Last time Bill had his first interrogation and Anatoly, Pete Bentley and Thompson set off on a search and rescue mission.
On the harbour Henty stood by Bennett. “Interesting choice to send into the lion’s den,” he remarked, watching the three boats on their differing trajectories, already growing further and further apart.
“Are you criticizing my decision?” Bennett asked, also staring out to sea.
“No, sir. I’m just intrigued. That boy can’t be more than nineteen,” Henty said respectfully. “He must have some special skills that aren’t immediately apparent?”
Bennett smiled grimly. “He’s got the makings of a good agent, but I let him go out because he knows Cunningham probably better than anyone else I’ve got. They’ve been friends for several years. Besides, as you say, he’s young. He might understand those kids, what they might do if they’ve been separated from Cunningham.”
“Risky move, though,” said Henty.
“Undoubtedly,” Bennett responded.
Anatoly gripped the side of the boat with one hand as it bobbed over the waves, binoculars at the ready to be able to scout out islands and look for any signs of Bill’s boat, the children, or that damned parrot of Jack’s.
“You don’t get seasick, do you?” Bentley shouted to him over the sound of the engine.
He shook his head. He hadn’t been on boats all that often but he wasn’t the type to be car-sick or plane-sick so he didn’t think a boat would trouble him too much.
The boat sped on for what seemed like forever until they reached the first of their dedicated islands to check, one of the very few inhabited ones. “Petrov, be a good chap and jump out with the mooring rope and tie us up,” Bentley instructed him as they neared a simple stone jetty.
Praying he didn’t make a fool of himself Anatoly grasped the rope in one hand, put one foot on the edge of the boat and stepped across to the rough jetty steps. He grinned at his success and bounded up, mindful of the seaweed which was draped over some parts of the steps, and tied the rope around a rusted wooden hoop.
A fisherman in a long blue jersey was repairing a fishing net on the beach and he walked over to meet them as Bentley and Thompson joined Anatoly on the jetty. “So what are you after?” he asked, getting straight to the point. “The first lot wanted bairds, the second lot were after the first lot… and now you turn up. Never seen sae many visitors to this wee island in my life!”
“Whoa, whoa there,” said Thompson, holding his hands up. “Let’s take this from the top, old chap. Were the first lot a man and some kids?”
“And who’d be wantin’ tae know?” the fisherman asked.
“The man and the kids, they are friends of ours,” Anatoly said honestly. “We are worried about them. We think they might have gotten lost or perhaps had an accident.” The second part was only half true, but there was enough truth along with his youthful charm to appease the old man.
“Aye, well. It was a man, and four kids. Off to do some baird watching. Waste o’ a fine boat, if you ask me. But I’d wish them nae harm, so I hope you find them.”
“What about these men who came after them?” Bentley queried, offering the man a cigarette, hoping that the man would talk. “They might be other friends of ours trying to catch up with the first party,” he half truthed.
“Och, that was just Henty, I ken him fae the mainland,” the fisherman said, accepting a cigarette and letting Bentley light it for him.
Having gained his trust they questioned him as much as they felt able, without rousing his suspicions. He didn’t know anything more than the direction Bill had taken the boat in when he had left the island, and they’d already learned that from Henty. They asked him about likely island for bird-watching and he had scoffed. “I dinnae pay much attention to the bairds,” he said. “Not unless they’re after my fish! I go right out tae sea, you want deep waters for fishing.” When pressed, he pointed to a few islands on their map but wouldn’t make any promises.
Anatoly was surprised that no one else had come up on the fisherman, even though Bill had hinted at someone possibly being around. He wondered if they had missed this island all together, and whether that had been on purpose. After sharing a flask of tea with the fisherman, they said they ought to be going.
“There’s nae land for hours in any direction, and there’s a storm headin’ this way,” the fisherman said knowingly.
“A storm?” Thompson looked out at the clear skies and smooth sea. “The forecast said it would stay fine.”
“Aye, well. These forecasters with a’ their new-fangled equipment dinnae know it all,” said the fisherman dismissively. “I’m telling you, there’ll be a storm this evening.”
“How can you tell?” Anatoly asked out of interest.
“Practice. I’ve been on this island nigh on seventy years, I ken how it looks when a storm’s coming. Besides, my rheumatism’s flared up something chronic!”
Anatoly smirked a little. “Well I am glad we ran into you,” he added as he went to rinse the tea mugs in the salt water of the ocean. “Thank you for the information, and good luck with your fishing!”
“We’re not taking his word for it, are we?” Thompson asked the other two once they were out of earshot of the fisherman who had gone back to his net. “There’s no sign of a storm coming and we can see for miles here. I want to head on to the nearest island before dark.”
“It’s always an interesting concept,” Bentley chipped in. “However I think the old chap might just be feeling his age today. The forecast said it would be fine. When we call later we can ask for a report if you are really worried, Thompson!”
Thomson thumped him on the arm. “Let’s get going, then.”
Bill woke up, his body stiff, head heavy and he was beginning to feel unwashed and grimy. He had no idea what time it was as his watch hadn’t been wound. He took a few moments to recall where he was and what was going on, and he groaned when he remembered his previous encounter with one of the men who had captured him, annoyed at himself for not doing a better job of pumping him for information.
A tray of food was brought in some time later, after he’d had time to go over his shack again inch by inch. One man held a gun on him while the other went to untie his hands. He grunted in surprise as he found Bill’s hands were already unbound. “You’re a slippery one, ain’t you?” he remarked, giving him a kick in the side before both men retreated.
Despite being desperately hungry not to mention thirsty, Bill made no move towards the tray. That voice. Where had he heard that voice before? No, it just couldn’t be. He thought about it over and over, placing the voice in a shabby warehouse some two weeks earlier. He slapped a hand against his face.
No wonder these people were jumpy about his presence. They were the same damn people he’d been tracing for the past two months! The very people he had been trying to get away from!
He had sailed straight into the lions’ den, and grimly, he thought they would never believe it had been a complete accident.
To be continued…