Home > The Last Crossing(6)

The Last Crossing(6)
Author: Brian McGilloway


Tony nodded, quizzically. ‘I didn’t even know who he was till after, when my dad told me.’


‘Your dad knows Mullan?’


‘He knows of him,’ Tony said, careful now. ‘That’s not the same thing.’


‘And what did Mullan say to you?’


Tony studied the man’s face. He returned the gaze without guile. Did they already know? Had they been listening in at the funeral? If he said nothing, would they have him because they’d know he’d lied?

‘He expressed his condolences over the death of Danny. That’s all I remember.’


The officer nodded, smiling mildly as if this was what he’d been expecting to hear. ‘That’s fine. I’m sorry for your loss, too. It was a dreadful thing to happen. We’ll let you get home.’


He stood as Tony watched him open-mouthed. ‘What?’


‘Someone will bring you in some clothes. Your father will be ready in a few minutes. Thanks for your help.’


A weak winter dawn was breaking when Tony and his father stepped out of the station. Several others who had been lifted the previous evening spilled out, bleary eyed into the grey light of morning. But not Hugh Duggan.

‘Are you OK?’ his father asked him, touching his arm as if to assure himself that Tony was actually there.

‘Grand. Are you?’


‘Did they do anything?’


‘Nothing. Asked me a couple of questions and that was it. What about you?’


‘The usual,’ his father muttered distractedly.

It was the following day before Tony began to suspect that he’d only been in the cell in the hope he might make Duggan talk. And it was the day after that when his parents told him that they had arranged with his uncle in Paisley that he was going to get out of the North and go and work in Scotland.

‘We’ve lost one son,’ his father said. ‘We’re not losing another one.’



Chapter Six

‘Another one,’ the steward called, gesturing that they should continue up the slipway into the belly of the ferry. He walked backwards, facing them as he waved with one hand, the other holding a walkie-talkie to his ear. Tony reckoned he was about eighteen and wondered absently if it was his first day on the job, he did it with such earnest concentration.

Barr shifted the car into first to make the incline, over-accelerating while still holding the clutch so that, when the car did finally move, it shunted suddenly forwards and cut out. The youth cursed under his breath, his movements as he tried to shift the gear back into neutral agitated and imprecise, as if embarrassed to have made the mistake under Duggan’s glare.

Tony twisted his head and looked back out across Belfast port and towards Black Mountain and Cavehill, looming above the grey city, the upper peaks wrapped in a mist which here, lower down, had dissolved into a miasma of rain that smeared the windscreens.

The last time he’d headed across, he’d left from Larne and the ferry had been slower. He craned his neck to see down to the departure area. Karen was getting on as a foot passenger and meeting them on the boat; he wondered if he might catch a glimpse of her, though he realised that now, thirty years on, he might not even recognise her. He didn’t want to admit to himself that his real curiosity was whether or not someone would bring her to the boat; a husband or a child perhaps.

Below him, he could see people embracing: a younger man sending off an older couple. He embraced each of them for so long, Tony wondered what was behind their parting.

The ferry was quiet, those choosing to travel mid-week mostly middle-aged women taking a mini booze cruise across to Scotland. They’d not even disembark on the either side, but sit in the bar all day, have breakfast, lunch and dinner on board and be back home before midnight. Tony glanced across at one group, all women in their sixties, and, momentarily, he envied them their freedom.

They’d taken a seat at the front of the ship, by the window. Barr was speaking earnestly about their plans for the next two days, but Tony wasn’t listening. He thought Karen would already be here, had found himself scanning the faces of every woman he passed on the way from the car, on the off-chance she was already waiting.

He’d announced he didn’t think she was coming, to which Barr had replied that she still had twenty minutes to embark. Duggan seemed to have stopped listening to the youth too.

Finally, as if aware that the older men had lost interest in him, Barr lowered his voice a little and gathered his hands in front of him, as if to signify something important was to be discussed.

‘The party appreciates what you’re doing, gents.’


Duggan glanced at him askance. ‘Sean Mullan tell you that? That he appreciates?’


Barr smiled, patiently. ‘We know some of you are a little resistant–’


Duggan laughed derisively. ‘Time was, you put some fucker in the ground, you left him there. Not anymore.’


‘People like Martin are a source of embarrassment now. Our own that we stopped having a proper burial.’


‘A source of embarrassment?’ Duggan repeated. ‘Is that what we are?’


Barr hesitated a moment, as if trying to find an appropriate angle from which to rephrase his comment.

‘That’s not what I meant, Mr Duggan,’ he said. ‘But someone like Martin, dead thirty years and his family never getting a chance to bury him; it doesn’t work well for the party.’


‘Doesn’t work well for the party?’ Duggan echoed, incredulous.

‘The optics aren’t good for us,’ Barr started, already flustered.

‘The only fucking optics you should be worried about are those ones behind that bar,’ Duggan snapped. ‘Get in a few whiskeys,’ he added, ‘and spare us all your bullshit about the party.’


Barr nodded, took a moment to spare his own dignity, then got up and headed across to the service area, Duggan chuckling at his willingness to do as he was told.

‘So it isn’t you I have to thank for making me sit here listening to this crap?’ he asked.

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