Within half an hour two planes were ready, and had been filled with Bill’s chosen agents. It was regrettable that some of his preferred choices were already in Europe, on a wild goose chase it seemed, but he was happy enough with who he had. A few burly fellows, good for physical fights, one or two who excelled in scouting, one with a particular expertise in explosives, and the rest were good all-rounders. All of them were armed, dangerous and ready to face whatever was thrown at them.
The flight to the North-East of Scotland took an hour and a half, and they were lucky to be able to land at a private air-strip only ten miles from Gairdon, so the last part, made in a Scottish police-car seemed to take no time at all.
The landscape was rugged, the location remote. Snow topped the craggy mountains which loomed in the near distance, and Bill hoped the other children weren’t somewhere as inhospitable as that. They hadn’t been dressed for it at all.
He strode towards the police-station and was relieved to see that Philip was looking well, if rather filthy. Inside the police station Philip poured out his story…
Bill could hardly believe what he had just heard, and seen in the notebook Philip had presented to him. He had been shown to a telephone, and planned to make use of it, but first he needed a moment to digest Philip’s tremendous story.
So the children were in Austria. Not Scotland. He wouldn’t have to fire anyone after all, that was a relief. On the down side, it would be a few hours’ flight into Austria, and he’d need all sorts of clearances for it. He ran through a mental list of calls to make. He’d need to let Allie know that Philip was safe, and that he knew where the other children were too. He would need to let the two agents back at the planes know that they needed to be prepared for a long flight. He would need to speak to someone at headquarters, giving them an update. He would need to get clearance from the Austrians to enter their airspace, he didn’t want to have to waste time with evasive manoeuvres. And lastly, he realised, he could arrange to pick up a few agents if they could get themselves to a convenient point in Austria. He wanted Anatoly, for one. He deserved to be in on this, seeing as his information about Otto Engler had been spot-on. He felt sure that given another few days Petrov would have identified the children’s location.
So Bill set to work phoning everyone he needed to phone, starting with headquarters so that clearance for the flight and the requests to the Austrians could be put into motion as quickly as possible. He also asked headquarters to radio in to the agents already in Europe to get as many of them as possible to meet at a quiet airfield for a pick up to raid the valley. He’d need all the men possible, especially his best ones to search the valley. The question on his mind next was whether he should take Philip as well, and that he needed to call the boy’s mother.
Philip was absolutely adamant that he ought to go, and eventually Bill gave in. As he said to the boy, he really didn’t know what trouble he would get into if he was left behind. They would need to eat first, however, and Philip was in no way presentable enough to enter the local hotel, he would need at least two baths and a change of clothes for that, so they ate at the station.
In that time the wind picked up outside and a call came to inform them that there was a severe warning for gale-force winds, delaying their plans to take off for the time being. Bill used the time to show Philip their valley on a map, and was glad to have been available to take an update on Otto Engler, which he passed on to Philip too. He spared a thought for Anatoly also, chasing down Engler for no reason now.
The weather took a turn for the worse, and the next call was with the news that their flight would certainly not be able to take off until the next day.
“I’ve still to call your mother,” he said to Philip. “I’ll let you speak to her, of course, as she’ll be desperate to hear your voice. Just try not to tell her that you’re coming with me again? I’m not sure she would take that well…”
He placed the call to Allie with Philip waiting nearby. “Hallo, Allie,” he said warmly, glad he was finally able to give her some good news.
“Bill? This really had better be good news,” said Allie’s usually friendly voice. She was still very annoyed with him, Bill knew. He hoped that his news that Philip was with him, would lighten her attitude towards him somewhat, along with the information that the knew where the others were and that he was going to bring them back to her as soon as he could possibly manage. He wondered if he could arrange for her to be brought to the airfield when they knew they were flying back with all the children so she could meet them off the plane. He wasn’t entirely sure he could pull that one off, but as he was likely to get dragged over the coals for the fact that he children had been on the airfield in the first place, he didn’t see how one more person was going to completely ruin the trouble he was already in.
“It is,” he promised smoothly. “I have Philip safe and well right beside me, Allie. And I know where the others are, too. I’ve got planes ready to collect them, as soon as we can get flight clearance.” No point in mentioning they were grounded due to the weather.
“You have Philip? Can I speak to him?” Allie asked, all of a fluster. “And why aren’t the others with him?”
“I’ll put him on in just a minute,” Bill promised as Philip strained to hear what his mother was saying. “He managed sneak himself on a flight back here, but it was too risky for them all to do the same.”
“Oh my goodness!” Allie said, sounding a little overwhelmed. “Well at least let me talk to Philip now, Bill! Where are you anyway? Did he find his way back to London?”
“No, we’re in Scotland, actually,” he replied, motioning Philip to the telephone. “Mind you don’t say anything to worry her,” he whispered.
Philip nodded and took the receiver. “Hello mother!” he trilled. “Hope you haven’t been worrying too much, we’re all fine, though it was a bit of a shock when we realised we were on the wrong plane! We landed in an abandoned valley, and I managed to find a new pet, Dinah of course wasn’t happy about old Lizzy, but then she shouldn’t be so squeamish!”
Bill smothered a laugh; it was just like Philip to immediately start talking about one of his animals. He wondered if Allie would get any sense out of him at all. “She’s a lizard…” he heard as he wandered a short distance down the corridor to give Philip at least the illusion of privacy. The call didn’t last long, however, as Philip came to find him less than five minutes later to report that he had been cut off.
“Must be the weather,” Bill remarked as the wind positively howled around the station, making at least one loose shutter bang violently.
“We won’t be able to take off in this weather, sir,” remarked one of the men with Bill. “Should we sort out some sleeping arrangements?”
“Yes. Check with the hotel, see if they’ve rooms enough for us lot,” Bill said. “Davis and Murray will just have to bed down on the planes unless someone at the airstrip offers them something better.”
“It’s a shame we couldn’t stay in the police station, Bill! I’d love to try and sleep in a cell! After a week on makeshift beds, any sort of bed would do me. I’m also rather tired,” he admitted a bit bashfully.
Bill laughed. “Oh I’m sure that could be arranged. Actually, I’d feel rather reassured if I knew you were locked in a cell here, overnight. At least I’d know you’d still be here in the morning!”
It was just as well that Philip was so keen for a night in the cells. The hotel was a small one, and even with two men to a bed and several on sofas, there would only have been room for Philip if he slept in the bath.
Philip climbed sleepily into the cell bunk when he’d had some supper and had a wash at the small wash stand. He would have to sleep in the clothes he had arrived in as he had nothing else, but as soon as his head touched the pillow and the blanket was pulled over him, he was sound asleep.
Bill pulled the door of the cell shut, smiled wryly to himself and then had one last pipe before turning in himself, in the cell next to Philip’s.
To be continued…