EDWARD LANCASTER AND Sergeant Millworth were behind an army barricade on William Street. To the right was a three-story abandoned building, where Lancaster placed several gunmen to watch the march. They kept in contact by hand-radio. Lancaster watched a large group of people turn off Rossville Street and approach the barricade. "God damned morons," he muttered. "What a waste of time. They think they're marching to protest a point, but their actions don't make a bloody bit of difference."
"Sir?" Millworth said, surprised.
"I said keep your eyes on the peelers," Lancaster barked. "Watch their hands for movement, for weapons. Keep alert."
Millworth turned and looked at the crowd. They seemed peaceful as they approached the barricade. None of them brandished weapons or blustered epithets. He saw a pretty blonde girl at the front of the group, wedged between two large men carrying signs. She was clutching a package, confusion written on her face.
"Look at the blonde croppie in front," Lancaster spat, fingering the hand-radio on his ammunition belt. "What do you think she has in the parcel?"
Millworth felt a nerve twitch in his jaw. "It's a sack from Milligan's Department Store. See the stenciling on the front?"
"No. All I see is the package." Lancaster watched her carefully. "What's the stupid bitch doing now?"
Millworth looked at the girl as the two men on either side of her walked forward, jostling her elbows so the package fell to the ground. Before the girl could reach down and retrieve her parcel, a marcher stepped on the sack and split it open at one end. In a flash, Millworth saw a hair barrette with a shiny silver clip pop out of the bag.
Lancaster saw something different. He snatched the hand-radio to his mouth and said: "See the blonde in the front of the crowd? She has a weapon. Take her down. Take her down now!"
Before Millworth could utter a sound, a shot fired from the second floor of the abandoned building and hit the blonde girl. She fell to the ground, blood spurting from her forehead. In that instant, the crowd changed from a mellow assembly into a bewildered multitude, then into an enraged mob. People ran in all directions. Some stepped on the girl, others bent to help her.
Millworth looked at the Lt. Colonel in horror. "She didn't have a weapon. You shot an innocent civilian."
Lancaster shoved him aside. "She most certainly had a weapon. I saw it. If we had waited two seconds longer, we would have been fired upon. Now engage yourself. We have a mob to control."
Millworth stared at his superior as dozens of soldiers followed after him. Horrified, Millworth could not move as he suddenly realized Lancaster was daft. The earlier unease he felt about the Lt. Colonel had been justified. Lancaster had just deliberately ignited a riot to control the situation, no matter that human life – worthless Irish life, in his eyes – was taken.
A passing soldier slapped Millworth's arm. "Get a move on, Sergeant," he shouted. "What the hell's the matter with you? Do what you were trained to do."
Millworth moved, but he couldn't erase the image of the barrette spilling onto the ground and the girl falling right after it.
* * * * *
WHEN TIM AND Ava rounded the corner of William Street they realized the crowd had grown smaller with the detour, but there were still a lot of people between them and Megan. Tim saw his sister wedged between two men. Determined, he pushed through a cluster of people, pulling Ava with him, to get closer to his sister. Then he heard a gunshot, and saw Megan fall. Stretching out his arm toward her, he screamed: "No! Meggie! Meggie!"
At first Ava thought Megan had just fallen to the ground, the noise she heard nothing more than a car backfiring and not a gunshot. Then she saw the blood spreading on the concrete under Megan's head. It was only glimpses she saw between people rushing by, so it did not seem real.
"Ava, for the love of God, what are you doing here?" Eamon shouted, grabbing his white-faced daughter by the arm and pulling her to him.
Ava went numb with fear at his grip. Behind the yellow visor, she saw both terror and anger in her father's eyes.
"Answer me, damnit," he bellowed. "Didn't I tell you not to come to Derry? Who are you here with?" In his concern for Ava, Eamon had blocked out the sounds of the crowd and the growing melee.
"Tim and Meggie," Ava stammered. She turned and pointed at Tim's retreating back. "Tim's trying to get Meggie, she fell."
Patrick walked up behind Eamon. "Meggie fell?" he asked, looking frantically into the crowd.
"Tim is trying to get to her," Eamon said. "Go after them, Patsy. I'll keep Ava safe."
Patrick saw his son in the crowd, nodded to Eamon, and forced his way through the throng to Tim. Eamon gripped Ava's hand tightly, pulling her to him. "You stay by my side. Once we get out of here, you're in deep trouble. You need a good whipping, I'm thinking, and confined to the house for six months. I warned you not to come to Derry."
Before she could respond, there were more shots. Instinctively, Eamon flung himself to the ground, taking Ava with him. People screamed as the ensuing stampede caused the ground to vibrate beneath them. Ava was crying, her eyes shut and cheek pressed against Eamon's shoulder as they lay on the ground.
Over the din came a voice, a wheezing squall of agony which drew the hair on Eamon's neck. He knew it was Patrick. Forcing himself up and taking Ava with him, Eamon looked across the people and saw Patrick bending over Megan. Tim was standing next to him, alternately reaching down and pulling away.
"Don't let go of me hand, Ava," Eamon said, pulling her through the fleeing crowd. "Don't let go."