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"Masterfully crafted and genuinely frightening."
— The Daily Express
"Extremely well written...quite a find."
— Sarah Broadhurst, The Bookseller
Lockhart was anxious. They had been navigating the same three miles of coast for two hours, and still there had been no signal. The night air was clear and the sea was calm. The captain had insisted they were in the right place, although Lockhart didn't believe him.
"Who are you going to trust?" asked the sailor. "Me, or a bunch of drunken shepherds?"
Lockhart held his tongue. Pompous naval halfwit. He didn't want to start lecturing the man on Cretan bravery. He turned, and continued to scan the inlets for the three flashes of light.
The air was scented with thyme. The aroma brought back good memories, but now wasn't the moment to reminisce. The last thing he wanted was to miss the signal and find himself kicking his heels back in dusty Cairo. Perhaps Manoli and his gang of andartes had been captured, tortured, shot, their families raped and deported. Those too frail to move would have been burned alive inside their homes. Lockhart slowly exhaled.
The little crewman next to him started tugging at his sleeve and pointing. Lockhart looked through his binoculars to see the dim light of a blinking flashlight.
"Get the captain to take us in," Lockhart ordered under his breath.
As the crewman made his way aft, Lockhart tried to discern anything around the light, but it was too dark. He should have been helping to ready the dinghy, but something wasn't right. And then he realized the obvious: the flashlight was blinking four times. He looked again. There was no doubt -- it was the wrong signal. Bugger. It could be a German trap or, just as easily, a simple mistake. He went aft to find the captain.
"Bad news," Lockhart announced. "It's the wrong bloody signal."
"Christ," the captain sighed, shutting his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. It had been a long night, and he still had to get back to Cairo.
"It's flashing four times instead of three. I'm sure my man knows the drill -- he's done this before."
"Your Cretan friend probably can't count."
"And you can barely sail, so why don't you just shut up and do as you're told?"
Lockhart glowered at him, detecting a small, cynical smile through the captain's dark ginger beard. Lockhart held his stare.
"All right then, sir," the captain said. "What would you like to do, then?"
Lockhart paused. The captain was making him bloody-minded. He didn't want to stay on board, but a decision made in anger could see him trussed up in the back of a German truck, en route to a bloodstained cell in Heraklion. Sod it, thought Lockhart, Manoli had probably just made a mistake.
He looked the captain straight in the eye.
"I'm going ashore."
The captain snorted. "Whatever you say."
Lockhart regretted his decision as soon as he went back on deck. He had let some damn-fool sailor wind him up. He bet Theseus never had this problem when he sailed to Crete. Lockhart tried remembering his Plutarch -- what was the name of Theseus's pilot? He had read it only the other day, thinking that he too should have sacrificed a goat to Aphrodite before he left.
He looked through his binoculars again. There, still, were those same four confident flashes. He felt perversely reassured. If the Germans had discovered the location of the landing point, then they would have known the correct signal too. Was he trying to justify his rash decision? Perhaps. But he had come too far now. It would be too much of a climbdown to go back.
The crewmen were readying the dinghy. Onto it was lowered food, weapons and ammunition, a radio, clothing, and -- most crucially for those spending the winter stuck in small mountain caves -- spirits and cigarettes. As Christmas was coming up, the supply officer had even slipped in a Christmas pudding at Lockhart's request.
Lockhart checked himself over. He was dressed as a native -- baggy breeches known as "crap-catchers," a black bandanna, a thick shirt and an embroidered waistcoat. He had even grown a moustache, although it was not up to the hirsute magnificence of the typical Cretan example. Slung over his shoulder was his Sten gun, and around his chest a belt of ammunition. He slowly cocked the weapon and engaged the safety catch with his right thumb.
There was one more thing, one thing that he had promised himself to get rid of. He felt the point of his left collar. It was still there, that small bump, his ultimate escape route -- his suicide pill. They called them "cough drops" at Arisaig, their training center in Scotland, although this was a medication that killed in five seconds. In theory, it meant that you never talked, you never suffered, and your friends stayed safe. It was supposed to be the honorable thing to do, because everybody cracked, running out of things to tell, until all that was left was the truth. But many of them threw the cough drops away, determined that they would never talk, and would suffer anything rather than take their own lives. If there was life, far better to hang on -- let someone else kill you. Lockhart unpicked the stitching on his collar and removed the little gray capsule. He looked at it briefly, and then threw it into the water. As it landed with a tiny high-pitched splash, Lockhart hoped some poor fish didn't regard it as a tasty morsel.
"We're ready to go now, sir."
Lockhart looked at the little crewman. There was a tremor in his voice, and his eyes were unnaturally wide. He must have been only twenty, yet here he was risking his young life in the middle of the Mediterranean for a man he had never met.
"Fancy some bravery juice?" asked Lockhart, pulling his hip flash from his breeches.
"Well, if we're going to get blown to bits by whoever it is on the beach, then I'd prefer to have some Talisker inside me, wouldn't you?"
The crewman smiled gauchely -- he plainly had no idea what Lockhart was talking about.
"Do you want a drink, man?"
"Oh, yes please, sir," the crewman replied, taking the hip flash.
He swigged it, and Lockhart was surprised to see that the whisky didn't make him cough and choke. Richard had always said that Talisker was a lot smoother than Lockhart's "filthy" Glenfiddich. It looked as though his brother had been proved right. The crewman handed the flask back.
"Thank you, sir, that was very nice, sir."
"My pleasure," said Lockhart, taking a neckful. "Right -- let's get on with it then."
They made their way to the side of the boat. Lockhart looked around the deck. The captain waved a perfunctory goodbye. Cretin. Lockhart nodded back, turned and swung himself onto the scrambling rope. The dinghy was almost too packed for him and the crewman to board. Lockhart sat on an ammunition box in the stern, while his companion pushed them away with an oar. Unslinging the Sten, Lockhart steeled himself for an imminent volley of shots.
They were two hundred yards from the shore, and the crewman was rowing the heavy dinghy with great difficulty. Over his shoulder, Lockhart could see the flashlight, still flashing that exasperating four times. He gripped his gun tighter, trying to make out perhaps the shape of a German helmet, but there was nothing visible. Whoever was there was well hidden.
Lockhart looked back at the boat. They were now too far away to go back. If it was a trap, and the Germans had seen them leaving, then they would open fire. Lockhart didn't fancy his chances sitting on a box full of hand grenades. At least he wouldn't feel anything, he thought. No, they had to keep going in.
A cough. Not a loud one, but loud enough to carry across the smooth waters. The crewman looked startled. Just as he was about to speak, Lockhart put his finger to his lips. Lockhart squinted again -- they were a hundred yards away and the cough had seemed to come from the right of the flashlight. He tried playing the sound back in his head. Had it been a German cough or a Cretan cough? Was there a difference? Lockhart knew he was clutching at straws.
With fifty yards to go, he ordered the crewman to stop rowing. As they bobbed, Lockhart noticed the flashing becoming more rapid, more insistent. The crewman looked up at him, bewildered. Lockhart scanned the beach -- he began to make out three figures near the light. They didn't appear to be wearing uniforms; their shapes looked more baggy, informal, as if wearing peasant clothes.
Lockhart gesticulated to the crewman to continue rowing. It could yet be Germans in disguise, but Lockhart was now more confident. Nevertheless, he leveled his Sten gun at the three figures, waiting for a suspicious move. If that happened, he would open fire. There would be no indecision. The SOE training school at Arisaig had taught him to use weapons as part of his body, and to react without a pause.
"Hurry up, John!"
The crewman stopped rowing. It had come from one of the shapes, now only thirty or so yards away. Lockhart broke out into a big smile. It was that hairy brute Manoli! He looked at the crewman, who had shut his eyes in relief.
"Come on, keep rowing," whispered Lockhart. "There's a glass of raki for you when we get this lot off."
"What the hell is raki?"
"It's a sort of local fuel. Don't worry -- it's bloody dreadful."
The men on the shore started wading toward them. They were dressed like Lockhart, and carrying either Marlin submachine guns or rifles over their shoulders. At their head was Manoli, Lockhart's old friend from the digs, his six-and-a-half-foot frame wading firmly through the surf. Lockhart jumped out of the dinghy.
"You took your time getting here," said Manoli, gripping Lockhart by the shoulders.
"It was nice of me to come at all considering you gave the wrong bloody signal."
"But we did as instructed -- we flashed four times."
"It should have been three," said Lockhart, and then added with a smirk, "You great big idiotic peasant."
"And you're a pathetic excuse for a man," replied Manoli, pulling Lockhart's moustache. "The runner from Mr. Yanni said it was four times."
"Never mind," said Lockhart. "Come on, let's get the dinghy ashore."
The two men added their weight to pulling the dinghy in. Eight more andartes had come down from the rocks, along with five mules. It was quite a party, and their tired faces looked excited by the cargo.
"What have you got for us here, then?" asked Manoli, as they dragged the craft up the sand.
"Christmas pudding," Lockhart replied.
"You'll find out next month."
By two o'clock the mules had been loaded. The creatures looked as though they were about to collapse.
"Are they going to make it?" Lockhart asked.
"Of course!" Manoli replied. "My mules are the best in Crete. I've never known one to give up -- if they do, they will make an excellent stew."
"In that case they'd better bloody make it."
The party left the beach, the tide starting to erase their presence. Lockhart wasn't relishing the long hike. Even though they were only walking five miles, they had to make their way up muddy goat tracks to a height of two thousand feet. The Cretans measured distance in time, and they had a habit of underestimation that irritated Lockhart. Manoli had said two hours, but Lockhart knew five would be more likely.
The paths would take them to their hideout, a cave in the side of Mount Kefala, near Alones, Manoli's village. Lockhart remembered it from peacetime, visiting Manoli's parents in their one-roomed whitewashed cottage. It was Easter, and they had served up lamb and endless bottles of raki. Lockhart had never been so drunk -- not even at May Balls in Oxford. He dimly recalled falling into a coma underneath a tree, and being woken up by Manoli telling him it was time for more raki. Lockhart had unappreciatively vomited at the mention of the word.
Lockhart smiled to himself as he walked in the middle of the file. Manoli was leading briskly, and the beasts were struggling. Despite Manoli's boasting, they needed a lot of encouragement, and the men were constantly thrashing them into action. They were walking through scrubland peppered with the ubiquitous thyme bushes. Lockhart was concerned by the lack of cover, but Manoli had assured them that the nearest Germans would be in Plakia, a good seven miles away. Lockhart kept his gun at the ready, although the Cretans had slung theirs nonchalantly over their shoulders.
After half an hour they reached a road. As Manoli ordered the file to halt, Lockhart ran up to join him. They made their way to a ditch at the roadside.
"I didn't think we were going on any roads," Lockhart whispered.
"We're not," said Manoli. "But we have to cross this one. It's the main coast road to Plakia -- there's no way we can avoid it. It's all paths again after this."
They sat still and listened. All was silent, except for the wind. As Lockhart's ears strained, he thought he could hear a car.
"Can you hear that?"
Manoli shut his eyes.
"I can't hear a thing. Are you sure you heard something?"
Lockhart listened again. Nothing. Perhaps his ears were playing tricks.
"It seems to have gone -- how about giving it a few minutes?"
Manoli nodded, and went back to tell his men. There was little cover for the mules, but, grateful for the rest, they were keeping still. The men lay on the ground, their rifles aimed toward the road. After a few long minutes, there was still no sound. The car had been all in Lockhart's mind.
There were woods on the other side, for which he was grateful -- finally they could get into some decent cover. Manoli rejoined Lockhart in the ditch.
"Right, let's do this quickly," said Lockhart.
Manoli waved his men forward. They got up swiftly, and quietly goaded the mules forward. Seeming to sense the danger, the beasts moved quickly toward the road. They crossed without too much cajoling, although the final one was proving reluctant.
Lockhart remained on the road, looking down the slope in the direction of Plakia. The road went around a blind corner after fifty yards, but various sections could be seen as it snaked down the valley. It looked clear. He turned to inspect the progress.
The final mule was still being obstinate. Despite its handler's best efforts, the beast wouldn't budge.
"Can't you move that bloody thing?" Lockhart stage-whispered to the man.
"It won't move," groaned the andarte as he strained on the mule's rope. Lockhart looked back down the road. What he saw made his blood freeze.
Two bends away, he could quite clearly see headlights, moving at great speed.
"Car!" he shouted. The mule's handler stopped.
"Car! Keep pulling!"
Lockhart ran up to shove the mule by its haunches. Manoli ran out of the woods to help them. Lockhart looked back -- no car. That meant it had only one more bend to travel until it came to the bend before their stretch. They had a minute at the most, and still the sodding mule wouldn't move.
The three men pulled and pushed, and eventually the beast decided to lift its hooves. Lockhart turned around -- this time he could see the lights. The car had one more bend to go.
The mule was nearly walking, but with Manoli's exertions, the animal and its load was actually being dragged into the woods. Lockhart looked again -- the car was invisible. It would only be seconds until it rounded their bend.
As Lockhart jumped into the trees, he became aware of the muted yellow of the headlights. The light rudely entered the woods and the powerful Daimler-Benz motor invaded the silence. All the men had their rifles trained on the car. Manoli had ordered them not to shoot, but Lockhart half expected one might get nervous and let off a round.
What Lockhart hadn't expected was for the car to slow down and then come to a stop alongside their hiding place. Lockhart's finger crept inside his trigger guard as he heard voices coming from the black staff car. He turned his head toward the anxious Cretans, and gestured toward them to hold fire.
The front passenger door opened, and out stepped a German officer, smoking a cigarette. Lockhart recognized him immediately to be an oberstleutnant -- a major. The officer walked casually toward them, his boots slowly crunching along the stony road. He stopped at the ditch before the woods and looked down at his trousers.
"Ich habe schon zu viel Bier getrunken!" he shouted back to his driver. Lockhart, with his fluent knowledge of German, knew what that meant: the man had had too much beer.
Laughter came from the car. With that, the drunken officer clumsily unbuttoned his trousers and proceeded to urinate, swaying slightly as he did so.
If the German hadn't looked up, he might well have lived. The sequence of events was so rapid that Lockhart later couldn't recall what started them. Manoli maintained it was the sound of a mule, but Lockhart thought that it was nervous laughter from one of the andartes that had caused the officer to look into the woods.
The German's drunken eyes met Lockhart's, and just as they were registering a glassy surprise, Lockhart opened fire. The impact sent the oberstleutnant's body hurtling back toward the car. And then there was a pause, as Lockhart and the partisans looked down at the twitching body, the man's penis still leaking urine.
Lockhart ran toward the car, aiming at the driver through the passenger window. The young man had frozen. It had only been twenty seconds since his officer had stepped from the car, and now he was looking into the barrel of a British machine gun.
"Hands up!" shouted Lockhart.
The driver continued to look back at him, rigid with fear.
"I said put your hands up!"
The man didn't move.
Just as Lockhart was about to shout again, the car windshield shattered. The driver's face instantly turned into an unrecognizable mess. Lockhart looked to his right, toward the front of the car. There was Manoli, the barrel of his Marlin smoking.
"Fuck all of them."
Lockhart nodded slowly, looking back at the fresh corpse.
The rest of the men began to extract what they could from the car and the bodies. Within a minute, money, cigarettes and the men's pistols had been removed. Even their boots were taken. In a rushed attempt to conceal it, the car was then pushed into the ditch, with the body of the oberstleutnant restored to the passenger seat.
"They'll kill many for this," said Manoli. "Ten of us for every one of them, and I expect they'll burn down a village. And then there'll be the rapes and the tortures."
"We didn't have a bloody choice," Lockhart replied.
"I know, I know," Manoli muttered darkly. He walked back to the woods, and Lockhart thought he heard him stifling a sob. The band followed. They were silent, shocked at the violence. For some, it had been their first engagement with a hated enemy. All were eager andartes, but the rawness of the killings had turned even the strongest of their stomachs.
Lockhart spent the rest of the hike in a daze. Despite the intensity and seriousness of his training, he had partly convinced himself it was all a big adventure. And now he had killed a man, added another to his list. He felt a long, long way from Anna, wherever she was.
They had first seen each other across a pile of rubble. Lockhart had been helping to remove the thick layer of earth covering a Minoan floor near the palace at Knossos. It had already taken the team of four Cretans and two Englishmen a week to uncover a mere twenty square feet, and it was dawning on Lockhart that archaeology was harder work than he normally cared for. He was spending his summer down from Oxford at the site, and he feared that all he would see of Crete would be this bloody floor. He only saw the sun at lunchtime, when the team would sit on the piles of rubble to enjoy a simple lunch of retsina, olives, bread and cheese. And it was one lunchtime, at the start of his second week, when he first saw her.
She was being led onto the site by the head of the digs, the tedious Dr. Buchan. She wore a pair of long shorts, walking boots and a thick white cotton shirt. A large sunhat hid her face, and over her shoulder she carried a small knapsack. She looked slightly ungainly, her long legs tripping over the piles of ancient masonry. Lockhart and his companions started to laugh at her stumbling efforts to keep up with Buchan's long strides.
The laughter stopped when the curious couple drew near. The team stood up to receive them, all eager to see what lay underneath that large hat.
"Gentlemen," Buchan began, "this is Miss Anna Green, who will be joining us for the rest of the summer."
She looked up defiantly. From then, Lockhart knew he would be more than happy to spend his time cooped up in a filthy ruin. She had a strong face -- handsome even -- and yet she was still pretty. Her large brown eyes looked straight into Lockhart's. Unfortunately for him, his companions felt equally mesmerized -- they too stood silent, all speculating on what the summer might now bring.
"Miss Green has just spent a year at the British School of Archaeology in Athens, where she has already earned quite a name for herself. I'd ask you all to remember that she is not here as an entertainment, but as a hardworking professional."
Lockhart noticed that their new colleague had lifted her chin a little, giving the slight impression she was looking down at them. Know-it-all, thought Lockhart. Buchan then addressed Lockhart directly.
"John, could you show Miss Green around the rest of the site?"
"I certainly will, sir," Lockhart replied, doing his best not to smile too obviously.
"Miss Green, this is John Lockhart, who is here from Merton College for the summer. I'll leave you in his hands."
A titter from the ranks.
They shook hands, Lockhart feeling self-conscious at the five pairs of jealous eyes behind him.
"How do you do?" he asked.
"Very well, thank you," she replied.
The formality felt absurd among the rubble.
"Let me introduce you to everybody. Ah, this is Manoli Pentaris, who has been working here for...how long is it now, Manoli?"
"Three years." The big Cretan grinned under his moustache, which was already vast for a twenty-three-year-old. He kissed Anna's hand with a flourish, which caused her to raise her eyebrows in amusement. Lockhart was aware that Manoli had a reputation as a ladies' man. He spent most of his spare time chasing girls in the bars in nearby Heraklion. Lockhart knew that he would be the first to regard their new arrival as "an entertainment."
Lockhart introduced Anna to the other Englishman, Andrew Worstead. Like Lockhart, Worstead was also still at university, at King's College in London. Lockhart liked Worstead, although many didn't. He could be chippy and aggressive, as he imagined most people were out to get him. Lockhart suspected that he had been teased about his weight at school and was thus cursed with an inferiority complex. But when he was relaxed, Worstead was good company -- witty and, like Lockhart, a good drinker. The Cretan climate didn't suit him though. He found the heat hard to deal with, and his shirt was permanently drenched with sweat.
Thus it was a sweaty palm that shook Anna's.
"How nice to have you here, Miss Green," he beamed, laying on the charm a little thick, Lockhart thought. He doubted that Worstead would be much of an adversary.
After Anna had met the rest of the group, she and Lockhart made their way around the site. As he told her about the various rooms, he noticed that she wasn't really listening. Lockhart did his best to sound authoritative, but as he was talking about the origins of the antechamber, he realized that he was wasting his time.
"You can't have been studying for very long," she said. "In fact it may even date from much earlier than that. Look here at the shape of these bricks." She squatted down and pointed them out. "Do you see how different they are from the ones back there?"
She looked up at Lockhart and smiled, a little too smugly for his liking. She really was a bloody know-it-all.
"I bet you were head girl at school," said Lockhart.
"How did you guess that?"
"Are you making fun of me, Mr. Lockhart?"
"Maybe, Miss Green."
Lockhart was smirking at her, and she was clearly doing her best to look serious.
"Because if you are, then I shall -- "
"What? What will you do?"
"Then I shall put you across my knee. I was allowed to beat people as head girl, you know."
As she said it, she tapped his chest. He wanted to grab her hand and kiss her there and then, but he thought better of it. His time would come.
Three weeks later, it did. Lockhart had borrowed a motorcycle, and one Sunday morning, they rode out to see the spectacular monastery at Arkadi. After a couple of hours walking around the cloisters, with Anna having now assumed the mantle of lecturer, they decided to climb a few hundred feet to the top of Mount Petrotes.
Rewarded with a clear view of the Ida range, they ate a picnic that Lockhart had deliberately made more liquid than solid. Halfway through the second bottle of retsina, Anna lay back and looked at the clear sky, a breeze blowing her brown hair across her face.
"Well?" she began. "Aren't you going to take advantage of me now that you've lured me to the top of this mountain?"
"Oh -- if I must," Lockhart replied, trying to sound calmer than he felt. He looked straight at her.
"Well, get on with it then."
He needed no further encouragement.
He swore he would never forget the motorcycle ride home, with Anna's arms clutched tightly under his shirt, the setting sun casting their long shadows in front of them.
Manoli had neglected to tell Lockhart about the bats. The entire roof of the large cave was a twitching mass of leathery wings and fur. Canopies had been erected to shelter the men from the droppings. Despite feeling exhausted, Lockhart eyed the creatures warily.
"Couldn't you have found a cave without this ugly lot?" he asked Manoli.
"I rather like them. They keep the same hours as us, and they behave very well."
"I just hope they're not vampires."
"No," laughed Manoli. "But we could make an offering to Carna if it would make you happy."
"You and your bloody nymphs."
It was seven in the morning, and the band had just arrived at the hideout. The remainder of the journey had passed uneventfully, although they had briefly rested at a small church at the foot of Mount Tsilivdikas, where Lockhart had taken the opportunity to pray for the first time in ages.
Lockhart looked around. Some of the men were eating bread and cheese, and others were turning in for the day. He couldn't work out if he felt more hungry than tired. He lay down underneath a splattered canopy and found that he couldn't sleep. He stared at the damp rock a few feet away, watching water droplets snake their way down to a small puddle. It reminded him of a passage by Louis MacNeice.
Sleep to the noise of running water
To-morrow to be crossed, however deep;
This is no river of the dead, or Lethe,
To-night we sleep
On the banks of Rubicon -- the die is cast;
There will be time to audit
The accounts later, there will be sunlight later
And the equation will come out at last.
MacNeice too had read Greats at Merton, although he had left before Lockhart had arrived. For a time, Lockhart had wanted to emulate the poet, especially after he had read MacNeice's excellent translation of Agamemnon. But he knew that he would never get near, especially after Anna had been characteristically frank about his scribblings.
The air was cool in the cave, and he started to shiver slightly. He tucked the thin blanket around his shoulders, which did little to help. He thought of Anna, his best critic, and little Amy. That was too painful. Sleep would be a release, a temporary relief from the images of the dying oberstleutnant and his driver.
He was woken by Manoli, who was shaking him hard.
"Wake up, John."
"What time is it?" Lockhart yawned.
"It's nearly midday."
Lockhart looked to the mouth of the cave. It was a bright winter's day, the type of day for a bracing cross-country run, about the only keen thing he ever did at Winchester. Other sports had held little appeal -- he left those for his older brother, Richard. Richard. He had been killed in Tunisia last December, incinerated in his tank. Lockhart still hated the baldness of the telegram that left him as the only living member of the family. Mother had died in the flu epidemic of 1918 when he was five, and father was taken away by a heart attack in '36. It was Richard's death that had spurred him out of military intelligence in Whitehall over to SOE in its eccentric Baker Street flat. The transfer had been hard to obtain, as the department valued his languages, but Lockhart was adamant that he should fight.
He started to cough. The men had lit a fire, and the cave was filling up with smoke. They had no choice: a fire outside would mean instant detection. Even if the Germans did not spot it, they would have heard soon enough. There were plenty of villagers who were willing to collaborate.
"I don't suppose you've got some breakfast going?"
"Indeed we do," Manoli replied proudly. "Some of that delicious pudding you brought us."
"But that's for Christmas, you ignorant peasant!"
"We might not be around by then -- I thought it best to enjoy it while we can. Besides, I was too intrigued."
Manoli brought Lockhart a hunk of the pudding in a gray mess tin, and a cup of black coffee.
"Happy bloody Christmas," Lockhart toasted, and tucked in with his fingers. It was the worst Christmas pudding he had ever tasted. Cairo must have made it out of camel dung. Still, the andartes seemed to be enjoying it.
After breakfast, Lockhart and Manoli sat at the back of the cave, out of earshot of the rest of the band.
"So what plans do you have for us?" Manoli asked.
"There's not one big plan, I'm afraid. My orders are to have as much fun as possible. You've seen all those explosives I've brought. I'm sure we'll be able to do some damage with that lot."
Manoli chuckled. Lockhart thought his laugh rang hollow. It was not the same laugh as that of the lecherous young archaeologist from ten years ago. Manoli still remained a source of joy, but it was underpinned by grimness. His brother had been a victim of the German reprisals carried out a month after the invasion of May 1941. General Student's paratroopers had expected to be welcomed with open arms by the Cretans: instead, many of them were shot as they were drifting down. Even the priests had joined in with the fighting, one of whom was Manoli's brother. He had used his church in Rethimno to shelter resistance fighters, but he had been betrayed.
The penalty was swift. The men found in the church were led into the town square to be hanged. Manoli's brother had pleaded with the German officer to spare the men's lives, offering his life in exchange. The officer, an Oberstleutnant Walther Dietrich, agreed, and Manoli's brother was indeed hanged. His body was left there for two weeks. The men were shot shortly afterward.
Manoli heard about his brother's death while he was hiding in the hills outside Rethimno. He did not speak and barely moved for two days. On the third day he went back to Alones, where he told his parents. The villagers said they could hear the wailing from the top of Mount Kefala. His parents warned Manoli not to let his heart grow cold, but the advice was fruitless. The loss had changed him, eradicating much of his laughter, making him hard. His father died a year later at the age of fifty-seven. Manoli blamed his death on the Germans. His mother pleaded with him not to continue as an andarte, but his mind was made up. He would kill as many of them as he could.
Lockhart looked at his old friend.
"How are you, Manoli?"
"Not so bad." The big man slumped.
"And your mother?"
"She's not too bad. I haven't told her you were coming. You know what she's like -- the whole of Crete would know by lunchtime."
"At least she's still gossiping."
"Oh yes, that hasn't changed. But the gossip is no longer about who's run off with who, or whose son has been caught stealing sheep. It's all about death. Just death."
"I'm sorry, Manoli."
"Don't be. You're here, and that brings me a lot of happiness. How is Anna?"
Lockhart looked at his boots. He'd known Manoli would ask him sooner or later. He took a deep breath.
"The truth is, I don't know, Manoli. I don't even know if she's still alive."
"How do you mean? Has she disappeared?"
"Worse. She's been taken prisoner by the Germans."
"She was in Holland when it was invaded. She was there with her mother, trying to persuade her to come and join us in England. But just as she was about to leave, the paratroopers landed and she was stuck. I didn't hear a word from her for two months, and then the Foreign Office told me that they had heard via the underground that she was alive. I remember asking a chum there if they could do anything, and all he said was, 'What do you want us to do? Declare war again?' I nearly decked him, but he had a point."
"But why is she in prison?"
"About two years ago, I found out via the Resistance that Anna had been locked up in Vught concentration camp in Holland. She had been caught working on an underground newspaper, writing articles about the evil of Nazism."
"Is there anything you can do?"
"Nothing. I can do precisely nothing. My fear is that Anna with her defiant nature will not have endeared herself to her captors. What makes it even worse is that Amy keeps asking when Mummy's coming back home...."
"How old is she now?"
"She's just turned six. She can hardly remember her mother. In fact, when she was a little younger, she thought the photograph of Anna actually was Anna, and she would talk to it."
"So who looks after her?"
"I did for a while, but it was hopeless. She's now with Anna's sister, who's a gem."
They sat in silence. Manoli placed his hand on Lockhart's shoulder.
"I try not to think about it," said Lockhart. "And I try to keep myself as busy as possible. But as soon as I stop, even for a second, my brain starts bringing up terrible images. I think that maybe she's been shot. Not knowing if she's alive or dead is a very cruel trick indeed. Sometimes I think it's better to think she's dead, but I feel so guilty when I do. But when I think she's alive, I'm tortured by thoughts of what they might be doing to her...."
Manoli looked at his old friend. Although he was only thirty, Lockhart's hair was starting to go gray. His face looked leaner than he remembered -- the puppy fat had disappeared. Manoli thought he looked more handsome for it, but as with too many, the war had given his eyes a faraway look. But the swagger remained, complemented by a new firmness and a quiet authority. The war had changed them into men they had never thought they would be. They had both foreseen peaceful lives of digging up past civilizations, and now they were killing to protect their own. That was what Manoli hated most of all: that the Nazis had taken not just lives, but the futures of those who were still living. It was like being made to grow up all over again.
Berlin had been especially cold all November, but this morning seemed colder than ever, thought Hauptsturmführer Carl Strasser. The forecast said it would stay at ten degrees below all day and he didn't doubt it -- he could even see his breath as he lay in bed. Still, at least he had a bed, a luxury he didn't have in Russia, where it would hit forty below. Strasser had been with the SS Das Reich Division, fighting with them from November 1941 until last March, when he was posted back to Berlin.
It was still dark outside. He looked at his watch. It was six o'clock, as he knew it would be. He had woken up at that time for months now, but he always liked to check. He was due at work at the SS Hauptamt -- headquarters -- on Berka Strasse at half past seven. As it was only a ten-minute walk from his barracks, he had time to have a leisurely breakfast down in the mess room. He wouldn't have a shower -- the water was bound to be cold and he couldn't face it. A cold shave was bad enough, but a cold shower, no way. This time last year he would have killed to have gotten clean, to have washed off even a few lice. But barrack and office life was making him soft once more, and to be honest, he didn't regret it one little bit. He had paid his dues.
He got up and walked across the small room to the washbasin. As he ran the water, he looked at himself in the foxed mirror. A face much older than his twenty-seven years looked back. The blue eyes looked baggy and tired and the complexion was an off-gray. He had looked healthier at the front, where he had sustained the small scar on his right cheek. A Russian shell had hit a nearby field gun, the shrapnel killing two of his NCOs. Strasser had been lucky -- those men had taken the brunt of the blast, sheltering him from the worst of it. He had also taken a few pieces in his right leg, but they had been dug out successfully, leaving him with a slight numbness. After the explosion, he had lain in shock, looking down at his uniform, trying to work out whether the pieces of flesh and bone splattered on his tunic were his.
He felt to see if the water was getting hot. It wasn't. Ever since the air raids had started, hot water was scarce. Strasser knew that it was the small things that would drain the morale from his fellow Berliners, no matter what the Führer or their gauleiter, Dr. Goebbels, might say. Last week, he had tried to get a new bulb for his bedside light, but old Karl in the stores had said there weren't any. In the end he took a bulb from an unused lamp at headquarters. It was ridiculous. Every day, Strasser was organizing the shipment of vast quantities of ordnance from the factories and labor camps to the front line and he couldn't even get a new bulb. And he was an officer in the SS -- how much harder was it for ordinary people? He began to doubt whether all those armaments on all those sheets of paper even existed, and whether he wasn't part of some vast game involving imaginary armies.
It had been a bad year for the Reich, thought Strasser. In January, von Paulus had capitulated at Stalingrad, and in the spring the war in North Africa had been lost. The treacherous Italians had signed an armistice with the Allies in August, and then there had been another defeat at the hands of the Russians at Kursk. And now there was the bombing, although last night they had been spared. The weather must have been too bad, even for the Lancasters.
After he had shaved, Strasser splashed some freezing water over his chest and under his arms. That made him feel a little fresher. He opened his door, and hanging up in the corridor was a clean undershirt, left there by his mann -- his private -- who had also polished his boots overnight. The mann was a lad of eighteen called Heinrich, whom Strasser shared with another hauptsturmführer. Heinrich had been injured when he was training -- shot in the foot -- and to his great shame he would never be able to fight. He was a true believer in National Socialism, and he looked Aryan through and through. His Heil Hitlers were so earnest that they had at first caused Strasser to laugh. Heinrich had looked worried -- was he doing it wrong, Hauptsturmführer? Not at all, not at all, Strasser had replied, telling the young mann that maybe he was a bit too loud for that early in the morning.
He got dressed. His move back to headquarters meant that he no longer wore a field-gray tunic but a sky-blue one instead. The trousers remained gray, as did his cap, complete with the death's-head insignia. He had been promoted too, so now his left collar bore the three pips of his new rank, rather than the two of obersturmführer. His right collar bore the SS runes -- two lightning flashes of silver braid that made men like him stand above ordinary Wehrmacht soldiers.
His belt and holster hung on the back of the door. In it was a Walther P38, which he preferred to his old Luger, which had a habit of jamming. The P38 was a lot heavier, but then it was a lot more powerful too -- it must have claimed the lives of at least twelve Russians. He put the belt on, and felt the reassuring kilogram of pistol rest on his left hip. His field-gray overcoat, which also bore the SS runes and his rank, was hanging in his cupboard. It still felt a little damp from the snowstorm he was caught in yesterday evening -- he should have left it out to dry. He folded it together, and draping it over his left arm went down to his breakfast of eggs, ersatz coffee and bread.
As he stepped out onto the street, it started to snow. Strasser cursed his luck -- his overcoat would probably end up rotting at this rate. There was a strong wind too, which stung his face. It was still dark and it was certainly still cold -- this was no morning to go to work. Perhaps he would treat himself to an evening at Kitty's place on Giesebrechtstrasse -- Leni there would cheer him up. It would cost him a fortune, but she certainly knew how to make him forget everything else.
Berlin was still waking up. As he walked, he could see lights switching on through the gaps in blackout curtains. There were only a few cars around, mostly staff cars, their dim headlights lazily mirrored in the slushy streets. Shops were beginning to open -- he passed a baker's he remembered being owned by the Taubers. As a boy, Strasser had loved eating their bagels, toasted and covered with thick brown honey. He hadn't realized the Taubers were Jews until their shop was smashed up, and Stars of David painted all over the shop front. The Taubers had long since left -- a shame, because he missed their bagels. Still, it was for the good of the Reich that they had gone, he was told, although he had found that hard to accept at first.
He reached headquarters at precisely twenty-five past seven. He recognized the two guards standing at the front doors, who spent this time in the morning permanently saluting. He saluted them back, and walked into the atrium. White columns draped with swastika banners reached eighty feet up to the ceiling. A vast marble staircase rose up at the end, with a portrait of the Reichsführer SS, Heinrich Himmler, looking down at it.
There was a short line at the security gate, and Strasser joined it, getting his pass ready. Standing in front of him was his closest colleague in the Beschaffungsamt -- procurement -- section, Hauptsturmführer Max Esser. He was unmistakable from behind as he only had one ear -- the other one had burned off somewhere near Kursk. Strasser tapped him on the shoulder.
"Good morning, Max," he said breezily. "How are you this morning?"
Esser turned around -- his eyes lit up when he saw it was Strasser.
"Terrible. Absolutely terrible. Where were you? I thought you were going to join us at the pictures. We ended up making a night of it and now I feel like shit."
"You don't look great, I must admit."
"Thanks, Carl." Esser smiled. "I can always count on you to give me the honest truth."
"But I was lying!"
"So, I don't look too bad then?"
"No, Max, in fact you look shit -- really, really shit."
Esser playfully punched Strasser in the stomach.
"Just you wait, Carl, one day we'll get you out and pour a bottle of schnapps down your throat, and then we'll see how you look."
"You're on. So long as you pay."
The two men showed their passes to the guard at the gate. He nodded them through, and they made their way up the stairs, continuing their banter.
Strasser shared an office with Esser and a ferocious-looking secretary, the gargantuan Frau Buch. She held the rank of a junior NCO -- a gefreiter -- and even Strasser would admit she looked terrifying in her uniform. She worshipped the Führer, so much so that she had hung twenty pictures of him on the office walls, making the place into a shrine. Unlike her hero, however, she chain-smoked, with the result that she had a cough like a panzer starting up. Frau Buch was in her early fifties, and she treated the two young officers as errant children. In return, they endlessly teased her and indulged in horseplay such as throwing paper airplanes at her desk.
Frau Buch's ashtray was already half full when Strasser and Esser entered.
"Good morning, Head Matron," grinned Esser.
"And what happened to you last night?" she inquired, a cigarette dangling from her lower lip.
Esser looked pleadingly at Strasser for support, but Strasser was sitting down and smiling to himself.
"I went to dinner with my mother," Esser replied.
"Balls you did," Frau Buch spluttered.
"Now, now, Gefreiter, that's no way to talk to an officer," said Strasser, not looking up.
The other two went silent. Was he joking? He looked serious enough. Carl could be like this, Esser thought, suddenly blowing cold, getting all "Party."
Strasser looked up and smiled.
"I do think we should be careful though," he said. "I wouldn't like our colleagues in the next-door offices to think that discipline in our little world had completely broken down."
"Quite right," replied Esser with mock severity. "Gefreiter -- get on with your work or you'll end up herding Jews in Ravensbruck."
"Yes, sir, my esteemed Hauptsturmführer."
"That's much more like it," said Strasser, and the three of them settled down to work, Frau Buch's typewriter clattering away. For the next two hours, Strasser and Esser worked mostly in silence, occasionally checking a fact with each other.
Just before ten, Strasser's telephone rang. He let it ring a few times as he was in the middle of a calculation, and then picked it up.
"Hauptsturmführer Strasser?" asked the female voice at the end of the line.
"This is Obergruppenführer Berger's office. Could you come up and see the Obergruppenführer right away?"
Strasser's heart missed a beat. Berger was the head of SS recruiting and the SS Hauptamt.
"Yes, of course -- I shall be up immediately."
Strasser put the phone down. Esser and Frau Buch were looking expectantly at him.
"That was Berger's office. I've got to see him right away."
"Did they tell you why?" asked Esser.
"No, they didn't. And before you ask, I have absolutely no idea."
"Armenoi," said Manoli. "There's a big fuel and ammo dump at Armenoi."
Lockhart and Manoli were talking business again -- the temptation to wallow in their private miseries had nearly bettered them. They were studying a map that Manoli had sketched.
"How heavily is it guarded?" Lockhart asked.
"Quite lightly, as the Germans do not think we have the means to raid it. I suppose there must be around thirty or forty troops there. It's a busy place, with trucks always going in and out."
"What about locals? Do many locals work there?"
"A few -- they are mainly used for building huts inside the compound."
"Couldn't we disguise ourselves as a work gang?"
"We could, but there are always rigorous checks of the gangs for just this reason. I think it's too risky."
Lockhart chewed his lip.
"Presumably it's surrounded by barbed wire. Electrified?"
"No, I don't think so," Manoli replied. "But there are regular patrols around the perimeter."
"How big are these patrols?"
"Normally a couple of men. Usually with a dog."
"So, if we took care of a patrol, we might have enough time to cut through the fence, cause havoc, and run back into the night."
"We might, yes."
Manoli looked up.
"Have you done this before, John?"
"Oh, Richard and I used to do this sort of thing every day when we were small."
But Manoli wasn't laughing.
"All right, Manoli, yes I have," said Lockhart guardedly.
"In France, in the summer."
"What did you do?"
Lockhart eyed Manoli warily, not because he didn't trust him, but because he was conditioned to not talking about his work.
"It was my first mission, although it wasn't an arms dump, it was a power station."
"A power station?"
"That's right -- it supplied the power to a massive steelworks. Our bombers had been unsuccessfully trying to destroy it for weeks. My orders were to link up with the Resistance and do what the RAF couldn't do."
"And did you?"
"Yes -- yes, we did, but..." Lockhart's voice trailed off.
"But we lost a lot of men."
"Seven out of a party of twelve, but before you say anything else, that's small compared to the amount of civilians who were being accidentally killed in the bombing raids."
Manoli looked grim.
"How did you lose them?" he eventually asked.
"When we were escaping we ran into a German patrol -- it was just bad luck, that was all."
Manoli breathed out.
"And you led this mission?"
"Yes. But I have to tell you, Manoli, that it was considered a great success."
"Despite your losses?"
"Despite our losses. I hear the power station is still out of action. That means no more steel out of that plant, which means fewer tanks for the Germans, which means fewer lives lost in the long run. In the end it's just math, just numbers."
"And now you think you can lead me and my men into a German arms dump, blow it up and be back in time for tea?"
"That's up to you. I never said they were my men. If you'd prefer, we could just sit in this cave, and radio Cairo for some nicer Christmas pudding."
Manoli stayed silent.
"Look, Manoli, I know what you're thinking. The last time you saw me, I was a cocky student, and here I am, a few years later, telling you and your men to risk their lives blowing up German ammunition dumps. I still can't believe it either. Even though I am one, I don't feel like an agent, but that's what I've had to become. It's my duty, Manoli. I'd wasted far too much time farting around in so-called intelligence in Whitehall, but now I'm actually fighting this war. If I didn't speak Greek or know this place, I'd probably be just a regular soldier, like Richard was. And it just so happens that my duty now involves coming over here to help you in giving the Germans a hard time. That's all I want to do, to help."
Manoli cradled the back of his head in his hands.
"That may be fair, but let's not be too ambitious. My men aren't real soldiers."
"I know, but they're committed, which is worth a lot of training. What do you say, arms dump or not? Come on."
Manoli sighed. "The arms dump. Let's blow up an arms dump."
The band spent the next few days learning how to use the explosives. Lockhart had brought enough plastic explosives to eradicate half the island, let alone a fuel dump. The andartes were skeptical about the sticky, dough-like substance, so Lockhart took the risk of using a small amount to blow up a rock. The demonstration was a success, as the rock was obliterated. The only mishap was a falling fragment hitting one of the men on the head, knocking him out. He revived to be met by a throbbing headache and his companions' laughter.
Lockhart also taught the men how to cut a throat, although some of them appeared not to need the lesson. Manoli had warned him that at least two of their group were murderers, but with a common enemy, an unholy alliance had been formed between farmer and criminal.
Although not refined, the men were clearly capable fighters. Centuries of bloody feuds on the island meant that many Cretans were born warriors. Children as young as six knew how to use a rifle, and during the invasion, teenagers fought alongside their fathers and uncles. It was said that the only good thing to come out of the occupation was that the islanders were no longer killing each other. However, the ancient Cretan art of thieving continued unabated, as the shortages got worse.
With their preparation over, the band left the cave. Lockhart knew that the men were as ready as they would ever be. They might not be up to the standard required at Arisaig, but Lockhart had neither the facilities nor the time. The men handled the weapons and the explosives well, but he was worried that they lacked the discipline to take orders during an engagement.
The route to Armenoi was tortuous. Once again, Manoli had underestimated the length of the journey. It took three nights, stumbling along broken paths used only by sheep and goats. Many of the men's boots were in bad shape, and Lockhart feared that two of them would not make it. When they removed their boots at the end of a night's walk, their feet were raw and bleeding. The antiseptic cream from his medical kit was soon exhausted, and Lockhart cursed that he had not taken the boots from the young crewman who had rowed him ashore.
The nights were cold too, and the wind, funneled through the mountain passes, was vicious. No matter how many layers Lockhart put on, it was never enough. But he was lucky -- some of the men's clothes were flimsy, and they made a brave show of not complaining.
By day, they sheltered in caves, which were as cold as the nights. Those that they used were too small to light fires in, so they slept tightly packed together. The smell of the mass of male bodies reminded him of the digs at Knossos -- there was something uniquely foul about Cretan sweat, Lockhart thought. And no fires meant no hot food, which sapped morale still further. But they had cigarettes, which helped.
These conditions caused Lockhart to marvel at the stamina of the runners, who undertook journeys such as this week on week, month on month. They had done so for the past two years, taking messages from one group of andartes to another. Usually wiry and small, they made twice as much speed as Lockhart's group. They traveled alone, and seemed to exist on very little food. Their feet were horrific to behold.
As they tried to sleep, Manoli would quietly recite the Erotocritos, a seventeenth-century Cretan epic poem, the ten thousand lines of which he knew by heart. One passage stuck in Lockhart's mind.
Observe how Eros works his magic spells,
And how all love-sick mortals he compels.
He quickens their desire and gives it might,
And teaches them to wrestle in the night.
He cheapens gold, to blemish he gives charm.
And to the weakling lends a warrior's arm;
He makes the coward dare, the sluggard race,
The awkward he endows with every grace.
Love made Rotokritos to hold his ground
And to defy the ten who gathered round.
Lockhart was constantly impressed by Manoli's knowledge of the classics. Sometimes he felt a fraud. There was he, with a doctorate under his belt and a classics professor for a father, and there was Manoli, the son of a shepherd, for whom the classics were not just texts, but living, spoken works.
They reached Armenoi early on a Sunday morning. Manoli's plan to hide in a small chapel on the hills outside the town had relied on their arriving twenty-four hours earlier. Instead, they had to make do with a large ditch in an olive grove. Lockhart didn't care for it, but there was a good view of the dump, which lay about three hundred yards away down a slight slope.
As the men slept, Lockhart and Manoli took the first watch in order to observe the goings-on beneath them. As he looked through his binoculars, Lockhart felt his heart quicken. The dump was about the size of two football fields, surrounded by barbed wire. The main gate was a constant source of activity, with trucks kicking up lingering dust clouds. The compound contained huge stacks of fuel drums, and a large, heavily guarded storehouse in the middle.
"That has to be the ammunition store," said Lockhart, passing the binoculars to Manoli. "That big hut in the middle."
Manoli adjusted the focus. "It looks pretty hard to get to -- it's a long way from the fence. Perhaps we could just throw some hand grenades at it and run."
"They'd just explode harmlessly on the outside. No, we've got to get inside and actually lay the plastic explosive."
"How in God's name are we going to do that?"
"We'll have two things on our side -- surprise and darkness. We'll need to split into two parties. The first takes care of the oil drums nearest the main gate. That will create a diversion for the second lot to try and get in the storehouse. It won't be easy, but I can't think of a better way."
The Cretan breathed out. "We were right to eat your Christmas pudding early. I don't think any of us are going to be here this time next month."
"Stop being so pessimistic, Manoli. We're not dead yet, and I certainly don't intend to be. We'll be in and out in five minutes -- they really won't know what's hit them. Come on -- how good can these Jerries be if they're the ones chosen to look after a fuel dump in Crete? If they were real fighters they'd be in Italy or Africa, not here."
Lockhart hoped he sounded convincing. As they discussed the details of their plan, he felt an unusual nervousness creep up on him. It wasn't the same fear he had when he landed, but a deeper dread that made him think this was his last day. By tonight, he'd be strung up in a town center and left to rot. His hand shook slightly as he drew a plan in the grit at their feet. He knew Manoli had noticed it.
It was half past two in the morning -- half an hour before they were due to attack. The eight men crouched in the ditch, repeatedly checking their weapons. Lockhart instructed them to put some mud on their faces, and in the moonlight the whiteness of their eyes and teeth made them look almost demonic.
Lockhart crawled up to the lip of the ditch and surveyed the perimeter fence. He watched the patrol make its way along the fence's near side, the breath of the men and their Alsatian swirling around them. The interior of the compound was well lit but quiet, although Lockhart could just hear the crackling sound of a badly tuned radio coming from the guardhouse near the gate.
The first part of the plan was to eliminate the patrol, which made a circuit every fifteen minutes. Lockhart and two others would lie behind some scratchy bushes near the corner of the compound, and as the guards passed, leap out and slit their throats. Lockhart and the murderous-looking Christos were assigned to the two guards, and the other andarte, Niko, would kill the dog. As the corner was a good five to six minutes' walk away from the main gate, the guards there would not notice the absence of their colleagues for that period of time.
According to Lockhart, that should give them enough time to cut through the wire, toss some grenades in among the fuel drums near the gate, set the plastic explosive in the storehouse and then get the hell out for a five-hour route march back to the previous night's cave. If there was any problem with the storehouse, then Lockhart had ordered the men to leave it alone and hope the fire from the burning fuel drums would take care of the ammunition. He doubted that Arisaig would have approved of the crude tactics, but he was certainly going to set his part of Europe ablaze.
Lockhart made his way back to the group.
"Everything looks as it should be," he whispered.
"So no guards and a Red Cross parcel each," Manoli whispered back.
"That's right, and Betty Grable says she is getting a little bored of waiting."
They smiled in the darkness, both men knowing their banter was a scanty covering for fear.
Lockhart beckoned to Niko and Christos. Their breath stank of raki. Lockhart thought of reprimanding them, but there seemed little point. Besides, he could have done with some himself.
"It's now quarter to three," he said to them. "Check your weapons one last time. Leave behind everything except for your guns, knives, and explosives. Is that clear?"
The men nodded. They looked nervous. Lockhart tried not to show that he felt similarly.
"Are you sure you know what to do, Manoli?"
"Quite sure. As soon as you have got rid of the patrol, we'll come down to the wire to join you."
Manoli gripped Lockhart by the shoulders.
"Good luck. I'll either see you in a few minutes or never again," the Cretan said.
At first, Lockhart wanted to make the obvious joke, but he stopped himself.
"Thanks, Manoli. Good luck too."
Niko and Christos signaled that they were ready. Lockhart checked himself over one last time, and the three men went up to the edge of the ditch.
The guards had come back around to the near side of the fence again. They seemed relaxed -- one of them was smoking a cigarette, and their laughter drifted up the hill. Lockhart handed the binoculars to Christos.
"Do you see your man, Christos? Yours is the one nearest us, the one with the cigarette."
Christos nodded and passed the binoculars to Niko.
"The dog is going to be hard, Niko," Lockhart said. "Are you all right to deal with it?"
"It shouldn't be too difficult," Niko replied. "I just need to bash its head with my gun."
"And can you both see where we're going to hide, the small bushes near the corner of the fence?"
The men exchanged the binoculars, and muttered silently to themselves. They nodded to Lockhart. Their eyes were wide open.
The guards were nearing the far corner, about to turn away and out of sight.
"Move when I move," Lockhart ordered.
He watched as the men rounded the corner. As soon as he saw the last glint from their helmets, he stood up and started running down the slope. His heart was beating maniacally, and his legs felt peculiarly shaky as he did his best not to trip. He heard Christos and Niko behind him, their breath coming in sharp bursts. They seemed to be making a racket, but nothing stirred within the compound.
The bushes were getting closer now, and Lockhart thought they looked inadequate. Surely they would be spotted immediately! He consoled himself that the guards were probably feeling too relaxed to be observant, and it was movement that was noticed at night, not shapes. So long as they kept still, they should be safe.
They made it to the bushes in just over a minute. They slid down onto the stony surface, sharp pebbles digging into their stomachs and chests. Lockhart estimated they would now have a five-minute wait until the guards came around again. He looked down the length of the fence in the direction from which they would be walking.
They lay panting for a few seconds, accustoming themselves to their new location. Lockhart soon noticed their breath was lit up by the arc lights from inside the compound. The bushes would look as though someone was boiling a kettle in them, he thought. At Arisaig, they had taught him to put snow in his mouth, but there was no snow here. He turned to point it out to Niko and Christos, and then tucked his mouth under his shirt. They did the same.
He aimed his Sten gun down the length of the fence. If the dog spotted them, they would open fire and then run for it. There was no point waiting for the guards to react. Arisaig rules were to get the violence in first. Christos and Niko pointed their rifles in the same direction, their fingers slowly moving in and out of the trigger guards. Lockhart looked at his watch -- two minutes to go. He laid his knife by his side. As soon as the guards passed, he would exchange the gun for it, get up, run up behind his man, clamp his left hand over his mouth, jerk back his head, and then draw the knife deeply across and into the man's neck. It should take less than ten seconds. In theory the victim would not make a sound. In theory.
As if running to a timetable, the patrol rounded the corner two minutes later. Lockhart heard Niko draw in his breath sharply. Christos made no sound and seemed calm. Had he killed before? Lockhart hoped so.
Lockhart began to make out the faces of the two Germans. They looked older than he had imagined. Perhaps these really were, as he had told Manoli, the dregs of the Wehrmacht. One was talking, and the other was laughing occasionally. It sounded like a long-winded joke or anecdote. Lockhart prayed that whatever it was would last long enough to take them past the bushes. If the story ended before then, they might look around.
The one member of the patrol that wasn't listening was the dog. Lockhart feared the Alsatian more than anything else. He couldn't take his eyes off it, its tongue hanging out as it padded dutifully along. It was keeping its head to the ground, no doubt as bored of the circuit as its masters were.
Lockhart had never owned a dog, but he knew what one looked like when it had smelled something. The Alsatian's head jerked forward in their direction, its whole body pulled by its nose. Its lead tightened; it started barking. The guards stopped their conversation and looked toward them. Arisaig rules, thought Lockhart. Goodbye, Germans; sorry, dog. He opened fire.
Manoli saw the flash of the guns' muzzles in the bushes. Watching breathlessly through the binoculars, he saw the two Germans and the dog knocked back by the gunfire. Lockhart and his men must have emptied their magazines into them.
He looked over to the compound. Lights were going on all over it, and he could hear orders being shouted and dogs barking. After a few seconds, some partially clothed Germans appeared from the guardhouse near the gate. They were carrying machine guns and hand grenades. This lot weren't as dozy as Lockhart had suspected, thought Manoli.
He looked back at the bushes. Lockhart and the two others had already gotten up, and were running back up to the ditch. It would take them at least a couple of minutes to get there. Would it be enough time? The guards were already out of the compound, and were running around the fence toward them. They numbered at least twenty, and they were bound to see the three andartes fleeing up the hill. Manoli felt helpless. He would only order the rest of the gang to open fire if the Germans spotted Lockhart. To fire now would give away their position, and there was still a chance that those running wouldn't be spotted.
Lockhart ran as he had never done before. Although he was quick, he was not as swift as the two Cretans, who were slightly ahead of him. The loose ground made progress difficult, and the men stumbled frequently. The ditch still looked very far away, and he began to detect the sound of frantic activity behind him. Would it be best to lie and hide in some low scrub? But instinct took over. He kept running.
For a split second before he heard the shots, he could see their effect -- fragments of stone and dust kicked up from the ground around him. The rattling crackle of the submachine guns drove a panicky terror into him, reminding him of the escape from the power station in France. So this was how his life was going to end. Any second now, he would feel an immense thump in the back and then blackness. No pain, just blackness.
There was now no choice. Manoli ordered his men to fire. It had the immediate effect of stopping the Germans. They hit the ground and waited, as another volley whipped over their heads.
Manoli noticed that Lockhart and the two others had also gone to ground. They were still a good hundred yards away, in among some scrub. They would be able to crawl up to the ditch, but that would take several minutes. In the meantime, the best Manoli could do was to offer covering fire.
Lockhart lay in the scrub, panting. He couldn't see where Niko and Christos had gotten to, and he didn't want to shout to find out. He heard bullets whizz over him from both directions. That Manoli had opened fire gave him great comfort, but he was now in the worst possible situation. He was on his own, and caught in crossfire. If he got up, he would be dead within seconds, perhaps killed by a Cretan bullet. If he stayed, the Germans would eventually overrun Manoli's position and he would be found as they did so. The only thing he could do was to drag himself up the hill, tearing his front on the sharp rocks and the gorse.
Although the ground cut into him savagely, Lockhart could not feel a thing. It was only when he had reached some stone slabs that he realized how rough the going had been. As he paused on their cold surface, with the sound of gunfire all around him, his mind drifted back to another life. He looked at the slabs closely, slowly realizing they were slab stelae, erected over Minoan tombs as markers. The irony. He appeared to have made an archaeological discovery in the middle of a gun battle. What he hadn't noticed, during this reverie, was a grenade about to land fifteen yards ahead of him.
The andartes in the ditch were fighting well, but Manoli knew that there would come a point when they would have to flee. The Germans were fighting back ferociously, and were making steady progress up the hill. When they got within grenade-throwing range, that would be the time to go. To wait for Lockhart and the others would result in death or capture. That was what logic told him, but he couldn't bring himself to leave his comrades.
The Germans were within fifty yards of where he had seen Lockhart go to ground. Through the binoculars he thought he could see a dim shape moving through the undergrowth, but he wasn't sure. He could only look for a few seconds at a time -- the German fire was constantly raking the top of the ditch. As he ducked down, Manoli heard the explosion.
He thought his eardrums had burst. Even though it had not landed that close, the force of the grenade smashing into Lockhart's body momentarily deafened him. For a few moments he lay there, not daring to open his eyes, his brain trying to evaluate what had happened and whether there was any damage to his body. He couldn't tell if he had lost a leg or merely suffered a scratch. Shock was shutting parts of him down, and his rational side fought against it. He had to keep moving, he told himself, but his brain wouldn't let him.
He lay in suspended animation for several more seconds, his hearing gradually returning. Gunfire and shouts crept back into his brain, reminding him where he was. He knew there would be more grenades, and he wouldn't be so lucky next time. Slowly, he brought himself up into a low crouch -- his body still seemed to be working. He ran as best he could, trying to keep at the same level as the scrub. To have continued crawling would have been too dangerous -- he now had to get away from the grenades.
Manoli kept his head down for a few more seconds after the explosion. Then he tentatively got up and scanned the battleground. A small cloud of dust and smoke hung in the air, and it was hard to make out if anybody had been hit. He trained the binoculars on the slope and noticed someone running. It looked like Lockhart. He searched for Niko and Christos, but of them there was no sign. Perhaps they had been hit, or were lying low. He looked back to Lockhart. There was nothing. Manoli scoured the scrub frantically, but there was no movement. Where had he gone? The firing started again. Perhaps it was time to run.
He had only fifty yards to go. If he could just make the ditch, he would be safe for the time being. They could hold the Germans off for a while and maybe make good their escape. A grenade exploded over to his right, far enough away to cause no harm, but near enough to make him dive down.
As he got up, Lockhart saw a black shadow a few yards to his left. He ran toward it, praying that it was what he thought it was. The archaeologist in him recognized it to be the opening to another tomb. The soldier in him saw it as shelter. He peered down into the blackness. How big a drop down was it? He had no choice. The sound of the machine guns was getting closer -- he wouldn't make the ditch.
He lowered himself through the narrow opening and let himself fall. The drop must have only been six feet, but he landed badly and his left ankle began to ache. Reaching out in front of him, he began to edge his way forward into the blackness.
He was going down a slight incline into the side of the hill. If this was like other Minoan tombs, then he would soon come to a small burial chamber. The air smelled stale, reminding Lockhart of so many tombs before. It made him feel at home. Had this been under ordinary circumstances, he would have been highly excited. Now he merely felt relieved. He made his way forward, the sound of the gunfire retreating. He was stepping into another world, a sanctuary from fear and death.
Lockhart stopped. There was little point in going any further. There could be more drops and he was safe where he was. He sat down and leaned his head back against the cool wall. His legs began to shake uncontrollably, and he tried stifling his sobs. He wanted to scream out, a mixture of shock, rage, sadness and emptiness overwhelming him. Images of Anna and Amy plagued his head. A voice was telling him he would never see them again. He was too exhausted to argue with it.
The second grenade had exploded too near for Manoli's comfort. He knew they had to leave the ditch -- there was nothing they could do for the others. The Germans outnumbered them and were better armed. To stay would be suicide. If they ran now, they would have a good start on their pursuers. To ease his conscience, Manoli decided that he himself would stay. He could hold the Germans back with the Marlin for several more minutes while the others fled.
Manoli ran along the ditch, issuing the order. The men looked surprised and reluctant.
"But what about the others?"
"What can we do?" Manoli asked. "They are closing in all the time. We'll all die. Mr. Lockhart would want us to go."
The men could see the sense in that, but they felt guilty at leaving their comrades.
"Go!" Manoli shouted. "Just go!"
As the men got up to run, Manoli slung the Marlin over the edge and let rip with three long bursts in three different directions. Somewhere nearby he heard a scream and a German's voice crying out in agony. That should stop them for a while.
Lockhart heard the screaming. It was only a few yards from the opening to the tomb. The sound chilled him -- they were the cries of a man who was feeling the horror of knowing these were his last moments.
"Help me, help me! Please, please help me! I'm dying!"
And then the screams continued, the whole essence of the man channeled into that desperate call for help. But Lockhart knew that no help would come. Nobody would run into a line of fire. It had gone eerily quiet -- no firing, no explosions, just the sound of a dying man filling the smoking air.
The screaming stopped after a couple more minutes. Lockhart felt his shoulders drop, and then tense up again as the firing started. But this time it was only coming from the German side. The andartes must have run for it. He knew he would have done the same, but that did not stop him feeling vulnerable.
He sat rigid, not daring to move. The firing was nearing the tomb. He pointed his Sten gun toward the entrance, his hands shaking violently. He told himself to keep calm, but Arisaig had never prepared him for a situation like this. Perhaps he should have stayed in Whitehall, prancing around St. James's in his captain's uniform.
After a quarter of an hour, he gently lowered the barrel. The Germans had passed him. He listened to the volume of shouting and firing diminish -- they would be beyond the ditch. Now Manoli's troubles would really be starting. Lockhart slumped forward, his chin falling onto his chest.
As he drifted off, the name came to him. Nausithos. That was it -- the name of Theseus's pilot. That he had remembered here and now seemed to Lockhart almost funny.
He has never seen such a big house. It must be the size of the whole street in Tooting, and just one family lives here. He too will have a house like this, when they take over. He'll come down from London, where he will be a minister in the new fascist government, and ride a horse, a great big black horse, and Eileen will have the finest clothes. It will make up for the years of poverty and struggle. This is what he deserves, he reckons, nothing less will do for him, a true leader of men.
The taxi draws up to the steps and a footman comes down to open the door. He grabs his small suitcase, steps out tentatively and offers to shake the footman's hand. The footman stares back at him, leaving his hand by his side.
"Do you have any more luggage, sir?"
"Just this," he says, holding up his suitcase.
"May I take it, sir?"
"Don't worry, I can manage."
The footman raises an eyebrow. "Would you follow me, please."
Together they walk up the steps to the front door. It is a beautiful day, and he looks across to the parkland surrounding the house. This is the real England, a land of oaks and deer, not a place for skulking Jews and Bolshies in their slums. This is the place where greatness breeds and where dynasties are founded. What a glorious new England it will be!
The butler greets him in the hall.
"Sir George and Lady Pendle are in the conservatory at present, and they have asked me to show you to your room first. Sir Oswald is already here, as are several of your other colleagues."
The staircase is lined with portraits, showing that the features of the Pendles have barely changed in three hundred years. Light shines in from a glass cupola above. It reminds him of the very grandest buildings in London. Blimey. This place is a palace, not a house. Is this really how a lot of them live, in places like this? No wonder they feel born to rule.
His room is surprisingly small, but it is comfortable. He washes his face and looks at himself in the mirror. He's wearing his best suit, the one he wore at church before he gave it up. It's a bit hot for August, but he wants to look his best, to fit in with the rest of them. His hair is short and tidy, but he gives it a good brush anyway. He opens his suitcase -- along with his washbag and underwear, it contains another shirt and a pair of flannel trousers. At the bottom there are several sheets of neatly typed paper -- his speech. He is really going to impress them tonight. He wants the Union to go further than ever, to adopt more extreme policies. He is sure that Sir Oswald is going to like it, although it may be a bit strong for some.
They don't notice him at first. There are at least twenty of them, all laughing in that loud way that always makes him feel so uneasy. Eventually, Sir Oswald spots him, and strides over, a broad smile forming under his dark moustache.
"Aaaaaah! There you are! Did you have a good trip down?"
He goes over and shakes Sir Oswald's hand. The Leader looks the picture of health and is very much at ease.
"Very nice, thank you, Sir Oswald."
"I'm so glad. I say, have you come from a funeral?"
He looks around -- everybody else is wearing light summer suits or tweeds.
"My other suit is at the cleaner's."
It is a lie, and he knows they must know it is a lie, but what else can he say? That he has only got one suit?
"Never mind -- so long as you are comfortable. Now then, we're all having a drink before lunch -- what would you like?"
He doesn't know what to say. Normally he only drinks beer, but everybody else seems to be having cocktails.
"I think I'll have a cocktail."
"Any particular one? Jessop here can make you anything from a Stinger to a punchy Mint Julep."
Is Sir Oswald doing this on purpose? Surely he knows that people like him don't drink cocktails? He looks at Sir Oswald's glass -- it looks nice enough.
"I'll have what you're having, Sir Oswald."
"Gin and French? Whatever you say. Jessop -- could you get the man a gin and French? Now come along and I'll introduce you to a few of our benefactors, especially Sir George, who has heard so much about you."
He is glad that he hasn't brought Eileen along. She would be an embarrassment, and besides, he wants to concentrate on making a good impression and not worry about her behavior. She'll learn one day, when he has reached the top. Hopefully, she could become like one of the ladies here.
Later, his speech is met with polite applause. Sir Oswald tells him it was "capital," but he doesn't feel so sure and goes to bed early. He hears laughter as he walks slowly up the stairs.
"Daddy's not here, darling."
"But he was here last birthday."
"I know, but he's had to go away, Amy, he's gone to help fight the Germans."
"Because he's a brave man, fighting for his country."
"And where's Mummy?"
"She's gone too, gone to help her mummy."
"Why don't you just blow out your candles? Come on, deep breath, and then blow!"
Amy blew out the candles, watched by her Aunt Ellie, Uncle Peter and their two children, her cousins Harry and Sam. What she did know was that Auntie Ellie was her mummy's sister, and that she didn't like Harry and Sam, who would tease her because she was a girl, tease her because she didn't live with her own mummy and daddy.
Daddy used to come and see her, sometimes every few days, bringing her a toy or occasionally some chocolate. She loved it when Daddy came -- he was always so funny, and he looked so smart, wearing his Army uniform. Why did Uncle Peter not wear an Army uniform? Amy asked. Because Uncle Peter, said Daddy, was doing something far more important, which meant that he had to wear a suit and tie. What did he do then? Aha, that was a secret -- a secret that little girls weren't allowed to know. And that would annoy Amy, who would stamp her feet, and say that that wasn't fair, that it wasn't fair that little girls shouldn't know things. Once she remembered Aunt Ellie saying, "Oh, she's Anna's daughter all right," and Daddy laughing. But Daddy didn't come here anymore, and Aunt Ellie and Uncle Peter would never tell her where he had gone, and just said that he was "very brave."
There was a picture of Mummy on the wall in her bedroom, the bedroom she shared with Sam, her younger cousin. She couldn't really remember her mummy, and once she said something that made Aunt Ellie cry.
"Mummy's dead, isn't she?"
"No!" Aunt Ellie replied. "You mustn't say that, Amy. Mummy has just gone away for a little bit, and she'll be back soon."
"Back with Daddy?"
"That's right, darling -- back with Daddy -- and then you can go back to your own house, with both of them."
"When will that be?"
"But when? When?"
"Soon, Amy, soon. Come on, it's time for bed."
And she would lie in bed until Sam had gone to sleep, and when he had done so, she would get up and take down the picture of Mummy from the wall. She would open the blackout curtain next to her bed, and if the moon was out, she would look at the picture for a long time, tracing her little fingers over her mummy's smiling face. And when she got tired, she would fall asleep clutching the picture, feeling the hardness of the frame on the pillow next to her.
Sometimes, Aunt Ellie would get up in the middle of the night, and check up on them. Each time, she would find Amy clasping the picture, and she would attempt to remove it, release it from her niece's grasp as gently as possible. But Amy's grip was too strong, and Aunt Ellie, try as hard as she might, found that there was no way she could take the picture of her sister away.
Copyright © 2002 by Guy Walters