Last time Anatoly, Bentley and Thompson visited the cliff-island the children first visited and found some signs of recent human habitation, but no children and no Bill of course.
After they finding their first clues as to where the kids and Bill might be, there followed a fruitless time of not finding anything on any of the surrounding islands.
They spent an entire day combing the five nearest islands, two to the east and three towards the north-west. They were sure that they might find something, as someone had certainly been on the last island but there was not so much as a flattened blade of grass or scrap of paper. As Anatoly had said, Bill and the children were very conscientious campers and so wouldn’t have left piles of litter around but if they had been there, there should have been at least some sign. None of the islands were particularly big so at least they had been able to cover them in a few hours each but they were still exhausted come nightfall and were taciturn over their meal before turning in to their makeshift beds for the night.
The next morning they were in for a shock. “The boat won’t start,” Thompson groaned in frustration after spending ten minutes trying to start the engine as Anatoly and Bentley packed all their camping gear into the boat once more. “I just can’t get the thing going!”
“Has it run out of petrol?” Bentley asked slyly, implying that Thompson was being dim. He considered himself captain of the boat and a far superior to Thompson, despite them sharing the piloting over the past twenty-four hours. Neither of them had offered Anatoly a turn, and he hadn’t asked as he hadn’t wanted to make a fool of himself, given his lack of experience.
“No, I filled her up last night,” Thompson replied testily, crouching down in the little cabin to lift the trapdoor that gave access to the engine. A small spiral of dark smoke wafted up.
“What was that?” Bentley asked, moving to Thompson’s side as he saw the smoke. “What have you done?” He pushed Thompson out of the way and then groaned. “Looks like the starter motor has burnt out!”
“I haven’t done anything!” Thompson growled. “The engine’s maybe just flooded. I’ll give it a few minutes and try again.”
A few minutes later and it was obvious the problem was more than just a flooded engine. Every time Thompson tried to start the boat there were sparks from the engine and the smell of burning was getting stronger.
“It might be the wiring,” suggested Anatoly, waving some smoke out of the cabin. “That would explain the smell of burning!”
“You’re a boat repair expert now are you?” Thompson snapped, his temper flaring. They were all frustrated by their lack of results at this time, and the prospect of being stranded on their boat for however long it took to repair was not an appealing one.
“No,” snapped back Anatoly. “But I did blow up small motors at school in the science lab! It is the same smell!”
“Oh well, if you did it at school,” Thompson retorted. “Remind me, when was it you finished school, five minutes ago? Or was it ten?”
“Which is why I remember it better than you, grandpa!” Anatoly snarled, his temper flaring.
“That’s enough!” snapped Bentley, stepping between the two of them. “This will not help us find Smugs and the kids.”
“I need to fix this boat and I can’t do that with you two bickering like children,” he continued. “I expect more from you both, so unless you want me to write you both up and report you as soon as we get back then you’ll only speak when you’ve got something constructive to say. And yes, Davey,” he added, speaking to Thompson, “I’m pulling rank on you, mate.”
Thompson shut his mouth, as he had just been going to protest Bentley’s tone. He turned his back on Anatoly and looked down at the engine.
“How are we going to fix this?” Anatoly asked stiffly.
Bentley raised an eyebrow at his tone. “I am going to examine the engine. In peace and quiet. You can find me the tool box, Petrov. Thompson, I want you to check over everything else and make sure we aren’t going to run into any more problems.”
Anatoly nodded and ducked out of the of the cabin to find the tool box that was hidden in amongst all the kit they had been carrying with him. He searched swiftly and then, tool kit in hand, went back to the cabin to hand it to Bentley.
Meanwhile Thompson was checking over the anchor winch and chain, studiously ignoring Anatoly. It seemed to take forever, Bentley checking the engine and Thompson examining the rest of the boat. Anatoly hadn’t been given any other tasks so he just sat on the edge of the boat, out of everybody’s way and waited.
Eventually Bentley sat back and stretched his arms above his head. “I think it’s just the wiring. Some of it’s burnt right away so I’ll have to replace it.”
“And how are we going to do that out here?” Thompson grumbled. “Shall I push Petrov overboard and get him to search the sea floor for discarded metal?”
Bentley swore irritably. “If anyone’s getting pushed overboard Davey, it’ll be you! I’m hoping there’s some spare bits and pieces in the tool box, if not, Henty’s going to get both barrels.”
Anatoly handed over the tool box, quietly hoping Bentley might push Thompson overboard as he was being so insufferable!
In the end, Bentley decided to take the whole starter motor apart, just to make sure the fault didn’t lie in there. He sent Thompson to relight their camp-fire and make them something hot to drink, and carefully removed the motor and began taking it apart piece by piece. He instructed Anatoly to sit and watch and explained everything he was doing, because as he said, it could prove very useful in the future.
With mugs of tea steaming on the wooden floor beside them, he showed Anatoly how to clean the corrosion off the motor with a bit of sandpaper, before wiping the area with a petrol soaked rag. “That’ll help stop it corroding again, though I reckon Henty ought to give the whole engine a once over when we get back and probably replace a few bits. I think all I can do is replace the brushes…”
He was half-way through that when Thompson called for their attention. At Bentley’s nod Anatoly was glad to lower the magnifying glass he had been using to direct the sunlight onto the motor where Bentley was trying to solder the new brushes into place.
“I’ve been scanning the islands we can see from here,” Thompson said, handing the field-glasses to Bentley. “Take a look at the one, and tell me what you can see.”
Anatoly scrabbled in one of the lockers and grabbed another set of field glasses, and trained them on the island that Thompson had pointed to. “There’s something in the tree,” Anatoly said after a moment. “It looks a bit like a big bit of canvas. Could it be a tent?”
“And do tents normally grow on trees in your world?” Thompson began, earning himself a thump from Bentley.
“Could be a tent, perhaps,” Bentley said. “It could also be a parachute, given that we’re dealing with aeroplanes in these parts.”
“Or,” he added, after a lengthy pause. “It might be the tarpaulin roof of an old shack, or a fishing net. We’re really too far away to be sure.”
“A parachute could be worrying,” said Anatoly carefully. “This is not on any flight path.”
“A parachute would be very worrying,” Bentley agreed soberly. “If it’s recent, at any rate. It could have been there for weeks…” They stared into the distance, the island not much more than a hazy shape on the horizon without the powerful field-glasses.
“Right,” he snapped after a moment. “Let’s get this bloody boat fixed. If someone’s landed on that island I do not want to be stranded here if they come looking this way. Thompson, I want you to keep watch, Petrov, get that magnifying glass.”
Anatoly pulled the magnifying glass out of his pocket and headed back to the cabin. He hoped that the thing in the tree was from a fishing boat and not one the kids’ tents. If they had lost a tent he was worried they might be injured or ill because they would be exposed to the elements. He hoped they could get the boat working and find them soon.
To be continued…