by A21 Reporter Andy Clems
Harry Rule sprinted across the roof of the flat-topped building and leapt into space. For a few moments everything seemed to stand still, he just had time to take in a fleeting impression of the Italian street scene below with the bustling crowds and stalls, and then he crashed down on the roof of the opposite building.
There was no time to catch his breath. From somewhere above and behind there were shouts and a burst of gunfire rang out, sending chips of clay flying up around him like angry wasps. He was up and moving again, trying to put as much distance between himself and Vladek’s hired goons as possible. If he was lucky, he would make the rendezvous with Caroline before they could reach him.
He skidded to the edge of the roof and took the crumbling flight of stone steps two at a time, not daring to look behind him. A quick sprint along the darkened alleyway between the buildings and he was out into the crowded market. The crowds made it easy to stay hidden, but they also impeded his movement. He knew where he was going though and did his best not to draw attention to himself.
Caroline was waiting up ahead, dressed in a mechanic’s overalls. The moment she saw Harry reaching the edge of the crowd, she dropped the newspaper she hadn’t been reading and jumped into the driver’s seat of the battered old Chevrolet truck parked behind her. In moments the passenger door flew open and Harry bundled himself inside.
He advised that he’d got the microfilm, along with some unwanted company and Caroline didn’t need another hint to get moving. She started the engine and drove the truck around the back of the crowd and through the old archway leading out of the village.
In minutes they were speeding through the countryside and away from danger, or so they thought. Caroline spotted a car following behind and gaining rapidly. Harry turned to get a better look and barely missed being hit as a bullet smashed into the wing mirror. If there’d been any doubt they were still in trouble, it had just been dispelled.
The gap was closing and even with her foot hard down, there was nothing Caroline could do. Harry leaned out of the window, his gun in hand, and fired off a few shots at the pursuing vehicle. They went wide and he ducked inside as Vladek’s men returned fire. He tried again, this time with more success. His shot struck one of the front wheels and the pursuing car jerked to the side, before rolling over and over into a line of trees.
Snatching up his radio, Harry tuned it to Paul’s frequency and alerted him to what had happened. Paul, waiting at the checkpoint some miles ahead, reported that Vladek’s personal helicopter was en route to intercept them before they reached the border. There was nothing to do but press on.
It wasn’t long before the pair heard the ominous sound of the helicopter’s engines. It swooped low over the road, narrowly missing the speeding truck. The message was loud and clear, stop or else. Not a great set of options, thought Harry. He urged Caroline to keep going.
A hail of gunfire rained from above as Vladek himself fired at the truck. Some of the shots missed, but others hammered into the engine compartment. The battered vehicle wouldn’t stand that kind of punishment for long, and Harry and Caroline knew their luck was running out.
The helicopter passed low again, and once more a shower of bullets thudded into the frame of the truck. This time there was a different sound as well, the noise of the engine spluttering and dying. The vehicle coasted to a halt as the helicopter landed close by.
Harry and Caroline got out, knowing they wouldn’t make it 10 yards if they tried to run. Vladek was approaching, his rifle aimed between the two figures, his pilot looking on from the cockpit. He ordered Harry to hand over the microfilm. Naturally, Harry refused. Vladek turned the rifle at Caroline and demanded more forcefully, preparing to fire if Rule should refuse again.
Unseen by either Vladek or his pilot, Paul Buchet crept up behind the helicopter’s open doorway. In one swift motion he leapt into the cabin and knocked the pilot unconscious with a well timed blow to the head. He increased power to the throttle and began to take off.
Hearing the commotion, Vladek turned and the lapse in concentration gave Harry his chance. He lunged across the gap between them, tackling Vladek to the ground. After a brief struggle, Harry gained the upper hand and turned the villain’s own rifle back on him. Vladek knew he was beaten and relented.
Once the police arrived to take the enemy agents away, Paul explained that he’d taken the precaution of heading out on a motorcycle after he’d received Harry’s call. It was a simple matter to wait until they’d passed his hiding place and follow at a distance, waiting for the moment to spring into action. With the case wrapped up, the trio headed back to civilization, ready for their next call to action.