Last time Bill got to grips with his captivity and Anatoly paired up with a couple of familiar faces from their adventure in the Austrian valley the year before.
Some time later the door to the shack was opened and Bill found himself blinking at the sudden light. He quickly hid his unbound hands behind his back as a figure stepped forward, silhouetted in the sunlight and Bill could make out the glint of a gun pointed at him. “Who are you? Why are you holding me here?” he asked with a not entirely feigned sense of indigence.
“I must apologise for the accommodation,” the man said, waving a hand negligently at the interior of the shack before he crouched down to look Bill in the face. “It’s so hard to get a decent hotel room around these parts.”
Bill considered lunging, the man was off balance crouched as he was but he could tell from the shadows outside that there were at least two other men, perhaps more so he wouldn’t get far.
He also didn’t want to risk the gun going off and striking him in the struggle. He grunted at the comment and tried to stare down the man in front of him, not that he could see him very well because of the light framing him. “What do you want?”
“Why don’t we start with a nice easy question. Who are you?”
“Doctor Walker, Robert Walker. I’m a tutor on a bird watching holiday,” Bill croaked, his brain searching for and finding his alias from the train for this trip.
“I see. And what are you a doctor of, exactly?”
“Ornithology, that is to say the study of birds,” Bill bluffed, trying play up the part of the bumbling doctor on a bird watching holiday. “I came to study the puffins.”
The man stood up. “I know that you have followed us here, Dr Walker. I want to know who you are and what you know. The next time I come to speak with you perhaps you might consider telling me the truth, otherwise things could get quite… unpleasant.”
He backed out and the door was shut and bolted once more.
“But I am on a bird watching holiday!” Bill tried to convince the man through the locked door. He sat back as the man moved away from the shack and let out a long breath. He closed his eyes, and lent his head back against the wood of the shack and tried to start formulating a plan of what to say when the man came back.
“I know that you have followed us here.”
“I want to know what you know.”
Bill pondered these statements. Why did they think he had followed them when in reality he had no idea who they were or what they were up to beyond flying planes in an unusual location. It was they who had approached and attacked him, after all!
As soon as they were out of the briefing the agents grabbed their kit bags and then were bundled into cars and driven to Croydon Airport where the planes were waiting to get them to Scotland in the quickest time possible. Anatoly settled in his seat on the plane and intended to catch some sleep to try and be as sharp as possible when they landed.
The journey by air was far quicker than the one Bill had taken by train, as speed was the goal rather than subterfuge. They landed not too far from where Bill and the children had alighted from their train five days earlier, and travelled to the same harbour where they had been met by Henty. Henty was there again, looking worried.
“I’ve got three boats as requested,” he said. “Plenty of fuel on board, food and water too.”
“Thank you, Henty. Weather report?” asked the leader, Bennett.
“Clear and dry for the next few days, with mild winds,” Henty replied. “Visibility should be good.”
“We will need to be stealthy,” Bennett said with a nod.
“There are maps in each boat too,” Henty added, “I’ve taken the liberty of marking out a few routes you might want to take. I’ve been out since the storm but there’s only so much sea I can cover by myself. I’ve marked one island, one of the first you’ll come to. It’s one of the very few inhabited islands, the couple living there said Cunningham and the kids visited the day they set off and had a meal, then headed north-west.”
Bennett nodded and turned to his team. “Who is piloting each boat? I want you to split up to cover as much ground as possible today, then check in this evening once you’ve holed up.”
Pete Bentley from Anatoly’s team had already volunteered to be the pilot for their boat as he had a boat of his own and was an experienced seaman. Robson would pilot team one’s boat and Smith team two’s.
Anatoly took out one of the maps and scanned the area, wondering which part of the island make up he, Thompson and Bentley would be given to search. He hoped he would be the one to find the children and Bill as that would be a real feather in his cap with the chief. He really wanted to prove himself and prove that even with being younger than the other men around him, he was a good solid agent.
“Spread that out, Petrov,” Bennett said, and he laid it out on the thick sea wall. Everyone gathered around, including Henty, as the chief took a thick marker pen and divided the islands into three roughly equal areas. When he was done the map resembled the world map with its time zones, some straight lines but also various zig-zags where landmasses remained unbroken. “Got that?”
Other maps rustled as the agents unfolded them and made their own dividing maps, using Anatoly’s as a guide. Then they started hashing out where to start, how long it would take to sail to each island and so forth.
Henty looked at his watch, “You’d better get a move on if you want to get much done today, the islands may look close from land but they are a good way out!” The maps were folded up again and Henty added, “Them children were looking for puffins. Find islands with puffins on and you probably won’t be far off.”
The three boats bobbed and knocked together as seven pairs of feet jumped down into them, bodies busy checking the petrol cans, maps, food supplies, the wireless and everything else Henty had packed. You never took anyone’s word for it that things were fully stocked, you’d be an idiot if you did and then discovered something had been forgotten.
Anatoly, Thompson and Bentley checked everything between them, and were mostly happy with what they had. “Not a single pack of smokes,” Thompson said with a sigh, though he had a fresh box in his shirt pocket and probably more in his bag.
“Could do with some booze as well, but what we’ve got will do,” Bentley said with a grin, moving to start the engine.
Anatoly smiled slightly. “I have some vodka in my bag. Keeps the chill of the night and water off.”
“Better than nothing!” laughed Bentley. Henty had his rowing boat in the harbour and had offered to pilot their crafts out but nobody had taken him up on the offer, considering themselves more than up to the job. Bentley took the wheel of their boat and smoothly guided it out of the harbour, and Anatoly looked back as the other two boats slowly receded along with the harbour and Bennett. As per the map they were heading north-west, heading for Bill’s last known location.
To be continued…
A thrilling piece!!