Hearts of Stone – Episode 2 – Chapters 3 & 4

Now the pace changes. David’s civilian life goes into overdrive as the beginning of his past starts to catch up with him as dangerous men from Ireland start to plan.

Chapter 3Roger Crook - Hearts of Stone

Bryn’s chair
Saturday evening

David and Bronwyn entered the public bar of the Black Bull which was already half full of regulars and tourists. The tourists were easy to pick out because of their pink arms and faces from being exposed to the wind and the sun. They also seemed to have taken all of the seats and little tables around the walls of the small room. The chatter around the bar was a mixture of Welsh, and Liverpool English.

The only unoccupied chair in the room was a big oak carver with high, solid arms, a high back and carved spindles. The seat was cushionless, highly polished and worn at the front from years of use. It looked as old as the pub itself, which had been built in the late 1780s, originally as a coaching house. On the back of the chair was a sign, hanging from a thin chain, which read: ‘RESERVED’.

All the locals knew for whom it was reserved: Bryn Jones, one-time postie who, for fifty-five years, five days a week, accompanied by his dogs, had walked up hills and pedalled down hills delivering the royal mail on his round that was all of twenty miles. Winter, spring, summer and autumn, ‘Jones the Postie’ delivered the mail. No one could prove it, but legend said that the only day he had ever missed was the time when his wife died and he missed the delivery on the day of her funeral. When he took his two weeks’ holiday every year, usually in early summer so he could help his brother (also still alive and a bachelor) with the haymaking, it usually took four relief postmen and women to do what Bryn did on his own. Within a couple of days, blisters and exhaustion finished them off.

Bryn Jones was now eight-five, still ramrod straight, a small man with a full head of grey hair which was always covered with a tweed cap he seldom removed. Occasionally he stumbled when he walked, so he used an old, knurled rosewood stick to steady his gait. The head of the stick was round and polished from years of wear.

The whole village loved him. He and his wife, married for nearly fifty years, had been childless and Bryn loved the children of the village and they loved him. They would wait for him, pat his little dogs, and he would tell them tales of the Great War and of the snowstorms on the mountains when the sheep and shepherds were lost, only to be found again.

Bryn never drank on Sundays even though he did not attend chapel. The only times he had been seen in the chapel was the day he was married and the day he buried his wife. More than once he had said that the third and last time he would go to chapel was when they buried him.

On weekdays, Bryn would arrive at the Black Bull at eight o’clock in the evening accompanied by one of his little terriers, sit in his chair with the dog lying under it, drink two pints of bitter ale between eight and nine and then go home. When he left, the ‘reserved’ sign was replaced. So, only Bryn sat in the chair, the locals knew it, and if a stranger happened not to notice the sign, or if they ignored it, Merion Williams the landlord would quietly remind them. No one ever complained or resisted.

On Saturday nights, Bryn would arrive at the same time – eight o’clock – sit in his chair, order his first pint, which he seldom paid for these days, and he would still be there when the pub closed. He would sing, often leading the singing. When he left, he would always refuse a hand home; so, with stick and dog, his gait a little unsteady, he would walk the three hundred yards back to his cottage.

‘The usual, David?’ Merion asked in Welsh. ‘And a half pint for Bronwyn?’

They nodded. David paid and they took their drinks from the bar and moved to join their friends: Gareth Parry, corn merchant’s son, and his current girlfriend Penny, buxom farmer’s daughter from the Wales/Shropshire border country working for the auctioneers in Abergele; Richard Horsfall, wealthy farmer’s son known to his friends as ‘Big Dick’ or ‘Horse Balls’ and not just because he stood six foot three in his stockinged feet; a German girl called Karen, studying at Bangor University for her Masters in plant pathology, accompanied him. She was statuesque – at least six foot tall – slim, blonde with ice blue eyes and a figure that turned heads wherever she went. She and Big Dick made a handsome couple. Karen was two years into her studies and three years into learning Welsh, for she had spent a year on the Horsfalls’ estate between finishing her degree in Berlin and applying to Bangor University. So, the six of them spoke Welsh.

Penny took up Gareth’s challenge of a game of darts after he whispered in her ear what he intended the prize to be, and she replied, ‘Righto, my boy, if you want to go home alone, let’s play.’

The mood in the bar was jovial and relaxed. David, Gareth and Big Dick had been at boarding school together; that’s where Big Dick earned his nickname. They had parted at seventeen, David into the army after a brief spell at home, Gareth into the family business in Llansannan and Dick on to Cirencester to the Royal Agricultural College. Now together again, they cherished the bonds built up over six years at school and now, although they never discussed it, they knew that barring accidents or tragedy, they would grow old together.

At about a quarter to eight, there was a squeal of tyres outside the pub, accompanied by the roar of an exhaust from an engine being revved up before being turned off. Except for the landlord, no one in the bar paid any attention to the noise outside; it was normal for a Saturday night.

The landlord gave someone their change then watched as the door burst open and four young men entered, accompanied by another tall, dark-haired man with a close-cropped, curly beard who seemed older than his companions and reticent to enter the bar.

With the exception of the man with the beard, who was dressed in dark clothes and a leather, bomber-style jacket, they were all dressed in loud casual clothes, clean-shaven with long, untidy hair and bare-armed. Two of them, he noticed, had large tattoos on their forearms. One of them strode up to the bar, glowering at those already in the bar and, in a broad Liverpool accent, ordered, ‘Five pints, Landlord, and none of that local piss. We’ll all have Best Bass.’

All five got their pints lined up along the bar and surveyed the patrons, whispering and sniggering amongst themselves, occasionally nodding or pointing at someone in the bar. Some of the tourists, uncomfortable with the atmosphere, left quietly. The locals who had seen this kind of invasion before continued talking but more quietly. ‘Ignore them and they’ll go away’, was the motto.

Merion busied himself behind the bar and made sure the truncheon he had seldom used in his thirty years as a policeman was within easy reach. Apart from the invaders’ loud talk, only Welsh was now being spoken.

Penny let out a yell as she scored a double twenty to finish and win the dart game, promising Gareth, ‘Fish and chips, and nothing else for you tonight, my boy.’ She went to collect her darts, agreeing to a ‘double or quits’ offered by Gareth.

One of the men at the bar, not understanding the language being spoken, walked over to the dartboard, took the darts out of Penny’s hand and said, ‘Our turn now. That is, unless you would like to play with me – now … and later.’

He was about five foot eight, heavily built and had a front tooth missing. All his mates, except the quiet one, laughed at his offer.

Gareth quickly moved to her side and said in Welsh, ‘Come away, Pen. Let’s have another drink.’

Gareth and Penny rejoined David and the others and they all moved as far away from the dartboard as possible. A group of tourists had vacated a table and they debated whether to abandon the Black Bull for the Cat and Fiddle on the moors. David said that Brendan and his mum would probably be there, but that was no reason not to go. The invaders were becoming noisy and swearing in spite of requests from Merion to ‘Keep it down, boys. There’s good lads.’

As they were about to leave, David noticed one of the group pull the ‘reserved’ sign off the back of Bryn’s chair, throw the sign into the empty fireplace and sprawl in the chair. Merion saw this move, came from behind the bar and quietly said, ‘Excuse me, Sir, that chair is reserved.’

‘Reserved for fucking who?’ was the reply. ‘I can’t see any fucker sitting in it except me, so fuck off.’

Merion decided the situation was getting out of hand and that a call to the police, ten miles away in Abergele, was the answer. He spoke quietly to the patrons in Welsh, telling them he was going to call Gwinn, the towering police sergeant in Abergele.

No sooner had he done that than the loud one, the leader in the chair, said, ‘Speaking fucking English, “Taffy”, then we can all hear how fucking frightened you are.’ The provocation was blatant; the bar was now silent, everyone watching Merion.

David spoke quietly, advising the girls to wait outside. He, Gareth and Dick would wait until the police arrived in about ten minutes, just in case Merion found himself in trouble.

The girls rose to leave, led by Karen. Before she could get to the door, the leader left Bryn’s chair and stood in the doorway, blocking their exit. ‘Not leaving me, are you, Luv?’ he said, gazing at her breasts which were just below the level of his eyes. ‘I thought you and me might go somewhere. Leave these farm boys to their friendly sheep.’ He reached out and cupped her right breast in his left hand and squeezed. ‘There you are, lads,’ he said, turning to his mates. ‘I told you they were real.’ All in his party, except the quiet one, cheered.

David could hear the clock ticking. He was going cold and he knew they were just a hair’s breadth away from trouble, and trouble he did not want. He put his hand on Dick’s arm to restrain him. ‘Steady, Dick, steady,’ he murmured in Welsh. ‘He’ll let her go. He’s just trying to provoke us.’

On hearing this, the man in front of Karen turned on David and snarled, ‘What are you saying, farm boy? Frightened to talk English in case we hear how shit-scared you are?’

‘No,’ replied David in English. ‘I was just saying that all you were doing was having a bit of fun.’

‘Fucking fun, is it? I’ll show you what fucking fun is,’ and with that he grabbed Karen, swung her around to face David, and from behind grabbed both her breasts and started wriggling and jumping up and down.

Before anyone could move, Karen kicked backwards at her assailant’s shin with as much force as she could muster. He let her go and then, as if she had been doing it all her life, she turned around and kneed him hard in the crotch. He fell to the ground, snarling, ‘You fucking bitch.’

The doorway was now clear. ‘Outside, girls – move!’ David said quickly.

They opened the door and rushed out. A glass smashed into the door as the girls closed it. A second caught Gareth on the head and he fell. Merion, truncheon in hand, was in the bar, confronting the hooligans, one of whom threw a water jug off the bar at him, narrowly missing his head. They rushed him with a cheer.

David stood with Merion as Dick took Gareth from the bar. David hit the first hooligan in the face with the heel of his hand, followed by a hard blow to the lower part of the neck with the edge of his right hand. The man let out a howl, his arm limp at his side.

Out of the corner of his eye, David saw another man with a water jug raised, ready to strike him. He blocked the blow with his left forearm, stepped across the man, reached around the back of the arm holding the jug, grabbed one wrist and then the other and, in one smooth motion, yanked the arm backwards and down. He felt the tendons rip and the shoulder dislocate. His assailant passed out, spewing beer.

David saw Merion hit another hooligan hard on the knee with the truncheon and he fell, howling and holding his leg. The one Karen had kneed in the crotch was back on his feet but unsteady. David kicked him in the groin again and he fell to the floor, screaming, ‘Fuck! Fuck! Oh, fuck!’ then trailing off into sobs.

Three down, two to go, David thought, looking around for the others. Merion was sitting on the floor against the bar, bleeding from the head. No one else in the bar had moved. It had all happened in about thirty seconds and most of the locals were too old and slow to fight.

Suddenly, David saw one of the men coming at him with Merion’s truncheon, holding it in his left hand, then he saw the knife in his right hand in the nick of time as it made a snaking thrust at David’s midriff. As the knife passed, David spun and kicked at the man’s throat. Missing the throat, he caught him on the jaw with the heel of his shoe and the jaw split open.

The man dropped the truncheon as he lost his balance. In one fluid motion, while still trying to regain his balance, David scissor-kicked him in the face and chest. His assailant grunted and came back at David, weaving the knife. David avoided a couple of thrusts with the knife. Getting far too close for comfort, David thought. This is no hooligan.

Another thrust and David spun and kicked him hard on the calf, trying to make him lose his balance. As the knife passed again, very closely, David hit him twice in the face, yet he kept on coming – another thrust, another miss.

Merion had regained his composure and his truncheon. As David and his aggressor circled each other, Merion waited, walked up behind the knife-wielding man and hit him hard on the head with the truncheon. The man’s eyes glazed over and both he and Merion sank to the floor.

One more, David thought. The quiet one. Dick was at David’s side, saying, ‘David, they’ve all gone. The other one left through the back door. Never swung a punch. I think he’s Irish.’

David could hear his heart beating. He felt faint. He put his hand on his back near his kidney and felt it warm and wet. He looked at his hand covered in blood and lost consciousness, falling into Dick’s arms.

The towering Sergeant Gwinn and four other policemen rushed into the bar, truncheons ready, and were met with a scene of carnage. Three of the hooligans lay where they had fallen, semiconscious and groaning. The fourth was lying in the gutter, unconscious. It transpired that on leaving the pub, he’d been tripped by Bryn’s rosewood stick and had received two massive blows to the head with the other end of it.

Merion was being attended to by his wife. He had a small cut on his head behind his right ear but was otherwise unharmed. David was lying in a pool of blood. One of the policemen said, ‘Is anyone a doctor?’

‘No,’ said Bronwyn, ‘but I’m the next best thing – I’m a vet. Get an ambulance. We must stop the bleeding.’ She rolled David onto his side and with Dick’s help ripped his shirt open to reveal a cut over his kidney about six inches long, spurting blood. ‘Dick, go and get my bag off the back seat of my car. For God’s sake, hurry. He may have internal injuries.’ Turning to a policeman, she said, ‘Clean towels – bar towels, anything. Clean ones. Hurry!’

Her hands were covered in David’s blood as she tried to hold the wound closed and staunch the flow. Towels arrived and she told the policeman to press one as hard as he could into the wound.

Dick arrived with her bag. She opened it and took out two self-locking clips that were used in surgery to crimp off blood vessels. She told the policeman, ‘Now, remove the towel slowly.’ The pressure had almost stopped the bleeding, but as she parted the wound to find the vessels, they spurted blood again. She hunted around in the wound, found a severed artery and clipped it off; however, the blood kept spurting. She searched again, found another and clipped again. This time the bleeding stopped.

They applied another clean towel to the wound as the ambulance arrived having covered ten miles in seven minutes. The ambulance officers gave Bronwyn bandages and helped her bind the towel to David’s torso by gently lifting him up so the bandages were able to go around his body.

Bronwyn checked his pulse. It felt strong, but his breathing was shallow. The ambulance officers put David onto a stretcher and gently carried him out and into the ambulance. Bronwyn climbed in without being asked. The driver ran to his cab as the other ambulance officer closed the door on the three of them from the inside.

Looking at the still-unconscious David, the ambulance officer said calmly to Bronwyn, ‘You did a good job there, Miss. You a doctor?’

‘No, I’m a vet.’

‘Well, Miss, I’m going to put him on oxygen, take his blood pressure to see how he is. The casualty department is in Colwyn Bay and it’ll take us about thirty minutes at the most to get there. Jack has his foot hard down and he knows every inch of the road.’

He carefully adjusted the oxygen mask around David’s pallid face and turned it on. Almost immediately, his colour improved. He then took his blood pressure and said, ‘Well, Miss, it’s low. If he’d lost any more blood, he’d have been in real trouble. I think you probably saved his life.’

By the time they arrived at Colwyn Bay Hospital, Bronwyn could tell from the ambulance officer’s attitude that David was no better. Their reception was like a film or television production. Nurses, doctors, bottle of fluid. Sharp orders were issued for X-rays and the resuscitation trolley. Feeling helpless, she watched David disappear behind self-closing doors.

Bronwyn wandered around the empty reception area. After trying three seats, she chose one in the corner. She sat down and as if mesmerised, looked at her bloody hands and slowly, almost in slow motion, realised that the violence had been real and that David might be dying. She started shaking and then shivering.

The nurse at reception, seeing her sitting there, covering her face with her bloodied hands, helped her into a washroom to clean herself up. She looked at herself in the mirror. There was blood on her face and on her neck, all over her shirt and slacks and most of all on her hands and forearms, and all David’s blood.

Her top lip trembled as she ran water in the bowl and splashed it onto her face. The water turned pink. She let the bowl drain and then filled it again. Again it turned pink. Angrily she drained it again and this time let the water run as she washed her face, arms and hands. She found a towel and left pink smudges on the white linen. Without looking in the mirror again, she left the washroom.

Back in the reception area, the nurse gave her a red cardigan and a small blanket. ‘The cardigan’s mine. Drop it off sometime. Now, would you like a cup of tea?’ Bronwyn nodded. ‘Milk and sugar?’

She nodded again and then hurriedly said, ‘Yes, please.’

Two uniformed policemen entered the reception area together with an older man, maybe fifty, wearing civilian clothes. The older man approached the nurse at reception, who pointed in Bronwyn’s direction. Standing in front of Bronwyn and in a very soft Welsh accent, he asked her if she was the young lady who had accompanied David McGonigal to the hospital. She replied in Welsh, saying that she was and that her name was Bronwyn Jones.

She looked at his kind face as he said, ‘I’m sorry, Bronwyn, but we’ll have to speak in English. One of my officers here doesn’t yet speak Welsh, but he’s learning.’ The younger of the two looked like a schoolboy. He blushed. The older man continued. ‘I know this is difficult for you at this time, but we’ve found it best to get all the information as soon as possible in cases like these – while everything is fresh in the mind, you know. I’m sorry I’ve not introduced myself. I’m Detective Superintendent White, known to all and sundry as ‘Snowy’ but not called by that name by anyone these days except the chief constable.

‘The two fine officers with me are Constable Brown and, would you believe it, Constable Green?’ The constables smiled. ‘Now, Constable Green and Constable Brown will take you through the evening’s events, all in your own time. Please try and remember everything, even the little things – names used by the assailants, if you heard them talking – anything. Now I’ll go and check on David and see how he is and I’ll come back and tell you as soon as I know.’

He rose and, obviously knowing where to go, went through the self-closing doors into the hospital casualty department.

The superintendent soon found the casualty department doctor who told him that the knife wound had perforated the left kidney. A specialist was now on his way and would soon be stitching David back together. He had regained consciousness but was now drowsy due to the premedication for theatre. He had lost a lot of blood and they were ‘topping him up’ again, but he should be all right in a day or two, providing there was no infection from the knife wound.

‘We also found this, Superintendent,’ said the doctor. ‘We were looking through David’s wallet in case there was a blood donor’s card or something in there that would help us, and besides money and a driver’s licence, it was empty, apart from this.’

He handed the superintendent a laminated white card with bold black lettering which read: ‘Should the bearer of this card be in any way incapacitated, call this number immediately’. The message was followed by a south of England telephone number. If it had not been that the whole thing looked official and if the injured man had not been the son of Brendan and Dr McGonigal, the superintendent would have ignored it for the time being and called the next day.

He looked at his watch. It was already ten o’clock. He looked at the doctor and said, ‘Well, I suppose I’d better do what they ask.’

The doctor pointed to the phone. ‘Be our guest,’ he said. ‘I’m as intrigued as you are.’

Superintendent White dialled the number on the card. One ring and a voice answered, ‘Yes?’

‘This is Detective Superintendent White here, from Colwyn Bay in North Wales. We have a young man in casualty who’s carrying a black and white —’

The voice at the other end interrupted him. ‘One moment, please.’

He could hear the call being transferred and then another voice said, ‘Superintendent, my name is Smith and I’m from the Home Office. What is the name of the person who is injured? The voice was cultured, sharp yet sounded sleepy.

The lad’s name is McGonigal, Mr Smith, David McGonigal. He’s been stabbed in the back in a brawl. He’s in surgery now, being stitched up. They tell me he should be fine.’

‘Do you know who the assailants were, Superintendent?’

‘Not exactly sure, Sir. David and the landlord managed to take care of four of them and we have them in custody. All lads from Liverpool, we think. Just checking that now. One got away. We have a description: big lad, beard, didn’t join in the fight, just scarpered. We think he’s Irish.’

‘Do you think or do you know?’ came the sharp question.

Taken back by the tone of voice, the superintendent replied, ‘Well, it only happened an hour or so ago and we’re still taking statements from witnesses, but they all agree so far that they are sure who he was – is – Irish, and he has a beard.’

There was a pause and then the voice said, ‘Superintendent, listen carefully. You are to immediately get sufficient officers to the hospital to ensure that no one, no one, enters or leaves without their identity being examined and one of the staff recognising them. You are to place two armed officers outside David’s room and if there is a window to the outside then that too must be patrolled. Do you have a dog squad?’

‘Yes, Sir, we do.’

‘Then mobilise them and have them patrol the hospital grounds.’

‘That’s a lot of men, Sir.’

‘Superintendent, I don’t care if that’s the whole fucking force, just do as I say. I will now ring your chief constable and tell him what I have told you to do. Goodbye.’ The line went dead.

As the superintendent finished speaking to the duty officer at his headquarters, another phone rang. A nurse answered and she called to him, ‘Superintendent, it’s the chief constable!’

He put his phone down and picked up the other one. He recognised the chief constable’s voice. ‘Snowy, Phillip here. Mr Smith has the highest clearance. He gave me a code number and I don’t know who he is, but he’s definitely from the Home Office and that could be anything – counter terrorism, who knows? Anyway, I’ve rung the station in Colwyn Bay. They’re bringing in men now. Picking them up around town. I’ve authorised firearms to be issued to those on patrol and those watching our David McGonigal. Only had dinner with his father and mother last weekend. I’ve also ordered our little command vehicle down there and I should be there in about fifteen minutes to help out.’

By the time he’d gathered his wits about him and returned to reception, the superintendent could see his officers had nearly finished taking a statement from Bronwyn. She was signing the bottom of each handwritten page. She was crying.

On seeing this deterioration, the superintendent said to the nurse, ‘I think that young lady is going into shock. She needs some help. More than a cup of tea, anyway, though another might help. Do you know where her parents live? Do you know anything about her?’ The nurse knew nothing except that the ambulance men had said that she was a vet.

Armed with another cup of tea, the superintendent sat next to Bronwyn and, speaking softly in Welsh, said he thought it was time for her to go home. David was in good hands and would call her if anything happened. What is her parents’ telephone number, or perhaps there was some other relative or friend she could stay with?

Between sobs, she told him her parents were on holiday in the north of Scotland; that her brother lived in London, her gran in Barmouth; then she stopped sobbing, brushed her hair out of her eyes and said, ‘And I’m going nowhere, nowhere. I’m staying here until I’ve seen David.’ She stood up, threw down the blanket and moved towards the door, saying, ‘I’m just going out for some fresh air.’

Before he could stop her, four policemen rushed in from outside – two carrying hand guns, two carrying small machine guns and all wearing body armour. It took Bronwyn a moment of disbelief before the reality of policemen and guns seemed to slap her into consciousness. She looked over her shoulder to see Superintendent White watching her. With a look of disbelief, hopelessness and resignation on her face, she returned to pick up the blanket, glanced through the swinging doors to see blue flashing lights, put the blanket around her shoulders and went to sit in a corner as far away as she could get from the ever-increasing activity.

The chief constable, in full uniform, entered. He saw the detective superintendent and said, ‘It will all be secure outside in another two minutes. I’ve asked the hospital to turn all the lights on outside. Has David come out of surgery yet? No matter, I’ll go and check. His guards can come with me. I’m going to ask for a room without windows then Inspector Hughes and I will tour all of the wards and brief the staff. As an extra precaution, I’ve authorised another six men to patrol the corridors inside. This place will be tight as a drum inside and outside in about ten minutes. I’ll take over here, Snowy. You get after that bugger who got away. He’s on foot, I understand. I’ve also asked for a policewoman to come and sit with David’s girlfriend. Off you go, then. Good luck.’

The chief constable quickly and quietly went about making the hospital secure, for what reason he did not know, and for once, he didn’t ask. Once he had done a tour of the grounds, he put his senior officers into sectors of responsibility. From somewhere, someone had obtained a plan of the hospital and he checked that what he had on the ground matched what he saw on the map. Once satisfied, he was ready to tour the wards.

Just as he was talking to the sister and nurses in ward B, the phone rang. The sister answered it and turned to the chief constable. ‘It’s a Mr Smith for you, Sir.’

He picked up the phone. ‘Yes, Mr Smith.’

The cultured voice replied, ‘Do you have a plan of the hospital?’

‘Yes, Sir. Got one, and it matches what I have on the ground.’ A pause. ‘No, Sir. We’ve not checked the roof, but I’ll send one of the dogs up there straightaway.’

Another pause and then Mr Smith continued. ‘Chief Constable, as soon as it’s safe to move David, he’s to be taken to the Royal Infirmary in Chester under armed escort. I’ll clear everything through Cheshire with the chief constable there.’ Smith continued to issue his orders calmly and quietly. ‘All you need to do is ring him when your party sets off. At the hospital, you will be met by some plain-clothes officers who will identify themselves to you. They will all be sergeants or sergeant majors in the Royal Military Police. Your party will hand David over to the RMP officers and that will be all. You can all then go home or resume normal duties.

‘One last thing. Those officers guarding David must have impressed upon them how important it is to remain silent. Talk to all of your officers and impress the same thing on them. Tell them that the official line is that you have been conducting an impromptu exercise called by you to test resources on a Saturday night. We are already talking to the press, so you may have a few locals sniffing around and it will blow over in a few days. Thank you for your help. Goodbye.’ And the phone went dead.

As the chief constable was striding down the first floor passage towards the stairs to the ground floor to organise for a dog on the roof, the lights of the hospital flickered and went out. He was in total darkness. He looked out of the window and saw that the streetlights were also out. He could see his officers’ torches flickering. He heard a dog bark once then twice. Then, in the background, he heard the rumble of engines starting and the emergency lights came on, bathing the inside of the hospital in a half-light. It was still dark outside.

He went down the steps two at a time, tripped and nearly fell on the bottom landing. Somehow, at the first attempt, he found his way to reception. Running through the door, he bumped into his inspector. ‘What the hell is going on, Harry? Get onto the power company. I don’t want to know if we have a power failure; I want to know why, what’s caused it, and I want to know now, and how long before we have full power restored.’

The inspector went off to find a phone.

The chief constable felt a tug at his sleeve and, turning, saw a small man wearing glasses and a blue boiler suit. ‘Chief Constable, my name is Jones.’ He showed his ID card around his neck. ‘I’m the duty electrician. The power failure is external. That means it’s not in the hospital. Our emergency generator will increase in power over the next ten minutes. It’ll restore full power to all wards that need it to drive equipment. Internal lighting will be at about fifty per cent, so a bit brighter than it is at present, but not much. All emergency services will function normally, but there will be no lights outside the hospital. Phones will operate normally, but you will have to supply all power to your command vehicle outside plus any other lights you may need.’ Mr Jones blinked behind the thick lenses of his spectacles and looked at the chief constable.

‘Thank you, Mr Jones. That’s the best briefing I’ve had for a long time.’

The inspector returned.

‘Give me the good news, Harry,’ said the chief constable.

‘Afraid there isn’t any, Sir,’ came the reply. ‘The power company said that the lines must be down further around the coast towards Bangor, but they’re not sure where. They’re in a bit of a flap. They’re sending crews out now. They say there’ve been reports of big thunderstorms over that way, so it might be a lightning strike on a transformer. Anyway, Colwyn Bay, Conway and Llandudno are all out. Abergele is okay as their power comes up from Cheshire. Being late at night, they said there’s a chance they could get more power from Cheshire, but they’re not hopeful because this is their time of year for maintenance, which is all due to be finished next week before the nights draw in. Sorry, Sir. Oh, and they also say the storms are heading this way, following the coast.’

‘Right,’ said the chief constable. ‘If the storms are coming, let’s organise wet-weather gear for everyone out there. Let’s get onto the fire brigade and ask them if they have any emergency power generators and lights we can use. We’d better start organising a relief shift so everyone can have a cup of tea and a sandwich and a bit of a rest. That means catering and all the power they’ll need. Check that we have a second set of phone in the command caravan and plenty of batteries for torches. Off you go, then.’

For the second time in as many minutes, the inspector hurried away.

The chief constable could already hear the rumble of the approaching storm and remembered that summer storms in North Wales could be ferocious. Fed by the warm mountain air and the cool sea, they could wreak havoc in a very short time.

He went outside and could see the lightning in the distance. Big, fat drops of rain had started to fall. He hoped his inspector had had enough time to issue wet-weather gear to all his people. Realising there was nothing he could do, he had another quick look around and went back inside the hospital.

As he went through the double doors, he heard a phone ring. The duty nurse called out, ‘It’s for you, Sir!’ Raising her eyebrows and putting her hand over the mouthpiece, she added, ‘It’s Mr Smith again, Sir.’

He took the phone from her. ‘Mr Smith?’

The line crackled with static, but the voice was clear. ‘Ah, Chief Constable, I’ve just heard you have a spot of bother up there. Power failure, is it? Do you know why? I presume it’s external?’

‘Yes, it is external, Sir. Big storms. Nearly half of North Wales is without power. The hospital emergency power is working a treat, though.’

A short pause and then the chief constable lied to Mr Smith. ‘Yes, we do have a guard on the emergency generator.’ The line went dead. The static had gone. ‘Damn!’ he muttered. ‘I should’ve thought of that. How did he know we had a power failure?’

Not bothering to answer his own questions, he hurried to the command post to organise a guard on the powerhouse. ‘Better make this one armed as well,’ he decided. ‘Just in case.’

As he approached his command post, he heard voices raised in anger. A policeman was saying, ‘Now, don’t be silly, Sir. I have orders not to let anyone in if they cannot be identified by either the hospital staff or by the police. I know who you say you are, Sir, but neither you nor your wife have any means of identification, so I cannot let you through. I’ve sent for my inspector, so please, Sir, Ma’am, just stay where you are.’

The constable was armed but hadn’t drawn his weapon. His big alsatian was grumbling, moving his tail like a tiger ready to pounce on the two figures behind the barricade.

The chief constable recognised the angry voice. It was his dinner companion of just a few nights ago, Brendan McGonigal, who was starting to threaten the policeman. ‘Either you get out of my way or I will get you and that excuse of a dog out of the way. Move away, man!’

As the constable took an even firmer grip on his dog, the chief constable intervened. ‘Brendan, Brendan, my dear fellow. Phyllis, my dear. It’s all right, Constable, these people are friends of mine. Come along into the hospital. It’s going to pour down in a moment.’ Remembering that he hadn’t organised the guard for the powerhouse, he called over a sergeant and told him to send two armed officers over there.

As Brendan, Phyllis and the chief constable entered casualty reception, there was a flash of lightning that lit up Colwyn Bay for a split second, followed by a clap of thunder making the windows rattle and the floor shake. The lights flickered, nearly went out and then came back on to their usual half-power.

Brendan spoke first. ‘What the hell is going on here, Phillip?’ Chief Constable Phillip Armitage and the McGonigals had been friends for years. Brendan, annoyed and worried, continued. ‘We got back to the village about an hour after they brought David down here. The Black Bull looks like a war zone. Policemen and dogs everywhere, Merion trying to clean up a huge pool of blood on the floor – David’s blood, I was told. Old Bryn was in his chair regaling everyone about how, without him, another might have got away. He was the only one, apart from Merion in the bar, and the only one drinking. Dick and Gareth and their girls were outside, Gareth with a cut on his head and a huge black eye. All Dick could say was that there’d been a terrible fight, that David had gone to help Merion, taken care of three or four of them and then collapsed from a stab wound, so what the hell is going on, Phillip?’

Before Phillip Armitage could answer, Brendan continued. ‘My David is not a fighter; I’ve never seen him throw a punch in anger. Then Phyl and I rushed down here to find the place swarming with police and dogs. One of your men is even armed! So, what gives? Honestly, now. What the hell is going on?’

‘Brendan,’ said the chief constable, ‘you’re partly right. I’ll give you the full story, as I know it. Come over here. Sit – and calm down!’

Brendan glowered at him, hardly able to control himself. ‘I don’t want to sit down. I want to know what the hell is going on!’ He pulled his arm away from Phyllis’s restraining hand.

‘All right, Brendan,’ said the chief constable and proceeded to fill him in on what had transpired in the Black Bull.

Brendan listened to the details and eventually sat down, his head in his hands, as the chief constable finished with, ‘I understand one of the hooligans has a fractured arm and dislocated shoulder, courtesy of David. The man with the knife has multiple wounds, a broken jaw, very few teeth and, we think, a fractured sternum. He’s now in intensive care in Rhyll after being put to sleep by Merion and his truncheon.

‘The last one, I’m led to believe, was disabled by the oldest member of your community. He tripped him and whacked him several times with a blunt instrument which, for the purposes of this investigation, we shall call a “walking stick”. And that’s that. Oh, one got away – Irish, we think. We’re looking for him now.’

Brendan stood up, now silent. Looking down at the floor and shaking his head in disbelief, he said, ‘It doesn’t make sense, Phillip. David’s not a fighter. Yes, he was in the army, but he was just a sergeant instructor in the parachute regiment. Spent all his life in this country training squaddies. I suppose he learned to take care of himself there, but he’s not a violent lad and he never talks about the army. Why, I’ve never heard him raise his voice, even when kicked by a bullock. Anyway, that aside, what’s all this fuss with policemen everywhere? The hospital is locked down like a fortress.’

Phillip Armitage looked at Brendan. Phyllis and Bronwyn had joined them, both now looking a little frightened. ‘Well,’ Phillip said, ‘I gather David was badly hurt, bleeding heavily, and that this young lady, who I gather is a vet, repaired him as best she could. Probably saved his life in the process. The ambulance then brought him here.

‘The doctors, looking for a blood donor card, found a black and white card inside his wallet, instructing that if David was hurt – I think the card said “incapacitated” – then a London number was to be rung.

‘My DS White, the first senior officer on the scene here, rang the number. Whoever answered the phone, saying he was from the Home Office, gave precise instructions to DS White. The name of the man from the Home Office was Mr Smith. While the DS was implementing the Home Office orders, I received a phone call at home from Mr Smith who identified himself to me by way of a code. He told me what he’d done and asked me, very kindly, to get myself down here, which is precisely what I did.

‘The only other thing of note is that Mr Smith became very intense when he heard that the one who escaped was Irish. He gave instructions that as soon as David could be moved, he was to be taken under armed guard to the Royal Infirmary in Chester where he would be met by the Royal Military Police. That’s all I know, Brendan, Phyllis. That’s all I know. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must check the barricades.’ Mustering a reassuring expression, he left them standing in the casualty reception area.

‘Brendan, Brendan,’ Phyllis spoke to him softly. He looked at her, agony and disbelief his mask. ‘Brendan, it’s all right. I’ve spoken to the doctors, doctor to doctor. David’s out of surgery. His kidney was damaged by the knife, but he’s been repaired by the best man we could have wished for. He was – is – in Colwyn Bay from Liverpool and he’s such a good man that he always tells the hospital where he is, so when the surgeon from here rang for a bit of quick advice, because the kidney was nearly severed in two, the hospital in Liverpool gave him a number not five minutes away.’

Phyllis held Brendan’s hand in hers. ‘Mr Godfrey offered his advice and help if needed and within minutes, he was up here and operating on David. David’s very lucky. So, he’s been stitched up and is fine. Lost a lot of blood, but that’s easily fixed. He’s young and fit. He’ll be fine. He’s just coming out of anaesthetic and we can all see him in about half an hour.

‘Now, in spite of the power failure, I prescribe a cup of tea all round.’ She stood on tiptoe and kissed Brendan’s cheek then turned, held Bronwyn’s face in her hands and kissed her on the forehead. Tears flowed down Bronwyn’s face as Phyllis asked a policeman to fetch three cups of tea, all with sugar and milk – ‘and quickly, please.’


Chapter 4

The missing Irishman
Saturday night

Almost as soon as the first blow was struck, the bearded Irishman slipped quietly behind the bar and then into the back of the pub. Finding the back door, he let himself out into the gathering dusk. He could hear the commotion in the bar and knew he was safe for the time being.

He scaled the wall in the backyard and dropped silently over the other side. He could hear the river to his left. He climbed a couple of fences and crept towards what he hoped was the road in front of the pub, but far enough away not to be seen by those standing outside.

Staying in the shadows, he looked around the corner and could see the pub about fifty yards away with the crowd outside. After a moment’s hesitation, he crossed the road to the telephone box opposite. He slowly took off his shoe and, in one motion, opened the door and smashed the light with the heel of his shoe.

He slid his shoe back on, pushed coins into the machine and, in the dark, counting the spaces on the dial, dialled a number. A voice said, ‘Yes?’ and he pushed button ‘A’.

‘It’s me. These bloody animals you got me are starting World War Three in the village pub. The police will be here in no time. I’ve left them to it. Come and get me on the bike, then I’ll know it’s you. The police will come from Abergele, so come the back way down the valley. I’ll start walking. Be quick!’

He slipped out of the phone box and took the back way out of the village, past the school, confident that if he heard a car, he could hide, and when he heard the distinctive sound of his Vincent motorbike, he would be safe. His dark clothes made him almost invisible. The soft rubber soles on his shoes made little noise. Just one dog barked before he was away from the houses and walking quickly up the valley.

He had been walking for less than an hour and estimated he had covered about three miles when he saw the lights of a car approaching quickly down the winding line. It was almost upon him before he could hide. He vaulted a low stone wall, landed in a patch of stinging nettles and swore. He looked at the back of the car as it passed and saw the police sign.

Back on the lane again, his hands stung from the nettles as he set off at a half run. Eventually he heard the sound of a motorbike. As it drew closer, he recognised the sound of his Vincent Black Shadow. Comforted by the knowledge that he would soon be astride a machine that few, if any motorbikes could catch and that was more than a match for any police car, he stood in the middle of the lane.

The bike stopped and the rider moved to alight. ‘Stay there. I jumped into a patch of nettles and stung my hands, and anyway, your eyes are better at night than mine. Take me to the place in Colwyn Bay and leave me the bike, then the others can pick you up. I have a few things to do. Half the country will be looking for me by the morning.’

He climbed onto the pillion seat, pushed his hands into his jacket pockets and they set off at high speed down the winding lanes, heading for Colwyn Bay.

The bay was quiet. As they entered the town, he tapped the driver on the shoulder and motioned him to pull over. ‘There’s a phone box about two hundred yards down there. Use that to ring the boys, but meet out of town, not down here. Have you got change?’ The other man nodded. ‘Good, then off you go. I’ll be in touch tomorrow. Don’t call the flat. I shan’t return for at least a few days. I’ll go to Bangor.’

The other man walked away quickly and the Irishman quietly put the bike into gear and within a few minutes was pulling the bike onto its stand outside his rented flat. The last few hundred yards had been downhill, so he had turned the engine off and coasted silently to his destination. Confident that no one would pay much attention to him arriving home at that time of night, as he had done many times before, he was quiet and cautious just the same.

Once he had let himself in, he went straight to the tiny bathroom, ran hot water in the basin, washed his face and then took a shaving brush, soap and razor from his toilet bag. Within fifteen minutes and without cutting himself, he was clean-shaven. He carefully cleaned the basin, making sure all traces of his beard were washed away.

He looked at himself in the mirror. The round face that he appeared to have with the beard had gone and was replaced by a lean face with sunken cheeks. His brown eyes appeared to be almost black and were shrouded by long eyelashes and bushy eyebrows. His complexion was sallow and if it had not been for his accent, he could have passed as Spanish or Italian.

He saw all of this as he looked in the mirror. He knew the Irish in him went back to the time of Elizabeth the First and the Spanish Armada that was wrecked on the coasts of Ireland and Wales.

He took rosary beads from his bag and knelt in prayer, staying like that for five minutes or so. He crossed himself, stood up and quickly packed a small holdall with his belongings. He left the flat as quietly as he had arrived.

Once more at his motorbike, he pushed the holdall into one of the two panniers and took a crash helmet, gloves, coat and waterproof trousers out of the other pannier and put them on. He pushed the bike off its stand, threw his leg over and let the bike roll forwards down the deserted street. As it gathered momentum, he switched it on, gently put it into gear and released the clutch. The engine fired first time and he was soon out on the main road heading towards Bangor. That was when he saw the first flash of lightning and he knew he was going to get wet.

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