Titch’s Secret Society Chapter 21

CHAPTER 21

The Plans Go Wrong

After leaving the boys tied up in the underground cavern, the six men had made the long journey down the tunnel. Immediately on coming out onto the open sea, the boss of the gang, travelling in the second boat, took out a torch and flashed it several times straight out to sea. Instantly there were some answering flashes from the darkness way out on the water.

“They’re there!” he shouted to the men in the first boat. “Cut right around the sandbank. We don’t want to run aground with this lot of cargo.”

The two small boats chugged away to the right. The man sitting in the stern of each boat then threw the weighted packages overboard. Immediately they sank below the water and were towed slowly along behind out of sight. The journey was very slow and very cold. The men turned up their collars and shivered.

“Let’s have some of that tea, Mason,” said the boss.

“Right! I could do with something good and warm myself. Here, Lefty, take the tiller while I get us something to drink.”

After his drink, the boss seemed in a better humour. He handed cigarettes to his companions and lay back taking his ease. A few minutes later, Mason again took the tiller. “Think we’ve passed the end of the sandbank now, boss?”

“Just about I should think. I’ll get a bearing from the shore.” He turned around to look for the silhouette of the old abbey on the common. “I think we’re almost . . . good grief! You lot of stupid oafs! Look behind!”

“What wrong boss?” asked Mason.

“Cut the engine you fool, quick!  Lefty, shout to the others. Tell them to stop.”

As they slowed down and stopped they could see several silvery packages bobbing about in the wake of the boats on top of the water. Lefty quickly hauled the packages aboard for examination. The boss grabbed them impatiently. He saw that the weights were missing and his fury was obvious.

“Imbeciles!” he yelled. “Can’t I trust you even to do a simple job like that without you bungling it?”

“B . . .B . . . But boss,” stammered the amazed Lefty.

“Shut up! Get these packages without the weights off the rope and under the seats. Mason, tell Gus to do the same with theirs. Of all the idiots I’ve ever known! It’s just as well there are no customs launches about tonight, that’s all I can say.”

After a delay of some five minute or so, the job was completed and the remaining packages were once more thrown out behind the boats.

“All right Gus!” shouted Mason. “Get going.”

The two boats continued their journey around the sandbank as the boss sat moodily in the boat shivering and grumbling at the inefficiency of his men. He looked at his watch. “Francois will think we’re never going to get there. It’s just as . . . what was that?” A roar from the direction of the jetty made him spin around in his seat.

“Sounded like a launch over at the jetty,” said Mason, half turning. They all looked in the direction of the noise and their worst fears were confirmed. Silhouetted against the coastal lights in the town they could see a heavy launch making straight out to sea.

“It looks as though they’re going straight out boss,” cried Mason. “I don’t think they’re headed our way.”

“I hope you’re right. Hand me those packages Lefty,” the boss snapped. “If they come this way we mustn’t be caught with those on board.” He balanced the packages on the seat ready at an instant’s notice to throw them over the side.

The launch roared on its way out to sea. Soon it was further out than the two small boats. It had reached the outer limits of the sandbank when it suddenly rounded and headed straight across at a right angle to the course of the other two boats. The men in them immediately panicked and threw the loose packages overboard. Suddenly the men in the first boat were blinded as they were caught in the beam of a powerful searchlight.

“Turn around Mason! Quick!” roared the boss. “Head back to the tunnel before the searchlight gets us. We can get back up into the cave and make a getaway across the common to the car. That launch is too big to follow us up the tunnel.”

As the little boat made a wide arc and sped back towards the cliff, Lefty hacked desperately at the rope which towed the parcels and helped to slow down the boat. “Hurry!” the boss roared at him. “Open her right up Mason, we don’t have a second to lose.”

“It’s flat out now boss. We’ll stand a chance of getting a good lead while they deal with the other boat.”

“They’ll probably take the other boat in tow,” put in Lefty. “That’ll slow ’em down a bit.” They heard the roar of the launch lessen as it slowed to come alongside the first boat.

The men sat shielding their eyes helplessly in the glare of the searchlight. Old Benny pulled the boat alongside with the aid of a boathook. “There we are sir,” he said to Mr Leyshon pointing to the silvery bundles under the seat. “That’s what I must have seen on the sea.”

The men sat shielding their eyes in the glare of the searchlight

    “Take the packages on board, Benny,” said Mr Leyshon. Benny and the other coastguard jumped into the small boat and threw the packages onto the launch. Then he went to the stern and cut away the rope towing the other packages.

“Just as I thought sir. There are some more here.”

The three men were put aboard the launch while Benny and Mr Leyshon got into the other boat. It was taken in tow by the launch and, slowly at first, they pursued the other three men who were now well on their way back to the tunnel.

After a while the searchlight beam picked up the little boat. “That’s funny!” said Benny. “They seem to be heading straight at the cliff. Surely they’re not thinking of climbing that.”

“We’ll follow anyway and go wherever they go,” returned Mr Leyshon.

The launch gained on the small boat and was only a couple of hundred metres away when it reached a large rock just a short way from the cliff. Here it almost stopped as it moved gently behind the rock and into the tunnel. There was the flash of a torch as it entered.

As the launch swung around the rock and slowed, the entrance showed clearly in the searchlight beam. “There’s a tunnel there right into the rock!” exclaimed Benny.

“The launch will never go itno that narrow tunnel sir,” shouted one of the customs men.

Mr Leyshon realised that he would have to act fast if he was to prevent the men escaping. He spoke to one of the customs men. “You come with me James. We’ll get up there in this boat. You come too constable.”

The police sergeant in the launch turned to Mr Leyshon. “We’ll get back to the jetty with the launch sir. Then we’ll get to the ruins as fast as we can. My guess is that that old tunnel comes up inside the abbey ruins somewhere. We might be in time to cut them off.

“Good idea sergeant!” shouted Mr Leyshon. “See you later.”

The small boat entered the tunnel and, with the aid of the policeman’s torch, they made their way after the three men.

Back inside the cavern the five boys sat gloomily on a few of the packing cases. Titch sat with his elbows on his knees and his chin in his cupped hands. His freckled face was screwed up in a series of lines as he glared hard at the closed archway door before him. Slowly he sat upright and shook his head.

“I don’t know. I just can’t think how it works. We’ve pressed and pushed and kicked every square inch around the door.”

“It’s a mystery all right,” agreed Bunny gloomily.

Titch was sitting with his head back looking at the rocky roof above them. “Hey! I’ve just realised something,” he yelled excitedly. “Those men left the lights on. Look they are inside two hollows in the roof.”

“That’s right,” agreed Miff. “At least it means we can still see everything in here.”

“But it means more than that,” yelled Titch. “It means the water doesn’t get as high as those bulbs, otherwise it would short-circuit the electric supply. That means that if we can float up when the tide rises we might be able to put our heads inside those hollow domes and still have some air to breathe.”

Gogs, all his usual excitement gone completely, was nervously twitching his fingers as he lookd at the large slowly rising rectangle of water just below the ledge. “It’s only about half a metre from the top,” he said thinking aloud, and not speaking to anyone in particular.

“Cheer up Gogs,” said Miff encouragingly putting an arm around his shoulders. “It’s getting pretty late now. Some of our parents might start looking for us when we don’t arrive home.”

“Yes,” joined in Titch. “The only thing is they don’t know we’re here. Still, it’s a chance and we’ve . . . ssssh! What’s that?”

The five boys listened intently. Very faintly they could hear coming from the direction of the tunnel the quiet pop-popping of a boat. They got to their feet and stared, firstly at the dark tunnel and then at each other.

“It’s a boat coming up the tunnel,” stated Bunny in utter astonishment.

“Those men must be coming back,” added Titch.

“I thought they were going to leave us here to drown,” said Smudgie. “That’s what they said.”

“Perhaps they’re coming back to let us go,” suggested Gogs.

“Shouldn’t think so,” replied Titch.

“Why?” asked Gogs simply.

“Look at the level of the water,” said Titch pointing down at it. “Those boats will only just about get along that tunnel. They’re taking a big risk trying to come back now. They wouldn’t do that for us. No, I think something must have gone wrong with their plans.”

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