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The flat, rocky summit of Dunter Fell held no secrets on three of its un-forbidding sides and could be easily passed by without exploration. However, the east-facing side of its two and a half thousand feet altitude gave rise to the impressive cliff known as Scythe Crag. There was but one way either up or down, a narrow, scree-covered path that switched back and forth for over fifteen hundred feet. Carved out by long forgotten locals, Castle Rake suffered from severe erosion and as such was often bypassed by serious fell-walkers. Thankfully, its remoteness meant that tourists tended to leave it alone too. The early sunlight had lost the battle against the cloud and seemed happy to let a light overcast rule the sky. A westerly breeze cooled the air, but had no effect on those descending the path. Far below, the dark waters of Scythe Tarn rippled invitingly and sheep grazed with hardly a murmur. Castle Rake was familiar to countless walkers, but was an environment suitable only for the experienced. Paul had entered the obvious downward slope with due caution and respect, watching for the worst of the erosion. By choice, he was leading the way, with Rebecca and Jason a few yards behind. They were making progress, but it was not as quick as he had first hoped for. Above them, the top of the path was little more than two hundred feet away and they had taken nearly twenty minutes to descend just that. Rebecca was not an accomplished walker and Jason, despite his cheery disposition, was far from fit after his ordeal. As he turned and went down another of the switchbacks he could hear the two of them chatting above. Then, a faint, but distinctive manmade noise wafted over the top of the cliff and filtered down to them. The sound brought him to an immediate stop as he strained to listen for it. Rebecca sensed he had tensed and stopped too.
“What is it?” she called, adjusting the rucksack on her back.
In reply he held up a hand to silence her, straining his hearing against the rush of wind gusting up the face past them. With a growing unease he silently cursed their luck. The all too obvious ‘thwack-thwack’ suddenly pierced the air above them. All three looked skywards as the increasing volume of noise burst over the edge, with just feet to spare. The Bell Jet Ranger helicopter swiftly, yet deliberately, flew outwards into a left hand arc to bring it back into line with the cliff face. Paul looked down and could only just make out the partially obscured path as it disappeared from sight beneath them. There were still several hundred carefully placed steps to go and absolutely no cover. The helicopter was level with them and he threw caution to the wind. In an effort to divide the attention of the crew, he began a headlong dash down the scree-covered slope. With his feet just keeping him upright on the shifting sea of loose rock, he reached the subsequent downward turn of the path. There he slipped over and slid the next thirty feet on his stomach before dragging himself to a stop with his hands. He quickly struggled to his feet, ignoring his badly grazed knees and palms, in an attempt to be moving again. A hail of bullets peppered the rock face inches to his left and brought his crazy descent to a halt.
The loud mechanical buzzing of the helicopter filled the air and Paul could see it hovering about forty feet from the cliff just above him. It had rotated through one-hundred and eighty degrees so that the open cabin was facing them. The current of air, channeling up from the ground far below, made the machine bob in its position. Paul could clearly see the sniper, sitting in the open cabin, with a radio headset on and a semi-automatic rifle pointing in his direction. As if defeated, he slowly made the point of raising his arms above his head. It would pass as a show of hopeless defeat, although he still had the automatic pistol in his pocket.
Watkins grinned with evil satisfaction at the early find and capture. He spoke coldly and confidently to the pilot through the microphone.
“They’re in the bag. Give the word, Smithy, and Sayers is dead.”
“Patience,” Smith calmly replied, deftly moving the helicopter closer to the face of Scythe Crag. As he looked back through the large expanse of cockpit glazing he could see Paul, standing with his hands on his head and with a canvas bag slung over his back. Just above he could also see the other main prize, the woman Storn so much wanted. Both were cornered like animals in a trap. He was satisfied and smiled too. “He’s brought them the wrong way. They’re ours for the taking. I’ll call it in and see what they want to do.”
“Okay, I’ll keep him covered from here. He’s not carrying any weapons.”
Smith keyed an outside radio channel. “Air one to ground, over.”
The crackle of static filled their headsets before the familiar voice of
“Three rats in a barrel, over.”
“Whereabouts?” came her excited reply.
“They’re stuck halfway down Castle Rake. There’s nowhere to hide or go. What do you want us to do? Over.”
The voice in the headphones immediately changed to the more powerful tones of Storn. “Kill the boy, now! Then shoot the woman in the legs. It will serve to keep Sayers there. If he tries to run, wound him too. I want them both alive. Understand?”
“Roger that. Over and out,” Smith firmly replied, and switched back to the internal intercom. “You heard it, Dave. Do the kid and kneecap the bird.”
“You bet,” he replied, with obvious relish. Rebecca and Jason were standing side by side like two targets lined up at a fairground sideshow. Casually, he clicked the weapon from automatic to single shot and nestled his eye in along the sights. “Up a bit, Smithy.”
“Will do,” he said, and skillfully manoeuvred the
From where she was, Rebecca could see and sense that the aircraft was coming up to their level. If anything, one or both of them was the intended target. She had begun to form a plan of preventing the attack, but knew it would take an awful lot out of her to succeed. In a last moment of desperation she reached out to Paul’s thoughts and saw that he was already ahead of her. Instead of executing her own idea she concentrated on deflecting the attention of the helicopter’s occupants.
Paul had no idea that Rebecca was aware of what he was doing. He could see only that the sniper had switched his attention away from him. With the helicopter rising he guessed they were about to shoot Rebecca in a bid to prevent her leaving. Several drops of cold sweat ran down his face, despite his exertions, as the reality of the situation hit home. There was just one chance, with their attention momentarily diverted. He withdrew the automatic from his pocket and locked both hands firmly around it. It took less than a second to aim and fire twice.