The Little Army
With a soft sigh, the priest closed his eyes and
died. “He was good man.” The older girl was standing nearby and reached down and
touched the dead man’s brow.
“We bury him now.”
“No time,” Lee said, anxiety for their safety
weighing heavily on his mind. “Someone
could come to check out the gunshots at any time.
We have to leave.” As
he stood up, he saw the children slowly filing into the tiny room.
Suddenly it was stifling. Over
their heads, he saw Chip leaning against the doorframe.
“You all right?” he mouthed.
“Let them bury him, Lee,” Chip said softly.
Lee felt a burst of anger, the squelched it as he
heard soft crying from the children.
The two older girls made no sounds, but simply dressed the priest
for burial. It was as though
he was invisible and then he realized that he was.
He was a stranger; these children were mourning someone who had
served as their mother and father for heaven only knew how long.
He had promised to take care of them, but here he was taking away
their right to give this man a proper burial.
Lee sighed. The
younger children were sobbing, some loudly.
Turning to the girl who had spoken English, he said, “Do the
others know English?”
She looked up from what she was doing and shook
her head. “Priest teach me.
He said good to know.”
“Could you let the other children know that we
need to keep as quiet as possible. And
we have to leave right after we bury Father Vincente.”
“I will. Thank you.”
“Thank me for what?”
“Bury Father Vincente,” she said simply.
sorry, but we do have to hurry.”
“I am Meeka,” the girl said as though not
hearing Lee’s last comment.
Captain Lee Crane. My friend
is Commander Chip Morton.”
Meeka nodded and then turned back to the dead man.
Somehow, Lee felt that this was a girl that was perhaps twelve going on
twenty-two. What was he doing
when he was twelve? Worrying
about whether Mary Embersoll liked him or Jonathon Harker.
It certainly wasn’t where the next meal was going to come from or
who was going to come to take you away to a slave labor camp.
“Carry on. I’m
going to reconnoiter.” She
looked at him briefly with a puzzled look on her face but quickly turned
back to her chore. Lee could
only guess that her grasp of the English language was not as good as the
priest’s had been.
Slowly he squeezed past the milling children and
was soon by his exec’s side. “How’s
“Painful, but bearable,” Morton responded,
still watching the children pay their last respects.
“I want to look at it later,” Crane said
tersely. “But first I need
to check around and see what our little gun battle brewed up.
Despite these people’s fear, I still can’t believe that there
isn’t anyone curious, especially among the local government
“I would guess that for the moment, the local
governmental bodies are in a bit of disarray, with this coup happening so
“I hope so, Chip.
For all our sakes, I sincerely hope so,” Lee said fervently.
“Did I actually hear you promise to take these
kids to safety?” Chip asked as Crane headed toward the main door.
Lee turned back, the flash of irritation warning
his executive officer. “Yeah.
I have rocks in my head.”
“No, my friend, you have your heart in the right place for these
kids just as you do for everyone on the boat.
It’s the right thing.”
“Don’t push it, Commander.”
He was not feeling a great deal like a Samaritan at the moment.
Or if he was, it was a very unwilling Samaritan.
On the other hand, Lee knew that he couldn’t have left these kids
to the whims of Tirean black shirts.
He stalked out of the orphanage and listened in the darkness.
All he heard were a few night birds and insects.
Lots of insects. It
was a muggy night, the kind that he remembered when he was a kid out
catching lightning bugs in a jar. He
walked around the orphanage and gazed across the town.
Lights were out in most of the windows.
Probably part of the curfew.
Crane walked back into the building and to the
doorway. “Meeka, make sure
that window is covered.” He
pointed to the open window for emphasis.
She nodded and said something to one of the
children. A boy quickly
complied, drawing heavy drapes that would hide not only the light, but
what was going on from anyone outside.
Crane went back out. He
checked out the three guards. The
two that were still alive had been stripped of their clothing and tied up
well out of sight of the truck. The
dead one had simply been stripped. He
wondered what the kids did with the clothes, then he noticed that all of
the weapons had been taken, too. With
a muttered curse, Lee continued his patrol.
Machine guns in the hands of children!
He heard a scraping noise in back of the church and realized it was
coming from a small cemetery. A
tiny lantern illuminated two boys with shovels.
They were digging a grave. As
he approached, one of them dropped the shovel and snatched up a machine
gun that had been near at hand. A
growled command in his own language brought Lee to a complete halt.
He may not know much, but he did know the local word for
‘stop.’ And of course,
the gun spoke a universal language.
The boy approached and prodded him with the gun.
With his other hand, he pointed to the grave.
Why, thought Lee in shock and irritation, the little
delinquent wants me to dig the grave!
With a speed that caused the boy’s jaw to drop in shock, Lee had
jerked the gun out of the boy’s hands and then grabbed a handful of
shirt. The other boy stared
at the two of them, shovel still in his hands.
“You!” Lee hissed angrily.
He dropped the gun so he could make signs to convey his thoughts.
“You will not point a gun at me!”
The boy’s eyes blazed in hot anger.
He said one word and then spat on the ground. It
was one of the other few words that Lee knew—and it wasn’t pretty.
Jerking from Crane’s grasp, the boy returned to the grave and
grabbed his shovel. The
American followed him, picking up the pile of confiscated clothing and the
rest of the weapons. The boy
continued to glare at him even as he dug.
Lee gazed into the dark hole.
The boys had done admirable work so far, but still it would take
far too long. Putting down
his bundle, and with a motion to the smaller of the two boys, the American
took the shovel and began digging with the delinquent.
The angry boy gazed at him in the dimness of the full night, his
eyes still cold, but he nodded his appreciation.
By the time the other children had prepared the
body, Lee and the boy had finished digging the hole.
Chip accompanied the children and was standing behind the line of
sad-faced youngsters. Meeka
and her companions passed the priest’s body down to Lee and the other
boy. Gently, Lee laid the
body into the grave and stepped out.
Meeka said some words and then crossed herself.
The others did the same. “May
God take him into His abode and give him rest,” Lee offered softly.
He felt this had been a very brave man and he wished he could have
known him better. Lee picked
up the shovel.
A hand stopped him and he looked into Meeka’s
face. “Please, Lee Crane.
I want to do this.” With
a nod, Lee let her take the shovel and backed away to stand next to Chip.
The children took handfuls of earth and threw it on the corpse; a
custom that Crane knew was common in many different cultures.
Meeka and the oldest boy, the delinquint, began to shovel dirt into
After the hole had been filled, one of the younger
children pulled brought a large crucifix that undoubtedly been inside the
church and stuck it in the ground at the head of the grave. Again they crossed themselves.
Meeka walked over to him.
“We must leave. How?”
The oldest boy approached with the shovel in his
hands. His eyes were still
angry, but Lee made no move and said nothing for a moment.
The boy spoke to Meeka and then spat on the ground.
“Stefan says he will not follow you.
Father Vincente his leader, not you.”
“Tell Stefan that Father Vincente is dead.
I promised him to get all of you to safety and that is what I plan
Meeka seemed to puzzle over his words a moment,
and then she turned back to Stefan. At
Meeka’s translation, Stefan simply folded his arms over his chest and
glared. Crane had had enough.
He reached forward, grabbed the twelve-year-old and threw him over
his shoulder. “Meeka, tell
everyone that they have only a few minutes to get what they feel they need
from here. Clothes,
especially. Then you and you,
he pointed to two of the older children, and you, gather what food you
can. Be back here in ten
minutes.” He gazed deeply
into Meeka’s eyes, even as Stefan grunted and cursed softly and beat on
Lee’s back with his fists. The
American couldn’t help but think that he was glad that the little
hoodlum didn’t have a knife. “Meeka, do you understand what I am saying?”
“Yes, I understand,” she said, gazing in
consternation at Stefan. She
turned and told the other children, who were standing and staring at him
and Stefan with wide, fearful eyes. They
all headed toward the orphanage.
pulled Stefan off his shoulder and dumped him unceremoniously on the
ground. He gestured with both
hands, while talking. “Get
what you need. Be back here
in five minutes.”
The boy got up with great dignity, although the
dark gray-brown eyes were still angry, and turned toward the orphanage.
“What’s on your mind, Lee?” Chip asked.
“We take the truck as far as we can.
You and I will be guards,” Crane began.
“But we don’t know the language,” Morton
pointed out. “And I
stand out like a sore thumb.”
The moon was just rising over the horizon of the
eastern hills and showed Chip’s lean frame leaning against a tall
tombstone. His face was pale
and Lee didn’t think it was just the moonlight.
“Let me look at that. Looks
like you’ve lost a lot of blood.”
“Maybe, but we can’t worry about that now.
How are we going to overcome the obstacle of not knowing the
language very well?”
Crane sighed, suddenly feeling very overwhelmed.
On the Seaview, he felt he was in his element.
Even when things were going very, very wrong, he could process the
information, make decisions, evaluate.
Here? He rubbed a hand
across a chin that definitely needed a shave.
“You know, Lee, this kind of reminds me of
another time when you were new to a situation that wasn’t of your
are you talking about?”
“When you took over command of the Seaview
after John Phillips’ death.”
“What does that have to do with this?”
“The priest died and left you in charge.”
“These are kids. Seaview
is staffed with competent and trained personnel.”
Chip shrugged and sighed.
“But there is a correlation.
You’re just working with a different group of people and in a
different environment.” He
smiled. “But you are right,
we have to get out of here soon, I believe.”
He started walking toward the truck, limping with great difficulty.
Lee quickly reached the exec’s side and draped Chip’s arm over
his shoulder. They were
halfway to the truck when one of the children ran up to them.
She had a pair of crutches in her hand.
They were short, but Lee was able to adjust them
to their full height. Chip
tried them and although still a bit too short, he smiled his thanks to the
girl. Lee made a hand sign
that conveyed his thanks as well.
The girl, the same one who had been with Meeka
when the priest had been shot, pointed to the bloody leg and made motions.
She was showing a box filled with bandages, bottles of unknown
liquids, scissors, gauze and more things than Lee could figure out in the
darkness. He thanked the girl
again and was amazed at her resourcefulness. Chip’s words kept flashing in his mind. Just a different group of people. Like a different type of crew?
He wondered if the priest had delegated each child to do a
different type of task. Could
the same thing be applied to get them across the distance to the coast? But there was a big difference between washing dishes
or planting a garden, and running from the secret police.
Chip tried to gesture to the girl that any first
aid would have to come later when they were away and someplace safer.
The girl was insistent. Looking
at his commander for help, he saw that he simply wasn’t going to get
any. Lee just smiled and
motioned the girl to take care of him.
Then he walked toward the truck.
Surprisingly, the girl was very deft, Chip noted.
She cut away his trousers. Another
bill to ONI, he thought. Then
she took one of the bottles and poured some of the solution onto a clean
cloth. The moonlight
reflected off the bright white of the cloth before she applied it to his
leg. It stung and Chip
straightened up in shock. “Ow!
What the hell’s that stuff you’re using?”
“Pipe down, Commander,” Lee’s voice hissed
from a short distance away.
The girl continued as though he hadn’t said a
When Lee returned, he was wearing one of the guard’s shirts and jacket. The sleeves were a bit short on his arms, but otherwise the fit wasn’t terribly bad. While the girl continued to dress his wound, Crane unbuttoned Chip’s shirt and peeled it off. He helped the exec shrug into the borrowed shirt and then into the jacket. The fit wasn’t any better, but it wasn’t constrictive.
“We’re ready whenever you are,” Lee said.
Meeka ran up to them.
“Stefan says he will not come.
He does not like you.”
“He doesn’t, does he?” Lee said quietly.
His eyes held a glint in them that didn’t bode well for the
“Lee, remember, he’s only a confused child,”
Chip reminded him.
“Oh, I’ll remember all right,” Lee said
ominously. “Make sure
everyone is in the back of the truck, except Meeka.
I’ll need her for translation.”
He stalked into the darkness.
Within a few minutes, while Chip and the
girl-doctor were walking to the truck, he heard a cut-off cry of anger.
Apparently Lee had found the boy.
The girl climbed into the back of the truck to join the others.
By the time they had reached the truck, Lee was back with a kicking
and biting Stefan under one arm. He
climbed into the front of the truck, the child still in tow, and motioned
Chip to get in with Meeka. The
girl sat next to Stefan who kept scrambling to get out.
She snapped a few words at him and he glared at all of them, but he
stopped struggling. After a
few moments of silence Stefan spoke again.
“He wants to know where we are going.
He hates you and will not do as you say.”
“Tell him that he will do as I say.
I will let him and all of you know what is going on when we are
some place away from here and a little safer.”
As he waited for Meeka to digest all of this and translate it, he
started the truck. It was a
basic old deuce and a half with a clutch.
He began to drive down the road leading out of the valley.
“He seems to be pretty savvy.
Meeka, ask him if there is someplace in the hills toward the coast
where we can hide during the day.”
“What is savvy?” Meeka asked.
“Don’t worry about that, just ask him about a
Stefan spat on the floor in answer.
Lee stomped on the clutch and the brake and reached over and took
the boy’s chin in one hand. He knew the kid had street smarts, or the equivalent in this
rural area; he could see it in Stefan’s eyes the first time they had
crossed each other’s path. “Tell
Stefan that I am not Father Vincente.
I am Captain Lee Crane, commander of the SSRN Seaview. I have a duty to all of us in this truck.
Tell him that what he knows will save not just me, but all of the
rest of the group. Their
lives are in his hands.”
“Not now, Commander.”
In the slight moonlight that shone through the truck windows, Chip could see a fierce battle of wills. An exhausted and anxious submariner and a highly incensed twelve-year-old boy. He wouldn’t have taken bets at this moment as to who would win the confrontation.
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