On Writing, Page 11

"The Altar Boy," by Donald Schneider (continued)

McKee felt a shiver creep up his spine listening to the boy’s precocious sense of fatalism engendered by the circumstances forced upon him. What sort of a world gone mad would take an altar boy and turn him into this at age twelve? Serving Mass at five in the morn; giving lessons on murdering Brits the same afternoon after school? He felt a mixture of sympathy for the child and loathing at what he had become.

No, things had never been easy for the orphaned cousin of Michael Collins, and the price the lad had paid for Collins’s help would have crushed many a grown man; all in the dear name of the cause. McKee had been a petty criminal to be sure, but he was no killer. And now to have to learn the “trade” from a boy. From this boy?

He could almost feel the penetrating gaze of Jimmy’s vividly blue eyes, as if the child could see right through him. In the name of all that’s natural and holy, he cursed Mickey and his benighted cause! Why had Collins done this to him? The guilt seemingly piercing his very soul, McKee grabbed the cursed weapon and aimed.

   *******************

McKee nervously felt the revolver in his suit jacket pocket. As he walked down the Dublin street approaching the Ministry Building, he glanced over his shoulder and noted Jimmy trailing a quarter block back or so, serving as his backup on McKee's first “mission,” as I. R. A. parlance would have it. The boy had dressed the part of a typical Dublin street urchin, even smearing some dirt on his face for effect; to walk unnoticed amongst what the Brits contemptuously called the great unwashed. No one would ever casually connect the two.

Jimmy was to cover his escape if matters got sticky, and McKee pitied any bystander who tried to intervene. He knew the boy wouldn’t miss at twice the distance. He also knew that the lad wouldn’t panic or abandon him, a thought that he found more troubling than comforting.

When he had gotten close enough to the building, he halted and unfurled his newspaper as the boy had instructed. The target was a high police official. When the man left the building, McKee was to lunge forward and put at least three shots into his chest before running.

He waited a few anxious minutes before hearing the frantic, pounding sound of booted footsteps rounding the corner.

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