Eye Of The Needle

Chapter 21

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"Bollocks," said Smith, with which sentiment there was general agreement.

And the U-505 heard it.

She was more than thirty nautical miles from Storm Island, but Weissman was roaming the dial to see what he could pick up and hoping, improbably, to hear Glenn Miller records from the American Forces Network in Britain, and his tuner happened to be on the right wavelength at the right time.

He passed the information to Lieutenant Commander Heer, adding, "It was not on our man's frequency."

Major Wohl, who was still as irritating as ever, said, "Then it means nothing."

Heer did not miss the opportunity to correct,him. "It means something," he said. "It means that there may be some activity on the surface when we go up."

"But this is unlikely to trouble us."

"Most unlikely," Heer agreed.

"Then it is meaningless."

"It is probably meaningless."

They argued about it all the way to the island.

And so it worked out that within the space of five minutes the Navy, the Royal Observer Corps, MI8, and the Coastguard all phoned Godliman to tell him about the S.O.S.

Godliman phoned Bloggs, who had finally fallen into a deep sleep in front of the fire in the scramble room. The shrill ring of the telephone startled him, and he jumped to his feet, thinking that the planes were about to take off.

A pilot picked up the receiver, said "Yes" into it twice and handed it to Bloggs. "A Mr Godliman for you."

"Hello, Percy."

"Fred, somebody on the island just broadcast an S.O.S."

Bloggs shook his head to clear the last remains of sleep. "Who?"

"We don't know. There was just the one signal, not repeated, and they don't seem to be receiving at all."

"Still, there's not much doubt now."

"No. Everything ready up there?"

"All except the weather."

"Good luck."

"Thanks."

Bloggs hung up and returned to the young pilot who was till reading War and Peace. "Good news," he told him. "The bastard's definitely on the island."

"Jolly good show," said the pilot.

Faber closed the door of the jeep and began walking quite slowly toward the house. He was wearing David's hacking jacket again. There was mud all over his trousers where he had fallen and his hair was plastered wetly against his skull. He was limping slightly on his right foot. Lucy backed away from the window and ran out of the bedroom and down the stairs. The shotgun was on the floor in the hall where she had dropped it. She picked it up. Suddenly it felt very heavy. She had never actually fired a gun, and she had no idea how to check whether this one was loaded. She could figure it out, given time, but there was no time.

She took a deep breath and opened the front door. "Stop!" she shouted. Her voice was pitched higher than she had intended, and it sounded shrill and hysterical. Faber smiled pleasantly and kept on walking.

Lucy pointed the gun at him, holding the barrel with her left hand and the breech with her right. Her finger was on the trigger. "I'll kill you!" she yelled.

"Don't be silly, Lucy," he said mildly. "How could you hurt me after all the things we've done together? Haven't we loved each other, a little?"

It was true. She had told herself she could not fall in love with him, and that was true too; but she had felt something for him, and if it was not love, it was something very like it.

"You knew about me this afternoon," he said, and now he was thirty yards away, "but it made no difference to you then, did it?"

That was partly true. For a moment she saw in her mind's eye a vivid picture of herself sitting astride him, holding his sensitive hands to her breasts, and then she realised what he was doing.

"Lucy, we can work it out, we can still have each other-"

And she pulled the trigger.

There was an ear-splitting crash, and the weapon jumped in her hands, its butt bruising her hip with the recoil. She almost dropped it. She had never imagined that firing a gun would feel like that. She was quite deaf for a moment.

The shot went high over Faber's head but all the same he ducked, turned, and ran zigzagging back to the jeep. Lucy was tempted to fire again but she stopped herself just in time realising that if he knew both barrels had been emptied there would be nothing to stop him turning and coming back.

He flung open the door of the jeep, jumped in and shot off down the hill. Lucy knew he would be back.

But suddenly she felt happy, almost gay. She had won the first round: she had driven him off... But he would be back.

Still, she had the upper hand. She was indoors, and she had the gun. And she had time to prepare.

Prepare. She must be ready for him. Next time he would be more subtle. He would surely try to surprise her somehow.

She hoped he would wait until dark, that would give her time... First she had to reload the gun.

She went into the kitchen. Tom kept everything in his kitchen- food, coal, tools, stores-and he had a gun like David's. She knew the two firearms were the same because David had examined Tom's, then sent away for one exactly like it. The two men had enjoyed long discussions about weapons.

She found Tom's gun and a box of ammunition. She put the two guns and the box on the kitchen table.

Machines were simple, she was convinced; it was apprehension not stupidity that made women fumble when faced with a piece of engineering. She fiddled with David's gun, keeping the barrel pointed away from herself, until it came open at the breech. Then she figured out what she had done to open it, and practiced doing it again a couple of times. It was surprisingly simple.

She loaded both guns. Then, to make sure she had done everything correctly, she pointed Tom's gun at the kitchen wall and pulled the trigger. There was a shower of plaster, Bob barked like he'd gone mad, and she bruised her hip and deafened herself again. But she was armed. She must remember to pull the triggers gently so as not to jerk the gun and spoil her aim. Men probably got taught that kind of thing in the army.

What to do next? She should make it difficult for Henry to get into the house.

Neither of the doors had locks, of course; if a house was burgled on this island, one would know that the culprit lived in the other house. Lucy rummaged in Tom's tool box and found a shiny, sharp-bladed axe. She stood on the stairs and began to hack away at the bannister.

The work made her arms ache, but in five minutes she had six short lengths of stout, seasoned oak. She found a hammer and some nails and fixed the oak bars across the front and back doors, three bars to each door, four nails to each bar. When it was done her wrists were in agony and the hammer felt as heavy as lead, but she was still not finished.

She got another handful of the shiny four-inch nails and went around to every window in the house, nailing them shut. She realised, with a sense of discovery, why men always put nails in their mouths: it was because you needed both hands for the work and if you put them in your pocket they stuck into your skin.

By the time she had finished it was dark. She left the lights off.

He could still get into the house, of course, but at least he could not get in quietly... He would have to break something and thereby alert her and then she would be ready with the guns.

She went upstairs, carrying both guns, to check on Jo. He was still asleep, wrapped in his blanket, on Tom's bed. Lucy struck a match to look at his face. The sleeping pill must have really knocked him out, but he was an average sort of colour, his temperature seemed normal, and he was breathing easily. "Just stay that way, little boy," Lucy whispered. The sudden access of tenderness left her feeling more savage toward Henry.

She restlessly patrolled the house, peering through the windows into the darkness, the dog following her everywhere. She took to carrying just one of the guns, leaving the other at the head of the stairs; but she hooked the axe into the belt of her trousers.

She remembered the radio, and tapped out her S.O.S. several more times. She had no idea whether anybody was listening, or even whether the radio was working. She knew no more Morse, so she could not broadcast anything else.

It occurred to her that Tom probably did not know Morse code. Surely he must have a book somewhere? If only she could tell someone what was happening here... She searched the house, using dozens of matches, feeling terrified every time she lit one within sight of a downstairs window. She found nothing.

All right, perhaps he did know Morse.

On the other hand, why should he need it? He only had to tell the mainland that there were enemy aircraft approaching, and there was no reason why that information shouldn't go over the air... what was the phrase David had used?... au clair.

She went back to the bedroom and looked again at the wireless set. To one side of the main cabinet, hidden from her previous cursory glance, was a microphone. If she could talk to them, they could talk to her.

The sound of another human voice-a normal, sane, mainland voice -suddenly seemed the most desirable prospect in the world.

She picked up the microphone and began to experiment with the switches. Bob growled softly.

She put the mike down and reached out her hand toward the dog in the darkness. "What is it, Bob?"

He growled again. She could feel his ears standing stiffly upright. She was terribly afraid; the confidence gained by confronting Henry with the gun, by learning how to reload, by barricading the door and nailing down the windows... all evaporated at one growl from an alert dog. "Downstairs," she whispered. "Quietly."

She held his collar and let him lead her down the stairs. In the darkness she felt for the bannister, forgetting she had chopped it up for her barricades, and she almost overbalanced. She regained her equilibrium and sucked at a splinter in her finger.

The dog hesitated in the hall, then growled more loudly and tugged her toward the kitchen. She picked him up and held his muzzle shut to silence him. Then she crept through the doorway.

She looked in the direction of the window, but there was nothing in front of her eyes other than the deep blackness.

She listened. The window creaked at first almost inaudibly, then louder. He was trying to get in. Bob rumbled threateningly, deep in his throat, but seemed to understand the sudden squeeze she gave his muzzle.

The night became quieter. Lucy realised the storm was easing, almost imperceptibly. Henry seemed to have given up on the kitchen window. She moved to the living room. She heard the same creak of old wood resisting pressure. Now Henry seemed more determined: there were three muffled bumps, as if he were tapping the window frame with the cushioned heel of his hand.

Lucy put the dog down and hefted the shotgun. It might almost have been imagination, but she could just make out the window as a square of grey in the blank darkness. If he got the window open, she would fire immediately.

There was a much harder bang. Bob lost control and gave a loud bark. She heard a scuffling noise outside. Then came the voice. "Lucy?"

She bit her lip.

"Lucy?"

He was using the voice he used in bed deep, soft, intimate.

"Lucy, can you hear me? Don't be afraid. I don't want to hurt you. Talk to me, please."

She had to fight the urge to pull both triggers there and then, just to silence that awful sound and destroy the memories it brought to her.


"Lucy, darling..." She thought she heard a muffled sob. "Lucy, he attacked me. I had to kill him... I killed for my country, you shouldn't hate me for that."

What in the world did that mean...? It sounded crazy. Could he be insane and have hidden it for two intimate days? Actually he had seemed saner than most people and yet he had already committed murder... though she had no idea of the circumstances... Stop it... She was softening up, which of course was exactly what he wanted. She had an idea. "Lucy, just speak to me..."

His voice faded as she tiptoed into the kitchen. Bob would surely warn her if Henry did anything more than talk. She fumbled in Tom's tool box and found a pair of pliers. She went to the kitchen window and with her fingertips located the heads of the three nails she had hammered there. Carefully, as quietly as possible, she drew them out. The job demanded all her strength.

When they were out she went back to the living room to listen. "... don't cause me trouble and I'll leave you alone..."

As silently as she could she lifted the kitchen window. She crept into the living room, picked up the dog and returned once again to the kitchen. "... hurt you, last thing in the world..."

She stroked the dog once or twice and murmured, "I wouldn't do this if I didn't have to, boy." Then she pushed him out of the window.

She closed it rapidly, found a nail, and hammered it in at a new spot with three sharp blows.

She dropped the hammer, picked up the gun, and ran into the front room to stand close to the window, pressing herself up against the wall. "... give you one last chance!"

There was a scampering sound, from Bob, followed by a terrible, terrifying bark Lucy had never before heard from a sheepdog; then a scuffling sound and the noise of a man falling. She could hear Henry's breathing, gasping, grunting; then another flurry of Bob's scampering, a shout of pain, a curse in a foreign language, another terrible bark.

The noises now became muffled and more distant, then suddenly ended. Lucy waited, pressed against the wall next to the window, straining to hear. She wanted to go and check Jo, wanted to try the radio again, wanted to cough; but she did not dare to move. Bloody visions of what Bob might have done to Henry passed in and out of her mind, and she badly wanted to hear the dog snuffling at the door.

She looked at the window... then realised she was looking at the window; she could see, and not just a square patch of faintly lighter grey, but the wooden crosspiece of the frame. It was still night, but only just, and she knew if she looked outside the sky would be faintly diffused with a just-perceptible light instead of being impenetrably black. Dawn would come at any minute, she would be able to see the furniture in the room, and Henry would no longer be able to surprise her in the darkness.

There was a crash of breaking glass inches away from her face. She jumped. She felt a small sharp pain in her cheek, touched the spot, and knew that she had been cut by a flying shard. She hefted the shotgun, waiting for Henry to come through the window. Nothing happened. It was not until a minute or two had passed that she wondered what had broken the window.

She peered at the floor. Among the pieces of broken glass was a large dark shape. She found she could see it better if she looked to one side of it rather than directly at it. When she did, she was able to make out the familiar shape of the dog.

She closed her eyes, then looked away. She was unable to feel any emotion at all. Her heart had been numbed by all the terror and death that had gone before: first David, then Tom, then the endless screaming tension of the all-night siege...

All she felt was hunger. All day yesterday she had been too nervous to eat, which meant it was some thirty-six hours since her last meal. Now, incongruously, ridiculously, she found herself longing for a cheese sandwich.

Something else was coming through the window.

She saw it out of the corner of her eye, then turned her head to look directly at it.

It was Henry's hand.

She stared at it, mesmerised: a long-fingered hand, without rings, white under the dirt, with cared-for nails and a bandaid around the tip of the index finger; a hand that had touched her intimately, had played her body like an instrument, had thrust a knife into the heart of an old shepherd.

The hand broke away a piece of glass, then another, enlarging the hole in the pane. Then it reached right through, up to the elbow, and fumbled along the windowsill searching for a catch to unfasten.

Trying to be utterly silent, with painful slowness, Lucy shifted the gun to her left hand, and with her right took the axe from her belt, lifted it high above her head, and brought it down with all her might on Henry's hand.

He must have sensed it, or heard the rush of wind, or seen a blur of ghostly movement behind the window, because he moved abruptly a split-second before the blow landed.

The axe thudded into the wood of the windowsill, sticking there. For a fraction of an instant Lucy thought she had missed; then, from outside, came a scream of pain, and she saw beside the axe blade, lying on the varnished wood like caterpillars, two severed fingers. She heard the sound of feet running. She threw up.

The exhaustion hit her then, closely followed by a rush of self-pity. She had suffered enough, surely to God, had she not? There were policemen and soldiers in the world to deal with situations like this. Nobody could expect an ordinary housewife and mother to hold off a murderer indefinitely. Who could blame her if she gave up now? Who could honestly say they would have done better, lasted longer, stayed more resourceful, for another minute?

She was finished. They would have to take over: the outside world, the policemen and soldiers, whoever was at the other end of that radio link. She could do no more...

She tore her eyes away from the grotesque objects on the windowsill and went wearily up the stairs. She picked up the second gun and took both weapons into the bedroom with her. Jo was still asleep, thank God. He had hardly moved all night, blessedly unaware of the apocalypse going on around him. She could tell, somehow, that he was not sleeping so deeply now, something about the look on his face and the way he breathed let her know that he would wake soon and want his breakfast.

She longed for that old routine now: getting up in the morning, making breakfast, dressing Jo, doing simple, tedious, safe household chores like washing and cleaning and cutting herbs from the garden and making pots of tea... It seemed incredible that she had been so dissatisfied with David's lovelessness, the long boring evenings, the endless bleak landscape of turf and heather and rain...

It would never come back, that life.

She had wanted cities, music, people, ideas. Now the desire for those things had left her, and she could not understand how she had ever wanted them. Peace was all a human being ought to ask for, it seemed to her.

She sat in front of the radio and studied its switches and dials. She would do this one thing, then she would rest. She made a tremendous effort and forced herself to think analytically for a little longer. There were not so many possible combinations of switch and dial. She found a knob with two settings, turned it, and tapped the Morse key. There was no sound. Perhaps that meant the microphone was now in circuit.

She pulled it to her and spoke into it. "Hello, hello, is there anybody there? Hello?"

There was a switch that had "Transmit" above it and "Receive" below. It was turned to "Transmit." If the world was to talk back to her, obviously she had to throw the switch to "Receive."

She said: "Hello, is anybody listening?" and threw the switch to "Receive." Nothing.

Then: "Come in, Storm Island, receiving you loud and clear."

It was a man's voice. He sounded young and strong, capable and reassuring, and alive and normal.

"Come in, Storm Island, we've been trying to raise you all night... where the devil have you been?" Lucy switched to 'Transmit', tried to speak, and burst into tears.

Percival Godliman had a headache from too many cigarettes and too little sleep. He had taken a little whisky to help him through the long, worried night in his office, and that had been a mistake. Everything oppressed him: the weather, his office, his job, the war. For the first time since he had got into this business he found himself longing for dusty libraries, illegible manuscripts and mediaeval Latin.

Colonel Terry walked in with two cups of tea on a tray. "Nobody around here sleeps," he said cheerfully. He sat down. "Ship's biscuit?" He offered Godliman a plate.

Godliman refused the biscuit and drank the tea. It gave him a temporary lift.

"I just had a call from the great man," Terry said. "He's keeping the night vigil with us."

"I can't imagine why," Godliman said sourly.

"He's worried."

The phone rang.

"Godliman."

"I have the Royal Observer Corps in Aberdeen for you, sir."

"Yes?"

A new voice came on, the voice of a young man.

"Royal Observer Corps, Aberdeen, here, sir."

"Yes?"

"Is that Mr Godliman?"

"Yes." Dear God, these military types took their time. "We've raised Storm Island at last, sir... it's not our regular observer. In fact it's a woman."

"What did she say?"

"Nothing, yet, sir."

"What do you mean?" Godliman fought down the angry impatience. "She's just... well, crying, sir."

Godliman hesitated. "Can you connect me to her?"

"Yes. Hold on." There was a pause punctuated by several clicks and a hum. Then Godliman heard the sound of a woman weeping. He said, "Hello, can you hear me?" The weeping went on.

The young man came back on the line to say, "She won't be able to hear you until she switches to 'Receive,' sir ah, she's done it. Go ahead."

Godliman said, "Hello, young lady. When I've finished speaking I'll say 'Over,' then you switch to 'Transmit' to speak to me and you say 'Over' when you have finished. Do you understand? Over."

The woman's voice came on. "Oh, thank God for somebody sane, yes, I understand. Over."

"Now, then," Godliman said gently, "tell me what's been happening there. Over."

"A man was shipwrecked here two, no, three days ago. I think he's that stiletto murderer from London, he killed my husband and our shepherd and now he's outside the house, and I've got my little boy here... I've nailed the windows shut and fired at him with a shotgun, and barred the door and set the dog on him but he killed the dog and I hit him with an axe when he tried to get in through the window and I can't do it anymore so please come for God's sake. Over."

Godliman put his hand over the phone. His face was white. "Jesus Christ..." But when he spoke to her, he was brisk. "You must try to hold on a little longer," he began. "There are sailors and coastguards and policemen and all sorts of people on their way to you but they can't land until the storm lets up... Now, there's something I want you to do, and I can't tell you why you must do it because of the people who may be listening to us, but I can tell you that it is absolutely essential... Are you hearing me clearly? Over."

"Yes, go on. Over."

"You must destroy your radio. Over."

"Oh, no, please..."

"Yes," Godliman said, then he realised she was still transmitting. "I don't... I can't..." Then there was a scream.

Godliman said, "Hello, Aberdeen, what's happening?" The young man came on. "The set's still transmitting, sir, but she's not speaking. We can't hear anything."

"She screamed."

"Yes, we got that."

Godliman hesitated a moment. "What's the weather like up there?"

"It's raining, sir." The young man sounded puzzled. "I'm not making conversation," Godliman snapped. "Is there any sign of the storm letting up?"

"It's eased a little in the last few minutes, sir."

"Good. Get back to me the instant that woman comes back on the air."

"Very good, sir."

Godliman said to Terry, "God only knows what that girl's going through up there..." He jiggled the cradle of the phone.

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