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spite of the noise of the wind, the dogs heard us. Their barks turned to howls
as Mann struggled with the rusty bolt on the farmyard gate.
"Not exactly what the Lufthansa ads would lead us to expect," said Mann. He
clawed at the bolt angrily, and its sharp edge took the skin off his thumb. He
swore.
The yard was also lacking the sort of orderliness that one expects from a
syndicate registered in Frankfurt. The uneven cobblestones were strewn with
spilled feed, matted hay, and puddles of rainwater over blocked drains. The
farmhouse door was locked.
"The birds have flown," said the policeman, but he unbuttoned his coat and
loosened his jacket. It was the sort of thing a man might do if he was
reassuring himself about the availability of his pistol.
I tried the window and slid it up without difficulty.
"Hullo there," shouted the policeman through the open window. The wind blew
the net curtain so that it billowed over his face. There was no sound from
within the farmhouse, but the dogs barked as if in response to the call. I
tugged at the skirt of my raincoat so that I could get one leg over the
windowsill. The policeman pushed me gently to one side. "This is my patch," he
said. "I'm used to the kinds of things that might be about to happen." He
smiled.
I suppose all three of us had done this before. I covered him. Mann remained
outside. We went through every room, and inevitably there was the silly
feeling when you look under the beds.
"No one at all," said the policeman as he opened the last cupboard and rapped
its wooden interior to make sure there were no hollow sounds.
I went over to the window, raised it, and called down to Mann in the yard to
tell him the house was empty. By that time he'd taken a quick look around the
outbuildings. They, too, were empty. The rain had almost stopped now, and from
this upstairs window I could see miles across the flat countryside of Kells,
to where a dying sun was making a pink sky above the lakes of Meath. I saw the
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farm dogs, too. They were wet and miserable, sitting on the manure heap behind
the stables.
"Look at this," called the policeman from downstairs.
I went down to find Mann there, too. They were sifting through the ashes that
buried the hearth. They had found some pieces of stiff plastic, about the size
of a postcard. A dozen or more of them had fused together into a hard plastic
brick. That had prevented their destruction in the flames.
Mann picked a small white block from the ashes. "What's this?"
"A fire lighter," said the policeman. "A compound of paraffin wax. They're
used to start domestic fires. They'll get the coal or peat going without the
need of paper or wood."
"Is that right," said Mann. He sniffed it. "Well, this baby didn't ignite. If
it had, we wouldn't have found anything at all."
"Now, you can tell me something," said the Inspector. "What is this laminated
plastic?"
"Microfiche," said Mann. "Microfilm's little brother. Microfilm is on reels,
and just dandy for someone who goes to a public library to readWar and Peace ,
but if you want to select your material, these are far better." He pried one
of the plastic postcards away from the rest and held it up to the light so the
policeman could see the fingernail-sized pages of photographed data.
"I'll want to take some of this with me," said Mann. "Just a sample. Okay?"
"As long as you leave enough for the lab to tell us what kind of material it
is."
"This is all classified material from U.S. government sources," said Mann.
"Why here?" said the policeman.
"The Irish Republic is accessible your passport checks are perfunctory, and
now that the Russkies have an embassy here, the place is crawling with agents.
With Ireland in the EEC, there are few restrictions on Europeans entering.
From the United Kingdom there's no check at all. Come on, fella, you know
why."
"I suppose you're right," he said.
"Yes, I am," said Mann. He put a couple of the microfiche cards into his
wallet.
"Will you hear those dogs," the policeman said to me. "I was brought up on a
farm. My father would have sold dogs that fled when strangers entered the
house and howled their lungs out behind the raspberries."
I got to my feet without answering and went to the front hall. I picked up
the phone to be sure it was connected, and put it down again. Then I unbolted
the massive front door. It must have been a century old and designed to
withstand a siege. I stood in the porch and stared out across the fields. Cow
dung had been spread across the glassy fields, and a few rooks were striding
about and picking it over. They were fine, big birds, as big as vultures, with
a shiny blue sheen on their black feathers. But most of the birds were in the
sky, hundreds of them starlings for the most part wheeling and sweeping, great
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whirlpools of birds darkening the pink evening sky, chattering and calling and
beating the air forcibly enough to make a constant whirr of noise.
"Phone your people," I said finally. "Get a police doctor and some digging [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]