Page 44 of Hopeful Hearts

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Just shy of two hours later, he reached the coast and pulled up outside a sea front cafe. It was a quirky little place and a far cry from his hometown. Unlike Lani Bay, Puffin Sands knew exactly what was needed to draw the crowds. There were triple the cafes and ten times the people, if not more. The place was packed and the noise of arcade music drowned out the sound of the waves lapping the shore.

“A coffee to go, please,” he ordered from the guy behind the counter in a straw boater hat.

“You want a cookie with that?”

“No, thanks.”

“What brings you to town?”

Brodie smiled at the irony, and for half a second, he considered telling the stranger everything.

Instead, he kept it simple. “I’m looking for someone.”

“Do you have a photo?”

He shook his head and his quest felt almost impossible now that he was here with nothing much to go on, but a name.

“His name is Austin Wright. I think he might be on the rig, near here.”

“Then I hope you're a good swimmer.” The guy’s shoulders shook as he let out a hearty chuckle and slid a coffee toward him, along with a cookie in a paper bag.

“I’ve had crazier ideas,” Brodie mumbled.

“Take the cookie. You look like you need it.”

“Thanks,” he replied and passed him a five-pound note.

“Anytime and good luck.”

Brodie strolled the sea front until he came to the pier.

His eyes scanned the sea as though it might give him the answers he was so desperately in need of.

The rig was visible far in the distance and as he paced toward the end of the pier; he noticed a crowd of people queuing for a boat trip. Brodie watched them one by one as they followed the small ramp off the pier and found a seat on the motorboat.

“Are you coming onboard?”

A guy dressed in a high-visibility jacket interrupted his thoughts and Brodie shook his head.

“One of the few places in England where you can visit a working oil rig. You sure you don’t want to join us?”

“You’re visiting the rig?”

The guy looked bemused and pointed to a sign directly behind Brodie’s head. It read, ‘Daily Rig Tours Twenty-five pounds.’

“Sorry, yeah. Count me in.” He stepped onto the ramp and fumbled in his pocket to find three ten-pound notes and passed them to the guy, who explained that he didn’t have any change. Brodie shrugged. He would have paid a lot more than thirty pounds for a chance to get on the rig.

The boat sped away a few moments later with a tannoy voicing a recording of facts about the scenery they were leaving behind. Brodie zoned out, uninterested. He couldn’t believe he had found a way to get on the rig. Suddenly, finding his needle in a haystack didn’t seem as impossible as it had when he left Lani Bay.

The coastline disappeared out of sight and the sea grew choppier as they neared the rig. It was a solemn-looking construct in the middle of nowhere and the perfect place to hide if you were someone who wanted to disappear.

Brodie was one of the first off the boat, eager to see how he was going to gain access to any of the workers to ask them about Austin. He decided slipping away from the crowd was his best option, so he joined the group and began to follow the tour guide onto the rig. It took a while for him to manage to drop to the back, but he tried to make himself as invisible as possible. As soon as an opportunity arose, he stayed back when the group all turned a corner and ducked into a doorway.

Once he knew the group had moved on, he opened the door and slipped inside. On the other side of the door was nothing but stairs and a sign that read, ‘Employees Only.’ It was exactly what he had been hoping for and he took the stairs two at a time, adrenalin pumping in his veins.

The metal clanged and his heart pounded as someone came down the stairs toward him. He stopped dead in his tracks and thanked god when they disappeared into a room on the floor above him.

He continued climbing until he was three floors up and confident that no one from the group would spot him. There was a door on either side of the stairwell, so he picked the one to his left and stepped inside.

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