a novella by Sean Hillen, inspired by true events
August 15, 2022 - Bun na Leaca (Brinaleck), Donegal
Colm answered the door on the first knock.
It seemed he’d been working and re-working the same sentence for the past hour. And it still didn’t fit right. It was driving him crazy. Since he’d decided to give up journalism and try ‘real writing’ as he called it, he felt like a fish out of water. Fish out of water - trust him to think of a worn old cliché like that.
Surely after fifteen years making a living out of words in Ireland and America, surely he could think of something a little more creative than that. He could kill Patricia. Wasn’t it she who’d said he’d make a great writer. That he could lie in the mornings too whenever he liked, which she knew he liked to do.
The truth was he’d lay in far too many mornings over the last few months and written far too few words.
This was to be the day when he and the Muse would make mad crazy love together. And yet, looking at his computer screen, it was more than obvious they’d hardly blown air kisses at each other. That’s why he’d jumped to his feet when he’d heard the knock. Anything to get him away from a bright blank screen that seemed to mock him for his literary inadequacies. If it was Patricia at the door, why he’d bring her in, sit her down and have her write his novel, then she’d realize it wasn’t as easy as she’d thought. Maybe then she’d stop tut-tutting him when he said he couldn’t write.
Patricia was his best friend, perhaps more than that he hoped in the future. But for now, they both felt content in the relationship they had.
They’d both come back to Donegal from America, he an investigative journalist - on her trail. She, then a well-known fashion model, a former Miss America, on the run from the paparazzi after a car she was driving hit a tree leaving a close friend in a coma. Their eventual meeting, contentious at the beginning, pursuer and pursued, had eventually led to them to battle a corrupt cosmetics company whose product had caused Patricia temporary blindness - thus the accident.
Seeing the beauty of Ireland, and Donegal in particular, they’d both opted to stay, he to become a novelist, she to develop a line of natural cosmetics based on local flora.
But it wasn’t Patricia at the door, a spray of herbs in her hand as was her habit. It was a man and in his hand was not herbs but a notebook, one that looked the worse for wear, with a torn, faded cover and pages poking their corners out of the edges.
As he walked down the hallway, Colm could see him through the glass panels of the doorway. He was shifting from foot to foot, looking behind him as if half-expecting, or fearful, someone was behind him.
“Hello, can I help you?” asked Colm.
The man stood silent for a few seconds as if preparing a speech. Or bracing himself to relay bad news.
“I hope so,” was all he could manage, which, after such a long pause, seemed somehow a poor return for effort.
Then, as if deciding action was better than words, he stretched out his hand, the one holding the tattered book. Not far enough for Colm to take it. More like simply bringing his attention to it, making certain he’d seen it. There was no such need. It didn’t require the observational powers of an experienced journalist to notice it and, more, to sense the book was inherently important to this unexpected visit.
“You’re the reporter aren’t you, the one I read about in the newspaper?” the man asked.
Now it was Colm’s turn to be silent, questions running through his head. Was it in his interests to answer? More precisely, was it in the interests of his physical well-being to do so? After all, it wasn’t the first-time he’d been threatened with loss of life and limb for simply being a reporter doing his job, and heard about worse done to others. He decided to play it safe. Stall for time, time to think of a quick escape if a sudden development in the situation required it. Even if that meant banging the door shut as a starter.
”What newspaper?” he asked tentatively.
”The local one, the Donegal News. I also read about you on the Internet. About you and your friend facing up to a big corrupt American company.”
Still apprehensive, Colm refrained from answering, a sudden thought crossing his mind.
On his urging, Patricia had given evidence in Washington at a special Congressional committee considering stronger regulations over the entire cosmetics industry. As a result, the company marketing the toxic cosmetic had lost its reputation, gone bankrupt, its product taken off the market. The mysterious man standing before him could have been a senior manager at the company, a major shareholder even, with wife and kids to feed and now out of a job and no career prospects in sight. Now deranged and out for revenge. He’d heard about such cases.
Keen on remaining alive to enjoy the beauty of Donegal, quickly deciding his failed love affair with the Muse was still better than a grisly, painful death at the hands of someone mentally unbalanced, he decided to remain neutral and rephrase his opening line.
“How can I help you?”
His simple question broke the ice.
“My name is Thomas, I’d like you to look at this notebook,” the man said. “Right away if you can. It’s very important.”
With that, the man stretched out his hand a little farther, just enough that Colm could have taken the book from it easily. But then again, why? He’d then have one hand less to defend himself with. And simple reason told him that a two-handed person had a distinct advantage over a one-handed one. Especially if the latter also had a knife in the other hand.
As if sensing his rising anxiety, the man’s voice changed, taking on a pleading - almost desperate - tone.
“Please, you’re a well-respected journalist, I need your help. I don’t know what to do with this notebook. Give it to the media or destroy it?”
Colm was torn. He remembered film director Sydney Pollack once said, ‘Compliments aren't really a journalistic angle.’ But then again, someone else had said, ‘Compliments are a ray of sunshine.’
He could do with some sunshine after his sense of defeat in failing to arouse the Muse. Colm felt his pent-up muscles - in fight or flight mode, he wasn’t sure which - begin to relax.
“But what is this notebook?” he asked quizzically.
“It’s about the shooting of Michael Collins, the rebel leader… I know who killed him. It’s all here.”
Rather than shock and excitement, which by the man’s expression, he fully expected, Colm was left bemused. Unimpressed even. After all, ask ‘Who killed Michael Collins?’ and you’d get a hundred people telling you a hundred different answers, mostly depending on their opinion of the peace treaty the man signed with England in 1921 that partitioned Ireland into two separate parts. With the centenary of Collin’s unsolved death in an ambush approaching in a few days, the media was full of stories, leaving more questions than answers.
“It’s all in here …my great-grandfather kept a diary.”
“But who was your …” but before Colm could finish his question, he got his answer.
“….he drove the armored car Collins was in when he was killed. He saw what happened.”
Colm’s mouth was still open mid-sentence. Now it suddenly closed.
The above is an excerpt from a novel by Sean Hillen, author, publisher, journalist and lead tutor at Ireland Writing Retreat and author of other books such as
'Driver's Diary - Death At The Mouth Of Flowers' will be available for sale later this year. If you would like to be notified when it is published,
please send us your details HERE.
From the author
“Monday, August 22 was the day exactly 100 years ago when Irish rebel leader, Michael Collins, was killed in an ambush near Béal na Bláth in his native county, a single bullet penetrating deep inside his brain. It is believed he died instantly.
Strangely, he was the only person killed or injured on that particular evening in a serene, bucolic wooded hillside on the bend of a countryside road in rural Cork.
Stranger still, especially considering Collins was the most popular and well-known person in Ireland at that time and probably could have been the new Republic of Ireland’s first-ever official President, no proper postmortem was ever conducted on his body.
And the armored car he was travelling in on that fateful day was taken out of Ireland within weeks, then transported as far away as possible, all the way to Africa, to British-held Kenya.
And isn’t it too coincidental that sworn enemies of Collins including Eamon De Valera, Erskine Childers, Liam Lynch and other anti-Treatyite leaders were all gathered together just a few short miles from the very spot where Collins was killed?
Bewildering mystery still surrounds this entire tragic incident, one that led to the transformation of Irish society with the Catholic Church being given almost complete control and oversight of the nation, including its all-important health and education systems by Eamon De Valera, a man bitterly jealous of the respectful moniker the charismatic Collins had earned among most people at the time in Ireland – The Big Fella.
With all this in mind, I spent much of the last three weeks, including an exhausting marathon 21-hour writing session this past weekend – completing my fictional version, based in part on verified historical facts, as to who planned, plotted and assassinated Michael Collins. And what they had to gain from such a dastardly act.
As part of the research for my book, I also travelled from Donegal to Béal na Bláth to see the site of the ambush and also held discussions with officials at the Michael Collins House Museum in nearby Clonakilty.
The result of all my efforts is ‘Driver’s Diary – Death At The Mouth Of Flowers.’
Some people may find various scenes in my book morally upsetting. Not by their graphic nature, but because they deal with sensitive social taboos such as homosexuality and clerical deceit, hypocrisy and worse which still unfortunately have not gained widespread acceptance in some places.
Some readers may also find the climax of my book – whilst credible and based on existing background evidence – too shocking to contemplate.
To encourage healthy open public debate on an event that created such long-lasting effects on an entire nation and before being published as a book available on various platforms for sale, I made ‘Driver’s Diary – Death At The Mouth Of Flowers’ available free online until now.
Regardless of whether you agree with my conclusions or not, I truly hope you enjoy my story, one written with the best of literary intentions.”
The book will be available for sale later this year.
If you’d like to be notified please send us your details HERE.