Volume 5
An Online Literary Magazine
March 31, 2011




Robin Curtiss


At the (IRA) Milltown Cemetery (1983). Photo by Gary Mark Smith.


t's half eleven and the sky over Dublin town is blacker than mortal sin. Fulton, having taken in a performance of Riders To The Sea at the Abbey, is tramping over the O’Connell Bridge on the way to his Grafton Street lodgings. It’s no surprise that the play, which ennobles the Celtic peasantry, was written by an Anglo-Irishman like himself. The poor sons-of bitches, he thinks. They have always needed us to define them.


He knows full well he has a tail as he negotiates the dark sidewalk. His shadow is either a clumsy bugger or wants for some reason to be made. The number of chaps who’d blithely hack out his entrails is legion. Still, no one’s fool enough to take him down this close to the city center. The Dublin police couldn’t find quim in a kip, but you still wouldn’t want to deposit a body smack in their bloody lap. Despite this comforting logic, he keeps his gun hand near his shoulder holster as he ambles past a Boy George look-alike on Grafton Street.


The outside of the hotel is Georgian brick, a building style that, to Fulton, tends to make the city feel more English than Irish. He pushes through the revolving door and passes the concierge desk on his way to the elevator.


“Take in the play, did you, sir?” the uniformed concierge asks.


“Oh, yes. Never miss a chance to go to the Abbey.”


“Forgive me, sir, but you sound as though you come from the north of Ireland. I don’t envy you, what with the goings on up there.”


“Haven’t actually lived there in ages,” Fulton says, as the elevator door opens. This was the God’s truth. The last time he’d been in Londonderry was ten years ago when he’d been deployed during the so-called “Troubles” as a paratroop captain. The day after his unit arrived one of the Fenian politicians had predicted, “If the Brits are going to send paratroopers here they may as well paint targets on their backs.” Fulton had written enough letters to the parents of young soldiers under his command to know that this hadn’t been an idle boast.


He steps inside his drafty rooms. As a youth, he’d been a devotee of the James Bond novels and films. Just once he wished he could enter a suite and discover a blond waiting for him in the bath or a brunette warming his bed. Sadly, nothing like this had happened during his eight years in military intelligence. A mint on his pillow or an electric kettle he could plug in for tea, this was the best he could hope for.


The phone rings as he begins to remove his heavy shoes.


“Fulton, here.”


“Where the deuce have you been?”


“Had time to kill. Took in a play at the Abbey. John Millington Synge.”


“John Millington, who the deuce? Do you think you’re on a bloody lark? There’s been a mistake. Your man is not in Dublin. He’s in Donegal outside Glencolumcille. You need to be there yesterday. Understand?”


Fulton points his foot toward the one shoe he’s tugged off. He’s tired, but has been in the business long enough to know that he doesn’t get a vote in the matter. The voice at the other end of the phone gives him directions.


Six hours of driving through the night brings him to the far tip of Donegal Bay. Fulton knows it’s a popular spot for Americans and West Germans on holiday. They can scramble up and down the cliff trails overlooking the ocean and then tuck into some public house to toast their efforts. He dons khaki shorts and boots in a Spar parking lot. His feelings won’t be hurt a bit if he’s taken for a hiker at the time he establishes contact.


Photo by Suzanne Cote' Curtiss.

he man he seeks is one Kieran McBride. Born into the provos, as it were, McBride is a brutal killer reputed to have pulled an oar in the dispatching of Lord Mountbatten. In the year since this cowardly assassination, the thug has made himself scarce. Some sources had him in the Middle East participating in a sort of terrorist exchange program, others in the US. But now, as so often happens with these IRA men, he evidently feels comfortable enough to visit his Da’s farm in time to help with the spring sowing.


At sunrise, Fulton ditches his Alfa Romeo in a pull-off. He climbs a drumlin overlooking the McBride “estate” and removes a telescope from his rucksack. The property is rough moorland. To the right of the farmhouse, a man, blessedly facing away from him, is cutting turf in a pit. Beyond that a stand of thorn trees lines a track that leads down the hill toward the ocean.


Fulton starts to dogtrot the odd three hundred meters that separate him from the peat cutter. The path is rock strewn, and he takes care not to lose his footing. At twenty meters from his objective, he slows to a walk, shrugs off the rucksack, and takes it in his hands. The sun is rising behind him.


“Excuse me, Pal,” he says in his best American accent. “Will this track lead me to Ardara?” He keeps his eyes trained on the laborer’s hands.


The man in the trench turns and squints in the sun. It’s McBride all right. “No,” he says gruffly. “It’ll lead you to the top of the cliffs. And then it’s one long step to the cold sea.”


Fulton jerks his pistol from the rucksack and points it at McBride’s middle. “Thanks for the directions, Paddy. Now on your knees! Hands behind your head!”


McBride starts to genuflect but then leaps nimbly out of the pit brandishing his peat shovel. Fulton fires. McBride yelps in pain and collapses in the heather, grabbing at his left knee. Blood covers both his hands.


“Hurts doesn’t it, Paddy? I guess you’ve kneecapped enough of our lads to know that.” McBride rolls on his back, cursing.


“I’ve got a quiz for you, Paddy. Answer correctly and you’ll keep breathing for a while. Answer wrong and the next bullet goes into your head. For what it’s worth I’m hoping you flunk. Tell me the name of your squad leader and where I can get hold of him. You’ve got the count of five. One, two, three…”


“Fooking Brit,” McBride says blessing himself. It’s obvious to Fulton he’s going to hold his peace.


“Enjoy hell, Paddy,” he says and fires point-blank into the murderer’s forehead. A red hole opens between McBride’s eyes. He dies with his hands folded.


After glimpsing his surroundings, Fulton squats to frisk the corpse. A rifle reports from the direction of the farmhouse, McBride’s body shudders, and blood leaks from his neck onto the heather. Fulton pitches himself into the turf pit. Oil from the peat coats his arms. The rifle fires a second time, blowing apart a turve of peat. Fulton twists the silencer off his pistol and squeezes several rounds back at the house. He vaults from the ditch and runs low to the ground toward the stand of trees. Two more shots crash behind him. Fulton sprints down the rough track under cover of the thorn branches.


At the edge of the cliffs, he comes to a stone watchtower. If he strikes out east across the moor he’ll lose his cover, so he scrambles up stone stairs to the top of the enclosure.


Fulton passes the day in the tower scanning the moor. Waves crash against the bottom of the cliff wall. Gulls shriek at one another. He sees no one and hears no more shots. He pictures the body lying in the heather. McBride had asked no quarter, he’d give him that. Still these IRA men weren’t soldiers. Fulton had learned that the first time they’d opened up on his squadron out of a crowd of screaming school children, killing a nineteen year old private. The bastards knew we couldn’t shoot back. McBride had gotten the death he’d earned. Fulton stares out at the dark sea.


At dusk Fulton descends the stone stairs and begins to pick his way east on the narrow track. This leads over several low drumlins before intersecting the highway. From there an hour’s weary dogtrot returns him to his parking spot.


Firing up the Alfa, he heads toward the border. He understands it’s better to be on British soil when news of this little encounter breaks. Bit of an execution, after all. Of course, someone knows already. Someone who was either a sorry rifleman or else was more interested in making sure McBride wouldn’t be answering any questions than in taking out his killer. Fulton thinks back to last evening’s tail who announced his presence as blatantly as if he were blowing a trumpet. Were they the same lad? This gives him a lot to turn over in his mind on the way to Belfast. Good performance of Riders To The Sea though! No place like the Abbey for Synge. At least the paddies could get that right.


A graduate of Wesleyan University, Robin Curtiss worked as a roofer, English teacher, and basketball coach before returning to school to earn a J.D. from Vermont Law School. He has been a trial lawyer for the past 20 years. A proud New Englander, he enjoys running, hiking, and kayaking in the New Hampshire wilderness and is a lector at his local Catholic church. He lives in West Lebanon, New Hampshire with his wife, Suzanne.


Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List iconSign up for our Email Newsletter








Home | Search | About Us | Submissions | Mailing List | Links | The Writer's Workshop