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The Angry Hills
By Leon Uris
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1955 Leon Uris
All rights reserved.
Only five days ago the Kifissia Hotel had been almost deserted. Now it bulged with British Empire troops. In the lobby a crowd in khaki uniforms set up a steady bass hum in the variety of tongues of an international army. The uniforms were of the same drab wool but the shoulder patches told a story of the gathering of Aussies and Britons and New Zealanders and Arabs and Cyprians and Palestinians. From the bar, which stood to the right of the lobby, there came a continuous tinkle of glasses intermittently punctuated by the clang and sliding drawer of the cash register.
Over in the corner by the window, a lone civilian sat slumped in an overstuffed chair, oblivious of the hustle and bustle about him. His feet were propped on the window sill, his hat was shoved down over his eyes and an unlit pipe hung upside down from his teeth. He wore an expensive but unpressed tweed suit which looked quite in place, and his heavy wool tie was loosened at the throat. He was neither awake nor asleep—aware nor unaware—he was a study in boredom.
Perhaps, if you moved in literary circles or were just an avid reader of minor novels, you would recognize him on sight. Michael Morrison, an American, was one of those "bread- and-butter" writers found on every publisher's list. A writer with a small but faithful band of readers which grew slightly with each new work. The income from his four books had been augmented by regular contributions to magazines and he had written himself into a steady and comfortable income bracket of about fifteen thousand a year. It had not always been this way, to be sure. Morrison's rise was the typical writer's story of many years of struggle for acceptance, bitter disappointments and the rest of the frustrations and fears that plague that supposedly charmed profession.
A chorus of singers from the bar caused Morrison to stir. He yawned, shoved his hat back and glanced at his watch. It was still some time before his appointment. He dropped his feet from the window sill, arose and stretched and went through the business of lighting his pipe—still ignoring the assemblage of soldiers. Even at the age of thirty-five he showed traces of his earlier athletic career, for his six-foot frame carried some two hundred pounds with obvious ease. Although his face retained a little of the eternal boyish look, there were also unmistakable etchings of hardness and cynicism. In all, Michael Morrison bore a remarkable resemblance to the public's conception of a writer.
He eased his way through the crowd out to the sidewalk and stood at the curb for several moments looking for a taxi. Then he decided to walk a few squares up where the taxis were more plentiful. He was somewhat miffed at the last-minute change in accommodations forced on him which landed him in a hotel in the suburbs. All the downtown hotel space had been grabbed by the inpouring British.
As he walked, his eyes dimmed with sadness. The trip to Greece had fanned the bitter embers of memory into a flame. How often had he and his wife planned the trip! They had talked of it for years. It was to have been the honeymoon they never had. Ellie's uncle, a Greek importer, had left her a legacy of some nine thousand dollars. But each year something new arose to prevent their taking the trip. And during those years their great fear was that the money would be spent for necessary groceries instead of the purpose for which it was intended.
When at last Michael had written his way into a respectable bank balance the plans for the trip began to take real form—then exploded in an automobile accident in the fog on the Golden Gate Bridge. Ellie had been killed instantly.
It took more than a year for Morrison to find life again. There were the first months of guilt, of utter despondency, loneliness and fear of sleep because of the nightmares. Then came a period of self-pity and drink. And then the slow resurrection, with the help of his parents and many good friends but, mainly, through the love for his young son and daughter.
He would have left the money in Greece for many more years. The idea of coming to Greece without Ellie repelled him. But this was April of 1941 and the floodgates had opened. In the north, the invasion had begun. His bank and agent advised him to claim the inheritance as quickly as possible as the European situation was becoming more and more uncertain. And so, the quick trip to Athens. Morrison wanted desperately to return to San Francisco. It was no honeymoon without the bride.
"Petraki, 17," he told the cab driver and they whisked away toward Athens. Now, nearly everyone in Athens had a relative in America and this driver was no exception. In this particular case it was a brother in Cleveland. After Morrison assured the fellow that he had never been to Cleveland but would certainly look up the man's brother if he ever got there, the conversation switched to the more pressing subject of the moment.
Everything hinged, these days, on the ability of the newly arrived British Expeditionary Force to halt the German advance in the northern provinces. Only last winter the little Greek Army had run the Italians from the country, and the cab driver reasoned that if the Greeks could beat the Italians, surely the British would stop the Germans. Besides, the driver added for good measure, America would soon be in the war.
Morrison wasn't too sure of that. First, there was a big ocean, and, second, in the spring of 1941 most Americans felt there was no reason to become involved in this thing. Of course, Mike Morrison had no sympathy for Hitler. It was just, well, the type of thing the Europeans had been carrying on for centuries. It simply wasn't America's affair. He wondered about the British stopping the German advance. The Germans owned a copyright on warfare called "blitzkrieg" which had a way of crushing all opposition. And there was the undercurrent of nervous laughter all around him which seemed to imply that the British were in for a pasting.
The driver shifted his attention from politics and war to locomoting his vehicle through the congested area around Kifissia and Alexandra Streets. The traffic made him even angrier than the thought of the German Army in the north.
The shops were filled and, as in any cosmopolitan city, the citizens walked with that brisk and wonderful air of being in a hurry. But beneath the external signs of normalcy one could sense the tension, doubt and fear. British uniforms were in evidence everywhere. Young Greek males were nowhere to be seen. They were all up north or on the Albanian front. It was obvious to Mike that the enchanting Greek women were giving their British "saviors" a welcome in the best tradition. Nothing was too good for "Johnny" who had come to do combat with "Jerry" and drive him from the country.
As the cab moved south they could hear the distant wail of the air-raid sirens. The Stukas would be coming in to work over the docks at Piraeus where the B.E.F. was unloading. The British camps outside Athens were getting bombed heavily too. Morrison reckoned the Germans were kept well informed from within Athens and that the British had better get some planes in the air if they were going to make a show of it at all.
The cab came to a halt in front of the outsized yellowstone house at Petraki, 17. Morrison paid the driver and thanked him for the most interesting discussion and crossed the street.
The brass knocker beat a thunder through the ancient mansion of Fotis Stergiou. In a moment its equally ancient butler, Tassos, led him into the home of the attorney. Tassos rapped softly, then ushered him into the office of Mr. Stergiou.
The old man looked up from his all-encompassing desk and smiled a wrinkled smile of recognition. He was a quaint old duck. A shock of gray hair stood straight up from his head, a large scarf was wrapped around his shoulders and a pair of square-cut glasses were balanced precariously on the tip of his nose.
"Aha, my American writer friend, right on time, as usual," he greeted Mike and waved to a seat. "Coffee, please, Tassos," his high-pitched voice ordered. He dug through the stacks of papers on his desk and found the brief. As he opened the folder and thumbed through it, Mike once again found himself staring at the magnificent black pearl ring on the wrinkled little finger of the attorney. "Well," he finally said, "everything seems to be in good order."
"How much longer?" Mike asked.
"Always in a hurry, you Americans. One might get the idea you don't like our country."
"This is hardly the time for a leisurely visit and I do have a commitment for the first of May."
"Oh, yes, you're going to Hollywood to write a cinema—anything important?"
"Nothing but the money."
"Money—trouble is, everyone is in a grand rush to get their money out of the country these days. Can't say I blame them. The bank promised to have the final releases over here shortly for signature. When do you plan to leave?"
"I have a plane for London in the morning."
Tassos slipped in quietly.
"Coffee—good. We'll take it in the solarium, if you please, Tassos."
The two sipped coffee and exchanged tobaccos. Morrison was quite proud of his blend—a special mixture put up at Grundel's Pipe Shop in the Mission District of San Francisco. However, it was too weak for the old man. Morrison politely bowed out after a half pipeload of Stergiou's mixture.
As they passed time, Mr. Stergiou gave Morrison a short course in the Byzantine art pieces that adorned his home. As Mike had surmised, the black pearl ring was a family treasure and hadn't left his little finger for forty years.
"Your wife's death must have been quite a shock. Her uncle was truly fond of her. He spoke often of his visits to America."
"Yes—yes—it was—quite a shock."
"I see. And the children, how old are they now?"
A small smile creased the lips of the proud father and in an instant he had his wallet out and pictures thrust before the old man's nose.
Stergiou adjusted his glasses and nodded. "They are lovely children. I can well understand your anxiety to get back to San Francisco. I trust they are in good hands."
"Yes, my parents. We have a place together in Larkspur. A little over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. They—they moved in with us after Ellie's death." The old man tapped his pipe empty in the ash tray, paused reflectively a moment, then spoke. "Mr. Morrison, I wonder if I could ask a favor of a personal nature?"
"If I can help."
"I have a document, one of great importance to a client of mine. With things so disrupted these days I am a bit hesitant to use the mails. I wonder if you would mind delivering it for me personally in London?"
"Certainly. I'd be most happy to."
The old man reached into an inside pocket of his smoking jacket and withdrew a small white envelope.
Not much of a document, Morrison thought. Stergiou held it in his hand for several seconds, then handed it to Mike. It bore a London address to one Sir Thomas Whitley.
"Normally," the old man apologized, "I wouldn't ask, but there is a great deal involved for my client and with the chaos of the day ..."
Mike grinned. "Nothing a bit off color, by any chance?"
"Oh, you writers all have suspicious natures. No, nothing like that but a bit out of channels, if you know what I mean. I would deem it a great favor if you took extra precautions. The document does have great value."
Morrison was about to ask a question or two but decided not to. He slipped the envelope into his breast pocket. "I'll guard it with my life."
"Please do," Stergiou said, and they both laughed.
Tassos crept into the solarium and plugged a phone in beside his master. The attorney spoke briefly and replaced the receiver with a sigh. "I am terribly sorry, Mr. Morrison. They are literally swamped at the bank. It will be several hours before they will be able to get the releases over."
"I hope nothing fouls up. I do have that plane out in the morning."
"I assure you I'll stay right with it. The bank is working around the clock. Everyone is trying to get his money out of Greece these days. Could you return at—let's say eight o'clock—that will give us a safe edge in time."
"I apologize for the inconvenience."
Stergiou ushered Morrison down the long, statue-filled corridor and they exchanged good- byes. The instant the door closed, Stergiou spun about and shuffled quickly down the corridor and into his office. A stocky man, sporting a huge walrus mustache and bundled in an English mackintosh, sat behind Stergiou's desk. Stergiou nodded to him and filled a fresh pipe from the cannister.
"Did you give it to him?" the man asked.
Stergiou paced nervously before the desk. "Yes, I gave it to him, Major Wilken."
"I don't like it," Stergiou said.
Major Howe-Wilken of British Intelligence arose and walked to the window and clasped his hands behind him. "Soutar and I have been under surveillance from the moment we landed in Greece. I'd wager my last quid on it. If my guess is right, Konrad Heilser is hiding out somewhere in Athens this minute directing their operation. If he is, Mr. Stergiou, our lives aren't worth a snuff."
"Then why didn't you pass the list to your military for delivery?"
"I regret to inform you that the situation at headquarters is one of utter confusion. I wouldn't wager that the military could get the King of Greece out of the country."
"In other words, Major Wilken, we are stewing in our own juice." "Precisely. The Germans have a devilish way of gathering friends in front of their army."
Stergiou grunted and beat his fist on the desk softly. Howe-Wilken walked over to the man. "Oh, come now," he soothed, "we are not absolutely certain we've been watched. This is just an extra precaution. Soutar is out now arranging a plane to fly us out tonight. If all goes well, we should be safely in London tomorrow."
"And if all doesn't go well?"
"Then, our American friend, Mr. Morrison, will deliver the list for us. Just a precaution, mind you. Fortunately he is above suspicion."
"I don't like gambling with that list, Major. If the Germans suspect for a moment, he wouldn't have a chance—and you know the consequences of the names falling into their hands."
"Alas, my dear friend Stergiou," the major sighed, "gambling is an occupational hazard of my profession."CHAPTER 2
There were two old scores to settle and two wounds still unhealed. Konrad Heilser leaned back in the broken armchair, closed his eyes and hummed in rapid rhythm to the Bach fugue scratching out on the record player. His finger brushed down his pencil-line mustache in a motion of habit.
Howe-Wilken and his Scottish partner, Soutar, had made a fool of him twice. Eight months had passed since his first encounter with them in Norway. After the German liberation of that country, the two British agents had arrived and escaped by submarine, leaving in their wake a network of underground operators. A half dozen times he had cornered them in Norway. A half dozen times they had eluded him. It was only a damnable last-minute quirk of fate that prevented Konrad Heilser from blocking their exit from Norway.
The next time he ran into them was late last summer—Paris. Again the duo, Howe-Wilken and Soutar, led him up a blind alley while they escaped.
The German cursed softly at the thought of having been ordered from Paris to assignment in this cesspool. This time there would be a different fool. This time they would not escape.
It had been a stroke of luck, indeed, when Zervos, the government clerk, got wind of Stergiou's plan and made contact with the Germans.
Heilser slipped into Greece ahead of the German invasion and with Zervos' help got the rat pack working with him. The traitors, the opportunists, the cowards. All of them anxious to throw in with the Germans in time. Heilser and his Greek friends had done their job well. The British were confused, not knowing whom they could trust and whom not to trust. Heilser and his Greek friends had increased that confusion. The confusion that comes before defeat. Soon the confusion would be a stampeding panic.
As the record ran out Konrad Heilser stood up, flicked off the machine and lit a cigarette, the last of his pack. He walked to the mirror over the dresser and looked into it, steeped in self-admiration. He ran a brush over his already plastered-down thick black hair.
Excerpted from The Angry Hills by Leon Uris. Copyright © 1955 Leon Uris. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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