The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep Page 8

“Did you want to start right away?”

“As soon as I can. I haven’t been on a bike…a cycle in years. I’d rather not try an unfamiliar road in the dark.”

“Mulready would see you got one with a good headlamp. But you’d do well to start soon. If you’d care to walk with me”-he stood up from his domino game-“it’s not far, and I’m headed that way myself, so I could take you to Mulready’s shop.”

It was, I was sure, very much out of his way; I had no doubt that he had planned to sit at his domino game for several more hours. But there seemed no way to refuse such graciousness. I managed to buy a round of drinks for the house, and then Sean insisted on buying one back. I was feeling the drinks as we walked through the rain down one street and over another, each narrower than the last. Sean wanted to talk about America. He had family in New York and Philadelphia and he thought John Kennedy might have saved the world had he lived a few years longer.

I gave my name as Michael Farrell and said I was from Boston. There were Farrells throughout County Limerick, he assured me, and surely many of them were my relatives.

John Mulready was in his bicycle shop, a dark and cluttered little establishment between a butcher shop and a tobacconist on a narrow street. Sean introduced me as a visitor from America come to stay with relatives in Croom, and could Mulready rent me a cycle for the trip? He could. And could he provide me with directions? He could, and with pleasure. I thanked Sean, and he thanked me, and we shook hands briskly, and he went back out into the rain.

Mulready was thick-bodied, florid-faced and fiftyish, with a brogue I had trouble understanding. He brought out a large cycle with a huge headlamp and an array of wires running here and there. He suggested I get up on it and see if it seemed the right size. I lifted myself gingerly onto the bicycle and wondered if I would be able to ride the thing. I told him I hadn’t been on a cycle in years.

He was surprised. “Do they not have cycles in America, then?”

“Only for the children.”

He shook his head in wonder. “Who would have thought it? The richest country in the universe, and only the children may have cycles. Who would believe it possible?”

I asked him how much deposit he required. He didn’t seem to understand, and I thought at first that he was having trouble catching the word, or that deposit was not the correct term in Ireland. It turned out that he recognized the word but not the concept. Why on earth would he care to take a deposit from me? Was I not a friend of Sean Flynn and would I not return the cycle when I had finished with it?

I asked the price. Two-and-six a day, he said, and less if I kept it a full week. I told him I’d need it for several days at least and reached for my money. He insisted that I pay him when I returned to save keeping records.

He told me the way to find the road to Croom and how to follow it. “You begin on the road to Adare and Rathkeale and Killarney, but you’ll come first to Patrickswell and just past Patrickswell you’ll turn south, and that will be on your left as you go. There will be a sign saying Croom so that you won’t miss it. It’s a good road, it is, paved all the way, and no more than ten or twelve miles from here to Croom.”

I told him I had the directions down pat. He repeated them, and insisted on drawing a rudimentary map for me to take along. I thanked him again, and he suggested that perhaps he might accompany me as far as the edge of the city so that I would get off on the right foot. I told him it was kind of him, but I was sure I would be all right. His expression suggested that he doubted this but was too polite to say so. He asked me how I liked Ireland. I said that I liked the country very much and that the people seemed to be the finest on earth. We shook hands warmly on that, and I wheeled my cycle out to the street and clambered onto it, hoping I wouldn’t fall off at once and that he wouldn’t see me if I did.

Cycling, I discovered, is like swimming; once learned, it is never wholly forgotten. The bike was unfamiliar and awkward for me. I seemed to be sitting too far off the ground and I had a bad time at first remembering that one braked by squeezing the metal gadgets on the handlebars. I kept trying to brake by reversing the direction of the pedals, which was how one accomplished the process when I was a boy-and how odd that I remembered it. And once I squeezed the hand-brake accidentally, and the cycle stopped suddenly, and I did not. I flew from the cycle, the cap flew from my head, and a red Volkswagen had to swerve hard to the right to avoid demolishing the cycle and me.

But by the time I was out of Limerick City I had gotten the hang of it again. And then, with nothing to do but pedal the bike endlessly onward, with nothing to look at but green fields darkening in the twilight and occasional smooth stone huts with thatched roofs, with no greater hurdle than the occasional sheep and pigs that wandered about in the road and gazed into the cycle’s headlamp, the whole hysterical madness of my situation came home to me. The reality of it had vanished in Limerick. The clothing store, the pub, the bicycle shop-each had provided conversation and warmth and motions to go through, words to say, a role to be played and lived with. There had been relatively little time to waste in thought.

Now, on an empty road to Croom, I had time to realize that my actions in the Shannon Airport men’s room had been not those of James Bond but of a madman. I had escaped, but from what? A flight to my own country, a round of unpleasant but harmless questions put by the unpleasant but harmless agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a possible loss of my passport (which action I could certainly appeal and probably overcome), and the impossibility of returning to Turkey for a shot at the cache of gold.

And now what had I accomplished? I had committed no crime to begin with and had very definitely committed one in escaping. I was like the innocent man who shoots the policeman who had been trying to arrest him by mistake. My original innocence had been entirely washed out. By now the U.S. Government would be very concerned about getting hold of me, and the Turks would be anxious to learn more of me, and the Irish police would be preparing to capture me. I could not go back to the States, I could not go back to Turkey, and I could not stay safely in Ireland. I was cold, I was starving, I was being rained upon, and I was getting cramps in my legs from pedaling the damned cycle up and down more damned hills than I had known existed.

Why should P. P. Dolan waste a minute on me? Why should he offend at least three governments by giving aid and comfort to a spy? And when I called myself a member of the Brotherhood, suppose he was a turncoat, an informer? I pictured Victor McLaglen hulking in the doorway of a thatched hut. What would he do for me? Nothing. What could he do for me? Nothing.

I hit a stone and fell off the bicycle. By now, I thought, dragging myself to my feet and hauling the cycle to an upright position, by now I would be snug in the belly of a Pan American jet bound for Washington. In a few hours I would be explaining the foolishness of the situation to a pleasant young agent with a crew cut and a firm handshake. We would laugh together about the vagaries of the Turkish Government and the absurdity of our suspicion-ridden world. He would buy me a drink, I would buy him a drink, we would sit in a bar somewhere warm and dry, and in the morning, after a full evening of drunken camaraderie, I would take a train back to New York and my apartment and my books and my projects and my societies and my Kitty.

I mounted the bike and pressed onward.

I reached and passed the town of Patrickswell-a scattering of small shops, a church, a few dozen cottages. I seemed to have been riding forever. It was darker now, and the rain was coming down harder than before. I reached the fork in the road that pointed me toward Croom. I had been sure I would miss it, but I swung to the left and headed into a long downhill stretch that gave me a chance to stop pedaling, relax, and coast a while. I wished that I had stopped in Patrickswell for a drink and a bite to eat. I wished I had stayed in a pub in Limerick until it stopped raining, if it ever did stop raining in Ireland. I wished that the Irish Republican Brotherhood would do something about the damned rain. I wished I was on the plane for Washington.

Croom was small and silent, a nest of cottages, a two-story hotel, a block of storefronts in the center of town. I parked my cycle in front of a pub and went inside. It seemed to be a grocery store as well as a pub. There were two men at the bar drinking whiskey and another man behind the bar sipping beer. I had a drink of John Jameson. The three were talking in Gaelic.

In English I asked the bartender if he knew where P. P. Dolan lived.

He gave me tortuous directions. It seemed impossible that so small a town could hold a house so difficult to reach. I thanked him and went outside. The drink was making my head swim, and when I mounted the cycle again I didn’t think I would be able to ride at all. The few minutes in the pub had been just enough time for my legs to knot up completely.

I followed the directions, made all the correct turns, and found the house. It was a small cottage, gray in the dim light. A television antenna perched on the thatched roof, and smoke trickled upward from the chimney.

I staggered to the door, hesitated, tried to catch my breath, failed, and rapped on the door. I heard footsteps, and the door was drawn open. I looked at the little man in the doorway and remembered the Victor McLaglen I had visualized. This man was more a leprechaun, short, gnarled, with piercingly blue eyes.

“P. P. Dolan?”

“I am.”

“Padraic Pearse Dolan?”

He seemed to straighten up. “Himself.”

“You’ve got to help me,” I said. The words flowed in a torrent. “I’m from America, from New York, I’m a member of the Brotherhood-the Irish Republican Brotherhood-and they’re after me. I was in jail. I escaped when we reached Ireland. You have to hide me.” And, gasping for breath, I dug out my passport and handed it to him.

He took it, opened it, looked at it, at me, at it again. “I don’t understand,” he said gently. “The picture’s no likeness of you at all. And it says that your name is…let me see”-he squinted in the half light-“Mustafa Ibn Ali. Did I say that properly?”

Chapter 6

If you’ll come inside and sit by the fire, Mr. Ali,” the little man was saying. “It’s cold outside, and so damp. And would you take a cup of tea, Mr. Ali? Nora, if you would be fixing Mr. Ali a cup of tea. Now, Mr. Ali-”

I had made two mistakes, it seemed. When I changed my summer suit for proper Irish clothing, I had transferred only one passport and the wrong one at that. My own passport remained in my suit. And my suit, so carefully wrapped by the young clerk, had somehow been separated from me. I had carried the parcel into the pub, but I hadn’t had it with me when I left Mulready’s cycle shop. I’d left it either at the pub or with Mulready, suit and passport and all.

“My name’s not Mr. Ali,” I said. “I took his passport by mistake. He’s a Turk. He was my jailer in Turkey. He was taking me back to America when I escaped.”

“You were a prisoner, then?”

“Yes.” His face seemed troubled by this, so I added, “It was political, my imprisonment.”

This eased his mind considerably. Nora, his daughter, came over to us with the tea. She was a slender thing, small-boned, almost dainty, with milk-white skin and glossy black hair and clear blue eyes. “Your tea, Mr. Ali,” she said.

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