Authors: James Heneghan
Copyright Â© 2006 James Heneghan
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Heneghan, James, 1930-
Safe house / James Heneghan.
PS8565.E581S23 2006 Â Â Â Â jC813'.54 Â Â Â Â Â C2006-903100-2
Liam is orphaned and alone, on the run from vicious killers.
First published in the United States, 2006
Library of Congress Control Number:
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Cover design: Lynn O'Rourke
Cover photography: Every effort was made to determine the rights holder of the cover image.
Orca Book Publishers
Box 5686, Stn. B
Victoria, BC Canada
Orca Book Publishers
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Printed and bound in Canada
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For my children.
My grateful thanks to Lucy Scott and Norma Charles for reading the manuscript and offering suggestions on matters literary, to Olive John and Neil Savage for their expertise on matters Irish, and to my patient and perceptive editor Andrew Wooldridge for all his hard work.
Will you come to our wee party, will you come?
Bring you own ammunition and a gun,
For Catholics and Protestants will be there, blowing each
other in the air.
Will you come to our wee party, will you come?
from “Keep the Kettle Boiling,” by Maggi Kerr Peirce.
It was the perfect night for a murder: one o'clock on a dark and rainy Monday morning in early July. It had been a poor summer so far: so much wind and rain; more like winter.
The victim and his wife were sleeping.
The two men wore black balaclava masks. One of the men was big, with wide shoulders. The second man, tall and slim, gave the nod. The big man lowered a shoulder and crashed through the front door. They raced up the stairs, guns at the ready.
The victims were in the front bedroom, the one above the narrow street. They struggled to throw back the covers and leap out of bed but it was too late. The two murderers charged in, spraying the room with bullets. The man and woman did not have a chance. They were dead before their bodies hit the wall. One of the men switched on the light and they fired off a dozen more rounds, just to be sure.
In the bedroom across the hall a boy was awake, deafened and terrified by the noise. He tried but could not move from his bed. Through his open door he could see masked men with guns. He smelled the smoke and powder from the guns, sharp like fireworks, like the house was on fire. He managed to get his feet on the floor but could not stand; his legs refused to support him. Though his ears were ringing from the violence of the explosions, he could hear the gunmen laughing and swearing, and he wanted to run but was tethered to his bed with fear. He was sure they had killed his mum and his daâfor who could survive such firepower?âand now they would kill him. He had to get out of the house before they discovered him. But he couldn't move. His knees gave way and he slid off the bed onto the floor, unable to take his eyes off the men and their guns across the narrow hallway.
There were two of them. The big one reached up and pulled off his balaclava mask. The boy could see the man's red face and neck soaked with sweat, and his dark hair pointing up in damp spikes. There was a mole on his right cheek the size and color of an old Irish penny, large and brown. He even had a face like a mole, with a long nose and receding chin. The other man swore an order at him. The mole man quickly pulled the balaclava back over his head.
The boy took a deep breath and stood, holding onto his bed for support. He moved unsteadily to the window. His room looked out onto the backyard. The window was partially open at the bottom, enough for him to get his fingers under the wooden frame. He willed strength into his legs and arms and lifted carefully, trying not to make a noise. The casement was stiff, but fear instead of melting his limbs was now making him strong. The window slid upward until it reached the top and then screeched like a scalded cat. He heard the men shout, heard their boots pound the floor as they came for him. Hands reached out and grabbed him before he could jump out the window.
They had him.
He fell to the floor. The big man swung his boot and kicked him hard in the ribs. Behind the mask, his eyes looked like the cold dead eyes of a fish.
“He saw me!” growled the big man, staring with his dead fish eyes at the trembling boy. “He saw me, I know he did.” He pointed his gun, finger tightening on the trigger.
The boy scrambled away, petrified, his back pressed against the wall.
The other man pushed the gun away quickly. “He's only a child!”
The big man reluctantly lowered the gun. “He's no child! A filthy little Taig is all he is. I say we kill him and then get the hell out of here before anyone sees us.” He raised his gun again.
The boy was anchored to the floor with fear. But he knew that if he didn't move nowâand move quicklyâhe would be dead, like his parents. By a desperate act of will he found enough courage to jerk his body upright and throw himself out the open bedroom window. By time the big man had his finger pressed on the trigger ready to fire, the boy was already sliding down the drainpipe like a monkey. A broken neck was better than a chest full of bullets. He fell off the drainpipe and landed in his mum's muddy dahlia bed, more or less on his feet, then pitched forward and rolled over, the way he had practiced at gymnastics. He jumped up and ran, expecting to feel the bullets thump into his back.
He did not feel the cold rain, only his fear.
Fear was his enemy. The thought flashed through his mind that if he had used his brains the way his da always said he should, if he had kept perfectly quiet and crawled under the bed, then maybe they wouldn't have known he was there, maybe they would have gone away and left him alone. Fear, that's what it was; fear he would be slaughtered, like his mum and his da.
He raced across the tiny backyard and out into the cobbled alleyway. He peered into the rainy darkness, his bare feet slapping on the cobblestones.
His mum and his da were dead, and he was running for his life. He could not hear the men coming after him but he fled into the night, fled in fear, dressed only in his pajamas, his face covered in mud, tears and snot.
His name was Liam Fogarty, and he was twelve years old. He fled from the murderers, from the darkness toward the light, and was quickly out of the alley and onto his own street. He looked back. Nobody there. The killers hadn't chased him. Then he understood why: Most of the houses were showing lights in their windows. Neighbors disturbed from their sleep by the gunfire were standing in resolutely defensive postures out in the rain on the sidewalk. The women stood facing Liam's side of the street, arms boldly folded, while the men held make-do weapons in their fists: tire irons, wrecking bars, Hurley sticks and the like.
Neighbor Jack Cassidy shouted, “Liam! What happened?”
“They killed my mum and my da!” Liam screamed, pointing to his house, choking on his words. “They killed them!”
“How many of them?”
“Twoâ¦” He could hardly speak. His heart was pounding and he was breathless, not from the running so much as from fearâ¦and rage.
Jack Cassidy grabbed him and pushed him to safety through his own front door and into his wife's arms. “Go inside, boy. Leave this to me.”
Liam, still struggling for breath, watched Jack Cassidy gather the other men. “It's the Fogarty house,” he yelled at them. They hurried across the street with their poor weapons.
Delia Cassidy wore a gray nightdress under her faded blue bathrobe. She took him by the arm. “Come inside, lovey, and take off the wet pajamas. There's dry things you can put on. Then I will make a wee drop of tea to warm you while I take a look at your foot. Come in, boy, God love you!”
He looked at the muddy splash of blood on his right foot, probably slashed by broken glass; the alleys were full of broken bottles. But that didn't matter; what mattered was the murderers had killed his mum and his da. Shot them in their bed, with no time for a prayer before they were sent to God.
The horror and shock of the past few minutes crashed suddenly in on him and he felt his legs collapse.
When he again became aware of his surroundings, he sat up quickly. He had blacked out. Was that the way it happened when you died? One second you were here and the next you were gone? Was that the way it was for his mum and his da? Lifeâcolor, movement, smell, soundâthen nothing?
He was lying on a couch, covered with a blanket, with Delia Cassidy hovering over him. About the same age as his mother and about the same thin build, she had short dark hair with strands of gray, gray eyes and a soft expression.
“Stay where you are, lovey. Drink this. It's a wee drop of tea. Drink it hot. Good for what ails you. And take this aspirin.”
His head was thumping and his ribs were sore where the big man with the mole had kicked him. He sat up and swallowed the aspirin with a sip of tea, aware now of the pain throbbing in his foot, but overwhelmed with the realization that his mum and his da were dead, their bodies shredded by monsters with guns. He found his voice. “I saw theâ¦”
But he couldn't speak of it.
“Wait a bit. Drink your tea.”
He did as he was told, sipping at the hot tea, his head throbbing. “My da andâ”
“Yes, I know. Jack is over at your house. He will take care of things. Don't worry. I phoned the police as soon as we heard the shooting, but you know what they're like. It'll be at least an hour before they're here; if indeed they bother to come at all.”
She called up the stairs, “Rory, run a hot bath for Liam. And fetch him something to put on.” She handed Liam a towel. “Give yourself a long soak in the tub and a good rubbing with the towel. Rory will bring you something to put on.”
He finished his tea.
“Do you feel able to stand?”
Rory was in Liam's class at St. Anthony's. He followed Liam into the bathroom and turned on the taps. Hot water pounded into the tub. “I'll bring you my new sweat suit,” he said. “I've worn it only the once. It's warm.”
“Just try not to dribble your food onto it, boyo, okay? Here, have a Mint Imperial.”
“Thanks.” It was one of their favorite sweets. Liam popped the lozenge into his mouth. He was glad Rory wasn't asking questions. It was one of the things he liked about Rory: his quiet, unexcitable manner; the kidding around; the generosity, the “new” sweat suit from the thrift shop.
The two friends were alike in appearance: open faces, dark hair, fair skin with freckles, and a thin sinewy build. They were often mistaken for brothers. Their only real difference was their eyes: Liam's were a quizzical blue, Rory's a cool confident brown.
His foot hurt. It was the same foot he had sprained a month ago at Youth Circus when he fell from the trapeze.
He sat in the hot bathtub and gingerly ran his fingers over the painful area on the pad of that same foot. It was swollen. But it didn't matter; it would mend. He was alive and notâ¦
He hadn't seen his parents' bodies. The sight of them lying dead, broken and bleeding, would have driven him mad. Jack Cassidy and the other men were over there right now, in his mum and da's room. There was sure to be a great amount of blood.