Bill's Diary 1948 (Part 2)
First edition: 2013
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1948
Type: Continuation Books
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1948
Type: Continuation Books
On This Page...
Blissful days. Today Allie and I followed the river from the village and ended up at Betws-y-Coed where we made our way to the Bridge of the Cauldron and were rather tempted to play Poohsticks but instead we just stood there enjoying the scenery. The only people visible were an elderly couple across the way peering into the window of a curio shop.
"Not the genuine Bridge of Sighs," I said as we contemplated the Llugwy River.
"You need to be underneath it in a gondola and the bells have to be ringing."
"You don't say."
"Have you been to Venice?" Allie asked me.
"Maybe ... maybe not!"
Allie smiled, and as she looked at me I noticed something in her eyes that I've seen only a few times in a female. It was a sudden widening of the iris - an imaginary spark that had a "drawing" effect.
"What are you thinking of?" she asked me.
I showed her and it was a very pleasant experience - I hope for both of us. We stood there, enveloped in an atmosphere of peace and beauty.
"Our Bridge of Sighs!" said Allie opening her eyes. "Oops! Now there'll be gawking and giggling!"
"No, because there's not a soul anywhere," I said ... and it was true. The window shoppers had disappeared round the corner.
We walked over to view the enticing array of antiques and then returned to the car and on a whim, took off for the National Park and joined a group of tourists being shown the sights. Enormous surprise to meet up with Laurie Holmes and his wife on holiday, all the way from Bath. Introduced them to Allie and said we were staying in these parts with four kids and a parrot which meant they had to find out more because, like many other of my friends, they've read about some of the Mannering "exploits." We were only too happy to join them for dinner at a fine restaurant followed by drinks at their temporary quarters. Great time for all of us. Told Kathy she'd lost weight (which she has) and that went down well. Laurie said I'd put weight on, but I told him it was all muscle. Allie took to them and seemed to forget completely the odd twinge in her hand so it must be almost healed. The wine may have helped as well! (00:05)
August 14th (Sat):
Mrs. Evans told us to get our swimming gear and later she and her husband accompanied us in my car on a short ride to a friend's farm although we didn't meet the owners. Just climbed over the fence and picnicked by a stream that gushed under a bridge. The moment came, and after changing discreetly in a copse of trees, Allie and I took the plunge and regretted it - the water was icy cold but neither of us wanted to opt out because individual pride was at stake. Splashed around once we'd got used to the iciness with Mr. & Mrs. Evans enjoyed the spectacle. Feeling refreshed we changed and played tag to warm up with Effans joining in. He's a spry old chap and really pushed us to our limits. Allie, in jocular mood, accused me of "stealing a kiss" when we were jumping around in the water and I promptly denied it although I may have on impulse - I couldn't remember. She dissolved into laughter when I said she could have it back if she wanted! Exhilarating return trip because Mrs. Evans began singing a few Welsh songs, and after her husband joined in, Allie and I supplied some accompaniment. Arrived back at the homestead round 16:00. (22:10)
August 15th - 16th:
We've been so immersed in Cymru hospitality it's been a struggle keeping up the log - I think a typewriter might come in handy. The Evans's role as holiday house proprietors has given way to treating us as "Old Friends" because they've taken us into their fold. On the 16th Allie went off to Bethesda with Mrs. Evans, and after helping Effans to repair the barn door, I took it easy. (14:02)
Visited the GP when the ladies returned. Allie's hand is much better but still a bit tender so she's being fussed over by Mrs. Evans and myself. Lazed around and had some refreshing discussions before high tea and later we listened to the news then switched to the Light Programme for some music and invited the Evans's to join us for a little dancing. Surprisingly they did, and an entertaining half hour followed as we jitterbugged to some bubbly Charlie Kunz numbers, then turned back to the Home Service and continued with the Kentucky Minstrels. When we'd exhausted ourselves, the remnants of a fire were stoked up, the kettle was put on the hob, and there were friendly bets all round on the various Games entrants. Very cosy atmosphere all told. At one stage I stretched my arm over to get the newspaper and left it round Allie's shoulders - she needs a lot of comforting after her unexpected bad luck! (23:07)
Is it the "Same Old Thing?"
Round mid afternoon we were chatting with Mrs. Evans. Her husband had just come in to join us for a cuppa when there was a knock at the door and Trefor poked his nose round. He had a donkey with him so Effans went out to see what he wanted. We listened to an excited interchange in Welsh causing Mrs. Evans and myself to rush outside in alarm. Allie got up as well when she saw us all jabbering away and I gave her the news - David had left the kids and bolted away from where they were camped. Apparently he'd had some kind of a shock and ridden flat-out all the way home. All Trefor could extract from him was an account of wolves, and a black face staring at him from a tree! Enough to frighten anyone, but what about the children? David had yelled to them apparently, thinking they'd get on the other donkeys and follow but they hadn't and he'd been too scared to go back.
"Thought he'd better come to me for help" said Trefor with a wry look on his face and still speaking in his native tongue. "Said he'd seen a couple of the donkeys following and when he took the detour over this way, the rest appeared, ambling along a track to their field at the back of his cottage.
"Where is he now?" I asked?
It appeared that the flighty old fellow had waited a whole day before deciding to do anything because he was too scared to confront me and finally he'd gone to Trefor who hurried over to relay the news on his behalf. If the donkeys had left the camp the children were obviously stranded and, according to Trefor, his brother wasn't all that sure where they actually were because the trail had been lost after a mist sprung up. Mrs. Effans, looking very upset, turned to her husband, and then they both gazed at me.
A mist settling on them ... wild animals ... face in a tree. Another "Extraordinary Circumstance" centred round Those Kids! Allies' eyes widened as I told her the children were all by themselves in the mountains some miles away so I put my arm around her and we went back into the kitchen to sit down at the table. Mrs. Evans bustled round with the kettle and began washing cups and saucers so that we could all discuss the situation over hot tea and buns while I questioned Trefor.
My enquiry as to whether David was prone to a tipple now and again was met with an emphatic "No!" but Effans knew why I had asked. "Black face in a tree," sounded just a little esoteric. We'd reverted to English and Effans told us that David's story sounded extremely garbled because he was prone to imagining things, having been more receptive than his brother to the tales they'd been brought up with in their younger days. Now that we'd got our second breath, the account seemed more and more unreal. Trefor thinks the gwyllon and the Coblynau legends have always been factual to his brother so the "black face" could be put down to a figment of his imagination, as could the "wolves" because there were none in Wales and certainly if any had been heard of round these parts Effans would know of them.
The rest of David's tale as recounted by Trefor told us they'd had lost the track to the butterfly valley, continued on fairly high up in the mountains, and on the third day a mist had descended. Sounds Biblical! They continued on however and eventually the fog disappeared whereby they set up camp in a valley, and then rode off again the following day with no apparent knowledge of where they were. It seems they must have doubled back considerably, but on an alternate track because David hadn't been able to locate the place they wanted to visit. However, their camp had been set up at a spot that was possibly not all that far away because David had made it back here in only a few hours. One important item was that he could recall a river and a copse of trees - a spot that Effans recognized.
Allie and I had relaxed a little and we spent a few minutes explaining to the Evans's that what had happened was not the end of the world. We recounted a few tales of survival that had them staring at us in a very skeptical frame of mind. Effans made the gist clearer to Trefor and he looked disbelieving at first, which didn't surprise me because the things that have happened to those children would take a little getting used to. Trefor and his brother were born into a mining family just outside the tiny village of Treuddyn according to Mrs. Evans and they've never travelled or received much education so it was fairly difficult for the old shepherd to picture a castle in the mountains where spies were making plans, and adventures underground somewhere off the British coast. He seemed to understand what copper mines were though but the word "forgers" brought a questioning look into his eyes.
Could it be the kids were, at the very worst, camping by themselves in magnificent surroundings? Judging by what I've learnt of him, Trefor's brother seemed superfluous and I began wishing we hadn't insisted he accompany them. Allie and I discussed the situation. The kids have tents, and supplies and there's no doubt about it, Mrs. Evans had packed up a heap of food for them. At least one of the donkeys hadn't returned according to David's account so its instinct would be to stay with the children especially as the young goat was with them - they have a bond apparently. If it was absolutely necessary, one or two of them could ride back and I'd bet a pound to a penny that Jack's compass would ensure their arrival in the farmyard within a few hours, but that was only if they were all right. Why wouldn't they be?
The Evans's had been quite impressed with our account of the children's resourcefulness and Mrs. Evans who'd been on the point of tears earlier on, now looked more relaxed. I said that we'll set off with more donkeys to collect them - Effans can come and, just in case, we'll take David along as well. The kids are probably enjoying being by themselves seeing David's rather incommunicable and he's certainly no "babysitter."
Sometimes I feel like a father to those children. (21:40))
This morning after wash and brush-up I collected a few things and stuffed them into a haversack - bottles of water, some buns, and boiled eggs packed up very efficiently by Mrs. Evans who'd already fed her husband. Allie was still sleeping and just before we left I crept in to tell her I was off. It was surprising how relaxed and confident she was - it was almost as if I was going to collect the kids from school or something, and why not? A couple of nights by themselves were nothing to worry about - not with that lot! I thought of David's 'Wild Animals' and the scare he'd had but I remember when meeting him the other morning, he had definitely looked the type who might be terrified by a clap of thunder, or anything unusual that couldn't be readily explained.
Effans and I set off in my car and called into a small cottage further along from the homestead and down a side road near the lake. At the back of the property were a group of donkeys grazing in a small lush meadow. We went up the path and Effans knocked on the open door. David was in the house talking to an elderly Welshman so we waited outside until he emerged after negotiating the hire of some animals. Effans knew the man as well and hailed him so more conversation followed. When the visitor had gone, Effans brought up the missing children and David became visibly upset. The two Welshmen held a rapid conversation in their particular dialect, which I couldn't quite keep up with but could only assume that David was being berated in no uncertain terms and told he must accompany us.
He looked very apologetic when he saw me eyeing him. I didn't say much, just that the children had been let down by him and they could have come to harm. We had trusted him and he had agreed to take them - I didn't feel like saying anything else but Effans had a few more sharp words to impart, for my benefit I think. Having said his piece, we went round to the back and while viewing the donkeys I asked David a few questions about the cause of his flight and he repeated what had been passed on to Trefor. Wild animals!
" ... they looked like wolves he told us, and there was a black face hanging in a tree."
We entered the cottage again and I produced a map but he may as well have been looking at a blank piece of paper, however he had recalled the general area and mentioned several landmarks that were also familiar to Effans who pointed them out for me. Following his finger down it was established where the stream by the camp was, and it was close to a lake. This testified to the fact that that while trying to find an easier route, David had descended a little way and done exactly what I'd surmised - doubled back and returned by another track rather than the original one that meandered along seeming to lead nowhere and adding hours to their trip. There'd been no hurry of course and it was possible the children had simply enjoyed riding slowly through the mountainous environment. David had to be persuaded again to join us on the trip and Effans spent some time arguing with him because the man was still 'scared out of his wits!' He was afraid of the 'wild dogs' and the 'black face' and I suppose he couldn't be blamed because childhood superstitions are rife in the Welsh valleys. I was now fairly sure the trip would have been more of a success if the boys had been in charge and gone exclusively by the map.
In the end, having marked our route, we managed at last to persuade David to join us. I think he was too scared to refuse after being told by Effans that I was not only a lawman, but also responsible for the kids' ultimate safety. We were escorted out to the back once more and David picked out five sturdy donkeys then, mounting three of them, we set off along a track that led slightly upwards with the spare animals tethered behind.
With David leading, we rode at a measured pace heading west and I still wasn't feeling too alarmed, because ultimately, if there were any problems the kids could double up and be brought back with us. Could probably mange the tents and other stuff as well. 'Wolves' and a 'Face!' Surely wolves disappeared over 400 years ago. Maybe there were a few left somewhere in the wilds of Scotland but as far as could be fathomed, wolves, per se, had to be ruled out. Creatures resembling wolves? Dogs? It was hardly likely a pack of them was wandering around. A black face in a tree! That sounded so weird; perhaps it was a cluster of berries or a piece of cloth or tar-paper that had found it's way into the hills with help from the elements, and lodged itself in the branches. Couldn't feel very alarmed about that. It was good that we had sure-footed mounts because there were many steep bits as we progressed into more barren areas. Effans pointed to the south after we'd been riding for a few hours.
"Carnedd Dafydd" he announced and looking over I could see a few thousand feet of massed rock rising into the sky. We carried on mainly in silence and after a quick break for a snack, changed course and headed south along uneven ground with no real track, but at least it was flatter. Effans kept me informed - "Tryfan ... and then a shimmering stretch of water called Marchlyn Mawr, and shortly we passed Y Garn. David seemed confident enough of the route so we left it to him and enjoyed the magnificent scenery while the other two animals clip-clopped along behind us. A minor earthquake that caused the donkeys to rear up and bray loudly occurred as we headed south past a section of the range known as Glyder Fach.
It was 15:00 when we arrived at the site David had pointed out. We split up and after fifteen minutes or so a donkey could be heard braying. Thought it was one of ours but it came from further up so we directed ourselves towards a small copse of trees and coming out, found ourselves at a stream beside which was tied a lone donkey and nearby we found the children's abandoned camp. Effans and David recognized 'Dapple,' and he brayed loudly at us as the other donkeys approached. He sounded happy to see us, which wasn't surprising; we went up to him and attached to the harness I found a note reporting on an extraordinary circumstance:
It was dated the 16th and stated that Philip had disappeared! Apparently he's been taken, together with a black man, into yonder mountain by a person with a pack of dogs! Fantastic! I had to read it again. Knowing the kids, I began toying with the idea of an elaborate joke but only for a few seconds ... they hadn't known we were coming, and a joke wouldn't include David arriving home terror-stricken. To make the account even more surreal, there was mention of a helicopter that had been seen at night flying around the mountain and appearing to land somewhere near the summit. Jack, and the girls had apparently gone to explore the vicinity and hunt around for Philip, leaving the note just in case I arrived before they got back. Spent a few minutes taking this in and then looked over to the nearby trees with a rather desperate thought that Kiki may have flown back. "Desperate" all right ... couldn't see her abandoning Jack. Explained to the others what had happened whereby David promptly sat down on a rock and began making a fairly loud noise that sounded remarkably like that of a lamb calling for its mother. He went on for about a minute and then stopped, and Effans told me that if the kid was anywhere within hearing distance, it would have come to him.
Was Snowy with Philip? Had the others found him? Action was called for and fast, because a man with a pack of wild dogs who captures a boy for no apparent reason must be up to no good. Could there be something illegal happening in this area? We split up again and stumbled around for about ten minutes calling out as loudly as we could but heard nothing, just a few birds. David pointed out the tree where he had seen the "black face" but there was nothing visible in that respect.
Climbing to a higher part I stared over at the massive wall of rock in the distance and decided to explore a little further while Effans and David packed up the children's things. Mounted a donkey and made my way along a rough trail past more trees, continuing on right up to the mountain base where a green mass of vegetation was visible. Went for a closer look and found it moved like a great curtain when it was brushed aside. It concealed a cleft that opened into a passage so I went back, tied the donkey to a tree and after scrutinizing the cliffs and crags to ascertain there was no one around, pulled out my torch, entered the passage, and walked to the end where it opened out into an extremely high cave. Stepping in I ended up with wet feet as the light picked out a pool covering most of the cave floor. A roundish cave and a pool! Had the children come in this way? Must have, because there didn't seem to be any other entrance. Went round examining the rocky face very carefully but nothing presented itself in the form of a passage or niche through which anyone could pass so, giving up, I walked back into the sunlight.
Rejoined the others and got David to tie Dapple to the one carrying the kids' stuff before we departed. As we'd covered the most probable route the kids and David had taken into the mountains, and found nothing for our trouble, we were led along a different one and it proved to be much faster because there were less obstacles and varying gradients. It was the same one David had taken when he left the camp. We trotted steadily back along the trail to the village, mainly in silence because my companions could see I was deep in thought, and by the time we reached David's cottage I'd decided on a plan of action. We returned the donkeys to their field where they promptly began nuzzling their friends and relations and Effans and I were back at the farm by about 20:30. Allie came out as we left the car and she looked puzzled to see that we were the only occupants. I told her not to worry and we went into the farmhouse. Mrs. Evans was in the kitchen, as always, getting plates and utensils out.
"Where are they all? Washing their hands? Where's that clever little bird?" she asked.
Her husband looked at her and frowned and she sensed something untoward had happened. I sat down on a stool and gave her and Allie a complete account of everything we'd learnt - the abandoned camp, the donkey, the supplies, and the note. Told them how I'd examined a nearby cave and found nothing. No sign of a helicopter. No sign of the parrot or the goat; no screams or any sounds or discernible footprints. Nothing! They looked quite shocked as I went on and Allie kept looking at me, waiting for some indication as to what I'd do. She relaxed a little when I surmised that David's "wolves" may have been imagined or dreamt or whatever because packs of wild animals simply don't roam the Welsh backblocks. Unexpectedly, Effans looked over at me and mentioned that not all that long ago, he'd heard a vague rumour of dogs located somewhere in the mountains but had put it down to village-talk. According to David there was a pile of them but maybe Jack had meant two or three. The "face" meant little, but the man who Philip had gone off with was a different matter although, maybe he was friendly. The others hadn't been spotted so could it be that the man, seeing Philip was by himself, had invited him to wherever he was based; but surely the boy would have mentioned the others! Maybe he had, and that was why they'd all disappeared!
Allie suggested that as we know the particular location, surely it'd just be a matter of calling in the authorities to investigate. That was agreed to although, on our way back from the camp, I'd been considering the helicopter angle. I believe the kids saw one even though it had been at night because Jack was adamant he'd spotted it through his field glasses. Allie has confirmed the note was in his writing and she's also prepared to discount dogs and faces, and even the "man" and simply believe the kids are lost.
"They'll be found," she said as if reassuring herself of the fact. The Evans's nodded although possibly they were endeavouring to ease the tension a little. To bring it down a little more I postulated the kids might have become lost when searching for the donkeys. We discussed the situation all through tea and then Allie and I made it an early night - her, because of the added strain to learn that once again the kids were missing, and myself because I had things to do in the morning. (21:15)
Allie's hand is about healed so that's at least some good news. She rose early and helped Mrs. Evans to prepare breakfast for the working farmer and myself. A discussion was held at the table and I was glad that Allie is taking the disappearance of the children better than I thought which could be put down to our knowledge of their survival skills, commonsense, and possibly I'm somewhere in the equation because of her confidence in my handling of emergencies. We talked as if I'd be bringing the kids home very soon. Studied a map, made some notes, packed up a few items of clothing and personal papers, recorded what had happened so far, and I was away. (09:33)
It was reassuring to receive a hug from Allie as I got into the car and set off with the Evans's wishing me luck. Drove northwards for an hour or so and at about 10:30 cruised into Colwyn Bay, and drove along quiet streets until the G.P.O. came into view. I had an idea that was well worth a try because if the children really were in dire straits, it seemed eminently sensible to try every possible angle. Allie and I may have put too much trust in the children's survival abilities and the more I thought about Jack's description of Philip's disappearance, the more uneasy I became. I felt that at the very least I should endeavour to make use of the family connection even if it was only to report the situation. Entered a booth and rang through to the Foreign Office. Got on to someone called Levy and requested a line to The Admiralty. Levy asked for name and details and when I mentioned my police connection he wanted to know the nature of my enquiry. I decided to be absolutely blunt seeing other obliquely crafted attempts had failed in past times.
"I'd like to speak to A. B. Cunningham."
"Cunningham. Viscount Cunningham."
There was a pause and then the voice said, " Can you state who you are again, please?"
I told him and added that I was a relative.
I don't think he believed me but I'd said it as convincingly as I could and after pausing again, he asked for a reference and I gave Scottie's name. He told me to hold on, and was away for at least five minutes. Returning suddenly he said very briskly,
"I'll put you through to The Admiralty."
He did so, probably because he wasn't sure how to handle the call. Either that or else he knew I'd be suitably "handled" by someone in an Ivory Tower.
Wise move on his part. A voice that sounded cold and automated came on the line and once again I was asked for details. Then the voice growled.
"Sorry," I said. "I haven't a code."
"What exactly do you want?" asked the man sounding impatient, " ... and how did you get to this number?"
I explained and then said I was a Justice employee, and also a relative of Viscount Cunningham.
They pause a lot in the Upper Echelons and sure enough the man paused for a few moments. Then he said that if I had any business with the department I'd need to quote a ministry code but he managed to adopt a slightly conciliatory tone.
"Sorry, but anyone could 'phone up and say they were a relative of a V.I.P."
"Could a message be forwarded to him?" I enquired.
He asked for some details, told me to wait and after at least ten minutes returned and told me he'd contacted Bow Street and my card number had been identified but he was authorized only to report my request to a supervisor. And so it goes on and on and on! I thanked him and, building it up a bit, said I'd like the Viscount informed about a mission I was undertaking and that it involved the children.
"Yes, children. He'll understand because they're known to the department!"
Would this ever stop?
"Metropolitan Police Department, and for that matter yours if my information is correct."
This man was beginning to needle me and I found myself wishing I'd asked Stu to handle it. Couldn't imagine all this red tape being directed at Scottie's office.
"Carry on!" he said and I heard the opening of a drawer and some shuffling of papers.
Told him they were the children who'd helped to locate some of the treasure plundered by the Nazis.
"Rosenberg's Einsatzstab? Rubbish! Merkers Mine was dynamited in 1945." He sounded even more impatient and I thought he was about to hang up on me.
"It was in the Austrian Sector," I said interrupting him before he did so. "Near Kitzbuhel"
Again, there was a pause and more paper shuffling.
"What's up now then?"
I told him the children were missing again - this time near the Glyderau sector of Wales. I gave their names and the man wrote them down, then I heard another drawer being opened. At least he was doing something besides talking on the 'phone!
He ventured to tell me his surname (Webb), and then said there was a record of the children, so it looked as if my identity had been further confirmed. Quote the kids' names and I become a real person (or 'almost' a real person). I'd just become 'more believable!' Webb was doing his job I guess and after yet another pause, he told me that a note would be sent through channels although there was no guarantee that it would endure the 'screening process.' Heavens Above ... it was just a tiny message from one member of a family to another and yet it needed further 'screening!' Wonder how ABC communicates with his wife.
"Are you sure your request hasn't been misdirected?" he asked. "What can a naval officer do in this respect?"
I began to think I was engaged in an exercise akin to 'phoning the New York police about a stolen rabbit! I told Webb that I wasn't after any direct favours from the Viscount but I had a notion he might be able to pass the information along to another organization - not that I know if he's anything to do with it but there are suspicions. I waited to see if Webb would follow up on that one, but he didn't! Even if he knew of the Organization, a cagey employee such as he would hardly be likely to blurt it out and anyway, there are very strict guidelines and limited categories that govern S.Y.P.R.A. involvement although I'd been informed of policy changes. That much I knew.
Things have reached a pretty pass when it's this hard to contact a member of one's family but then ABC's Top Secret status needs taking into account I suppose. I'd done whatever I could and the rest was up to Webb's report so I thanked him and went back to the car. Drove along several more streets until the Police HQ loomed up. Parked round the back, entered a stout door, and went up to the watch house desk where a rookie was writing something in a book. The lone figure of a woman clad in a grey wool suit with large metal buttons could be seen on a bench in the corner. Her wispy brown hair was tied back in a bun and she looked bored but she perked up somewhat when I reported that some children are unaccounted for and I wished to speak to Assistant Chief Constable Ashe. The officer at the desk said it would be better if I made a statement to him and he'd see that it was filed. This was not satisfactory by any means and he should have known better. I insisted on seeing Ashe and the constable's resigned look told me I'd get nowhere, but when I produced my identity card he was somewhat taken aback and the change was immediate.
He went over to an office door in the passage, knocked, and opened it to announce me. A voice yelled, "Come!"
As the cop waved me in I asked his name and he said it was 'Bennion.' Stated it briskly and saluted - presumably to make up for his initial slackness. Didn't have to worry, I wasn't into causing any ill feeling between subordinates and generals. I thanked him and entered whereupon Ashe rose from his desk and we introduced ourselves. Recognized him from a picture that had been in the Gazette a year or two ago although he's now got a moustache. He recognized me also from one or two photos and publicity blurbs surrounding my recent, 'exploits' that had been the subject of note in various police districts. Ashe is fairly young for his position but has a friendly manner with a direct approach. Clasping my hand firmly he looked straight into my eyes, searching no doubt for any tiny personality characteristics to supplement his record for analytical deduction, at which he's apparently a master.
We sat down and I explained the problem and told him very firmly that I'd like to handle the case with backup, if needed, from his department. He said I'd have to have it anyway as my authority had certain limitations being so far from the Big Smoke. I understood, and then gave him some more details about the children disappearing from their camp near the mountain, named as "Fang" on the local maps.
"That nickname comes from a cluster of jagged rocks at the summit," said Ashe. "Almost looks as if someone placed them there."
"Wouldn't know. Haven't been up to see," Ashe said.
He had looked at me sharply when I told him the kids were the same bunch that had taken part in the Outer Hebrides weapon-smuggling operation last year. That told him they were probably capable of looking after themselves for a while but the situation could still be threatening. There was a hint of foul play and as no one had been found when we visited the camp and searched, it would be best to get moving immediately despite the children's capabilities. Furthermore, there'd been rumours of strange things happening in the vicinity - small earthquakes and rumbling noises, had been noted by the odd traveler.
Nothing much else had been recorded but when I asked him if there'd been any reports of helicopters round those parts he looked very interested and said "Ay" to that. The Airport Authority had received enquiries from spotters who wanted details of one or two that had been seen near the mountain range. There hadn't been enough to initiate an official search but five enquiries were on file although they might pertain to just one helicopter making several flights. The Airport Authority chaps were becoming concerned as there'd been no plans filed with them and if it wasn't for a temporary lack of staff the police would have registered an interest in tracking down whoever might be flying into the stated area.
Reaching behind to retrieve a folder from a pigeonhole, Ashe opened it and searched through a pile of papers before selecting several and laying them on the desk. Picking one up he read some extracts, the essence of which were the observations of a duo based at the Speke air facility who work part time as helicopter pilots. They'd reported on several flights that had taken place in rather secretive circumstances - late at night or early morning, without the necessary flight plans and affiliated details recorded. Because the trips were private and were more-or-less keeping to the same route, there had been little follow-up but one of the operators had spilled information after being hired to replace a pilot who had backed out of his contract. He'd come back with stories of paratroopers practising jumps from somewhere near the summit of a mountain. One he'd taken up had ejected accordingly, but although the agreement had said the pilot must leave the site at once after the jump had taken place, the paratrooper had strayed off course and the pilot picked out something that looked like wings attached to his arms. He'd been told they were part of an experiment and that the man had a parachute on as well. Apart from mentioning it, the pilot had said no more.
A tea lady wheeled her trolley in just then and we spent a few minutes refreshing ourselves before Ashe continued with his report that went on to describe how the pilot's information had been relayed to several other agencies and news had come through of one or two other 'copter pilots who had been employed on the odd occasion by a businessman based in St. Peter Port. There were also several other connected locations in the dossier including Leipzig and Colima. Ashe read from another paper that was headed "Missing Person" and recited some details concerning an experienced paratrooper who was last heard of as being in, or near, North Wales.
I asked to see the sheet and wrote down a few details in case there was something I could use - Name: Samuel Mbanefo. Address: Calle Chiapas, Villa de Álvarez, Colima. Race: Negro. Notification: Feb 2nd, '48.
Thinking back to David's scare I thought of his frightening 'face in the tree.' A black face! A paratrooper sitting in a tree? Doubt it.
Ashe filled me in on what had happened so far. Told me they were stretched and as no one seemed to have made a complaint, and no laws had so far been infringed, the back burner had been utilized. The pilot who'd witnessed several jumps was dubious about taking any more so-called paratroopers up because, being a parachutist himself, he was concerned about the packs they carried - he couldn't see how they could contain a parachute should the so-called "wings" fail. He'd been reported as being about to go on leave and as his partner may not want to fill in for him, a temporary vacancy could exist.
When he said that, an idea came to me.
"That's if you could fly a helicopter," Ashe said. "Doesn't really matter though because we could probably use Bashir with a little persuasion."
Seeing my questioning glance, he added, " ... the other 'copter pilot at the aerodrome."
"I feel like increasing my flying hours," I said, digging out my licence.
That made him whistle and he looked over at me with heightened respect.
"Jack of all Trades."
While I looked at other information in the dossier, Ashe dialed a number and spoke sharply to a subordinate. Cupping the mouthpiece he waited and, addressing me, said he was recruiting a co-worker. A few more words were spoken to a person on the line and then he put down the receiver.
"Detective Inspector, your rank's enough to allow a few short cuts. You have the licence so I've ordered you a buddy and he's good." He emphasized the "Good" and I was grateful because I needed someone utterly reliable. Ashe spoke on the intercom to relay a few instructions before turning to me.
"I'll notify the airport officials and ask them to see if they can list all the helicopter flights in the sector from six months back. If anything relevant comes up I'll inform you. We'll provide the transport, and your own car will be looked after."
Ashe, is a Man of Action.
He barked into the intercom again and Bennion entered. I shook hands with the Deputy, told him I'd send in a report, and thanked him - this kind of help was just what I needed right now. Bennion took me back to the watch-house and it was about 11:30 when a staff member in civvies with spectacles, a small moustache, and a studious looking face appeared. Bennion introduced him as Constable Taylor who was to be my driver. I was taken out the back way into the yard and after collecting my things I climbed into a Wolseley that Bennion had commandeered from the garage further down. With Taylor at the wheel, we drove off to an address in Kensington Ave.
Stopped outside a semi-detached that was a duplicate of it's other half with a wrought iron gate hanging carelessly from a couple of crumbling brick posts. A plumbers' van was nearby and a workman was doing something to a raised metal cover in the driveway. Taylor honked and the figure of a man appeared in the upstairs windows overlooking the courtyard. He hailed us, disappeared, then reappeared at the front door with a small case and after locking up, sprinted across to join us yelling something to the plumber as he passed by.
A stolid looking chap with fair, wavy hair and a good-natured, face confronted us and I felt confident that Ashe had made the right selection - looking at his physique I found myself thinking that an antagonist would come out second best when tangling with this guy. Taylor introduced him as Ben Johns and that he has a working knowledge of aircraft mechanics and navigation. After shaking hands, Johns told me he was due back at work in a couple of days but welcomed the extra money a one-off job afforded, then he jumped in the back as the car started up and we moved off down the road. Gave him a rough idea of what I had in mind as we sped along weaving in and out of traffic that had increased in the last hour.
Bought fish and chips in Rhuallt seeing we were all hungry and reaching Helsby round the 13:00 mark we carried on to Runcorn before doubling back and arriving at the airport in Speke just after 14:30. Johns directed Taylor to the rear where several hangars were situated and after being waved on by a uniformed official we rounded a corner and pulled up at a small building with an office at the front. Our driver wished us the best of luck as we got out and then sped off back the way we'd come. Johns and I entered and after identifying ourselves to the official manning the counter we went into a room at the rear where a man was putting something into a filing cabinet. He reminded me in looks of the Afghan chap who'd come to repair the window at HQ (Nov. last year?) only this one was taller and seemed to have a slight crick in his left leg. He saw me looking at it and smiling very pleasantly, said there were few people around who notice it at first glance. Told me it was caused by a little carelessness when ejecting from a plane several months ago. It's getting better," he assured us and then, introducing himself as Ali Bashir, he directed my attention to a person sitting in an easy chair by the window.
It was Henry!
What a surprise! "Thought you were in Greece," I said as he jumped up to shake my hand.
"Nope!" His rugged features creased into a broad smile. "Got back on Saturday and hearing of your imminent arrival, I thought it only fair and just that I take an interest. How's the Bow Street Runner ... and how are those kids?"
I said I was fine and so were they - at least I hoped they were. Asked him how Joe was getting on and Henry said he was in good health.
"Been attending an in-house course so that he can take my place when a higher qualification is required for selected flights."
"Tearing through it like nobody's business?"
He said that Cliff Eccleston had joined the team and only this morning had flown off to Derby, so he's right into his new job. Johns didn't need to be introduced of course, so we found chairs and settled ourselves down. Henry, who's seconded to airport duties temporarily, looked quite alarmed when he learnt of the children's disappearance. As if on cue, the door opened and in came an employee wearing a trim navy uniform with blonde her hair swept back like Allie's was when I left her this morning. The young lady held a document that she handed to Henry before leaving the room. After looking over it briefly he handed the notice to me - the gist was a hastily compiled list of various helicopter flights reported as being seen in the area round about where the kids and David had ended up, and it went back a few months.
"They have a copy at HQ," said Henry, "but they thought we'd better study it here and you'll find that not all the destinations are reported officially. We know there've been several trips into the Gwynedd region - not many, but they should all have been recorded,"
His voice sounded severe. He went on.
"The airport is sometimes a bit lax with their files - a legacy from the war I suppose, and they're rarely examined in depth."
He told me the flights were charged to a chartered accountant's office in Bangor and sounded quite rueful that no more information could be passed on but I wasn't worried. There had been helicopter flights in the area, I had Ashe's testimony, and the children's note mentioned the nearby mountains. That was enough for me ... and now I wanted to go visit.
Henry spoke into a telephone that was sitting on a side table and sounded as if he was arranging accommodation for Johns, and myself. Finishing up, he turned to Bashir to ask him where Khan was. I presumed correctly that he was talking about his partner and it turned out he was due back from Southport at six so we called it a day. Henry, Johns, and I left the office and skirting a hangar containing private aircraft, we entered a low lying building with an accommodation area used by the police and affiliated departments when a stay-over is required. A well appointed room with a couple of beds was assigned to us and after dumping our gear and having a wash, we were taken by Henry to a dining room in the main terminal complex for a meal. He had to leave us but gave me his home number and the one he uses at HQ with an instruction to keep in touch. Good old Henry, it was nice to meet up with him again ... he even paid for our meal! Mediocre fare but I wasn't very hungry although Johns made up for my lack of appetite. We exchanged news of our various assignments and he showed some interest in my Scottish assignment from a few years back. Knows the place because he has farming relatives who live near Fort William.
Just as we were finishing up, a youngish man with sub-continent looks approached our table. He had a fairly extensive mark on his face extending from just below the bridge of his nose to halfway down the left cheek. It was balanced by a thick shock of black hair, marked brows and deep-set eyes that searched us both in a tentative manner. Turning to Johns he addressed him as Mr. Cunningham and my companion duly pointed me out. The chap introduced himself as Kuber Khan which I interpreted as Kublai Khan and my look of disbelief made him burst into laughter.
"KUBER!" he repeated.
'Kuber' it was and offering him a cigarette, I got Johns to order a cuppa for our visitor while he pulled up a chair and proceeded to give me an account of the trips he'd made for a firm (un-named) that was charged with developing innovative equipment to supplement aircraft safety. His role was to pilot hired helicopters that took men up for practice jumps with the new gear and it was usually late at night or in the early morning. There was a flat part near the top of Fang Mountain and he had landed there on each occasion. Experienced paratroopers had been picked up and he could only assume they came from a cave near the parapet and the wider guess was that they were filming something because he'd spotted arc lights in the open air. I'd got out my notebook by now and was writing away as he went on to confirm that wing-like attachments were used but there had also been packs on the men's backs that may or may not have included parachutes. The paratroopers were of Japanese or Chinese extraction - probably Jap as he'd managed to interpret several words, and there were two men in charge who seemed to know oriental languages. He hadn't been ordered to pick the men up after they'd finished their jumps because they were to be collected by others from wherever they landed and apart from that, there wasn't much else to report except, he added, on at least two visits he'd landed on the summit again and dropped off the men who seemed to be in charge, before returning to Liverpool.
Johns and I took all this in and then I asked Khan if the men spoke any other languages besides Japanese or Chinese. He hesitated a few seconds before saying that on one trip he remembered one of them saying something to a paratrooper whom he thought was African and the man had replied with a sentence in English. He'd also refused to jump and seemed in some kind of trouble when those remaining had got out. He could also recall a trip when the two men in charge spoke to each other in a language that had a Prussian sound to it and, he said, they gave him a large tip at the end of each flight. He also told us that the men used for the jumps seemed too heavy for the wing contraptions and he'd actually refused to take the last one up.
We sat there with tea and crackers while Khan filled us in on the terrain and gave as clear as he could, a picture of the heliport near the mountaintop. Finishing up, we left the restaurant with Khan being thanked profusely before departing through a side door that led to the car park. Johns and I returned to our temporary quarters and formulated a plan of action. Just before retiring, I thought I'd better make a report to the Yard so I dialed the operator and was quite taken aback to hear Christine Fleming's familiar voice come on the line - hadn't seen her for at least two years. Said she's been with the Post and Telegraph a few months and was rather enjoying it and she'd shifted to Liverpool from London nine months ago, has her own lodgings, and is now a vegetarian. Excellent. Told her a little of what I've been doing and all the usual things one says to a friend of old whereupon she gave me her address with an invitation to stay a night or two.
"Love to see you!"
Told her I'm a little tied up right now, but "you never know," and then she put me through to the Yard. A night operator came on and I gave him the farmhouse address and a synopsis of my activities to be passed on, before hanging up and hitting the sack. Johns was already asleep. (23:20)