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Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

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BOOK: Disaster for Hire
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"Joe!" called Prynne. "How are they armed? Can you tell?"

"I saw more AK-forty-sevens," Joe replied.

"Nothing heavier? No mortars or any kind of artillery?"

"No, just small arms."

Prynne let out a sigh of relief. "Then they can't get up here, and we can't get out. Except we have to get you out of here, somehow."

Clea had been exploring the walls. Now she called out, "Joe! Andreas! Over here. I think I've found a way out, if we can keep those men occupied on the other side."

She pointed down the wall, saying, "Do you see the vines here — the way the stones in the wall are uneven? I am sure we have enough footholds and handholds to get down."

Joe surveyed the immediate area, which was almost halfway around the fort from the road. At the foot of the wall, the ground sloped down, but not too steeply. There were scattered boulders, and stunted trees and bushes.

"Once we're down," he said, "it looks as if there's enough cover to let us work our way clear. I think it's our best shot."

Leaving Phil to patrol the wall, Joe outlined the plan. Prynne listened, and when Joe finished, he thought it through for a second.

"It'll have to do," he muttered. "Are you set to move out?"

"Whenever you say," answered Joe, and Clea and Andreas nodded.

Prynne looked at his watch. "In one minute Phil and I will open up with a heavy covering fire. Give us fifteen seconds to catch the enemy's attention, then make your move. Good luck." Gravely, he shook hands with each of them.

A minute later Prynne and Phil opened up on their side of the fort, firing in frequent, short bursts. The force beneath the walls began firing back. After counting off fifteen seconds, Clea, the most experienced climber, swung herself over the top of the wall.

She made her way carefully, using the tiny crevices between the stones of the wall and the climbing vines. Joe noted the route she took, impressed by her strength and agility, as well as her nerve. He looked over at Andreas.

"Here goes nothing," he said. "See you on the ground floor." Joe swung himself over and began the difficult descent.

Below him Clea had reached a point only three feet from the ground.

But as she dropped, some bushes a few feet from her rustled. Out stepped a man with an old Tokarev pistol — a scout for the attacking party. And he had Clea dead in his sights!

Chapter 11

THE CELLAR WAS dim, musty, and bare. The men who had kidnapped Frank and the others obviously had faith that they couldn't escape because they removed Peter Stamos's gag and ropes and left his friends unbound. The prisoners were alone now.

As soon as the door had closed, Frank began a quick but thorough search of their dark cell. There was a single, small window, set high into a wall, and protected by a thick steel grill. As a source of light, it was too dirty to be of much use; as a possible escape route it was entirely hopeless.

Moreover, there was nothing — no carelessly dropped tool or removable length of pipe — nothing that could conceivably serve as a weapon.

Alma huddled, weeping, in a corner, with Aleko hovering over, trying to comfort her.

"What — what will they do to us?" she asked in a shaky, whispery voice.

Aleko knelt before her and put his hands on her shoulders."

"I will not let them hurt you," he said. "They will have to kill me first."

At this, Alma's tears built into sobs that shook her whole body. Chet approached the terrified girl. He bent down and spoke in a calm, casual voice.

"They're not going to do anything to us, Alma. All they want is to keep us out of the way for a while."

She looked up at Chet, wanting to believe him. "Do you think that we are safe?" she asked.

Somehow Chet managed a comforting smile. "Sure, they'll probably hold us until tomorrow and then let us go. Why don't you try to get a little rest?"

She smiled quickly and leaned her head back against the wall, closing her eyes.

For the first time Aleko looked at Chet without hostility. He muttered in gratitude, then began pacing, smacking one massive fist into his other hand with a loud crack.

Moving away from Alma so as not to disturb her, Aleko whispered fiercely, "Frank, I do not know how he could do this."

"Who? Kaliotis?" questioned Frank.

"When we were little, we called him Uncle Nicholas. How could he turn on those who gave him love, gave him life? When his parents were killed and his brother taken, he was a small child who would have died if the Stamos family had not taken him in."

He stared at Frank, his burst of anger spent. "I cannot understand it. It is — it is the worst of crimes."

Just then the door at the head of the stairs was flung open, and some men clomped down the steps. Two carried automatic pistols, the third had an Uzi. Fanning out, they trained their guns on the five students.

Then a fourth figure clomped noisily down the wooden steps as everyone watched silently. He surveyed the group with an ugly smirk. And Frank realized that his thin, ferret face was a familiar one — he'd been the ringleader in the attack at the restaurant. Chet gasped and whispered, "Frank! That's the guy from the ship, the one who — "

"You will be silent!" snapped the man in a cold, cutting voice. He looked over to one of the armed men and in the same chilling tone commanded, "Get a brighter light."

"At once, Theo," responded the other, who hastily trotted back up the steps, reappearing a moment later with a long, multicelled flashlight that he handed to Theo.

Theo played the light slowly over the five young faces. Stepping forward, he grasped Frank's collar and jerked him forward a couple of paces.

"Well, well, my meddling young Yankee friend! You have a nasty habit of sticking your nose in where it doesn't belong. I think the time has come for you to pay for your interference."

Frank stared straight into Theo's eyes, refusing to show any fear, concentrating on breathing deeply and evenly.

"Pay?" he said. "Sorry, I didn't think to bring much cash. You take credit cards?"

Switching the flashlight to his left hand, Theo lashed out with his right, catching Frank on the jaw with his open palm and sending him reeling into the wall. Alma gasped, and Chet took a step forward, but stopped when the Uzi was swung around and pointed straight at his chest.

"Enough of this foolishness!" Theo said, slapping the long, heavy flashlight into his palm like a policeman's nightstick. "We have some questions for you." He pointed the flashlight at Frank. "You will answer them immediately and save yourself and your friends unpleasantness."

Frank's jaw hurt, but he would not give Theo the satisfaction of rubbing it and admitting to the pain. "I don't know what kind of information you think you can get out of me. I'm just a student on an exchange program."

"Either you are a fool, which I doubt, or you take me for one." Theo leaned in until his face was inches from Frank's. "I want to know exactly where your criminal accomplices are to meet with the American spy. He will not escape the forces of justice in any case, but if you tell us the exact location of the meeting, it will be easier for him—and for you."

Frank took a deep breath, but let none of the relief and happiness he felt show in his face. Maybe Joe and the rest of the northern party had somehow managed to get free of the ambush.

"Spy? Criminal accomplices? Listen, Theo, I'm telling you, you're making a mistake. We came here to study history and culture.

"I tell you what, check with my brother Joe. He'll be happy to explain how we've always wanted to visit Greece and soak up all this ancient history."

"I look forward to the chance of having a long, long meeting with your brother, when such a tiling is possible. But for now," Theo said, "I am talking to you. So, stop this pointless lying. Where is this meeting to be?"

Frank shrugged and shook his head. "Sorry, but I'm afraid I can't help you."

Theo's eyes narrowed, and his lips pressed together into a thin, bloodless line. He handed the flashlight to one of his henchmen and reached into his jacket, pulling out a large, nickel-plated 9mm automatic pistol. Holding it casually at the bridge of Frank's nose, he asked, "Perhaps this will help your memory a little?"

To Frank, the barrel of the gun looked about the size of a manhole cover. But he gave Theo his most innocent, puzzled look and replied, "There's nothing I can tell you. And if you shoot me, then there definitely will be nothing I'll be able to tell you."

"Shoot you? Oh, no, my young student friend, I would never dream of shooting you." Theo's mouth curved up into a smile, and that smile was the ugliest expression he had shown yet — the look of a shark that had just sniffed out a tasty meal.

"No, you are to remain alive for the time being," Theo went on. "But I am going to introduce your friends here to a very old custom of our country — one which your brother and you, with your great interest in Greek history, will no doubt find fascinating."

Theo put his gun away and climbed the steps out of the cellar, returning a moment later with a small clay pot in his hand. "It is a kind of lottery," he explained.

Pulling a knife from a sheath on his belt, Theo crossed the basement. The wall there had once been decorated with black and white tiles. Many were now missing or broken. Theo pried several of the tiles loose, then slipped the knife back in its sheath.

"You see," Theo said, holding the tiles out in his hand, "I have three white tiles and one black one. When the ancients had to choose one person from a group to suffer an unpleasant fate, they put tiles or rocks in a pot, like so.

He dropped the tiles into the pot and shook it up. "Then each member of the group would pick a tile. The person with the bad luck to draw the black tile—that one would suffer. Now we relive this old Greek custom. Fun, eh?"

Frank reached for the pot, but Theo shook his head.

"Oh, no, my friend, you may only observe our little lottery," Theo said. "But the rest of you," — he swung his gaze over Chet, Peter, Alma, and Aleko — "will reach into the pot and choose a tile. Whoever chooses the black tile, that unhappy soul will suffer if Frank refuses to answer my questions."

He smiled again. "Whether you live or die will be entirely Frank's responsibility."

Chapter 12

JOE HARDY CLUNG to the rocky surface of the old fortress tower like a fly to sticky paper. He was only halfway down when the gunman had appeared to subdue Clea.

Apparently the enemy scout had seen only her and decided on a quiet capture. He had clamped a hand over her mouth and begun dragging her backward.

But Clea refused to cooperate. She sank her teeth into the guy's hand. He grunted in pain and lost his grip on the girl, who darted away. He recovered quickly and lunged after her.

Twelve feet above, Joe pushed out from the wall. Falling like dead weight, he hit his unsuspecting target squarely on the back. They both fell heavily, with the man taking most of the impact.

Joe kicked free and got to his feet, while his dazed opponent wobbled to his hands and knees. Before he got up any farther, Joe delivered a roundhouse right to the side of the guy's head with enough power to send him flat on his face, down and out.

Clea rushed up as Joe removed the unconscious gunman's pistol and checked the clip. There was a full load of eight shots. He made sure the safety was on and stuck the gun in his belt.

"Are you all right?" Clea asked.

"Never felt better," he answered, pulling a coil of rope from his pack. "Let's drag him over behind the bushes there and tie him up."

They left the scout behind a dense growth of plants, a gag stuffed in his mouth and his hands and feet bound behind his back. By this time, Andreas had joined them. They still heard occasional firing from the other side of the tower.

"Okay," Joe said. "Clea and I will circle in front of the tower and create a diversion with this." He patted the pistol.

"I figure if they think they're under fire from two sides, that ought to let Andreas move down the hillside without being seen. Andreas, you have a watch?"

"A stopwatch for my running," he replied, pulling one from a pocket.

"Great!" exclaimed Joe. "Give us, say, ten minutes from the time we move out before you take off. And one last thing—when you get to that junction, stay out of sight until you're sure that the people you see seem friendly. Got that?"

Andreas's eyes gleamed with excitement. "I understand," he assured Joe. Then he smiled at his sister. "Take care, and good luck."

Clea gave Andreas a quick hug. "Run well, my brother."

Leaving Andreas looking at his watch, Joe and Clea worked their way down the slope. They carefully started around the fortress, using all available cover once they were within sight of the attack force.

Dodging from scraggly bush to little hillock of earth, to one of the many boulders scattered around the area, they moved in behind the enemy. They climbed a hill, at their opponents' backs. The gunmen never noticed a thing.

"Over here," Joe whispered. He'd seen just what he wanted — a thick tangle of bushes on the hill's crest. From there they could see a section of road where Andreas should soon appear. The nearest of the opposition was about sixty yards away. Joe checked his watch and found that eight minutes had passed. They had two minutes to establish their diversion.

Joe motioned Clea to lie flat and pulled out the automatic pistol, flipping off the safety. He drew a bead on the rock the nearest enemy was using for cover. Then, gripping the heavy pistol in two hands, as his father had taught him, he squeezed off a shot.

Sixty yards away, the bullet smashed into a rock only a foot from the gunman, who jumped in fear and stared wildly around. Joe fired again, and a bullet ricocheted off a rock on the man's other side, sending up a shower of stone chips.

Joe and Clea could hear the man cry out in shrill, panicky tones. Joe kept shooting until the clip was empty. The result was a frantic scramble as the bewildered attackers looked for better hiding places against gunfire from both the tower and this new threat. A burst of wild automatic fire tore through the top of a tree, but the gunner had no idea where to aim.

BOOK: Disaster for Hire
7.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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