Reviews of ‘The Wrong Man’ – The novel:
“a novel that “should come to be regarded as one of the most important books of the Troubles” – The Belfast Telegraph
“a powerful and complex piece of storytelling’ – Sunday Times
“a powerful evocation of betrayal, deceit and guilt” – Oxford Companion to Irish Literature
Reviews of ‘The Wrong Man’ – The stage play:
“superbly written, with equal measures of tension and dark humour” – The Observer
“a taut, gritty drama” – Daily Telegraph
“unmissable drama… Best play since The Weir” – What’s On Stage
“a highly authentic and memorable evening” – Quentin Letts, Daily Mail
“excellent writing” – Financial Times
“edgy and gripping” – Village
“gripping piece of theatre” – Evening Standard
“a compelling drama… a clear success” – Michael Portillo, New Statesman
“a challenging and darkly comic play” – The Independent
‘The Wrong Man’, nominated by Fest magazine as one of the top three plays of the Edinburgh Fringe, 2005
Tod snorted several times until he was startled into a vague state of consciousness, drowsily not knowing whether this was his own bed or if it were day or night outside, except that he felt concussed and still drunk. His neck was sore and he could flex it only through ratchets of movement.
As he looked down, an image appeared – a small patch of floral pattern on a carpet. He realised he was seeing out of one eye, which had a limited scope. The other, his left, injured in a baton charge weeks earlier, was throbbing again and felt as if it were about to explode. When he attempted to rub his eyes his arms wouldn’t work and he began to panic. He tried to let out a scream for Sal to come to his aid only to realise that his jaw was already prised open and something swollen filled his mouth. He shook his body and felt the clothesline bite into his chest, wrists and ankles.
Then he realized that he was sitting upright in a chair and that he was hooded. He curled his toes: he was without socks or shoes.
Suddenly, the previous night became connected to the present, his heart shrank with fear and his pulse raced, resound¬ing in his ears. He had an overwhelming desire to crawl back into the safety of his mother’s womb, or be born again in another country in another time with another chance.
He tried to piece together the night’s events.
He remembered borrowing money from Sal at home, los¬ing most of it on the gaming machine in the pub, winning it and more back. Someone had suggested they go to a dance in Ardoyne. He didn’t even bother to ring Sal. He regretted that now. Sal. Sal and Nuala.
They had piled into taxis. He remembered drinking Harvey Wallbangers in the club; dancing and showing off as a circle of women handclapped him; the flashing lights; falling on the floor of the toilets, someone pulling his trousers up and buck¬ling them. Everyone laughing. At the back of the hall he kissed a girl, perhaps two girls. More laughter. There was taIk of get¬ting another taxi, going to a party in the New Lodge or Turf Lodge. It was all hazy but he recalled the blast of fresh air on his face and a car and a drive and a fight and darkness. Or was the fight before he got into the car with the girl he’d been chat¬ting up? He wasn’t sure … he wasn’t sure. He couldn’t remember if at that stage she was still with him or had got into another car.
He tried to listen but could hear nothing in the bedroom except his own breathing and the rumblings of his insides. He imagined that the room was bare and he alone. His sore neck had thawed a little, allowing him to tilt his head back more freely and find the gap in the hood. He moved his eye along the carpet. To his right a newspaper was spread out. On it were a screwdriver, a claw hammer and carpenter nails.
He thought he might be in the custody of the IRA. He tilted his head back further and then noticed a pair of pliers and the blades of a long boning knife and a skinner.
“The IRA bastard’s awake,” said a squeaky voice.
“Is he now. Welcome to the Shankill, you fenian cunt.” The voice of the second man sounded husky, like that of a heavy smoker whose phlegmy throat thickly coats each word.
Tod’s chest heaved and convulsed a few times. He’d been through so much fear and confusion over the past four or five weeks, enough to drive anyone insane, and he didn’t think he could take any more. He tried to gather his wits about him, to think a way out, but the sheer terror of his predicament transfixed his thoughts. He burst into a flood of tears and found some solace in their childish expression – the implicit homage to forces adult, the bid for favour and sympathy.
“I’m going to laugh my bollocks clean off if this cunt keeps this up!” said the second man, slapping Tod’s thigh jovially. “Get it out of you, son! Get it out! Say your fucking Hail Marys because tonight you’ll be in heaven.”
“Aye, after I put you through hell!” said the first man.
A laugh from the corner indicated the presence of a third.
Tod sobbed, long and droning. Mucus soon congested his nose and he had great difficulty in getting enough air. His lungs began to drown in an asthmatic attack and he tried to gasp and shook his head from side to side in panic.
“Maloney’s going to kill himself, boys, if he doesn’t settle.”
He felt as if his captors were scrutinizing him from just riches away.
“You’re fucking spot on there. He’s ready to pass out.”
“He’s going to asphyxiate himself,” said the voice from the corner which had an eerie, even tenor.
“Uhhh, me Dumbo Orangeman. Me dunno what ficksey ate mean, Boss. Me dumb Orange bastard … Isn’t that so, you fenian cunt,” said the squeaky voice. He slapped Tod across the ear, causing a small explosion inside his head.
Tod’s lungs were screaming for air, his chest in agony, and his head creaked on ligatures like eroded ballbearings inside his neck. Someone was spraying his asthma inhaler around the room and laughing.
“Know what I’d love to try?” said his assailant, addressing the gang.
“What’s that, Sammy?” said Husky.
“If you could take the door off a microwave…”
“And still get it to work…”
“You could watch his foot cook!”
“Sammy, wise-to-fuck up! The waves would get out and bounce all over the fucking place. We’d be walking around the Shankill like two Pakis.”
“Just you stick to amputations,” said the one Tod took to be Boss, their leader. “Go ahead. Take off his big toe.”
Tod felt his foot being gripped and the blade of a knife begin to break the cushion of flesh around the bone of his toe. He jerked as if a million volts had been passed through his body.
“Hold it. Hold it. He’s trying to tell you something,” said Husky.
“It’s okay, boy, it’s only the knife, not the micro.”
“Seriously, he’s trying to tell you something . . .”
“Naw. He’ll only scream if we take out the sock.”
Tod shook his head vigorously, begging them to trust him. He felt a hand partly lift the hood, a hand with the iron smell of blood and freshly-smoked cigarette on it. The sock was pulled from his mouth. He drank so much air that he passed out for several seconds. Unconsciousness was an instant of bliss but when he came to he was still in hell.
“I can help you!” he gasped. “I’ll do anything for you!”
“Uhh, Dumbo Orangeman, uhhh, speaking, Boss. Uhhh, what does the prisoner mean, uhhh, he’ll do anything? Like, resign from the IRA? Ach, that’s it all over then. Phone him a taxi, would you, then we’ll all sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’.”
Tod was again thumped on the ear.
“You fucking IRA bastard, Malone. Eh? What do you fucking take us for? Not in the IRA!”
“I’m not, I swear.”
“You fucking are!”
“On my kid’s life, 1 swear,” cried Tod.
“Ach, God, his wee baby. Isn’t that lovely. You haven’t a photo, have you?”
“Is the little orphan a boy or a girl?”
“Listen,” said Boss. “Why do you think we picked you? We don’t kill just anybody. We know who you are. Our friends in the security forces gave us your name. Thomas ‘Tod’ Malone, aged twenty-one, and a key player. Once charged with hijacking and IRA membership. Charges withdrawn.”
“I swear to God, that’s not me. It’s a mistake! It’s a mistake! That’s my brother. I fucking swear on the life of my child, that’s my brother.”
“This child gets around, boys, doesn’t it?” laughed Squeaky.
“Tod, Tod, my man. You’re going to all this bother for nothing. We’ve a photo of you taken by the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Castlereagh on 27 April. 8:15 a.m. to be precise. It’s you, son. It’s you.”
As one log sank beneath the hurtling river, Tod leaped to the next.
“That photo’s probably of me,” he conceded, “but I’m not Tod Malone. A mistake’s been made.”
“Who are you, then?”
“I’m Richard. Richard Malone, Tod’s older brother.”
They all laughed.
” . . . a fucking scream, or what!”
“A comedian. . . ‘Richard!’ Tricky Dicky. Did you ever!”
“Tod. You have no brother. Isn’t that so? … Tod? … Tod?”
“What?” he said, subdued.
“Why are you telling us lies?”
“Because I’m afraid and I don’t want to die.”
“Reasonable enough answer. Are you going to start telling us the truth?”
“Do you know where you are?”
“Do you know who we are?”
“The UVF or the IRA.”
“The UVF or the IRA? Why do you say that?”
“You might be pretending to be the UVF to see if I’ll squeal on the IRA. It’s an old trick.”
“Now, that’s a complicated one,” continued Boss. “But it does suggest the IRA thinks there’s some merit in lifting you and that you’ve got something to hide. Or that you’ve got some valuable information to give. Doesn’t it?”
He couldn’t answer.
“Tell you what, Tod,” said Boss, lifting the hood a little and violently shoving the sock back into his mouth. “Tell you what … Sammy … Sammy. Take this lying Provo over behind the wasteground and put two in his handsome looks. He’ll know who we are then.”
Tod struggled in the chair, bewildered, like a lobster suddenly plunged into the shock of a boiling pot.
“What about the microwave first?”
“Just put two in his face, Sammy. This person does not recognize some Christian charity when it’s being shown.”
Tod again shook his head vigorously.
“For God’s sake I’ve to pick the kids up from school, what is it now? … Take the sock out, Sammy,” said Boss.
“You take it out, he might have something.”
“No, you take it out, I’m a staff officer.”
“It would be fucking quicker shooting him.”
“It’s okay, Boss, I’ll fucking take it out,” said the other one, and as he wrenched the sock from Tod’s mouth it caught on his front teeth, whiplashing his head.
“I’m an IRA informer! ” gasped Tod. “Please believe me. I’ve been working for the police for years. I hate the Provos as much as you. We’re on the same side,” he sobbed. “Please…”
“He’s what? What did he say?”
“He says he’s working for who?”
“He says he’s an informer,” said Boss, relaxing.
“Yeah, but he’s still a fucking taig.”
“Aye, and fucking better looking than us … And did you see where his clothes came from . . .”
“I’ll do anything,” said Tod. “Anything. Please, don’t kill me. I’ve never hurt anybody. I’ve never shot any Protestants. I hate the IRA, hate them, hate them. They’ve ruined my life. I’ll do anything but please don’t kill me. I am a police informer. I am, I swear. You’ve got to believe me. I’ve been informing on the IRA for years now. Arms dumps. Explosives. Safe houses. I can do the same for you, even more. You can put your hands on the top operators, Raymond Massey, Pat Doyle, the IRA, Sinn Fein, you name them, I can get you them and they’ll not know what hit them. I’ll help you, I swear. But please don’t kill me…” Then his voice trailed away, “…what’s the use …what’s the use,” and he began sobbing.
“Please give’s my spray, I need my spray. Please?”
“Work the spray for him, Sammy,” said Boss.
“For this cunt?”
“Give it to him,” said Boss to Husky.
Tod inhaled as best he could.
“Got enough?” asked Boss.
“Just some more please … Thank you.”
“Right, Tod. If all the boys and girls are sitting properly we shall begin. What was the first piece of information you gave the security forces?”
“Eh,” he said, sniffling, trying to compose himself. “I gave them a rundown of who was who in the organization and what jobs they had carried out. I bugged rifles in Ballymurphy and got two men caught. I put faulty detonators on bombs so that they wouldn’t go off. I saved one of your men from being
killed, Causland. Told the RUC…”
“When was this?”
“Two weeks ago. I phoned my handler, and told him that a .45 was being moved to Twinbrook. They were gonna do Causland, out by Dunmurry. A girl was caught with the gun down her jeans . . .”
“May have been a coincidence?”
“No, no. It wasn’t. It was my call.”
“What was her name?”
“Did you get paid for that?”
“Fifty quid. I got fifty quid.”
“Don’t believe you,” said Boss, suddenly losing his temper, a change of mood which shattered Tod’s only hope. “Fifty quid! Cut the fucker’s throat. He’s lying. Cut it now!”
“No, no. Please,” cried Tod, blubbering. “Bobby Quinn! Bobby Quinn! Shot dead by the SAS six weeks ago! I gave the information, I gave the information!”
Hardly had the last word been uttered when a man’s fist caught Tod under the chin, cracking his jaw and sending him tumbling along with the chair in which he was trussed. This man leaned over and snatched the hood from his head.
“Pat!” exclaimed Tod. “Pat! Pat! Thank God, it’s you! Thank God, it’s you,” and he began crying again as if from relief. His good eye was swimming but when he looked around him he quickly observed that there were five men in the room, not three.
“Who do you think you’re kidding,” said Pat Doyle. He turned to Raymond Massey.
Raymond still couldn’t take it in.
“You shouldn’t have hit him, you stupid bastard,” said the one nicknamed Boss to Pat. “We would have got everything out of him without putting a finger on him. Now he’s seen our faces. ”
“Does it matter?” said the one with the husky voice.
Gerry Kerr from Ardoyne, thought Tod. Gerry Kerr! He had seen him at a dance with Tina Owens, though he had never spoken to him before. Gerry Kerr! A shiver ran down his spine.
Boss scowled at Kerr’s remark. “This man’s a Volunteer. We need to hear his side of it. Are you listening, Malone?”
Raymond bent down and righted Tod in his chair.
“Raymond,” whispered Tod, in a broken but calm voice. “That was all lies. It was all lies, I swear. I didn’t squeal on Bobby. Please believe me. I only said that because I thought you were loyalists and I wanted to save my life. But I didn’t get Bobby killed, honestly.”
“Honestly?’ You’re a slug,” said Pat. “A low-life.”
“My throat’s parched. I need a sip of water. Honestly. I can’t talk without it and I think my jaw’s broken.”
“It’s a pity you weren’t born with a broken jaw,” said Pat. “Big Bobby would still be alive, Tina wouldn’t be in jail and fuck knows how many operations would have gone ahead.”
“I swear on the soul of my child, I never got Bobby killed nor Tina arrested. That was all lies I told. I swear.”
“Pretty convincing lies.”
“No! It’s the truth. The truth. I didn’t know about that job. I wasn’t at the meeting that planned it. Raymond, I was sick that week. Remember? I was out of it. And Ballymurphy? When was I ever in Ballymurphy with rifles? Never! And bum detonators? Sure I never made up a bomb. You know that.”
“Tod, do you think I’m a fool? A minute ago you were offering up Raymie and me to the UVF on a plate. Isn’t that true?”
“Pat, I was afraid.”
“Nothing but the wrong price would have prevented you from setting us up,” he persisted.
“No. I wouldn’t have done that! Listen. After Bobby’s death, you, Raymond and I did the hotel, didn’t we! And you, Pat, you and I did the booby~trap which injured the Brits, and you weren’t caught, were you!”
“Proves nothing,” said Pat. “The Branch were letting you maintain your credibility or else you didn’t tell them in case they’d dirty-joe you …
“Fuck’s sake, lads! Is this it? An answer for everything?”
“We’ll ask the questions,” said Boss. “And you’ll supply the answers. You must know this yourself, Tod, that touts don’t give to the Branch everything they know. It makes them think they’ve some control. Some don’t even accept money. It gives them a sense of honour, that they’re not corrupt. So, because all the operations that you knew about, or were on, weren’t passed on to the Brits doesn’t mean you’re innocent.”
“I haven’t a chance, have I? Kuhh. Kuhh. My throat’s dry. Water, please. Some water.”
“I’ll get some,” said Raymond. He returned after a minute, during which time no one in the room spoke to Tod. “Open.” He gave Tod two or three gulps.
“Thanks, Raymie. Can I go to the toilet?”
“What do you say?” said Squeaky.
“But I need to … badly…”
“Nobody’s stopping you,” said Kerr.
“Please, Raymie? Raymond, I’m desperate. It’s running out of me.”
“Fuck, but you’re one repulsive person. I don’t know what any woman ever saw in you,” said Pat.
“Please, lads. I’m dying.”
“I’ll take him,” said Raymond, finally.
“Will you be okay with him? You won’t strangle him in there?” said Boss, drolly.
“If he’s proved guilty, Tod knows what I’ll do. Don’t you, Tod?”
Tod said nothing.
“Okay, but keep his hands tied.”
He was released from the chair, unsteady on his feet.
Raymond put down the toilet seat, turned to Tod, unbuckled his trousers and rolled down his underpants.
“Thanks,” said Tod.
As soon as Tod sat on the toilet the diarrhoea gushed out of him.
Raymond looked away, looked into a mirror above the handbasin, looked up at the light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
“Raymond, what’s all this about? I am really, really afraid I’ll admit to something I haven’t done. It’s not like being in Castlereagh with the police or anything like it. Will you help me? Look after me. For Sal and Nuala’s sake, if there’s anything you can do for me please help me.”
“Tod. You tried to get me killed.”
“No, Raymie. No. No. It’s just not true.”
“But why did you squeal on Tina? She was your comrade. Your friend.”
“I didn’t! Won’t somebody believe me!”
“Tod. Why did you do it? Why?”
Tod burst into tears. “I’ve no right to ask, Raymond, but help me, please help me.”
“Are you finished in there?” shouted Boss.
“Coming now,” said Raymond. He cleaned up Tod, then pulled up his underpants.
“Thanks. Raymie, you will help me, won’t you?”
Raymond washed his hands. “Let’s get back.”
“Just a second. Just a second.”
“Tod. Stop stalling. Let’s get it over with.”
“But you believe me, don’t you, Raymond?”
“What evidence? There’s no evidence.”
“You’ll hear. You’ll know soon enough.”
When they were coming out of the bathroom Pat stopped in front of them. “Stay there. There’s a problem.”
“What’s the problem?” asked Raymond.
“Someone’s downstairs. Your man’s talking to him now. We might have to leave. There’s heavy searching and this house isn’t the safest.”
Tod became suspicious.
Boss came up the stairs. “Bring him back into the bedroom,” he said, nodding. They returned and closed the door and Tod was put back in the chair.
“Tod, we’re moving you, okay?”
“Where are you taking me! You’re not gonna shoot me, are you? Are you!” His voice was shaking.
“Tod, fuck up. We haven’t even spoken to you yet. We’re walking you to another house where there’s a car to pick us up. We’ll continue the debriefing later.”
“What’s gonna happen over there? What’s next?”
“I told you before. We’ll ask the questions. Over there we’ll continue with the debriefing.”
“I’m going to the border. I’m dead, amn’t I?”
“Not necessarily,” said Boss. “You might come up with an explanation that stuns us all.”
“Though I’ve never heard one yet,” laughed Squeaky.
Boss looked at Squeaky with displeasure and shook his head. He had wanted Tod calm to make the removal simple.
“No shoes,” said Boss. Boss sent Squeaky out to scout the area. “He’ll be back in a minute. Get ready.”
“I’m being shot now, amn’t I, Raymond?” said Tod, quivering.
“You’re not, Tod,” replied Raymond. “You know the rules. You’re a Volunteer. You’ll be courtmartialled and then it’s up to the army leadership. Look, it’s me that’ll be taking you out the back and across the street. Don’t mess about and everything will be okay. Trust me.”
“I’ll be with you the whole way?”
“You’ll be with me. We’ll have to put the sock in.”
“If you only knew how innocent I am, if you only knew…”
“Now, stand still till I put this back on.” He put the sock in, then placed the hood over Tod’s head.
“Are we ready?” said Boss. Kerr nodded from the landing, checked the pistol for Raymond and quietly passed it over to him. He put it down his waistband.
“Are you ready, Tod?” asked Raymond. He expected a nod but instead Tod went into what appeared to be a fit of uncontrollable shaking.
“Calm down, calm down, you’ll be all right.” Raymond raised the hood a little and pulled out the sock.
“Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, you’re not going to shoot me, are you, Raymond, are you?” he sobbed. “Think of Nuala and Sal. This can’t happen, can’t happen …You’ve got the wrong man…”
“Tod, I’ve already told you. We just have to go to another house.”
“You’re sure, Raymond? Are you really really sure? You’re not just saying that, are you? You’re sure?”
“Okay, Raymond. I’ll trust you. I’ll trust you, I will. You never told me lies before. You’re sure, now?”
“I’m sure. I’m putting the sock in now. Take it easy. You’ll be okay.”
Scumbag, mouthed Kerr at the hooded man. Fucking scumbag. And he raised his hand as if brandishing a gun and shook it at Tod.