The Little Army

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13

 

An hour before sunset, Lee and all the older children able to use slings were spread out behind the rocks that littered the beach.  They had crept down the paths from the bluff above about an hour earlier and were now in position.  Stefan, Meeka, Gunnar, Dasha, and Birnok were to ambush one group, while Lee, Leela, Willam, Rika and Triska would take care of the other group.  They watched.  The ambushes would take place when the groups were beyond sight of each other, but not so far as to put the other, further beach patrols on alert.   Both attacks would occur in areas partially shielded from the mile distant patrol boat. 

Crane felt the adrenaline beginning to pump and he waited anxiously.  “You know what to do?” he asked the group needlessly.  Even though they didn’t know all the words, they all nodded.  He had asked earlier.  “Of course you do.  Just be careful and don’t let them see you.  If they can see you, they can shoot you.”  Again, needless instructions to a group that couldn’t understand him, but had already been told what they needed to do anyway.  Again, they nodded. 

The patrol came closer, the men chatting, occasionally laughing at some joke or something else that Lee couldn’t understand.  From the blush on the girl’s cheeks, it had to be of a sexual nature.  He motioned for them to be alert.  He was no good with a sling, but he sometimes threw a mean curve ball, so he flexed his fingers around the contours of the fist-sized rock in his hands.  It had to work the first throw; there was no room for error.  Pistol shots would alert the boat.  The men were walking in the shade of several juniper-like trees.  Now, Lee gestured.  The children half rose and began swinging.  Almost as one they released their missiles.  Crane threw his rock and watched in satisfaction as three of the men fell to the earth.  He launched himself and before the man still standing could more than grunt, he was flattened by Lee’s tackle.   A quick one-two punch had him unconscious. 

“We get them, yes?” Leela said in halting English. 

With some embarrassment, Lee realized that the man he had had to body slam was the one he was supposed to get with the rock.  The other children had hit their marks perfectly.  He felt pride in these kids well up enough to almost choke him.  “Yes!” he said proudly.  “Top notch shooting!”  The children beamed.  “Tie them up,” he added, making the gestures to show what he wanted.  They were jumping to do the task almost before he had begun pantomiming.  Just like the crew on the Seaview!   A bit off shout from up the beach told Crane that the other children had probably been just as successful.  He snatched up the patrol’s two-way radio receiver.  For the moment it was quiet.  Hopefully, it would remain that way for a while.

He and the children dragged the four now trussed up men beyond the rocks and left them out of sight of one another.  Then he led the way to where the inflatable raft lay hidden.  The sun was only a short distance above the western horizon.  He looked through the binoculars.  The patrol boat was still in full sun for at least another half an hour.  Meeka, Stefan and the others joined them. 

“All men tied and hidden,” she announced. 

“Great going, Chief.  All of you,” Lee said, again proud of the way these children had handled themselves.  “Let’s get your boat ready for you to take her out after dark.”  He gazed at Meeka, Stefan, and Birnok.  “Now you remember what I told you about the stars last night.”  All three nodded.  “Good.  Just keep that heading and you’ll be out in the open ocean.  All signs point to clear weather.  And there should still be ships in the area.”  He and Stefan carried the container holding the raft to a stand of brush and scraggly trees.  In the shadows he opened it and then pulled the handle, which would inflate the raft.  Within seconds it was ready.  “Okay, let’s go help the XO down and I’ll be on my way.”

When they reached their hideaway, Morton was ready and waiting, only the steepness of the stairs had prevented him from waiting for them above ground.  Lee could see the frustration etched in his face, along with the pain the wound was causing him.  “Come on, Chip.  It’s time to get going.”  He stepped up to his exec and waited until Chip had laid one arm around his shoulder.  His friend felt hot again.  “You take your meds this evening?”

“Yeah, I did.  Do you think our junior CMO would allow me not to?”  The voice sounded weary. 

“You just feel warmer than you did earlier,” Crane said, concerned.  “The pain?”

Chip sighed.  “I’m tired of either saying I’m okay or that I hurt.  I hurt, Lee.  Seems to have been going on forever.”

“It has,” Lee said gently as he went up one step at a time, taking most of his friend’s weight, but still knowing how hard this was on Chip.  He wished he could just pick him up and carry him, but he didn’t have that kind of strength; not up these kind of stairs.  Usually on the boat’s various espionage missions it seemed like it was Chip supporting him, not the other way around.  “Just a few more, Chip.  Just a few.”  There was a sharp groan and then the exec sagged.  Lee almost lost him, but grabbed his friend’s belt and jerked him closer to his own body.  Chip was in worse shape than he had been letting on.  Stefan was behind him, pushing the injured man upward.   Soon they were at the top and feeling the cooling ocean breeze on their sweaty bodies.  Stefan was on the XO’s other side now.  “Let’s get him to the edge of the bluff before we decide how best to get him down to the beach. 

The sun had already set, but there was enough light to allow them to see the path.  When they got to the beginning of the steep path, Crane just gasped out.  “Let’s try and get him down now, Stefan.  I’m not sure we can continue if we stop now to rest.” 

“Okay, Skipper,” Stefan huffed. 

It was slow and laborious, but with Meeka’s and Leela’s added help, they finally made it.  Lee decided that the best thing would be to put Chip into the raft now.  With the children’s help, they dragged the raft near the tidemark.  Birnok and Dasha had brought the other raft from its hidden location and Crane inflated this one, too.  The dark was deepening.  “Don’t forget to wait for the explosion.” 

“Captain Lee?” Meeka asked. 

“Yes?”

“Please, be careful.  We go together.  I worry that you are not.”

Lee walked over to Meeka and handed her the binoculars that had bumped on his chest all the way from their hideaway.  He laid his hand on her shoulder.  “Meeka, you just get the rest of the crew and be ready to get underway,” he assured her. “I’ll be all right.  I will probably meet you out there before we get within range of any rescue ships, but if I don’t, then get the XO to a ship where someone can get that bullet out of his leg.”

Meeka nodded, but a tear still trickled down her cheek. 

“You remember the code I taught you, Stefan?” Crane asked the boy, uncomfortable with Meeka’s uncharacteristic behavior.  The boy also nodded, holding the flashlight up.

“Lee,” Chip said weakly from the raft.  Crane went over and looked in.  “They’re right.  We’re in this together.  Just get off that boat in one piece and meet up with us.”

“I will, my friend,” he said softly.  “When you can, help them with navigation.”

“Sure, Lee.”

“Stefan,” Crane called out again to the IS. 

“Yes, Skipper,” Stefan answered immediately. 

“Here’s the radio.  When they call, you will have to do what we call in America, ‘playing it by ear.’  I wasn’t able to tell if the ground patrols made regular calls to the boat, or if the boats call the ground patrols, but if so, then they will be calling and wondering what’s going on.  Tell them that you were attacked or something like that.  Make sure you tell them that you have taken care of the problem.  Use as gruff a voice as you can, sound like you have been fighting.  Hopefully that will put them off.”  After some pantomiming and Stefan’s affirmation, he turned back to Meeka.  “Don’t come out unless you see or hear the explosion that will tell you that I have successfully destroyed the boat.”  She nodded.   “Chief Meeka,” Lee said formally.  She nodded again.  “You have the conn.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” 

With that, Lee dragged the raft out to the waves and then stepped in.   He paddled beyond the surf and started the engine.  He would have preferred to paddle all the way, but time wouldn’t allow it.  At least the first half mile, he needed to use the engine.  It sputtered to life and then settled into a steady beating thrum.  At least the underground had been able to get their hands on something that was meant for espionage.  He would be able to get closer he had anticipated; get things done quicker.   The stars shone brightly and Crane used them to steer toward where the boat should be, or rather would be when he got there.  He thought back to his classes as a middie and smiled.  It had seemed so complicated then.  Speed, trajectory, angle, condition of the surface.  Now, it was second nature, just something that he figured when he had tossed the particulars into his mind.  He knew they were using computers to do a lot of that now.  Not that he had a thing against computers; they were going to make navigating a helluva lot easier as computers became smaller and more efficient, especially on subs where they were already showing their usefulness, but still, there was a need to have the basics in a corner of the brain to pull out when there were no computers or electronic calculators.

Enough!  He admonished himself and paid closer attention to his surroundings.  It should be close to three quarter of a mile from the shore, if his calculations were correct.  Crane cut the motor and listened for a while.  The waves slapped gently against the outside of the raft and rocked the boat in a rhythmic up and down motion that was soothing.  He had been on land too long.  His time spent on the Seaview the past few years had been wonderful excursions of discovery.  Even as much as he had known the sea before, now he felt an intimacy that probably related to that of marriage.  That was something he kept to himself, especially since he had never been married, but he had had girlfriends inform him that he was married to his sub when they had broken up with him, so Lee guessed there might be some truth to the analogy. 

Taking up the paddle, he guided the craft the last quarter mile and began to watch for the patrol boat.  He was ahead of schedule and this would afford him the opportunity to make surprise more of an element in his attack.  Looking down at his dark clothing, he again marveled at the cohesive unit those kids had become in just a few short days.  Not that they hadn’t been tight in that orphanage, it was just that they were more focused and had an overwhelming goal in mind.  Rika and Jons had managed to find some kind of berry that darkened his white shirt to blend in with the dark of the raft and the night.  Charcoal applied to his face and hands made his disguise complete.  While the makeshift face paint would quickly wash off, it was needed for only a short while.  

Crane peered ahead in the darkness and saw the patrol boat, its searchlight roving the waters.  Time to get ready.  Pulling out the small box that had been part of the compliment of this raft, he pulled out a knife and stuck it inside his belt.  There was a waterproof flare gun.  That was placed next to the knife.  As the boat got within searchlight range, Lee pulled off his shoes, tossed them overboard and then slipped into the water and hung on outside the boat, just barely keeping his head above the water.  He kept the raft between himself and the oncoming patrol boat. 

Crane heard the engines slow as the boat approached.  The searchlight raked the boat and the tops of the waves and Lee ducked a little more into the water behind the boat.  He didn’t move, only waited.  Voices shouted, demanding surrender.  The boat approached closer and Lee heard the noise of guns being cocked, including the large machine gun at the front of the boat.  It was time, he decided.   Whether they shot or not, it was time for him to slip onto the patrol boat. 

His surveillance earlier in the day had shown him only four men, but there could have been people below decks.  This was probably the most delicate part of the mission.   Taking several deep breaths, Crane swam under the raft and to the side of the boat.  Another breath and he swam aft.  Careful study showed that all of the men had gone forward, except the helmsman.   Reaching up, he caught the rail and used it to slowly pull himself up.  He surveyed the back of the boat before raising himself up even more and then slipping quietly onto the deck.  He glanced at the depth charge launcher and had a sudden idea.   This was a faster boat.  It would get them past the three-mile limit much more quickly than an inflatable life raft.  With Chip in the condition he was in, speed was of the essence.  

Three men were still standing at the front of the boat, checking out the raft.  He stooped and quickly studied the settings on the depth charge timer, then changed them.  He punched the triggering button and slipped into the darker shadows of the cabin.  It felt strange setting one of these things off rather than being on the receiving end.  Now, to take care of the man at the wheel. 

Crane slipped up behind him and, drawing out the flare pistol, clouted him behind the ear.  Catching him as he fell, the American gently eased him to the deck.  As he took the wheel, he pushed the engine to full, jerking the wheel hard port.  With a scream, two of the men fell off.  He swung the wheel starboard, cut the engines almost to a stop.  At that moment, the depth charge launched, arcing over the water to land with a splash fifty feet behind him.  Crane gunned the engine again and swung the boat sharply starboard.  There was a satisfying splash as the other guard hit the water.  At almost the same time, the depth charge detonated, creating a very loud boom and spraying him with water.   

A hand grasped his ankle, almost pulling him off his feet.  With a growl of irritation, Lee cut the engines to idle and flipped on the cabin lights.   Pulling the knife out of his waistband, he squatted down and laid the point on the man’s Adam’s apple.  His meaning was totally clear and the Tirean released his ankle.  “Good,” he said in the guard’s language.  Then with a grin he motioned to the side of the boat. 

“No, no!” the man protested.  He started babbling, and although Crane couldn’t understand, he began to get the idea that this guy couldn’t swim well.  With a laugh, he pointed to a life vest sitting on a seat.  Although still shaking his head, the man put it on and tied it in a secure bow.  Lee walked over to the guard, where he gave him a hard shove.  With a scream of fear, the man fell backward, hitting the water with a splash. 

Feelings of slight guilt overcame him and Crane listened carefully.  Hearing the other three men splashing in the water, he tossed three more life vests out of the boat in their direction.  Then he doused the light and glanced at the stars.  Still no clouds, he thought in gratitude.  He eased the boat in the desired direction and then slid the engine control to about quarter speed.  After what he thought was a good enough distance from the shore, he shut off the engines, trying to listen for Chip and the kids.  At first he only heard the slapping of the waves against the hull, but then his ears picked up a familiar beat of a small outboard several degrees starboard.  It was hard to figure an exact location, the sound seemed to echo slightly, but he calculated the best he could and then started the engine again.  At about half speed, he cruised easily toward the other craft’s location. 

When he thought he was near, Lee cut the engines again and listened.  In the waning crescent moon, he saw the outline of the machine gun.  That would startle anyone.  Leaving the boat to rock gently, Crane climbed topside and dismantled the machine gun mounting assembly.  It was a large gun and he grunted with effort.  So much effort, in fact, he just heaved it into the ocean.   Then he listened and watched again, wishing one of the babies would cry.  In the darkness barely penetrated by the wan moonlight, Lee thought he saw the life raft bobbing on the waves not too far ahead of his position. 

“Chief.”  He called out, then listened again.  Again, he only heard a slight slapping of waves against not only his patrol craft.  He had to chance the light.  Shining it toward the water in front of the patrol boat, he called again.  “Meeka, Stef….”    But he wasn’t able to finish his call.  Something hit him on the side of his head, while another hard object hit him in the chest.  He collapsed onto the bow deck, oblivious to the lullaby-like rocking of the ocean. 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen
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