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Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

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BOOK: Disaster for Hire
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"Clea!" Spiros Stamos came forward and put an arm around his daughter, gently drawing her away from the Hardys and Prynne. "It is time you were at home. Come with me."

Clea sagged back against her father, closing her eyes and allowing herself to be led away. Spiros waved a good-night to the three Americans as he left the restaurant with his daughter.

Prynne took a deep breath before saying to Frank and Joe, "Come on, you two. I have a taxi waiting."

Sitting in the cab, the three remained silent during the short drive to the hotel. But as they reached the hotel lobby, Frank stepped in front of Prynne.

"You have nothing to say to us?" he asked.

"All I have to say has already been said," Prynne replied. "You're making something out of nothing."

Joe now spoke up. "Okay, in that case let's just add one last piece of nothing to the picture. This afternoon, Frank and I saw an old friend get off our ship and into a car at the pier — the Gray Man."

Prynne stared at them, his eyes narrowed. "The Gray Man?"

Frank continued, "That's his code name4 what everyone calls him in the Network."

Prynne's suspicion had now given way to amazement. "You — you are familiar with Network?" he asked at length.

Frank and Joe smiled at Prynne. "What's more," said Joe, "they are familiar with us."

"We do get around, you know," added Frank.

Morton Prynne stared at them, took off his glasses, and wiped them on his handkerchief. He said, "I can't tell you anything — not tonight at least. Be patient for tonight and let's plan to have breakfast together tomorrow. Perhaps then I can say more."

"Tomorrow morning then," Frank agreed. "But we'll be expecting some hard facts and' not just a lot of smoke."

Prynne just nodded and headed for his room.

The following morning found Frank, Joe, and Prynne sitting at a table in the hotel cafe. Prynne had not said much, and the Hardys were getting annoyed.

It was Joe who broke the long silence. "Listen," he said, rattling a juice glass on the tile table, "if breakfast was all you had in mind here, I'd just as soon have slept a little later."

Prynne held up a hand. "No, no," he protested, "it's simply that ... I think we'd better have our little talk someplace more private.

"I'm going to my room. You wait here for five minutes, looking around to see if anyone follows me out. If it's all clear, then come up and see me. Understood?"

Frank's eyebrows raised. "Is this really necessary?"

' Prynne got up and surveyed the Hardys. "Once we've had our talk," he replied, "you can judge that for yourselves."

Joe and Frank knocked on Prynne's door and were quickly motioned inside. As they sat down, Frank said, "No one followed you, and as far as I can tell, no one followed us. Let's talk."

Prynne paced nervously for a moment, then stopped and faced the Hardys. "Everything I am about to tell you is highly confidential — not a word of this can be repeated. Is that clear?"

Joe nodded. "We know all about the Network's security."

"Very well," Prynne answered. "First of all, I am an operative of the Network.

"We have an agent who has been working under deep cover in various nations of the Eastern Bloc, gathering sensitive military information. His code name is Atlas. Right noW he's making his way through Yugoslavia. By tomorrow he will reach the Greek-Yugoslavian border."

"In other words," Frank cut in, "he may be within forty miles of here."

Prynne nodded. "Essentially correct, although the spot will be more like sixty by the mountain roads. My assignment was to lead at small force to get him back across the border, back to the West. Since being a professor is my usual cover, they put me in charge of a student tour to Greece Joe started to his feet, but Prynne waved him back down. "I'm not happy about using innocent students as part of an operation like this — but the decision was not mine."

"Upon our arrival here, American and Greek groups were to join together, under Spiros Stamos — our Network contact. He would take them on a tour, well away from the scene of the action, while I went north with my people to get Atlas "And then the wheels fell off your little wagon," Frank observed.

Prynne winced. "You put it crudely, but that's true. Our cover seems to have been completely blown. You were right, of course, seeing the connection between the attacks."

He shook his head. "Before we got to Greece, two key Greek operatives were taken out. The body of one was found two days ago, and the other has yet to be heard from. These men were supposed to go north with me. I'm planning to take Spiros now, but even so it will — "

A knock on the door stopped him. Prynne opened it to admit a very worried Spiros Stamos. He nodded a greeting to the Hardys and said to Prynne, "We must talk."

"Certainly, Spiros, sit down."

Stamos turned to Frank and Joe. "Boys, I must speak privately with Mr. Prynne, if you would not mind leaving for—"

"No, no, Spiros, it's all right," interrupted Prynne. "These young men seem to have known almost from the beginning that things weren't normal. What's more, when our friend got off the ship yesterday, they recognized him. They know about the Network and his connection with it."

Stamos stared at Frank and Joe. "How is it possible that these boys should know of such things?"

"Let's just say that we've gotten caught up in a couple of Network deals before," Joe replied. "It wouldn't do to go into the details, would it?"

"No, no, certainly not," Prynne agreed quickly. "But, Spiros, you can speak in front of these two, and we must rely on their continued discretion. What have you come to tell me?"

Stamos walked to the window and stood looking out. "Very early this morning," he said with his back to the others in the room, I, had a telephone call from the ones who are holding Peter. They told me, if I wished to see the boy alive again, I must take no further part in what they called 'foolish criminal activities.' "

Stamos turned from the window and looked at Morton Prynne, the burden of a painful decision showing clearly in his face.

"Morton," he said, "at first I was supposed to do nothing more than lead a student tour-simple and hardly dangerous. Then, last night we talked about my joining you in place of one of the men we lost. This meant some risk, but I was willing to do it, because I believe in the cause.

"Now the danger is not mine alone. I do not fear to lay my life on the line if need be. You understand this. I am not a coward."

"Of course you're not, Spiros," said Prynne quietly. "No one could think such a thing."

"You must see, then," Stamos went on, staring fixedly at Prynne, "that I no longer have a choice in this matter. I cannot allow harm to come to the son of my brother, while he is in my care."

He hung his head. "That is why I cannot go to the border with you."

Chapter 7

"IT LOOKS LIKE you guys could use a little help," said Frank.

"And it just happens that our calendar is clear," continued Joe.

Prynne stared at the brothers in shock. "Are you two actually suggesting that you become actively involved in this business?"

"It did cross our minds," answered Frank.

"It'd sure beat touring ruins," replied Joe.

Spiros Stamos pulled a chair close to the Hardys and sat down. "Boys, we are dealing with very dangerous opponents. They won't hesitate to kill anyone who stands in their way."

He gave them a hard look. "Understand—as long as they see you as students, you won't be harmed. They wouldn't dare create an international incident. But if it were known that you were members of our team, your youth would not protect you. You'd become targets." Prynne jumped in. "Moreover, I don't have the authority to bring you in. I can't be responsible for exposing you to harm." · "Now, don't be too hasty," protested Frank. "I can see you think we're just kids who want to play cops and robbers and get in your way. I don't expect that we can convince you otherwise, not by ourselves."

"But if our old buddy, the Gray Man, is around, he can vouch for us," Joe said. "I know he can approve our coming aboard. So that'd take you off the hook, Mr. Prynne." Prynne angrily blurted, "I don't care about being 'on the hook,' young man! I have a legitimate concern about your safety. However — wait here." He left the room.

"He probably has to get permission to change neckties," said Joe.

Stamos gave Joe an angry look. "I think that Morton Prynne might well surprise you," he said. "There's more to him than what you perceive."

Only a few minutes passed before Prynne returned with the Hardys' old acquaintance.

The Gray Man was not overjoyed to see Frank and Joe.

"If I had the slightest idea that you two might be included in this group," he said sourly, "I would have scrubbed the whole operation."

"Well, things go wrong." Frank looked at the agent. "By the way, do I owe you for helping hand on the ship the other night? If it was you, then thanks."

The Gray Man waved it off. "Let's call that an even trade," he said. "After all, you were helping Mr. Prynne out of an awkward scrape."

"Look," Joe cut in, "I don't think you have any gripes about us being around to help. You need us now, and you've got us."

That got him a glare from the Gray Man. "We do not need you! Just because you've managed to keep from getting killed so far doesn't mean that you're trained agents. We'll get by without you."

"Is that a fact?" Joe asked. "Seems to me you've dug yourselves into a nice, deep hole so far. I don't see how we could possibly make things any worse."

"If this operation is as important as you say," Frank went on, "you have a problem getting a new team in here. We have a couple of friends here who are also very good in a crunch. Phil Cohen is a genius with anything electronic or technical, and Chet Morton may not look it, but he can be tough when it really counts. So—what do you say?"

The Gray Man simmered. They had him in a bind. The loss of Atlas would be a disaster, and almost as bad would be any public exposure of a Network fiasco. He thought hard for a second, and then spoke to Frank and Joe.

"Your analysis of our predicament may be a little overstated, but not too far off the mark. We don't have many options. But if we're going to try to pull this off, I have a few ground rules. First, you'll follow orders—exactly. Second, if it appears that you are in any immediate physical danger you'll stop whatever you are doing and bail out. At once. Agreed?"

Frank and Joe glanced at each other, then looked with solemn faces, back at the Gray Man. "Of course," said Frank. "Makes sense to me," said Joe. "Very well then," said the Gray Man. Spiros Stamos came forward. "My children Clea and Andreas are concerned about their cousin and wish to help. Also, the girl Alma and her brother Aleko are closely tied to our family. I am Alma's godfather. And Nicholas Kaliotis will want to be of service as well."

The Gray Man frowned. "Kaliotis? What's his connection?"

"Nicholas was practically raised by my father," replied Stamos. "We are the only family he has. For a Greek, ties of family are sacred."

Taking Stamos's hand in both of his, Prynne said, "Thank you for your suggestions, Spiros. We will consider them. Now, go home. We will keep you informed."

After the Gray Man and Stamos departed, Chet and Phil were summoned to Prynne's room and briefed on what was happening and why.

"Here's the plan," said Prynne. "I'll lead a group north to the border rendezvous. We'll pass ourselves off as a teacher of classical history and his students — there are archaeological digs and a ruined fortress not far from the scheduled meet.

"We'll go with tools — picks, shovels, and the like—as well as some explosives. My party will include Joe, Phil, whose technical know-how may be of use, and Andreas, since we must have one Greek-speaker along.

"Frank, Chet, and the rest will begin a search for Peter Stamos. The other students will be taken on an innocent tour, to keep them out of danger, and fed a story to account for the absence of those of you who will be working with us. Any questions?"

No one had anything to add. The group broke up to make arrangements, get supplies, and pass on information to those who had not been present. At dinnertime they'd meet again at the hotel.

That evening found Frank, Joe, Prynne, Chet, Phil, and Kaliotis around the dinner table. Andreas, who was expected, had not yet arrived.

"We'll start without him," Prynne decided, pulling out a checklist. "Those of you going with me must be ready to leave by six A. M. I've gotten an all-terrain vehicle, just in case any problems force us to leave the main road.

"We'll take along a multiband radio receiver-transmitter, and we'll call in regularly. The Salonika party will have a similar radio. Listen for our calls every hour on the hour. When we have reached — "

Chet, who was facing the entrance to the restaurant, cut in on Prynne's instructions: "Here's Andreas."

Joe turned toward the door and frowned. "Here comes trouble," he said.

Andreas was not alone. At his side, with her jaw set and a challenge in her eyes, walked his sister. Andreas could hardly look at the people around the table, stammering, "She made me tell her what we are doing. She wants to ... I couldn't ... "

Clea spoke up. "I am going to the border too. If my brother can go, then I can as well."

"Now, wait a second," said Joe, holding up his hands. "There's plenty that you can do here in Salonika, Clea. From what Mr. Prynne says, we could find ourselves in rough country. We can't be held up by — by someone who isn't physically up to the job."

"Not up to it!" Clea's eyes shot fire at Joe. "Why do you assume that? I have spent much time in the places you are going, camping and climbing mountains."

She pointed to her brother. "Do you think he can keep up, because he is a boy? On flat ground, he can outrun me. But in the mountains, he is no match for me. And this way you will have another Greek along."

Joe glared, but Morton Prynne cut the debate off. "Very well, Clea, we have room in the truck, and you may join us. But understand, no allowances will be made for you if it becomes necessary to go on foot. You will be expected to keep up to our pace."

BOOK: Disaster for Hire
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