Last time Bill and Johns flew off with Philip aboard the helicopter.
Philip was overjoyed and looked at Bill with hero’s admiration. He knew that Bill would save them and here he was, doing just that. Bill and Johns settled down to question Philip about all he knew of the mountain and how things worked up there and with the strange “King” and his wings.
Philip was able to tell them the secret of the rope-ladder in the cave, the cruelty of Meier, what he knew of the King, and he was able to repeat what Jack and the girls had told him about their exploration of the mountain.
“What about going in through the cave?” Johns asked, but Philip had to admit he didn’t know how the rope-ladder had been deployed.
“No, we’ll have to take the ‘copter back up,” Bill said. “Only, I think I’d better leave you two down here. I’m not sure it will take six of us.”
Johns didn’t looked convinced at this. “Are you sure that’s wise? I’m sure we could hide this young lad and I can go up with you. It’s not advisable to try and land a ‘copter in the dark, boss.”
“No, I’m not risking you as well as myself,” Bill said firmly. “Besides, there’s no knowing what’ll happen to Philip if he’s let out of our sight for even a minute.”
Philip frowned. “It’s not that bad, Bill!” he objected as Johns looked less convinced that Bill piloting the helicopter alone was a good idea. “Shouldn’t we wait until it’s a bit later, give the men a chance to go to sleep?” he offered as a suggestion, trying to buy them time.
Bill consulted his watch. “It’s fairly late as it is. Let’s just give the helicopter a quick check-over and then I’ll go. It shouldn’t take me long at all.”
Johns gave in. He couldn’t overturn Bill’s orders, he was the boss after all. “Yes sir, he said and got up to give the machine a once over and check how much fuel it had left.
“Don’t give me that look,” Bill said as Philip eyed him balefully. “It’d be no good taking you back up and then us both running into trouble.”
“It’ll be landing on the top, same as before, and then taking off again,” said Bill. “No need for a tour guide.”
Of course, fifteen minutes later as he approached the mountain-top, this time in the dark, he began to wish he hadn’t been so flippant. He hovered for a moment or two, to see if the children would turn the lights on for him, but to no avail.
“Well, here goes nothing,” he muttered grimly to himself and, using the scant moonlight, he guided the helicopter towards the dark shape of the mountaintop.
Bill fervently hoped that the girls and Jack were not in the middle of the landing space. All was went smoothly until he felt one of the skids hit an outcrop of rock, causing the helicopter to veer to one side. Bill fought to gain control of the machine and land. He didn’t want to have to abandon the landing and come up with a plan B for recovering the children. After a hair-raising few moments his skill won through and he managed to get the helicopter down on the platform.
Bill blew out a slow breath as he tried to calm his racing heart. “Jack! Are you there?” he called, ready to take the helicopter back up again should anyone else answer or approach.
He risked turning on his powerful torch as Jack ran over. “I’m here Bill. The coast’s clear. Nobody’s up here,” the boy called. “Gosh, it’s good to have you! Is Philip all right?”
Just as Bill was proud of Philip and Lucy-Anne’s bravery in being willing to jump, he was proud that Jack’s first concern was for someone other than himself.
“Quite all right,” he assured Jack, letting him know that he was with Johns down on the mountainside. “Get into the helicopter, all of you, and we’ll get going while the going’s good,” he urged, not wanting to wait around any longer than necessary. He shone his torch around to see the girls hurrying over.
“I couldn’t quite see where to land,” he admitted to the children. “I must have hit something coming down. I felt a good old jolt, and the helicopter swung round like mad. I hope she’s all right!” His tone was jolly but deep down he was worried that he might have done some damage to the helicopter.
“You went into part of the rocky parapet, I think,” Jack told him as he helped the girls in. “Oh Bill!” This is grand! How did you…”
Bill cut him off. He needed to concentrate and they needed to leave before their luck ran out. “All explanations later!” he said as he pressed the right buttons for take off. “Now – here we go!”
His steady hand guided the helicopter up a few feet, and just as he thought it was going to be all right, the machine swung in a strange way. Bill quickly corrected but decided to land her again, a feeling of foreboding in his stomach. “Now what’s wrong? She shouldn’t do that.”
He checked all his controls and the engine lights, his jaw clenched. He could hear Lucy-Ann willing them to leave the platform and go, and even though he didn’t want to disappoint her, he also felt dread rising. He gave it one more go, his jaw clenched in concentration, hoping he’d just made a bad move with the controls before. With the helicopter in the air once more, Bill hoped to be able to fly off but it swung erratically again.
“Something’s wrong with the steering. Why did I leave Johns down there? He might have been able to put it right. But I didn’t think this machine would hold him as well as you three,” Bill said in an exasperated tone, annoyed that he hadn’t taken Johns’ suggestion about both of them coming along seriously. Had he made decision based on merit, or some desire to be a hero? Bill cursed himself. He was really picking up bad habits from Anatoly, delusions of grandeur he called them.
He tried again, several times, hoping against hope that whatever the problem was it would miraculously solve itself as he was running out of ideas. For over an hour he worked at it, tension growing with every minute that ticked by, knowing that the longer they were there the more likely they were to be discovered.
At last, however, he had to admit defeat, and turned his mind to the only other option. “What about that way out, by the wall?” he asked. “Philip told me about it – something about a rope-ladder and so on.” He also told them about his fruitless search for a way into the mountain from the ground.
He listened in disbelief as Jack told him the secret of the underwater wheel which controlled the ladder. He hadn’t investigated the pool at all, there hadn’t seemed any point. Of course he had been thinking how there couldn’t be a secret entrance through the pool, not about a secret lever or wheel that revealed the entrance. Again, he marvelled at the children’s ability to outhink their enemies.
“Well – it seems to me we’ll have to try to get out that way,” he said. “This pest of a helicopter won’t answer to her controls now. I daren’t try and take off. We’d crash – and we haven’t any wonderful wings to save us, either.”
Lucy-Ann’s disappointment was hard to bear as she exclaimed in dismay. Still, her being hurt in a helicopter crash would be far, far worse, he told himself.
He reassured her all he could as Jack pointed out that the helicopter was a dead give-away that something was afoot. He had to agree, but there was nothing that could be done about it now, other than to get going as quickly as possible. He’d spent far too much time messing about on the mountain-top already. “All the more reason why we should get a move on now,” he said.
He looked down as something butted repeatedly at his legs. “Oh it’s you, Snowy. Well, if you come too, you’ll have to keep at our heels or you’ll give the game away! By the way – Where’s Kiki? I haven’t seen or heard her tonight.”
He listened as Jack told him that Kiki was missing. The boy’s misery was palpable. Bill felt for him, but he also hoped that Jack wouldn’t do anything stupid on their way through the mountain. If he thought he could get to Kiki he could easily put them all in danger.
“Where’s the way out of this place?” he asked, trying to focus them all on the task at hand. He shone his torch. “Over there? Are there steps that go down into the mountain? Well, come on then.” He spoke firmly but cheerily. “Every minute is precious now.”