Despite it being a good few years since his heyday, Conall O’Brien still had some useful contacts in the higher echelons of the Provisional IRA which went back to his youth and a time when he’d earned notoriety as a no nonsense hard man. He’d been living on an inflated reputation for many a year but knew there were a few markers he could still call in and now seemed as good a time as any. After putting the word out and making a few phone calls, one dreary Belfast Monday night in November Conall found himself in a darkened, smoky room to the rear of ‘The Standard’, a backstreet pub in the Short Strand area of Belfast over by the docks. Sitting across a table from him were three stone faced, sinister looking men who listened intently to the story he told in great detail, raising his voice in anger at times and making no attempt to disguise the hatred he still felt for the Brits. They made no comments, no interruptions and offered no opinions. When Conall had finished he was told to go and wait outside while they discussed what he’d told them. Conall had downed three pints by the time the door re-opened and he was summoned back in.
“OK, go home Conall and wait until you’re contacted,” the more senior of the three men said. “Do nothing unless you’re told, do you hear? Nothing.”
Conall grunted his acknowledgement and left, feeling a little frustrated about the way they had spoken to him but knowing full well how dangerous these men were.
It was three days later, about lunchtime that the O’Brien’s letterbox rattled and a slip of paper was shoved through it. Conall picked it up then opened the door to see if he could see who had posted it but looking both ways up and down the street there wasn’t a soul in sight. The single scrap of paper had just three words on it ‘The Standard. Now’ scrawled untidily in capital letters with dark pencil strokes. Conall shrugged his coat on and hurriedly set off for Short Strand. Twenty minutes later he was ushered into the same back room as before. This time there was only one man sat at the table.
“OK Conall, we’ve looked into the situation and some people agree that what this man did shouldn’t go unpunished,” he spoke calmly and quietly in a chilling emotionless monotone. He’d used the term ‘some people’ which Conall was well aware referred to senior members of the PIRA who’s names were rarely spoken. Conall wasn’t stupid enough to ask who they were.
“We’d like to do a job for you, but this ceasefire and fucking truce we signed up to in February has put a lot of restrictions on what we’re prepared to take on.”
“But what about the Bayardo Bar a few weeks ago,” interrupted Conall. “McFarlane and his boys didn’t mess about there did they....”
“Shut the fuck up!” the words were spat across the table with pure venom. It was the first and only show of emotion the man made. Conall did as he was told, breaking eye contact and looking at the floor. There was an awkward silence before the man continued quietly.
“We’re choosing our battles carefully for now, and chasing after some random squaddie because your fucking daughter couldn’t resist spreading her legs for him doesn’t figure high on our list. She got what she deserved but I can understand you wanting to see to the bastard, and you’ve done good work for us in the past. So because of that, people agreed to gather a bit of intelligence for you but we don’t want to put our name to anything you decide to do with it. When you leave this room you’re on your own so you are.”
Conall nodded and waited for more. There wasn’t much but it was all he was going to get.
“Now this bastard Woolf. He made the newspapers over in Germany a couple of months ago after your sprog did the dirty on him. He got himself locked up for turning nasty and smashing up the matrimonial home. We’ve got good people over there and we’ve ways of finding out what we need to. Some of ours are even in the fucking British army as you well know. So I’ve had people dig around a bit,” he paused for effect before going on.
“It didn’t take much digging for our boys to find out that this bastard was on the streets of Derry with the Paras back in January seventy two,” his eyes narrowed slightly and fixed on Conall’s to make sure the significance of the date wasn’t lost on him. “Bogside. Bloody Sunday,” he confirmed. “He was there in the thick of it.”
The implication wasn’t lost on Connal. Not only would he be paying retribution for the desecration of his family but the punishment of this individual would serve as partial justice for those that lost their lives in the worst massacre the Brits had carried out in recent history.
“That’s really what swayed it, even though it goes against our strategy for now so it does. This is a big favour Conall, I hope you appreciate it.”
“So now. This is what we have. As you know, the Kraut was murdered by the other Brit at the same time that your daughter was, over in the States. Soon afterwards the murdering scum got what was coming to him. So there are no loose ends over there. Now as for this Woolf character, the bastard that started it all. I’m told he was stationed in a town called Bielefeld, living with her there when she fucked off with the Kraut and he went crazy. They were sharing a privately rented apartment which as I said, he smashed up bad. He got in trouble with the Polizei so he did. The MPs took him away and locked him up. When he got out of the nick a few weeks later he went away on leave over to Canada, something to do with family and that’s where he is now so he is. We don’t know what day he’s flying back but when he does it will be to Frankfurt International and it’ll be any day soon. We know he’s due to report for duty at his new unit on the seventeenth of this month. That’s next Monday and today being Thursday, you’re going to have to get a shift on.”
“Do you know where this new unit is?” asked Conall but the question was ignored and Conall was too nervous to repeat it. The man paused and extracted a roll of banknotes from his coat pocket and shoved it across the table towards Conall.
“There’s two hundred quid there. More than enough to cover your expenses.”
Conall’s eyes lit up at the sight of such a sum. It was more money than he’d seen for a long time but his pleasure was tinged with apprehension. Nobody gave away that sort of cash without wanting something in return and these people were not the sort you wanted to be indebted to. Not to that degree. His fears were justified as the man continued.
“You and those sons of yours, you’ve not been making much of an effort for us lately. Since their early days those boys have become a bit of a disappointment to be honest. In fact we’ve hardly seen or heard from any of youse apart from complaints of the boy’s behaviour and lack of respect. I always believed they would turn out to be an asset for us. It’s about time they started proving themselves and we have some work coming up that you should consider.”
Conall knew full well what sort of ‘work’ would be involved and it would be in payment for the assistance he was benefiting from now.
“I’ll be expecting to hear from you all once this is over,” the man’s eyes took on an even colder expression, staring shark like and unblinking into Conall’s until certain that there was no doubt about what he was implying. The old man withered under the scrutiny. Sagging slightly in his chair he dropped his gaze onto the table top and focussed on the roll of money.
“Now. If you want my advice you’ll get over to Germany sharply with a squad including your two boys and put a watch on the airport. Make sure you’re mob handed enough to meet all of the planes coming into Frankfurt from Canada. Take the son of a bitch as soon as he arrives and don’t let him get as far as contacting his unit. It would be too risky to take him from the army base.” There was another short pause while he considered what more to say before he continued.
“To answer your question, yes of course we know where it is. It’s a town called Soltau and I’m telling you that for good reason. Now listen,” he leaned forward and raised an index finger to make his next point. “Under no circumstances do I want you or any of your boys to go there. Do you understand? You go nowhere near that place.” Conall nodded and the man went on.
“Remember, this bastard is no Para but he’s as good as. Trained with them for years so watch yourselves with him because he’ll be able to handle himself so he will. But there’s to be no firearms and nothing to link this with ‘the cause’. If you’re caught you’re on your own, understand? You’re just an angry father looking to take revenge for what happened to his beloved daughter. Snatch him there at the airport, drag him out into the countryside and do your worst. Knee cap him, castrate the bastard for all I care. Do whatever you’ve got to do then come back here and get on with your life. We’ll be in touch after you get back to hear how it went. Do it right.”
The dimly lit room fell silent and the temperature appeared to drop a few degrees. Conall took the hint. The meeting was over and that was all he was going to get. He picked up the roll of cash, stuffed it in his pocket, nodded a brusque farewell and made his way back out onto the street, relieved to be able to distance himself from that room. He felt as though he had been interviewed by the devil himself.
On his way home Conall contemplated his next move. He couldn’t go to Germany. He’d never been out of Ireland in his life let alone on an aeroplane and he wasn’t about to try it now. He was still strong and tough enough to face down just about anyone who fancied their chances in a fight but the very thought of soaring into the sky in a giant metal tube sent a shiver down his spine. Besides that, he didn’t even have a passport although his sons did. Callum and Finn had taken themselves off to some god forsaken Spanish island only last year. They had both come back suffering from severe sun burn and had banged on about it for weeks afterwards with tales of cheap booze and dirty women. Finn had caught himself a nasty dose of clap that had taken a month to clear up.
Despite his instructions, the old man was confidant that the pair of his boys together would be more than a match for any Brit soldier whether he was a Para or not, especially Callum. His confidence rose as he thought about his older son who could be a vicious bastard at the best of times. Regaining respect after what that filthy English scum had done to the family’s reputation was as much the boys responsibility as it was his own. The two of them could handle it between them and that way with luck there would be enough cash left over for a good drink afterwards.
As he shuffled along through the wet and dismal streets with the roll of money burning a hole in his pocket, Conall began to daydream. He would book a hall and invite all the old faces, no expense spared. Plenty of booze, maybe a dance band. Show them all especially those that he knew had been whispering behind his back that the O’Briens were still a dangerous force to be reckoned with. He’d make it clear that if anyone ever crossed his family again they were likely to regret it.
Once on home turf, Conall called in at the local pub where he knew his sons would be drinking and ordered them to follow him back to the house. As soon as the front door closed behind them he sat them down in the kitchen and explained everything he’d learned, omitting the fact that he’d committed them all to further active service for the PIRA. There followed an in depth discussion and a rough plan was outlined. Callum nipped up the road and paid Róisín a visit, returning with her best attempt at a description of the English soldier she’d seen her friend Kathleen with all that time ago. Since Kathleen had disappeared, Róisín had given birth to two babies but still lived with her mother who wasn’t best pleased to find Callum knocking at her door. She suspected he was the father of at least one of the sprogs but nobody had been willing to question him about it and Róisín had made her mind up that she didn’t want Callum to have anything to do with the raising of her children.
The description that Callum came away with was sketchy at best but it was all the O’Briens had to go on. Finally Conall took the roll of money from his pocket, removed thirty pounds from it for himself and passed the rest to Callum.
“There’s a hundred and seventy quid there. That’ll pay for your flights and any expenses while you’re away. Use as much as you need but I’ll expect a decent amount back after the job’s been done. Get your bags packed now. I’ll go to the phone box and call a taxi to take you to the airport. Get on the next available flight to Frankfurt and do exactly what I’ve told you to do. Don’t fuck it up!”
Callum and Finn were more than happy to be sent on a sortie to Europe, especially with pockets stuffed with cash. Despite the old man’s orders, they intended to make the most of what they’d been given. They planned to get the business over and done with straight away and have time to sample at least a week of German hospitality before they had to return. Later that same Thursday evening found them getting stuck in to a skinfull of duty free booze on a flight out from Belfast and leering at the cabin crew who reluctantly had to serve it to them.
Once the plane landed at Frankfurt they checked into the first accommodation they could find in close proximity to the airport, not worrying about the price as they had no intention whatsoever of settling their bill when they left. Then they went out on the town, spending the rest of the evening getting pissed on strong German lager and eyeing up some of the local girls. Neither of the brothers could speak a word of German, the fact was that they could barely speak English to a level that anyone who wasn’t brought up on the streets of Belfast might have a hope in hell of deciphering, so they had no luck with the Fräuleins.
Early the following morning Finn, still feeling the effects of the previous night’s overindulgence and despite the problems he encountered with making himself understood was sent out by Callum, who wasn’t able to drive legally due to his single eyed status, to hire a small nondescript commercial vehicle. He returned with a drab green Volkswagen T2 panel van with a sliding side door, as common as muck and ideal for its intended task. The plan that the brothers had settled upon was not subtle. The most difficult part was going to be to identify this Woolf character as he came through the arrivals gate. But as soon as they spotted him they intended to follow him outside, bundle him into the van as quickly and with as little fuss as possible then drive out of town to some quiet location where they could work him over at their leisure. Callum was looking forward to torturing the Brit and by the time they finished with him, even if he survived he wasn’t going to be capable of interfering with any more girls, Irish or otherwise. To this end they went out and bought some strong cord for tying the Englishman up, a sack to go over his head and some hefty tools for beating the living daylights out of him which included a lump hammer and a couple of heavy duty spanners. All innocent enough items that might be found inside any commercial vehicle and which they could easily explain if they were stopped. More importantly it was all the equipment they needed to carry out what they had in mind. They stashed the lot in the back of the vehicle along with their personal baggage in preparation for a quick getaway.
Once sufficiently tooled up they sought out a timetable of all incoming flights for that day and underlined those that were arriving from Canada, which turned out to be a lot more than they had hoped. Then it was a case of making sure that they were at the arrivals gate as each flight landed, with the van parked in close proximity outside.
The first two flights from Canada that Friday morning each resulted in a horde of passengers streaming into the airport and hurrying off outside to continue their journeys. With only Róisín’s sketchy description to go on Callum feared that their quarry might pass through unrecognised. It was then that Finn noticed what one or two others around them were doing and had the idea of making up a sign with a name written on it to display when the passengers came through.
“...and what do I say to him when he sees the sign and comes over to me?, ya bloody eejit!” said Callum. It was a fair point, well made.
“You’ll just tell him he’s not the man you’re here to meet, that there must be a mistake, then we’ll follow him outside and get him in the van,” replied Finn and Callum had to admit it was probably worth a try.
“OK, go and find us a piece of card and something to write with and we’ll give it a shot.”
Despite the addition of the improvised cardboard sign to their plan, there was no sign of anyone who fitted the description of Frank Woolf on any of the flights that arrived during that afternoon and into the night. The hours between flights were spent drinking heavily, smoking duty free cigarettes and eating copious amounts of Bratwurst with chips but there was never enough time to get a decent sleep.
“This is fucking ridiculous!” exclaimed Finn after the last few stragglers from the two o’clock in the morning flight plodded wearily past. “Do you think we’ve missed him?”
“Sure it’s possible,” replied Callum. “but what can we do.”
They crashed out on the airport’s uncomfortable bench seats for a fitful hour or two during the night. By the time dawn broke on Saturday morning and they made their way wearily back to the arrivals gate for the umpteenth time, they were both feeling disillusioned, knackered and badly hung over. The all expenses paid trip to Europe that they had jumped at the chance of taking so quickly wasn’t working out to be as much fun as the two brothers had envisaged.