• Reading time:46 mins read

From my novel Burning Wolfhound

Prologue

Anjuna Beach, Goa, India – March 1968

The grey ship was on fire. A few hippies gathered on the beach as the flames lit up the night with a haunting flickering on the palm trees. A loud bang had woken them followed by the light. One of the group, a naked woman, walked over to a huddled dark mound on the sand. She bent down and with gradual sloth-like movements checked if the man was alive. Withdrawing her hand from his head, she found a dark red stain on her fingers. Then another of the group, a short and exhausted looking woman in a tattered dress, joined the first. Between them, they struggled to move the heavy body and failed. Finally, two men stopped watching the flames and helped carry the man back to the palmleaf-clad beach huts. The light extinguished as the ship sank.

—–

Anjuna Beach, Goa, India – 23rd April 2008 – Midday

 

“Forty years I’ve been stuck in this place,” said the old man. “Have you ever thought what it’d be like to be stuck in a place you hate for so long?”

He stared at Kurt across the table in the coconut-leaf-covered beach shack. Kurt found it hard to believe the old man could hate it: blue water lapping white sand, drowned in constant sunshine; nothing to do but play backgammon and drink beer. A heady smell of incense drifted in through the empty window frames.

“Why don’t you leave?” he asked, as he took a sip from his Kingfisher beer and placed the bottle back on the table. The old man’s skin was sunburnt deep brown like leather, his body thin, and hair grey and balding. He looked tired in body but the eyes were sharp and missing nothing.

“No passports, me and her.” He nodded to the rough kitchen where the short woman with the Russian accent was making fried rice. The spices from the cooking made them cough.

“Wow, how did that happen?” he asked not really caring and feeling bored. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Bernhart. It’s a long, long story. And if I told you, I’d have to murder you.”

“Uh-huh, and maybe if you don’t, I will murder you,” said Kurt in a laughing voice, though his heart was hard. “Anyway, it’s nice here… isn’t it? Paradise?”

Bernhart was quiet for a bit as he looked over the empty, moon shaped beach at the sea. A native fishing boat was moving out of the small calm area near the outcrop of rocks; the little engine leaving behind a blue trail of smoke and its stink managing to reach them. He raised a finger and pointed: “See that bloody boat?”

“Yea, nice. Love the rakish native design, with that sort of wood float on the side.”

“The float’s an outrigger. Damn thing goes out every day at the same time. They catch fish for the restaurant down there. Every bloody day. I’ve seen it so many times if I look again I’ll cry. In fact, I never look out there anymore, not properly. I’ve been to boredom hell and I’m still here. Kind of got used to it, but I still feel bitter. Before, my life was constant action and excitement. I used to crave being somewhere else like the old days: England, Holland, or France. Even craving the cold weather: like I couldn’t live without it. Coffee: oh for a decent cup of coffee even.”

“What about the parties and sexy beach girls I’ve heard about,” said Kurt despite himself, wondering indeed where they were.

“You’ve missed the parties,” said Bernhart, “it’s the end of the season, only expats like me here now. All the so-called hippies bugger off back home.”

“And her,” said Kurt nodding to the woman as she brought his food and assaulted him with a heavy musk perfume. “Thanks.”

“Yes, her too, stuck here, with me,” said the old man with slight disdain in his voice.

“Problem?”

“Ah, a few indiscretions…”

“Come on tell me your story, how you end up here owning a beach shack with a Russian woman.”

“Ah, you assume this shack’s mine and she’s my woman?”

“Well?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, and it’s a really long story.”

“I might believe more than you think and I’m not exactly in a hurry. As you say, there isn’t a party to go to, almost everything’s shut around here but this place.”

“We stay open, haven’t got any other place to go: may as well.”

“Huh, so you are the owner.”

“Maybe: had to make the most of it. You look like a trustworthy man; maybe I can tell you. And of course, I might be lying.”

Kurt’s curiosity mixed with his hidden anger got the better of him: “Come now, stop teasing me with your story. I bet it’s a boring one. Like: you came here as a young hippie and never left. Or, you ran away from something, something bad. But yeah, it’s probably all fantasy.”

“Not so simple. It’s a really long story. And I will have to murder you at the end.”

“Yeah and like I say-”

“Oh yes,” he cut in, “you’ll murder me if I don’t.”

Kurt smiled, and though the conversation was jocular, the sentiment was real; he knew more of this old man than the other realised. Hate had burnt his soul for many years, and though Bernhart failed to realise it, he was on trial.

Part 1 Chapter 1 Ship to Ship

North Norfolk Coast, England – 8th March 1968 – 1 a.m.

 

I stood in pitch darkness, away from the light of a porthole, which cut through a briny hazy mist. Inside was a sight of narcotic-fuelled debauchery. There were three naked bodies, two men and a woman. She looked asleep, but I suspected she was taking part in her own drugged disconnected journey. The men were so engaged that I would have no trouble killing them.

We were only making a small headway along the coast. The calm sea made the metal deck of the big freight ship feel firm beneath my feet.

Everything was in my favor except two problems. The first problem: a massive gorilla of a bodyguard standing by the door. I had caught sight of him by the light from the cracks of the frame. For a gorilla, he was alert, warned by the sound of my oilskins and heavy sea boots. The disguise had worked for getting on board, but was not good for covert operations. I hoped he would take me for one of the crew as I pretended to watch the deeds inside. My plan was to wait and see what he did. In my hand was a knife, which I gripped hard, the wooden ornate handle biting into my hand.  He was moving now, inching closer. My head pointed towards the light but my eyes turned to track him.

The second problem: I was scared. So scared I wished this was not happening. With the knife burning into my hand, and the tension, I felt faint. It was hard to pull myself together and focus as the fear threatened to overwhelm me.

In my pocket rested a gun with a silencer. Despite the silencer, I knew it would make a sound as the bullet rasped from the muzzle, and my worry was that the huge man would crash to the floor and alert those inside. I decided he would need to be taken out with my knife. He came closer. I could see no details in the inky black. Now he kept away from sources of light, which made me assume the gorilla had more brains than I had credited him with. I was only aware of a vast bulk making its way towards me. I thought of him tensing his huge muscles ready to deliver a mighty blow. I became more tense, gripping the knife harder. My breath started to come fast; with the fight coming I felt a little less scared and my mind started to clear.

At that moment the situation changed. The once stable deck twisted under my feet and I heard the big engines race. The captain had turned her hard and I knew that we were heading to the shore. The bodyguard now looked in a quandary, unsure if he should continue to hunt me down. He had stopped moving, with his head twisting this way and that, trying to make a decision. I revised my appraisal of his mental capacities. I knew that the ship, at this speed and heading, would soon have no water left. Then it came: a shuddering, rending crash. I was taken off guard by the force of the impact and thrown to the floor. The hull ground into firm sand. A twisting buckling sound of tortured metal was intense screaming in my ears. This was my chance. As the deck sloped beneath my feet, I rose a little, enough to dash headlong at the bodyguard. Bringing my knife up into his vital organs, he went down like a falling whale with not so much as a grunt. I followed him to the floor, making sure I drove the blade home and that the great carcas made no sound hitting the deck. I was winded as the brute landed on me, but he went limp, and I knew I had extinguished his life. Now was no time for remorse; only more fear.

The ship was swaying alarmingly, and it was hard to stand again. I tugged at the knife deep in the ex-bodyguard; it was stuck to the hilt. I tried to pull it harder but time was slipping away fast, there was a more important job than getting the knife out. Remorsefully, I had to leave the treasured blade that my brother had given me, and I took a silenced gun from my pocket. Grabbing the hard metal wall for support, I could see that the heavy door was not latched. Standing up as straight as I could, I mustered my strength and gave it a massive kick open. The door swung wide and fast, stopping short with a thump. The obstruction it hit was not a wall but a naked man. Hard metal took him in the face and he went down with blood pouring from his now broken nose. A putrid smell of the debauchery came to my nose and made me nearly gag. I walked to the open door and brought the weapon up. The man in the bed was so high on drugs he clearly had no idea what was happening. My gun spat two silent bullets and he slumped down. Then I aimed at the one on the floor and pumped lead into him. My job was done.

My eyes fell on the woman. She was tied to the bed, legs akimbo. There were dark bruises all over her body and one eye was black. Her eyes were closed. Her face was painted with heavy but smeared make-up. Her feet and hands going blue with the ropes. There was rope tied around her breasts, which were also going blue. I knew I needed to leave and fear preyed heavily on my mind, but I walked in and loosened the knots. Then I pulled the bleeding dead guy away from her. I wanted to take her away from this, but I knew that was foolish. She was completely out of it and failed to stir. Then I pulled myself away from the distraction and thought of my own preservation.

I turned my attention to escape. The ship had grounded bow first on the sand, which was high above as the stern settled deep into the water. The crew were up there throwing things around and shouting. I could see them clearly as deck lights had been switched on at that end. Where I stood, it was still in darkness, but I doubted I could go undetected for much longer. Luckily, they had not heard the shots over the grinding metal of the big vessel. “Abandon ship” had not been called, and I would look suspicious trying to leave. It was a gamble, but I decided that the best plan was to join them and try to evacuate with the group. It was a mystery to me why the captain had not given the order to abandon her.

I walked cautiously up towards the frantic crew. Fire had broken out and there was a stink of petrol, which explained their panic. Also explained was the lack of Captain’s orders: a man sat slumped against a wall, white-faced, blank-eyed and dazed, blood running from a nasty deep cut on his temple. The captain was in no state to give orders. The rest of the crew were a rabble. They were doing enough to stop a little catastrophe; enough to save their own skins from the fire. Most were simply standing in random positions and watching as, surprisingly, the fire started to be put out. Some extinguishers were found and inexpertly pointed at the flames.

I joined the onlookers to blend in, standing well back but pretending to take an interest. Looking secretly at my fellow crew members, I could see most were waifs and strays. There were about three of the number who directed the others; it was them who were instructing on how to contain the fire. A rough bunch indeed, carrying heavy weapons that I suspected were more for show as masculine adornments. The ship had stopped moving on the slight swell. I felt as if I might get away with it until the opportunity came to leave. My original plan of escape had gone out of kilter.

As the general panic of the crew was subsiding, my hopes of a quiet evacuation were dashed when a shout came from the darkness of the stern. A man ran up holding a heavy machine gun in one hand and a bloody knife in the other: my knife. I stood closer to the group to avoid suspicion. This new arrival looked as if he thought he was in charge, and a more rough man I had seldom seen. He was good looking, but there was a manic look in his eyes and a permanent sneer, which destroyed his looks. Arriving at the group, he behaved as if he meant business. His shout had been directed at one of the more efficient and smarter looking subjects of the rabble.

“Tommy, we got trouble,” he said in an American drawl.

“You’re tellin’ me, Jack,” replied Tommy in a rough London accent, eyeing him with disfavour. He wore a neat, expensive looking suit: also a good looking man with fine short-blonde hair and no sneer.

Jack’s eyes glared, “I’m not talking about your boat,” he snarled, menacing with the knife as if to run in his own colleague.

“Ok, take it easy, Jack,” returned Tommy smoothly but with equal menace. I decided that Tommy was the more dangerous of the two, level-headed and calm.

“Someone’s done in Matt and Sandy. The bitch whore was out of it, I slit that little floozy’s throat. I found Keith finished off with this.”

He waved the blade around and finally stabbed it hard into some nearby woodwork. I watched it, saw the ornate wooden handle, and fought the desire to go and retrieve the knife that meant so much to me. I cursed myself for having left it in the bodyguard. I felt mortified that it had been used to kill the girl.

“Ah shit,” said Tommy.

“I dunno, looks like a pro job. Must be still on the ship.”

Jack took a glance at the rabble, suspicion in his crazy eyes. They failed to stop on me; I was pretending to be uninterested, eyes to one side. I gripped the gun in my oilskin pocket, expecting trouble.

“No, a pro would’ve slipped away by now. Shit. Just what we fucking need.”

Jack lit a cigarette. For a moment, I thought he may be placated by Tommy’s comments. “I never liked the look of this stinking tub anyhow; he could be on the ship. Do you know any of these morons?” he said, eyeing the crew again. “Someone here knows something.” He walked towards the men.

At that moment a man standing a few yards from me made a dash for the darkness of the rear of the ship. Jack dropped his cigarette and hoisted the gun to his shoulder but failed to fire before the man had vanished into the gloom. He lowered his gun and sprinted after the man. Tommy followed on his heels, yelling to some of the others, who took up the chase half-heartedly. As a few men were moving around, I took my chance to walk beyond a lifeboat into a shaded area, away from the deck lights. There was no need to stay; I wanted off. I removed my oilskins and sea boots, revealing my wetsuit. I walked over to the railing. I held the gun in my hand and, intending to climb over, I looked first down the side and then realised the ship had driven further onto the land than I would have expected. The waves were breaking just below, which meant it was certainly too shallow to dive.

“Ok, hold it there.”

Snatching a glance behind, I saw a man holding a vicious looking automatic gun. I ran quickly away, down towards the stern. The gun barked behind me and I heard the bullet pass through the air near my head. The shot had alerted the others and it was like a disturbed wasps nest. I heard the original assailant shouting. Further shouts came from behind and then gunshots. I was already in the dark. Shouts came from up ahead. One was coming closer and as I rounded some superstructure a figure was running my way. I levelled the gun and fired as I ran. My shots hit the target and the guy was a bloody mess on the floor as I reached him.

Then I decided I’d run far enough and I must be over deep water. I stopped and turned, just as a silent pursuer was closing in. He lifted his gun but I was already pumping away at my trigger and he sprawled headlong at my feet. Just as I considered climbing the railing, a concentrated barrage of gunfire was unleashed. I realised they had been holding back so as not to hit my now dead pursuer. I flung myself on the floor and attempted to fire back but my gun was empty. The fusillade died down and I decided to go for broke while they were considering if they had got me.

I crouched up a little and ran headlong towards the railing. At the last moment I jumped up and dived over the handrail. A great cacophony of gunshots accompanied this but I was already dropping down the side of the ship. Bracing myself for an impact, as I had no idea how deep the water was. I resigned myself to the fall, grateful to feel water embrace me. I gave further thanks finding that it was deep. Once my downward motion had stopped, I struck out and swam hard until my lungs were about to burst. Losing track of the distance, I finally broke the surface and sucked in lungfuls of air. Treading water, I turned to look back at the ship. She was some distance away: no-one would be able to see me now. I could see some men moving around but it looked quiet. I hadn’t been the only stranger aboard that night. I wondered who the other man was and what would now be happening to him.

When I got my breath back, I swam along the coast, taking my time with an easy stroke. After some time, a light came into view ashore and I headed towards the land. This was a quiet, sandy and silted up coast. The light was from a little fisherman’s hut. I stole a rowing boat that stunk of fish.

Rejoining the wide sea, the smelly little boat pulled well as I leant into the rowing. It was hard to believe that just down the shore was a grounded ship full of cut-throats, vice and murder. The moaning breeze was joined by the quiet call of an early bird. The sound stopped, presumably it had put its head back under its wing to sleep some more. I made good time and the whippy boat covered the distance well. I knew where I was, and after a time I heard the sound of water rushing into a wide channel. Distant lights showed inland.

As I turned the boat into the channel, the speed of the water increased, entering a wide bay. I drew her over, away from the rushing water. Ahead I could see riding lights of various leisure vessels. They drew close and I put only a little effort into the movement of the tide-borne boat. Around me, dark bodies of various sized boats and yachts slipped by. Then I spotted the shape of a particular ship dead ahead: my ship. I drew in and grabbed the metal ladder at the rear. I climbed up the rungs, letting the smelly boat drift away.

Once on the flat metal stern near the little motor dingy, I walked past two large storage boxes either side, but for a hatch to the engine room, the deck was clear right up to the rear of the bridge superstructure. This contained the main cabin door visible in the glow of the riding lights. I opened the door and switched on a dim light inside. A familiar smell of home came to my nose: of coffee and newspapers. To one side were steps that led to the bridge, to the other a small neat galley and ahead a spacious saloon.

The ship was devoid of life: my floating bachelor pad. Once in the saloon I pulled the curtains closed along the low wide windows on both sides. To the left were a couple of comfortable easy chairs and a low occasional table adorned with, now yesterday’s, newspapers. Walking to the drinks cabinet near them, I fixed a neat double whisky and placed it on the table.

I went to the front of the saloon and passed through a door. The short corridor contained a door to each side and one ahead to the study at the front of the ship. I slipped through the left door into my bedroom. Under the porthole was a double bed. To the back, a built-in wardrobe and door to the shower and toilet. I squeezed out of the wetsuit, picked up my dressing gown and returned to the cabin naked. I slipped into the dressing gown before finally stretching on the chair and reaching for my glass. The brass wall clock said 3 a.m. Now that I was home the fear was melting away and I felt relaxed.

Then, as I reached for the glass, a deep reverberating sound of a marine engine came to my ears; “strange,” I thought. My hand remained empty, ready to grab the glass, stopped by the questions running through my mind. A boat this late never happened, and it was close. Most would travel in the main channel, not amongst the pleasure craft. It was coming in my direction. Visitors were something I was never keen on. I let my hand drop, forgetting the whisky and turning my head to listen. The fear returned.

Part 1 Chapter 2 Visitors

She sounded a powerful craft. Running over the events of the night, I wondered if the gang on the ship could have tracked me. I thought not, though it was better never to be complacent. The engine was certainly coming very close. Getting up, I went quickly through to the study. Inside was pitch black, with heavy blinds over each side window. I didn’t switch on the light, finding the heavy metal secret compartment with ease. I felt inside and my hand closed on a small automatic. Popping it into my silk dressing gown pocket, I returned swiftly to the cabin after securing the secret compartment.

The sound was right on top of us as I heard her come close in. Then came the sound of heavy feet landing on the deck. The visitor made no attempt at stealth, stomping with flat feet up to the door and banging on the hard metal. Two more sets of feet followed; these were much lighter. Usually, I would have delayed answering to give the visitors a few uncertain moments, but now I strode over and opened up quickly, more out of curiosity than anything else. I held the automatic in my pocket. The door swung wide and my tension relaxed as before me was a uniform of Her Majesty’s police force. Behind him were two men in plain clothes. The tall one smoked and gazed upon me with no emotion showing on his face. The other was shorter and bearded, looking like an angry bristling terrier.

“Ah, good mornin’ sir,” said the dark blue uniform in a Norfolk accent, his demeanour apologetic.

“Good morning. The Norfolk Constabulary’s now waterborne I see.”

“I’m from the Blakeney police station,” he admitted, “these gentlemen are from MI6. It’s with their authority that we’re here. We’re checking all inhabited craft in the area.”

“Indeed, I’m honoured gentlemen.”

“We wondered,” said the tall one in an unfriendly manner as he exhaled smoke, “what a military ship’s doing moored in Blakeney bay.”

“Ex-military,” I corrected.

“Ex-military,” it was a question phrased as a statement.

I stepped forward with the excuse of observing and referring to the Wolfhound. Obligingly, they stepped back.

“The Wolfhound’s an obsolete ex-British navy gunship. I bought her from surplus years ago and converted her to a motor yacht. She served with the coast guard for some years sans guns. From the bridge to the bow area was the old location of the bigger gun; I fabricated living quarters in its place. This stern section’s flat as there was a smaller mobile gun here. These metal boxes are for storage, added again by me…”

“Ok, ok, so what are you doing here?” snarled the bristling terrier.

“Taking a holiday. I’m a birdwatcher. March is a good time to be here.” I was always a good liar. “Anyway, I love this part of the coast. Would come here even if there were no birds.” Now I was on the deck I could see the vessel that had brought them. Certainly, she was the strangest official boat I had seen, a tall but powerful-looking tug painted white with ‘Morning Star, Felixstowe’ written on her side. “You got the name right,” I said nodding to the craft.

“Never mind that, where do you live and what’s your work?” said the tall smoker, giving a last puff and throwing the stub over the side.

“I live in London. The Wolfhound gets moored on the Thames when I’m home: I have a flat, though I prefer the ship. My work’s engineering, once mainly in big diesels. A legacy of my father. Then I moved into printing presses and trained engineers to look after their inky print towers. Now my company’s dabbling in all sorts of engineering which led on to this ship. She’s capable of offshore surveying. Though I know little of surveying, we supply the ship and captain, yours truly, and they supply the surveyor, or surveyors if need be. Truthfully, most of our work’s land based, but the ship’s useful and gives me an excuse to own it. Nice company perk. My father and I enjoyed the challenge, especially with her three diesels to work on.”

Of course, most of it was a blind. Yes, the company existed, run mostly by a puppet managing director. It had been my Father’s after he stopped working for a big diesel engine concern but had never been a profitable enterprise. I took the printing work to help out. The printing companies paid well, but the main money had really come from elsewhere. Father never knew, and now he had passed on he would never know. There were many dark gaps in my career. Much that I was telling the MI6 men was untrue, but I couldn’t tell them why I was really on my own ex-navy ship in North Norfolk. The story had been rehearsed many times and would fit the facts if they made enquiries. I could, if I chose, kick them off the ship but it was better not to reveal my true identity. The policeman seemed genuine, but I had my doubts about the plain-clothes men. There was no point asking for bona fides as, whether they were genuine or not, the identifications would look perfect. In fact, forged ones would probably look more real.

“She’s a lovely ship,” said the policeman. “About 60 foot?”

“Thanks, I think so. No, she’s…”

“Never mind that,” snapped the terrier, “You didn’t say the company name. Or yours.”

“No, I didn’t. Smith and Son Engineering. I’m Bernhart Smith. My father was Aart Smith.”

“Strange first names for Smith?”

“That’s because my father changed our names when he, my brother and me, came to live here from the Netherlands after the war. I think he wanted to forget the past. My brother chose to change his Christian name too. My sister and mother were killed in Rotterdam by friendly bombs.”

“Sorry to hear that,” sympathised the policeman.

“It was a long time ago; I was very small. England has always been my home. I’m naturalised British, passport and all.”

“You could do with forgetting the past yourself,” said the tall MI6 man. “Still ‘and son’?”

“Well, some things stick. There is no real need to change…”

The Wolfhound facing the inlet of the bay as the tide was flowing in meant that I could see the dark shingle bank that boasted a lone watch-house. This bank made the bay and ended in Blakeney point back at the mouth of the inlet. At that moment a light out near the guard house started to flash Morse. The men had their back to it but were alerted as my voice trailed away as I attempted to read the Morse. Quite soon I realised it was in code. All three turned to look.

“Looks like Morse,” I said. “Can any of you read it?”

“How about you?” asked the terrier.

“No, not a clue. Never had the need.”

“You own a ship and don’t know Morse,” he said.

“Oh this is mostly a pleasure craft I get by. It’s on my list of things to learn.”

“It’s in code,” said the tall one. “I wonder who the hell’s out there?”

“The coastguard?” I said.

“The coastguard’s rarely out there these days,” said the policeman.

The Morse stopped abruptly and the visitors turned back to me. “We’ll go and look later,” said the terrier to his colleague.

I looked at the Morning Star which had drifted on the tide several yards away. I was still unable to see the men on the bridge. Nodding to the boat I said: “Your chariot wants to leave you. Much as this is pleasant, gentlemen,” I turned to the door, “I’m getting rather cold. And I’d also quite like to turn in.”

“Why were you awake at this time of night?” snapped the terrier abruptly.

“Time of morning,” I corrected, “I was dozing on the sofa, had trouble sleeping in bed earlier. Then sat in the cabin and nodded off. The sound of your boat woke me. I’d just poured a whisky for a nightcap, which is now the right thing to warm me up again.”

“We need to check around your ship,” said the tall one.

“Any reason why I should let you? Ah, what do I care? Help yourselves, I’m going in.”

“Shepherd, you look below deck, I’ll look above,” said the tall one to the terrier.

“Ok… Sir.”

The last was forced as if it grated; perhaps he thought he should be the one in charge, I thought. There was clearly friction between the two, though the angry terrier’s life seemed to be about friction.

I went into the cabin and sat at the long dining table. The policeman had followed me. Much as he was apologetic, he was also very guarded. I liked the look of him, a genuine police officer. Picking up my whisky I took a sip. The tall MI6 had gone up to the bridge; Shepherd had busied himself with the deck hatch for the engine room. There was nothing incriminating for them to find: MI6, or not, it made little difference.

“That Shepherd’s going to have fun down below, very little room between the engines. The front end’s an oily workshop full of spare parts. If he doesn’t find the light switch he’ll have a hard time.”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

“Will you have a wee dram?” I said taking another sip, mulling over the glass and feeling the warmth spread back into my body.

“Oh no, very kind, thank you. I expect the MI6 men will have seen everything they want s…”

His voice trailed away as the tall one came back down from the bridge, ignored us, and headed for the corridor. I heard him opening doors and switching on lights. It surprised me that he had not requested I open the safe on the bridge. The real safe was hidden in the study.

“You’ve family?” asked the policeman.

“Yes. Two children who live with my ex-wife. You?”

“Wife and three kids. We live in Blakeney. She’s going to be sore, me out all night…”

The tall MI6 came back in, fixing the policeman with a stare and making him look very uncomfortable. “Your safe,” he said turning to me.

“Nothing important in there, usual documents for the ship.”

“Log?”

“Yes. You can have a look if you like.”

He considered but then declined. “No. I will come back if need be,” he said, then shouted: “Shepherd!” across the ship.

The other came back shortly with oil smeared in various places on his light coloured mac, and they left the cabin together. My blue uniform companion dithered. His eyes met mine. His mouth moved minutely, as if he wanted to say something but dare not. While I waited, I sipped some more whisky.

“Davis!” yelled the tall one from outside. I heard the sound of the Morning Star’s engines.

“Goodnight, ah good morning, sir,” said Davis as he left quickly. The door was closed which cut out any sounds of speech on deck. The tug was close now. As the sound vibrated through the Wolfhound again, I imagined them jumping over to her. Then the engine bellowed and she moved away.

I sat and looked at my whisky, thinking over what had just taken place. Then I picked up the glass and downed the lot. Standing up and stretching, I walked through to the bedroom, flung off the dressing gown, and got into bed. I pulled the cold bed clothes around my naked body and felt the heat of the whisky inside, drawing me into a disturbed sleep. It would have been even more disturbed if I had known what was coming later that morning.

Part 1 Chapter 3 Tanya

Outside it was cold and damp. A percolator bubbled on the galley stove as I sat on the bench seat and looked out across the water. Despite the whisky, my sleep had not lasted long. The light outside was pale and the early morning miserable. Thick grey clouds filled the sky from wide horizon to horizon making the landscape darker. I shivered a little, urging the coffee to be ready so it could warm my insides. A fine drizzle permeated down through the cold air. From the Wolfhound to the land the bay water was calm and flat; Blakeney Channel was not moving now that the tide was at its fullest. Bordering the bay was marshland, as muddy as it looked, I expected. Beyond the marsh sat the little village of Blakeney and behind its ramshackle quay, dead centre stood the low wide flint hotel. To one side of it a street climbed into the village and next to that a grassy low hill bordered by fishermen’s houses. The village was mostly composed of those little flint houses. Blakeney looked as resigned and displeased with the weather as I felt.

I flicked on the small radio. Big Ben chimed right on cue and, while I prepared the coffee, it warbled about the latest news: more conflict in Vietnam and more cold war. I listened only with a vague interest. Then the shipping forecast: “Humber good.” That was all I needed. I flicked off the unit as several jets flew over, the massive rumble of their engines growing and growing until the windows shook. I was unable to see them as they flew fast and low. Either Lightnings or Buccaneers I guessed, out of Coltishall or Honington respectively. The massive rumbling faded as I took the steps up to the bridge collecting the percolator and my favorite cup as I went.

The view from here was just as depressing and much larger: the bridge windows enabling an all round view. I examined the entire vista using a pair of powerful binoculars. Not a soul was around. I checked the guardhouse out on the spit. It looked bleak and forlorn, out there alone, between the bay and the sea. I scanned left, passing slowly over the nature reserve to the old lifeboat house, which was a central point for the reserve. It was similarly devoid of life: shuttered and boarded up for the winter. A group of seals caught my eye as the only movement: basking on a shingle at the far end of the spit. Then there was the inlet to the bay where, during the darkness a few hours ago, it had gushed me into the deep waters of Blakeney Pit.

An ancient and dark coast, mentioned in the Domesday Book. I thought of the coast of lawlessness, pirates and smuggling. The Blakeney watch house was originally a lookout to catch the smugglers. Foreign ships had been plundered many a time in this very bay, and I knew that it still continued to this day. Once, Cley and Blakeney had been busy and wealthy ports. The packet ships stopping on the routes from Hull and London. Then, despite the advice of Thomas Telford, the ports gradually silted up due to the greed of land reclamation.

The birds on the point had paid dearly in the hands of the hunters and collectors until the area was made a reserve. Now the mournful cry of the terns was like a wail of their persecuted ancestors. I thought of it now, with tourism as the main trade: in the summer months the car park would be full, people eating ice creams and children fishing for crabs from the quay. Flat bottom boats ferrying sightseers out to the point via the sandbanks to view the seals. Now though, during the winter, it was cold, empty and rainswept; all but the most hardy, or foolhardy, kept away.

I examined the moored ships, all deserted and mournfully tugging gently at their shackles. I noticed one in particular, that must have arrived in the night. It was big, the biggest ship in the bay, although I decided on inspection, she was more a yacht than ship. She appeared to be deserted, but the most striking thing about it was: she was the ugliest ship I had ever seen. Somehow it appeared that the designer had done everything possible to make her hideous. Everything was flawed in her lines, each angle the wrong angle, each line badly executed. She looked most unfit to enter the high seas. I could see her name: Sea Vixen, Norway. Three decks and a low diving platform at the back, probably luxuriously appointed inside. What she was doing here in this backwater I could little imagine. Despite her looks, I expected she was more at home in the harbour at Monaco. I decided I had seen enough. Even Morston Creek was devoid of traffic. The fishermen would have taken to the sea during the early dawn. Where the Morning Star had gone I had no idea. I just hoped that they would not come back, and if they did, I wanted them to leave me alone.

I sipped strong coffee sitting in one of the padded driving seats. The engine start controls were to my right, three separate banks, one for each engine. I switched on the compressed air and then engaged the switches for the central engine. Though the engine room was heavily soundproofed, I could hear the air rushing through the big diesel: entering the cylinders and pushing the piston, then hissing loudly from the exhaust. Little by little, I could hear and feel the ship come to life. Leaving the bridge, I went down to the deck. I could smell the exhaust fumes drifting over her. The drumming came through my feet as I walked up to the bow and cast off from the mooring buoy. While coming back I threw the fenders over the starboard side.

The air was sharp and cold, the drizzle unpleasant. I made my way back up to the bridge and casually looked out towards Blakeney. It was then I saw two figures looking at me. I stared back trying to make them out over the distance. Was I being paranoid? Were they really looking at the Wolfhound?

Quickly I moved across the bridge to get the binoculars, and as I did so, I looked at the gauges which had flickered into their correct positions. I saw that nothing was wrong, and the engine had settled down into a regular rumble accompanied by a faint whine. The ship was free to move but sat waiting like a greyhound expecting the rabbit. I had the binoculars on the two men quickly. It was impossible to see them clearly from this distance. One seemed to be looking directly at me and the other had just started to walk away. The first stared back at me for a few moments and then took off after his companion.

I decided to get the Wolfhound into Blakeney quickly to see who these men were. Putting down the binoculars I engaged the throttle slowly and felt an almost electric charge run through her, like a thrill of adrenaline. The powerful whine built up and she stepped away from the buoy. Turning the wheel I quickly brought her to face Blakeney Channel.

I kept my eyes on the men as they skirted the quay and walked down onto the sandy car park by the inlet. I had wanted to go and investigate the spit, mostly to see the watch-house and find out who had been sending coded Morse, but the tide being high, I was in a hurry to get the Wolfhound in before it turned. She was a big ship for the small Blakeney quay and though her displacement was quite shallow, I would need as much of the high tide as possible to get her in. A good plan, it seemed to me, was to come back out in the dinghy as the tide went out. It would certainly save time: it went out at a great speed here. I kept my eyes on the men with a glance around at the otherwise quiet area. She swept easily along the wide deep channel.

We passed several other moored craft but there was nothing to note. All of them were locked up tight. To port, the wide bay with its low shingle bank hid the calm sea from view; to starboard, the empty marsh. Beyond the marsh were modest wooded hills and small fields. It was usually a pretty view but at that moment the low dark clouds made it look grey and forbidding. The Wolfhound nosed towards the narrowing channel: the inlet which led to the quay. On either side the mud banks came in closer to meet her grey painted flanks. Soon we entered the narrow way entirely. Now that the tide was full, the water stretched right up to the grass tufts which were usually the wigs on top of the mud banks. I slowed her, bringing the middle throttle back a little. She felt huge in this narrow way and I knew I had to be careful not to ground her. Either side I could see some distance into the land, marsh, mud and coarse grass. There were many paths running around with little plank bridges to cross the little mud channels that snaked about the marsh.

We moved along the inlet. The men were now on the high bank above a large area of sand which was clear of the water. Where many beached sailing dinghies were grimly calling their holiday leisure owners with clanking halyards. This gave way to the wide and empty car park, a grand name for what in truth was only a flat sandbank. The only customers were not cars but a couple of small boats pulled up just out of the water, the owners too lazy to take them to rest with the dinghies. I pulled the throttle back to idle as I levelled with the men. They both stopped and turned to look at me, still too far to make out their features. I grabbed the binoculars, but as I did so, both of them dropped down on the other side of the high bank. I cursed and had to turn back to navigating as the Wolfhound had enough slow headway to reach the sharp bend in the narrow inlet just before the quay.

I had to forget the men momentarily as the ship slowly nosed around the tight bend. I fed in a little power. There was a long free space at this end of the quay and then a few pleasure craft followed by a medium size rough old salt’s fishing boat further down. Standing on her deck was the grey-haired and bearded old salt himself, pipe clenched in his teeth. He was watching me intently. The Wolfhound passed him, and I returned her to idle, pulling back the throttle a tiny fraction into reverse. She stopped in the large basin at the end of the quay. I inched her about forward and astern until she faced back the way we had come.

I took the chance to look towards the bank where the man had vanished with the binoculars. One of them was some way out in the marsh. His destination appeared to be the watch-house. Of the other, there was no sign. I had to get the Wolfhound moored then I would follow up on these men.

Again I fed in some power to bring her along the quay to the free space. The old salt glared at me. As I drew level he yelled up: “You mind my paint,” while chewing on his pipe. I looked down at the rough planking of his boat. Whether it was said in humour or seriousness I was unsure. I was never sure of the logic of the Norfolk man. Ignoring him I inched the Wolfhound in; she was grounding in the thick mud ooze but I gave her more power in order to muscle her in. It was going to need a high tide to get out again. The bumpers scraped and I cut the engine completely. As it ran to a stop I quickly went down to the deck and along to the bow in order to grab the mooring rope. The drizzle had stopped, though it was bitterly cold. Jumping down to the narrow wooden planking over the concrete quay and then over to the hard metal mooring post I began to lash the rope. Then someone said over my shoulder: “Well you took your time getting here.”

I whipped round with surprise which almost turned to shock. It was the last person I expected to see and someone I had hoped never to see again: my ex-wife.

“One day I won’t come at all,” I replied turning back to the job in hand.

“Oh, Bernhart, you’re not pleased to see me?”

The answer in my head would not have pleased her. Hell, what did I care if I pleased her?

“No,” I said.

The bow rope was secure and I turned and walked down to the stern. My ex-wife followed me. I caught the smell of her perfume; she always smelt good. Up ahead the old salt was still staring at me, eyes wide, and chewing his pipe. Reaching the stern, I pulled down the rope and turned my attention to it and the mooring post. There was little worry; the Wolfhound was almost on the bottom as it was. Even when the tide went out, she would not sink too far, unlike the smaller boats.

“Oh baby, you know you miss me.”

The knot was tied and I straightened up, looking at her properly. She was still a fine looking woman. I was sure that her looks had always blinded me to the person she was. About five foot nothing, though her customary tall stiletto heels brought her up several inches, but still well under my six foot two. Her body was rounded but not plump and her skin a gentle light coffee colour. Black and long curly hair complemented the fine brown eyes and the full lips. There was the faintest Asian look to those big brown eyes. Her tight thin dress showed her large bosom clearly and her good legs were bare below the short dress. She was clearly very cold. Her nipples were hard and pert, refusing to be controlled by her iron will not to shiver. I had always liked her body, and the heady smell of her perfume reminded me of nuzzling between those breasts. I pushed away the memories of intimacy; what was I thinking? We had parted badly and this was foolishness on my part.

“What are you doing here, Tanya?”

“Is that all the greeting I am going to get?”

“I’m afraid so for the time being. I’m going to make breakfast.”

I walked back and level with the bridge and pulled the access ladder out to rest it on the quay. It had wheels at the end for when the ship moved downwards with the tide. I stepped on board and Tanya followed; obviously inviting herself in.

“I always did like your breakfasts,” she said.

We went in and I closed the door. At least the engine had warmed the room. She stepped into the cabin and I stood by the galley. Straight away she unzipped her dress and let it fall to the floor, kicking the scanty threads to one side: now completely naked but for her high heels. I stood stock still; even for a usually hot-blooded man, this surprised me. Coming over she reached out and took my hand pushing it to her groin.

“Bernhart, please.”

Her mouth came to mine. Despite myself, my hand touched her, pleasing her, my finger slipping inside. Then she pulled me to the table and lay back, holding me, pulling me down. Her hand felt for my zipper, and I was out. She guided me into her. We kissed hard. The passion gripped us and we indulged in abandoned lust. Always our sex had been this way, lustful, hard and wild. It was the only place in our union where we were at one. There was nothing calm and relaxed about our carnal desires or, indeed, very safe. In our marriage, we had spent so much of the time exploring our sexual and physical boundaries. I knew this body well, I knew what she wanted, I knew what I wanted. All this shot through my head as I pleased myself and her.

She guided my hand to her throat and pushed it tight. She always wanted to be throttled during her orgasms. I pushed hard on her jugular veins with my thumb and fingers. As I thrust my prick hard into her she started to both come and pass out. I let go of the grip as she came and the blood rushed into her head again. She shrieked with pleasure. And then quickly I started to climax. As my prick started to twitch inside her, it started her climax again. We came together: hard and fierce, letting go entirely to the feelings of sexual indulgence.

As the passion slipped from me, I felt an overwhelming shame, slipping from her and falling back into a chair. I said nothing, she lay breathing hard on the table, breasts heaving. What had I done? Foolish passion. She tipped her head up to look at me. Such a good looking woman; I was always the fool for a good looking woman. Getting up, she slipped from the table like a cat and came to me, kneeling down, her hair on my skin, breasts touching me.

“Bernhart.” Her head went between my legs, taking my flaccid dribbling prick in her mouth.

“No,” I pulled her head away, gripping the hair. A no to her was always a yes in disguise, but this time I meant it. The bodies and the passion worked together, but this hurt my soul, this was wrong. I hated myself for having bonded with her, but several years with no woman and a neglected prick was able to switch on my lust so easily. She pulled down again, letting my hand pull her hair harder and harder. This she liked: my resistance, her pain; this turned her on. “Tanya, no…” It was like saying no with a yes coming from my lips. She pulled harder and let out a small whimper of pain, but strained more towards my shamefully slowly growing manhood. Clearly, it turned me on. She knew it, she knew she would win. She always won.

From my novel Burning Wolfhound