Everyone scrambled back up the ladder and over the edge and Bill instructed, “Back into the passages! We can’t afford to be caught now. We’ll wait til whoever it is has gone and then we’ll try again.” He was keeping a calm demeanour but internally he was both furious and very worried. What absolute bad luck for someone to choose that exact moment to come up the ladder! Of course, five minutes earlier and they’d likely have been caught on the way to the ladder, and given the length of the climb five minutes later and they’d have been caught further down the ladder, but still. It was absolutely sickening to be so close to escape and have to turn back. And worse, they were close to being caught now.
He followed the children as they rushed to the passage, where it forked, and he pushed them into the darkest looking passage, but someone was coming at them from the far end. They all rushed backwards towards the ladder where the other people had reached the top of the ladder and were emerging into the cave.
In almost a panic Bill urged the children to try the second of the forks, a passage which led to what seemed like a maze of little caves. Worried they would get hopelessly lost he ordered the children to wait where they were but someone must have seen them as a stentorian voice rang out, “Who’s there? Come out at once!”
No one moved in the darkness, glad of their dark corner and rocky overhang. Bill prayed that the beam from the torch wouldn’t find them, he wasn’t sure what he could do if it did. The footsteps passed by them and Bill heard voices, the men were organising a search. Bill tried to get the children to safety, whispering to try another cave when the cave they were in was filled with light and the beam of a torch fell on Jack’s feet.
Bill was ready to barrel out to defend the children, perhaps he could hold the men off long enough for the children to get to the ladder, but before he could act another voice spoke. The voice, utterly despairing and miserable said “Poor Kiki! Ding dong bell! Peepbo!”
The group gripped each others hands as they heard Kiki’s speech. Bill gripped Jack’s arm as a warning, hoping that Jack wouldn’t lose his head and can call for his beloved bird. Luckily Jack kept his cool as Kiki kept talking. “Send for the doctor! Musty, fusty, dusty, pooh, gah!”
Kiki may have been miserable but she was having the opposite effect on Bill. He was relieved this turn of events, but not for the same reason as Jack. He was, of course, pleased that she was alive and well. He was quite fond of the bird, mad and annoying as she was. No, he was bordering on delighted that she was creating such a nice diversion for them. There was a moment where his hopes seemed to be dashed, however, as in their search for Kiki Meier came too close for comfort. But Kiki did not let them down, and flew from cave to cave, beginning to draw the men away.
Meier sounded suitably puzzled, Bill was pleased to note. “It’s that voice again that we have been hearing in intervals,” he said, his voice low. He was still speaking as he moved to follow the voice but a second later the concealed children and Bill almost let out yells as the sound of a gun being fired echoed around the caves as Meier tried to shoot the unidentified speaker.
Bill kept an arm ready to grab Jack in case he felt the need to go to Kiki’s rescue, but the boy seemed as frozen as the rest of them, awaiting the next development. “Upsadaisy! Wipe your feet, you naughty boy!” came Kiki’s voice, then another shot.
They knew Kiki was not hit as she cackled and then did her impression of a car changing gear.
As Kiki fluttered around above Meier and Erlick’s heads a man ran in, clearly panicked. “Mr. Meier, Sir, sir! All the children run away! Helicopter came back. All alone on mountain top. No one there. Children run away!”
In response Meier let out a loud, ferocious torrent of angry words in a language that even Bill couldn’t understand and he had a working knowledge of at least a dozen languages.
Bill cursed inwardly. He had been hoping it would take longer for them to be missed. Of course they would now put two and two together and realise who they were looking for in these caves. He listened as Erlick – in English – chastised the other man and urged him to act sensibly.
He was gratified to hear that the men thought they had already escaped down the ladder – perhaps they weren’t as smart as he was giving them credit for. If they were going to take the dogs and look out on the mountainside that was a small reprieve for them, at least. They could hole up somewhere and make another attempt to escape later. Despite Philip’s affinity with the dogs he hoped that he and Johns would take measures to avoid detection. He was wishing he had left them a bit further away from the mountain, now.
There was more conversation and when the men began to argue Bill took that as a sign they should get moving. They fled, as quietly as possible back towards the ladder and in a stroke of absolute luck, they found it was still out. Bill urged the children down the ladder, desperate to go before anyone else came along. He could tell that the children were a bag of nerves, probably wondering if they were going to meet someone coming the other way again as they tried yet again to reach freedom.
Bill had the same fear as the children, but surely, surely they couldn’t have such bad luck to have to go through that again? It felt very strange when his feet finally hit solid ground again and he had to resist the urge to do what Lucy-Ann and Dinah had done and sink to the floor.
“Phew! The bottom at last!” he said, not able to think of anything more intelligent at that very moment. “What a climb!” Immediately he turned his attention to more pressing matters, however. It would do them no good to linger in the cave where they could so easily be caught. “Now come on – out we go on the mountain-side. We’ll join up with Philip and Johns.”
To be continued…