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Authors: Franklin W. Dixon

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BOOK: Disaster for Hire
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Clea reached out to tap Joe on the arm. "Look! On the road!" she whispered urgently.

Joe swung around and saw Andreas, arms churning, thin legs pumping, as he sprinted away, completely unseen by the enemy. The diversion had worked!

Seconds later heavy fire erupted from the tower, and the attackers, now totally rattled, turned back to face their original target.

Joe nudged Clea. "I think Phil and Prynne are giving us some cover. Let's take advantage of it and get out of here. Stay low and move slowly—at first."

They put some distance between the fortress and themselves before they felt it was safe to take off across the jagged terrain at a rapid clip. The noise of shooting soon faded behind them.

They moved through a landscape of barren earth and stone. Drab, colorless, low trees and : bushes were the only silhouettes breaking up the monotony. There were no buildings, no signs of paved roads, in fact, no evidence that people had ever set foot there. Clea had some knowledge of the country and led the way. At one point, Joe called a brief halt and discarded their pistol, hiding it under a pile of small rocks. Clea asked, "Why don't we keep the gun?" "If we're stopped by anyone," answered Joe, "it's better if we look like a couple of innocent backpackers. And an empty pistol isn't going to be of much use anyway."

They plodded on for a while in silence, each wrapped up in his or her own thoughts and worries about friends and relations.

Joe began to be aware of the straps of his pack cutting into his shoulders. And his legs were sending painful messages that all this up-and downhill was getting very old very fast.

He stopped and drew in a deep breath. "Listen, Clea." She turned to face him. "Uh, how are you doing? You want to take a breather?"

"A breather?" she asked with a mocking smile. "Can it be that the all-American athlete is tired already?"

Joe felt his face reddening. "Hey, give me a break!" he protested. "I'm fine, I just figured maybe you might be a little — "

"You needn't worry about me," replied Clea coldly. "Any Greek could outlast you in crosscountry hiking. I see how the American tourists won't go anywhere if they can't take a bus or car. You're soft and weak, all of you."

Joe's aching legs and back were forgotten in a rising tide of anger and resentment. He marched alongside her, demanding, "Why do you hate America anyway? What's your problem?"

Clea stared at him in puzzlement. "Hate America? I don't. We Greeks owe a great deal to your country. America saved us from terrible things when my parents were young."

Joe frowned. "I don't get it."

"After World War Two ended, there were those who wanted Greece to become a Communist state. Many died in the fighting, and thousands of children, babies even, were carried off to be raised in Communist countries.

When we became a tyranny, they would return as our new leaders.

"If it had not been for American assistance, the Communists might have won. But when I see rich, spoiled American tourists who only want their comforts, I wonder if they could fight for their liberty if they had to."

Joe had forgotten his anger as he listened to Clea's story. He walked a way before answering.

"I never heard any of what happened in Greece back then," he said finally. "I'm glad you told me. But I do know a bit about America. Sure, there are some folks like the ones you're talking about, who come over for a good time only.

"But I look at Bayport, where Frank and I live, and people don't look so lazy or spoiled to me. They work hard. My father, for instance, makes a good, comfortable living as a detective, but I can tell you, he's worked hard to help a lot of people."

He looked down. "I guess that's one of the reasons my brother and I want to be like him."

Clea shook her head. "What you say may be true, but that's just one town and only a small number of people."

"Frank and I have met a lot of Americans. I'm not saying they're all perfect, but I don't think we're all that bad. In fact, I bet we're a lot like you. We look at some things differently, we do some stuff differently. But I guess we're the same in more important ways than we're different."

Joe broke off, seeing Clea smile at him. He looked away, embarrassed at having gone on as he had.

"Well, anyway, that's what I think," he mumbled. "Maybe it sounds pretty dumb, but — "

"No, not at all," Clea protested. "I don't think it's dumb at all, Joe. I think that it is probably so. Perhaps I do not know Americans as well as I thought I did. Maybe we're both learning important things from each other."

They went on in silence again — a friendlier silence than before.

Near the crest of what seemed to Joe like the two hundredth hill they'd climbed, he raised his hands in mock surrender and said, "Okay, I give up. I want to take a breather, because I could use a break, all right?"

Clea began to pull off her backpack. "If you hadn't said anything, I would have in a minute or so," she admitted. "I think we could both use a little rest and something to eat."

Joe noticed a flat ledge of rock nearby. He walked over to it, shedding his own pack as he did. "This looks like a pretty good spot to sit down for a couple of — "

Whap! Something smacked into the pack, ripping it out of his hands. Startled, Joe yelled to Clea, "Get down!"

She stared in surprise but dove for the ground.

Crouching, Joe scanned the barren hillsides around them. Somewhere out there, someone had targeted them. But there'd been no sound of a gunshot.

"We've got to get behind those rocks," he said to Clea, glancing at the only cover nearby.

Joe and the Greek girl managed to crawl only a foot toward shelter.

Then something went spang off the rocks right between them.

Chapter 13

THEO SHOVED THE small pot with the four tiles inside at Chet Morton, saying, "We'll begin with you, fat boy. Put your hand inside and pick out a tile. Quickly!"

Glaring at the man, jaws clenched tight, Chet reached in and pulled out a tile. It sat in his large fist as he swallowed, then opened his hand. The tile was white!

Theo was clearly enjoying the game and the fear it caused his prisoners. He moved over to Aleko, who scowled sullenly. "Now you, make your choice. Don't be afraid, boy, the odds are still in your favor."

"I am not afraid," muttered Aleko as he pulled out a tile. It, too, was white.

"It is the turn of the young lady," Theo said, offering her the pot. Alma stared at him, eyes wide, frozen, like a bird hypnotized by a snake. She couldn't move.

"Come, now," Theo went on, shaking the pot so that the two remaining tiles rattled. "Get it done with, girl. You are making me angry, and that is a very bad idea. Take the tile, or I will make your brother my first victim."

"No! Please!" cried Alma, groping inside the pot with a trembling hand. Looking at what she had chosen, she let out a soft moaning sound. Her hand fell to her side, and the black tile dropped to the cellar floor.

Theo grabbed Alma by the wrist. He pulled her forward, away from the others, drawing the big automatic with his other hand.

"Let her go," roared Aleko, springing for Theo's throat. The henchman with the long flashlight clubbed the brawny young Greek on the back of the head, dropping him in a crumpled heap on the ground. Alma screamed, but Theo silenced her abruptly, pointing the ugly gun at her nostrils. The room grew quiet.

"Now then! There will be no more heroics, I hope," Theo said, looking over at Frank.

"If you wish this girl to live, you will tell me all you know about where the meeting has been set with the criminal spy—now!" Frank gauged the distance that separated him from Theo—but with three other armed men facing him, the odds were too long. Theo held Alma by the wrist, and now, deliberately, he cocked his gun with a dry click that echoed through the room. Then the door at the head of the steps opened.

"Theo!" called out a voice, and Nicholas Kaliotis stormed the cellar. Theo sullenly lowered his weapon. The two men shouted angrily at each other in Greek. Kaliotis turned to Frank, giving him a grim look.

"We do not wish to hurt anyone. You will all be released unharmed, if you are cooperative."

"Traitor!" Alma shrieked. "How can anything you say be believed?"

Kaliotis bit his lower lip but did not look at her.

"I tell you, we are not here to shed blood. You must tell us what you know, and you and your friends will be safe. I swear it."

Frank studied Kaliotis for a few seconds. "Maybe you actually believe what you're saying," he answered. "I wish that I could. We've seen too much, we know too much, and your buddy Theo seems like a guy who would shoot because he doesn't like the way we cut our hair. I don't think it matters if I say anything or not."

"No! You are wrong, I tell you!" Kaliotis grabbed Frank's shoulders with both hands. "I would not have done this — do you think I would have brought you here to be shot?"

Theo stepped forward between Kaliotis and Frank and shoved the Greek back and out of the way. He gave Kaliotis a look of contempt.

"We have tried your method, and you see where it has gotten us. Now we are short of time, and we will use my way. I will shoot a prisoner now, and one for each additional minute that this stubborn American refuses to talk."

Kaliotis started to protest, but Theo grabbed Alma once again, saying, "You are weak, my brother."

He aimed the pistol at Alma, and once more looked over at Frank. "Well? What will it be? Nothing? Very well, then. Her death is on your head, Yankee."

"Theo! No!" Just before Theo pulled the trigger, Kaliotis hurled himself at Theo. The pistol roared, and Kaliotis was flung back against the wall.

Seeing his chance, Frank drove a shoulder hard into Theo's chest, knocking him down and sending the gun clattering into a corner. Chet wrenched the flashlight away from the distracted guard and brought it down on the man's arm as he raised his pistol. Then he rammed an elbow into the face of the disarmed gunman, who fell to his knees, all the fight knocked out of him.

Screaming, Alma rushed the man with the Uzi, clawing at his eyes. Peter jumped on the guy's back, pinning the man's arms to his sides, hanging in with grim determination. The man, bleeding from the scratches that Alma had left on his face, tried to shake Peter loose, but the boy wouldn't let go.

The remaining guard leveled his pistol, hoping for a clear shot at one of the young demons. But in the dim light the action boiled so rapidly around him that he dared not shoot.

While he hesitated, Chet threw the long multicell flashlight at him. It struck him a glancing blow that didn't do much damage. But it was followed immediately by Chet himself, who slammed the guard against the wall of the cellar and knocked the wind out of him.

Theo was tough and agile, quickly getting up and going for the gun lying in the corner. When Frank tried to hook an arm around his leg, he kicked back, landing a heel on Frank's forehead hard enough to leave him briefly stunned.

Now Theo had eyes only for his gun — he wouldn't hesitate to shoot the wrong person. But as he strode toward the gleaming automatic, a hand reached out to trip him up. Aleko, only partially conscious, was still in the fight. Theo landed hard, the gun a few feet beyond his outstretched hand.

Snarling in frustration, Theo jerked his foot loose from Aleko's grip and kicked back with his heavy boot on Aleko's arm. Then he started to crawl forward but stopped short and sagged in defeat. Frank Hardy, bleeding slightly from a cut on his forehead, stood with the silvery pistol in his hand. He fired a single shot, which split the air with an ear-shattering roar. A moment later all the guns had been collected by Peter and Chet. Alma knelt beside her brother as he started to come around.

Nicholas Kaliotis lay motionless, the sleeve and body of his shirt marked by a spreading stain of red. Frank started over to him. "Mr. Kaliotis? Nicholas?"

When Peter and Chet also turned to Nicholas, Theo saw his opportunity. With a single lithe movement, he was on his feet, and before anyone could react, he had an iron grip around Alma's neck, and a knife at her throat. Furious at his own carelessness, Frank trained his gun on Theo, who sneered, pulling Alma back toward the foot of the stairs.

"No, no, young American, don't be hasty. I am going to take my leave of you now—but I am certain that we'll be seeing each other again, quite soon."

Keeping his eyes fixed on the guns held by Frank, Chet and Peter, Theo climbed the steep flight of stairs, pulling Alma up step by step, using her as a shield. When he reached the top landing, he held the knife against Alma, and reached back with his other hand to push open the door. With one last malevolent stare at Frank, Theo vanished through the doorway, leaving Alma standing alone and trembling. "C'mon, Frank, let's get him," urged Chet. But Frank let his gun hand drop to his side. "No, we'd never catch him — he knows this city, and we don't. Besides, we have some people who need looking after. He'll keep, for the moment. Alma, are you okay?"

Alma had her arms crossed, hugging herself tightly. She took a ragged breath and said, "Yes, I think so. I am not hurt, only ... I was very frightened. But I am well." She started back down the steps.

Peter was kneeling by Kaliotis. "Frank! He's alive. His eyes are open, and I think he's conscious."

Frank got down next to Kaliotis, who looked up with a mixture of pain and remorse. The man panted with effort. In spite of his shoulder wound, he reached out with his other hand to grip Frank's arm. "You must believe that I never thought he would shoot. I was wrong, and you were right." Frank gently removed Kaliotis's hand and spoke quietly. "Just try to relax, and we'll get some help for you."

Kaliotis nodded weakly. "I am not seriously wounded, I think. No immediate danger."

"Mr. Kaliotis—Nicholas," Frank went on. "Theo called you 'brother' a while back. Why did he do that?"

Kaliotis's eyes closed, and he sighed. "He is my brother by birth — he was taken across the border many years before. Some months ago, he revealed his identity to me, telling me things about our family that only my brother could possibly know."

BOOK: Disaster for Hire
2.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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