Eyes Turned Skywards: Excerpt One, from the Prologue

There was something forbidding about this place. The old keep and the surviving walls were covered in dense ivy. At this time of the evening, even a summer’s evening, there was the sense of a weight of history here that was enough to send shivers down the spine.

Flight Sergeant Peter Jacobs checked his watch again. Gregory hadn’t seemed the sort of man who would be late. But late he was, by 45 minutes. They should have been gone from the castle at least half an hour ago, Gregory in possession of Jacobs’ verbal update, and Jacobs in possession of a forged travel warrant to Glasgow and then to London.

Jacobs flicked the still burning butt of his cigarette over the edge of the long drop. It fell towards the undergrowth at the foot of the cliff, though he lost sight of it well before it came to rest. He cursed the need to be up here. As far as he was concerned, it would have been much safer to meet in plain sight in the town, perhaps a brief encounter on the esplanade or in the railway station. But no, Gregory was the boss and Gregory had said they should meet in the same godforsaken spot as they had on Monday evening, almost exactly three days earlier. Jacobs felt he stuck out like a sore thumb here. For that matter, he thought that anyone at all would have stuck out like a sore thumb here.

The location had its compensations. As the sun sank towards the western horizon, it painted that whole side of the sky in a complex pattern of reds and oranges. From here the view was dominated by the Isle of Mull in the distance, with the sun still glinting off the side of Ben More, the island’s highest point.

Closer at hand was the much smaller island of Kerrera, somewhere he had come to know only too well over the past two weeks. In the shelter of the island, to the left as he looked, were a series of large shapes, now in deepening shadow, each tethered to a buoy. Jacobs knew that even when moored and apparently at peace, each flying boat had to be manned, in case the weather changed overnight. It wasn’t a job the men relished. Oban might not have the world’s most exciting nightlife, even without the blackout, but a night in a bobbing aeroplane was much less attractive than a night tucked up in your own bed, or someone else’s.

The sight of the last of the sun’s disk dropping below the horizon reminded Jacobs he still had to descend the steep and narrow path to the road below and then walk back into Oban before it got totally dark. Finding his way in the blackout was not an attractive prospect. He looked at his watch again and tutted. An hour was later than anyone in this game should ever be, unless something had gone badly wrong.

With a last look at the glorious array of coloured clouds in the west, Jacobs made his way across the overgrown courtyard to the narrow gateway. This provided the only way into and out of the ruined castle. Jacobs had to duck a little to protect his head as he passed through, and, as he had when entering, he removed his side cap. The last thing he needed was to have to explain how he’d got moss or pigeon droppings on his only uniform cap.

As it turned out, the last thing Jacobs really needed was the pineapple-sized piece of rock that was brought down hard on the back of his skull as he emerged, head still bowed, from the gateway. He never heard the person who wielded the stone, and certainly never saw them. More surprisingly, despite his musings about the possible reasons for Gregory’s failure to make the meeting, he had no premonition of danger, still less any inkling that his world was about to come to a sudden end. And he certainly never felt the hands that then searched his pockets and under his clothing.

Nothing of interest was found and nothing was taken. There was, after all, no reason to give anyone cause to think that this was anything more than an unfortunate accident. Everyone knew that Dunollie Castle was old and overgrown and that its stonework was highly unstable. Accidents happened, even in wartime, or perhaps especially in wartime.

The man who had killed Jacobs stood up and looked around to see if he had been observed before making his way cautiously back down to the road. Ferdi hadn’t really believed that Jacobs would still show up for the planned meeting, thinking instead that he’d have bolted for cover after what had happened to Gregory. But then perhaps Jacobs hadn’t heard? Ferdi still didn’t know what the two had intended to do, but at least his information about the meeting had proved accurate, and Jacobs’ death tidied up an important loose end. Now he just needed to deal with Captain Gubkin.