Tony cursed to himself as the village policeman gave him a disapproving look. It was a simple accident, that was all. The kind that could happen to anyone. And, now, here he was again. At least, this time, there were no kids involved. That had been a beastly nuisance. He'd lost his licence for six months over it.
"I don't suppose you could hurry up, could you?" Tony asked. "I'm expected somewhere."
The air of disapproval deepened. "It's a matter of the law, sir. This here's a thirty mile an hour limit and you were going fifty. Miss Pengelly was nearly knocked off her bike."
"And I dashed near went into the hedge! I could have scratched up my car!" It was only by a miracle that he hadn't. That silly old woman needed to stay off the roads.
"Precisely, sir. Happen we should all be grateful no one was hurt."
Tony realised he had, somehow, made things worse. He opened his mouth but the police constable spoke first.
"You'd better come along with me to my sergeant. You can leave your car here, sir; no one will touch it."
By the time Tony was allowed to leave, it was hours later. He reached Sticklehaven at almost eight o'clock. He was tired, hungry, and irritated.
"The ferry won't be running anywhere, sir," the landlord of the Seven Stars inn informed him over the rumble of the incoming thunderstorm. "Not in this weather. You'll have to wait until morning."
"But I'm expected on the island..." Badger's pal would be disappointed and Tony had been anticipating an exciting weekend. The gossip about the island had been titillating. "They're waiting for me."
"I'm sorry, sir." The thunder rumbled again. "But there's no getting over there now. Would you be wanting anything else?"
Unhappily, sulkily, Tony ordered dinner and booked a room for the night. He'd go over in the morning.
By the time the morning came, the wind was up and the sea was wild. Even Tony didn't expect the ferry to set out in that. He rang a friend from the public phone in the inn's tiny lobby. "I say, Chumps, I'm stuck at Sticklehaven."
"Where's Sticklehaven and what are you doing there, old boy?"
"Meeting a pal of Badger's on Soldier Island. But there's a bloody thunderstorm and I can't get there."
"Soldier Island? I say, what an excitement! Which is it? A Hollywood actress or a reclusive millionaire?"
Tony felt even worse at Chumps's enthusiasm. To be so near and yet so far. "I couldn't tell you. Maybe Badger will spill the beans."
"Badger? Badger's playing tennis with the Carruthers this weekend. They're not on Soldier Island."
"The Carruthers?" Hollywood actress or reclusive millionaire, the Carruthers couldn't be on Soldier Island. They were the dullest people around and Badger only stayed with them when he was down to his last farthing. Why wasn't Badger at this party? "He can't be!"
"Well, he is. He rang me last night to complain. They've got an elderly aunt visiting and he's been rolling balls of wool."
"Good God! Poor old Badger!" Tony thought it must be hell to be poor. But if Badger wasn't on Soldier Island, why had Tony been invited? Tony rang off from Chumps and put a call through to the Carruthers.
"Good God, Tony, what are you doing in Sticklehaven?"
Badger was most definitely not on Soldier Island.
"Meeting you," Tony replied. "Your pal Owens invited me to spend the weekend."
"But I don't know anyone called Owens. I'm with the Carruthers and their aged aunt. It's absolutely ghastly. She quotes Tennyson over her knitting."
Tony stared at the phone. Sometmes, he thought Badger had absolutely lost it. "I had a letter from Owens inviting me to Soldier Island. Yes, the Soldier Island that's been in the news. I know you're not on Soldier Island, Badger, but why did Owens invite me there?"
No matter how he phrased it, Badger denied knowing anything about anyone called Owens.
"Don't you think I'd rather be there than here?" Badger said, plaintively. "Tonight, we're playing Bridge with the vicar and his wife."
And that, it seemed was that. Tony waited half the morning, mainly out of curiosity, but the storms were set to continue. Then the landlord inadvertently encouraged his waning desire to wait the storm out by describing the other guests. Tony remembered an urgent errand in town and hurriedly sped off. Driving seventy miles in the rain to reach an old chum's more congenial hospitality was far better than waiting to join a house party consisting of old maids, judges, and soldiers. Tony had the strong impression he'd dodged a bullet.