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Authors: Hammond Innes

The Angry Mountain

BOOK: The Angry Mountain
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HAMMOND INNES

The Angry Mountain

Contents

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

A Note on the Author

Chapter I

Tu
č
ek had changed a great deal. The broad shoulders sagged, his brown hair was thinning to baldness and his eyes had retreated into shadowed sockets. It was a shock to see how he had shrunk into middle age. “Dick Farrell! So it is you.” His shoulders squared as he came across to meet me. The hand he held out was soft and white with neatly manicured nails. For a fleeting moment as I shook his hand I caught a glimpse of the Jan Tu
č
ek I'd known before. He smiled. “I hope I do not keep you waiting.” In the way he spoke and in the sudden eagerness of his greeting, I found my mind switched back ten years to the sight of a shattered windshield splashed with oil, a burst of flame as I went into a dive and a voice in my earphones saying:
I think I get him for you, Dick.
For a moment as I held his hand it was the reckless, fanatical Czech fighter pilot I was greeting. Then memory was swamped by the present and I was looking into the tired, withdrawn eyes of Jan Tu
č
ek, head of the Tu
č
ek Steelworks in Pilsen.

“Sit down, please.” He waved me to the chair beside his desk. The secretary who had brought me in, a short, dapper little man with an uneasy smile, went out and closed the door. I became conscious then of another person in the room. He stood over against the wall, a gangling, long-limbed man with the face of a seedy intellectual. He stood there with a conscious and studied unobtrusiveness that shrieked his presence aloud. As I glanced at him uneasily, Jan Tu
č
ek said, “You see to what we are reduced here in
Czechoslovakia. This is my shadow. He go with me always.”

The man jerked to life. “
Mluvte
č
esky!
” There was a sort of baffled tenseness in the way he spoke.

Jan Tu
č
ek looked across at me. “You do not speak any other language but English, you understand?” It wasn't a question. It was a statement. He knew it to be false and before I could say anything he had turned to the shadow and was speaking rapidly in Czech: “Mr. Farrell does not speak any language but English. I was with him when we fought the Germans over England. He is here as representative for a British firm of machine tool manufacturers. There is nothing political in our meeting.”

“I cannot allow you to talk without an interpreter,” the man answered.

“Then you'd better find one,” Tu
č
ek snapped, “for I'm not going to treat an old comrade-in-arms as though he is a stranger just because you are so badly educated you do not speak English.”

The man flushed angrily. Then he turned and hurried out.

“Now we can talk.” Jan Tu
č
ek smiled. The sunlight caught a flash of gold teeth. But the smile did not extend to his eyes. “But we must be quick. Soon he will return with an interpreter. Tell me, where do you stay?”

“The Hotel Continental,” I answered.

“Room number?”

“Forty-four.”

“Good. You see, it is only during my working hours that they have their spies with me. How long will you stay?”

“Till Friday,” I answered.

“Two days. That is not long. And after that—where do you go on Friday?”

“To Milan.”

“To Milan?” For the first time I saw expression come into his eyes—a quickening of interest. “If I were to come to your room very late—” He didn't finish for the door was thrown open and his shadow entered followed by a rather
plain girl with a red scarf and a hammer and sickle brooch. “And you are with this machine tool company?” he said quickly as though continuing an interrupted conversation. “Why are you no longer flying?”

I thrust my leg out for him to see.

“So you lose a leg, eh?” He clicked his tongue sympathetically. “Above the knee?”

I nodded.

“But nevertheless that should not stop you flying.”

“It doesn't help,” I said quickly. And then, because I thought he was going to probe further, I added, “The competition's pretty keen now with so many able-bodied fliers out of a job.”

He nodded sympathetically. “I understand. But when does this happen? When my squadron is posted you are all right.”

“Oh, it happened much later. In Italy. I crashed up near the Futa Pass between Florence and Bologna.”

“Then you are a prisoner?”

“For just over a year,” I answered. “They did three operations.”

“Three operations?” His eyebrows lifted. “But surely one is sufficient for an amputation.”

I felt the sweat breaking out on my forehead. Even now I could feel the knife and the grating bite of the saw. “They need not have operated at all,” I heard myself say. “My leg could have been saved.” Somehow I didn't mind talking about it to him. He was so remote, someone from another world. Here, behind the Iron Curtain, what had happened to me didn't seem to matter so much.

“Then why?” he asked.

“They wanted me to talk.”

It was out before I could check myself. I saw his eyes staring at me and then they slid away to the photographs on his desk. “But you are free,” he said. “Free to run your life as you wish to run it.”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I suppose so.” He meant I was free of the constant supervision that surrounded him. But I wasn't free. You can never get free of the past. “Those pictures,” I said to change the subject. “Are they of your family?”

“Yes. My wife and daughter.” He sighed and picked up the larger photograph. “That is my wife. She is dead. The Nazis kill her. She was held up on the Swiss frontier the night I fly to England in 1939. I do not see her again.” He set the photograph down gently on the big mahogany desk. “That other is my daughter. She is now in Italy with the Czech table tennis team.”

He held the photograph out towards me and I found myself looking at the face of a girl with a broad forehead, high cheekbones and a friendly smile. Her auburn hair fell to her shoulders and gleamed where it caught the light. Something in her expression, in the way she held her head reminded me that Jan Tu
č
ek had not always looked tired and drawn. “Her mother was Italian,” he said. “From Venice.”

So the hair was real titian. “She's very beautiful,” I said.

He laughed. “The photographer has been kind to her, I think. You cannot see the freckles.”

It didn't matter to me whether she had freckles or not. It wasn't the face so much as the person behind the face that was beautiful. Something about the expression of the eyes, the curve of the mouth, the defiant tilt of the chin seemed to reach out to me from the plain silver frame. It was the face of a girl who possessed sympathy and understanding—and something else; self-reliance, an ability to stand on her own feet. Somehow, in my loneliness, I felt the expression on her face was something that touched me personally through my old friendship with her father.

Tu
č
ek put the photograph down again. “Fortunately she play table tennis very well.” The way he said it, the words seemed to carry a message, and again, for a moment, I was conscious of the resemblance between his face and the face in the photograph.

“I'm sorry I shan't see her,” I said.

“Perhaps you will—in Milan.” Again his words seemed to carry additional meaning. Then, as though he were afraid I might make some comment, he glanced at his watch and pushed back his chair. “I am sorry. I have a conference now. I will send you to the head of our retooling section. Also I will ring him so that he know who you are. I have no doubt there are things we need that you have.”

I got up. “Perhaps we could meet—” I began. But something in his eyes stopped me.

“I am sorry. I am a very busy man.” He came round the big, ornate desk and shook my hand. “It has been good to see you again.” As I turned to go his hand was on my arm and he took me to the door. “Tell me. Do you hear anything of Maxwell these days?”

“Maxwell?” I started, wondering why the devil he had to talk to me about Maxwell. “No,” I said. “No. I haven't seen him since I left Italy.”

He nodded. “He is here in Pilsen. If you should see him tell him—” He seemed to hesitate for the message and then, so softly that I could hardly catch it, he whispered, “
Saturday night.
” Then aloud he said, “Tell him—I shall always remember the times we had at Biggin Hill.” He opened the door for me, called to his secretary and told her to take me to
pan
Mari
č
. “Good-bye,” he said. “I will telephone him that you are coming.” And he closed the heavy door.

My interview with Mari
č
lasted nearly an hour. I was conscious of a view of one of the blast furnaces through tall, smoke-grimed windows and of alert eyes peering shortsightedly through thick-lensed, rimless glasses at my specifications. Of the details of the conversation I remember nothing. It was mostly technical. We were alone and we talked in English. I remember I answered many of his questions quite automatically, my mind going over and over again my interview with Jan Tu
č
ek. Why had he wanted to come
and see me late one night? Why had he given me that message to Maxwell? I felt as though I had touched the fringe of something that could only: exist on this side of the Iron Curtain.

My interview with Mari
č
finished shortly after four. He informed me that he would examine certain of the specifications with his technical experts and telephone me to-morrow. Then he rang for his assistant and ordered him to call one of the factory cars. As I got to my feet and pushed my papers back into my brief case, he said, “Have you known
pan
Tu
č
ek long, Mr. Farrell?”

I explained.

He nodded, and then with a quick glance at the door which was shut, he said in a low voice, “It is terrible for him. He is a fine man and he did great service to this country in 1939 when he fly to England with the blueprints of all new armament work in progress here including the Bren gun modifications. His wife is murdered. His father, old Ludvik Tu
č
ek, die in a concentration camp. Then, after the war, he come back and reorganise the Tu
č
kovy ocelárny—that is to say the works here. He work like a man with a devil inside of himself, all day, every day, to make it what it is before the Germans come. And now—” He shrugged his shoulders.

“He looks very tired,” I said.

Mari
č
peered at me through his glasses. “We are all very tired,” he said quietly. “Twice in a lifetime—it is hard to have to fight twice. You understand? It is the spirit who become tired, Mr. Farrell. Perhaps one day—” He stopped then as his assistant came in to say the car was waiting. He shook my hand. “I will telephone you to-morrow,” he said.

Outside clouds had obliterated the spring sunshine and the huge steelworks belched smoke into a grey sky. I got into the waiting car and was driven out through the gates into grey, brick-lined streets.

Back in the hotel I made a few telephone calls and then had some tea brought up to my room and did some work.
I'd been behind with it ever since I'd started on the trip. I had covered Scandinavia and Central Europe, constantly adjusting my mind to different atmospheres, different languages and I felt tired. It was difficult to concentrate. And though I stayed in my room till past six, I got very little work done. My mind kept running over my interview with Jan Tu
č
ek, and always it came back to that message to Maxwell.
Tell him—Saturday night
. What was Max doing in Pilsen? Why was Tu
č
ek so sure I should see him?

BOOK: The Angry Mountain
10.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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