The Little Army

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

 

 

Laronne Brakas stepped down the ladder of the conning tower and took in the room at the bottom before turning to the men waiting to greet him.  He was a couple of inches taller than Nelson, his hair almost black with highlights of auburn showing when light glinted on it.  His eyes were a deep, intense brown, the brows furrowed in concern and anxiety.  His lips were set in a tight line in a thin olive-skinned face that eased a great deal when he saw his host.   Almost instantaneously the pinched look changed to one of at least limited happiness.  “Admiral Harriman Nelson, you look splendid!”

“I wish I felt splendid, Mr. President,” Nelson replied.  “But please, welcome to the Seaview.

“Cut the formality, Admiral.  I was Laronne before; I am Laronne now.  I am President of a country that’s not mine.  It is a hollow designation.  Not even my rank as Colonel in our army is worth anything.”

Harriman sighed.  “I am sorry, Laronne,” he said soothingly.  “But as far as I’m concerned, you are still president of Tirea, so if I forget and call you Mr. President, please allow that.”

“Thank you, Admiral.  Hopefully, I will be again and with a minimum of bloodshed.”  He took the admiral’s hand and shook it vigorously.  “I know that the last thing you wanted to deal with now was me,” Brakas said.  “You are worried about your men.  They are still missing?”

“Yes, they are and frankly I’m getting very worried.  Each day they are missing lessens their chances of getting out safely.”

“I have heard some reports that may be of interest to you.  They will also explain the reason why I have requested to come aboard your marvelous submarine,” the president said in his only slightly accented English.  As he had been partly educated in England, it had a pleasant British flavor. 

Nelson raised an eyebrow in his curiosity. 

“First of all, have you heard anything?”

“No, I haven’t,” Harriman said.    “We came as soon as we heard, but have had limited news.  Some of what I have heard has been chaotic, and I can’t determine what’s real and what might be fabricated,”

“One report had your men attacking several guards who had killed a priest at an orphanage,” Brakas said.  “At least the report said they were two Americans.   Personally, having met your captain before, I can believe that of him.  He hadn’t seemed to have changed that much when he was at the inaugural reception.”

Nelson snorted and smiled softly.  He didn’t doubt in the least that the two Americans would be Lee and Chip.

“It is the other report that interests me the most—at least from my standpoint,” the Tirean said. 

“Why don’t we take this conversation to the observation room, Laronne.  I’m sure you would like to relax a bit, have some coffee and something to eat,” the admiral offered.

“In the bow of a submarine?  I was told that your boat was relatively luxurious, but….”

Nelson laughed softly.   “Normally, the bow is not for such activities, but we occasionally make exceptions, sir.  Come with me, you can get a partial tour on our way.”

Within a short time, they were sitting in the nose of the Seaview, watching the waves boiling against the clear hull plates.  “What is it that you have heard, Laronne?” the admiral asked as they drank their coffee.   The hum of the machinery and instruments behind them was soothing, helping him to overcome his anxiety of the past several days. 

“Apparently there is what is being called The Little Army operating in the rural hillside not far from the coast.  It is believed to consist of underground members, their wives and children.  I have also heard that it’s run by a spy who has recruited families.”

“Children?!” Nelson blurted out.

“Yes, and I have decided that I am going back to my country and help these people, whoever they are.  I am also hearing rumors that there are others, inspired by the actions of this Little Army that are striking back at Niros and his followers,” Brakas said, his voice tight with emotion.  His dark eyes showed fierce determination and Nelson knew that this man would end up being president again and it wouldn’t take as long as it had before.  “There have been deaths.”  He rubbed a hand over his face and sighed.  “I had hoped that a democratic election would help to avoid bloodshed.”

“That is Niros' fault, not yours,” Harriman said, taking another sip of his coffee.  “You want the Seaview to take you in?”

“Yes, Admiral, I do.”

“Harry, please,” Nelson said, uncomfortable with this man continuing to call him by his rank.   “And that will mean violating your country’s three mile limit.”

“You said I was still president, did you not, Harry?” Brakas asked.  Nelson nodded.  “Then you have my permission to enter into the territorial waters of Tirea.”

Harriman smiled softly.  It was just as he had expected.  “Very well, then, as soon as we can find a safe place to put you ashore, we’ll do so.” 

“Good, and if they are not found before I return to my country, I will personally put resources to work to find Captain Crane and Commander Morton,” Brakas declared.

“Thank you, Mr. President.”

 

                             ================================

 

Crane lay on his stomach watching the shoreline below.  The trip to the coast had been harrowing; not in the viewpoint of the enemy, but of their own convoluted progress.  It had been a race between what would happen first-- the rising of the sun or the demise of the farm truck.  He and Stefan, and surprisingly, Birnok had nursed that clunky old beast along all through the night.  They had sweated out stealing several gallons of gasoline at a large farm about ten miles back.  The farmer had cornered him with a shotgun at his old-fashioned gas pump and almost filled him with buckshot before Stefan could explain who they were.  The man had then happily given them all they had wanted.  In fact, he had offered them everything except his wife for their ‘cause.’ 

Lee smiled softly at the remembrance.  He had turned and out of sight of the farmer, motioned to Stefan that he wanted some binoculars.  Stefan made the request and so here he was, watching the shore, the ocean and the horizon with an old, but very well maintained pair of high-powered binoculars.  They appeared to be military issue, probably from WWII, but that didn’t matter.  The technology may have changed a little bit, but not that much.   However, what he was seeing wasn’t making him feel any better.  As the sun beat down on his back, he watched a small patrol boat cross in front of him, about a half mile off shore.  It appeared to be a fairly small one; perhaps something converted from a private fishing yacht.  But the machine gun at the bow and the depth charge launcher at the stern gave much credence to its effectiveness; especially against those who would have liked to escape from the country. 

Muttering irritably to himself, Lee continued to watch, timing the boat.  Then he watched the ground patrols, timing them, then watching for a pattern between the men on the ground and those off shore.   He watched even as the sun scorched his neck and the back of his hands.  Vaguely he heard soft footsteps beside him come and go, and still he watched.  He only pulled the binoculars away to consult with his watch.  Quickly he would look through them again.  It became a rhythm, the boat, the patrols, the wash of the waves, and the hot blaze of the sun.  Finally, when Crane thought he had the entire picture in his mind and ideas were beginning to present themselves, he pulled the binoculars away and turned to see who was nearby.  It was Meeka.  “Back to the cellar.  It’s time to plan,” he said softly.  He gazed at his watch to see the time of day.  It was almost oh-eleven hundred.  He had been watching and calculating for over two hours. 

Together they slipped through the rough rock-strewn countryside toward the wreckage of an abandoned coastal chalet.  All that was really left other than part of one wall, was what once was a wine cellar.  There was no wine, but it was built into a natural cavity so it was hidden and secure for the moment.  Willam greeted them as lookout and then Crane breathed in the cool air of the subterranean room.  It was tinged with salt making his desire to get out of this country and back to Seaview that much more demanding.  But patience, he admonished himself.   If he could make his plans work, they could all be safely onboard a ship by morning. 

Gunnar handed him a plate, filled with a combination of what had been given him by Anna and the farmer last night and a few things gleaned from the fields when they had had to stop to work on the truck.  Crane nodded his thanks to the young cook and began to eat.  Stefan was asleep in the corner near Chip, who was also asleep.  The XO looked a little better for the medicines he had received, but still there was a great need for the medical expertise that only a real doctor could give. 

“You looked a long time,” Meeka said as Lee was finishing his food. 

“Yes,” he said simply.  “It’s going to be difficult, but if we work together, I think we can get away safely.”  He gazed around at the children who were awake and gazing at him expectantly.  Even after the several days that they had been together, it made him uncomfortable being in such a position.  Lee felt like so much was expected of him and he couldn’t make any guarantees.  Remembering what Dr. Rallos had said to him, he turned to Meeka.  “Did you talk to everyone; ask them what they wanted to do?”

“All old enough say they will go with you.  You go to America, we go to America,” she said decisively. 

He nodded.  It was only as he expected.  “Good,” he said in their language.  He paused and then asked everyone awake to gather round.  A shaft of sunlight lit the area at his feet and he spread the map out.  Although he had thought him asleep, Lee saw Stefan sitting next to Meeka, intent on what he was going to say.  “First of all, I appreciate your loyalty and dedication.”  Meeka looked puzzled.  This time Stefan translated.  “And I want to say that while this will be difficult, I think we can do it.”  He pointed to a couple of places on the map.  “This is where there are hidden inflatable rafts.”  This time both Stefan and Meeka looked puzzled.  Lee pantomimed what he was talking about.  They all nodded.  “I have timed the patrols and think we can get to those boats during the day.  We won’t be able to leave until tonight, but I want us to be able to make sure these things are there before we try to leave.” 

“Will there be guards at night?” Meeka asked after Stefan had said something.

“I’m sure there will be,” Crane said, noticing that Chip was awake and watching him, too.  “In fact there is the possibility that there may be more, but we’ll just have to hope that they follow the same pattern.”  Again the children looked puzzled.  Lee drew in the dust.  “A patrol on the shore does this.”  He made the motions of men walking.  “There are four men in each patrol.  They walk a quarter mile one way and then walk back.  While one patrol is walking one way, another is walking the opposite way.  That’s eight people we have to deal with, but I think we can ambush them this evening."

“Then we get away,” Meeka said with a grin, then she sobered.  “But I saw boat out in water.”  She also made a motion of a back and forth movement. 

“Yes, and that is the real problem,” Crane said.  “I am guessing, but I think it patrols about a six or eight mile area of the beach.  I also think that it has communication with the patrols on the shore.”  It seemed that between his words and gestures, the children understood.  He paused, knowing that what he was going to say next would not make Chip happy.  “If the boat isn’t taken care of, we will never be able to get away from here.”

“What are you proposing, Lee?” Chip asked softly. 

“I have to take a raft and knock that thing out.  It will have to be done very quickly after the shore patrols are neutralized,” Lee said bluntly. 

“Neutralized?” Meeka and Stefan asked together. 

“It means that we are going to have to overpower the men patrolling the beach.  Like we did the men in the police station.”

“You plan on going out alone?” Chip asked, feeling a sort of déjà vu that he felt every time Lee or the admiral had to go out on some kind of espionage or reconnaissance. 

“Figure I’m going to take a seven-year-old?” he snapped.  Then he sighed and rubbed his hand over his eyes.  He felt so tired.  After a night of wrestling with that truck over dirt roads and farm tracks, then all this surveillance.   With gratitude, he noticed that Meeka hadn’t translated that last crack.   “I’m sorry, but Chip, it has to be me.  It will take everyone else to get a boat into the water and head out to the three mile limit.”

“Especially since I am of less use than a sun room on the Seaview,” Chip replied bitterly.  He winced as he tried to move his leg to get comfortable.  He knew that Lee was exhausted and that rankled his sense of duty, too.

“Even if you were a hundred percent, Chip, you’d have to stay back here and coordinate the boat launch and escape,” Lee reminded him gently.

“I know, Lee,” he said with a wan smile.  “But you aren’t going to do anyone any good if you don’t get some sleep.”

“I will, as soon as we get the plan together and check out those boats,” Crane promised.  He turned to the two oldest children.  “Meeka, you need to have someone assigned at all times to watch the patrols and the boat, just as I did this morning.  I want to know if they change for any reason.”  Meeka nodded.  “Stefan, I want you to go with me to check out the hidden boats.”  Stefan nodded.  Standing and stretching, Lee handed Gunnar the plate.  He moved closer to Chip and squatted down next to him.  “I know that little walk here was rough, but how are you doing now?” he asked quietly.  Meeka seemed to know this was a private conversation and left to assign others to the spy duty that Lee had ordered. 

“The antibiotics seem to be helping some.  I’m not as dizzy as I was yesterday.  But it still hurts like hell to move.” 

Lee reached over and touched his friend’s cheek.  Still warm, but cooler than the night before.  “Yeah, they’re helping some,” he concurred.  “Chip, we’re going to get out of here tonight.  We’ll get you the medical help you need.”

“Don’t downgrade our CMO,” Morton said meaningfully, looking at the girl that seemed to stick like glue near his side. 

Lee chuckled.  “I think that girl has a crush on you.”

“Don’t laugh.  There’s a lot of stuff you aren’t seeing,” Chip said sardonically.

“Like what?”

“You figure it out.  Now go do what you need to do so I can watch you sleep for a change.”

“Aye, aye, commander,” Crane said with a smile.

 

 

Chapter Thirteen
Chapter One
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