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A Division Between Friends

Pat Morgan and Bill MacLean grew up on the same street in the Ardoyne area of Belfast and were the best of friends despite the fact that Pat was a catholic and Bill was protestant. Indeed all of the neighbors on the street got on very well together regardless of religion, except for a few days in July and another few in August.  As they were growing up Bill would of course have to go with his family to celebrate the Twelfth and would get caught up in the inflammatory rhetoric of some individual proclaiming how he was prepared to fight for his faith and defend it against the papists of Rome. Everyone seemed to forget the fact that the individual never practiced the faith he was vowing to protect. Most of them seemed to follow the rule they went to church three times in their life, when they were baptized, when they got married and when they died. I am not sure if the last one counted and the first one was if anything involuntary. As one of them said to Bill on one occasion, "If I went to church the Minister would say ‘Halleluiah! I hardly knew Ya.’" Pat on the other hand had to go to Mass every Sunday and Holiday of Obligation, or the succession of priests in his parish as he grew up, claimed he would face the d*mnation of hell. Pat also of course had to go with his family to celebrations on Aug 15th, which since it was a religious day rather than the celebration of a battle, the priests made most of the speeches. Pat thought boy did all of them like to talk. It seemed to go with the profession and he noted that if he ever had something important he had to get to quickly after Mass, the sermon would be three times as long. He also got caught up in the inflammatory rhetoric which someone who did not seem to be concerned about the d*mnation of hell would eventually give. Pat did notice though, that they would usually stand outside close to the door of the chapel so that the priest would see them on his way in, but when Mass had started they were not in the chapel. Pat wondered if they only worried about the d*mnation of the priest rather than the d*mnation of hell. He also wondered if he missed Mass once and was d*mned to hell, what happened the second time. Could he be d*mned to hell more than once and if so how many times did he have to be d*mned to hell before the priest finally gave up.

They only needed a good night’s sleep to bring them back down to earth after these festive trips with their family, but they usually avoided the company of their friend for a few days until the guilt had evaporated from their conscience. They often talked about religion since it had such an impact on their lives and each realized they did not resent the other for the religion he had received from his parents. Pat did tell him what the priest told him about why he should go to Mass and wondered why Bill’s Minister did not tell him the same thing. He also wondered how Bill could say he followed a religion if he did not practice it. He noticed after this Bill did start going to his church occasionally, but he was not sure if it was because he had questioned him about not following his religion, or what he had told him of the priest comments. He did not dare tell the priest if it was the latter, he liked this one better than some of the previous priests and he was afraid the priest might get a guilt complex and excommunicate himself.

When they finished school they even started to work for the same company, and both got on well with most of the older employees, but within a few days a few of the other employees of the company started to ask Pat what religion he was. They even claimed they could tell a person’s religion by looking at them, and they knew he was a catholic. One day he found a note in his locker that these jobs were only for Protestants and if he did not walk out he would be carried out. Pat’s parents suggested he leave and find work elsewhere and he did. Like many of the employees Bill resented the treatment Pat had received and started to check around to find out who had left the note. He had difficulty finding out, but when he did that employee was carried out one day with a broken leg. Although Bill was suspected of causing the accident that broke his leg, no one could prove it.

Bill and Pat were still friends and went out to clubs together, they both met girls of their own religion and got married quite young and had sons within weeks of each other. The wives and even their sons got on well and they frequently went on picnics together. Although occasionally the Catholics in the Falls Road area, or the Protestants in the Shankill road would start some problem, the people in Ardoyne were rarely affected to any great degree and their lives were fairly peaceful. The Reverend Ian Paisley had started making waves some time ago and most people except the extremists Protestants just considered him a religious bigot and did not really take him serious.

When Brigid Devlan came on the scene, she started a series of demonstrations to claim civil rights for Catholics in jobs and housing in 1968. The demonstrations were peaceful but her rhetoric was extremely inflammatory, and as Catholics rallied around her, even the moderate PROTESTANTS started to rally around the Reverend Ian Paisley. On October 5th. 1968 evening as Pat and Bill sat in Bill’s home watching the latest demonstration, which had ended in violence, on the television, Pat said to Bill, "I am getting very worried about the situation, Bill. I think we could handle Paisley on his own, or Devlan on her own, but the two together are polarizing the situation and I think the lid is going to blow this time."

"Well, Pat regardless of what happens we will still be friends."

"We will be friends in spirit, Bill, but I think you know as well as I do that those around us may not permit us to be friends indeed. We all live peacefully enough here on this street for now, but Devlan is not going to stop until she gets what she wants. I have a certain amount of confidence in O’Neill and he is trying to right a lot of wrongs, but he is too moderate for Paisley and O’Neill will not last. If the lid blows there will be no in-between, just complete polarization, and even this street will be caught up in it. It will be too dangerous for anyone to live outside of his own religious area. We have nothing to fear from each other, but you know you can’t vouch for some of the people on your side and I sure as hell cannot vouch for some of those on mine."

"Are you suggesting we will become enemies, Pat?"

"I sincerely hope we will never become enemies, Bill, but if the lid blows the extremists on each side will start wrecking their hatred and vengeance on the first person they know is not the same religion as themselves. You know as well as I do they would do it right now, but are afraid of the consequences. They will not have to worry about consequences if the lid blows. We will have all-out-war."

On Sunday January 30th. 1972, as Bill sat on his own, watching the events of that day on the television, he knew Pat had been right. All over Belfast families, which had settled outside the boundaries of their own religion, would soon start moving out under threats to their security. Bill could see some more isolated families getting pressure already and realized that he too would soon have to move. He went over to Pat’s home one evening with his family and they all shook hands with a promise to keep in touch as much as possible. Bill was able to arrange a house swap with a Catholic family, which had to move out of a Protestant area.

Shortly thereafter each religious group started to erect barricades to protect the area they lived in. Bill and Pat tried to stay out of the conflict, but the militants forced everyone to take a shift guarding the barricades. The militants increased their pressure on anyone they thought would make good organizers to draw them into the militant groups and forced them higher and higher in the ranks. Pat and Bill continued to talk to each other and often met for lunch, but as they moved higher in the ranks they contacted each other less frequently and finally stopped completely. Bill’s son Tom however kept in touch with Pat and frequently they would meet somewhere quietly and Pat would enquire about his old friend Bill. He never tried to get information on Bill’s activities from Tom, which could have put him in jeopardy. They also always met in a neutral location.

When Pat’s wife died he was concerned about his son Gerald and could see there was no future for him Northern Ireland. He did not want him connected with what he was doing and sent him to an uncle in America. Gerald got involved in a few small theatres and enjoyed the roles he played on the stage. He decided to try Hollywood, but found it was a very different situation. Gerald was a good lad with a good sense of humor, which helped him to see the bright side of things, but he was also very proud and stubborn, which was the last thing he needed in the situation he found himself. He realized he had to make connections if he was going to be successful, and tried very hard with the little money he had, but finally he realized he would have to get another job to subsidize his acting career. Unfortunately he had run out of money completely and was three weeks behind in his rent before he finally got a job as a waiter in a restaurant. He was feeling pretty good that night on his way home and planned to arrange with his landlord about paying the overdue rent . When he got there however he found his luggage sitting in the hallway, the landlord had rented his room to someone else.

He was not sure what to do since he had always had a place to stay in the past. He was very concerned about his luggage, which he was afraid of losing if he was sleeping out somewhere. When he was waiting for the owner of the restaurant that day he had spoken to a girl called Mary McBride, who was also trying to get a job as an actor and had taken a job as a server at that restaurant. He called her at the restaurant and told her the situation and asked if she would let him leave his luggage at her place until he got something else.

Mary McBride was sharing a small apartment with another girl, who had got a small part in a movie which was on location at that time. When Gerald arrived at the apartment that evening with his luggage Mary invited him in, and when she found he had not had dinner she ordered a pizza for the two of them. They both found conversation very easy between them and sat talking for a long time. Gerald was a handsome slim lad of twenty two, five feet ten tall with dark almost auburn red hair, and gray eyes. He had an easy smile and when he did his eyes seemed to shine and the slight dimple in his chin puckered up. His hard Belfast accent was still prominent but had softened with his eighteen months on the American stage. Mary had just turned twenty one and was a very beautiful girl with dark hair, bright brown eyes and a soft rosy complexion. She had a gentle laugh and when she smiled she displayed the dimples on her cheeks which turned red. She had a very nice trim figure and Gerald noticed the slight tightness of her blouse over her breasts, which although not large, looked very nice. Her hips and waist were slim, but in proportion to the rest of her body, and her legs below her short skirt were very shapely.

Gerald like her looks and body, but was careful not to stare, and only admired her when he thought she was unaware of his looks. Mary was aware of his looks however and was surprised at her own reaction. If she had seen any boys looking at her body before she resented it and would leave that persons company at the earliest moment. She was after all the daughter of a church pastor. With Gerald however she did not object and in fact she liked it and felt a nice warm glow as she thought of it. She also liked looking at him and felt she was safe in this young man’s company, but neither of them made any move to do anything else but talk. The were enjoying the conversation and each other’s company, but when he saw Mary stifle a yawn he looked at the clock and realized it was after midnight. He apologized profusely for keeping her up so late and got up to leave. She asked him where he was going and when he tried to shrug it off she suggested he use her friend’s room until he got a new place to stay.

They both had a smile on their face as they lay down to sleep, but they were very tired and went to sleep quickly. Mary felt like she had just gone to bed when the alarm went off and objected to being awakened from such a beautiful dream, although already she could not remember what it was. She stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom with eyes half open as she started to remove her nightdress. She was starting to lift it over her head before she realized there was someone else already in the bathroom. She looked and when she saw Gerald standing there with a shocked look on his face she yelled and dropped the nightdress back down and scurried back to her room for her robe. Gerald had already had a shower and was standing there with a towel tied around his waist shaving.

When she came back into the bathroom with her robe on, they spent a few minutes apologizing to each other, before they finally started to laugh. Gerald explained he had tried to get finished before she woke and was almost finished shaving. After the fright she had, she was now fully awake and waited there with a smile on her face as she watched and waited until he was finished. They laughed again about the incident as they had a coffee and were still laughing as they went to catch the bus to the restaurant.

Gerald said, "I almost had a heart attack when I saw this very beautiful woman walk into the bathroom wearing only a brief pair of panties and a nightdress wrapped around her head. That is the thing that men have certain kinds of dreams about."

"And what women have nightmares about", replied Mary

"Well you had better be glad it was me and not Father Murphy, or you would have a dead man on your hands."

"I am sorry Gerald that I embarrassed you. I was still almost asleep and forgot you were here."

"There is nothing for you to be sorry about, you did not embarrass me, I embarrassed you. I should have locked the bathroom door. I hope you will be able to accept what I am going to say as a compliment and that I will not embarrass you further. I have never seen anything as beautiful in my life."

Mary blushed but again surprised herself as she smiled and thanked him for the compliment. "Tonight we will set a schedule and it will not happen again."

"Oh! Thank goodness. I thought I would have to put up with that every morning. Of course night time might be a different story." She punched him playfully in the arm at that and he continued."I noticed the bedroom doors don’t have any locks. Did I tell you last night that I walk in my sleep?" This time she beat him playfully about the head.

They got on well together and at work they would often tease each other, which many of the customers liked and would often join in. Their good service and happy manner attracted customers and as business grew, so did their tips. Mary was sorry when her friend came back three weeks later and Gerald had to move out, but he often came around to visit and took her out to a movie a few times. They helped each other in their quest to find an acting roll or to meet prominent people in the industry, and would let each other know about parties or if one got invited they would take the other as their guest. They enjoyed dancing together and the closeness of each other’s body. Gerald knew she was the daughter of a church pastor, and between that and his own tongue lashings from father Murphy in the confessional, he was taking the slow track in his relation with Mary. Mary however, was surprised by her own reaction and looked forward to Gerald taking her in his arms and holding her close. A few weeks ago she would have been very upset if any boy had done that and probably reacted strongly. Now she wanted that attention and even offered her encouragement by taking his hand and placing it on her breast. Gerald with the vision of her standing in the bathroom that first morning with her nightdress held high exposing her breasts, did not need much encouragement to expose them again. She enjoyed the pleasure she received and gave on the few occasions this had happened, but eventually would stop Gerald before he went too far. The boundaries expanded gradually however to the point where, although they had not made love, they were fully aware of each other’s body.

A well-known director was casting for a new movie and Gerald was very interested in one of the roles. He tried everything he could think of to get his name in front of the director and when he heard the director was having a party he called everyone he knew to try to get an invitation and succeeded. Mary was quite concerned when he told her he was going to the party and refused to go with him. Both she and her friend tried to get him to stay away and told him this director was noted for having wild parties. He took advantage of all the young eager stars that were anxious to get a good role and abused and humiliated them both mentally and physically at the parties. Gerald was stubborn and felt he could handle himself. He really wanted a part in the movie and went to the party.

Next day he called in to work sick, and when Mary called him that night he told her he had caught a cold at the party. When she asked him about the party he shrugged it off saying it was no big deal. She felt there was more to it than he was saying, but did not want to push and did not want to say I told you so. After talking to him for a little while she said good night and hung up. He called in sick the following day as well and Mary got the same reaction when she called that night. When he called in sick the third day she went to visit him on the way home.

Gerald took almost two minutes to come to the door and invited Mary in. He looked very pale and she could tell he was in pain, but he was trying to hide it. She asked him if he had eaten, and he did not seem interested, but she decided she would make him something. She started to tidy up a bit, and Gerald tried to dissuade her without success. When she was putting some garbage into the receptacle she noticed a cloth in there, which seemed to have blood on it. When she picked it up she could see it was torn pair of man’s underpants. She went into the bedroom and Gerald tried to stop her again without success. She thought she saw some blood on the sheet and when she turned the bed back the sheet was badly stained with blood.

She confronted him with her knowledge and demanded he let her see what was wrong. He resisted but finally he let her help him into the bedroom and she undressed him. She was shocked at what she saw. Although she had held him in her hand the last time they had been together, she had not looked at him and this was the first time she saw a man’s genitals. Obviously someone had shaved him , but from the several cuts, that person had not been very careful how they did it. There were several bloody parallel quarter inch stripes along the shaft as if someone had scraped a metal object hard along the shaft and against the head. Mary tried to persuade him to go to the hospital, but he refused. She bathed and swabbed him as gently as she could and went out to a drugstore to get some ointment and bandages. As she was tending to him he tried to joke about it by telling Mary she picked a bad time to try and get him to make love to her. She replied, "Right now, I love you so much, I wish you could."

When she had finished dressing him, she changed the bed and made him as comfortable as she could and then got him something to eat. She started to call her friend, but Gerald insisted she should not tell her friend anything about what had happened, so she just told her she would be spending the night with Gerald. She was surprised at how easy it was for her to undress in front of him and wearing a top of his pajamas and a pair of panties as she got in beside him on the bed. She held him in her arms, enjoying his closeness and eventually they both fell asleep.

She woke in the middle of the night to the sounds of moans coming from Gerald and when she examined the bandages she saw some blood had seeped through and she got up to change the bandages. She bathed him gently again and noticed some red streaks under the shin. She bandaged him again, but he still seemed in great pain. When he seemed to be a little worse in the morning, she insisted he go to hospital and called an ambulance. From the hospital she called the restaurant and told her boss she had taken Gerald to the hospital and would get in as soon as she could. He was upset that neither of them were there, but understood and just asked her to get in before lunch if she could.

Gerald refused to tell the doctor what had happened and the doctor and a police officer started to question Mary. She told them about the party, but said she did not know what had happened there. They let her know they thought she had done it during some weird sex act, but when Gerald found out the police suspected Mary, he agreed to tell them what had happened. While five men at the party held him down, two women had attempted to shave his genitals with an open razor, and one of them had used a pair of spaghetti tongs to hold the limp noodle as she called it out of the way and stretch the skin while he was shaved.

The hospital tried to save him but the blood poisoning had already spread and Gerald had to be sedated to ease the pain. The doctor suggested to Mary that she should contact his next of kin.

Pat was in a meeting when the guard outside got the news, but the meeting was in such an uproar that the guard did not dare interrupt. Three days ago Pat’s friend’s son had been killed and an unnamed source within the IRA had claimed responsibility. Eight hours ago an IRA supervisor in Pat’s group had been assassinated. The militants in the group wanted to take revenge with reprisals against several members of the UDA. Pat stood his ground in spite of the abuse he had to take from some of these militants, and claimed the two killings offset each other. He would not permit any further killing and threatened disciplinary action against anyone who disobeyed his order. The majority agreed with Pat, but he knew he would have to watch the militants and as he left the meeting he spoke to one of his assistants and asked him to arrange a surveillance of the group.

When he got the news Pat put one of his assistants in charge of the group and started out for Hollywood. Gerald was in a coma when his father arrived and he introduced himself to the young woman sitting by the bedside holding his son’s hand. About an hour later Gerald came out of the coma for a few moments and saw the two of them.

"Hello Da, what are you doing here." Without waiting for a reply he turned to Mary and said, "When I get out of the hospital, will you marry me?"

Mary knew by now he would not leave the hospital alive, but she readily agreed to marry him. A few minutes later he was back in the coma and an hour later he was dead. Pat and Mary were heart broken and did their best in the midst of their own grief to console the other. Gerald was the only witness the police had and when he died they could not pursue the case. The owner of the studio however scrapped the movie the director was involved with and cancelled his contract. The studio agreed to pay the medical bills and the funeral. When the studio had made all the arrangements, Pat and Mary went back to Gerald’s apartment. Mary was about to make coffee, but, when she learned he preferred tea, she made tea for the two of them.

As they were drinking the tea they heard a knock on the door and, when Mary opened it, Bill walked in. Bill was still showing the signs of grief from burying his son the day before in Northern Ireland, and he could see the strain on the two people in the apartment. Mary did not know who he was, but when she could see the concern on Pat’s face, she instinctively stepped between them. Gerald had told her a little about the trouble in Ireland

"Please Gerald’s death is enough for one day. Please, no more trouble," said Mary.

"I’m sorry Bill I couldn’t come to Tom’s funeral, but Lord knows I wanted to."

"I had vengeance in my heart Pat. I followed you here thinking I would find Gerald. A son for a son."

"You only lost one son Bill, I lost two. Tom was like a son to me after I sent Gerald away, but I had to grieve for him in silence."

"I need to know who killed him Pat. I need some closure."

"You have had your vengeance, Bill."

"We had nothing to do with McGill’s death."

"I know Bill. McGill killed Tom."

"How do you know? Did you order it?"

"It was nothing to do with us. McGill was extorting money from people for his own benefit. Tom found out and told me. McGill must have suspected something and shot him before he got home."

"Who killed McGill then, because we didn’t?"

Pat just stared at Bill, and Mary could see the sign of realization appear on his face. Bill stepped around Mary and took Pat’s hand as the two old friends hugged and sobbed their grief. Mary heard Bill ask what had happened to Gerald and to avoid embarrassment she left the room as Pat started to tell him.

"I need closure too Bill, but the law will not get it for me. Those sick bastards are getting off."

"You cannot do anything Pat, or you will never make it home."

"I cannot leave it Bill, the pain is too great."

"You eased my pain, Pat." They looked deeply into each other’s eyes, but did not speak.

Two days later while Pat was attending a funeral service for his son, the director was found by a house cleaner that thought she heard a shot. The gun was still in his hand as he lay in a pool of blood.

As Gerald was buried and his friends stood around the grave a lone figure stood far off to the side as Bill shared in his old friend’s grief.


By P.J. McCormick
The Pinnacle of PR
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