Before them stretched a long, marble-flagged corridor, tall leaded windows on one side, heavy oil paintings and the occasional set of double-leather doors on the other. Halfway down the passage Andrea tapped the corporal on the shoulder and handed the magazine back without a word. The corporal took it, smiling uncertainly, and inserted it into his rifle without a word. Another twenty paces and he stopped before the last pair of leather doors, knocked, heard a muffled acknowledgement and pushed open one of the doors, standing aside to let the three men pass him. Then he moved out again, closing the door behind him.

It was obviously the main drawing-room of the house — or palace — furnished in an almost medieval opulence, all dark oak, heavily brocaded silk curtains, leather upholstery, leather-bound books, what were undoubtedly a set of Old Masters on the walls and a flowing sea of dull bronze carpeting from wall to wall. Taken all in all, even a member of the old-pre-war Italian nobility wouldn't have turned up his nose at it.

The room was pleasantly redolent with the smell of burning pine, the source of which wasn't difficult to locate: one could have roasted a very large ox indeed in the vast and crackling fireplace at the far end of the room. Close by this fireplace stood three young men who bore no resemblance whatsoever to the rather ineffectual youngster who had so recently tried to prevent their entry. They were, to begin with, a good few years older, though still young men. They were heavily-built, broad-shouldered characters and had about them a look of tough and hard-bitten competence. They were dressed in the uniform of that elite of combat troops, the Marine Commandos, and they looked perfectly at home in those uniforms.

But what caught and held the unwavering attention of Mallory and his two companions was neither the rather splendidly effete decadence of the room and its furnishings nor the wholly unexpected presence of the three commandos: it was the fourth figure in the room, a tall, heavily built and commanding figure who leaned negligently against a table in the centre of the room. The deeply-trenched face, the authoritative expression, the splendid grey beard and the piercing blue eyes made him a prototype for the classic British naval captain, which, as the immaculate white uniform he wore indicated, was precisely what he was. With a collective sinking of their hearts, Mallory, Andrea and Miller gazed again, and with a marked lack of enthusiasm, upon the splendidly piratical figure of Captain Jensen, RN, Chief of Allied Intelligence, Mediterranean, and the man who had so recently sent them on their suicidal mission to the island of Navarone. All three looked at one another and shook their heads in slow despair.

Captain Jensen straightened, smiled his magnificent sabre-toothed tiger's smile and strode forward to greet them, his hand outstretched.

'Mallory! Andrea! Miller!' There was a dramatic five-second pause between the words. 'I don't know what to say! I just don't know what to say! A magnificent job, a magnificent — ' He broke off and regarded them thoughtfully. 'You — um — don't seem at all surprised to see me, Captain Mallory?'

'I'm not. With respect, sir, whenever and wherever there's dirty work afoot, one looks to find — '

'Yes, yes, yes. Quite, quite. And how are you all?'

'Tired,' Miller said firmly. 'Terribly tired. We need a rest. At least, I do.'

Jensen said earnestly: 'And that's exactly what you're going to have, my boy. A rest. A long one. A very long one.'

'A very long one?' Miller looked at him in frank incredulity.

'You have my word.' Jensen stroked his beard in momentary diffidence. 'Just as soon, that is, as you get back from Yugoslavia.'

'Yugoslavia!' Miller stared at him.



'By parachute.'

'By parachute!'

Jensen said with forbearance: 'I am aware, Corporal Miller, that you have had a classical education and are, moreover, just returned from the Isles of Greece. But we'll do without the Ancient Greek Chorus bit, if you don't mind.'

Miller looked moodily at Andrea. 'Bang goes your honeymoon.'

'What was that?' Jensen asked sharply.

'Just a private joke, sir.'

Mallory said in mild protest: 'You're forgetting, sir, that none of us has ever made a parachute jump.'

'I'm forgetting nothing. There's a first time for everything. What do you gentlemen know about the war in Yugoslavia?'

'What war?' Andrea asked warily.

'Precisely.' There was satisfaction in Jensen's voice.

'I heard about it,' Miller volunteered. There's a bunch of what-do-you-call-'em — Partisans, isn't it — offering some kind of underground resistance to the German occupation troops.'

'It is probably as well for you,' Jensen said heavily, 'that the Partisans cannot hear you. They're not underground, they're very much over ground and at the last count there were 350,000 of them tying down twenty- eight German and Bulgarian divisions in Yugoslavia.' He paused briefly. 'More, in fact, than the combined Allied armies are tying down here in Italy.'

'Somebody should have told me,' Miller complained. He brightened. 'If there's 350,000 of them around, what would they want us for?'

Jensen said acidly: 'You must learn to curb your enthusiasm, Corporal. The fighting part of it you may leave to the Partisans — and they're fighting the cruellest, hardest, most brutal war in Europe today. A ruthless, vicious war with no quarter and no surrender on either side. Arms, munitions, food, clothes — the Partisans are desperately short of all of those. But they have those twenty-eight divisions pinned down.'

'I don't want any part of that,' Miller muttered.

Mallory said hastily: 'What do you want us to do, sir?'

'This.' Jensen removed his glacial stare from Miller. 'Nobody appreciates it yet, but the Yugoslavs are our most important Allies in Southern Europe. Their war is our war. And they're fighting a war they can never hope to win. Unless — '

Mallory nodded. 'The tools to finish the job.'

'Hardly original, but true. The tools to finish the job. We are the only people who are at present supplying them with rifles, machine-guns, ammunition, clothing and medical supplies. And those are not getting through.' He broke off, picking up a cane, walked almost angrily across the room to a large wall-map hanging between a couple of Old Masters and rapped the tip of the bamboo against it. 'Bosnia-Herzegovina, gentlemen. West-Central Yugoslavia. We've sent in four British Military Missions in the past two months to liaise with the Yugoslavs — the Partisan Yugoslavs. The leaders of all four missions have disappeared without trace. Ninety per cent of our recent airlift supplies have fallen into German hands. They have broken all our radio codes and have established a network of agents in Southern Italy here with whom they are apparently able to communicate as and when they wish. Perplexing questions, gentlemen. Vital questions. I want the answers. Force 10 will get me the answers.'

'Force 10?' Mallory said politely. 'The code name for your operation.' 'Why that particular name?' Andrea said. 'Why not? Ever heard of any code name that had any bearing on the operation on hand? It's the whole essence of it, man.'

'It wouldn't, of course,' Mallory said woodenly, 'have anything to do with a frontal attack on something, a storming of some vital place.' He observed Jensen's total lack of reaction and went on in the same tone: 'On the Beaufort Scale, Force 10 means a storm.'

'A storm!' It is very difficult to combine an exclamation and a moan of anguish in the same word, but Miller managed it without any difficulty. 'Oh, my God, and all I want is a flat calm, and that for the rest of my life.' 'There are limits to my patience, Corporal Miller,' Jensen said. 'I may — I say may — have to change my mind about a recommendation I made on your behalf this morning.'

'On my behalf?' Miller said guardedly. 'For the Distinguished Conduct Medal.' 'That should look nice on the lid of my coffin,' Miller muttered.

'What was that?'

'Corporal Miller was just expressing his appreciation.' Mallory moved closer to the wall-map and studied it briefly. 'Bosnia-Herzegovina — well, it's a fairs sized area, sir.'

'Agreed. But we can pinpoint the spot — the approximate location of the disappearances — to within twenty

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