Last time: Bill and Johns went to the airfield and took off in the helicopter heading for Fang Mountain
The flight was not a long one at all, and if it had been done in daylight Bill was sure that the views would have been breath-taking. As it was, navigating by weak moonlight, the deep valleys looked like murky pools of darkness broken only by the occasional glint of water. Bill adjusted his flying goggles – an uncomfortable but necessary bit of disguise – and spoke to Johns. “I reckon we must be almost there.” Johns nodded. “Let’s just hope they turn the lights on for us like it says in the note.”
Thankfully, as they circled the approximate location that they had been told to fly to, a big beam of light came on and flashed up into the sky, helping them manoeuvre the helicopter down onto the platform on the mountain. The machine landed with a jolt and Bill let out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding. He turned the engine off, and the cockpit light on, and glanced at Johns. “Ready?”
“Yes, sir,” Johns said, looking grim. Without the whirring of the rotors the mountain-top was eerily quiet. Bill and Johns couldn’t see much, the lights were angled in such a way that they couldn’t see into the darkness beyond them. They waited, as they had been instructed to, and Bill felt a prickle of unease run down his spine. Had they been tipped off, somehow, that they were impostors? Suddenly, from nowhere, or so it seemed, came several men. “You the Boss?” Bill called in a voice quite unlike his own, speaking to the man in front who seemed to be in charge. “I’ve taken Kahn’s place,” he said clearly when the man nodded, using Alan’s code name. Apparently even Mike and Alan didn’t entirely trust whatever was going on up here. “He’s on holiday. Had a job finding this place. This is Johns, my mate. We’ve got the goods you wanted.” Apparently there was no problem with any of that as the group of men who had followed the boss onto the mountain top began to efficiently unload the boxes and crates from the rear of the helicopter.
When everything had been unloaded, Bill and Johns jumped out of the helicopter, to await their orders “There is a meal ready for you,” said one of the men, the one whom Bill had heard another man call Meier. “You will start back tomorrow night?”
“No,” Bill said firmly. He didn’t know what was going on up here but he didn’t like it one bit and did not intend to commit to staying. He could see now that there was only one way down into the mountain, through a large hatch which was currently being guarded. As much as he wanted to find the children he didn’t fancy his and Johns’ odds if they went down there tonight. “Got to leave tonight. They’re making enquiries about some of our doings. Got to be back at once,” he said.
“You have been told that – er – that er…”
Bill cut Meier off. “What – that some paratrooper wants a jump off the helicopter? Oh yes,” he said, feigning a complete lack of concern. “That’s okay by me. If a chap wants to do that, well it’s no business of mine.”
“You will be paid very very well,” Meier said grimly. “This time it is double the price. We have a young jumper – it is necessary for our experiments, you understand.”
Bill froze, just for a moment. A young jumper? One of the children? Thank the lord that it had been he and Johns who had come tonight. “What do you mean – a young jumper?” he asked, a little more sharply than he had intended.
“A boy. He is here,” Meier said, before turning to some of the servants and speaking in a language Bill didn’t recognise. As the servant ran off Meier turned to Bill once more and continued, “I have sent him to tell the inventor that you have arrived. Now will you come to have a meal?”
Bill studied the man all the while he was talking and he didn’t even have to play act his rebuttal, “No, I must be off. Get the boy and make him ready.” Bill’s reply had come from the desire to get the young jumper to safety as soon as possible, especially if it was Jack or Philip. If it was one of the boys, he’d be able to get more information from them before returning the following night with reinforcements.
It was only thanks to Bill’s training and experience that he was able to stand by calmly as he saw Philip for the first time. The boy looked pale but he was holding his head high and Bill felt a surge of pride. Some way behind Philip he could see Jack, Lucy-Ann and Dinah. They were together, then, that was good. He was careful not to take too much of an interest in any of them, which was as much for his sake as for his cover. He was afraid to look and see how upset and frightened Lucy-Ann in particular was. If he did he wasn’t sure he would be able to fly off and leave her behind.
Before he could ask if Philip was ready, another man appeared, dressed as a king. At first glance he appeared majestic but upon closer inspection his crown was crooked and there was something curiously blank about his face. A box was brought in and laid reverently beside him, and this man – this king of the mountain – lifted out a large golden wing. It looked wonderful, the golden feathers shimmered in the light, but Bill couldn’t for the life of him see how it was supposed to make the wearer fly. He watched as the pair of the wings were strapped onto Philip’s arms, the boy making not the slightest bit of a fuss. Bill stayed silent as Philip was shown two buttons on the wings and then gave them an experimental flap. His heart was in his mouth despite knowing that there was no way he would ever let Philip jump out of the helicopter.
As everyone stood and admired the wings on Philip, no one saw Lucy-Ann step forward and move towards the king. Bill steeled himself, not wanting the men to harm Lucy-Ann. He couldn’t trust himself to stay in character if they did. As she laid her hand on the arm of the Kin’ she said, “Your majesty! I think I ought to try out your wings for you. I am much lighter than Philip. It would be an honour for me to try them.” There was a deafening silence in the courtyard, and then Philip broke the spell and stepped forward to hug Lucy-Ann tightly, shielding her with the golden wings.
Bill didn’t know what Philip said to the girl – that unbelievably brave and selfless girl – but with a sob Lucy-Ann let him go. He and Johns boarded the helicopter again, and Philip climbed into the back, needing help from one of the men as the wings prevented him from using his arms.
At the last minute, just as he helicopter cleared the parapet of the mountain-top Bill felt he just had to shout something to the remaining children. He couldn’t just fly off and leave them to think that Philip had jumped to his death. Leaning forward he called “Don’t forget Bill Smugs,” in his own voice, before the helicopter rose further under his guidance and swung away to the south.
To be continued…