His companion was already on board, a squat, rough-looking man with a shock of red hair and a tangled beard who wore fisherman’s boots turned down at the knees and
an Aran sweater. As I stepped over the rail, the L,and-Rover we’d come all the way from Plumbridge in braked to a halt on the jetty above and Frank Barry got out.
‘Everything all right, old lad?’ he called. ‘McGuire, there, knows these waters like the back of his hand so he’ll run the ship or boat or whatever you call it. We don’t want to overwork you.’
So that was very much that.I said, ‘Just as you say, Barry.’
He smiled beautifully. ‘Thought you’d see it my way. Now for the surprise. Norah’s come to see you off.’
He pulled her out of the Land-Rover so forcefully that she lost her balance and almost fell over. Binnie put a foot on the rail and Dooley raised his Sterling ominously. At the same moment the engines rumbled into life and McGuire leaned out of the wheelhouse and told us to cast off.
I looked up and had a final glimpse of Norah Murphy standing under the lamp in the rain, a pale shadow of her former self, so frail that from the looks of her, she would have fallen down had it not been for Barry’s supporting arm.
And then they suddenly receded into darkness as McGuire increased speed and we moved out to sea.
Magil Island was as bleak a sight as I have ever seen in the grey light of dawn as we nosed into Horseshoe Bay. At the height of summer the place could never hope to seem more than it was, a bare, black rock, but just now in the morning mist, rain driving across the bay in a grey curtain, it looked about the last place there was on top of earth.
I’d been preparing on the way over and was already wearing my wetsuit as McGuire cut the engines and dropped anchor as close to the centre of the bay as he could gauge.
Standing at my side in an old reefer coat, the collar turned up against the driving rain, Binnie shivered visibly as he looked down at the dark waters.
‘Rather you than me, Major. Will it take long to find, do you think ? It doesn’t look to me as if you’ve a hope of seeing a thing down there. It’s as dark as the grave.’
‘Cork said the centre,’ I reminded him. ‘And we can’t be too far out, whatever happens. The damn bay is only about seventy-five yards across as far as I can see.’
He started to help me on with my equipment while McGuire rigged the winch to start hauling, which was, I suppose, the right kind of optimistic attitude. As I strapped my cork-handled diver’s knife to my leg I noticed Dooley watching from a distance, the Sterling, as always, ready for action.
‘Any objection, you great stupid bastard ?’ I demanded.
The stone mask he called a face didn’t move a muscle. I turned away, stood up and Binnie helped me into my aqualung. As he tightened the straps I whispered, ‘Don’t forget – when I go down for the third time.’
He handed me a diver’s lamp without a word. I pulled down my mask, got a firm grip on my mouthpiece and went over the rail.
I paused briefly to adjust my air supply and went down quickly. It wasn’t anything like as bad as I’d thought it would be. The water was strangely clear, like black glass. I was reminded suddenly and with a touch of unease, of those dark pools of Celtic mythology into which the heroes were constantly diving to seek out monstrous beasts that preyed on lesser men.
The bottom of the bay at that point was covered with seaweed, great pale fronds reaching out towards me like tentacles, five or six feet in length. I hovered beside the anchor chain for a moment, turning full circle, but in
spite of the almost unnatural clearness of the waters my visibility range was only a few yards.
There was nothing for it, then, but to start looking. I swam towards the shore, staying close to the sea bed and found the launch almost instantly, lying tilted to one side in the centre of a patch of clear white sand.