Thursday, 1 November 2012
The last post? and chapter 12
Because my computer man is slow, no-committal, and there is a weekend in the week. ? Hope to be back soon.
There was a knock at my door about that evening. I knew it would be Johnny picking me up for a game of pool. We’d been playing most Wednesday nights, as well as at work. I threw on my jacket, as I went down the stairs.
“I fancy a night at Jenson’s.” Johnny looked at me to see how this had gone down. I was not sure I liked it at all.
Jenson’s was the meeting place of the IRA’s local leaders, the atmosphere was deadly. I didn’t know if I was ready for it, but I knew I could just keep my head down and play. It would be a good place do some observing.
“Yes fine.” I tried to put on a smile, but my heart sank at the thought of the night ahead. It was warm as we strolled along. The vigilantes were out sitting on their doorsteps and we nodded to a few of them. Our reputation was growing.
From the outside of Jenson’s it looked derelict; all the windows were boarded up and painted brown and the door had galvanised steel screwed onto it. Nobody was going to break that door down easily.
We entered, to find it was full. Johnny’s dad was in his usual seat over in the far corner; a heavy pall of smoke hung in the air.
“I’ll have a Murphy’s.” According to Johnny, I was buying the first round. As I waited to get served, I looked in the mirror behind the bar, to see if I could recognise anybody from the mug shots. But this was not the time to start eyeing everyone up; they were watching me.
I nudged Johnny and told him to put his name up for a game. He went and put a penny on the pool table, and then went back and put another penny down for me.
I had already picked out two known IRA men from the mug shots. It made me wonder how they moved around so easily without being picked up by the army, but because everyone left their doors open, they could duck into any house on the street and be out of the back door, before the soldiers got anywhere near them. As well, all the street lights had been vandalised long ago.
“Hi Da.” Johnny acknowledged his father. Tommy gave a nod, but clearly, had other things on his mind. I, on the other hand, was looking around in amazement; it was wall to wall with all the people you would not like to meet on a dark night, even if there had been no Troubles. But in these times, they were the people who were doing the business, the people who craved for and could indulge in violence.
We stood at the bar drinking slowly, and I started to settle down.
Johnny was on the table first; he got into a long drawn out tactical battle on the pool table.
I got the pints in and stood watching from the end of the bar. I was at this time, trying not to make eye contact with anybody. Tommy O’Neil waved me over to his table. I picked up my pint and ambled across.
“How are you?” I said as I sat down.
“Fine and you?” he replied.
“Oh my head's getting better.” Tommy pointed to the man on his right and introduced him.
“This is John.” I looked towards him; I knew who he was, John Anderson bomb maker and bank robber, he provided funds for the IRA. He could have been anybody’s uncle or brother, the man who does the plastering or roof repairs, but he was not. He was one of the most ruthless men operating in East Belfast. He had big strong hands, broad forehead and had not shaved for a few days. I shook his hand and told him my name; my hands were damp and weak and I was breaking out in a cold sweat.
“So your mother lives in Liverpool?” He was digging into my past.
“Yes, we did a runner from Belfast when I was about seven, but I never settled over there, so after I got out of prison, I came back here.” Keep it simple, broad strokes, I thought to myself.
“What school did you go to? I’ve got a sister who’s a teacher up there.” John was digging deeper.
“Holy Child in South Green.” John nodded his head, he knew the school. Johnny came up to the table and gave me a nudge.
“You’re on.” He handed me his cue. He had been beaten and I was on the table. I was so relieved to get out of the line of questioning, but because my mind was not on the game and my hands were shaking, I was soon beaten and on my way back to the table. I sat down with Johnny at his father’s table.
“Did you put your name down again?” I nodded.
“It’s your round.” I nodded towards the bar. Johnny went over to the bar. John Anderson had been biding his time to tell me the news.
“We’ve a special job for you and Johnny.” I felt pleased that he was satisfied enough with my cover, to give the job to us.
“Don’t forget me and Johnny haven’t finished our training.” I was trying to make excuses, but he cut me short.
“Look you’ll be able to do the job, but you won’t have enough time to do the buses as well.” Anderson looked round at Tommy and then round the pub, to see if anyone was taking any interest in our table, but they were all getting on with enjoying themselves. He went into his pocket and pulled out a big roll of five pound notes. Without counting them, he peeled off about a third and whilst putting the rest back in his pocket, he gave me the money. I was so surprised; he’d only just met me. But I wasn’t sure about giving up the buses.
“I can’t take that.” I hid my hands so I couldn’t take the money. I looked at Tommy, hoping for some sort of help.
But he urged me to take it. Tommy was in with this plan, he knew what was coming, he must have also known what sort of job Johnny and I were going to be asked to do. How much did Johnny know? At that moment he came back from the bar. The pints spilt a bit, as he sat down. He must have expected that I was fully informed, by the time he got back.
“Are you in?” Johnny had known all along. He hadn’t come here by chance.
“I don’t know what the job is yet.” The money was pushed into my hand; it was almost an acceptance of the job, but what job?
I took a long slug of my pint, looking into the eyes of Anderson. In another time and another place this man would not be doing these things, but you don’t get choices sometimes.
Johnny jumped in. “We have to look after ourselves and fight for a united Ireland, Catholics have been held down too long.” Johnny meant this but he was also a loose cannon. He was really just looking for adventure in a drab cold world.
I was cornered, but also I had to think of what Simon would want me to do. He wanted people on the inside. I felt he would be shouting for me to accept this, but it was way past what I was expecting to do.
I put the money in my inside pocket without counting it, I smiled as though I was happy, and shook the hand of all the men at the table. I was dancing with the devil.
Johnny sat quietly at the table, as Anderson explained what was expected of me.
“So, you’ll look after the gun, make sure that all the exits are clear, and carry the gun to and from the site. You’ll help to pick the best sites and don’t forget that for every hit there is a bonus.” Anderson carried on with his instructions, but my mind had gone numb. In that pub, round that table, with everyone else enjoying themselves, I was being give instructions, on how I was going to help a sniper to kill my own comrades.
“You knew this was coming, didn’t you?” I challenged Johnny.
“Oh yes, it’s the best opportunity we’ll ever get.” He was defiant.
“I don’t see this as a job opportunity. I don’t see this as a career move. I see this as getting way out of our depth.” Johnny had a wild look in his eye.
“We have to strike back at the people who attack us, we have to look after our own and if that means the others, get hurt so be it. If you don’t want to get involved, then you’re not the person I thought you were.” He went back to the pool table.
It gave me a little time to think. I would never get another chance, to get this far into the IRA and I’d be able to bring valuable information back; it was just a question of my morals. Could I really go on active service for the IRA? Could I help to hunt down one my own kind? I reasoned that if I didn’t do it, someone else would and then again, it might lead to my gathering much more intelligence, so it might lead to a quicker defeat of the IRA, an end to hostilities. My speculations were brought to a halt by Johnny.
“You’re on.” He stuffed a cue in my hand and started to set the balls, he had won his last game.
“You’re not chickening out are you?” He said it with such fire, such menace, I was reminded what a wildcat he was.
“No,” I said, “but you have to admit it’s not every day you get asked to pack your job in and run guns.” He roared with laughter and hit the pool ball right off the table. Another rebel song came on the jukebox and the beer started to kick in. As I looked around the pub, I couldn’t believe that I had come so far, in such a short time.
We carried on drinking and playing pool, until last orders, and then we staggered off home, back to our damp little homes.
As soon as I got in, I went straight up the stairs, into my bedroom and onto the phone. It was answered immediately.
“Get me Simon.” There was a short wait.
“Hello?” Simon must have been quite close.
“I’ve got a lot to tell you, do you want to do it on the phone, or shall I come in?” He was impatient to find out what had been going on.
“Just give me a brief outline on the phone. I’ll make a decision after that.” I told him the gist of what had happened. He asked questions just to confirm certain points.
“So are you sure it was Anderson?”
“Yes, I recognised him straight away.”
“And how much money did he give you?” I still hadn’t looked, so pulled the money from my pocket. I put the phone down, while I counted the notes. “Twenty three five pound notes.” I told Simon, leaving him to work out how much that was.
“A hundred and fifteen pounds.” Simon mused, “A month’s wage.”
“I think you should come in. I want you to look at mug shots and identify all the people in the bar tonight.”
“How shall I get in?”
“We’ll pick you up at the corner of Madrid Street and Tower Street in twenty minutes.” I looked at my watch.
“Don’t leave me waiting too long, the vigilantes are always watching.” It was going to be a long night. I slipped out quietly, crossed the road and passed Mount Pottinger Police Station.
You would think there wouldn’t be much out there at that time of night, but you would be wrong. Men were standing on their doorsteps, even though it was cooler by then; they were fully alert, waiting and watching, all sorts of skulduggery was going on. People were ready to go on to the streets, at a moment’s notice.
I came out of the shadows and had walked through the back lanes for the last few hundred yards. The car was stationary, with its engine slowly ticking over. I jumped in the back door and rolled down onto the floor. The car pulled away and I lay there while the car left the city and took the road to Holywood.
“It’s okay, now you can get up.” With relief, I recognised the voice.
I sat up in the back seat, glad to get out from all the fish and chip wrappers and empty cans of pop, I’d been rolling in on the floor.
“How’s it going, hippy.” Brian was driving but he also had Kelly in the passenger’s seat. He was happy not to be sitting in some hide, doing something more exiting to help to pass the time.
“Oh, I’m surviving but only just.” I didn’t want to tell them too much, but I couldn’t think of any reason to hold things back.
“Are you still on the buses?” Of course, they wanted to know how I was getting on. They were probably jealous. Even so, I didn’t think they would want to do the job, if they knew what was really going on.
“Yes, fares please ting ting.” I wanted to create the impression that things were just ticking over and I was going in for a normal debrief.
“You get to meet some very nice girls on the job.” I was trying to keep it all very superficial.
“Oh you lucky fucker.” Kelly’s imagination went overboard. “You’ve got your own pad too, your own spider’s web.” Kelly looked over the seat at me and grinned.
I thought that if I asked them about their jobs, they’d leave off any more questions about mine. “How’s it going on your jobs?” There was silence, as they both thought about it. Brian was first to answer.
“Well if you like sitting in a car, with everyone around knowing just who you are, its fine.” Kelly was nodding his head in agreement.
“But we’ve had our moments.” Brian tried to make it sound exciting.
“Yes, the time we walked in on a hold up at a Post Office on Castlereagh Road and the two stupid arses who were doing the job, only had pick axe handles. We were there with our Browning. We’d only gone in for a stamp. We managed to pocket fifty quid each, in reward.” They both burst out laughing.
We arrived at the camp in Holywood and as we pulled in through the gates, the guard gave me a long hard look. I didn’t carry any army ID, but was given the nod.
Simon was in the main office, as I walked in.
“Get the kettle on.” He was smiling, he offered me his cigarettes and I took one and he lit it. He was in a very good mood. I looked round, it was busy. I could hear radio operators giving instructions to units on the ground. There had been some small arms fire heard in the Divis Flats area, patrols were checking people out on the streets, reports of a shooting in the Markets area, and a Land rover had broken down along the Falls Road. There were also reports coming in from static observation posts.
“So you’ve been into the lions den, you’re trusted then?” I looked around the crowded operation room. With me living in this cagey double sided world, I found it hard to open up and tell the story. Simon picked up on this and took me down the corridor to find an empty room. I was carrying my steaming cup of tea and a cigarette was hanging out of my mouth. I was still feeling the effects of the Murphy’s. Ellis’s room was not being used and we settled down to talk about the new developments, Simon made notes whilst I looked through the mug shots.
“I saw him a few days ago in Moira Street.” I pointed to a photograph of Billy Toolan, Simon leaned over and made a note on his pad that Toolan used the bus at about eight in the morning to go into town. He would be picked up at a later date and probably slammed into Long Kesh.
“Do you know what you’ll be doing in this active unit?” Simon wanted to get information on the job I had been given.
“All they said was that we will be carrying a rifle for a gun man and we had to make sure all the exits were clear. We will be picking the sites, or at least helping to pick the sites.” I apologised to Simon that I couldn’t be more specific. At that moment the door opened and Ellis came in.
“Don’t stand.” It had never occurred to me to stand, so it’s a good job he had given us leave to stay seated. He sat down beside Simon, who gave him a quick update.
“You’ll have to run with this. It means, you know, that from now on, you have the responsibility of being our deepest penetration in East Belfast. Tomorrow, hand your notice in at the bus station.”
I sat forward, “But Sir….” He was ready for this.
“No buts. I want you on hand there at all times,” he had already thought I would complain and was ready “I want you to hang around in all the bars and clubs, rub shoulders with as many as you can. Get your face known, use all the contacts you have, make as many friends as you can.”
He gave me a sympathetic look. It doesn’t happen too often in the army.
“The Police Station over the road from you, has special orders to watch your flat. If you ever feel the need to pull out, you can be over the road in a flash and that will be the end of things.”
What could I say? To pull back from this position, would be a missed opportunity. I could see that. But why couldn’t it be someone else.
Ellis jumped up and shook my hand. It helped to let me know, that they realised how dangerous it was and it helped me to go that one step further. After Ellis had disappeared, Simon said “Come on, are you hungry?” We went down to the OP’s room.
“Make sure the transport is back here in fifteen minutes.” Simon gave the order to a radio operator, pointing at his watch. We strolled down to the cookhouse, and after an early breakfast or a late supper I jumped into the back of Brian’s car.
“Home James.” I was feeling in a better mood, but still apprehensive.
We chit chatted on the way back to Belfast and it was nice to see them but it did not take long to get back from Holywood so I was being dropped in a back lane not far from Mount Pottinger in no time. The house was a bit cold but it did not take long to get to sleep.
Posted by Ol' Grumpy. at 08:29