Last time the search and rescue team ignored the fisherman’s warning and ran into a bit of trouble.
It took Anatoly a long time to get to sleep, he kept wondering where Bill was and how he was coping. He hoped that he was safe and they were being jumpy over nothing. Anatoly didn’t think he could lose a second father figure in his life. He would do everything he could do make sure that Bill was found, alive and well. Eventually he fell asleep on his pillow of straw, quite comfortable with his service blanket over himself even as the storm raged overhead.
It must have blown itself out at some point as when he woke in the early hours – thanks to one of the chickens mistaking his shoelaces for worms or something else edible – it seemed calm apart from a light rain. He shooed the chicken off and it retreated with a huffy-sounding squawk which made Thompson and Bentley stir slightly and then everyone settled back to sleep.
The next time he woke the sun coming in the grubby windows told him that it was morning and he rolled over in his sleeping bag and yawned. His back was a little tense from bracing against the waves the day before and then sleeping on the floor. He looked at his watch and groaned at the early hour, wondering if he should try and get some sleep but the sound of the sea birds was so loud that he wasn’t sure he could. He got up, stretched and decided to go for a swim in the cove where they had moored the boat. Grabbing his trunks and a blanket as a towel, he strode off to wake himself up in the cold Scottish waters.
An hour later Anatoly made his way back to the cottage, towelling his wet hair. He started on getting the fire back alive to start breakfast for the three of them. Soon the smell and noise of frying bacon and eggs wafted through the cottage. “Are those real eggs I smell?” asked Thompson as he sat up.
“Courtesy of our hosts,” he grinned, indicating the chickens which were scratching around the straw floor.
“Well, I’m glad we have such accommodating ones!” yawned Bentley. “How long have you been up?”
“I’ve shared accommodation with worse,” Thompson said, picking straw from his dark hair.
“About an hour,” Anatoly said, keeping an eye on the breakfast. He had stopped at the fisherman’s house on his way back and, while the fisherman was already out on his boat, his wife had insisted that he take the bacon, butter, bread and frying pan with him if he wouldn’t let her make them breakfast. The discovery of eggs amongst the straw had been an unexpected extra.
“Is there anywhere to wash?” Bentley asked, eyeing Anatoly’s wet hair. “Or have you been foolhardy enough to go swimming?”
“I had a very refreshing swim,” Anatoly said. “What is so foolhardy about that?”
“You will catch your death!” Bentley chuckled. “Honestly, how cold was it?”
“It is May,” Anatoly said, rolling his eyes, “hardly the middle of winter. It was a perfectly fine temperature.”
“We are in the middle of the sea here,” Thompson laughed. “Anyway, we’d better get moving soon, we have a large area to cover today!”
Anatoly portioned the bacon and eggs into their mess tins and along with the bread it made a fine breakfast. “You can come along with us every time if you’re going to feed us like that,” Thompson joked as they packed up their sleeping bags and headed out of the cottage, the frying pan tucked under Anatoly’s arm to be returned to the fisherman’s wife on his way past.
The fisherman’s wife was very pleased to see them and when they thanked her for the pan and the breakfast, she blushed and told them not to worry. She also pressed a heavy cake into Anatoly’s hands and wouldn’t accept any payment for it. The men thanked her and went off to their boat. Bentley took them out of the cove and headed the boat in the same direction they had gone the previous evening before the storm had forced them to turn back.
After around five hours of sailing they finally spotted some islands on the horizon, just little green and brown blobs at that distance. The number of birds in the air and the water increased dramatically as the islands slowly grew larger and Anatoly felt sure that Bill and the children must have headed for one of these islands as they were after birds.
They headed for the first bird-packed island and Bentley took the boat as close as he could, as they couldn’t find a place to dock. “You two might need to jump ashore, because I don’t think we can tie up,” he said to Anatoly and Thompson.
They had a brief discussion. None of them thought it likely that Bill and the children had camped on an island that appeared to have nowhere to dock a boat, but it wasn’t impossible and they felt they ought to at least make a cursory exploration just to rule it out. So Thompson and Anatoly stripped to the waist and, holding a small waterproof bag containing a few essentials like weapons and first-aid supplies, they slipped from the boat into the water.
“Refreshing, as I told you,” Anatoly said with a laugh as Thompson swore at the feeling of the cold water, and they made their way ashore.
Soon they were scrambling ashore, the rocks jagged against their hands. Here and there seaweed made their path slippery and they had to make sure they didn’t put their hands and feet into various birds nests that littered the cliffs. “If they camped here, then they are crazy!” Thompson grunted as they finally reached the grass top of the island.
“Agreed.” Anatoly said, saving his breath. They surveyed the rest of the island, which was as rocky and inhospitable as the part they had already crossed. It was, at least, not a very large island and so if they headed back down and to the shore on the opposite side with a little bit of meandering they felt that they would be able to see enough of it to be sure that Bill or the children were not there. He checked that plan with Thompson and then they communicated with Bentley by waving and pointing.
“How many more islands have we got?” Thompson groaned as they started down the rocks again to the boat. “I already feel like I’m lost on a maze!”
Anatoly laughed. “In our section? Thirty-seven. So only thirty-six to go!”
Thompson grumbled under his breath and shook his head. “Smugs needs to be more careful,” he added, annoyed at his colleague.
“Could happen to any one of us,” Anatoly said diplomatically, heading a little to his left to check behind a rocky area with a couple of scrubby trees which might have provided a little shelter. He wanted to defend Bill, but also didn’t want to alienate his current partners.
“Aye, true,” Thompson conceded. “Just it does appear to always happen to Smugs.”
“Adventures always come to the adventurous, there is no doubt about that*,” Anatoly quipped.
Thompson’s only response was to grunt again as they scrambled over more rocks and returned to the sea, and then their boat.
To be continued…
*This is actually a quote from Five Go to Smuggler’s Top (this is where it all becomes a bit Inception-like, as although Julian and the rest of the Five will have had this adventure already, in our particular universe it hasn’t been written yet, and won’t be written until Julian is in his early thirties).
Again, on behalf of all the 74 year old men around the world still reading EB books, I thank you for Chapter 13.