Legends abound in Romney Marsh.
Just a note. Words can be very entertaining and I enjoy playing with them. I’ve used a couple of names here, so, with Google Translate at hand, and Dutch and Welsh in mind, and Mr. McGoohan‘s filmography taken into consideration, you might like to do a little “spy” work of your own. 😉
He’d been dealing with Nigel Hunningsworth for the past several months while Hardy Fotheringay recuperated from open heart surgery. It was good to have Hardy back. His last words before sending Mr. Drake on this mission had become almost standard between the two of them. “You’re on your own with this one, Drake.”
He hadn’t been to Romney Marsh since his parents had gone to the area for vacation when he was six. He still remembered his fascination with the legends and tall tales of smugglers and buccaneers. But this trip was much different. He was to meet Vogelverschrikker, the Dutch politician. The man had a social connection with a foreign diplomat behind the Iron Curtain and had stumbled upon information that NATO would no doubt find useful. It was John Drake‘s job to connect with the Dutchman at Y Pentref Inn. Vogelverschrikker had been spirited away by a number two man in the British Parliament during a visit to Amsterdam, and was now in hiding in the Romney Marsh area. The Netherlands National Security Bureau had gone on red alert. With this man’s sudden disappearance security was at high risk. He would be returned safely, but currently, for the sake of both his safety and Holland‘s national security, his disappearance had to be kept under wraps by the British. There was a mole in Amsterdam, someone in the Hague. If the wrong people found out Vogelverschrikker’s whereabouts his life wouldn’t be worth a dime. Drake would connect with him, receive the information, and then return him safely and unseen to Holland where a cover story regarding his disappearance and whereabouts, supplied by British operatives via a “leak” to the N.S.B., would, hopefully, make the mole show his hand. But right now the man, the information, and his safe return to the Netherlands was the crux of the matter and all that mattered to John Drake.
The wind was cold, blowing in from the sea, blowing across the marsh. The small hamlet, tucked away in an obscure corner of the area, looked like something out of the book Treasure Island. You expected to see brigands of some sort, smugglers huddled at tables, drinking grog and whispering their plans one to another. And Y Pentref Inn seemed just the place for them, the perfect spot for the hatching if strategies and schemes. Drake made his way to the bar.
“Yes sir, what can I get for you?” The barmaid was slightly past middle age and attractive. It was the look in her eye that was telling. If anyone knew of brigands it was her.
“I’d like to make arrangements for a room if you’ve one available.” Drake smiled.
“One available?” She chuckled. “We’ve five rooms and four are available. The three on the second floor have nice views if you like the marsh. The two down here have no views and can be a tad noisy seeing as how they’re next to the kitchen. But that’s why we charge a bit less for them,” and she looked at him with a question on her face. Was he interested in cheap?
“The view sounds good,” and he placed his hat down on the bar. “But before we bother ourselves about the details I’d enjoy a warm brandy, please. The winds here are chilling.”
“That they are. Local legend has it that the wind is cold because of all the ladies hearts broken by sailors of ill intent,” she smiled over her shoulder as she reached for the brandy. He noticed that she reached for the bottle on the top shelf. If he wasn’t interested in saving a quid on a room it was obvious that the better brandy was for him.
“And will you be staying long?”
“No, only the night. I’m making my way to London. I’m a little to tired to press on just now. A good nights sleep and I’ll be on my way.”
She had said that four of the five rooms were available, and that told him that Vogelverschrikker was there. This, he thought, should be relatively easy.
Vogelverschrikker would be expecting him. It would be a simple task to go downstairs for his evening meal and give the Dutchman the appropriate signal. They would proceed from there. And so he left his room after having freshened up, heading for the dinning room below.
There were two men setting at the corner table furthest from the door. Neither was the man he was waiting for. No doubt locals there for their evening meal. The Dutchman was probably still in his room. Drake approached the bar, smiling at the lady behind it. She had a rather odd, somewhat worried look on her face.
“I thought I’d have my dinner. Is there anything you’d care to recommend?”
“Oh, the menu isn’t very complicated. My sister cooks and cleans here. Her mutton with carrots and roast potatoes is good, I think you’d enjoy it. Nothing fancy, but good tasting and filling.”
“That sounds fine,” Drake replied. The menu wasn’t his primary concern. Years of working as an agent had taught him to take nothing for granted. The look on her face puzzled him and a direct approach seemed best. “Is everything all right?”
“Oh, yes,” and her voice lowered as she nodded her head towards the two men in the corner. “It’s just that a Dutchman arrived earlier today, not long before you. That’s not so odd, we get travelers and folks going on holiday through here often enough. But those two. Three Dutchmen in one day? Seems strange, that’s all.”
Drake sipped tea as he waited for his meal and Vogelverschrikker. He kept one eye on the two gentlemen at the corner table. Three Dutchmen in one day? For a spot like Romney Marsh it was a bit odd. He could hear a door upstairs open and close. His table faced the stairwell, with the two men to his right and the main entrance to his left and the bar slightly to the right of the stairs. His man walked slowly down the stairs, with nervous, jerky movements. Drake could tell that he was terrified. Given his position his fear was understandable. There were people involved in this, other side people, who would gladly see him dead at this point. And the two Dutchmen in the corner could easily be more than coincidence.
At the bottom of the stairs the politician looked nervously around the room. Drake “accidentally” knocked his hat from the table and in retrieving it muttered to himself in a stage whisper, “I should take more care, next time.” And Vogelverschrikker seated himself at the table next to Drake’s, with a polite nod and a “Good evening to you, sir.”
“And you,” Drake smiled.
One of the men at the corner table rose and strode towards the door. Calling over his shoulder to the other man, in Dutch, that he was going for some air and a smoke. Drake noticed that one side of his coat hung lower than the other side as if there were something heavy in the pocket. No, these two men were no coincidence. After the first man was out the door the other man, one side of his coat lower than the other, got up and walked towards the bar. With a heavy Dutch accent he asked the barmaid if the Inn had any cigars.
“No, sorry sir. We have so little call for them. The store down the street carries a few and … ”
“Would you mind,” and he pulled a small role of bills from a pants pocket, “I promise to leave a good tip at the end of the meal. But I wouldn’t want to leave now and return to a cold meal.”
“Oh, well, my sister can keep it warm for you but …”
And the Dutchman laid several bills down on the bar. “I am very hungry and also very tired. My friend and I must be on our way soon and I would very much like two cigars. I gladly pay you for your trouble. Please?” And pushing the money towards her he smiled broadly.
“Certainly,” and scooping up the cash she turned and called to the kitchen, “Sis, I run a short errand. I’ll be back shortly.”
Dimly from the kitchen, “Alright. I’ll serve if you’re not back in … ” And the voice trailed off amongst a clatter of pots and pans.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes.” And she was out the door.
Drake could hear, and it sounded like it was around to the side of the building, a car’s engine begin to purr lowly just after the barmaid left. It was now, and Drake knew it.
The Dutchman at the bar turned, one hand in his pocket, looking first at Drake and then at the Dutch politician, and began to speak.
“Sir,” to Drake, “your presence is no more coincidental than ours. You are not our concern, please do not interfere. You will please remain seated.” And then, “Vogelvers … ,” his coat pocket rising.
Drake grabbed the Dutchman next to him, pulling him down, and at the same time overturned both his table and Vogelverschrikker’s, forming a barrier between them and the would-be assassin. The room filled with Dutch profanity and two shots, both aimed at the tables. Not knowing if Drake was armed the man ran for the door. This had not gone according to plan. He should be running for the waiting car now with the assurance that his target was dead. As it was the surrounding businesses, along with the local police, having heard shots, would be here soon enough. Under no circumstances was there to be a gun battle between them and locals. It would be enough now to make it to the beach and into the sea where the miniature sub waited for them.
Drake heard the door open and slam shut. His job would be much more difficult now. The other side was aware of Vogelverschrikker’s whereabouts and that meant more problems ahead, he was sure of that. And that they knew his location also proved that there were agents from the other side, moles, infiltrators at MI5 as well. Drake turned to Vogelverschrikker.
“Its alright now sir, they’ve gone.” But there was no reply. It was then that Drake saw the splintered hole in the table, next to the Dutchman’s head.