Last time Bill, Anatoly and Johns spent the night in Merthyr ready for their early morning trip back to the Mountain.
The three men woke early the next morning, breakfasted, and then got in the car for Johns to drive them to the chosen meeting place on an abandoned airfield outside of Merthyr.
From Johns phone calls to HQ the previous day, they had to meet at the airfield because the helicopters were due to land just after daybreak and the men needed to kit them out.
They’d drunk plenty of coffee with their breakfast, and brought flasks of the hot liquid for later, though that was perhaps wishful thinking. There was a good chance the coffee would come back with them undrunk, owing to the unpredictable nature of the job.
By 7am the airfield, the former runways cracked and full of weeds, was a bustling hive of activity. Several other cars had arrived and disgorged various agents and a few scientists. There was a bit of an argument going on between the two groups, in fact, as there wasn’t going to be a lot of space on board the choppers, but the scientists wanted to bring more equipment than the nominated pilots were happy with.
Bill sighed and took charge of the situation, negotiating firmly but fairly. He then called everyone together so he could appoint Johns leader of the second team. He, Bill, would lead the first team from the top of the mountain downwards, with Anatoly as his second in command, while Johns would lead the other team from the bottom of the mountain, with Henderson as his second.
He knew he should probably have given Henderson control of the second team, as he had been in charge of all those men until this point, but Johns had been involved from a much earlier point.
“You all right to rappel down onto the mountain top?” he asked Anatoly as he mentally began dividing everyone into two teams. The scientists would have to wait on the ground, with a guard or two, until it was safe for them to enter, then the parts of their kit they were being allowed to take could be pulled up on ropes to the top of the rope ladder.
“I should be well enough at it,” Anatoly said with a wry smile. “I was always very good at climbing a rope in gym class,” he knew that wasn’t what Bill meant, but it was easier to tease Bill than to be serious with him. Anatoly felt that Bill was closer to being family than the service would have allowed under normal circumstances. Had it not been for his father, Anatoly wouldn’t have even had Bill. He smiled at Bill’s disgruntled face and saluted. “It is a privilege to be your second in this,” he added, with more seriousness to his tone. “A lowly agent as myself can never really hope to be given than honour.”
“All right, knock it off,” Bill said amiably. “I’ve nominated you already you don’t need to lay it on so thickly.” Decision made, he divided the remaining men into two groups. One team would board a helicopter with the scientists and land around where he and Johns landed with Philip, the rest would accompany himself and Anatoly and rappel down onto the mountain top. There were last-minute checks, were the ropes the right length, was there enough rope left to make harnesses, enough D rings, and so on, and then they were off.
The helicopters made the journey much faster and easier than by donkey, and with Johns and Bill navigating they didn’t get too close to the mountain in case they alerted the servants and paratroopers still there. Once Johns had successfully taken his chopper down and then was leading the men towards the entrance of the cave, Bill took his men back, higher up above the mountain, ready to rappel down to the platform.
Luck was with them, and nobody was on the flat mountain top. That really would have spoiled the element of surprise. The broken helicopter still sat there, like an abandoned carcass, and Bill hoped it could be coaxed back to life. He sent down the two men who were best at rappelling first, one from each side of the helicopter. Both had done their national service and a few extra years in the Royal Marines. Once they landed and disengaged from the rope they would hold them for the next two men.
Anatoly looked sideways at Bill, waiting for the order to go. He was kitted out and waiting for the command. “Shall we go?” he asked watching the boys on the ground. “We can give them some cover if the other servants appear.”
Bill adjusted his harness, which had been nothing but a length of rope five minutes before, one last time. “Read if you are.”
Anatoly nodded and attached himself to the rope, and started repelling downwards with a smooth practised motion. Bill followed him a few seconds later. Soon they were stood firmly on the plateau of the mountain, looking at the broken Helicopter. “You really did a number on it didn’t you?” Anatoly teased as he and Bill rid themselves of the makeshift harnesses.
“I’d like to see you try to land on the top of a mountain in the dark, lad,” Bill snorted before he turned his attention to the matter at hand.
He raised a hand and waved to the pilot of the helicopter hovering above, which then veered off to the side and began to descend to ground level, leaving them alone on the mountain-top.
“Pfeiffer, you get on at that helicopter and see if you can get it up in the air again,” he commanded. “Everyone else, weapon’s ready, we’re about to go in. I’ll be leading the way, but you’ve a map between three there, so consult those if we get separated.”
The men all nodded and drew their weapons, and with Anatoly leading from the front with Bill, they made their way into the mountain.
If any of the men had been looking for a thrilling game of cat-and-mouse, or even a good fight they would have been sorely disappointed. Food supplies were running low in the mountain and the remaining men had been disagreeing with each other about what the best way to escape would be. So in fact, they were almost relieved to have the decision made for them. Apart from two paratroopers who came to blows with each other, they put up next to no resistance and allowed themselves to be escorted down the tunnels to the rope-ladder.
When they got the men outside and counted them up, they realised that the helicopters would have to do at least two trips each to get everyone out of the valley. Bill radioed up to Pfeiffer to see if the damaged machine would live to fly again, but the news wasn’t good. The two helicopters they had would have to do all the work. Bill sent Anatoly to get Pfeiffer, who had been unfortunately left without a map to get out of the mountain, and then he set about dividing the agents, and the men they had captured up into groups to be transported.
By the time Anatoly and Pfeiffer reached the bottom of the rope ladder and emerged into the daylight again they didn’t have long to wait for the helicopters to return.
“Sorry boss, but the chopper up there’s going to need a whole new steering rig,” Pfeiffer said. “It’ll fly again fine once that’s in, but there was nothing I could do to fix it with just a few tools.
Bill nodded, “Understood. Thank you for looking. We can arrange that when we get back to civilisation.”
“What will happen to the mountain now Bill?” Anatoly asked after a minute. “Do you think we will move our own men in?”
“Fancy a bit of cave-dwelling, do you?” Bill joked. “Our scientists will be in for a while, anyway, then I suppose it’ll depend what they find. We might have to fill the whole thing in… or we might end up using whatever’s in there for our own benefit. Just have to wait and see. For now, I’d be happy never to see the place again. I just want to get back to the Evans’ farm for a slap-up lunch and enjoy the rest of my holiday.”
Anatoly laughed a little, “no, I would not like to live in that cave maze. I could go for that lunch!”
“Did someone mention lunch?” Johns asked, appearing at Bill’s shoulder.
“I did,” Bill confirmed. “Probably a late lunch, by the time we get rid of this lot… but I’m sure Mrs Evans will have kept it warm.”
“Not to mention, getting back from Merthyr,” Anatoly pointed out slyly.
“He’s right, we may have to eat in Merthyr and then get back to the farm for dinner,” Johns pointed out.
Bill consulted his watch. “We’ll see.” When they arrived at the farm they found Mrs Evans bustling around in the kitchen, and soon they were sitting down to eat, Bill, Anatoly and Johns, the four children, Allie, Mr and Mrs Evans, accompanied by Kiki, Snowy and Sally and her babies.
They argued good-naturedly as to whether the meal was a late lunch or an early dinner, and in the end decided that it would depend on each individual perspective, and when that person had last eaten so that everyone saved face.
“Though,” Bill said wisely, “if this is an early dinner, you’ve only got supper to come. I’ve still got dinner and supper.”