Fate's Last Turn

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Chapter 43

Conall O’Brien had been picked up at his home at the crack of dawn by four RUC officers on the morning after his two sons had been arrested in Germany. Cursing and spitting venomous vitriol at his captors he’d been frogmarched out into the street and bundled unceremoniously into their Land Rover while neighbouring curtains twitched and rumours were born. He’d been driven to a police station in Knock Road where he’d received a short sharp beating to soften him up before being questioned for hours in an uncomfortable interview room. The rough treatment only served to increase his defiance, so he gave nothing away and flatly refused to admit knowing anything about his sons’ whereabouts or what they’d been up to. However, during the interrogation Conall was able to deduce from the questions angrily fired at him that his boys had blatantly disobeyed his orders about not going to Soltau. It became apparent that they had carried out a violent attack on this Woolf character actually on the army base. The two eejits had totally screwed up and were now up to their necks in trouble at the hands of the Brits over in Germany. ‘Nothing less than they deserved,’ thought Conall and when he eventually got his hands on them they were going to wish they had never been born.

Meanwhile, the authorities could prove nothing against the old man and after a miserable and sleepless night spent on a filthy cot in a cold stinking cell, he was released late in the morning without charge and without breakfast. He made his way on foot straight to his local pub, arriving just as it opened for business and downed his first pint in five seconds flat before ordering the barman to set up another with a Bushmills whiskey chaser. As quickly as the booze flowed the bar filled up with people and it wasn’t long before Conall was holding court with a group of his regular cronies, loudly spouting an exaggerated description of the violent treatment he’d received. He ran out of money and credit before he ran out of steam but finally conceded to the motley crew that he’d better be making his way home before Nora came looking for him. When her blood was up he feared her much more than any RUC scum.

It was another grey and miserably day and the constant stream of drizzle did nothing to improve his mood as Connal staggered the short way home, singing a rebel song and cursing the British, the police and anyone else in authority that popped into his addled mind as he went. When he approached his front door but before he could open it, somebody called his name from close behind him.

“Mister O’Brien?” the breathy voice spoke softly and Conall halted, startled and yet confused at the polite tone, wondering where the person had sprung from as he’d not noticed anybody else on the street.

“Yes, who wants him?” Conall replied gruffly, turning to face the source of the voice but his perplexed expression changed immediately to one of horror when he saw the figure standing within arm’s length. The man was huge and menacing, made more so by the addition of a black balaclava which hid all except a pair of cold grey and unblinking eyes.

“Sweet mother of God.” said the old man and they were the last words he ever spoke as Duffy pumped one silenced round into Conall O’Brien’s heart and in the same split second another between his eyes.

Duffy carried out many and varied tasks for the high ranking PIRA members who requested his services but primarily he was an assassin and excelled at his job. What made him more dangerous than others who plied a similar trade was that he wasn’t just in it for the money although payment was always generous. The fact was that Duffy was entirely dedicated to the cause for which he carried out his orders, maybe even more so than some of his superiors. He worked for nobody but the Provisional IRA and although willing to die for his beliefs, so meticulous were his preparations that he had never come close to having to make the ultimate sacrifice. Despite having an iota of empathy with the O’Brien’s and knowing full well the action he would have taken if he’d found himself in similar circumstances, the fact that they had caused such a serious setback to ‘the cause’ with their callous act of noncompliance meant that Duffy had no qualms about carrying out the murders. As expected, a verbal contract had been received by telephone from those who gave him his orders and the hit on the old man had been as straight forward as they came.

One of Duffy’s particularly devious talents was what he was able to achieve in the aftermath of some of the atrocities he had been involved in. Many murders, beatings and bombings over the years had been unjustly attributed to one or more of the PIRA’s enemies. Loyalist organisations such as the Ulster Volunteer Force were often perceived to have been responsible for particularly heinous crimes against republicanists, both civilian and front line IRA members. In truth much of the violence had actually been perpetrated by the republicans themselves because the victims were suspected traitors. Not wishing to turn loyal PIRA supporters and particularly fund raisers against themselves even though feeling justified in their actions, blame was allocated accordingly through well established channels. This was the case with the first O’Brien murder.

Now it was just a matter of Duffy waiting for the funeral to take place. The two sons, despite being in custody while police investigations were ongoing, would very likely be released before the arrangements were made or if not would be allowed to attend their father’s funeral under supervision and it was there that Duffy expected to find the best opportunity to take them out.

The O’Brien boys hadn’t even come close to achieving their goal of exacting violent revenge upon their sister’s ex-husband. Because of the circumstances preceding their attack regarding the murder of Kathleen at the hands of a British army veteran, and because the whole sorry affair had begun with Corporal Woolf playing scant regard for military protocol, the British army were not particularly interested in pursuing charges against them regardless of the fact that they were known to be PIRA activists. The main concern was that the two thugs had been apprehended within the perimeter of a military installation. Security was stepped up at Bournemouth Barracks in Soltau and indeed all the BAOR garrisons were ordered to take measures to ensure that no similar incidents could occur elsewhere.

Instead of military internment and charges of terrorism, much to their relief the brothers were shipped back to Belfast under escort and handed over to the RUC accompanied by a wad of paperwork explaining what they had been up to. Once back in Ireland they were locked up while the constabulary decided what to do with them and interrogated thoroughly while ‘enjoying’ their stay. It was during that time that the news of Conall O’Brien’s murder came in and not wanting to provoke further confrontation with the general public in such troubled times, shortly afterwards the decision was made to issue stern warnings and then release both Finn and Callum without further charge.

They were turfed out of their cells and ejected onto the street without ceremony. Still in high spirits after their misguided adventures abroad they took the opportunity to hurl as much abuse at the RUC officers as they thought they could get away with, then went on their way. Both of them were looking forward to exercising their bragging rights down at the local pub as the old man’s cash hadn’t been confiscated. They still had plenty of it burning holes in their pockets. The news of the violent death of their father hadn’t really caused them any grief or indeed much in the way of surprise. Conall O’Brien had made so many enemies over the years and upset so many others who were supposedly on his own side that sooner or later he was bound to have been knocked off.

The same couldn’t be said for Nora who worried how she was going to cope now that she was on her own. She was lumbered with two good for nothing sons at home while her four remaining daughters were busy forging their own lives elsewhere. Her future looked even more dismal without her husband than it had done when he had been alive and that was saying something. She had very little money to speak of, certainly nowhere near enough to pay for even the most austere of funerals. It wasn’t that she felt that Conall deserved anything more memorable than a cold hole in the ground, it was more to do with her own pride and what the neighbours would think of her only being able to run to a pauper’s grave. Not knowing who to turn to regarding the cost of the impending funeral, Nora spent many hours at St. Paul’s which was her local church, discussing her predicament with the priest, Father Aidan Logan who was a man she barely knew. All he could offer were prayers and Nora could not have been more surprised when very soon afterwards they appeared to be answered.

Well before the date of the funeral she learned that a campaign had been launched locally with the aim of ensuring that her good for nothing husband received a glorious send off. His murder was believed to have been carried out by the UVF and by the time his body had been released for burial, enough money had been donated by republican sympathisers to ensure that it would be a send off worthy of the most honourable of men. Drunken, lazy, loud mouthed and belligerent Conall O’Brien was to be buried with full military honours in Milltown Cemetery where so many of his fallen heroes already lay. The old man would have been so proud.

When the day of the funeral arrived the turnout was nothing short of phenomenal. The O’Brien house was crammed full of neighbours and distant family members summoning up vague tales of good times long since forgotten. For a good couple of hours in the presence of the coffin, women wailed and eulogies were read. Bottles were opened, flasks filled, cigars and pipes were smoked and women wailed some more. After what was deemed an appropriate length of time the wake mercifully petered out. Then Finn and Callum along with four of the old man’s closest associates all wearing the most respectful and serious expressions they could muster, hefted the tricolour draped coffin out of the house and placed it carefully into the back of a sleek black hearse purring at the kerbside. Nora and her immediate family then all squeezed into two luxurious limousines. Leaving the family home the cortège glided gracefully out of the estate bolstered by five black taxis and a seemingly never ending procession of mourners on foot. They proceeded to the nearby St. Paul’s church where a mass took place. Moving tributes were read by overly tearful people who Nora, and possibly Conall had never known. A plea was made by Father Logan appealing to all members of the congregation not to take the law into their own hands, promising that God would exact his own form of justice upon the brutal murderers who had slaughtered this well respected man. Finn and Callum kept glancing at each other in astonishment, wondering if they had mistakenly stumbled into the wrong service.

After the mass finally concluded the cortège resumed its journey serenely along the Falls Road towards Milltown Cemetery. When the procession reached Whiterock it took a short detour along a narrow lane where it was joined by an honour guard of five IRA volunteers and a lone piper. The sinister, spectre like members of the guard wearing black balaclavas seemed to materialise from nowhere then took up positions flanking the hearse as it continued on it’s way, now led by the piper playing a mournful lament.

Once the procession had entered the cemetery the throng stood silently in the biting wind beside the freshly dug grave for a moment while final tributes were spoken. Finally the peace was violently shattered when the IRA guard whipped out concealed revolvers and fired a three volley salute over the coffin before disappearing as stealthily as they had arrived.

One of the mourners, a big man, stood slightly apart from the rest watching respectfully as the proceedings came to an end. He wore a long dark coat and a hat pulled low over his face so that his features were hardly discernible. Once the majority of the congregation had drifted away leaving only the closest family members at the graveside to pay their final respects he moved closer until he was positioned right behind Callum and Finn. Leaning between the two of them the big man spoke softly so that only the two boys could hear.

“I’ve been asked to collect you both and take you to see my boss for a short chat in his office. He needs to speak to you about some unfinished business,” Duffy said.

“Can’t it wait?” said Callum, knowing full well what the ‘unfinished business’ referred to. “There’s a free bar in the pub now so there is. Why don’t you come with us. All are welcome.”

“It wouldn’t do to keep my boss waiting, but it won’t take long boys. I’ll be driving you back to your free bar in no time at all. Come on.”

With that Duffy turned and walked towards the row of cars parked near the entrance to the cemetery. Several of them pulled away as he approached. Nobody paid him any attention at all. The boys looked at each other and shrugged, well aware that they had no choice but to comply.

“Come on Finn. Let’s get it over and done with. The sooner we go the sooner we’ll be back.”

The boys followed Duffy to his car and got in the back. Neither their mother and sisters nor anyone else remaining at the graveside even noticed their departure.

“Step on it then big man,” said Callum to the back of the man’s head.

“Where are we going?” asked Finn

“You’ll see soon enough,” came the reply.

The journey lasted little more than five minutes.

The brothers’ corpses were discovered three days later still in the back of the same car which was dumped and burned out on an overgrown piece of wasteland just off Glen Road, not far from the cemetery. The charred bodies were identifiable only with the assistance of medical and dental records but there was an identical hole drilled neatly through the front of each skull.

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