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  • Writer's pictureAlan Reynolds

Extract from Smoke Screen

He took a final sip from his bottle and dropped it in a litterbin, then set off back to his cottage, about two miles downstream.

There were a few folks about, walking dogs or cycling along the riverside path. There were also fellow joggers. He was approaching Diglis Dock where he would need to take a detour and cross over the Birmingham - Worcester Canal.

A piercing shriek rang out.

“Help...! Help...!”

Rory ran towards the caller, a young woman frantically waving on the river bank.

“Help me, please...!” she pleaded desperately. “My little boy... he’s fallen in the water,” and she pointed to a small object gently bobbing up and down, being carried out to the middle of the river. “I can’t swim.”

Rory slid down the bank and into the river feet first. His training taught him never to shallow dive into unknown water; all kinds of hidden objects awaited the unwary. His running Nikes squelched on the muddy bottom making it difficult to move but within a couple of paces, the water was up to his chest. He pushed off swimming hard towards the boy. The cold hit him like a stone, causing him to inhale instinctively. He ignored it and quickened his pace. It was about thirty feet to the centre of the river and the current increased dramatically.

Rory was being carried downstream faster and faster, but he was closing in on the lad. It was a race; the canal joining on the left created strange currents. Then there was the weir, two hundred yards downstream. He needed to catch the boy before he reached that, or the chances of survival would be minimal.

A final effort and he managed to grab the boy’s anorak and hold on. The air in his clothing had kept him afloat but it was only a matter of time before the water would be absorbed and the additional weight would drag the lad under.

Rory pulled the boy to him and held his head. “Hold on son, I’ve got you.”

There was no sound; the boy was either unconscious or paralysed with fear. Now came the difficult part. There would be no boats on the river this close to the weir. There was no alternative but to head back against the current and hope he reached the bank before his strength gave out. This is where his training and fitness would pay off. Slowly but surely, he made progress against the strong current. There was a boat moored about fifty yards away, one of many parked along the bank further upstream; some had become permanent homes for the owners.

Someone was on deck and, as Rory got closer, he saw a lifeline being thrown. It landed short and the line was reeled in for a second attempt. This time the line reached Rory. The circular lifebelt landed in the water two feet away. Rory made a grab and took the strain as the boatman pulled. It took less

than a minute to get Rory alongside the boat.

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