Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Chapter 10, 11 & 12.
My hand is not working to well, but they play good stuff, I'll just sing. I have to back for golf at 9 on the Thursday, so Phil (who's not the best getter upper in the world will just have to get up).
“Billy…. Billy.” I was being shaken gently and wakened by Simon Adder. I sat up and stretched.
“Whoa that’s a nasty bump.” Simon sat back on a chair, while I gathered my thoughts.
“I fell over while we were on the barricades in Aberckon Road, it was chaos and I was trampled under foot. I thought I was a goner.”
I liked to exaggerate and I wanted to make sure he realised how hard it was out there.
“Can you remember where the training camp was?” Simon needed to catch up, he needed information.
“Of course I can.” I became indignant.
“We need to get you back to Holywood and debrief you.”
“Hey, hey, I need an alibi if you’re going to make me disappear for a while. These people are not stupid.” If I’d got to go back and face these people, I wanted a good cover story.
“We have a choice here, we could release you and you could make your own way back, or we can cover your back by putting someone in Crumlin Road for seven days with the story that you attacked a screw.” He was testing my feelings on the subject. But he needed to know my decision. “It’s your call. What do you want to do?” I took my time weighing things up.
“I need to make my own way back. It sounds tempting to have seven days out of it, but I need to get back out there before I lose my nerve.”
There was silence while we both pondered as to what to do. I wondered if Johnny and the car would still be around. Would it be safe for me to walk through Derry on my own? If we put someone in Crumlin Road, as me, would we be able to keep my identity a secret?
“You know, I was only put on the buses as an observer.” I looked at Simon. He thought for a while, choosing his words carefully, he knew I needed some encouragement.
“I know, but because of the situation here, we don’t have many people on the ground. We have the R.U.C., but everyone knows them and their judgment is clouded by past prejudices. We have informers, but who can trust them?” Simon lit a cigarette and leaned back. “And we have plants like you and by chance you have dug the deepest in the quickest time, we could not have planned that.” He looked at me, right into my soul and I knew I had to go on.
“I feel as though I’m going too fast, that I’m out of my depth.” I dropped my head, I felt weak.
“Go for the jail option then. We can get a cover body in jail for you and you could be back in Holywood in two hours.” He could see the strain on my face.
“No, it’s too risky. If word gets out that it’s not me, bang.” I made a pistol out of my hands. “I’ll push on.” I stood up and put my jacket on. “If my ride has gone, I may need a lift to where I can get a bus back to Belfast.”
We left the office and walked down to the main door. It was drizzling as I walked down the road, trying to get my bearings. As it happened, I was very close to the home of Seamus. The streets were still full of people. There were army vehicles patrolling but not many other cars on the streets. I was not absolutely sure which door we had gone into, I just had to guess. The man who answered pointed to the next house along, when I asked if Seamus was in.
“Fuck me, it’s the hero.” Seamus bellowed into the house, when he saw me at the door. Johnny was the first to look over Seamus’s shoulder.
“Get the lad into the house.”
Hugh patted me on the back as we got off the street and into the house, everyone asking what had happened.
“They had me standing against the wall for hours.” I was making it up on the spot.
I mimicked the interrogator. “What you doing here? How did you get here? The whole fucking lot, I told them I came on the bus for a day trip.” Everyone in the room was looking at me, as though I was some sort of hero.
“Come on, let's go to the pub.” Johnny wanted a drink after the day’s events, everybody agreed and we poured out of the small terrace house and walked round the corner and into a bar.
“Here’s the boy who kicked fuck out of the army.” Hugh was holding up my arm, I wanted to just keep a low profile. Not much chance of that though, the beers just kept coming. We carried on re-writing history all night, by the end of which, we had ripped down the barricades and seen off the army, the prods, everyone.
We left the city by roads going north, which meant a long detour through Strabbane. We managed to get petrol once over the bridge, just scraping the money together for a few gallons.
“Fucking seven and six a gallon, the robbing bastards.” Johnny always worked out how many pints he could buy for the same money. I fell asleep in the back. Hugh woke me outside my front door, it was still raining, and I let myself in. The seal on my door had been broken. I went gingerly up the stairs, all my senses wide awake, but nobody was there. I went into the bedroom and looked under the floorboards as quickly as possible.
Sunday 6th June 1972.
“I’m back.” Simon was on the other end of the phone. I told him how we got back and how I had been greeted as a hero.
“When are you due back on the buses?” I thought hard.
“Tomorrow, middle shift, eleven thirty I think.”
“Well we need you in here as soon as possible for a report, it may take some time.” Simon pushed.
“Well I’m knackered; I need a kip before work. I can't see where I can fit it in for days.”
“No, we need you in now.” Simon was positive about this, but my batteries were running low.
“You’ll have to cover my shift tomorrow and give me a cover story.” I always had to look after my cover story.
“Oh that’ll be easy, just get to bed and I’ll get that sorted.”
I put the phone down, had a bath and then open a packet of soup. There was no bread, but I did have some crackers which had gone a bit soft, but I was famished. Even though the bed was cold, I soon warmed up.
Monday 5th June 1972
I was fast asleep when the front door was smashed in and big boots stamped up the stairs. When you think you're going to die, the rush of adrenaline makes your mouth go dry, you have the strength of five men and everything appears to happen in slow motion. My blankets were ripped off, showing the world that I slept in my vest and underpants and I was still wearing yesterday’s socks. My clothes were thrown at me, as they shouted and bawled at me to move myself. I was pushed down the stairs with shirt still unbuttoned. The vigilantes were out quickly, there were three Land Rovers with soldiers deployed in the street on the corners and in a defensive position, the vigilantes were shouting and banging dustbin lids, people were pouring out of their houses.
I was unceremoniously thrown into the back of one of the Land Rovers and driven off. I still did not understand what was going on, but when we arrived in Holywood barracks, Simon was there to meet me.
“Sorry mate,” he said, as he helped me out of the back of the vehicle. We went up to his office, then up to the main op’s room. I looked at the clock on the wall; it was five thirty in the morning. Captain Lunn from the SAS was there.
“Hello Sir.” He flicked the switch on the kettle and sat down on one of the chairs. Simon followed me into the office and patted me on the back. “Well done, but we have to get things recorded before you forget. We’ll start with the mug shots.”
Over the next five hours Simon, Lunn and I went over the events of the weekend, careful notes were taken, mug shots were scrutinized and maps were studied. There was constant stream of coffee being supplied by one of the office crew.
I told them of the strange Hunter figure, who never spoke. I recounted all the practices in training and described all the men I had worked with there. They were very interested in Noel Dougal.
Then we went over the events in Derry, addresses and characters. By eleven, my concentration was flagging.
Lunn looked at his watch. “Well, that’s enough for now, Simon can you find a bed for Deery, I don’t want him with the lads.”
Simon said he would find a spare bed in the mess and as we got up to leave Lunn said, “Well done Deery.”
“Thank you Sir.” I could feel myself blushing, he shook my hand. “Go and get some sleep and be back here at four, that gives you five hours.” Simon led the way.
We went down to the cookhouse, which was always busy, men coming in from patrol, men getting ready to go out on patrol. There was a continuous flow of troops being fed. I had forgotten that I now looked like a tramp, my hair long, I hadn’t had a proper shave, sideburns down past the bottom of my ears and my clothes could have done with a good boil wash. There was also the matter of the dirty bandage on my head, covering the two stitches on my eye brow.
Simon walked in and loaded up his plate, I followed a short way behind, feeling a bit self conscious. Men were looking at me, some of them seemed to half recognise my face.
“We don’t serve civvies in here mate.” One of the cooks, was in one of those moods.
Simon lent over the counter, “Shut up and serve and don’t ask questions.” The cook put a fried egg on my plate. “Can I have two?” I held my plate out whilst I loaded up with beans and a couple of sausages. We sat down at a table in a corner.
“So who do you think the Hunter is then?” Simon opened up the conversation.
“I don’t know, but he was not the normal run of thugs. I never spoke to him, he always kept himself to himself and he didn’t come with us to Derry.” I loaded my mouth again.
Simon was looking into the distance, thinking. “It’s a pity that the Derry thing came up, you may have found out more had you stayed longer at the farm.”
There was more silence as we ate and drank our tea.
“What will happen to the info I’ve given?” Simon thought for a while.
“We’ll pick them up one at a time and they will be interned.”
I thought about this for a while. “I hope it can’t be traced back to me? If you pick up everybody I come into contact, with it won’t take them long to figure me out.” I was starting to get nervous and looked at Simon for reassurance.
“We’re not that stupid and anyway it takes months to find out their movements, so they can be lifted.” He wiped the last bit of sauce off his plate with a piece of bread and popped it in his mouth. “Most of them will just go on the watch list.”
We walked back to the quarters and Simon let me have his bed, throwing a sleeping bag at me.
“I’ll come and get you at three thirty.” I went to sleep thinking about everybody I had just fingered, and how deep into all, this I was getting.
Inside Lunn’s office, he and Captain Ellis were pouring over the weekend’s work. They were both coming to the same conclusion, which was that I had got myself into a position that could have taken years to achieve.
“We must look after this boy.” Ellis nodded, Lunn went on, “I want an around the clock watch on his house, with a rapid response team ready to go in at the first sign of trouble.” Ellis looked at the notes.
“I see we have a telephone landline directly to our office and two microphones in the flat and the Police Station is directly opposite.”
Lunn thought for a minute. “How do you think Simon Adders is handling the situation?” Ellis pushed his glasses to the top of his nose, to give himself time to consider the question.
“Simon has a good relationship with Deery and seems to bring the best out of him, but he does have four other operators to run, but his others haven’t made any breakthroughs like Deery.”
Lunn made some notes. “Well ask Simon to concentrate on Deery, even if it means he has to lose sight of the others somewhat.”
In Lunn’s report, which would eventually end up on William Whitelaw’s desk, the good work being achieved was mentioned, even they were coming from a long way back. There was a long passage about Agent alpha7, my code name.
I was awake when Simon came in shortly after three thirty.
“God you need a bath, mate, it stinks in here. I’ll get you a towel and soap.”
My personal hygiene had slipped quite a bit over the last few days. I chose to have a bath because of the bandage on my head, but oh it was nice to lie there in a bath nearly full to the top. Not for long though, I had to get a move on. I only had five minutes to get to Lunn’s office. I arrived there still damp.
We went over the mug shots again. They definitely wanted a picture of the Hunter, he was the unknown person and part of the story, but either he had no driving license, or he was not from Ulster. All driving licenses in Northern Ireland had a photograph, with a copy on file, which was a great source of intelligence, but try as I might I could not find a photo of him.
“We want you to go in the slow lane for while.” Lunn knew things had been moving too fast, I knew what he meant. “Obviously take your chances while they’re there but just keep your head down a bit.” It was good advice and I wanted to slow things down myself. I determined to be as invisible as possible, and just watch was happening, but I didn’t write the script. I had been in the press twice recently. I had been the only person to be arrested in Derry on the day and I didn’t want to be on the fast track. But the script was being changed all the time.
“How are you getting back?” Simon thought he was being helpful.
“How would anybody lifted by the army get back?” I looked him in the eye. “Well I suppose they would make their own way back.” He answered.
“Well there you go then.” I was slipping back into my other persona.
It was nine eleven and there was a bus in sixteen minutes back to Belfast, so I had a smoke as I walked to the bus stop, it was drizzling but somehow it helped to clear my head. I didn’t know the driver, which spared me the obligation of standing at the front of the bus explaining what had been going on.
Tuesday 6th June 1972.
Stepping off the bus, about 150 yards away from my flat, the drizzle had turned to rain, it was just getting dark and I wished I had taken Simon’s offer of a lift home. I had a sense of foreboding as I approached the corner and saw my front door was ajar. I didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t wide open, but as I got nearer I could see the lock was broken. I remembered the army had smashed their way in to lift me. God that seemed days ago that had happened. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and listened, no sound, no light. Slowly and with my heart in my mouth, I went up the stairs. Bravery is doing what you don’t want to do and I did not want to go up those stairs. I switched on the light in the living room. The place was a mess and the television was gone. I listened, all was quiet. I switched on the light in the kitchen, the toaster was gone. The bedroom was a mess but at least the carpet was still in place. I lifted it and the floor boards. The phone was still there, good.
“I’m just checking my phone is still working.” The duty clerk had answered very quickly. “Is Simon there?”
“Well can you tell him that I have been burgled and I’m still checking out what’s gone.” The clerk sounded as if he didn’t give a flying f. about me and my problems.
I checked the flat over, someone had gone through there quickly. It was not too bad, socks and underwear on the floor. I couldn’t remember how tidy the flat had been but was sure I hadn’t left them lying around. And then, how much had the army done. I had the feeling that the T.V. and toaster were enough for the people who had entered and then a quick exit. Not much use calling the police, but I could feel my anger rising. I went down and had a look at the lock on the door. Why did I think the army would have made good, after they had kicked my door in, most of them would not have known who I was, so why should they? I went back up stairs to the phone.
“Can I have Simon now” There was a brief pause while the duty clerk passed the phone over to Simon.
“Yes.” Simon sounded unconcerned.
“I want my front door repairing, now.” There was a pause, I sensed that he would be looking at his watch and thinking things through.
“Someone has been through the flat and my TV’s gone. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think they found my phone.”
“Can you wedge the door for tonight?” I could feel my blood pressure rising. I felt at that moment, that it was just me putting in all the effort.
“No, get some handy man from the camp down here, some engineer, anybody who knows how to fix a door with a new lock.” Now that’s not the way to talk to an officer, but needs must. I wanted that door fixed before I went to bed. I had plans for the evening.
“I’ll see what I can do.” I had to bite my tongue.
“No Simon! I want this fixed to night, I’ll be out for an hour.” I slammed the phone down.
It was still drizzling as I walked around to Johnny’s house. As I was knocking on the door, I looked up the street; vigilantes were standing on door steps and I knew I was being watched. The door was opened by Tommy O’Neil; he was a thick set man, who always wore a tie, but never looked smart, but again, never untidy.
“Come in boy.” He had a newspaper in his hand. He was not the type to relax too often, keeping up with the news, was the nearest he would get to relaxing.
“Johnny, your mate's here.” O’Neil shouted up the stairs.
“The Deery boy.” I could hear Johnny getting dressed.
“Sit down.” O’Neil pointed to a chair on the other side of the table to him. This was a big test for me, I was sitting on the other side of the table of the most powerful man in East Belfast, commander of ‘C’ Coy and union rep for the bus depot, obviously a man who takes the rights of the workers seriously. It would be hard to pull the wool over his eyes. I needed to be on my guard.
“What’s happening?” It was a simple question, but it opened up a can of worms for me.
“Well, I was lifted by the Army, they must have been informed by people in Derry and while I was answering questions in Holywood, some twat has emptied my flat.” I looked at him to see how this had gone down. He pulled on his pipe and thought for a while.
“Did they take much?” I thought he would have started his questions with the knock to my head, or what had the Army wanted with me, or how did the training go, but no, he started with the only thing he didn’t know about.
“Well the only things that seem to have gone are the TV and the toaster, but they‘re not mine, they belong to the landlord.” At this moment Johnny came downstairs.
“What’s up?” Johnny opened a bottle of beer and sat down at the table.
“The bastards have robbed me, my TV’s gone and they’ve been through my house and the army lifted me for over a day, questions, questions, questions.” There was a silence.
“Johnny, go and find Spencer, see if he’s seen anything.” I was way down the pecking order from Tommy O’Neil, but he obviously he felt he had to help this new young lad. Johnny was not in the mood to go round the streets at this time of the night.
“Get to fuck, I’m away to my bed.” At this point Tommy’s voice took on a menacing tone, Spencer was a local fence, selling a bit of this and a bit of that, and he always knew what was going on in the area.
“Oh shit, it’s pissing down.” Johnny clearly didn’t fancy running around at that time of night. He took another pull on his beer and slammed the door on his way out. He had been away for no more than three minutes when he returned with a name.
“Danny Steele.” Johnny looked at his father, O’Neil sucked on his pipe.
“Well I might have guessed, right up his street this one.” Tommy turned to me.
“Do you want me to have a word?” He didn’t know what was running through my head. He didn’t know that I was going to make my mark that night or die. I had a plan.
“Where does he live?”
“He’s a tricky feller; he has a lot of family near by. It’s best I sort this one out for you.” O’Neil sucked his pipe some more. I turned to Johnny.
“Where does he live?”
“I’ll come with you. I’ve had a few run-ins with this twat.” Johnny pulled on his coat and we left the house, but he first picked up a heavy stick from behind the door.
We didn’t have to go far, just round into Moira Street, which was close to the bus depot.
We didn’t knock on the door. The lock didn’t give much resistance, one kick and the door flew open. We walked into the house, down a small corridor and into the back room. These were very small houses, two up and two down. Danny Steele was well named, the house was stacked with stolen items.
It was a shambles. There rolls of lead rolled clearly off a roof, old bikes, even the engine of a motor bike in the corner. Steele had a knife in his hand and his back to the kitchen door. We hadn’t left him enough time to run into the kitchen. My TV was on the floor and the toaster on the table. It only took me moments to spot them.
“What the fuck do you think you’re up to, you cunt?” It was Johnny’s way of letting him know we weren’t happy with him.
Danny had the look of a cornered rat, he was terrified, which made him dangerous. A red mist came down over me and I’m not too sure what happened next, but according to Johnny, I pulled the stick out of Johnny’s hand and flew across the room past him and smashed Danny’s hand, which was holding the knife. He went down and all in one movement, I had my knee in his Adam’s apple. Two swift punches to the face finished off Steele. Seconds later, a woman came running in the room, yelling at the top of her voice. She went for Johnny, but he had no compunction, he just backhanded the woman to the ground. I turned back to Steele, who was still on the floor.
“If I see you in my street again, you’ll be fucked, do you understand?”
This was a power struggle. I wanted an answer from him and I wanted submission; it was important that he knew his position in this matter. Steele nodded. He knew he couldn’t keep out of my street, but he sure would keep out of my way for the time being, until the tables were turned and he had more fire power than me. I picked up the TV and told Johnny to get the toaster. We laughed and laughed all the way back to my flat but as we approached, we could see an army Land Rover outside my house, with squaddies posted all over the road. We both suddenly went quiet.
“What’s happening there?” I got the question in first. I knew that the army were fixing my door, but I didn’t want Johnny to find out how much pull I had with the army.
“Put the toaster on top of the TV and get yourself away. I’ll see you later.” Johnny patted me on the back and turned for home. I managed to call out my thanks to him just before he got round the corner. He gave me a wave and went on his way.
I pushed past the man repairing the door. The TV was starting to get heavy and I struggled up the last few stairs. I was really feeling the strain of the last four days and just sat on the sofa with my eyes shut, till the engineer came up to join me.
“That’s the best I can do.” He passed me three shiny new keys on a ring. I went down with him to have a quick look at the job. It was better than the original; the door appeared to close better than it had originally.
Before I went to bed, I lifted the carpet and picked up the phone.
Simon had been waiting for a call. He wanted to know what had been happening. I told him the story and Simon sighed.
“What’s that for?” I said, I could feel his displeasure.
“Well, don’t you think you should be keeping your head down a bit. You’ve only been out there for a few weeks and you’ve been in the papers twice, arrested in front of hundreds, hob-nobbed with IRA leaders, and been on training courses. Don’t you think that beating up the local hard man, may be just pushing too far.”
I was silent for a while. I felt as though I had done something wrong.
“I had to take my chances.” I said defensively.
“You're right, and no one has done better, but try to slow down a bit. I worry about you out there.
I still felt a bit down, as I put the phone back under the floorboards and replaced the carpet.
But I set my alarm clock and was soon asleep.
When I awoke I felt a lot better. I had a shower and a shave and took the bandage off, carefully cleaning round the wound. It didn’t look too bad and I thought the fresh air would help it heal more quickly. I nipped down to the Post Office below for fresh milk, cornflakes and a small jar of coffee.
Sid, the only Asian man with an Ulster accent, who was also my landlord, had a ready smile.
“How are you and how’s the door?” He had heard of the damage done when it was kicked in by the army.
“Oh the army had the wrong man, they were looking for someone else, and so they repaired the door.” I tried to play last night down.
“And how is the new job going on the buses.” I didn’t know whether he was just being nice, or trying to find out if I could pay the rent, but he said it with a smile.
“Great, I love it.” I paid, then left Sid to serve his next customer and got back upstairs.
When I arrived at work, Kerry was in the office; he was the spare driver, so was just hanging around until needed.
“Wow, what’s happened to your head?” I could see the clerk, waiting to clock me on.
“Just wait a mo.” I went over to the duty clerk.
“Clock me on for one hundred and four duty.” The clerk gave me my running board for the day and I got my ticket machine out of the locker. I went back to Kerry.
“I hit my head on a curb stone.” I didn’t want to go into it too deeply.
“Were you pissed?”
“Oh yes.” When you’re lying, keep it simple. That’s my motto.
I wanted to change the subject, so asked him if he’d seen the girls again.
“Oh yes.” A big smile came across his face. “I’ve got a date with the pretty one.”
“They were both pretty, are you blind?” I wanted a piece of the action, “When’s your date?”
Kerry gave a dirty little smile. “This Friday.” He leant back against the bench.
I had to go. “Look I’ll try and catch you later. Let’s make it a foursome.”
He winked at me.
I saw a few of the faces of people who were wanted, later that day and I filed the normal report. A pattern of their movements was emerging.
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 galvanized 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 recognize 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 recognized 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 realized 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 10:37