Life in the neighborhood around Shillelagh’s Irish Alehouse & Pub was dominated by its close proximity to the Cargo section of Boston’s Logan Airport only a few miles away, and the various industrial facilities that benefited from the direct connection to the airport and Boston Harbor. The people who lived here worked hard for a living. One of the few luxuries they could afford was an occasional drink at their bar of choice after work. The baseball fans among them would refer to such a place as the Third Base, because the pub was the last stop on their way home.
The workforce was a combination of black, white, Southeast Asian, and Hispanic. Though they worked together well, they usually did not socialize with one another. Shillelagh’s Irish Alehouse & Pub was commonly frequented by those workers of Irish descent. A stranger to the neighborhood, someone who would only end up there after seriously losing orientation, wouldn’t think much of the watering hole’s facade, but the place was popular for an Irish session or watching a Red Sox game.
Finn could have afforded to live in a wealthier neighborhood, but he preferred to feel the pulse of the working class. He sat at the bar at his usual spot when the door opened and a black man, obviously working as a security guard, entered the bar.
Finn welcomed the new entry by saying, “Well, if it isn’t the black sheriff.”
Thomas Murphy, a muscular man in his early forties, was not amused.
“I prefer African-American, if you don’t mind.”
Finn raised his hands. “Oh, excuse me,” he said. “I was referring to the uniform.”
Mike, the bartender on duty, laughed, “Good save, Finn.”
Finn grinned. “I have my moments.”
He liked Mike. It had always been his special interest to befriend the bartender. He would not only benefit from better service, but bartenders usually know their patrons well, and they know about everything that goes on in the neighborhood. Some of them were better than others. Mike, for instance, was a student working on his psychology degree through an undergraduate program at Boston University. Finn liked Mike’s intelligence and enjoyed his occasional psychology jokes.
“There is not a great difference between a bartender and a psychologist,” he once insisted. “We listen to the same crap all day, but a psychologist gets paid for it.”
Mike had just finished tapping a Guinness. He turned to Tom, who had claimed a spot at the far end of the bar.
“Had a rough day?” he asked him.
Tom scratched his head.
“Well, Doc” he said in a serious tone, “I’m telling you, it’s not easy being the only black Irish in the neighborhood. Get me a Harp, will you, and make it quick. I’ll get into trouble with my wife if I’m not home by six.”
Then he looked at Finn in mocked disgust.
“And if I had a white uniform I would most probably have a straitjacket with me. There are some people I can think of who might need it. Not that I’m looking at anybody in particular – you hear me, Finn? But no, I’m not looking at anybody in particular.”
Mike served Tom the Harp and then he turned toward Finn. “Hey, Finn. How about a donation for the local law enforcement? Maybe that will cheer him up a little. I really have trouble working with such negative energy around.”
“Okay, Doctor,” Finn laughed. “Put it on my bill.”
It was close to the end of office hours for some businesses or shift change for others and the pub filled up quickly and steadily. That night was game night, meaning the Red Sox had a home game at Fenway Park, and everybody came in to watch the pregame show. Finn was not much of a baseball fan, but he usually enjoyed watching the dynamics of the regulars during a game.
Tonight, however, he wasn’t up for more social contact, so he kept to himself. He was tense. He knew something was about to happen, maybe not tonight, but most certainly soon.
His manner changed when later in the night the door opened and a man obviously not from around the neighborhood entered the pub. His dark hair was neatly combed back and it showed the first signs of graying. His neatly trimmed beard was mostly gray. What made the man stand out in the crowd were his clothes. They would be considered business casual in the office environment of a financial institution, but they were a gross mismatch compared to the attire of the working class present in the pub.
Finn closed his eyes for a brief moment, and a faint smile appeared on his face. Finally, he thought, I will finally go back to my island.
The man took a few steps inside, stopped to take a look around, and then pushed both hands into the pockets of his trousers. That had been the secret sign they had used many years ago. It meant, “The English are here.” Their eyes met, and the man walked over and conquered the stool beside Finn’s.
“Hey, brother,” he said with a smile and punched his fist into Finn’s shoulder.
Even though they were brothers and had not seen each other in years, public displays of affection had never been their preference.
Finn’s attention briefly focused on another man entering the bar. He wasn’t quite sure why, but something about the man’s appearance and his demeanor irritated him.
Slowly he turned back to his brother. “What’s up with the beard?”
Seamus’ hand went through his facial hair.
“It makes me look more respectable, I guess.” He grinned.
“Hey, Mike,” Finn called out. The bartender came over to take the order. “Meet my brother Seamus.”
“James,” Seamus corrected him. “I prefer James.”
Anticipating his brother’s question, he added: “I’m doing more transactions in London these days, and James is better for business than Seamus.”
“Well, I’ll take your word for it,” Finn responded.
“Mike,” he said to the bartender. “Get us two Smithwick’s.”
He turned to his brother. “I take it we have time for a beer, right, brother?”
Seamus nodded. “Yes, I was counting on it.”
Mike wiped his hands with a wet towel, turned toward the other end of the bar, and yelled, “Hey, Molly. Draw some Smithwick’s for the twin brothers here.”
“Where are you staying?” Finn asked his brother.
“At the Hilton at Logan Airport. I came in this afternoon.”
“As always. Only the best for you, huh?”
“Well, it is expensive, but I have stayed better for less money. That place is as busy as the airport terminals around it.”
“And how is Eliza?”
About two years ago, his brother had married an American journalist, originally from Chicago, but at the time, on assignment in London. She was more than twenty years younger than him.
Seamus took a deep breath before he answered. “Well, she’s pregnant. In about three months, I am going to be a father.”
Finn couldn’t hide his surprise. “You’re a brave man, Seamus.”
He didn’t care for his brother’s new choice of name. Everybody else could call him James, but he decided not to, and his brother didn’t react as if he minded.
“Are you seriously up for parenthood at your age?” Finn asked.
“Oh, I think so. The way I see it, chasing a little diaper butt through the living room will keep me in shape, even though it will be difficult to combine business with parenthood. Eliza and I have been discussing it at length, and we are working it out.”
He smiled. “Get used to it, Uncle Finnean.”
Their beers arrived, and they sat in silence for a few moments, both with a pleased look on the face. The pause in conversation gave Finn some time to let the newly discovered information sink in while he enjoyed his beer, the present company, and the moving scenery.
Tom Murphy was working on what would be without a doubt his last beer, but unfortunately for Tom, the consumption of alcoholic beverages affected his sense of time. He would get into trouble with his wife if he didn’t show up by nine. As usual, he told the life story of his grandfather, who had been adopted as a child by a rich Irish family in Boston. Tonight he shared it with one of the regular patrons who had probably heard the story many times before, but who was polite enough to listen to it yet again.
“So, how is your father?” Finn asked, finally breaking the silence between them.
“Oh, still alive and kicking. It seems, though, he is running out of money. He called me just the other day and asked for help.”
Robert Byrne’s abrasive behavior toward guests and employees did not help to improve his dire financial situation after he took over the business, and his attitude became even worse after his wife’s unfortunate visit to Derry. To make matters more difficult, Seamus did not display any desire to follow him into the hotel business.
In 1973, soon after Seamus had finished law school in Dublin, Robert Byrne sold the entire estate to an American millionaire whose family had come from Ireland four generations ago. Byrne told his son to get a job, and that he had done his part by paying for law school. Now it was time for him to have a decent life.
Seamus took another gulp from his beer and finished it.
“I told him to go to hell,” he said.
Finn took the emptied glass as a sign that it was time to attend business. He looked at Seamus, and just as if he had read his mind, his brother nodded. They stood up, and Finn gestured to the bartender that he was ready to pay his tab.
“My apartment is just two blocks away,” he turned to his brother. “No need for a car. We’ll just walk, if you don’t mind.”
He handed the bartender a couple of twenty-dollar bills and leaned over to speak to him in a hushed voice.
“Mike, the guy over there standing beside the pool table, the one with the blue Patriots sweater, do you see him?”
“He rubs me the wrong way, if you know what I mean.”
Without further comment, Mike showed him two thumbs up. Then he moved quickly toward the end of the counter. There he started a casual conversation with some patrons engaged in a game of pool billiard.
It was almost midnight and the weather had turned to a slight rain. Seamus walked across the street and opened the door of a large and fast looking Pontiac, obviously a rental car. He retrieved a jacket from the backseat and, after putting it on, went on to open a briefcase and produced a large, brown envelope. Without a word, he handed it over to Finn, who took it in silence.
They both knew the information contained in the envelope was important, but there was no need to discuss it right then and there. The two-minute walk gave them a welcome time to talk briefly without prying eyes or ears.
Finn’s apartment was on the fourth floor of a large, modern apartment building. He unlocked and opened the door to reveal a spacious studio. They saw the large chocolate lab lying close to the convection heater. The dog lifted its head, wagged his tail for a few seconds, and then went back to sleep.
Finn pointed to the dog. “Seamus, meet Buster.”
“Buster? Are you serious? He looks like you can set his tail on fire without getting any reaction whatsoever.”
“Well, I didn’t name him. I got him when he was already an old guy. I can only guess that he must have been different when he was young, or maybe he wasn’t. Maybe it was just a bad choice of name.”
He shook his head. “But thinking about it, he’s a bit more lethargic than usual tonight.”
He bent down to pat the dog, then they went over to the kitchen counter where Seamus took a seat. Finn pulled the water kettle from the electric stove and filled it with water.
“Can I offer you something to drink?” he asked. “Maybe something hot?”
“Yes. How about a coffee?”
Finn looked at him in disgust.
Seamus chuckled. “All right, all right! Tea will do.”
Even though he was eager to learn about the envelope’s contents, Finn took his time to prepare the tea. It helped him to calm down.
Finally, he took the brown envelope from the counter top but still did not open it. He looked at his brother.
“Do you know what is in here?” he asked him.
Seamus shook his head. “I am just the courier.”
Finn carefully opened the envelope and removed two sheets of paper, obviously photocopies of official government documents judging from the clearly visible seals and stamps. He started reading the documents and, his face turning darker with every second, he shook his head in disbelief.
Seamus couldn’t help but worry.
“What is it?” he asked.
Finn looked at the papers again and then turned back to his brother.
“These are copies of an official and, as far as I can tell, genuine MI5 report. According to these documents¼”
He took another deep breath.
“We have identified the White Fox.”
For as long as Finn was involved with intelligence activities against the British forces in Northern Ireland, there had been continuous rumors of a traitor within their ranks, a mole paid by British intelligence services. The Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police, who had the lead role in the battle against Irish terrorism until MI5 took over in 1992 had code-named their mole the White Fox.
In zoological terms, the White Fox, also known as the Arctic Fox or Snow Fox, has some distinctive features to survive in the cold Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The color of its fur changes with the season, providing a perfect camouflage. During the winter, it is white to blend in with the snow and in the summer it turns to brown.
The man code-named the White Fox seemed to have the same abilities to conceal his identity. The information he provided to British Intelligence Services was sporadic, but it was nevertheless of eminent importance for the Military Intelligence branches.
Finn’s particular interest in the man was that the White Fox had revealed the location of a secret meeting in the center of Belfast to British Intelligence. By sheer coincidence, Finn and his wife Shauna were present at the meeting when British soldiers raided the place. Finn managed to escape over the roofs of Belfast, killing at least six soldiers during the breakout, but one of the first victims of the attack was his beloved wife. Later, Finn was granted the right to kill the man known as the White Fox, but up to the present moment, they had been unable to identify him.
Similar thoughts went through Finn’s head, not noticing that Seamus grew increasingly impatient.
“Well, who is it?” Seamus finally asked. He sounded concerned and a bit annoyed by Finn’s silence.
“Oh, sorry.” Finn still looked confused.
“It’s Marty,” he said, surprising himself with the calmness of his voice.
“Marty?” Seamus was stunned. “Marty Sheehan?”
There was no answer from Finn, but it was obvious the person in question was Finn’s old comrade.
Seamus jumped from his chair. “That is impossible! He was your best friend!”
“And yet I have to believe that these papers speak the truth. Believe me, they had been thoroughly authenticated before you were sent over here.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Oh, that part is easy. I am going back to Ireland, and I am going to kill the bastard.”
“So, you know where he is?”
“Yes. He lives in Northern Ireland.”
“Listen, Finn, you know this could be a trap! The English may know where you are, and the CIA cannot protect you over there.”
“I know that, brother.”
“They are going to arrest you.”
Finn grinned. “Yes, or at least they will try to arrest me, but I will not let them. They will have to kill me, but not before I kill Marty. His misery will be that I will join him on the way to hell.”
He took a sad look at the dog. “Too bad for Buster, too, because he is very attached to me, and he is not going to eat when I am gone. It will be better for him to have him euthanized.”
Seamus looked at the dog, but didn’t say anything. He had never cared for dogs. His preference had been horses throughout his life.
“I hate to say it, brother,” Finn continued, “But there are reservations to be made and there is little time to make them. Maybe it is best to say good-bye for now. I will contact you through the usual channels as soon as I am in the Province.”
Seamus understood. He took a few steps toward his brother, and they shook hands.
“Take care of yourself,” he said. He felt a large lump in his throat. He punched his fist into his brother’s shoulder, turned around, and walked toward the door.
“If you have the time, Seamus,” Finn called out for him. Seamus stopped in the doorframe and turned around.
“Meet me at Saint Patrick’s on Sunday afternoon.”
Seamus looked relieved, and a smile returned to his face.
“I think that can be arranged,” he said.