Previously we wrote about what Bill (and Anatoly) got up to during the events of The Valley of Adventure – we called it The Mystery of the Missing Aeroplane. Now it’s time to find out what the pair of them were doing during The Sea of Adventure.
Bill Cunningham was in a pickle. He’d been in some tough spots before but this time the Chief had insisted that he take some time out and lay low somewhere remote. Somehow he’d agreed to take the Mannering-Trent children with him. As he knocked at the door of the young man he knew he could trust to hide him until then, he hoped Anatoly Petrov wasn’t too upset with him for being unable to make his passing out ceremony to full agent.
Anatoly frowned as he heard the quiet knocking on the door to his tiny bedsit. Very few people knew where he lived, and he liked it that way. Silently he slid out of bed and picked up the gun that he always kept close to hand. Crossing the small space he unlocked the door and slid the bolt back, leaving it on a rather heavy chain. He didn’t have a spy-hole, as they were just a perfect way to get your brains blown out. He’d rather take his chances by opening the door well armed.
Bill knocked again at the door, his hand on his own gun, aware of the slimmest chance that it wasn’t Anatoly in there. After all, he wasn’t sure if the people he was supposed to be hiding from didn’t know about Anatoly or couldn’t have infiltrated him.
In a deliberately thick accent Anatoly said “Hold your donkeys, I am coming,” and allowed the door to open the few inches allowed by the chain.
“I couldn’t get the donkeys up these stairs,” Bill replied seriously, responding to their shared code to identify themselves.
Satisfied that firstly it was Bill as he knew the voice and he had given the correct response to his idiotic statement – and that nothing particularly dangerous was happening in the stairwell – he closed the door only long enough to remove the chain. If Bill had wanted him to be ready for trouble he would have used the phrase ‘hurry up, my ass is freezing out here’ or ‘my ass is roasting out here’ depending on the weather conditions. He made up his mind to suggest they move away from equine code phrases in the future as he opened the door and let Bill slide in at speed.
Bill smiled weakly at Anatoly. “Thank you. Sorry for disturbing you so late, but I have a favour to ask of you.”
“It is not a problem,” Anatoly said, locking the door again. He turned and motioned Bill to the chair in the ‘kitchen’ part of his room. There was only one, so he sat on the bed again. Thankfully he had not been in bed to sleep, and was still dressed. “What can I do for you? You have been off the radar for quite a while. Are you in trouble?”
“May I smoke?” Bill asked, reaching for his pipe.
“Yes, of course,” Anatoly said, reaching for his own pack of cigarettes but holding out the box of matches so that Bill could light his pipe first. He watched as his mentor sat back and puffed until the tobacco caught and then blew out a stream of smoke.
“I am in a bit of trouble and am having to lay low,” Bill said. “May I stay here tonight, before I catch my train from Euston tomorrow?”
“Stay here?” Anatoly repeated, looking around the small space he called his own. There was a single bed which he was sitting on, his trunk where he stored his clothes and things at the end, a sink, a unit with a small stove, and the armchair that Bill currently occupied. He had chosen an armchair rather than squeeze in a table and dining chair. The toilet was out in the hall, shared with a few flats. “I mean, of course you can, but it would be an awful squeeze.” He owed Bill so much that he couldn’t refuse him a place to hide for a few days.
“I’d appreciate it,” Bill said through the smoke. “I can sleep in this chair, and I’ll need to be central to organise my escape.” He paused and glanced sideways at Anatoly. “I’m sorry I didn’t make your passing out. I’m quite proud of you, you know.”
Anatoly shrugged as nonchalantly as he could, glad the room was dim as it hid his suddenly red face. “I knew you would have had good reason not to be there.” The passing out ceremony had been on his nineteenth birthday – so it had been a double celebration for him, though he’d had nobody to share it with.
“I did try my hardest to get there,” Bill said softly. “I didn’t want you to be on your own.”
Anatoly felt his face turn impossibly redder, whether at the kindness Bill was showing or the reminder that nobody else in the SIS really liked him he didn’t know. “Being hunted is a pretty good reason for not showing,” he said. “Who is after you?” he asked after a moment. “Is it that gang you were after the last time we spoke?”
Bill nodded, “It is the same lot. Unfortunately I slipped up and need to lie low for a while, so I’m taking the children away as cover. I’m to travel as their tutor. Do you think you can put up with me until then?”
“Well, as long as you do not snore…” he said, having worked with Bill long enough to feel like he could risk a joke at his expense.
“I do not snore,” Bill said with a sly smile. “I know it’s not ideal, but I thought it would give us some time to talk, and I’m almost certain that no one would look for me here.”
“No, I do not suspect they would,” Anatoly agreed. “As the junior agent, though, I must insist that you have the bed.”
Bill waived him away. “No, as the senior agent, I insist that you have the bed. It’s your bed after all.”
“Well, if you are sure…” Anatoly wasn’t sure if he was supposed to argue it any further. “Should I take a message into HQ with me tomorrow?”
“I’ll write a letter before you leave in the morning. I may have some little errands for you to do if you get time tomorrow,” Bill said with a smile.
“Yes, of course, I do not have much lined up for the next few days.”
“You wait until I’m gone, then the higher ups will have lots of things for you to do,” Bill laughed. “I think we should get as much sleep as possible now, don’t you?”
“I can hardly wait, I have barely been out on my own yet since I qualified,” Anatoly grumbled. “And not until you have told me all about the trouble you have found yourself in! I want to know what I am getting into, harbouring a fugitive like you.”
“I’m only a fugitive to the wrong people,” Bill laughed. “I’m still on your side, remember?”
“I know, but I still want to hear all about it. As much as you can tell me, of course.”
“All right,” Bill said with a smile. “However you’re making me feel like a old grandfather telling a kid a story,” he laughed but then proceeded to tell Anatoly all he was allowed to.
Anatoly sat back against the pillows and listened to Bill’s tale of tracking down a rogue gang, and the subsequent realisation that they were then coming after him. He stifled a laugh when he heard how Bill had tackled Philip in his own garden, thinking him a member of the gang, but sobered when Bill said that a gang member had actually been lying in wait around the other side of the house. A short time later he clicked out the light and settled in bed, Bill sat in the armchair with his feet propped on the trunk and a spare blanket spread over himself.
To be continued…