Authors: Jack Higgins
They topped the hill above the harbour and emerged on to the great sloping plateau that was the western half of the island. Donner could see the station at once, a scattering of flat-roofed concrete huts built to withstand the fury of the storms that swept in across this small island too frequently for comfort. Beyond them, a row of ugly concrete mounds faced the Atlantic.
'The missile pens,' Endicott said. 'As you can imagine, this place makes an ideal range, but because of the extremes of weather, we're compelled to site the weapons themselves underground.'
'You have been having some real success with Firebird, I hear?'
Endicott grinned. 'Even the Americans are going to have to sit up and take notice of that little baby.'
As the staff car slowed behind them, he released the brake and drove on across the barren landscape towards the scattered buildings.
'I'm afraid we don't have a great deal to offer in the way of comfort,' he said as he drew up outside the officers' mess, 'but I've seen worse.'
The staff car pulled up alongside and as they went up the steps into the mess, Murdoch joined them. It was pleasant enough inside, like similar places the world over. A scattering of armchairs, magazines on the tables, the Queen's portrait behind the bar.
'Whisky suit you, Colonel?' Endicott asked, and when Donner nodded, turned to the barman. 'The rest of my staff will be along in a moment. Only five officers here, of course. We've a very small establishment.'
Donner accepted the whisky, moved to the window and looked out to where his men were dismounting from the troop carrier, each with a canvas military hold-all in his hand. A young Battery Sergeant-Major was talking to Souvorin as the senior German N.C.O., obviously telling him where they were to be quartered.
Donner turned. 'I'd like my men to hang on for a few minutes if you don't mind, Major. I want a word with them before they disperse.'
'Certainly, Colonel,' Endicott replied and at that moment his officers started to arrive.
There were three subalterns, a full lieutenant and Endicott's second in command, a Captain Harrison. Donner was introduced to each in turn and the younger officers particularly were obviously rather nervous.
'When do we start work, Major?' Donner asked when they were all on their second drink.
'Oh, I thought the day after tomorrow, Colonel,' Endicott said. 'That should give your men plenty of time to get acclimatised.'
Donner moved to the window and nodded to Souvorin. Two of his men walked up the steps, entered the mess and closed the door behind them.
'No, I'm afraid the day after tomorrow will be far too late, Major,' Donner said.
The two men at the door unzipped their holdalls and produced machine pistols. There was a moment of stunned silence and Endicott put down his glass and moved forward.
'Look here, what in the hell is this?'
'We are taking over, Major Endicott,' Donner said. 'And if you know what's good for you, you'll co-operate.'
'You must be mad,' Endicott said angrily and he turned towards the bar. 'Jackson--ring through to the Orderly Room.'
Donner took the Mauser from his pocket, cocked it and shot Endicott through the back of his head at short range, killing him instantly, blood and brains spattering across the floor as he fell.
The obscenity of his death was somehow intensified by the almost complete lack of sound from the silenced Mauser and one of the young subalterns turned away and was sick on the spot.
'Captain Harrison,' Donner said calmly to the second-in-command. 'We're going to dismantle Firebird and you are going to help us do it.'
'I'll see you in hell first,' Harrison said.
Donner shook his head. 'Oh no you won't because if you don't co-operate, I'll parade this unit and give every fifth man what I've just given Endicott.'
He meant it and Harrison knew it. He sagged down into a chair and Donner turned to Murdoch. 'All right. Take over the camp and don't forget to make sure of the wireless room first.'
Murdoch went outside, the door banging behind him. Donner turned and lit a cigarette. He looked down at Harrison for a moment, grinned and patted him on the shoulder.
'Cheer up, sport,' he said in his normal voice. 'You could be like Endicott. You could be dead.'
'Did you know,' von Bayern said, 'that last year in Munich, there were at least half a dozen cases of injuries to the eye caused by champagne corks? What a city. Really, Paul, there is nowhere quite like it.'
'It certainly sounds quite a place,' Chavasse said.
'What a time I could show you. Soon it will be the
Parties, balls--the most beautiful women in Germany. Good food, fine wine.' He sighed heavily. 'How long have we been here?'
Chavasse checked his watch. 'About four hours. They'll be on Fhada by now. I'd give a lot to know what's happening.'
'From what you tell me of Donner I should say things are probably going very much according to plan.'
'One thing I don't understand is how Donner intends to get back here from Fhada.'
'You are sure he will come?'
Chavasse nodded. 'He wouldn't leave Asta, He's obsessed by her. His one weakness, I suppose. He said he'd be taking me along and a session in the Lubianka is something I can definitely do without.'
'And how does he intend to leave here?'
'He has his own plane parked in the meadow on the other side of the house--a Beaver.'
'Interesting,' von Bayern said. 'He's certainly thought of everything.'
'And not a damned thing we can do about it. Even if we got out of here, reached Mallaig and they put a general alert into operation, by the time they reached Fhada it would very probably be too late and, as far as I know, it's impossible to land by air.'
'That's not quite true,' von Bayern said. 'I was very thoroughly briefed on the island before coming and there was considerable information on flying conditions which interested me particularly as an old pilot.'
'I didn't realise you'd been a flyer.'
'Oh, yes--I was in the Brandenberg Division for a considerable part of the war--special operations. Handling a plane was just part of the job. Apparently there is a real problem in the Hebrides with down-draughts which makes the use of helicopters often impractical. So many crashed attempting to put down on Fhada, that last year your Army Air Corps experimented in landing light aircraft at the northern end of the island.'
'But I thought the cliffs were about six hundred feet high?'
'True, but when the tide goes out, it uncovers a very large area of firm sand. They found that landing was no trouble. Unfortunately, the tide turns so quickly that it was impossible for the planes to stay very long and there were other problems. The carriage of cargo up the cliffs and so on. I understand the idea has been abandoned.'
Chavasse turned to look at him, his face pale in the half light. 'Could you fly a Beaver by any chance?'
'But of course.' Von Bayern shrugged. 'A common enough military aircraft.'
Chavasse got to his feet and walked restlessly to the other end of the cell. 'Fifteen minutes' flying time from here to Fhada, it couldn't take more.'
'And we could all go,' von Bayern said. 'My men included. A nasty surprise for Herr Donner. Unfortunate that we can't get out of here, isn't it?'
Chavasse kicked the door in impotent rage and the German pulled him down beside him. 'Have another cigarette, Paul, and relax. Anger is a negative emotion. We must wait patiently and grasp what opportunities present themselves. There is nothing else to be done.'
It was perhaps half an hour later, that they became aware of voices raised in song, faint in the distance and then the door at the top of the cellar stairs was opened and heavy steps descended.
The singing stopped and Hector Munro appeared at the grill, Rory at his shoulder. They laughed foolishly, obviously half drunk and Hector kicked the door.
'Are ye still there, Mr. Chavasse?'
'I'm here,' Chavasse said. 'What do you want?'
'Just checking,' the old man said. 'I'm in charge here now, you know. Stavrou's away to Loch Dubh to see to things at the castle.' He laughed harshly. 'Are ye comfortable enough in there, the two of you?'
'It could be worse,' Chavasse said. 'It could be a prison cell with a fifteen-year sentence for treason stretching into the distance.' He laughed coldly. 'But why bother? You'll know all about that soon enough.'
The foolish smile disappeared from Rory's face and he turned to his father. 'What's he talking about, Da?'
'Never you heed him,' old Hector said. 'Come this evening, Mr. Donner will be back here to pay us our thousand pounds and we'll be away out of this and damn all this fella will be able to do about it.'
Rory's face cleared. 'Right you are, Da. We'll pick up Fergus at Tomintoul. If we get the evening train from Fort William, we could be in Glasgow in time to catch the nine o'clock boat to Belfast. No passports needed.'
The old man cackled. 'And crossing the border into Eire is no trick for the likes of us.'
What was it von Bayern had said?
You grasped the opportunity that presented itself?
Chavasse gripped the bars of the grill as they started to turn away.
'Just a minute, Munro.' The old man turned, swaying slightly. 'You said something about Fergus waiting for you in Tomintoul?'
Chavasse shook his head and said softly, 'He won't be there, Hector. Donner got to him first.'
The old man stood there staring stupidly at him, his face drained of all colour. 'It's a lie,' he said hoarsely. 'You're lying.'
'Let me out of here and I'll show you.'
'Maybe it's a trick, Da,' Rory Munro said.
'If it is, I'll kill him.' The old man took a bunch of keys from his pocket, tossed them across to his son and thumbed back the hammers of his shotgun. 'Let him out.'
'Do you know what you're doing?' von Bayern whispered.
Chavasse nodded. 'Don't try to be a hero when he opens the door. I don't think it's going to be necessary.'
When he stepped into the corridor, Rory slammed the door shut behind him immediately, locking it again. They both stood there covering him with their shotguns and Chavasse nodded.
'This way,' he said and moved down the passage.
He turned the corner at the end and found the cell he had previously been imprisoned in with no difficulty, recognising it at once by the bar across the door. It was in the next cell that Asta had told him she found Fergus.
'He's in there,' Chavasse said.
Hector glanced at him suspiciously, then nodded to Rory. 'Watch him. I'll take a look.'
He opened the door and fumbled for the light switch. A second later, he gave a terrible cry and his shotgun clattered to the floor. Rory turned involuntary to glance inside and his eyes widened with horror.
'Help me!' the old man moaned. 'Help me get him down.'
Rory leaned his gun against the wall and ran inside. Chavasse moved into the doorway and watched as they lifted the pathetic broken body from the hook and lowered it. The old man dropped to his knees and gently touched the blood-streaked face. When he looked up, there were tears in his eyes.
'Donner did this?'
Chavasse nodded. 'Miss Svensson was a witness.'
'Hung up and butchered like a side of beef. I was bought and paid for, so murdering my son didn't matter.' His hand came out of his pocket holding the bunch of keys and he tossed them across. 'You'll be needing these, I'm thinking.'
Chavasse picked up the old man's shotgun and collected Rory's on the way out and neither of them made the slightest objection, trapped in a world of their own private grief.
He ran back along the passage, calling Asta's name as he went and she answered him at once. There were at least a dozen keys on the ring, but they included a master key obviously intended for all the doors and in a moment she was in his arms.
'The Munros have just changed sides. I showed them Fergus.'
They hurried along to his own cell and von Bayern stared through the grill in astonishment as Chavasse unlocked the door.
'A miracle, my friend?'
'Something like that. I'll explain later.' As the German emerged, Chavasse gave him one of the shotguns and turned to Asta. 'Is there a gun room upstairs?'
She nodded. 'Next to the library.'
Chavasse handed the keys to von Bayern. 'I'll see what I can dig up. You release the others and we'll meet in the hall.'
He went up the cellar steps, Asta at his heels and from below, they could hear the excited babble of voices as von Bayern moved to release his nine soldiers and the two British Army drivers.
It was quiet in the passage outside the kitchen and Asta led the way quickly through to the hall. When they went into the library, a fire still burned fitfully on the hearth and she opened the far door into the gun room.
Such rooms were a common feature of old Scottish houses with estates which provided good shooting, but remembering Duncan Craig's remarks about Donner's lack of interest in hunting Chavasse didn't expect to find a great deal.
It could have been worse. Although most of the racks were empty, there were three double-barrelled shotguns, a Winchester .22 target rifle, probably kept for the rooks and an old .45 Ballard & Moore, powerful enough to stop an elephant.
Unfortunately there was only ammunition for the Winchester and the shotguns and regretfully he left the Ballard & Moore and went back through the library.
When they went into the hall, von Bayern was already there, his men standing at attention before him in a straight line, the two British soldiers on the end. He turned quickly and Chavasse handed him the three shotguns and the Winchester.
'Best I could do, I'm afraid. Have you told them what's happening?'
'As much as there was time for.'
Chavasse glanced down the line of soldiers. They looked tough and fit, but rather more intelligent than the average infantry soldier and he noticed that two of them wore glasses.
'These boys are really technicians, aren't they?' he said. 'Electronics experts.'
'And good soldiers, too. Have no fear, my friend. They know what they're getting in to.' He nodded to the senior N.C.O., a fair-haired, handsome man in his middle thirties. 'Sergeant-Major Steiner here served for five years in the French Foreign Legion Paratroops. He was at Dien-Bien-Phu.' He grinned and tossed the Winchester to Steiner who caught it expertly. 'Friend Donner may get a shock.'
One of the RASC drivers was a corporal and Chavasse moved across to him, 'What's your name, Corporal?'
'Jackson, sir, and this is Driver Benson. I don't know who you are, sir, but we're just as keen to have a go as the Jerries.'
'I'm sorry,' Chavasse said. 'But one of you will have to stay to take the Land Rover into Mallaig to notify H.Q. of what's happening.' He turned to Asta. 'You can go, too, Asta. You'll be able to tell them everything they need to know.'
She nodded, her face pale. 'What about Ruth?'
'She doesn't seem to be around so she must have gone down to Loch Dubh with Stavrou. Just forget about her. No one can help her now.'
Corporal Jackson tossed a coin, catching it neatly as Benson called. He extended his palm. Benson looked at the coin and his face dropped.
'All right, sir. I'll take the young lady into Mallaig.'
Already von Bayern and his men were moving out and Chavasse turned to Asta and groped for her hand. She looked up at him, her eyes shadowed.
'Take care, Paul.'
'Don't I always?' he said and went after the others.
There was silence in the hall when he had gone and she stood there looking suddenly very young. Benson coughed and cleared his throat. 'We'd better get going, miss.'
'Just give me a moment,' she said. 'I'd like to see them leave.'
She moved to the window and watched the small knot of men running across the meadow beyond the poplar trees to where the Beaver squatted at the far end. It was an excellent take-off, she'd had enough experience of flying to be able to tell that and the plane banked in a great sweeping curve to the right when it was no more than two or three hundred feet in the air, and turned out to sea.
'All right now, miss?' Benson said.
She nodded slowly and they crossed the hall and went out into the courtyard at the rear of the house. The Land Rover in the garage was the one Murdoch had driven earlier that morning and still carried the fake insignia which had been used to fool von Bayern's party. Obviously Stavrou had driven to the loch in the other one.
She climbed into the passenger seat and Benson got behind the wheel. The starter rattled hollowly when he pressed it, but the engine refused to turn over. He tried the choke with no better success and cursed.
'Sounds as if the damned thing's been immobilised, miss. I'd better take a look.'
He walked round to the front of the vehicle and Stavrou appeared in the garage entrance, a machine pistol in his hands. Asta cried a warning. Benson swung round, alarm on his face and Stavrou drove him back against the bonnet of the Land Rover with a quick burst.