Chasing river, p.1
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       Chasing River, p.1

           K. A. Tucker
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Chasing River


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  To Lia and Sadie, and the adventures that await you.

  AUTHOR’S NOTE

  Ireland’s history is fraught with civil unrest, the desire to protect religious identity and gain political independence stretching back to the seventeenth century, when periods of war against English and Scottish settlers decimated as much as half of the Irish population.

  The sectarian division between the Irish Catholic and the English Protestant population deepened greatly during that time, as the British began imposing a series of penal laws intended to punish the Irish for supporting the Catholic Stuart king, James II, who had attempted to take the throne from the Protestant king William of Orange, and lost. The vast majority of Ireland was Catholic; these laws stripped Irish Catholics of their civil rights, including the right to own property, attend school, and practice their religion. By 1778, Protestants owned 95 percent of Ireland’s land.

  Despite rebellion, in 1800, the British and Irish parliaments passed Acts of Union that merged the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to form a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The economies of Great Britain and the northeast of Ireland grew rapidly through industrialization for much of the nineteenth century, while the rest of Ireland did not. With the population relying heavily on one commodity—potatoes—to survive, a devastating potato blight in the 1840s saw the collapse of much of Ireland. A million lives were lost to starvation and disease, and another million people emigrated. But it was Great Britain’s inaction (the adoption of a laissez-faire strategy, valuing market over lives) that exacerbated an already volatile relationship.

  The second half of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century saw several failed rebellions as the Irish continued their fight to be free of England’s grip. On Easter Monday of 1916, two thousand Irish Volunteers staged a rebellion in Dublin, proclaiming Ireland a republic. The rebellion lasted a week. Eventually, the Volunteers were forced to surrender. Their subsequent executions only fueled Irish support for independence.

  In the 1918 election, the majority of Irish seats in the British Parliament were won by members of Sinn Féin, the Irish revolutionary party. Refusing to sit in England, these members established their own parliament in Dublin and ratified the Easter Uprising’s proclamation that Ireland be a republic. Violence between the British army and the Irish Republican Army (IRA, founded by Michael Collins) erupted. This became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

  The IRA waged guerilla warfare against the British for months, until a truce was called in 1921. The British and Irish parliaments signed a treaty, identifying twenty-six counties in the south and west of Ireland as the Irish Free State, a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

  There was a divide in support of this treaty, though, with many IRA members demanding full independence from British rule. The IRA split, and civil war erupted between the two sides.

  The violence continued off-and-on until 1937 when, under Éamon de Valera’s leadership, the Free State was abolished, a second constitution was enacted, and Ireland formed its own government. The Republic of Ireland was declared in 1949 and all ties to the British Crown were severed.

  However, Britain maintained rule over six counties in Northern Ireland, a reality that left republican supporters unsatisfied. The years between 1969 and 1998 are known as The Troubles, when frequent and bloody violence between the newly formed Provisional IRA (PIRA), British loyalist paramilitary groups, and British state security forces (the army and the police force) left thousands dead, including many innocent civilians.

  In 1997, the PIRA declared a ceasefire. In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement was voted in by the people of Northern Ireland, instituting various political agreements. The PIRA supported the Good Friday Agreement.

  Several dissident republican groups formed after the 1997 ceasefire, all calling themselves IRA. One of these groups, the largest and most active, is known as the Real IRA (RIRA). It mainly targets British security forces, with the aim to cause economic harm. It is responsible for many attacks against the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) involving bombs, guns, and grenades.

  The Republic of Ireland has cited all IRA groups as illegal organizations. The United Kingdom and the United States have long since considered the IRA a terrorist organization. The vast majority of Ireland’s citizens do not support today’s IRA in its objectives.

  The IRA has also been implicated in vigilante acts of justice against organized crime and drug dealers, using extortion and violence to spark feuds that have escalated into assassinations. This is especially the case in Dublin. Many consider this particular IRA organization nothing more than another violent gang.

  A river may be diverted, its waters pooled, its natural course interrupted.

  But its current will only ever truly flow one way.

  ONE

  RIVER

  I weave around men and women alike with barely a pardon, struggling not to lose Aengus, nor to let on that I’m tailing him. The slick guy has done his part to make that tricky, his flinty gaze darting side-to-side as he briskly navigates the morning swell of pedestrians. Dressed in tan trousers and a plain white collared shirt, the beige tweed driver’s cap tipped low to help hide his face, he could pass for an office clerk or a salesman. Maybe a manager at one of the upscale Grafton Street stores. Someone responsible. Someone respectable.

  Someone that he’s not.

  It’s not even so much him that is making me suspicious. It’s that black leather satchel. The one he holds close to his body as if to protect it from being stolen or knocked by a passerby rushing to catch a bus or a streetlight.

  It’s the sweat seeping through the back of his shirt, when the air this early June morning is crisp.

  It’s the way he’s checked his watch three times in the span of twenty meters.

  My gut churns with explanations, all of them bad.

  Nothing good has come from Aengus since Portlaoise Prison spat him out four months ago. Six years inside Dublin’s maximum security walls have only fortified his connections, poisoned his convictions. Blackened his soul. They took in an ideological twenty-two-year-old Irish Republican and spat out an inspired criminal.

  And here I am, thirty steps back, tracking him through the gates of St. Stephen’s Green just moments after security opened passage for the day, as if it were all perfectly timed.

  Because, after all, he is still my brother.

  I glance at my own watch. It’s seven thirty a.m. While they tend to open the Green earlier during summer months, this seems too early. And Aengus’s single nod toward the guard seems unusually familiar.

  I haven’t been inside Dublin’s prime inner-city park in years. It hasn’t changed much. It’s still a vast expanse of winding paths and gardens—an escape nestled within a bustling city. Right now it’s serene, still waking after a night alone, free of visitors, the air misted, the pale yellow sun not yet high enough to warm the grounds. This quiet won’t last long, though.

  Aengus glances over his shoulder and I dart behind the nearest bush. If he senses a shadow, he doesn’t let on, veering right at a fork ahead and disappearing around the bend. I follow cautiously, until he turns off the path and begins trudging through the open field. In a few hours, this place will be crawling with office workers and other Dubliners, lounging in the sun or reading beneath a canopy of leaves. Anything to escape their dreary day jobs and enjoy the fresh
air.

  Aengus checks his watch yet again as he marches briskly and purposefully toward an oak that’s cordoned off by a stream of blue-and-white tape, as if there’s a threat of the tree collapsing. Only, I notice that the perimeter reaches far past its widest branches, taking over half of the green space. Making me think that the tape has nothing to do with a hazardous tree at all.

  “What the hell are you about, Aengus . . .” I mutter, touching my jaw where his knuckles landed last night, after he threw open his bedroom door and caught me eavesdropping on his phone call. I heard only bits and pieces of it—I couldn’t form even a murky guess as to the gist—but it was enough to make him throw a punch first and ask questions later.

  When I shoved him into the wall—because violence is how we seem to communicate best—and reminded him that he just got out of prison, the only explanation he volunteered was that a warning needs to be delivered, no one will get hurt, and I need to keep my fucking mouth shut.

  Another time check. Aengus crouches down and unzips the satchel.

  I’m too engrossed in what he’s doing now to be on guard, so when his head suddenly snaps up, I can’t move fast enough. Hard eyes lock on me in an instant, freezing me where I stand.

  It’s a showdown.

  I shake my head, willing him to hear my thoughts. Walk away, big brother. Don’t do whatever it is you’re about to do.

  His hand stalls inside the bag. For just a moment, I believe that he’s heard me. That he’s finally listening. That my presence here has derailed him from shortening that length of rope he seems so eager to slip around his own neck.

  Foolish of me, really. Aengus has never been malleable to reason.

  I inhale sharply, the air hissing through my gritted teeth. I watch him lay the long cylindrical tube down in the grass with careful movements and dread washes over me.

  Jesus, Aengus. You’ve gone too far this time.

  Hopping to his feet, he snatches up the satchel and charges toward me, his cell phone in his palm, his head revolving as he scans the emptiness around us. I square my shoulders and brace myself for a collision with his temper, as swift and nasty as a black adder’s bite.

  “Are you insane?” I bark when he’s within easy earshot.

  The glint in his eyes—the color of an overripe avocado, beginning to rot—would suggest exactly that.

  “You said no one would get hurt.”

  “Do you see anyone around to get hurt?” he snarls, continuing past me, punching keys into his phone. “You’ve got exactly sixty seconds to get the fuck out of here, River.” He takes off at a light jog, not waiting to see if I’ll follow.

  Because I always have.

  Oh, fuck me. A current of adrenaline shoots through my core. I glance down at my watch. One minute. Less, now. Fifty-five seconds, give or take. The muscles in my thighs twitch, ready to tear after Aengus because there’s nothing else for me to do. But a lot can happen in just sixty seconds. My conscience keeps me grounded, my wild eyes scouring the paths around me for signs of life. A jogger bobs along in the distance, so far away that I can’t be sure whether it’s male or female. Otherwise, I see no one.

  I glance at my watch again, my heartbeat doing double time with each second that passes. Only forty-five remain before I look damn guilty to whoever finds me here. Unless I rat out Aengus—which will never happen—I’m as good as locked up for this.

  I need to run.

  Except . . . that perimeter set isn’t wide enough. If someone should come around the bend, cut across the field . . . But what can I do, really?

  Thirty seconds. Beads of sweat trickle down my back. I need to get the hell out of here. Now.

  I turn, intent on going back the way I came. But movement catches my eye and my stomach drops as I watch the very thing I just feared unravel before my eyes. A girl runs through the field, her attention alternating between her wrist and the unfolded map within her grip, her brow pulled tight with worry.

  She’s clearly a tourist.

  She’s clearly late for something.

  And she’s heading directly into the blast radius of the pipe bomb that’s about to explode.

  I’m out of time. I don’t have a choice.

  I run. As fast as my legs can carry me, I run.

  TWO

  AMBER

  The Fusiliers’ Arch is this way . . . I think.

  I’ve always seen myself as someone with a keen sense of direction. But then I embarked on this grand adventure to find myself and, well—I’ve found myself, alright. Twisted and upside down and heading blocks in the wrong direction enough times to accept that I actually suck at reading maps. If not for the tiny charm on my bracelet that doubles as a handy compass—a gift from the sheriff, ever worried for his twenty-five-year-old daughter’s safety—I wouldn’t know which way was north half the time.

  I doubt that even the compass can help me now. The tour company brochure states a seven thirty-five sharp departure and it’s now . . . I glance at my watch and my anxiety spikes. Seven thirty-three. Stupid me for booking a day trip the morning after I arrive in Ireland. Just twenty-four hours ago I was plane-hopping from Charlottetown to Toronto to Amsterdam to Dublin, going back in time one hour before jumping ahead five. Instead of sleeping, I spent the overnight flight feeding my addiction to Mad Men. By the time I stepped off the plane at three in the afternoon, I was exhausted.

  Of course I figured that two years of flip-flopping between night and day shifts at the hospital would make adjusting to the time change easy for me.

  Of course my alarm rang for exactly thirty-two minutes this morning before my brain actually registered the sound.

  And now I’m going to miss the freaking tour.

  Cutting through this park is supposed to save me a few minutes of travel time. That was one of the few pieces of wisdom my taxi driver from the airport imparted to me yesterday. But he didn’t tell me which paved path, of the countless ones that snake among gardens and forested areas, to take. So in complete desperation, I choose an unconventional diagonal route, rushing past an English garden ripe with colorful summer blooms to run across a grassy field. The morning air is crisp, leaving my legs—bare, thanks to the jean shorts I threw on in my rush, not thinking—touched by gooseflesh, even as sweat trickles down my back. It’ll be okay later, I remind myself. They’re calling for a high of 74 degrees Fahrenheit today. Well, technically, 23 degrees Celsius. Even after traveling across Canada for three and a half weeks, I still can’t seem to grasp the metric system.

  Seven thirty-four. “Crap!” I scan the city map held out in my hands as I run. So distracted that I don’t notice a section of the field ahead taped off until I’m almost tearing through it. There are no construction signs or pieces of equipment lying around. Probably just freshly planted grass seed or something. Whatever the reason, it’s smack dab in the middle of my path and I’ll lose time trying to avoid it. Time I don’t have. Beyond the field, another path winds its way to a fountain and benches and more paths. A round glass dome peeks out over the tree line farther ahead. That’s the shopping center I’ve read about. And to the right of that is where my bus will be waiting.

  Or not, if I don’t hurry up.

  I jump over the tape with a grimace and a silent apology. I check my watch again. Maybe it’s a few minutes fast. Maybe the tour bus driver isn’t really a stickler for a prompt departure. Maybe—

  He comes out of nowhere, from the left.

  My only warning is the sound of his feet pounding against the grass. I turn my head just as he plows into my side, sending me sailing through the air. Pain explodes in a dozen different body parts as I hit the hard ground, my lungs grappling for oxygen.

  He’s on top of me in an instant, crushing me under his weight, his thick arms roping around either side of my head, smothering me. I can’t breathe, or scream, let alone fight him off right now.

  I manage just one fleeting thought—that this man, with his forehead pressed against mine and his ragged br
eaths assaulting my face—is about to rape me in broad daylight in a city park.

  And then I’m plunged into a strange void that devours all my pain and fear.

  A wave of pressure races past a split second before all of my senses are swallowed by a deafening bang that rattles my brain and the ground beneath me. Then . . . nothing at all. Only eerie silence and air.

  I know that time has passed, but I can’t say whether it’s been a split second or ten minutes or an hour when I realize I’m lying on my back, staring up at a plume of white smoke, the familiar sweet metallic scent of expended gunpowder permeating my nostrils, my head stuffed with cotton. That eerie silence has given way to a high-pitched ringing and I cringe as it echoes in my eardrum. Maybe I cry out, too. If I do, I can’t hear it. I’m struggling to string together enough thoughts to understand what the hell just happened.

  “Are you okay?” The question floats in from somewhere distant. And then suddenly a man hovers over me, a fringe of coppery hair like an untidy halo framing his face, staring down at me through mossy green eyes.

  “What happened?” I manage to ask, though my voice sounds far away. At least I’m no longer winded.

  “An explosion. A bomb.”

  A bomb? A chill runs through my limbs as my brain wraps around that word, delivered in a light Irish brogue.

  I sense hands slide along my thighs, over my knees, curling to the undersides, but I don’t think to deflect them. “You’ll be fine,” he mutters, a sigh of relief sailing from his lips. He shifts on his knees, making to stand.

  And I seize his forearm, surprising myself with a sudden wave of strength as I hold him down. “Stay.”

  His muscles tense beneath my fingertips. “I can’t. But please know that I didn’t do this.” Honest, pleading eyes implore me silently for a few heartbeats, and then he’s gone, running—albeit staggered and off-balance—before I can ask more questions. I roll my head to the side and watch him disappear into a line of trees, a dark stain blooming in the material of his vibrant green T-shirt.

 

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