Jake hit the quayside running, his senses working overtime.
There was a car at the foot of the gangplank that hadn’t been there earlier. It looked a lot like Spyros’ Mercedes, but with the sodium lights it was hard to be sure of the colour.
That’s how Warren and Selena must have got here.
For a second Jake considered using the car to get away, but it was facing the wrong way and Warren might not have left the keys in it. He was confident driving the Land Rover but he pictured Andreas or Scorpion descending on him while he struggled with the Mercedes and he ran on, grateful to be free.
He had only one objective – get away into the town and raise the alarm. Fast!
Mandraki harbour was a long narrow rectangle, open to the sea at the west. Syntagma was moored on the south side, closest to the town, under the massive stone walls of the fortress. The only way out was along the quay, initially away from the town, through an archway in the stone ramparts and up a slope to a roadway through the grounds of the fortress.
Jake sprinted down the quay as fast as he could on the uneven cobblestones hoping that there were no invisible hazards in the patches of darkness between the pools of yellow light. His wetsuit was great when he was windsurfing, but wearing it under his tracksuit made it hard to run.
A glance back down the quayside revealed, amazingly, that nobody was in pursuit, but he caught a glimpse of Andreas, bent over the ship’s rail. He looked mean enough to shoot his own granny, but seeing Warren falling onto that knife right in front of him had clearly been too much.
As he ran, he wondered how Warren had got hold of Spyros’ car. And how Selena had become involved; she obviously wasn’t there willingly. Were Cath and Jamal unhurt? If they hadn’t managed to raise the alarm, which now seemed a real possibility, it really was down to him. He must get off the fortified peninsula and into the town. The Mercedes had been driven through, so the gates must be open.
The expensive-looking yachts tied up along the quayside were all in darkness. It seemed too risky to try to rouse the owners; the boats might be unoccupied and he might waste valuable time finding out. Anyway, a sleepy yachtsman would not be much use.
Jake had not been running for long when he heard someone thundering down the gangplank. A heavy person; it must be Scorpion unless Andreas had recovered quickly.
‘Get back in there and watch them.’ Scorpion’s voice! Had he picked up Nikolai’s gun or got another weapon of his own? A chill ran between Jake’s shoulder blades that spurred him on to run even faster.
There were plenty of hazards. The surface of the quay was partly cobbled, partly concrete and coated in patches of oil that made the surface slippery. A row of black bollards, some with mooring lines attached, ran along the edge, but at least there was some lighting there. Scorpion was pounding along, breathing hard, keeping pace with him. For his size he was very quick, Jake conceded grudgingly.
At the end of the quay the lit area fell behind and the road ahead sloped uphill through an archway and on into darkness. Jake hadn’t eaten properly since lunchtime the previous day and the slope was a trial with his energy levels running low. He tried to take his mind away from the physical pain by focussing on the layout of the fortress as he could remember it from previous visits. Turn right through the archway in the wall, right again and on up a slope to a level roadway with the harbour below him. The remainder of the route was hazy in his memory, but he should be able to find the way now that dawn was coming.
Halfway up the slope he glanced over his shoulder again. The lighting made the surface of the quay glow a coppery yellow, but there was nobody there. Jake was surprised but delighted. Scorpion must have turned back to Syntagma.
He slowed slightly as he reached the top of the slope. It was a long way to the gates of the fortress but it fronted directly onto a park in the centre of the town that contained, of all things, a cricket pitch. Once he was in the town he would feel safer and surely there would be people around, even at this hour of the morning. A police car on patrol hopefully.
The road surface was rough and potholed, but it was good to be on level ground again, although the quayside lighting was now below him and he was running blind. He trod in a pothole and stumbled but kept to his feet. Almost at once his foot encountered another hole and this time he couldn’t stop himself falling, the palms of his outstretched hands skidding along the gravel surface. He rolled over with his wetsuit taking the brunt of the impact and lay still for a moment getting his breath back.
But the fall had saved him from a worse fate. The silhouette of a man was visible against the sky that glowed dull orange from the lights of Corfu Town beyond: Scorpion! He must have known a short cut up the hill, probably a flight of steps. He had bragged earlier about knowing the place like the back of his hand.
Jake heard a sound that he had hoped he’d never hear again; Scorpion’s now familiar short cough. That could mean only one thing and Jake threw himself to one side. He heard the dart hitting the ground next to his head and a tinkling as the tiny glass phial shattered.
He got quickly to his feet, his mind racing. There was a sheer drop down to the harbour and the other way the massive masonry walls of the fortress supported another open area above. Ahead the rough roadway was barred by the threatening figure of Scorpion reloading his blowpipe.
He turned and ran flat out towards the sea tower at the tip of the peninsula. There was a path up the hill somewhere there and he’d have to outrun his pursuer and double back at the higher level. The palms of his hands were stinging like hell but he was otherwise okay. A wire fence barred the way, but there was a tree next to it which helped him scramble over the obstruction.
As he started up the hill, not sure if it was even the path, his trainers slipping on rough stones, he heard Scorpion coming after him. Jake spurred himself to a huge effort and his lungs were burning by the time he reached the top. He stopped for a moment and looked back down the hill. Scorpion was invisible in the darkness but the clink of stones and his rasping breath gave him away. He had been faster up the steep slope than Scorpion and he felt hopeful as he scrambled down a ziz-zag path, over another wire fence and onto a large expanse of level ground. The derelict hospital building lay on his left but he ran on, listening out for his pursuer. At least he was heading towards the main entrance again.
Adrenaline drove him on but a persistent stitch in his side made him wince in pain. Could he keep ahead of Scorpion all the way to the front gate? It might be better to hide somewhere and let the man run past, before he went on more slowly, watching out for him up ahead. After all, there was no pressing urgency now. Nikolai was out for the count for half an hour, Warren was seriously hurt and Andreas was without a weapon, although he might perhaps have got hold of another by now. It would be better to be certain of getting help, rather than hurrying and getting caught. None of the others had emerged from the ship and he was fearful of what had happened to Cath and Jamal. It was absolutely vital that he raise the alarm.
Scorpion could see his target ahead of him and now that the ground was more level he settled into a steady loping run. He used to be able to keep this up for hours when he was in the RLI all those years ago. The ground was soft and sandy in many places and it was getting light enough to see the spoor.
He reached another wire fence and pulled up, breathing noisily. He had his night vision binoculars with him and, as he put the stubby instrument to his eyes, the ground in front of him came alive in a luminous green glow. He scanned the spot where he expected his quarry to be, before moving the binoculars slowly to and fro in a grid pattern.
‘Man, but you’re still good,’ he told himself with satisfaction as he detected a movement on the hillside above the path. ‘Thought you’d fool me, hey?’
The fence was easy enough to climb over and although he knew where Jake had gone, he stopped at the fork in the path and checked the tracks, just for old times’ sake. It was getting lighter now and, sure enough, there were the footprints in the soft sand, fresh and distinct.
They led to a steep path up the hill with a flight of concrete steps. The Land Tower they called it, he remembered. He climbed slowly, stopping now and again to check ahead. A group of bushes close to the path was a likely place.
Without the binoculars it looked like an empty hillside with railings and a fence and a few scrubby bushes. There was a steep drop beyond and, as he approached, the blowpipe in his mouth, he knew there was no escape for his quarry.
There was a movement and he gave his customary short cough and watched the dart fly true and impact the boy’s shoulder. ‘Job done,’ he said aloud, strolling over to the bush.
The boy was sitting on the ground, looking in surprise at the dart sticking out of his shoulder.
‘Tough luck, but geeze, you’ve been asking for it,’ he said and watched impassively as Jake rolled onto his side, his legs kicking.
He looked out at the magnificent view from the high point that Jake had selected. The old lighthouse was silhouetted against the twinkling lights of Corfu Town. In the distance the landing lights of the first flight of the day were approaching the airport.
The sight of the aircraft instilled fresh urgency into Scorpion. ‘Man, are you out yet?’ he asked, looking down at Jake. He took one of his ankles in each massive hand and, twisting around, hoisted him over his back, a knee folded over each shoulder so that Jake was hanging down behind him.
He had a plane to catch, then another from Athens to Nairobi. He’d be in Congo by nightfall and would hole up with Sandy and the boys for a while before starting again. He’d be back here soon enough; there were a couple of things he needed that were central to his plans.
He marched down the steps with the boy’s head bumping against the backs of his knees. This kid had led him a nice little dance. Blitzing that girl had caused enough fuss but the Boss was crazy; he couldn’t kill them. He couldn’t kill anyone any more.
Send them all to Africa instead.
The back of Jake’s head bumped against Scorpion’s legs with every step the man took and his fingers dragged on the rough ground. He opened his eyes. For some reason the dart hadn’t had any effect on him at all.
When it hit his shoulder he had slumped down, fearing the worst and waiting for the drug to overcome him. When nothing happened, and with Scorpion looming over him, he took a snap decision and simply acted out the reaction he had seen in Sam and Liv.
He was impressed by the sheer power of the man carrying him, apparently effortlessly. This must be how he had carried Zoë from the bench and why there was no trail for the police dog. He lifted his arms slightly and the big man didn’t seem to notice. Jake could see the dart in his shoulder out of the corner of his eye, but when he twisted his head he could see that it was sticking through his tracksuit and into the double seam of his neoprene wetsuit. He reached around and pulled it out gingerly. The sun was coming up and, when he held the dart up to the light, some fluid was visible in the phial.
He was desperate not to drop it, his thumb over the end of the plunger. He had a plan but could he make it work? He selected a point on Scorpion’s jeans below one of the back pockets. It was the only place he could confidently reach and with a swift movement he rammed the dart in and pushed the plunger home.
There was a shout of pain and rage and Scorpion immediately let go of Jake’s ankles. Jake had been expecting that and landed on his outstretched hands and rolled over, scrambling away, the palms of his hands stinging again.
‘You little bugger,’ Scorpion shouted. He stood still for a moment to wrench out the dart before lunging at Jake, who skipped out of the way up the hill.
He was running back into the dead end, but Scorpion would get him if he tried to run down the hill. He looked anxiously over his shoulder – Scorpion was in full pursuit. Maybe the dart was a dud, or perhaps too much of the fluid had leaked into his wetsuit.
‘How the bladdy hell did you do that?’ Scorpion rasped, right behind him now.
Jake desperately ran up a short set of stone steps leading to the very top of the Land Tower and the foot of the lighthouse. He looked over the stone wall that surrounded the small plateau, but the land dropped away sheer and he turned to confront his pursuer.
But Scorpion was still at the steps, breathing hard as he climbed them slowly. He reached the top step before stumbling and going down on one knee. He tried to get to his feet but pitched forward onto the ground and rolled onto his side.
Jake approached him warily. He was moaning and moving slightly, but the head of the scorpion on his arm still looked alert. Jake stared at it in fascination for a few moments before kicking the man experimentally in the stomach. There was no reaction except for a dull groan.
‘Keys,’ Jake said to himself, trying to get his hand into the pocket of Scorpion’s jeans, but he was impossibly heavy.
‘Jake?’ A voice floated up from the hillside below.
‘Doug? Up here by the lighthouse,’ he shouted back.
Doug and Ruby were with him in a few moments. ‘Bloody hell, Jake,’ Doug exclaimed. ‘How’d you take him out?’
‘A bit of his own medicine,’ Jake grinned.
They heaved at the inert body until they could get at the bunch of keys in his pocket.
‘What’s happening on the ship?’ Jake asked anxiously as they raced down the hill.
‘That bloke didn’t realise you had taken the guard’s gun away,’ Ruby said.
‘Yeah, when Scorpion chased after you we went up to the guard and he turned and disappeared down the gangplank,’ Doug added. ‘We came looking for you.’
‘The boss guy was still out but Sam and the others are watching him,’ Ruby added. ‘And Warren looks pretty bad.’
‘I brought the Boss’s gun,’ Doug said, patting his pocket. ‘But you obviously didn’t need any help up there.’
As they reached the level path they saw the lights of a vehicle, approaching from the entrance gates.
‘Who’s this?’ Doug asked apprehensively, but Jake immediately recognised the Defender.
‘It’s my dad,’ he shouted and the three of them raced across to intercept the vehicle.
‘You’re safe!’ Richard exclaimed as they crowded around the driver’s window. Spyros, his face anxious, was next to him.
‘What about the others?’ Richard demanded,
‘Dad, they’re all okay.’ He would tell him about Liv later. ‘On a ship in the harbour; Selena and Taki are there too.’
‘And safe?’ Spyros asked, his voice edged with strain.
‘Yes, Spyros, they’re okay.’
‘Thank Spiridon,’ Spyros muttered, closing his eyes briefly.
‘And Zoë?’ Richard was almost afraid to ask.
‘Haven’t seen her, Dad, but we think she’s locked up on the ship and now we’ve got the keys to the cabins.’
‘Where from?’ Richard looked up at the hillside, baffled.
‘I’ll explain later,’ Jake said. ‘Let’s get down to the ship.’
‘There’s someone you know in the back,’ Richard said.
As they climbed into the back of the vehicle the girl sitting there in the dark threw her arms around Jake’s neck.
‘Cath! You’re okay,’ he exclaimed, relief flooding through him. Doug and Ruby exchanged surprised looks.
‘Which way?’ Richard asked as they bumped down the roadway and Jake detached himself from Cath’s embrace to give directions to his dad, who was driving as fast as the narrow roadway and rough surface would allow.
‘Jamal’s gone to have stitches in his hand,’ Richard told them.
‘Yeah, Warren did that, but he’s been shot,’ Ruby said.
‘Shot?’ Richard asked in alarm. ‘Who shot him?’
‘Taki’s father, Nikolai. It’s his yacht,’ Jake said, pointing.
‘It must be his new one,’ Spyros remarked, turning in his seat to look. ‘I don’t know the name.’
‘It’s called Syntagma,’ Jake said as they reached the corner and turned down the hill towards the quayside.
The Land Rover swerved slightly as Richard exclaimed, ‘Syntagma?’
‘Yeah, Dad, it’s a ship not a place. Nikolai is running illegal migrants.’
‘What?’ Richard was incredulous. ‘Nikolai the minister?’
‘My God!’ Spyros said quietly as they sped along the quayside towards the ship. ‘I’ll kill him.’
Taki was on deck, looking out anxiously from the rail as Richard pulled up next to the Mercedes.
‘Hey, there’s my car,’ Spyros growled.
Taki hurried down the gangplank and shook Richard and Spyros warmly by the hand.
‘They’ve knocked you about,’ Richard remarked sympathetically.
Jake led the way onto the ship. Sam was watching Nikolai who was groaning and showing some signs of life while Selena sat on the sofa with Liv, who was still spaced out. They looked up fearfully as the group entered, but their faces lit up when they realised who it was.
‘Great to see you, Mr Harding,’ Sam exclaimed and shook his hand.
Selena flung herself into Spyros’ arms and he held her in a bear hug, his body racked with silent sobs.
‘Liv was shot with a tranquilliser dart,’ Ruby told Richard, leading him over to her.
‘I’m okay now,’ Liv told him weakly, managing a smile as Richard looked down at her, lost for words.
‘That’s what happened to Zoë,’ Jake said tersely and Richard’s eyes widened in silent disbelief.
Warren was lying on his side as Scorpion had left him, the cream carpet stained with his blood. Spyros bent over him, fingers against his neck, feeling for a pulse. After a few moments he shook his head, straightened up and crossed himself.
Jake and his dad hurried downstairs to the crew’s quarters. The keys fitted the locks and the third cabin door they opened revealed a figure asleep in one of the bunk beds. Jake turned on the lights and leant against the doorframe, a smile spreading slowly across his face as his dad gently woke his sister.
For a few moments she couldn’t believe it was them. ‘Dad, am I dreaming?’ she asked, her arms around Richard’s shoulders. ‘Jake, is that you?’
‘I don’t know what happened,’ she said, taking hold of Jake’s hand. ‘One minute I was up at the old bench, some monks appeared and next thing I found myself in a cell in the monastery. Then they knocked me out again and I found myself here. I’m on a ship, aren’t I?’
‘You’re still dressed in the clothes you went out in,’ Richard remarked, shaking his head.
‘I thought you never notice what I wear,’ she smiled and Richard laughed.
Jake grinned; it was great to hear his dad laughing again.
They went upstairs together, Zoë looking around in amazement. She was feeling weak, and held onto her dad’s arm for support.
‘Hey, guys,’ Jake called out. ‘Come and meet my sister!’
Doug came over first and introduced himself, followed by Cath and Ruby. Sam was still watching Nikolai closely and he waved a greeting.
‘You owe these kids a great deal,’ Richard remarked, a lump in his throat.
‘I’m really grateful, but, Dad, how did they get involved?’ Zoë asked.
‘Ask Jake,’ Richard replied, a smile playing on his lips.
Zoë looked across at her brother, but Doug was talking to him, a hand on his shoulder. ‘Well, you said you wanted a challenge,’ she heard Jake say and the other boy laughed.
Liv came over and Zoë took her hand while looking at her anxiously. ‘You okay?’ she asked.
‘I got shot with a tranquilliser dart,’ Liv replied, still unsteady.
‘Big ugly bloke with a tattoo?’ Zoë asked.
‘That’s him,’ Ruby chimed in. ‘Jake laid him out on the hillside up there.’
‘Good for him,’ Zoë exclaimed. ‘And look, there’s Spyros over there, and Selena. And is that Taki? Why is everyone here?’ she asked. ‘I think I had better sit down,’ she said finally, sinking down onto one of the leather sofas.
Nikolai had now recovered enough to be helped across to another of the sofas where he slumped down awkwardly. Spyros, with Nikolai’s gun now safely in his pocket, spoke to him angrily in Greek. Everyone turned to witness the developing confrontation but the minister simply ignored the tirade.
Taki went up to them and the others watched, a sudden stillness pervading the room.
Nikolai focussed groggily on Taki’s bruised face. ‘My son, what have they done to you?’ he asked.
Selena had found a blanket in one of the suites and was placing it over Warren’s body. She came over now and rested her grey eyes coolly on Nikolai.
‘He is not your son,’ she said simply.
The silence in the room somehow deepened and intensified. Nikolai looked up at the beautiful young woman in front of him, perhaps seeing some likeness of his wife when he first met her. He said nothing, but seemed fearful of what she might say next.
‘Yes, I know it all now,’ she went on. ‘Natasa told me some things and I’ve worked out the rest.’
‘Natasa,’ Nikolai said disdainfully. ‘I took her in, a single woman with an unborn baby. Spyros knows the whole story. I rescued his family from shame.’
‘Looks like you need rescuing from shame now,’ Spyros remarked dryly.
‘Actually, my father doesn’t know the whole story,’ Selena continued. ‘He was only thirteen at the time. Natasa was nineteen and her friendship with the young monk was kept quiet. She was beautiful and you were successful and wanted a bride. The arrangement suited everyone.’
Nikolai looked at her balefully. Taki stood with his mouth open, hardly able to take in what he was hearing.
‘You were thirty and had discovered that you couldn’t father children,’ Selena went on calmly. ‘So in Athens you could pretend the baby was yours and nobody would know any different. Only Natasa knew, and her parents, God rest their souls, and of course the other person who knows is Taki’s real father.’
‘You think you know everything,’ Nikolai responded, but his shoulders had slumped.
‘Of course you knew how to blackmail Father Theo to let you use the monastery for your crimes: he is Taki’s father.’
‘Is it true?’ Taki looked bewildered. ‘How long have you known this?’
‘About three days,’ Selena said, taking his hand gently in hers. ‘Since I saw Aunt Natasa in Athens. She is your mother, of course, Taki, but this man is no way your father.’
‘I sometimes thought I couldn’t be related to him,’ Taki said bitterly.
Nikolai looked away through the open door to the hillside beyond, now visible in the early morning light. He shivered and pulled his dressing gown around himself. Two cars with flashing blue lights were making their way through the grounds of the fortress. He had instructed the police to arrest the journalist and give the monastery the all clear, but he doubted that he could talk his way out of this.
Selena led Taki gently away from the person he had always taken to be his father. ‘Thank you, cousin,’ he said formally. ‘For the best news I ever had.’
Spyros sat down heavily on the sofa next to Zoë. ‘Good to see you again, Zoë,’ he said warmly, although he sounded stunned.
‘Spyros, I remember you telling me only a week ago that nothing much ever happens at Zengounas,’ Zoë said with a wry smile.
He looked at her for a few moments before putting his head back and roaring with laughter.
‘What about the Friday Project, Mr Harding?’ asked Cath.
Richard grinned. ‘You lot are keen, but I think tonight all of you have graduated with honour!’
‘It’s been absolutely awesome,’ Ruby remarked and Cath, Doug, Liv and Sam raised a ragged cheer in agreement.
Jake walked out onto the deck of Syntagma. Cath followed, slipping her hand into his. The sun was coming up over the hillside and a little breeze was springing up. A shadowy figure of a man slipped along the roadway towards the front gate of the fortress, but Jake and Cath were looking at the clouds scudding overhead. It promised to be an excellent day for some decent windsurfing.