Last time Anatoly and his team found some of the wreckage from the Lucky Star and Bill met Horace Tipperlong.
For a few minutes after the men had left them Bill and Horace sat in silence. Bill was trying to work out if this man was in fact an agent of any kind, or if he truly was as he said, a bird watcher.
After a time Horace turned troubled eyes to Bill. “I say,” he said feebly. “What a cheek to not believe us!”
Bill made a non committal grunting noise. “I suppose they must mean business if they don’t believe that you are a bird watcher,” he added.
“But I AM a bird-watcher!” Horace protested. “Why does no-one seem to believe that today? First those dreadful children accuse me of being an enemy, attack me and steal my boat, and now this!”
Bill’s ears pricked up at that, “Dreadful children? What dreadful children?” he asked, trying to sound merely intrigued. He couldn’t have run into the children, could he?
“A group of absolutely wild children on one of these islands,” Horace said indignantly. “I suppose they were playing a game, they were talking about enemies and a lot of other nonsense. One of them attacked me and pushed me into a hole in the ground!” He made a fist and banged it into the dirt floor of the shack. “I demanded they release me immediately but they had the most enormous stick and they cracked me over the head with it more than once!”
“I’m sure children would never be that brutal,” he ventured, relieved that the children had seemingly evaded capture and were doing well. “When did you come across them?”
“Just this morning. And I assure you that they were positively blood-thirsty. Why, even the girls were brandishing that stick at me!”
“There were girls there too?” Bill asked casually.
“Two of them. And two boys,” Horace replied.
“So what were they like. These wild boys, and girls?” Bill asked, wanting to be absolutely sure they were talking about Jack, Philip, Dinah and Lucy-Ann. It was extremely unlikely that Horace had run into four other children on these desolate islands, but on the other hand if he was an enemy spy, he could have seen the children from afar and be pretending to have met them.
“The two I saw must have been brother and sister,” Horace said, appeased enough to continue. “Red hair. Lots of freckles. The boy was Jack, and the girl was… Louise-Anne or something like that. I didn’t see the other two as I was in the hole by then.”
Bill contemplated that. It was unlikely that Horace could have learned their names without getting close enough to have been seen by the children. It seemed that his story might be true after all.
“They had a parrot, or a cockatiel, something of that sort, too. I thought it was an unusual sea-bird at first, and then it started talking.”
“Oh yes? What did it say?” Bill asked, finding it all very funny now he knew it was ‘his’ children, but trying to keep the laughter out of his voice. He could well imagine the strong willed children making this ridiculous little man very scared by just being loud and having Kiki making her screeching noises. Bill thought he might even have been scared had it been him on the receiving end of this treatment from the children.
“Oh, just noises mostly. It imitated me a few times, I think. And it knew some nursery rhymes, pop goes the weasel or some other nonsense…” Horace trailed off, suddenly seeming less sure of himself. “But that might have just been the knocks to the head making me think I’d heard it talking, of course.”
“Are you sure they really knocked you on the head?” Bill asked sceptically. He wouldn’t have put it past the boys, or perhaps even Dinah to have hit someone they considered a danger, but Horace looked like he’d need nothing more than a gentle push to disarm him.
“Quite sure,” Horace said coldly. “They were adamant that I not escape, lest I spoilt their plans to steal my boat.”
Bill had to swallow a chuckle. “Steal your boat you say? Surely they had a boat of their own?”
“They said that theirs had been smashed up in a storm, but they were probably telling tales. They were spinning all these stories about enemies and I’m not sure they remembered what they’d made up and what was real! They were utterly mad! Kept talking about some chap that I’d apparently attacked and kidnapped… now what was his name? Will? Or was it Phil?” He looked over at Bill and frowned. “What did you say your name was again?”
“Bill, it’s Bill,” said Bill smoothly. “So you were kidnapped, by children and a talking parrot eh? Are you sure you didn’t just have a bump to the head, old chap?”
“Yes, I told you, those children hit me several times!” Horace insisted, but he sounded less sure of himself now. “I don’t believe half of what they said, of course.”
Bill was a bit worried about the idea that his boat has been smashed up. He wondered if the storm had caused the boat to break on the rocks or the men who had captured him had smashed the boat thinking him to be on his own. “How long were you their ‘prisoner’?” Bill asked, injecting a convincing amount of disbelief into his voice. He didn’t want Horace to think that he believed him.
“Look, I know that it all sounds utterly fantastical, but I can assure you that it is all true! I’ve told you more details than could be made up,” Horace said in irritation. “I was only there an afternoon, really. By evening they had disappeared, and by the time that I realised no-one was waiting with that stick, these other chaps had arrived and got hold of me.”
“So you weren’t a prisoner long then, by the sounds of it.”
“Long enough!” Horace folded his arms. “Why are you asking so many questions? It’s obvious that you don’t believe me.”
“I didn’t say that!” Bill said in a pacifying tone. “I was asking you questions wasn’t I?” By this point he was sure that Horace was not an enemy agent. At least, Bill hoped that was the case. If this man was an enemy, he was a very convincing twit.
To be continued…