They had waited in their armored cars for hours, assault gears on and gas masks in their hands. When the word finally came, they adjusted their body armor with the high-velocity inserts. Another squad had already entered the building from the roof, killing all IRA scouts in the stairwells using silencers on their modified Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns.
John McDermott had been assigned number three in the unit, and his job was to blast the door open and cover the two other SAS soldiers who would assault the flat. This was a routine operation, and they came well prepared. There was no need for exchanging words or giving orders when they ran up the concrete stairs to the first floor, then second, third, and finally to their target on the fourth floor.
They could hear the sound of a TV blurring inside while McDermott prepared the charges. Assuring that numbers one and two were in position, John blew the lock off and kicked the door in, followed by the two soldiers entering the flat. He could hear screams and shouts inside, but waited for the flash and bang of the exploding stun grenade before he joined them.
He noticed the dead bodies of two young Irishmen lying close to the couch in the living room, their blood, thick and dark red, crawling down the floor before reaching the worn Oriental rug.
This was supposed to be a highly effective operation, quick and dirty, but to his surprise the shooting continued. Cautiously, he walked across the living room toward the bedroom. Once inside, he saw the two soldiers kneeling beside an open door, without a doubt leading to the flat next door.
“It was a major flaw in their intelligence operation, and it eventually saved my life,” Finn said. “They did not know the two flats were connected, and the hold-up at the door bought me enough time for my escape.”
Finn and Shauna had met with Marty, who had brought them there for a hastily arranged meeting, to discuss the details of their leaving the country. A group of five people provided them with valuable information according to their individual knowledge and skills, but, most importantly, they had traveling papers and forged passports.
The two young men in the living room, Sean and Michael, belonged to their circle of scouts, and, carelessly ignoring the importance of their mission, they sat on the couch watching a football game on TV when the attack began.
The people in the other flat, including Finn and Shauna, were stunned for a few seconds by the loud bang of the grenade exploding in the room next door. Moments later, the door was busted in and two soldiers in full assault gear opened fire into the room. Finn and the other men reacted quickly to the assault. They dove for cover and returned the fire. Finn had found shelter behind a large commode he had knocked over while dragging Shauna with him.
Suddenly, he felt her stumbling and he had to pull her full weight after her body slammed to the ground. Once behind the commode, he hastily pulled his 9mm Browning and started shooting toward the open door. From the corners of his eyes, he noticed a strange object next to him on the ground, and it took seconds before he realized that he was looking at a smear of blood starting at the spot where Shauna fell and leading to her body on the floor behind him. He felt like in slow motion as he turned around and the first he saw were her terrified eyes.
“Finn,” she whispered, too low to be heard over the shooting noise, but he could read her lips.
All he could do was sit down and stare at her.
“I have never felt so helpless in my life,” he told me with a choking voice, squinting his eyes. “But Marty kept his cool.”
Marty had noticed that something was wrong, and he dove toward Finn’s hideout, covered by the other men who increased their fire toward the SAS soldiers. He looked at Shauna and quickly examined her.
Then he turned to Finn. “You must get out of here!” he yelled at him.
“No!” was all Finn could say. He looked at Shauna. “I will not leave without her.”
They heard a loud cry from the door, “I am hit!”
John McDermott held both hands to his bloody thigh while one of his fellow SAS men pulled him out of the line of fire. The shooting had stopped, and they could hear the voice of the third man radioing for medical assistance and backup.
“Finn,” Marty said calmly. “You must leave now. They must not get you.”
He nodded toward the door.
“There is nothing you can do right now. We will take care of her. I promise!”
Finn looked at Shauna for an answer, but she had passed out, looking surprisingly peaceful. He still refused to leave, but Marty and two other men used all their strength to drag him toward the open window, where he finally conceded.
He took the rope that would lead him to the roof, and, with a last look at Shauna’s body, he started climbing.
“The other squad still covered the roof,” Finn continued, “but they were watching the door that led from the stairwell to the roof. They did not expect an attack from behind. I am not proud of it, but eventually I killed them all in self-defense, and within hours, I was on a ship bound for New York.”
“And that is all I will tell you about it,” he concluded. The pain was clearly visible on his face, and I didn’t dare push for more details.
Finn checked his wristwatch. It was almost seven o’clock, and apparently it was time to say good-bye as a large, black limousine turned into the driveway. It stopped halfway and flashed the high beam twice to signal its arrival.
We turned to walk toward the car when we both noticed a large Appaloosa with its distinctive, leopard-spotted coat emerging from the small group of horses and trotting toward us. Finn stopped in amazement and turned back.
“What a beautiful horse,” he said. He walked toward the paddock where the Appaloosa already waited at the fence, and I followed him.
“Finn,” I said. “Meet Dandy. Well, his full name is Broadway Dandy.”
He looked at me, surprised.
“Don’t ask,” I grinned. “Horse people are crazy, and they come up with the most bizarre names.”
Dandy impatiently pushed his nose under Finn’s arm, as if looking for something, and, once Finn offered the flat inside of his hand, started nibbling with his flabby lips, looking for a treat.
I scanned the area around the paddock. “My wife usually keeps some goodies somewhere around here.”
I pulled a small zip-lock bag from behind the wooden post and unwrapped a peppermint candy, or as my wife calls them, horse candy.
“Here. Try this one,” I told him.
Finn looked surprised, but took the candy, and, putting it on his flat hand, offered it to Dandy, who, with a snort of appreciation, loudly chewed the well-deserved treat.
“I thought I knew everything about horses, but I wasn’t aware they like peppermint,” Finn said. He was still looking at the horse and a slight smile returned to his face. Without asking, he took the bag away from me.
“Well,” I responded, “as far as I know horses, they do appreciate the finer things in life, even though a few of them are a bit too snobby for this kind of treat. Dandy here is an extraordinary horse, but his attitude is down to earth.”
While Finn continued feeding candies to the horse, patting him on the neck, and talking to him with a calm and soothing voice, I heard a noise coming from the limousine. When I turned around, I could see the back door opening and a man with dark, but graying hair, wearing a black suit with tie, his face perfectly shaved, set his foot on the driveway. He stood there for a few seconds, holding his hand over his eyes to protect them from the rising sun.
“Brother, are you coming?” I heard him calling.
Finn turned his head but kept his hands on the horse.
“Hey, Seamus, come over for a minute! Meet my new friend,” he yelled. “And have a look at this beautiful horse.”
Then he watched me in amusement, feasting on the shock that was clearly written in my face while his brother made his way toward us.
Finn introduced us and all I could say was, “Hi, James.”
“Call me Seamus,” he grinned. “It’s better for business.”
Then he looked at Dandy.
“This is indeed a beautiful horse,” he said. He was full of admiration.
I was still fighting with substantial confusion, and I needed some answers.
“So, who was the White Fox?” I asked, looking first at Finn, then at his brother. “I mean…what the heck is going on here?”
Seamus turned to Finn, “You haven’t told him yet?”
Finn shook his head and, with obvious reluctance, let go of Dandy. He handed the bag to his brother, who first looked at it, confused for a moment, but then started feeding candies to the horse.
“The original White Fox was one of the men who were killed in the stairwell,” Finn told me. “It was a simple timing issue. He was not supposed to be there during the assault. We found out about him quickly after talking to his wife and Seamus took over his identity. For many years, the MI5 did not know who the man was they had named the White Fox.”
“So,” I turned to Seamus. “You were a double agent.”
He smiled and nodded.
“You know,” he said. “It’s like the James Bond characters. All of a sudden they look and behave differently, and nobody notices anything. It could be a general flaw in the British psyche.”
“Well,” I responded. “We Americans do have a similar flaw with Superman. As soon as he puts on those thick-rimmed glasses…“
“Would you two adolescents just stop it?” Finn interrupted our conversation.
He didn’t seem pleased and he looked at his brother. “Sometimes I wonder if you truly are my older brother, and the emphasis is on older.”
I tried my best to ignore this minor outburst of sibling rivalry, but Finn was right. We needed to keep our focus.
“So, you took the money the MI5 gave you, right?” I asked Seamus.
“Oh, gladly!” Seamus laughed, patting Dandy’s neck. “Helped my business tremendously.”
“But you didn’t betray your brother, right?”
“No way! I like having a brother. It’s way cool!” he joked.
Finn shook his head again and looked at his brother in disagreement.
“Oh, relax brother,” Seamus laughed back at him. “I’m just preparing myself for parenthood.”
During his years as the White Fox, Seamus had fed useless, but nevertheless cleverly disguised information to the MI5, but as of lately he felt the need to retire.
“There is a baby on the way,” he said, changing to a more serious demeanor. “It was time to end my involvement, but a simple retirement letter to the MI5 wouldn’t have done the job. We decided to blow my cover and make me useless for British Intelligence.”
He reluctantly let go of the horse and punched his fist into Finn’s shoulder.
“And my brother here knew just how to do it. After all, he had a bone to pick, and the whole retirement plan grew a bit out of proportion if you ask me.”
I looked at Finn, who continued to explain. “To put it in a nut-shell, the MI5, in the past and up to the present day, remains the biggest threat to a peaceful Northern Ireland. They have been consistently working on their own agenda as far as the Irish problem was involved. They did everything in their power to disrupt the peace process, and they did not stop at collaborating against any current prime minister, who was genuinely interested in providing peace to the Northern provinces.
“Major forces inside the MI5 and beyond still believe that a massive military involvement, in a proportion unseen to this day, is the only viable solution. The MI5, with the help of Loyalist paramilitary forces, was instrumental in the undermining of the 1972 and 1975 ceasefires, unnecessarily prolonging the bloody conflict by another twenty years, and they continued their counterproductive activities even after the Good Friday agreement.
“The recent establishment of a new MI5 headquarter in Holywood, in view of a threat that could easily be handled by regular police forces, is evidence of their intentions.
“They would very much like to arrest tens of thousands of suspects without cause and without the possibility of a trial, and all of it would be justified by the current terrorist act. It is daunting to think about the death toll this would have cost the people of Northern Ireland.
“All this could have been stopped in its early stages, but the former PM Edward Heath was utterly unable to overcome his conservative limitations, and then the MI5 signed a pact with the devil herself, Margaret Thatcher. She, in turn, showed no interest in being human. We lost a lot of good opportunities for peace during her reign, and even the exorcist, Tony Blair, could not eliminate all the devil’s doing.”
In January of 2005, the head of the MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, admitted in front of the British parliamentary intelligence and security committee that MI5 agents had planted sophisticated listening devices at the head offices of Sinn Fein at Connolly House in Andersonstown.
Sinn Fein, in their own ways, did everything to capitalize on the affront, but, as Finn put it, “These politicians had no clue who was responsible for the bugging. They had a hunch that the MI5 was involved, but had no means to prove it, and that is where we came in.”
“Needless to say,” Finn continued, “but the bugging incident was a serious embarrassment for Tony Blair and a blunt violation of the peace process. There is further evidence – and there is not enough time to list it all – showing that the MI5 is still out of control, and as long as the politicians are unable to control the workings of the British intelligence services, there will never be absolute peace in Northern Ireland.
“The investigation of the bugging incident led us to Colonel Spencer as one of the key players. Also included in our list of possible conspirators was the chief constable of Northern Ireland, who, without a doubt, knew about the operation, but at this time we just don’t have enough evidence of his involvement.
“However, Spencer was the best target for an operation designed to effectively embarrass the head of MI5 and to post a clear warning to everybody who dared to disturb the peace process.
“Call me sentimental, but I hope that my doings, and, most of all, that of the people of Northern Ireland will stabilize peace in the provinces. The war is over now, and I’d like it very much to stay that way.”
“Oh, I am with you, Finn,” I assured him.
However, I was curious to learn more.
“I will most certainly look into the MI5 situation, but, do you have a theory what motivates these guys, what gets them going?”
He nodded. “In the specific case of Colonel Spencer there was very obviously a great deal of personal anguish, and I am sure there are many MI5 agents with personal and hurtful memories of the Irish war. However, the real question is, what drives the higher ranks within the MI5? There is no clear answer, I am afraid. I can only speculate.”
A deep breath followed, and he closed his eyes briefly.
“First, there is the harsh reality of financial concerns,” he continued. “A great portion of the intelligence budget is dedicated to fighting so-called domestic terrorism, which, in all consequences, translates mainly into fighting underground paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. If they approached the problem on the proper level – and I am talking about leaving the problem to local police – they would lose some major funding.
“The next aspect is as irrelevant to Northern Ireland and equally primeval in nature as any other reason I can think of and that is the mere power aspect, and, in this case, I include the chief constable’s office. Unfortunately, Great Britain is sliding into a state of total surveillance of their people, and there is a lot to say about that…”
“We need to go, brother,” Seamus interrupted him, pointing to his wristwatch.
At first it looked like Finn was about to object to the interruption, but then he realized his brother was right.
“Well,” he said instead. “I think I gave you enough thoughts to work with.”
He looked me straight in the eyes. “Make the best of it, my friend.”
“Good luck, Finn,” I said. I was disappointed to lose a dear friend so soon, but I was also thrilled to have met him.
“It is an honor to have met you.”
“Thanks for listening,” he said while we shook hands.
“And Seamus,” I turned to his brother. “Enjoy fatherhood. So far, it has been the most enjoyable fun ride I ever had in my life.”
“Looking forward to it,” he said with a kindly smile. We shook hands, and, still feeling the sadness in my heart, I watched the two brothers walk toward the limousine.
“Hey, Finn,” I called out and watched him turning around. “What else is there that you haven’t told me?”
He smiled. “I can’t tell you, my friend.”
He pointed to the car. “For one thing, as you can see, I have to leave.”
After a few more steps, he turned back again. “You have to find that out yourself. You have that phone number. Think about it and you will find that all of the pieces fall into place.”
With those words, he entered the car. The door closed, and the limousine, with the two brothers inside, backed off the driveway. Within seconds, they were gone.
I went back into the house, proceeded to my small office, powered up my MacBook, and, supported by an ample supply of Moody Blues music, frantically wrote down everything I could remember.
A few hours later, after the first draft was done, I turned to investigate the phone number Finn had mentioned. There had been a minor flaw in the planning of our night session. The woman who called to set up the meeting time had used her private phone, and I was able to retrieve the number through my online phone records.
Finn didn’t seem terribly concerned. After all, he was going to retire, and I had promised to keep his information confidential.
An ordinary telephone number, with the help of a fast Internet connection, can reveal a considerable amount of information, not only about the person who owns the number, but also about the caller’s neighborhood. While this is true for most of North America, it does not entirely apply to, for example, Nova Scotia.
During my research I found sufficient pieces to complete a puzzle, but I cannot say with all confidence whether or not the puzzle represents the real picture. After all, the tale of Finnean Whelan is based solely on the author’s imagination.
I don’t know how long I worked that morning, but the sun was already high above the horizon when I looked outside the window. My wife’s car had just disappeared into the garage, and a moment later I could see her and my kids walking toward the house.
I awaited them on the small porch outside the kitchen, and, when they came up the stairs, I kissed my wife and hugged my daughter and my son. I was glad they were home again.