I'll Be Home for Christmas--



by Sue Kite





Chapter 9



December 17th, 1000 hours, UTC+8

Neera was irritated that she had missed her papa yet again, but could take comfort in the fact that Grandper was coming to live in the house with them. At least he was until his leg fully healed. Mama had explained that the doctor had had to operate on the leg because it had some infection that had gone much too far in his leg to just put medicine on it.

She knew she should be in her classes, but she had asked to go to the bathroom and before she went back, she was going to see Grandper and make sure he was all right. Sneaking down the stairs, she then crept along the hallway that led to the guest rooms. Neera really had wished that her grandfather could have slept in one of the rooms near hers, but Mama had explained that Grandper needed to be downstairs where he wouldnít have to climb down stairs to go to the dining room or places like that. So here she was, sneaking like a little thief along the more shadowy edges of the hallway. Soon she was at Grandperís door and she put her ear to the thick wood, trying to listen to what might be coming from inside.

She only heard the muted sounds of the television, so Neera turned the knob and slipped inside. The room wasnít bright, but it wasnít dark either, so when he heard the door squeak, Grandper turned his head and saw her.

"Neera! How good it is to see you again."

She ran to his bedside. He turned the game show off. "Are you all right, Grandper?"

"Yes, I will be fine, my child. The doctors had to work on my leg some more, but they say I will be up and around in only a few weeks," Grandper told her. Then he looked at the clock. "Shouldnít you be in your lessons? Does your teacher know you are here?"

Neera gave a sly smile. "I said I had to go to the bathroom."

Grandper chuckled and then sobered quickly. "So, I heard that Uncle Wu-jinís funeral was hard."

"It was sad, Grandper. And everyone kept telling how some terrible spy kind of person killed him. Why would someone want to do that? Uncle Wu-jin was only trying to get help for us. He wasnít a bad man."

Grandperís face showed something she wasnít sure about. It looked a little like the way he had looked in the cabin before Andjen came. "No your uncle wasnít. What else did they say?"

"Nothing, really. Everyone usually stopped talking when they knew I was listening. And when I asked questions, they just said I was too young to understand." She gave a disgusted snort. "I know a lot more than they think I do."

"I know you do, my little one," Grandper replied. "Have you told your father about Andjen yet?"

She shook her head. "You said not to and I didnít want to say anything until I had talked to you. But then they wouldnít let me see you in the hospital." Neera cocked her head to one side and studied her grandfather. "Did you?"

He also shook his head. "I didnít want to talk to anyone until I had spoken to your father." He smiled softly. "Itís been well over a week."

"Do you think Andjen made it to his home?" she asked. "Do you think heís with his family?"

Grandper looked thoughtful. "You father didnít come to see me except maybe a couple of times and that only in the beginning, right after we were found."

"I havenít seen him, too. Mama said he was busy with the trip theyíre going on, a trial and other things." She paused and thought she should tell Grandper about how she almost told her mother. "Iím sorry, but I said something to Mother about seeing an angel. I almost told her about Andjen. But I didnít say anything after that."

"What trial?" Grandper looked anxious. He ignored her other comment.

"I donít know. Something important, but they wonít talk to me about that, either."

"Neera, to answer your question that you asked beforeÖ. No, I donít think Andjen made it home."

"Where is he?"

"Neera, I canít really answer that, because Iím not sure. I only have guesses." He sat up farther in bed. "I think you need to explain to your mother what you were talking about. I know the doctors told her that you couldnít have done all the things to help me, so I know sheís wondering. Probably your Papa, too."

"All right, Grandper," Neera replied.

"Now I think youíd better get back to your lessons."

She nodded, climbed up on the bed to give him a kiss and then walked out of the room. Neera had felt Grandperís fear and now she wondered what he was keeping from her.



December 17th, 1630 hours, UTC+8

Kocerin perused the lawyerís notes, which included the prisonerís request. They had been extensive and the president was amazed at the clarity of young Kovitchís notes. The man must have the ability to recall with perfect clarity, he thought. That could be a useful commodity to him. He would find out when he listened to the tape of the interview. As it was, Kocerin was planning on being at the trial, if no other way then closed circuit from another part of the building.

As expected, Crane would not divulge his activities for the six plus days he was in the country. However, the peopleís president was struck by the comment that Craneís lawyer had written. "First and foremost, I am an American serviceman. I am committed to honorable service and duty to my country. I will serve where asked to and fulfill that duty with the utmost integrity and honor.í Kocerin had wanted to paint the picture of a villainous and depraved individual, out to wreak the most havoc or destroy the country he, as president, had sworn fidelity to. He wanted to categorize the American people as a whole as depraved, greedy, decadent people. Kovitch had added his personal notes and though he had been a bit reticent and spare in his assessments, Kocerin could see that the lawyer had been somewhat favorably impressed.

Kocerin thought back to Craneís statement and remembered his own service in the Peopleís Army. He had led men as a very young lieutenant, fought alongside his men, defended the borders of his country against those who would attack his people. He still would, he thought fiercely. Kocerin also remembered his forays for the Intelligence Committee into their neighborís territory. He rose far and fast into the ranks of the military and then turned his attentions to serving in the Peoplesí ruling councils. He had risen fast there, too, despite his dissatisfaction against the former leadership. With a smile, Kocerin remembered his fatherís advice. Speak when it will do the most good and keep quiet every other time. He had followed that advice and found himself, a year ago, the front-runner in the bid for a new president.

Now he was the youngest citizen to have ever been elected to that post. Perhaps the voters had been as tired of war and futile aggression as he had been. Maybe it was just because he was a younger member and therefore an easier scapegoat if things didnít improve by more sedate and diplomatic means. Shrugging, Kocerin continued his reading, noting that the only definitive statement that Crane had given was that he had not killed his brother in law and had not even met him. Frowning, the president wondered just what the American had done, where he had holed up and what information he had come into the Republic to get. The best intelligence that could be had was that it was a simple foray for intelligence, just like the two or three missions he had carried out as a young man.

But why someone like Crane? Unless it was to verify the existence of the secret sub base where a vessel comparable to the Seaview was being constructed. Like that other submarine, this one was presumably being constructed for research of the ocean near their borders, but it also would have the ability to carry out offensive maneuvers if it became necessary. The yet unnamed vessel was smaller than Seaview, but by all reckoning it would have most of the same abilities insofar as speed, maneuverability and capability were concerned. How much had he learned and if Crane had been here to verify, then apparently the Americans were already at least somewhat aware of what they were doing. Again, he frowned. Nothing had been found on Craneóno microfilm, pictures, tapes, nothing. And of course, the man wasnít talking.

He sighed and read until he finished the report. The trial was set for mid morning tomorrow and he planned on being there. Kocerin wrote a quick memo, allowing all of Craneís demands. The young lawyer felt it would be a good point when the president went to the summit in five days. It would make more points with the American president than if the American was tried in his present filthy condition. Kocerin felt that Crane should be allowed to appear at his trial with a reasonable amount of decorum all along. With a deep intake of breath, the president stretched and then got up. He would re-read this at home, as well as to listen to the recording, but this day, he was going home earlier. Handing his note to the secretary to deliver, he left, his ever-present bodyguards escorting him through the private halls, into his private transportation and into his private residence.

Once inside, the two men stayed just inside the entrance and Kocerin continued through the voluminous entrance hall to greet his family. He didnít have to go far. Neera rocketed from the sitting room and threw herself into his arms. She covered him with kisses just as he had done when she and his father had been brought down from the mountain where they had been stranded all that time a more than a week ago. "Ah, my darling, I havenít been gone that long!" he boomed.

"Yes, you have, Papa," she declared, planting another kiss on his cheek and burying her head in his neck.

His wife stood in the doorway, making motions with her hands. Finally as Neera rested in his arms, he got the drift of it and mouthed his own response. ĎTalk to her about angels?í Vidraan nodded and he gave a slight nod of his own to show that he understood.

"Ah, my sweet, will you let me go long enough to let me take my coat off?" he asked, laughing.

"No, Papa!" she responded, still hugging him fiercely.

He carried her into the sitting room where he pried her off and placed her on the small couch. Then he quickly took off his coat and draped it over her. "Ah, that is what you get for harassing your poor father."

She giggled from under the heavy garment and then popped her head out, a large, endearing grin on her face.

"Dinner, then weíll sit and Iíll read you stories and you can tell me whatís been going on in your life lately," he told her.

She nodded vigorously, jumping from the couch like a coiled spring and dancing around the room with the energy only the very young can possess. Kocerin gazed at her with unadulterated adoration. Neera had been long in coming and that made her even more precious. He beckoned to her. "Come, my princess, let me escort you to the dinner table."

She had to reach and could only put her hand up around his arm, but he also beckoned to his wife and together they all went into the dining room where a hot meal, as well as Grandper awaited them.

"Ah, Father, Iím so glad to see you well enough to join us for dinner," Kocerin boomed.

His father shifted in the wheel chair and muttered. "It will be better when I can walk in. First it was Andjen and then the doctors and then Vidraan, following their orders, telling me not to walk on my injured leg."

Angel? "Who did you say, Father? What angel?" Kocerin looked from his daughter to his father to his wife. The latter just shrugged. "Father, Neera, I think itís time you told me just what happened up there in that cabin."

"You know that when the storm first began," Nicoli began. "Wu-jin decided to go down the mountain for supplies. He didnít think it would be as bad as he had been told on the radio, but if we were up there for more than a couple of days, the supplies would be seriously low." Kocerin nodded. "Then shortly after he left the electricity went out and with it our heat. After a while, I decided that arthritis or not, I had to cut some wood."

"That was when the ax slipped and almost chopped your foot off."

"Yes. With Neeraís help I was able to bind the wound tight enough so that the bleeding finally slowed. After that I donít know much of what happened until much later." He looked toward Neera.

"Grandper got worse and worse, Papa. He was screaming in pain when he was awake and still making noises even when he was asleep. Oh, Papa, Mama, I didnít know what to do, but knew that Grandmer had told me that whenever I was in trouble, I could call on the Holy Trinity and one of them would send help." She looked at her Papa as though wondering what he would think.

Kocerin refrained from making any comment and motioned her to continue. All he could think about was the stress and horrible anxiety this situation had to have had on his precious little girl.

"Before I became too ill to even know what was going on, Neera was very level-headed and calm," Nicoli said as though reading his sonís mind. "I am very proud of her."

"As am I," Kocerin said. "What happened next, my child?"

"Then he came." She looked at her grandfather.

"Who came?"


"Andjenóan angel came?"

"Well, no, not really, Papa, but I had asked God to send an angel to help us. Remember, Grandper," she said, turning to Nicoli. "That Grandmer said that angels would watch over us?" The old man nodded. Neera turned back to her father. "So at first I thought him an angel. He took care of Grandper and me. He cut the wood and built the fire. He cooked for us and changed Grandperís bandages. He told me about Christmas and about when he was growing up." She giggled abruptly and Kocerin was puzzled. "Did you ever climb a flagpole when you were in college Papa?"

Kocerin gazed at his daughter in total bewilderment. "Flagpole? I should say not. Why would I want to climb a flag pole when you can raise a flag up and down with a rope?"

Neera smiled. "Andjen didnít say he climbed it for a flag. He said his friend dared him to put a Santa Claus hat on top at Christmas."

"Oh." He still wondered, but didnít want to ask Neera at the moment. "Go on with your story. What else did this Andjen do?"

Neera nodded. "When Grandper was so sick, Andjen kept saying that he would be all right and he was."

"Why did you call him Andjen?" Nirhan Kocerin asked.

"He said that was as good a name as any. I think he didnít want to tell me his name. I think he might have been in trouble or something."

Kocerin nodded, figuring that was most likely the reason. "Or something."

"Papa, was it wrong to not tell you?"

"That is my fault, son," Nicoli spoke up. "I told Neera to wait to say anything."

"Because you knew?" Kocerin prompted. With the telling of the events of the four days, much was beginning to make sense.

"I was almost certain he was an American and if so, he was probably in the country illegally. You can blame me, but after what he did for us, especially Neera, I wanted him to be able to get home safely." Nicoli studied his son carefully. "But he didnít get away, did he?"

Kocerin sighed. "Before I answer that, I would like to have you both listen to something that I received today." He had brought his briefcase into the room with him, laying it close by. Despite the fact that the staff was checked, trustworthy and completely loyal, Kocerin still believed in vigilance. He moved his half finished plate out of the way and then lay the case on the table. Opening it up, he pulled out a small tape recorder. The cassette was already inside. "Listen and see if you recognize any of the voices." He played the taped conversation between Crane and Kovitch. He knew that Neera wouldnít be able to understand what was being said, but his father would, knowing a fair amount of English.

"Andjen!" Neera cried out almost immediately. After a few minutes, Kocerin turned it off and looked at his father.

The older man nodded. "Yes, that is the man that Neera named Andjen. And I have to only assume that he is in Zinitch Prison," he said bluntly.

"Prison?" Neera gasped. "But why?"

"Because he is an American spy named Lee Crane," Kocerin said bluntly to his daughter.

"But he canít be . . . I mean, he isnít like the Americans or the spies thatÖ."

"Not everyone is like what you see on television, Neera," Kocerin said. "But he is a spy."

"But Papa, Andjen couldnít have killed Wu-jin like they said," Neera protested. "I know he couldnít."

"I cannot say right now if he did or not, Neera. His trial is tomorrow morning. I suspect it will be a short one," Kocerin said softly, realizing that for the last week, he had been hoping for the conviction of the man who had saved his daughter and father.



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