Last time Bill and Horace had an interesting conversation.
After they combed the rest of the wreckage Bentley ordered them to take a short break. There were no signs that anyone else had been on the beach, nor that the boat had been broken up at that point. There wasn’t nearly enough material to account for a whole boat, suggesting that it had come to harm elsewhere and the tides had carried some debris to their current location.
They lit a small fire and boiled some water to make camp coffee. It wasn’t cold but both the fire and the hot drink provided a little comfort.
Bentley tried his best to rally his despondent men. “We don’t yet know that anything has happened to Cunningham,” he reminded them.
“Doesn’t look good, though,” Thompson said.
Anatoly looked glumly into his cup as the others spoke. He didn’t want to believe that Bill and the children might actually be at the bottom of the sea. He felt sure that he would have sensed it if it was true. He couldn’t lose both of his father figures in such a short time. “Maybe the boat broke free of its mooring during the storm? And Smugs and the children are stranded on one of these islands?” he suggested.
Bentley nodded approvingly. The new agent was obviously emotionally invested in this search – well, they all were, but clearly Anatoly the most – and yet he was still thinking rationally. “I think that’s a likely enough scenario. There are plenty of possibilities yet. We’ve not found any signs of foul play at least.” Or any bodies, he added in his head.
“If I know Bill, he would have bedded them down somewhere that can be defended and is well hidden,” Thompson added. “That could be any number of these islands. I suspect they all have handy hiding places.”
Bentley tipped his head back to drain the last of the coffee from his tin mug and set it down decisively. “Well, I doubt he’s on this island, he’d have spotted us by now if he was, but we’d better do a thorough sweep to be sure.”
The others nodded in agreement and stood up, hoping that they were all right about Bill and the children being alive. Thompson and Anatoly drained their mugs as well and got to their feet to start what felt like the hundredth hunt of their few days at sea.
That evening Bill and Horace had visitors to their shack again. The last three times they had continued to assert that he and Horace were comrades of some kind, both of them working against whatever these men were doing on their desolate Scottish island.
Instead being interrogated, however, they were surprised to find themselves with sacks over their heads before being led out of the shack and into the fresh sea air. There were half a dozen men around them, so little likelihood of escape, so Bill just tried to keep a track of their route. As he hadn’t seen anything of the island when he arrived, it was a bit pointless. Still, it kept him focussed. For a while it was a dirt path underfoot, with occasional muddy points where it had been churned by repeated footsteps, and then it changed to wooden planks.
The sound of the sea was closer again here and he thought they might be on a jetty of some kind. He heard Horace scream followed by a thud and he immediately tried to twist away from the two men holding him, anticipating that this was the end and they were both being got rid of at that very moment. They hadn’t tied him up this time so even blind as he was under the thick sack he was able to send one man into the water with a satisfying splash but then another was on him and he felt the cold butt of a gun against his back.
“Just you behave now,” he was warned, the gun being pressed harder, urging him to move forward. After a bit of awkward manoeuvring he found himself on an unsteady surface, the motion telling him that it was a boat. Despite longing to escape the island, he wasn’t sure this was a positive move at all.
“Turn and go down the ladder,” the man with the gun ordered him and he felt blindly with his feet for the ladder, going down into a chamber within the boat. The hatch above was closed just as he ripped the sack off, and he turned to find Horace sitting on the floor holding his ankle.
“What did you scream for?” he asked in irritation.
“They pushed me down the hatch,” he said in a plaintive voice.
Bill rolled his eyes. “Do you have no gumption?” he snapped angrily. “I thought they had killed you. I almost got shot because I was about to fight for my life!”
“I had been pushed off a cliff for all I knew!” Horace replied angrily, pulling himself up using the bench on the side of the cabin and sitting down on it.
Bill sneered, and turned his head away from Horace in frustration. This man was a liability. He was going to get them both killed. He wondered where the men were moving them to, and if he was going to be killed and dumped over the side of the boat so his body would never be found. Bill hoped the children would survive and get back to civilisation and get some help, but by then he was convinced that it would be too late for him.
Calming down Bill made a careful examination of the cabin. There were no windows and only the one door – the one they had come through – which was securely bolted on the outside. Inside the cabin was disappointingly bare. Clearly it had been emptied in preparation for holding prisoners. The bench was bolted to the wall, and the table to the floor. There were a couple of old blankets in one corner and a lantern hanging from the ceiling, and Horace, sitting on the bench nursing his ankle.
To be continued…