“Dublin Can Be Heaven”, Alt Hist. December 2011

This is my first fiction piece published outside of nthposition.com. I gave the background to the piece in an interview with Alt Hist’s editor Mark Lord you can read here . The original publication is in Alt Hist issue 3, which can be purchased through here .

One online review said this was too abrupt and sudden a story, and like much of my fiction things happen too quickly and somewhat arbitrarily. If I was minded to defend myself, I would say that this what life is often like, but really I have to accept the critique. I tend to have a single idea behind a story which I nervously unleash without doing the proper work of scene-setting.

DUBLIN CAN BE HEAVEN

All those grease-laden plates. Bacon. Eggs. Toast. Black

pudding. White pudding. Piled high, more meat on one plate

than he ate in six months in the mountains. For Harry, there

could never be enough. The ability to walk into Bewley’s on

Westmoreland Street and order a breakfast, freely available

(at least if you could hand over the funds) – this signal fact

was reason enough to love Dublin. What had Dublin, or

indeed Ireland, been to him before? There were names –

Michael Collins, de Valera, the Mayor of Cork on hunger

strike, a vague sense of a desperate struggle – but nothing

definite. Now Dublin was food, Dublin was breakfast,

Dublin was lunch, Dublin was dinner. Also, Dublin was no

ration cards, and no queuing. Every morning he ate slowly,

relishing the sensation of gradually filling up. As he chewed

he looked out at the street, or over towards the Liffey. How

different all this was from those months before coming to

Dublin, cadging coupons from the rest of the Balkan flotsam

and jetsam that ended up in London, being ignored by the

Foreign Office. Three years after the War, and still the British

lived like a defeated people. Here in Ireland, money could

talk as eloquently as ever.

He felt no embarrassment about spending his days

drinking coffee and eating well. He was enjoying the Dublin

spring. What else could one do? Only a few years before, he

had been used to sleeping in the open in mountain country,

eating husks and dirt. The mildewed flat in London, where

the Organisation worked and dreamt and slept, would have

seemed unimaginably luxurious to him in 1943. And as for

this city … well, anywhere that a man could walk into a cafe

and buy a fine cooked breakfast was a long way from where

he came from. A land where his name was not Harry, no one

had heard of Bewley’s, or Westmoreland Street.

Harry’s time in Dublin was turning into a failure. There

was no trace of Andrija Artukovic, the man Harry was in

Dublin to kill. They knew he had come here, via Switzerland,

in the last months of the War. Various clerical and political

personages had facilitated this passage; it seemed likely that

the Irish authorities were unaware of the nature of the

resident they hosted. Harry had obtained lists of foreign

nationals kept by the Gardai, had staked out the lodgings of

the few Croatians in the city, had walked the streets of

Galway, Cork and Athlone checking up tenuous leads that

went nowhere. He had lived rough for a week here and

there, staking out monasteries; rapidly he realised that Irish

Franciscans were rather different from their Croat confreres.

He had sent a telegram from the GPO in O’Connell Street

back to the Organisation in London:

THE BULL HAS NOT BEEN SOLD STOP REQUEST

FURTHER ADVICE STOP

Less than an hour later came the reply:

WILL SEND UPDATED PEDIGREE WHEN POSSIBLE STOP

MEANTIME STAY AT MARKET STOP

Staying at market would not be a problem. Harry had

been in the fields when the Ustaše came. He never looked

back, as he crawled from field to field, and then into the

mountains. He felt relieved that his mother and father had

died years before the War. He did not allow himself to think

about his brothers and sisters, and nephews. In the

mountains, he crawled through scree and dirt. Eventually he

stopped, lay there, and waited to starve. Then he realised

that the thirst he had begun to feel meant that he still wanted

to live. He met others, who had been hiding in the caves, and

they found a monastery atop a cliff that escaped the notice of

all the various empires which had tried to impose themselves

on the land. Here, they had formed the Organisation. Here,

they had fought back.

Artukovic was not the most senior figure in the puppet

Croat collaborationist state; but he was the one the

Organisation held most responsible for the fate that had

befallen their people. His words had unleashed a storm of

shootings, hangings, rapes, burnings, each act performed

systematically, part of a plan set out in cramped, precise

handwriting in endless memos from an anonymous office.

One of his associates had written that the Serb people ‘will be

converted to friendship, or will cease to exist’; while

Artukovic himself had been careful not to commit such

sentences to paper, he had gone a long way towards

achieving the latter aim.

At times they lived on grass and water’ sometimes

supplies were dropped in by air – bully beef, dried cereals,

and a few Webley revolvers. They had some contacts in the

villages, and through these via the underground had links to

the world beyond Festung Europa. A few Special Operations

Executive men visited courtesy of the RAF; one smashed on

the crags after his parachute didn’t open (they assumed), one

got captured and dismembered by the enemy immediately

on landing, and one landed successfully and went on to stay

with them for months. He provided them with a short wave

radio and was blown up by one of his own bombs, not before

providing the finishing touches that turned the loose band of

survivors into real partisans.

They had joined up with other groups, and they had been

the ones to rout the local Ustaše, they had driven most of the

Germans out too, and then suddenly Tito controlled all of a

country whose existence they were less than enthused by,

and they were expected to forget all that happened in the

name of brotherhood and piece. The Organisation left its

homeland, and ended up in London, thanks to some

sympathetic former SOE men and Foreign Office people.

Harry watched the Dublin crowd walk by. Men in sharp

suits, thin corner boys, nuns, priests, young country girls

looking frightened and virtuous. These Irish, so prim, so

pious, so neutral. Some of his colleagues in the organisation

had been scathing about this – to be neutral was to be at one

with them. He did not share this. He would have liked to

have had the chance to be neutral, and now he saw it as a

pretty thing, something to be cosseted and cherished and on

no account to be wilfully shattered, like the innocence of a

Then he saw him. Across the street, sauntering, heading

towards O’Connell Bridge. The feet that had walked into

offices and placed themselves under desks, from where he

had sent the orders for hundreds of thousands to be

butchered and violated, sauntering. The hands that signed

those papers, fat and pampered at the end of arms swinging

purposefully and confidently. That face, that face, the face

they had all studied and argued over – what it would look

like bearded, moustachioed, after three years of privation?

None of them had ever considered that it could be

unchanged. It was the same face as in the few photographs

he had ever allowed to be taken, that ordinary, rather

bumpkinish face—chubby cheeked, cherubic. There was no

sign of murderous conviction or righteous intensity, none of

the air of the demonic Harry had expected.

He hadn’t even lost weight. He was snug inside a three

piece suit, clearly expensively tailored. He too had been

enjoying the ready availability of meals in Dublin. He hadn’t

even lost a night’s sleep. Harry realised he was clutching his

coffee cup so tightly his knuckles were whitening. He

breathed in and out. He motioned to the waitress, threw

down a ten shilling note, galloped downstairs leaving the

staff initially startled and then delighted, and ran out onto

Westmoreland Street. He knew this would attract attention,

aware that Organisation had warned him to be discreet, and

to contact them if he became aware of Artukovic’s presence

in the Irish Free State before trying to do anything himself.

But this was him, right in from of his face, a vision from the

hell of his imagination; here he was, incarnate, banal,

everyday.

And where was he? Artukovic had disappeared. No –

there he was, a little further along. Harry’s view had been

obscured by a bus. He mastered his urge to race across the

street, and crossed as casually as he could, glancing each way

for traffic, He hurried his pace as he realised Artukovic was

almost at the corner, and could possibly double back into

D’Olier Street and disappear into some premises or other.

Harry saw with relief Artukovic had walked on, and was

about to cross the road to the central pavement of O’Connell

Bridge.

Harry quickened his pace again, to a kind of silent

almost-run. He looked around for any bodyguards, any sign

that the Dubliners knew what monster walked amongst

them. All the time, he ensured that he could always see the

back of Artukovic’s round head. The distance between them

shortened. Still, even as he was being pursued by vengeance,

even after all that blood and all that suffering, Andrija

Artukovic was sauntering, sauntering. Strolling along the

pavement in the middle of the bridge without a care in the

world. Harry felt the Webley Mark IV, a legacy of the SOE

man’s intervention, hanging in its holster inside his jacket.

Now they were feet apart; ten, eight, six, three. He

reached inside the jacket, and lifted the revolver out of the

holster a little, while keeping it concealed. He clicked the

safety. They were about two-thirds across the bridge. Harry

paused for a second. He could avenge the souls of his family,

his village, his people. Right now. This was a moment out of

legend, a moment for heroes.

He wanted to see that face. He wanted him to know what

was happening, even for a second. They had nearly reached

the end of the bridge, so close he could almost reach out and

touch him. He could almost reach out and touch him, this

man who signed the paper that sent armies of the night out

He could almost reach out and touch him, this man who

killed his family. Then, he did reach out and touch him.

Harry brushed Artukovic on the left shoulder. As he turned,

Harry pointed the Webley at his face, and began to stammer.

He wanted to tell Artukovic his name, the name of his

village, his father’s name, his mother’s name, his sisters’

names, his brothers’ names, his niece’s name, and to tell him

about the burnt out villages Harry and the rest the

Organisation walked through. He wanted to tell him that his

people had not died or converted, and that Artukovic was

facing the eternal damnation he deserved. He wanted to say

all this, but he had no words. He pulled the trigger.

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