Last time Bill and his crew including Philip arrived back in the valley and made their way to the treasure caves.
Anatoly rolled the best he could, finishing in a crouch, so that he could reach for his gun if it was needed. He looked at Thompson to see if they should scout forward or send for the others to join them. He wondered how much further they would need to go to get to the other children and this old couple he was being told about.
Thompson motioned him forwards, and drawing their guns and torches, they dropped a foot or so down the hole, and into a long tunnel. It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the dark, and they made sure the immediate area was clear before Thompson whistled for the rest to join them. Down the tunnel they went, following its winding curves until at last they came out into a vast cave full of glowing white stalactites. Philip had described this to them all on the plane, but it was something else to see it in person.
“What a sight,” one of the men said, after they had shone their torches around every shining column and ascertained there was nobody around.
“It’s the cave of stars next,” Philip said.
“Hush,” said Bill, holding a hand out for silence. They all froze, and sure enough, from somewhere further into the caves came the sound of quick-moving footsteps. It was impossible for them to tell which way they were headed and so the men hurried forwards, in a neat formation, Bill near the front.
“Halt!” he shouted, and to everyone’s relief, half a dozen torches shone on three children, a parrot and two elderly people.
“Stand still! Put your hands up!” he continued. The footsteps stopped and suddenly there was a squeal, making everyone jump.
“Bill! BILL! Oh, Bill, we thought you were never coming!” then the owner of the voice, who as it turned out, was Lucy-Ann, ran up to Bill and flung herself on her father figure. The others followed, shouting in delight to Bill and Philip as Lucy-Ann flung herself on Philip after Bill’s surprised hug.
“Philip! Dear Philip, you did escape and get to Bill!” she babbled on excitedly as Jack and Dinah welcomed the sight of Bill and his team.
The team of agents and Anatoly gently guided the old couple over to Bill who greeted them gently as they were clearly very scared and overwhelmed about the amount of people suddenly in there.
“Now – where are these men?” Bill asked, looking around.
“I bolted them in,” came the surprising statement from a proud-looking Jack.
“You did what?” Philip demanded, but had to acquiesce to Bill who inserted himself bodily in front of Jack to interrogate him fully. Anatoly had squeezed in close too, so he heard all about the hole behind the painting, the tunnel to the fern-cave, Jack’s tussle with Pepi – Jack seemed grateful to hear that Pepi had not escaped and was now more securely locked up – and how Jack had had his brilliant idea of locking the men inside the treasure caves.
Bill considered this, listening to the story carefully, occasionally making eye contact with Anatoly. “Well – that seems pretty good work to me! But it won’t be an easy job routing them out of those caves. I wonder if we could take them by surprise from the back – get in at that picture-hole and give them a shock.”
Jack was pleased with this idea, and Bill agreed that they ought to leave a couple of men at the door to create a distraction while the others snuck in through the tunnel. Anatoly hoped fervently he would not be left as a distraction-causer as the other option sounded much more exciting. He looked hopefully to Bill who shot him a quick grin. “Don’t worry, you’ll be perfect for squeezing through narrow tunnels,” he said, acknowledging his skinny build.
“…Jack, you come with me and the others, and show me the way back to your fern-cave, and through the cave of echoes to the passage that leads to the hole at the back of that picture,” Bill said. Then he turned to his men and sorted out who was staying there. “…and Petrov with me as well. You two, Smith and Bentley, stay here to help create the diversion.”
And so they set off, retracing their steps back to the waterfall they had passed earlier. They were able to move less cautiously now that they knew all the men were accounted for and there was a sense of excitement amongst them all.
They crawled into the mossy-floored fern cave and Jack led the way into the tunnel at the back. Anatoly found it fairly easy to follow him, but he could tell that not everyone in his party agreed. There were a lot of mutterings, gruntings and even swear words being issued from some of them as they squeezed their way along through the narrow space.
Anatoly was glad that he was slight as his some of his colleagues got stuck in the drain-pipe like tunnel. He had to help Andrews out by pulling him out of the hole. That did help him be slightly smug as they moved through the rest of the cave system, with Jack leading them.
“I must say that you children manage to get into the most marvellous scrapes. My I’m hot!” Bill said as they reached the cave of echoes. “Hot, hot, HOT HOT,” went the echoes. “That, that, THAT, THAT!”
They quickly realised it was just the echoes bouncing around the rocky walls, but none of them expected was the roar from Jack’s bird Kiki, who began to squawk, making all the agents who were unused to Kiki jump, and even caused Anatoly to half pull out his gun.
They all covered their ears as she did her express-train whistle which sounded horrendous in the confined space as it echoed around and around until it seemed to be embedded deep inside their heads.
With Kiki suitably scolded they carried on, and after Bill commandeered the rope that Anders had tied around his waist, they shinned up a sheer section, and soon came to the hole behind the picture at the back of the treasure caves.
One by one they jumped down from the hole, all grateful to be able to stand straight after being contorted in such a tight space. Jack gave them some directions, and Bill ordered them all to be quiet as they crept through the cave of gold, the cave of books and the one of pictures.
They all stood in silence so that they could hear if the other men were doing their part of the job. Anatoly heard Jack speak to Bill after a fraction of a second of silence. “It’s the men. Hark! They must have got rocks or something to hammer at the door like that. They really will break it down, I should think, by the noise.”
The boy was right, there was a great noise coming from the room, smashing, crashing and yelling going on.
“Now’s our chance,” Anatoly heard Bill whisper. The rest of the men nodded, and drew their weapons, ready for the ambush.
To be continued…
(N.B. if any of the dialogue appears familiar it is because we have borrowed it from the book).