Tom Williamson emerged from his office looking stressed and haggard, as had been usual over the past few months. He carried a bundle of rolled-up papers under his arm and a briefcase, all of which he plonked on the floor beside his team’s assistant as he removed his long, white lab technician’s coat.
“I’ll see you in a couple of weeks,” he declared to nobody in particular, self-consciously aware that the members of his team were all watching him. For a confirmed workaholic who had never before taken more than five days holiday in one go and had never used his full holiday allocation, this was a momentous occasion. He was leaving far later than intended. It had taken forty-five minutes sitting in his office to summon the courage and willpower to walk out as though everything were normal, when it was blatantly evident that this had not been the case for months. The powers that be had essentially ordered him to take this time out. Little could they know how conveniently timed it was.
“Have a good one,” commented a bright-eyed lady emerging from a smaller, adjacent office. She was also dressed in the team uniform: a white lab coat. “Surely, Tom, you’re not about to break a habit of a lifetime and take work with you,” she jibed in a jocular manner, knowing full well that he always took work away with him. However, along with Tom’s entire loyal team, she was concerned that in recent months he had clearly not been himself. They all agreed a holiday and true break was what he needed. “Particularly on a sailing holiday, Tom. Anyway,” she continued, taking on a slightly more serious and questioning tone,” I didn’t think we had any pressing deadlines?”
Then, stepping toward the papers as though she wanted to have a look, she asked, “Anything I can do to help?”
Hurriedly, Tom stooped to snatch up the papers before the contents could be glimpsed. As he did so, he looked up and responded, sounding somewhat dejected and looking a little sheepish at the same time. “That’s kind, but sadly no, needs must and all that. This has to be me, a review of some old stuff to answer a few questions—you know the drill.”
With that and a flurry of cheery waves, Tom scurried out of his department’s work area amid a chorus of well wishes from his colleagues.
A few minutes later, Tom emerged from the Yaw Tech Solutions office situated on the more spacious Asian side of Istanbul. The modern building, with its glazed cladding that reflected the clouds racing across the sky, suitably portrayed the cutting-edge image of a highly specialised technology company that concentrated on the design of telecommunications equipment. His high-end Mercedes bleeped and its lights flashed when he pressed the key fob. In no time at all, he had driven out of the secure compound.
Fiddling with the radio, Tom was oblivious to the yellow taxi that pulled out from halfway along the nearby taxi queue into the typical busy late afternoon traffic. Tom’s mind was far from work and further from his supposed holiday. His once full head of brown hair had in recent months become heavily streaked with grey, which given that he was only forty-six, he was not at all happy about. His sensitivity about it was exacerbated because his wife continually reminded him of the fact.
Despite the cool spring weather, Tom was sweating as he manoeuvred the car through the congested streets to join one of the main arterial routes towards the European side of the city. Adopting the local custom, he was soon hooting frequently to express a general frustration with the reckless driving of other motorists and gesticulating wildly at those around him. An exhausting hour’s drive later, he turned into a marina on the European side and parked, just as the same yellow taxi, just one of many, cruised slowly past. The passenger watched Tom intently while speaking rapidly on a mobile phone.
Tom parked quickly and strode purposefully through the myriad of cars towards the third jetty, clutching the papers he had brought with him. “Hello there,” he called as he approached a sleek sailing yacht called the Great Presence, his footsteps clumping on the wooden planks. He reminisced wryly, as he always did on seeing the name, recalling the egocentric way in which his wife had decided upon the name for their yacht. He had loved her once, but now with the passing years he just did not know. That he had not divorced her was a testament to something, but what he was not quite sure—there were certainly plenty of reasons why he should hate her.
“Thought you’d never make it,” came a voice from behind Tom, startling him to the point of making him stumble over a coiled rope on the walkway as he spun around sharply. “Oh, sorry, darling, did I give you a shock?” said an elegant, athletic, slim, blonde lady in her early forties with a slight American accent as a faint smile played across her lips. She was dressed in stylish yet functional sailing clothes of various shades of blue, with matching soft-soled sailing shoes that had enabled her to come up behind him so quietly.
“Yes, you bloody well did, as you well know!” retorted Tom angrily, the mounting stress of the past few weeks immediately spilling over. “Now you need to start being civil and pull your lousy weight; otherwise, we’ll never get out of this mess!”
The makings of yet another full-blown argument were swept away when a far younger version of the lady emerged on deck, also fully kitted out in quality sailing gear. “Dad! I was worried!” she exclaimed.
Moments later, the couple were entreated to get on board as quickly as possible so that they could get going. As they boarded the yacht, the young woman begged, “And Mum, Dad, please no bickering. This is supposed to be a holiday and I really won’t be able to cope in this confined space if the two of you are constantly bickering. We used to love our family sailing holidays. Please let that be part of our lives again.”
A short while later, the Great Presence headed off east along the Bosphorus and past the grand palaces and hotels that line its northern bank.
“What on earth am I doing?” wondered Rob Krane three days later as he gazed out over the cold, grey stormy sea. He was standing at the window of his office-cum-business-centre on the upper deck of his luxury motor yacht, the Liberation. Fully crewed with a team of former officers and soldiers from the Special Boat Squadron of the British Armed Forces, this was the vessel’s maiden voyage. They had left Istanbul the previous day in overcast and blustery but reasonable conditions. However, that had all deteriorated after just a few hours, pouring cold water over Rob’s typical enthusiasm and excitement for travel.
Now, in late afternoon, the dark grey clouds skimmed across the sky. The wind whipped the waters of the Black Sea into high white-topped foaming waves. As each wave slammed against the boat’s hull with an echoing boom, it sent shudders throughout the superstructure. Rob, glad for the anti-seasick tablets he had taken, steadied himself and placed his hands firmly at the base of the window to brace against the onslaught of yet another wave. Long ago, he had accepted that it would be pointless to try to work or even do anything but stare out to sea.
In his heart, Rob knew that he was where he should be, where he wanted to be and that he was doing what was right. But the situation and circumstances were still very surreal and the storm was certainly not helping his perspective. Rob was still adapting to his new life as a billionaire, at least on paper, and as owner of the private equity company Zouches that managed his growing international portfolio of diverse businesses and assets. And that was precisely why he was heading off to Bulgaria: there was business to be conducted there, but not just any old business.
Burak Demir, the former billionaire criminal mastermind who was now in custody in the United Kingdom had informed Rob and the British authorities that some of his operations in Bulgaria were thriving far beyond even the most optimistic of expectations. Previously, Burak would not have blinked twice at this, but that had now changed: firstly, because his broad business empire had effectively transferred to Rob, and secondly, because Burak had two far more personal reasons to help the authorities dismantle his far-reaching empire.
Much of Burak’s wealth and all of his legitimate assets had transferred to Zouches, Rob’s overarching holding company set up for this purpose, following Rob’s daring rescue of Burak and his daughter nearly a year earlier. Since then Burak had started to cooperate with the British authorities and had learned that he was ignorant about some of what went on across his former network. That large parts of the network had become inextricably linked with terrorism appalled Burak and had become a motivating factor for him to help the authorities. With hindsight, he knew that his overall attitude had started to change some years earlier when he fell deeply in love with a wonderful French woman who had given birth to his daughter, Anja.
Nine months ago, while Burak was meeting his lover, Evelyne Dubois, and daughter in Slovenia for a holiday, Evelyne had been executed in front of Anja and himself—all upon the orders of one of his lieutenants, Emilio Arroz. Emilio wanted control of Burak’s vast empire to both further his own position and also to placate the terrorist leaders with whom he had become entangled. Now Burak wanted revenge for his personal tragedy by dismantling his former empire, creating legitimate businesses wherever possible for those who deserved it. As far as he was concerned, the rest should either be sent to prison or ideally be killed during the process.
While Rob was standing at the window in absentminded contemplation of his circumstances, he caught sight of what appeared to be a thin stick wobbling about and a bit of cloth flapping wildly in the waves. His curiosity piqued, Rob picked up a pair of binoculars from the nearby desk and focused on what he had seen. Immediately, it became apparent that he was looking at the tattered remnants of a sail and the broken mast of a yacht. Marking the position mentally and still holding on to the binoculars, Rob part ran and part weaved from the office to the bridge just a few metres away.
“Richard!” Rob called to the yacht’s captain as he opened the door on to the bridge. “I may have seen a yacht in distress over on the starboard side.”
“Freddie, please validate the sighting and respond,” said the Captain in a very level and calm voice, without even a fleeting sign of being distracted from the job at hand of commanding the yacht in extremely tough conditions.
“Sir!” came the smart reply. Then, as though the yacht were motionless, Freddie moved effortlessly over to where Rob stood swaying and clinging to the doorpost. “Right, young man, let’s find out what you’ve seen and if there is anything for us to do.”
Together, they moved over to the windows, Rob lurching from side to side while Freddie was totally untroubled by the movement of the vessel. Rob peered in roughly the right direction for a few moments before spying the apparent broken mast and tattered sail once more.
“Over there” Rob directed, pointing.
Freddie followed the direction of Rob’s finger as he looked through his own binoculars.
“Hmm…difficult to tell, but there certainly is something. Hold on, I’ll pop upstairs and see if the greater height helps at all.”
With that, Freddie left the bridge and went to the sun deck one level above. He was back a few minutes later, soaked from the spray kicked up by the wind and waves. “Captain, we do have an apparent yacht in distress. Approximate bearings due east. Good spot, Rob.”
“Guy, take control and change course due east,” Richard said, handing over the wheel to the third crewman who was on the bridge. “Okay, let’s see what we’ve got,” he said to Freddie and headed to the door, aware that Freddie had only been able to verify the sighting from the sun deck. Freddie followed hot on the heels of his Captain. Rob waited, nervous that there was nothing at all and that his new crew would think he had overreacted. He so wanted to make a good impression on these guys. He held the Special Boat Squadron in such high regard; they were among his heroes.
Shortly afterwards they were back, Richard as soaked as Freddie. “Guy, I’ll retake control, thank you. Please place all hands on standby for a rescue. I want a couple of the lads armed—recreational yachts are unlikely to be out in these waters in this weather at this time of year. Rob, well spotted, thanks. I presume you know mariners’ responsibilities to one another, particularly to help another when one is in distress? Anyway, please stay clear of the rescue activities.”
Richard, who was generally very amiable, didn’t give Rob an opportunity to respond and instead turned his back on Rob to retake control of the Liberation and direct her towards the potentially stricken vessel. Rob did as he was requested, relieved that he had been right but concerned for what they might find.
Some ten minutes later, they were indeed circling a battered sailing yacht that was being tossed around like a piece of worthless driftwood some thirty metres away. Rob estimated it to be around fifteen metres in length, so a good-size yacht in most respects but just not able to cope with this full-on storm. There was little left of the single mast that had snapped halfway up. The remnants of the foresail were flapping wildly around the bow, while a person whose features were obscured under wet weather sailing gear struggled desperately at the helm trying to keep the yacht pointed into the wind and waves, presumably and hopefully helped by the yacht’s engine. That person had very briefly waved a piece of red material with one hand to signal the obvious need for help before firmly grabbing the helm once again with both hands.
Waves poured over the vessel and appeared to be cascading down into the cabin below through a gaping hole where the hatch had once been. The hatch must have been damaged, Rob thought. That explains why the yacht is lying so low in the water.
As he continued to cast his eyes over the damaged yacht, Rob made out another individual lying in the cockpit under the collapsed boom. Ouch! Presumably that all happened when the mast broke, he thought to himself. Then, out loud he muttered, “Come on, Richard, get a move on. Even I can see that boat is going to sink if we don’t act fast!”
Rob was certain that he had caught a glimpse of terror etched on the helmsman’s face. Okay, Richard, you need to assess the situation, but there’s limited time! That a rescue in these conditions would be both extremely difficult and dangerous was blatantly obvious, which explained the time taken for Richard’s unenviable yet meticulous planning. That said, Rob thought, you couldn’t hope for a better crew than one made up of Special Boat Squadron men to come sailing to the rescue, not that those poor folk realise it yet. Richard and company are probably relishing the challenge, knowing them!
The Liberation gradually drew closer to the disabled yacht, with Richard controlling the boat’s thrusters and main propellers to achieve his objective to draw alongside, or as near as he could. Clearly, all of his skills were being stretched to the limit.
As Rob looked on, it became all too clear that it was simply far too dangerous to pull up alongside. The sailing yacht was being tossed all over the place and threatened to smash against the side of the Liberation. That would be the end of that yacht and potentially cause severe damage to their boat as well. Watching his crew move around the deck below attempting various manoeuvres to get a line attached, Rob easily discerned that they could not find a way to safely help the stricken vessel mainly because the helmsman was in no position to assist the effort. Neither, from their position, were they able to safely cross over.
Natural instinct then kicked in and Rob was inspired to act. Putting on his own wet weather gear and yet-to-be-inflated life jacket, Rob walked calmly through the upper deck and out onto the balcony area. There he studiously regarded the stricken vessel before him, which was swaying to and fro while also being tossed up and down. Then, taking care of his own balance, Rob stood atop a lashed-down cabinet that held all of the deck’s movable items. He judged the movement of both vessels and that of the waves before he suddenly leaped from the Liberation and down to the yacht below.
Landing on the cabin’s roof with both feet and a resounding thud, Rob grabbed for the mast and held tight, mightily relieved that the unbroken remnant of the mast remained solid, a matter he had not considered when he leaped. Stage one of his plan had been successful.
Rob could not hear the yelled calls for his attention from the Liberation over the roar and horrendous crashing noise of the waves as they hurled down upon the sailing yacht and now himself. However, he sensed those calls, aware of both the surprise and frustration that the crew felt by him taking matters into his own hands. They’ll get used to me soon enough, he thought. Now to help!
As Rob looked around for suitable handholds and safe places to step, he suddenly felt incredibly vulnerable. Previously, from his high perch when on board Liberation, he had felt strangely invincible. Now on the deck of this comparatively tiny yacht, Rob became acutely aware of how small and vulnerable he was as the massive waves towered above him. Instinctively, he tightened his grip to avoid being cast overboard to almost certain death. Whoa! I don’t like this one bit!
Pushing these thoughts to one side, Rob resolved to complete the rescue and signalled for the guys to throw him a line. Upon catching the well-aimed throw the first time, he looped it through and then tied it securely to the karabiner on his life jacket. He then called for another rope, which he tied securely to the mast.
Then, holding the rail that ran along the cabin roof, Rob slipped down on to the deck and gingerly made his way to the cockpit. Later, and with hindsight, he wasn’t sure why he was so surprised to find that the helmsman was a youngish lady, but momentarily he was. Her soft features, clearly used to city dwelling and a good life, were etched with fear and completely out of place. Another face full of lashing cold spray immediately brought him back to the moment.
“Are you okay?” he called over the roar of the heaving sea. Upon receiving an affirming nod and a hoarse “yes,” he then queried, still yelling to be heard over the noise of the waves, wind, clattering lanyards and flapping sail, “Other than him, is there anyone else?”
“Yes, my mother, below deck,” came the response.
Without saying more, Rob turned to the man trapped beneath the boom, self-consciously aware of the dozen pairs of eyes from the Liberation that were burning holes into his back. The man was barely conscious, so there was no real point in talking to him other than to provide a semblance of assurance. Somewhere in his past Rob had heard that unconscious people may still be able to hear and appreciate someone’s presence. So, bending close to the man’s ear, he called, “I’ve come aboard from another vessel. We’re here to help.”
Upon examining the man, presumably the woman’s father, Rob found a nasty gash across the forehead. Blood oozed from a couple of areas but was rapidly washed away by the spray. There was no way of knowing how much blood the man had lost. The man’s eyes were closed. Moving his attention down to the man’s chest and where the boom was currently lying, Rob carefully felt the ribs and was not surprised to hear a soft grunt of pain as the broken ribs gave no resistance to his gentle pressure. What did surprise him, however, was that only one arm moved involuntarily with the pain. Rob shifted his attention to the unmoving arm to discover that it too was broken.
The omens thus far weren’t good, so very hesitantly Rob lifted the boom from the man and, swaying awkwardly, dumped it on the other side of the cockpit. The man slumped over and rolled on to the floor of the cockpit, groaning with pain, while Rob cursed his stupidity for not realising the inevitability of that happening. To Rob’s great relief, the man then moved slightly to straighten his body and head as best he could, signalling that there were hopefully no serious back or neck injuries. However, his eyes did not even flutter. Must be a natural reflex, Rob thought. Rob turned and yelled over to the woman, “I’ll leave him there while I go and look for your mother. He’s possibly safest there anyhow.”
Fortunately, the incoming water was draining away from the cockpit, so the man was in no danger of drowning—or at least not yet. “How long have you been like this?” Rob asked.
The woman gave an imperceptible shrug as she continued to wrestle with the wheel.
Rob checked his line and removed a tangle to ensure that it was clear and would not hinder his movement. Looking down through the hatch to assess the lay of the land, he descended into the cabin shocked at the huge volume of water slopping around inside. He noticed innumerable items sloshing about on the surface and an instinctive warning flashed through his mind. Oh, my word! Steady, Rob, there’s likely to be an equal amount of stuff on the floor capable of catching me out.
He gingerly stepped down into the half-light to find himself waist-deep in the freezing water. Immediately aware that his left foot had settled on some indeterminable and movable object, he carefully kicked it away. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, Rob realised just how spacious and glorious this yacht had once been before cursing himself yet again. Blast, why didn’t I ask where the woman is? I hope that she was left well above water level.
With one hand stretched out to brace himself against whatever solid and firm surface he could find, Rob started to wade through the cabin, sliding his feet along the floor so that he would not step on anything else. He headed towards the bow and the berths where any injured person would presumably be lying, all the while keeping his line free of the many objects that threatened to ensnare it. The first door he came to was the “head,” barely discernible as such because the toilet was completely submersed. When he opened the opposite door a cascade of items from the yacht’s store hurtled out all over him, adding to the general chaos. “Dammit!” he yelled in surprise and annoyance, recoiling backwards.
Taking a deep breath after that shock, Rob edged his way forward once again, aware that he had been below decks for a few minutes already, which for those waiting for him on Liberation would have felt far longer. He suppressed the urge to hurry, as with speed came danger in such an environment. As he moved ahead, yet another gush of water came flooding through the hatch. A glimpse through the small portholes revealed just how close they were to sinking. Heart pounding, he pressed on, determined not to panic but desperately aware that he had very little time.
To Rob’s vast relief, the next door was open revealing a small cabin with bunk beds. On the top bunk, strapped down securely, was another woman, presumably the mother, who turned her head towards him as he entered. Removing the lower bunk’s floating mattress that was blocking his way, Rob waded over to her.
The woman said nothing as Rob undid the straps, but the look of relief in her eyes said enough. She had resigned herself to drowning as she witnessed the ever-rising water level. Rob did not check for injuries; there was insufficient time. Pulling the woman off the bunk and over his shoulder into a fireman’s lift, he said, “Sorry if this hurts, but we need to get out of here fast.”
Rob then turned, bumping the lady’s shoulder on the side of the bed. Ignoring the lady’s groans and yelps of pain he made a rapid exit, bumping her head on the door frame in the process. “Sorry!” Rob muttered as he staggered his way back through the mayhem of the cabin and shakily up the steps towards the cockpit.
As Rob started to emerge from below decks, the woman was suddenly wrenched from his shoulders as yet another wave hit him squarely in the face. “No!” he screamed vehemently into the wind, as another jolt of adrenaline flowed through him. “Not after all that!”
He lifted a forearm to wipe the stinging saltwater from his eyes to look around in hopes of finding her again. He could not believe that all his efforts would go to waste; he simply refused to be beaten.
“Stop whingeing and be grateful for a helping hand!” It was Freddie beaming down at Rob from the roof of the cabin. While Rob had been below decks, Freddie had climbed across on the line that Rob had secured earlier and now had the woman in his strong arms. “Let’s go! Here’s a harness—get it on, then go wait at the line. The girl may require help. I will take the helm until she and you are safely across, then I’ll join you.”
While Rob was doing as instructed, Freddie slung the woman into another harness and the guys on Liberation hauled her across. The man was nowhere to be seen. They’ve got him over already, Rob realised, relieved that the crew had been active while he was below decks.
As the girl started her traverse across the line stretched between both boats, it became crystal clear that she did not have sufficient strength remaining to hoist herself up the incline of the wobbly line and through the mountainous waves that pummelled her. About a third of the way across she effectively gave up, thoroughly exhausted after her exertions, and merely dangled, gradually slipping back to where she had come from.
“Oh, good grief: so close, yet so far,” Rob muttered to himself as he clipped his karabiner to the line and headed off to her aid. If only they had thought to have a line fixed to her as well. Too late for that now.
The going was tough and, as Rob pushed the girl onwards and upwards towards the Liberation, he could feel the coarse rope literally ripping flesh from his hands. He needed gloves, but it was way too late for that. The blood started to flow, dripping down on to his face, only to be washed away immediately by the next wave. The saltwater stung his eyes adding to the overall excruciating pain, regardless of how often he blinked. Not needing to see where he was going, Rob then simply closed his eyes, gritted his teeth and pressed on. After what seemed an absolute age, the girl’s dead weight disappeared as helping hands hauled her over the side of the boat and to safety. Moments later, the same eager hands helped Rob swing his legs over and detached him from the line. A few minutes later Freddie joined him on deck as another crewman produced a knife and sliced the rope, setting the stricken yacht free.
As Richard powered the Liberation away, Rob remained with a small group on deck watching the yacht being tossed and spun by the waves until it rolled, capsized and slid below the surface of the raging sea.
“Come on, young man,” Freddie said to him, draping an arm around Rob’s shoulders to guide him inside. “We need to see to those injuries of yours. Richard’s not best pleased with you, although he is mightily impressed, as we all are. We were warned of your daring deeds but probably did not really expect to witness any quite so soon, let alone be trumped by you!”
The primary reception room of the main deck had been rapidly turned into a first-aid centre, as the crew was unwilling to take either the mother or father down to the lower-deck bedrooms at risk of exacerbating their injuries. Sheets and other bedding were spread about in an orderly fashion with all of the ship’s medical supplies laid out on coffee tables. Consequently, both the young woman and Rob were also treated there, a short distance from the couple.
Aside from a few minor abrasions, the woman, who appeared to be in her early to mid- twenties, was suffering from cold, bordering on hypothermia, and extreme exhaustion—so much so that she was barely conscious. Once treated, two of the crew half supported, half carried her down to one of the bedrooms, removed her outer sailing clothes, checked her quickly for any other signs of injury, covered her warmly and left her to sleep.
After only a short respite, Guy approached Rob who sat, collapsed on a sofa. “Rob, the Captain wants a word. He’s on the bridge.”
“What joy,” Rob replied sardonically. “How much grief is he going to give me?”
“Oh, a fair amount I hope!” came the reply, coupled with a grin. “We all had a real jolt seeing you jump between boats. That said, Captain is usually pretty cool when it comes to ticking people off when they’ve used initiative. For what it’s worth, that was mighty impressive action back there. I won’t say that we were stumped about what to do, but your action got us moving somewhat earlier than we planned, which considering how close the yacht was to sinking, it was probably for the best.”
Rob looked over at the couple, exhaustion and concern plastered across his face. “How are they doing?”
“Hard to say. He’s clearly in a coma. He suffered a heavy and nasty blow to the head. Whether there’s any internal bleeding is unknown. The woman should be okay, but may take a while to fully recover.”
Rob looked about him. The man and woman were lying on mattresses that had been brought up from downstairs and placed on the floor of the spacious reception room, one on either side of the large table in the centre of the room. Sofas and chairs had been pushed to the sides to make space for the injured. A drape had been placed over and tucked beneath the table so the woman could not see her husband’s condition. The blinds had been lowered across the windows and the curtains drawn across the large sliding doors that led out on to the rear deck. It was getting dark.
“Okay, thanks. Keep me informed, would you?” With that, Rob turned and headed to the bridge.
On reaching the stairs he eyed the lift, very tempted to be lazy just this once. He was tired and ached and the lift would provide that little bit of respite he so desperately wanted. However, as he reached out to touch the call button, he realised that to do so with either of his heavily bandaged hands could prove awkward once actually in the lift. The last thing he wanted was for the doors to close with him unable to press the button for the upper deck necessitating that he be rescued…again. The consequent embarrassment would be way too much with these guys, especially after what he had just put them through.
Rob sighed and trudged wearily up the stairs. Richard was already there sitting in the waiting area outside of Rob’s office and private suite.
“Rob, a great result. Let’s have a drink; you look like you need one.” Richard paused for dramatic effect. “Although I am of two minds whether you deserve one, but overall I suspect you do.”
Rob led the way into the reception-room-cum-lounge and slumped exhausted on a sofa. “You’ll have to pour. My hands aren’t really up to it,” he said, holding his hands up.
“Not a problem, but don’t expect me to start feeding you come dinnertime!” came the reply that was accompanied with a teasing grim. “What’ll you have?”
“How about some warming red wine in a beer glass? Won’t slop around so much!”
“Deal,” replied Rob in a tired voice while smiling at the practical but incongruous combination of beverage and glass.
After they had settled in their seats, Richard raised his glass. “Cheers and good job, well done.”
Richard paused briefly to study Rob’s face carefully. “I’d prefer you not to be taking such risks, though. Somehow I doubt you’ll heed the request, so can we have some sort of agreement that, whenever possible, we talk beforehand? Seriously, that was extremely high risk back there and a staggeringly dangerous situation.
“The thing is, together with the guys I’m responsible for looking after you and you carrying on like that won’t help us one bit. I can assure you that we have no intention of getting in your way—quite the opposite, in fact. We’re all ready to get involved with whatever you get up to. Your reputation precedes you, Rob, which is exactly why we all signed up.”
“Understood. I’ll try to remember, but it may take a bit of getting used to.”
“Fair enough. I can’t ask more than that. Now, changing subjects,” continued Richard, “do you know anything about electronics?”
“Only a small change then!” commented Rob curiously, furrowing his brow. “Not a lot, why?”
“The girl had these papers stuffed in her jacket,” Richard said passing over some crumpled pieces of paper. The papers had clearly been previously rolled but had then been folded to fit inside her jacket. “As you can see, a lot is totally illegible because of water damage, but a couple of pages appear to be some sort of electrical layout plan with ‘Confidential’ stamped all over. One appears to show the components in greater detail, but is mostly washed out. Unfortunately, the information boxes on the bottom right are also illegible, so we have no way of knowing what these are, nor where they come from.”
Rob spent a few moments scanning the papers. “All I can add is that the indecipherable handwritten scribbles are too dreadful to be female. Could they be her father’s?”
“That’s a good point. It’s possible they could be his, but why try and protect them amid a ferocious storm? We’ll have to wait until she wakes up. So you know, I’ve sent scanned copies to MI5 for their analysis.”