Shadow of the Wolf: opening chapter
Bruno Schafer nursed his battered arm and tried to forget the pain in his foot. The wound had been hurriedly stitched by the medic on the submarine and his arm had been placed in a sling. There was nothing he could do now but wait, and pray that Kapitan Leutnant Ziegel, the commander of the stricken vessel, could bring them safely through their predicament. He glanced down at the locked safe beneath Ziegel's shelf-like desk. Inside the safe were the documents for which he had risked so much. Now it seemed fate was to deprive him, and the Reich, of the victory those papers could ultimately win.
The air in the submarine was hot and stale. Schafer had lost count of the hours since the depth charges had exploded round their stifling cocoon and sent them lurching for the dubious sanctuary of the sea bed. He opened another button on his shirt with his good hand and leaned back against the bulkhead. His chest sucked in the hot, almost breathless atmosphere and he thought of the clean, pure air of North-West Scotland from where Leutnant Ziegel had plucked him. The names of the rugged landscape appeared as sweet memories in his mind: Glen Carron, Achnasheen, the stunning beauty of Loch Maree as he journeyed to Gairloch; then Rubha Reidh and the submarine: the dull, cloying atmosphere inside the submarine.
In the control room Lieutenant Ziegel glanced impassively at the faces around him, unconsciously measuring the depth of fear stippled in their pale features. A bead of sweat broke free and trickled down his cheek. He wiped it away and immediately became aware of his own fear as his trembling finger touched his flesh.
He mopped his brow, dabbing carefully with a silk handkerchief. The movement attracted glances from some of the men. He lowered his arm almost apologetically. Somebody coughed. The noise rattled round the control room, startling in its loudness and concussive to their finely wound senses. Ziegel closed his eyes and leaned against the periscope column for support.
Their situation was classic and therefore its outcome more or less predictable and inevitable. They were unable to fight so they would have to surface and surrender, unless Ziegel's counterpart on the surface chose otherwise. If he could convince the Royal Navy that the depth charges had done their work, he knew that he would live to fight another day. The word 'surrender' rankled many U-boat commanders of the supremely confident and lethal Nazi wolf packs, but Ziegel knew he would eventually have to concede defeat and surrender because he owed it to his crew; he owed them a chance. For the moment however, even the smallest moment, he was gambling their lives against the chance that the Royal Navy would eventually consider them dead and leave the area.
Leutnant Ziegel had been caught at that moment when a U-boat is most vulnerable: he had surfaced to charge his batteries when the corvette attacked. Their own radar had failed to pick up the approaching ship and their lookout had not seen it because of the poor visibility until it had been too late. The blaring claxons and the bellowed command to “Dive! Dive! Dive” swept through the submarine like a banshee from Hell. But the depth charges had caught them as the U-boat dived and the results had been calamitous: one man was dead and three injured, including the civilian Schafer they had picked up from the Scottish coast.
Extensive damage in the forward torpedo room meant that defensively they were dead meat. If the corvette that was now searching hungrily for them was to give up, they might limp back to Germany to deliver Schafer and his secrets. It would have been a stunning coup for Germany. Those papers that Schafer had in his possession presented the Reich with a guarantee of overall victory in the battle of the Atlantic. But Ziegel was a realist; he knew in his bones that the corvette would remain on station and that his fate and that of his crew was sealed.
A noise from one of the alleyways leading from the control room disturbed his thoughts. A footfall, barely heard fell softly against the steel floor and a tired, strained face appeared at the door.
Ziegel was alarmed by Schafer’s unannounced appearance. Movement on a submarine at moments like this could be disastrous. It was forbidden. He frowned deeply to signal his absolute disapproval, but something in Schafer's eyes and the sudden lifting of his jaw warned him that his appearance at the control room door was not because of some frivolous caprice, but something that carried significant importance.
A tired, weary voice tumbled loosely from Schafer's lips. "Lieutenant Ziegel, I must speak with you." There was an ominous tone in the-man's voice, presaging an urgency that normally would have required some effort, but in the stale atmosphere talk and effort were at a premium. It drained all natural resources and added to the dangerously high carbon dioxide level in the submarine's air.
Ziegel looked towards his first officer who simply nodded, accepting control as his commander walked away from the periscope and left the control room. Schafer turned and followed the captain the few paces to his cabin. Ziegel pulled the heavy curtain across the doorway and sat gratefully on the small seat that folded down from the bulkhead. He studied the man's lean, cadaverous features now etched with the pain of near defeat. The pale, handsome face had mellowed around the once fierce, piercing blue eyes.
"What is it Schafer?" he asked without preamble.
Schafer was normally able to cope with stress and extreme mental pressure, but in the alien environment of the submarine his tolerance was reaching its limit. His face was ashen from the debilitating effect of his wound and his hands were trembling slightly. Ziegel recognised the signs of shock and wondered how Schafer would cope if they were unable to surface.
"Lieutenant Ziegel," Schafer started. "The reason you were ordered to pick me up was not revealed to you. Am I correct?"
Ziegel concurred. "That is normal procedure." He had picked agents up many times before, never privy to their secrets or their identities. "I was told only a name."
"It is my real name. I am Hauptsturmführer Schafer. Kriegsmarine Sturmabteilung."
Ziegel arched his eyebrows, moderately impressed: a captain in the Naval SA. "But you are engaged on clandestine work Hauptsturmführer?"
Schafer ignored the question. "Is there any way out of our dilemma?" he asked unnecessarily. The pain throbbed incessantly in his foot, and his eyes closed for a moment. "I must get back to Germany. It is vital." He laid emphasis on the last word.
Ziegel simply frowned and shook his head. "I think for us the war is over. Soon I will have to surface. If we remain here we will all suffocate. I owe it to my crew."
Schafer's eyes opened. "I understand that, but the papers I have are vital for the defence of the Reich. I must get them back to Germany." His chest heaved as he took in a deep breath. "There must be a way, Lieutenant. Some way we can avoid the attentions of the British." Ziegel waited, having no inclination to engage in irrelevancies. Schafer's eyes slid towards the safe. If Ziegel knew, he thought to himself, it might help. He determined on a course of action that might prevail upon the man's sense of duty and stimulate his desire to act, to fight back and render to his country a service no man could hope to surpass. Schafer had to measure his words carefully, using as little energy as possible.
"The papers I asked you to lock in your safe contain precise details, blueprints and frequencies of the centimetric radar being used by the British against our wolf packs."
As a statement it was dour and colourless, but to Ziegel it was electrifying. He felt the muscles in his back tighten at Schafer’s admission. For months now the British had been scoring spectacular successes, against Germany's killer U-boat submarines. The German high command knew that the Allies were now able to detect submarines both on the surface and partially submerged at a distance of less than two kilometres.
The wolf pack's search receivers, used to detect approaching surface vessels and aircraft, operated on a wavelength of one-point-five metres. They were proving to be almost totally ineffective, particularly in inclement weather and at night. Ziegel reasoned that he had almost certainly been caught by the enemy's new radar as he transmitted a signal to Germany whilst partially submerged.
The effect on morale among the submarine crews had been devastating as the losses mounted. Consequently Admiral Dönitz had placed the highest priority on finding the answer to Britain's latest weapon. Ziegel felt a strange disquiet, knowing the answer lay secure just a few feet from him.
"You are quite certain the documents are genuine?" he asked unnecessarily. It was highly unlikely that Schafer would have risked everything to carry the papers back to Germany.
Schafer passed a trembling hand over his face, pushing his fingertips deep into his tired eyes. "You are free to examine those papers if you wish. I am sure you will be satisfied they are what Admiral Dönitz has been praying for."
"It will not be necessary," Ziegel told him. "My orders to pick you up had a high classification: the highest in fact. I know you are important, as are the papers."
Schafer shook his head. "It is not me that is important, Lieutenant, it is the information. We must get it back to Admiral Dönitz at high command."
Ziegel said nothing because there was nothing useful he could say; their position was hopeless. He studied Schafer with compassion and a feeling of great loss. It was a feeling he had for himself, for Schafer and for all the submarine crews who might die because he was unable to act.
"Is there nothing you can do?" Schafer asked, his voice taut, the appeal evident in his tortured face.
Ziegel shook his head. "No. I either stay here on the-bottom or I surface, it is as simple as that. If I surface the British will order me to surrender. We cannot fight, it would be pointless." A strange look passed over his face. "And for all I know, the British may even decide to sink us." He looked upwards. "They are still up there, still waiting. If I try to move, they will send more depth charges down."
Schafer's eyes wandered back to the safe. "You are quite sure the Royal Navy is still there?"
Ziegel nodded slowly. "Then why have they stopped their depth charges?"
"They are not exactly sure where we are," Ziegel explained, "The sea bed here is very uneven. We are lying in a trough. It makes it difficult for them to detect us. But they know we are here. They will wait until our air is too foul to breathe." He shrugged. It was all so obvious.
Schafer seemed to cave in. He slumped on the bed, his back against the bulkhead. For a moment Ziegel felt curiously triumphant, as though scoring even a small victory was important.
Schafer looked up. "How close are we to land?" he asked.
Ziegel was surprised by the question. "Between eight and ten kilometres I would think. Why?"
Schafer folded his arms, lifting one hand to rub negligently across the corners of his mouth. He pulled on his lip. In his mind he was weighing up the possibility of a desperate plan succeeding, clinging to the belief that there was still a flickering hope. He lowered his arms and sat forward.
"I could do it," he said demonstratively. "With luck I could still do it."
Ziegel wondered if the strain of living under constant threat of detection and execution coupled with his most recent and harrowing experience was having an effect on the man's power of reason.
"We must surface," Schafer was saying. His eyes moved restlessly and he was becoming very excited. "You must surrender."
"One moment, Schafer," Ziegel started, but was interrupted.
"No, it's quite straightforward. While you are holding the attention of the British, I will slip into the water. I will have the papers with me. When you have boarded, I will swim ashore."
Ziegel could not help but admire the man's tenacity and courage. Even when it was clear his injuries would seriously hinder him, he still had the temerity to gamble his life against quite overwhelming odds. He shook his head. "It is very brave of you, Hauptsturmführer, but also very foolish. Your wounds are too severe." He paused and pulled a book of Admiralty charts towards him. He opened the pages until he had the chart showing the waters around Cape Wrath on the North-West tip of Scotland. For a moment he stared almost wistfully at the chart, and then he stabbed his finger at the page. "We are here, approximately ten kilometres south-west of North Cape Island." He held the chart so that Schafer could see it. "If I was unwise enough to let you go, and you made it, all you would have succeeded in doing is reaching a very bleak, sparsely populated island." He passed the book to him.
Schafer studied it carefully. North Cape Island lay mid-way between the Orkneys and Outer Hebrides. It was, as Ziegel pointed out, isolated and remote.
"What do you know of this island, Lieutenant?" he asked. "Anything at all?"
Ziegel breathed in deeply. It sounded harsh in the quiet cabin. Once again that wistful look came into his eyes as he recalled happier times before the war. He nodded gently. "I know it very well,” he said softly. “It is a normal island community. There are some sheep, goats, and other livestock. Until the outbreak of war the islanders depended on the whale for their survival, but it is unlikely they do so now. The whaling station will be defunct, I imagine. They will scratch a living from the island until the war is over. It is a pity because they were quite a flourishing community." He sounded reflective. "They are fine people: a strong Celtic stock. The name of the island is anglicised from the Norwegian, Nordcaper. It is a species of Atlantic whale."
"They will have boats," Schafer said eagerly, leaning forward..
"Well naturally, but stealing a boat would merely signal your presence in the area."
Schafer snapped the book shut. Ziegel was right, a boat would be missed. But it was a risk, and war was all about taking risks. "I have to try, Ziegel, it is my duty."
Ziegel felt the muggy atmosphere stinging his eyes and he closed them. Images of North Cape drifted into his mind. He could see the whaling station with its broad flensing-plane angling down into the water. The steam swirling up out of the try works, dancing into a flattening wind and vanishing. Behind the station, rising up to touch the vast, empty sky was the towering Blue Whale Mountain. It dwarfed the island and gave shelter to the islanders living on the lowlands along its eastern flank.
He took the chart book from Schafer and returned it to the back of the desk. He had a choice to make. A few minutes earlier it had been simple, but now it had changed dramatically. He knew Schafer would fail, there was no question of that, and with his failure would go the secret of Britain's anti-submarine radar. It would be lost to the Reich for ever.
The phone buzzed briefly from its mounting on the bulkhead. He picked it up and listened carefully. Then he nodded and replaced it.
"We have very little time," he said to Schafer. "The pressure hull has been weakened. We are taking more water."
"That means we have to surface," Schafer said.
Ziegel grunted. "Yes, but I will not allow you to throw your life away unnecessarily." He drew in a deep breath. He could feel the hypertension in his body as he summoned the nerve to say it. The decision had been made. "I will go."
Having said it, it sounded quite matter of fact, as though the question of who should go was not important, but that at least someone should. Now he had made his decision he felt at ease and had no qualms about going.
Schafer was astonished. A clandestine operation such as this, highly charged with danger, was not taken on lightly. He admired Ziegel's courage but not his wisdom.
"Lieutenant, that is ridiculous," he scoffed and threw his head back. "You are not trained to work as I am. You ..."
Ziegel cut him off angrily. "Listen! Once I have surrendered to the Royal Navy my war is over. I will not be able to fight for my country again. It shames me to think I will have been captured and rendered useless.” He paused for a moment, letting his anger subside. “For many years I worked for a Norwegian whaling company. I know North Cape Island extremely well. I know the people. If I swim ashore I stand a better chance of success than you. I know where the radio transmitter is on the island. I could hide until it is safe to use it. With your codes I can signal my position and arrange a pick up." He paused again and lowered his head. Then he looked directly at Schafer and spoke almost in a whisper. "There is someone I could contact for sanctuary if my position became desperate. This person is not a sympathiser, just someone who could be coerced if necessary, no more than that.".
"I understand," Schafer said. "But what of me?"
"You and I will change places," Ziegel told him. "My first officer will cooperate. He will surrender on your behalf because of your injuries." He arched his eyebrows. "Concussion perhaps? I am sure you are well trained in the art of subterfuge."
Schafer considered it most carefully and could see the risks Ziegel would be taking were not as great as his own. "It might work, Lieutenant," he agreed. "It might work. It is important that you conceal the papers in a place from which they can be easily recovered." He opened his hand and held it forward towards the captain "You may not survive. You may even get caught, but those papers must be safe. Their location should be somewhere that is secure but is easy to locate."
Ziegel smiled. "I am a whaler. The Blue Whale sounding draws my attention constantly. It is easy to locate."
Schafer missed the correlation. "You must transmit carefully. Use the codes wisely."
Ziegel stood up. "But of course. Now I must prepare for our surrender. Scuttling charges must be laid. The crew must be briefed, as indeed must my first officer." He looked at his watch. "Wait here," he ordered. "I will return shortly."
He went through to the control room where the atmosphere seemed to have deteriorated frighteningly. The men were sweating freely and looked exhausted. Ziegel was happy that their suffering would soon be over. He spoke softly.
"We surface in twenty minutes. I expect the British to be in attendance. We will not fight." He turned to his first officer. "Rudi, have the word passed among the crew. All except key personnel are to be assembled here in fifteen minutes. I wish to see you in my cabin in five minutes. That is all."
The U-boat surfaced in an explosion of white water and frightening speed. The bow lanced through the dull grey sea and settled in a wallowing dive with the grace of a floundering duck. The waves rolled over the narrow catwalk and white foam poured out from between the outer casing and the pressure hull. She rolled heavily, her bow down with the weight of the water in the forward torpedo room. Then, in grand defiance, she settled to ride the waves with a kind of flamboyant elegance.
The black cross on her conning tower was scarred from the ravages of the sea. The number on her side was chipped and flaking. Below it the metal was rusting; it ran in streaks down her sides. Water poured through the scuppers on the bridge as the hatch wheel spun. The heavy cover came up and hooked into the latch.
The first officer scrambled through the hatch followed by a weak and limping Schafer. He was wearing the brown serge battledress blouse and distinctive white cap cover favoured by all U-boat commanders. Ziegel came up but remained out of sight.
Off their port beam, one thousand yards away, the navy corvette had turned towards them. Its signal lantern winked out at them flashing the command to 'stand to'. One by one the submarine's crew filed through the hatch coaming to clamber down on to the rolling catwalk. They formed up in line standing correctly to attention.
Schafer watched them from the bridge. Beside him the first officer stood ready to surrender the crew. Schafer laid a hand on Ziegel's shoulder. Ziegel looked up from his crouched position.
Without stooping, Schafer spoke to him. "As soon as you can, transmit your presence on the island. Use my code name. When I have contacted my section through the normal Red Cross channels they will stand by on a listening frequency. It could take two or three weeks."
"You are worrying," Ziegel told him. "We have already gone over this."
Schafer laughed nervously. "Yes, I am sorry." He squeezed Ziegel's shoulder. "Good luck and God go with you. Heil Hitler."
Ziegel checked himself again. Beneath his dark blue sweater he had the bulky, waterproof package strapped securely to his waist. He carried a kapok lifejacket which he intended to put on once he was in the water and at a safe distance from the corvette.
The sky was dull and overcast which gave him excellent cover in the murky sea. It was early dawn and he was convinced he would not be seen. The first officer had been able to position the U-boat so that Ziegel could drop from the conning tower into the water, and do this out of sight of the Royal Navy Corvette.
He landed in the water and disappeared beneath its choppy surface and could feel the cold instantly creeping around his skin. He had both arms folded beneath the package which was covered by one of the crewmen’s tunic. He surfaced and turned in the water, looked towards the north, scanning for North Cape Island. He soon picked out the rising silhouette of Blue Whale Mountain, its peak thrusting upwards towards the grey clouds.
Ziegel knew he was risking a great deal. Although North Cape Island looked reasonably close, he knew it would be at least six or seven kilometres away. Schafer had tried to manoeuvre the U-boat so that the current could drag it closer to landfall in order to give Ziegel a fighting chance.
The sea was moderate. A slight swell was running but the current was favourable. He felt good, elated because he was still fighting for the Reich. He was a strong swimmer and was now convinced there was nothing to prevent him reaching the sanctuary of the island.
He pushed out carefully, kicking his legs in a scissor action. The swell lifted him gently, carrying him forward. He didn't glance back at the submarine but concentrated on his breathing and was careful not to extend himself too much so that he could conserve his energy. He had been in the water about thirty minutes when he heard the dull, explosive crumps as the scuttling charges exploded. He trod water and looked back at the submarine. Its conning tower was plainly visible but its hull was hidden from him. He watched as the tower began to tilt until it disappeared from view. He knew it was over. Now his destiny lay on that remote island and the dark, rising shape of Blue Whale Mountain.
Schafer was unmoved when he heard the scuttling charges go up. He glanced back from the corvette’s launch and glowered at the spent vessel, blaming it for his loss. He was helped on board the corvette where a blanket was draped round his shoulders. The first officer spoke on his behalf, addressing a Royal Navy lieutenant in accordance with unabashed tradition, surrendering honourably as vanquished to victor.
The preliminaries were conducted with typical British correctness. Schafer was taken to the sick bay along with the other injured crewmen where their injuries were attended to. He was advised that, following a period of rest, he would be taken to the wardroom for questioning.
Schafer fell asleep soon after that. Sedation and mild shock combined to send him into a deep sleep. When he woke it was dark. The sick bay was quite small and he could not remember what he was doing there. He threw back the covers as the throbbing pulse of the powerful screws reminded him of the events that had occurred. He sat still, recalling what had happened, remembering with bitterness his cruel luck. He thought for a moment of Leutnant Ziegel and admired the man’s bravery, and his foolishness. He doubted whether the man would survive, or even could survive in such an inhospitable environment.
Suddenly the room lurched violently as the corvette heeled over. Schafer was thrown from his bunk. The screws thrashed violently and sent an awesome, juddering motion through the entire ship. He reached for the bedrail for support when a pulverising explosion ripped through the boat. He was hurled forward as the impact of the explosion brought the ship to a halt. Then all hell seemed to break loose. Klaxons sounded on the decks and he could hear men running and shouting. He felt his way through the darkness, groping round the sick bay.
The deck tilted beneath his feet and he slipped away from the bed. He struck out blindly, grabbing at anything in his desperation. He felt a blanket at his feet and he scooped it up. He threw it round his shoulders like a cape and dropped to his knees, scrabbling at the floor to gain some tenuous hold on the canting deck.
Another explosion ripped through the corvette as another torpedo struck. He could sense the boat was beginning to settle in the water and he screamed in terror. The two other injured crewmen in the sick bay screamed and shouted with him, and their fears multiplied until they were reduced to victims of abject fear.
Then suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, the door opened. Framed in the doorway by a strange, iridescent light which flickered stood a rating. He was holding on to the door for support.
"Right gents," he said cheerily. "Time we was away."
In his hand he held a torch. He flicked the powerful beam on and shone it round the room. "One of your kraut mates has buggered us, so we've got to go for a swim."
He stepped into the sick bay. "Ah, there you are sir," he said as the light fell on the battered Schafer. "Now if you can walk on yer own, I'll help your mates."
He pulled Schafer to his feet and pushed him gently towards the door. Then he calmly returned to the bay and helped the other two injured men out. He assembled the three of them on the poop deck and told them apologetically, that it was up to them now; there were others who needed help.
Events after that were dreamlike. Schafer could remember a lot of noise and people shouting. Then he was in the water and somebody was pulling him into a boat. Through the maelstrom he was consciously aware of people around him, but it all added to the unreality of the situation.
How long he stood on the deck of the doomed corvette, or how long he spent in the water, he didn't know. Time became meaningless where nothing made sense. Somehow he held on, unconscious of the wounds that threatened to overcome him, blindly obeying those words of command that filtered through to his numbed brain until he knew he was safe.
He woke again for the second time in a few hours to experience that curious sensation of déjà vu: the bunk, the soft glow of a bulkhead light and the quiet murmur of powerful engines. He sat up. Somebody moved in the small cabin and said something to him. Then they left. He lay back on the bed and wondered where he was, unconcerned.
Some minutes later two men returned. One of them wore the uniform of a senior lieutenant in the German Kriegsmarine. The light in the cabin came on and the officer looked down at Schafer.
"Ah, you are awake, Lieutenant Ziegel, good day to you. I hope you are well?" He watched Schafer sit up. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Kapitän Leutnant Hessler, commander unterseeboot one zero seven."
Schafer couldn't believe it. Hessler was a legend in his own lifetime in Germany; one of the heroes of the Reich.
"You are most fortunate," Hessler said. "It seems we have plucked you from the clutches of the British although I admit that at the time I was unaware of your presence on the corvette. Or that of your crew," he added. "What there is of it I am afraid. I am most dreadfully sorry." He brightened a little. "Still, you are awake and we can talk. If you feel fit enough, perhaps you will join me in my cabin." He saluted and turned towards the door.
"Kapitän Hessler, where are we?" Schafer asked.
Hessler paused. "We are somewhere between Scotland and Norway. It is why I stopped to pick up survivors, because we are going home." He smiled. "Within forty-eight hours you will dance with the frauleins in Germany."
Schafer smiled, but it faded quickly. "Kapitän Hessler, I am not Leutnant Ziegler. My name is Bruno Schafer. Hauptsturmführer Schafer, Kriegsmarine Sturmabteilung, and I have more important matters to attend to than the frauleins in Germany." He threw back the covers and swung his legs round. "I have a mission to fulfil Lieutenant: one that begins the moment I reach the Fatherland."
Four weeks later
Maura Lucas lay on her bed listening to the sounds of the fading storm. Sleep was a stranger to her that night. The rain had stopped and no longer rattled noisily against the small windows of her cottage. Occasionally a weak flicker of light signalled the distant lightning, but the rolls of thunder were thin and all but a memory.
She looked around the walls of her room, its vague shapes just visible in the shadows. She thought of her son, Billy serving in the Royal Navy. He was barely nineteen but like so many young men he had been brought forcibly to maturity by this cruel and terrible war.
She wished he was here now, just to talk, to ease her loneliness. Sometimes she was able to shut him from her mind and find release in deep sleep. And when sleep would not come she would seek comfort in a bottle. But if the amber nectar failed to work, she would wrap a coat around her and walk along the foreshore.
She rolled over, pushed the covers away and sat up on the edge of the bed. A flicker of light illuminated a small, gilt-framed picture of young Billy. He had been eighteen when it had been taken. He looked such a fine boy in his uniform. She was so proud of him. She got up and walked over to the window and pulled aside the heavy black-out curtain covering the window. She stood there for several minutes staring out into the darkness, her arms folded across her body and watched as the storm moved away, barely visible as the lightning flashed weakly in the distance.
Maura decided there was little to be gained by remaining in her bedroom unable to sleep. There was no bottle in the house either, so she would have to take her fear for a walk: the fear of what might happen to Billy. She went through to the front door of the cottage and lifted her topcoat from the hook behind the door. She pulled it on and stepped out into the night.
Although the wind was brisk it was from the south, which meant it was not too cold. The clouds were moving sufficiently to let the moonlight flood the ground in patches, but she carried a torch with her from habit. She went down the small garden path and out through an open gate.
Maura's cottage lay on the eastern side of Blue Whale Mountain. She could walk to a small beach from her cottage in ten minutes along a route she often used, and one with which she was quite familiar. Although the wind was in the south-west quarter, the shore line towards this end of the island turned north before curving round into a large bay. This meant the sea would be relatively calm and the beach in reasonable shelter; almost like a lee shore.
She walked carefully over the soft, springy grass, and had no difficulty in keeping to the track. Already the task of walking in the half-light was beginning to take her mind off young Billy and she could feel the tension draining from her body.
The beach to which she was heading was one of the few on the island that could be described as such. Most of the island’s coastline was defined by shallow cliff edges and rocky, scree covered slopes. This particular stretch of the coastline, as small as it was, squeezed itself tightly between high cliffs and was one of the few places that trapped the sun during their brief summers.
She stepped off the soft scree and on to the beach when something attracted her attention. It was a movement that interrupted the patterns filtering through to her eyes. She stopped and looked to a point about one hundred yards away. The dark, colourless sea reflected the silver moonlight in a myriad of coruscating shapes. Maura peered carefully at what she thought was a boat cutting through the spindrift, its silhouette picked out sharply as it slid through the moonlit patches on the surface. It was low and quite flat, like a rubber dinghy. Maura could see several figures in it, all sitting, or kneeling. One of them, in the prow, was kneeling quite upright, as though he was guiding the others to the shore. She frowned and walked towards the point where she expected the dinghy to beach, quickening her footsteps. Although it didn't help, she stooped slightly, peering forward in the manner of someone whose eyesight is failing. She stopped as the leading figure in the boat jumped from the craft as it came ashore. He turned back towards the boat. Maura could see he had a rope in his hands. It went taut as he held the boat. The remainder of the silhouettes clambered out of the boat and together they dragged the dinghy to a high point on the beach. Maura thought there was about twenty men that clambered out of the small boat, and by their body language they all looked to be behaving surreptitiously.
The figure who had been kneeling in the prow cast around as though searching for something; perhaps trying to figure out the best way off the beach. From what Maura could see it looked as though he was limping, although not in a pronounced way. She hurried forward, not suspecting for one moment that the strangers may be hostile. She made no attempt to tread as softly as she could, so it was no surprise when the leader heard Maura's footsteps as she approached.
He turned towards her and held his hand up to the men behind him who were coming up the beach. They all stopped immediately at his command. Maura hesitated and then threw caution to the wind. When she reached him she could see that he was wearing the traditional trousers and jersey of a merchant seaman. There was no cap on his head. He seemed to relax as Maura stopped in front of him. She could not see his face clearly, nor the expression that passed over it. He lifted his hand and touched his forehead in a form of salute. He spoke to her in a language she didn't understand but thought she recognised as Swedish.
"I'm sorry, I speak English," she said. "Who are you? Where are you from?"
He turned and spoke to his men quickly and quietly, his words exuding authority. Then he spoke to Maura. "I apologise. This land, where are we?"
"You are on North Cape Island," she told him. "It is off the north-west coast of Scotland."
He bowed his head slightly. "Thank you. Please, we have been sunk. We wish to use a radio or telephone to contact the authorities."
He looked straight at her, his expression fixed. For a moment Maura thought he wasn't going to answer.
"Balaena," he said at last. "Now please, you have authority here?"
Maura shook her head. "No, the authority here is Reevel Anderson. He has a radio link with the mainland. I will take you to him."
He thanked her. "One moment please, I will explain to my crew."
He turned back to his men and raised his arms above his waist, like a hen gathering the chicks. Maura waited while he spoke to them. He was brief but returned with four men. He bowed his head a little. It was polite; not formal. He said nothing and waited for Maura to take them to the island radio.
The moon was still throwing sufficient light to see clearly, but Maura switched on her torch. It gave her an inexplicable feeling of comfort in circumstances that had suddenly become quite alien to her. She took the men back up over the cliff path along the grassy moor to follow the track leading towards her cottage. But before reaching it she turned north east, heading along a wide, rising path. It dropped into a hollow and then rose again quite sharply. From its highest point there was a commanding view in daylight over the bay to the north and the picturesque Mullach Bay. In daylight they would also have been able to see the whaling station and natural harbour formed by the cliffs, but at this time beneath a flickering moon and scudding cloud the shapes were meaningless and cluttered.
Maura kept on the track until it stopped beside the front gate of a large, imposing house. The house stood alone and quite solitary, its white stone reflecting the moonlight.
"This is what we call the big house," she said. "Wait here while I'll knock Reevel up." She opened the gate and walked up the path to the front door. She was beginning to feel quite uneasy now. She put it down to the uncertainties of war and strange action of the men behind her. She lifted the brass knocker, shaped like a whale and rattled on the door. She listened as the sounds echoed inside the house, waited a short while and knocked again. Soon she heard the sound of movement and a dark voice muttering indecipherably from somewhere above them. Then the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs.
Reevel Anderson came to the door as any man would that had been called from his bed in the middle of the night by an insistent knocking on the door. He was still tying his dressing gown around him when he opened the door to Maura.
He was an impressive looking man. He had a full beard of the purest white which was neatly clipped. His shoulders were square and echoed a strength that was waning with the onset of age. His voice was pitched high when he spoke and carried the soft burr of the Celt.
"Oh, 'tis you, widow Lucas," he scowled. "And what is it that brings you here at this ungodly hour of the night?"
Maura turned and pointed towards the men huddled by the gate. She explained everything to him. "And as you are the authority on this island, Reevel Anderson, and have the radio, I brought them to you."
Reevel peered over her shoulder and called to the men. "You of the Balaena, do you ken the English?"
The leader stepped forward and walked down the path to stand beside Maura. "I speak and understand English well," he said.
Reevel frowned at him, unable to see his features and make an assessment of the man. "The widow tells me you want to use our radio, but I have to remind you that there’s a war on, and our radio time is strictly limited."
The leader nodded. "I understand, but I assure you that I need just time enough for a quick transmission. That is all."
Reevel acquiesced and stepped back inside from the open door. "Bring your men in. I’ll take you up to the radio room."
The leader turned and signalled to his men. They came up the path and filed quietly in to the large hallway. Maura followed them in. Suddenly one of them stepped round her, reached for the door and shut it firmly. Then he turned the key and locked the door.
Revel heard the key turning in the lock and swung round. "What are you doing?" he asked. "There's no need for that." The five men stared at him impassively. He took a step towards them. "I asked you what you think you are doing."
The group's leader pushed his hand into his jacket and pulled out a Luger pistol. He pointed it directly at Reevel. Maura gasped, putting her hand to her mouth. The others moved swiftly, taking up positions around them. Reevel's mouth opened in surprise. "What the devil ... Who are you?"
The man smiled. There was no malice in his face. The smile was even and pleasant, and perhaps a little patronising. "Permit me to introduce myself." He said it with a tell-tale click of the heels. "Hauptsturmführer Schafer, Kriegsmarine Sturmabteilung."
Reevel felt his heart pound in his chest at the awful realisation of what the man had just revealed. He clutched at the fabric of his dressing gown and took deep breaths. "I don’t understand," he stuttered. "Kriegsmarine? What is this all about? What in God’s name are you doing here?"
"I am Captain Bruno Schafer of the Imperial German Navy," he reminded Reevel. "Our stay on the island of yours will hopefully be brief, but only if you cooperate. Now, where is the radio?"
Reevel felt rooted to the spot. His heart was thumping louder against his ribs. Is this what it must be like? He wondered. Were the stories true about the knock in the middle of the night? The things he had read about Hitler's storm troopers before the war; were they true?
"Quickly!" Schafer snapped. "I do not have much time."
Reevel gestured towards the stairs. Schafer beckoned to two of his men. They followed him up the stairs while the others remained on guard below, holding Reevel and Maura.
They reached the radio room quickly. It was small, but furnished. The radio was on a flat table beside a window looking incongruous against the flowered wallpaper. Schafer immediately sat in front of the radio and put on the headset. His actions were of one who was familiar with such equipment. He switched the set on and moved his hands over the tuning dials, watching as it hummed into life.
He waited until the set had warmed up, pushed the table microphone to one side and began running his hands over the tuning dials. He listened attentively until he had the frequency he wanted and tapped out the Morse key. A response clattered back and he tapped out a rapid message. Then he leaned back in the chair and switched off.
Beside the radio lay several manuals. On top of them was a single exercise book. He picked it up and thumbed through it, reading the entries with care. Then he removed the headset, flinging it down carelessly, and went back downstairs.
"Very commendable." He held the book up. "I see from your log that you contact the mainland regularly." He opened the book. "Wrath Kyle. Each morning." He closed the book and looked directly at Reevel. "You will do so in the usual way this morning."
Reevel made a dissenting noise, his expression set firm. "If you think I will do your bidding, you are mistaken."
Schafer handed the log book to one of his men. "You will. Your cooperation is desirable but not essential. It will ensure that no harm will come to any of the islanders, or yourself and the woman." He looked at Maura. "The one you call Widow Lucas. We intend to remain here for a few days, no more. If you do not contact Wrath Kyle in the morning, I will shoot three people."
As Procurator Fiscal on the island, Reevel Anderson had to deal with few problems. He was regarded kindly by all the other folk and looked on as the ideal arbitrator whenever arguments broke out. Before the war, when Mullach Bay was filled with the noise of whalers, the smell and sweat of the try works, the invasive screech of the sea birds contended with a few drunks to claim the privilege of causing the biggest problem. He was, to all men, the oracle, the arbitrator, the man whose word was law. Only once before had Reevel's placid domain suffered an invidious period. It had been caused by the brutal and callous assault on young Ailie Macdonald. She had been attacked by an itinerant whale man and was unable to identify her assailant. The trauma of rape had left her dumb: she had never spoken since.
Reevel believed he would never again know such appalling shock on the island. He knew now that, with growing abhorrence, it was happening again. He held the German's rock-steady gaze for some moments and knew it would happen. After that, what else? Who else? The islanders looked to him for manifestly sensible decisions in which careful reasoning played an essential part. If he were to rebuff this arrogant Nazi, others would suffer.
"I am waiting for your decision," Schafer reminded him.
Reevel did not like looking down the barrel of a Luger and nodded slowly. "I will do as you ask."
Schafer was satisfied. "Good. At your usual time you wait by the radio. You will ignore all calls at first. Then you will raise Wrath Kyle and explain that you are having trouble with the radio. Something wrong with the aerial perhaps." Something else occurred to him. "Who carries out the repairs on the set?"
"Marker Mace," Reevel replied. "He's an engineer. He is disabled. No war for him." There was an irony in that statement because it looked now as though Marker would come face to face with the enemy.
"You will say that Herr Mace will work on it," Schafer told him. "One of my men will be standing beside you as you transmit. He speaks English fluently. If you are stupid enough to try anything that will alert the authorities to our presence here, you will be shot." He looked beyond Reevel's shoulder. "What is through there?"
Reevel did not have to turn round to know what Schafer was talking about. "It is the council room. The island council hold their meetings there."
"That will do admirably," Schafer said, nodding. Then he held his arm forward to usher Reevel and Maura through into the room. It was furnished splendidly, which surprised Schafer. In the centre of the room was a large, beautifully polished, oval table. Around it were twenty, high back mahogany chairs. The walls were furnished with cabinets containing all manner of silver and glassware. Fine china dinner sets graced one cabinet alone. Another housed exquisite examples of whalebone carving, looking like delicate ivory. There were beautifully bound books, and gilt-framed oil paintings. It was most impressive.
"I must congratulate you, Herr Anderson," Schafer said. "You are obviously a man of taste and obvious wealth."
"None of it is mine," Reevel replied. "I am merely custodian of the island's wealth. The house is mine but the contents belong to the people of North Cape Island."
Schafer spent some time inspecting the works of art. At length he spoke to one of his men. "Kretschmer, go back to the beach and ask Lieutenant Brennecke to bring the men up."
When the man had gone Schafer asked Reevel and Maura to sit at the table. Then he pulled something from his pocket and laid it on the table before them. It was a copy of an aerial photograph of North Cape Island. Reevel and Maura exchanged glances.
Schafer sat down at the end of the table. "I want you both to write down the names of all the islanders. There are not many, I know that." He pointed to the copy on the table. "I want you to mark accurately on there the dwellings of these people. Please do not make any mistakes. I also want you to point out the schoolroom. When we have assembled everybody inside the school, my men will begin a search of every single building on this island. If you leave anyone off that list and we find them inside a building when we make the search, they will be shot."
He said it in such a manner that it left no doubt in their minds he was ruthless enough to carry out the threat.
They worked carefully for thirty minutes, each checking from time to time with the other. They completed a list of the islanders and identified the cottages and houses by numbers relating to the order on the list.
Kretschmer returned with Lieutenant Brennecke as they were completing the list. Schafer instructed Brennecke to guard them. He briefed them on his orders to Reevel with regard to the radio transmission. Before he left the room he stopped at the door and spoke to Reevel.
"Do you speak Gaelic?" he asked.
Reevel looked at him curiously. "I do."
Schafer smiled. "Then please remember that if you use that language when transmitting, or any other that Lieutenant Brennecke does not understand, you will be signing your own death warrant." He bowed, dipping his head in that short, Aryan manner, and left them sitting stunned and quite afraid.
On the mainland young Billy Lucas turned and waved a farewell to the lorry driver who had just dropped him on the road leading to the village of Wrath Kyle. It was a small fishing community that clung doggedly to the inhospitable coast round Cape Wrath. From his position above the harbour he could see out over the grey waters of the North Atlantic. He hoped to catch a glimpse of North Cape Island but he was to be denied; the scudding cloud and dull sea washed out the horizon, and the sight of his home was lost to view. He crossed his fingers and allowed himself a small wish, hoping he could make it there before nightfall. Then he hoisted his kitbag on to his shoulder and set off down the hill towards the tiny harbour.
The road down which Billy was walking gave him a picture postcard view of Wrath Kyle, with its small port and the boats anchored alongside the quay and bobbing up and down in the water alongside small buoys. He could see the smoke houses where the herrings were turned into succulent kippers, and the small cottages that lined up alongside the harbour. Billy followed the road as it curved gradually towards the stone quay. He could see some of the larger fishing smacks were tied up. Billy knew some would be out fishing. Had it not been for the war, the harbour would have been empty. He walked along the quay to an old, stone building that he figured would be occupied. If boats were at sea, this small harbour office would be second home to old Kyle Luke, octogenarian and purveyor of countless stories to whoever was willing to listen. Billy had once counted himself among Kyle's most voracious listeners, recalling some of the most ambitious stories the old man had been happy to tell.
He reached the old building and pushed the door open to a world that was as familiar to him as his cottage on North Cape Island. The warmth from the pot-bellied stove that burned through winter and summer alike rushed out to greet him and draw him in. The smell of Kyle's pipe was as pungent as ever.
The old man glanced up from a book he was reading. An old flat sailor's cap sat on his head. He moved his head back slightly and took his pipe from his mouth. There was recognition there but with an awakening disbelief. He rose slowly from the old leather chair, its cushions permanently pressed into a shape that had never changed despite the years.
"It's young Billy Lucas," he said. "My God if it isn't young Billy himself."
He stood quite still, his eyes trying to take in the enormous figure that stood before him. "You must be seven feet tall lad."
Billy laughed. "Nearer six than seven, Mr. Luke." He dropped his kitbag to the ground, his hand like a great maw round the neck of the canvas. "How are you?"
"Young Billy Lucas," the old man repeated. "I don't believe it. Come in, come in."
Billy closed the door behind him. Kyle took him by the arm and looked him up and down. "I haven't seen you for a twelve month lad. You were growing fast then but in heaven's name ..."
Billy grinned self-consciously and shook the old man’s hand. "Do you have some of that tea you were always making?" he asked.
Kyle made tea, each movement punctuated by a look at Billy and a shake of the head. Billy took the time to look round the room. The walls were exactly as he remembered them: stained brown from years of tobacco smoke. There were old news-clippings and photographs pinned to the walls where they’d always been; yellowing with age. The tide tables were prominently displayed, as were sea charts, names and telephone numbers of the volunteer lifeboat crews. He smiled as he caught sight of old, curling posters. On those walls there was a mine of information of use to no-one but the fishermen of Wrath Kyle. Beneath the window that faced out on to the Atlantic was a pair of binoculars, beside them a telescope on a brass tripod. Billy stooped towards the telescope and brought his eye to the eyepiece.
"You'll no see North Cape awhile young Billy," the old man warned him. "Perhaps in an hour or so maybe. The glass is rising. It looks set to be a fine day." He poured Billy's tea and handed him the mug. "What are you doing home, leave is it?”.
Billy nodded. "Aye, a few days, no more."
"I didna’ think you were allowed leave," he said, frowning.
"Aye, we’re not. But I’ve been given forty eight hours, no more."
"Does your mam ken?" There was a conspiratorial twinkle in his eyes.
Billy smiled. "No." He is eyes brightened as he looked at Kyle over the top of his mug.
The old man sat down. The cushions barely moved. "What ship you on Billy?"
Billy sipped his tea keeping his eye on Kyle over the lip of the mug. He said nothing. The old man took his pipe from his mouth and waved the smoke aside.
"I understand. You are not at liberty to say." He changed tack. "What about a girl, do you have a lass yet, Billy?"
For all his maturity, Billy was a little embarrassed by the old man's question. He looked down into the mug. "Not yet, sir." He couldn't say that his kind of war gave him little time or choice, particularly with little or no shore leave. The Atlantic convoy duty offered the Royal Navy little respite.
Kyle waved his pipe at him. "You're sweet on that young lassie though: Callum's girl. Am I right?"
Billy cocked an eyebrow. "Ailie?" He nodded. "Aye, I am too."
Kyle was satisfied. "Thanks be for that." He laughed and jammed the pipe back into his mouth and crossed one leg over the other.
Billy recalled that as a sign that old Kyle was about to reminisce. "Could you call up Reevel Anderson?" he asked quickly. "He'll send a boat I'm thinking."
Kyle uncrossed his legs and swivelled in the chair. He reached for the headset. The radio was never switched off which meant he could transmit instantly. He tried to call several times and eventually looked over his shoulder towards Billy. "I don't think I can raise them." He began calling the island again. Each time he released the transmit key there was nothing but static coming out of the speaker.
"See?" he said, waving his hand with a flourish. "Nothing.”
"When did you get through last?" Billy asked.
"This morning. I had trouble raising them but Reevel said they'd been storm damaged. He couldn't talk for long. He said Marker Mace would be working on it."
The situation was not uncommon, but all the same it was frustrating for Billy. He put the mug down. "Do you have a boat?"
The old man pushed the microphone away. "I've got the Dancer out of the water. Shouldn't take you long to get it ready. You’ve sailed her before, Billy. You'll need provisions though, just in case."
"I can pay," Billy assured him. "Do you have fuel?"
Kyle laughed. "There's a war here too, young Billy. If the Dancer has any fuel on board it will be in the tank."
"I'll sail her in," Billy declared. "It can be tricky sometimes, but I’ve done it before. The sea looks fine," he commented, glancing out of the window. "With the glass rising I should get a fair passage. Where's the Dancer?" he asked, looking out towards the harbour.
Kyle knew Billy was impatient to be away. He pointed at the door. "I keep her in the shed at the top of the ramp. Let me know if you need any help. You can use the winch though to let her down."
Billy thanked him went off to get the small boat out of the shed as Kyle produced some flares and waterproofs.
The sun was high when Billy hoisted the sail and threw a cheery wave to Kyle Luke. The old man waved back and returned to the warmth of his cluttered office, content to watch Billy and the Dancer from the window as the tiny craft edged its way out of the harbour entrance and into the North Atlantic.
Billy lifted his face to the wind and put the helm down. With the wind blowing from the south-west he set a quartering course and relaxed. There were a few, scudding clouds about, but the sky was relatively clear and the sea moderate. He felt amazingly content and at peace in a world that was tearing itself apart. If the Royal Navy did not appear to hinder his progress, he reckoned he could make North Cape Island by dusk. Meanwhile he was his own boss; just him and the sea and the sound of the wind as it filled the sails.
The island hove into view low on the horizon, bathed in the splendour of a setting sun. The western flank of Blue Whale Mountain reflected the orange glow from its craggy walls. It shone like a beacon. Around its southern flank the orange mellowed into softer shades of indigo and violet until the eastern slopes could only be seen as a black silhouette. Billy revelled in its magnificence and his heart lifted at the prospect of seeing his mother and the lovely Ailie again, even if it was only to be a brief visit. Then at last the south headland signalled its presence in a fine display of foaming surf. He set a finer course for the small cove along the eastern side of the island.
Putting the helm down, Billy felt the spindrift flying into him as he luffed into the wind, bringing the Dancer round towards the small cove. He intended to beach the small craft rather than edge round the coast to the old whaling harbour. The Dancer leaned heavily as she ran before the veering wind. He tied the helm and close reefed part of the mainsail, bearing down on the kicking rope to hold the boom. Then he went back to the helm and untied it. The Dancer responded to the reduced windage and stiffened. Suddenly the wind dropped as he rounded the lee of the cliff and he close-reefed the remainder of the sail.
The Dancer rattled her forefoot on the stony beach and Billy jumped from her with a painter in his hand. The boat had barely time to dig in to the shingle when Billy pulled hard on the rope attached to the painter. The dinghy slipped forward and beached. He secured it and reached into the thwarts for his kitbag.
At that moment Billy heard voices. He glanced back over his shoulder but could see no-one. The sounds came from the top of the cliff. From time to time they were lost in the wind that spilled over the edge. There was something discordant about the voices, something that lacked the sibilant harmony of an islander's burr.
He waited, frozen in the action of reaching for his kitbag until the voices were more distinct. As the voices became clearer to him, he found himself refusing to believe what he could hear. He straightened, lifting his head and cocking it to one side. His mouth fell open in horror. There was little doubt: the voices were German!
He wasted no time and walked hurriedly away from the boat, trying not to make too much noise as his boots pressed on to the shingle beach. He had no idea what he was going to do; he just wanted to get himself nearer the foot of the cliff and out of sight. Suddenly one of the voices rose in pitch, talking excitedly. They, whoever they were had seen the Dancer. Billy pressed himself into the foot of the cliff and listened in stupefied amazement.
His mind could not immediately grasp that they were German voices because it was so inconceivable that Germans could actually be treading the soil of his home. But as the reality settled in he sensed the danger. He knew that within the next few minutes, those men would be on the beach and they would see him. He had to think clearly and he knew he would have to be very, very careful.
As he searched around for somewhere to conceal himself he heard them reach the top of the cliff. They had seen the Dancer which was about fifty feet from Billy's position, and were climbing down the cliff path towards it. He figured that if they were concentrating on the boat he would have just one chance to move quickly along the bottom of the cliff to a safer place.
There was very little cover, so he ran to the point where the cliff formed a narrow vee as it turned back on itself, forming the other side of the cove. He tucked himself into a corner and crouched as low as his big frame would allow him. He knew that he should lie flat, but he wanted to see what was happening.
He saw two men come off the path and walked across to the boat. They held machine pistols in their hands and glanced left and right as they walked. They stopped beside the Dancer and looked at it as though it was some explosive device that had been washed ashore. Then one of them spoke.
Billy's knowledge of German had once been good. He had learned it from the whalemen of Mullach Bay. He had also learned some Norwegian but his knowledge of that tongue was limited now. He strained his ears to catch the words but only managed to understand a few. The word 'Hauptsturmführer' was mentioned. Billy understood that clearly. Then one man put his hand on the shoulder of the other, said something and started back towards the cliff path.
It was the calm, assured way in which the two Germans had conducted themselves which made Billy realise they had nothing to fear. If that was the case it meant they had to be in control of the island. His body seemed to give beneath the crushing impact of an invisible force. He couldn't believe it was true, but knew there would have to be a logical explanation, and it was what it meant that worried him. It was frightening too. He had to get away from the cove and get to his cottage, but until the man guarding the Dancer left, there was no way Billy could leave the debatable safety of his hiding place. It was only the dusk and cliff shadows that afforded him any real cover.
The German suddenly moved, making a small turn with his body. Billy realised painfully that he had seen the kitbag. He cursed his folly in leaving it on the bottom boards. The man pulled the kitbag from the dinghy and emptied its contents on to the beach. He crouched on one knee and began sifting through them. Billy was indignantly furious and wanted to run across the small strip to beat the man senseless. But common sense prevailed: until the man made a definite move, there was little Billy could do.
The sky began to darken as rain clouds began rolling over the island. Billy felt the first spots of rain against his face. The wind turned and shifted and he could feel the freshening breeze whipping along the edge of the cliff. He knew the failing light might help him but there was little guarantee of success. What persuaded him to gamble was the fact that the man's comrade would probably return with others. They would search and probably find him. He would be finished.
The sea rolled on to the beach to break in quiet, gentle wavelets. He glanced unconsciously at the water and an idea came into his mind. He knew it wouldn’t be long before the strengthening wind whipped the wavelets into crashing rollers, and the thought of what he was planning to do made him feel quite cold. He looked back at the German who was completely absorbed in sifting through the contents of the kitbag. Billy knew his chance would not come again; he had to act now. He crawled on his belly from the narrow wedge of shingle on which he had been hiding and slid down the beach into the water without making a sound.
He felt its chill immediately. It took his breath away but he ignored the discomfort and submerged himself completely. Once he was beneath the surface he clawed at the stony bottom to draw his massive frame down. He took care not to move his legs because he was afraid of breaking the surface with a giveaway splash.
He pulled carefully at the stones until he felt his lungs were about to demand air with a force that would draw in vast gulps of water to drown him. He fought down a desperate urge to push hard to the surface, but allowed himself to float.gently upwards. He broke the water without a sound. Turning carefully he was relieved to see he had swum about thirty yards from the beach. He could still make out the figure of the German bent over the kitbag. Closing his legs together and bringing him arms down by his sides, Billy sunk beneath the surface. He swam away from the cove, heading round a small headland to a beach he often visited with his mother. There was a track leading from the beach to his cottage. He swam easily beneath the water, surfacing occasionally to get his bearings. When he had rounded the small headland he swam normally, stroking boldly towards the beach. Although Billy knew he had escaped from the immediate danger he still could not risk being seen, so he left the water as he had entered it, crawling on his belly.
He was about to stand up and let the sea water cascade from his clothing when he saw another figure. This one sat beside what looked like a rubber dinghy. He was about one hundred yards from Billy's position and paying little attention to what was going on around him. His back was half turned and he seemed to be quite content to look anywhere but in Billy's direction. Over his shoulder was slung a machine gun.
By now the rainclouds had almost covered the island and were well into the southern sky. The rain lashed down angled by a rising wind which was beginning to whip the sea into angry, white tops. Billy felt completely wretched. It would have been suicidal to attempt an attack on the armed German. His own physical and mental state precluded it. All he could hope to do now was to reach the sanctuary of his own cottage without being seen. He hauled himself up the cliff path and began the lonely journey to the place he had always known as home.