Footsteps, he detested the clamour of the footsteps. The rubber-soled shoes striking the sleet-covered roads accompanied him across the threshold and then halted. He moved ahead while the footsteps became muted. It was always the footsteps…the soft sound of feet shuffling on carpeted corridors that made his heart beat a staccato rhythm. But not anymore, he had silenced the culprit, who had tormented him for years and paid the price for his revenge. The clanking of the metal door behind him sounded like the hammer that locked one’s fate in the corridors thronged by the black-collared tails. His weather-beaten coat did nothing to hold back the onslaught of the biting cold Irish winds but his heart was still warm enough to rekindle the fire of patriotism and his love for Ireland. The IRA still awaited him and so did Sophie
‘Mo Anam Cara. Sophie!’ His lips muttered themselves as he neared the rusted Volkswagen.
Like him, the car had seen better days and seemed to have emerged from oblivion; dented but not beaten. The keen eyes of the Garda pierced his back, while his dear Sophie was busy shielding questions amidst the flashing camera lights, which broke into a reverie as he neared.
‘Tommy never talks about him, only the boys who died. He does have genuine remorse. Oh God, yes.’ she was howling, tears trickling down her face.
‘Thomas McMahon, now that you are finally free of the prison, are you also free of the guilt of killing two innocent boys?’ A reporter wielded the question at him.
‘You are not a freedom fighter but a terrorist who kills innocent children. Else, why would you try to escape from the prison? Why not serve your sentence in penance?’ The crowd’s antagonism was vivid.
‘Tommy, if you are so repentant, that you have been released under the “Good Friday Agreement,” why not meet Paul Maxwell’s father? Are you scared of facing him?’
Thomas wore a stoic expression. Scared? Petrified would be a better word to describe him. How could Thomas tell these strangers how intimately he got to know those teenagers after he had brutally killed them? How those faceless spirits had haunted him and gnawed at his soul. Prodding him, asking him the same question again and again and again till he banged his head on the hard-crusted prison walls, ‘Why us?’
He shook the feeling of dread that always took over him when he thought of them. Thomas moved towards Sophie, and wordlessly guided his wife towards the car and eased her behind the wheels. The cameras and flashlights continued clicking the retreating pair. After such a long sabbatical, he was unsure of his driving skills. His present state of mind was exactly like the winding roads that led to his home in Monaghan.
Thomas’s military training had sharpened his basic instincts. His ears pricked at the sound of a car engine coming to life behind them, The Gardai! So careless and without acumen. He thought to himself.
Then another faint purring of an engine made his skin perspire; IRA, his reason for existence. As the car puffed its way with two other cars for company, Thomas slipped into a restful slumber. He didn’t give either of the institutions a second thought. Though he still harboured a dream of Ireland free of the British, he had decided that he was neither an informer nor a terrorist any longer, just a humble carpenter he had trained to be in the last nineteen years in the prison.
The winding mountain terrain of the countryside did nothing to ease him. The reporter’s question plagued his mind. Escape! From where and from whom would Thomas McMahon escape, could he run away from himself?
Footsteps… pounding, relentless. These footsteps would never leave him alone. He ducked behind his comrade who fired at the feet following them.
A bullet whizzed past his ear, missing him narrowly. The ringing in his ear rendered him incapable of hearing the soft thud behind. The absence of retaliatory firing from his fellow prisoner from behind made him turn, just to discover his comrade’s limp body. He immediately took cover behind one of the many pillars aligning the corridors of PortLaoise prison. Was he so important to the IRA, that such a precarious operation of escape was planned for him? He wondered. When one is confined and tortured in an abyss of blackness, one starts doubting one’s existence. He had crossed that juncture much before. When the physical torture ended during the day, ‘they’ wafted in his cell through sealed doors in the night. And asked him, ‘Why us?’ Those nights were unbearable. Their spirits sat with him, gazing at him throughout the night and he wished for the sunlight to trickle into the damp squalid cell and for the beatings to begin so that he could rest.
‘Run! Tommy run! This is not the time to think.’
He was nudged forward by a fellow prisoner and old IRA comrade. The bomb detonated a distance ahead, raising a cloud of dust and delivering a perfect ambush for them to make it to the walls of the prison. They had already breached the inner wall. The escape was certain.
‘Francis, what are you escaping?’ Thomas suddenly went still.
‘An bhfuil d’intinn caillte agat? Have you lost your marbles? I am escaping this prison to serve my country and free it from the dictatorship of the British. I shall die a soldier not a prisoner. Is breá liom Éire. Get up Tommy, we don’t have much time, the guards shall find us.’
‘You go Francis. I shall have to wait and serve my sentence.’
‘No! You are our master crafter, without you, our movement shall fail. You killed Mountbatten single-handedly and we got to watch him blow to smithereens from a distance all because of you. You are a soldier who deserves to be decorated by the IRA, therefore they have planned such a daring escape and you are refusing to go, why?’
‘They could have never implicated me for killing Earl Mountbatten if I hadn’t confessed.’
Francis stared at Thomas incredulously. The firing seemed to have muted down. ‘What do you mean, confessed? The IRA claimed the assassination with squared shoulders.’
‘Yes, but they had no proof against me and my brethren specifically.’
‘You are such a fool, I must say. Then why did you confess? You wanted to kill him with vengeance, then why the repentance?’
‘I am here because I killed them too. That was not what I intended to do. He was supposed to be alone on the boat. They were innocent victims…. those kids.’
Francis was suddenly yanked down by two guards, and pinned on the floor. He could see Thomas sitting cross-legged muttering something. The last thing Francis remembered was that their escape was thwarted by Thomas’s denial to escape and his last words, ‘Innocent victims, like me.’
23rd November 1979
Footsteps… Polished heels on the wooden floor; Thomas took a long deep breath and opened his eyes, as if saying, ‘Relax Thomas, you are only being jailed. You have killed him, yes you have.’
The footsteps announced the arrival of the judges in the court dressed in their regalia. The bench hadn’t much work to do. The IRA had claimed the assassination of Earl Mountbatten of Burma and the apprehended had confessed. There was no jury for opinions, it was what the Americans called, ‘An open and shut case.’
‘The court requests Detective James O’Donovan, senior forensic scientist to the Garda Technical Bureau of the Garda Siocháná of the Republic of Ireland, to present his opinion.’ The bench announced.
Detective James eyed the accused, Thomas McMahon, as he moved towards the cubicle. ‘Honourable bench, I have on behalf of the forensic department submitted the evidence, namely the accused’s clothes at the time of arrest, his shoes and his gloves. My analysis proves beyond doubt his involvement in the assassination of Earl Mountbatten of Burma. His clothes were speckled with shavings of the same paint that was painted on the victim’s boat, The Shadow V. His gloves were soaked in nitro-glycerine, an important chemical ingredient used for making the kind of bomb that detonated the victim’s boat and killed three people onboard.’
‘Are you certain Detective O’Donovan that it was the accused who killed Earl Mountbatten by bombing his boat?’ The head judge asked, pointing towards Thomas.
‘Judge, I can for certain say that Mr Thomas created and placed the bomb on the boat, but I cannot say that he killed Earl Mountbatten.’
‘What a ridiculous thing to say, detective, if the accused planted the bomb, then he has murdered the victims too.’
‘Honourable Judge, it is in my jurisdiction to analyse the evidence, not to pass a judgement. Mr Thomas was supposedly already under police custody when the bomb was detonated. Technically he didn’t activate the trigger.’
‘But he made and planted the bomb, he is the reason behind those deaths of whom, two were teenage boys, Earl Mountbatten’s fourteen-year-old grandson and the other, an innocent poor fifteen-year-old boat keeper doing his summer job. What do you say now, detective?’ The judge sneered.
The detective fumbled, at a loss for words and before he could react, a voice shattered the silence of the court.
‘I, Thomas McMahon, confess to the murder of the two innocent boys and do not oppose the verdict of life imprisonment.’
Pregnant silence loomed upon the bench and the court, ‘Mr McMahon, you killed three not two people on the 27th day of August.’ Declared the judge.
‘No! I killed two innocents and I punished the third, Earl Mountbatten of Burma. I accept the verdict for those two innocent lives but I stand proud at being a part of a successful plot to kill the enemy of Northern Ireland, an immoral man.’
The court went into a frenzy.
The judge proclaimed, ‘We thereby declare Mr Thomas McMahon guilty of murdering Earl Mountbatten of Burma, his grandson Nicholas and Paul Maxwell, the boat keeper. He is sentenced to life imprisonment for such a heinous crime. To be imprisoned for life.’ Thundered the hammer on the board, sealing his fate.
The tabloids published the next day, ‘McMahon Confesses to the assassination of Mountbatten!
Another read, ‘McMahon killed The Queen’s Cousin.’
He was ferried to the dark dismal prison of PortLaoise amidst the hatred emanating from the eyes of the Irish public for the killer of two innocent kids.
27th August 1979 14:00 hours
County Sligo, Northwest Ireland
Footsteps… rubber deck shoes make a funny sound, which made even Earl Mountbatten smile. Aboard Shadow V, Earl Mountbatten had always felt like the king he desired to be. The boat was his realm and he had fulfilled loads of his natural and unnatural desires aboard it. His wife Edwina had been a perfect companion; both in public and personal life. Together they had lived a life full of adventure or rather misdemeanour to be precise. However, at the ripe age of 79 and after Edwina’s death, he had taken to a simpler life.
‘Nicholas, my dear grandson. You are the apple of my eye. Stay close to me, near the hull. I shall teach you to steer the boat.’
‘Sure grandpa, this sounds exciting.’
‘Hey, you boy! What’s your name?’ The Earl asked a freckled lean boy, cleaning the outboard area.
‘Paul Maxwell sir, I clean the boat.’
‘Then you better do a good job of it, I expect wild weather. And, be around us, we may need a drink or two.’
‘Sure sir.’ Paul bowed and stayed around talking to Nicholas.
The Earl navigated around his boat like a little boy admiring his toy. The family had decided to accompany him at the last minute. His son’s family accompanied him rarely and thus it was a happy day for him to be around his twin grandsons. The others scattered near the rail admiring the receding landline as the Earl steered the boat with Nicholas and Paul towards the open peninsula.
The explosion rocked the peninsula.
The boat rocked and sunk in the wild waves and thrust back up again like a dying animal gasping for his last breath. The boat, Shadow V capsized.
The distant binoculars revealed bobbing dead bodies. Body parts were strewn around the perimeter of the boat. The detonator had been activated at the perfect moment. The mystery man dressed in a green tunic, belt, riding breeches with puttees, and an Irish Volunteers hat and soldiers of Ireland badge, paid his last respect to the departed and walked off into the dark. His part in the mission was accomplished.
This ride proved to be the last one for the Earl and his favourite boat. His bomb-eaten body bobbed on the water for a long time. Long enough to recollect the wrongs he had committed. His blood came out in spurts from the lower part of his body where his feet were supposed to be. He gasped and frantically looked around only to discover Nicholas’s head dipping down into the recesses of the watery grave. Had God punished him for his doings by punishing his grandson? His last thoughts were of the cries of those children.
27th August 1979 11:00 hours
Longford, Northern Ireland (12 miles from Sligo)
‘Have you fitted the bomb well? Is it sturdy enough to hold itself until the boat reaches a little into the peninsula, and away from help? Thomas, talk to me, I am also a part of this mission.’
‘Yes, I have fitted it under the hull. The Earl enjoys riding the boat himself. It was the best location. 50 lbs of nitro-glycerine will blow him off into pieces.’
‘We have done our part; hope we cross the border before the bomb is detonated by the other team.’ Liam prayed.
They drove in silence towards the border, Thomas guzzling down the whiskey in happiness.
‘Thomas, this is the first time I am seeing you drunk and joyously happy even before the success of our mission has been announced. We should be careful.’
‘Liam, this mission was not only for Ireland but a personal one too. Let me celebrate.’
‘If you insist Thomas, but we are nearing a checkpoint, sober up and drive without raising a suspicion’
That Garda checkpoint was the last lap towards their freedom. Beyond it lay the Northern Ireland; motherland.
The barricades were drawn to check every vehicle.
‘Papers please.’ requested the Garda guard indicating Thomas and Liam to wound down their window panes. Liam did as instructed, but Thomas hesitated.
‘I have asked you to show me the papers,’ he insisted.
‘Sir… I don’t have the papers.’ Thomas accepted; he had nothing to show.
‘Get off the car, please.’
They alighted accompanied by the aroma of the Irish whiskey.
‘Were you drinking while driving? Have you stolen this car? Speak up now!’ the guards bellowed.
Thomas was dumbfounded. The high concentration of the whiskey in his blood didn’t let him reason well.
‘Sir, I am a humble man. I asked for a lift to my village across the border. I don’t know him.’ pleaded Liam. He proved to be a traitor. Thomas didn’t know what to say. Was Destiny playing against him again?
‘You can go and never take a lift from a stranger again.’ Liam ran as fast as his feet could carry. He never once looked back. Thomas saw him running away not knowing how to react.
‘What’s your name and what is this peculiar smell emanating from you? Why are you wearing rubber gloves? Whose car is this? Speak or you shall be arrested?’
Thomas’ silence made the Gardai arrest him for driving under the influence of alcohol. By the time he came to his senses, he realised his mission had gone terribly wrong. His adversary was not alone on the boat.
Kincora Boys’ Home, Belfast,
‘All the new admissions line up in the hall. The selected few shall be taken to the Classiebawn Castle, on the Mullaghmore Peninsula to meet Lord Mountbatten.’
Little Tommy rushed with his friends and beamed even more at being amongst the chosen few. All ten of them were given new clothes and candies to accompany them to the castle for their three-day stay.
The splendid view of the castle took their breath away. Poor peasant kids couldn’t help but admire the opulence of the surroundings. They joined the royal couple for the introductory breakfast and were made to visit the gardens and little villages in the vicinity of the castle.
‘What’s your name, dear boy?’ Mountbatten’s interest in himself astonished little Tommy.
‘My name is Thomas McMahon, Sir. So honoured to meet you. Will be glad to be of service to you, sire.’
‘Certainly, young lad.’ He patted Tommy and gave a knowing look to his man-in-waiting.
As the night drew, so did the curtains. The dark carpeted corridors absorbed the sounds. Thomas was woken from his soundless sleep by the Lord’s man-in-waiting, ‘Thomas, sire wants to meet you alone.’
‘Me?’ His innocent look did not move him.
‘Yes, he likes you. Come with me.’ He led little Thomas along the winding carpeted corridors to the Lord’s bedchamber. As he stepped in, the doors were bolted from the outside. The sound of the metal latch reverberated in his soul as a warning bell. The advancing feet of his lordship swished on the carpet. Thomas’s gaze was transfixed on his feet. He couldn’t conjure courage to raise his eyes and witness the Lord’s naked self. He felt the hungry sweating palm caress his back and then he was not allowed, even to cry.
Those muffled footsteps came to him time and again for the three days at the castle and tormented him and the others like him but none had the energy to object. Their childhood was stamped for life.
Thomas vowed to avenge his childhood and innocent children like him. He hoped that one day destiny would present him with an opportunity to end Mountbatten’s life and avenge his. He waited patiently for the destiny to smile upon him.
This is a fictional story, not intended to harm anyone’s reputation or sentiments.
Northern Ireland’s struggle for freedom from the British Empire and its aristocracy was long and marked by conspiracies. Earl Mountbatten of Burma’s assassination proved to be a turning point of the movement. The movement saw many volunteers from villages close to the border of Ireland and Britain. Earl Mountbatten and his wife were infamous for their sexual misdemeanours which involved acts involving innocent children. Innocent children were procured from these surrounding villages. It was never proved whether there was a connection between the two incidents but as Americans say, it was an open and shut case!
Mo anam cara: my soul friend
Garda: security agency
Gardai: security agency
IRA: Irish Republican Army
An bhfuil díntinn caillte agat: have you lost your mind
Is brea liom Eire: I love my Ireland
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