Bill's Diary 1950 (Part 5)
First edition: 2014
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1950
Type: Continuation Books
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1950
Type: Continuation Books
On This Page...
Ronnie and I made for the small buffet and had ourselves some refreshing coffee and a cigarette then seeing the big wall clock approaching 00:20 we were off once more to have our bona fides established before boarding a smaller plane facing south on an adjoining section of the tarmac. The atmosphere was enlivened when we heard a radio broadcasting music from an open window as we passed a small office together with half a dozen other passengers.
"Nemzeti dal." Ronnie muttered.
I asked him what he was on about and he said it was the National Song.
"You speak Hungarian as well?"
"Bits and pieces, Bill."
Ronnie would certainly be handy should our identities call for a language apart from Tauri-Hessian. We entered the plane and took seats according to the directions of an obliging hostess who treated us as if we were royalty. We had taken our bags in with us. Ronnie handled the 'please' / 'thank you' side of it and in twenty minutes the whine of motors sounded and we took off into darkness leaving behind us the 'Pearl of Danube.' Looking down from where I was, the lit up city of Budapest extended to the horizon and then disappeared as we entered clouds and headed further south. There was no turning back now so in order to be fully prepared for whatever may be encountered, the dregs of our information were exchanged. He expanded my knowledge of the general environment and habits of the villagers in the sector we were approaching and I was able to supply Ronnie with a string of facts, especially those connected with policy and protocols due to the thorough briefings I'd been privy to.
"Tauri-Hessia hasn't been absolved into the general structure," I told him but he already knew that. What he wasn't familiar with was the cause, and the treaties that we respected (or didn't respect). He listened as I went on about the general makeup of government departments and also mentioned the reports I'd received of war reparations delving into the coffers. The administrative divisions or județs had been largely ignored in a small section of the southwest but as the setup wouldn't last much longer, the principality was pretty well doomed. I also told him that Borken Castle, which is deemed central to the operation, is located further up from the tiny state. Apparently the Paritolen character owns the whole of Borken County - lock stock and barrel.
"You speaking foreign?"
"I know of the castle. They've obviously been doing a spot of name-changing. The place was originally Corvinesti."
I hadn't known that and filed away the snippet of information accordingly.
"The rebels think they have naming rights," I said so there's a mish-mash not only in policy emanating from the upper levels, but also in the general running of the place at lower levels."
"Not if the king gets more involved when he's found; King Torquinel has been up to his neck with plots instigated by this Tatiosa woman and her association with the Count."
One couldn't be sure of anything but it looked very likely that it had been the Count with the Tatiosa woman at the farm. We were served with some very dark and sweet tea, plus biscuits, and around the 02:50 mark the plane's motor changed tone and we began descending. We observed pinpoints of light emanating from a small building and some huts before lowering further and hearing the wheels make contact. Next moment we were shooting down a narrow runway past more lights right to the end where the plane slowly turned and taxied towards a brightly lit hangar entrance where it rolled inside. The passengers started getting their stuff down from racks and pockets by the seats and after we'd checked all our belongings, we filed down a ramp that had been set up against the outer door. Ronnie and I were led out through a side door and into a terminal of sorts - fairly basic with a few desks, a counter, easy chairs and pictures of scenery for the general public to view. An airport official holding a ledger approached us and muttered in broken English -
"You are recognized!"
He had photographs of us and after introducing himself as Boris Brankovic, told us that it was arranged we travel by road to our destination because spies closely monitor plane 'flights. I thanked him and when Ronnie asked how far we had to go the man replied that it would be about three hours.
"Are you right?" he asked which presumably meant - 'were we happy with the arrangement.'
We both nodded. Couldn't do much else and a few hours with a chauffer wouldn't be the end of us.
"Pity it's not light," I said. "We'll miss a lot of the scenery ... and Ronnie's brought his camera."
'How did you know that?" Ronnie asked.
I'd barely noticed it when he'd opened his case briefly at the previous airport to take a jersey out.
"I make it my business to know things," I said mysteriously and he vowed to figure out the answer during our ride. After a quick passport check, Boris drew the two of us away from the customs area and led us through a section containing offices to the main door of the terminal area and down some steps where a large black limousine was waiting. We got in and were introduced to 'Popescu' - at least that's how it sounded.
"The Priest is my Father," he said smiling at us as we settled ourselves in the roomy back seat. "I Beniamin - Ben!"
He was dressed in one of those sweatshirts they all seem to wear in these parts and a jacket that had seen better days made him more 'chauffer looking.' That and the peaked cap. Friendly fellow he was, with short black hair that receded slightly, marked eyebrows, a fairly large nose, and a mouth that held a permanent smile. We said 'Goodbye' to Boris and next moment the pedal went down and we took off from Novi Beograd at breakneck speed but I think it was just Popescu showing us his skill. Slowing down, we drove along darkened streets with just a few lights showing here and there while our driver sang away to himself almost continuously. Eventually he announced a word that sounded like 'Zemunski.'
"Sava ... look ... bridge."
Beginning our sightseeing there and then, we crossed a stretch of water upon which we could see a few barges moving slowly along. Warehouses and cranes were visible and also docking areas as we sped along changing direction and approaching another river, which could only be ...
Ben announced it almost proudly.
Ronnie and I craned our necks to see whatever we could as we passed over the great waterway and then as the limousine continued along the side of it we couldn't see all that much so Ben filled us in with various facts and figures that Ronnie needed to interpret after a fashion seeing English wasn't our chauffer's strong point. It was nice listening to his cheery voice though and that, together with the views, kept us occupied. Soon the car crossed another bridge that forded the Tamis and, bypassing a place called Pancevo, we drove for mile after mile past enormous cultivated fields and the inevitable lines of trees at the road side. Ben kept us up to date while I scribbled notes in my book for later edification ... Bavaniste ... Kovin ... Dubovac ... further on, we went through some fairly rough roads that had trees and ditches on either side. Ronnie was napping - he's an expert at that. Ben was still chipper and singing away and I felt good because some morning light was visible and the scenery could now be observed and appreciated. The road became even rougher as we entered the more remote country near a place called Vračev Gaj where only the odd farmhouse could be spotted.
Dawn was becoming more pronounced as we travelled on passing through Bela Crkva and heading for the border where a customs station was located. Ronnie snapped to when the car pulled up and our driver jumped out to confront a sleepy looking officer who was sitting on a bench with a wireless blaring out loud band music. The official got up and looked at a paper that Ben thrust under his nose and then saluted him; Ben saluted by a customs man! Maybe he's more important than we thought or perhaps it was the paper. Getting back into the car again and giving me a wink, we set off through the barrier and turning right, headed south. I looked at my watch - it was twenty past five. I asked Ben what was on the paper that he'd shown to the officer and he said that someone from the department had given it to him. He handed the sheet over but as it was in Magyar I nudged Ronnie who woke up and interpreted. He said the wording more-or-less gave free passage to the holder and the big red seal imprinted into the paper implied it was sanctioned by the Royal Household.
We entered flat land again and driving past Radimna we entered more country and soon were travelling along a narrow road past houses with tiled roofs and vegetable gardens. Suddenly the Danube appeared again to our right and Ben said we were nearing a place that sounded something like Pojejena. Would we like to stop and get out for a bit? I though it'd be a good idea to get something at a shop so we went on a bit longer, drove across a small a bridge that forded a tributary and carried on over more flat land that led eventually to the quiet village of Whatever He Said. Turning sharp left we drove to the middle and then veered to the right where there was shop that either stayed open all night or simply pulled down the shutters early. Ronnie said that he felt like a spell outside so we all emerged and stretched our legs. In the east, the rays of the sun were starting to light up the country and thankfully, it would be getting warmer. A peasant woman ran the tiny store and seemed pleased to see us. Ben got her to cut him some salami that was hanging from a string whilst Ronnie and I shelled out some of the money we'd got at the airport for a small loaf of bread, some cheese and a soft drink each - we got one for Ben as well. Sitting on a bench outside the shop amongst pleasant surroundings, we scoffed the lot, sharing our bread and cheese with Ben and in return accepting salami for our sandwiches, which gave them a very piquant taste.
As we got into the car to continue our journey beside the Danube, Ben surprised us by humming the 'Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond.'
"Why aren't you giving us ''The Blue Danube, Ben?" Ronnie asked.
"I haf been Scotland," he told us, " ... you like it. Yes?" He looked over his shoulder at us for encouragement and we both nodded.
"What does Popescu mean," I asked, but Ronnie said he'd already told us.
"Biblical ... acknowledging the Priest's possession - his son. That kind of thing - I think he told us when we first met him."
"That's right, he did." I hadn't cottoned on to exactly what our chauffeur meant when we'd first met him. The beautiful Blue Danube stayed in our view as we sped along through Măcești. The villages looked very similar with their long, low dwellings - some with terrazzo-like patterns on their walls and others in a state of disrepair.
"If you get chance, go Carpathian Mountains," Ben told us as we sped south. "Untamed ... wild ... brown bears. You know Transylvania?"
'Yes,' we told him. Ronnie and I were familiar with associated legends that had sprung from Stoker's fertile mind and thought it was a pity we didn't have more time to explore the place. The road was almost empty so there were no holdups and a five-minute drive brought us to the Port of Hessia which, according to Intelligence, has been renamed. We had to stop because there were more customs formalities.
Once again I ran over the facts with Ronnie - Tauri-Hessia had its own customs but how long this would last was a question being bandied around this very moment ,not only in this state, but also in the House of Commons. England has its interests as do the factions involved over here and unless the King himself can be found, anything could happen.
We drove up to the main village and couldn't help noticing how many flags there were. They could be seen everywhere, mostly at half-mast, affixed to tall flagpoles and hanging from the eaves of houses and buildings. A few early risers could be seen walking or bicycling along looking quite colourful - especially the women who had bright scarves round their heads, comfortable looking shirts with long sleeves, and bright dresses - many were wearing aprons. I had noted down a few street names and also one where Ben said the safe house was, namely 'cembrie18' - or however he pronounced it. Weird title but it's probably commemorative. We stopped outside a corner structure that looked like half a building from the shape of the roof, and Ben announced.
A stone wall and lush trees on one side of the road, contrasted with the stone facing and windows opposite that belonged to our appointed safe house although we wouldn't be there all that long. A lone Tauri-Hessian flag at half-mast drooped from the highest part of the roof. We got out and Ronnie took our bags from the boot before we entered the dim interior of the rather nondescript place. A short robust man greeted us and had words with Ben who looked over at us and shrugged with exaggerated woe on his face.
"I need go to Pojejena - no rest poor Ben."
We commiserated with much exaggeration to match his flair and shook hands with our friend who smiled and then, waving at us, the one and only Ben Popescu went back to his sleek limousine. We seem to spend our entire time meeting people, shaking hands, and then having them disappear on us but I guess that's the name of the game.
One Cristian Korzha welcomed Ronnie and myself to Tauri-Hessia and explained he'd been informed the previous day of our arrival. Cristian was dressed in black and wore a blue tie. Middle-aged with the beginnings of a beard he had plenty of hair and shrewd eyes set deep in a pleasant face. I immediately gave him the folder and he handed it to a secretary who materialized out of the woodwork and took the papers into an office. Cristian spoke good English and chattered away as we went upstairs and entered a large corridor with various rooms leading off it. We were assigned to a large one near the end and the official asked us if we'd like to have a rest before being taking up our assignment. He came in with us as we deposited our gear and told us that at present the situation involving the king was of utmost importance although the security services were still hunting for the prince.
"We have to be careful," he said. "The suspicion is that the Prince Aloysius is somewhere in or near Borken Castle but if we show our hand too soon, the feeling is that he will be spirited away, or else the king's life will be threatened."
I understood this seeing the gist of it had come with my briefing. A maid very conveniently appeared with coffee on a tray and we gratefully took a large silver cup each and listened to the rest of the instructions which had to do with the availability of a van that was downstairs located near the stables. Ronnie already knew about this side of our disguise and I got him to note a few things down in his book so that we wouldn't be wanting as far the set-up goes, then left him momentarily when another official called out to me. I crossed over to the door and the lackey took me to an office and picked up a 'phone. I took it and to my surprise, Matt's voice could be heard.
"Matt! How did you know I'd be here?"
"I didn't ... we just worked out roughly when you'd get to the safe house and then rang ... how many?" he enquired of a colleague. "Yeah, it took just four calls - and Pete won the sweep! I was chosen to make the contact so after some juggling of hours I joined Ray here on the night shift. How's things?"
I was able to report that everything was going according to plan and we were about to set off dressed as pedlars.
"Good," he said approvingly. "One thing - Scottie told me to say that he wishes you lots of luck and also I have to tell you not to stop or explore anywhere near the hills of Giurgiova."
That aroused my curiosity.
"Why?" I asked.
"Don't know," Matt said mysteriously. "I was just informed by Scottie that he'd heard a few tales here and there - he gets information from the unlikeliest places. My guess is there may be insurgents based in the area, and you know Scottie."
"Yes, I knew Scottie, and if he said 'don't stop or explore anywhere near the Giurgiova Hills' then I jolly well wouldn't. Anyway we'd be keeping to the road.
"We'll be sticking to the road and making a beeline for the old town."
"Good," said Matt. "Nothing else to report so the best of luck to you and Ronald. How's he doing?"
"Excellent," I said. "He's all clued up and ready to go - like me. Looking forward to a good sleep first and then we'll be away."
"Great. Over and out, Bill."
Put down the receiver and went back to where Cristian and Ronnie were discussing something - it was good to have someone speaking excellent English because it made planning so much easier. Cristian was very enthusiastic over our plans and as we had decided to take up his suggestion and come down in the afternoon to test out our transport and disguises, he left us to ourselves. We felt like a nap and, reveling in our quarters, we decided to forgo any lunch and instead have a few hours sleep in sheer luxury - anything was luxury after having spent so much time travelling.
"Do you think the king's also at the castle?" Ronnie asked and I nodded.
"Can't think the king would be too far from where the prince is, seeing they're so connected," I said and Ronnie couldn't help agreeing. Happily exchanging the interiors of aeroplanes and cars for the sheets and blankets of Tauri-Hessia, we slept through the afternoon and came alive more-or-less at the same time. I looked at my watch and saw we'd been asleep for a good seven hours and now I felt refreshed and ready for action. Ronnie stirred and once he'd returned to the land of the living we discussed our plan of action. It was important to get off and head for the village of Borken without delay because there was always the possibility of the king being taken right away from the area so that the Count or Madame Tatiosa could install the prince as puppet ruler of the state. Ronnie and I each took a turn in the bathroom to apply makeup and transform ourselves into typical Tauri-Hessian pedlars. People that wouldn't be noticed (we hoped) and the results, once we had got our gear on were quite remarkable.
"That George knows his stuff," Ronnie remarked and I could only agree with him. The skin colouring we'd been given was not of the type that causes pains or rashes ... it was the best available -
" ... and probably at a horrendous cost." I said.
In the packets were everything needed - pigments, mineral constituents, foundation, oxides, mica. A dermatologist had also printed advice on a piece of paper - a copy of which was in both our satchels. If there's anyone more thorough than George I'd like to meet him. An accompanying note stated:
"Don't drink the tannic acid makeup - I did when I was small and now look at me!"
That caused a smile. Didn't know what he was referring to but George looks far younger than his forty-six years. Ronnie and I gave each other a hand with the greasepaint making sure we covered all exposed bits and pieces and then an appraisal of each other was called for. We looked as we should look: a couple of indigenous pedlars but only one who was reasonably fluent so I would be hovering in the background leaving Ronnie to butter up the customers. There was no time like the present so we packed up and went downstairs to acquaint ourselves with the van. There were a couple of stables right at the back of the yard outside and then as we passed what looked like a scullery door, Cristian emerged and looked at us quizzically.
"Dumnezeule ... what? Well, if it isn't the detectives all dressed up."
He came nearer and examined our get-up with an experienced eye.
"Good. Very good! You have hats?"
I told him we'd forgone those as they might get in the way if there was any action and he looked at us again.
"Good, you will pass all right. Like your wig, Cunningham."
It felt all right and looked all right which was a relief as one I had worn some time ago had been anything but comfortable but then the wig master hadn't had George at his beck and call.
"Thanks," I said, as I stuck on the stage moustache. "We'll get the van rigged up and make off at once I think."
"Time is of essence so that's a very good idea," Cristian commented and he led us along to where a fairly old vehicle stood. It had sides that could be let down to make a kind of counter and there was plenty of room inside for the goods that would be placed on shelves around the inside. A partition gave us a small sleeping area as well if required. We were both pleased with the vehicle after examining it and seeing where everything fitted in. Cristian told us that when word had filtered out from England as to what we'd require, it had been arranged.
Someone's being very efficient I decided and my thoughts flew towards Scottie; he'd probably taken time out to arrange a few things seeing it would have been a little out of Matt's province. Ronnie and I helped Cristian to get provisions out of the nearby scullery and load them into the van. It had good motor and Cristian attested to that - their mechanic had been working on it only this morning. He looked at us once the van was loaded and gave the thumbs-up sign wishing us both the best of luck. Ronnie and I climbed in and got ready to set off towards Borken where all the intelligence we could gather told us that the prince, if not the king himself, as well as the others were held - presumably against their will. The motor was started up and we moved slowly out of the yard with Cristian following us out onto the street. He bid us farewell and went back into the building.
Ronnie drove while I tended to a pile of papers which had been gone through very roughly up in the bedroom. I read bits and pieces out to Ronnie as we set off down the road looking, I hoped, exactly like pedlars working for a living. The beautiful scenery contrasted greatly with out thoughts of what might be ahead so we concentrated on the former, determined to enjoy the ride to Borken. An old castle came into view as the van moved northwards and we both thought it'd be nice to stop and have a good look at it but unfortunately our work had to replace the tourism side so we kept going - driving along the main road and over a bridge heading north. It was mostly trees and bush country once we got outside the main built-up area and apart from the odd car there was nothing much else - just a few peasants moving around. We came across a donkey cart that was ridden by a gnarled old man who was peddling more-or-less the same goods as us and Ronnie asked him how long it would take to reach Borken. He said he'd come down from Resita so we had about four hours or so ahead of us. He acknowledged us with a friendly wave and moved on towards Oravita. The sun beamed down as we drove along a fairly barren road past the hills of Giurgiova keeping a tentative watch as we travelled. I'd told Ronnie that the hills here were expected to be thick with bandits or something and he took it seriously from his knowledge of the various sects and tribes that abound these parts. Fortunately all was well and we drove on towards the distant town of Voislova. We had the usual haberdashery as well as a selection of quite fine kitchenware, sweets, and tins of food for wares and the villagers seemed quite interested in what we had when we stopped the van a few times. The hours and the miles were eaten up and round about dusk the vehicle was trundling along the old cobbled lanes just outside of Voislova where we thought we'd stop for the evening. After plying our trade we'd spend the night in the van. Business wasn't bad and it may have been due to Ronnie's incessant chatter as he displayed our wares to the locals - mainly women who were out and about in the cool evening air.
Edging past a couple of farmers with their inevitable tractors we continued on over a bridge and moved just out of Voislova to find a decent place to bed down when we retired for the night. There were trees and orchards all round us and near the railway line on the right could be seen some people camping. It went without saying that we'd come across a wandering group of entertainers of which there were a few round these parts - it might even have been a circus because a few brightly coloured cages could also be seen. One contained some rather belligerent looking bears and people wearing typical Hessian clothing were scurrying about shouting whilst others were tending fires and roasting up something for the night.
Seeing some good custom at our doorstep, Ronnie and I turned back and thought we'd set up the van just past the last houses we'd seen so the village people could visit us once again and the circus entertainers who had watched the van moving down the road could come and get anything needed if so desired. Afterwards we would camp on the other side of the road where we'd seen a lush piece of ground with a tree or two and a stream. We'd get some water and brew up a drink.
The few people who were out and about responded in kind with much laughter and gave us the confidence that we'd slipped into the mould quite well. Some of the circus people also appeared out of the dusk and I told Ronnie to see if he could gain any useful information from them. One of the elderly women seemed to be after some haberdashery so Ronnie displayed cases of various items and she selected quite a few things. No one seemed to know much of what had happened although the bells announcing the disappearance of the King had been heard loud and clear by everyone it seems. A rather small lady called Fifi said some soldiers had searched the circus camp only that day, so it appears that either Gussy or the king is being sought after with some activity. A few other people bought stuff and then a younger person approached Ronnie and it was then I realized something was amiss. One of the circus boys had a parrot sitting on his shoulder and I turned briefly for a glimpse. If it hadn't been for the fact that I knew the children had disappeared, I could have sworn the bird was none other than Kiki. It was talking and it sounded exactly like Jack's bird. Had it been stolen?
I couldn't accept that because Kiki was a pet attached to only one boy, but if the bird was Kiki, surely it was Jack who carried her. The lad didn't look like Jack though - I couldn't see his face all that well but the rest of his exposed skin seemed well tanned and he was dressed in typical Hessian clothes. I was only just getting over this anomaly when a rather dark girl who'd accompanied them suddenly spoke.
Surely I was listening to Lucy-Ann. It had to be her and then, when I suddenly heard her say the word 'Kiki,' there was no room for doubt whatsoever! How on Earth? Where on Earth? These were my kids - two of them at least, but when I looked up at the dispersing throng they'd disappeared. When everyone had gone, Ronnie and I shut up shop and, settling ourselves down in the small field alongside, we started a fire. I filled Ronnie in on the weird occurrence and he thought that if I was absolutely sure of what I'd seen, an approach should be made - but was I sure?
"Absolutely," I said grimly, " ... they came from the circus but what the circus has to do with it is something I can't understand."
"Creep in!" Ronnie suggested and I said that's exactly what I'll do this evening when everyone's retired. Plans were made and the decision was to wait until the circus folk were asleep so we waited and then at about eleven o'clock I left Ronnie and slunk slowly along the roadside to where the circus was camped. Half crawling alongside where the cages and caravans sat still and quiet, except for the odd growl or lowing from livestock, I took my bearings. Near the roadway I could see some sleeping circus people stretched out underneath a van. It was a balmy night and highly conducive to a sleep-out so I crawled carefully towards them. Three boyish figures lay underneath the vehicle and as I wriggled my way nearer I saw the bird perched on one of the axles - and knew it was Kiki. Just as I got there, one of the boys suddenly sat up and flicked on his torch. He spoke in Jack's voice just as the bird flew to my shoulder and started rubbing it's beak against my face the way Kiki does.
The boy looked at me in astonishment and then suddenly another figure rolled out and looked at me with equal amazement.
It was Bill all right, and I removed my wig the better for them to see Bill, with a moustache. The boys could hardly believe their eyes but we all shook hands and they realized it was no dream. I put my arms around them and relief showed in their faces as I asked how the girls were and told them I'd heard Lucy-Ann speaking and seen the bird but couldn't be sure. Philip looked at me as if he still couldn't believe I was there, and then he suddenly tapped his jumper and a small nose peered out of his collar - it was the dormouse.
"Still got just the one Philip? Does he give you any problems?"
Philip laughed and poked little Snoozy's head. "Only trying to please him, when it comes to food," he reported and I understood. Still he was in the right place because circus people usually had a range of stuff they feed to their birds and animals.
"He's a bit fussy, but we get by don't we?" Philip said to Snoozy. The dormouse disappeared just then causing small bumps to show in Philip's jersey.
"Better you than me," I said and Philip laughed again, then realizing time was short he leaned over and woke up the other boy whose name is Pedro. We were introduced and in no time at all I was escorted to a van where the girls were aroused so they could feast their eyes on someone they had thought was miles and miles away. Dinah welcomed me boisterously and I remember glancing at that dominant tuft of hair over her forehead so much like Philip's. Her voice broke a little as she hugged me and then made way for Lucy-Ann who grabbed hold of my arm as if she'd never let go. Tears were streaming down her face ... tears of joy and surprise as she felt my muscles, and looked up at me.
"No, I'm not about to disappear!" I told her.
News was exchanged. I told them what had happened to myself and Allie and that, although we were worried, our experiences of previous adventures must have tempered us somewhat insofar as we had waited for news before going off our rockers. Wise choice I thought seeing the children had somehow escaped any fate waiting for them and were now with a circus! How? Now that I knew the children were safe, I could better face whatever was in store.
The kids told me how they had been spirited away in a plane - something we'd suspected, and had been whisked off to the Castle at Borken where they were imprisoned. All except Jack who had been separated from the rest and followed them in stowaway fashion. How many kids would have done that? They'd been rescued from the castle by people from the circus whom Jack had befriended and had ended up staying with them for the time being! Gussy was here as well, dressed as a girl! The things this lot gets up to still amaze me and I looked forward to hearing everything that had happened, in detail.
"You all end up in a circus!"
"Yes, a surky!"
I in turn related more of my story telling them how I'd flown out of Britain to Tauri-Hessia to hunt them down and also to figure out what had happened to the king. The kids' eyes never left my face and poor little Lucy-Ann clung to me as if she'd never let go. I think her world was once again in 'happy mode' now that someone she knew and trusted was here to help. I finished up with,
"The king and Gussy had disappeared and it was up to us to establish just what was going on, and soon."
Ronnie had to be told, so I left them briefly to go back to the van and rouse him. He was still in his Tauri-Hessian outfit and after explaining what had happened, he accompanied me back to the circus camp and we quietly entered the caravan where the six excited children were gathered.
"I'll have to get a message through to Allie as soon as possible," I said. "Seeing you're all here safe and sound, and the king ...?"
"The Castle at Borken, I'm sure of it," said Jack. He told us his experience of skulking round the castle at night and hearing the Count Paritolen and Madame Tatiosa talking excitedly the night before the king was found to have disappeared.
I was sure now that Gussy's uncle was being held in the castle, so plans had to be made. Despite Philip wanting to accompany us to Borken we thought it best that only one other came with us and that would have to be Jack seeing he'd already seen more of the castle than anyone. Philip and Pedro would be more useful keeping an eye on the girls and Gussy. Surprisingly Philip agreed because he realized the prince was about as important as the king, and after all, Jack had been wandering in and out of the castle as if he owned the place. Dinah, realizing I was going to disappear again, took my hand and wished me luck - she's a very sensible girl and takes things in her stride. Lucy-Ann clung to me for a few moments more and said she won't sleep until we're back. I hugged her and said we wouldn't be long although I wasn't sure how true that statement was. There was no reason to wake anyone else so, once I'd confirmed that Gussy was definitely with them and we'd been wished Good Luck' once more by the boys and girls, Ronnie, Jack, and myself slipped out and went back to the van.
Kiki had come with us of course - nothing would keep her out of the action. The van started up and with Ronnie driving we made off down the road towards Borken, which was about an hour away. It was a clear night although pretty dark everywhere. Jack became very excited as we neared the palace. Borken was almost as dark as the countryside with just the odd light showing here and there and at Jack's direction, I drove to where the circus had recently camped. Leaving the van in a section near the end of the road where some convenient bushes grew, we all got out and once I was sure we had everything needed and the van was reasonably concealed, we set off up towards the castle.
A bell tower came into view and Jack told us again how the circus acrobat had helped them all escape and left his tightrope behind still attached between the castle and the tower.
"Kiki took the first part of the rope over," Jack said proudly, and I put my hand out to stroke the bundle of feathers. Kiki was being remarkably quiet - I think she knows when she has to shut up. High above us we suddenly saw several lights in the upper parts of the castle. Why was that I wondered and could only assume it had to do with the king or Gussy. With Jack leading the way, Ronnie and I followed him into the bell tower, and after a bit of scrabbling around we lowered ourselves through a trapdoor and when it was shut Ronnie and I drew our revolvers, which rather scared poor Jack when he realized things might get serious.
Going by torch light, we reached the end of the hole and entered a low roofed passage that sloped upwards until we found ourselves in a part where Jack said there was a kind of spy-hole - and sure enough a small beam of light was coming through a very small opening in the wall. There's no doubt about it, if there's a secret to be discovered these kids will search it out. Feeling I was more than entitled to see what was going on, I put my eye to the space and found myself looking into a meeting room probably one where some of the opposition policies are hammered out. The man that Jack had pointed out as Count Paritolen was there and so was the woman - Tatiosa, and also her husband the Prime Minister. This was interesting, because not only were the plotters all together, but down at the other end of the long table was none other that the king himself. I could see a small resemblance to Gussy in his rather strained face.
The good news now was that we had the prince safe in our hands, and the king was alive and only a short distance from where we were stationed. I nudged Ronnie so that he could have a peep and see what everyone looked like. He had a good view of the room and could see quite clearly because the lights were strong.
"It might be tough," he whispered to me. "Military men around."
I'd seen that all right and putting my eye to the hole once again it was obvious we'd come at the right moment because the poor old king was being urged to abdicate. I was using Ronnie's expertise to understand what was going on and his head was hard up against mine as we watched and listened. The action gave away a lot of what was being said; in fact it was almost like a drawing room comedy being played out although this was no innocent parody. It appeared the king had to make a difficult decision and the Prime Minister seemed unsure as to whether or not he wanted to go along with whatever they were saying. I knew some details of the PM from my briefing - he was known as Count Hartius and his wife Tatiosa, seemed to wear the pants as far as their relationship was concerned. Madame Tatiosa said something in a fairly angry voice and then the level dropped a bit. Seemed as if the meeting was at an end for the present and possibly the king was being given a few hours to think over the proposition namely - that his nephew be put onto the throne after an abdication is announced. The men in uniforms who were standing round the table prepared to leave.
I think both Ronnie and I were aware that things didn't look too wonderful for the king and our job was to get him away. Too much time would be spent getting back to the capital so we had to rely on our own devices. Jack took a turn at the hole but the lights had dimmed. Kiki let out a large yawn but no one was there to hear it except us.
"Let's go further on to where the ballroom is," Jack suggested so we went up some stairs and entered a narrow dark passage to where some more steps led towards where the ballroom was supposed to be. Ronnie and I went up with instructions to look for a knob that moves a picture aside. After a bit of fiddling round we found it and when pushed the right way, it caused part of the wall to seemingly dissolve and we were left staring into the large ballroom. Luckily there was no one there because the hole was almost the same size as the picture it had replaced, and we were able to fit through with ease.
A dim light showed as we each clambered through and stood in the large empty room with chairs piled up at one side and a small dais at each end. The decorations were quite gaudy but they fitted the general theme of a Tauri-Hessian place of entertainment. Jack whispered to us that he'd nip up to the tower room to see if the king had been put there and we allowed him to because the boy seemed to know his way around so well. He disappeared and reappeared in less that a couple of minutes - no one was being kept up there. Just as he whispered this to us we heard the sound of feet along the corridor and at this late hour it could only have been a couple of guards whom I figured might be going to where the king was being held. What else?
We waited and sure enough, a similar sound could be heard - at least two sentries coming from the opposite direction and marching past the ballroom. To where? Barracks I suppose seeing it was so late. I looked at Ronnie and Jack.
"We're going out and along to where those first two soldiers went."
I received nods and after telling Jack to keep well in between us and to shush Kiki up, we emerged from the ballroom and turned left to creep down the passageway. Keeping our ears well tuned to the slightest sound, me made our way to the end, turned the corner, and then went down a few steps and along a smaller corridor to where it turned left. A little further along was a kind of box room with its door partially opened and, hearing sentry boots sounding in the passageway, we crowded into the small enclosure and waited while the footfalls went past. Someone was definitely being guarded so after conferring with Ronnie, we decided to wait until the soldiers came up once more then we'd sneak out and go down the way they'd come to see what we could see. Sure enough, as soon as the soldiers had passed us again and their footfalls had become fainter when they turned the corner, Ronnie, Jack with a very quiet bird on his shoulder, and myself slipped quietly out of the little room and made out way down the corridor from where the soldiers had come.
It was very dim in the passage and we were only able to make out a bolted door at the end - nothing else. Found it locked and just as I was trying to figure out how to enter, Ronnie's hand grabbed at me, and the three of us slunk into a dark corner just as a door in the paneling opened a little way down. It was obviously a 'secret' way into the corridor and through it came none other than Count Paritolen himself carrying a kerosene lamp and a key. For a few brief moments I visualized myself in a melodrama - the Basingstoke Players featuring 'Murder in the Castle.' There was obviously some hanky-panky going on because, just as we were doing, the Count obviously wanted to avoid the sentries, suddenly slipping back into the panel when he heard them returning. The procedure was clear - I whispered to Ronnie.
"Can you take care of the Count while I grab his key and see if it'll open that door? I've a feeling the king's in there."
"No problem," Ronnie replied; I could see he was eager for some action and that was timed for about now. Ronnie's short but he has plenty of muscle and would have no trouble taking the Count although we could do without two armed sentries taking part in the action. The soldiers appeared as we slunk back in the darkness and then turned and made off up the passage again. Immediately, the Count reappeared and according to Jack who related the story, it took only a second to put him out of action. I was slightly further up the corridor looking out for sentries and, racing back, I could see that Count Paritolen was listless from what Jack said was a blow to the side of his head. The way he described the assault later hinted that Ronnie may have been schooled in the Krav Maga method of fighting. I grabbed the Count's key, and made for the locked door while Ronnie, with his hand across the victim's face, pulled him back into the paneling from where he'd emerged. Jack stood there, pressed up against the corridor wall.
Unclasping the last bolt and using the key I pushed open the door and blinked when a small light showed from a lamp in the corner. Closing the door quickly, I rushed over to where a man, who looked in his fifties, sat on a bed. Grabbing hold of him, I doused the light and whispered a few words into his ear thanking the Powers That Be the chap spoke English. Helped him up, seized hold of a coat that hung on a nearby peg to wrap round him, and we emerged from the door in a matter of seconds before rushing over to the secret panel. Thrust the king through while Jack seized up the lamp from the passage floor and followed Ronnie in, carefully pulling the door to - the only concern being whether or not the soldiers would notice the bedroom door was unbolted.
Jack suddenly realized that Kiki had flown off his shoulder! Birds often react to tension and this last part must have been a little too much for her. She'd flown off down the passage a little way. What happened next made me realize what an asset we had in our arsenal because the sentries immediately stopped clomping their feet when they heard Kiki howling like an owl and squawking a few of the other items in her repertoire then following up with a passage in English and even clearing her throat. This last noise seemed to terrify the soldiers who suddenly panicked and made off up the passage forgetting all about their job of guarding the king.
It made me think of one or two other instances when the bird's remarkable talents have saved the day and Jack reminded us of the time Kiki had been lost in the depths of that great mountain deep in the heart of Wales and had led pursuers astray with her iconic remarks. I remembered that particular incident and also the fact that one of the men had fired a revolver in the direction of her voice!
"You'll have to tell me about that in detail," Ronnie said.
"Sure," said Jack. "She wasn't hit but it scared us silly."
"No revolvers here," I said, "Except for Ronnie and myself - and I'm afraid we would have had to use them if the worst had come to the worst. Looks like the soldiers have just dropped their rifles and scarpered as if the Hounds of Hell were after them."
Kiki suddenly sensed Jack's presence because he'd opened the door slightly. She flew down to his shoulder for rewarding pats and compliments. The door to the passage was closed and we made our way to where Ronnie had tied up the count. The king was quite impressive despite his small stature and made it clear we'd find out whatever we had to know from Count Paritolen himself - there'd be no need for gunplay. When we entered Count Paritolen got the shock of his life to see the king before him. Ronnie undid the Count's legs so that he could stand up and when he did, his pale face stood out in the light of my torch. The king spoke to him in his own language, which Ronnie translated while the Count hung his head and then fell down on his knees - the picture of a broken man.
A few more words were addressed and Ronnie interpreted the man's "Ai, ai!" as "Yes, yes!" Jack and I knew what he meant from our rudimentary knowledge of the language and while listening to a loud noise that came from the passage, we followed the Count to a door which he kicked open. Ronnie disappeared down it and nodded for us to follow. We found ourselves in a small room with more paneling then when Paritolen said something and nodded his head, Ronnie slid a panel down and we observed some kind of tapestry hanging there. We climbed in and a few seconds later emerged from behind the drapery to find ourselves in a well appointed bedroom with luxurious furniture and carpeting. Ronnie was making full use of his familiarity with the language because Paritolen refused to speak in English and after poking the Count in the ribs he was told we need only descend the stairway outside which will take us to a kitchen, and from there to an outside door. Simple!
Down we went and apart from seeing three cats that Kiki dispatched with a yapping noise, we were able to make our way out of the enormous back door, down a pathway, and through a wrought-iron gateway that we were able to unlock seeing the keys hung right beside it. Taking firm hold of the Count, Ronnie pulled him through and joined us on one of the main roads running through Borken. There was no traffic and when I looked at my watch I could see why - it was 03:10 - the sun was still a couple of hours away.