In his sequel to the acclaimed ‘McCauley’s War’, CHARLIE HERRON continues his tale of the irrepressible Dickie McCauley who, once again, finds himself embroiled in the endless sagas of family conflict and Irish-British politics in 1940s Derry. In this abridged extract from ‘The Trouble With McCauley’, our eponymous hero finds himself not for the first time trying to stay one step ahead of everyone and everything.
The cop was only interested in what Joey and Hughie Deeney were up to, progging marrows for a dare. It was me that organised it, as a trial for them to get into the gang. If the boys got away with it, they were in. And identical twins could be very handy in the future. They could cause confusion in the ranks of the enemy. And even though the Marlborough gang had broken up, the word was that a crowd called the North Street Bunch were out to take over the whole area. If you could believe the rumour.
‘Dickie, you’re going to be late!’ It was my ma shouting to me from downstairs. ‘The meetin’ starts at eleven o’clock, and it’s well after ten. Mr Kelly’s waiting for ye in the van.’
I took one last look through the net curtains. Joey and Hughie were back over the wall. They began to play football with the marrows, up and down the street. Danny Doherty and Kevin Doherty, two of my other gang members, who’d caught the flying marrows, stood there watching. They weren’t related. I’d sent them there to check up on how the twin Deeneys did on the test. They’d report back to me later, but I already knew that the twins had passed. I’d even seen the cop nodding his head up and down with the hint of a sneer on his face. Maybe he didn’t like marrows. Or maybe he just didn’t like Sergeant McBride.
It’s a pity Eva Johnston hadn’t appeared out of her house in the Terrace, what with all the noise. She’d surely have joined in the marrow-kicking immediately. That’s mainly why I liked her, because she was game for anything, and she wouldn’t have cared if her da had seen her, even though he would’ve been raging. It was great, too, that Eva was now an official member of the Dickie McCauley gang. I’d allowed her to join us last year, on the day after she arrived in the Terrace. The others didn’t like the idea of having a girl in the gang, but I did. Well, just this girl anyhow. So I changed the rule – because I’d made the rule in the first place – and if they didn’t like it, I told them, they could lump it and leave. Nobody left. Now they all like her. But I like her the best and they know it. A lot of adults in Rosemount who know Eva say she’s a real tomboy. I looked that word up in the dictionary. And they’re right.
I’d heard my ma roaring up to me again. ‘Dickie, will ye for God’s sake hurry up? Mr Kelly can’t wait any longer.’
‘Right, Ma,’ I shouted, ‘I’m comin’.’ I thundered down the stairs, jumping the last three onto the hall lino.
‘Where’s Da?’ I called to her as I reached for the door handle. ‘Isn’t he comin’ with me to the College?’
‘Naw, son. You’ll have to go by yourself. He’s not feelin’ well the day. He must be comin’ down with something.’
I knew by the look in my ma’s eyes that she was lying. Covering up for him like she normally did. He was still drunk, that’s what he was, drunk since last night. Still too drunk even this morning to go with me to the meeting at the College. An important meeting the letter had said, to inform us about the rules and regulations, and about the subjects we would be studying, and the classes we would be in, and about the school uniform and everything. And we would be seeing round the school and told about its history. Now everything was mucked up. I’d been looking forward to this day for weeks, ever since I’d got word that I’d passed the entrance exam. You’d have thought that my da would have made a special effort, especially after the way he was talking yesterday, telling everybody about how proud he was that his Dickie had got the College exam. Aye, even shouting about it again all over the street when he was coming home last night from the pub. Waking the whole neighbourhood, that’s what he was doing. Roaring his head off and singing rebel songs when he was staggering down the Terrace. It was a wonder the police didn’t come out of the barracks and arrest him. Me and my wee brother Liam had heard him from our beds. Liam said nothing. He just put his head under the blankets to shut out the noise. He was embarrassed. I was embarrassed, too, but I didn’t show it.
My ma interrupted what I was thinking.
‘There’s something I have to tell ye, Dickie, before ye go,’ she said suddenly. ‘It’s about - ’
But then it was me that interrupted her.
‘Would you not come with me, Ma?’
But I knew by the way she was shaking her head and looking at me that she was going nowhere.
‘Please, Ma?’ I repeated. ‘Sure I need some big person to come with me.’
‘I can’t, Dickie. You’ll manage okay, son. I have to stay with him, and with wee Liam. I can’t leave them, Dickie.’
‘What about Kate and Laura? Can’t one of them come with me?’
Kate and Laura are my two big sisters. They’re twins but they’re not identical like Joey and Hughie Deeney.
‘Naw, son. Sure aren’t the girls workin’ overtime the day. We need the money, son, what with your da gettin’ so little work at the docks. And anyway, Dickie, won’t Mr Kelly be with ye, and your wee friend Charlie? You’ll be all right, son. Just you go on out to the van, now. Charlie and his father are waitin’ for ye. You’ll be at the College in no time. Just tell them up there that your father or me couldn’t come. You can fill us all in later about the meetin’. Go on now, son, and we’ll see ye when ye come back. They’re waitin’ for ye out there in the van.’
There was no way I was going to a meeting in the College with Mr Kelly and his one-eyed son, Bap, with some people maybe pointing at us and whispering about who Mr Kelly was. About his IRA connections. And about why I was there with them, and not with my da or my ma, or at least one of my big sisters. Naw, no way.
‘What was it ye wanted to say to me, Ma?’
‘It doesn’t matter now, Dickie. It’ll keep till ye get back. Hurry up now, son.’