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A Short Story by Graham Hill

May 12, 1920

Dublin

The man looked in the mirror, checking his disguise. The thick jacket was uncomfortable and the hat was hideous. The Irish really had no sense of fashion, did they? No, that was Howard Osborne speaking. He had to remember that. Howard Osborne, from York, raised in Dublin, and an ardent supporter of the British government. Howard Osborne wasn’t looking into the mirror though, now was he?

He was Benny Cassidy. A Dubliner, born and raised, and an Irish nationalist. He was going to meet with James-David Frye to discuss a potential alliance to remove the invasive British presence on the Emerald Isle. Of course, no such thing would be happening.

The moment Benny was alone with Frye, Osborne would return. And Osborne would do what he had to do.

Cassidy - for that’s who he was in that moment- looked himself over in the mirror again. He certainly looked like he could be a rebel. He hadn’t shaved in a week and had the general appearance of a street urchin masquerading as a man of value.

‘That’s how all the rebels dressed though, wasn’t it?’ thought Osborne, regaining control for a moment before remembering the disguise he would need for the next few hours. The man silently scolded himself. Osborne the Englishman from Yorkshire wasn’t here. Cassidy the Dubliner was. The man looked in the mirror and talked to himself.

“Cassidy. Frye. Ireland. The I.R.A. Cassidy. Benny Cassidy.” His accent wasn’t perfect, but it would do. If anyone started asking questions about it,, he could say he spent some time in other nations and had lost his accent.

He felt over his pockets. The pistol was there, on his left side, underneath the jacket. He had observed Frye’s makeshift headquarters for days and it would be easy enough to sneak in with a gun. Regardless, the jacket was thick and bulky enough to hopefully prevent any handsy guards from discovering the weapon. Hell, it was Dublin. Half the citizens were armed and the other half were fools to not be.

Assuring himself that he was ready one final time, Osborne sought to fully become Cassidy. An actor by trade, he was quite good at pretending to be someone he most certainly was not.

Benny Cassidy, whose father and brother died in the Great War. Benny Cassidy, honest, virtuous, God-fearing Catholic. Benny Cassidy: a true Irish patriot. One of the greatest of his generation, really. He had such drive and energy that he applied liberally to free the Irish from the oppressive British presence.

Well, at least that was all Frye needed to know if he wanted to learn about his visitor’s past. He would see a true revolutionary. Cassidy stepped outside and began to walk through the dark and lonely streets.

A curfew had been put in place by the British, so he needed to stick to the shadows and side streets. He wasn’t officially with the Black and Tans or the police, or serving in any formal capacity. He was doing his duty, as a British citizen, an Englishman by blood, to keep the peace.

The walk was long and dull and the police presence seemed to have decreased, so he had no difficulty in getting across the city. To pass the time he tried to remember some lines from his acting days, as he usually did during long stretches of boredom.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more! Or close up the wall with our English dead!” He remembered the speech perfectly, and recited it more than once as he walked to Frye’s home. The house came into view just as he finished the line: “Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’”

The house was nothing impressive, just a brick two-story. From the outside, you would never have expected that one of the most potentially dangerous insurrectionists in the country lived and worked there.

Cassidy was admitted without difficulty by a guard who couldn’t have been older than sixteen.

Frye was upstairs, in his office.

Upon reaching the staircase, nervous thoughts began to set in. That guard, just inside of the door, could’ve known what he was up to and be creeping up behind him. Cassidy disregarded it. He considered himself a logical man and viewed the situation as one where his only choice was to go up that staircase and do what he must.

He took the first step easily, throwing a quick glance behind him. Assured that he wasn’t being followed, he took another step. His eyes drifted to the walls, adorned with pictures and paintings.

The first painting to catch his eye was one of Frye himself. He appeared a distinguished, stoic, and calm man. His stern face and broad features radiated power. Wise green eyes sat far back in his head, giving the impression of a man deep in thought. Medals adorned his chest. Osborne knew of them only through extensive study; Cassidy would’ve known off the top of his head that they were various awards and honors given out by various rebel groups.

Cassidy took a few more steps, still looking at the paintings and pictures on the wall. Another one caught his eye.

It was another painting, but this time, instead of just depicting Frye alone, his wife was with him. She was beautiful. A soft, round face, with delicate features seemed almost as if it were about to come out of the painting and speak to the viewer. Frye, although recigbuzable as

the same man from the first painting, was somehow softened in this one. The scowl was gone. He was more… relaxed.

Another step brought another picture into view. This one, unlike the others, was a photograph. And in it was one of the most shocking things either Cassidy or Osborne had ever seen.

It was a photograph of Frye, his wife, and three children together at a picnic. It was not a formal photo by any means. One of the children, a young boy, probably six or seven, was grasping a sandwich in his hand. The child who he assumed to be the oldest, maybe around eleven, was standing up behind both of his parents. The missus held a glass and was smiling, lovingly looking down on one of her other children in her lap. Finally, Frye sat sprawled on the picnic blanket. He was not smiling at the camera, but rather was looking adoringly at his wife and the baby in her lap. He was dressed casually; his shirt was unbuttoned and he had no uniform or medals decorating his body. This was not the same Frye in the other images. That Frye was Frye the general. Frye the rebel, Frye the rabble-rouser. Frye the Traitor.

Here was Frye, a father, enjoying time with a family he loves. His wife and his children.

And this was the man Cassidy was going to kill.

Cassidy halted where he was on the stairs, his foot stopping just short of the next step. He observed each figure in the photograph carefully. The nurturing mother, the adventurous older boy, the child, and the baby. And caring for all of them was Frye the father.

In that instant, everything made sense, both to Osborne and Cassidy. Frye and his allies weren’t fighting to end this way of life for the British. They fought to retain that for themselves. They wanted to be able to eat with their families, on a hillside, without worrying about the mandates of a foreign power.

But Cassidy still had to do it. He still needed to go into that office and pull out the revolver and do what he had to. That was his only option, he had come too far at this point. He was dedicated to the cause. It didn’t matter that Frye had children and a wife; so did the men killed on Bloody Sunday. The Irish had shown no remorse then and would be shown none now.

Cassidy needed to do it. Osborne, he was the one who needed to do it.

Did he?

This thought plagued him as he took one more step upstairs. He tore his eyes from the painting and focused on the next step. He would do it. He would go up there, draw his weapon, open the door, and end Frye and his foolishness.

It was what a patriot needed to do. Sure, he might ruin one family, but how many countless families would he save?

His people were survivors. They did what they had to do in order to ensure they remained. Hundreds of kingdoms and empires and nations rose and lived and thrived and fell and

crumbled over the history of the world. Britain hadn’t. Because of men like Osborne. Men who weren’t afraid to make difficult decisions.

Another stair.

Cassidy reached for the gun. If he did it quickly, he wouldn’t have to look Frye in the eyes. If he looked into his eyes, he might not see the traitor but the man.

He took another step. He neared the next floor.

Osborne fidgeted with the gun in his hand.

There was only one step left now.

God, was this right? A god existed, of that he was sure, but what kind of god would create these situations? Where a man had to kill a father and destroy a family in order to save many more.

He reached the second floor. He knew where the office was. It was the last room down the long hallway. He slowly walked towards it.

Osborne stopped. This wasn’t how it should happen. This wasn’t right. This was cheating a man of his life and his family and his joy. This shouldn’t happen. The gun felt as if it had been frozen to his hand, almost saying ‘You picked me up. You have to decide what to do next”.

He had to choose. Cassidy moved forward. He would do it. How many would die if he let Frye live? How many policemen would be gunned down or clubbed to death in back alleys? How many soldiers, Irish and British, would die? How many civilians? It could be in the tens or hundreds of thousands by the time the dust settled.

But no! This wasn’t right, to murder a man in cold blood under his own roof! Not even the coldest pragmatist would endorse such a thing as a first course of action. Frye was a man as much as Osborne! He had the same right to live and breathe and enjoy everything the world had to offer.

But he forfeited that right the moment he joined a group seeking to take that right from so many others. Cassidy tightened his grip on the gun. He was almost at the door.

He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t be the one. If someone else did it and was able to kill Frye and start ending this madness, Osborne could not support them more. But it couldn’t be him pulling the trigger and ending the life of another unique human being.

If not him, then who? Cassidy’s breathing became heavier as the turmoil within himself reached new heights.

The man finally stood in front of the door to the office, gun in hand.

It would be so easy. It would so painless. He could open the door, fire, and flee the house.

The man’s mind was a myriad of contradictions. Spare him, kill him. Ireland, Britain. Vigilante justice or a court.

The man studied the door that could become one of the most important objects in his life if he opened it or left it. It featured a golden emblem of the Celtic harp in its center, about eye level with the man. They made a strange pair. The peaceful and elegant harp that brought music and peace into the world and the man with a gun standing ready to murder.

The man’s eyes drifted to the doorknob; another golden object, but with no design.

He focused on that doorknob. The man knew if he opened that door, he would walk straight in and kill Frye where he stood. The man also knew if he didn’t open that door and kill Frye now, he never would come back here again.

And so he stared.

And then he decided.

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