What the Wind Knows (Page 36)
“We went in to check on her this afternoon, Doc . . . and the foal was gone,” Daniel said, his voice slow and heavy with meaning.
It took me a moment to understand.
“Someone’s been in the barn, Doc. It’s gone. Nobody knows where. Liam’s been by to see Brigid, and I had to tell him. He’s upset. He had plans for the foal, as you know. Now, with her being gone . . . we need to figure out who took her. Tell Miss Anne, will you, Doc? Liam is certain she already knows. But I don’t imagine how.”
I was silent, reeling. The guns were gone, and Liam was blaming Anne. Daniel was quiet for a moment too, letting me process his metaphor. I told him we would inquire further when I returned from Dublin. He agreed, and we signed off.
I almost told Anne we weren’t going to the Gresham after all, but when I stepped into her room and saw her, lithe and lovely, her curling mass of hair loosely bound, her eyes warm, and her smile eager, I changed my mind once more.
She held my hand, and I walked, half numb and wholly unprepared for the risk I was taking. All I knew was I wanted Mick to meet her. To reassure me. To absolve me. It was madness, bringing Anne to see him. I don’t know what compelled me to do it or what compelled him to draw a confession from her red lips. It was his way; I knew that well enough by now. He was completely unconventional, but he never failed to surprise me.
He asked her what she thought of me, asked her if she loved me, and with only a small hesitation, the kind that comes from admitting personal things publicly, she said she did. The world spun, my heart leapt, and I wanted to pull her back out into the night where I could keep Mick safe and kiss her silly.
Her colour was high, her eyes were bright, and she couldn’t meet my gaze. She seemed as dazed and dazzled as I, though Mick has that effect on people. He insisted we pose for a picture, then coaxed her onto the dance floor, despite her protestations. “I can’t dance, Mr. Collins!” I heard her say, though she’d always been a frenetic dancer, dragging Declan to his feet whenever there was music.
Mick made up for whatever skill she thought she lacked by tucking her close and doing a simple two-step to the ragtime rhythm that mostly kept them in the same spot. And he talked to her, eyes boring down into hers like he wanted to know all her secrets. I understood the desire. I watched her shake her head and answer him with great seriousness. It was all I could do not to cut in, to save him, to save her, to save myself. It was all madness.
I was pulled towards the corner table, Joe O’Reilly at my side. Tom Cullen put a drink in my hand while the newly released Sean MacEoin, who I had seen and administered to in Mountjoy jail in June, pushed me into a chair. They were ebullient, the calm of the truce and the cessation in hiding and fighting making them loud and loose in their conversation and celebration. I could only marvel. How long had it been since they could sit at the wedding of a friend and not have guards stationed at the doors, watching for patrols, for raids, for arrests?
Mick brought Anne back to the corner table as well, and she fell into a seat beside me and took a long pull from my drink, wincing as she set it down.
“Dance with the woman, Tommy. I’ve monopolized her long enough,” Mick ordered. His eyes were shadowed, and his mood was not nearly as jubilant as his men. They had been relieved, temporarily, of their burdens. He had not, and his nomination to attend the Treaty talks, to play the dancing puppet, was not sitting well on him.
I stood and extended my hand to Anne. She didn’t refuse me but begged patience with her abilities, just like she’d done with Mick.
She was light in my arms, her curls brushing my cheeks, her breath tickling my neck. I am an accomplished dancer. Not from any desire to be so. It is actually the opposite. I feel no pressure to impress, no desire to be noticed, and I approached dancing with the same attitude I have approached most everything else in my life. Dancing was just a skill to be learned and, in the case of traditional Irish dance, an act of defiance.
Anne followed along, stepping as little as possible, swaying against me, her pulse thrumming, her lip caught between her teeth in concentration. I reached up and set it free with the pad of my thumb, and her eyes found mine, looking at me in that very un-Anne-like way. We didn’t speak of her confession, of the growing feelings between us. I didn’t mention the missing guns at Garvagh Glebe.
Then something cracked, and someone screamed, and I pushed Anne behind me. Laughter ensued immediately. It wasn’t a gun; it was champagne. It bubbled and overflowed from a newly uncorked bottle, and Dermot Murphy raised his glass and made a traditional toast about death in Ireland. Death in Ireland meant a life in Ireland, not a life as an immigrant somewhere else.
Glasses were raised in agreement, but Anne had grown still.
“What day is it?” she asked, a note of panic in her voice.
I answered that it was Friday, the twenty-sixth of August.
She began to mumble, as if trying to remember something important. “Friday the twenty-sixth, 1921. August 26, 1921. The Gresham Hotel. Something happens at the Gresham Hotel. A wedding party. Who is getting married? Their names, again?”
“Dermot Murphy and Sinead McGowan,” I answered.
“Murphy and McGowan, wedding party. Gresham Hotel.” She gasped. “You need to get Michael Collins out of here, Thomas. Right now.”
“Right now!” she demanded. “And then we have to figure out how to get everyone else out as well.”
“Tell him it’s Thorpe. I think that was the name. A fire is set, and the door is barricaded so no one can get out.”
I didn’t ask her how she knew. I simply turned, grabbing her hand, and strode to the corner where Mick was drinking and laughing with hooded eyes.
I leaned over and spoke in his ear, Anne hovering behind me. I told him there was a threat of arson from a man named Thorpe—I had no idea who he was—and the room needed to be cleared immediately.
Michael turned his head and met my gaze with an expression so weary I felt my own bones quake. Then he snapped to attention, and the weariness fell away.
“I need a man at every exit, boys. Right now. We might have some fire starters on the premises.” The table cleared at once; glasses were emptied and slammed down again, and hair was smoothed back as if vigilance demanded a certain appearance. The men scattered, moving towards the doors, but Mick stayed at my side, waiting for a verdict. A moment later, a shout rose up. Gearóid O’Sullivan was kicking at the main entrance door, which appeared to be barricaded. Just like Anne had said.
Mick met my gaze, and then his gaze touched on Anne briefly, his brow furrowed, his eyes troubled.
“This one’s open,” Tom Cullen cried from behind the bar.
The bartender stammered, “You can’t go out that way!”
Cullen just shouted over him. “Everybody needs to file out! Let’s go. Girls first, gents! We’re okay. Just a little precaution to make sure the Gresham isn’t on fire . . . again.” The Gresham, sitting in Dublin’s city centre, has seen more than its fair share of havoc in its hundred years. Mick was already striding towards the exit, hat in his hand; Joe was at his side, loping to keep up.
There was some nervous chuckling, but the wedding party made haste, filing out the door into the damp darkness of the August night. Even the bartender decided staying was foolish. I was the last to go, pushing Anne and O’Sullivan—who had abandoned his efforts to break down the other door—out before I scanned the room once more, making sure we’d left no one behind. Smoke had begun to billow through the vents.
ERE TIME TRANSFIGURED ME
Although I shelter from the rain
Under a broken tree,
My chair was nearest to the fire
In every company
That talked of love or politics,
Ere Time transfigured me.
—W. B. Yeats
It was the groom’s toast—death in Ireland—that had triggered my memory. I’d read about an attack on a wedding party when I’d researched the Gresham Hotel. I’d planned to stay there when I returned to Dublin after my pilgrimage to Dromahair. I’d chosen the Gresham for its history and for its central location to the Rising of 1916 and the tumultuous years that followed. I’d seen pictures of Michael Collins standing at her entrance, meeting contacts in her restaurant, and drinking in her pub. I’d read about Moya Llewelyn-Davies, one of the women who’d been in love with him, staying at the Gresham after she’d been released from jail.
The Gresham plot—yet another attempt on Michael Collins’s life—was just one of many. But the fact that it had come after the truce and that so many people had been targeted made it notable. The British government had vehemently denied any knowledge or responsibility in the conspiracy. Some believed it was an attempt to undermine the peace process and was ordered by people who profited from conflict. A British double agent known only by the name Thorpe was also suspected. Michael Collins fingered him in his personal accounts. But no one ever knew for sure.
I didn’t know if I’d saved lives or simply incriminated myself. I didn’t know if I’d changed history or just modified it by sounding the alarm. For all I knew, I’d been part of the history all along. Regardless, I’d planted myself firmly in the middle of it. And, however innocent, my foreknowledge of the fire was still impossible to explain.