Last time Bill checked out another airfield where he met two interesting characters.
Exiting the phone box Bill returned to his car and took out the packed lunch from Mrs Evans. He had eaten her food enough times now to not be surprised about how much she had packed for him, but he was grateful of her generosity. After eating as much as he felt able, and putting the rest back into the basket, he decided to call Cardiff to see if Inspector Morgan had found anything out.
There was no news yet, but it had been less than an hour. Bill decided to ask around about the airfield, wandering in and out of a few shops to make small purchases and striking up small-talk in the process. The responses were uniformly uninformative; suggesting that there was nothing of note about the airfield itself. One or two of the pilots had caused a bit of bother in the pub; being rowdy, getting into the odd fight but nothing out of the ordinary.
Bill then went back to the phone booth and tried one more phone call to Inspector Morgan before he went to meet the men at the local pub. This time his call netted some information. He got the last names of Alan and Mike as well as their somewhat colourful police records. Neither had committed any serious crimes but their rap sheets were long and varied, both serving several short sentences in the past. But then, curiously, nothing for at least five years. It seemed for some reason or another both had turned over a new leaf and had ‘gone straight’. Until now.
“They aren’t what I’d call dangerous, but they aren’t the most pleasant of people,” Morgan said down the phone. “Though, I do not know if they would be armed, if they are mixed up in what you think they are, it’s possible, so I would be careful, sir. Would you like me to send up some back up?”
Bill considered it for a moment. “No, I don’t think there’s any need for that. We’ll be in a public place and they seem eager enough to tell me what they know, I doubt I’ll have to do any fishing that might make them suspicious.”
Still, he decided to visit the local constabulary to give them a heads up. The pub would likely be on someone’s route for patrol, and it couldn’t hurt for a constable to pass by slightly more frequently early that evening.
The policeman behind the counter looked up as Bill walked in, and looked a little bored with life. “How can I help?” he asked, stopping short of sighing but it was clear he wanted to.
It was like magic, Bill thought with an internal sense of amusement, at how quickly attitudes changed when he flashed his phony warrant card. Policemen suddenly grew taller, more officious or obsequious. He briefly explained that he would be meeting with two possible witnesses and would like the bobby on the beat to keep a special eye out when passing the Lamb and Flag.
“I will make sure we maintain a presence at the pub sir,” said the constable. This was possibly the most exciting thing that had happened in the village on his watch since the end of the war. “Would you like us to be visibly present or remain outside, sir?”
“Just have someone pass by regularly, that’s all. Nothing more. I don’t want my witnesses getting scared off,” Bill said firmly, wondering if involving the local police was a mistake.
The policeman nodded, “Understood, sir. We will be discreet.”
Hoping to god that they would be, Bill walked back to the Lamb and Flag and got himself a pint which he sipped slowly as he waited for Alan and Mike to turn up.
Bill didn’t have to wait too much longer. He was on his second pint when the two airmen walked into the Lamb and Flag. He nodded at the men as they joined him at the bar. He asked the barman for two more pints for the men, and then went to sit at a table in the corner.
“Cheers, mate,” Alan said, gesturing with his pint before taking a drink. Mike had already taken his first drink but raised his pint in thanks afterwards, wiping foam from his moustache with his other hand.
Bill didn’t want to seem too eager to hear about their ‘under the radar’ job and so he let the Alan lead the conversation, it began as their favourite aircraft, then went into some scrapes they’d gotten into while flying. Soon Bill began to get the impression he was the one being pumped for information. These two wanted to know how much flying experience he had, how willing to bend the rules he was… He answered everything the best he could, mixing some fabrications in with the truth. He’d had enough flying experience to be able to answer a lot of things with more or less of the truth but he added things he’d seen and heard on the job for authenticity.
‘Golly, this is like a job interview for the wrong side of the law,’ he thought to himself a while later as he went up to get another round. He thought he was doing fairly well, but one could never tell.
When he sat down again, however, it seemed that the flow of the conversation was changing. Suddenly Alan was doing most of the talking while Mike was nodding along with Alan as he revealed what the job entailed. It was clear that there would be a big climax to the story, one that could be the deal breaker as to whether Bill would get the job.
Bill knew that he appeared calm on the outside but he was wracking his brains to work out if these men had anything to do with what was going on at the mountain the children had apparently disappeared into. Obviously he couldn’t just come out and ask them that. If they were only testing some new parachute or some such, why the secrecy?
“So it’s just flying to a remote location,” Bill said for clarification, “and taking a couple of paratroopers out for some tests?”
Mike and Alan shared a look that Bill couldn’t decipher. “That’s about the size of it,” Alan said.
Bill shrugged nonchalantly, “That sounds easy enough. Then I guess we have to collect the troopers to go back to their base? Or is there someone on the ground to take them back?” He looked at both of the men as he spoke, really wondering what the big secret was, this collecting paratroopers for trials didn’t seem too much of a secret deal, given that if it was legitimate they’d have been covered under the official secrets act and there hiring would be done through the proper channels. He didn’t like the feeling he was beginning to get that suggested there was something darker and more dangerous at the end of this “simple” job.
“You don’t have to worry about taking anyone back,” Alan said. “That’s the ground crew’s job.”
The pack of Alsatians? Bill thought to himself. Who better to find someone who had just parachuted into the Welsh valleys. “So, what’s the catch?”
To be continued…