The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep Page 9

“It’s not his name after all,” her father said. “And what would your name be, sir?”

“Evan Tanner.”

“Tanner,” he said. “Forgive me if I seem to pry, Mr. Tanner, but what led you to come here? To Croom and to my house?”

I told him a bit of it. He became quite excited at the thought that I was an American member of the Brotherhood and that I had heard of him. “Do they know of me, then, in America?” he mused. “And who would have guessed it?”

But it was Nora who seized on my name. “Evan Tanner. Evan Michael Tanner, is it?”

“Yes, that’s right-”

“You know him, Nora?”

“If it’s the same,” she said. “And Mr. Tanner, is it you who writes articles in United Irishmen? Oh, you know him, Da. In last month’s paper, the article suggesting that honorary representatives of the Six Counties be given seats in the Dail. ‘Wanted: Representation for Our Northern Brethren,’ by Evan Michael Tanner, and wasn’t it the article you admired so much, and saying what a grand idea it was, and wouldn’t you like to shake the hand of the man that wrote it?”

He looked wide-eyed at me. “And was it you who wrote that article, Mr. Tanner?”

“It was.”

He took the tea from me. “Nora,” he said, “spill this out. Bring the jar of Power’s. And hurry over to Garrity’s and fetch your brother Tom. I only wish my eldest son could be here, Mr. Tanner, for it’s glad he’d be to meet you, a faithful member of the Brotherhood that he is, but the poor lad’s in England now.”

“Not in jail, I hope.”

“No, praise God, but working in an office there. For what can a young man do to earn his keep in this godforsaken country? Go quickly, Nora, and bring Tom back with you. And mind who you tell!” He shook his head sadly. “It’s a hell of a thing to say,” he explained, “but there are spies and informers everywhere.”

The four of us, Dolan and Nora and Tom and I, listened to the latest developments in the Evan Tanner case on the kitchen radio. It seemed that Mustafa had seen a good number of James Bond movies, and they had served to supplement his account of my escape. According to the radio report, I was a dangerous spy of unknown allegiance being returned to America after attempting to infect all of Turkey with a plague of cholera. In the Shannon lavatory I had crushed a small pellet between my fingers, liberating a gas that temporarily paralyzed Mustafa’s spinal column. Though he fought valiantly, he was in no condition to prevent my knocking him unconscious and trussing him up.

It was assumed that I had taken refuge in Limerick. The gardai were presently combing Limerick City, their numbers reinforced by a special detachment of plain-clothes detectives sent up from Dublin, and an arrest would no doubt be made in a matter of hours.

“It looks bad,” I said. “Sooner or later they’ll turn up the suit and spot the passport. Once they trace me to the bicycle shop, Mr. Mulready will be able to tell them that I went to Croom. And if they follow me this far, they’ll be sure to find me.”

“You’re safe here,” Dolan said.

“If the gardai come-”

“This house has been searched before,” Dolan said. He drew himself up very straight. “Many times by the Tans and often enough by the Free State troops during the Civil War. Why, didn’t my father hide half the Limerick Flying Column here? And when Michael Flaherty and the Dwyer boy did for that British lorry outside of Belfast, wasn’t it here that they came? And hid in the upstairs room for three weeks before they got the boat for America. There’s many a man on the run who’s hid in Dolan’s house, and never a one of them that’s been taken. Nora will fix the attic room for you. You’ll be comfortable enough in the bed, and the gardai could search this house ten times over and never set eyes on you.”

“I couldn’t let you take such a risk-”

“Don’t talk nonsense. And don’t be worrying about your suit, either. Most likely it’s still in Mulready’s, waiting for you to come back for it. If you left it there, it’s still there now. And if you left it in the pub, sure they’ll take it to Mulready’s, knowing you’ll have to return to the cycle shop sooner or later. Tom can go for it tomorrow, and you’ll have it in your hands without the gardai ever knowing of it.”

“If they’re already there and see him-”

“Tom will be looking for them, and if they’re there, he will leave without being seen. Don’t bother yourself about it, Mr. Tanner. But sit back, you must be tired. Are you after getting to bed right away or would you sit a while first?”

I said I would sooner sit and talk with him. Tom put a few more cakes of turf on the fire, and Nora freshened our drinks. She asked if I had been born in America, and I said I had, and she asked what part of Ireland my parents had lived in.

“Actually,” I admitted, “I’m not Irish.”

“In the Brotherhood and not an Irishman!”

My explanation filled them with wonder. Padraic Pearse Dolan got solemnly to his feet and stood gazing into the fire. “I’ve often said it,” he said. “That men of goodwill throughout the world will rally to our cause, whether or not they be Irish. There are many demonstrations for the restoration of the Six Counties in America, are there not? The young people, the college students, with their marching and their picket signs?”

“But isn’t that mostly for Vietnam?” Nora asked. “And civil rights and the hydrogen bomb?”

“Vietnam, civil rights, bombs, and Ireland-all one and the same,” Dolan said. “It’s that the whole world is Irish in spirit, wouldn’t you say as much, Mr. Tanner?”

I agreed with this, and Nora filled our glasses again, and Tom took a harmonica from his pocket and began to play “The Boys From Wexford.” He was short and slender around nineteen or twenty, a few years younger than his sister and graced with the same dark good looks. We spent hours in front of the fire, finishing one jar of whiskey and tapping into a second, talking, singing, trading stories. Dolan had seen fighting, himself, on two occasions, against the Free State forces in 1932 and in the north a few years later. The earlier engagement had been the more heroic. He was only fifteen at the time and he lay in ambush with four lads not much older than himself. They trapped two Free State soldiers on a road near Ennis in County Clare and gunned them down. One was in the hospital for nearly a month, he said, and the other walks with a limp to this day. In the north they had lobbed six Mills bombs into a British post office. None had exploded, one of Dolan’s group had two fingers of his left hand shot off, and the lot of them wound up spending six months in Dartmoor.

“Bloody British jail,” he said. “What fine breakfasts they served us, though! You’d never get a breakfast like that in Ireland. Two slices of gammon and three eggs.”

Nora sang “Danny Boy” in a high willowy voice that had us all crying, and I taught them a group of songs from the Rebellion of 1798 that not one of them had heard before. I told Dolan I’d learned them from a Folkways record and that they were traditional.

“Never heard a one of them,” he said.

“They’re folk music,” I explained. “Handed down by the countryfolk from one generation to the next.”

“Then that explains it,” he said.

And midway through the second jar of whiskey I began talking about Turkey and why I had gone there. No one had asked; they had simply taken it for granted that I was a fine boy, that the Turks were heathens, and that any government with an unhealthy interest in me was surely in the wrong and thus merely illustrated the malevolence of officialdom. When I told of the fortune in Armenian gold their eyes went wide, and Nora sighed in amazement and shivered beside me.

“You’ll have your fortune,” Dolan pronounced. “You’ll be wealthy, with acres of land and a house like a castle.”

“I don’t want the money for myself.”

“Are you daft? You-”

I explained about the causes that had need of money. He seemed utterly astonished that I intended to endow, among several other worthy groups, the Irish Republican Army.

“You’ll want to think that over,” he said. “What would those bloody fools do with so much gold? They’d be after blowing up all of Belfast, and all be getting into trouble.”

“They might regain the six counties,” I said.

“Ah,” he sighed, and his eyes took on a faraway look. “You’re a fine boy, Evan. And it is a grand thing you would do.”

I hadn’t planned to talk about the gold, and if they had asked me I would probably have invented some convenient lie. But no one did ask, and so there was no reason to hide the truth. Besides, I almost had to talk about it now to make it at all real for myself. There in that cozy hut, with those fine warm people, there was no Turkey, no gold, no Mustafa, no toast and pilaff and pilaff. Only the rich singing of untrained off-key voices, and the warmth of roasting peat and peat-smoked whiskey, and the close sweet beauty of Nora.

When his father dozed off in front of the fire Tom Dolan showed me to my room. It was reached through a trapdoor in the second-floor ceiling. Tom stood on a chair, moved a lever, and a flap dropped from the ceiling, releasing a rope ladder. I followed Tom up the ladder and into a long, narrow room. The ceiling, less than four feet high in the center, sloped to meet the floor on either side. A mattress in the center of the room was piled generously high with quilts and blankets. Tom lit a candle at the side of it and said he hoped I wasn’t the sort who grew nervous in cramped quarters.

“To shut up tight,” he said, “you haul in the ladder and then catch hold of that ring in the panel with the stick. Draw it shut and fasten it, you see, and it cannot be opened from below. And no one would think there’s a room up here, with so little space and no window. Will you be all right here?”

“It seems comfortable.”

“Oh, it is. I’d be here myself, and you in my bed, but Da wouldn’t allow it. He says you must be secure if the gardai come.” He hesitated. “How is it in America, Mr. Tanner?”


“Do they pay good wages there? And are jobs to be had? My brother Jamie’s been after me to come to London, but what I’ve heard of America-”

“Don’t you want to stay in Ireland?”

“She’s the finest country in the world, and the finest people in it. But a man ought to see something of the world. And there’s not such an abundance of things to occupy a younger man in Croom. Unless one’s a priest or a drunkard. I’m nineteen now, and I’ll be out of here before I’m twenty-one, God willing.”

He clambered back down the rope ladder and tossed it up to me, then raised the panel so that I could catch it with the hooked stick. I locked myself in, blew out the candle, and stretched out on my mattress in the darkness. It was still raining, and I could hear the rain on the thatched roof.

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