Chapter 1 Prelude: Sunday 0100–0900 icon

Chapter 1 Prelude: Sunday 0100–0900



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1. /AlistairMaclean.TheGunsOfNavaronne.docChapter 1 Prelude: Sunday 0100–0900

CHAPTER 1

Prelude: Sunday

0100–0900


The match scratched noisily across the rusted metal of the corrugated iron shed, fizzled, then burst into a sputtering pool of light, the harsh sound and sudden brilliance alike strangely alien in the stillness of the desert night. Mechanically, Mallory's eyes followed the cupped sweep of the flaring match to the cigarette jutting out beneath the commodore's clipped moustache, saw the light stop inches away from the face, saw too the sudden stillness of that face, the unfocused vacancy of the eyes of a man lost in listening. Then the match was gone, ground into the sand of the airfield perimeter.

"I can hear them," the commodore said softly. "I can hear them coming in. Five minutes, no more. No wind to-night–they'll be coming in on No. 2. Come on, let's meet them in the interrogation room." He paused, looked quizzically at Mallory and seemed to smile. But the darkness deceived, for there was no humor in his voice. "Just curb your impatience, young man–just for a little longer. Things haven't gone too well tonight. You're going to have all your answers, I'm afraid, and have them all too soon." He turned abruptly, strode off towards the squat buildings that loomed vaguely against the pale darkness that topped the level horizon.

Mallory shrugged, then followed on more slowly, step for step with the third member of the group, a broad, stocky figure with a very pronounced roll in his gait. Mallory wondered sourly just how much practice Jensen had required to achieve that sailorly effect. Thirty years at sea, of course–and Jensen had done exactly that– were sufficient warrant for a man to dance a hornpipe as he walked: but that wasn't the point. As the brilliantly successful Chief of Operations of the Subversive Operations Executive in Cairo, intrigue, deception, imitation and disguise were the breath of life to Captain James Jensen, D.S.O., R.N. As a Levantine stevedore agitator, he had won the awed respect of the dock-labourers from Alexandretta to Alexandria: as a camel-driver, he had blasphemously out-camel-driven all available Bedouin competition: and no more pathetic beggar had ever exhibited such realistic sores in the bazaars and marketplaces of the East. To-night, however, he was just the bluff and simple sailor. He was dressed in white from cap-cover to canvas shoes; the starlight glinted softly on the golden braid on epaulettes and cap peak.

Their footsteps crunched in companionable unison over the hard-packed sand, rang sharply as they moved on to the concrete of the runway. The hurrying figure of the air commodore was already almost lost to sight.
Mallory took a deep breath and turned suddenly towards Jensen.

"Look, sir, just what is all this? What's all the flap, all the secrecy about? And why am I involved in it? Good lord, sir, it was only yesterday that I was pulled out of Crete, relieved at eight hours' notice. A month's leave, I was told. And what happens?"

"Well," Jensen murmured, "what did happen?"

"No leave," Mallory said bitterly. "Not even a night's sleep. Just hours and hours in the S.O.E. Headquarters, answering a lot of silly, damnfool questions about climbing in the Southern Alps. Then hauled out of bed at midnight, told I was to meet you, and then driven for hours across the blasted desert by a mad Scotsman who sang drunken songs and asked hundreds of even more silly, damnfool questions!"

"One of my more effective disguises, I've always thought," Jensen said smugly. "Personally, I found the journey most entertaining!"

"One of your–" Mallory broke off, appalled at the memory of the things he had said to the elderly, bewhiskered Scots captain who had driven the command vehicle. "I–I'm terribly sorry, sir. I never realised–"

"Of course you didn't!" Jensen cut in briskly. "You weren't supposed to. Just wanted to find out if you were the man for the job. I'm sure you are–I was pretty sure you were before I pulled you out of Crete. But where you got the idea about leave I don't know. The sanity of the S.O.E. has often been questioned, but even we aren't given to sending a flying-boat for the sole purpose of enabling junior officers to spend a month wasting their substance among the flesh-pots of Cairo," be finished dryly.

"I still don't know–"

"Patience, laddie, patience–as our worthy commodore has just advocated. Time is endless. To wait, and to keep on waiting–that is to be of the East."

"To total four hours' sleep in three days is not," Mallory said feelingly. "And that's all I've had. . . . Here they come!"

Both men screwed up their eyes in automatic reflex as the fierce glare of the landing lights struck at them, the flare path arrowing off into the outer darkness. In less than a minute the first bomber was down, heavily, awkwardly, taxi-ing to a standstill just beside them. The grey camouflage paint of the after fuselage and tailplanes was riddled with bullet and cannon shells, an aileron was shredded and the port outer engine out of commission, saturated in oil. The cabin perspex was shattered and starred in a dozen places.

For a long time Jensen stared at the holes and scars of the damaged machine, then shook his head and looked away.

"Four hours' sleep, Captain Mallory," he said quietly. "Four hours. I'm beginning to think that you can count yourself damn' lucky to have had even that much."


The interrogation room, harshly lit by two powerful, unshaded lights, was uncomfortable and airless. The furniture consisted of some battered wall-maps and charts, a score or so of equally scuffed chairs and an unvarnished deal table. The commodore, flanked by Jensen and Mallory, was sitting behind this when the door opened abruptly and the first of the flying crews entered, blinking rapidly in the fierceness of the unaccustomed light They were led by a dark-haired, thick-set pilot, trailing helmet and flying-suit in his left hand. He had an Anzac bush helmet crushed on the back of his head, and the word "Australia" emblazoned in white across each khaki shoulder. Scowling, wordlessly and without permission, he sat down in front of them, produced a pack of cigaottes and rasped a match across the surface of the table. Mallory looked furtively at the commodore. The commodore just looked resigned. He even sounded resigned.

"Gentlemen, this is Squadron Leader Torrance. Squadron Leader Torrance," he added unnecessarily, "is an Australian." Mallory had the impression that the commodore rather hoped this would explain some things, Squadron Leader Torrance among them. "He led tonight's attack on Navarone. Bill, these gentlemen here–Captain Jensen of the Royal Navy, Captain Mallory of the Long Range Desert Group–have a very special interest in Navarone. How did things go to-night?"

Navarone! So that's why I'm here to-night, Mallory thought. Navarone. He knew it well, rather, knew of it. So did everyone who had served any time at all in the Eastern Mediterranean: a grim, impregnable iron fortress off the coast of Turkey, heavily defended by–it was thought–a mixed garrison of Germans and Italians, one of the few Aegean islands on which the Allies had been unable to establish a mission, far less recapture, at some period of the war. . . . He realised that Torrance was speaking, the slow drawl heavy with controlied anger.

"Bloody awful, sir. A fair cow, it was, a real suicide do." He broke off abruptly, stared moodily with compressed lips through his own drifting tobacco smoke. "But we'd like to go back again," he went on. "Me and the boys here. Just once. We were talking about it on the way home." Mallory caught the deep murmur of voices in the background, a growl of agreement. 'We'd like to take with us the joker who thought this one up and shove him out at ten thousand over Navarone, without benefit of parachute."

"As bad as that, Bill?"

"As bad as that, sir. We hadn't a chance. Straight up, we really hadn't. First off, the weather was against us– the jokers in the Met. office were about as right as they usually are."

"They gave you clear weather?"

"Yeah. Clear weather. It was ten-tenths over the target," Torrance said bitterly. "We had to go down to fifteen hundred. Not that it made any difference. We would have to have gone down lower than that anyway–about three thousand feet below sea-level, then fly up the way: that cliff overhang shuts the target clean off. Might as well have dropped a shower of leaflets asking them to spike their own bloody guns. . . . Then they've got every second A.A. gun in the south of Europe concentrated along this narrow 50-degree vector–the only way you can approach the target, or anywhere near the target. Russ and Conroy were belted good and proper on the way in. Didn't even get half-way towards the harbour.... They never had a chance."

"I know, I know." The commodore, nodded heavily. 'We heard. W/T reception was good. . . . And McIlveen ditched just north of Alex?"

"Yeah. But he'll be all right. The old crate was still awash when we passed over, the big dinghy was out and it was as smooth as a millpond. He'll be all right," Torrance repeated.

The commodore nodded again, and Jensen touched his sleeve.

"May I have a word with the Squadron Leader?"

"Of course, Captain. You don't have to ask."

"Thanks." Jensen looked across at the burly Australian and smiled faintly.

"Just one little question, Squadron Leader. You don't fancy going back there again?"

"Too bloody right, I don't!" Torrance growled.

"Because?"

"Because I don't believe in suicide. Because I don't believe in sacrificing good blokes for nothing. Because I'm not God and I can't do the impossible." There was a flat finality in Torrance's voice that carried conviction, that brooked no argument.

"It is impossible, you say?" Jensen persisted. "This is terribly important."

"So's my life. So are the lives of all these jokers." Torrance jerked a big thumb over his shoulder. "It's impossible, sir. At least, it's impossible for us." He drew a weary hand down his face. "Maybe a Dornier flyingboat with one of these new-fangled radio-controlled glider-bombs might do it and get off with it. I don't know. But I do know that nothing we've got has a snowball's chance in hell. Not," he added bitterly, "unless you cram a Mosquito full of T.N.T. and order one of us to crash-dive it at four hundred into the mouth of the gun cave. That way there's always a chance."

"Thank you, Squadron Leader–and all of you." Jensen was on his feet. "I know you've done your very best, no one could have done more. And I'm sorry. Commodore?"

"Right with you, gentlemen." He nodded to the bespectacled Intelligence officer who had been sitting behind them to take his place, led the way out through a side door and into his own quarters.

"Well, that is that, I suppose." He broke the seal of a bottle of Talisker, brought out some glasses. "You'll have to accept it as final, Jensen. Bill Torrance's is the senior, most experienced squadron left in Africa to-day. Used to pound the Ploesti oil wells and think it a helluva skylark. If anyone could have done to-night's job it was Bill Torrance, and if he says it's impossible, believe me, Captain Jensen, it can't be done."

"Yes." Jensen looked down sombrely at the golden amber of the glass in his hand. "Yes, I know. I almost knew before, but I couldn't be sure, and I couldn't take the chance of being wrong. . . . A terrible pity that it took the lives of a dozen men to prove me right . . . There's just the one way left, now."

"There's just the one," the commodore echoed. He lifted his glass, shook his head. "Here's luck to Kheros!"

"Here's luck to Kheros!" Jensen echoed in turn. His face was grim.

"Look!" Mallory begged. "I'm completely lost. Would somebody please tell me–"

"Kheros," Jensen interrupted. "That was your cue call, young man. All the world's a stage, laddie, etcetera, and this is where you tread the boards in this particular little comedy." Jensen's smile was quite mirthless. "Sorry you've missed the first two acts, but don't lose any sleep over that. This is no bit part: you're going to be the star, whether you like it or not. This is it. Kheros, Act 3, Scene 1. Enter Captain Keith Mallory."


Neither of them had spoken in the last ten minutes. Jensen drove the big Humber command car with the same sureness, the same relaxed efficiency that hallmarked everything he did: Mallory still sat hunched over the map on his knees, a large-scale Admiralty chart of the Southern Aegean illuminated by the hooded dashboard light, studying an area of the Sporades and Northern Dodecanese heavily squared off in red pencil. Finally he straightened up and shivered. Even in Egypt these late November nights could be far too cold for comfort. He looked across at Jensen.

"I think I've got it now, sir."

"Good!" Jensen gazed straight ahead along the winding grey ribbon of dusty road, along the white glare of the headlights that cleaved through the darkness of the desert. The beams lifted and dipped, constantly, hypnotically, to the cushioning of the springs on the rutted road. "Good!" he repeated. "Now, have another look at it and imagine yourself standing in the town of Navarone–that's on the almost circular bay on the north of the island? Tell me, what would you see from there?"

Mallory smiled.

"I don't have to look again, sir. Four miles or so away to the east I'd see the Turkish coast curving up north and west to a point almost due north of Navarone–a very sharp promontory, that, for the coastline above curves back almost due east. Then, about sixteen miles away, due north beyond this promontory–Cape Demirci, isn't it?–and practically in a line with it I'd see the island of Kheros. Finally, six miles to the west is the island of Maidos, the first of the Lerades group. They stretch away in a north-westerly direction, maybe fifty miles."

"Sixty." Jensen nodded. "You have the eye, my boy. You've got the guts and the experience–a man doesn't survive eighteen months in Crete without both. You've got one or two special qualifications I'll mention by and by." He paused for a moment, shook his head slowly. "I only hope you have the luck–all the luck. God alone knows you're going to need it."

Mallory waited expectantly, but Jensen had sunk into some private reverie. Three minutes passed, perhaps five, and there was only the swish of the tyres, the subdued hum of the powerful engine. Presently Jensen stirred and spoke again, quietly, still without taking his eyes off the road.

"This is Saturday–rather, it's Sunday morning now. There are one thousand two hundred men on the island of Kheros–one thousand two hundred British soldiers–who will be dead, wounded or prisoner by next Saturday. Mostly, they'll be dead." For the first time he looked at Mallory and smiled, a brief smile, a crooked smile, and then it was gone. "How does it feel to hold a thousand lives in your hands, Captain Mallory?"

For long seconds Mallory looked at the impassive face beside him, then looked away again. He stared down at the chart. Twelve hundred men on Kheros, twelve hundred men waiting to die. Kheros and Navarone, Kheros and Navarone. What was that poem again, that little jingle that he'd learnt all these long years ago in that little upland village in the sheeplands outside Queenstown? Chimborazo–that was it. "Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, you have stolen my heart away." Kheros and Navarone–they had the same ring, the same indefinable glamour, the same wonder of romance that took hold of a man and stayed with him. Kheros and–angrily, almost, he shook his head, tried to concentrate. The pieces of the jig-saw were beginning to click into place, but slowly.

Jensen broke the silence.

"Eighteen months ago, you remember, after the fall of Greece, the Germans had taken over nearly all the islands of the Sporades: the Italians, of course, already held most of the Dodecanese. Then, gradually, we began to establish missions on these islands, usually spear-headed by your people, the Long Range Desert Group or the Special Boat Service. By last September we had retaken nearly all the larger islands except Navarone–it was too damned hard a nut, so we just by-passed it–and brought some of the garrisons up to, and beyond, battalion strength." He grinned at Mallory. "You were lurking in your cave somewhere in the White Mountains at the time, but you'll remember how the Germans reacted?"

"Violently?"

Jensen nodded.

"Exactly. Very violently indeed. The political importance of Turkey in this part of the world is impossible to over-estimate–and she's always been a potential partner for either Axis or Allies. Most of these islands are only a few miles off the Turkish coast. The question of prestige, of restoring confidence in Germany, was urgent."

"So?"

"So they flung in everything–paratroopers, airborne troops, crack mountain brigades, hordes of Stukas–I'm told they stripped the Italian front of dive-bombers for these operations. Anyway, they flung everything in–the lot. In a few weeks we'd lost over ten thousand troops and every island we'd ever recaptured–except Kheros."

"And now it's the turn of Kheros?"

"Yes." Jensen shook out a pair of cigarettes, sat silently until Mallory had lit them and sent the match spinning through the window towards the pale gleam of the Mediterranean lying north below the coast road. "Yes, Kheros is for the hammer. Nothing that we can do can save it. The Germans have absolute air superiority in the Aegean. . . ."

"But–but how can you be so sure that it's this week?"

Jensen sighed.

"Laddie, Greece is fairly hotching with Allied agents. We have over two hundred in the Athens-Piraeus area alone and–"

"Two hundred!" Mallory interrupted incredulously. "Did you say–"

"I did." Jensen grinned. "A mere bagatelle, I assure you, compared to the vast hordes of spies that circulate freely among our noble hosts in Cairo and Alexandria." He was suddenly serious again. "Anyway, our information is accurate. An armada of caiques will sail from the Piraeus on Thursday at dawn and island-hop across the Cyclades, holing up in the islands at night." He smiled. "An intriguing situation, don't you think? We daren't move in the Aegean in the daytime or we'd be bombed out of the water. The Germans don't dare move at night. Droves of our destroyers and M.T.B.s and gunboats move into the Aegean at dusk: the destroyers retire to the South before dawn, the small boats usually lie up in isolated islands creeks. But we can't stop them from getting across. They'll be there Saturday or Sunday–and synchronise their landings with the first of the airborne troops: they've scores of Junkers 52s waiting just outside Athens. Kheros won't last a couple of days." No one could have listened to Jensen's carefully casual voice, his abnormal matter-of-factness and not have believed him.

Mallory believed him. For almost a minute he stared down at the sheen of the sea, at the faery tracery of the stars shimmering across its darkly placid surface. Suddenly he swung around on Jensen.

"But the Navy, sir! Evacuation! Surely the Navy–"

"The Navy," Jensen interrupted heavily, "is not keen. The Navy is sick and tired of the Eastern Med. and the Aegean, sick and tired of sticking out its long-suffering neck and having it regularly chopped off–and all for sweet damn all. We've had two battleships wrecked, eight cruisers out of commission–four of them sunk– and over a dozen destroyers gone. . . . I couldn't even start to count the number of smaller vessels we've lost. And for what? I've told you–for sweet damn all! Just so's our High Command can play round-and-round- the-rugged-rocks and who's the-king-of-the-castle with their opposite numbers in Berlin. Great fun for all concerned–except, of course, for the thousand or so sailors who've been drowned in the course of the game, the ten thousand or so Tommies and Anzacs and Indians who suffered and died on these same islands–and died without knowing why."

Jensen's hands were white-knuckled on the wheel, his mouth tight-drawn and bitter. Mallory was surprised, shocked almost, by the vehemence, the depth of feeling; it was so completely out of character. . . . Or perhaps it was in character, perhaps Jensen knew a very great deal indeed about what went on on the inside.

"Twelve hundred men, you said, sir?" Mallory asked quietly. "You said there were twelve hundred men on Kheros?"

Jensen flickered a glance at him, looked away again.

"Yes. Twelve hundred men." Jensen sighed. "You're right, laddie, of course, you're right. I'm just talking off the top of my head. Of course we can't leave them there. The Navy will do its damnedest. What's two or three more destroyers–sorry, boy, sorry, there I go again. . . . Now listen, and listen carefully.

"Taking 'em off will have to be a night operation. There isn't a ghost of a chance in the daytime–not with two-three hundred Stukas just begging for a glimpse of a Royal Naval destroyer. It'll have to be destroyers– transports and tenders are too slow by half. And they can't possibly go northabout the northern tip of the Lerades–they'd never get back to safety before daylight. It's too long a trip by hours."

"But the Lerades is a pretty long string of Islands," Mallory ventured. "Couldn't the destroyers go through–"

"Between a couple of them? Impossible." Jensen shook his head. "Mined to hell and back again. Every single channel. You couldn't take a dinghy through."

"And the Maidos-Navarone channel. Stiff with mines also, I suppose?"

"No, that's a clear channel. Deep water–you can't moor mines in deep water."

"So that's the route you've got to take, isn't it, sir? I mean, they're Turkish territorial waters on the other side and we–"

"We'd go through Turkish territorial waters to-morrow, and in broad daylight, if it would do any good," Jensen said flatly. "The Turks know it and so do the Germans. But all other things being equal, the Western channel is the one we're taking. It's a clearer channel, a shorter route–and it doesn't involve any unnecessary international complications."

"All other things being equal?"

"The guns of Navarone." Jensen paused for a long time, then repeated the words, slowly, expressionlessly, as one would repeat the name of some feared and ancient enemy. "The guns of Navarone. They make everything equaL They cover the northern entrances to both channels. We could take the twelve hundred men off Kheros to-night––if we could silence the guns of Navarone."

Mallory sat silent, said nothing. He's coming to it now, he thought.

"These guns are no ordinary guns," Jensen went on quietly. "Our naval experts say they're about nine-inch rifle barrels. I think myself they're more likely a version of the 210 mm. 'crunch' guns that the Germans are using in Italy–our soldiers up there hate and fear those guns more than anything on earth. A dreadful weapon–shell extremely slow in flight and damnably accurate. Anyway," he went on grimly, "whatever they were they were good enough to dispose of the «Sybaris» in five minutes flat."

Mallory nodded slowly.

"The «Sybaris?» I think I heard–"

"An eight-inch cruiser we sent up there about four months ago to try conclusions with the Hun. Just a formality, a routine exercise, we thought. The «Sybaris» was blasted out of the water. There were seventeen survivors."

"Good God!" Mallory was shocked. "I didn't know–"

"Two months ago we mounted a large-scale amphibious attack on Navarone." Jensen hadn't even heard the interruption. "Commandos, Royal Marine Commandos and Jellicoe's Special Boat Service. Less than an even chance, we knew–Navarone's practically solid cliff all the way round. But then these were very special men, probably the finest assault troops in the world today." Jensen paused for almost a minute, then went on very quietly. "They were cut to ribbons. They were massacred almost to a man.

"Finally, twice in the past ten days-we've seen this attack on Kheros coming for a long time now–we sent in parachute saboteurs: Special Boat Service men." He shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "They just vanished."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that. And then to-night–the last desperate fling of the gambler and what have you." Jensen laughed, briefly and without humour. "That interrogation hut–I kept pretty quiet in there to-night, I tell you. I was the 'joker' that Torrance and his boys wanted to heave out over Navarone. I knew it was hopeless-but it had to be done."

The big Humber was beginning to slow down now, running silently between the tumble-down shacks and hovels that line the Western approach to Alexandria. The sky ahead was already beginning to streak in the first tenuous greys of the false dawn.

"I don't think I'd be much good with a parachute," Mallory said doubtfully. "In fact, quite frankly, I've never even «seen» a parachute."

"Don't worry," Jensen said briefly. "You won't have to use one. You're going into Navarone the hard way."

Mallory waited for more, but Jensen had fallen silent, intent on avoiding the large potholes that were beginning to pock the roadway. After a time Mallory asked:

"Why me, Captain Jensen?"

Jensen's smile was barely visible in the greying darkness. He swerved violently to avoid a gaping hole and straightened up again.

"Scared?"

"Certainly I'm scared. No offence intended, sir, but the way you talk you'd scare anyone. . . . But that wasn't what I meant."

"I know it wasn't. Just my twisted humour.. . Why you? Special qualifications, laddie, just like I told you. You speak Greek like a Greek. You speak German like a German. Skilled saboteur, first-class organiser and eighteen unscathed months in the White Mountains of Crete– a convincing demonstration of your ability to survive in enemy-held territory." Jensen chuckled. "You'd be surprised to know just how complete a dossier I have on you!"

"No, I wouldn't." Mallory spoke with some feeling. "And," he added, "I know of at least three other officers with the same qualifications."

"There are others," Jensen agreed. "But there are no other Keith Mallorys. Keith Mallory," Jensen repeated rhetorically. "Who hadn't heard of Keith Mallory in the palmy, balmy days before the war? The finest mountaineer, the greatest rock climber New Zealand has ever produced–and by that, of course, New Zealanders mean the world. The human fly, the climber of the unclimbable, the scaler of vertical cliffs and impossible precipices. The entire south coast of Navarone," said Jensen cheerfully, "consists of one vast, impossible precipice. Nary a hand or foot-hold in sight."

"I see," Mallory murmured. "I see indeed. 'Into Navarone the hard way.' That was what you said."

"That was," Jensen acknowledged. "You and your gang–just four others. Mallory's Merry Mountaineers. Hand-picked. Every man a specialist. You'll meet them all tomorrow–this afternoon, rather."

They travelled in silence for the next ten minutes, turned up right from the dock area, jounced their uncomfortable way over the massive cobbles of the Rue Souers, slewed round into Mohammed All square, passed in front of the Bourse and turned right down the Sherif Pasha.

Mallory looked at the man behind the wheel. He could see his face quite clearly now in the gathering light.

"Where to, sir?"

"To see the only man in the Middle East who can give you any help now. Monsieur Eugene Viachos of Navarone."


"You are a brave man, Captain Mallory." Nervously Eugene Viachos twisted the long, pointed ends of his black moustache. "A brave man and a foolish one, I would say–but I suppose we cannot call a man a fool when he only obeys his orders." His eyes left the large drawing lying before him on the table and sought Jensen's impassive face.

"Is there no other way, Captain?" he pleaded.

Jensen shook his head slowly.


"There are. We've tried them all, sir. They all failed. This is the last."

"He must go, then?"

"There are over a thousand men on Kheros, sir."

Vlachos bowed his head in silent acceptance, then smiled faintly at Mallory.

"He calls me 'sir.' Me, a poor Greek hotel-keeper and Captain Jensen of the Royal Navy calls me 'sir.' It makes an old man feel good." He stopped, gazed off vacantly into space, the faded eyes and tired, lined face soft with memory. "An old man, Captain Mallory, an old man now, a poor man and a sad one. But I wasn't always, not always. Once I was just middle-aged, and rich and well content. Once I owned a lovely land, a hundred square miles of the most beautiful country God ever sent to delight the eyes of His creatures here below, and how well I loved that land!" He laughed self-consciously and ran a hand through his thick, greying hair. "Ah, well, as you people say, I suppose it's all in the eye of the beholder. 'A lovely land,' I say. 'That blasted rock,' as Captain Jensen has been heard to describe it out of my hearing." He smiled at Jensen's sudden discomfiture. "But we both give it the same name–Navarone."

Startled, Mallory looked at Jensen. Jensen nodded.

"The Vlachos family has owned Navarone for generations. We had to remove Monsieur Viachos in a great hurry eighteen months ago. The Germans didn't care overmuch for his kind of collaboration."

"It was–how do you say–touch and go," Vlachos nodded. "They had reserved three very special places for my two sons and myself in the dungeons in Navarone. . . . But enough of the Viachos family. I just wanted you to know, young man, that I spent forty years on Navarone and almost four days"–he gestured to the table–"on that map. My information and that map you can trust absolutely. Many things will have changed, of course, but some things never change. The mountains, the bays, the passes, the caves, the roads, the houses and, above all, the fortress itself–these have remained unchanged for centuries, Captain Mallory."

"I understand, sir." Mallory folded the map carefully, stowed it away in his tunic. "With this, there's always a chance. Thank you very much."

"It is little enough, God knows." Viachos's fingers drummed on the table for a moment, then he looked up at Mallory. "Captain Jensen informs me that most of you speak Greek fluently, that you will be dressed as Greek peasants and will carry forged papers. That is well. You will be–what is the word?–self-contained, will operate on your own." He paused, then went on very earnestly.

"Please do not try to enlist the help of the people of Navarone. At all costs you must avoid that. The Germans are ruthless. I know. If a man helps you and is found out, they will destroy not only that man but his entire village–men, women and children. It has happened before. It will happen again."

"It happened in Crete," Mallory agreed quietly. "I've seen it for myself."

"Exactly." Vlachos nodded. "And the people of Navarone have neither the skifi nor the experience for suecessful guerrilla operations. They have not had the chance–German surveillance has been especially severe in our island."

"I promise you, sir–" Mallory began.

Vlachos held up his hand.

"Just a moment. If your need is desperate, really desperate, there are two men to whom you may turn. Under the first plane tree in the village square of Margaritha–at the mouth of the valley about three miles south of the fortress–you will find a man called Louki. He has been the steward of our family for many years. Louki has been of help to the British before–Captain Jensen will confirm that–and you can trust him with your life. He has a friend, Panayis: he, too, has been useful in the past."

"Thank you, sir. I'll remember. Louki and Panayis and Margaritha–the first plane tree in the square."

"And you will refuse all other aid, Captain?" Vlachos asked anxiously. "Louki and Panayis–only these two," he pleaded.

"You have my word, sir. Besides, the fewer the safer for us as well as your people." Mallory was surprised at the old man's intensity.

"I hope so, I hope so." Viachos sighed heavily.

Mallory stood up, stretched out his hand to take his leave.

"You're worrying about nothing, sir. They'll never see us," he promised confidently. "Nobody will see us–and we'll see nobody. We're after only one thing–the guns."

"Ay, the guns–those terrible guns." Vlachos shook his head. "But just suppose–"

"Please. It will be all right," Mallory insisted quietly. "We will bring harm to none–and least of all to your islanders."

"God go with you to-night," the old man whispered. "God go with you to-night. I only wish that I could go too."

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