Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
The radio hissed and popped with static for a second, then Phil's voice came through again. "He and I are holed up on top of the fort's tower, and there're maybe five guys with small arms down below. We can hold 'em off as long as our ammo holds out, because they haven't got anything heavy enough to knock the tower down."
Frank cut in on Phil. "How's Joe? Is he with you? Over."
"Joe and Clea have gone out to make the meeting at the border and bring Atlas back. So it's just me and Prynne here right now, but that'll be enough—till our ammunition runs down. Over."
Spiros Stamos took the mike from Frank. "Listen, Phil — you say you took another road, off the main route. How will we know where that road is? Is there any kind of sign or landmark? Over."
"We sent Andreas down from here on foot, to point out where you turn. He should be there now. Keep an eye out for him. Over."
Frank took the mike back. "I copy that," he said. "We just passed your ATV and the bunch you left tied up there."
"Then you'll get to the road junction in less than half an hour." Suddenly the volume of static rose, and Phil's voice faded. Frank turned his volume control as high as it would go and strained his ears, but all he could make out was "See you . . . hurry . . . luck . . ." Then the noise took over completely.
Frank stared in frustration at the radio and flicked the set off. The Gray Man leaned forward over the front seat. "Radio contact is tough when you're going through the mountains. But it sounds like they're doing well."
Frank wasn't about to get his hopes up too easily. "Yeah, they're doing all right—unless they run out of ammo, or heavier guns show up for the bad guys. And we don't know what's happening with Joe and Clea. Can't we get any more speed out of this thing?"
"The idea is to arrive there in one piece." Spiros Stamos didn't take his eyes off the road as the car lurched along a roller coaster-like dip, followed by a tight turn. "We cannot help anyone if we wind up in the bottom of that ravine beside us."
Stamos's knuckles were white as he took the car through another hairpin, bringing the right front wheel within less than a foot of the drop. "Be patient, Frank. To go faster in this area is crazy—suicide."
Frank forced himself to be cool and let Stamos do the driving. He stared silently out at the drab countryside flying by. But he could restrain himself for only so long, as grim thoughts about Joe kept popping up in his mind. He turned back to look at Stamos.
"Maybe I ought to drive for a while. You could probably use a break."
Stamos continued to stare straight ahead. "I know you are worried about your brother, Frank. But do not forget—my son and daughter are there as well, facing the same dangers. We will do all that can be done, but we must not let our worries make us try foolish things."
Frank settled back in his seat, feeling a little ashamed. He had forgotten that he wasn't the only one in the car with a strong personal interest in getting safely and quickly where they were going.
Frank suddenly sat bolt upright, focusing his eyes farther down the road. Had he actually seen something flashing by the roadside, or was he imagining — No! There it was again, a glint of metal from the bushes — a signal, maybe?
"Mr. Stamos," Frank began, "do you see a bright — " and he broke off. From the clump of brush where the flashes had come, he could just make out something moving. It was an arm! Someone was hiding there, pointing upward. Why?
Frank looked up, trying to figure out what the unseen figure was pointing to.
The hillside rose steeply, though it wasn't sheer cliff at this spot. Frank's gaze moved up, then he shouted, "Stop! Look out! Up there, on our left!"
Bouncing down the hill like a giant, misshapen bowling ball, a huge boulder was crashing its way toward the road.
And it was headed right for their car!
CLEA, JOE, AND ATLAS cleared the top of the hill and plunged down the slope on the other side. They were able to put some more distance between themselves and their hunters, but only for a while. The border guards knew their quarry would run and not fight. The gap had to close again and quickly.
Atlas hadn't complained, but he was clearly in no shape for a long running chase. He had reached the outer limits of his endurance. But they had no choice other than to keep moving, heading south.
Behind them, the faster, more ambitious guards raced ahead of their comrades. Joe could hear them calling to one another.
One guard in particular had a sizable lead over the others. He cleared the top of the rise and broke into a near-sprint, ignoring the shouts of the others who couldn't match his pace. This target would be his, and his alone!
Running grimly ahead, he closed the distance. A hundred yards between them— eighty — sixty ... Now the man they had been chasing for so long had begun to lag behind. The spy was running awkwardly, only twenty yards ahead. He looked back over his shoulder, saw the patrol guard coming, and turned to face him.
The guard knelt down, propping his AK-47 on a flat rock to steady it. Then he drew a careful bead on his prey.
Up ahead, Joe looked back to see the guard aiming at Atlas. There was no cover for the American, and the guard was too close to miss.
Then the guard flung a hand up over his face and slumped sideways, his gun rattling on the rock. He lay motionless. Joe saw Atlas dart forward toward the mysteriously fallen gunman, when he realized that a voice was whispering to him from some nearby undergrowth.
"Amerikanos! Hey Amerikanos!" Branches parted, and a thin, young face appeared between them. It was Giannis! The young shepherd waved his sling and made frantic beckoning gestures. Joe waved back in agreement, turning to locate Clea, who was staring in surprise at the downed guard.
"Clea! This way! Come on, move it!" She scrambled toward him. Atlas, Joe noted, had now grabbed the guard's gun and ammunition, and was starting back downhill. Soon all three were lying behind the concealing undergrowth along with Giannis.
Clea introduced Atlas to the shepherd, and Atlas admired Giannis's sling. "You tell him he's quite a marksman with that thing. He saved my bacon just now."
Clea passed on the compliment to Giannis, who grinned broadly.
Atlas was checking out the captured automatic weapon. "I think we may be able to slow our friends down some, if this young fellow with the sling will help us out some more."
Clea translated the request, and Giannis replied eagerly.
"He says that he's happy to help. Maybe they will think twice before stealing a lamb for their dinner."
Atlas knelt down facing the others.
"Okay. These clowns out there think we're unarmed and helpless. Now, one gun and a little ammo isn't much good in a real fight, but it'll be fine for show." He looked like a new man with a weapon in his hands.
"Suppose you two head on down to the foot of the hill and find cover. Clea, you tell Giannis that I'm going to fire a few bursts at those guards when they get closer. When I do that, I want him to plink another one of those sheep-rustlers for me. Just put one of them out of action.
"Once they realize that we do have guns, that'll slow them down. They won't know that it's just the one weapon. Also, they can't afford to leave their wounded here, on the wrong side of the border where the Greek police might find them. So they'll have to detail men to stay with the injured guys, to make sure they get back home.
"Then I'll join you two at the bottom of the hill. Tell Giannis to stay buttoned up here until the guards have gone by, then hightail it out of here. He'd better move his flock away for a while, too."
After shaking hands with Giannis, Joe and Clea started down the hillside again, keeping the bushes between themselves and the border guards as much as possible. A few scattered shots were fired, but the patrol members were out of effective range.
Joe turned back when he heard the burst from Atlas's AK-47. He saw a man sprawl forward on the ground, while his comrades scattered, looking for cover from the unexpected gunfire.
"Giannis strikes again," remarked Joe to Clea. "Let's find a place to wait for Atlas."
Presently Atlas came limping down to the bottom of the slope, glancing back toward the pursuers. "They seem to have gotten our message. There are only seven or eight following us—and they're likely to keep a respectful distance. We ought to be able to mount a pretty good rear-guard action and get back to your buddies in the tower."
They set off, at a less frantic pace than before. The border patrol seemed content just to shadow them.
After a while Joe tapped Clea on the arm. "I figure we should be getting close to the fortress by now. See any familiar landmarks?"
Clea studied the area. "We ought to be very — listen!" The breeze brought the sound of shooting, coming from not too far ahead of them.
"We're back," said Joe, "and they're still holding on at the tower."
Atlas was making his way in their direction, looking back over his shoulder periodically. Joe ran out to meet him.
"The fortress is just a little bit ahead and to our right," Joe reported. "We heard some firing from that direction."
"Great. Let's get someplace where we can see how it lays. If we can surprise the guys attacking the tower, maybe we can break through before they know what's going on."
In front of them the ground sloped gently, but to their right it became steeper. From the echoing gunfire, the fight was going on just on the other side of that hill.
"Let's get ourselves to the top, and see what we can," Atlas said. They began to climb, slowly and cautiously, not knowing how close they were to the action beyond. At the summit, they looked down into a little valley, beyond which was a somewhat higher hill. "I guess that's your fortress, up on that peak over there."
"That's it." Joe squinted. "But we're too far away to see what's up."
Atlas stood, cradling the AK-47. "Let's get moving. We don't want to find ourselves pinned between the border patrol and these guys."
Fifteen minutes later, they were about a hundred yards from the tower, lying behind a dense thicket of thorny scrub. Joe poked his head up to look around.
"You can see a little bit of the road, off to the right and beyond the tower. The doorway leading to the top of the tower is over on the left."
Atlas raised his head and scanned the area. "Looks like there's a bunch grouped around that doorway. I think they're going to try storming the stairs."
Joe said, "We'd better hurry up. I don't think Prynne and Phil can hold off much longer."
The remaining members of the attack team were scattered in front of the tower, taking potshots at the top from their places of concealment.
Atlas frowned. "You see the two over on the left of their line? The ones closest to the entrance? We might just be able to take them without the others realizing it."
The men in question shared the same cover, a large outcropping of stone. They were separated from the rest of the group.
Joe nodded. "If we can get their guns, we could charge the ones trying to storm the entrance."
They dropped on their bellies and crawled around the dense bushes, Atlas cradling the gun against his chest. To Joe, the crawl seemed endless—if any of the enemy just happened to look back for a second, matters could get very unpleasant very fast. But the men behind the rock kept their eyes on the tower.
When they came close enough to the two heavies, Atlas looked back at Joe, who nodded, scarcely breathing. Then he sprang forward, with Joe and Clea close behind.
Before the gunmen had time to move, Atlas was on them. He clubbed the first man on the back of the head with the automatic weapon. The other guy spun around, trying to get his gun into position, but Joe launched himself from a crouch to knock him down.
Joe grabbed his opponent, pulling him forward. Then he brought his right knee up into the man's jaw. The gunman's eyes went glassy, and he rolled onto his side. It was over in a few seconds.
None of the attackers had seen or heard a thing. Atlas removed the unconscious men's guns and ammunition. Joe took one AK-47 and passed the other to Clea, who took it reluctantly.
"It's set for automatic fire," instructed Joe. "Just squeeze the trigger to shoot. Remember: fire up in the air. This is just for effect, to scare those guys away from the stairway. Ready?"
Clea looked pale, but she nodded. "Even if I can't shoot, I can scream."
They grinned at each other.
Atlas slapped another magazine into his gun. "Right, here we go. Make a lot of noise. Joe, you sing out and make sure your friends don't mistake us for bad guys."
At a signal from Atlas, they sprang out from behind their shelter, guns pointed high, racing for the tower.
Five men knelt near the archway when the chaos exploded. They looked up to see three screaming maniacs practically on top of them, firing automatic weapons. Forgetting that they, too, had guns, they took to their heels in a total panic.
Joe Hardy fired his AK-47 and screamed as loud as he could: "Phil! Mr. Prynne! Hold your fire! We're coming in! Don't shoot!"
They dove into the archway as bullets from the attackers kicked up dust clouds and stone chips. But Phil and Prynne held their fire as Joe, Clea, and Atlas hurtled up the stairs and onto the tower roof, panting but unhurt.
Phil watched the three tumble in. "All right!" he said. "I'm glad you could drop by. Sorry I don't have time right now for socializing." He swung back and fired out at the gunmen below.
Atlas walked over to Morton Prynne, who sat with his back against a wall, covering the stairs. "Mr. Prynne, I presume? How's the leg?"
Prynne gave Atlas a thin smile. "Well, it isn't any better. But it isn't any worse either. Good to see you."
Atlas squatted down beside Prynne. "These kids of yours — I don't know where you picked them up — but they sure did a job."
Prynne's smile broadened. "Clea! Joe! Well done! Now man a battle station. We still have to hold on until help arrives, but it's on the way."
"More company coming!" yelled Phil. "Looks like eight new arrivals down there!"