Cathedral - Chapter One
"The tea has got cold." Sheila Malone set down her cup and waited for the two young men who sat opposite her, clad in khaki underwear, to do the same.
The younger man, Private Harding, cleared his throat. "We'd like to put on our uniforms."
Sheila Malone shook her head. "No need for that."
The other man, Sergeant Shelby, put down his cup. "Let's get done with it." His voice was steady, but his hand shook and the color had drained from under his eyes. He made no move to rise.
Sheila Malone said abruptly, "Why don't we take a walk?"
The sergeant stood. The other man, Harding, looked down at the table, staring at the scattered remains of the bridge game they'd all passed the morning with. He shook his head. "No."
Sergeant Shelby took the younger man's arm and tried to grip it, but there was no strength in his hand. "Come on, now. We could use some air."
Sheila Malone nodded to two men by the fire. They rose and came up behind the British soldiers. One of them, Liam Coogan, said roughly, "Let's go. We've not got all day."
Shelby looked at the men behind him. "Give the lad a second or two," he said, pulling at Harding's arm. "Stand up," he ordered. "That's the hardest part."
The young private rose slowly, then began to sink back into his chair, his body trembling.
Coogan grasped him under the arms and propelled him toward the door. The other man, George Sullivan, opened the door and pushed him out.
Everyone knew that speed was important now, that it had to be done quickly, before anyone's courage failed. The sod was wet and cold under the prisoners' feet, and a January wind shook water off the rowan trees. They passed the outdoor privy they had walked to every morning and every evening for two weeks and kept walking toward the ravine near the cottage.
Sheila Malone reached under her sweater and drew a small revolver from her waistband. During the weeks she had spent with these men she had grown to like them, and out of common decency someone else should have been sent to do it. Bloody insensitive bastards.
The two soldiers were at the edge of the ravine now, walking down into it.
Coogan poked her roughly. "Now, damn you! Now!"
She looked back toward the prisoners. "Stop!"
The two men halted with their backs to their executioners. Sheila Malone hesitated, then raised the pistol with both hands. She knew she would hit only their backs from that range, but she couldn't bring herself to move closer for a head shot. She took a deep breath and fired, shifted her aim, and fired again.
Shelby and Harding lurched forward and hit the ground before the echo of the two reports died away. They thrashed on the ground, moaning.
Coogan cursed. "Goddamn it!" He ran into the ravine, pointed his pistol at the back of Shelby's head, and fired. He looked at Harding, who was lying on his side. Frothy blood trickled from his mouth and his chest heaved. Coogan bent over, placed the pistol between Harding's wide-open eyes, and fired again. He put his revolver in his pocket and looked up at the edge of the ravine. "Bloody stupid woman. Give a woman a job to do and …"
Sheila Malone pointed her revolver down at him. Coogan stepped backward and tripped over Shelby's body. He lay between the two corpses with his hands still held high. "No! Please. I didn't mean anything by it. Don't shoot!"
Sheila lowered the pistol.. "If you ever touch me again, or say anything to me again … I'll blow your f---ing head off!"
Sullivan approached her cautiously. "It's all right now. Come on, Sheila. We've got to get away from here."
"He can find his own bloody way back. I'll not ride with him."
Sullivan turned and looked down at Coogan. "Head out through the wood, Liam. You'll pick up a bus on the highway. See you in Belfast."
Sheila Malone and George Sullivan walked quickly to the car waiting off the lane and climbed in behind the driver, Rory Devane, and the courier, Tommy Fitzgerald. "Let's go," said Sullivan.
"Where's Liam?" asked Devane nervously.
"Move out," said Sheila.
The car pulled into the lane and headed south toward Belfast.
Sheila drew from her pocket the two letters the soldiers had given her to mail to their families. If she were stopped at a roadblock and the Royal Ulster Constabulary found the letters … She opened the window and threw her pistol out, then let the letters sail into the wind.
Sheila Malone jumped out of her bed. She could hear motors in the street and the sounds of boots against the cobbles. Residents of the block were shouting from windows, and trash-can lids were being beaten to sound the alarm. As she began pulling her slacks on under her nightdress her bedroom door crashed open, and two soldiers rushed in without a word. A shaft of light from the hall made her cover her eyes. The red-bereted paratroopers pushed her against the wall and ripped the slacks from around her legs. One of them raised her nightdress over her head, and then ran his hands over her body, searching for a weapon. She spun and swung her fists at him. "Get your filthy hands …"
One of the soldiers punched her in the stomach, and she doubled over and lay on the floor, her nightdress gathered up around her breasts.
The second soldier bent down, grabbed her long hair, and dragged her to her feet. He spoke for the first time. "Sheila Malone, all I'm required to tell you is that you are being arrested under the Special Powers Act. If you make one f---ing sound when we take you out to the trucks, we'll beat you to a pulp."
The two soldiers pushed her into the hall, down the stairs, and into the street, which was filled with shouting people. Everything passed in a blur as she was half-carried to the intersection where the trucks were parked. Voices called insults at the British soldiers and the Royal Ulster Constabulary who were assisting them. A boy's voice shouted, "F--k the Queen." Women and children were crying, and dogs were barking. She saw a young priest trying to calm a group of people. An unconscious man, his head bloodied, was dragged past her. The soldiers picked her up and threw her into the back of a small truck filled with a dozen other prisoners. An RUC guard stood at the front of the truck, fondling a large truncheon. "Lie down, b--ch, and shut your mouth."
She lay down by the tailgate and listened to her own breathing in the totally silent truck. After a few minutes the gates of the truck closed and it pulled away.
The guard shouted above the noise of the convoy. "The Pope is a f---ing queer."
Sheila Malone lay against the tailgate, trying to calm herself. In the dark truck some men slept or were unconscious; a few were weeping. The guard kept up an anti-Catholic tirade until the truck stopped and the tailgate swung open, revealing a large, floodlit enclosure surrounded by barbed wire and machine-gun towers. Long Kesh, known to the Catholics of Northern Ireland as Dachau.
A soldier shouted into the truck, "Clear out! Quick! Move it!"
A few men scrambled over and around Sheila, and she heard the sounds of blows, shouts, and cries as the men left the truck. A voice cried out, "Take it easy, I'm an old man." A young boy clad in pajamas crawled over her and tumbled to the ground. The RUC guard was kicking everyone toward the tailgate now, like a trash man sweeping the floor of his truck clean at the dump. Someone pulled her out by her legs, and she fell on the soft, wet earth. She tried to stand but was knocked down.
"Crawl! Crawl, you bastards!"
She picked up her head and saw two lines of paratrooper boots. She crawled as quickly as she could between the gauntlet as blows fell on her back and buttocks. A few of the men made obscene remarks as she passed by on her hands and knees, but the blows were light and the obscenities were shouted by boyish, embarrassed voices, which somehow made it all the more obscene.
At the end of the gauntlet two soldiers picked her up and pushed her into a long Nissen hut. An officer with a swagger stick pointed to an open door, and the soldiers pushed her onto the floor of a small room and shut the door as they left. She looked up from where she lay in the corner of the tiny cubicle.
A matron stood behind a camp table. "Strip. Come on, you little tramp. Stand up and take them off."
Within minutes she was stripped and searched and was wearing a gray prison dress and prison underwear. She could hear blows being struck outside the small cubicle and cries and shouts as the harvest of the sweep was processed - transformed from sleeping civilians into gray, terrified internees.
Sheila Malone had no doubt that a good number of them were guilty of some kind of anti-British or antigovernment activity. A few were actually IRA. A smaller number might even be arsonists or bombers … or murderers like herself. There was a fifty-fifty chance of getting out of internment within ninety days if you didn't crack and confess to something. But if they had something on you - something as serious as murder … Before she could gather her thoughts and begin to formulate what she was going to say, someone placed a hood over her head and she was pushed through a door that closed behind her.
A voice shouted directly in her ear, and she jumped. "I said, spell your name, b--ch!"
She tried to spell it but found to her surprise that she could not. Someone laughed.
Another voice shouted, "Stupid c-nt!"
A third voice screamed in her other ear. "So, you shot two of our boys, did you?"
There it was. They knew. She felt her legs begin to shake.
"Answer me, you little murdering c-nt!"
"What? Don't lie to us, you cowardly, murdering b--ch. Like to shoot men in the back, do you? Now it's your turn!"
She felt something poke her in the back of the head and heard the sound of a pistol cocking. The hammer fell home and made a loud, metallic thud. She jumped and someone laughed again. "Next time it won't be empty, b--ch."
She felt sweat gather on her brow and soak the black hood.
"All right. Pull up your dress. That's right. All the way!"
She pulled her skirt up and stood motionless as someone pulled her pants down to her ankles.
After an hour of pain, insults, humiliation, and leering laughter, the three interrogators seemed to get bored. She was certain now that they were just fishing, and she could almost picture being released at dawn.
"Fix yourself up."
She let her aching arms fall and bent over to pull up her pants. Before she straightened up she heard the three men leave the room as two other people entered. The hood was pulled from her head, and the bright lights half-blinded her. The man who had taken the hood moved to the side and sat in a chair just out of range of her vision. She focused her eyes straight ahead.
A young British army officer, a major, sat in a chair behind a small camp desk in the center of the windowless room. "Sit down, Miss Malone."
She walked stiffly toward a stool in front of the desk and sat slowly. Her buttocks hurt so much that she would almost rather have remained standing. She choked down a sob and steadied her breathing.
"Yes, you can have a bed as soon as we finish this." The major smiled. "My name is Martin. Bartholomew Martin."
"Yes … I've heard of you."
"Really? Good things, I trust."
She leaned forward and looked into his eyes. "Listen, Major Martin, I was beaten and sexually abused."
He shuffled some papers. "We'll discuss all of that as soon as we finish with this." He picked out one sheet of paper. "Here it is. A search of your room has uncovered a pistol and a satchel of gelignite. Enough to blow up the whole block." He looked at her. "That's a dreadful thing to keep in your aunt's house. I'm afraid she may be in trouble now as well."
"There was no gun or explosives in my room, and you know it."
He drummed his fingers impatiently on the desk. "Whether they were there or not is hardly the point, Miss Malone. The point is that my reports says a gun and explosives were found, and in Ulster there is not a great deal of difference between the charges and the realities. In fact, they are the same. Do you follow me?"
She didn't answer.
"All right," said the major. "That's not important. What is important," he continued as he stared into her eyes, "are the murders of Sergeant Thomas Shelby and Private Alan Harding."
She stared back at his eyes and displayed no emotion, but her stomach heaved. They had her, and she was fairly certain she knew how they had gotten her.
"I believe you know a Liam Coogan, Miss Malone. An associate of yours. He's turned Queen's evidence." An odd half smile passed over his face. "I'm afraid we've got you now."
"If you know so goddamned much, why did your men--"
"Oh, they're not my men. They're paratroop lads. Served with Harding and Shelby. Brought them here for the occasion. I'm in Intelligence, of course." Major Martin's voice changed, became more intimate. "You're damned lucky they didn't kill you."
Sheila Malone considered her situation. Even under normal British law she would probably be convicted on Coogan's testimony. Then why had she been arrested under the Special Powers Act? Why had they bothered to plant a gun and explosives in her room? Major Martin was after something else.
Martin stared at her, then cleared his throat. "Unfortunately, there is no capital punishment for murder in our enlightened kingdom. However, we're going to try something new. We're going to try to get an indictment for treason - I think we can safely say that the Provisional Irish Republican Army, of which you are a member, has committed treason toward the Crown."
He looked down at an open book in front of him. " 'Acts that constitute treason. Paragraph 811 - Levies war against the Sovereign in her realm…' I think you fill that bill nicely." He pulled the book closer and read, " 'Paragraph 812 - The essence of the offense of treason lies in the violation of the allegiance owed to the Sovereign…' And Paragraph 813 is my favorite. It says simply" - he looked at her without reading from the book - " 'The punishment for treason is death by hanging.' " He stressed the last words and looked for a reaction, but there was none. "It was Mr. Churchill, commenting on the Irish uprising of 1916, who said, 'The grass grows green on the battlefield, but never on the scaffold.' It's time we started hanging Irish traitors again. You first. And beside you on the scaffold will be your sister, Maureen."
She sat up. "My sister? Why … ?"
"Coogan says she was there as well. You, your sister, and her lover, Brian Flynn."
"That's a bloody lie."
"Why would a man turn Queen's evidence and then lie about who committed the murders?"
"Because he shot those soldiers-"
"There were two calibers of bullets. We can try two people for murder - any two. So why don't you let me work out who did what to whom?"
"You don't care who killed those soldiers. It's Flynn you want to hang."
"Someone must hang." But Major Martin had no intention of hanging any of them and making more Irish martyrs. He wanted to get Flynn into Long Kesh, where he could wring out every piece of information that he possessed about the Provisional IRA. Then he would cut Brian Flynn's throat with a piece of glass and call it suicide.
He said, "Let's assume that you escape the hangman's noose. Assume also that we pick up your sister, which is not unlikely. Consider, if you will, Miss Malone, sharing a cell with your sister for the rest of your natural lives. How old are you? Not twenty yet? The months, the years pass slowly. Slowly. Young girls wasting their lives … and for what? A philosophy? The rest of the world will go on living and loving, free to come and go. And you … well, the real hell of it is that Maureen, at least, is innocent of murder. You are the reason she'd be there - because you wouldn't name her lover. And Flynn will have found another woman, of course. And Coogan, yes, Coogan will have gone to London or America to live and -"
"Shut up! For God's sake, shut up!" She buried her face in her hands and tried to think before he started again.
"Now there is a way out." He looked down at his papers, then looked up again. "There always is, isn't there? What you must do is dictate a confession naming Brian Flynn as an officer in the Provisional IRA - which he is - and naming him as the murderer of Sergeant Shelby and Private Harding. You will be charged as an accessory after the fact and be free within … let's say seven years."
"And my sister?"
"We'll put out a warrant for her arrest only as an accessory. She should leave Ulster and never return. We will not look for her and will not press any country for extradition. But this arrangement is operative only if we find Brian Flynn." He leaned forward. "Where is Brian Flynn?"
"How the hell should I know?"
Martin leaned back in his chair. "Well, we must charge you with something within ninety days of internment. That's the law, you understand. If we don't find Flynn by the ninetieth day, we will charge you with double homicide - perhaps treason as well. So, if you can remember anything that will lead us to him, please don't hesitate to tell us." He paused. "Will you think about where Flynn might be?"
She didn't answer.
"Actually, if you really don't know, then you're useless to me … unless … You see, your sister will try to free you, and with her will be Flynn … so perhaps -"
"You won't use me for bait, you bastard."
"No? Well, we'll have to see about that, won't we?"
"May I have a bed?"
"Certainly. You may stand now."
She stood. "No more Gestapo tactics?"
"I'm sorry, I don't understand." He rose from his chair. "The matron will escort you to a cell. Good night."
She turned and opened the door. A hood came down over her head, but before it did she saw not the matron but two young Royal Ulster Constabulary men and three grinning paratroopers.