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A gentle tapping on his cheek. A wipe of wet cloth on his forehead. The awareness of light though his swollen lids. An insistent voice, deep, repeated his name. ‘Mister Quinlan, Mister Quinlan.’ Accented, the title sounded more like mist air.
He took a deep, juddering breath and tried to focus. His hands flared pain. He tasted blood, his mouth dry. Cool ceramic touched his lips and he leaned forwards to sip gratefully at the icy water. His shattered ribs grated and forced him to cry out, bubbling the water. He spilled a pink dribble down his sodden, spattered shirt.
'Can you hear me Mister Quinlan?’ Mist Air Queen Larne ‘There has been a mistake. These men have been foolish. Do you understand?’
Quinlan nodded. He could just make out the face peering into his own, a look of concern on the dark-skinned features. He tried to speak, his fat lips throbbed and tore, a stab of pain. ‘W-who?’
‘My name doesn’t matter, Mister Quinlan. Some call me The Accountant. It is but a conceit. You are safe, now. Tell me, who is the bomb maker, please? The one who made the big bombs?’
Quinlan groaned. He tried to raise his head. ‘Big?’ He saw stars, felt a deep lassitude. The cold cloth was pressed to his brow again.
‘You remember? The bombs your people made for London and Manchester. People still talk of them. The very, very big bombs. Boom.’
Christ, but that was twenty year and more ago! Quinlan wanted to say. But the cat had his tongue.
‘Come. You know who made them. Tell me his name, Mister Quinlan.’
It came to him. Of course it did. Jesus, but that was Pat. Dear old Pat.
‘Pat,’ Quinlan croaked. ‘Pat O’Carolan.’
‘Where is he?’
He tried to grin. Ah, these people. Stop, now. ‘Tipp. South Tipp.’ Another beautiful sip of water offered to his beaten lips.
‘Where is Tip, please?’
‘Tipperary. The-the Republic.’ He was drooling, sloppy-mouthed. The pain clamoured, in and out of focus in waves, his battered nerves shrieked every time he moved his broken body.
‘And what is his code word?’
‘I-I don’t know any c-code—’
The blow to his cheek came fast and with the hard edge of the man’s hand. Quinlan’s jaw crunched. Pain blossomed in his mouth, both old ache and new sharp. His tied arms stiffened and his bloody hands pulsed agony. He moaned and spat out a tooth.
He sagged against his restraints, snivelling as he tried to breathe through the bloody mucus filling his nose and mouth. ‘Dan.’ He moaned. ‘Breen. Code word. Dan Breen. Danbreen.’
The opening scene of A Decent Bomber was actually the last piece of the book I wrote. The final pass of a number of edits, this one 'filled in' a number of scenes and events I had lazily passed over in the original writing. Sometimes it's these very events you take for granted which actually contain the most important bits in developing the book. In this case, the old version of the book opened with Pat hearing something in his yard and then two Irish Republican politicians discussing Quinlan's fate.
It wasn't enough. Quinlan had to get it, and bad, and we had to be there with him and share his treatment at the hands of some very bad people. I didn't know he had wee girls or a wife called Deirdre or that his mother had died, but somehow in the space of a couple of pages, Quinlan acquired these things (as well as a number of particularly nasty injuries). I did love Mist Air Queen Larne, too. I'm sure it's wrong to enjoy your own writing like this, a sort of literary onanism.
Similarly, Pat's niece Orla was never meant to have a girlfriend, a relationship that throws her life into turmoil. Orla had never considered herself to be you know, different and yet here she was falling for another girl she met at a party. This whole development was the last thing on my mind and I do not for the life of me know where it came from, it just happened. One minute she's on a train looking out of the window and twizzling her red hair, reflected in the window and then, bam, she's falling for another girl, trying to come to terms with this newly awakened sexuality and wondering how she's going to break the news to her Uncle Pat.
It's odd how these things can develop. That relationship, unintended in my original telling, becomes crucial to the story of A Decent Bomber. Orla, already in a state of considerable confusion, gets treated pretty badly in the scheme of things. Not only is she confronted by her strange feelings for another woman, she finds out her beloved uncle Pat isn't quite what he seemed to be. The rock and anchor she seeks in her new turbulence turns out to be a catalyst for complete chaos.
Boyle wriggled his way into the story as an uninvited guest as well. And nobody was as surprised at the way his love life turns out as I was. One minute he's in his office and the next my fingers had tapped out a scene that was the last thing from my mind. I actually sat back and questioned what the hell had just gone on there. I hadn't meant it to happen at all and then found myself having to deal with the consequences - just as Boyle must have had to have done.
Sometimes these things happen. Characters do stuff they're not supposed to, grow a life for themselves and make their own decisions. You just have to go along with it and let them do their thing. It often works out rather wonderfully - in Shemlan, for instance, it led to the whole glorious car chase across a frozen Baltic sea. I didn't even know the Baltic froze over, let alone that there were seasonal ice roads connecting the Estonian mainland with its islands. In A Decent Bomber, that unplanned relationship of Orla's ended up resolving the whole book.
What goes around comes around, in writing books as in life...