The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep Page 12

I mailed about half of my letters in Mallow. A copy of the Cork Examiner had my picture on the front page. I pulled my cap farther down on my forehead and hurried to the bus station. There was a bus leaving for Dublin in a little over an hour, the ticket clerk told me. I had enough Irish money for a ticket and bought one. There was a darkened pub across the street. I had a plate of fried whiting and chips and drank a glass of Guinness and kept my face in the paper until it was time to catch my bus. Boarding it, presenting my ticket, walking all the way through the bus to the very back, I felt as conspicuous as if I had no clothes on. No one seemed to notice me. I’d bought a batch of paperbacks at the bus station and I read them one after another, keeping my face hidden as much as possible all the way.

We stopped for dinner in Kilkenny, then went on to Dublin through Carlow and Kildare and Naas. By sunset it had begun raining again. It was almost nine o’clock when the bus reached the terminal in Dublin. The whole trip was only 150 miles or so, but we’d had many stops and several waits. I left the bus and found the terminal crawling with gardai. Several of them looked right at me without recognizing me.

In the men’s room I had a drink of whiskey from the flask, then capped it and put it back in my jacket pocket. My pockets were bulging with the flask and the flashlight. I slipped out of the terminal through a rear exit. I walked in the rain through a maze of narrow streets, not sure where I was or where I ought to be going. When I came to O’Connell Street, the main street of downtown Dublin, I felt as though I must be going in the right direction. And then I remembered that hunted men always headed for the largest cities and sought out the downtown sections of those cities with all the instinct for self-preservation of moths seeking a flame-the police always looked for hunted men in the busy downtown sections of big cities.

A pair of James Bond movies were playing in a theater a few doors down from the remains of the Nelson monument. The I.R.A. had dynamited the top of the monument a few months earlier, and the city had blown up the rest of it but hadn’t yet put anything in its place. A tall man with glasses and a black attaché case was looking at the monument, then glanced at me, then looked at the monument again. I went into the cinema and sat in the back row for two and a half hours, hoping that Sean Connery could give me some sort of clue as to what I might do next. I had a pocketful of American money that I didn’t dare spend, a handful of English and Irish pounds, a flashlight, a flask of whiskey (which I emptied and discarded in the course of the second film), and a St. Christopher medal. I did not have a passport, or a way of getting out of Ireland, or the slightest notion of what to do next.

James Bond was no help. Near the end of the second picture, just as Bond was heaving the girl into the pot of molten lead, I saw a man walking slowly and purposefully up and down the aisle, as if looking for an empty seat. But the theater was half empty. I looked at him again and saw that he was the same man who had looked alternately at the Nelson monument and at me. There was something familiar about him. I had the feeling I’d seen him before at the bus station.

I sank down into my seat and lowered my head. He made another grand tour of the cinema, walking to the front and back again, his eyes passing over me with no flicker of recognition. I couldn’t breathe. I waited for him to see me, and then he walked on and out of the theater while I struggled for breath and wiped cold perspiration from my forehead.

But he was there when I came out. I knew he would be.

I tried to melt into the shadows and slip away to the left, and at first I thought I had lost him. When I looked over my shoulder, he was still there. I walked very slowly to the corner, turned it, and took off at a dead run. I ran straight for two blocks while people stared at me as if I had gone mad, then turned another corner and slowed down again. A cab came by. I hailed it, and it stopped for me.

“Just drive,” I said.

“Where, sir?”

I couldn’t think of the answer to that. “A pub,” I managed to say. “Someplace where I can get a good dinner.”

The cab still had not moved. “There’s a fine restaurant just across the street, sir. And quite reasonable, as well.”

My man came around the corner. He didn’t have his attaché case now, I noticed. I tried to hide myself, but he saw me.

I said, “I had a row with my wife. I think she’s following me. Drive around the block a few times and then drop me off at that restaurant, can you?”

He could and did. My pursuer had stepped to the curb now and was trying to hail a cab of his own. My driver charged forward as the light turned. I watched out of the back window. The man had still not caught a cab. My driver turned a corner, drove for a few blocks, then turned another corner. I settled back in the seat and relaxed.

I kept checking the back window. Now and then I saw a cab behind us and had the driver turn corners until we lost it. Finally he told me no one could possibly have followed us. “I’ll take you to that restaurant now, sir. You’ll have a good meal there.”

He dropped me in front of the restaurant. As I opened the door I glanced over my shoulder and saw the tall man with glasses. He was still trying to catch a cab. He saw me, and our eyes met, and I felt dizzy. I pushed open the door of the restaurant and went inside. When I looked back, I saw him crossing the street after me.

The headwaiter showed me to a table. I ordered a brandy and sat facing the door. I had never before felt so utterly stupid. I had escaped and then, brainlessly, I had returned to precisely the place where the tall man was waiting.

The door opened. The tall man came in, looked my way, then glanced out the door again. His face clouded for a moment and he seemed to hesitate. Perhaps, I thought, he was afraid to attempt to capture me by himself. No doubt I was presumed armed and dangerous.

Could I make a break for it? Surprise had worked twice before, with Mustafa and the two gardai. But I couldn’t avoid the feeling that the third time might be the charm. This man was prepared. He was walking toward my table-

Still, it seemed worth a try. I looked past him as though I did not see him, my hands gripping the table from below. When he was close enough I would heave it at him, then run.

Then over his shoulder I saw the gardai-three of them, in uniform-coming through the doorway. If I got past him, I would only succeed in running into their arms. It was as though I were drowning. All at once my official misdeeds of the past two days rushed through my mind: assaulting a Turk, entering Ireland illegally, traveling with false papers, bicycle theft, assault and battery of two Irish policemen, auto theft, auto abandonment, resisting arrest-

The tall man with the glasses stumbled, fell forward toward me. His right hand broke his fall, his left brushed against my right side. He said, “Mooney’s, Talbot Street,” then got to his feet and swept past me.

And the gardai, solemn as priests, walked on by my table and surrounded him. One took his right arm, the other his left, and the third marched behind with a drawn pistol. They marched him out of the restaurant and left me there alone.

I could only stare after them, I and all the other patrons of the restaurant. It was late, and most of the other diners were about half-lit. At the doorway the tall man made his move. He kicked backward at the garda with the pistol, wrenched himself free from the grasp of the other two, and broke into a run.

Along with other diners, I pressed forward. I heard two short blasts on a police whistle, then a brace of gunshots. I reached the door and saw the tall man rushing across the street. A garda was shooting at him. The tall man spun around, gun in hand, and began firing wildly. A bullet shattered the restaurant window, and I dropped to the floor. A fresh fusillade of shots rang out. I peered over the window ledge and saw the tall man lying in a heap in the middle of the street. There were sirens wailing in the distance. One of the gardai had taken a bullet through one hand and was bleeding fiercely.

And no one was paying any attention to me.

I went back to my table. My hands were trembling. I couldn’t control them. I thought for a moment that I must have gone schizophrenic, that it was I who attempted to escape the police and who was shot down by them, and that it was a symptom of my madness that I thought it had happened to someone else. The waiter brought my brandy. I drank it straight down and ordered another.

Mooney’s, Talbot Street, he had said. I didn’t know what he meant, or who he was, or who he thought me to be. Why had he followed me? If the police were following him, why should he follow me? What was Mooney’s? Was I supposed to meet him there? It seemed unlikely that he would ever keep the appointment.

Then I found in my right coat pocket, where he must have placed it when he fell, a metal brass-colored disc perhaps an inch and a half across. Stamped upon it were the numerals 249.

At that point it was easy enough to figure out the what, if not the why. I worked my way back to O’Connell Street and found Talbot Street, just around the corner from the cinema. Mooney’s was a crowded pub halfway down the block. I found the checkroom and presented the brass disc. As I had expected, the attendant handed over the black attaché case, and I left a shilling on the saucer. I closed myself in a cubicle in the men’s room and propped the attaché case upon my lap. It was not locked. I opened it.

On top was an envelope with my name on it. I drew a single sheet of hotel stationery from it. The message was in pencil, written in a hurried scrawl:


I just hope you’re who I think you are. Deliver the goods to the right people and they’ll take care of you. The passports are clean. Big trouble for everybody if delivery isn’t made.

Six hours later I was in Madrid.

Chapter 9

Esteban Robles lived on Calle de la Sangre – Blood Street -a dim, narrow two-block lane in the student quarter south of the university. The morning was hot, the sun blindingly bright, the sky a perfect cloudless blue. I abandoned my heavy jacket at the airport and changed some British pounds for pesetas at the Iberian Airways desk.

My cab driver had some difficulty finding Calle de la Sangre. He tore furiously up and down the narrow streets of the quarter and chatted about the weather and the bulls and Vietnam. My Spanish was South American, and I told him I was from Venezuela. We then discussed the menace of Fidel. He wanted to know if it was true that the Fidelistas gelded priests and ravished nuns. The thought infused him with scandalized lust.

I found Robles on the third floor of a drab tenement permeated with cooking smells. His room resembled the cell of a slovenly monk-a desk piled high with books and newspaper clippings and cigarette stubs, another heap of books in a corner, four empty wine bottles, a pan of leftover beans and rice, and a narrow cot that sagged in the middle. The floor was incompletely covered with linoleum, its pattern obscured by years of dirt. Robles himself was a young fellow with the body of a matador and the bearded face of a protest marcher. I knew him as a fellow member of the Federation of Iberian Anarchists. It was a dangerous thing to be in Spain, and I had trouble convincing him that I was not an agent of the Civil Guard.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have bothered. If he had gone on thinking of me as an agent of Franco’s secret police, he would have cooperated with me. Instead, I went to great lengths to convince him who I was and I only succeeded in terrifying him. He kept darting stricken looks at the door of his room, as if men with drawn sabers might burst in at any moment and lead us both off to prison.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies