Last time Bill, Johns and Anatoly decided to head down to Merthyr Tydfil to stay overnight, and Bill said good bye to Allie and the children.
With Johns in the driving seat, Anatoly had taken a seat in the back of the car. He knew his place, being the most junior agent in the group.
After Bill had slid into the passenger seat and Johns had eased the car down the rutted farm track Anatoly sat forward and leant on the back of the front seat. “So Bill… you and Allie?” he said questioningly.
“Not now, Petrov,” Bill grumbled, going slightly red at the boy’s chosen topic of conversation. “That’s personal question and none of your business!”
Johns stifled a laugh as he drove, eyes forward as Bill shot him a strong glare from his left.
“Really?” Anatoly responded mildly. “You pumped me for information about my job the second you could, but I get a ‘none of your business’? I shall have to draw my own conclusions, then,” he threatened. “You were very close on the sofa just now, and I noticed that your bedroom was right opposite hers…”
“Drop it!” Bill repeated firmly. “This is not a conversation for work time, Petrov! And stop smirking Johns, keep an eye on your driving!”
Anatoly rolled his eyes and sat back to light a cigarette. “Spoil sport.”
“All the time,” Bill said with a wicked grin. “But you know the rules, private lives are for private time, we’re on the clock, so we don’t discuss things of a personal nature. Don’t tell me you have forgotten all of your training, Petrov?”
“We’re not exactly on the clock right now, though, are we?” Johns said in a neutral sort of voice. “This is more like commuting to work in the morning.”
Bill glared at him even more sternly than before. “Will you do everyone a favour and keep your smart ideas to yourself Johns?” he quipped dryly. “And keep an eye on that road, I do not want to end up in the ditch.”
“Did I get the wrong end of the stick, then?” Anatoly asked, shifting forward so that he was between Bill and Johns again. “Did you make your move on her only for her to reject you?” He was fairly certain that was the furthest from the truth but he thought it might just push Bill into revealing something.
Bill sighed and rolled his eyes. He didn’t answer Anatoly until he’d lit his pipe. He could also see Johns smirking slightly out of the corner of his eye.
“That is not what I intimated at all, Anatoly,” he said calmly.
“I just wondered. You are being so cagey about it I could only imagine that it went badly for you,” Anatoly said with an insouciant shrug.
Bill narrowed his eyes at Anatoly. “You are on thin ice, Petrov,” he said through a cloud of smoke from his pipe. “You should know that nothing goes badly for me,” he couldn’t help but add.
“So, you are saying it went well, then?”
“You’re going around in circles,” Johns said over his shoulder. “Maybe you need to go back to interrogation class.”
“He does indeed,” Bill teased as Anatoly coloured pink in embarrassment.
“I know how to interrogate someone,” Anatoly muttered. “If I was doing it properly Bill would be in terrible pain!”
“Mind you, Bill has the advantage of many years practice in resisting interrogation,” Johns said fairly.
“That is true,” Anatoly agreed. “I would not stand a chance against him.”
Bill tipped his pipe to the other agents. “You’ll get there, you’re still young and new here really!”
Although Johns wasn’t much of a talker and generally preferred to remain quiet, he guided the conversation away from Bill and Mrs Mannering. He had seen more of them together than Anatoly had, and he was fairly certain that something was going on between them. However, if Bill wanted to keep that to himself then he must have good reason, and he, Johns, would do nothing to compromise that.
The rest of the journey was uneventful and soon they were pulling into Merthyr. “Where are the rest of the chaps holed up?” Bill asked as Johns drove up the main street. “Didn’t you say they were all over the place?”
“There’s no hotels, as such, in Merthyr,” Johns said. “So they’re taken rooms in a few different places. Probably for the best, as we wouldn’t want to draw attention to ourselves. It’s Henderson who’s in charge of them, and he’s in a pub down this way,” he said as he turned the car down a narrow street. “Do you want to see him before we find rooms of our own?”
“I’ll stay with the car,” he said to Bill and Anatoly as they stopped outside the pub. “Ready for a quick getaway if needed,” he added with a wink.
“It will be Henderson who will need a quick getaway if he gets on the wrong side of Bill,” Anatoly replied, and dodged a smack from the hand that wasn’t holding Bill’s pipe.
“You’re becoming far too cheeky for you own good,” he said, only half-serious.
Anatoly nodded and saluted. “Life is more fun that way,” he quipped. “After you, boss!”
They found Henderson and one or two others having a quiet drink at the bar and joined them. Anatoly grudgingly accepted a pint as they had little else worth drinking and took a mouthful to show willing. In a low voice Bill quickly outlined their intentions to stay in Merthyr overnight, and made arrangements to meet the helicopters in the morning.
Henderson nominated two of his men to relay the news to the others, too many new faces in and out of the pubs might draw the wrong sort of attention if anyone connected to the men in the mountain were around.
Bill and Anatoly left the pub a short while later, with a rendezvous set up for the following day on a derelict farm just outside the town that hadn’t been built again after the war.
They had to ask around a bit, but found a couple of decent rooms in a guest-house nearer the outskirts of the town, conveniently near to the abandoned farm. Being the senior agent Bill took the double room and left Anatoly and Johns to share the twin.
Before bed they had a drink at the little bar in the sitting-room downstairs and were careful to let the land-lady hear them discussing an entirely fabricated business in vacuum-cleaner sales to cement their innocuous identities. As her carpets were meticulously clean Bill wasn’t worried that she would ask to see any vacuum models.
To be continued…