When the criminals capture Matt and one of children badly hurts an ankle, is there any hope of escape?
What we did see soon was Matt crossing an open patch on his way towards the hut. He looked very small from that distance. Then he disappeared into the final band of trees. Just as he moved out of sight the hills began to fill with a sound we knew and hated. Again the roar of the approaching helicopter filled the bowl and it appeared as suddenly as before, to land in its usual spot.
“Bloody good!” Slick cheered. “They’ll all have gone to meet it. That’ll be why Matt couldn’t see anybody at the hut.”
I let out the breath I had been unconsciously holding. Of course, that made sense. So Matt could grab Stripes and take off. Perhaps we should begin moving ourselves, to save time. As the helicopter’s rotors began to slow two figures walked out of the shadow of the trees. One waved a relaxed greeting to the pilot of the machine. A tiny worry cloud began to form at the back of my mind.
“Let’s go,” urged Slick. “We can save time, while they’re nattering.”
“Wait up,” I said. “This isn’t the time to change our plans. We’ll wait till we see Matt coming back, like we said.”
Slick looked rebellious, but stood beside me. Come on Matt, I thought to myself, get on with it. The helicopter pilot was helping the pair who had met him with unloading. A pile of boxes began to grow halfway between the chopper and the trees.
“He’s taking his time, isn’t he?” complained Slick.
“Maybe Stripes is locked in somewhere,” I said. The cloud of worry had become alarm. Slick was right.
“Maybe I should-’” he began. The rest of his thought was strangled in his throat and came out as half shout, half sob. The men at the helicopter had turned to look into the trees. Now two more figures came out from them. One, smaller and in the lead, was undoubtedly Matt. The other was probably, from his build, Fringe. He was walking behind Matt and pointing a rifle at him.
Slick was still making strangled sounds at my side. I felt dazed.
Matt was close to the helicopter now. The men left it and grouped themselves round him. We could see Matt talking at one of them specially. I knew that had to be Hairy Legs. After two or three minutes the pilot walked back to the helicopter. Matt was waving his arms about as he talked. He must be really going it some, I thought with a moment of pride. Then Hairy Legs hit Matt. One minute he was standing, arguing; then he was on the ground, lying still. The pilot had returned with something from the chopper, and Fringe knelt over Matt. After a moment he pulled Matt roughly to his feet, and his arms were behind his back. I guessed they had tied his hands with rope from the helicopter. Fringe and the Paunch, with Matt between them, came back towards the hut. Hairy Legs stood with his hands on his hips and turned in a slow circle, scanning the bowl. He knew we were here, somewhere.
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