The Bleeding Hills

The Bleeding Hills – Those Lads Who Laughed With Me – Part II

The Bleeding Hills - A Novel by Wilfried Voss
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The Airbus A330 touched ground slightly ahead of schedule at 5:58 a.m. local time at Shannon Airport, the International gateway to and from the United States and many European cities. It is mainly used by travelers visiting or living in the Western part of Ireland. The airport takes it name from the nearby river Shannon. It connects the Western counties like Clare, Limerick, Kerry, Galway, Cork and all others to the rest of the world.

What makes Shannon Airport unique compared to many other airports outside the United States is that it accommodates a facility for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a branch of the Homeland Security Department. Its use, according to official terms, is for immigration inspection of passengers traveling to the United States.

A considerable number of Irish immigrants, most of them legal, some of them not, and, naturally, an even greater number of American citizens of Irish descent live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and bordering states such as New Hampshire and Vermont. These particular demographics still account to this day for the overly proportional travel activities between Boston and Shannon and made the presence of the Customs and Border Protection office a practical choice. Another reason to set up the office may also have been an effort to prevent illegal immigration at the source.

The facility is located in the departure lounge and once passengers pass the inspection and gain admission into the United States territory, they must, according to official linguistics, remain in the “sterile gate lounge area” until boarding their aircraft.

Leaving the country and the conveniences offered by Shannon Airport were the last things on Finn’s mind when he walked over to the Hertz counter in the main arrival halls. A sizable thunderstorm was churning over Ireland’s West coast and had turned an initially convenient flight into a nuisance.

Passing through customs was not a walk in the park, either. Customs at Shannon Airport maintain three channels for travelers to enter the country, red, green, and blue. Passengers arriving from countries within the European Union enter through the blue channel. Travelers from non-EU countries have the choice of red or green. Finn chose green, the channel for those passengers who have nothing to declare.

It didn’t come as a surprise when custom officers stopped him.

It was worth a try, he thought.

The reach of MI5 went far, even into the independent Irish Republic, but not far enough to arrest him right here and now. Great devotion went into the search of his duffel bag, but Finn didn’t worry. They wouldn’t find anything suspicious, and he was confident they would let him go. He was proud that neither British Intelligence nor the Irish police had ever been able to charge him for IRA membership or activities. They had their suspicions, but in the end they had no evidence.

The Ford Mondeo turned out to be an Audi A5, and Finn shook his head in bemusement of the European conception of a mid-size car, which would pass as a small compact car on the American continent.

He hoped he had not lost the skills to operate the shift stick on the left-hand side, but it went surprisingly well.

Driving on the left-hand side of the road is initially not a problem for people who are used to driving on the right. The lapse occurs when drivers become more and more confident with the new situation, usually after roughly a week. It is not a matter of if, but when the momentary failure occurs. It didn’t matter to Finn. After all, his plan was to leave the country in less than twenty-four hours.

Making his way out of Shannon Airport, he took a turn toward N18 heading to Limerick, then N21 to the South. The windshield wiper was on highest speed to fight off the hammering rain, which turned his drive into a mindless task of mere transportation. Nonetheless, this was not an occasion for a sightseeing tour of the otherwise beautiful Irish landscape.

His thoughts went back to his last day in Boston. Despite the knowledge that he would return to Ireland the next day after more than twenty years of exile on the American continent, he had slept surprisingly well that night.

He was still determined to follow through with his original plot that he had developed during the past months, and he would not allow a minor diversion like dealing with the Marty Sheehan issue get in his way. If the Brits had indeed intentionally leaked the information about Marty being the White Fox, he would play their game. It did not matter. In all consequence, they had only chosen the place and time, but he was confident they had no clue of his real intention.

He would spend fewer than twenty-four hours on the Irish island advancing from the Western coast to his final destination in Belfast. His plot was precise and efficient, a surgical cut rather than a crude task of destruction.

He had learned a great deal during his time working for the CIA, and he wished he could have used that knowledge in his earlier years when he provided intelligence information helping others plant bombs or murder British soldiers. These operations now appeared clumsy to him, compared with what he was about to accomplish. The damage to MI5’s reputation and their operations in Northern Ireland would be invaluable.

Besides his brother’s warning, he still had no credible evidence that he had been under the scrutiny of British Intelligence within the United States. Nevertheless, back in Boston he had taken every conceivable precaution.

Months earlier, Finn had befriended the owner of the apartment building, an eccentric man who was constantly suspicious of the Federal government’s actions. In a paranoid move, he had added an escape tunnel from the apartment building to an office complex next door, which he also owned. He covered the work as plumbing repair and maintenance. The additions were neither registered nor documented by official blueprint or building permit. The work was performed by a group of fellow antigovernment believers who came from the Northern parts of Maine.

On his way out of the downstairs laundry, Finn had entered one of the stalls where he knew a neighbor had stored an outdated computer. He connected power to the computer and turned it on for the sole purpose of creating a heat signature. Any surveillance would undoubtedly find the heat source and the diversion would buy him some time.

At the end of the tunnel, he entered the office building and continued to the stairway leading to the upper floors. Using a fake identity and a stolen social security number, he had rented a small office on the fourth floor. The room had only a desk and a chair.

Finn sat at the desk, opened the top drawer and removed an odd-looking electronic device in the shape and size of a shoe box. Upon opening the box, the inside of the cover revealed a small display. Finn pulled a small keyboard out of the box and then he powered the device up.

After a brief startup and self-check procedure, it displayed the first message.

“Wedding Day?” it showed, and Finn typed the answer.

“The hapPiest dAy oF my life.”

Finn took his pen, pulled the top off and slid the USB connector into the computer. Compared with modern computer technologies the device was archaic, but that fact was in itself another guarantee for Finn that nobody else but him would know how to handle it. He was proud to have added a USB port, but the unit had no means to connect to the Internet. He didn’t want to leave any traces of his communication, and he considered Internet connections unsafe for his purpose, even with the application of sophisticated encryption technologies.

When he finished typing the message, he pulled the USB stick and turned the computer off. He did not create a new password phrase and associated answer, causing the device to enter into a self-destruct mode with the next start-up. Finn had no plans to return to Boston.

On his way back to the downstairs laundry, he turned the computer in the basement stall off. Later, he inconspicuously dropped the USB pen onto the young woman’s lap after he had picked up his laundry to hang them in the room next door.

He had used the young woman, Jennifer, several times in the past months to send his messages, and they had developed a sophisticated procedure to establish contact. She had always been reliable, and she, in turn, cherished the generous cash flow.

The method of communication with his contacts in Ireland was slow and cumbersome, but it was also the safest he could imagine. Everything was now set in place for the moment he set foot on Irish soil again, and from that moment on, there was no way back.

Once he was a few miles ahead of the intersection between N22 and N23, Finn checked his wristwatch. He decided he had enough time to visit his parents’ farm. He continued on N23 and then took the turn at Farranfore. He passed through Castlemaine, Fybagh, and Inch until the road made a right turn toward Annascaul. A stranger to the neighborhood would not have noticed the narrow driveway that led toward his foster parents’ farm. Finn drove up the hill and stopped the car at the top where he had a clear view of the farm. The raining had stopped, and the sky turned slowly from the early morning’s dark gray into a bright blue.

He didn’t dare to go any farther because he didn’t know the current owners. He had sold the farm only months after his parents died. It was obvious he would not have been able to run the farm on his own. His purpose in life was to fight the British occupation of Northern Ireland, and the possibility that he would see the Brits withdraw during his lifetime seemed regrettably remote.

It appeared that time had not changed much about the place where he had grown into a man. He noticed some improvements around the house and the barn, but they were of such a nature that they did not destroy the original character of the property.

He spotted a little girl, probably around five or six years old, screeching for joy while unsuccessfully chasing a chicken. A Golden Retriever, his head following the little girl, lay on the veranda at a spot covered by the warm Sunday morning sun. Finn could hear a voice from inside the house calling the little girl in for breakfast. Both, the girl and the dog, disappeared into the house.

Finn smiled. Everything seemed to be fine there. After a few minutes, he got back into the car and took the same route back on R561, but in Castlemaine he turned south on N70 toward Cahersiveen.

He knew the route well, and he remembered the countless times he rode those streets on his small motorbike for a chance to see Shauna.

He fondly remembered those long summer nights, sitting on the bench in front of the McCarthy house when they could not bear the thought of having to say good-bye until one of Shauna’s parents called her in for bedtime.

During one of these nights she had told him about her sister who was two years older than her. She had died from pneumonia when Shauna was only six years old.

“I still miss my sister,” she told him with great sadness. “I always wanted to grow up with a sister. Don’t get me wrong, I do love my brother dearly, but Siobhan and I had a special bond. When I marry and have children, I would like very much to have a daughter, and I will name her Siobhan.”

Then she sat straight up and looked at Finn.

“Someday you will ask me to marry you, won’t you?” she asked, peeking at him with a hopeful expression.

Finn gasped, but quickly revived from the sudden and unexpected view of becoming a husband and father.

“Anything you want, my love,” he said with a smile. “Anything.”

Up ahead in the distance, Finn noticed the silhouette of Durty McCarthy’s and he slowed down. He took a left turn onto the McCarthy’s large property. He was sure nobody would notice him. It was a Sunday morning, and everybody was at church.

After a few hundred yards, he discovered the spot he only knew through descriptions by friends who had seen the place years ago. The area around Shauna’s grave was fenced, and the inside reflected the careful maintenance it received. There were some evergreens in the company of seasonal flowers and plants.

He left the car at a respectful distance and walked the rest of the way. He opened the gate and stepped toward the stone. He read the inscription “Here lies Shauna Marie (McCarthy) Whelan. 12 October 1954 – 5 May 1979.”

Finn knelt in front of the grave, closed his eyes and made the sign of the cross.

His hand touched the forehead, symbolizing a prayer to the Father for wisdom.

In nomine Patris,¼”

The hand touched the stomach, a prayer to the Son who became incarnate.

“¼et Filii,¼”

He touched his left shoulder, then the right, a prayer to the Holy Spirit.

“¼et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”

His eyes still closed, he folded his hands and prayed. He did not see the two men hiding behind a large shrub a few hundred yards away. One of them watched the scene through his binoculars while the other man, wearing a New York Yankees baseball hat, took some occasional shots with a digital camera with large magnifying lenses.

When Finn finally got up, they ducked quickly. They watched him wipe his eyes. Then he turned around and walked toward the car. Once there, he stepped into the car, and quickly drove away.

The man with the baseball hat opened his cell phone and, as soon as the connection was established, submitted a report to his superior’s office at the Palace Barracks in Holywood, Northern Ireland. He then continued to transmit the photos they had taken.

Meanwhile, Finn had taken the left turn onto N70 and soon reached the town of Cahersiveen. His next stop was the Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church in the center of town. It was unlikely the McCarthy family had changed their habits, and he was sure they were attending mass there.

The stunningly beautiful Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church is the only church in Ireland dedicated to a layperson. The church, built in the late 19th century, marks the centenary of the town’s most celebrated son and its construction was highly controversial at the time. The style is a combination of mainly French Gothicism, with medieval round turrets and steep conical caps. All the stone used for the church was brought from Newry, and the expense eventually bankrupted the project, which also explains the absence of the originally intended imposing steeple.

Finn had parked the car a few blocks away and, waiting across the street, watched the procession of parishioners leaving the church, most of them exchanging a few words with the priest and shaking his hand. Finn straightened out when he saw a few familiar faces, and then he crossed the street to meet them.

“Hello, Ryan,” he said.

Ryan McCarthy looked at him, and it took him a few seconds to recognize the person who had approached him. His face grew dark with contempt.

“What in hell are you doing here?” he growled.

“I just wanted to say hello, Ryan. It has been a while.”

“I will this say only once, Finn. You are not welcome here. Leave us and go back to where you came from.”

A young man somewhere in his twenties, who had been at Ryan’s side since they had left church, asked, “Father, who is this man?”

Ryan looked at his son and then pointed at Finn. “Son, this man had your aunt, my sister, killed. She went with him to follow a senseless cause, and he did not protect her. If there was anybody who deserved to die, it was he and not my beloved sister. She was as innocent as he is guilty.”

He took a breath as if he wanted to continue, but instead he turned and walked away. Meanwhile Andy McCarthy studied Finn curiously, and then he spoke to him.

“Listen,” he said. “Uncle – I guess – after all, you are my uncle. I do not know you, but let me say that you have caused a great deal of pain for my family. Your cause is not our cause. There is no need to fight anymore, no need to shed any more blood. Go home and spend the rest of your life praying to The Lord that you will not burn in hell for all the suffering you have caused.”

With these words, like his father, he turned and walked away. Finn, visibly shaken by the intense hatred he encountered, looked for help in the eyes of the lads who had once laughed with him.

“Ian. Michael. Gerry. Thomas,” he called out to them, but they just turned away from him without a word, as if he was an untouchable.

The two men, sitting in their BMW hidden behind a number of cars in the parking lot across the street, had already recorded the scene. The man with the baseball hat checked the display incorporated into the car’s dashboard, which for normal eyes looked like a standard navigation system. He was satisfied the bug in the subject’s car was still working, and he smiled. There was no escape.

They watched Finnean Whelan walking back to his car and proceeded to follow him at a safe distance as he took the turn to the North.