How could the atmosphere have changed so suddenly? One minute everything was fine. A small group of friends was sitting on a bench outside a country pub, looking out over the edge of Ireland at the calm blue Atlantic Ocean.
Then a BMW convertible roared up the lane in front of them and skidded to a halt. Everyone turned instinctively as the two arrogant young men climbed out, and the mood shifted instantly and dramatically. It was the contemptuous sneer on their faces, and the menacing swagger as they strode up to the pub door and shoved it open.
Kathleen Lacey sighed and took a sip of her beer. She’d been looking forward to this part of the day, when everyone gathered for a beer and a chat, and something to eat. OK, so she’d only been in Ireland for a just over a month, but she’d already grown quiet fond of this group of friends. She did think, when she first arrived here in the village, that, if her own part of the world had been as calm and beautiful as this place, she would never have left Colorado looking for adventure. Well, actually, she probably would, because this was the late 1960s and the Flower Power movement was in full swing. A whole generation of young people was growing its hair long and heading for where it’s at to find themselves. Which was why Kathleen was now sitting outside Fitz’s pub on the West coast of Ireland with three American hippies, a doctor from Liverpool who played the banjo and once checked George Harrison for measles, and a Chinese girl who learnt English by watching Margaret Rutherford in the Miss Marple films, and called everyone ‘my dear’. Backpacks and kaftans were all you needed to travel the world, and if you could sing a Beatle song you’d get free beer too.
When Kathleen decided to take a year out from university to follow the trail her mother had a fit, wild eyed with the worry of her only daughter strolling casually into the unchartered world of free sex and readily available drugs. If you like it, do it! was fine, but not for her precious little girl, her baby.
Fortunately for Kathleen, her father was still trying to hang onto what was left of his youth and, because she loved him, she tried to ignore his attempts at being cool. Maybe his long hair and moustache really did suit him – it depended which eyes you were looking through - but a kaftan? Anyway, he said go, live a little. Team up with some Friends of Jesus and you’d be perfectly safe. Just be careful, keep your hand on your wallet and be polite, but persistent, when you said no!
“You’re a very pretty girl,” was the last thing Lance, her boyfriend, said to her, knowing in his heart she was going to come back a very different person from the one he was kissing now. “But don’t flaunt it. Be safe, play it down. If in doubt, move on.”
Most of her friends were heading off to Greece or India, but, because her dad’s family originally came from Ireland, Kathleen decided that it was the best place to start her world trek. And she was delighted that she did. She flew into Shannon airport during one of the warmest summers in living memory, and she fell in love immediately with the totally laid back attitude that the Irish displayed so naturally. Nothing was too much trouble for them. They would cheerfully do anything for you, but take a casually long time doing it. It’s no problem, they would tell you with a smile. They would forget to tell you that there was no hurry either. She loved it.
At first she missed her parents, of course she did, but now, after only four weeks, they were already fading into a hazy memory, and she almost felt guilty about it. But backpacking was something that got into your blood extremely quickly. The variety that each new day brought, the freedom to wander along the open road and not be accountable to anyone else, almost became addictive. There was also the excitement of searching out her family history. She followed her father’s directions, and eventually arrived at this beautiful little town on the coast.
She’d met the three Americans, Luke, John and Nick, when she was walking over the Listowel town bridge. They spotted the little Stars and Stripes logo on her backpack, and they stopped to offer her a lift in a battered old VW van. They told her they were renting a house by the sea, which they intended to run as a bed & breakfast. As it was very close to an address that Kathleen’s father had given her, she gladly took up their offer.
Philip, the doctor, joined the little group after Kathleen was stung on the foot by a jellyfish, and he happened to be paddling in the sea at the same time. After he’d treated the wound they all agreed to meet up later for a beer.
Where Li, the Chinese girl, came from, no one could remember. She just appeared one evening, all smiles and beautiful long hair, and asked if she could sit here, my dears?
Then there was Declan and Donal, a couple of part time dropouts from Dublin, who turned up a few days later in a very old, but beautifully maintained, jet-black Ford Anglia. They became the very first paying guests in the new B&B. They were a bit older than the rest of the group, with unusually short hair, and they seemed to be at odds with the rest of the ‘flowers in your hair’ community. But they got on really well with their new American landlords, who invited them along to the pub for a couple of drinks.
Kathleen liked Declan. He was tall and awkward, and he always managed to position himself so that he was sitting next to her. And he would always make her laugh, although she was never quiet sure if what he said was intentionally funny, or if it was just the colourful slant of the Dublin accent, and the naturally exaggerated way he had of expressing himself.
Kathleen thought how nice it was that, even though they’d known each other such a short time, it felt as if they’d been friends all their lives. They’d fallen into a routine where they’d all meet at Fitz’s pub around the same time in the evening, usually as the sun was getting ready to slip away over the horizon in a spectacular explosion of colour, predominantly red but tinged also with orange fingers, and the delicate strips of magenta and cyan spreading out at the edges until they blended into the same dark blue as the ocean.
The doctor had just picked up his banjo and was starting to play a tune on it when Fitz, the owner of the pub, came out with two baskets of chips and sausages. He put them on the rickety old wooden table in front of the group. He was a lovely, gentle old man, and he was the first name on Kathleen’s list of people to look up when she got to Ireland. He was delighted to meet her and get the chance to reminisce about her father’s family. It turned out that Fitz’s own grandfather and Kathleen’s great grandfather were actually related. He couldn’t remember exactly how, but he knew that the two families used to live next door to each other, and that the two men had been the best of buddies all their lives. Fitz was sure he had a photo of them somewhere, and he promised to dig it out for her the minute he got the chance. Fitz himself had two sons of his own, but they were drawn to the bright lights of the city some years ago, and only came home for the odd weekend. His grandsons visited him more often than his sons, usually for a few days every couple of months.
He was only too happy to give Kathleen a job. This was the busiest time of the year, when the tourists flocked to the town to savour the sand, the sea, and sometimes the sun as well. All he wanted her to do was to sort out the hundreds of beer bottles in the shed, and put them into their relevant crates. It wasn’t rocket science, but it was back breaking. And frustrating. The breweries would only take back their own crates, and they had to be full, which meant that there were always loose bottles left over. Kathleen would arrange them carefully, ready for the next day, but inevitably the harassed young barman would have added a ton more by the morning, and not so carefully either.
The pay wasn’t brilliant, of course, but the job did include her meals, and she was also allowed to help herself to as much coffee as she wanted. Unfortunately, Kathleen couldn’t stay at the pub because it only had five rooms, and they were already let to tourists. But she didn’t mind because she’d found a cosy spot on the beach, about fifteen minutes down the road. And on these warm nights she didn’t even have to pitch her tent. She just curled up in her sleeping bag, and she’d be lulled to sleep by the sound of the sea lapping on the shore and rustling up against the rocks that were randomly scattered around the place. Then she’d wake up to the screech of the seagulls. She would go for a swim before gathering up her stuff in her backpack and strolling back up to the pub for breakfast. Fitz usually had the bacon on the go when she got there, and he always seemed genuinely happy to see her, pouring her a cup of coffee as soon as he heard her coming in the door and dropping her backpack on the floor behind the counter.
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She smiled up at him now as he wiped his hands on his apron. “Fitz, those two dudes with the red convertible, who are they?”
Fitz appeared to be a bit subdued when he’d brought the food out, but that could have been anything. Maybe he was concerned about his two new customers. But she was very surprised at the way he grimaced now. His eyes looked away quickly, and his face was unusually sharp, almost guarded even.
“Those are my grandsons,” he snapped defensively then turned and shuffled quickly back into the bar. Everyone was taken aback by the abruptness of his manner.
In the surprisingly awkward silence that followed, they all dipped into the baskets on the table and took a handful of chips and sausages, munching them quietly and washing them down with their beer. As Donal picked up the last sausage, a piece of newspaper that lined the bottom of the basket came with it, and he looked at it absently for a second before flicking it away. It landed on the seat beside Kathleen. When she glanced down at it the words ‘another rape’ caught her eye. She picked it up cautiously, and she held it to the light of the window behind her to see it more clearly in the fading daylight.
‘Board Failte, the Irish Tourist Board, is suspected of covering up yet another vicious assault on a young woman visitor to a popular Kerry seaside resort, in case it should affect the tourist trade,’ was what she could make out. It went on to say that another young tourist was found staggering along a road in North Kerry by an off duty police officer. She was distressed and shoeless, and appeared to have been badly beaten. The officer said that she told him she’d been dragged into a car by two men and raped. But by the time he got her to the hospital she was adamant that all she wanted to do was go home to Canada. She was too terrified to stay in Ireland, or to give the Gardai any more details about her attackers.
The rest of the report was lost in a large smudge of chip fat.
“What newspaper is this?” Kathleen asked, showing the paper to Declan. “Is this a local newspaper?”
Declan took it from her and squinted at it. “It looks like The Kerryman,” he said cautiously, glancing at Donal. “But this has been in all the papers. It’s been on the radio and the television news as well. Nearly everybody in Ireland has heard about it.”
“When did it happen?” Kathleen had a look of total distaste on her face as she looked at the others.
“Well, if I remember correctly, the last attack was about six weeks ago.” Declan studied the paper, trying to find a date.
“God, that is so horrible!” Kathleen sighed. “Three attacks? How could something as awful as this happen in such a beautiful place? And what the hell are the cops doing about it?”
“What can they do?” asked Luke, tapping on the piece of paper. “If the victims won’t make a statement, then it would be impossible for the cops to even know where to begin?”
“But surely they could be doing something!” Kathleen protested.
“Like what, though?” Donal asked, as he took a sip of his beer. “Do you want them to start arresting every single man in the whole country, pull them all in for questioning? Or just the suspicious looking ones, which would be all of us here right now,” he laughed. They all gave a nod and a cautious snigger.
“The thing is, it would be like looking for the proverbial needle in the middle of a bloody big hay-stack,” Declan added. “If no one is willing to say what these fellas looked like, then ‘tis sad to say, but there’s nothing the Gardai can do about it. In fact, when you think about it, they actually haven’t got anything to link the three attacks to each other anyway. It might not even be the same people involved in all three attacks.”
Kathleen took the paper back and scrutinised it again, frustration and a strange tingle of fear causing a knot in her stomach. “And you’re saying that none of those girls gave a statement, not even a single clue of any sort?”
“Sure, they were all too frightened to say anything.” Declan leant against her in a gesture that was meant to comfort her, assure her that she was safe here with her friends. “Weren’t they all so terrified by what was done to them, they barely hung around long enough to be treated in the hospital before catching the next available plane home?”
“They flew home? Are you saying they were all foreign visitors? They were all from overseas?”
Declan frowned. “Actually, they were, yes. One was a Canadian, one from New Zealand. The other … “ He looked at Donal who thought for a moment. “Mexican, I believe,” Donal said.
“That’s right,” Declan confirmed. “She was from Mexico.”
Kathleen closed her eyes. She didn’t like the sound of this one little bit. But she did acknowledge the assurance that Declan had intended, accepting the fact that she was with a nice group of people, who all looked just as concerned as she was. “The thing is,” she said after a while. “If those poor girls were dragged into a car, surely someone would have noticed something? It narrows it down a bit, doesn’t it?”
“Well, actually, it was only one of the girls, the last one, who was dragged into a car,” Declan said after he thought about it. “If I remember the report correctly,” he glanced at Donal who blinked a couple of times, “I mean the newspaper report, you understand? Anyway, apparently, the first girl was actually attacked when she was asleep in her tent, which was in a field with about ten other tents. It seems that everyone, including the girl herself, had gone up to the pub, and they all had a grand time. So they were all well oiled by the time they landed back at the campsite, and nobody heard a thing. Anyway, even if they did, they would have put it down to just someone getting lucky, you know, part of the craic and all that stuff.”
“How long ago did this happen?” Kathleen asked, trying to make sense of it.
“Back in early June,” Donal answered.
“So what happened to the second girl?” Li had moved closer now, her eyes wide with interest and concern.
Declan looked at Kathleen, and he put his hand on hers. “I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, Kathleen, but she was actually found unconscious down on the beach. The people who found her said she was in a terrible state, just lying on her blanket with all her stuff scattered around her. It appeared she’d put up a bit of a fight, but she was beaten black and blue. And she was so scared of the people who did it to her she couldn’t talk about it. She just wanted to go home as quickly as possible.”
“That was in late July, if I remember correctly,” Donal said. “About six or seven weeks after the first attack.”
“Don’t tell me anymore,” Kathleen said suddenly. “I’ll be awake all night, thinking about it already. I wish I didn’t know about it now.”
“But why on earth would the tourist board want to cover up something as ghastly as this, my dear?” Li asked suddenly, in her impeccable English accent. Everyone looked at her.
“Well, I can relate to that, actually,” Luke answered after a while, and he coughed into his hand when everyone turned to look at him.
“What?” he asked.
“How on earth can you relate to that?” Li blinked several times at him. “What about those poor wretched girls?”
“No, no,” Luke said quickly. “What I mean is, as a person who depends on the tourists for a living, I can understand their concerns. If no one comes here for a vacation, then no one’s going to stay at our B&B, so we couldn’t afford to stay open. It’s the basic law of business.”
“Yeah,” Nick agreed. “My folks have a diner back home in Illinois. It’s on the shore of lake Michigan, about ninety miles from Chicago, and we depend on tourists from late April to the first couple of weeks in September. I can remember when I was a kid, I was about ten years old, when some old guy who lived in the woods went nuts, and shot his wife and her young lover. That was about twenty miles away from our town, over in the next valley. Anyway, when the police came, he barricaded himself in the house and refused to come out. Shots were exchanged, and eventually the police stormed the house but, mysteriously, there was no sign of the old guy. He’d escaped somehow. Anyway, the effect on our tourist trade was devastating. No one wanted to risk being shot by some lunatic running wild in the woods. It was twenty miles away from us, but that was still too close for some folk! It almost ruined our little town. It was only when a trapper reported finding his body about eighteen months later that people felt safe enough to come back for their vacation. And you know what? We had the best year ever. People flocked from all over the U.S. to see for themselves where the old mad guy lived. Amazing.”
Kathleen jumped when a hand tapped her on the shoulder.
“Oh, hi Fitz,” she beamed up at him.
“I’m very sorry,” Fitz said gravely. He sounded abrasive, and his eyes avoided hers. “I won’t be needing you anymore.”
Kathleen blinked in surprise, but before she could reply Fitz had scurried back into the bar. It took a few moments to digest what had happened, and when she looked at the others they were looking back at her with their mouths open.
“Wow,” the doctor shook his head. “What did you do to him? He sounded really brassed off.”
“I don’t … I didn’t think …”
“You must have touched a nerve when you mentioned the grandsons.” Declan patted her on the arm. “He did seem a bit defensive about them.”
“Maybe they’ve come home looking for a summer job. They might need the money.” Luke said, trying to make a joke of it.
Kathleen wasn’t listening. A wave of disappointment had swept over her, and she felt too stunned to think straight. Why was Fitz acting like this, all of a sudden? Was this the same person, the nice, gentle man, who knew her family, who was a distant relative, even? A nun had once told Kathleen that you never really knew someone, not really. Kathleen never quite understood what it meant, but now she had a fair idea. Reluctantly she got up and went around to the shed. She kept her backpack and stuff there during the day. She picked it up and swung it onto her shoulder, and as she came back around the corner Declan jumped up and went over to her. “Where are you going?” he asked, sounding very concerned.
Kathleen shrugged, surprised that tears were suddenly stinging her eyes. “Well, its time I moved on anyway,” she muttered. “I’m supposed to be trekking around the world, not putting down roots in the first place I stop.”
“Hey,” Declan took her arm and tried to steer her back to the bench, but she shrugged it off. “Now please don’t do anything silly, like running away. Not like this anyway. We’d really like to have you stay round here for maybe a little bit longer.”
“Of course we would.” Nick gave her a pat on the arm. “Look, I have an idea. We could do with some help in the B&B. Isn’t that right, Luke? You could come and stay with us for a while.”
“But we won’t be able to pay you. Well, not for the time being, anyway,” John butted in quickly. “But you would have a room to yourself. For the moment, anyway. And your meals.”
Kathleen wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “I’d need to think about that,” she said. “But thank you all the same. Right now, though, I just want to be by myself.”
“Look … ”
“I’m going to get some sleep now, Declan,” Kathleen told him firmly. “I’m going to spend the night in my little nest on the beach. Maybe in the morning all this might look, you know, brighter.”
“All right,” Declan said, letting his hand drop. “We’ll walk over with you.”
“No! No, thank you. I’m fine!”
“Kathleen!” Declan had exasperation in his voice. “Haven’t you just seen the newspaper yourself? Isn’t it telling you that there’s some strange people around these parts, preying on young girls like yourself?”
“I don’t want to think about that.” Kathleen put her hands over her ears. “Anyway, I can look after myself. That’s why I keep myself fit, you know, so I can run faster than the other guy. So, if I’m in a better mood when I wake up, I’ll see you all in the morning. Now, please, stay here and have a nice evening. OK?”
Back on the beach Kathleen spread her blanket out on the sand. She’d found a neat spot in a sort of horseshoe shaped gap, at the base of a clump of boulders. It sheltered her nicely from the road that ran along the top of the sand dunes, about a hundred yards behind her. She was still annoyed and hurt by Fitz. She’d never been sacked in her life, and certainly not in such a nasty, offhand way. She flicked the Zippo and held it to the tiny gas stove, watching the delicate blue flame dance against the bottom of the coffee pot as she filled it with fresh water from her flask. After shaking some instant coffee into it, she lay back against the backpack and waited for it to boil.
She probably wouldn’t sleep now. She was too agitated. But gradually the soft lapping of the sea in the distance began to subdue her. She started to think about tomorrow. It was right that she moved on now. She’d seen where her dad came from, she’d met loads of people who remembered him, heard all the stories about him, and some of them she even believed. So, yes! She’d miss Declan and the others, but what the heck. Life goes on.
Something snapped her awake. Her left hand was numb from where she’d been resting on it, and she shook it as she reached for the coffee pot, surprised to find that it was now cold. Squinting in the light of the half moon, she tried to look at her watch. Good grief, was it really half past three in the morning? Just as well she woke up. She had goose bumps all over her body. It was time to slide into the sleeping bag.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw something flicker, like some sort of light. Her heart gave a thump in her chest. Was that someone coming along the beach? She scrambled to her feet and looked around the edge of the boulder. Nothing! She sighed loudly. Now get a grip, she told herself. But just then there was another flash, and a thin finger of light danced along the sand and right down to the sea. There was a voice as well, sharp and angry, and the light turned back towards the rocks.
“Oh my Sweet Jesus!” Kathleen threw herself back into the shadow of the boulder, her breathing totally erratic now. “Now don’t panic,” she told herself. “It could be totally innocent. Maybe some sad guy is just walking his dog.” At three thirty in the morning?
Almost immediately there was the purr of an engine. A car was creeping along the road above her. She couldn’t see any headlights, so she assumed they were switched off. There was more that one of them! This certainly wasn’t innocent now. Panic took over. Kathleen grabbed her backpack and started stuffing everything into it, desperately trying not to make a noise. It all went in except for the sleeping bag and the blanket. She heaved it onto her back and wrapped the sleeping bag around her. She left the blanket where it was, and she did the only thing she could. She ran down the beach to the darkness of the sea.
If she could get around the long strip of high, rugged rocks, she’d be able to get back up to the road. She’d only be a few hundred yards from a cluster of houses.
In the blackness she couldn’t judge how far the rocks went into the sea, and suddenly she was knee deep in chilly water that lapped against her and threw up waves as high as her waist. Now the panic was close to hysteria. When she turned around she could make out two torches, converging on the place where she’d been sleeping. They’d found the blanket. It would still be warm, and they’d be able to tell that she’d only just left it. The torches scanned the surrounding area then slowly moved out. The chase was on. Kathleen presses as far as she could against the rocks and tried to become invisible. They’d never find her here. It was too dark.
Then, to her horror, she could clearly see the long trail of footprints leading from where she’d been sleeping right down to where she was now slopping around in the sea. Her head swan and she gave a desperate whimper. The torches had found the trail too, and they were following it, slowly and deliberately, as if savouring the moment. Kathleen closed her eyes, and for the first time since she was a little girl she really prayed.
“Stand perfectly still.” The voice that came out of the darkness behind her made Kathleen jump in terror. She spun around, lost her balance and sat down in the sea.
“Please,” the voice said again. It was deep and strong. “I’m sorry if I’m after frightening you, but I need you to stand perfectly still now.”
Strong hands lifted her back onto her feet and turned her around to face the beach.
“Who are you? What do you want with me?” Kathleen was shaking badly now, fear thumping in her ears.
“Sush!” the man said, and his hands held her arms tightly.
Already the torches were half way down the beach, and the whispered voices had become animated. Kathleen closed her eyes and prayed louder as she listened to the rustling in the sand, and the murmuring, getting nearer with every second. Lights flickering on her made her open her eyes again, and she nearly screamed when she saw that they were now less than six feet away. The hand holding her was rock steady, but the shadows were so close now, they only had to reach out to touch her. She had to press a hand over her mouth to stop the cry that was bursting to get out.
The men had stopped, as if listening for something. “Where the hell did she go?” one of them asked in a loud whisper. “Do you think she managed to get around those rocks over there?”
The other one grunted and scanned the edge of the water with his torch. “Well, I think she’s after going this way, and she’s keeping to the water so her prints would be hard to see.”
They thought about this for what seemed like minutes. Kathleen felt as if she was going to faint with the tension, then both men turned together and started to creep along the shoreline, flickering their torches in all directions. “Well, I think we’re after losing her anyway,” the shorter one groaned. “You know the sun will be coming up soon. Do you think we should just leave it for now? Is it worth the risk?”
The rest was lost as the voices faded into the darkness.
As the silence came back, Kathleen realized that the man was still holding her arms. She pulled away and turned to look up at him. He was well over six feet tall, and in the subdued light she thought he had a thick moustache. He also appeared to be wearing a uniform, with shiny buttons on the front of his tunic. His hat was strange, though. It didn’t have a peak. It was a sort of pillbox type, with a big badge in the shape of a harp on the front of it, and a strap under his chin.
“Who are you?” Kathleen asked. She had to lean back to look up at him. “Are you a cop? You’re a cop, aren’t you? So what are you doing here, standing in the sea, in the dark? Were you waiting for those guys? Are you telling me you knew those guys would be coming here tonight? How did you know this was going to happen? Is that what you were doing, down here in the dark, waiting?”
“You’re right, sure,” the man said in a calm, rich voice. “My name is Cornelius … ”
“Cornelius? Hey, that’s my dad’s name.”
“Well, anyway, most people know me as Footsteps,” the man continued.
“Ah, sure, don’t they have a wonderful sense of humour in this part of Kerry.” A flash of white teeth told her he was smiling. “So c’mon!”
Kathleen shook her head. She was quiet light headed with the relief, now that a cop had come to rescue her. She felt elated, almost intoxicated, as Cornelius guided her back up the beach towards the road, all the time talking in fragmented bursts. “How come they didn’t see us? Why do you think they couldn’t see us? They were – this close! This close! And still they didn’t se us. I can’t understand that, Cornelius. Oh my God! Do you think they were the same guys that attacked all those other girls?”
She sensed Cornelius nod, and his hand lightened its grip as she reached the place where the blanket was still spread on the sand. Kathleen ran over and threw the sleeping bag into the corner. She let the backpack slip from her shoulders with a thump then started to straighten out the blanket and brush the sand off it.
“What are you doing?” Cornelius asked.
“What do you mean? Look at it. It’s a mess. I need to tidy it if I’m going to sit on it.”
Cornelius scratched his head. “Surely you’re not going to stay out here in the open, after everything that happened tonight? Wouldn’t you be better off going to a hotel, somewhere with people around you?”
“Naw! The sun will be up soon. It’ll be fine here.”
“Well, I’m very surprised that you aren’t too upset about it all, to even think of staying here. I would have thought … ”
“Well you would have thought wrong.” Bravado was heavy in Kathleen’s voice. “As I told my friends already, it’s time for me to move on anyway. I’m supposed to be touring the world, you know, finding myself, and all that. I’ll rest here tonight – or what’s left of tonight – then I’ll say goodbye to all this, file it under ‘things to talk about when I get home’, and be on my way. Now, please sit down, and I’ll make you a coffee.”
Picking the stove out of the backpack, she stood it in the sand then she put the pot on top of it before lighting it with the Zippo. She shook the coffee into the pot then filled it with water. “I hope you don’t like it sweet. I don’t have any sugar.”
She glanced over at Cornelius, who was now squatting on the edge of the blanket. A strange fragrance came across to her on the soft breeze. It was a very elusive odour, quiet rustic with a hint of some sort of spice. She thought about it for a moment then decided she actually liked it. She built up a pillow of sand under the blanket, and she was surprised when Cornelius handed her the mug of steaming coffee. That hadn’t taken too long to boil. She took a long sip of it.
“Wow,” she said. “That is sweet. What did you put in it? Have you put something in this coffee? Alcohol? Have you put alcohol in this coffee?”
Cornelius nodded. “It’ll help you to relax,” he said with a wide smile. “You’ll have a good night’s sleep, and then you’ll wake up all nice and relaxed, so you will.”
Kathleen took another sip then rested her head back against her makeshift pillow. She felt so good now. Everything was so calm. She closed her eyes and let her mind drift away.
When something tapped her on the arm she shook her head and slowly opened her eyes. The sun was already sparkling in a clear blue sky, and the breeze was fresh and warm. She rubbed her face and sat up, squinting to look at the person stooping down beside her. When her eyes eventually focused on him, her heart leapt in her chest, and she backed away in surprise, scurrying up the blanket.
“Oh, sweet Jesus.”
“Ah, I’m very sorry if I startled you, there,” the man said, genuinely surprised at the way she acted. “I’m Colm, Mossie Fitzgerald’s grandson. He’s after sending me down here to tell you he’s very sorry about how he spoke to last night, and could you come back to work, please.”
“What?” Her eyes were wide and terrified. “Who sent you?”
“Mossie Fitzgerald. You know Fitz, from the pub. He wants you to come back to work.”
Kathleen looked around her frantically. “Where’s Cornelius?” she heard herself saying. She could see the crumpled blanket where he’d been sitting, the grooves made by his boots in the sand, the mug that was still half full of coffee, balanced on a little mound to stop it from falling over.
Kathleen was struggling to think straight. The fear had knotted her stomach again. “I thought Fitz let me go because you two had come home,” she said, trying to compose herself. “I thought you were going to work for him.”
“Us?” The man blinked a couple of times. “Me and my brother? No, no. We’ve finished here now, I’m glad to say. We’ll be going back home sometime after dinner today. Anyway, he said to tell you that he has the breakfast on, so hurry up before it gets cold.” He flashed a smile as he stood up, and then he was gone.
Back in the pub, Kathleen dropped her backpack beside the huge fireplace in the bar and walked cautiously towards the kitchen. The aroma of grilled bacon and fresh coffee wafted out to greet her. She hesitated, not really sure why she’d come here. Her instinct was telling her to just pack up her stuff and walk off into the wild blue yonder, but her curiosity was stronger than her impulse to run away. And there were questions that she needed answers for. Like, did Fitz and his grandsons have anything to do with what happened on the beach last night? Also, she wanted to find Cornelius, and say a proper thanks to him. And who better to ask about Cornelius than Fitz.
Fitz was sitting with his two grandsons around the big pine table in the middle of the kitchen floor, and he leapt up when he saw her. “Kathleen,” he beamed as he gave her a quick hug. “Ah, sure, I’m delighted that you decided to come back and see us. Come over here and sit down, and I’ll get you a nice piece of bacon and some eggs.”
Colm smiled up at her as he spread some butter on a piece of toast. “This is my brother, Mickey,” he said, pointing with the knife at the man on the other side of the table. Kathleen nodded to him as she pulled out a chair and sat down. She had to take a deep breath to stop the thumping of her heart in her ears.
“I’m so very sorry about the way I spoke to you last night, Kathleen,” Fitz was saying, as he took a cup and saucer from the dresser and clattered them down in front of her. “Mickey, pour Kathleen a cup of coffee there, please. There’s a good lad. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, yes, yesterday evening. When the lads told me why they were here, and who they were looking for, sure all I could think about was getting you out of the way as soon as possible. They told me to calm down and to act normal, but I’m afraid I got myself into a bit of a state, and it all came out all wrong.”
Kathleen frowned and her hand went to her throat. What the hell was he talking about? She went to say something but her mouth had dried up.
“Well, it had the desired effect anyway,” Mickey, said. “But the unfortunate thing was, we couldn’t do anything about it until much later, and by then they’d gone walkabout. It was only when we said they were heading for the beach that Grandad remembered you were camped down there. However, when we got there, we could see our targets, but there was no sign of you. Then, after they’d returned to their digs, we spotted you wandering casually back to your camp, none the worst for wear.”
“I’m sorry,” Kathleen rubbed her face with her hand. “I’m afraid I don’t understand. Are you saying, last night, all that stuff on the beach, you knew about it - you had something to do with that?”
They all looked at her for a second then Colm put down his toast. “I’m sorry, Kathleen,” he said. He took a wallet from his shirt pocket and let it fall open to reveal a warrant card. “I am rude. I should have explained. I’m a detective sergeant with the Gardai in Tralee. Mickey there is a constable.”
“You’re cops? The two of you are cops?”
“They are,” Fitz beamed. “And just as well too. If it wasn’t for the two of them, they would never have caught those scum-buckets who attacked all those poor, unfortunate girls. My boys did a marvellous job altogether, so they did! And it was all down the eagle eyes of young Mickey there.”
“Grandad, I didn’t do it all on my own, you know.” Mickey said, glancing at Kathleen and blushing.
Kathleen knew her mouth was open in amazement. Colm saw her vacant look, and he took a long sip of his coffee before leaning towards her. “I’m sorry if we lost you there, Kathleen,” he smiled. “The thing is, we’ve had a few horrible incidents around here over the past few months. Some young girls were attacked.”
“I know,” Kathleen nodded. “Three girls, all of them tourists.”
“You know about that?” Fitz flipped some eggs onto a plate. He added three slices of bacon before putting it down in front of her.
“I read it in the newspaper. Yesterday, in fact.”
Colm nodded slowly. “Well, that was the reason we came here yesterday, to catch those people”
“You caught them? But I thought … didn’t he papers say there wasn’t any evidence, that the girls weren’t prepared to give you any information. It said the police didn’t have anything to work with.”
“Well, that’s true.” Colm munched on his toast again. “But we did get one, very small, lucky break. Did you know that one of the victims was dragged into a car before she was attacked? Anyway, we found her backpack a few days after she’d gone home. A piece of the wire frame had broken through the fabric, and a tiny fleck of paint was discovered on it. We assumed the wire had scratched the car when she was pulled into it, so it was sent to Dublin to be analysed by the forensic team. They contacted every vehicle manufacturer in the world, but no one recognised that particular paint. Even Scotland Yard had a look at it, but they couldn’t find a match either. All they could suggest was that, whoever owned the car must have sprayed it with their own mix of paint.”
He took a drink of his coffee then wiped his mouth with a tissue. “So, we were going to need some sort of a miracle to find that one. And, amazingly, that was exactly what we got. Last Saturday, my young brother here had just finished his shift, and he was going home on his Lambretta when a woman with a pram walked into the road, causing the car in front of him to brake suddenly. So Mickey collided with it. Now, technically, it was Mickey’s fault, even if he did come off worse. He had a big dent in his mudguard, while the car only had a small abrasion on the wheel arch. But, even so, they should have exchanged information. However, the driver was very reluctant to do that, insisting that they each sort out their own damage, and leave the cops out of it. He was too nice about it, too eager to let it drop. So, naturally, Mickey was a bit suspicious, and he made a note of the number plate. He also made a mental note of the passenger, just in case. Of course he wasn’t too surprised, when he ran a check later, to find that the owner had a bit of a record. He was twice charged with attempted rape, but both times it was reduced to common assault because of lack of evidence. Then the local lads sent us some pictures of him, and also his passenger who, as you’d expect, had a string of convictions as well, all for sex assaults.”
“And would you believe it,” Mickey sat up in the chair, eager to tell his bit of the story. He blushed again when Kathleen looked at him. “I was actually at Mass on Sunday morning when, for some strange reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about my little accident. Something was bothering me about that whole episode, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Those fellas obviously looked after that car. It was an old model, but they had it looking immaculate. It was gleaming. Now, if that was my car and some eejit knocked a lump out of it, I’d be very pissed off indeed, I can tell you. But they were trying to pretend that they weren’t even bothered. Then I suddenly remembered Colm telling me about the car with the paint that didn’t match. OK, it was a long shot, but as soon as I got home I took a scraping from the paint that was stuck on my mudguard. Colm was on duty, so I took it straight down to him, and we had it sent to Dublin by motorbike, with a note explaining the urgency of the matter.”
“Sure, isn’t he brilliant altogether?” Fitz was pouring coffee into everyone’s cup. “The both of them are. I’m so proud of them, so I am.”
“Well, as I said, it was very much a shot in the dark,” Colm added, smiling at his grandfather. “Our main concern, though, was losing the momentum. Even if it was the same type of paint, on its own it wouldn’t prove a thing. If someone was using that paint to re-spray cars, maybe a small local garage, then there could be hundreds of them out there. We needed to try and place that driver and his pal at the scene of the attacks, which meant that the local Gardai had to go back over old ground, speak to witnesses again. Only, this time, they would have pictures of our friends with them, to see if they jogged a memory or two. And they did!” He took a congratulatory drink of his coffee and watched Kathleen for her reaction.
“Yeah,” Mickey decided it was his turn again. “The very first victim had been attacked in her own tent, on a site with loads of other tents around her. The owner had a house on the site. He told us there were about eleven tents there at the time of the attack. It was a very busy time, lots of coming and going, but, amazingly, he recognised the men in the photos immediately. He thought they were lovely lads. Apparently, when they arrived on the site they introduced themselves to all the other campers. They lit a big fire and cooked sausages and stuff for everyone, and they sort of organised a trip down to the pub in the night. They all seemed to have a great time, partying on long after the pub had closed. The farmer remembers a lot more people coming back to the site than went to the pub, and he didn’t mind that. A lot of them were local people. Unfortunately, by the time the poor girl was discovered the next day, most of them had packed up and moved on. Anyway, she was too distressed to give any coherent description of what happened. Of course, statements were taken from everyone who could be located at the time, which was precious few, but the Gardai had absolutely nothing to work with.”
Kathleen picked at her eggs. “Are you not very hungry, Kathleen love?” Fitz asked, putting more toast on the table. She shook her head.
“The second poor girl was attacked on the beach,” Colm started to say, but then he hesitated and looked at Mickey.
“I know,” Kathleen said.
“Oh! Right.” Colm took a drink of his coffee before continuing. “Well, a barman remembered her at the time, even though it was a Saturday night and the place was packed. He said he fell in love with her the minute she walked in, because she was so pretty. But, of course, all the lads made a beeline for her, all offering her drinks and fancying their chances, and the poor barman didn’t get a look in after that. Anyway, he was rushed off his feet, and he lost track of her. But what he did notice later, though, was that two men in particular were monopolising her attention, and it annoyed him, because they appeared to be a lot older than her. So, when he was shown the photos a couple of days ago, he could positively identify one of the men, though he couldn’t be absolutely sure about the other one. He also couldn’t remember if they all left together. He was calling time when he noticed that they’d gone.”
The chair scraped on the stone floor as Fitz sat down. Picking up a piece of toast, he leant across and scooped a lump of butter from the dish, which he spread enthusiastically. Then he reached for the marmalade. He was beaming as he glanced around at his grandsons.
“Then, yesterday, a landlord confirmed that both of the men had stayed at his B&B on the week that the third girl was dragged into the car.” Mickey waved a bit of toast in emphasis. “And he even remembered their car because of the wonderful condition it was in. The colour also matched the speck we found on the backpack, and on the car in Tralee.”
“And that’s why they came here yesterday,” Fits joined in. “To catch them.”
They all glanced at Kathleen, and when they saw the look on her face their smiles faded quickly. Her eyes were wet and red, and her mouth was drawn in a thin, angry line.
“Sure, what’s wrong, Kathleen?” Fitz asked, getting a tissue from the sideboard and handing it to her. “What’s upsetting you?”
“What’s upsetting me? Are you serious?” Kathleen grabbed the tissue and rubbed her eyes with it. “You’re saying you knew who these guys were, that you came here to arrest them, right? Then why the hell were they still free to come after me down on that beach last night? Do you know how close they came to getting me? They were less than three feet away. They could have … what would they have done if Cornelius hadn’t been there? If Cornelius … ”
“Cornelius? Who’s Cornelius?”
“He’s a cop,” she snapped. “He’s one of you guys. He was the one who rescued me. Surely you know your own people?”
All three of them shook their heads in unison. “I’m afraid we don’t know anyone called Cornelius,” Colm said. “Maybe he belongs to another district, came over to help out.”
“That doesn’t answer the question,” Kathleen slapped her hand onto the table. “Why were those men allowed to ...”
“Look, Kathleen,” Mickey held up his hand. “We said we knew who those men were. We didn’t say we knew where they were. We only came here to collect the statements, to take them back to Tralee. We needed to collate them, just in case the paint on the car matched. We needed to fit all the pieces together, to see if we had a watertight case against them. Otherwise we’d be laughed out of court by some sneaky little solicitor, who’d rather score points against the police than take the criminal off the streets. Anyway, as we told you earlier, we were actually following them at the time. We had night-vision glasses, which allowed us to observe them, without them even knowing they were being watched. We were trailing them from the moment we spotted them. And, as we said, we couldn’t just arrest them without hard evidence. We were right behind them when they went to beach, but we couldn’t see any sign of you down there. We watched then scurrying around and looking a bit disappointed, then, after they’d given up and gone home, we spotted you strolling back to your camp, none the worst for wear.”
Kathleen was frowning and nibbling on a piece of her hair. “You said a minute ago that you didn’t know where those guys were, then suddenly you’re following them all over the beach. You’re not making any sense. You either knew or you didn’t.”
Mickey wiped his eyes with his fingers. “I’m sorry, Kathleen. I’m confusing you,” he said patiently. “What we’re saying is, that when we drove up here yesterday evening, we had no idea where those two men were. They could be back at home in Dublin, for all we knew. We came to collect the reports, and we stopped here because we were going to stay the night with Grandad. So you can imagine our astonishment when we drove up, and there they were, as large as life, sitting outside our grandfather’s pub. It was so unreal. There’s miracles, and then there’s miracles, but this one surely beat them all. Of course we had to tell Grandad what was happening, in case it all kicked off suddenly and we had to challenge them on our own. That was why Grandad wanted to get you away from the pub as soon as possible and out of immediate danger. He really worries about you, you know. He feels he has a responsibility, because we’re all related from somewhere back in history. And it worked. You stropped off with the hump, but that was good. In the meantime, we were calling the lads in Dublin for an answer on the paint. But they hadn’t got back to us by the time the pub was ready to close, so we had no choice but to stick as close to them as a Knacker’s vest.”
It took a while for Kathleen to realise what Mickey had said, and suddenly her stomach turned. “Who was sitting outside your grandfather’s pub when you drove up?” she heard herself asking, moving her chair back with a clatter. “I was sitting outside your grandfather’s pub when you drove up! Who are you talking about, exactly?”
Colm sighed. “I’m sorry, but it was those two fellas from Dublin, the ones who were sitting with you. Declan O’Connell and Donal Grey.”
“Oh my God! You can’t be serious. Oh no. Please say you’re not serious.”
“I wish we could, Kathleen. I really wish we could. But when we arrested them this morning, they immediately started blaming each other. When we told them we had enough evidence to charge them, all traces of loyalty flew straight out of the window. They were both singing like little yellow canaries when we left them.”
Kathleen buried her face in her hands, and Fitz went around the table and put his arm around her shoulder. “Now please don’t cry, Kathleen,” he said, with a sob in his own voice. “It’s all over now. Those evil men are in custody, and they won’t be hurting anyone for a long time to come. I know it was all a great shock to you, and very distressing for you too, but please try and forget it, put it all behind you. There’s a good girl. Mickey, would you go and get Kathleen a drop of brandy from the bar. It’ll help to settle her nerves.”
“So where is Cornelius?” Kathleen asked when the brandy arrived and she’d taken a sip. “Where can I find him? I need to say thanks.”
“Well, there’s no one called Cornelius in the local Gardai.” Fitz said with a shrug. “Are you sure he was a cop? Did he … ”
“He was wearing a uniform. He had a cap with a big badge in the middle of it, shaped like a harp. And there was a strap under his chin. And the cap didn’t have a peak on it, you know, a bit like the French cops wear. Round, but without a peak.”
Fitz shook his head again. “That doesn’t sound like a guard’s cap. I don’t really know what that would be.”
“Well, he said he was a cop.” Kathleen’s tongue was strangely numb from the sharpness of the drink, and she felt oddly light headed. She couldn’t be drunk already, surely? Maybe it was just the lack of sleep, and all the stress of last night catching up on her. “He told me his name was Cornelius. In fact, he said that everyone here called him Footsteps.”
Fitz looked up suddenly. “Footsteps?” he repeated. “Did you say Footsteps? Well, my Good God. Footsteps! He told you they called him Footsteps?”
“Well, yes. He said everyone around here calls him Footsteps.”
Fitz practically ran to the dresser and opened the door at the bottom, and he had to kneel down to reach the old shoebox that was jammed in at the back.
“Grandad?” Colm was looking concerned. “Are you feeling all right? Do you know this Cornelius?”
“Ah, t’was well before your time,” Fitz answered. He took the lid off the shoebox and rummaged through the pile of papers. “You wouldn’t have known him. Anyway, he got his nickname because he was a decent police officer, and because he wore boots with big metal studs on them. Things were dreadful in those days, food was scarce, and the landlords were bleeding the people dry. Anyone who had the strength, and a couple of bob, were emigrating. Footsteps understood the desperation of the poor people, and whenever he was called upon to apprehend someone who was stealing food just to live, picking a couple of carrots out of a field or apples from an orchard, or the loose coal that fell by the railway line, he would deliberately wear those boots. And he’d clatter loudly along the road, so they could hear him coming and had time to scarper. Don’t get me wrong, now. When it came to the real villains, he was ruthless, as anyone who crossed him found to their cost.” Fitz sniggered and shook his head. “There’s a rumour that, on many occasion, when he arrested a thief who’d robbed one of the big-shot’s houses, some of the loot would mysteriously disappear, and the next day little parcels of food would appear on the doorsteps of the poorest houses. But it was only a rumour.”
Kathleen drank the rest of the brandy and coughed into the tissue.
“So you know this guy,” she said between coughs.
Fitz put an old black and white photo on the table in front of her. It showed two men standing outside a small building. The sign on the door said Royal Irish Constabulary. “Is that the kind of uniform he was wearing?”
Kathleen held it up to the light from the window. “Hey, that’s it. That’s exactly it. And that’s him! That’s Cornelius! So he is a cop.”
“Was a cop! Look at the back.”
Kathleen turned the photo around, and she struggled to read the fading handwriting on it. “I think it says; ‘This is me, Len Fitzgerald, and my very best friend, Cornelius Footsteps Lacey.’ There’s a date, but I can’t make it out.”
She went to hand it back to Frits when the hairs on the back of her head stood up. “Cornelius Lacey?”
Fitz nodded. “Well, I told you my boys had their little miracle yesterday. Now it seems you had a little miracle of your own as well, Kathleen.”
“What are you saying, Fitz? Are you saying … “?
“I am, sure. Kathleen Lacey, say hello to your great, great grandfather, Cornelius Lacey, lovingly known as Footsteps.”
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