Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
Clea smiled. "You do not have to worry about me," she said.
They were running through the final preparations when a waiter came through the room, calling Frank's name. Frank raised his hand. "Over here!"
"Mr. Frank Hardy? You are wanted on the telephone in the lobby."
Going to the booth, Frank picked up the phone.
"Frank Hardy?" The voice was accented, unfamiliar. "Here is someone who wishes to speak to you."
After a momentary pause, another voice came on the line, shaky and very frightened.
"Peter! Is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me. I have — "
"Listen, how are you doing? You okay?"
"I — I'm all right. A little shook up, but they haven't hurt me—yet. I'm supposed to give you a message from them."
"Go ahead, Peter."
"They say that you'd better not go ahead with your mission. You can't succeed. If you try, they'll — they'll kill me. They really mean it, Frank. I'm scared."
"Listen, Peter." Frank tried to make his voice a lot more confident and reassuring than he felt. "Take it easy. We'll get you out of this. We won't let anything happen to you. Understand?"
"Yeah, I guess."
Frank racked his brains, trying to think of some way to keep Peter on the line and maybe pick up clues to his whereabouts.
"Listen, Peter, I want to ask you a few questions, if they'll let you stay on the line. Just answer yes or no. Got it?"
"Are you still in the city?"
But the only response was a sudden dry click.
Frank's knuckles whitened as he tightened his grip on the phone.
"Peter? Peter! You there?"
Frank stared in helpless frustration at the dead receiver.
BY SEVEN-THIRTY the following morning, the all-terrain vehicle, with Prynne at the wheel, had left Salonika far behind. Joe Hardy rode shotgun, with Phil Cohen, Andreas, and Clea Stamos in back, along with their gear—extra clothes, tools, and an emergency supply of gasoline.
The road had been straight and wide at first. But now they were going with some care along a twisting, two-lane ribbon of concrete that clung to a mountainside, full of hairpin turns. On one side they were hemmed in by a steep, rocky slope covered with boulders and scraggly bushes. On the other side was a dizzying drop into a deep gorge.
"Not much traffic on this road," Joe observed.
"It's too early in the day," answered Clea, leaning over the front seat. "Anyway, there is not much ahead on this road except the border, some ruins, and that old Turkish fortress."
"How come a Turkish fortress?" Phil wanted to know.
"The Turks ruled here for quite a long time," Prynne explained from behind the wheel. "So did the Venetians, the Franks, and various other groups over the years."
"Until we won our independence," Andreas added with pride.
Suddenly a large Mercedes sedan appeared behind them, moving much faster than they were. Prynne edged the ATV to the right, and the luxurious car glided past, quickly putting distance between them. The windows were so darkly tinted that it was impossible to see inside.
Phil whistled as they watched the Mercedes vanish around a curve ahead. "Pretty fast for a tricky stretch like this."
"Oh, I don't know," Joe answered. "A car like that has a low center of gravity and great suspension. Now, if you took this baby at that speed — "
"I don't even want to think about it," Phil said, with a shake of his head. "I have this strange fear of falling several hundred feet into a dry riverbed. Some hang-up, huh?"
Joe laughed as they whipped through a demanding set of mountain turns. Then, coming around on one especially sharp turn, they found the Mercedes that had passed them. It was parked diagonally across the road, blocking both lanes.
Prynne braked with a squeal of tires. Almost before they had stopped, a series of shots rang out from somewhere above them. A webbed hole appeared in the windshield, and a metallic clank indicated a bullet striking the body of the truck somewhere.
"Ambush!" shouted Joe.
"Turn around!" Andreas screamed.
"No room." Prynne threw the ATV into reverse and lurched away from the trap. More shots rang out as Prynne made the treacherous hairpin turn backward. About two hundred yards farther along he slowed the vehicle and backed it off the paved surface and into a cleft in the rock, protected on either side by almost vertical cliffs.
"Phil, get on that radio, and let the people back in Salonika know we've been attacked," Prynne ordered. "The rest of you, start looking for shelter. I imagine we'll have company soon, and we know they're well-armed."
"Andreas, Clea, let's move!" urged Joe, who was already out of the truck.
Behind the truck, the cleft ran deeper into the rocks but didn't seem to be more than a blind alley.
Phil had set the radio up and was listening with a frown to the static coming out of the speaker. "The mountains are blocking us here," he said. "I tried to send word, but I don't know if anything's getting out or to us." He turned up the receiver, which hissed with the static.
"Keep trying," Joe said, coming back and shaking his head. "It doesn't look like we've got much in the way of shelter here," he advised Prynne. "These cliffs are steep, and I don't see where — "
"Joe! Come here!" called Clea. "I think there is a place up there."
Joe ran over to her and followed her pointing finger, but all he saw was what appeared to be a slight break in a sheer cliff. He told her as much.
"You don't have a mountaineer's eye," she said impatiently. "I will show you."
She began to climb up quickly, finding little crevices for her hands and feet. About fifteen feet above them, she pulled herself up onto a ledge and looked down to the others.
"This is wide enough to hide us," she called down.
Prynne ordered Andreas to climb up, help his sister look for possible weapons, and stockpile them.
"What kind of weapons?" Andreas wanted to know. "We have no guns." Prynne had ordered them not to have guns in case they were caught. The guns would blow their cover.
"Rocks," replied Prynne. "Good throwing rocks."
"Rocks against guns?" Andreas muttered.
"They're all we have now," Prynne replied.
Andreas scrambled up to join Clea. Joe came back to Prynne. "I may have an idea," he said, explaining quickly.
Prynne nodded. "Set it up," he said. "I'm going to explore farther up into the cleft."
Joe ordered Phil to stow the radio, and gave him a length of rope, but Phil still looked at the steep rock face unhappily.
"Look, if Clea can do it, then we can do it," coaxed Joe. "It's not completely smooth, like glass. Look for little ridges, little cracks, use the plants for handholds. It's better than just sitting here and waiting for them."
With this encouragement, Phil carefully started up, the rope slung over his shoulder. With Clea shouting instructions and urging him on, Phil slowly got to the ledge, where he rolled himself onto the flat surface with a deep sigh of relief.
Then they hauled up a bundle of spare clothes and a can of gasoline. Morton Prynne came out from the inner reaches of the cleft, and Joe stopped to check with him.
"We're ready to go up there," he said. "Are you coming?"
"I've found a little hiding place back there," replied Prynne, gesturing with his thumb. "It's a kind of mini-cave that'll hold just me. It's better that someone stays on ground level, so we attack from two directions at once. Watch for my signal, and then let 'em have it."
Joe grinned at Prynne and said, "Well, here goes nothing." He started up the ledge, while the other man retreated into the crevice.
On the ledge, Joe found a good-size pile of rocks being gathered. He tied the spare clothes into bundles, soaking them in gasoline. Each makeshift torch also got a rock for throwing weight.
Phil studied them, then asked Joe, "Think these'll do any damage?"
"Well, they'll surprise whoever they're dropped on. Maybe that'll give us an edge."
Preparations finished, the four students lay in wait on their ledge, with Prynne below, tucked into his little niche. Minutes dragged by, and the silence was complete. It grew warm on the ledge, and Joe wiped the sweat from his eyes.
Then, a man's head peered cautiously around from the road. The scout saw the ATV, and called back over his shoulder. Seconds later, four men were standing near the truck, searching. The four above flattened themselves down and froze.
Joe whispered to Phil, "Those guns they have are AK-forty-sevens. Russian-made, automatic."
Phil whispered back, "How'll they stand up against manually operated Greek rocks?"
Joe nudged Clea. "What are those guys saying?"
"I don't know," she whispered back. "They aren't speaking Greek."
One of the gunmen now moved out of sight, down the road from where the Mercedes sat, off to see if the ATV passengers had fled in that direction.
"That cuts the odds down a little," Joe muttered. "Get ready."
Prynne leapt from his cover, landing on the back of the nearest opponent and clamping an arm around his throat. The other two wheeled around, but as they did, the four on the ledge hurled a hail of rocks, some of them trailing flaming torches. One of the men was smashed squarely in the side of the head and toppled.
The other had his aim spoiled when a torch nearly singed his face. He jerked away, only to Have Joe drop from the ledge onto him.
The AK-47 fell to the ground. Joe lunged for the gun, but was grabbed from behind. Twisting, Joe saw that his man had him by the leg with one hand, while reaching for a knife with the other.
Joe kicked back with his free leg, catching the man hard in the chest and breaking his grip. A quick roll brought Joe to his feet. But his opponent, knife in hand, barred the way to the gun.
A wild slash sent Joe stepping back, looking for more room. But his foot landed in a shallow hole and he tumbled, landing hard. Sensing his chance for a quick kill, the thug started forward, but a sudden burst of automatic weapon fire from behind froze him in his tracks.
There stood Phil, glaring over the sights of the AK-47 in his hands. Joe's attacker dropped his knife and raised his hands. "Joe, you all right?" Phil asked.
"Can't complain," Joe said, getting up and dusting himself off. "Much obliged for the help."
Glea and Andreas by now had made their descent from the ledge, and Prynne stood alone, cradling an AK-47. At his feet lay another thug, lying flat out before him.
"Is he—dead?" Andreas asked in a shaky voice.
"No, just fast asleep. I didn't cut off his air supply long enough to do him any serious damage," Prynne said calmly. "Joe, pick up that gun, if you would, and then we'll wait for the fourth one, who should be here before long."
A few minutes later they heard a voice calling out a question in the same mysterious language their attackers had used. To the surprise of all the others, Prynne called out an equally unintelligible response.
A moment afterward the fourth attacker strolled into the recess, to find three AK-47s pointed right at him. Sensibly, he lowered his gun and joined his comrades.
The four disarmed gunmen were pulled back into the deeper part of the cleft in the rocks, where they were tied securely with rope and their own belts. While this went on, Joe asked Prynne, "What was that language you were speaking?"
"Serbo-Croatian," Prynne replied, his eyes still on the prisoners. "Phil, that rope needs tightening. That's more like it."
"You speak Serbo-Croatian?"
"I'm a bit rusty," Prynne said, smiling, "but good enough for the present purposes."
While the others finished with their captives, Phil and Joe headed for the ATV to try the radio again. As they neared the truck, Joe stopped short, noticing a pool of liquid spreading out from under the front end. He ran to the front of the vehicle and knelt down. Then he raised the hood and looked down at the engine. Phil joined him.
"What's up?" Phil wanted to know.
Scowling, Joe thumped the motor. "Look for yourself. We took a bullet in the radiator, and this engine is scrap metal. We're not going anywhere — at least not in this truck."
WAITING, FRANK THOUGHT, is the hardest thing of all, especially while somebody else is out doing something. He and Chet, along with Alma and Aleko, sat in Frank's hotel room. He kept checking his watch, amazed at how slowly the time crawled along.
The multiband radio sat on the bureau. But the time to check for messages hadn't arrived yet, nor had Nicholas Kaliotis. Frank went back over the events of the past few days in his head.
Suddenly he sat up straight, and said, "Hey, I just remembered something from last night."
"Let's hear it," Chet exclaimed.
"Well," Frank went on, "while I was on the phone with Peter, when he was giving me the word from the people holding him, I heard — I think it was a whistle. Yeah, like a boat whistle! Maybe that could help to narrow down the areas to search."
Aleko sighed and shook his head sadly. "In Salonika, you can hear whistles from ships almost anywhere. It is no help."
Frank slumped back in his chair. Finally he went over to turn on the radio.
"Phil should be in touch any minute now," he said. But the only sound to emerge was static. He turned the volume all the way up and paced the floor. Nothing. In frustration, he slammed the bureau top with the flat of his hand.
"You're sure that's the right frequency?" Chet asked.
Frank glared at him. "It's the right frequency, the right time, the right everything. Maybe — "
"Shhh!" hissed Alma, bending close to the radio's speaker. "Listen!"
Through the interference Phil's voice could just be made out, barely audible: "Ambushed ... trapped on ... road ... automatic weapons ... careful ..." The static swelled, and the faint voice disappeared altogether. Frank attempted a transmission.
"Base to Northern Group ... Base to Northern Group ... Do you read me, Northern Group? . . . Phil, are you there? Over. Come in if you read me, Phil, over." But the only sound from the receiver was noise.