Line of Descent chapter 7
It was mid afternoon by the time Krupmeyer drove down the hill into Coole. Another small hamlet, indistinguishable from the host of others he had already driven through that day, except that this one nestled by the shore of the Atlantic. The drive had been long and tiring. He had tanked up in Braghan and had not stopped since leaving there. Parking near the jetty outside a small building, which proclaimed itself to be the Connaught Arms Hotel, he walked into the reception and booked a room for the night. It was really a pub with two rooms upstairs to let but it was clean and comfortable. Upstairs, he unpacked quickly and rang down for Room Service. He had missed lunch on the drive up and was starving. They told him that they hadn’t started dinner yet but could do some sandwiches if he wanted. He said he’d take them down in the lounge.
The lounge was deserted. He sat alone at the bar and ate the sandwiches with a beer. He showed the barman the address he had for Canfield and received directions from him. It was a bungalow just outside town. He’d probably passed it on the way in, the barman explained. He finished his snack and left.
He found the house and drove by it slowly. It stood alone far from any other houses. He turned around and drove past it again. It looked deserted. There was a For Sale sign stuck in the grass at the front. He had not noticed it on the first pass. Parking, he walked back slowly to the house, rehearsing a story of being an interested house buyer. He leaned on the iron gate and looked in at the bungalow. It looked pretty good, well looked after but lived in. It would need a coat of paint soon. Off to one side was a large garage or workshop with a double door. Nothing moved. He could feel it was deserted.
Making a decision, he pushed open the gate and walked up the gravel drive. He knocked on the door but there was no reply, just the echoes of his knock through the empty house. After a while he gave up and walked around to the back of the house. The back garden was large. It contained a swing and a few abandoned children’s toys. Krupmeyer thought about it. Eight years. Why not? Canfield had been here long enough to start a family. To start a whole new life. He wondered where they were. Had he decided to run again? It would be harder with a wife and children in tow. Krupmeyer walked over to the garage and peeked in through the side window. It was empty. Row upon row of tools hung neatly on racks attached to the walls. There was a large workbench and the chain of a pulley hung from a roof joist in loops. A workshop of some sort, he decided.
He considered breaking in for a look but abandoned the idea for the moment. There were other, far less risky avenues he could pursue first. Shrugging, he walked back around to the front of the house and took down the address of the Auctioneer from the For Sale sign. With a final look at the tidy house, he walked back to the car and drove back into Coole. The Auctioneer’s Office was in the small street leading down to the jetty. The old panelled window was filled with details of houses for sale in the area. He went in.
The office was run by a dapper and very affable man who sat him down and absolutely insisted he take a cup of the tea he was making before they got down to business. When they were settled, Krupmeyer explained he was looking for a house in the area. Something small but with enough room for a couple of children. The man assured him he had come to the right place, he was sure they had something on their books that would suit him fine.
Krupmeyer launched into a description of the sort of house he was looking for. It matched pretty closely the house he had just visited. The Auctioneer delved into the filing cabinet and after some judicious picking and choosing handed Krupmeyer a small sheaf of papers. Each one had a picture of the property and a brief description. The second one was the one he wanted ‑ Canfield’s House. He expressed an interest in several but finally settled on the Canfield bungalow.
‘Could I see it?’ he enquired. ‘Of course, I can run you out there now if you want’ the man replied. Krupmeyer told him that would be fine. The man rooted through the drawers of his desk for the keys to the house. He found them after a search, holding them up triumphantly for Krupmeyer to see. He locked up the office and they drove out to see the house in the Auctioneer’s car.
They parked in the entrance and walked up the drive. The Auctioneer opened the door and waved him in. Inside, it was clean and tidy. A well looked after house. All the furniture and possessions were still in it. They walked from room to room with the Auctioneer extolling the virtues of the house to a distracted Krupmeyer who only listened with half an ear. It was the contents of the rooms he was interested in. Besides the kitchen and living room, the house contained three bedrooms. One was the parent’s, the other two were for the children. From the decor it was obvious one of the children was a girl and the other a boy. Both of their rooms had been strewn with toys. A lot of the toys looked home-made. The girl’s room contained a home-made dolls house that had been lovingly constructed from what looked like cardboard from cereal packets and other bits and bobs. A family project obviously. It was not yet completed but already was a fine piece of work. Krupmeyer remarked on it to the Auctioneer who for once made no comment.
They ended up back in the living room. Krupmeyer picked up one of the pictures from the mantelpiece and studied it closely. It was a family picture, taken on holiday somewhere with green brooding mountains in the background. They looked like a normal cheerful bunch. It was the only picture Krupmeyer had seen in the house that had the man in it. The parents stood behind the two children with their hands resting lightly on the children’s shoulders. It was not a very sharp picture. Whoever had taken it had included too much background in the shot, leaving the group dwarfed at the bottom of the picture. It had been taken on a sunny day with the sun directly overhead, making deep shadows in their eye sockets. Krupmeyer studied the man. He looked to be about forty and fairly lean and fit. His faced stared without expression at the camera. The woman looked to be slightly younger. The children were about six or seven, the girl being the oldest. They smiled into the camera without a trace of self‑consciousness, as only young and happy children can.
The Auctioneer’s sales pitch had trailed off as Krupmeyer studied the picture. He knew he had lost his attention. He waited patiently in silence until Krupmeyer turned around to show him the picture.
‘They look like a nice family’ he remarked putting it back on the mantelpiece. ‘Why are they selling up?’ he asked casually. The Auctioneer shuffled uncomfortably for a moment before replying.
‘Well, you might as well know now, as later’ he replied and stopped. His eyes strayed nervously about the room, looking for a way to continue. ‘There was an accident, well not an accident really. Mrs. Harkin and the children were killed. Mr. Harkin wants to sell the house. You can’t blame him, too many painful memories I suppose.’ His voice trailed off into an embarrassed silence.
‘What sort of accident?’ asked Krupmeyer.
‘There was an explosion in the town, Mrs. Harkin and the children were caught in it. It was a terrible thing.’ He paused at the memory but quickly added. ‘You must understand we’ve never had anything like that happen around here before, never, it’s not as if it’s an everyday occurrence you see’ he added hastily, concerned that a possible sale was slipping away.
‘Sure, I understand’ said Krupmeyer nodding. ‘When was it?’ he asked idly.
‘It must be seven or eight months now’ he replied. ‘The whole town turned out. It was heartbreaking. Poor Mr. Harkin. He couldn’t even bring himself to go to the funeral. It was the saddest thing. I’ll never forget the two little coffins. It was in all the newspapers.’ He stood there shaking his head. He seemed genuinely distressed at the memory.
They continued looking about the house with Krupmeyer asking a few questions. The Auctioneer had become subdued perhaps sensing the sale was history. Finally he told the Auctioneer he’d let him know and they drove back to town. Back in the hotel he asked the receptionist for a copy of the local paper. She produced one for him. He leafed through it until he found the telephone number for the paper. He rang from the lobby, asking if they had a morgue of old editions. They had and gave him their address. It was in Donegal Town. He made an appointment to go there the next morning, explaining that he was a freelance reporter doing some research.
He called Helen that evening. They talked about small things. She was interested in knowing how he was getting on. He began to regret he had not been honest with her from the start and could only say he had not located Conner yet. He thought about her that night and missed her. He thought about Canfield too. The poor bastard. Hiding half way around the world in the back end of nowhere and the shit still homes straight in on him, right on the freaky flukey. He thought about the family photograph. All gone except for the lean sinewy man whose hands rested on the shoulders of his dead child. He wished it had been a better photograph. What had that done to him? The final straw? He fell asleep to dream for the first time in years about the Nam. They were the old familiar cruel dreams, vivid, immediate, violent and ultimately terrifying.
The next morning he drove to Donegal Town. The newspaper morgue was located in the cellar of a large four-story building that housed the newspaper and the printing presses. He called in on the editor first. He was a chatty man who nodded a lot as Krupmeyer spoke, not believing his story for a minute, but agreed to let him into the files. The editor was pleased to help him but made it clear that if he came up with anything of local interest he would like a piece of it. Krupmeyer agreed but refused to elaborate on exactly what he was interested in. They showed him where the back issues were kept and how to find his way about the indexing system. He had assumed he would have to plough through the back issues until he reached the reports of the explosion but was pleasantly surprised to find that the complete contents of the morgue were indexed. By looking up Coole in the index, he soon found out which editions had reported on the explosion. It was probably the most coverage the village had ever received from the papers in the whole of its existence.
He read his way through them, taking notes and looking at the pictures. There were none of James Michael Harkin. He was described as being too distressed to leave the house and under the care of a doctor. Krupmeyer had known that Canfield would never allow pictures of his face to appear in all the papers reporting the incident. It had been a car bomb. The driver was named as a Ryan MacColgan. He was described as a member of the Provisional IRA. The supposition was that the bomb had gone off on him while he had been transporting it somewhere. The Harkin family had just been unlucky to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Krupmeyer remembered a phrase he had heard an interpreter use in Vietnam. Buddha turned his face away from them and they died. Buddha or God it all amounted to the same thing. The slaughter of the innocents.
They had been buried in the graveyard in Coole and the Auctioneer was right, there had been a big turn out. He was right about the little coffins too, they were heart rendering. Krupmeyer went back to the start and reread every article again. Nothing new emerged. He read over his notes carefully before putting the bound editions back.
On the way out, he called in on the editor again to thank him and repeated his promise to give him a piece of anything if the article panned out.
He drove back to Coole, stopping in at the auctioneers to ask if there was any way of getting in touch with Mr. Harkin. He had a few questions.
‘No’ the man replied. ‘He’s in England somewhere. I don’t have an address. He gives me a ring once in a while. I can probably answer any questions you’ve got though’ he offered hopefully. The prospect of a sale coming back from the dead lit up his face.
‘No, that’s all right’ Krupmeyer replied and went back to his room at the hotel.
He paced around the room turning over various ideas. He could not come up with any fresh avenues of search except for the Auctioneer who did not seem to know much about where exactly Canfield was. Krupmeyer was sure Canfield would not give the Auctioneer an address. What was he doing in England, he wondered? He decided to visit the graves. After asking directions from the Receptionist, he drove out of town.
The graveyard surrounded the local church, which sat perched on the brow of the hill leading down to the village. It gave a fine view out to sea. Chill gusts of wind were blowing in from the Atlantic. He walked around the graveyard until he found their graves, sheltering in the lee of the church. They had all been buried in a single family plot. It was not very big or impressive, just a headstone and a white stone border framing the plot. Green chippings of some kind filled in the frame and in the middle of them was a metal vase containing some flowers. They were due a change soon. It all looked new and well looked after and sad as hell.
Ruth Louise Harkin. She had been thirty-five when she died. Krupmeyer wondered how she and Canfield had met. Underneath her name were the names of the children, Moira and Sean. They had been six and five years old respectively. At the bottom of the headstone was an inscription. It was in Gaelic. He was trying to puzzle out its meaning when he heard the crunch on the gravel path of someone coming up behind him. It was a priest wearing the old black cassock of his profession. They exchanged greetings.
‘Are you a relation?’ he asked Krupmeyer indicating to the plot. Krupmeyer decided to stick with his story of being a freelance reporter. He introduced himself and told him he was researching the effects of the troubles in the north on the bordering counties of the south.
‘I see’ replied the priest looking down at the grave. He stood in front of it, rocking back and forth on his heels with his hands pressed deep into the pockets of the heavy robe. His lips pressed together severely in thought. Krupmeyer asked him what the inscription meant. ‘Anseo lui mo chroi’ the priest read it aloud and after a pause supplied the translation ‑ Here lies my heart. He turned without moving his feet to look at Krupmeyer for emphasis. ‘It does too’ he said. Krupmeyer asked if he had known them.
‘I did indeed, I knew them well’ he replied looking back to the grave. ‘A fine happy family. It was a terrible thing. God forgive them all’ he said with a slow shake of his head. Krupmeyer said he would like to interview Mr. Harkin. The priest doubted that would be possible, Mr. Harkin had gone away.
‘Do you have any idea of how I might get in contact with him?’ asked Krupmeyer. The priest considered the question for so long that Krupmeyer began to wonder if he had ever heard it in the first place. He finally answered, his eyes never leaving the grave as he spoke.
‘He’s a decent man. What’s been done to him and his loved ones can’t be undone, but he can be left in peace. Give him that, will you?’ he said and Krupmeyer heard the trace of tired anger in his voice. ‘And no, I don’t know where he is, and if I did, I don’t think I’d be telling you anyway.’
There was not much point in Krupmeyer pressing him further. He told him it was all right, he didn’t need to see Mr. Harkin in person. He could get all he needed elsewhere. They talked for a while about small things until eventually the conversation ran down naturally and the priest bid him good-bye. He walked back along the path and into the church. Krupmeyer stood for a while at the grave and then left to drive back into the village.
He ate his dinner alone in the lounge of the hotel. Afterwards he went up to his room. He was lying on top of the bed turning over the day’s events when there was a knock at his door. Crossing the room he opened it. Three men stood in the hall. They pushed the door wide open and marched into the room. The last one in, closed the door and leaned against it, his arms folded. He was big and beefy with a wide farmer’s face. The other two advanced on Krupmeyer and stopped a few feet from him.
‘Somebody wants to talk to you’ the smaller of the two announced. Calling him small would have been a compliment, he was actually very small. A real shorty. He paused, doing his best to radiate menace.
‘You’re going to come quietly, aren’t you’ he continued, opening his jacket theatrically, just enough to show the butt of the old revolver tucked into his waistband. Krupmeyer sized up the situation in a leisurely fashion. The last thing he felt was threatened. He was a big man physically and his experience in the services and police had taught him how to use his size effectively in a brawl. He had no doubt there would be a hell of a racket if they tried to take him by force.
He smiled at the thought of throwing the little runt out through the window and into the street. That would be more than enough to bring help running. On the other hand, this had to be something related to Canfield, it might give him a new lead. As things stood, he had reached a dead-end. He decided to go with them but to make Shorty work for it.
‘You should keep your cannon tucked in your belt at the back’ he offered. ‘You stand less chance of blowing your balls off’ he explained with a hard grin. Shorty did not like that, Krupmeyer was supposed to be frightened. Things were not going according to plan. The big man leaning on the door grinned at Shorty’s discomfort. Shorty decided to change tack.
‘We’re not going to hurt you’ he said. A slight whining tone entered his voice. ‘We just want to talk, that’s all. Talk.’
Krupmeyer paused just long enough before agreeing. They left the room with Shorty leading the way and the other two flanking Krupmeyer. They left by the fire exit at the back of the hotel. By the time Krupmeyer and the two other men squeezed into the back seat of the car parked there, there was not much room left. They told him to put his hands in his trouser pockets. The big man pulled a black hood out of his jacket pocket and put it over Krupmeyer’s head.
‘Can’t have you seeing where we’re going now, can we’ he explained cheerfully. They pushed his head down between his knees and held it there. Krupmeyer felt reassured. It would have been pointless to take the precautions if they just intended to kill him. Shorty drove.
The drive lasted about twenty minutes but it could have been longer or shorter. Krupmeyer lost track of time as he sat wedged between the two men in darkness. It was difficult to breathe in that position. Eventually, they slowed down and turned off the road into a gravel drive. He heard the crunch of the tyres on it. They helped him out of the car and hustled him into a house. He felt a chair being pushed up hard against the back of his knees and sat down heavily. The hood was ripped off his head.
He sat, blinking in the sudden brightness, getting his bearings. He was sat at a table. Across it, an elderly man sat looking at him. He had a pale world-weary face with white wispy hair. Shorty stood beside the table. The two others were leaning with folded arms against the wall of the room and watching Krupmeyer confidently. Nobody said anything for a while.
‘I got him, Da, no trouble’ Shorty announced breaking the long silence. The elderly man’s eyes widened slowly. He turned to look at Shorty, an expression of restrained anger growing in his face.
‘Thank you son’ he said with exaggerated politeness, putting the stress on the last word. ‘Why don’t you tell him all our names and where the hell he is, when you’re at it?’ he suggested. By now his voice had risen to an angry roar. He glared in the ensuing silence at Shorty who quickly wilted under the thunderous stare.
The elderly man turned back to Krupmeyer. He looked at him for a while, composing himself and allowing the anger to drain away completely before addressing him.
‘Mr. Krupmeyer,’ he announced ‘you’ve been asking questions about James Harkin.’ He leaned forward onto the table. His elbows rested on the edge and he leaned his chin onto the steeple he made with his hands. ‘Tell me why you’ve been asking questions about James Harkin.’ He sat there patient and immobile waiting for an answer. He had all the time in the world.
‘I want to interview him for a story I’m doing’ said Krupmeyer sticking to his cover.
‘Bollocks’ the elderly man pronounced carefully, without altering his frozen posture in the slightest. He said it without rancour or emotion but with judicial finality.
‘Try again, Mr. Krupmeyer, we’ve got all night.’ His grey watery eyes stared patiently into Krupmeyer’s. Krupmeyer returned the stare while his mind turned over the options. He decided to deal.
‘James Harkin is not his real name. He’s ..’ The man held up his hand, silencing Krupmeyer. He turned to the big man lounging against the wall.
‘Take the boys outside for a walk. Don’t go far, but stay out of the house until I call you in.’ They shuffled out closing the door behind them. He waited until it had clicked shut before turning back to Krupmeyer.
‘Now, Mr. Krupmeyer, you were about to tell me who James Harkin really is.’ Krupmeyer gave him the story. He listened carefully asking no questions while Krupmeyer spoke. At the end he got up and walked slowly over to a jacket hanging on the back of the door. He took out a pipe and a pouch of tobacco and came back to the table. Sitting down, he carefully filled the pipe with tobacco. He lit up and stretched his legs under the table, resting the elbow of the arm holding the pipe in the palm of his other hand. He asked a few questions. Krupmeyer answered them.
He puffed slowly on the pipe as he digested what he had heard. Eventually he turned to Krupmeyer and said, ‘Mr. Canfield, as he should now be called, will not be giving any interviews, I’m afraid.’
‘Why not?’ asked Krupmeyer.
The man considered for a moment before answering. ‘We didn’t kill his family Mr. Krupmeyer, the Brits did. He’s going after them. I wish him luck.’
‘By us you mean the IRA?’ asked Krupmeyer.
‘The Provisional IRA’ he answered. ‘There’s a distinction, you know.’ There was definitely the air of a schoolmaster about him. Krupmeyer, like most Americans, knew little or nothing about the ins and outs of Irish politics. It was just something that turned up occasionally on the TV news or was the subject of a special report, once in a blue moon. The last thing he needed were complications from this area.
‘The papers said MacColgan blew himself up, the British weren’t involved’ offered Krupmeyer, hoping to goad him into giving out more of the story. Always play dumb to a smartass, he reminded himself, and they’ll never be able to resist telling you everything you want to know. It was always the manipulators who were the most easily manipulated.
‘Ah, the papers’ the man said with a patronising smile. ‘Don’t you just enjoy a good piece of fiction. No, the Brits planted the bomb. We know it and they know it. The Harkins were just a cherry on top. All that bad publicity and public outrage about the innocent bystanders. I don’t think they were even intended. MacColgan never came anywhere near bombs, he was just an organiser, a fund‑raiser. We’ve got an endless supply of young buckos for bombs and that sort of thing. No. We need money, like any large organisation. MacColgan was a money man. They targeted him and took him out. The Harkins were just ‑ what’s that darling expression you Americans have? Collateral damage. That’s it, Collateral damage.’ He finished with a bitter smile.
‘Look,’ said Krupmeyer ‘if Canfield’s gone to England to get the man who planted the bomb, the odds are stacked against him. On the other hand if I can get him back to the States, he’ll be giving evidence before a Congressional Commission. He’ll be on TV, coast to coast stuff, you can bet your ass on it. The whole story will come out there, live on TV, to millions of people. Surely that publicity outweighs any outside chance he has for revenge?’
The man thought it over carefully. The room had gradually filled up with blue smoke from the pipe. ‘Even if I point you in the right direction, I don’t think you’re going to persuade him. He didn’t strike me as a man who was going to be diverted. Not at all.’ He shook his head slowly, clicking the stem of his pipe against his teeth.
‘You met him?’ asked Krupmeyer.
‘Oh, I met him all right’ he said with a rueful smile. ‘Or should I say, he met me. Found me to be exact. Not a nice experience, I can assure you.’ He looked at Krupmeyer, opening his eyes wide and arching his eyebrows to emphasise how unfunny the whole thing had been.
‘I’ve got a first class alarm system around this house, the best money can buy and he went through it like it wasn’t there. I woke up to find him holding a butcher’s knife to my throat.’
‘You convinced him you weren’t responsible?’ asked Krupmeyer.
‘I wouldn’t be here otherwise, believe you me’ he replied with a snort. ‘I gave him a name. Bingham. We’re sure he was in charge of the hit. He went after him. Came back a few weeks later. Wanted some help before going to England.’
‘What sort of help?’ asked Krupmeyer.
‘He wanted a safe house and an arms cache. I gave him an address but not a cache, of course. Arranged a delivery of a few weapons instead. It was a small outlay, call it a small investment. You never know.’ he finished. There was something about that reply that bothered Krupmeyer but he could not quite put his finger on it at that moment.
‘What was the address?’ he asked instead. The man thought it over. While he did so his fingers tapped the underside of the table distractedly. With a final sharp tap he made a decision. He gave Krupmeyer the address. Krupmeyer wrote it down. The man stood up, ending the meeting.
‘Good-bye Mr. Krupmeyer, I wish you luck’ he said extending his hand. Krupmeyer shook it, at a loss for a suitable reply. Suddenly, the question that had been eluding him sprang to mind.
‘One last thing’ he said. ‘As far as you knew he was just James Harkin, a nobody. Why’d you help him?’
The man looked at Krupmeyer speculatively before settling on a suitable reply. His tongue flicked out to lick his bottom lip in the first nervous gesture Krupmeyer had seen him make.
‘He impressed us with his potential’ he finally replied but Krupmeyer could see he was being evasive.
‘And how exactly did he do that?’ asked Krupmeyer growing more curious as he watched him searching for another suitable evasion and abandoning the search.
‘He came back with Bingham’s head’ he replied simply. With that, he left the room and came back in with Krupmeyer’s escorts. The last thing Krupmeyer saw before the hood was placed on his head again, was the man’s expressionless face looking at him thoughtfully. Krupmeyer wondered how much of the story he’d actually got. They drove him back to the hotel, leaving him at the back in the yard.