hesitated. 'I'd have to check with Mr Robson to do that, sir.'
'Robson! Robson!' exploded the Dutchman, quickly rolling up the diagram again. 'What are you all, children or something that you can't do anything on your own initiative?'
'I'm sorry, sir. I can't send men down that shaft without Mr Robson's approval.' The Chief turned his back on the Dutchman, and hurried off towards the impeller area. Van Lutyens followed him.
'And can you not also blow your own nose without approval?'
yelled the Dutchman.
The Chief Engineer replied from the door of the impeller area, but he did not raise his voice. 'Now, listen to me, Mr van Lutyens.
I've worked with Mr Robson a long time. We were out on the rigs together in the early days. Now, you may think he's wrong to run the place the way he does - that's your privilege. But I trust him. I take orders from him simply because I respect his judgement, and for no other reason.'
Van Lutyens had to respect the Chief Engineer for the honest way he had spoken, and felt slightly ashamed of his own outburst.
After the Chief had returned to the impeller area, van Lutyens hesitated for a moment, then followed him.
'All right Chief,' said the Dutchman, in a calm, more compromising approach. 'At least go to Robson and tell him where we think the blockage is. Get his official permission to inspect the base of shaft.'
The Chief was quick to reply. 'With respect, sir, that's your theory, not mine.'
'But it's the only possibility!' Van Lutyens suddenly realised that without the sound of the giant impeller, his voice could be heard by everyone around him. He quickly drew closer to the Chief, and spoke quietly. 'Look. Those voices you heard. They couldn't have come from anywhere but the base of the shaft.'
The Chief was finding it hard to come up with a rational explanation. 'If the main valve was open, they could have been echoes from any one of the rigs.'
'Yes, if it is open,' said the Dutchman fervently. He was practically whispering straight into the Chief's ear. 'But you don't know, and you won't know until you check!'
There was a pause. For once, the Chief had no answer. He turned around to see all his crewmen looking at him, as though waiting for him to make some kind of positive decision. 'Well,' he finally spoke, rubbing his chin anxiously, 'I suppose I could put it to Mr Robson...
Van Lutyens sighed with relief and hope.
'But I'm warning you, he's not going to take kindly to...'
'Listen!' Van Lutyen's voice silenced the Chief immediately.
Everyone stopped what they were doing.
They could hear a sound. It was only a faint, distant sound. But it was certainly there, gradually gaining in volume. Thumping. Like a heartbeat.
Everyone automatically looked up at the pipeline tube. The thumping sound was echoing inside, as though something was trapped there, trying to get out.
Van Lutyens and the Chief Engineer went straight to the edge of the impeller shaft, and looked down. The sound they could hear was clear, sharp, and threatening. 'Don't tell me that's a mechanical fault!' said the Dutchman in a tense, strangulated whisper.
'Chief!' Robson's voice boomed out from the open doorway.
'What the hell's going on here?'
The Chief turned with a start. "That noise in the impeller, sir.
It's started again. I think we should go down and check the main valve.'
'Oh, you do, do you?' Robson walked slowly towards the Chief, then stopped just in front of him. 'Why?'
'That's where we think the blockage is, sir.'
Although Robson was glaring at the Chief, it was really directed at the Dutchman. 'We?'
Van Lutyens stepped forward defiantly. 'Robson, there's something alive down there in that pipeline!'
'Alive?' Robson pushed the two Men aside, looked down the impeller shaft, and listened.
There was absolute silence. No thumping. No heartbeat.
Robson turned to the Dutchman, and looked at him as though he was mad. 'You're out of your mind. There's nothing down there!'