“Helen! Come quickly!” Beth’s whisper was full of urgency.
“What is it?” Helen asked.
Beth beckoned frantically, peeping round her curtains.
“These two businessmen,” she whispered. “They’re back again.”
Helen leaned over the older woman’s shoulder.
“Are these the cases you were talking about? Why, they’re huge, almost as big as holiday trunks! They must be staying for longer than an overnight, surely?”
“Never. They always leave next morning, catching the early London train.”
As Helen watched, the door opened. She saw the almost frightened face of the landlady, who stepped quickly aside. Both men brushed past her and the front door closed sharply behind them.
“They could be coming back from a touring holiday,” she offered. “This could be their last night on the road.”
“No, they come too often for that. And I’ll tell you more. These suitcases are empty, because we see holidaymakers lugging heavy cases up this road in summer, shoulder down, arm almost pulled out of its socket. Which is pretty much how these men will leave here tomorrow. They take away more than they bring. Every time.”
“That makes no sense,” Helen protested. “Unless . . .”
Beth let the curtain fall into place.
“Don’t even think of it,” she said. “That’s only Old Fred and his tales.”
As the sun broke through, Helen strode along the shingle beach towards the point, wondering what should she make of Fred’s story of modern-day smugglers. Should she go to the post office and phone Jake Forbes to ask whether she should concentrate on history, or investigate the present? She couldn’t risk sounding crazy, coming up with wild stories before she could back them up with facts. Better to stick to her commission, researching the past, finding an old smugglers’ cove and maybe even a cave.
Yet why not kill two birds with the same stone: do a reconnaissance in daylight, then come back in the dark tonight to watch for lights at sea? If she saw some strange goings-on, that would be when to phone Jake
When Helen turned into Killiedraught Bay, the high cliffs towering up behind her cut off the sun. It was probably only her imagination, but the air seemed suddenly colder, carrying a sense of threat.
She glanced round the huge bay and its southern inlet, a mix of sheer rock cliffs and near-vertical grassy slopes between the rock faces, with a blizzard of white seabirds circling, their calls coming over the steady sound of waves breaking along the shore.
It was the perfect place for smuggling. Not a house in sight: anything landing here would be hidden from human eyes unless there were watchers along the top of the cliffs. If so, they would need a good head for heights. Helen shuddered, pulling her coat tighter.
She found herself picking her way between small patches of wet sand and small rounded cobblestones. The sand made for much easier walking and, instinctively, her feet veered up and down the beach, seeking and treading over the smoother surface.
On one of these patches of sand, she found herself walking in the same direction as another set of footprints. Somebody walking their dog? She searched ahead, but there was no sign of any human figure in the bay. Helen paused, comparing her own with these other footprints. Hers were much smaller and narrower, which meant that it had to be a man who had walked this way.
Pleased with her powers of deduction, she strode steadily onwards.