Wednesday, May 20, 2020

the last book I ever read (Patrick Radden Keefe's Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, excerpt three)

from Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe:

The runner had not yet returned with a gun for Hughes when the van reappeared. Five minutes had passed, yet here it was once more. Same van. Same driver. Hughes tensed, but again the van drove right past him. It continued on for twenty yards or so. Then the brake lights flared. As Hughes watched, the rear doors swung open, and several men burst out. They looked like civilians—tracksuits, sneakers. But one had a .45 in each hand, and two others had rifles; as Hughes turned to run, all three of them opened fire. Bullets swishes past him, slamming into the façades of the forlorn houses as Hughes tore off and the men gave chase. He sprinted onto Cyprus Street, the men pounding the pavement behind him, still firing. But now Hughes began to zigzag, like a gecko, into the warren of tiny streets.

He knew these streets, the hidden alleys, the fences he could scale. He knew each vacant house and laundry line. There was a quote attributed to Mao that Hughes was partial to, about how the guerilla warrior must swim among the people as a fish swims through the sea. West Belfast was his sea: there was an informal system in place whereby local civilians would assist young paramilitaries like Hughes, allowing their homes to be used as shortcuts or hiding places. As Hughes was scrambling over a back fence, a rear door would suddenly pop open long enough for him to dart inside, then just as quickly close again behind him. Some of the residents were intimidated by the Provos and felt they had little choice but to cooperate, while others assisted out of an unforced sense of solidarity. When property was damaged in one of his operations, he would pay compensation to the family. He cultivated the community, knowing that without the sea, the fish cannot survive. There was a local invalid who lived on Cyprus Street, “Squire” Maguire, and at the height of the madness, with fires and police raids and riots in the street, residents in the area would occasionally see Brendan Hughes carrying Maguire on his back a few doors down to the pub so that Maguire could have a pint, then dutifully returning to bring him home a short while later. Once, a British soldier in the Lower Falls area caught Hughes in the sights of his rifle. Finger on the trigger, he was ready to open fire when an elderly lady stepped out of some unseen doorway and planted herself in the path of his weapon, then informed him that he would not be shooting anybody on her street on that particular evening. When the soldier looked up, Hughes was gone.

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