The Kirrins and the Mystery
of the Sandy-haired Dwarf
by Robin Gordon
A noise in the night
© Copyright Robin Gordon, 2001
Julian, George, Laurence, Anne and Stubbs all went to church, while Dick sat with with the children and the dogs. There was plenty more to discuss. For a start Dick insisted on a full debriefing session. Andrew and Gavin had to go over every moment of their captivity again, trying to remember everything that they saw and, even more important, everything that they heard, especially any names.
The name of Con McNally particularly interested Dick.
"We've had our eye on McNally for several years," he said. "To think that he's away in Ireland again just when the trap closes. Well, they say the Devil looks after his own, and it looks as if it's true in McNally's case."
"Is he important?" Jonathan asked.
"Well", said Dick, "you've heard of the Nottwich Five? Arrested in Nottwich on charges of conspiring to cause explosions, and convicted because their hands were ingrained with nitro-glycerine? Catspaws, the lot of them. Ill educated Irish labourers indoctrinated by McNally with a burning sense of injustice, given bombs, timing devices and instructions where to plant them to cause the maximum number of deaths and injuries, while McNally and his chums keep their hands clean and move on to organise the next atrocity. Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton, London. We know McNally's behind them all, but all the time he uses expendable halfwits. They think they're martyrs to the cause, and they can be pretty sure some smart lawyer's going to come up with a technicality to get them out of jug before they've half finished their sentences, and probably get them compensation too, all at the British taxpayers' expense. Now, did you hear what McNally's doing in Ireland?"
"He's gone to a centre where they train boys as terrorists," said Andrew.
"Aha!" said Dick. "Where?"
"Can't remember," said Andrew.
"Man's name came into it," said Gavin, "Williamsburgh?"
"Highly unlikely, given what they think of King William," said Dick.
"Georgetown? Fredericksville?" Gavin suggested.
Try as they might they couldn't remember the name of the place and Dick had to let it go.Note 12
Then the doorbell rang twice, then after a pause three times more.
"Stay here," said Dick.
They heard him admit a man and go with him into Julian's study. From the door of the sitting room they could just hear the murmur of voices, but no-one wanted to disobey Dick by creeping up to listen. They sat quietly until they heard the man leave and Dick returned.
"All right," he said, looking at their curious faces, "I'll tell you: the leader of the squad that's going to round up the villains later tonight."
"Can we go down and watch?" said Nick eagerly.
"No, you most certainly cannot," said Dick. "Sorry about that, but these are professional soldiers. They may have to go in hard, and they don't want to have to worry about spectators getting hurt. We stay here, all of us. Even me."
The children could scarcely contain their excitement through tea, and the dogs, picking up the air of tension, prowled round, growling. Laurence and Anne tried to shoo the children off to bed, but no-one wanted to go.
"I'm much too excited to sleep, announced Harry. "I want to stay with Uncle Dick."
"I think that would be best," said Dick, "What do you say, Ju?"
"I agree," said Julian. "I don't think missing one night's sleep will do them any harm. After all we often missed our sleep on our adventures."
So the mothers agreed, and the whole family stayed together in the sitting room, watching television and talking quietly. Little Fran was as determined as anyone to stay up, but she fell asleep in her corner of the couch, or at least into a sort of half sleep, lulled by the murmur conversation and the peaceful snoring of the two dogs.
Then suddenly she was jerked awake by a dreadful noise. A dull booming roar filled the air and the whole house shook. Fran called out for her mummy, and the dogs woke up, howled and fled trembling to their mistresses: Timmy to George and and Mycock to Harry.
"Damn!" said Dick. "The whole place has gone up! I told them to be careful. I'm going down to see. You'd better come too, Ju. The rest of you, stay inside. Andrew! Gavin! Jonathan! Nick! Harry! I mean this: NO HEROICS! Understand?"
"Leave it to me, Uncle Dick!" called Harry, who was absolutely delighted that Dick had included her with the boys. "I'll make sure they obey orders. We'll look after the women and children, Sir!"
"Good man, Harry!" said Dick. "I knew I could rely on you."
"I'll come with you two," said George.
"Not this time, Old Thing," said Julian.
"You're in command here, George," said Dick. "Stubbs! There are a couple of guns in my top drawer. Take one yourself and give one to Miss George."
"What about you, Dick?" George demanded.
"I've already got one," said Dick. "Shoulder holster. Neat as ninepence. Come on, Ju."
"You don't think they'll attack the house, do you?" Julian asked as they walked down the drive.
"Don't fret, Sweetheart," Dick chuckled. "If there's any danger it's down on the building site. But George and Harry and the boys will be too happy defending Laurence and Anne from invaders to think of running into real trouble. I'm going straight down there, Ju. Your job is to stop the villagers getting into the way. Tell them it's a gas main or an unexploded German bomb from World War II, and persuade them to keep back in case there's any more to go up."
Julian was kept busy. The villagers of Kirrin came pouring out of their houses to see what the matter was. Some had come rushing out in their night-clothes, but luckily most had stopped to pull on coats or trousers, so the Kirrin brothers were among the first on the scene.
"Stay well back," Julian urged.
"Is it an earthquake?"
"Probably a gas main, or a German bomb left over from the war," Julian called. "Stay well back in case there's another explosion."
"Shouldn't we go and help the builders?" said one man. "There could be people injured down there."
"My brother's gone down to see," called Julian. "He'll come back and tell us what's needed. In the meantime, stay here. We' could make thing worse if we go blundering in without thinking."
"The Rector's right."
"Make things worse."
"Set off another explosion maybe."
"Wait till Mr Kirrin comes back, that's best."
Meanwhile Dick had gone racing down to the building site.
"Where's Major Dawson?"
"Over there, Sir"
"What happened, Bill?"
"Don't know. We rounded up the labourers, but that dwarf, O'Shaughnessy got through and down into the cellars. Two of my men went after him, then the whole place went up."
"Did they fire?"
"No. They knew the risks. He must have blown the whole place up himself rather than be taken prisoner. I've lost two of my chaps, another two or three injured, and a couple of Irishmen killed too. If we hadn't decided to move them back behind the cabins there, the whole lot of us would have been caught out in the open. I'm going to get them away in their buses. Can you keep the villagers back? We don't know if there's more to go up."
"My brother' keeping them back," said Dick. "I'll go and help. God knows what the newspapers will make of this."
He returned to Julian.
"Do they need help down there, Mr Kirrin?"
"Are there many injured?"
"How many killed?"
"Was it gas or a bomb?"
"Seems to have been a wartime German bomb," said Dick. "Luckily the army paramedics were on a training exercise nearby and they rushed onto the scene and took charge. They're going to take the builders to safety and they say we should keep well back. There always the chance of another explosion."
"Everything's under control," Julian called. "Go back home. Clear the streets so that the buses can get through."
The villagers might have questioned these instructions if they had come from Dick, but when they heard their own Rector they obeyed without hesitation, so the buses were able to pass easily.
Dick conferred briefly with Major Dawson, then he and Julian walked back to the Rectory, encouraging village stragglers back into their houses as they went.
"What really happened?" Julian asked.
"It seems that O'Shaughnessy blew himself up rather than be taken - and tried to blow up as many of our chaps as he could too. Just a couple killed, plus two of the builders, and one or two soldiers injured. I'm going to phone the local paper as soon as we get back and report that a a clutch of German bombs jettisoned during the war went off and blew up the hotel. How Bill Dawson can persuade those Irishmen to keep quiet I don't know. Probably buy their silence with free passages to Australia and enough money to set themselves up in business there. If O'Shaughnessy had survived he'd probably have managed to make it into another Bloody Sunday."
They walked on.
"One thing still puzzles me," said Julian.
"How did you persuade Stubbs to work for you? He's not one for volunteering. He only offered to be my batman because he thought it would be a nice easy job laying out hymn books and get him off guard duties."
"Remember, about a year ago, I came down to stay with you and we were watching the news on television. They showed an IRA funeral and there were a couple of young soldiers keeping watch to make sure the Catholics and Protestants didn't start slaughtering each other ..."
"Don't call them Catholics and Protestants," said Julian. "That kind aren't Christians of any kind. I sometimes think Saint Patrick should be listed among our Great British Failures: he devoted his life to converting Ireland to Christianity and this is the result."
"All right the Orange mobs and the Green," said Dick. "You know what happened."
"They were from our regiment," said Julian. The crowd tore them to pieces ..."
"... stripped them, beat them to a bloody pulp, then shot them," said Dick grimly. "Just one of the many charming little pieces of Irish whimsy that have been censored out of the version the Americans get to hear about. Anyway Stubbs went completely to pieces ..."
"It brought back his own experiences in Kenya," said Julian.
"We got through a couple of bottles of scotch that night, Stubbs and I," said Dick. "He told me all about what had happened to him - I didn't let on you'd already tipped me off ..."
"I didn't want you telling any jokes that might upset him ..." said Julian.
"Yes, yes, I know," said Dick. "Then I dropped hints that there might be some way to even up the score a bit. He was interested, so I let the cat out of the bag, told him about my work and about the IRA set-up here in Kirrin. Of course he'd heard of that poor couple who were walking the coastal path and got murdered. There were rumours that they'd disturbed IRA gun runners. It was even in the newspapers."
"True?" Julian asked.
"True," said Dick. "They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, so McNally simply shot them."
"You know who did it?"
"WE know," said Dick, "but not the police. We KNOW, but we can't prove it. There's no point in arresting McNally. The way things are now he'd get off scot-free then claim some massive sum in compensation. We need to get irrefutable proof, and it's damned hard."
They reached the Rectory, went in, told their story and urged everyone into bed while Dick left a message on the answering machine of the local newspaper and phoned through to the Times and the Telegraph in London with a brief statement about the explosion that had demolished the new leisure centre in Kirrin village.
The next day Anne and her children went back to Kirrin Cottage with George and the dogs.
"I'm glad all the excitement's over," said George. "Mother and Father are coming over today from Auksford. I shall have to drive into town to fetch them from the bus-station. It was all so much easier when we had a railway station right here in Kirrin."
"I'll clean up the house," said Anne. "Aunt Fanny will like to see it sparkling clean. The girls can help me."
"And the boys!" snapped Harry. "I don't see why they should always get out of housework."
"Of course, we'll help," said Jonathan.
"Good," said Harry. "Many hands make light work, but you won't need me, so I'll take the dogs for a walk on the moor. They need the exercise."
"Oh no you don't," roared George. "Didn't you hear what Dick said? No-one goes out alone. "You'll do your share of the housework, Harry, and so will I. Then after lunch you can all take the dogs out while I go and fetch Mother and Father. And mind you take that communicator Dick gave you."
Meanwhile Julian and his sons had strolled over to the Church. Although Julian knew perfectly well that the surveyor's warning had just been a trick to prevent anyone seeing what was going on in the building site, the explosion had been very powerful. Several of the houses close to the site had broken windows or fallen slates, and one ceiling had collapsed. It wouldn't have been much of a surprise to find stones dislodged in the church.
However all seemed to be well. The boys went up the tower and reported that there was no damage there, while Julian checked the chancel and the vestry. A couple of flower vases had fallen and smashed, but beyond that these was no damage.
It was down in the secret passage below the tower that Andrew and Gavin discovered the only stone that had been dislodged. It was not a vital load-bearing part of the church fabric. It was nothing more than a shallow facing stone, and behind it, unsuspected by any of them, was a hidden cupboard. It wasn't locked, so Andrew opened it and felt inside. There he discovered a small, metal deed-box, not terribly old, Victorian at the most. He pulled it out and then the boys took it to show Julian, who pointed out the name on the label: H.A. Kirrin.
"Let's take it over to the Rectory," said Julian. "We'll wait until we're all together again and then break it open."
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The Garda did not discover this training centre until November 2000. It was located in the old wine-cellars of Herbertstown House, a derelict mansion on the borders of County Dublin and County Meath. Just like Enid Blyton villains the IRA had covered the entrance hole with corrugated iron and old bricks so that it looked like a heap of rubbish. Inside the Garda found an assault rifle, a pistol, a machine gun, ammunition, a rocket launcher and an explosive warhead. Boys aged between 14 and 17 were being trained as terrorists. [Back to text]