Last time Anatoly, Bentley and Thompson got their orders to collect Horace’s boat and return to the mainland.
Chapter 25 – epilogue
As it happened, Anatoly did get his chance to pilot the boat. Bentley decided that if they took a shift each they could travel near enough without stopping in order to get back as quickly as possible.
Anatoly was given the nice, safe day shift, while Thompson took the late evening into the night and Bentley took the early morning hours. Between them they could travel 24 hours a day while only being at the wheel 8 hours each.
It was late on the third day by the time the convoy of boats arrived at the harbour they had departed from the week before. Thompson and Bentley moored their boat and then took hold of the rope towing the broken down vessel and pulled it into a free berth next to them, Anatoly throwing them a rope so they could tie it up too. As they were doing that, figures were making their way down to them along the pier.
“Ahoy,” came Henty’s voice first of all, though he passed them by on the stone harbour and went straight to check on his boat.
“It’s still in one piece!” Thompson shouted over his shoulder.
“So there you are, Cunningham,” Bentley said as he saw Bill standing ahead of them, Bennet by his side. “You led us on a bloody wild goose chase, you know.”
Bill was smoking his pipe and grinned wryly. “Think of it as a training exercise Bentley,” he said with a nod to the three returning men.
He paused, looked straight at Anatoly, and asked, “Bennett told me you worked out how I was in trouble. How did you work it out? I didn’t even get chance to send a message.”
“Just a feeling,” Anatoly said with an insouciant shrug. “You said there were suspicious planes, and I told you to stand by for further instructions. When I could not raise you again… Well. It is you and I know if anyone was to fall into trouble it would be you.”
Bill laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “You’re too sharp, kiddo. You make a cracking agent, Petrov,” he said with a proud look on his face.
“Hey, less of the kiddo,” Anatoly grunted, swatting Bill away, though deep down he was thrilled at the praise.
“And what are we? Chopped liver?” Thompson demanded, though his earlier surliness had dissipated, and he was smiling as he spoke. “We’ve all been out for a week, knee-deep in bird excrement, searching for you!”
“And it looks good on you,” Bill laughed, going forward to shake hands with Thompson and Bentley. “Thank you, both of you.”
“Trust you to get picked up by a plane just as we were closing in on you,” Bentley said, rolling his eyes. “I swear we were this close,” he held his thumb and forefinger a fraction of an inch apart.
“Come along and tell me all about it in a proper briefing, instead of gossiping like a bunch of old fishwives,” Bennett ordered over the chatter.
They all nodded, and turned to head up off the jetty and into the room where they had had their original briefing a few days ago. Anatoly trailed at the back wondering when he would be able to talk to Bill one on one.
The briefing was short; the three men told the story of their search for Bill, outlining their reasoning behind their route and so on. They hadn’t come across any of the enemy, nor anything else of importance and so after around thirty minutes Bennett called an end to the proceedings. “Well, you did a good job. You were right on Cunningham’s trail, just a few days behind which you couldn’t do anything about. Why don’t you get something to eat and get some rest now? I’m still waiting on one of the other teams to come back in, once they arrive we’ll get ready to go back out and round up that nasty lot. They’ve been playing us for fools long enough.”
The lunch buffet was being set out when they got to the restaurant of the hotel the agents were staying in. Most agents honed in on the plates and would have loved to start digging in but they had to be careful as each of them had given their ration books to the hotel for the stay. The meat, chicken mostly, was portioned out, but at least the vegetables were more or less as much as they could eat. Anatoly filled his plate and went and sat at a small table out of the way, for some peace and quiet while the other agents got on eating and chatting noisily.
He looked up as someone approached his table. “Room for another one?” Bill asked, holding his own plate.
Anatoly nodded and sat back in his chair. “I thought you would want to sit in the thick of it?” he asked Bill after a moment, nodding to the larger group of agents at one of the bigger tables.
Bill shook his head as he put his plate down then pulled out a chair. “I’m going to smack someone if they make another joke about me needing rescued.”
“And what makes you think that I am not going to make jokes at your expense?” Anatoly asked as Bill settled himself across from him.
“You are the lowliest agent in the room,” Bill reminded him. “You wouldn’t dare be so cheeky to such a senior and well-respected agent such as myself,” he added, both of them knowing it was an absolute lie.
Anatoly smirked a little, “You know that is not true, Bill. I mean, you do seem to run into a lot of trouble with those children!”
“They are absolute magnets for trouble, those kids,” Bill agreed with a grin. “But they’ve all got sound heads on their shoulders and can take care of themselves, they’ve proved that time and time again.”
“I would never have gotten away with half of what they do! You would have boxed my ears,” laughed Anatoly. “But they do seem like they are sensible when they get into one of these messes!”
“I would have, and they are,” Bill said. There was a few minutes of quiet as they turned their attentions to their food.
“By the way, are you planning to return my pencil?” Bill asked suddenly. “I mark them for a reason, you know.”
Anatoly sat back and patted his pockets of his blazer for the pencil. He withdrew it from his inside pocket and handed it over. “Did you drop it on purpose?”
“I wish,” Bill said ruefully. “But no. I had no idea I’d need to leave any clues, they snuck up on me so damn quickly.”
“Well it is a good thing it was dropped then! Maybe we should make it our own signal for when I have to come find you again!” Anatoly said, half-joking.
Bill held the pencil stub up and gazed at it intently. “That’s not a bad idea. Not that I expect you’ll be hunting for me any time soon,” he added quickly. “But a quick code scratched on the side of a pencil… could be useful.”
Anatoly nodded. “Just handy to have a marker. Maybe I could have one as well so you can always come and find me!” he added with a smile
“You’d better come up with your own signal, then. The pencil’s mine!” Bill said cheerfully, sticking his pencil in his chest pocked and patting it.
“I’ll think of something and let you know,” Anatoly allowed.
“Are you joining us when we head back out?” he asked, changing the subject.
“I do not know, Bennett has not said anything. I would assume I was joining you.”
“Well, I’ll put you down for my team if you’re up for it?”
“Naturally,” he said with a grin. “If Bennett does not have other ideas. I do not think he likes me much.”
“You’re an unknown quantity,” Bill said tactfully. “He prefers agents he knows well. Give it a bit of time and he’ll like you about as much as he likes anyone.”
Anatoly smiled ruefully. “Hopefully I will get there,” he said. The men ate some of their lunch in silence before Anatoly remembered about the children. “What have you done with your young friends?” he asked Bill.
“I personally returned them to their mother,” Bill said with a slight wince as he remembered Allie’s face as the children had fallen over themselves to regale her with tales of their adventure, heedless of the trouble they were dropping him in. He couldn’t blame them, they had been raised to be honest and truthful. It would have been nice if they’d waited until he’d reached a safe distance before opening their mouths, though.
“Not a hugely pleasant experience?” asked Anatoly with a smirk, sitting back in his chair with his drink.
“She wasn’t best pleased,” Bill said. “She thinks I ought to have told her exactly why I was disappearing, I left it rather vague I’m afraid as she wasn’t feeling at all well that morning. I think she feels guilty for begging me to take the children off her hands, but she’s taken it out on me rather.”
“They are lucky children to have such a caring mother,” Anatoly said, a touch jealously. “I am sure she was just frightened and concerned.”
Bill grunted. “One of these days I shall have to bring her along on one of our trips so she can see that the children are perfectly capable of falling headlong into trouble with absolutely no help from me.”
Anatoly threw back his head and laughed. “I suppose you would say I was the same!”
“Absolutely.” Bill finished his food and sat back with a sigh. “Well, we’ll see if you avoid any trouble when we head out again later. Are you ready for some real action?”
“You bet I am!”
Well, that turned out to be a much longer story than either of us anticipated. Perhaps some day we will return to the islands of Scotland and write about the clean up operation, but for now, that’s the end of what Bill and Anatoly got up to during The Sea of Adventure.