“What do you want with me?” Ellen asked, satisfied that he had given the correct responses. She’d never liked McGuinn. You had to be ruthless to survive in this game but he was one of the most evil bastards she’d ever met. He’d made a play for her not long after she’d started seeing Farrell. When she snubbed him, he told her that someday she’d come to regret it. The way he’d said it sent a chill down her spine. She’d imagined she could feel it then, down the phone as he spoke. If this wasn’t McGuinn, it was someone who knew him very well.

“Your uncle’s ill, Ellen, very ill. Cancer, he’s got it bad. He’s only got weeks to live… so he has… two at most, Doc Twomey says.”

Ellen felt numb. Her eyes filled up for the first time since she’d been a little girl. Cradling the telephone on her chest, she’d looked out of the window towards Central Park from her fifteenth floor hotel room, wishing that the voice would go away. She returned the receiver to her ear.

“He wants te see ya, Ellen.”

“Why does he want to see me?”

“Ach, he just does Ellen, he wants te see everybody, so he does… ” McGuinn paused. Something in his manner struck Ellen that his answer lacked substance… that she’s caught him off guard. “He asked me to ring ya Ellen. He wants to see ye, one last time. Can ye come over?”

Ellen’s world had gone into turmoil. Her uncle was someone that you just couldn’t see dying, no matter that he was Ireland’s most feared terrorist. And cancer, surely that was for old, weak people?

“Can ye come over, Ellen? It would mean a lot to the Bear… so it would.”

She knew it was never in doubt but she hesitated, sensing that something wasn’t quite what it should be.

“Aye,” she replied, “okay… okay, I’ll book a flight. I’ll have to go to the agency tomorrow — I’ve no idea when they go… I’ll look into it.”

“Good, Ellen… good,” said McGuinn. “There’s no need — I’ve already booked ye on a flight the day after tomorrow from JFK. Just transfer to terminal one at Heathrow and get a flight to Aldergrove. The tickets’ll be with ye tomorrow.” He paused, she’d imagined she could hear him breathing heavily and for a second had a vision of his Brillo Pad red hair, straggly beard and slate grey eyes, dead like a shark’s. “Oh, and there’ll be a voucher for a hire car for ye at the airport. Go to the Hertz desk at arrivals and they’ll give ye a nice new Maxi.”

With that the phone had clicked dead.

No, there had been something not quite right about it, she reflected. Uncle Tom would never have begged her to be at his deathbed. In fact, if he’d been that ill, the last thing he would have wanted to do would have been to share his weakness with her. Her instincts had told her it was wrong… all wrong, but she’d come anyway. If Uncle Tom were really dying, she’d kick herself. Although she’d never admit it, what swung it was the chance to see Farrell, to hold him again, even for a few short days.

Of course it had been a trap; they’d been compromised. Someone, probably the RUC Special Branch, or maybe it was the FRU, the MI5 Secret Intelligence Service unit that operated out of the house at Laneside on the shores of Belfast Lough. Some of those cunts had set her up.

And she’d walked right into it.

Unless, of course, McGuinn had been turned?

The Mortician? Fuck! Surely not — he was Dempsey’s right-hand man and second-in-command of the IRA Northern Division. But who could you trust, these days?

Christ, she thought, how had she been so bloody stupid as to fall for it?

A voice broke her reverie.

“She doesn’t look too good, Bear,” Micksey said. “D’you think she’s going to make it?”

“I don’t know, Micksey,” there was a tremble in her uncle’s voice that she’d never heard before. She knew he was having difficulty controlling his emotions. “I just don’t know.”

And with that, Ellen was denied any further speculation, as her kidneys, crushed in the trauma, became nephrotoxic and she slipped out of this life.


















FIFTEEN: The Quest, Trans-temporal Spatial Relocation, and the Importance of Guinness



1.10pm, Friday 20th September 2019


Farrell read the document in silence.

He put down the paper and drained his pint.

“What the fuck is that all about?”

“That, Billy boy,” Dibble replied, taking a large glug of Chateau Perron Lalande de Pomerol, “is a Belfast Telegraph feature that nearly slipped through the net yesterday. We were lucky enough to intercept and pull it.”

“How? Surely even you can’t tamper with the Thirty Year Rule and FOI?”

“Don’ be naïve Billy; the Official Secrets Act easily out-trumps Freedom of Information. Anyway — just for the record — there are legal grounds for keeping records closed if an FOI exemption applies to the National Archives, and in this case, it most certainly does.” Dibble paused and took another sip of wine. “But we were lucky, mind. The unit tasked to monitor the press almost got sidetracked by the Shale gas story, which is kind of ironic in a way I’ll explain in a minute.” Dibble picked up the document and waved it in front of Farrell, Neville Chamberlain style. “This nearly slipped through beneath the radar.”

“Aye… I’ll grant ye it’s a wee bit unusual, but even so… even if this did happen, I don’t see why it can’t be in the public domain. And surely the public has a right to know?”

“Billy… Billy… Billy…” Dibble shook his head patronisingly. “FOI only releases information that is ‘in the public interest.’ Note, if you will, not information that is ‘of interest to the public.’ God knows where we would all be if that was the case. You certainly wouldn’t be sitting here for one thing.’

“Aye, but the point is that nothing happened. All this, is just conjecture and proposal… piss and wind.” Farrell picked up his pint glass and gestured to the waiter for a re-fill.

“Well, that’s the strange bit… the bit you’re going to have difficulty getting your head around. To be honest, I had a wee bit of a problem with it myself. Because it did happen… and you’re going to make it happen.” Dibble picked up the paper and handed it to Farrell. “Now, read it again Billy, strip away the stuff that doesn’t matter, and in the light of today’s news, you tell me what the important bit is.”

Farrell picked up the document and began to re-read it:

Extraordinary plans to redraw the Irish Border — which included handing over West Belfast to the Republic — were seriously considered by British officials in the 1980s, according to previously classified state papers released today.

The radical proposals — which reached the desk of Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — also suggested ceding most of Derry City to the Republic.

A briefing paper prepared by officials at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), based on a new partition plan put forward by an academic, suggested slicing Northern Ireland in half and cutting its population by 500,000.

 It also mentioned establishing a “walled ghetto” in West Belfast.

 However, officials later noted that while moving half a million people — mostly Catholics — might be acceptable for a totalitarian regime, human rights arguments would be an obstacle.

Other incentives, such as loyalty tests for benefits and large-scale internment “should drive out large numbers”, they speculated.

The plans, which also discussed compensating unionists in areas ceded to the Republic, received serious consideration from Prime Minister Thatcher.

 The proposals are contained in UK government files from 1989, released today under the 30-year rule.

 Officials revisited the border question in response to research by Paul Compton, an academic from Queen’s University Belfast.

 His ‘most respected analysis’ is discussed in a secret paper prepared by the Northern Ireland Office. A copy was sent to Mrs Thatcher and included in one of the files is heavily underlined, suggesting that she considered it in detail.

 Dr Compton had described the partition of 1920 as ‘necessary and justified’ but ‘flawed by the messy way in which it was executed’.

 He suggested three options for repartition, including one that would cede over half of the geographical area of Northern Ireland to the Republic, reducing its population to one million, 73.5 per cent of which would be Protestant.

 A more modest version, ceding parts of Fermanagh, south Armagh and most of Derry City, was also proposed.

 The Catholic population would have been cut by 105,000 to around 460,000, while transferring only 30,000 Protestants to the Republic.

In addition to Dr Compton’s proposals, UK state papers released by the National Archives in London from 1981 revealed that talks were held at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast, on 28th February, 1981 between Prime Minister Thatcher and the Irish Taoiseach, Charles Haughey.

Mr Haughey, during the discussion of the proposals outlined above, went a step further and proposed ceding a strip of Irish territory — up to ten miles wide in certain areas — to the UK to ‘tidy up’ the border and create a ‘buffer zone’ allowing access for British Special Services in hot pursuit of terrorists seeking safe haven in the Republic.

Mrs Thatcher responded by calling Mr Haughey’s proposals ‘absurd’ and, in a leaked private memo to Secretary of State Mr Humphrey Atkins, referred to the Taoiseach as ‘a stupid little man lacking both guile and class… the worst possible type of Irishman.’

The briefing paper on Dr Compton’s suggestions also referred to a possible partition of Belfast.

 NIO officials discussed creating ‘a wedge-shaped area in west Belfast’ running from Twinbrook to the Divis Flats, including areas such as Poleglass, Andersonstown and the Lower Falls.

 The briefing paper discusses ‘difficulties over the Belfast sector’, adding that one solution, ‘a walled ghetto… would entail physical as well as political difficulties’.

 It adds: ‘Policing international boundaries across Belfast and any corridor between republican Belfast and the Border would be a formidable task.’


Farrell handed the document back to Dibble and laughed softly. Dibble had never heard him laugh before.

“Not sure I see anything funny about it Billy.”

“If Thatcher had agreed to the buffer zone, the shale gas find would be in the UK, instead of Eire”.


“Well… that’s just too bad isn’t it?” Farrell’s pint had arrived; he drained half of it. “’Cos unless you’ve discovered time travel, that’s where it’ll stay.”

Dibble took a deep breath and leant across the table, first looking around to see who might be capable of overhearing.

“I want you to listen to me very carefully, Billy. I mean really listen. I don’t want you to say a word ‘til I’ve told you everything.”

Farrell nodded.

“Ever heard of TSR?”

Farrell said nothing.

“Well have you?

“You told me not to say a word, didn’t ye?”

“Grow up Billy, for fuck’s sake. This is no time to be codding about,” Dibble drained his wine glass. “TSR stands for Trans-temporal Spatial Relocation.”

“Still none the wiser, Dibble.”

“Time travel.”

“Oh my God… and here’s me thinking the drink may be affecting my judgment.”

“Hear me out, Billy boy… hear me out.” The waiter who had been hovering in the background out of earshot topped up Dibble’s glass. “Time travel has been around for the last… well probably the past 40 years. Certainly that we know of. A mucker of yours discovered it, in fact, quite by accident: Micksey McVeigh; he inadvertently came across a chemical substance… a compound… call it what you like, when he was distilling his potcheen.”

“Hold on, Dibble, now you’re having a fucking laugh… Micksey invented time travel?” Diners seated at adjacent tables glanced at the pair in the library corner.

“Jeasus, keep your voice down, Billy!” Dibble smiled nervously at the couple nearest them who had resumed their own animated conversation. “Look, we don’t know how he did it, and there’s no way of asking him ‘cos he’s disappeared. Our best guess is that he’s marooned in another time zone and…”

“… I heard he was in Donegal breeding rare pigs,” interrupted Farrell.

“Ach, he was. But we know he tried one last jump, we think to get last Friday’s winning Euro Lottery numbers and he hasn’t come back. We’d been tracking him but the wormhole he was using is de-stabilising and we think he’s stuck somewhere in the past, maybe last Thursday, but he could be anywhere. And even if we knew where he is there’d be no way of getting him back.  We even tried asking Stephen Hawking, but he reckoned his chances of returning to the present are about one hundred trillion to one — if he was lucky… that’s classified, by the way. Thing is, Billy, we know the reachable time range is decreasing, and decreasing fast. Now it’s not possible to go back to a time before Janaury1981… which is where you come in.”

“Aye, but if he only went back a couple of days… and what do you mean where I come in?”

“I know… but you know Micksey, he probably put in the wrong date.”

“So… there’s a machine as well as this… potion?” Farrell finished his pint and looked at his glass thoughtfully. “I think I’d better give this stuff up. I can’t believe I’m still listening to this… this shit!”

“Look, Billy. I know this sounds a wee bit preposterous and I can’t blame you for being a tad cynical.”

“Bit more than a tad, Dibble.”

“When we’re done here we’ll go to Laneside and I’ll show you everything. Everything. Then if you agree to my proposal…”

“I’m not going back in time, Dibble, if that’s that yer angling at. No fucking way. Even, and I don’t believe I’m saying this… even if it is possible.”

“Even if you had a chance to save Ellen?”





SIXTEEN: Does Your Mother Know?


Friday 28th February, 1981. 10.14pm

The Dempsey Farm Complex


McGuinn sat at the end of the oak-topped table in Dempsey’s kitchen, smouldering like the Rayburn that seeped heat into the bungalow on a cold winter’s night, and lit a cigarette.

He tapped the box of Bo-Peep matches so violently on the table that the damp cardboard broke, showering him in safety matches.

“Fuck,” he said, sweeping them into the coalscuttle. “Fuck!” Why the fuck had those two dopey cunts insisted on coming with him? Any other fuckin’ Friday night, Micksey would have been off his face in O’Halloran’s, trying for a shag with some pissed-up short-sighted Newry whore. Either that, or fucking about with his potcheen distillery. And the Friday before Christmas too? Why the fuck wasn’t that wee Filipino fucker drinking rum in his room or gluing his fingers to his fuckin’ Mitsubishi Zero Airfix planes as he usually did?

And why had he been so stupid as to take the Transit? He should have taken Bear’s Escort… hidden the keys in case he’d wanted to use it… or even his fuckin’ pushbike. By the time he’d cranked the thing into life, every fuckin’ dog in the six counties wanted to know what the fuck he was up to, as well as those two cunts who’d come out, shooters pulled, spoiling for a fire-fight.

All he’d had to do was to be there, to head her off at the pass and make sure she’d nowhere to go. Hell, he didn’t even have to fire a shot; just stick on the balaclava and brandish a weapon. But one of those stupid cunts had assumed that he’d received a tip-off that there was going to be a hit on one of their own and they’d insisted on coming.

The cow had been a bonus, mind, but the wee girl wasn’t dead, and if she lived, how the fuck was he goin’ to explain the phone call to Dempsey? There was only one answer to that.

The phone in the hall rang, preventing further deliberation. McGuinn reluctantly got up to answer it. He’d a pretty good idea who it was, and this expectation did little to lighten his mood.

He picked up the receiver.

A voice at the other end spoke in a soft, cultured South Belfast accent:

“Is that the Dempsey residence?”

“Yes… it’s the fuckin’ Dempsey residence.”

There was a brief silence, then the caller said, “I’m sorry to have troubled you… I think I must have dialed a wrong number”.

“Ok… ok… sorry… ok…” McGuinn took a deep breath, calming himself, “I’ve had to get my wheel-barrow fixed…”

“… Why may that be, now?

“Because it’s got a squeaky fuckin’ wheel.”

“And where might you have had it repaired?”

“For fuck’s sake… at McElroy’s fucking scrapyard of course!”

A pause. McGuinn knew that a recording of his voice was being fed through a computer for analysis.

He lit a cigarette and waited, tapping his foot in agitation. He added as an afterthought: “…And yes, my mother fucking well knows!” There was silence on the line.

He thought he heard the creak of a floorboard down the hallway and tensed, listening hard. Nothing.

The caller spoke again: “Has Father Christmas left Lapland yet?”

McGuinn hesitated. He didn’t have a code for informing the caller that the hit had been a complete and utter fuck-up. And, while Father Christmas may well at some point depart Lapland through natural causes, this would not be rubber-stamped until he’d managed to put a pillow over her head. He had to buy some time.

“Father Christmas,” he replied, “has been dispatched.” Fuck this wanker, McGuinn thought, and added, “Now all we need is the three wise fuckin’ men.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t follow you. I wasn’t aware that there were three wise men in the despatch room.”

“Go fuck yerself Dibble,” replied McGuinn, replacing the receiver and attaching the silencer to his Glock as he slunk along the unlit hallway towards Ellen’s room.

As he nudged the door ajar with the barrel of his gun, he thought he heard a floorboard creak down the corridor. He froze, poised to spin and discharge his magazine into whoever was stalking him.


He entered the room and stood behind the half open door.

Five minutes passed and still nothing. Must have imagined it.

He approached Ellen’s bed where she lay so peacefully. Such a shame, he thought… such a shame. Why had she had to choose Farrell over him? He was not normally given to chasing skirt but there had certainly been something magnetic about Ellen. He’d been in love with her since the moment he’d first set eyes on her.

He felt her neck for a pulse and put his face close to hers checking for breath.         Nothing.

He kissed her lips softly, unscrewed his silencer and slipped out of her room.

He returned to the kitchen, and was about to park himself in the rocking chair that sat by the Rayburn when he noticed that it was no longer there.




















SEVENTEEN: Perfidious Albion and an enemy to be comfortable with



1.23pm, Friday 20th September 2019


Dibble’s burger arrived.

It was so rare it could practically walk off the plate. The sight of it made Farrell’s normally cast-iron constitution slightly queasy.

“Not hungry?” Asked Dibble, pushing a forkful of triple cooked chips into his mouth.

Farrell took a sip of Guinness and chewed a piece of sea bass thoughtfully.

“So, let me see if I’ve got this straight, Dibble. The cosmos is ticking along quite nicely apart from the odd war, natural disaster, bad fashion idea and the invention of the Internet until, hey presto, out of the blue, Micksey ‘accidentally’ invents time travel.”

“Aye, but look how many times a mistake or a deviation has set up a discovery that’s revolutionised the world. Serendipity. I mean, just look at penicillin, for example. Mind, I did say it was a wee bit far-fetched.”

“A wee bit far fetched? Did any of his rare pigs develop the ability to fly? ‘Cos if Micksey can invent time travel flying pigs should be a piece of piss? And as for leaving it until now for go back for winning lottery numbers, I’m sorry Dibble, I just don’t buy that. If I know Micksey he would would’ve disappeared up his own arse, let alone some ‘wormhole’, for any chance te top up his bank balance”.

“All right, Billy… all right, I made that bit up. Look, I sent Micksey to do a wee job for me and he did it on the wrong day, so I can only assume something’s gone wrong with his return vectors.”

“What ‘wee job’ might that be”?

Dibble shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“If you want something from me, Dibble — and I’m not saying I’m getting involved, mind — you’re gonne have to level with me.”

“I sent him back to 23rd April… this year… the day before the London Marathon, to prevent the bomb.”

“That’s very noble of ye… to save yer own arse, more like?” It was rare for Farrell to have the upper hand over Dibble and boy did it feel good. “And how exactly was he te do this.”

“He planted the Whitehall bomb and called in the code-sign. There, I’ve said it.” Dibble sighed as if he had just broken the Official Secrets Act — which he had — and sat back in his seat, hands behind his head. “But it was supposed to be the day before the Islamic State attack at the London Marathon, and he was supposed to contact Homeland Security to tell them that the Bryanair ‘bomb’ wasn’t a bomb. We couldn’t see that one coming, so this was the only way we could prevent it. That way, with all the publicity on an IRA attack on the capital, Islamic State would have called it off… it would have bought us some time. Whatever happened, it didn’t work.

“I see… so now Homeland Security’s protecting us by orchestrating IRA bombings. Fuck me… why would ye want te risk this whole thing kickin’ off again? I mean… there’s enough psychopathic lunatics out there callin’ themselves dissident republicans without addin’ you adding to the equation.” Farrell put down his fork, caught the waiter’s attention and gestured for more Guinness.

Dibble picked up the almost empty wine bottle, and examined the label. “This is very good, by the way… you want a glass?” Farrell shook his head. Wine was the last resort, when the Guinness couldn’t banish the demons from his head.

“Officially I’d agree with you, Billy. But unofficially… well let’s just say that it’s in our national interest, not just yours and mine, to have an identifiable enemy that we’re all comfortable with.” Dibble poured the last of the bottle as the waiter minced to their table with Farrell’s Guinness.

“You don’t do this in half bottles, do you?”

The waiter raised an eyebrow, and with a supercilious smile replied that they didn’t.

“By the glass?”

The waiter shook his head.

“Could be a long lunch.” Dibble verbalised his decisional balance. “Go on then… we’ll have another,” implicating Farrell in his excess. “We could all be dead tomorrow.”

“An enemy we’re comfortable with?” Farrell asked when the waiter had left.

Dibble put down his cutlery and leaned back on the divan, reclining further than he’d expected. For a moment Farrell thought he was going to crash through the bookshelves.

“Y’see, if there’s one thing I’ve learned since I took over at Homeland Security, it’s that Islamic State, or ISIS, DAESH, ISIL or whatever the BBC’s calling them this month, operate to very predictable behavioral patterns. The US Embassy bombings… Bali… 9/11… 7/7… Pairs… Nice… the London Marathon — you name it — any time Islamic State’s struck gold, we’re known it was coming yet we were powerless to stop it. The CIA knew that something was going to go down before 911, just as we knew there’d be attacks on the capital. But we couldn’t prevent it even though we devoted the entire might of our security forces to stopping it.”

Dibble sat forward, elbows on the table, steepling his fingers as he warmed to his theme. “Just think about it: how much of a threat was Islamic State in ’96 when you lot mounted your campaign on the mainland?

“My lot?”

“Come on Billy boy, let’s not kid ourselves.” Dibble paused. He stared at Farrell as he waiter uncorked his second bottle of Bordeaux asking, rather sarcastically, if he should leave it to breathe. “Just pour.”

“Pompous prick,” Dibble muttered at the waiter’s retreating back.

“Yea but that was different then. All that was before the Americans…”

“… The Yanks started fucking them off? The Americans have always fucked off the Arab world, Billy — always — even when they were arming the Mujahedeen against the Ruskies.” Dibble topped up his glass. “Great this… sure you won’t have some?”

Farrell shook his head.

“Believe you me, Billy boy… Islamic State need to have centre stage to operate global Jihad — they don’t like sharing a platform with anyone else; especially the IRA. No sirrree. And the idea that it’s a formal organisation in the literal sense is simply bollocks; that’s just an American invention. They’re individuals or small groups who operate independent of structural constraints; Islamic State is a lifestyle for losers, Billy, not a politically motivated structure. And with bin Laden out of the way a few years back, it had all calmed down and we actually thought we were winning the War on Terror until April 24th.”

Dibble paused, shaking his head, wincing at the memory.

“War on Terror? Did you ever hear such a stupid fucking name for a totally unachievable abstract military concept? A war on bad wine would make more sense.”

“What the fuck’s this got te do with Ireland?”

“It’s got everything to do with Ireland, Billy. Ever heard of ‘Perfidious Albion’?”

“Football team?”

“Jeasus Billy. Here’s me thinking you’re an educated man.”

“I did a proper degree, Dibble. In science. Not some wanky arts degree.”

Diddle let it go.

He didn’t feel the need to remind Farrell that he was still the only Campbell boy with an Oxford double first in Classics and Philosophy. Not bad for a wee skitter from the Upper Newtownards Road. Small price that his muckers down the street at Dundonald High never spoke to him again. Oh, he had an uncle who lived on the Malone Road, but he’d only been there once. Until he bought the Des Res in Bladon Drive, that is.

“Perfidious Albion, Billy would hand over the government of Northern Ireland to an unholy alliance of sectarian bigots, unrepentant former terrorists and petty criminals.”

“Aye… and you’d include me in that scumsack, no doubt?”

“Not at all. You and I are really on the same side. Neither of us trust the Brits. ‘L’Angleterre, ah, la perfide Angleterre, que le rempart de ses mers rendait inaccessible aux Romains, la foi du Sauveur y est abordée’.”

            “What the fuck are you talkin’ about?”

“Put simply, Billy, the English cannot be trusted to take over in Northern Ireland. James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State thinks it’s all over. Mr Perfidious Brokenshire is just the latest incarnation in a long line of his perfidious predecessors. He’s landed in a place he doesn’t care for, whose complexities he doesn’t appreciate and the full horror of whose recent past he doesn’t give a flying fuck about.”

“You’ve lost me.”

“It’s why the Provos need to be the number one terrorist threat, not a bunch of bored, unambitious narco trafficking has-beens. The Provos, mind, and not disaffected, psychotic wankers who call themselves ‘dissidents’ and every now and then blow some poor, luckless fucker to kingdom come on his trudge home from work. The Provos, y’see, are an identifiable threat that we, the British people, feel comfortable with, and that… let me tell you, has the effect of marginalizing the interests of Islamic State, destabilizing their ambitions for terrorist attacks on British soil.

“You’re fuckin’ insane, Dibble. I can’t believe I’m hearing this.”

“Hear me out, Billy boy. We know what the IRA wants and we know how they operate. They can justify their targets as ‘legitimate’, give code-signed warnings, and don’t blow themselves up — not intentionally anyway. And unlike Islamic State, they’re an organisation with achievable political goals… an organisation mind, not a collection of dysfunctional fundamentalist nutters queuing up to meet Allah. And, for relics of the Troubles with the right skills sets currently sitting on their arses claiming Jobseekers Allowance, we’re offering great remunerative packages to go to Syria and work their way through the most wanted list. You’d be surprised how many of your old muckers have signed up for that. Anyway, all of this isn’t quite the issue right now.”

Farrell stared at Dibble. He was losing his appetite.

“So ye want me te go back and do Micksey’s ‘wee job’ for ye?

“No Billy. That’s gone… too late to alter that. There’s only… three, maybe four trips left before the wormhole collapses and what I need you to do is far more important. Besides which, if you work fast, there’s a good chance you can save Ellen.”

“So what is it ye want me te do?”

Dibble took a large draught of wine and leant forward.

“I need you to persuade Thatcher to agree to Charlie Haughey’s proposals for border change. That way the shale find will belong to the Brits, not the Irish. That’s what I would call ‘game changing!’”

“Oh… is that all? And how exactly am I going te do that?”

“Aye, simple really… you’ve just got to convince Bobby Sands and his buddies not to go on hunger strike.”








EIGHTEEN: Trans-temporal spacial relocation and the preacher man



1.40pm, Friday 20th September 2019


Farrell sat in silence trying to digest what Dibble had just said. He had considerable difficulty in doing so.

Dibble spoke.

“Look, Billy, time travel was extensively used by both sides throughout the Troubles, so it was. At the beginning, there were certain occurrences that we had considerable difficulty in explaining… things that just shouldn’t have happened. D’you remember that time Paisley turned up preaching on the Gaelic pitch in Crossmaglen?

Farrell would never forget it — it had been his first, and almost his last, date with Ellen. His mind went back to that evening in the glorious summer of ’78.





Monday 3rd August, 1978


Farrell had been late.

She knew he would be, not because he was male but because he wasn’t American. Americans were always irritatingly early for a date.

She’d got to the playing field at 7.15 in the Ford Escort RS borrowed from Uncle Tom. They could have come together, as they were both staying at opposite ends of the farm complex, but it was a token gesture to keep it from the Old Man. He would find out soon enough — if anything happened, that was. Well, it would happen because she had seen the look on his face, and besides, she’d made up her mind that it would happen.

A cloud of dust heralded Farrell’s urgent arrival as Micksey’s ancient Zephyr bounced up the pot-holed lane. No sticky bomb in the back of that tonight, she’d thought.

He parked and walked over to her, one hand in his pocket. His other hand was held behind his back, so that he lolloped a little like a penguin. A very handsome penguin — she mused.

“Hiya,” she glanced towards his pocketed hand and nodded, “Feeling a little cocky tonight?”

“Ya what?” replied Farrell, then the penny dropped. “Oh… nah… I’m just glad to see ya!” He stopped and stared at her appreciatively. “Aye, and it is a gun in my pocket.”

“That’s some chat up line.” Ellen opened the door and swiveled her long legs round to exit the car, and also to reveal a stocking top below her black pencil skirt. She stood up and smoothed her skirt, allowing his eyes to drink her in.

Farrell stood transfixed.

“You look… gorgeous… much better that ya did in the dark.”

“I’m flattered. Is that a compliment?”

“Aye it is. Sure there’s not many girls round here ye could say that about.”

She laughed.

“That wouldn’t be another gun you’re holding behind your back, would it?”

Farrell broke the spell and handed her the bunch of flowers, which she knew he held.

“Flowers,” he said awkwardly, “for you.”

“Well done, Billy boy. Full marks for smooth.” She eyed him critically. He was taller than she’d thought last night, at least 6’4”, with dark brown shoulder-length hair and deep brown eyes. He had what she would describe as a gentle face, which evidenced none of the baggage that scarred so many of the men who surrounded Dempsey. A checked Ben Sherman lumberjack shirt clung to his lean broad-shouldered torso. Freshly pressed Levis suggested he wasn’t a mummy’s boy.

“Where did you learn to press your jeans?”

“Ah… I’ve got a confession to make on that one. Apollo did it for me. He loves ironing for some reason.”

“Makes you look like a Brit,” she said provocatively. “Those bastards iron in their sleep.”

“You look… ah Jeasus, sure I’ve already said that.” She knew how she looked.

“Come on, let’s walk.” Ellen threw the flowers onto the passenger seat and took his arm.

His eyes drank her in.

She was truly beautiful.

Her face a perfect balance of angles and symmetry: an impish nose, high cheekbones, rich, full lips glistening with just a hint of lipstick, curved into a mischievous smile as she returned his gaze. Her hazel-brown eyes shone with spirit, veracity, and the suggestion of a quest for adventure. Shoulder-length jet-black hair tucked casually behind her perfect ears, one rebellious strand tumbled across her right eyebrow, accentuating the wonderful paleness of her bare neck. Athletic and graceful, she moved in perfect harmony to a rhythm all of her own, her tall, slender frame radiating a self-assurance he had never seen before in a woman.

“Seen enough?” She asked playfully, “You’re not so bad yourself, you know”.

She took his hand and squeezed it.

They walked.

He was in love.

There wasn’t really anywhere to walk to, and they both knew it. Beyond the playing field was a lightly wooded area, little more than a small, untended copse. There were no rural footpaths around here. Dogs walked themselves, and often as not received a rifle butt on the head or a piece of poisoned steak from the undercover soldiers they tried to befriend.

“Oh wait!” Farrell said, turning back to his car. He opened the boot and produced a wicker hamper and a picnic rug.

“Dinner!” he announced proudly, slamming the lid.

They walked up the steps to the pitch.

“Aren’t you a bit out of your depth here?” she asked.

Farrell wasn’t sure if she was referring to their fledgling relationship or the fact that he was actively involved in terrorism when he should have been preparing for his final year at school. He decided it was the latter.

“Well, the way I see it is…”

They had reached the top of the steps and what was on the pitch in front of them stopped them in their tracks.

“What the… fuck?” Farrell’s jaw dropped, as did the picnic hamper. The sight that had greeted him the last time he’d climbed these steps had been less bizarre. “What is it about this place?”

In the middle of the pitch, oblivious to their presence, a huge grey haired man wearing horn-rimmed glasses paced about talking animatedly to himself. He stood a good 6’5” tall and was dressed entirely in black with one exception: a white clerical ‘dog collar’.

“Mary… mother of God… I don’t feckin’ believe it. Is that who I think it is?”

Farrell nodded. “He’s got some bloody neck showing his face around here… so he has!” He pulled out his Browning, released the safety and was about to raise the gun when Ellen restrained his hand.

Words from the huge man boomed across the field as he got into full flow:

“Darkness covers the earth… thank God you have light… What God did in the creation, he is still doing today… For God the Father is still working, Hallelujah!” The man raised his arms and eyes to the heavens.

Farrell looked at Ellen. “We can take him. This would be the greatest publicity coup for the republican movement since…”

“… since the ‘75 ceasefire? Would it fuck? You want to be responsible for another bloody fiasco? Oh we could take him all right.” She smiled at him. “You don’t get it Billy boy, do you? We can’t touch him. He’s what’s called an ‘Untouchable’”.

The man in black was warming to his theme: “… And I want to tell you, Brethren… when you go to a little country town to start a church…”

“What the fuck is he on about? Start a church? For Free Presbyterians around here? Away on!” Farrell put the gun away, shaking his head.

The booming North Antrim voice went up a notch: “… You let people know you’re against something… you let them know you haven’t come here as a soft voiced cissy to be another pulpit ornament…”

Farrell spoke: “I think I see what ye mean. He’s completely barking mad.”

“If we killed him, the Protestant backlash would make what happened after the Sullivan-Dyball treaty like being slapped by a dead fish. They’d murder thousands of us Catholics — there’d be a bloodbath,” she sighed. “Let me tell you something: we work harder to keep this wanker alive than the Proddies do. The Reverend Doctor Ian Paisley has been targeted more times by dissidents than you’ve had…” She glanced at him and smiled.

Farrell swallowed uncomfortably and cleared his throat. He knew he was being teased.

“Can’t we just knee-cap him?”

The big man continued, still totally unaware of his audience.

“… You let them know that you’re not a soft peddling, fence straddling, cream puff-pastry preacher…”

“However tempting, the answer’s no. It would just be an own-goal… like the Proddies assassinating the Pope. Look, both the UVF and the UDA have tried to kill him and blame it on us. Sorry, it’s a complete no-no.”

“Shoot him in the foot? The wanker’s getting on my nerves…”

“… No!”

“… Let them know that you’re a man of God… with fire in your belly!”

“Come on, I’ve had enough of his guanchin’. Let’s get out of here.” Farrell picked up the hamper and followed her down the steps.

The evening wasn’t going quite as he’d planned.



It was about to get worse.

Twenty minutes later Ellen and Farrell stood sheepishly in Bear Dempsey’s front room. Dempsey may have been Ellen’s uncle who doted on her and had always treated her as his own, but he still scared her slightly when a spark ignited his short fuse. It had been a long time since she had seen him as mad as this — and, even more unusually, it was her who had been to blame.

“You did what?” boomed Dempsey.

Dempsey in full flow was a sight fit to intimidate braver souls than Ellen. At 6’2” his heavily muscled frame was only now beginning to show a coating of adipose that reflected that the Bear now spent more time counting his money than sweating for it.

Farrell manfully took the brunt of his boss’ temper.

“Well… we did nothing. That’s just it… he’s… he’s an “Untouchable, isn’t he?” he replied, a little uncertainly.

“That’s as maybe, but it doesn’t mean you just ignore the cunt.” He paused to settle his anger. “I suppose if the fuckin’ Queen had been there knightin’ Jim fuckin’ Callaghan, you’d have ignored yon cunts too?”

Farrell stared at his feet and said nothing. He thought of glancing at Ellen but had a creeping suspicion that he might burst into hysterical laughter if he caught her eye.

Dempsey’s temper showed no sign of abating.

“Frankly, I don’t know what’s worse: those SAS wankers dismemberin’ me fuckin’ goalposts or yon cunt givin’ a fuckin’ sermon on the mount!”

“I don’t know that it was exactly a sermon, Uncle Tom,” said Ellen, examining her nails, to suppress a sudden urge to laugh hysterically at the bizarre image of the preacher.

“Well what the fuck was it then — a eulogy to the fuckin’ Pope?”

“I think he was rehearsing some sort of speech for a church he’s goin’ to open around here,” said Farrell, wishing that they’d gone anywhere other than the bloody playing field. “He said somethin’ about going to a little country town to start a church…”

“I’ll give him start a fuckin’ church… right, come on yis two… we’ll go and get the fucker.”

Ten minutes later, Dempsey’s Ford Transit bounced up the lane to the playing field, which was as deserted as they had left it. Deserted, except for the Reverend Dr Paisley who was still holding forth in the centre of the pitch.

“I like the word ‘against’… there are things that you and I are against…” He implored.

Dempsey stood speechless, his jaw dropping, flanked by Farrell and Ellen. The big man ranted on.

“I’m against the Pope… I’m against the Pope, and I’ll tell you why. If you brought a bucket of milk through the door of the Vatican, it would turn sour by the time it reached the pulpit…”

“Fuck me… well, he’s got a point, I suppose,” said Dempsey.

“I’m against the Pope… from the top of my head to my big toe… every bit of me… the Church of Rome is a false church… THE POPE IS THE ANTI-CHRIST!”

“Right, I’ve heard enough of this cunt. Let’s take him.”

They slipped balaclavas over their heads, drew their weapons and marched towards the lone preacher, still unaware of an audience. When they were within ten yards of him, he stopped ranting and stared at them.

“Who are you?” he asked calmly.

“Disciples of the fuckin’ Pope,” replied Dempsey, “Here te tell ye te shut the fuck up. The preacher and Dempsey glared at each other, hatred in their eyes. “What the fuck do ye think yer doing here, anyway?” asked Dempsey.

“Doing the work of the Lord,” replied the preacher. “The Lord’s work must be observed — even in the depths of heathen country.”

“Right… I’ve had enough of this shit. Yer comin’ wi’ us,” said Dempsey, moving behind the preacher and tying his hands together.

“You may bind my hands, and take me captive, but you cannot stop me preaching… for the spirit of the Lord will lift up the standard against thee and smite…”

With that, Dempsey coshed him on the back of the head with the butt of his pistol, and the big man slumped to the ground, unconscious and silent at last.

“A-fuckin’-men to that.”




For the next three days the Reverend Dr Paisley had remained a guest at the Dempsey complex, bound and gagged in Farrell’s room.

Farrell had to move out and share with Apollo, which he considered to be an excessively harsh punishment for his questionable lack of initiative.

Without wishing to jeopardise his relationship with Ellen — which was yet to get beyond the arm-linking phase — he felt that his suggestion to shoot the preacher, either in the head or in the knee, would have been vindicated as one of the better political decisions of the Troubles.

In fact, the Reverend Paisley’s disappearance seemed to be well received by most sectors of the warring communities — even the Protestants. The Belfast News Letter also concluded that the disappearance of the Great Man was the removal of one major setback on the long road to a peaceful solution.

By the morning of the second day of Tartan’s captivity, Dempsey’s mood had improved significantly. He had found a boxed set of eight-track recordings of the Pope’s speeches, including an anthology of his Christmas messages, which his mother — something of a religious fanatic — had given him shortly before she’d died. With the aid of Micksey’s disco equipment, he managed to re-produce these at almost unbearable levels of decibels for an entire three days, until the preacher could take it no longer.

“Surrender?” asked Dempsey.

The preacher nodded his head weakly.

“I want te hear ye say it.”

“I surrender… turn it off. Please!”

“Uncross yer fuckin’ legs!”

“I have nothing crossed… I promise… I surrender. The Lord has chosen this trial for me and I have failed… Now TURN IT FUCKING OFF!”

The preacher was dropped that evening, bound, gagged and trouser-less, in a lay-by on the Bessboro road, two miles outside Newry.

“So tell me what ya’ve learned from this, Billy boy?” Dempsey asked, pulling himself into the passenger seat of the Transit beside Ellen.

“That no one’s really ‘Untouchable’ if they’re stupid enough to kick off in yer own backyard.”

“Close… very close,” replied Dempsey, rubbing his hands contentedly. “There are ‘Untouchables’ — cunts who are just too high profile to bring you anything but grief if ye disappear them. Royalty… and wankers like himself,” he jerked a thumb in the direction of the discarded preacher, “and then there’s fuckers like Cliff Richard.” He paused and thought about this. “Mind you, if anyone took Noddy Holder out, I’d go fuckin’ mental.”




The Reverend Dr Paisley’s brief sojourn at the Dempsey farm complex had done nothing to improve Ellen’s mood.

Farrell seemed to hold himself responsible for the debacle, and although Dempsey now regarded the incident as a moral victory over the extreme forces of Puritanical Protestantism, Farrell kept a low profile.

By the time Ellen rose — never early — Farrell would be out transporting sheep or cows across the border with Apollo, often not returning until dusk.

She began to wonder if she had misinterpreted his enthusiasm to meet the other night for something else. But why the flowers — she thought? He seemed to spend a lot of time with Apollo. Maybe the little Filipino pressed more than his Levis.

No way. She’d seen how he looked at her when she got out of the car at the playing field. Perhaps he was sulking, although he didn’t seem the sulking type. Still, he was male.

She returned to her room after lunch on the day following the preacher’s departure. She’d got into the habit of having a post-lunch read, which generally meant that she read for fifteen minutes, and then napped for an hour.

Apart from a few domestic chores, her responsibilities at the farm complex were not unduly tiring. She was, after all, here for a holiday. She’d begged Uncle Tom to allow her to go with him on an operation but he refused, saying that she was much too valuable an asset to the organisation to be risked as a foot soldier.

Ellen knew only too well that her existence owed its privilege to Uncle Tom’s sometimes overly protective custody. Even with her intelligence and guile, had she not been the niece he dotted on, she would be treated as other republican women were: kept in the kitchen, at arm’s length from the action. Sometimes it felt like a straightjacket, but mostly to her it was a cloak of excitement, a passport to a lifestyle of opportunity and emancipation — rare for the narrow context of the times she lived in — which she rarely wanted to take off.

But despite the knowledge that Uncle Tom regarded Farrell as the son he never had, just how he would react to their relationship — should they get past the handholding stage — cast a dark shadow over her contentment. She could, of course, just leave it; not pursue a relationship. It was she, after all, who had made the running. But there was something about him she simply couldn’t leave, no matter the consequences.

It didn’t take Ellen long to spot that someone had been in her room. She always left the third drawer down, in which she kept her underwear, slightly open. The drawer had been closed. Either a rank amateur — she thought — or someone who wanted her to find something.

It was the latter.

Farrell’s note was brief: ‘Meet me at McElroy’s scrapyard at 7.30. And wear this — please!’ There was a large black arrow pointing to the suspender belt to the left of the note.

Ellen didn’t know whether to be mad with him or laugh. She laughed. It was a good job that she hadn’t left the upper drawer ajar. Had she done so, she winced, he would have found her vibrator, and heaven knows what he would have made of that.




It had been another glorious evening.

Ellen pulled the Escort up in front of the corrugated iron gates.

Farrell swung them open so that she could enter and bolted them behind her.

“My, this is about as romantic as romance gets!” she said surveying the scrapyard. “Forget bloody Venice and gondolas — come to sunny South Armagh and be serenaded in a scrapyard!”

“Well, I don’t know about being serenaded, but I might be able te get Radio Caroline on Micksey’s radio,” replied Farrell removing a picnic table from the boot. “I know it’s a bit of an eyesore, but it’s the only place around here that ye can guarantee any peace and quiet.”

Within two minutes, Farrell had the table covered with a linen tablecloth, a vase and flowers, plates, cutlery and a bottle of cheap sparkling wine, placed in an ice bucket.

“The Brits used this once for a stake-out,” he told her. “They had five units of five men holed-up around the place. Thing was, the Bear’d put baby monitors all over the yard, so we knew what the fuckers were up te before they did. Blew three of them up with a command-wire bomb in a milk churn over there,” he pointed at a crater on the far side of the yard. “Nothin’ too sophisticated, ya know, but effective enough. Fuckers haven’t been back here since.” As if to celebrate the fact, he popped the cork, filled two flutes and passed one to Ellen.

They clinked glasses. “Cheers,” said Farrell, taking a sip, “Here’s te us.”

“What about us?” She asked, as he piled quiche and salad onto the plates.

“And not a word to yer Uncle Tom about the salad. Sure he’d go mental and have me drummed out of the movement.” Farrell smiled, and now it was Ellen’s turn to drink in his boyish good looks and toned physique. “I tell ya — failure to apprehend the Reverend Gobshite would be nothing in comparison.”

Ellen laughed. “You didn’t answer the question.”

“Eat your salad and I’ll tell ya.” Farrell dug in, as Ellen pushed quiche around her plate with a fork, held in her right hand.

“You eat like an American,” he observed.

“You didn’t answer the question I asked you the other night either. You’re good at that, aren’t you, Billy boy: avoiding answers.”

“Oh that… I remember… something about bein’ out of my depth?”

“Well are you?”

“I suppose ye could see it like that.” He put down his cutlery and lit a cigarette. “But the way I see it is that I have very marketable skills which are of limited use outside the field of terrorism.”

“That’s a bit negative… what about you’re A Levels?”

“Chemistry, Biology… History.”

“You could be a doctor… or a teacher. Do some good rather than killing people.”

“That’s rich coming from you!” He exhaled and studied him fingernails. “You put the bullets in the gun that I fire. How old are you anyway?

Ellen sighed and lit a cigarette.

“That’s a bit abrupt isn’t it?”

She smiled at him, not wishing to risk tarnishing their first proper date. “twenty-one… and I know I’m a bit of a cradle snatcher.” Her smile faded, suddenly serious. “When you say marketable — does that mean that you’d sell your soul to the highest bidder?”

Farrell fell silent. It was a fair question. He didn’t know how to answer it without spoiling the moment. But his silence wasn’t a deal breaker.

Ellen sat on his knee and put her arm round his neck. The first kiss had been a long time coming. They kissed with the fervour of two young people who understood how short their lives could be; how little time they may have together. Farrell felt a shiver down his spine and thought he sensed a shadow of tomorrow spilling over into today.

“So does it?” repeated Ellen. “I mean… why does a Proddie… ?

“… Want te join the IRA? Aye… well, it’s a long story… so it is.” Farrell thought of Owen and the shiver became a prickle of tears forming in his eyes. He turned his head away. He knew that Dempsey would have told Ellen nothing about Owen. “I’ll tell ya about it some day… I promise.” He looked at her; she was radiant. “Now’s not the time.”

“What is it the time for then, Billy boy?” She teased, smiling back at him and guiding his hand on to her breast.

They made love then, lying on the picnic rug behind Micksey’s Zephyr, as the late summer sun went down behind mountains of rotting metal.

He was gentle, much gentler that she wanted him to be, and she knew that it was his first time.

“Billy boy?” she asked quietly, stroking his hair.

“Uh-huh.” He lit two cigarettes and gave one to her.

“Does Uncle Tom still have the baby monitors here?




They had met again at McElroy’s scrapyard the next night, and the next, and the night after that.

Ellen had insisted that Farrell confirmed Dempsey’s removal of the crude but effective intelligence gathering devices.

“Anyway,” he had told her, “Dempsey says the Brits aren’t stupid enough to attempt another stake-out in McElroy’s… not unless they want a lifetime achievement award for dedication to total fuckin’ stupidity!”

As August slipped into September and the second consecutive hot summer showed no more sign of relenting than the Brits of leaving Irish soil, Ellen began to feel curious emotions towards Farrell. She was in love. She had been with men before of course, but had always been careful to take just what she wanted from them. But Farrell was different; he had gotten under her skin.

By day, Farrell continued his work on Dempsey’s farm. Along with Apollo, he was now responsible for running the smuggling operations.

Together they had built on what Apollo had started, so that the Dempsey Empire exploited the border by working each side to the middle and paying no one. Farrell casually told Ellen one evening how they had devised a system to charge smugglers a toll to use the Larkins Road, which passed along the rear of the farm complex and straddled the border.

This was the most discreet route to transport animals to the customs post at Newry. If they refused to pay the toll, they were sent back in the direction of Dundalk where both their loads and paperwork were scrutinised by bored and zealous Customs officers.

The army observed most of this in Sioux helicopters but the activity went unchallenged as smuggling was viewed as less likely to lead to sudden death or dismemberment than their other activities. The fact that the one financed the other was conveniently ignored.

Then one day in early September, Dempsey received a phone call from his brother Fergus in Liverpool, where Farrell was supposedly working for the summer. His parents — who had neither seen nor heard from their son since he finished school in July — had received the bill for the forthcoming term, which reminded them of his absence. They rang the Liverpool number he’d given them and requested his return.

Farrell and Ellen were summoned to Dempsey’s office.

“Right, Billy boy,” the Bear began. “As the song says… it’s time for ye te ‘… collect yer books and fuck off back te school’”.

Dempsey lit a Consulate and tossed Farrell the packet. This was an honour — being upgraded from Gallaghers’ Blues to Consulate was, he imagined, a privilege like turning left when you entered a plane.

“Ye’ve done well. Passed yer apprenticeship, I’d say.” He exhaled, mouthing smoke rings towards the ceiling. “So well, we’ve got a wee plan that might interest ya… well, it’s actually Ellen’s plan — credit where credit’s due.”

“Go on.”

Dempsey paused.

“How’d ye like te join the British army?”

Farrell spluttered, the menthol smoke spurting out of his nose, making him sneeze. It was as far removed from the plan he’d been expecting as his summer holidays had been.

The hastily formed scenario that had flashed through his mind was: a) the Northern Command IRA (South Armagh Brigade) would dispatch his elderly parents in what would be attributed as a sectarian killing, b) he would inherit a substantial amount of money as the only beneficiary c) some of which he would give to the Republican movement, some to Ellen and the rest for rent to Dempsey and for beer money and, d) he would leave school and continue to refine and oversee smuggling operations and blow up British soldiers.

“Erm… what, exactly would be the point of that?”

“Well, the way we see it is ye’ve too much of what yon other fuckers round here has missin’ te get it splattered by some cunt with an assault rifle. By that I mean brain.”

Ellen smiled at him and it occurred to Farrell that, whatever the plan was, she had her motives for suggesting it. “We’ve entered ye for the Army Officer Selection Process,” Dempsey proudly announced, passing him a form.

Farrell studied it. Most of the required information had been filled in, although it didn’t sound much like him. “If yer successful, ye’ll get a place at Sandhurst — the Royal Fuckin’ Military Academy, no less!” He paused. “What d’ye think of that?” Dempsey sat back and folded his arms.

“I must be missin’ something Bear. I still don’t see what ya want me te join the British Army for.”

“For a bright boy yer awful slow on the uptake… so ye can spy on the cunts, of course! We could do wi’ a good man on the inside. Mind… the other way te do it would be for ye te take a good punishment beatin’ and wander inte their camp, all disgruntled like?”

Farrell ignored this.

“Well, what if they don’t send me over here? What if I end up in Germany or Cyprus or the Middle fuckin’ East? Would ye want me te count how many camels… ? ”

Ellen intervened.

“… You won’t. Just read the notes on “Career Pathways.” You can go straight into Intelligence and then you can request secondment to Special Ops. Chances are you’ll be posted to 14th Intelligence Company, or maybe the FRU. They’re crying out for natives who’ll blend in. It’s perfect for you.

“Aye, Army Intelligence… ye’d think that’d be a contradiction wouldn’t ya?” said Dempsey.

Farrell studied the form: “Other interests: ‘Explosives… helping the needy, and comparative religions?’ — What the fuck? Ya can’t put that down, Bear!”

“Well, it’s no word of a lie — yer good with yon cunts who want te use our lane te smuggle — they’re needy. And ya listened te the Reverend Gobshite for long enough. He’s got as fuckin’ different religious views as ye can get… and I can definitely vouch for yer explosives ability.”

“Aye, well with all due respect, Bear, I’m not sure how much a reference from the Chief of Staff of the Provos will help te get me into the top British military academy.”

Luckily, Dempsey had had the presence of mind to obtain a spare form, and so the three of them spent the next two hours debating how best to fill it in.

“Right,” said Dempsey finally. “Now ye just need te get yer head teacher te sign that, get some Quaker fuckin’ pastor te give y’a reference and yer there. Ye only need two grade “E”s te get in… even Micksey could get that… ”

The others looked at him dubiously. “Aye… well okay, maybe not.”




Farrell and Ellen spent their last night together at McElroy’s scrapyard.

The following morning, Micksey would run Farrell back to his parents’ house. From there, he would be delivered back to Port Royal for his final year, his academic goals now clearly defined.

They made love lying on the picnic rug until both the late summer sun and the bottle of Jack Daniels had departed.

“I’ll still see you, you know,” Ellen stroked his chest. “I can come up at weekends and we can stay in a hotel.”

“A hotel, eh?” he said, “How grand.”

She laughed at him, punching him playfully.

“One day…” she said, “One day this’ll all be over. Just see you’re still around when that happens.”










NINETEEN: The funeral, Sandhurst and the double agent



1.45pm, Friday18th September 2019


Farrell was jerked from his reverie by Dibble’s phone ringing.

“Aye, to this day we don’t know how the Rev Ian ended up in Crossmaglen, but if you lot had held onto him for a bit longer… or even put a bullet in the fucker, it would have changed the whole course of events. Just look where he ended up, would you?” Dibble stood up. “I’ve got to take this Billy. Go and have a smoke; I won’t be long.

Farrell slipped out to the back to the smokers’ area and lit up.

He exhaled dolefully as his mind went back to Ellen’s funeral.





2.30pm, Friday 7th March, 1981


A decent Republican funeral is as good a directory of Who’s Who in the Provisional IRA as it’s possible to get.

Maguire had surpassed himself and an A-Z of the world’s press attended the conference he had scheduled in the re-built Three Steps.

Martin Bell fronted the main BBC news coverage. Peter Taylor, a documentary-maker who had managed to make himself equally unpopular with both sides was there with a camera crew, and John Cole, who had just become political editor for the BBC, did a feature length piece for Newsnight.

The television coverage had re-kindled interest in a global audience, tired of the day-to-day mundane and predictable Northern Ireland atrocities.

The story that an innocent and beautiful young woman had been callously slaughtered by the very servicemen sent to Northern Ireland to protect their citizens provided a much needed shot in the arm for IRA recruitment.

It was rolling news and the media circus eagerly re-presented itself at the Three Steps Inn the next day. From here the cortege would depart for the Church of the Sacred Heart near the centre of Crossmaglen.

McCrumm was so pleased with his new premises, paid for entirely by a contingency fund set up by the British government, that he had renamed it by the rather grandiose title: The Three Steps Bar and Lounge, in the forlorn hope of attracting a slightly better class of clientele.

Dempsey wasn’t entirely happy with this choice of venue. However, faced with the prospect of inviting both the world’s media and the attendant Security Forces onto his farm complex, this was the best compromise.

His insistence that the cameras were positioned in such a way that the Three Steps would either be out of shot or largely irrelevant to proceedings did nothing to please McCrumm. The landlord was of the view, that despite the occasion, any publicity was good publicity and had screwed blackboards advertising “Meal Deals” and his hastily scheduled “Happy Hour” to the outside wall.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Smithers, commanding officer of the SAS battalion stationed at Forkhill, was observing from one of the twelve new command towers named Golf Three Zero. It had been built in the aftermath of the Three Steps explosion to overlook the entrance to Dempsey’s farm complex and the re-built public house. Noticing McCrumm’s sign, he remarked to his adjutant that the only happy hour anywhere in South Armagh, was one when you didn’t get your fucking bollocks blown off.

The day that Maguire had left between the press conference and the funeral was sufficient for Ellen’s image to be projected from every newspaper and television screen around the world.

The result was that the British were castigated with levels of villainy unparalleled since the days of Joseph Stalin. This was, by a long way, the worst incident since Bloody Sunday nine years ago, and the Americans and most European administrations — especially the Catholic ones — were clamouring for Thatcher’s resignation. Even Gaddafi had threatened a trade embargo with Britain due to their appalling Human Rights record.

It’s only what those cunts deserved, Dempsey thought, as the cortege prepared to set off. They had, after all, been responsible for putting her in the ground, one way or another.

Ten armed, masked men flanked the coffin, dressed in black leather jackets, white shirts and black ties. Silence was observed as Jerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, helped Dempsey drape a tricolour over the casket.

It was the showpiece event Sinn Fein had dreamt of. The Troubles had lasted thirteen long years and, although the IRA were winning the armed conflict, grass roots support for Republicanism and a thirst for a political solution were on the wane. Fewer idealistic young men were attracted to the cause, and those that volunteered seldom had patriotism at the top of their agenda.

To counter this, the Green Book, the IRA bible issued to each volunteer on recruitment, had played down the prime objective of the establishment of a “Democratic Socialist Republic” — which had required a considerable amount of explanation to many, and even some of the leadership weren’t entirely sure what it meant — and replaced it with the more comprehendible aim: “Brits Out”.

All seven members of the IRA Army Council were present, as was most of the twelve-member Army Executive, the supreme authority who met once a month to review policy and puff out their chests. Although these were powerful men who were feared and respected in equal measure in their own fiefdoms, the real power and the ultimate operational decision making for Northern Command lay in the hands of the man whose niece they were burying.

The fact that none of them had ever met Ellen was neither here nor there. This was a show of strength and solidarity. Overcoats were pulled tight to keep out the bitter early March wind, feet stamped to aid circulation, and as snowflakes began to stick to the frozen ground, willful glances were cast in the direction of McCrumm’s hostelry.

“It’s a terrible bad day for the wee girl to go into the ground,” said Adams in his cultured west Belfast accent, pumping Dempsey’s hand with both of his, in a power shake. Dempsey was tempted to tell Adams that it made as little difference what sort of day you went into the ground as one of his speeches did to anything other than his own political agenda, but managed a nod and a grimace instead.

The cortege arrived at the church where there was a brief delay as Adams became embroiled in an animated discussion with Father Sean Murphy. Eventually it was agreed that the television cameras would not be permitted in the church, but Father’s Murphy’s speech would be relayed to the world by external loudspeakers, kept for such occasions in the sacristy. Micksey and Apollo set about erecting them.

The world’s news channels then showed footage of the coffin entering the church, carried the final few yards by a colour party of the IRA’s most senior members, including Dempsey, McGuinn and, to his surprise, Farrell. The thought crossed Farrell’s mind that at least a third of the coffin bearers were either in the pay of the Brits or about to be recruited by them. And of course there was the irony that one of them, in fact the man in front of him, was directly responsible for putting Ellen in the coffin.

It was as much as he could do not to drop the casket and kick the shit out of McGuinn then and there. But Dempsey was right. He had re-gained some sort of emotional equilibrium — bordering detachment.

He knew that day would come when he would have his revenge. He could be patient — very patient.



Father Murphy didn’t pull his punches.

He knew that this was a once on a lifetime opportunity to address a global audience and he was damned if he wasn’t going to make the most of it.

Official viewing figures later confirmed that the Pope, in his recent televised address, had only just pipped him by a couple of hundred thousand viewers. Although some of the senior Irish clergy were quick to distance themselves from Murphy’s views on the rights and wrongs of the matter, he considered that what he had said was one heck of a lot more relevant than the dross that the Pontiff had bored his audience with.

Not only that, but his delivery went down extremely well too.

So well, that the following day he’d received a telephone call from a producer representing a fledgling company called Hat Trick Productions. He explained that they were planning to launch a trailer for a Channel 4 sitcom about a group of Irish priests exiled to a remote fictional island off the west coast of Ireland for various past indiscretions. It may yet be some time before it hit the television screens, but he would be ideal to play the lead role. It was still very embryonic yet, blah-de-blah, and subject to funding… but would he be interested?

He had — said the producer — the flowing silver locks, the ready smile and the gift of the gab, so he would be an absolute shoe-in. No? Well perhaps he could combine the two and remain in the priesthood? They could script it as a sort of ‘fly on the wall docu-sitcom that would have his congregation rocking in the aisles. Probably not, Father Murphy thought, with more than a tinge of regret. Crossmaglen being as it was, it mightn’t go down too well in the diocese.

But although he resisted the lure of the small screen, he had become a minor celebrity following his address, and was approached by a total stranger in Dunnes store in Newry and asked for his autograph.

There were, of course, a small number of priests who took the view that a symposium on violence from the pulpit — like a discourse on buggering choirboys — was to be avoided, and that his address had lacked balance.

However, a lack of bias was the last thing on the ‘Person Specification’ for the position of Priest of Crossmaglen — a post he had now held for six years — and if it was, it was in very small print indeed.

In fact, it wasn’t until he’d nearly finished, and the congregation that packed the church were preparing for a frozen graveside vigil, that he had said anything particularly controversial.

“The circumstances of Ellen’s death should be called into question and the perpetrators hunted down and punished.” He banged the pulpit with such force that he awoke three elderly women slumped in the front pew, there only as an hour in the church meant an hour less on their heating bill. “There is a basic right to life that should be respected by all, particularly by those charged with the duty to protect it.” He paused, as the gradual shuffle to the door halted, sensing there might be something coming that they wouldn’t want to miss.

“Only then will there be a true foundation for justice and a genuine peace.” He paused, beaming at the congregation, as if justice and genuine peace in this country were any less a hypothetical construct than access to the Kingdom of Heaven.

“While those whose illegal occupation of this land are complicit in the murder of sovereign citizens like poor Ellen, they will have no welcome here, and the sooner they are gone from these shores the better.” He smiled at the spellbound congregation. ‘This is going well, Sean,’ he thought. ‘Time to wrap it up, now.’ “Faceless, nameless cowards have violated both the laws of nature and those of our Lord by killing this young and beautiful woman in her prime, and in her native land.”

Taylor had managed to sneak his cameraman unobserved into the rear of the church where he balanced precariously on the back of a broken pew. He put a hand on his shoulder and whispered: “Tell me you didn’t get that, and there’ll be a second fucking funeral here today,” as the assembled throng trudged wearily towards the freshly dug still frozen grave.



McCrumm’s takings at the Three Steps after the burial went a fair way to recoup the losses he had suffered, courtesy of Farrell’s sticky bomb.

The spontaneous appearance of the front end of a Morris 1100 and the rear ends of the two dead SAS men through the northern elevation of his inn had put him out of business for the best part of three years.

It had taken time to persuade the Northern Ireland Office that this was a legitimate claim, as the Three Steps had acquired a certain notoriety. There was also the unresolved issue as to who had actually been responsible for the bomb. Clearly McCrumm had not, and that, he argued when he had sufficiently recovered, meant that the Brits should pay up. There was undeniably some logic to his argument that — whoever caused it — if there had been no Brits in the region, his pub would still be intact.

The Secretary of State himself had become involved and had been heard to say that re-building the Three Steps was as sound a tactical move as arming Zulus with machine guns. The fact that his unguarded comment was leaked to the Belfast News Letter earned him an unscheduled trip to No10 and a slapped wrist from Thatcher, with instructions to pay whatever it bloody well cost to reinstate the thing.

But despite the intervention of an architect, the end result wasn’t much better than what had been there before, although, for the first six months of trading or so, the toilets were significantly cleaner.

The other discernable difference inside the Three Steps was that the paintings had gone. They were, much to the relief of the clientele, irreplaceable. Despite having had questionable monetary value, McCrumm was at pains to point out to the assessor from the Northern Ireland Office that these were invaluable artifacts detailing his country’s heritage and he should be compensated to the tune of £100,000. The assessor’s estimate of their value fell some way short but he did offer sufficient for McCrumm to purchase a new darts board.

However, fortune finally smiled on McCrumm when Micksey McVeigh presented him with a much sought-after set of framed Pirelli calendar photographs that he had been offered by the owner of a Newry tyre and battery outlet. Micksey was responsible for ‘looking after’ the proprietor to ensure that nothing untoward happened to the premises. As the owner was experiencing a new term for insolvency referred to as ‘cash flow’ problems and the bank was being difficult about expending his credit facilities — particularly as he hadn’t been able to pay Micksey last year and the premises had been mysteriously fire-bombed — it seemed the least he could do in the circumstances.

Dempsey had insisted, however, that these new wall adornments — however popular they may be with the locals, be removed as a mark of respect for Ellen.

He had put £500 behind the bar, and this he reflected, as he sipped a half pint of Tennent’s perched on his bar stool, had made it quite an expensive operation.

But, he thought, surveying the great and the good of the Republican movement as they troughed McCrumm’s homemade quiche and white spam and cucumber sandwiches, money couldn’t buy publicity like this.

Although there was still the problem of McGuinn, which would need careful management, this episode had pulled together several disparate and potentially divisive factions of the movement. Unite and conquer, he thought, suddenly aware that there was somebody standing beside him, attempting to engage him in conversation.

It was Father Murphy.

Dempsey wasn’t really in the mood for small talk, but there was no way to avoid it.

“That was a fine address Father,” he said, “It’s good to see the Church isn’t afraid to take a stand on these matters.”

“Well, we’ll see what the Bishop thinks,” he replied in his lilting Wicklow brogue, with a broad smile, rocking nervously on his heels. It was one thing to castigate the barbarity of the Brits, but it was another to clink glasses with the hierarchy of the Provos. “I’m not so sure he’ll agree, y’know. Mind, he’s got his hands full with those St. Columb schoolboys at the moment.”

Dempsey looked at the priest and raised an eyebrow.

Father Murphy’s handsome face struggled to shore up his infectious smile.

“Sure that was a terrible choice of words, there Bear,” he said, “what I meant is he’s up to his oxters investigating these dreadful accusations that some of the choir boys — young lads from St Columb — may have been having organ lessons of… how should we put it… the err… non-musical variety.”

“Well bugger me!” said Dempsey.


A small, balding man in his ‘50s bearing more than a passing resemblance to Danny DeVito, had pushed to the bar through the throng and stood next to Dempsey, waiting for McCrumm to serve him. He was also waiting for the priest to go so he could talk to the man perched on the stool.

Kevin ‘Legs’ McLaughlin was the former Provo Chief-of Staff and current Head of the Monaghan Brigade. He stood a good four inches beneath Dempsey’s eye line. Had Dempsey stood up, McLaughlin would have been more than a foot and a half shorter. His round face matched his rotund body, so that his overall appearance was that of a football that had been blown up to the point that it could take no more air.

McLaughlin was a hardliner like Dempsey, and a staunch ally who had supported his appointment to the leadership in his own place when he felt that Dempsey had created what was referred to as a ‘liberation zone’ in South Armagh. He was also intelligent enough to know which way the wind was blowing and that it was only a matter of time before Dempsey would wrest the position from him in any case.

Dempsey turned to the priest.

“Nice talking to you Father. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

“… Of course, Bear,” he relied, “of course, I quite understand,” he said with a smile, melting into the throng. There would be no shortage of people to slap his back and buy him a whiskey. Anyway, it was a better way to spend a drab March afternoon than being called out to administer the last rites to an informer lying dead in the road. He shuddered at the thought, pulling his empty tumbler close to the chest, inviting a re-fill. Yes, he’d had a lot of call-outs to those recently. Still, it was all part of the job.

“Well Kevin,” Dempsey turned to face McKenna. “How’s it going?”

“Grand, Bear, it’s goin’ grand.” McCrumm moved to serve him, pointing to the optic that contained Black Bush. McLaughlin nodded and the publican poured a large one. It was an unspoken rule in The Three Steps that you were served in strict order of seniority rather than how long you’d been waiting at the bar.

“I’m sorry for your loss Bear. Priest was right… we’ll find the fuckers who did it, mind. And when we do, a bullet’ll be too fuckin’ good for them.” He took a large swig of his whiskey. “Now tell me about your new Head of Internal Security. I know his reputation, of course, but he’s a bit young for the job, isn’t he?”

Dempsey had expected this. At least he could count McKenna as an ally so this would be a dry run for other, less supportive factions who held deep-rooted suspicion and jealousy over Farrell’s meteoric rise within the movement.

“What the fuck’s age got te do wi’it, Kevin?” he asked in his practiced slow, country-type manner. “Just have a look around here, Kevin, and ye’ll see plenty of stupid fuckers twice, even three times his age who can’t find the fuckin’ bog when they need to piss in the night.”

“Aye, I hear what you’re sayin’ Bear,” McLaughlin hesitated. He knew that Dempsey had dug a bear-pit that he was bound to fall into one way or the other. “It’s just… well there’s a lot of the senior… you, know… some of the members of the General Headquarters Staff don’t think he’s got enough experience for the job.”

“He’s got vision where the rest of us wear fuckin’ bi-focals, Kevin, and more operational experience than half the cunts in this room.” Dempsey pointed to a framed newspaper article on the wall beside the bar, next to one of McCrumm’s self-penned certificates. “He planned that, and without Special Branch or the RUC havin’ found so much as a fuckin’ hair to connect him te it. Which is why he’s off to Sandhurst for Officer Training in September — te join the British Army, courtesy of the fuckin’ MoD!” Dempsey felt a twinge of pride as he said this.

“Keep that te yerself, mind, Kevin. And as for his integrity, I’ll vouch for that.” Not for the first time he was aware of how he’d close he came to regarding Farrell as the son he’d never had.

“Ach, I know what he’s capable of, Bear,” said McLaughlin, which was only partly true. He knew that Farrell, young as he was, had established a reputation as one of the finest military tacticians of the conflict. Events of 27th August 1979 had proved that beyond any doubt.

But what he knew little of was his ability to instantly appraise a situation and have a feel for those involved in it. And his uncanny instinct to question everything, trust no one and to stay one step ahead of trouble, which would keep him alive despite the best efforts of those who were sent to kill him.

He was, as Ellen had once observed, the perfect killing machine.

But Dempsey understood the politics of terrorism, and how his appointment would be regarded as another step to assert the dominance of South Armagh. He also knew that many of these mourners who drank in tight circles and talked in subdued voices had agendas far removed from his.

“I don’t have any problem with him, Bear,” said McLaughlin, side-stepping the bear pit.

“Just look around the room, Kevin,” Dempsey surveyed a collection of the most dangerous men in Ireland, if not the world. McLaughlin’s eyes followed his. “There’s two types of volunteer in this movement at present. There’s folk like you and me, who’s never read a book in our lives. Then there’s cunts like Vinnie McKenna there — ‘The Border Fox’ — or Seamus ‘Crazy Horse’ O’Callaghan…” Dempsey’s eyes picked out another: “… or yon wee fucker Sean ‘Mungo’ McBride… and what do they all have in common, Kevin?”

It was a rhetorical question but McLaughlin felt the need to answer it. He had no real reason to fear Dempsey but that didn’t stop him from doing so.

“I don’t know, Bear. They belong to a library?”

“Aye, Kevin, they do. They belong to a library called Portlaoise Jail, or the Maze fuckin’ Book Club. These cunts have done time, and they’ve used that time te educate themselves.” Dempsey was warming to his theme and noticed that McCrumm, who had had the foresight to engage the services of two temporary barmen, was enjoying a lull, and had one ear cocked in his direction. Dempsey tapped his half-pint glass, indicating to the landlord that he wanted it re-filled, and to give him something to do.

“There’s nothing wrong with education Kevin, it’s just all this high-falutin fuckin’ philosophy that goes with it has started te muddy the waters so that we don’t know if we’re an army or a fuckin’ detabin’ society any more.” He paused and lit a cigarette. D’you know what the Revolutionary Council is Kevin?”

“Some kind of think tank to discuss strategy, I believe, Bear.”

“Aye, that’s exactly what it is Kevin. I went to one of their fuckin’ meetings. Down in Charlestown, in Mayo… big old Georgian house owned by some fuckin’ Oxford University historian called Cassidy who’s sympathetic to Sinn Fein. Well, the fucker got out his best silver and bone china and made us all fuckin’ tea.” Dempsey sipped his drink. “I thought Adams was goin’ te come in his fuckin’ pants when Cassidy starts talking about how Chairman Mao’s writings are significant to the republican movement. Fuck me!” Dempsey paused for air and to light a cigarette.

“And McGuinn’s there… he’s like a dog with two dicks when O’Callaghan starts on about what we’ve achieved in South Armagh, and how it could be the first of a series of ‘liberated zones’ te be joined together by attacking remote security bases in mainly-nationalist areas te push out any Prods stupid enough te want te stay there. So at this point, the fuckin’ penny drops and Cassidy realises he’s not hostin’ a fuckin’ tea party for a group of beardy left-wing intelligentsia, but men with guns in their pockets and a price on their heads, so he shuts the fuck up.”

Dempsey chuckled at the memory, leant forward and touched McKenna’s arm. “I’ll never forget the look on his face, Kevin, when I says, ‘well that’s statin’ the fuckin’ obvious — every time they try te move by road, we mine the fuckers, and we mortar-bomb them every time they try te build a new fuckin’ base. Now it doesn’t take Chairman fuckin’ Mao to tell us how te do that.’”

McLaughlin, laughed, threw back his whiskey and nodded at McCrumm for another.

“Aye, I’m with you there, Bear,” he said, “All this fuckin’ politics is just a veneer. See Adams? Just stick him on a platform and let the fucker talk; that’s all he’s good for.”

“You know what I think, Kevin?” Dempsey glanced around the room to see if any ears were wagging. Although he was happy to share his thoughts with McLaughlin and other like-minded allies, he knew better than to spill his guts to a roomful of men who would like to see South Armagh reined in and have his wings clipped.

“If you ask me, Sinn Fein’s our Achilles Heel. Either Adams’s inept or he’s a fuckin’ genius — I can’t make me mind up which, but it’s my view he’s tryin’ te end our military campaign by stealth, and the fucker’s divertin’ money we raise here te do it.”

“Fuck me, Bear. Don’t sit on the fence about this one now,” McLaughlin smiled, trying to make light of Dempsey’s radical views. Views that at the very least were likely to start a robust and vigorous debate in McCrumm’s car park if overheard. McLaughlin changed the subject: “Well how do you see us winnin’ the war Bear?”

Dempsey rose from his stool, looking down at McLaughlin, unintentionally making him feel ever more inadequate than he already did.

“I’ll tell ye how we’ll end it, Kevin. We’ll bomb the fuckers to the conference table and then we’ll booby-trap the fuckin’ table.”

McLaughlin laughed.

“Aye, but what about the Sinn Fein delegation, Bear?

“In South Armagh, Kevin, we never tell any fuckers where we put our booby-traps.”        Dempsey noticed Adams was moving towards the small platform in the far corner of the bar, where occasionally, on a Saturday night, a Country and Western band would keep the locals awake.

“Right, if yon cunt’s gonne make a speech, Kevin, I’m goin’ for a nice long crap.” Dempsey picked up McCrumm’s copy of the Newry Reporter, tucked it under his arm, and headed for the toilets. “I can only deal with one fuckin’ shite at a time.”




The one positive outcome of Adams’s speech was that it drew proceedings to a close.

Once he had harped on about the need to seek a political solution in parallel to continuing to wage war against the imperialist army of occupation for a good twenty minutes, most had had enough.

As with most funerals and weddings, no one wanted to be seen to be the first to leave, and so there was a general sliding of feet towards the exit, until, with a show of solidarity reminiscent of rats leaving sinking ships, the bar was suddenly empty.

Empty, that is except for a few locals who had enjoyed rather too much of Dempsey’s hospitality and remained comatose despite McCrumm’s best efforts to get rid of them so that he could close up and enjoy counting his day’s takings.

It was gone ten before McCrumm had the bar to himself as the last of the drunks shuffled out into the dark of the freezing night.

He locked the door; surveyed the mess. It would take him a good couple of hours to clear up and he’d been tempted to get his temporary staff to stay on. However, that would eat into his takings and he had nothing else to do in any case.

He poured himself a large Bells and sat on Dempsey’s stool, fantasising, for a moment what it must be like to be the Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA, and not just some stupid cunt who poured drinks for him when he tapped his glass.

His eyes were drawn to the framed newspaper article behind the bar, the one that Dempsey had pointed to a few hours earlier. He imagined himself as the great patriotic hero, the leader who masterminded the war against the Brits, the most feared and wanted man in Ireland. And then he remembered how much his injuries from the blast had hurt, and that was probably why he was actually quite glad to be a barman.

Barmen, he reflected, had a status in Ireland similar to priests. You were born into a job that gives you the same kind of immunity as the wheezy boy with glasses in the school playground. You have to listen to a fuck-load of bullshit too, mind, he thought. Still, it would be nice to do something that you’d be respected for other than pull fucking pints and mop up after shit-faced punters.

He walked behind the bar, poured himself another whisky, took the frame from where it hung, sat down on the stool and read the piece from newspaper cutting. It was dated Sunday 2nd September, 1979.




McCrumm re-read Hardiman’s piece for the umpteenth time:

Yesterday will long be remembered as the day that the Provos considered they leveled the score, and perhaps the playing field as well, it began, and continued with a quote from Paddy McMahon: ‘… It was military precision. It was thinking about what the British Army would do after the first bomb went off. It was classic… If the British had an Intelligence Officer of that capability he’d go right to the top.’

It was rare that senior Provo figures spoke to the press; rarer still for Paddy McMahon to open his gob, McCrumm thought.

He recalled how McMahon had been Dempsey’s adjutant, the eyes and ears of South Armagh until he was convicted of the murder of four Royal Army Ordnance Corps soldiers at Tullydonnell in November ‘75. He had used a command-wire beer keg bomb for the attack. Nothing too fancy, but good enough to get the job done.

So when he’d heard of the carnage that Farrell had masterminded at Narrow Water Castle on 27th August 1979, he was both delighted and impressed. So impressed, the story went, that he’d given up ten minutes of his bible class to tell a Sunday Telegraph journalist what he thought, through a note passed to a republican visitor to hand to him.

Of course he didn’t mention Farrell by name, particularly as no one other than Dempsey knew him by anything other than Billy boy. But he did tell Tony Hardiman that the Provos had a new kid in town who was one hell of a military strategist.




Micksey had driven them home from the Three Steps after Ellen’s wake.

It was quiet in the Zephyr as he carefully negotiated the dark, frozen lanes back to the farm complex, one hand over his right eye, as was customary when he drove home from any pub.

Coincidentially, Farrell too was also reflecting on the aftermath of 27th August, 1979.

He hadn’t felt like celebrating that night and had slipped away from the farm complex unnoticed with Ellen as the party got into full swing. The area was crawling with military, buzzing around the region with all the effectiveness of vultures that had witnessed lions lick clean the bones of a carcass.

They’d slipped across the border to Dundalk for a quiet drink in Kennedy’s Bar. It was a quiet drink — Farrell hardly said a word. Ellen had only been at the farm complex for a couple of days and Farrell had been so pre-occupied that he had hardly seen her.

But it wasn’t the loss of life or physical details of the carnage that quieted him. The fact that two of the paratroopers had been decapitated, and it would be three weeks before a diver found one of the heads in the lough wasn’t what left him with a strange sense of foreboding that night.

Nor the knowledge that victims from the first explosion could only be identified by their shoe sizes as the top halves of their bodies had been totally obliterated. Neither blood nor intestines were found at the scene as anything soft or moist had instantly evaporated.

And it didn’t concern him that four days later, the RUC who had been sent to clear up the mess were still picking up pieces of broken humanity with sticks, handkerchiefs held over their mouths. Finding bits or arm… bits of leg.

Farrell had long understood the mechanical outcomes of what he had planned. He knew that when a bomb explodes next to a body, it fills it with air in a similar way that a pump inflates a ball. When this happens, the body is as good as dead, for the only way for the air to get out is at the joints.

Which is why one arm with its hand still attached was found embedded in a tree two hundred yards away. It wasn’t hard to identify. There was a tattoo of the red hand of Ulster, underneath which were the initials: DS, and below this the legend: ‘Parachute Regiment Ulster Tour July 1977-   ’.

Another reason why Farrell was quiet, he remembered, was that he had an engagement ring in a box in his pocket. He had fiddled with the box, opening it and shutting it with his thumb, putting his index finger into the band then retracting it. In fact, he almost got it out twice, but held back. This wasn’t the right time. But would there ever be a right time, he’d pondered as he went to the bar?

To Farrell, the only crime against humanity that had been committed that Bank Holiday Monday was to place those bodies, before they had been filled with air, in the transport on the road to Narrow Water. And that, as he saw it, was a crime committed by the British government — not him.

No, what had deflated Farrell that night, as republicans whooped it up throughout the pubs, bars and farms of South Armagh and well beyond, was the realisation that this was to be the life he had chosen to live for as long as he would live it. There was no turning back.

And the longer that life sentence was, the worse a prospect it seemed, which was why the ring stayed in his pocket.

At nineteen years of age, the past already haunted him, and the future scared him shitless.

He thought of the line from his favourite film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, where the sheriff said to the pair: “You’re going to die bloody. All you can do is choose where.” He wasn’t sure how much choice he’d have in the matter, when the time came.




Micksey lit a cigarette and broke Farrell’s reverie by farting loudly, lifting a cheek so that the Zephyr slewed across the road towards a stone-cropped embankment.

“Dirty bastard,” said Dempsey, winding down his window. “Micksey, Will ye look where yer fuckin’ going! I couldn’t stand another sancti-fuckin’-monious pulpit bashin’ from that bloody priest if you carp it!”

Farrell wondered if Ellen’s life had ended on one of these lanes. It would have been around here, he thought. He didn’t ask.

He’d kept a close eye on McGuinn throughout the afternoon. He had reminded him of a dog who had lost the will to bark, ghosting from one group to another, never getting beyond the periphery but never being totally excluded. What was it with McGuinn, he wondered? He wasn’t popular, that was for sure — feared maybe, but not liked. But the more he studied him, the less sure he was that he was a tout. He had too much to lose, and now that he’d appeared to have nailed his colours to Adams’s mast, he had a foot in both camps. He was, after all, Dempsey’s deputy and carried considerable operational clout as well as being Adams’s political lapdog. Surely he didn’t have a third foot in the Brits’ camp as well?

Unless, of course, they’d made him an offer he simply couldn’t refuse.













Second Lieutenant Farrell walked out of the front door of Sandhurst on Saturday May 8th 1982 an Officer with a distinction, if not quite a gentleman.

Like all newly commissioned officers, Farrell was presented to the Queen, which, bearing in mind his role in the republican movement, he considered somewhat ironic. He found her rather nice and even felt a little sorry for her that her lot was to rule a country largely governed by wankers who, for the most part, had failed to notice that Britain was no longer Great, and that they’d outstayed their welcome in his country.

He had received a telephone call from a Colonel Davidson, the Army Officer Selection Board adjutant, shortly after he had returned to Manchester following Ellen’s funeral. Would he, Davidson wondered, consider commencing his 48-week officer-training course at the beginning of May? He realised that this would mean that he would have to sit his finals whilst at Sandhurst, but he felt confident that a chap with his credentials and academic record would find that absolutely no bother. The first five weeks, in which the basic army training was conducted were the worst grueling, he’d said, and he’d be done with that by the time of his exams.

The reason for this, said Davidson, was that he’d got wind that the 14th Intelligence Company, currently based in Aldergrove, would be moving — at least in part — to South Armagh and they were on the lookout for someone to get involved in some jolly sensitive undercover work. It would probably mean joining the Royal Scots Guards, but he wouldn’t have a problem with that, would he?

Davidson conveniently choose to overlook the fact that the previous incumbent of this post, one Captain Billy Kneeshaw — or Captain Kneejerk, as he was known unaffectionately to the locals — had had his head blown off by the Provos a couple of years back, and since them they hadn’t found anyone either suitable or stupid enough to replace him.

Farrell knew of this of course; Kneeshaw, as colourful a character as one could find throughout the history of the Troubles, had been murdered by a couple of drunken junior ranking volunteers after he had been abducted from the Three Steps. The only redeeming fact as far as the British Army were concerned, was that his abductors, who were little more than pissed-up thugs, made such a mess of things that they failed to obtain any information of value before shooting him.

But the strangest thing about all this was that his body had never been discovered, nor was its location revealed when the Provos divulged the whereabouts of ‘the Disappeared’ in 1999. There had been a certain amount of speculation that his abductors had given him such a beating that it would be better for all concerned if the evidence of his treatment was kept quiet; it was one thing to shoot or to blow up the Brits, but barbarity of this nature wasn’t good publicity.

There was even some conjecture that Kneeshaw’s body had been put through a commercial mincer in a meat factory, which was as good an example of the lengths the Provos were prepared to go to in order to conceal their methods, as any throughout the conflict.

An Anglo-Irish Meat Company plant had applied for planning permission to extend its facilities in July ’76, around a year prior to Kneeshaw’s abduction, and the application had received numerous objections. However, when the objectors received death threats from masked men, hand-delivered to their front doors, understandably their objections were withdrawn and the extension of the plant went ahead.

As a forerunner to the intended cross-party co-operation sought by the ill-fated Anglo-Irish Agreement, the business unwittingly employed a few IRA volunteers as casual labour. One of them was overheard talking about what went on in the meat factory to a friend in a Crossmaglen pub: “They scalped him, cut out his innards, then turned him into meat and bone-meal.” He added: “I think they must have burnt the scalp and the giblets.” The whole conversation, in which Kneeshaw’s name was mentioned on several occasions had been secretly recorded by one of Dempsey’s men, and it had been fair to draw the assumption that the meat factory employee wasn’t talking about one of his pigs.

This kind of loose talk would not, under normal circumstances, have been tolerated. It would have resulted, at the very least, in a bullet through the back of the patella for whoever had blabbed. However, Dempsey decided that the threat of a visit to the ‘meat factory’ served as a more than useful additional deterrent to those who may be tempted to inform.

Farrell recalled that this had happened a couple of months before his own ‘abduction’ to South Armagh and how Dempsey had still been livid due to how it had been handled.

Kneeshaw had been a public school and Oxford educated officer who was a swashbuckling Bulldog Drummond sort of character. He was also passed out of Sandhurst with distinction.

His downfall was to have convinced himself that he was invincible, and still tried to entice the locals to inform even although they knew exactly who he was. His fellow officers viewed him as something between a maverick and a complete lunatic and no one, least of all his commanding officer, was at all surprised when he was abducted.

However, Kneeshaw had served a useful purpose: his methods had been so flamboyant that he drew attention from other covert M15 and FRU operatives who were successfully gleaning intelligence in South Armagh.

The Army tried to take some positive spin from his murder. Two years after he had disappeared, Kneeshaw was granted the posthumous award of the George Cross; the citation read: ‘… for being subjected to a succession of exceptionally savage assaults in an attempt to extract information which would have put other lives and future operations at serious risk.’ It had been the lack of an attempt to extract information from him that had particularly annoyed Dempsey.

On the other side of the propaganda fence, An Phoblacht, the official newspaper of Sinn Féin saw things rather differently. Kneeshaw was portrayed by their cartoonist as an upper-class clown in a ‘stirring tale full of action, adventure and the gross stupidity of the Brits’.

And the affair had drawn another comment from the incarcerated Paddy McMahon: “Very stupid man. He probably thought he was Jack the lad and all the natives were thick paddies. It was very, very unprofessional. Some of his superiors must have been doing their heads in.”

The same superiors who had been doing their heads in were now on the lookout for a bright intelligence officer to go into South Armagh and do the job properly, and Farrell fitted that bill down to a T.

He would blend in perfectly — certainly much better than Kneeshaw had done — particularly as he was well known in the area. Of course, Davidson was unaware what it was exactly that Farrell was well known for.

Dempsey had insisted that he gave an address in Crossmaglen on his Sandhurst application form to help bait the trap at which Colonel Davidson’s nose was now twitching.

And not only that, he had also suggested that Farrell give his religion as Roman Catholic on the application, so that he fitted the person specification in every way. This was quite plausible as Port Royal had a reputation as an inter-denominational school. Bizarre as it may seem, a handful of Catholic parents had been persuaded to part with considerable lumps of hard-earned money to procure an education for their sons in an establishment founded by King James ll.

He wouldn’t have to wear a uniform or live in the barracks; he would just report to the CO at 14th Intelligence Company in Aldergrove periodically, and carry on as normal within the community, gathering and filtering intelligence.

They would, of course, like to put him in there straight away but rules were rules, and he had to go though the Officer Training Programme. They’d concoct a plausible story, of course, as to where he’d been since finishing at university… possibly a work placement, or something, but for now they just needed him to give it the go-ahead.

Take your time and think about it, Davidson had said, adding: “…wonderful opportunity, old boy… I wish very much that I were going in there. Give me a call tomorrow when you’ve slept on it.”

Farrell very much doubted that Davidson would want to be within a hundred miles of South Armagh, but gave his consent the next day, and four months later arrived in Berkshire with a small suitcase.




Sandhurst had taught Farrell two things.

Firstly, most of his cohort was made up of ordinary guys who had joined the army as a career because they couldn’t do anything else.

They hadn’t the guile to become bankers or stockbrokers, the brains to be lawyers, doctors or accountants, and daddy had enough money to put them through minor public schools but didn’t have the permanent dirt of the land beneath his fingernails for them to inherit a decent sized farm, and play farmer wants a wealthy wife.

If was no surprise to Farrell, that so many of them went into teaching when they left the Army. For most, it was merely swapping one career of mediocrity for another.

The British Army was still as inept at fighting a guerilla war now as they had been thirteen years ago on Bloody Sunday, Farrell thought. There had been nothing in any of the training he’d received at Sandhurst to suggest that they had learned the slightest thing about conducting an urban campaign against an unseen enemy. You didn’t climb a rope ladder and abseil down a thirty-foot wall on the streets of Belfast, screamingly manically as you bayonetted a swinging sandbag. Or if you did, you could expect a bullet from a sniper before you had time to hear the Captain’s: ‘jolly good show’.

There were some outfits who were better prepared and, in some cases, capable of playing the terrorist at his own game. Elite detachments from the Paras, Marines and SAS. But they worked undercover and either died learning on the job or went insane trying. Some, of course, blended in rather too well so that the boundaries were blurred as to whose side they were actually on and had a very short life expectancy as they were likely to receive a bullet from either side.

But they weren’t stupid enough to believe that they could penetrate the wall of silence thrown at them by the communities that they were sent to infiltrate. And the Intelligence Service knew that the only ones who had a chance were local men such as Farrell, or the Scottish, who were right up there with the Irish when it came to sectarian hatred and, as such, made convincing double-agents.

Kneeshaw had never stood a chance with his plumy Oxbridge accent and the public-school prefect manner with which he tried to order the natives about. But it could be done; Army Intelligence was determined to infiltrate the decision makers in the Provo hierarchy and this was why they had wanted Farrell so badly.

Of course, 14th Intelligence Company had no idea that Farrell had been appointed as the IRA’s Head of Internal Security. This was a closely guarded secret; information that only a very few were trusted with, as was the fact that he had received officer training at Sandhurst.

Box 14, as 14th Intelligence Company were known, were well aware that Farrell had ‘associations’ with key republican players and had a close, almost filial relationship with Dempsey, but there was nothing to suggest any involvement in paramilitary activities. As such, they saw him as the ideal ‘asset,’ someone with a foot in both camps.

And Dempsey had been particularly careful, in the light of what happened to Ellen, to ensure that McGuinn knew nothing about Farrell’s stint at Sandhurst. He had fed him the same line as the army had used as cover for Farrell, that he was still in Manchester, studying for a Masters’ degree. McGuinn hated Farrell in any case, so his brains and his good looks weren’t missed around the place as far as he was concerned.

The second thing Farrell had learned from Sandhurst was that while there were politicians like Thatcher in Downing Street, there would be as much chance of Britain voluntarily relinquishing any further outposts of its shrunken empire than there was of adding to it.

The war in the South Atlantic had split the country. Farrell observed this from conversation overheard in the Berkshire pubs and villages he frequented.

And there was also a growing clamour to get the soldiers out of Northern Ireland, as the Troops Out movement gathered momentum.

But the Brits, through successive administrations, had doggedly clung to their resolve to retain the six counties as a part of Great Britain.

And the politicians were indifferent to a groundswell of opinion in mainland Britain who would gladly wave goodbye to Ulster, particularly as violence in their shopping centres, pubs and commercial areas escalated.

And that, Farrell, firmly believed, was the only way to win the war. The average Englishman didn’t give a shit if ten Roman Catholics were blown to kingdom come on their way home from work, to reciprocate for the ten Protestants who were shot graveyard dead in their Orange Hall. It barely got a mention in the media, as it didn’t affect them.

But bring the conflict to their front door; make them afraid to go shopping, take a train, go to a pub or nightclub, start their car — create a paranoia that dominated their entire existence and they would very soon say enough is enough.

And this was Farrell’s take home message from Sandhurst. Not so much how the military mind worked, but how to feed on a civilian fear which the military were powerless to calm.

A fear that would eventually make that military machine as ineffectual as a mother who tells her child that there’s nothing sinister behind the curtains when the window’s shut and it’s not the breeze that’s making them flutter.











TWENTY-ONE: Another Fine Mess



2.00pm, Friday 20th September, 2019


They drove along the Sydenham by-pass, dwarfed by the giant twin cranes, Samson and Hercules, symbols of the former industrial might of the Harland & Woolf shipyard, builders of the Titanic over a hundred years ago.

They passed the George Best airport and turned left at the roundabout opposite the Holywood Barracks, where the few remaining troops in the province were stationed.

They were approaching Laneside and Farrell knew it was time to voice the question that had been on his mind since Dibble had first mentioned time travel.

“So… how about I go back to December 1977 and prevent Owen’s death. If, of course, this time travel thing is possible. That way, I don’t join the IRA and none of what I was involved in happened. That should please a lot of people? Particularly those six feet under.”

“Aye, well don’t think we hadn’t considered that, Billy. The main reason is that — according to the boffins anyway — the wormhole is not thought to be sufficiently robust to go back beyond January 1981. Besides which,” Dibble lit a cigar and flicked the cellophane out of the window, “if we were to do that, you wouldn’t be here now and believe me, Billy, you’ve no idea what a calamitous effect that would have on things.”

“Oh, I think I can imagine, Dibble. I’d just be a normal middle-aged bloke with a normal job looking forward to a normal retirement without three decades of blood on my hands and the ghosts from the cemetery gaunchin’ at me from dusk te dawn every night. That hardly sounds calamitous to me.”

Bond indicated left and turned down a wide tree-lined avenue with large residences on either side, set squarely on their own land. The road led gently down to the shore of Belfast Lough. To live here was, and always had been, the aspirational dream of Belfast’s young professionals, and the past fourteen years had accelerated demand for Lough-side properties like nowhere else in Belfast. Even since the property bubble had burst a decade ago, these old Georgian or Victorian houses with half-acre gardens changed hands for the best part of a million.

Laneside was almost the same as when Farrell had last made this journey fifteen years ago.

He had been summoned to the FRU headquarters, a building they shared with MI5 Joint Irish Section, to be handed Baldwin’s death sentence, a decree that was merely the rubber stamp on instructions already received from Dempsey.

The irony wasn’t lost on Farrell: he’d spent the best part of fifteen years clearing up one side or the other side’s mess. His heart beat faster as he remembered why he was here now — to clean up yet another mess.

The security barrier and the portacabins had all gone now, leaving the building resembling any other leafy Victorian Grade ll listed residence that had been converted into offices for the legal firms and medical consultants who could afford more opulent outer-city premises.

Bond pulled up at front door.

“I’ll leave you with my PA for a minute. I need to make certain arrangements for your transportation.”

“Transportation? I haven’t said I’m doing this, Dibble. Even if it’s possible — and that’s something I’m yet te be convinced about.”

“Oh you’ll do it all right Billy. Sure as there’s a hole in your arse you’ll do it.” Dibble ground the butt of his cigar into the gravel. “’You’ll do it to bring Ellen back… never mind the money.”

A pretty blonde kitten-healed secretary with a flirtatious smile led him into Dibble’s office.

“Hi, I’m Jennifer,” she said, swishing her ponytail provocatively, “make yourself comfortable, sir.” The accent was cultured, rural County Down, probably Saintfield. Bet she had a horse, he thought, he could see her with a whip. “Can I get you anything? Tea, coffee, maybe something stronger?”

Farrell thought about flirting back until he realised that they would get on like a topless Rihanna and a Free Presbyterian farmer in a barley field. She’d probably had a peek at his file too and fancied a bit of rough.

“A coffee thanks… black.” She smiled at him and clicked her heels across the wooden floorboards. “Think I’m gonne need it,” he added softly to himself.

These old Victorian houses, with their high ceilings and huge recessed doors, were built for the industrialists made wealthy from the shipyards and linen factories across the Lough that they were positioned so carefully to obscure.

The view was stunning.

Farrell walked to the window to admire it. The original glass was still in the frames and he checked the sash window to see if it would open. It slid up easily. Force of habit, he thought; even here you want to be sure there’s more than one way out.

He sipped his coffee and studied the desk. It wasn’t Dibble’s desk any longer, of course; he has based in London now, as Head of Homeland Security. Gone was all the personal clutter, the family photographs and the trivia that linked him to this room as a daily place of work. Just a leather bound blotter pad, a pen tidy full of the usual desk junk, a bowl of fruit and an intercom that looked as if it had been borrowed from Thunderbirds.

Farrell re-filled his china cup from the silver coffee pot and walked back to the window. The effect of the Guinness had long gone. Of course he would do it. What could be worse than being stuck in this shithole that was the present? After all, wasn’t it just this morning he’d placed his gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger?

And what if he didn’t come back?

Come back to what: Unremitting boredom, shadows from the past, and a daily hangover to remind him of a wasted life? He’d once heard someone say that friends only served the purpose of reminding you how badly you’d done in life. Well, he had thought, he didn’t have any friends, and if he had, he wouldn’t need them to remind him.

There was nothing he could do about Owen — that much was clear. And he had no regrets about joining the IRA as a kid to avenge him. But joining it was one thing — the IRA wasn’t a club that reneged your membership if your efficacy sagged a wee bit.          Besides which, he had been a target for various factions on both sides of the conflict since the night his sticky bomb had dispatched the two SAS meddlers.

No, this was a chance to save Ellen and to prevent the hunger strike, which had ratcheted up hostilities for a decade; a chance to prevent people who sincerely believed in their cause from dying pointlessly. He had absolutely no idea how he was to do this but assumed Dibble must have some sort of a plan.

But best of all, he thought, for the first time in years he felt a glimmer of positivity; here was a chance to build a better future from a different past. It didn’t matter how improbable it sounded… it was his ticket out of the grotesque and unedifying existence he had become accustomed to.

As for the Shale gas find? Farrell couldn’t give a shit who had sovereignty over that, but if it meant depriving McGuinn of the biggest bargaining chip in the history of bargaining chips then so much the better.

What mattered, he thought, absently staring over the manicured lawns drifting down to Belfast Lough…what mattered, was that he could have chance to prevent Ellen’s death, and save hundreds of lives in the process. And then maybe they could take up where they had left off.


And the money? Well, he wasn’t holding out any hopes for that, he’d been screwed over by Dibble often enough not to trust the fucker. No, the money would be a bonus.

He was dragged back from his thoughts by the sound of Jennifer’s heels clip clopping across the floorboards. She stood beside him gazing out of the window.

“Fine view isn’t it?’ She smiled at him. “It’s time — he’s ready.” She took his cup and saucer and Farrell meekly followed her out of the office and across a corridor where she slipped a security key-card down a scanner and pulled the door open. Inside was a lift that silently lowered them to the basement.
















TWENTY-TWO: The correct time machine


Laneside, Holywood

2.15pm, Friday 20th September, 2019


The door slid open.

Farrell found himself in a huge, high ceilinged, brightly lit room that resembled a hanger; it was easily the size of a football pitch. There was a hub of activity with white-coated scientific looking men holding clipboards, talking animatedly into cameras, exploding things, or simply whizzing around the perimeter chasing each other in what looked like golf buggies. At one end was a massive glass tank where a creature resembling a giant octopus the size of an office block thrashed agitatedly.

Dibble approached accompanied by a heavily built, grey-bearded anxious looking man in a white coat, holding a clipboard. The man looked coronary ready.

“Catch that in Belfast Lough did ye Dibble?”

“It’s the Lock Ness monster, actually. Well, the new one anyway. But we’ve not quite finished re-programming it yet. It’s to keep an eye on the Jocks and see how they handle national security now they’ve finally got independence.”

Farrell ducked as a cherub-faced mannequin powered by a jet pack narrowly missed him.

“Aye, you’ve got to keep your wits about you down here, Billy. This here’s Professor McTavish… McT, we call him.” A rotund, red-faced, camp looking man dressed in the white coat, and bearing an uncanny resemblance to Benidorm’s Donald Stewart, offered his hand. Farrell shook it. “McT’s in charge Research and Development for the Trans-temporal Spatial Relocation programme. So in a minute he’s fill you in with everything you need to know.”

Farrell’s jaw dropped as he noticed the stainless steel Delorean DMC 12 mounted on a platform in the centre of the hangar.

“Okay, Dibble… very funny. Very fuckin’ funny… Now, I’ve had enough of this bollocks.” Farrell turned towards the lift then checked and moved threateningly towards the Head of Homelands Security. “Ye must have nothin’ better te do with yer time than dream up ways te wind people up.”

Dibble looked perplexed.

“What do you mean Billy? No one’s winding anyone up? I’m just giving you a chance to end to all this, get yourself a few quid and save Ellen. Where’s the wind up in that?”

“Ye nearly had me Dibble, so ya did. I can just see ye, sittin’ on a bar stool in some wanky Notting Hill wine bar with yer Hurray fuckin’ Henry mates, haw-hawing about how ye kidded this thick Paddy that he was gonne go back in time in a Delorean. Only he’s called McThick instead of McfuckingFly. ” Farrell felt resentment and anger course through his veins in a way he’d not done since Ellen had died. “I mean… just what do ye take me for?” Farrell turned and marched towards the lift. “How about we just take out the Flux Capacitor and stick it up yer arse?” He felt pricks of tears pulling at the corners of his eyes for the second time today.

“Wait Billy… wait… hold on one wee minute. You’re totally wrong here. Wine bars don’t have stools… least not in Notting Hill anyway.” Dibble chuckled at his humour. “Besides, that’s not a time machine you’re looking at. That just happens to be John Delonean’s personal DMC12. It was the last car built at his Twinbrook factory… been here for donkeys’ years. We just haven’t decided what to do with it yet, but it’s certainly not a time machine, I can tell you that. Your time machine is sitting over there.” Dibble pointed to the far corner.

Farrell looked across the vast room and saw a white cubicle, about a quarter of the size of a portacabin, with a chrome-handled door, placed against the wall.

“A fridge or a toilet?”

McT cleared his throat.

“Well it’s more of a cold room really,” he said almost apologetically in a cultured Livingston accent. “I agree with you, the Delorean would have been more, shall we say… more stylish, but you would have stood out like a sore thumb in South Armagh in ’81 in one of those wee beasties. Besides which, the science never stacked up.” McT guided them towards the cubicle. “Let’s take a look, shall we?

“To be honest Mr Farrell,” he continued, “we aren’t entirely sure how we’ve got to this. I can explain most of it, but the most important bit — the contents of the compound McVeigh discovered — well, naturally we’ve done a molecular analysis and chemical evaluation but we’ve not been able to synthesise the substrate that triggers the enzymes to catalyze chemical reactions that will effect time travel in the manner of McVeigh’s concoction.” McT stroked chin. “We simply don’t know how he did it.”

“Aye, well… the only chemical reactions I was aware Micksey could produce were inaccurate mortar bombs and undrinkable potcheen.”

“Well… there you have it.” Mc T smiled, revealing teeth in need of some long-overdue dental work and placed his hand on Farrell’s shoulder in the manner of an affectionate uncle. “We have a theory though… mind you, it doesn’t sound terribly convincing, but in the absence of more precise science, it’s all we have. We believe that he invented this compound totally by accident. We think he added something to the potcheen that increased its toxicity and triggered the enzymes that when spilled on the floor revealed the gateway to the wormhole…”

“…How about nitro?” Interrupted Farrell. “He added it to just about everything else except his Corn Flakes since I introduced him te it.”

“Well now that’s a thought. I must confess we’ve not tried that yet, Mind you, it would have to be in very modest quantities. Whatever it was, he was extremely fortunate. The amount he consumed was not only sufficient to propel him into the wormhole, but also enough to encase him in a titanium skin capable of resisting temperatures of two hundred thousand degrees, without which he would certainly have been instantly vaporized.”

“How d’ye know this?”

“We know this because when he arrived here recently… that’s in 2019, he brought the casing with him. It was coated in a substance called Starlite, invented in 1991 by an eccentric former hairdresser called Maurice Ward who had no formal scientific training, and claimed to have concocted it on his kitchen table with a food processor. Unfortunately, he took the secret to his grave.”

“Sound’s a bit like Micksey’s discovery then?”

They had reached the white cubicle and McT reached for the large chrome handle and pulled the heavy door open.

“Indeed. The same level of random fortitude seems to have applied. We also know this because McVeigh’s first trip took him to 2035 where he acquired this machine.”

Farrell’s heart sank. He wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but it certainly wasn’t an empty cold room. Maybe a vast control room like Dr Who’s TARDIS, with an interior much larger than its exterior. Perhaps there’d be another group of white-coated scientist beavering over the controls? At least something that looked futuristic and like a time machine. Disappointingly, inside the dimensions were the same as on the outside and it appeared that there were no controls at all; other than those that you would be likely to find in a normal walk-in cold room.

The only incongruous and slightly macabre objects in the capsule were two reclining chairs; similar to those found in dental surgeries except that each had a full race harness attached to it.

“McVeigh inadvertently discovered the wormhole in 1977 and ended up here — where we’re standing right now — in 2035 where this machine, capable of facilitating trans-temporal spacial travel, was already in existence. This fortuitous event would have allowed scientists to use his compound as a Particle Accelerator and the rest, as they say, is history… except, it’s not history, as history, as we currently evaluate it, is based on the construct that time is linear and not flexible… which we now know isn’t always the case.”

McT paused for breath.

“So just exactly how does this… fridge work,” asked Farrell.

McT opened a panel behind a shelf that Farrell hadn’t noticed. Inside there were row upon row of circular brushes attached to tiny spindles reminding Farrell of a drive-in car wash.

“It’s a bit ‘Heath Robinson’ I know, but it does work,” McT said, reading Farrell’s thoughts. “As you may know, travel to the future has been considered possible for some time, but travelling back in time has always been considered… shall we say…problematic. To go back in time you need to accelerate matter to the speed of light, a mere 186,000 miles per second. One of the problems has always been the energy required to generate sufficient propulsion relative to the mass — which, of course, you will recognise as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Now each of these spindles, holding what looks like brushes, actually supports around half a million tiny discs, invisible to the naked eye, which once set in motion by McVeigh’s Particle Accelerator will reach the speed of light within 20 seconds of engagement. It’s a bit like waiting for the glow plugs to do their job on an old fashioned diesel engine on cold morning.”

Dibble looked agitated.

“Can we just get to the point here? We really need to get him on the way.”

McT frowned at Dibble and continued. It wasn’t every day he had a captive audience and he was damned if he was going to be rushed.

“Well, the rest of it’s quite simple, really.” He turned to a small wall-mounted box by the door resembling a domestic central heating control, and flicked up the plastic cover. “You need to accelerate one disc for each second that you wish to travel in time. The ‘up’ switch is forward and the ‘down’ switch is back. Simple as that. Mind you don’t get them confused. So, for example, to travel back twenty-four hours, you will need to engage 86,400 and to return to 1981 you will need… quite a lot, but we have a computer that will work it all out for you.” McT chuckled softly and flicked the screen on the panel, bringing up a keyboard. “Simply enter the target date and time — remember it’s a 24 hour clock — and press enter. This will calculate precisely how much Particle Accelerator you require, and — here’s the slightly tricky but — you must feed it into this… for want of a better word, we will call a fuel tank, via this syringe.” McT held up a syringe in one hand and in the other he brandished a whiskey bottle. Farrell thought for an instant he was going to take a swig from it.

McT paused, flushed with unaccustomed excitement. “Any questions?”

“One or two,” replied Farrell. “What happens if you put in the wrong amount of the … stuff?”

“Oh, the amount is absolutely critical, too much or too little and you’ll miss the target. But don’t worry… we’ll set it up for you before you go and make sure you know what to do to get back.” The bottle that had once held whiskey was now around a third full with a fluid that was clearly something else. A hand-written sticker superimposed on the Jamieson’s’ original label read ‘C19’.


“Compound 19,” Dibble interjected, wearily. “We can only assume that this was his 19th attempt to produce a libation that would get him shit-faced without causing death or paralysis.”

“Compound 19…?” Farrell’s brain was churning. “Why does that ring a bell?”

“It should ring a bell, Billy. Heck of a coincidence, mind, but Compound 19, HM Prison the Maze, is exactly where you’re headed. At least, it’s one of your key holiday destinations.”



TWENTY-THREE: Chocolate Hobnobs and the Rudimentary Principles of Time Travel


Laneside, Holywood

2.45pm, Friday 20th September, 2019


“Just exactly how… or why, does a wormhole come into all this?”

They had adjourned to Dibble’s office with tea and biscuits, as Farrell had point-blank refused to commit further until his questions were answered in full.

While McT was delighted by his elevation from technician to instructor, Dibble was less than impressed with the delay. He was due on the golf course in an hour and wanted Farrell back in 1981 long before that.

“A wormhole is a shortcut, a portal through the fabric of space and time. As Einstein pointed out,” continued McT, warming to his theme, “space and time are not linear but are curved.” He paused to secure the remaining Chocolate Hobnob before Dibble could claim it.

The scientist picked up a piece of A4 sized card, punched two holes into it with his fountain pen then inverted his pen though both holes and stood it on the desk in the shape of the letter A.

“Voila… there you have it.” This activity had necessitated relinquishing the Hobnob and he looked up to find that Dibble had taken full advantage. “My pen depicts a wormhole which can — we have discovered, thanks to McVeigh — empty into another time and is also capable of linking different locations in time. Once the Particle Accelerator is engaged, the wormhole will open up and travel will commence. You will be strapped in with a harness and won’t be aware of a thing… maybe just a slight humming… and some darkness… and perhaps a little vibration, but nothing nearly as uncomfortable as an Easyjet flight. The process will only take a couple of minutes in what appears to be ‘real time.’”

“And what if this wormhole collapses? Dibble says the stability has been compromised… said it’s de-stabilising, right?”

“Ah yes… as we understand it, the wormhole moves with real time, that is time as we experience it. So… while it will be possible for you to go back to 28th February 1981 today, this will soon not be possible tomorrow… but how soon we still don’t know.We believe that the rate of de-stabilisation will accelerate… but we don’t know when.”

So, there’s a chance I could get stuck in 1981?”

Yes… a slim chance.”

“And Micksey? If the cubicle’s here, just how did he get to London in April?”

“We have more than one cubicle… in fact we have several.” McT picked up a large Hobnob crumb he had discovered on his pants and surveyed it as if it were of great scientific interest before popping it into his mouth. “Building cubicles is not the problem. Finding the missing ingredient to synthesize C19 is the stumbling block.”

“Well if I bump inte Micksey I’ll be sure te ask him.”

“That would be most helpful. If you could bring him back with you, better still. But don’t encourage him to think him along the lines of Nobel Prizes as that would be quite inappropriate.” McT looked pensive. “To come back to the wormhole… just why the only one we know to be in existence links the Headquarters of the British Intelligence Services in Northern Ireland with the Headquarters of the Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA, we have absolutely no idea. Any other questions?”


“Make them quick, Billy,” Dibble said.

“Does this wormhole let you travel te the same place but at a different time?”

“Categorically not. As I’ve explained, Mr Farrell, the wormhole is a portal, linking two different places and two different times. In that principle, at least, it is similar to your Easyjet flight. You cannot, for instance, travel from here to South Armagh and arrive at the same time that you set off — hence the principle of parallel realities, which I’ll come to in a moment — in the same way as you cannot take off from Belfast airport and land at Heathrow at the same time as you departed. So the only way to travel to a different time but remain in the same place is to make two separate journeys. And that requires twice as much C19, a substance we are rapidly running out of. When you undertake this time jump…”

“…If I undertake this time jump.”

“… We will equip you with sufficient C19 to do what is required and for you to return to 2019.”

“No way… I’m taking all you’ve got with me or I’m not goin’ anywhere. One other thing: If I agree te goin’ back, will it be me… as I am now… or me as I was in ‘81?”

“Good question,” replied the scientist. “Do you think we could have some more Hobnobs Mr Dibble? I missed my lunch today.”

“Haven’t got time. Just answer the question.”

“You will revert to your twenty year-old self.” McT produced a black and white photograph of Farrell taken around Christmas 1980. “You’re lucky, you’ve aged well so you are virtually in the same shape now as you were then.” McT patted his gut, and chuckled. “Wish I could say the same for myself.”

“Well you can take the restriction of Hobnobs as the start of your calorie controlled diet,” said Dibble. “Now is that it?”

“Not quite yet. Just to be clear, Billy, you cannot be in two places at once. What we have here, as I’ve already said, is a series of parallel realities. You cannot and will not, run into yourself. That much we are quite sure of. Oh… and one other thing. Don’t smoke in the cubicle.”





















TWENTY-FOUR: Operation Demetruis and the Bionic Man


The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Friday 28th February, 1981 7.30pm


McVeigh went outside for a smoke.

He didn’t usually leave the comfort of the paraffin-stove heated workshop to light up but he wanted to think clearly and figured the cold of the night might help.

The yard was frozen; the rutted concrete slippery with a deadly sheen of black ice beneath a cloudless sky. The air so cold it hurt his lungs, and bright moonlight cloaked the Ring of Gullion with both a hint of evil and a veil of beauty he’d never seen before.

And he had seen quite a lot; things that few other living beings had, or perhaps, should have seen.

He lit a Stuyvesant and inhaled deeply. His da had always smoked Gallagher’s Blues, which was why he chose the polar opposite. He hadn’t thought about his da in a long while.

Seamus Maximilian McVeigh liked to beat his sons most nights when he returned full drunk from McKittrick’s bar, for no better reason than to underline the fact that he was still the man of the house.

Micksey, who was the eldest of his six sons, had just turned 19 and at 6’2” was now exempt from his da’s treatment. One hot August night in ’71, the old man kicked in the bedroom door where four of his sons shared a bed and pulled the leather belt from his pants.

No sooner he had yanked nine year-old Liam from the bed, the boy screaming, hands over his head to fend off the worst of the blows he knew were certain to come, than two things happened.

Micksey shot his da in the leg with the 9mm pistol the old man had kept hidden beneath the floorboards in his bedroom.

And at that precise moment, heavily armed soldiers from the Parachute Regiment kicked in the front door.

Micksey, who had never held, let alone shot a gun before and had aimed it at his da’s head, instinctively dropped the weapon.

McVeigh senior, bleeding heavily and with judgment not best served by drink, made the fatal mistake of picking up the handgun. The old man was about to point it at his eldest son when the first soldier emptied the magazine of his semi-automatic rifle into him, dispatching him and seriously wounding Liam, who died later in hospital.

In the confusion that followed in the Leeson Street tenement on the first night of Operation Demetruis, Micksey was shot in the face and both legs for no good reason other than for being there and on his feet. He came round after eight hours of surgery involving major reconstruction of his jaw, metal implants in both legs, and the insertion of a bionic hip, to find himself shortly to be shipped out to HM Prison Long Kesh, where he would be detained in Compound 19 at Her majesty’s pleasure, under Prime Minister Brian Faulkner’s policy of imprisoning suspected paramilitaries without trial.

And there Micksey stayed until internment, as it was better known, ended on 5th December 1975.

Were it not for the events of that hot August night, there was a slim chance that Micksey would have completed his panel-beating apprenticeship and not joined the IRA.

But he learned some important skills in Compound 19. He learned pottery, how to distill potcheen, make mortar bombs and that he wasn’t quite ready for bible study just yet.

And if he hadn’t been totally radicalised by the time he walked out of the Maze in December ’75, his arrest the following month for his role as wheelman in a post office heist that went terribly wrong completed the process. The Smith and Weston the RUC planted on him was sufficient to return him to the Maze until he was airlifted out by the cherry picker on Dempsey’s instructions the following summer.

Micksey ground the butt of his Stuyvesant into the frozen concrete, spat, more from the recollection of his da than the need to do so, and went back inside the cozy workshop where the first thing he noticed was a familiar looking white fridge-like cubicle, which had certainly not been there before his smoke.

















TWENTY-FIVE: The Order of Time and the Stuff in the Suitcase


The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Friday 28th February, 1981 7.35pm


Farrell cautiously opened the cubicle’s door a crack and warmth from the workshop flooded in.

It might have been a time capsule, he thought, but it did the job of a cold room bloody well. He could barely feel his face or feet.

McT’s warning to expect a little humming, darkness and vibration had fallen some way short of preparing him for a passage through time and space that resembled being inside a washing machine during the spin cycle.

The workshop was deserted.

Farrell grabbed the small battered leather suitcase McT had given him containing a few ‘essentials’, closed the cubicle and headed for the workshop’s rear entrance.

The back door was rarely used but he didn’t want to run into McVeigh just yet; that would happen soon enough. To get out, he had to shift a consignment of pipes waiting for conversion into mortar bombs by McVeigh. He also had to rummage in the suitcase for a pair of bolt cutters to snap off the padlock that secured the exit.

He took out the baggy Irish Fisherman’s sweater, knitted by McT’s ancient mother, suddenly mindful that Crossmaglen on a frigid February night would require more than flared Levis and the buccaneer pirate shirt the boffin had hurriedly dug out of the wardrobe room.

“I’m not bloody wearing that thing!” Farrell had protested, holding the blouse at arm’s length. “I wouldn’t even wear it to a New Romantics disco!”

“Well, we’re currently a little light on ‘80s vintage fashion, I’m afraid.”

“And as for the suit…”

“… You will need a suit if you’re to be taken seriously at the Hillsborough meeting (with Thatcher and Haughey), you know.”

“Aye, but not one that even Roger Moore wouldn’t wear. I mean… ” Farrell picked up the offending brown outfit and examined the flared trousers, four-buttoned low-cut waistcoat and broad-lapelled jacket. “… How will I be taken seriously lookin’ like Hurricane fuckin’ Higgins?

“You can’t rock up dressed like Frankie Valli, you know,” Dibble said.

“That was the ‘60s Dibble, and at least he wore proper suits. I’ll look like a fucking spiv in that thing. Anyway,” he added looking at Dibble’s ill-fitting Man At C&A off the peg number, “since when have you been a fashion guru?”

He was about to snap off the padlock when he heard a noise behind him.

Farrell turned round to see McVeigh holding an Armalite, which he was in no doubt was aimed at his head.




“Are you going to shoot me Micksey or has the potcheen fucked with yer eyesight too?”

For a moment Farrell was back on the Lisballaw Road on the night of his ‘abduction.’ That was the last time McVeigh had pointed a gun at him.

“Billy? Is that you?” McVeigh lowered the gun. “Sorry fella. Can’t be too careful. There’s something goin’ on tonight. Don’t know what it is but Malcy’s twitchy.”

Something of an under-statement, Farrell thought.

“Please tell me,” McVeigh waved his weapon at the cubicle. “You didn’t just get out of that thing?”

Farrell nodded. There would be no point denying it; besides which he needed Micksey’s help.

“Aye… well, apparently the Delorean wasn’t working.”

“The what…?

“The… never mind. Micksey, just tell me what you know about… fuck, I don’t know where to start… time travel?

Outside a car started. Farrell recognised it as Dempsey’s Escort.

“Let’s go in the bungalow,” Farrell said. “I want to put some stuff in my room, anyway.” If anyone inspected the ‘stuff’ in the case, he would have a lot of difficult questions to answer.

Particularly as much of it hadn’t been invented in 1981.











TWENTY-SIX: This is the Future, Boy


The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Friday 28th February, 1981 7.39pm


McVeigh was at a critical stage with his distillation, he said, and had to add a batch of wash to the still. He would meet him in the kitchen in ten minutes.

Amazing, Farrell thought. The fucking SAS could burst in and strafe the place and Micksey wouldn’t get a shot off until he’d finished fucking with his still.

Farrell crept around the back of the bungalow guided by bright moonlight.

The last time he’d done this, he mused, was the night he’d met Ellen. He slid the bolt in the kitchen window with his penknife, raised the frame and hoisted himself into the kitchen. God, it felt good to be back in a young man’s body.

The room was in darkness but light from the corridor filtered through guiding him across the passage to his old room. He dumped the suitcase on the bed. As an afterthought, he opened it, took out the Ruger .357 McT had supplied, armed it with a clip of ammunition and tucked it into his waistband. And before leaving the room, he pulled off McT’s sweater and the ludicrous blouse, dug out a Che Guevara T shirt from his dresser and pulled it on. He grabbed his donkey jacket from the hook behind the door. That would come in useful, later, he thought, without knowing just how useful it would turn out to be.

Farrell looked at his watch: 7.39. The coroner had recorded that Ellen’s ‘accident’ had occurred at around 9pm.

That meant that it wasn’t long before McGuinn would crank up the transit and Micksey and Apollo would dash out. That may not give him enough time to get some answers from McVeigh.

Farrell tiptoed down the corridor and back into the warm kitchen. He flicked on the light, lit up one of the roll-ups he’d had the presence of mind to make earlier and parked himself in the rocking chair by the Rayburn.

There was silence in the bungalow. He knew Dempsey was out, Apollo would be in his room fucking about with his Airfix models and as for McGuinn… well, he would be lurking about somewhere, doing that Farrell was doing: marking time before it all kicked off.

It felt weird to be back.

In many ways, this was the only true family he’d ever known, but had it all been worth it? A question he asked himself daily, and although he always answered it by telling himself that the ends had justified the means, sitting here in the past, he had never felt this vindication so severely challenged.

The killings, the beatings, the constant fear of reprisal from both sides if they ever got a sniff of what he’d actually been up to. The need to stay one step ahead… the challenge to retain credibility had put him on a treadmill he had no way of stopping. He’d become too valuable to both sides, so entrenched in either’s machinations that there had been no way out other than death.

To kill, or to orchestrate killing, was the only way to stay alive.

Farrell stabbed out his rollie and crept along the hall. He suddenly felt an overwhelming need to see Ellen’s room, to stand where she would die in a few hours time unless he could prevent it. He just had to get this right.

He nudged open the door and flicked on the light. The room was probably as Ellen had left it, he thought. Tidy, ready for her return, not for her death.

The thought sent a shiver down his spine.

The creak of a floorboard alerted him to someone standing behind him.

He turned to find himself looking down into the slate-grey dead eyes of Malcolm McGuinn.

He was pointing a Luger at him.




















TWENTY-SEVEN: Fear, the Final Frontier


The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Friday 28th February, 1981 7.40pm


“What the fuck are ye doin’ here?”

“Why’re ya pointing that girl’s gun at me, Malcy boy?” Farrell knew how much McGuinn hated being called Malcy. “Reading week… Jeasus, you look as miserable as a fuckin’ Morrissey song.”

“A what?”

“A Morr… never mind.”

“And what the fuck’s a reading week?” Farrell knew that ’81 was long before universities came up with this mechanism to reduce term length still further but figured McGuinn would know nothing of this. “Can’t ye read the Beano in Manchester?” He lowered the gun.

“Good to see ye too, Malcy.”

The phone rang in the hall.

“Listen Farrell. There’s something goin’ down tonight. Something big. We don’t know what but that’s probably the tip off.”

“Okay. What do ye want me te do?”

“What I want ye te do,” McGuinn waved the gun again at him, more as a reminder of his seniority than an effective threat, barely concealed malice in his narrowed eyes, “Is keep the fuck outte it. Think ye can manage that?”



Micksey was in the kitchen when Farrell returned, sat in the rocking chair.

He had a haunted look on his face.

Farrell perched on the end of the solid oak-topped kitchen table, which at Dempsey’s insistence was kept covered with a floral-printed vinyl cloth to prevent it getting marked. It was the way his Ma always had it.

“So, where have ye come from?” asked McVeigh. “Obviously not Manchester. Or, should I ask, when have ye come from?”

Farrell told him. McVeigh nodded.

“Drink?” McVeigh offered him his hipflask.

“Not if it’s what I think it is. Besides which, ye need to keep a clear head. Both of us do.” Farrell knew he wouldn’t have much time. “Do you know exactly what was in yer… compound… fuck me, sounds like something outta Dr Who… or was it pure fluke that ye came up with something that re-defined the fundamental laws of physics?”

“I know exactly most of what was in it.”

“Exactly most of what was in it? Why not exactly all of what was in it?”

“’Cos I was shit-faced. Don’t think I’ve not tried te remember. I’d give anythin’ te get outte this shithole and change the future… my future, Billy. And I mean anythin’”.

“How many times have you…” Farrell struggled to find the appropriate word, “travelled?”

“Four… well four times there and back.

“The first time, well I can’t really remember how it happened. To be honest, I thought it was a dream. In fact, Billy, I sort of thought the whole thing was a dream until ye fuckin’ landed here in that… thing.”

“Go on.”

“Well, first time wasn’t long after ye’d got here, about Christmas ’78. Ye must have been back at school. I’d had a wee bit too much te drink, like I said, so I started experimentin’. First I added a drop of rum to the still, just te give it a bit of flavour. It doesn’t taste terrible good, ya know.”

“Aye, yer not kiddin’.”

“And then, for some reason I added 3 mils of nitro wi’ a syringe, so as te be exact… I remember that.”

“I fuckin’ knew it…” Farrell muttered.

“… then I added a wee drop of somethin’ else. I left it in the still overnight, then next morning filtered it inte a bottle. But I can’t fuckin’ remember what it was. I’ve tried everythin’ in the workshop I could possibly have put inte it Billy. WD40, white spirit, glue, turps, varnish, paint stripper, even ammonium nitrate… ye name it, I’ve tried everythin’ that was there that night but no dice… nothin’.”

McVeigh leant forward in the rocking chair, tapped the kitchen table animatedly with his index finger and looked into Farrell’s eyes.

“Anyway… I didn’t know what te expect mind, so I took a swig and it tasted like piss. So here I’m beginnin’ te think this wasn’t such a fuckin’ clever idea when BOOM… the next thing I’m inside some sort of tube, like a fuckin’ massive vacuum cleaner, in some sort of metal capsule, air rushin’ by me, but the funny thing is I’m still holdin’ the bottle.”

“And then what?”

He’s like a hunted animal, Farrell thought, genuine fear in his eyes.

“Billy, what’s the scaredest ye’ve ever been? When yer brother get topped?

Farrell thought about this. There was the time ‘Mad Dog’ Adair and his UDA ‘associates’ had him pinned down in a derelict North Antrim warehouse, one bullet through his shoulder and another through a lung. Coughing up blood so bad he was sure he would die that night; he’d been prepared for it. But the Provo cavalry had arrived in the nick of time, saw off Adair’s men and whisked him off to Dundalk hospital where he spent four weeks slipping in and out of consciousness.

And of course, there was his first meeting with Dempsey. But although he’d only been a kid, he’d had the time to measure out the consequences of his actions that had put him there.

But the night Owen died was sudden, brutal and had turned him from a boy into a man within a few short hours. He had never, before or since, known fear like it.

“Aye… Aye, I’d say it was.” Farrell was getting impatient; he couldn’t see where this was going and he sensed he was running out of time. “Look Micksey, this is very interestin’ but what’s it got te do wi’ time travel?”

“Oh it’s got everything te do wi’ it Billy. See… ye and I’ve both known real fear… real fear, looked inte the jaws of death… thought our time was up. Like the night me da was shot and I nearly checked out. Never been so fuckin’ scared in my life. Never… not til I saw the future. What I’ve seen, Billy, no man should ever see.”

“What… don’t tell me Paul McCartney’s still making records in 2050?”

“It’s not fuckin’ funny Billy. You wouldn’t clown about it if ye knew what I knew. I just wish I could figure out what I put in it so I could change my future.”

“Jeasus Micksey, give me an idea of what this is all about.”

“See that first time I travelled? Ended up in 2035. Ye’ll never guess where?”

“Laneside, FRU and M15 HQ, by any chance?”

“Aye, so that’s where ye’ve come from? Makes sense. Fuckin’ ironic isn’t it? Stumble upon a wormhole, or whatever they call it, and it takes ye to the one place ye want te be fuckin’ nowhere near. How crazy is that? Anyway, I figure they’d not know who I am, but they’ve got this thing, this console thing that works it out in seconds… knew everything about me, so it did. Some fuckin’ thing called Wikipedia… mind ye, a lot of it was bollocks, but the main bit scared me shitless and I’ll get te that in a minute. Then it turns out that this stuff I made by accident is the missin’ link. They call it Particle Accelerator and it drives that friggin’ white fridge thing ye arrived in.”

McVeigh paused and lit another cigarette. His hands were shaking.

“But ye know all that anyway. Then they tell me that it’s all kicked off again.”

“What, the Troubles?”

“Aye, only they don’t call it that. It’s all out civil war, so they don’t call it nothin’. And some cunt, back around now, gets hold of the rest of this stuff I made… this Particle Accelerator stuff, and uses it to arm both sides with weapons that can vaporise people… so the whole thing has gone even more fuckin’ crazy. These guns, they’re like them things in Star Trek… they can make ye disappear. That’s ironic, isn’t it?” McVeigh laughed sardonically. “A new fuckin’ generation of The Disappeared! Then what they do after they’ve disappeared ye, is they make a projection that looks like a real life human, just like ye… a holocaust, they call it.

“A hologram?”

“Aye. So then they program this holothing te do exactly what they want ye te do.”

“I can see how that would spook ye, Micksey, but it’s not that much worse than what goes on now, is it?”

“I’m coming te that. And then the same cunt who steals my stuff becomes President of Eire and… believe this Billy, he starts it all off by buying a job lot of nukes from the Iranians and threatening te blow the fuck out of London if they don’t alter electoral boundaries to get around Article Nineteen so that there’s a republican mandate for a united Ireland. And ye know where he gets the money from?”

Farrell had a pretty good idea but said nothing.

“They discover a massive fuckin’ gas field down the road from here. Something called shale… worth a fuckin’ fortune.”

It struck Farrell that there was something Dibble hadn’t been telling him. If Dibble knew this version of the future then that would certainly explain why it was so important that the Shale discovery fell into British coffers and that Eire remained impoverished and divided.

“But here’s the worst bit Billy. This is the bit that really spooked me: the last entry in this Wikipedia thing… ya know what it says?”

“When ye die… like soon?”

“No worse… much worse, Billy. Says that in 2035, I’m still alive aged 83…”

“Aye, well that’s good news, then.” Farrell lit another roll-up. “Potcheen and fags must be good for ye after all.”

“No… ye know why?” McVeigh took a swig from his hip flask as if to underline the fact. “’Cos, according te this machine, in 2020 I publically renounce my past, give up Catholicism and became a fuckin’ Presbyterian Minister!”

“Jeasus Christ!”

“Not only that, Billy, but it says I’m President of this temperance society called the Total Abstinence Association after publically destroyin’ my stills and pourin’ gallons of potcheen outte ma bedroom window as a publicity stunt. Apparently it went viral on somethin’ they call You Tube.”

There was silence in the kitchen while each was left to ponder McVeigh’s future fate.

“How much of the stuff have ye left Micksey?”

“None… that’s the point Billy. Some bastard stole the lot of it, but I think I know who took it. Mind ye, I hope I’m fuckin’ wrong. If I could go back and change it I would.”

Farrell thought he could hear tone of McGuinn’s voice on the telephone down the hall gradually becoming more animated. He’d been on the phone for quite a while and Farrell knew action would follow. And when it did, he had to be a part of it, and pretty smartly.

“And then the second time I travelled, it was te 2019, close to where ye’ve come from I’d say, and this guy called Dibble… ya know him?”

“I met him once,” Farrell lied. “Smarmy fucker.”

“Aye, well he puts this implant inte me,” McVeigh pulled down his shirt to reveal a small rectangular lump similar to a pacemaker under the skin below his collarbone. “Him and this big fat Scottish fucker with rotten teeth and bad breath sedate me so I can’t resist. When it’s done, they tell me that unless I do exactly what they say, they’ll activate this and at some point in later life when I least expect it. They say, something worse than death will happen te me.”

“Like becomin’ a Presbyterian Minister? Fuckin’ hell Micksey. And the third time?”

McVeigh squirmed in the rocking chair. His demeanor had transmuted from fear to something approaching acute embarrassment.

“I don’t want te talk about it, Billy.”

Farrell sprang from the table, grabbed McVeigh by the lapels of his leather jacket, hoisted him from the chair and slammed him against the kitchen wall. He was amazed by his own strength, enhanced by a combination of adrenalin and trans-temporal spatially relocated rejuvenation.

“Yer gonne talk about it Micksey, whether ye fuckin’ want te or not. This thing needs te be stopped, right now and I need some answers.” Farrell released his grip, staring into the shorter man’s eyes, as if to reinforce that he would better him with ease if it came to a fight.

McVeigh dusted down his jacket. “Jeasus, Billy… there’s no fuckin’ need for that. What’s got inte ye…? For fuck’s sake.” He sat down, a little of his composure restored.

“Ok… I was sent back to ’79 by Dibble to stop ye from plannin’ Narrow Water and the Mountbatten bombs.”

“And just how were ye to do that? Flowers, or a romantic meal for two?”

“If ye must know… I was te top ye.”

This was not what Farrell had expected. His brain froze.

“Well, the plan didn’t work, Micksey. It did happen… both of them, and I’m still here.” Although, he thought, there were days — and this morning had been one — when he would gladly have taken a bullet to prevent the carnage he’d masterminded on 29th August. If time had taught him anything, it was that the violence, the provocations, the retaliations had achieved nothing other than to prolong the conflict.

“And I know it happened ‘cos Her Majesty the Queen visited…” Farrell did a mental calculation, “thirty years from now and shook hands with Adams and McGuinn at Mullaghmore where her uncle was blown te bits.”

“It did work, Billy, so it did. You were stone cold dead and buried before this fucker who stole my stuff managed te go back and reverse it. Dead and in the cold, wet ground, Billy. Fuckin’ good wake, mind.”

“But why, Micksey? Just why the fuck would ye betray the cause? Why would ye shoot me?”

“Who says I shot ye? I…”

“Fuck… I don’t want te know how, Micksey. Just why?

McVeigh’s look of acute embarrassment had returned.

“Look, I’m sorry Billy. You know I like ye? We’ve always been mates since I brought ye here… remember that night on the Lisballaw Road? Last thing I wanted te do was te top te… I swear. But what would ye do faced with becoming a fuckin’ Presbyterian Minister and leadin’ light of the Total Abstinence Association?”

Farrell fell silent. He had a point.

“Aye. Apology accepted. Mainly due te the fact that I’m still here. But don’t fuckin’ do it again, Micksey, even if ye ever find ye have te.”

If what McVeigh said was true, there were only two people who could have reversed the course of events that he had set in motion back in ‘79. And, in a curious way, whoever had done this, for whatever motives, had saved his life. Without their intervention, he would neither have made it to 2019 nor be standing in Dempsey’s kitchen talking to McVeigh right now.

One was still on the telephone in the hall and the other had just sent him back in time.

Why would one of them have reversed it? It just didn’t make sense. But it would have been simple enough, he thought, armed with the time-traveller’s gift of hindsight, to plan an intervention that would prevent McVeigh from killing him.

And then he recalled how Dibble had supposedly been refused permission by a Colonel Mitchell of the SAS to de-brief McGuinn after he was arrested at Bessbrook, on a hastily trumped up charge. This had been shortly before the bombs had been detonated. But Farrell had always suspected that McGuinn had not been arrested by accident. Who gets arrested in South Armagh for conspicuous littering?

If McGuinn had intended to spill his guts to Dibble, thus preventing the bombings, there was only one person ‘qualified’ to prevent that happening — Dibble himself. Which meant he must have also prevented McVeigh assassination attempt.

Mitchell had been a red herring.

What this meant, Farrell thought, was that the IRA campaign had been propped up, aided and abetted by the British Intelligence Services and their associated ‘agents’.

The flickering flame of their military campaign, fanned by the forces sent to extinguish it.

How ironic; the thought sent a shiver down his spine. There was McGuinn, the second most senior figure in the Provo hierarchy, trying to nullify the IRA campaign by passing information to British Intelligence, while Dibble, the most senior figure in both MI5 Joint-Irish branch and the FRU, was perpetuating these atrocities by hiding the intelligence.

Dibble’s words at lunch, just hours ago, came flooding back to him: “… well let’s just say that it’s in our national interest… to have an identifiable enemy that we’re all comfortable with… The Provos, y’see, are an identifiable threat that we, the British people, feel comfortable with.”

They had been played — all of them, on both sides of the divide — as suckers all along.

If this was British policy, ‘perfidious’ as Dibble had described it, was some considerable way short of summarizing genocide and the clandestine perpetration of sectarian violence by agents of a democratically elected government. It made last year’s events in Syria look like a pub brawl after England had lost yet again at Soccer.

But how far up the chain of command did this go? Surely this was well above Dibble’s pay grade? But if he were to suggest his theory — and that he had come from the future — to Thatcher at the Hillsborough meeting in a few hours time, he would either be laughed out of the room or locked up. Probably both. But how else was he to do it? It was only a theory, but if he was right, there was only one thing he could do.

That was to find the remaining Particle Accelerator and prevent McVeigh’s account of the future; there was nothing more he could do about the past. And that meant, in the first instance, acting on Dibble’s instructions, somehow persuading Sands to postpone the hunger strike, and with this bargaining chip, broker a deal between Haughey and Thatcher over the border amendments.

But after that, he thought, there was only one way to prevent the all out civil war that McVeigh had described.

And that was to remove Dibble from the equation.

Farrell was suddenly aware that McGuinn had finished his telephone conversation. He heard the front door closed by someone who didn’t want it to be heard. He recognised the way the threshold caught the coconut-fibred Welcome mat. He’d heard it a thousand times; it was a sound he’d never forget. Vigilance was what kept you alive.

“Just one other thing, Micksey,” he would hear the Transit cranking up any minute. “Why did ye call this stuff Compound 19? Presume it was yer nineteenth attempt?”

“Might have been, Billy. Fuck knows, I lost count.”

“Well that’s what it says on the bottle — C19.”

“Ye might as well know the rest of it, I suppose.” The sound of protestation from a cold and reluctant engine being cranked into life came from the yard. “I spent nine long months interned in Compound 19 under internment, as ye know. It kinda sticks in yer memory, Billy. Especially when my last job for that cunt Dibble was to get me back inte Compound 19, and persuade Bobby Sands not te go on hunger strike.”

“And did ye?” Farrell already knew the answer. It was, after all why he was here.

“Aye. I did. But that’s something that got changed back too. And that, I’d say is what you’re doin’ here. Te change it back again. Well good luck wi’ that. Tomorrow’s the day he starts.”

Farrell said nothing. He was about to ask how he persuaded Sands to change his mind when the Transit’s engine burst into life. He pulled on his donkey jacket in preparation for the dramatic drop in temperature. Both men ran towards the door, colliding as they got there.

McVeigh raced to his room along the corridor, emerging seconds later with an AK47 slung over his shoulder, a handgun tucked into his waistband and carrying a rocket launcher. Apollo exited his room heavily armed, wiping drying glue from his fingers with a tissue that did nothing other than stick them together, greeted Farrell in a perfunctory manner, as if they had just had dinner together, and the three men raced for the front door.

“Oh, and one other thing ye might want te know about the future,” McVeigh said, as they stepped from the warmth of the bungalow, the buzz of adrenalin countering the shock of the freezing February night air. “Ye’ll be glad te know that McCartney’s pushin’ up daisies in 2035, but there’s an irritatin’ wee fucker called Justin Bieber who’s even worse.”















TWENTY-EIGHT: The ipad and the Geiger Counter


The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Friday 28th February, 1981 8.11pm


Outside there was chaos.

McGuinn revved the ancient transit to keep the ailing engine alive as every dog throughout South Armagh and far beyond barked at the broken silence of a winter’s night.

The three men sprinted to the van, slipping and sliding on the treacherously frozen yard.

McVeigh was the first to get there as the Transit was frantically reversed, almost backing into the workshop. He stood in front of the van and banged on the windscreen, as the driver flung it into first, almost running him over. McGuinn braked reluctantly and McVeigh flung open the passenger door.

“Hang on a wee minute Malcy, will ye? Billy’s back. Wait ‘til I get them two inte the back.”

McGuinn ignored him and stared at Farrell.

“I thought I’d made myself clear. Stay the fuck outte this Farrell.”

“Why, Malcy? What is it ye don’t want me te see?

Apollo and McVeigh had scrambled into the back and McVeigh slammed the van door closed as McGuinn left Farrell’s question unanswered by flooring the accelerator, narrowly missing him as he exited the yard shot out onto the Larkins Road.



Farrell sat in the kitchen, helpless and frustrated, considering what to do next.

This wasn’t going well, he thought. He’d had to break in through the kitchen window again as he’d found himself abandoned in the yard, the front door of the bungalow locked, slammed behind them.

He had no transport and absolutely no idea as to how he was going to pursue McGuinn or how he was going to prevent Ellen’s ‘accident’.

He could call a taxi, of course, but there was about as much chance of a driver turning up at Larkins Road as there was of McVeigh remembering his compound’s missing ingredient.

There wasn’t even a neighbour within three miles whose car he could hi-jack. His only hope was that Dempsey would return soon.

No, it wasn’t going at all well. The only positive was that he now knew whose colours were nailed to which mast.

And if what McVeigh had gleaned from his visit to 2035 was accurate, there could only be one person who could have stolen the compound.

It had to be McGuinn.

And if it was, it was more than likely that the C19 was still somewhere in the bungalow.

Farrell emptied out the contents of his small suitcase on his bed. He might as well use the time until Dempsey got back productively. And if he could locate the missing C19, that would at least alleviate one problem: it would put an end to time travel for anyone but himself.

Other than the ghastly brown suit, there were several items of interest. The first was an Ipad Mini.

He switched it on.

In front of him, like the genie from a bottle, a projection of McT appeared. It was so lifelike he had to put his hand through it so satisfy himself that the overweight Scotsman wasn’t standing there in his room. He could almost smell his bad breath.

“Oi… that’s my stomach you’re poking laddie.”

“Jeasus, and I suppose this tape will self-destruct in five seconds?”

“Now listen carefully,” the hologram continued. “In this suitcase, other than that stylish suit, are four items that will help you achieve your goal. The first, is that wee gismo that has the name SOEKS on the front.”

Farrell picked up an object that resembled a television remote.

“That’s the new SOEKS-01M Geiger Counter-stroke-Radiation Detector with the SBM-20-01 Geiger–Muller tube, which you’ll find next to it. You’re unlikely to need the tube but it’s belt and braces.” McT, freed from Dibble, was in his element. “This will help you locate the rest of the C19, which we need you to bring back. We know that C19 emits a low levels of gamma radiation and beta particle stream…”

“Fuck’s sake… Now ye tell me…”

“It’s only very low levels, what we refer to as NBR, or Normal Background Radiation, and no more harmful than having an X-ray or three taken, but this wee device will detect even molecular levels and lead you to where it’s stashed.” The hologram paused and scratched its chin.

“Now, the second item, which you’ve already discovered, is of course this iPad. You will need this for two things: first to show Mrs Thatcher, and perhaps even Mr Haughey, a recording of the news bulletin on the Shale gas find. That, you will find in the video…”

“I know how to use an Ipad.” Farrell tapped on the video app, selected ‘Shale Find’ and this morning’s News report began playing. Jesus, he thought, was that only this morning? Technically it was within the same 24-hour segment of his life but other than that he felt no connection to Friday 18th September, 2019.

“The other thing you will need it for is to make a video. If you do your job properly, you will manage to convince Thatcher to meet at least some the demands of the laddie about to commence hunger strike. Personally,” he said, patting his belly, “I cannot conceive how a human being could possibly consider such a course of action, but there you have it. You will need the iPad to make a video presentation of the Iron Lady agreeing to the phased re-introduction of Special Category Status, so as Mr Sands can be convinced of her, shall we say, integrity.”

“Aye, I’ll need divine intervention rather than a fuckin’ iPad for that one.”

“Now, the third item is a letter.” Farrell rummaged beneath the suit and pulled out an A4-sized envelope. It was addressed to ‘Prime Minister Thatcher.’

“This is a letter of introduction from Mr Dibble. It contains certain information regarding your background, and details your security clearance, as does the Identification card you will find next to it.” Farrell located a credit card-sized plastic badge bearing his name, photograph and the words: ‘MI5 SIS Level 5: Counter-Terrorism Check’. “You will note that you have Level 5, the highest level of security clearance. This is what we refer to as ‘Triple A’ or Access All Areas.”

“Well… that should pretty much do it. I wander in, show my badge, tell Mrs. T I’ve come from the future te solve all her problems, and, hey presto, she caves in.”

“There is one final piece of equipment we feel you may benefit from. But do not, under any circumstances, use it for anything other than demonstration purposes.”

Farrell removed the suit. The only object left was an expensive looking silver pen.

“A pen?”

“The pen you are holding is called a V2. In addition to being a working writing utensil, it’s a second-generation vaporizer. As the name suggests, it will reduce carbon-based objects to invisible particles. They cannot be put back together. Mr Dibble was of the opinion that you may require something more than your undoubted sincerity and an iPad to convince Thatcher that you have come from another time. A demonstration would greatly assist, but we strongly recommend that choose your object most carefully… something like a pot-plant should suffice. Do not, under any circumstances, use it on a government minister or anyone in attendance, as to do so would have cataclysmic consequences on future events.”

“How about I use it on Thatcher herself? That would solve more than one problem.”

The hologram didn’t respond. It was there, Farrell knew, to give information, and lacked the capacity to hold a philosophical debate about a theoretical solution to Ireland’s problems in 1981.

“There is a video demonstration showing how it works on the iPod. I suggest you familiarize yourself with it now.”

Farrell found the video and pressed play. McT appeared before him holding the pen, in the hangar from which Farrell had left 2019. It felt like a lifetime ago.

“Now pay attention, Mr Farrell. In my hand is a Cross pen, in itself a fine and desirable piece of craftsmanship. Pull the barrel down, a rather ironic term I’m afraid in view of its lethal capabilities, and you have a normal rollerball pen.” McT scribbled ‘Hobnob’ on a piece of paper and held it up to the camera. “However, twist the rollerball assembly point — that’s the bottom part — in a clockwise direction, and you have armed the V2. To discharge the weapon, point it at your target — I would imagine you would know that anyway — and press the pocket clip firmly.”

McT pointed the pen at a mannequin at the far end of the hangar and it disappeared.

“Voila. Impressive eh? No sound, no lazar beam and no unpleasant mess to clean up afterwards.”

McT twisted the assembly point in an anti-clockwise direction and clipped the pen to the breast pocket of his white lab coat.

“Please note there is no safety device, so do not fiddle with the assembly point. To do so could have dire consequences.”

The screen went blank as the video ended.

“Well, I think that’s about it now,” said the hologram. “All that remains for me to do is to wish you good luck. I don’t suppose you have any chocolate Hobnobs here do you? Hmmm… probably weren’t round in ’81. Never mind.”

And with that, McT’s projection evaporated, as Farrell turned off the device.















TWENTY-NINE: Insurance, and the disappearing rocking chair


The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Friday 28th February, 1981 8.18pm


Time was running out.

Farrell knew Ellen would be approaching and there was still no sign on Dempsey.

What the fuck was he doing? Out there on his own on a cold February night?

Angrily, he picked up the V2, and walked into the kitchen. He flicked off the safety, absent-mindedly pointed it at the wooden rocking chair and squeezed the trigger.

The chair disappeared.

“Jeasus! Fuck! Bear’s gonne love that… his favourite fuckin’ chair.” Least of his worries, he thought.

Farrell took the Geiger counter from his pocket, turned it on and selected search mode.


He entered McGuinn’s room. He’d never been in here before and couldn’t think of any reason, other than this, why he ever would be. The room was pretty much as he’d expected; the faint aroma of someone for whom personal hygiene wasn’t one of life’s top priorities; bare walls, a wardrobe containing two pairs of jeans, a pair of reasonably smart flannels, three shirts, one of which was denim and, of course, the obligatory funereal black suit.

Not much of a fashion icon, Malcy, he thought. He was about to close the wardrobe when his eye caught a dark blue blazer nestling behind the suit. On the breast pocket was a blazer badge with a picture of a flax plant, below which read the legend: Muckamore Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club, Founded 1874.

“Cricket…? Jeasus Malcy, and there’s me thinkin’ I know everything about ye. So that’s where you disappeared te Saturdays. Must have had a bloody good alias, mind.”

The SOEK’s alarm sounded, ascending in urgency as the digital readout rose from zero to twenty rads, then turned from green to yellow as it leveled out at twenty-five.

Farrell looked under the bed and pulled out a cardboard box, pointing the SOEK at it. The readout dropped back to twenty and returned to green.

“Not in here then.” Out of curiosity, he lifted the lid to discover McGuinn’s collection of magazines, most of which were soft porn: Playboy, Mayfair, Penthouse, Tit-Bits, arranged neatly in date order beneath his collection of Wisden Cricket Monthly. “Fuck me, Malcy, there’s a hell of a lot we don’t know about ye. Still, maybe there is red blood in yer veins after all.”

There were, however, he thought, a couple of things he did know about McGuinn: firstly, that he lacked imagination. And secondly, that he lived under the assumption that everyone around him was stupid.

It wasn’t difficult, therefore, for Farrell to find the C19 beneath the floorboards.

They were well screwed down and he would never have located it without the help of the

SOEK, but within five minutes of entering McGuinn’ room — which included a trip to the workshop to fetch a screwdriver — he was standing in the kitchen with a whiskey bottle containing a half litre of C19, and the SOEK readout turned red, reading 30 rads with the alarm going mental.

Two things troubled Farrell: first, how much radiation had he been exposed to so far? The SOEK could measure this, but not while he was holding a bottle containing 500 milliliters of the stuff. It was a bit like assessing how much danger he was in standing opposite a Bengal tiger separated by a sheet of polythene. There was a function on the SOEK which measured the cumulative dose throughout the day, but that would have to wait until he’d disposed of the C19.

And that was the second problem.

He certainly wasn’t going to bring it back to 2019 and allow Dibble and his minions to reconstruct the past for their own dubious machinations, but he couldn’t just pour it down the sink or the toilet.

What do they do with nuclear waste?

Because, he thought, apart from ensuring that this stuff didn’t fall into the wrong hands, even if it was emitting what McT described as Normal Background Radiation — which he considered was something of an understatement — somebody, at some point would certainly detect it. And at that point, it would work its way back to precisely the destination he was anxious for it to avoid — Dibble’s office.


You bury it of course.

Five minutes later, stripped to the waist, with the help of a pick and spade from the workshop, Farrell had penetrated the frozen ground at the end of Dempsey’s garden and had dug a hole of sufficient depth to bury it.

As an afterthought, he had returned to the workshop, poured away the contents of one of Micksey’s stills, and placed the bottle inside the metal container.

Farrell placed the still in the hole and was about to start filling it in when another thought struck him.


Back in the workshop, he found an empty whiskey bottle and carefully poured half the contents into it. He then emptied the potcheen from Micksey’s remaining still and placed the second bottle inside it.

Having buried the first still, taking care to disguise the place of burial, he then climbed over the garden wall, and repeated the process near the centre of the adjacent field.

Should all else fail later this evening, he thought, rubbing the earth from his hands and pulling on his T-shirt, one half of the C19 would be in Northern Ireland, while the other would be in Eire.

And that, if nothing else, should create a major jurisdictional standoff.

Farrell returned to McGuinn’s room and was about to replace the floorboards when another thought hit him. He needed some paper or card. He searched the bedroom and kitchen and found nothing. No real surprise, he thought, with the bunch of semi-literates that lived here; it was unlikely he’d find The Reader’s Digest by the toilet seat.

On impulse, he rifled through the jackets in McGuinn’ wardrobe and soon found what he was looking for: in the breast pocket of the black suit, was a cardboard Order of Service from the funeral of Paddy Devlin, a volunteer who blew himself up a few weeks ago with the bomb he was about to plant in Derry’s Guildhall.

Farrell turned the V2 to pen mode, scribbled a note on the back of the card, stood it up against one of the joists and securely screwed down the floorboards.

He showered quickly to remove the mud and sweat, and put on his suit.

He was adjusting his tie when he heard the sound of a distant car approaching.

“Thank fuck,” he muttered, pulling on his donkey jacket in readiness, marching towards the front door.

He put his hand in his jacket pocket searching for a roll-up but instead found a large square plastic object.

He pulled it out and studied it.

It was a CD. He noted with interest the name of the artist on the cover, read the blurb on the back, and then opened it to find a disc and a carefully folded sheet of paper. It was a Wikipedia listing for the artist.

The smile that lit up his face grew broader with each sentence he read.

The car had come to a halt outside and the engine had been switched off.

There was only one way the disc could have got into his pocket: Micksey had placed it there when they collided in the kitchen doorway as the Transit had burst into life.

“Micksey… ye fuckin’ genius,” he said softly, replacing the paper, and putting the disc back into his pocket. “Ye’ll never hear me call ye a fuckin’ thick ejit again.”

















THIRTY: A question of trust


The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Friday 28th February, 1981 8.32pm


Dempsey opened the front door, whistling tunelessly and threw his keys on the hall table.

The whistling stopped abruptly when he saw Farrell.

“What the fuck are ye doin’ here Billy? And why are ye wearing that bloody ridiculous suit? Bit late for an interview?”

“We don’t have much time Bear… let’s go,” he said calmly, grabbing the keys and opening the door. “Ellen’s in danger… big danger. Here, I’ll drive. I’m pretty sure I know where she’ll be.”

“Ellen… where she’ll be? She’ll be in the fuckin’ states, Billy, that’s where she’ll be. What the fuck’s this all about?”

“No time to explain, Bear,” Farrell replied, wondering which bit of explanation would potentially cause the most problem.

Farrell gunned the motor and turned right out of the farm towards Ballybinaby, then took a left at the crossroads and floored the Escort as they hurtled past Roche Castle.      There was silence in the car. Neither man registered the iconic ruins of the thirteenth century castle that stood eerily dividing the Gaelic province of Ulster and the Anglo-Norman ‘Pale’, silhouetted by the bright moonlight.

Farrell knew his route was slightly longer than the way McGuinn would have driven, but it should take no more than ten minutes for him to reach Ford’s Cross. And he wanted McGuinn out of the way as much as McGuinn wanted him out of the way.

He took the second crossroads and headed towards Tullydonnell. His plan was to get to the crossroads, wait for Ellen to cross then follow her pursuers towards Creggan.

Beyond that, he hadn’t a clue how it was going to play out.

But he knew if he hadn’t reached Ford’s Cross by 8.50 he would be too late; he would have to head down through the culvert towards Creggan and deal with whatever he found, and that was a prospect he didn’t want to think about.

“Do ye mind at least tellin’ me…?”

“They’re gonne whack her, Bear. Been told te follow her and make sure she never reaches your place.”

“Who… why?

“Either the FRU or MI5, same thing, mind. Bastard called Dibble sanctioned the hit. They know what she’s doin’ for Noraid and the publicity she’s generatin’ and they want it stopped.”
“How do ye know this?”

“It’s my job te know Bear. I only just found out. That’s why I’m here.”

“But why didn’t ye pick her up at the airport? Why leave it te now?” The Escort shot through the three-house hamlet off Cortreasla Bridge, the speedometer nudging 70. “If them cunts are goin’ te take her out, Billy, why leave it ‘til now?”

“Ye’ve got te trust me on this Bear. I had no choice.”

Dempsey pulled a Glock from his pocket, clicked in a fresh magazine and snapped off the safety.

They drove in silence.

Farrell could feel his heart pounding, sweat from his hands making the plastic wheel a challenge to grip.

Up ahead he saw the crossroads that bisected the road that linked Silverbridge with Creggan.

Farrell pulled the Escort over to the side of the road and turned the lights off. He left the engine running.

The infamous red-framed triangular notice bearing the legend: Sniper at Work stood proud above the Ford Cross signposts.



















THIRTY-ONE Another version of the past


Friday 28th February, 1981. 8.47pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland.


Ellen slewed the big car around a right-hand bend that was tighter than she’d thought.

She eased her foot back on the accelerator reluctantly; she wanted to get home, longed to get this over and done with, and be gone.

She took one hand from the wheel and held it to the vent that warmed the car as effectively as the dying breath of an asthmatic octogenarian.

She’d taken the back roads from Newry through Camlough and Lislea, and the only other car she’s seen since Newry was the Ford Granada that had turned left onto the Newry Road ahead of her as she drove through Silverbridge. She kept the Maxi at a steady 40 then let the needle drop to 30. The Grenada didn’t slow and she breathed a sigh of relief as it turned off to the right onto the Cregganduff Road.

Ellen glanced in the mirror again.

Her eyes were drawn to the lights of the car approaching rapidly from behind.







THIRTY-TWO: Keep your eyes on the road


Friday 28th February, 1981 8.49pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland.


Records from the inquest stated that Ellen had been shot twice in the back of the head with bullets fired from the car chasing her. But that car had never been found.

And as Doc Twomey had performed the autopsy, the Security Forces and the Northern Ireland Office held the view that Ellen may not have died as a result of gunshot wounds at all.

An open verdict had been returned but Dempsey and Danny Maguire had managed to convince the media that the shots had been fired by members of the SAS, and independent ‘witnesses’ had come forward to identify the car behind Ellen’s Maxi as one frequently seen around the Forkhill base.

There was no such thing as bad publicity, Dempsey had said, and Maguire had milked it all the way up to and beyond Ellen’s funeral, castigating the British in general, and Thatcher in particular, as figures of utter villainy.



Dempsey and Farrell sat smoking in silence.

Farrell tried, not for the first time, to figure exactly what McGuinn planned to do.

Time passed; at last Dempsey spoke:

“Would ye mind at least tellin’ me what we’re lookin’ for Billy?”

Farrell flicked the scrag end of his rollie out of the window.

“Any time now, Bear, there’s gonne be two cars come past us headed towards Crossmaglen. The first one’s gonne be Ellen and the second’s whoever’s chasin’ her.”

“And yer plan is…?”

“My plan’s te follow them, and stop them shootin’ at her. ‘Cos that’s what caused the accident that got her killed.”

“Got her killed? What do ye mean got her killed? Are ye some sort of fuckin’ clairvoyant? Jeasus, Billy this is givin’ me the bloody creeps.”

“Look, it’s complicated, Bear. I promise I’ll explain later.” Farrell doubted that any explanation would explain much. He turned to face Dempsey, hoping an attempted look of sincerity would in some way placate him.

Had he not done so, he would have seen that the second of the the two cars that drove through Ford’s Cross ahead of them wasn’t the one he was looking for.

As a large cloud obscured the moon, he flicked on the lights and turned the Escort left into the Newry Road.










THIRTY-THREE: Under fire


Friday 28th February, 1981 8.56pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland.


The car behind her kept its distance.

Ellen cursed again; these were pros, and she was their mark. She had been sure that she hadn’t been followed since Newry — even doubled back a couple of times to cover her tracks before taking the isolated country roads.

She slammed her foot savagely on the throttle and the Maxi picked up speed.

The car behind closed the distance between them.

Ellen shuddered and withdrew the Glock from the holdall on the passenger seat, releasing the safety.

She knew these roads. Beyond the crossroads the lane fell away to the south, sloping steeply down to Creggan and then to Crossmaglen. High banks on either side made it resemble a culvert. An old cattle footbridge linked fields on either side that could be reached by crudely hewn steps, which led up the escarpment.

She was nearly at the crossroads.

The car behind was less than fifty yards away.

Ellen glanced in the mirror. Two men up front, the passenger held a gun.

The car had closed to twenty yards. The gunman held his weapon out of the window, steadying his arm and taking aim.


THIRTY-FOUR: Realisation


Friday 28th February, 1981 8.57pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland.


Dempsey leant out of the window and squeezed off his first shot.

It shattered the rear window of the car ahead, narrowly missing the driver and exiting through the windscreen.

“Fuck,” he said taking aim and preparing to shoot again. “Look’s like there’s only one of them. Step on it Billy!

The second bullet missed the driver by an inch, embedding itself in the roof.           The gap between the cars was down to ten yards when the cloud cleared the moon and the full horror of what was happening dawned on Farrell.












Friday 28th February, 1981 8.57pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland.


Ellen was at the crossroads.

Ten yards between them.

This was her only chance. She floored the throttle and shot across the junction. The car behind slowed momentarily, maybe unaware that this was a three-car a day crossroads, or maybe not sure that she was their mark.

Ahead of her, she glimpsed a van blocking the road beyond the footbridge. Three men stood beside it holding automatic rifles. Her brain registered that one of them was very tall, and one was very short.

The third bullet passed through the rear window, embedding itself in the roof, underlining that what was in front of her was not a priority right now. Then eighty yards from the footbridge, she slammed on the brakes.

They bit at first, washing off most of her speed. But the Maxi didn’t stop. It was picking up speed, heading towards the rock wall of the culvert.

Fuck — must have hit ice, she thought.

A burst of automatic fire came from the gunmen in front of her shattering the windscreen of the car in pursuit. She could see that the small guy wore a red jacket, horn-rimmed glasses and something resembling a Japanese kamikaze pilot’s helmet. She breathed a sigh of relief as she realised that it was Apollo. The tall man must be Micksey and the other was The Mortician — Uncle Tom’s closest and most loyal men. Thank fuck.

The car behind braked sharply. Tyres screeched as it came to a halt.

Then everything seemed to happen in slow motion.

There was something large and dark crossing the bridge.

The road sloped away abruptly. She braced herself, knowing that she was destined to hit either the culvert wall or the van.

She pumped the brakes again. Still nothing happened.

Another burst of automatic fire came from the gunmen ahead of her. All three were pumping bullets into the night sky from semi-automatic rifles, waving manically like third world revolutionaries.

This is wrong. Shit, this is very wrong, she thought, half expecting to awake and find it was a bad dream.

The large dark object on the small footbridge became a seething mass. Ellen realised they were cows, probably Uncle Tom’s Frisians.

Suddenly there was a sea of the things jostling for space on the narrow bridge, backing up onto the beast in front, stampeded by gunfire amplified by the culvert walls.

And then, as she was almost beneath the bridge, the car turned sideways. The crack of ruptured timber, something falling from the bridge and a dull thump as she slid into a solid mass and stopped moving.

Ellen sat very still, heart pounding. Silence. Relief like she had never felt it before.

“Thank Christ… oh fuck… thank Christ,” she moaned, forcing herself to breathe deeply and expel slow, deep breaths as Uncle Tom had taught her.

Blocking the passenger door, and arresting the Maxi’s sideways progress, lay half a ton of motionless Friesian.

“Christ I need a cigarette,” she sobbed. She reached for her handbag.

Her hand never made it.

The second Friesian struck the Maxi’s A frame with a force that pinned Ellen to the seat, crushed and barely able to breathe.

The rear of the car shot upwards like a trebuchet, catapulting her suitcase on the rear seat out of the back window to land in the road twenty yards away.

As the last of the stampeding cattle cleared the bridge and thundered across the moonlit field, there was utter silence, except for Ellen’s moans, as her life ebbed away.

She imagined, for an instant as her consciousness faded, Uncle Tom standing by the car, arms raised, and with a look of abject horror on his face.














THIRTY-SIX: The brural truth


Friday 28th February, 1981 9.00pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland.


Farrell slammed on the brakes, and the Escort slewed to a halt at the crossroads.

A hundred yards ahead three men wearing balaclavas knelt pointing automatic weapons at Dempsey’s car. He knew that despite the bright moonlight, McVeigh and Apollo had no idea that the vehicle they were about to riddle belonged to Dempsey. And as for McGuinn, Farrell thought, with Dempsey and himself out of this way… well, what a nice wee bonus.

“Get down Bear!” Farrell screamed, as both of them dived into the footwell.

Several bursts of automatic fire riddled the windscreen before, to their relief, the gunmen turned their attention to something else. Dempsey and Farrell recovered their positions in time to see McVeigh and Apollo firing aimlessly into the clear night sky, as Ellen’s Maxi slid sideways towards the culvert wall.

Farrell watched in horror as it approached the footbridge.

And added to the horror, came the realisation that it was he who had been responsible for this cataclysmic series of events.

Not only had he failed to prevent her death, it dawned on him that there never had been a hit ordered on Ellen; nor had there been FRU or SAS operatives commissioned to kill her in the trailing vehicle.

There had been no hostile trailing vehicle.

The car behind Ellen had been him, all along.

That was why Dibble had sent him back. And almost certainly, McGuinn had been complicit in the set-up.






















Friday 28th February, 1981. 9.02pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland.


Farrell sat frozen, hands welded to the steering wheel with a vice-like grip.

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion.

Dempsey was shouting something at him but his voice seemed to ricochet around the Escort and his brain couldn’t process it.

The cattle were crossing the bridge panicked by the gunfire, jostling for space on the small walkway that was designed for the passage of orderly cows in single file, not a stampede. Surprisingly, most of them had reached the other side; maybe it won’t happen — perhaps it’ll be okay.

Then the side rail splintered and the first cow fell onto the lane below, arresting the progress of Ellen’s car.

Get to Ellen… move yerself for fuck’s sake…MOVE… pull her out of the fuckin’ car before the next one hits it, he told himself. But he was incapable of movement.

Dempsey threw the passenger door open and sprinted towards the culvert. He would never get there in time, Farrell thought: too old… too fat… too slow.

But he could.

If he could just free himself from the paralysis that glued him to the steering wheel, he could outsprint Dempsey; he could get there and pull her from the Maxi before the second cow hit it.

But he sat there, numb and useless and watched the huge Friesian hit the front of the car, crushing Ellen as she reached for her handbag.

As the last Friesian stampeded across the moonlit field beyond the bridge, there was utter silence as Ellen’s life began to slip away.

Still gripping the wheel as if his own life depended on it, Farrell placed his head against it and cried.


















THIRTY-EIGHT: A ray of hope

Friday 28th February, 1981 9.08pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland.


Farrell cried until he had no more tears.

He felt a deep and debilitating coldness, as he’d done on the night Owen died, shivering from shock so violently he could barely control himself. The mind shuts down, he’d been told back then by the RUC doctor, and the autonomic system takes over. You lose the power to control your body.

Eventually he managed to open the Escort’s door and stagger to the verge and vomit violently.

And then two thoughts struck him.

He still had sufficient C19 to go back again and stop this from happening. But hold on… he had just enough to make the two trips necessary to prevent Ellen’s death, but that was it. Use that up and he would be stuck in 1981, unless he dug up one of the flasks he’d just buried.

He could still save her.

But it would give him a dilemma: he could either use it to eliminate Dibble and prevent the future carnage McVeigh had described, or he could save Ellen; if, that is, his second attempt was less futile than his first.

That was a problem for later.

Now that he knew the facts, he should be able to prevent Ellen’s ‘accident’ by intercepting her at Ford’s Cross, provided, of course, the wormhole was still intact.

He wiped the trail of snot and vomit from his face and began to feel better. No matter what McGuinn had planned for her, he could still make her safe.

And his other thought was that he had an appointment with Thatcher at Hillsborough Castle at 10.30 and it would take him well over an hour to get there, if he left right away.

The outcome of this meeting could change the course of history, as he knew it, maybe save hundreds of lives including those of the hunger strikers, and prevent another generation of bitterness, sectarian hatred and violence.

If, that was, he could persuade Thatcher to accept some sort of compromise.

And for now, he had to focus on this.

Ellen would have to wait.














THIRTY-NINE: Going to need another car

Friday 28th February, 1981 9.10pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland.


Farrell put the Escort into gear and turned left towards Ballsmill.

He had first to retrieve his suitcase and its contents from the farm complex before setting off to Hillsborough.

And this could present a problem.

He knew that Ellen had been taken back to Dempsey’s bungalow in the Transit and that Doc Twomey had assessed her condition and inserted a drip there. Probably, he thought, with a fag dangling from the corner of his downturned mouth and a glass of whiskey in one hand.

There was no other way to explain it: he had just caused the death of the only woman he’d ever loved — Dempsey’s niece.

To the old man, it would look as if it was Farrell, not McGuinn, who’d ordered the hit, and McGuinn would be sure to rubber-stamp this. Dempsey would want revenge and not improbable answers.

Not only was he off Dempsey’s Christmas card list, but he would also be distinctly persona non-gratis at his residence. Caught, he would be treated like the common tout he appeared to be, dragged shoeless down a country lane, trousers around his ankles and shot.

And if McGuinn had anything to do with it, he would be shot in the foot, the knee, then in the abdomen before the final bullet to the back of the head that would dispatch him, his assassin relaxing with a cigarette between each installment. He’d keep that to himself in the cricket club bar.

Farrell drove into the yard and reversed the car in anticipation of a quick getaway. He climbed in through the kitchen window for the third time that evening, collected what he needed, and clipped the silver Cross pen into his suit pocket. Then he rifled through McVeigh’s room and found a carton of Stuyvesant’s and stuffed a packet into his pocket. Fuck it, he thought, a smoke’s a smoke, and if ever he needed one, it was now.

As he pulled the Escort out of the yard onto the Larkins Road his eyes were drawn to the rearview mirror by lights from a van turning into the farm complex.

He heaved a sight of relief. At least he’d accomplished the first part.

Now all he had to do was drive to Hillsborough, persuade Thatcher to do a deal with Haughey, and agree to accommodate at least some of Sands’ Special Category Status demands. The list went on… get to the Maze, persuade Sands to accept it and abandon the planned hunger strike… return to the farm complex without being shot, and go back in time again to save Ellen. Focus, he thought: one task at a time.

Piece of piss really.

It was all going really well, even with seismic levels of frozen air blasting him through the shattered windscreen, until a red light appeared on the dashboard and the Escort’s temperature gauge started to climb. Must have taken a bullet in the radiator.

He was going to need another car.







FORTY: Bessie


Friday 28th February, 1981 9.20pm

South Armagh, Northern Ireland.


It was only a matter of minutes before the Escort would die on him.

And that left him with just one option — the Three Steps car park.

He drove through Forkhill’s deserted Main Street, unobserved by the squaddies who manned the G40 watchtower, grateful in the dead of a winter’s night, not to be shot at or mortar bombed.

Ideally he would have turned left through the village onto the quieter Longfield Road that led to Lislea. Beyond this was the larger settlement of Camlough, where he would have had a better chance of stealing a reliable vehicle and one with more than a teacup of petrol in it.

But he knew he’d never make it. Dempsey’s car would grind to a halt on some desolate back road beneath the shadow of Slieve Gullion, marooning him with no hope of achieving either mission. And there he would stay until either he froze to death or Dempsey’s men found him and… well, the rest didn’t bear thinking about.

So he drove through the crossroads towards Drumintee, steam from the punctured radiator warming his face. The Ford kangarooed into McCrumm’s car park and expired with a loud hiss and a bang as the cylinder head cracked.

The car park was empty and the lights were off. The sign that read ‘Three Steps Bar and Lounge’ fizzed and flickered from an electrical fault and the ‘Bar’ sign above the door was switched off.

Fuck it, he thought, not even half nine on a Friday night and he’s closed, the lazy bastard.

Farrell tried the door. No joy.

He knocked.


He knocked again, louder this time.

“Fuck off!” It was McCrumm. “We’re closed.”

“Would you open up please sir? Just for one wee minute.” Farrell put on his best Dublin accent. A somewhat camp version of a mixture of Welsh and Indian, he’d once been told, but would do to disguise his own. “We’re from the Irish Tourist Board. We’ve come all the way up from Dublin and we’d just like to ask you a few very simple questions about what hospitality you offer.”

No reply, the irony clearly lost on the publican.

“There’s a free listing in our new directory coming out in March. It goes across the water as well, you know.”

“I don’t want any feckin’ publicity; nor any of them twats from across the water. Now fuck off!”

“There’s also a £50 cash prize for the first three listings in the county, sir. And so far we’ve only got two.”

Farrell could almost feel McCrumm’s resolve weaken.

The bolts slid back and the door opened a crack.

Farrell shouldered the door fully open, pulled the Glock from his waistband and grabbed McCrumm by the throat in one swift movement.

McCrumm gurgled as Farrell marched him backwards across the room depositing him on a barstool.

He released his grip and allowed the publican to breathe.

“Jeasus Billy. You? What the fuck’s goin’ on?”

“I need your car Davey. Give me the keys.”

“You’re in big trouble Billy. Big fuckin’ trouble. I don’t know what ye’ve done but Dempsey’s going fuckin’ mental. Says you’re a tout… workin’ for the Brits.” McCrumm fought for breath. “Why do ye think I closed up early… huh? On a Friday night? I’ll tell ye why. ‘Cos every fucker who drinks here’s out scouring the countryside for you on the Bear’s orders.”

Farrell pointed the gun at McCrumm, chambered a round and snapped the safety off.

“Keys Davey. Now.”

“Ah c’mon, ye know I can’t. Besides, Bear would fuckin’ kneecap me… so he would.”

“I’ll do it myself, Davey. Save him the trouble.”

“Fuck sake Billy!” McCrumm squirmed on the stool. “Are ye goin’ te shoot me? Can I at least have one last drink if ye are? And a smoke?” He was buying time, Farrell knew. Get behind the counter, distract the intruder, pick up the shotgun he kept beneath it then ring Dempsey.

“No Davey,” Farrell replaced the safety, put away the Glock and took the Cross V2 from his jacket pocket, arming it. “No, I’m not gonne shoot ye.”

“Aye… good.” McCrumm lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. “I’ve always liked ye Billy. Even though you’re a…”

“Spare me the shit Davey. Keys. Now.”

“No way,” McCrumm’s breathing had returned to somewhere near normal now Farrell wasn’t pointing a gun at him. “No way I’m giving ye Bessie.”

Farrell pointed the pen at the shelf above the door on which the television sat and squeezed the clip. The wooden ledge evaporated and the TV fell to the floor with a loud crump as the tube shattered.

“For fuck’s sake Billy! How… what…?”

“Never ye mind.”

Farrell swiveled and pointed the pen at the framed Pirelli print hanging above the bar. It was McCrumm’s favourite. He imagined the sad loser probably took it to bed with him; a well-endowed full-lipped blonde, wearing nothing but the skimpiest of bikini thongs and a seductive smile, sitting on a rock with her legs apart.

“Keys now Davey. Or Miss January gets it”

McCrumm rifled his pockets and threw the keys to Farrell.

“You’re a dead man, Billy… a dead man walking.




Farrell strode across McCrumm’s back yard towards ‘Bessie.’

He’d known what to expect, of course, but you’d never pair McCrumm with a shit-brown Citroen 2CV with bright yellow wheels and a bumper sticker that read ‘Jesus Saves — Green Shield stamps!’

It was also the most conspicuous vehicle in South Armagh. He’d have had a better chance of avoiding being caught in an army four-ton truck.

The little engine cranked into life at the third attempt, Farrell taking care not to flood it.

He should have tied McCrumm up, he knew. Or at the very least ripped out the phone line, but that would have taken precious seconds. Besides which, if what McCrumm had told him was correct, every possible route to the relative sanctuary of the Belfast Road would already be blocked by Dempsey’s men.

He pulled out of the car park and turned right towards the village of Drumintee. The little lights attached to the Citroen’s front bumpers, as if by afterthought, were so pitifully ineffective that he turned them off, the moon sufficient to light his way.

He had almost reached the village of Meigh when he saw them.

At a bend in the road, two vehicles — a van and a Ford Cortina — were pulled across the carriageway, blocking his path. From a hundred yards he watched as three men dressed in khaki and wearing balaclavas dropped to the ready position, automatic rifles trained on him.

He crawled to a halt fifty yards from the roadblock. Escape wasn’t an option. If he reversed, the 2CV would be turned into a sieve within seconds. They’d probably been told to bring him in alive but the Citroen’s body panels would be about as much use as wet cardboard to stop the hail of bullets.

“Get out of the car, tout. Put yer hands where I can see’em and walk over here… slowly.” Farrell recognised the leader’s voice and stature. It was Sean ‘Mungo’ McBride. He rose to his full stature, all five foot four of it, and swaggered towards Farrell.

Farrell pulled the Cross from his jacket, armed it and pushed it up his sleeve. He tucked the Glock into the back of his trousers. Won’t need it, he thought, but letting McBride find it would lower his guard.

He raised his hands and walked towards McBride. The other two men stayed put. The one on the left had a better line on him; he would take him first.

McBride put his rifle down, frisked him, found the gun and removed it from Farrell’s waistband. He stood behind Farrell.

“Been waitin’ a long while for this minute, big fella.” He tried to cosh him on the back of the head with the Glock, but could only reach Farrell’s neck. It hurt nonetheless.

“Always thought ye were a wee bit too good to be true, Billy. And now we know why. Yer just a common fucking tout… no better than that Kneeshaw wanker. Thought you Brits would have learned by now.” He moved in front of Farrell and punched him hard in the stomach. Farrell saw the blow coming and tensed his abs.

“Let’s see how fuckin’ hard ye are now.” The blow was not enough to drop him but he knew he’d have better options on the ground. McBride lined up a kick at his head but Farrell grabbed his supporting foot and yanked him to the floor, felling him between himself and the volunteer on the left. Farrell aimed the pen at the crouching man with the gun trained on him, squeezed the clip, and his target was gone without a trace.

McBride froze, mouth set wide like a sea bass. In a flash Farrell was on his feet. He grabbed him by the throat, pulled him upright so his feet dangled on the road, and pointed the V2 at his head.

“Drop yer weapon, or Mungo disappears too,” he yelled at the remaining volunteer. There was no need. He had seen enough already, cranked up the Cortina’s engine and was hotfooting it towards Meigh.

“Jeasus Billy… Christ, how the… what the fuck is that thing?”

“A long and complicated story, Mungo.” Farrell was tiring of the question. “And as for you, ya short-assed wee twat,” he released McBride shoving him away, “get yerself to Larkins Road pronto and give the Bear this message: I’m sorting it… I’m sorting everything… Ellen’s gonne be fine.” He was aware, as he said it, that there was about as much chance of Dempsey being placated by this as there was of Ellen rising from the dead.

“Ya just don’t get it, Billy, do ye? Whatever that thing is, or whoever you are, you’re still a tout. You’ve killed Ellen. Ye can run, Billy, but we’ll find ye. And when we do, ye’ll be begging for the bullet that finishes ye.”





Friday 28th February, 1981.10.25pm

Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland


Farrell parked in the graveled crescent in front of Hillsborough Castle’s grandiose portico and switched the Citroen’s engine off.

Moonlight illuminated the manicured lawns and gardens. He had no time to admire them.

The journey from Drumintee had been uneventful, as he suspected it would be. Dempsey had more sense than to court a major incident by placing roadblocks beyond the realms of his jurisdiction. He may, of course, have reported a stolen car but it was unlikely that the RUC would risk men getting shot for that.

At worst, Farrell had thought, he would be stopped by the UDR or the regular squaddies and asked for his ID. Dibble’s letter and his triple A security clearance would be more than adequate.

Once he had got beyond Newry, heading north on the A1, he began to relax. He lit a cigarette and allowed my mind to churn through the evening’s events. Two and a half hours? Christ, was that all it was? Two and a half hours ago he was in 2019. Ellen was alive and probably in no great danger, and now she lay dead in the bedroom he’d walked into earlier, mindful of the need to protect her.

That it had been his fault, he was in no doubt, although he felt certain McGuinn had been involved. If not, how had he known something was about to happen? Too big a coincidence for it to be anything else.

And for the first time he could remember, he felt a twinge of remorse for the volunteer he’d just zapped with the V2. Relief, not regret was the dominant emotion he felt in the past after dispatching someone pointing a gun at him.

He exhaled, threw the butt of the Stuyvesant out of the window, and considered the enormity of the task that lay in front of him.

If he succeeded, he would change the course of both British and Irish political history, create a watershed that would eventually bring the Troubles to an end and save the hunger strikers from death and martyrdom, and maybe the lives of hundreds of others now rotting in their graves.

But what hung in the balance was of greater consequence to him, and this, he knew would be the hardest part of all: to get back into Dempsey’s workshop, go back in time and save Ellen. Heck, he thought… do this and the volunteer he’d just vaporized would be watching Magnum on telly in the Three Steps, getting shit-faced on McCrumm’s watered-down Guinness right now.

Fuck it up, and he knew he would be joining Ellen.

That may, of course, eventually be in heaven, although that he very much doubted.

But what he could be certain of was that first it would be in McConnaville’s funeral parlour.




Farrell opened the small suitcase and swapped the Glock for the IPad Mini.

He checked that the Cross was still in his jacket pocket, took a deep breath and walked towards the entrance.

He ran over his lines one last time. Having a near photographic memory came under the FRU job specification as ‘desirable’; the core criteria were a skill set which included being a hard man and a nasty bastard. Odd, he thought… not sure if he’s get through the application process now.

Before he’d left 2019, Dibble had presented him with a dossier, which he’d read and memorized. He was almost ready to deliver the most important presentation of his life. Most of the facts, of course, he already knew but how they were presented would be crucial.

He was ready for the second most important interview of his life. Almost as critical as when he met Dempsey.
















FORTY-TWO: An audience with Denis


Friday 28th February, 1981.10.27pm

Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland


The front door opened as he approached.

Two black-suited Intelligence heavies frisked him, then escorted him wordlessly down a long corridor lined with gilt-framed portraits of pompous previous incumbents, hunting scenes and improbable pastoral settings where women picnicked in grassy glades, watched by small well-behaved dogs. How very British, he thought; the last outpost of an Empire on which the sun never sets. Little wonder we are where we are.

At the end of the corridor he was ushered into a large, high-ceilinged drawing room decorated in similar Regency style. It almost, he thought, challenged the Café Vaudeville as an exercise in bad taste. Two large settees faced each other on either side of a huge ornate fireplace where a roaring fire warmed the room.

A middle-aged man wearing horn-rimmed glasses sat cross-legged, cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other, a copy of to-day’s Times beside him, the crossword half completed.

Farrell recognised him instantly.

“Come to see the boss?” He asked.

“The who?”

“The boss… my better half… Margaret.” He flicked ash towards the fireplace. “Sit down, warm yourself old chap. Drink? Hope you haven’t brought any bloody reptiles with you”

Farrell sat down opposite Denis Thatcher.

“The boss… yes,” he smiled. “I’d love a drink but not just now, thanks. Maybe some other time.” Farrell took the cigarette Thatcher offered him and lit it. “What are reptiles?”

“The press…. Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

Farrell’s heart raced.

Surely Denis had never been on an IRA hit list? ITV’s Spitting Image had rendered him such a figure of ridicule from ’84 onwards that it wasn’t really worth the bullets.

“Got it! You played for Ulster Schools against the North of England at Otley… let me see… January ’79. I reffed it. You had a bloody good game… played at 7 and scored the winning try, if memory serves me right.”

Farrell smiled and breathed a sign of relief.

“You still play?”

“Not really got time for rugby right now. Pressures of work, ya know. Maybe go back te it at some point in the future.”

“You should do. It’s a great game, character forming and all that guff. And you’re a long time retired. Gets me out from under her feet too. I’m whistling at Ravenhill tomorrow, you know. Ulster verses Munster. Big game.” Thatcher emptied his glass. “Really ought to make this my last, but what the heck? We could all be dead tomorrow.”

Farrell nodded. They were certainly on the same hymn sheet with that one.

“Sure you won’t have one?”

Before he could answer, the door opened and one of the heavies gestured him to follow.

“Nice te meet ye… sir” He genuinely meant it. Thatcher stood and they shook hands.

“Pleasure’s mine, old chap. Name’s Denis. Try not to piss her off, if at all possible; wouldn’t mind a bit of ‘how’s your father’ later.”

Farrell’s mind, not for the first time that day, boggled.



















FORTY-THREE: An audience with Thatcher and an intruder from the future


Friday 28th February, 1981.10.32pm

Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland


The suit led him to a wooden paneled-door with a sign that announced it as The Secretariat.

He knocked, the door opened and Farrell was admitted.

The sight that greeted him was pretty much as he had expected: a rectangular conference table with Margaret Thatcher seated on the far side. Next to her sat Humphrey Atkins, the Secretary of State, opposite whom was her Parliamentary Private secretary, Ian Gow.

Their hushed conversation ceased as he entered.

The Intelligence Agent moved discreetly to the back of the room, where he stood hands folded across his groin, like a footballer about to defend a free kick.

The PM, wearing a functional light blue suit, its dreariness marginally lifted by a single string of pearls and a simple silver broach, glanced at Farrell then turned her attention back the papers on front of her.

“I believe you have something for me, Mr Farrell?”

He took out Dibble’s letter and handed it to her.

The PM read it in silence, looked up at Farrell, re-read the letter, and then handed it to the Secretary of State who read it then passed it to Gow.

Thatcher leant forward, folded her hands on the table and fixed her eyes on Farrell, who returned her stare.

“Mr Farrell… over the years, I have been asked to believe in a great many bizarre, incredible and fantastical versions of the past, the present and even the future regarding this… this… country.”

Farrell worked hard to hold her gaze, sweat beading on his neck and forehead, desperately wanting to look away.

“But I have never, in all the years I have been in politics, been presented with such an absurd nonsense as this.”

There was silence in the room; Farrell thought he could hear raised voices from the far end of the corridor.

“The problems in Northern Ireland, I will accept, are a litany of collusion, feudal power struggles and conspiracy theories, all of which have precious little to do with religion.” She glanced at the document briefly then returned her steely gaze to Farrell. “But to tell me that you have come from the future… 2019, I believe, and expect me to agree to extend our sovereign boundaries on the basis of a spurious claim as to some small future windfall is frankly preposterous.” Thatcher glanced at the document again. “And you want me to agree to restore the terrorists’ Special Category Status, on the basis of… of what? Where is your evidence, man?”

Farrell cleared his throat.

“I think, ma’am… I think I’m right in saying that it’s a wee bit more than a small future windfall.” Farrell took the IPad Mini from his jacket pocket; the suit twitched. “If you’ll just permit me to show ye this.”

He turned on the device, selected the video from the BBC News channel’s morning piece, and Bill Turnbull shuffled his papers in Reginald Bosanquet style and cleared his throat.

A huge discovery of shale gas in the Republic of Ireland is set of re-boot the ailing Irish economy…”

“What on earth is that…?

“Oh do shut up, Humphrey!”

Farrell glanced around the room as the video played. The disturbance from the end of the corridor was getting louder, but everyone, including the suit, was utterly absorbed by the news bulletin.

… Bill, I spoke to John Smithers, CEO of NRG Expert this morning and he believes that this field has the potential to generate as much as £800 trillion over the next few years. This, of course, comes at a particularly good time for the Irish economy, as oil prices have recovered to an all-time high of $155 a barrel, following the 2015 slump. Investors also have flocked to oil and other commodities this year as a hedge against high inflation and a weak dollar. As to ownership, Bill, two private individuals acquired around twenty acres of the site thirty-five years ago, but the Irish government’s Ministry of Defence controversially vested the land by compulsory purchase shortly after this, under a rapidly introduced piece of legislation referred to as The Boundaries Commission Amendment Act. The landowners, who have remained anonymous, were compensated at a figure of around £200 per acre, the going rate for agricultural land at that time. Naturally, they will not be too happy about this morning’s news!

            Thank you David. Now… to other stories in the news this Friday morning, the 18th September…

            Farrell switched the IPad off as the bulletin ended but left it on the table. The noise from the corridor was getting louder. There was clearly a disturbance outside and everyone in the room apart from the PM now appeared to be aware of it.

“An interesting trick, Mr Farrell, and clearly a very professionally executed and elaborate scam. But I would hardly consider it as evidence.”

“Consider it what ye like,” Farrell’s patience was beginning to wear thin. He had expected skepticism, but thought the bulletin would have had more effect; it was time to up the stakes. “… But if we’re not interested, I’m sure that ‘stupid little man’, as ye call the Taoiseach, will be, when he gets here.”

The noise outside the room now occupied everyone’s attention. Farrell picked up the IPad Mini, selected video camera, pressed the record button, walked over to the window and placed it upright on the sill so it had a panoramic view of the room.

Before the PM had the opportunity to reply, the door burst open and an agitated grey-looking man with eyes unnaturally close together, dressed in a dark suit, burst into the room brandishing a gun. In front on him, the second Intelligence Agent, hands raised.

Farrell assessed the man with the gun: a bit of an anachronism. His suit, though slightly crumpled, looked expensive; possibly Boss or Armani. It certainly didn’t belong in the ‘80s and neither did a white shirt without a tie. This was the casual business attire of a power broker from the second decade of the twenty-first century.

And then there was the matter of the gun.

Clearly this was something he was not comfortable with. Farrell wondered why the Agent hadn’t dispossessed him of the thing. Who on earth recruited and trained these guys, he wondered? Even Dibble would have done a better job.

Then two things dawned on Farrell: the man was either drunk or very close to being drunk, to judge by his movements.

And the second thing: he knew who he was.









FORTY-FOUR: The disappearance


Friday 28th February, 1981.10.48pm

Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland


Afterwards, Farrell had felt slightly guilty about ignoring McT’s instructions.

Do not, under any circumstances, use it on a government minister or anyone in attendance, as to do so would have cataclysmic consequences on future events.”

            But the guilt soon evaporated when he reminded himself that John McDonnell, the Chancellor in Her Majesty’s Jeremy Corbyn led government, should never have been ‘in attendance’ at Hillsborough Castle that night in the first place.

He should have been back in 2019 being unpopular.

Farrell had a little difficulty in explaining this to the PM. However, Thatcher’s mood had changed significantly due to the fact that Farrell had zapped her would-be assassin, making him disappear, with some kind of ray gun. This action tilted the argument in support of his claim to have come from the future by no small degree. The PM was also much heartened by the fact that Labour, despite holding a small parliamentary majority shored up by Sinn Fein after the third general election in as many years, had become embroiled in political controversy by making policy U turns in the future.

McDonnell, Farrell ascertained before he had dispatched him, was only there due to McGuinn’s insistence over lunch — in 2019 — that he could help him realise a desire that had got him — and Mr Corbyn — into a very large vat of hot water some time before, when he publically said that he wished he could travel back in time and assassinate Margaret Thatcher. McGuinn then proceeded to ply him with copious amounts of red wine, hand him a loaded Browning 9mm semi-automatic handgun together with rudimentary instructions for its use, then drove him to a large Victorian house on the banks on Belfast Lough, where a white-coated Scotsman with rotting teeth and foul breath had put him into something that resembled a walk-in fridge.

The next thing he remembered was being bundled into a chauffeured ministerial car, and half an hour later, arriving here, in 1981.

“I may be indebted to you for saving my life, Mr Farrell, but you can hardly expect me to agree to your requests purely as a consequence of personal circumstances.”

“In that case, ma’am, I’d urge you to consider the consequences of not agreeing to them.”

The sound of further activity came from the corridor, suggesting that the Taoiseach had arrived and was being shown into the drawing room. For a second, he imagined hearing the unmistakeable tone of McGuinn’s voice in the background. Must be my mind fucking with me, he thought, and dismissed the notion.

Farrell knew he had less than ten minutes to make the lady turn.













The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Friday 28th February, 1981 10.50pm


McGuinn sat on his bed and fumed.

He had accompanied Dempsey and McVeigh to McConnaville’s funeral parlour, more to ensure that there could be no doubt that Ellen was dead, than as a show of compassion and solidarity. He’d sloped off when it became quite obvious that she was.

Doc Twomey had examined her at the bungalow of course, and had provided a death certificate, but his track record in the pronouncement of death had not been entirely unblemished. On two pervious occasions, Isaac McConnaville had discovered the ‘corpse’ about to be prepared for burial still to be breathing. And a few months ago, a victim of gunshot wounds had risen from the slab and stumbled, bleeding but very much alive, into the old man’s office causing a miracle to be proclaimed.

But on this occasion, there was no doubt that the young woman was going anywhere other than Crossmaglen cemetery.

The day — begun in his Titanic Quarter apartment 2019 — had started well enough for McGuinn.

After a lunch meeting with John McDonnell at Holohan’s, he had been driven to Laneside bringing the Chancellor with him and leaving him with McT. Then, on the boffin’s instructions, using the fridge, he had made two trips through time.

First, he travelled to South Armagh to arrive at 6am on Friday 28th February 1981, when he could be certain there would be absolutely no chance of being observed. He then recalibrated the machine to return to Laneside at 6.05am, from where he drove to the Dempsey farm complex, abandoning the car that Dibble had provided for him at the Gaelic ground, completing the journey on foot.

This was to ensure that there would only be one fridge in the workshop when Farrell made the time jump. And if Dibble should have problems in persuading Farrell, McT had provided the Head of Homeland Security with something persuasive to slip into his Guinness. Before leaving his bedroom, he grabbed his Luger from the cardboard box beneath his bed — just in case.

Then, acting on Dibble’s instructions, he had contacted Dundalk land agents, FitzGerald, FitzGerard & Sons, and had agreed to buy two large lots of subsistence land to the south of Dempsey’s farm complex, just inside the Republic of Ireland. He then drove to the office of his Newry-based solicitors, Connolly, O’Connery & Co and paid £10,000 in cash for each 10-acre site, one of which was to be sold to a George Oliver Dibble and the other to be conveyed to him. He then gave Sean O’Connery power of attorney to deal with the paperwork and instructed him to set up an off-shore holding company in the Cayman Islands and transfer ownership of the land to this, with Dibble and McGuinn’s involvement untraceable, but leaving them as the co-beneficiaries.


It struck the aging Mr O’Connery Junior as curious that land such as this would have a value of anywhere near £1,000 per acre but he imagined that Mr McGuinn knew what he was doing.

Mr O’Connery was correct in this assumption; he knew exactly what he was doing.

McGuinn had then killed time until around 8pm when the chain of events he had planned to dispatch Ellen and lure Farrell back would be set in motion.

Then things had gone horribly wrong.

Somehow McVeigh had got wind of something going on. McGuinn didn’t, of course, know exactly what he had got wind of or how he had got wind of it, but he knew that something was on, and that was enough to propel the ejit into a state of extreme nosiness.

Farrell, of course, had not arrived from Manchester by ferry; he had arrived from the future by time travel. A nice piece of acting that, McGuinn had thought, especially the bit about Morrissey; even he knew who the miserable, talentless twat was.

Ditto a reading week.

Pretense, he congratulated himself, was one of the core skill sets that served him well in his politico role. And telling him too keep the fuck out of things had ensured that Farrell would do the opposite… mind you, he thought, the rest had been down to luck.   But it hadn’t taken much to convince Dempsey that Farrell had planned Ellen’s murder and having the old man scouring the countryside for the bastard had been a bonus.

In fact, his day couldn’t have gone better until about five minutes ago.

He had turned on the transistor radio by his bed and awaited the news. If McDonnell hadn’t bottled it, any minute the 10pm bulletin would confirm that a mystery assailant had assassinated the Prime Minister at Hillsborough Castle. This certainly wasn’t in Dibble’s script but it suited McGuinn much better to leave the shale in the Republic. In fact, it would save him a job later. It was, he had thought, a win-win situation.

Then an idea had stuck him: why bother with McDonnell? He didn’t give a shit about what happened to him, but to bring him back to 2019, as Dibble had instructed, could turn out to be most embarrassing for him. Should McDonnell ever be tied into this seismic re-ordering of history, there was potential for him to be linked to it too.

The plan had been for McDonnell to be collected by Dibble’s men and driven back to Laneside where McGuinn would meet him. They would then both be transported back to 2019, arriving at South Armagh at a most opportune moment, shortly after the announcement of the shale find.

To hell with PR… probably best to leave him where he was.

There was always a possibility that one of the Intelligence clowns at Hillsborough may dispatch him; if not, there would be as little likelihood of anyone taking seriously his claim to have come from the future, as there would of anyone believing that Micksey had an ‘O’ Level in Physics.

Why not leave him here and just fuck off now? He’d done everything he’d come back to do.

McGuinn had got off his bed and rushed to the workshop. He heaved a sigh of relief. There, in the far corner, sat the cubicle Farrell had arrived in. All he had to do now was to fetch the C19 from where he’d stashed it, inject the correct amount of accelerant, calibrate it for 2019, strap himself into the chair, and get the fuck out of 1981. Best of all, this would leave that interfering fucker Farrell stuck in ’81, about to feel the full force of Dempsey’s anger.

It was been a crap year, in any case, he reflected; certainly not one that was worth living through twice.

If he timed it right, and his partner Judith wasn’t either shit-faced or fucking that retard from Tesco’s she thought he didn’t know about, he may even wolf down a couple of Viagra with a stiff brandy, and slip the bitch one.

With a half smile on his face, he raced back to his room, unscrewed the floorboards and groped for the whiskey bottle containing the C19; enough for at least three trips, he’d been told.

He only needed one more, and then time travel could kiss his ass goodbye. Besides, he’d been getting bad headaches recently. McT said the radiation was of a very low level and unlikely to be the cause of these, but he knew bullshit when he heard it.

One more trip, that was all, then no more headaches; small price to pay for so much money and political power beyond his wildest dreams.

He groped beneath the floorboards, searching fingers encountering nothing but dirt and cobwebs, becoming ever more desperate with every movement that failed to find the bottle.

Shit… fucking shit.

He unscrewed more floorboards to extend his search. Still nothing. Then the realisation of what had happened began to sink in.

In desperation he fetched a small torch from the kitchen and scanned the area, heart beating like a drum and sweat dripping into the vacant abyss beneath the floor.

Still no bottle.

And then he saw a small card propped against the joist. He grabbed it and read the message scribbled on the back.

Farrell’s writing.

Hello Malcy. Sorry about the C19, but we can’t have you fucking up the future yet again, can we? See you around, maybe in 35 years’ time. But here’s one positive: at least you’ve got 20 years of cricket to look forward to.

            Enjoy the rest of the Troubles!

            Yer ‘mate’, Billy.












The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Friday 28th February, 1981 10.52pm


Dempsey insisted on a nightcap when they had got back from McConnaville’s.

“I can’t fuckin’ believe it Micksey,” he said at length, sinking into the battered leather armchair by the wood burner with the dead weight of a broken man.

“I just cannot accept that Billy’s a tout. He’s always been loyal… fuck it Micksey… I’ve known ye longer, but the two of yis…” he shook his head. “Yis were were the only ones I’d trust wi’ my life.”

They sat in silence.

McVeigh noticed Dempsey’s hand shaking; he looked old and vunerable. He could think of nothing to say.

“Micksey… he was like a son te me, so he was. And now I’ve lost a son and a daughter in one fuckin’ night.”

Daughter… Bear? I thought Ellen was yer niece?”

“Ellen was my daughter.”

McVeigh let this sink in. It explained much about Dempsey’s relationship with her… how he almost revered her, how she could take liberties that far exceeded both her status and contemporary social customs, particularly in the rarified environment of South Armagh.

“If Ellen was your daughter, who’s her mother?” McVeigh hesitated, but he felt he had a right to ask. “And why…?”

“… Why did I call her my niece? And why was she brought up in Liverpool by my brother? And why didn’t she fuckin’ stay there and become a teacher, or a doctor or a model or anything that kept her away from here?”

For a few minutes just the ticking of the clock on the tiled mantelpiece echoed around the room as Dempsey struggled to find the words.

“Her mother was a woman called Bridie McFarland. I courted her for a while — nothin’ serious… well, as far as I was concerned. She lived with her da in this wee farm up near Newtonhamilton. Tell ye the truth, she had a bit of a reputation.” Dempsey smiled at memory. “She used to drink in Hanratty’s in Crossmaglen at weekends with her mates. Lads used to whistle at her and shout: ‘Bridie… Bridie… it’s my turn this Friday!’ I soon put a stop to that, mind. Pretty girl, like her daughter.”

He got up slowly from the armchair, opened the corner drinks cabinet and produced an unopened bottle of Bushmills and two glasses. He poured two large measures, gave a glass to McVeigh and sat down in the battered chair.

“This was back in ‘57… way, way back before all this kicked off, though there was still plenty of trouble if ye knew where te find it. Anyway, her da died suddenly, killed when his tractor cowped, and she was left on her own. So I used to call round, just te see if she was all right. One thing let te another, if ye know what I mean. Then one night she tells me she’s pregnant and I’m the da. ‘Fuck me’, says I, ‘we only did it the once!’ Well, she’s changed since her da died, hardly went out of the house ‘cept te go te church. And ye know which church it was?” Dempsey opened the door of the wood burner and put another log on the fire.

“A fuckin’ Presbyterian church!”

“With a name like Bridie?”

“Aye. I fell for that too. She was christened Jane Bridget, but she liked bein’ called Bridie. Said it helped her blend in. Anyway, I didn’t know what was worse, her bein’ pregnant or a Prod.”

“Well, what happened to her… where is she now?

“Died in childbirth. Bridie wanted te have Ellen at home… most folk did in them days. It was a cold, winter’s night… bit like tonight, and the mid-wife couldn’t get there in time. Doc Twomey tried to save her…”

“Doc Twomey? Jeaus… that old fucker’s done a better job at ending life than both the Brits and us put together. What happened to Ellen?”

“I’d kept the whole thing hushed up, and Bridie’d agreed te keep me out of it, anyhow. I’d said before that I’d look after the child of course, money-wise, when it was born; it’d want for nothin’”.

Dempsey paused, stalled by the emotion of the memory.

“But when she died, for some reason I felt different about it. It was as if this was me only chance te have a kid, but I couldn’t bring her up here… not on me own, and me ma would have gone fuckin’ mental, on both fronts. So my brother Fergus and his missus, Josephine, agreed to have the wee girl over in Liverpool. They couldn’t have kids themselves. She came te visit every summer when she was old enough… I loved havin’ her ‘round the place. She sort of brought out the best in me, ye know? But that’s what kids are supposed te do isn’t it?” His voice tailed off, and he looked into the fire to avoid McVeigh’s eyes.

“I sometimes think she knew, ye know. Then when this all kicked off, she wanted te be involved. Ma had died by then, and she was spendin’ more time over here. I could see I’d have to find a way te keep her out of it so we sent her te America as what we called a ‘political ambassador’. She loved it… absolutely fuckin’ loved it.”

Dempsey sat back in the chair and closed his eyes.

McVeigh sipped his whiskey.

“So… Ellen was a Prodestant?”

“Well, don’t forget I was involved, so she was only a Prod on her mum’s side… and she was brought up a Catholic. Anyway, look at Parnell… he was a Prod. But this thing isn’t about religion, is it? Ye can keep all that Maoist bollocks… all we’re interested in round here is getting’ the Brits te fuck off outta here. I’ve no problem with the Prods, although I’ve never known a fuckin’ Presbyterian te buy a drink.”

Silence fell. At last Dempsey spoke.

“And I knew about Billy and Ellen. They thought I didn’t, and they tried te hide it from me but it was as obvious… as obvious as the nose on yer face. And I’ll tell ye somethin’ else Micksey. Nothin’ would have made me happier than te see them two walk down the aisle.”

The clock chimed twelve but neither of them moved nor said a word.

“But that’s never gonne happen, Micksey.” McVeigh noticed tears in Dempsey’s eyes. “What’s gonne happen now is we’ll find him. And, and when we do, we’re gonne make an example of him. Somethin’ the Brits’ll sit up and take notice of.”

“Just one thing te ask ye Bear?”

“Go on.”

“Did Billy know Ellen was yer daughter?”

“No… what difference would that make Micksey?”

“I don’t know Bear. It’s just… why didn’t ye never tell him?”

“Fair question. Just never seemed te have the right moment.”

“I just can’t see him doin’ this Bear… why would he? ”

“’Cos his loyalties are te the Brits. He’s a professional; I’ll give him that. He had me shootin’ at her Micksey. That’s how fuckin’ devious he is. Besides which, if it was some sort of accident… explain to me why he fucked off from Ford’s Cross without even so much as seein’ whether she was hurt? If he’d loved Ellen…eh? If that doesn’t prove he’s guilty Micksey, then I don’t know what the fuck does.”



Friday 28th February, 1981.10.49pm

Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland


Thatcher broke the silence.

“And what consequences might those be? Time is short, Mr Farrell, so if you have

any further conjuring tricks I suggest you perform them. Entertaining though it’s been,

this little sideshow is almost at an end.”

For the first time, Farrell sensed her wavering; she wanted to be convinced.

To hell with it, he thought, fetching the Ipad from the window and selecting the file entitled Thatcher Legacy. He wanted to be absolutely sure of the facts, and good as

his memory was, reading it would be more reliable.

“This is an entry from something called Wikipedia. It’s an on-line encyclopedia.

Not always the most accurate source of information, I’ll admit, but I can guarantee that in

this instance it absolutely bloody nails it.” The PM’s mouth opened, but with the

realisation that no answer could be adequate, the question never came.

“There’s quite a lot about ye, of course, but this here’s the most pertinent bit. Ye

might like te consider makin’ a few changes to it, while ye can.”

Farrell took a deep breath and read:

Thatcher became a republican hate figure of Cromwellian proportions, with

Danny Maquire, Sinn Fein’s publicity director, describing her as “the biggest bastard we

have ever known”.

            At the time most thought the hunger strike a crushing defeat for the republicans, a view shared by many within the IRA and Sinn Fein, but Sands’ by-election win was a

propaganda victory.

            As with internment in 1971 and Bloody Sunday in 1972, IRA recruitment was

boosted, resulting in a new surge of paramilitary activity.

            There was an upsurge of violence after the comparatively quiet years of the late

1970s, with widespread civil disorder in Northern Ireland and rioting outside the British

Embassy in Dublin. Security forces fired 29,695 plastic bullets in 1981, causing seven


            The IRA continued its armed campaign during the seven months of the strike,

killing 13 policemen, 13 soldiers, including five members of the Ulster Defence Regiment

and five civilians.

            The seven months were one of the bloodiest periods of the Troubles with a total of

61 people killed, 34 of them civilians.

            Three years later the IRA tried to take their revenge on Thatcher with the

Brighton hotel bombing, an attack on the Conservative party conference that killed five

people and in which Thatcher herself only narrowly escaped death.

            It is very clear from an initial examination of the papers (released in 2011 under

the 30- year rule) that the policy pursued by Thatcher in 1981 was inflexible, intransigent

and at crucial points duplicitous.

            The papers reveal a British prime minister who consistently refuses to deal with

the substance of the prison protests.

There was silence in the room. Farrell turned the Ipad off and addressed Atkins.

“You get off lightly, Humphrey. She just replaces ye with James Prior in

September. The IRA have no further interest in you. Happy days.” He turned to Gow.

“But as for you fella, there’s no happy endin.’”

He stood squarely in front of Thatcher, hands on the table and lowered himself so

their eyes were locked. For the first time he felt he held the ascendency.

“For someone who’s clearly intelligent… Mr Gow is a fool. Maybe it’s just

arrogance, but te leave his home address and phone number in a local phone directory?

Dear me.”

He turned his gaze to Gow, who already looked uncomfortable. “Maybe the IRA

would have found ye… maybe not. But on 30th July 1990, they do. They stick four and a

half pounds of Semtex under yer Montego, and at 8.39am, as ye reverse out of yer drive, it explodes. It takes ten minutes for the wounds to yer lower body te bleed out, during

which time ye don’t lose consciousness. Apparently, they could hear ye screaming five

miles away… of course, that could just be folklore.”

Gow was as white as a ghost. Like a drunk, He staggered to the pot plant in the

corner and vomited.

Farrell continued.

“At 12.00pm the IRA issue a statement sayin’ they targeted ye due te yer role in

developing British policy in Northern Ireland, with particular regard to the advice ye gave

the PM over the hunger strike. Ye might like to re-think that advice now, Mr Gow.”

There was total silence for what seemed like an eternity.

Thatcher spoke.

“I think, Mr Farrell, you’ve made a most compelling case for a measured review

of Special Category Status… wouldn’t you agree Ian?”

Gow nodded. He was incapable of speech.

“… and agreeing to Haughey’s proposals?

“Granted. What is it you require me to do, Mr Farrell?

Farrell told her.

He switched on the Ipad and selected video mode.

“And get someone who can type in here, pronto.”











The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Saturday 1st March, 1981 12.02am


McGuinn sat on his bed swinging his feet like a chastised schoolboy.

No C19.

No fucking C19.

Without it, he was trapped in 1981. That, in itself, was bad enough without having absolutely no prospect of claiming the millions from the shale find beneath the land he had just purchased. Not, at least, for another 35 years.

Fuck being young… fuck cricket… but most of all, fuck Farrell.

The thought of another 35 years in this shithole kissing both Dibble and Dempsey’s asses, being shot at, blown up, and waiting for time to pass, banged up in a bungalow with a bunch of psychotic half-wits, appealed about as much as a game of Scrabble with Apollo.

And then a thought struck him; maybe it wasn’t quite game over just yet.

Farrell must have some C19.

Even if he’d disposed of what he’d found beneath the floorboards, he must have retained enough to get back to 2019… or whenever it was he’d arrived from, or at least enough to go back and rescue Ellen.

The one card McGuinn still held was that he could read Farrell like a book. He would be hurting badly from losing Ellen and worse still for taking the blame for her death. That would mean that it was a near certainty that he would come back here to use the time machine in an attempt to prevent Ellen’s death.

McGuinn knew where he’d be right now: either at Hillsborough Castle or the Maze.

And when he’d finished his business with Thatcher and Sands, he would be back here. That was a certainty. Ellen was always his main priority; that, McGuinn knew, had been the trump card to draw him back. The rest of it was peripheral.

But he knew Farrell well enough to bank on him getting the job done, otherwise Dibble wouldn’t have insisted on sending him. McDonnell had only been a back up, and a nice touch to dispose of Thatcher after the deals had been done.

Yet, there had been nothing on three news bulletins by now, so he could only assume that this part of the plan had failed. He had no way of knowing, of course, just how badly it had failed.

Had McDonnell been sober enough to follow orders and bide his time until the agreements had been reached with Thatcher and Haughey, he may have avoided being vaporized and have taken Thatcher down as planned. But had McDonnell not been the worse for drink, he wouldn’t have been in 1981 in the first place.

McGuinn’s feet stopped swinging and a half smile crept across his face.

He had a plan.








The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Saturday 1st March, 1981 12.10am


McVeigh had moved into Dempsey’s battered armchair beside the wood burner.

Dempsey had gone to bed, but McVeigh wasn’t ready to retire just yet, his mind trying to make some sense of the night’s events.

He also wasn’t ready to accept that it had been Farrell’s intention to hurt Ellen, let alone kill her, nor that he was loyal to the Brits. He knew he was a double agent, of course, and that from time to time he fed bits of intelligence — mostly useless — to his handler at Laneside. McVeigh knew this because he too was on the Internal Security Council that decided what these titbits would be.

But he had been through hell and high water with Farrell, and if he knew anything about him it was that he was fiercely loyal to Dempsey; and, that he adored Ellen.

This was the work of someone else, and the more he looked at it, the more difficult it was to remove McGuinn from the equation. He just couldn’t see Farrell killing Ellen, let alone time travelling to do so; it didn’t make sense.

McGuinn had been on edge all day. It was clear that something was going down. When he’d quizzed him about a possible operation he’d got a sharp rebuttal.

“Just keep your nose outta this, Micksey,” McGuinn had told him. But that wasn’t the way things worked on Larkins Road, so he’d kept a close eye on him. He’d made several phone calls, and one, he was sure was to Dibble, Farrell’s hander.

His brain whirred; there was a reason for Farrell to talk to Dibble, but for the life of him, he couldn’t see one for McGuinn to be talking to the Head of the FRU.

Unless, of course, he was is cahoots with him. You never really know anyone, do you, he thought?

And then another thought occurred to him.






















Long Kesh Prison Camp, Belfast

Saturday 1st March, 1981 12.14am


This is the part of the book, I have dreaded writing.

Many sleepless nights have passed agonizing over how to ask you to believe that Bobby Sands, and ultimately the other nine hunger strikers, did not die; that they did not give their lives for a cause they believed in. Inviting you to accept a re-write of History.

Asking you to accept that time travel exists is, of course, demanding a great deal, but many writers much greater than myself have requested their reader to indulge them with this fantasy.

And for all we know, it may be possible some day to travel through time — in which case time travel will have existed both in 2019 and in1981. Only, of course, we don’t know that yet. However, suspending your disbelief for this alone does not, in itself, diminish respect or insult those who died during the Troubles.

I wish to make it clear that the narrative that follows is not intended to be disrespectful to these men — whose names are listed in the Glossary — who died on hunger strike in 1981, nor to their families and loved ones.

Furthermore, I would like to underline the sentiment that, throughout this book, no insult or affront is intended to anyone who died, or indeed who suffered serious injury during the Troubles, on either side, whether protagonist or civilian.

Now back to the story…

And of course, Farrell yet may not be successful.



Farrell sat in the interview room and waited.

He lit a cigarette, placed the Ipod on the table, and looked around the room.

In the apex of the ceiling was a closed-circuit camera. No effort had been made to conceal it. He removed his jacket and draped it over the lens.

His thoughts turned to Ellen. If he could get through this he would be free to devote all his resources to her rescue. A rescue from himself, he reflected. The enormity of the task, with Dempsey’s men scouring South Armagh for him sent a shiver down his spine. Just how on earth was he to get into the workshop undetected? In would be easier to get into Thatcher’s bed between her and Denis than return to the cubicle he’d arrived in. And, if he couldn’t save Ellen…what then? Unless he could access the machine, there would be no way back to 2019. Not only would he be stuck here; he would be marooned in 1981 as a fugitive to be hunted down and killed.

But another thought struck him: did he really want to go back anyway? Back to what? What lure would there be for Ellen, a young woman in her mid-twenties, cast into an alien world she didn’t belong to or understand, living in a Bogside shithole with a middle-aged loser whose main agenda was to get hammered every night. He’d simply be hijacking her, swindling her into his life.

He stubbed out his cigarette and lit another. Focus on the now Billy, he told himself. His agenda, before he could begin to contemplate saving Ellen was pivotal, not just to him, but to achieving a beginning to the end to the Troubles.

And it wasn’t just that Dibble’s last words to him had been: “…screw it up, Billy boy, and don’t bother to come back.” He had pulled it off with Thatcher, but that part of the deal had been infinitely easier than the challenge of persuading Sands to abandon the hunger strike.

Thinking of which, he suddenly realised how tired and hungry he was. The last thing he’d had to eat or drink had been tea and biscuits in Dibble’s office. That must have been over six hours ago; he was parched and knackered.




He’d never been to Long Kesh before and was mildly surprised at the level of security, even gone midnight. And before he was anywhere near the interior of the prison, he could tell the place was a hubbub of hostile activity, some of which was aimed at him.

He had to pass through four gates before parking and being escorted to the admin block. Signs and warnings everywhere: Stop… Hold… LockSwitch off engine when parked in airlock….Caution, we patrol the area. An antagonistic environment of concrete and razor wire, steel doorways slamming behind him.

Watchtowers, H-blocks, a hospital, chapel, and a seventeen-foot high, two-and-a-half-mile perimeter wall. Not the cozy anti-colonialist Colditz-style club where both sides of the divide united against their Imperialistic captors, passing messages in tennis balls, and sugar to each other before the republicans burned the place to the ground in ’74.

The prison officer who searched him thoroughly, even when he’d produced his Triple A security clearance, asked him if he wanted a sack.

“A sack… now what would I want a sack for.”

“Cover up yer number plates. Unlikely any of the boyos’ll be too vigilant this time of night, but ye never know. Mind ye, can’t be too many poofs’ cars in that dandy colour round here.” The warder chuckled to himself and strutted around the 2CV. “Open the boot will ye?

Farrell obliged.

“What’s in the wee case? Open it up for me.”

The officer poked at the contents with a pen as if he were expecting something to leap out and bite him.

“What’s this?”

“A SOEKS Geiger counter. Detects radiation.”

“Stays here. Ye won’t need it in there anyway. All ye’ll detect from yon cunts is shite. And this?” He picked up the Ipod Mini and examined it.

“A present for Mr Sands from Mrs Thatcher.”

“Away on!” He replaced it. “I know what this is, mind.” He picked up the Glock, checked the safety was on and ejected the ammunition clip. “This stays with me ‘til yer done.” The warder pointed the gun at Farrell, a smile on his lopsided face. An instant later, the smile evaporated, the gun was on the floor, the officer making a strange squealing noise as his nose collided with the bulletproof glass of the security hut, arm bent into a near impossible angle behind his back.

“You ever do that again, and I’ll break yer fuckin’ neck.”

“Jesus Christ, son… there’s no fuckin’ need for that. I’m only messin’.” Farrell released him. Blood pored from his nose. “Jeasus… think ye’ve busted me fuckin’ arm. And me nose.”

“Go get a sick note from matron. I’d say a thirty-year one should just about cover ye. Just make sure my gun’s here when I’m done.”

Noise outside the interview room alerted him to Sands’ approach. A man being dragged against his will by a person or persons who clearly didn’t want to drag him.

He smelt Sands before he saw him. The door was kicked open and a bundle of hairy humanity draped in a grubby blanket and a stench that almost made Farrell vomit, was pushed into the centre of the room. Two warders rubbed their hands on their tunics and put as much distance between themselves and Sands as the room would permit.

The shorter of the two men spoke.

“This here man wants a word with ye… ye filthy Fenian bastard.”

Farrell had not met Sands before. He surveyed the man in front of him; a few years older, around thirty, with long matted hair, unkempt beard, a straight nose and a strong chin. Despite his aroma and attire, there was a curiously magnetic quality about him; in a different environment and circumstance, he would have been considered as rock star charismatic.

“Sit down.”

Sands sat. The two men stared at each other. Long silence.

Farrell spoke.

“You know who I am?”

Sands did not reply.

“I’ve read some of your work, Bobby. It’s good. The Crime of Castlereagh… Ninety Miles from Dublin Town… The Auld Triangle… Prison Poems… and of course, One Day in my Life. You’ve got real talent. Shame te waste it.”

Sands stared at him, a look of puzzlement crept across his face.

“Who are you?” he said softly. “‘Cos that’s not possible.”

“Oh trust me on that one, Bobby, I learned te read at Millgate Primary.”

“No… no one’s read it. It’s… It’s still here… it’s not even finished yet.”

“One Day in my Life? Ah… see what you mean, Bobby. But I have read it. First published, if memory serves me right… in ‘83, I think. Gerry Adams supplied a typically pompous preface to a later edition. You’d have hated it.”

“Who the fuck are you? Screws! Take me back to my cell. We’re done here.”

No one moved.

“We’re not quite done here, Bobby.” Farrell slid the cigarette packet across the table to him. “Help yerself.”

“Stuyvesant’s?” A smile flit across Sands’ face. “Only fucker I know smokes them is Metal Micksey… or should I say Mental Micksey?”

‘Aye well, he just happened te have a spare packet.” Farrell laid his security badge on the table in front of the man opposite. Sands ignored it.

“You two,” Farrell raised his voice to the two warders, “Yis can hop it.”

“Nuffen’ we’d rather do, mate,” replied the taller of the two in an estuary accent. “But our orders are not to leave him alone at any time. Any time. So we’re stayin’ put.”

“Yis two stupid or what? How’s he alone?”

“Well, you don’t actually count… Sir. We don’t really know who you are and what you’re up to anyway, do we?”

“Have ye got a telephone in this dump?” The warder glared at Farrell but didn’t answer. ‘Cos if ye have, unless ye’re outta here — the both of yis — in five seconds, ye’ll be talking te Thatcher, and pickin’ up yer P45s in the morning.”

The two officers looked at each other, shrugged and turned towards the door.

“Oh, as ye’ve got nothin’ better te do, we’ll have a mug of tea and a nice plate of biccies, thanks. None of yer cheap shit… make sure ye raid the Rover Assortment box I clocked in the office, and there’s a decent chocolate selection along with the Rich Teas.”

Sands picked up the card and read it as the officers closed the door behind them.

“Billy Farrell. Aye… heard of ye. Codename Fishknife; double agent.” He laughed softly. “Not any more, it’d seem… now, not only Thatcher’s lacky… but word is, ye’ve pissed Dempsey off big time.”

“I’m no one’s lacky.” The gibe hurt. Farrell managed a wry smile. The jungle drums were working overtime if he knew about Ellen. “I’m here for one thing only, and that’s te stop the shit storm — pardon the pun — that’ll kick off if ye insist on starvin’ yerself te death pointlessly.”

Sands laughed mirthlessly.

“Only one way ye’ll do that: get rid of that fucker Thatcher.”

Farrell reflected on how close this had come to happening. Maybe he should have let McDonnell just get on with it. Farrell crossed the room to where his jacket dangled from the camera, and pulled a letter from the inside pocket.

He unfolded it and placed it on the table so that Sands could see the Prime Ministerial crest, beneath which were the words: 10 Downing Street, SW1A 2AA, THE PRIME MINISTER.

“Ye can read that in a minute. Ye need te watch this first.”

Farrell turned on the Ipod, selected the video he had recorded around an hour ago at Hillsborough, and pressed play. Thatcher appeared, sitting behind the desk, Atkins on one side, Gow on the other.

“What the fuck is this thing?”

“It’s the future, Bobby, but we’ll come te that in a wee minute. Forget the technology. Just listen te what she has te say, then ye can read the letter, if yer still not convinced.”

Thatcher spoke.

Mister Sands,

            I am aware of your intention to initiate a second hunger strike tomorrow, led by yourself. I am also aware that it is your objective, as commanding officer of the Provisional IRA in The Maze Prison, to have prisoners join the strike at staggered intervals. May I assure you that the result of this tactic will simply be to prolong the inevitable… that is, that a great many prisoners will die.

            I am convinced that ultimately this will achieve nothing other than to extend the conflict, and that many more lives will be lost on either side… bitterness and resentment will escalate well beyond current proportions.

            Although it may not always appear obvious, I wish to assure you that as a reasonable and compassionate individual, at the helm of a government who cares deeply about all the sovereign citizens of Northern Ireland…”

“What is this shite? ‘…a reasonable and compassionate individual…’? Fuck’s sake…this is just bollocks. I’m not listening te any more of this.”

Farrell pressed the pause button, then rewound. “Just give her a wee minute Bobby.”

…at the helm of a government who cares deeply about all the sovereign citizens of Northern Ireland, we have re-examined the current situation regarding Special Category Status, and wish to propose certain changes.

            I will get straight to the point.

            The door opened and an officer entered carrying a tray on which sat two steaming mugs of tea, a bowl of sugar and a plate piled high with chocolate biscuits. Farrell put the tape on hold again. Sands heaped four spoonful’s of sugar into his mug as the guard left the room, and helped himself to a biscuit.

            In return for a written and recorded commitment, which you will give to Mr Farrell, I… we shall agree to the gradual phasing in of your five demands.

            This offer is conditional to your acceptance of the following terms, which are non-negotiable:

            Firstly, the authorities at The Maze will immediately be instructed to permit you to wear your own clothes, on the condition that you also end the protest which I believe is referred to as ‘on the blanket’. By that I mean that you will wash, cease to defecate in your cells, and smear faeces on the walls.

            You will also immediately be exempted from prison work. And you will be permitted, from tomorrow, to receive one visit, one parcel and one letter per week.

            The remaining two conditions: the right of free association with other prisoners and to organise educational and recreational pursuits, and full restoration of remission lost through protest will be granted six months from to-day’s date provided that there is no resumption of any form of protest.

            There is one further condition: this agreement must remain a secret. If any details of this accord should reach the media, then this arrangement will be revoked in its entirety.

            Once I have received verbal confirmation from Mr Farrell that you, on behalf of the Provisional IRA, have accepted this most generous offer of reconciliation, the Governor of the Maze Prison will receive my instructions for the immediate implementation of this agreement.

            Mr Farrell will now pass you a letter, which formalises a summary of this agreement. You will see that it has been signed by myself, witnessed by Mr Atkins and Mr Gow and, once you have signed it in the appropriate place, is a legally binding document.

            Please return this to Mr Farrell who will forward the document to me. It will be kept on file and will only see light of day in the event of any further protest on your part.


Farrell switched off the Ipod and handed Sands the letter.

He read it in silence; re-read it then returned it to Farrell.

“No dice.”

What?” Farrell’s heart sank. “This is what ye wanted isn’t it? Exactly what ye wanted. She’s promised te meet yer five demands. What more could ye want?”

“Aye, well she’s done that before, hasn’t she? A thirty-page settlement was winging its way te Belfast before Christmas with Sean McKenna at death’s door. And when Brendan Hughes decided to end the strike after fifty-three days, ye know what happened next?”

Farrell didn’t reply, he knew only too well.

“The document mysteriously disappeared and Thatcher denied any knowledge of a settlement of any kind.”

Sands, heaped more sugar into his mug and stirred it.

“Why should we trust her now, just ‘cos of a piece of paper and some fancy technology? Perfidious fuckin’ Albion. You know it and I know it.”

“Bobby… it’s a legally binding document, that’s why. I’ll get ye a photocopy… a Zerox of it. Now just have a titter of wit and sign the fuckin’ thing.”

“Anyway… it just proves she understands nothing about what goes on in here. Only reason we smear shite on the walls is te reduce the stench. This all started ‘cos the screws wouldn’t let us use the toilet and shower block if we didn’t go there in prison clothes. So when we refused te slop out, we’d chuck it outte the window in the morning. Fuckin’ seagulls loved it… bucketful’s of maggots. So ya know what they did then?

“Aye, I know, Bobby.”

“They boarded up the windows. How’s that for a snooker? It’s not us te blame for shite-covered cells, it’s them for denying us our basic human rights.”

Sands helped himself to a handful of biscuits.

“Don’t matter, anyway. From tomorrow it stops. All our focus’s going inte the hunger strike.”

The sat in silence. Sands munched a Custard Cream contemplatively as if it was the source of some great wisdom.

“See, these, Billy? These biscuits have a symbolic function. This… is the Last Supper.”

Sands removed an orange from beneath his blanket, peeled it and separated each segment carefully from the fruit before consuming it as if it were a rare delicacy. Farrell watched. He said nothing.

“Close the door on yer way out will ye Billy, and tell those fuckers I’m finished here.”




















The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Saturday 1st March, 1981 12.13am


McVeigh stood up and stretched, adrenalin pumping him awake.

He knew what he had to do.

He slunk down the corridor, mindful of where the creaking floorboards lay, entered his room, pausing only to collect a torch and his Browning.

He armed the weapon, snapped off the safety and nudged Apollo’s door ajar. It had barely moved on its hinges when the room vibrated with the little Filipino’s snores. No bother from him, he thought, moving on to McGuinn’s room.

He prodded the door with his handgun and waited. The room was in total darkness, but it wouldn’t be unlike the bastard to sleep with one eye open, the other, and his pistol trained on the door. He risked turning on his torch and scanned the room.

Nothing. Not a trace. Bed made up with hospital corners. Shit, he could well be too late.

With Dempsey asleep, caution was not an issue now. He raced to the workshop and entered silently by the back door, through which he had followed Farrell earlier. The room was in darkness other than the light of the moon sifting through the dirty windows. He turned off the torch, tucked it under his arm and blew on his hands to warm them against the freezing night air.

And then he notched the fridge. Thank fuck, he thought. Something else grabbed his attention: the door was slightly open and a faint glow bled into the room.


He smiled. If McGuinn had the C19, he’d be long gone… out of here and out of 1981. Farrell must have found his stash of C19 and now the bastard was holed up waiting for him to return.

Well, he thought, two could play at that game.

Obviously Farrell hadn’t left the C19 in the cubicle. He also thought it unlikely that he would have taken it with him, so that meant it should still be somewhere in the bungalow.

McVeigh crept back into the building, now in darkness but for light from his torch. He entered Farrell’s room and switched the light on. Nothing obvious. No surprises there, he’d hardly leave it sitting on the dresser in case Apollo mistook it for rum.

It wasn’t hard to find.

At the back of the wardrobe beneath a gaudy looking smock McVeigh found the loose wooden sheet that led to a false panel. He removed it. His fingers groped the vacant space in the darkness until they found what he was looking for.

He pulled it out; it was a whiskey bottle. McVeigh sniffed it.

Christmas on a cracker.










FIFTY-TWO: The CD that may have never been made


Long Kesh Prison Camp, Belfast

Saturday 1st March, 1981 12.42am


Sands finished his orange and licked the juice from his filthy fingers.

The two men stared at each other in silence.

Eventually Farrell spoke.

“I’m not gonne give ye a history lesson.” Farrell lit a cigarette, leant back in his seat, hands in deep in pockets, his smoke dangling rakishly from the corner of his mouth.    Another silence.

“I’m gonne spare ye how long it takes ye te die… how long the other nine last… how many deaths there are in the aftermath of yer protest… how it achieves absolutely nothing… and how, when it’s all over, the British Government quietly phase in the five demands almost unnoticed. As flies to wanton boys, are we to th’ Gods, Bobby; they kill us for their fuckin’ sport.”

Sands stared at him, listening without hearing. His mind was made up. Farrell knew this. A vision of this future would not budge him.

“I know this, Bobby, because…believe it or not, I’ve come from the future… 2019.”

Sands remained impassive.

“See, that’s how I know about yer book. I also know about something else.”

Farrell stood up, crossed to his jacket and pulled the CD case from a pocket. He sat down again and placed the thin plastic box in front on Sands.

“I know that won’t change yer mind, Bobby. But this might.”





















FIFTY-THREE: No C19 — no time travel


The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Saturday 1st March, 1981 12.19am


McGuinn sat in the cubicle and shivered despite the thin warmth from the paraffin stove he’d dragged inside from the workshop.

He’d searched McVeigh’s room, the workshop and given Farrell’s room a quick once over before he’d heard McVeigh get to his feet in the living room.

No C19. No time travel.

He figured it was probably stashed somewhere in Farrell’s room, and he could probably find it if his life depended on it, but for now occupation of the cubicle was more important.

If he couldn’t get to the C19, the C19 would come to him.

McVeigh was on the move, probably on the hunt for more potcheen, so there was a chance he was headed this way.

The stove began to raise his core temperature and he started to relax, a soothing warmth caressing both his body and mind. Five minutes had passed with no sign of McVeigh. Maybe he wasn’t coming.

It would be a while before Farrell would arrive. He should, he reflected, have telephoned McCrumm and told him to put the word out to have the men stand down, remove the roadblocks and fuck off home to bed. No matter, he had enough grudging respect for Farrell to know he’d get through anyway.

He felt his eyelids droop and finally close as his head sank into the comfortable headrest of the leather-padded chair. For a moment he was unconscious, lost in a cocoon of delightful slumber, until the gun slipped from his fingers and clattered onto the composite floor.

He opened his eyes to see McVeigh pointing his Browning at him.



















FIFTY-FOUR: If you leave me now


Long Kesh Prison Camp, Belfast

Saturday 1st March, 1981 12.46am


Sands picked up the CD case and studied it.

On the cover was a man’s face, half in light, half in silhouette.

“Is this some kind of joke?”

“Absolutely not, Bobby. He’s yer son… second son, born 10th December 1982. Reckon his mother chose the name; not too many wee skitters runnin’ round the Bogside with a name like Sergio.” Farrell took the case from Sands and studied it. “He’s a dead ringer for you, isn’t he? Well, you cleaned up, that is.”

“Where did ye get this?”

“Micksey gave it te me.” He drummed his fingers on the table.

“‘With Feeling,’ great album title. I can’t play it for ye as the CD player hasn’t been invented yet, but he’s got some great cover versions: Knights in White Satin… not sure if that’s a typo or if he’s takin’ the piss… Something… If You Leave me Now. Very apt, that one. ‘Cos if you leave us now, Bobby — or in a few weeks’ time — this disc won’t exist… Sergio Sands won’t exist. The world will have lost a great musician… your legacy will have lost this jewel. You will have lost a world of opportunity that you can’t even begin te imagine sittin’ here. Pursuing the past will only lead to greater loss, Bobby. Trust me; I’ve got experience on that one.”

Sands took a cigarette and lit it. He shook his head.

“You’re just makin’ all this up. How can this be possible?”

“Not at all. This is how it plays out, Bobby, your parallel reality. You’re released from here in July, on the condition that you serve parole. But it’s not too arduous. You’re billeted in a safe house in Marbella, southern Spain, where ye meet a Señorita called Mercedes Moroder. You hang out, fall in love maybe, she gets pregnant and along comes young Sergio.”

“This is bullshit.” Sands slammed his fist on the table. “Ye say ye come from the future. All I’ve seen so far is smoke and mirrors. I don’t fuckin’ believe ye.”

Farrell got up and walked slowly to the corner where his jacked draped the camera. He removed it, took the Cross from the inside pocket and sat down.

“Bit of an invasion of privacy, those things. Never did like them. Bad news is, where I’ve come from it’s a whole lot worse.” He armed the pen, pointed it the lens and squeezed the clip. The camera disappeared. “Now do ye believe me? Read the biog. It’s inside the cover.”












FIFTY-FIVE: Whiskey in the jar


The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Saturday 1st March, 1981 12.55am


McVeigh picked up the handgun, checked the safety was off and tucked it into his waistband.

“You’re not gonne be needin’ this Malcy. If my hunch is right, ye’ve gone enough damage already for one day without pluggin’ anyone.”

“I’ve absolutely no idea what you’re talkin’ about Micksey.”

McVeigh sighed.

“Aye…you’d go all he way te the top as a politician, Malcy, I’ll give ye that… ‘cos every way I see it, yer full a shite.”

McVeigh flung the cubicle door wide open, suddenly aware that the toxic fumes emanating from the paraffin stove were making his eyes water. “Jeasus… No wonder ya took a wee doze? Yer fuckin’ lucky ye woke up at all. Ye can thank me for savin’ yer life later, Malcy, but we’ve got work te do first.”

McVeigh produced the whiskey bottle he’d found in Farrell’s room and waved it in front of McGuinn.

“This what yer lookin’ for? Whack for the daddio… Whack for the daddio…there’s whiskey in the jar, eh? ‘Cept, as we very well know, it’s not whiskey. And unfortunately for you, the stuff ye stole from me has mysteriously vanished, or ye wouldn’t be sittin’ here, dozin’ like the Duke of fuckin’ Edinburgh at a Royal Wedding, would ye?

“Did ye work all this out yerself Micksey, or did ye phone a friend?”

“Oh… how very 21st century, Malcy. Thing is, yer not gonne te be seein’ beyond this one again for some time, ‘cos we’re gonne need just about all of this C19 te establish exactly what did happen te Ellen.”

“Ah come on, Micksey,” McGuinn was suddenly wide-awake, faculties fully restored. “Look, tell ye what I’ll do… I’ve done a wee land deal that’s gonne pay out big time in thirty-five years. We’re talkin’ billions, Micksey… I mean literally billions. How about I cut ye in for a nice wee ten per cent? With this machine and the compound, we could cash in in a couple of weeks. Max. Live like rock stars, the both of us… more money than we could ever spend in a dozen lifetimes… if we can just forget all this Ellen nonsense. How about it, eh?”

“Ye can tell that te her yerself, Malcy.”

McVeigh pointed the gun at McGuinn’s head, and cocked the hammer, aware of just how dangerous he still was without a weapon, even after almost suffocating himself.

“Come te think of it, Malcy, I don’t actually need your participation in this wee trip down memory lane. All we need te know is what Ellen’s doin’ here in the first place. ‘Cos the way I see it, this wasn’t a surprise social visit. Someone set this thing up.”

“Jeasus Micksey, Farrell was fuckin’ shootin’ at her. Ye saw it with yer own two eyes. And then the fucker drove off after he’d been rumbled.”

McVeigh moved the stove from the cubicle, fed data into the console to calculate the amount of particle accelerator required. He measured the C19 into a syringe, fed it into the repository and pressed ‘enter’. He closed the door as the cubicle began to hum.

“Buckle up Malcy, this could be a rough ride.”





FIFTY-SIX: Decisional balance


Long Kesh Prison Camp, Belfast

Saturday 1st March, 1981 12.50am


Sands opened the plastic case.

Inside was a disc. Above it sat a neatly folded piece of A4, which he removed and read.

He placed the paper on the table, smoothed it flat and lit a cigarette. He read it again, impassively.

Long silence.

“What is the O2?”

“It’s a big stadium in London, Bobby. Holds twenty thousand.”

“And he fills it? This… this Sergio guy?”

“Aye. This Sergio guy… yer son. He’s big, so he is. Started off busking to tourists in Old Town Marbella. Went down well with the ladies, then this big shot A&R guy picked him up, signed him for Decca.” Farrell knew no more about Sergio Sands than what he’d read on the biog sheet. He knew he’d have to ham it. “And as ye’ve read, he does a lot of collaborations. Van Morrison… Mark Knopfler… Bonny Raitt… Bono…”

“Bono? Good album that ‘Boy’. I bought a copy. Comes across as a right cunt though, Bono… so he does, but U2 are OK.”

Another long silence.

“And I write stuff for him? Me and Christy Moore?”

“Yep…you do.”

Farrell waited for Sands to speak again.

Time passed. He could sense his deliberation.

“Ach, I don’t know. If he’s never born then he’ll never die. It’s not like I’m depriving him of anything, is it?”

“What about his life, Bobby… his kids, your grandkids. And it’s not as if you’ve abandoned the cause, yer principles, Bobby. Ye’ve read the bit about yer own political career. Tell me that that’s not a whole lot better than dyin’. Dyin’ for what, Bobby? Te become a martyr for somethin’ that’s gonne happen anyway? To precipitate the biggest bloodbath of the Troubles? Take yer time, Bobby. Think about it.

Another long silence.

“What if ye are tellin’ the truth? What if someone comes along and reverses this all over again?”

“Aye, well that’s a good question. And I’ll be honest, that has happened before. But I’ve buried the only remainin’ C19 somewhere it’ll never be found. ‘Cept for a wee bit I need for myself. So there’s no danger of that happenin’ again.”

“No… I’d be lettin’ everyone down. Ye know I’m CO in here?”

“Aye, I know.”

“If they parole me in a few months’ it could be seen as dereliction of duty. I could face a court martial and a death sentence in my absence.”

“Bobby, just listen te me one wee minute. Then ye can make yer mind up. How many marched through west Belfast last Sunday? I’ll tell ye — three and a half thousand. That’s all. And how many were ye expectin’?”

Sands said nothing. He picked up the CD case and studied it.

“Fifteen thousand… twenty thousand? ‘Cos if ten thousand had marched before the first hunger strike, I’d have expected a fuck of a lot more than three and a half thousand.”

Farrell paused and lit another cigarette.

“There’s no support for it Bobby. You know as well as I do that yer out on a limb with this one. Adams is against it, Dempsey’s against it, Danny Maguire’s against it and ye know why? ‘Cos it’s divertin’ attention away from what they consider te be more important issues.” Farrell leant forward, put his hands together and stared hard into Sands’ eyes.

“And ye know what? Yer gonne get yer Special Category Status anyway, whether you and the others starve yerselves te death or not. It makes no difference Bobby. Not one jot. Way I see it… ye’ve got one life and yer lucky enough te have a choice… many don’t… so take it Bobby. Take it, for fuck’s sake.”

Sands held his gaze. Farrell thought he saw tears form in his eyes.

“Look… tell me this: what’s the worst that can happen? She reneges on the deal, then ye can hunger strike yer lives away if ye still want te. But I’m tellin’ ye, Bobby, that’s not gonne happen.”

Farrell took out the Cross and armed it, this time as a pen. He placed it next to the CD box.

Sands picked it up and examined it carefully.

“Just be careful with that thing will ye?”








The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Friday 28th February, 1981 8.45pm


McVeigh unbuckled his harness and opened the door.

“C’mon,” he ordered McGuinn, waving his Browning in the direction of the workshop entrance.

“No need for that, Micksey. Fuck’s sake.”

“There’s every need. I trust ye about as much as a Tory MP in a paedophile ring. Got the Transit keys?”

McGuinn nodded dejectedly, pulling them from his jacket pocket.

“Deja fuckin’ vue, this,’ he muttered, cranking the Transit’s engine. After three attempts, it caught. “Where to?”

“You know. Ford’s Cross. Through Crossmaglen then take the Newry Road. Same way we went before. And step on it… we’ve got ten minutes.”

McGuinn drove in silence, beads on sweat forming on his brow despite the freezing air for which the Transit’s heater was no match. He felt a kaleidoscope of emotions: anger was the dominant sentiment, heaped upon exasperation added to a growing sense of deep anxiety.

Why the fuck had he allowed himself to doze off in the cubicle? Now McVeigh held all the aces. For sure, he could run rings round the bastard in a game of Trivial Pursuit, but if there was one thing Micksey could better him at it was assiduousness. He was like a dog watching his master prepare his dinner.

They sped through the village of Monog; a hamlet, little more than a footnote to Crossmaglen, and then turned right towards Creggan. He didn’t have much time to formulate a plan.

There were three things he could do.

Plan A: Kill McVeigh. To do this, he would need to overpower him. That, given McVeigh’s attentiveness, would not be easy. But even if did, this would leave him with the problem of explaining his disappearance.

Plan B: Kill McVeigh and kill Ellen. Make it look like some sort of shootout gone wrong. When does a shootout ever go right, he thought? When the right people die, he supposed, and with this supposition, he realised that for this plan to be convincing, he would almost certainly have to shoot himself… preferably in the foot.

Small price.

And, in any case, it would still leave him with the problem of Farrell. With the C19 the bastard had stolen from his room, he would have enough to reverse whatever it was he now decided to do. And that would leave him even worse off than he was at present. If he could guarantee Farrell would turn up before he bumped into Dempsey, he may avoid self-inflicted injury.

It was all a fucking abortion… or was it an aberration, he wondered? And one entirely of his own making.

To do nothing wasn’t an option. He knew that although Ellen was wary of him, she also regarded him with a thinly veiled cloak of contempt. When questioned about why she was here, she would have absolutely no hesitation in telling Dempsey about the phone call.

And the outcome of that didn’t bear thinking about.

But there was a third option.

Plan C: Do a deal with McVeigh. He had, of course, already attempted this and had been rebuffed. But he was nothing if not devious, and he knew from his future political successes that a lot could be achieved by persistence and cogency. Know your enemy. And he knew Micksey pretty well. He knew, that despite his diligence, his strength was in following orders, not thinking for himself. So when it came to decisional balance, there would be ample weakness for him to exploit. It was just about making the right proposal at the right time and making him think he’d come up with the best solution.

Yes, he thought, his circumstance may not be entirely beyond reprieve. Yet despite that positive thought, McGuinn couldn’t think of himself as being anything other than doomed.

And from this thought, emanated a fear the like of which he had never experienced before.

It wasn’t swapping places with Ellen on McConnaville’s slab than sent a shiver down his spine; nor was it even endurance of the rendition at Dempsey’s edict that would preface this. No… it was the sheer waste of the money and power that had been so nearly within his grasp that terrified him more profoundly than any of the dozens of near-death situations he had experienced over the last fourteen years of the Troubles. He couldn’t bring himself to accept that the world was what is was, for he had seen that there was no need to accept it as it was; provided that you don’t fall asleep and fuck it all up.

“Stop the van. We’re here,” said McVeigh. He realised that they had reached Ford’s Cross. Absorbed with finding a solution to his plight, he had almost driven through it.

“Ok… What’s the plan, Micksey? Set up a roadblock? Ye’d better give me a piece then.”

“No… and no fuckin’ way.” McVeigh replied. “Get outta the van. We’re stagin’ a breakdown, not a roadblock, and yer nose is gonne be glued te that engine.”    McVeigh pulled the toggle to release the bonnet, climbed out and opened it. “And as for a piece… the only piece ye’ll be getting’ is the ‘peace that passeth all understandin’’ if yer stupid enough te try anythin’.”




McVeigh risked a sidelong glance at Ellen who sat hunched in the passenger seat of the Transit.

She truly was a stunner; way out of his league, he’d always known, even before Farrell had turned up… not even worth the effort trying. Not that it bothered him. ‘Know your level and be prepared to go two lower,’ was the mantra he lived by when it came to women, and it had served him very well. Ellen was stratospherically higher than anything targetable on any level he could even dream of.

But they’d always been close; closer still from the fact that there had never been any encumbrances or clutter to nuance their relationship.

That meant they trusted each other.

“What are we going to do with him, Micksey?”

McVeigh pondered this. The ‘him’ in question could be heard banging around in the Transit’s cargo area where he had been securely tied up and left. Seconds after Ellen’s car had arrived at Ford’s Cross, McGuinn, as McVeigh knew he would, had made a lunge for his weapon. Micksey had easily out-maneuvered him, coshing him on the head with his pistol. With McGuinn unconscious — albeit briefly — Ellen confirmed his suspicions.

“I need time te think, Ellen. What do you think we should do?”

Ellen sat up, lit a cigarette and crossed her legs.

“I think we should have a drink, Micksey. Drive us to McCrumm’s. We’ll find a quiet corner and mull it over.”

McVeigh felt a surge of relief at the realisation that Ellen would make whatever decisions had to be made, and accelerated down the Larkins Road.




The Three Steps was packed.

A small group of men were seated beneath McCrumm’s television absorbed in watching a tall, handsome man with dark hair and a thick moustache step from a Ferrari 308 GTS, lean lugubriously on the A frame, light a cigarette and stare at the ocean. In the background were huge eagle-created gates leading to a vast beachside estate.

“Livin’ the dream eh? Lucky bastard.” Micksey said as he waited for McCrumm to serve him.

“Bet he’s ex-Special Branch, Micksey. Just look at the fuckin’ ‘tache on him,” replied Mungo McBride.

“Oi, shut the fuck up, will yis? Rule is silence while Magnum’s on!”

McVeigh ignored the heckler.

“Aye, re-settled in Hawaii for his own safety, with a Ferrari and a big fuck-off mansion. Par for the course that from the Brits, eh Mungo? Made you an offer yet?”

Ellen found a quiet table near the toilets. The stench was worth putting up with for the privacy.

She knew most of the punters in McCrumm’s. They either worked for her uncle or were in his brigade. The male eyes still capable of so doing had undressed her, and those past it merely admired her, as she’d entered the bar. She’d have been surprised if they hadn’t. But what did surprise her was that no one spoke to her, until she remembered that she still wore the blonde wig, floppy wide-brimmed hat and dark glasses.

McVeigh sat down opposite her and placed a double Bloody Mary, a pint of Guinness and a large whiskey on the table.

“Fuck, this place stinks.”

“But at least it’s quiet and we can sort this mess out.” Ellen replied softly. “Aye… I’d forgotten what a shit hole it is.”

“Not quite, Greenwich Village then?” McVeigh cracked a brassy smile, lit a Stuyvesant, and took a long pull from his Guinness. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Good te see ye kiddo anyway.” He slapped her leather-clad leg playfully.

“Going to tell me what this is all about Micksey? Other than the phone call from McGuinn telling me Uncle Tom’s got days to live and he’s arranged for me to come back, I’m in the dark.

“Aye, sorry. Didn’t want to hang about back there. I just needed te find out who brought ye back here. And when ye told it was him, that confirmed what I thought.”

“So… Uncle Tom’s not got cancer?”

“Has he fuck? Mind ye, there is somethin’ he does need te talk to ye about, but that’s up te him.”

Ellen lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply.

“What’s going on Micksey?”

McVeigh threw back the whiskey and took a deep breath.

“Yer not gonne believe this love.”

“Try me.”

He told her.

And when he had finished she sat motionless, bolt upright staring at the television screen at the far end of the bar, through the fug of cigarette smoke. Magnum had finished and the Nine O’clock news was on. No one was interested. A card game had broken out amongst the men who had been so absorbed in the TV private eye show, and a band was setting up on the small platform to their left.

“Aye… well… like I said, I knew ye wouldn’t believe…”

“No I don’t believe, Micksey. I don’t believe that you could make that up. Sorry… no offence, but I know you.”

Ellen stood up, walked to the bar and ordered more drinks. McCrumm didn’t keep her waiting long.

“Where’s Farrell now?” She asked.

“If I was te take a guess, I’d say right now he’s either still at Long Kesh or on his way back here. But it kinda depends how ye define ‘now.’”

Ellen sipped her drink.

“What would have happened if you hadn’t come back for me, Micksey?”

McVeigh mulled this over. The evening had been like a dream within a dream; a myriad of alternate realities topped off with unfathomable events that he felt sure would evaporate at any moment. For now he wasn’t even entirely sure that he hadn’t had a walk-on role in Magnum. Nothing felt real.

“The world is as it is, Ellen. Bear would have had him killed, so he would. No question. And it wouldn’t have been pretty. But before that Farrell would have put up a fight. There would have been carnage.”

“What do we do with him Micksey? McGuinn?”

“I was hopin’ ye’d answer that, love.”





Ford’s Cross, South Armagh,

Saturday 1st March, 1981 1.58am


Farrell had had some difficulty staying awake.

He’d telephoned Thatcher and updated her before leaving Long Kesh. The Intelligence Officer would collect the signed document from Governor’s office and deliver it to Hillsborough first thing in the morning.

She acknowledged the news with a monosyllabic grunt. Maybe he’d imagined it, but he thought he detected a hint of disappointment in her response.

Not much thanks for all the effort he’d put in. Perhaps Denis had exhausted her. Farrell channeled her old man jumping off the wardrobe, rugby shorts round his ankles, whistle in mouth, hoping to catch her offside with hands in the ruck. For a while this fantasy kept him alert until even this failed to overcome his fatigue. Rather him than me, he thought, and lit the last of McVeigh’s Stuyvesant’s to keep himself awake.

But as he approached Bandit Country adrenalin kicked in. The Glock sat on the passenger seat ready for use.

He had bought himself a precious window of time by swapping the conspicuous 2CV for a nearly new Ford Granada 2.8GL. The Governor hadn’t been best pleased at being coerced into ‘lending’ Farrell his pride and joy but he wasn’t going to argue with someone with triple A security clearance who had the Prime Minister’s ear; even if he did look like a bloody student.

The Ford’s big V6 had purred along the A1 from Lisburn to Newry. There was no other traffic and clouds were now building from the west, a stiff breeze driving them across the full moon.

Farrell lowered the window, the icy air blasted him like a pressure hose as he gulped it into his lungs.

He turned right before Newry onto the A25 towards Newtonhamilton. This was a main road, one still regularly used by the Security Forces with few natural sites for a roadblock. He drove through Camlough and Belleek before risking a cut through the back roads to the A29, south of Newtonhamilton.

From here was a straight run down to Ford’s Cross and this, he knew was where Dempsey’s ring of steel would begin. He wouldn’t bother with the network of back roads and lanes beyond a two-mile radius of Larkins Road. But Farrell knew Dempsey would have positioned both an inner and an outer circle — and perhaps even a third perimeter tier — of security closer to home. The old man knew where he was headed and also knew that he would be likely to penetrate at least one roadblock… maybe even two, but as to getting into the farm complex… well, he figured he had about as much chance as breaking into Colditz bollock naked.

Farrell slowed the Granada to a crawl, switched the lights off, as he approached Ford’s Cross.

As the clouds cleared, the moonlight illuminated the red-bordered triangle framing the image of a terrorist brandishing a rifle below which read the message: Sniper at Work.

Ahead of him was an abandoned car. The driver’s door was open. His heart beat faster with the realisation that it was an Austin Maxi — Ellen’s hired Austin Maxi.

He slowed the Ford to a standstill, got out and checked the Glock. Could be a trap, he thought. A scene made to look as if Ellen had been pulled from the car; a set-up to draw him in. He approached the vehicle carefully scanning the hedgerows for shadows or movement.


A quick look beneath the Maxi’s chassis illuminated by a match revealed no evidence of a hastily applied sticky bomb. Satisfied that whoever had been here was now long gone, he searched the boot then checked inside the car.

Still nothing.

More importantly, the car was intact; there was no shattered glass, blood nor evidence of shooting which meant that Ellen had either left on her own volition or, at worst, had been coerced, but without obvious injury.

This, and the absence of Dempsey’s men strongly suggested that someone, for whatever reason, had made an intervention on his behalf. This was not how he had left Ellen, five hours ago. No, he reflected, he had left her dead, her death due to his own incompetence.

Whoever had done this, must have found his C19. That meant it could only be one of two people.

And with Ellen on McConnaville’s mortuary slab when he had last been in South Armagh, he figured he could rule out the person who had set up her murder, for murder was what it amounted to.

As Farrell started the Granada’s engine, switched on the lights and headed towards Crossmaglen, he felt a pure joy in his heart that had been absent for many a year, with the belief that he would once again hold Ellen in his arms.

The thought of what he would do to McGuinn only slightly sullied the moment.









The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Saturday 1st March, 1981 2.15am


The same thought was occupying McGuinn as he lay, hog-tied on the workshop floor.

Out of a perverse sort of kindness, McVeigh had lit the paraffin stove and placed it as close to the bound man as possible without inflicting physical damage.

“Move this fuckin’ thing away Micksey, will ye. It’s boilin’ me bloody brains.”

“Might boil some sense inte them, Malcy. Anyway, ye still haven’t thanked me for savin’ yer life yet, ye ungrateful bastard.”

“Listen, Micksey…the two of us can get inte that machine and get the fuck outte here. Be back in 2019 before ye can say semtex. What is there te stay for? For either of us? I’ll still give ye ten per cent of my share… c’mon, man, see sense.”

McVeigh moved the stove back a little. “No way.”

“Fifteen per cent?”

“Nothin’ doin’.”

“What are ye gonne do Micksey? Dempsey will fuckin’ kill me, so he will.”

“All got te die something, Malcy. Anyway, we’re gonne wait ‘til Farrell gets here and he can have the castin’ vote.”

“Casting vote on what?”

“Well, I want te shoot ye, I’ll make no secret of that. Ever since I’ve known ye, ye’ve been an ungrateful, arrogant, interfering, nosy, selfish… cunt. Now Ellen, she wants te see how far inte the future we can send ye, so we’ll see what Farrell suggests. Course, we could always wake the Bear and see what he prefers, but I’d say plottin’ te kill his daughter would…”

“…His daughter? Ellen’s his neice.”

“Aye well, that’s privileged information. But yer hardly likely te be runnin’ into him again, so I don’t think it matters.”

“Jesus… where is she anyway?”

“Gone te my room te fetch some smokes.”

A car drew up outside. The driver killed the engine and quietly closed the door.

“Who the fuck’s that… now?”

“If I was te take a wild guess I’d say it was someone who’s just done yer wee land deal a big favour.” McVeigh lit his last cigarette, screwed up the carton and threw it neatly into the bin beside the bench. “But if I were a bettin’ man, I wouldn’t put money on ye havin’ the opportunity te spend it.”

Farrell’s large frame appeared in the doorway.

“Micksey… boy am I glad te see ye.” Farrell scanned the room, noting the writhing McGuinn on the floor. “I take it that he’s te blame for all this?

“Aye, told her he had cancer. Had days te life. Full of shite as usual. Ellen’s okay, Billy. I figured you’d have enough on yer plate and I’d a hankerin’ yon fucker’d set it up. So I found some C19 in yer room and went back for her. There’s not much left, mind, but enough for one more trip.”

“Come on Billy,” said McGuinn. “I can explain. Just untie me and I’ll tell ye. This has all been a huge misunderstanding.”

“Certainly has, Malcy. Ye’ve misunderstood quite a lot. Like how both Bear and me… and Micksey and Ellen, for that matter, don’t take kindly te ye colluding with that bastard Dibble to murder Ellen.

“What are we gonne do with him, Billy? It’s yer call.”

Farrell had been pondering this since finding Ellen’s hire car.

“I know what I’d like te do with him, Micksey. Where’s Ellen… and where’s the Bear?”

“She’sone te my room to get fags. Bear’s gone te bed.”

“Keep an eye on him. I’ll be back.




Farrell left the workshop by the back door.

He took out his gun, more from force of habit than fear that he may have to use it. The only person he was likely to shoot was securely tied up, having his ginger eyebrows singed. Dempsey would have no beef with him now, as he’d simply slept through the previous version of the past, which he would have no memory of. Of course he would want to know what the hell Ellen was doing here, but that would be easy enough to explain.

Twenty metres from the door he could make out an ethereal but familiar figure, statuesque, legs crossed, one arm folded across the other, head slightly tilted to one side. It was a pose he knew well. One he’d not seen for a very long time. She oozed confidence, arrogance almost. Suddenly there was a sharp crack, followed by a light. Farrell realised, just in time, she was lighting a cigarette.

“Want one?”

Farrell lowered the gun and replaced the safety, the adrenalin draining away, replaced by a very different emotion.

“We’ve had this conversation before. Right here.”

“And I said stealth isn’t your strong point, Billy boy, is it?” She laughed.


“D’you want a cigarette or not?”

“Not my top priority right this moment.” His eyes had adjusted to the gloom and by the light of the moon he could see that she was as strikingly beautiful as he remembered.

“You going to stand there all night?” He caught her smile in the flicker of her flame. Farrell walked slowly towards her. He took the cigarette gently from her hand, dropped it on the ground and crushed it.

“They say these things are bad for ye.”

He tucked the pistol into his waistband, put his arms around her and pulled her close to him. He felt the warmth and softness of her breasts flatten against his chest as he kissed her. The kiss bettered their first in McElroy’s scrapyard; soft initially, then with intensity such as they had never kissed before, not even back then. For him, half a lifetime evaporated, as she gave herself up to him, pressing her mouth onto his, her tongue urgently exploring, as if for the first time. Her hips moved gently against his groin. He felt a stirring unlike anything he’d felt in the long, dark years of her absence. At length, he broke away, pressed his face against her, smelling the familiar aroma of her hair, and exhaled deeply.

“I’ve waited thirty-six bloody years for that.”

“I know. Micksey told me.”

“You believe him?”

“Of course.”

“I could tell ye that he invented time travel, but that’s classified.”

“Aye, classified as shite Billy.” She laughed. “Who’d have thought it, eh? Will he get a knighthood do you think… arise Sir Micksey McVeigh, time lord, mortar magician and distiller of undrinkable potcheen?”

They kissed again, Ellen entwining her legs around his sinewy frame, relishing the power of his physique pull her to him.

She broke off suddenly, grave concern on her face.

“What are we going to do Billy?” She pulled the lapels of his jacket, hands together as if in admonition.

“With us?”

“With him,” she gestured towards the workshop, “with us… with life… with everything?”

“I’ll have that cigarette now.” Ellen lit a Stuyvesant for each of then, placing one between Farrell’s lips, her fingers lingering on his chin, caressing his neck as they slid away from him. They perched on the ledge of the kitchen window.

“Well… way I see it, is we stay here… here in ’81. This is your present… not 2019. I go back to college, finish my degree, get a job… get a career. Ellen, I’ve a chance a te live my life again, not make the mistakes I made before.” He exhaled deeply, blowing on the embers of the cigarette so her face was silhouetted in the darkness.    “There’s nothing for me te go back to. I’ve finished what I came te do here. I’m sick te my stomach of it.” He flicked the butt of his cigarette across the yard. The arc of light glowed and died. “Nothin’s gonne bring Owen back.” Ellen leant against his shoulder, putting her arm through his. “And you…”

“I’m done with America, Billy. That bastard didn’t get me this time but someone else will. They’ll keep sending them and sending them ‘til I’m dead. I don’t know… maybe I could go to college… become a teacher? I’m good with kids.”

They stood in silence, her head on his shoulder; the passion of moments ago surrendered to a chasm of indecision they both felt. Farrell’s fingers fiddled with the small square box in his pocket he’d carried everywhere since he’d bottled out that night in Kennedy’s Bar in Dundalk.

“Another crossroads, Billy.” She smiled and kissed him.

“Ok… Ok,” he said at length. “This is what we’ll do.”




SIXTY: The Politian returns to the future


The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Saturday 1st March, 1981 2.29am


McGuinn sat in the swivel chair in front of the cubicle; he had no choice in the matter. His hands were tied behind his back but otherwise he was unfettered. He had the look of a reluctant game show contestant.

He’d recovered some of his self-assurance with the confidence that, in all likelihood, he was not going to be shot. In fact, there was now even a strong possibility that things may yet work out rather well for him.

They all had too much to lose, and he had suggested an armistice that the others — albeit grudgingly — were compelled to agree was probably the best way forward.

With the exception of Ellen, they had all travelled through time, and the one constant each had experienced was an awareness that McGuinn would play a significant role in a peace process, and one which would further the cause of Irish politics in general and the Republican movement in particular. Without his existence, there would be a political vacuum. He may, they agreed, have been an arsehole in the past, be an arsehole in the present and, in all likelihood, continue to be an arsehole in the future, but at least he was an arsehole who got things done. Even, they agreed, if it meant that he benefitted from his greed in spectacular fashion through his own skullduggery.

Not only would McGuinn be of use at a macro level, as Ellen pointed out. Alive, he was a significant bargaining chip, particularly as time travel would cease after the remaining C19 had been used, for McVeigh had absolutely no idea how to make any more of the stuff.

“Ok, this is how it’s gonne play out,” said Farrell. “We’re gonne send ye back te where ye began the day from. That’s Friday18th September 2019, if memory serves me right. Seems like a long time ago now. And we’re gonne send Micksey with ye.”

“No way. There’s no need for that.”

“There’s every need, Malcy. For one thing, he’s gonne keep an eye on ye. If ye renege on what yer about to agree te, ye’ll have a visit from him, and it won’t be a social call. For another, part of the deal is he has that chip removed… ye know, the one that’s gonne turn him into a Presbyterian teetotaler. Unless, that is, ye want M15 caught up in a major Human Rights scandal. ‘Cos the way I see it, turning a good loyal Catholic boy inte a Presbyterian minister and denyin’ him a wee drink is as big a violation of Human Rights as Guantanamo Bay… or H Block, for that matter.”

“Okay… shouldn’t be a problem. What else? I assume there’s more.”

“Astute as ever Malcy, there is more… quite a bit more.”

“Go on.”

“First, both Micksey and me get immunity from prosecution for anything we might, or might not have done in the past… that is, before now. And, M15 and the FRU back off and leave Ellen alone. And I want it in writing from yer bum chum Dibble. Micksey gets a copy and I get a copy, and a copy stays on file along with my Contact Sheet so when the time comes, there’s no comeback.”

“Ok… agreed. Anything else?”

“Aye. Micksey gets twenty per cent from that little land scam ye’ve got goin’. Ye know, the one I got the boundries changed for te accommodate yer greed.”

“Te benefit the Chancellor of the UK, you mean, and the quality of life of the citizens on Northern Ireland. And there’s no fuckin’ way he’s getting’ twenty per cent. Away on.”

“Since when have you given a flyin’ fuck about the quality of life of the citizens on Northern Ireland? That’s now gone up to twenty-five per cent, Malcy.”

“Fuck off Farrell, he’s not…”


“Ye always were a twat, Farrell. You were a twat when ye came here, a twat…”

“… Thirty-five per cent Malcy. Or should we go wake the Bear up and he can decide?”

“Ok…Ok. Thirty-five per cent.”

Silence hung in the workshop.

McVeigh coughed apologetically.

“Only thing is, Billy… I don’t mind going back with the fucker — but I’d rather come back here… to 1981. See I met this wee girl…”

“… Jeasus!” McGuinn muttered under his breath. “You’d rather wait thirty-five fuckin’ years for your cut, hanging out with some illiterate swamp-monster in this shitehole than have it now? I always knew you weren’t the full fuckin’ shilling Micksey.”

McVeigh leaped towards McGuinn, fists clenched.

“Oh that’s brave Micksey — attack a man with his arms tied behind his back.”

“Okay yis two,” Farrell moved between them. “Neither the time nor the place.”

“Right. When all this had been done,” said Farrell, “and Micksey’s name is on the land deeds,” he looked at McVeigh, “Micksey, use the C19 to come back here, if that’s what ye really want. But, for fuck’s sake, make sure you dispose of the remainder. Understand?”

McVeign nodded.

McGuinn squirmed and stamped his feet on the floor mindful of what the likely outcome of this little gathering would be should Dempsey awake and be drawn down to the workshop.

“Now can ye bloody untie me so we can get the fuck outta here?”





















SIXTY-ONE: Tesco Tom and a Big Whoop


Titanic Quarter, Belfast

8.20am, Friday 20th September 2019


A quarter of a mile from the Cafe Vaudeville, as the mortar flies, the politician stood in front of the full-length mirror in the master bedroom of his Titanic Quarter penthouse apartment, addressing, in an animated, if slightly self-conscious manner, the reflection of his alter-ego.

He paused, every so often, to thrust his jaw forward in an action that had now become a habit. He had read somewhere that this was an exercise that delayed the onset of a double chin. Unfortunately, all it did was suggest an impersonation of Gordon Brown. And it hadn’t stopped him from developing a double chin.

To the casual observer, he was talking to himself. The same casual observer — had there been one — may have wondered why such a physically unattractive man — and one not formerly given to either vanity nor sartorial exuberance — would have insisted on this vast acreage of mirror to adorn his bedroom. The answer was that it hadn’t been his choice. In fact, he’d had very little say in the interior design of any areas of his apartment.

The person responsible was reclining half-dressed on his king-sized bed, Cleopatra like.

Judith, who had lived with him for almost twenty years, lit a cigarette and sighed as he laboriously stumbled his way through the speech he would give to the Northern Ireland Assembly in two hours’ time. In her other hand was a glass of Prosecco. It wasn’t her first of the day, as the erratic journey between cigarette and ashtray illustrated.

The politician stopped. He turned and stared at her, annoyance outweighing frustration at his un-statesmanlike voice and inadequate oratory, not helped by her sporadic intemperate heckling.

“Do you have to smoke in the bloody bedroom?”

“If you have to make bloody speeches and gurn at the mirror — yes.”

“Haven’t you got something more important to do like… I don’t know, maybe put some clothes on and go for lunch with yer mates?”

Judith did have something much more important to do. But she needed him to leave her bedroom before she’d call Tom, the boy from Tesco’s who delivered her groceries and fucked her enthusiastically, and tell him to put away his sandwich box and get his arse over here.

At forty-six she could still have pulled a better-looking and more intelligent toy boy. Maybe even one who owned a suit and earned more than the minimum wage. Delivering groceries for Tesco was certainly close to the ceiling of Tom’s employability. But he was extremely well endowed and capable of delivering more pleasure than a Tesco’s own-brand tub of chocolate ice cream. And unlike her rabbit-shaped vibrator or her partner, his batteries never seemed to let him down.

She placed her glass on the bedside table, pulled a face and flicked two fingers at her partner’s back, then absently thumbed through a copy of Hello Magazine, as he turned towards the huge picture window. He wasn’t a bad old fucker, she thought, considering what he’d done in the past. She certainly didn’t want to risk losing what she already had and what she stood to gain by undermining him or being careless.

There had been many times before the ceasefire when she’d hoped that someone would put a bullet into him. But the reptilian manner, with which he’d shed skin to sit beside former sworn enemies in political pomp, and cloaked self-interest in the clothes of reconciliation, was more impressive than anything he’d ever done as a terrorist.

He was now worth considerably more to her alive than dead, particularly as he had recently been elected as the first Ulsterman to bear the office of the Irish Presidency, making her Ireland’s ‘first lady’. That may leave her as the poor man’s Jackie Kennedy but it was still better than reading the news on Ulster Television, where her sell-by-date had been rapidly approaching.

But he was useless at two things: making love and making speeches. At least she didn’t have to put with the latter except when he practiced in front of the mirror, and he was generally too tired to have much interest in the former these days. And at 61, this was never going to get any better.

Which was where young Tom came in.




The politician hated making speeches.

It was unusual for someone who craved power to dislike the sound of his own voice; less so for those who had to listen to it. Despite engaging the services of a voice coach, it was half an octave too high and gave off a sense of breathless urgency — like the boy who’d stood on the burning deck — rather than an air of quiet, calm control. He’d tried listening to Churchill’s speeches and emulating his delivery but it just made him sound like an old vinyl record played at the wrong speed.

And his accent bothered him. The broad metallic west Belfast twang hadn’t mellowed much over the years despite the soft landing from his former existence, with the pretentious civility that accompanied it. It was fine for a world, in which he’d rubbed shoulders with the dregs of humanity on a daily basis, but his public face was now one of adaptation and betterment, and his accent mocked where he had come from.

Adams had rankled him by quoting the clique: ‘you can take the man out of the bog, but you can’t take the bog out of the man,’ but deep down he knew he was right.

He had tried speaking more slowly and made a conscious effort not to end each sentence as if it were a question. He’d even started to pronounce Ireland as ‘Aaaaahland’ subconsciously aping generations of English politicians whose plumy accents he used to revile.

There was no denying it: no matter how much coaching he received, he just wasn’t, nor ever would be, in the same league as Adams when it came to working an audience or standing in front of a camera.

And as for his late best mate, the Reverend Doctor Ian Paisley, who he sorely missed, even at an advanced age had possessed animal magnetism to rival Adolf Hitler — and who many had believed to be equally insane. The politician had only watch, admired, and learnt from his former sworn enemy.

However, oratory was as much a part of the politico’s toolbox as being adroit at fiddling your expenses — which was how he paid the mortgage and service charge on this gaff. If he were to achieve the political status he so badly craved, he would just have to get on with it.

He gazed absently out of the window of the fourteenth floor apartment he’d paid almost half a million for back on 2007. He was one of the stupid fuckers who’d bought at the height of the boom. It wouldn’t be worth more than a quarter of what he’d paid now — if he could sell it at all. But the money wasn’t important; he had enough, and having had Tom Dempsey put into a nursing home had left him free to syphon off a significant proportion of the income from his former boss’ lucrative smuggling operations. Occasionally he felt a pang of remorse about having had the old bastard committed, but it soon passed.

From the moment that Farrell had turned up in South Armagh back in the summer of ’78 Dempsey had doted on the kid — he was like the son he’d never had.

And to make matters worse, the politician had been the one who had let him in. Farrell had baited the trap, getting his attention with his pyrotechnical handiwork at Port Royal, and the politician had opened to door for him.

His looks, brains and his military genius had conspired to cast Farrell in the hero’s role, while the politician occupied the role of the unloved bastard child. Nothing he could do had ever seemed to please the Bear.

The final straw came when Dempsey appointed Farrell to head up Internal Security. Whether or not Dempsey knew that he was passing useless Intel on to the Brits didn’t really matter. Appointing Farrell to the role of gatekeeper had put the kibosh on most of the valuable information that normally came his way.

From that moment on, he’d waited patiently for an opportunity to oust the old man.

The time came shortly after the ceasefire when Dempsey’s judgment and reticence over what he saw as a sellout had caused even those closest to him to doubt his sanity. He’d wanted to take the war to England again and had been vehemently opposed to de-commissioning that he could only see as surrender.

The politician had dragged the moderates and those, like him, who saw greater profit in peace, along with him to the negotiating table. But as the momentum of peace gathered force, he had been marginalised, the lure of easy money more compelling than the cause.

But a man like Dempsey would never be put out to grass.

It took the politician all of his cunning and treachery to get him to take sufficient quantities of Adderall for his mind to go. When he could no longer rationalise the world he now lived in, the one-way trip to the Alzheimer’s wing of the private nursing home in Dundalk was a formality. Old Doc Twomey had been well rewarded for signing the committal papers. The old fucker should have committed himself while he was at it, the politician thought. They’d be well suited: two silly old cunts sitting in piss-stained armchairs playing Scrabble, talking about how many people they’d killed.

What was left from the proceeds of the smuggling operation after he’d top-sliced his share easily covered the nursing home costs and ensured that no one asked too many questions.

A magpie landed on the balustrade of the terrace outside, and waved its wings at him, jerking him back to the present.

When this luxury development had been conceived, the last thing the developers had envisaged was an easterly aspect filled with an unsurpassed view of the urban decay of Belfast’s post-industrial landscape. Schemes to regenerate the cultural legacy of the city’s past glories had buzzed around planning offices with the fervor and pointlessness of trapped bluebottles. Until, that is, they fizzled out and laid abandoned on dusty windowsills, waiting to be swept into the bin.

Catapulted into the political limelight by Adams’s reluctance take a seat at Westminster and his departure from the Assembly to become president of Sinn Féin, he did what he was best at — collusion with the opposition.

Before long he had eased into the post of Deputy First Minister, been invited to Chequers for lunch with Tony Blair and had an audience with Bono. He had been penciled in to meet the Pope — who was considered on the political circuit as being of lesser importance than Bono — and was seconded onto various Westminster cross-party committees on anything to do with Northern Ireland.

He had been slightly sidetracked a few years back when he was persuaded to join an attempted coup to discredit the Assembly’s First Minister, Paul Robertson, and take the reins of power himself.

The rebels, led by none other than Paisley, had leaked to the press details of Mrs Robertson’s very non-political and rather murky activities with a nineteen year-old unemployed man. The media had managed to ‘obtain’ photographs of the pair in bed, and evidence that, not only was he fucking her brains out, but that she had set him up in business with party funds raised through the DUP, of which she was treasurer.

The fact that a former Loyalist leader, regarded by many as the most bigoted man in Irish political history, had become involved in a plot to replace a fellow Loyalist with a Republican as the Assembly’s leader, should have suggested that the peace process was already a stunning success. But what it really showed was that the previous thirty-years of conflict had absolutely nothing to do with religion and everything to do with power and greed. In the end, Robertson had toughed it out; but the politician knew his time would come.

He gazed vacantly at the wasteland of the old shipyard, a salutary reminder to the politician as to how austerity had scarred the Province more lastingly than three decades of sectarian violence.

All of Europe, apart from Germany, and maybe France, was fucked.

And then with Brexit, and the British economic and social alienation that followed, the pound was worth diddlysquat, and inflation was nudging eight point five per cent and rising.

If you had an O Level in economics, you’d be shortlisted for the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer. Just look at the clown who was the current encumbent of that post, he thought.

There would, of course, be no more European money to slosh into the pockets of entrepreneurs like John de Lorean, or conglomerates such as Cortaulds, Dupont and British Enkalon, attracted to Ulster by the cheap and reliable workforce, back in the day. And there wasn’t even a cheap or reliable workforce any more.

In public the politician would lament this, but privately, he couldn’t give a shit. None of it would matter a fuck once the shale dollar was in the untraceable offshore account, snaking its way home to his back pocket.

And no one seemed to mind that the politician had been a senior member of the Provos since the early days of the conflict.

No one knew that he was technically, in this hour of peace, still the Chief of Staff of the IRA Northern Command, having usurped the vacancy left by Dempsey’s ‘retirement’.

And certainly no one knew that he himself had been a double agent, colluding with MI5 for over 20 years of the conflict.

Judith Chambers and Malcolm McGuinn were well suited. They both knew how to keep a secret.

McGuinn smiled to himself, folded his speech and tucked it into his jacket pocket.

And that was where it would stay; he had something much more important to attend to.

The smile broadened on his face as he thought of how he’d outsmarted McVeigh. To think the fuckin’ ejit actually believed he was going to get thirty-five per cent of what he’d plotted so meticulously to set up.

The smile turned to more of a leer as he recalled how — for once — he’d managed to catch McVeigh off-guard, slam his head against the wall of the cubicle as they arrived back in 2019, take his gun and dispossess him of the C19. McVeigh had made a feeble lunge for the door, but McGuinn had picked up a discarded a copy of the Belfast News Letter outside the cubicle and managed to jab him in the face with it, buying him a precious second. “Something te read on yer travels,” he’d managed to add, before slamming the door on the cretin.

There was no way he was going to have that fucking dullard following him around like a big dopey bloodhound, scrutinizing his every move.

He’d have liked to have sent him back to ’81 but he calculated he would need most of the compound to return there himself to make a small but significant amendment to the land deal he’d conducted earlier, then get back to the present.

That left him with just enough C19 to send McVeigh back to last Thursday, so that would have to do.

He’d then updated Dibble and gave him his Zerox of the title deeds and the Land Registry document, the latter he duly signed where McGuinn indicated without bothering to read it. That was a masterstroke, McGuinn reflected — a work of pure genius. It could, of course, have gone horribly wrong had the greedy fucker taken five minutes to read the thing. But he had a good eye for weakness, and greed — he’d always known — would be Dibble’s undoing.

“What are you so fucking smug about?” Judith asked as he kissed her cheek lightly.

McGuinn didn’t reply. He left the room and entered the private express elevator that took him directly to the lobby. Outside a chauffeur-driven limousine waited to take him to Stormont.

It was going to be a busy day, make no mistake.

He told the driver to make a detour to Holohan’s restaurant before taking him to Laneside. Stormont would have to wait.

Of course, he kept to himself that he had a meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequor, the outcome of which would have a significant impact on history, and one that he frankly couldn’t care less about. If McDonnell managed to kill Thatcher before her meeting with Haughey, that would be a bonus and would wrap things nicely. If not, then he had sufficient evidence, obtained surrepticiously through Dibble’s office, to convince Thatcher of Farrell’s IRA activities, which would not only discredit him, but put a significant price on his head. That way, plans of boundary change would be as dead in the water as Farrell would be when either the SAS or Dempsey’s men got hold of him.            The shale find would emain in the Republic; and that was the trump card to keep Sands on board.

But first, he had to return to 1981 and call at the offices of Connolly, O’Connery & Co, change one of the names on the deeds and amend one of the off-shore company’s directors using the power of attorney Dibble had unwittingly signed, then wait for the money to roll in.

Big Whoop.

He took out his phone and dialed a number. It was immediately answered.

“Give me a secure line to the Taoiseach’s residence.”

SIXTY-TWO: For me it’s just a case of what’s on the far side of the road


Steward’s Lodge, Phoenix Park, Dublin

8.24am, Friday 20th September 2019


The Taoiseach rose from the antique mahogany partner desk and crossed the room to the bay window overlooking the vast expanse of Phoenix Park, framed by the distant Wicklow hills.

Deer grazed in the foreground, and to his right stood the Wellington Monument, erected in 1861, testimony to Arthur Wellesley — The Iron Duke — reputedly born in Dublin. How ironic, thought the Taoiseach, that the obelisk overlooked Kilmainham Gaol, a site of oppression and suffering where the leaders of the 1916 Easter uprising were imprisoned then executed by the British, amid the birth pangs of the Irish Free State.

To the left, the boathouse and lake of the Farmleigh Estate.

He had not asked for a residence of such opulence; it had been thrust upon him at the insistence of the Garda over concerns for his security. The Lodge had been purchased by the State along with Farmleigh House in 1999 for €29 million, and the government had spend a further six hundred thousand refurbishing it before Taoiseach Brian Cowen had made it his official residence in ‘08.

Previous Taoiseachs had lived in their own Dublin residences but this would not have been possible for the present incumbent, as he did not own one.

The only property he owned was north of the border.

Since his recent nomination by a majority of the Dáil Éireann, and appointment by the newly elected President Martin McGuinn, who had replaced Michael D Higgins in a landslide victory three months previous, his life had changed beyond all recognition.

His political credibility was hard to dispute; he had been elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in ‘81. His seat at Westminster, of course, had lain vacant but it represented the dawn of his distinguished political career — first at Stormont, and then within the Irish Fine Gael and Labour coalition government.

His ’81 by-election victory had also heralded a seismic shift towards finding a political solution in the North, resulting in the ‘85 Anglo-Irish Agreement, which paved the way for a permanent settlement in ‘86.

The ceasefire and subsequent de-commissioning of weapons were due, in no small part due, to the Taoiseach’s willingness to find compromise, and to engage and empower men who he would gladly have shot a generation ago.

The peace had wavered at times, particularly during the recession, but it had held. And, as time passed, ingrained sectarian prejudices began to recede a little, then fade into subliminal memories of those who had survived; memories still alive, but no more toxic than bad dreams. All that remained of the violence were the fiefdoms, the protection rackets and the petty crime that had been its hallmark for so long.

But that was not what the Taoiseach was best known for.

As he basked in the splendor of a glorious, soft autumn morning, the sparkle of dew still on the grass, he found himself quietly singing the words of a Christy Moore song:

Among the Wicklow hills, when everything’s remote control,

            For me, it’s just a case of what’s on the far side of the road.

            Evidence of what, for the Taoiseach, had been on the far side of the road before he took office, was not hard to find.

On the wall behind his desk hung several framed IFPA certificated platinum discs; provenance that the recording had sold over one million copies.

The artist who performed these recordings, and with whom he had co-written for them, was his son.

The ringing of the telephone broke his reverie.

He sensed it was going to be a busy day. And in that assumption, in more ways than one, he was not wrong.


















SIXTY-THREE: The sound of chickens coming home to roost


Steward’s Lodge, Phoenix Park, Dublin

8.25am, Friday 20th September 2019


“Is that you Sandsie?”

There was silence for what seemed like an eternity.

McGuinn’s heart beat faster with the realisation that the voice at the other end of

the line could belong to someone other than who he was expecting. Maybe Farrell had

fucked up, after all.

He had to sure.

History had a way of changing itself that seemed to be happening all the more

rapidly of late.

At last a reply: “Does your mother know?”

“Thank Christ. Fuck… Bobby, for a moment ye had me shittin’ myself.” He laughed nervously.

“Is it done?”

“Aye. Just need to go back one more time now and put yer name on the deeds and company charter instead of Dibble’s.” He knew the Taoiseach would not need further reaasurance, but McGuinn felt the need to wallow in the majesty of his guile. “And it’ll be found in the Republic — went like clockwork, Sandsie… like clockwork, so it did. I just needed to check things had worked out your end as planned?”

“Oh, no bother here. Absolutely none. Things have worked out rather splendidly Malcy”.

McGuinn thought he could detect a level of sophistication in Sands’ voice that had been absent when they had last met, back in ’81, and together hatched the plot that was about to go kerching big time. Shit, he even sounded like he’d been raised in County Down instead of some North Belfast hovel. Self-betterment was McGuinn’s stock-in-trade and he was quick to spot it in others; as the saying went: ‘you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.’

“I have Bono coming over for luncheon today and I’m going to give him the good news that he will shortly be receiving a cheque totaling a third of my share for his humanitarian work in Ethiopia.”

“Jeasus Sandsie, you could turn the whole of fuckin’ Africa inte a first world country for that sort of dosh. And I was under the impression ye thought Bono was a right cunt anyway.”

“Oh that was before I met him Malcy. It turns out he’s a rather erudite chap after all. Really one of the last true philanthropists, you know. We’ve done a few musical collaborations with him, and he refuses to take a penny; not even his expenses. And Africa is a continent, old boy, not a country. You really should be aware of that as ‘El Presidende.’”

“Aye well, it’s still a shitehole. But ye’ll have a few billion left with the rest of it.”

“And a third of it, my dear old fellow, is going straight into the Chancellery of the President of Republic of Ireland — and not into your purse, I might add. I fancy it’ll go a fair way to undoing the damage caused by the recession. New schools, the best hospitals, a magnificent infrastructure, and of course a total refurbishment of all social housing. Together Malcy, we have a blank page on which we will write a social chapter that will make Ireland the envy of the entire world. ”

“Jeasus… fuck, I can’t believe I’m hearing this Sandsie.”

“You surely didn’t think I was doing this to feather my own nest did you? Dear Lord, no! I mean, what you do with your own share is entirely up to you, but I imagine as President of Eire you will be prepared to make a sizeable contribution as well.”

“Aye, well don’t hold yer breath on that one.” All that mattered to McGuinn was the huge sum of money coming to him, but he was curious nonetheless. “So, what about the other third? Seem te remember from school that it takes three thirds te make up one whole.”

“How very observant of you. Those funds have been earmarked for… shall we say, a gift to the British government to ease business arrangements over a united Ireland. As you know, The Good Friday Agreement provides for peaceful and democratic constitutional change through concurrent referendums North and South. And since the United Kingdom — as it’s still laughingly referred to — left the EU, opinion polls have revealed that anywhere between sixty and seventy per cent of the voting population in both countries now favour a united Ireland. Believe me, the Brits want rid of Northern Ireland as much as we want to see the country as one again. This will, of course, require a new Constitution and Bill of Rights, and safeguards for the British identity in a united Ireland to satisfy the Northern Unionists, but we’ll get there.”

McGuinn grunted. This was so far down his ‘don’t-give-a-shitometer’ as to barely register.

“If ye ask me, Sandsie, life was a whole lot simpler when we were shooting the fuckers.”

“Well as Mr Dibble once said: ‘We live in enlightened times, with a common respect for shared values and for diversity.’ Which reminds me, I do hope he won’t be too angry when he finds out what’s happened.”

“Aye, I wonder what will piss him off the most — as in he won’t be getting a penny out of it, or the fact that the shale’s been found in the republic, so all his little ‘phinanthropic’ schemes leading that that knighthood will go up in smoke?” McGuinn chuckled. “Serves the smarmy fucker right. Still, without him we couldn’t have done it. Without Dibble, and that whiffy old duffer McT… no time travel.” McGuinn was aware that the limousine had stopped. The peak-capped driver tapped a leather-gloved knuckle softly on the privacy glass.

“Aye Sandsie,” McGuinn said softly, “That’s kind of an understatement. Mr Dibble will not be best pleased when he finds out. But then, as he also once said: ‘I love the sound of chickens coming home to roost.’” The chauffeur opened the door for McGuinn. “I’ll be seeing you, shortly Bobby-boy. Give my regards to Bono. By he way, I still think he’s a cunt, even if he’s an important cunt.”

















SIXTY-FOUR: Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more.

The Dempsey Farm Complex, South Armagh,

Saturday 1st March, 1981 9.46am


Dempsey poured tea into a chipped mug commemorating the engagement of Charles and Diana.

Micksey had given it to him as a wind up a week before, shortly after the announcement. They were flying off the shelves in Dunnes Stores. That it was chipped already was down to the fact that Dempsey had kicked it back at him before deciding that it served as a good reminder — if one was ever needed — why they were doing what they did.

Apollo heaped the contents of an artery-clogging Ulster fry onto four plates. Early spring sunshine poured through the dirty window into the small kitchen, already snug from the heat off the Rayburn.

Farrell sat himself between Dempsey and Ellen. Apollo served the loaded plates with considerable panache, removed his pinny, and sat down to eat.

Dempsey spoke:

“I have one or two questions for yis this morning, as you may imagine.”

No one replied. Farrell had been in this situation before and knew what the Bear’s temper was like; this could go either way.

“First of all, just exactly what are you doing here Ellen?”

Ellen told him.

At least she told him the carefully prepared narrative agreed with Farrell before they’d tumbled into each other’s arms in the small cot in Ellen’s old room. It wasn’t far off the truth — just without the time travel element. How McGuinn had called her in New York spinning the yarn about Dempsey only having two weeks to live, and how he’d arranged her air ticket and booked her a hire car from Aldergrove.

Dempsey forked a gobful of sausage and bacon into his mouth and chewed contemplatively. Farrell nervously pushed egg around his plate and said nothing. This was Ellen’s pitch; his would come later — if there were a later.

Ellen took a deep breath.

“He’s working for the Brits, Uncle Tom. Why else would he have done it? He set the whole thing up. He wanted me dead, so he did.”

“She right, Mr Bear,” said Apollo. I overhear him on telephone. He talk to someone call Dibble. Then next thing he poking into Ellen’s room with gun. Vely suspicious.”

“Aye, I know all about that, Apollo.”

‘I can’t do this any more Uncle Tom. They won’t stop, even without McGuinn, they’ll keep coming after me.” There were tears in Ellen’s eyes. “I just want out. I just want to… I don’t know… lead a normal life; maybe become a teacher or something. I don’t want to go back there.”

“Aye, I’m with ye there love. So where’s he now? McGuinn?” Dempsey asked.

Farrell cleared his throat.

“He’s gone, Bear. I gave him a choice last night. Either face you, and explain your sudden terminal illness, and what Ellen’s doin’ here, or te disappear. He chose the latter.”

“I see. It would appear he made a wise decision. And Micksey? Where’s he?”

“He went with him Bear. But he’ll be back. He’s only gone te make sure McGuinn goes where he’d agreed to.”

“And that is…?

“Better you don’t know, Bear. But I promise you, you won’t be seein’ him again.”

At least, Farrell thought to himself, not for another thirty-eight years, if the Bear lived that long.

“As ye know, Billy, I’ve had my suspicions about McGuinn. Micksey and I’ve been keeping an eye on him for some time. And it struck us a wee bit odd that he always buggered off every Saturday during the summer.” Farrell knew exactly what McGuinn had chosen to spend his Saturdays engaged in but figured bringing it up would only muddy the waters.

“No… we’re better off wi’out the bastard, anyway.” Dempsey continued. He poured more tea into his mug and heaped in sugar. “By the way, do any of yis fuckers know what happened to my rocking chair? Seems to have disappeared?”

There was silence in the small kitchen.

Dempsey broke it. He galanced at Ellen’s hand.

“So what’s that on yer finger Ellen? If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was an engagement ring. And quite an expensive one, by the look of it.” Farrell noted the faintest hint of a smile of the Bear’s face. His heart beat so fast he had difficulty catching breath to speak. He took three deep breaths then replied on Ellen’s behalf.

“I’ve asked yer niece te marry me, Bear… and she’s accepted.”

“Well… fuck my auld boots!”

“Uncle Tom!” said Ellen.

Dempsey stared at Farrell.

“Ellen, it would appear has good judgment as to who she should avoid and who she should marry.” He forked another mouthful of egg and bacon, impassive as if he’d just heard on the News that another Ulsterbus had been set on fire in North Belfast.

He put down his cutlery, stood up, wiped his mouth on a linen napkin and walked round the small table towards Farrell.

“If ye’re gonne marry my daughter, Billy, you’re pulled yer last trigger, planted yer last sticky bomb… planned yer last raid, dispatched yer last tout. You understand?”

“Hang on a wee minute, Bear… yer daughter?” Farrell asked lamely.

“Oh…my… god… well that explains a lot,” said Ellen. “Dad? Dad!” She leapt up and hugged Dempsey, tears of joy in her eyes.

“Aye, ye heard right, Billy… so ye did. Ellen is my daughter. Long story.”

Farrell stood and Dempsey grabbed his future son-in-law in a rib crushing man hug. “But there’s one condition, Billy — mind, it’s not negotiable… ye understand?’

“Sure, Bear. Just name it.”

“Promise that ye’ll take care of her, Billy. That means that ye have no further links with the movement. None at all, you totally clear on that? Yer out of this dirty war. You take good care of her Billy… you promise me than?”

Farrell nodded.

“On yer soul?

“Yes, on my soul,” not that it’s worth a lot, Farrell thought.

“Swear on yer unborn childrens’ souls?”

“Agreed. I swear.”

“And they must never, ever know who their grandfather was — clear?”

“Clear, Bear.”

“There’s no one to tie ye inte any of this. The only person who could was McGuinn and with him out of the way, yer past stays safe. Don’t look back, Billy.”

Farrell thought he could tears in the old man’s eyes.

“But keep lookin’ over yer shoulder Billy — always be on the lookout, ‘cos there are cunts out there who’ll ask ye questions. But I know ye’ll be fine, and I’ll be lookin’ out for ye too… but don’t ever look back. Ye’re done here, son.”




















SIXTY-FIVE: A fleeting kiss of darkness on the soul


Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal

8.35am, Friday 18th September 2019


The Times Two Crossword had taken him thirty-three minutes this morning, much longer than usual.

He’d been stuck on 18 down: eleven letters, third letter ‘r’: ‘deceitful and untrustworthy’. It took him almost four minutes before the thought of Dibble entered his head and he penned the word ‘perfidious’.

He put down his biro, stood, stretched then opened the French window and walked out onto the timber-decked terrace.

The view never tired him.

In the foreground was the golf links and beyond the dunes, the stunning mile-long stretch of Kilahoey Strand, across which stood the majestic six-hundred feet high Horn Head./ A village surrounded by some of the most magnificent scenery you could find in Ireland. Was it really twenty years since he’d bought the place off the plans? Seen it built, furnished it, nurtured it and spent as much time here as he could afford away from his successful Derry civil engineering business. Jesus, where the hell had the time gone? The two boys were grown up. The eldest, Rory, now a solicitor and the youngster, despite everything he had thrown at him to put him off it, had traded his soul to be a mercenary; albeit one who went into battle in the red and white shirt of Ulster, and now the emerald green of Ireland.

He lent on the railing and lit a cigarette. Smoking was one of his few remaining vices. He tried to keep it to five a day and out of the gaze of Ellen and the boys.

He drank little these days; he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been totally wrecked — probably over two years ago when Jack had won his first cap, celebrating it with a try from a driving maul in the victory over England in Dublin.

Life had turned out pretty well, he reflected. He was happy, at least most of the time, but he never forgot for one moment how he’d got here, and how his life could have been such a total fuck up.

Sometimes he almost felt a grain of gratitude to Dibble for where he was right now. Most of the time he almost managed to blot out the past, but the ghosts of the men he’d killed, and the face of the UDR corporal who’d murdered Owen still came back to haunt him when they wanted to, in the wee still hours of darkness. He was lucky that they seldom bothered him here in Dunfanaghy, which was another reason he loved the place.

But who he’d been and what he’d done was a secret he knew he would take to the grave. The boys sometimes asked who their maternal granddad was. Ellen was the only other person to know. He’d died in a car accident, was the answer.

He’d visited the old man a few times in the Dundalk Alzheimer home, but found it so depressing he left it to Ellen to visit once a month. The Bear was a shadow of a man now, and both of them were lost to his dementia.




He felt Ellen’s breath on his neck before her lips touched it.


“Thought you’d gone riding?”

“Nope. Not his morning, dopey. I’ve got an SLT meeting this afternoon back in Derry. Sure I told you that.” She boxed his ears playfully. “And don’t forget we’ve got Micksey’s big bash tonight.”

Farrell laughed softly.

“Aye, to celebrate his lottery win, jammy bastard. Mind, he had a wee bit of help with that.”

“Away on. Tell me?”

“Well, when they arrive back at Laneside, McGuinn starts playing d’Artagnan with an abandoned newspaper he found outside the cubicle. He pokes Micksey in the eye with it then throws it in before slamming the door on him and sending him back to last week. Micksey has a wee gander through it and finds last Saturday night’s winning lottery numbers.”

“Jesus! How much did he win?”

“Thirty-five mill, give or take.”

“What the hell’s he going to do with that kind of money, Billy?”

“Oh, he’s big plans, so he has. Says he’s going to open a Visitor Centre in Letterkenny for rare breed pigs…”

“Dear God! Whatever for?”

“Search me. And there’s a vacant brewery next door he wants to turn into a potcheen distillery. Only as far as the planners are concerned, it’ll be whiskey though, not potcheen.”

“Hope he doesn’t try out the potcheen on his pigs,” Ellen laughed, “or there’ll be flying pigs all over Letterkenny.”

“Aye not only that, but he says he’s going to buy the Shandon Hotel, you know the one overlooking Marble Hill beach that’s been done up, and he’s going to put Apollo in charge of it.”

Ellen laughed.

“This gets better by the minute. What does Apollo know about hotel management?’

“Quite a bit apparently. He took courses on hospitality management and cordon bleu cookery while he was doing time in Manila.”

Something flashed though Farrell’s brain, sending a shiver down his spine with a random thought that suddenly made Ellen so desperately precious to him. Impulsively he wrapped his arms round her waist, pulled her close, kissed her neck, holding her tight. His lips lingered on the smoothness of her skin. Ellen sensed a fleeting darkness touch his soul; it made her shudder, then it was gone.

“Hey,” he said, pulling her tighter still. “It’s ok. Nothing’s going to happen to us. The past can’t reach us now.”














SIXTY-SIX: The men from the North


Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal

8.50am, Friday 18th September 2019


Ellen turned the Citroen Cactus onto the N56 and headed east towards Letterkenny.

She smiled at the thought of Micksey’s new business ventures and wondered what on earth his rare pigs’ centre could be a cover for.

There was still autumn warmth in the air; the sun shone, but the nights would soon be closing in, she thought. Dunfanaghy always seemed to have its own microclimate, but the Derry hills that lay ahead were dark and foreboding with the rain that would soon blow in from the west.

She drove through the hamlet of Portnablagh beyond which her eyes were drawn to a commercial agent’s hoarding advertising the sale of the Shandon Hotel and Spa, across which a banner read: ‘Sale Agreed’. Below this, was a further crudely fashioned banner advising that the hotel was under new ownership and would soon achieve recognition as Ireland’s ‘Premier Inn for Booteek Luxiory Spa Accommoddation.’

Ellen chuckled. Jesus, she thought, only Micksey could have come up with that. And on a whim, she turned off towards Marble Hill beach.

She glanced in the mirror and noticed a black VW Passat turn off behind her. Probably nothing, she thought, but she’d spent a lifetime looking over her shoulder and force of habit still made her pulse race until any perception of danger had passed.

Ellen swung the Citroen off to the right onto the Upper Faugher Road; the name had always made her and Billy laugh but today it failed to bring a smile to her face as she clocked the car was still behind her.

She passed above the Shandon without registering, her attention now totally focused on the car behind.

Two men up front, dark hair, one shoulder-length the other worn short, both casually dressed; up to no fucking good, she thought, pressing the accelerator.

The Passat increased speed. Fuck, only question now was whether they were Special Branch or dissidents. Almost certainly the former… unless they were dissidents who’d nicked the car.

The road straightened after she’d turned right past Lafferty’s and the Citroen gathered speed as she hurtled along the narrow lane back towards the N56. She heaved a sigh of relief as she noticed the Passat had dropped back, but her eyes returned to the road just in time to see a white BWM pull out ahead of her, blocking her path. The Passat soon closed the distance and pulled up behind her. Ellen had no alternative but to slow to a halt.

Two men got out of the BMW. The driver approached the Citroen and tapped on Ellen’s window. She dropped it.

“Can we see your wee license, madam?” Not locals; Belfast accent.

“Who are you? Can I see some identification please?” She knew the moustaches both men sported were sufficient to confirm their Special Branch status. A ridiculous fashion tradition still alive after all these years. Still, better than bloody dissidents, she thought. She knew they had no jurisdiction here, that didn’t make her feel any better — it had never stopped them in the past.

“Police, love. C3.” Ellen, like everyone else, knew C3 was the name that Special Branch now went by. Ludicrous name, she’d always thought, like something out of fucking Star Wars. Both men produced wallets and flashed warrant cards.

Ellen sighed and reluctantly delved in her handbag, producing her driving license. She took a second to make sure the Glock that Billy still insisted she always carried went unnoticed. She looked up to see the peeler with the droopier of he two moustaches pointing a gun at her. Her hand slowly left her bag, closing the flap carefully.

The other cop inspected her license. Her heart was beating like a drum. Questions, and yet more questions were racing through her brain. Why now? Why today of all days? What were the bastards doing here on the wrong side of the border? She had a pretty good idea who would be behind it.

“Ellen Bridget Farrell… aye, it’s her all right Davy, you can head on now,” he shouted to the driver of the Passat.

“Do you mind telling me what this is all about?”

“Ellen Bridget Farrell… you are under arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defense…”

“Fucking bollocks. You’ve no jurisdiction here. And aren’t you supposed to breathalyse me in any case?”

No reply.

“And how come PSNI is using Special Branch as traffic cops… and here? Haven’t you anything better to do with your time, like count paper clips?”

“Actually Ellen… we could arrest you for urinating in a public place, running naked across Marble Hill beach, or even impersonating a fucking monkey for all it matters. Now get out of the car, love. Someone wants to have a wee word with you. Do this easy and no harm will come to you.”








Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal

8.57am, Friday18th September 2019


Farrell looked at his watch and thought about turning the television on to catch the News.

The urge didn’t last long. Places have times, he’d often thought, and Dunfanaghy had never been sullied by his past.

He knew exactly what the lead story would be and he had little interest in it.

He’d done his part, and in a bizarre way, felt comfortable with how things had turned out. McGuinn and Dibble were welcome to the money and there was a certain justice to Micksey’s good fortune. He’d known McGuinn would do anything he could to avoid cutting him in.

He was dragged from his reverie by the vibrating of his mobile on the kitchen table. He knew who it was instantly and cursed himself for leaving it there. It was one of only two locations, apart from the terrace, where you could get a signal. The other was upstairs, which was where he normally left it, so that his only disturbance would be dealing with missed calls when he chose to pick them up.

But he knew the fucker would only ring back, so he picked up at the third ring, without even bothering to look at the screen.

“What the fuck do you want? I’ve told you to leave us alone.”

“It’s been a long time, Billy. A little civility wouldn’t go amiss.”

“You got what you wanted Dibble. We’re done. I’ve no interest in hearing how prosperous you’ve made her Majesty’s Government with your little shale find.” He walked out onto the terrace and lit another cigarette. He’d had a suspicion this fucker’d do his best to ruin his day. “But of course, we can substitute George Oliver Dibble for Her Majesty’s Government, as all they’ll be getting out of it is any tax you can’t weasel your way out of paying.”

“Now now, Billy. You didn’t do so bad yourself. You got your £6.5 million as promised and that ought to keep you in fags and beer for a while.”

“Not that it’s anything to do with you Dibble, but I’ve not touched a penny of that money. It’s in trust for my kids, and their kids. And they don’t know a thing about it.”

“Well lucky them. How very ‘Family Guy’ of you.” Farrell thought he could detect a hint of bitterness in Dibble’s voice. What could he possibly have to be bitter about? “Besides which, Billy, there’s been an unexpected turn of events. A couple of them, in fact. Now turn on your telly and tune in to BBC News channel.”

“I know what’s on the news Dibble so…”

“You know some of it Billy. Just turn it on. There’s a good lad.”

Farrell obliged. The sooner he could get this fucker out of his life, the better.

Thankfully he’d missed the lead in. David Shukman’s face came up on the screen. He was standing in the middle of a field Farrell recognised; it was the half-acre rectangle of scrubland, which was certainly in the Republic in’81, presicely where he’d buried one of the canisters of C19.

“Now do I have your attention, Billy?”

Bill Turnbull spoke.

David… leaving aside those concerns for a moment… have you any idea as to the potential worth of the find, and who will be the beneficiaries of this windfall?

            Bill, I spoke to John Smithers, CEO of NRG Expert this morning and he believes that this field has the potential to generate as much as €700 trillion over the next few years. This, of course, comes at a good time for the Republic’s economy, particularly as oil prices have recovered to an all-time high of $155 a barrel, following the 2015 slump. Investors also have flocked to oil and other commodities this year as a hedge against high inflation and a weak dollar. As to ownership, Bill, two private individuals acquired around twenty acres of the site thirty-five years ago. The landowners have remained anonymous.

            And you’ve absolutely no idea as to their identity, David?

            None whatsoever Bill…

            Dibble spoke.

“Press live pause, Billy. We can get to that later…”

Shocked, Farrell obliged robotically, but not before the camera had moved from Shukman’s face to zoom in on a rotund white-coated individual he instantly recognised, holding a capsule that he also instantly recognised.

Even though he must have been two hundred metres away, there was no mistaking him, or the item he was cuddling like a toxic baby.

And further in the background, was a hastily erected open-sided marquee around which a group wearing yellow wellies and MoD red anti-contamination suits dug the ground.

Farrell’s face stared back at him in the frozen frame of the television, wide-open mouth as if he’d seen a ghost. His hand reached for the packet of cigarettes on the adjacent table. He lit one without thinking, eyes still fixed on the screen.

“You still there Billy?”

Farrell couldn’t trust himself to speak. He managed a grunt.

“Let me ask you a question Billy. You see that canister that Professor McT’s holding?”

Farrrell managed another grunt. Acknowledgement.

“You recognize it, don’t you?”


“I’ll take that as a yes. It’s a damned good job you buried it Billy. And what’s more, it’s a damned good job you buried it where you did, north of the border or we wouldn’t be having this conversation, as this situation would be very grim indeed. Unrecoverably grim, particularly for you.”

“I… I don’t get it. I did what you asked Dibble,” he said weakly, “… it was all agreed. Boundry change… Haughey did the deal with Thatcher… Sands got what he wanted… called off the hunger strike. My past gone… So why…?”

“So why was the shale found in the Republic? Good question Billy. And here’s another question: tell me who, do you imagine, would have gone back to take a wee dander into the offices of Connolly, O’Connery & Co, and substitute the name of Robert Gerard Sands for mine on the deeds, and also amend the off-shore company’s directors? Not that that makes a lot of difference without entitlement to the land, under EU law. Any ideas?”

Farrell said nothing.

Dibble continued. He conveniently omitted the fact that had he bothered to read the document McGuinn had passed him for a signature, he wouldn’t have handed him power of attorney.

“It could only have been one of two people — your good self, or a certain President McGuinn. But bearing in mind you had no C19 — or none that I know of — and your name didn’t replace mine on the land deeds, I’m inclined to conclude that the real villan of the piece is that little brillopad-haired cricket loving gobshite who’s managed to inveigle his way into the Presidency of the Republic of Ireland, which, if he and Sands get their way, will soon include the six counties in the North.”

Farrell dropped his cigarette butt in a half empty coffee mug and lit another. He had managed to recover a modicum of composure. The thought of Dibble being swindled out of the shale money would have made his day were it not for the shot of the Donald Stewart lookalike nursing the canister, still frozen on his telly screen.

“Let me ask you a question, Dibble — just why was it so important for the shale to be found in the North? And spare me that shite about what it would do for the UK’s economy, and blah-de-blah, there’d be enough dough to fix potholes in the North of England, and a defense budget that would put Britain right back at the top of the heap?”

“Don’t you pay any attention to current affairs, Billy? I really am astounded by your lack of political awareness. How long ago did the UK leave the EU?

“Dunno… six months? Hasn’t made a lot of difference to me, apart from the value of the pound dropping to less than half a Euro. I’ve got dual citizenship, anyway.”

“Well you’re a lucky boy then. You know what the first thing that cardboard-cutout neoliberal of a Taoiseach did post Brexit?”

“Well he tightened up the border; it’s like Checkpoint fucking Charlie now. Can take up to an hour to get across on a bad day.”

“Fuck the border crossings Billy. Couldn’t give a tuppany shit about them.” Dibble paused. “What he did was to embargo the sale of land and property to anyone other than EU citizens. That means, even if that devious ginger cunt hadn’t travelled back to substitute Sands’ name for mine on the land deeds, I still wouldn’t be entitled to ownership of the land.” Farrell could almost feel Diddle’s anger.

“That’s why, Billy, the land has to be in the fucking North. Him and Sands were in cohoots all along. He never had any intention of going on hunger strike once McGuinn stuck this deal in front of his shit-stained blanket. All he needed was an excuse, and you handed him that with the Special Category Status stuff.” Dibble paused, breathing hard. “Okay… that was my fault. You did a nice job with Thatcher though. But McGuinn was always going to reverse it if you succeeded. I didn’t know that at the time, ‘cos I was stupid enough to trust the fucker. It’s called being wise after the fucking event.” Farrell had never heard Dibble swear before. He was making up for it now. “Does that answer your fucking question?”

Farrell couldn’t suppress a broad smirk.

“Yea…no — it’s not often I get an honest answer from you Dibble. Of course, I’m very sorry for your troubles,” he said with as much sincerity as he could muster, “but what’s all this got to do with me?”

“Press the play button on your telly, Billy.”

Farrell obliged and the picture moved to close-up of Shukman.

Bill, there has been a further complication to this matter. As you’ll see in the background, MoD scientists from Northern Ireland have discovered a canister of highly toxic radioactive waste. There could, they believe, be more than one of these cannisters buried around the site but the Irish government will not grant them permission to cross the border to investigate further.

            David, what possible implication could this development have?

            Bill, it doesn’t have any implications for this shale discovery, as that’s entirely under Irish jurisdiction. But, coincidentally, the discovery of this toxic waste involved a process that provided what is currently being referred to as ‘strong expectations’ that the shale field extends into the North. Ironically, there may well be a significant amount of shale gas beneath a property belonging to Tom Dempsey, the former Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA, who now resides in a care home in Dundalk. However, until the precise contents of this canister are known, the British government will not issue a licence for further exploration, which means that if there is shale beneath the ground in the North, that’s precisely there it will stay.

            “You can turn it off now Billy.”

“I still don’t see what this has got to do with me Dibble.”

Silence. Farrell looked at his phone.

The call had been disconnected.

Was it a broken signal or had Dibble simply terminated the conversation?

For a moment he felt a curious blend of sublime satisfaction and the sum of all his worst fears.

This wasn’t where it ended.

He knew that.



















SIXTY-EIGHT: Dominos — the end game


Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal

9.02am, Friday 18th September 2019


The home phone rang.

The unexpected sound of the landline jolted Farrell from his musing.

He picked it up.

A strange whimpering sound.

He knew instantly who it was.


Nothing. Just low, feeble resonances expressive of her fear, pain, unhappiness… maybe all three, and without asking, he knew precisely why.


Fucking Dibble.

“Okay Billy. Someone else wants a wee word with you.”

There was a scuffle as the phone was transferred. Ellen spoke, her voice fighting for strength between the sobs.

“Don’t do it Billy… just don’t do it. Whatever he asks… don’t do it.”

“Do what love… Ellen are you all right? Where are you?”

Dibble again.

“She’s fine Billy, just a little upset, as we all are. You see, it’s been a very emotional day and it’s not even time for elevenses yet.”

It was Farrell’s turn to be emotional.

“You fucking lay one finger on her Dibble, and I swear to God I’ll kill you. And it won’t be quick either.”

“I don’t think you’re in much of a position to make threats Billy. See, the way I look at it is I hold pretty much all the cards. And I can assure you I have absolutely no intention of harming Ellen… far from it. But unless you do exactly what I say, I’m going to send her on a wee journey, back to McConnaville’s mortuary slab. You’ll never see her again, other than archived news footage from the funeral, of course.

Farrell was too stunned to reply.

“And let me remind you how she got there, Billy? Permit me to jog your memory about Ellen’s preantepenultimate parallel reality. Good name for a band that eh? The Preantepenultimate Parallel Reality, or … maybe… The PPPR? What sounds better?” Dibble chuckled at his innovation. “It means that you’ll be responsible for the death of Bear Dempsey’s daughter, and that, I can assure you, will not lead to a pleasant outcome.”

Dibble was right. He did hold all the cards.

“Just what is you want me to do, Dibble?”

“Dead simple really, Billy. Just go back to 28th February1981 for me one more time. Only this time you take care of McGuinn — you never liked the fucker anyway, so you’ll be doing the both of us a favour. That’s it… well almost it. You don’t go near Thatcher or Sands. Thatcher wouldn’t have done that boundry change deal with Haughey, without your intervention. Not in a million years, so that land stays in the rebublic. Doesn’t matter now — with McGuinn out of the way and Sands on a long-term diet, neither of them are going to cop for a penny. And you make sure you off McGuinn before he calls with Messrs Connolly, O’Connery & Co to change the names on the land deeds. Just in case there’s a Taishoch to replace Sands who’s a bit more laissez-faire about proprietorial arrangements with his old colonial masters. That meeting took place at 11.45am by the way, so that’s your time frame. How you do it’s entirely up to you.”

Farrell lit a cigarette. How had he been stupid enough to let them get to Ellen? But how else could they live? He couldn’t wrap her up in cotton wool. He had feared this day for years, and now it had come, and it was turning into the mother of all his worst nightmares. Fucking McGuinn… he wouldn’t have a problem offing the bastard, but the consequences of the domino effect it would trigger didn’t bear contemplation.

Sands, and the other nine republicams would die on hunger strike.

The Troubles would drag on for another twelve years, taking to the grave an additional thirteen hundred and fifty-nine souls.

And with Dibble doing everything within his powers to prolong the conflict to keep ISIS out of the mainframe, this could rumble on even longer.

Whatever he thought of McGuinn and his political ambitions, he had at least been one of the key archetects of the Good Friday Agreement that brought about the eventual ceasefire. And what about Ellen? Would she even exist? And if she did, would this further twist of history create a world where they would lose everything they had fought so hard to create?

And then another thought struck him. He voiced it.

“Anyway, Dibble, just supposing there is shale in the north. That land belongs to Dempsey. Even if you manage to catch him at one of his rare lucid moments, he’s about as likely to sell that land to you as he’d sell it to the Queen.”

“Aye, well that’s where you’re wrong, Billy. I paid him a wee visit last week, you see. It’s a done deal… signed sealed and delivered to my solicitor’s office. Even took my brief with me, so I did, just in case there was ever any challenge as to his mental capacity.”

“How the hell did you manage that?”

“Well, to tell you the truth — ‘cos it’s too late for you to do anything about it — I did use a wee bit of codology.” Dibble paused, inviting Farrell’s curiosity.

“… Go on.”

“He thought he was selling you the land… thought I was you.” Dibble chuckled, savouring his ingenuity. Nothing ever changes, Facrrell thought; the bastard was so sharp he could cut himself.

“In fact he was so pleased that you were going to be the beneficiary of this windfall, he wouldn’t even take any money for it. But I managed to persuade him to take a hundred and fifty grand, just to make the deal look cosher. You see, McGuinn might have been canny enough to get the old duffer committed. But he missed one important follow-up procedure: he never arranged for power of attorney. Very sloppy that… very sloppy. Had he done so, my friend, it would have put the kibosh on the whole thing. ‘Just sign here, Uncle Tom,’ was all it needed. Piece of piss.”

Farrell was silent. ‘Uncle Tom?’ He’d never called him ‘uncle Tom’ in his life. That would confirm a mental capacity so diminished as to sign the bloody thing. There was nothing he could think of, nothing he could do… think… think… think.

“You still there, Billy?”

No reply.

Think… think… think.

“You can cancel your busy schedule for today, Billy. There’ll be a car outside in twenty minutes. Young Bond again. And that canister’s just arrived back at Laneside, so get yourself ready.”

The line went dead.

Think… think… think.

There must be a way out of this end game, a card up the slieve, an ace in the hole.


And then it struck him.

Dibble didn’t hold all the cards.





















Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal

8.15am, Saturday 19th September 2019


Grey sky, pregnant with rain.

Wet rain, the locals called it: soft, sheety rain that gets under your skin and leaves you wet to the core, would blow in from the west and would blow in soon. Autumn warmth driven away.

He awoke with a jolt, upright in a flash, heart banging like a panel beater’s hammer.

Mind re-booted.


Thank fuck.


A day he’d lived though three times now, each one with a different outcome. But this time it’d stay put. He’d seen to that. He’d done his deal with Dibble, his Judas covenant with the devil.

To his left, Ellen, sleeping like a lamb, peaceful as a prayer, still there.

Still there.

A twist of her still-black hair flecked her face. He curled it behind her ear, kissed her cheek softly without waking her.

Stood, stretched, sidled stiff-legged to the kitchen in his boxers, filled the kettle, clicked it on. Slid open the French window, lit his first on the terrace. Early winter’s breath caressed his face. This would be more than a five-fag day, he thought. Just like yesterday.

Dressed, drained his coffee cup and polished off a cereal bar he didn’t feel like eating.

Picked up the Merc’s keys from the hall table and was about to open the front door when he sensed her behind him.

“I know where you’re going, Billy. And I’m coming with you.”

He nodded. No point trying to dissuade her. She was as much a part of this as he was.

She had a right to know.















Falls Road, Belfast

12.15pm, Saturday 19th September 2019


Milltown Cemetery.

The second significant place of burial of the day.

He had to be sure.

First stop had been Derry City Cemetery, already a place of Republican pilgrimage due to the interned casket that had lain there since 7th March 1981 — or yesterday afternoon, he’d thought, to be more precise.

The gravestone inscription was weathered but simple: ‘In Proud and Loving Memory… Volunteer Malcolm Dermott McGuinn, Killed in action, 28th February 1981.’   They stood for a moment deep in thought, next to a gaggle of camera-clicking Japanese tourists who knew nothing about McGuinn other than what Trip Advisor had told them: he’d been a major player in something called The Troubles; Farrell figured they wouldn’t have a baldy notion what that was all about.

Then they moved on.

No tears, no profound words; just relief, and the irony that 7th March ‘81was the day when Ellen would have gone into the ground, save for Micksey’s intervention and what he himself had done yesterday.




It had been simple enough, in the end, in the cold and bitter end, he reflected driving out of the city.

He didn’t even need his gun.

A combination of time travel and the ancient Volvo estate he’d been given at Laneside had taken him to Dempsey’s farm complex at 6am on Friday 28th February 1981. He knew that McGuinn wouldn’t get there for around another hour so he had more than the five minutes he needed to locate, field strip, remove the firing pin and re-assemble McGuinn’s Luger, then wipe his prints and replace it in the cardboard box beneath his bed.

He then drove to Newry and treated himself to an Ulster Fry in Gino’s Café from where he had a good view of the front entrance to the offices of Connolly, O’Connery & Co. He also had a grandstand view of the concrete and supposedly mortar-proof wire mesh clad citadel that was the Newry RUC station, a hundred yards to his left.

He picked up a copy of the Newry Informer on the adjacent table and looked at the date as if any confirmation was required: Friday 28th February, 1981. No doubt about that then.

It struck a chord. That date definitely struck a chord.

There was something about 28th February.

Then it hit him.

Ironic, he thought, a dour smile flicking across his face: this bomb-proof citadel would become a tomb for nine peelers who’d die within its concrete vault when the IRA mortar-bombed it on this day four years from now.

But was it irony? Or was it payback for what he was about to do? The Movement liked that — choosing a date for a reason… something to remind you, something you couldn’t forget. Maybe Dibble was wrong; maybe the Provos did have something in common with al Qaeda or ISIS or whatever name those cunts went by, he mused. Think 911 — prime example.

And maybe it was his action; the action he was about to take that would sign the death warrant for those nine peelers.

And maybe he overthought a situation in which he had no choice other than to reverse a previous revision of history.

‘Maybe,’ he thought, stubbing out a cigarette and lighting another, ‘maybe this will end it, once and for all. Maybe I’m not the man up to the job of stopping the Troubles but I am the man who’ll do anything to save his family.’

He was on his second mug of sweet milky tea when, at 11.45 precisely he saw McGuinn stride up the slope past the cop shop towards the law firm’s offices. Farrell observed him making no pretense at concealing his identity as he marched past the RUC barracks. Couldn’t give a flying fuck. His face wore something almost approaching a smirk, practically a badge of invincibility he thought, as he swung one arm in time with his march, the other hand deep in his trouser pocket.

“Well here he comes, hand in pocket… he’s feeling a little cocky today,” he murmured with a grim chuckle at an old joke, stubbing out his cigarette, dropping a pound note on the table and making for the café door. “Let’s just see if ye’ve still got that smirk on yer mug when I’m done with ye.”

Across the deserted street, Farrell pulled his coat tight against the biting February wind. Snow wasn’t ruled out for the day entirely.

McGuinn hadn’t clocked him yet. He pulled out his Glock, chambered a round, clicked off the safety and put it back in his overcoat pocket. No reason to draw attention. One good shot, walk on slowly, get to the Volvo and get the fuck out of 1981 for the final time.

Fifty yards… now forty and the bastard still hadn’t seen him. This was going better than expected.

Thirty yards.

McGuinn looked up, saw him and froze. That smirk had very definitely disappeared.

“Farrell…? What the fuck?”

“I’m sorry Marty, if it’d had been up te me I’d have left ye in yer political pomp, troughing it with Bono and sloshing through yer shale millions.” He drew his gun, but not before McGuinn had his Luger pointed at him.

“Fuck you Farrell. You’ve always been an interfering cunt and I’ve wanted to do this ever since I first set eyes on you. See you in hell.”

“Nice speech Malcy.” He continued to walk towards him.

McGuinn pulled the trigger.

Once… twice… three times.


Nothing but a dull, metallic click.

He looked at the gun, realization dawning.

Looked at Farrell, abject horror on his face, as his target produced the firing pin from his pocket and dangled it at him.

Ten yards between them.

McGuinn turned to run, dived into the road.

Farrell pocketed his gun.

He’d seen what was behind McGuinn and knew the Glock would be surplus to requirements.

From force of habit, he almost screamed a warning but managed to stifle it, as the three and a half tonne six-wheeled RUC Hotspur armoured personnel carrier slammed into McGuinn, swallowing him beneath its chassis. At the moment of bone-crunching impact, the Hotspur had been picking up speed, accelerating away from its base, ready for another inglorious day of getting the fuck shot out of it.

It hauled him to precisely where he had been headed — the offices of Connolly, O’Connery & Co, before his corpse became separated from the inefficient IED catching contraptions attached to the chassis, and the off-side rear wheel squashed what has left of his head.

“Aye… see you in hell, Malcy,” replied Farrell, quickening his pace, heading for the car park.

Two minutes later he’d cranked up the Volvo’s reluctant engine and was driving in the direction of Crossmaglen.

He had a couple of essential items to collect from Dempsey’s farm and then he could say an unfond farewell to 1981.

And after that, he had one wee job to do at Laneside, and finally it would all be over.




They’d driven in silence past the Bloody Sunday Monument; the irony of history’s most recent distortion caused a rye smile to flick across his face.

Past the city walls, still resonating with the ghostly clamour of the Apprentice Boys’ ‘No Surrender’ invocation. Nothing new there, he thought — blue plaques everywhere.

Then past the Altnagelvin Hospital, down the steep slope towards the River Faughan; he remembered it was a forty limit; he’d been done for speeding here once before. He touched the brake, noticing in the distance a police vehicle coming towards them up the hill, before he realised these peelers were about as likely to fire a radar speed gun at him as they were to fire a mortar.

White Land Rover, heavily armoured but with token Battenburg high vis markings beneath the banner reading Crimestoppers 0800 555111.

“What the fuck? Christ, I’ve not seen one of those for over twenty years. That’s a museum piece… didn’t think those things were still on the streets.”

And with that thought, his mind recalled the thrum of Lynx rotors overhead at the Derry cemetery. It hadn’t registered at the time, but his brain had locked it in. Funny how it had been the backbeat to an amalgam of normality for almost thirty years and then it was gone.

But now it was back.




They’d stopped for a coffee at the Ponderosa Bar and Grill.

It’d been almost forty years since he’d last been here with McGuinn and was mildly surprised to find it busy. It certainly wasn’t a ‘Bar and Grill’ back then. Just a shithole; Ireland’s highest shithole.

He’d managed to avoid the Glanshane Pass since then but this wasn’t a social outing — it was about establishing which reality they were a part of now and to witness — he hoped — the final part of his plan.

“If this is what a refurbishment can do for you,” he said, forcing a smile at Ellen, “Micksey should do all right. If, that if, he’s still with us.” He sipped his latte, as Ellen squeezed his hand and returned the smile apprehensively.

He picked up a copy of the Belfast News Letter on the adjacent copper-topped table; the strapline had caught his eye: Chancellor under pressure from IMF to increase interest rates in November’s budget. He read on:

Chancellor John McDonnell has angered both Labour backbenches and the opposition by indicating that a hike in interest rates to around fifteen percent is on the cards in his forthcoming November Budget. Fresh from his return to the House of Commons following a three-week vacation in the Seychelles, he said that despite the Shale find in Northern Ireland, the Budget, switched from spring to autumn last year, due to pressure from the IMF…

Farrell put the paper down.

“Seems like Mr McDonnell didn’t get his wish then.”

Ellen raised an eyebrow. “Which was?”

“Well, he caused a ruckus by saying he’d love to have the opportunity to go back in time and kill Thatcher… remember, back when he was in opposition?”

“Yea, I vaguely remember that. When nobody thought Labour would have a cat in hell’s chance of getting elected.”

“Aye. Well he got half of his wish. And in one version of the past I disappeared him.” Farrell was about to light a cigarette when he remembered that smoking indoors was also a thing of the past. That’d be something else I’d change, he thought. “But if he’s back in 2019 pissing people off, that means that I got to McGuinn before he got to Thatcher. And unfortunately — in this circumstance — I take that as a positive as far as it affects us.”




They had no difficulty in finding Sands’ grave.

Milltown cemetery was a celebration of republican glory and republican death, much of which was the same thing. With the exception of one Protestant buried there, it was the final resting place for those who had kicked with the left foot and, for the most part, had kicked significantly well.

Even a total fuck-wit could have found Sands’ final site of interment.

A plaque below the nameplate read: ‘In Loving Memory of A Special Son.’ A photo of the rock star handsome Bobby smiling below showed that happiness had touched him, however briefly.

To the left of the inscription, a simple but poignant poem. Whether it was the burden of something approaching guilt he felt or the emotion of the moment, Farrell felt compelled to read it aloud:

I often lie awake at night,

When others are asleep.

I take a walk down memory lane

with tears upon my cheeks.

No one knows the heartache

I try so hard to hide,

Some people say as time goes by

The heartache will subside.

But the feelings in my heart today

Are the same as the day you died.

It broke my heart to lose you,

Your parting caused such pain,

but the greatest day has yet to come

When we will meet again.

Ellen took his hand and squeezed it, wiped a tear from her eye.

Overhead, the rotors of a Wildcat Mark1; the new state-of-the art observation helicopter that was replacing the Lynx. For almost thirty years, this eye in the sky had been a pretty good indicator as to where trouble was brewing down below.

And trouble was brewing again. Not far from here.

They hadn’t long to wait to find out where.

The ground shook from an explosion coming from the direction of the Malone Road. A huge pall of black smoke rose into the air. The Wildcat hovered over the scene until a bright flash from the direction of Andersonstown lit up the sky and the helicopter banked steeply and was gone as a ground-to-air missile narrowly missed it, the SAM slamming harmlessly into the rough terrain of Wolf Hill.

Farrell barely registered.

“Christ,” said Ellen, “That was bloody close.”

“Malone Road” Farrell said, “Bladon Drive, or thereabouts, I’d reckon.”

Ellen looked at him quizzically.

“I was talking about the missile that nearly hit that helicopter… where the hell did that kind of weaponry come from? You mean the explosion?”

“Aye… car bomb, I’d say. Good ‘ole fashioned ‘sticky bomb’: mix twenty pounds of gelignite with a splash of semi-liquid nitro-glycerine, place in silicon casement — add a dab of birdlime to hold it together, stick it to the underside side on one pompous fucker’s Lexis, set the timer for 12.20, and — hey presto. Someone forgot to check under their car.”

Ellen frowned. A thought crossed her mind and with it the uncertainty as to whether it should remain there, the question unasked.

Farrell unbuttoned his overcoat. From an inner pocket he withdrew a small flask. The cemetery was virtually deserted but he took care not to be observed as he removed the lid of the empty flower rack beneath the headstone on Sands’ grave. He placed the flask inside the flower rack and replaced the lid.

“What are you doing Billy?”

“Just call it insurance, for a worst scene scenario. You see, love, we all have parallel realities… all of us. It’s just that none of us had been able to live them before Micksey somehow invented Compound 19. And now that what’s left of it is where no one will ever find it, that’s where unlived parallel realities will stay. The things that could have happened… the different lives we might have led… the outcomes we never had… the dreams that never lived, nor died. Like Sergio, the lives that never were. And like our boys, the lives that may never have existed if I hadn’t done what I had to do.”

Ellen turned to face him. Her eyes were red as she blinked away the tears.

“So that’s the Compound 19?” She asked, forcing herself to brace against the capricious emotions she felt. “In that flask?”

“Yep, you’re looking at it. Or what’s left of it. This is the canister I buried in the Bear’s back field, the one in the Republic. I dug it up yesterday.” Farrell laughed humourslessly. “Real Treasure Island stuff, I’ll tell you… took bloody ages to find it, but I couldn’t have left it there. Sooner or later it would’ve been found and gotten into the wrong hands. I added what was left of Dibble’s C19 to my flask so now I know for sure they have none of it. This is all that’s left. All gone… no more time travel unless by my say-so, and that’s not going to happen.”

“And what about the time capsule?”

“Oh, that’ll just gather dust in the laboratory at Laneside,” Farrell laughed humourlessly. “Aye, alongside the De Lorean and the Loch Ness Monster. I’ll bet when McT goes home, it’ll be like A Night at the bloody Museum in there. Micksey’s still got the other one — probably keeps a few pigs in it. Anyway, the capsule’s useless without this stuff. ”

Ellen’s face was as solemn as the cemetery on a sunny day.

“Does Dibble know about this?”


“What if he finds it, Billy? Or even finds out it exists. Why were you so stupid as to bring it back? What if he kidnaps me or one of the boys to force you to tell him?” Real anger rising in her voice. “Fucking hell, we’ll just be back to where we started.”

Farrell didn’t answer.

“Answer me, Billy?” She turned to face him. Grabbed hold of the lapels of his overcoat and tugged them vigorously. It was something he found cute when she was playing and would often — although not so much these days — lead to a more interesting engagement.

But right now, Ellen was as far from playful as he’d ever seen. She was furious.

“He won’t.”

“But how do you know, Billy… how do you bloody know? This isn’t over… I’m telling you… this could go on for fucking years. We could live the rest of our lives in fear of him… the rest of our lives looking over our shoulder, waiting for the bastard to call and tell us he’s either found it or he knows it exists.”

Farrell stopped. Lit a cigarette. Felt a quiet calm.

“Here, give me one of those.” She hadn’t smoked for twenty years.

He lit one for Ellen. Exhaled. Took a deep breath.

Fuck it, she thought. The question couldn’t go unasked. But she already knew the answer from his ominous composure. She knew him better than anyone. She asked anyway.

“Did do have something to do with this, Billy? That bomb?”

Farrell didn’t reply.

“You did, didn’t you?”

Farrell took a deep drag from his cigarette.

“I really must give these things up.”


“If I were a betting man, love,” he said quietly, “I’d put a tenner on what the Sunday papers will headline tomorrow.” He paused, took another drag. “Something along the lines of: ‘Head of Homeland Security blown up in South Belfast car bomb.’”

Ellen gasped. They had blood on their hands once again. But even this realization spawned a sense of relief that it could now finally be over.

“The bastard had it coming,” she said, shaking her head. “He kicked all this off again for his own personal interests. And now with him out of the way, there’s at least some chance for peace again. You did the right thing, Billy. He won’t be missed.”

Ellen took his hand, pressed her head against his shoulder.

They walked in silence back to the car, through the cemetery’s magnificent stone-pillared entrance. For Ellen, it felt like walking out of a prison.

“It’s finished, Billy. Let’s go home.”









Milltown Cemetery, Belfast

12.25pm, Saturday 19th September 2019






Milltown Cemetery, Belfast

12.23pm, Saturday 19th September 2019




Let me make one thing absolutely clear.

I have personally been no closer to serious injury as a result of the Troubles than I was a few months ago when I nearly lost my scrotum in a wobbly toilet seat in a Crossmaglen hotel.

But many times as a teenager, I sat in my dad’s car in a ‘Control Zone’ in Belfast while he was in a meeting. Being too much of a Ballymena man to pay for car parking, dad would leave me to play the stooge and guard the car.

I was left to experience the thrill of sirens, frantic police and military activity, glass falling and adjacent buildings rocking from terrorist explosions.

I remember him telling me to lock the door, to which I would reply that if someone tapped a gun on the window, I would open the bloody thing quickly enough.

You may well ask: why make light of such a dark chapter of Ireland’s recent history?

Between 1966 and 2012, there have been 3739 deaths as a result of religious and political strife in Northern Ireland. Of those, the vast majority — 2096 — were civilians, while 1016 members of the security forces lost their lives as did a further 568 paramilitaries, the majority of these — 400 — were republican. Let me make this perfectly clear — there is nothing funny about that.

But it is often said that out of horror comes humour. It is not my intention to belittle or marginalize protagonists of the Troubles, living or dead; or to insult their memories, whatever side they were on, whatever their beliefs, whatever they did for whatever reasons.

This book serves one purpose only: to suggest to you, the reader, that the Troubles did not need to last as long as they did. In the end — and contrary to the low expectations of both politicians and pundits — the Good Friday Agreement achieved the early stages of a lasting reconciliation. This was a major political breakthrough founded on hope rather than belief, yet it was the unlikely building block for the almost twenty years of relative peace which has followed, and which still holds today.

But it could have happened a hell of a lot earlier.

Solutions could have and should have been found many years before 1998.

That they were not, was down to the intransigence of the pivitol players. A key example of which was the the ’81 Hunger Strike and the turnaround that led to the granting of the strikers’ demands so soon after the last coffin went into the ground; this was as good an example of the stubbornness that prevailed and fuelled the violence for thirty years.

We have yet to see how Brexit will affect Ireland. As Irish columnist Fintan O’Toole wrote, Brexit means that ‘… English nationalists have planted a bomb under the settlement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.’ This is a pretty gloomy analysis, but by the time this book is in the shops, we will have a good idea as to how the unlikely alliance between the Conservative Party and the DUP will shape Ireland’s near future.

And who knows… we may all be wishing for a time machine?

Sadly, like many pundits, I believe that we have not seen the last of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

It could all kick off again.

So very easily.


I have changed the names of those represented in the book who were involved in the conflict, with some notable exceptions (Margaret Thatcher and Gerry Adams), but not the places or the most of the events.

Some of the events, of course, are fictional, and most of the characters are not known to have existed.


Of all the books I have read or referred to in researching Compound 19, two in particular stand out. My ‘bible’ is Toby Harnden’s excellent Bandit Country — The IRA and South Armagh (Hodder and Stoughton, 1999). This is widely acclaimed as the definitive work on the most feared and successful branch of the Provos, the South Armagh Brigade, and is well worth a read.

The other book is Making Sense of the Troubles, by David McKittrick and David McVea (Viking, 2012). This is, as it says on the sleeve: ‘…a comprehensive and compassionate history, compellingly written and even-handed’.

Other useful texts were Martin Dillon’s The Dirty War (Arrow, 1991) and God and the Gun (Orion, 1997), The Irish War by Tony Geraghty (HarperCollins 2000) and finally, The Provisional IRA, by Patrick Bishop and Eamonn Mallie (Corgi, 1989).

I would like to thank my friend and former Antrim Borough Council fellow dustman, David Stewart, for the loan of these texts and for his enthusiastic support.

I am also grateful to everyone who assisted with technical information. Oddly enough, all of them have requested not to be named.












An Phoblacht — the official newspaper of Sinn Féin, also known as APRN or the Republican News. For further information, visit:

Doesn’t have quite so much controversy to report and analise these days now that peace has broken out. In fact, it has virtually nothing to report, so it has to resort to articles such as: Prince Charles reported to tax inspectors over corporation tax avoidance. Sounds a bit like sour grapes to me.


Armalite — A lightweight rapid-fire American-made rifle favoured by the IRA, particularly in the ‘70s. For further information, visit: . Please note their festive season closure dates, if you fancy buying one for someone next Christmas.


Army Council — The ruling body of the Provisional IRA that determined military and political strategy, comprising seven men. They were, are still are, seven very dangerous men; avoid at all costs.


B Specials — Established by the new Unionist government in 1920, this was an exclusively Protestant force commanded by the RUC. Officially known as the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) they were stood down on April 30th 1970. Thank God. Unofficially known as bigoted Protestant backwoodsmen with six fingers and odd handshakes who wore outsized bowler hats and sashes to march on July 12th. Not particularly dangerous men and most are now dead; avoid those that aren’t at all costs.

For further information, visit:


The Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) — The Loyalist umbrella group comprising the UDA, UVF, the Red Hand Commandos founded in 1991. The CLMC declared a Loyalist ceasefire in October 1994. For further information, visit:

So many Loyalists… so few brains… But nonetheless, they were, and still are, very, very dangerous men; avoid at all costs. Especially anyone called ‘Gusty’, ‘Mad Dog’ or ‘Top Gun’.


The Continuity IRA — A dissident republican splinter group. It became active following the Provos’ ceasefire in 1994. Enough said. They were, and still are, very, very, very dangerous and unpredictable men; avoid at all costs.


Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) — currently the main Unionist (Protestant) political party. At the time of writing, the DUP, led by Arlene Foster, are — bizarrely — propping up the slender Conservative administration in Westminster. Founded in 1971 to replace the Protestant Unionist Party (PUP) — not to be confused with the Progressive Unionist Party (Also PUP). Led by Revd. Ian Paisley until Rt. Hon. Peter Robinson MLA took over in 2008. For further information, visit:

Robinson’s political career was almost shafted in January 2010 when his wife, Iris’ affair with an unemployed scavenging toyboy — 19-year-old Kirk McCambley, for whom she had raised loans totaling £50,000 — hit the tabloids. Of this, Robinson famously said: “… if somebody is hiding an affair from you, it’s probably not a surprise they are hiding the other arrangements relating to that affair”. Yes well, that’s politico speak for: “… what the silly bitch did was absolutely nothing to do with me”. That just about got him off the hook.


Fenian — Derogatory name for a Roman Catholic, mainly used by sectarianLoyalists and almost always followed by the word b***ard.


Free Presbyterian Church — A bible-bashing Protestant church cult whose Presbyterian roots allegedly go back to the Reformation. Led by the Revd Ian Paisley since its foundation in Crossgar, County Down, Northern Ireland, in 1951. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the reformation took place well before the 1950s? Members of the Free Presbyterian Church regard the Roman Catholic Church in much the same way as turkeys regard Christmas, and most will eat no greens (ENGs – which, incidentally, they earnestly believe form the first three letters of ENGLAND). Many also have six fingers, odd handshakes and wear outsized bowler hats and sashes to march on July 12th.


FRU — The Force Research Unit (FRU) was responsible for arming, organising, and colluding with paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Lt Colonel Gordon Kerr ran this sinister and highly covert unit from their base at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, County Antrim. The British Government of course denies the alleged activities of the FRU. Over the years it obtained injunctions on several newspapers in an attempt to suppress details of both its operatives and their illegal operations. Sir John Stevens was commissioned to investigate into the activities of the FRU by the British Government in 2003. To this day, the FRU is active in Northern Ireland, but is now known as the Joint Services Group.


H-Blocks — Built in the shape of an ‘H’, these cell blocks, within the Maze prison, were home to (mainly) republican prisoners claiming political status and were at the centre of major republican protest campaigns (most notably the hunger strikes) in 1981. Tradesmen who refused — or forgot — to disguise themselves and cover the number plates of their vehicles when visiting the Maze were frequently ‘disappeared’ for contributing to the ‘British war effort’. However, the reputation that the MoD acquired for slow payment was generally considered a more effective deterrent to most tradesmen; particularly those fiscally challenged Protestant gentlemen from Ballymeana and Cullybackey, or even my dad, come to think if it… well that’s another story.


Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) — Established in 1973 as a breakaway extreme republican group, the INLA split from the Official IRA — as did most militant republicans. Best remembered for starring in highly publicized and bloody republican feuds and punch-ups in the car park of the Three Steps Inn. Three of their members were amongst the ten who lost their lives in the ‘81 hunger strike. Originally called the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) but changed name to INLA in the late ‘70s when they had finally had enough of being mixed up with the Pre Learning Alliance. Declared a ceasefire on 22 August 1998, but no one really believed them. In October 2009, the INLA formally vowed to: “… pursue its aims through peaceful political means.” No one believed that either.

Very, very, very, very dangerous and unpredictable men. They were Marxists as well, which made them not only dangerous and unpredictable but also self-delusional. Avoid at all costs.


Long Kesh — The prison that was re-named as the Maze in the mid ‘70s. The thinking behind this was along these lines: “If we give it another name, nobody will know it’s where we lock up political prisoners without trial… What did you say? Internment? … Never!”


Loyalists — Protestants who wish Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom and are opposed to a reunification of Ireland. Loyalty is to the Monarchy, stretching back to King Billy in 1690. Similar to Unionists, whose membership is also Protestant and whose claim to British sovereignty dates back to the 1801 Acts of Union, which formally tied Ireland to Great Britain.


Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) — A Loyalist dissident group formed in the late ‘90s mainly made up of former UVF members who didn’t want to stop killing people… particularly Roman Catholics. Led by Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright, who became a ‘born again Christian’ while serving a sentence in the Maze for threatening to murder a woman. A woman? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yes indeed… why threaten a woman when you can threaten hundreds of men who want to murder you? Well, locking him up was the only way of resolving the Drumcree stand-off in ‘96. Mind you, it didn’t do him much good because he was assassinated by the INLA on December 27th 1997 while still in prison.

Very, very, very, very, very dangerous, unpredictable and extremely unstable men; avoid at all costs; particularly the ones who become ‘born again Christians’. If nothing else, they’ll bore you to death.


Nationalists — Those who seek a united Ireland and are almost entirely, but not exclusively, Roman Catholic. However, way back in May 1882, Charles Stewart Parnell, a Protestant Member of Parliament, was secretly sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). But that’s a long time ago.


Northern Ireland Office — Administrative body set up in 1972 to govern Northern Ireland under direct rule from Westminster. Led by a Northern Ireland Secretary — who, by virtue of the appointment, instantly became the number one target for all republican (and even some Loyalist) paramilitary organisations.


Official IRA — This was the original ‘as it says on the tin’ republican paramilitary group. Oddly enough, they declared a ceasefire in 1972, which was probably the worst year of the Troubles. However, they only claimed to have decommissioned their weapons within the last few years. Maybe they just got old and forgot about them.


Orange Order — The name comes from William of Orange (King Billy or King William lll) who defeated the papists at the Battle of the Boyne on 12th July 1960… no, sorry, I got that wrong… it was 1690. To circle this date before all others on your new year’s calendar goes to show that Orangemen, have very, very long memories. The only reason the Orange Order exists is to remind the Catholics who won, all those years ago. My dad was a member of the Orange Order but he was really only in it to wear the sash, out-sized bowler hat and march through Catholic areas on the 12th. Also, like the Masons (he was one of those too) membership pushed a lot of business your way. Post ceasefire, the Orangemen manage to keep the embers of sectarianism aglow by poking a stick at the Catholics, as they attempt to march past them at Drumcree every July.


Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) — Set up in November 2001 to replace the RUC. Following the Patten report, widespread changes were made to policing — the main ones were to admit Catholics and to stop pushing pencils up people’s bottoms at Castlereagh Interrogation Centre… sorry, I mean Police Station. This, by the way, did happen, with the intent to extract information rather than for sexual pleasure, although it probably did both jobs for some detainees. As with Long Kesh/the Maze prison, this was really just a case of sanitising something by giving it a new name. This is certainly the view held by dissident republican paramilitary groups.


Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) — The left-wing political partner of the UVF, the party went into decline after the sudden death of figurehead David Ervine in ’07 and is currently unrepresented in the Assembly. Sadly for its supporters, PUP never really quite managed to grow into DOG.


Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) — The Provos, simply referred to as the IRA by all save the security forces and certain journalists who want to appear clever, were the largest and by far the most prominent of republican paramilitary groups. Broke from the Official IRA in 1969 and went on a spree of violence (military campaign) which lasted three decades. Declared a ceasefire in ’94 then broke it with the Docklands and the Manchester bombs in ’96. Reinstated the ceasefire in July ’97 when Sinn Féin was admitted to peace negotiations. Very, very, very, very, very dangerous and extremely intelligent and well-organised volunteers who gave the Brits the runaround for 35 years; avoid at all costs.


Real IRA (RIRA) — Another breakaway republican paramilitary group. Formed in ’97 by a group of dissidents who disagreed with the IRA’s namby-pamby stance on peace negotiations. They are a designated terrorist organisation in the UK and the US and are illegal in Ireland… that’s a surprise, isn’t it? The late summer of ’98 was a curious time for the RIRA: on August 15th they detonated 500lbs of homemade explosives in the centre of Omagh killing 29 people in what was the single deadliest attack of the Troubles. And then on September 8th, they announced a ceasefire. The fact that there was universal condemnation of the bomb, and the media had published the names and addresses of several of those suspected of involvement, may have been the catalyst for this cessation of violence. However, on January 20th 2000 they announced that they would be resuming their campaign of violence with the aim of to achieving a united Ireland. Then on March 7th 2009, they claimed responsibility for shooting dead two soldiers at Massereene Barracks. Time and space would not allow for sufficient ‘verys’ to underscore how dangerous these men are. They remain a threat to the still fragile peace status, and should be avoided at all costs.


Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) — The police force in Northern Ireland founded in 1921; almost entirely made up of Protestants. Replaced by the PSNI in 2001, for reasons outlined above. Well, as Barack Obama once said: “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”


Republicans — Wolfe Tone is considered to be the daddy of the republican movement in the late 1790s, which led to the Irish Rebellion of 1798. As usual, this was brutally repressed by the British, with levels of barbarity that was the hallmark of normal relations between the British and the Irish. This led to the 1801 Acts of Union that tied the knot between Britain and Ireland, although William Pitt the Younger did promise that he would introduce emancipation for Catholics. This, of course, never happened, and the situation remained unchanged until the civil rights movement kicked the Troubles off in 1968.


Sinn Féin — The political wing of the IRA, currently headed by Gerry Adams. Was always seen within the republican movement as the wheezy but intelligent (and rather Marxist) cousin with a sick note from matron. However that all changed in ’07 when it formed a coalition government within the Assembly at Stormont with Martin McGuinn becoming Deputy First Minister.


Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) — This was the main nationalist political party in Northern Ireland throughout most of the Troubles. Founded and led by Lord Gerry Fitt for most of that period before John Hume took up the reigns in the home straight to the Good Friday finish line. Fitt was in the curious position of being hated equally by both sides. He was coshed over the head by an RUC baton in the civil rights march in Duke Street in Derry on October 5th 1968 and forced from his home by the IRA after a 10-year campaign of intimidation. His unpopularity with the IRA stemmed from the fact that he was as totally opposed to violence as he was to civil injustice.


Special Air Service (SAS) — Boys with guns from Hereford. This elite, Special Forces unit of the British Army were formally deployed in Northern Ireland in ’76. Note the word ‘formally’. They had been based, informally, in South Armagh for some time before that. When operating undercover and unrestricted by the Yellow Card rules of engagement, they provided formidable opposition for the IRA. When operating under the rules outlined on the Yellow Card, they provided target practice for the IRA. For further information on ‘cards’ visit:



Stormont — The Parliament Buildings in the Stormont area of Belfast, completed in 1921 at a cost of £1.7 million, currently home to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive. The name ‘Stormont’ more frequently refers to the on/off stage of devolved government or direct rule, rather than the building itself. To illustrate this, ‘Stormont’ i.e. devolved rule, was suspended in ‘72 and ‘Stormont’ was re-introduced after the Good Friday Agreement in ’98. To make this even more confusing, ‘Stormont’ is also used when referring to the Unionist government of the period 1921-72. That clear now?

Supergrass — There’s nothing super about a supergrass, other than a super fit of conscience, usually triggered by the offer of a super amount of money, leading to a super chance to begin a super new life somewhere super, in return for grassing up your former associates and mates. Martin McGartland wrote an autobiographical account of life as an informer entitled ‘Fifty Dead Men Walking.’ This was made into a film which McGartland disowned, saying the movie was fundamentally a lie that misrepresented his career and his motivation. Yerrite. In the book, and indeed the film, it is claimed that McGartland’s information as a senior member of the IRA, led to, well… fifty men walking around who — but for him, would otherwise have been dead. Super.


Taig — Derogatory name for a Roman Catholic mainly used by sectarian Loyalists. Slogans such as ‘Kill All Taigs’ (KAT) or All Taigs Are Targets (ATAT) showed, if nothing else, a distinct lack of imagination.


Tout — Same as a supergrass but a less super, more weasely version. Often found shot dead on country lanes with hands tied behind their backs and trousers around their ankles. Sometimes they had their bodies booby-trapped with explosives as a surprise for the security forces who found them.


Ulster Defence Association (UDA) — Established in Belfast in ’71, the UDA is the largest Loyalist paramilitary group. It was banned in ’92 and announced that it was giving up violence in ’07. It’s stated aims were to defend Loyalist areas and citizens from attack and to combat republicanism. It used the name of the Ulster Freedom Fighters when wishing to claim responsibility for killing people. We’ve seen this trend before, haven’t we? Give something a different name and that makes it all right: “no, no — it was nothing to do with us… it was them that did it.” They also used some fairly questionable recruitment methods. Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair, when aged 17 was a member of a skinhead neo-Nazi group. He was apprehended by a senior member of the UDA attempting to mug an old lady, and was given the choice of either having his kneecaps shot from behind (knee-capped) or joining the UDA. Now, that a no brainer, isn’t it?


Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) — Following the disbandment of the B Specials, the UDR was founded as a regiment of the British Army on 1970, and was made up of both full-time and part-time soldiers, all of whom were recruited from Northern Ireland. Less than three per cent of those who enlisted were Catholic, and many recruits were also members of Protestant paramilitary groups — in particular the UDA — so this is yet another example of changing a name to spare the blushes.



Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) — The UPD was the political wing of the UDA and no longer exists as a) it failed to gain any electoral success, and b) the UDA had absolutely no interest in politics.


Ulster Fry — A huge plate of artery-clogging deep-fried fodder; once eaten, never forgotten. A great way to prepare for a long day of sectarianism, terrorism and heavy drinking.


Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) — Since 1973, this was the cover name that the UDA used when claiming terrorist activities/atrocities carried out by their members. So when an operation was called in — using a codename — under the guise of the UFF, and the recipient of the call said: “uh-huh, so you’re the UDA then,” the reply would be: “We most certainly are not!” This didn’t fool anybody. Pointless. Oh, and extremely dangerous men; avoid at all costs.


Ulster Protestant Volunteers — A Loyalist and fundamentalist group who supported Paisley and took part in counter-demonstrations to the Civil Rights marches of the late ‘60s — yep, put the words Loyalist and fundamentalist in the same sentence and you can strip that one back to one word: ‘mentalist.’ Only active between ’66 and ’69, then anyone who wanted to get involved in serious terrorism defected to the UVF, as throwing stones, bottles and bricks at Catholic marchers could only achieve so much.


Ulster Unionist Party — The main Unionist party which provided Northern Ireland’s government from 1921-1972, with a huge (Protestant) majority at every election. Lord David Trimble led the party for a decade since ’95. Now has to play a backseat role to the DUP.


Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) — A Loyalist paramilitary group founded in 1965 and led by Gusty Spence, a former British soldier. Spence was jailed for murder in his first year of leadership but was still regarded very much as the daddy of the organisation until his death in 2011. The name Gusty was apparently short for Augustus and had nothing to do with a predilection for sprouts. One of their worst atrocities was the bombing of McCrumm’s Bar in Belfast in which fifteen civilians were killed. Worse still, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in ’74 killed thirty-three civilians, which was the highest number of deaths in one day during the conflict. They were also responsible for five murders, including three members of the Miami Showband on Jul 31st 1975. In all, before their ceasefire in 1994, they were responsible for 481 murders, most of whom were Catholic civilians. Their activities continued sporadically until they officially ended their armed campaign in May ’07. Words cannot express how dangerous these men were; avoid at all costs.
















Hunger Strike

The following men died on hunger strike on behalf of the Republican cause, in 1981


Bobby Sands (26)

Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Member of Parliament (MP)

Began hunger strike on 1 March 1981 and died on 5 May 1981 after 66 days without food

Francis Hughes (25)

Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Joined hunger strike on 15 March 1981 and died on 12 May 1981 after 59 days without food

Raymond McCreesh (24)

Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Joined hunger strike on 22 March 1981 and died on 21 May 1981 after 61 days without food

Patsy O’Hara (23)

Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)

Joined hunger strike on 22 March 1981 and died on 21 May 1981 after 61 days without food

Joe McDonnell (30)

Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Joined hunger strike on 8 May 1981 and died on 8 July 1981 after 61 days without food

Martin Hurson (29)

Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Joined hunger strike on 28 May 1981 and died on 13 July 1981 after 46 days without food

Kevin Lynch (25)

Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)

Joined hunger strike 23rd May 1981 and died on 1 August 1981 after 71 days without food

Kieran Doherty (25)

Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Teachta Dáil (TD; member of the Irish Parliament)

Joined hunger strike on 22 May 1981 and died on 2 August 1981 after 73 days without food

Thomas McElwee (23)

Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Joined hunger strike on 8 June 1981 and died on 8 August 1981 after 62 days without food

Michael Devine (27)

Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)

Joined hunger strike on 22 June 1981 and died on 20 August 1981 after 60 days without food






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