So far the children have gone missing and Bill and Anatoly have been trying to work out where they are. Now Anatoly’s in Europe, looking for clues, and Bill’s in London waiting for news.
Anatoly sighed and sat down at his portable radio transmitter in the secure location in the Austrian town he had been assigned to, and waited for the precise moment he was supposed to radio in, to send his signal through.
In London, Bill was waiting by his powerful transmitter set. He had so far received six of the eight transmissions that he was waiting for. He had been out himself, doing some quiet investigating, but had returned at the allocated time to await his agents checking in. He badly wanted to be properly out there, looking, but he knew it was no good. He could only be in one place at a time, and with so little to go on he could easily be on the wrong side of the continent at a crucial moment. And so he had grudgingly accepted his own advice and stayed in London, ready to fly out at a moment’s notice.
So far all six messages had been negative. No sightings of the plane, of their two suspects, the four children, or anything at all untoward. He hoped that the last two, which were to come from Petrov and Yates respectively would be more illuminating.
He sat forward as a crackle intimated that a connection was being made. Glancing at the clock he noted that it was 7.05pm exactly; Petrov’s assigned time for radioing in.
“Rogers calling Smugs, Rogers calling Smugs,” Anatoly repeated down the radio as his watch read 7.05.
Bill picked up his headset and receiver. “Smugs receiving. Go ahead, Rogers.”
Anatoly cleared his throat.
“I may have found a lead for us, though I need to do a bit more leg work on it tomorrow.”
Bill sat forward and reached for a pen, “Report, Rogers!” he snapped, irritated by the delay even though it was mere seconds.
“I have had a quiet word with the local constabulary. They tell me that they have had a report of a local man going missing. One Otto Engler. He has a bad heart, so it is possible that he has collapsed somewhere and not been found… but…” he paused, trying to order his thoughts so he would make sense. He wasn’t sure if he was passing on useful information or idle gossip. He would need to let Bill decide. “The locals say that Engler once lived some distance from here, but his village was attacked by the Nazis and most of the people were killed. There is some talk of hidden treasure, but that might just be folklore. Unfortunately I have not been able to persuade anyone to give me the name of the village or even its general location. They seem to be quite superstitious about it.”
Bill took quick notes as Anatoly spoke and his brow furrowed the story.”It’s an interesting story, Rogers, we can’t prove anything, but it’s worth following up the best you can, not to mention trying to find the old man. He may be a lead,” Bill admitted, feeling a little like they were clutching at straws. “Do your best, do you need to be moved yet or can you last another day where you are?”
“I am quite secure,” Anatoly replied, pleased to think that he might have something useful after all. He was enjoying this opportunity to show off all his acquired skills. It was just a pity that nobody was there to see him flawlessly (in his opinion) camouflaging himself with his false identity. “If I move on I will send a message. The usual code?”
“Yes, do that,” Bill agreed. “And remember Rogers, be careful and don’t draw attention to yourself. We shouldn’t be operating that side of the iron curtain. You need to make sure that you don’t come to the attention of the KGB.”
“Yes sir,” Anatoly replied respectfully. For just a moment he felt a pang of loneliness and perhaps even homesickness but pulled himself together. “Rogers over and out.”
“Smugs over and out,” he agreed, hoping that Anatoly was honestly all right out there. He did know that he wouldn’t have sent Anatoly if he wasn’t ready for the mission. Having known the boy’s father, Bill knew that Grigori would have been upset with Bill helping Anatoly become an agent, but it was the best way he knew to look after him. Besides, if he had even half of his fathers’ genius he would be an absolute credit to his adoptive country.
He sat back and waited for his eighth and final report, and when that came in with no useful information he poured himself a stiff drink and lit his pipe. After a short period of brooding he picked up the telephone and dialled Allie Mannering’s number.
“There’s no new yet, I’m afraid,” he said hastily after identifying himself. He didn’t want to give her false hope. “But you know what they say, no news is good news. I was just calling to check in, and see how you’re doing.”
“How do you think,” Allie retorted. “I’m going out of my mind, Bill. It’s been two whole days and nothing! They could be anywhere. Anything could have happened to them. I know that they’re used to getting into scrapes but this is something else entirely.”
“Would you like…” he cleared his throat. “I could come over, keep you company for a bit.”
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” she replied. “If I see your face I might box its ears. I’m absolutely furious with you, Bill. This is all your fault!” He could hear that she was almost crying now.
Bill grimaced. “I’m sorry Allie, I honestly thought they’d gotten on my plane, you know I did and I’m doing everything in my power to get them back. I really hope you know that.”
“I do.” There was a long pause, so long that Bill almost thought that the connection had been lost. “Bring them home, please, Bill? I know they can be irritating and ridiculous beyond belief but I’m not sure that I could live without even a single one of them.”
“I understand Allie, and I will bring them home,” he promised. “I won’t let you down.”
There was an intake of breath as if Allie had wanted to say something but then the phone was put down and he heard nothing but the dial tone.
Bill sighed, replaced the receiver down and sat back with his pipe between his teeth. He read over all the notes he had made, especially those regarding Anatoly’s information, and consulted a few of the European maps that he had brought along with him. Well, it was worth a shot, he decided and placed a couple of calls to a few of the service archivists. Their responses held varying levels of disgruntledness, but he knew that each would be hard at work through the night tracking down tales of burnt-out Austrian valleys.
Around eleven he got up, stretched and lay down on the small camp bed in his office, wondering if he would get any sleep tonight. He needn’t have worried too much as with the stresses of the day he was sleep within the hour, his pipe on the floor. He dreamt that he was running after a plane with the faces of Jack, Philip, Dinah and Lucy-Ann peering worriedly out of the windows. Then he was blasted with alarms going off as the plane got too far away but he couldn’t find a way to turn them off.
It took longer than he would have liked to have admitted to wake up enough to realise that the sound was not in fact an alarm, but the shrilling of one of the telephones in his office. His pipe rolled awkwardly across the wooden floor as he staggered up and hit it with his foot. He ignored it, however, and answered the telephone with a curt ‘Cunningham’, seeing it was an internal call from the light on the base.
“Sir, sorry to disturb you, but we’ve had a call from one of our Scottish offices,” said a hurried voice. “They seem to have come across the lad Philip, sir!”
Bill sat up very straight. “Just Philip?” he demanded. “Is he all right?”
“Apparently he’s fine, sir. But is is just him, sir”
The agent continued, “The boy didn’t want to tell the local policeman anything because he wanted to wait for you to be there, sir.”
“Right. Where is he?” Bill asked. The reply came as Gairdon, which was then specified as being in the North-East of Scotland.
Scotland, bloody Scotland! Bill raged to himself. Here he was with agents all over Europe and the children were still on the same island that he was. How could they have gotten it so wrong? Anyone who had informed him that the plane couldn’t have landed on British soil would lose their jobs. Heads would roll.
That could wait, however. First he needed to get up to Gairdon with his men.
To be continued…