The Little Army
Meeka held Crane’s hand and guided him along the
street, as though he was the child, instead of her.
He shuffled along, his head down, but his eyes were busy, gazing at
all the sights around him. At
his signal, Stefan went off by himself, listening, watching, and trying to
find any clue as to Willam and his companions’ whereabouts.
It was getting close to supper and there had still been no clues.
It would be dark in an hour. Crane
tugged on Meeka’s hand and pulled her into a narrow space between two
“What?” she whispered.
“We’re getting nowhere,” he hissed back.
“I think they have already been taken into custody, but we have
to know for sure.”
“How do we find out?” she asked.
Crane paused, hating to ask her to do what he was
“We need to find Willam, Jons and Ranos.”
“I know, but I hate to ask you to do this,”
Lee said hesitantly.
“What do you want me to do?” she asked, a
determined look on her face.
Sighing, Crane said, “The only thing I can think
to do is for you to go around and ask if they have seen Willam and the
others. Say you’re looking
for your cousins.” He
studied her to see if she understood.
“That is good.”
“But they might turn you in, too.”
“I take chance.
Only thing to do,” she said, her face set.
Lee rubbed his hand across his bearded chin.
“Okay. I will wander
in the direction of the police station.”
“Yes, that is best.
I will stay near to you, but ask.”
“Good luck and be careful,” he whispered as
she walked out of the alley. He
followed, looking around with the curiosity of a child, but the
unawareness of someone who can’t hear.
Essentially, that was close to truth, as he didn’t understand
more than a word or two of the local language.
Then as Meeka approached someone on the street, he set off in the
direction he judged the city government buildings to be.
He was across the street from the police/guard
headquarters when Meeka and Stefan caught up with him.
Again, they ducked into the narrow alleyway between two buildings.
“Did you find out anything?”
Meeka pointed to Stefan and nodded.
“Stefan say they were caught stealing knife.
They are in building.” She
pointed at the building across the street.
They could have been taken away somewhere already.
“Do not know, but think they are still there,”
Meeka answered, as though reading his mind.
“And you say that beggars are arrested?”
Crane gazed discreetly out at the street.
“Stefan, do you know how to drive?” he asked on a hunch.
He looked back at the boy, who was grinning.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
He scratched his beard. “Give
me five minutes after I am arrested and then start one of those cars and
make a diversion.” Both
children looked puzzled. “Do
something that will cause them to leave me and the boys alone.”
Again Stefan grinned.
“Aye, aye, Skipper,” he said.
“Don’t do anything foolish, or get hurt, you
hear? Just cause a
commotion—lots of noise—and then get out.
Meet me back at the church if it’s safe.”
Lee wasn’t sure he liked what was in the boy’s eyes, but he
couldn’t wait to find out what Stefan had in mind.
It was beginning to get dark and they needed to get the three boys
and high tail it out of the area. He
clapped them both on the shoulders and then turned and walked out of the
Meandering along the street, Crane began holding
his hand out and motioning for money.
He became more insistent, even to tugging on people’s sleeves. Angry voices pushed him away and he pulled out the paper.
Again, he held out his hand, imploringly beseeching for handouts.
Surprisingly, a few coins were placed into his hand, and he stuffed
them inside his shoes, but after a short while, people scattered and Lee
glanced sideways to see two uniformed guardsmen bearing down on him.
With a small, grunting cry of fear, he began to scuttle down the
street, but as he knew they would, the kradiz (people’s guard) caught up
with him quickly. None too
gently, he was pushed and shoved between the two men, kicked once and then
gathered up in a tight hold that brooked no resistance.
Their angry voices blared harshly in his ears and he waved the
paper in a seemingly desperate manner. The
paper was snatched, glanced at, and then tossed to the ground.
As Crane had hoped, he was hauled into the
station. Then he was thrown
into a large room. Apparently
it was the holding area for those not deemed dangerous, because the door
was not barred and the security was lax.
The three boys were huddled in a corner, Ranos crying softly, but
Willam looking defiant. Jons
appeared to be trying for defiance, but Lee could see the tracks on his
dirty face where he had been crying earlier.
There were bruises on the boys’ faces and Lee felt his anger
growing that they would slap around boys that were so young.
He turned back to the door, where the two
guardsmen were standing and laughing.
He heard Ranos begging to be allowed to use the bathroom.
That much was understood. The
tone of the men at the door told him the answer. Little Ranos screamed his terror, running toward the open
door. Apparently one of the
men had threatened something else; something terrible enough to cause
Ranos to try something so hopeless.
With a growl, one of the men started toward the boy.
Lee rushed forward and was forced to deal with the rescue sooner
than he wanted to. With one
arm, he caught Ranos and shoved him back toward Willam.
The latter boy’s eyes widened in recognition. Then Lee straightened up and kneed the first guard in the
stomach. Suspecting what the
man had intended on doing to the boys, Crane sorely regretted his aim
being a little too high. As
it was, the guard went down to his knees, his breath knocked out of his
lungs. Lee followed it up
with a back of the neck karate chop and then went after the other man who
had pulled his revolver out of his holster and was coming at them.
Grabbing the man’s wrist with one hand, his
other hand formed a tight fist that connected at the base of the man’s
throat. Even as the kradiz
fell dead to the ground, Lee grabbed the pistol from his hands and
motioned the boys to fall in behind him.
There were several other people in the room, mostly derelicts, but
they fell in, too. Crane grinned wolfishly and then scooped up the other
guard’s weapon. Putting the
safety on, Lee shoved it into Willam’s hands, motioning him to hide it
in his pants. The boy grinned
and did what he was told.
They burst into the main room and Lee grabbed a
startled worker from behind a desk. His
arm hooked around the man’s neck, but he quickly shoved the Tirean out
of the way when he saw that the man’s colleagues didn’t have any
regard for their fellow worker. His
gun spat out before they could shoot.
He motioned for the rest of the government workers to lie down.
There was some hesitation.
One of the kradiz drew his gun, but ended up on the floor clutching
his shoulder and moaning in pain. Another
soon lay dead in the doorway of his office and all remaining workers hit
the deck with alarming speed.
Suddenly, the ground rocked at the same time that
the wall at the front of the building imploded.
It knocked the two younger boys off their feet, but Willam and Lee,
though shaken, didn’t fall. Grabbing
another dropped gun, Lee shoved the used one in his waistband and motioned
his little group toward the door. Plaster,
dust and bricks rained down from the destroyed wall. The lights had gone out, plunging the room into a dim
twilight. The front end of a
utility truck was still shining its headlights, illuminating the darkened
room with eerie shadows. Leave
it to Stefan to come up with something so spectacular.
Behind a door to his left voices shouted.
Crane shot an inquiring look toward the boys and Willam motioned
that they were other prisoners. Lee assumed that the power was off in the rest of the
building as well as this part. The other prisoners were in the dark,
confused and probably scared. More
to his advantage, the captain thought quickly.
He turned to one of the scruffy men who had been in the room with
he and the boys. Motioning
toward the door, he asked in hand signs if the man could release his
fellow prisoners. The man grinned wickedly and nodded. Covering him, Lee watched as the man grabbed a key from one
of the fallen guards and unlocked the door.
It became obvious that this man had been in custody before.
Soon he heard the key turning in locks and the joyous shouts of
released prisoners. Only then
did Lee continue toward the door.
Opening it slightly, he peered out into the
darkening streets. He saw
Stefan and Meeka motioning him from across the street.
There were still a few people on the street, but they had the
appearance of civilians. Still,
he stepped out and motioned with the gun for them to move away.
They did so, some ducking into the buildings across from the
government building, but others just moving into the shadows, their eyes
curious. Behind him, Lee
heard the released prisoners gathering.
Some were kicking their former captors, threatening them with
confiscated guns. Crane
stepped back inside and barked, “Nyisch!!” in his best command voice.
They stopped and gazed at him in wonder. He motioned them to leave when he and the boys did.
To a man and woman, for Lee saw some women had been in the group of
prisoners, too, they nodded. They didn’t relinquish their arms, but the submariner
didn’t mind that.
He peered back out of the door; saw that the small
square was still free of anyone but civilians.
It was a good forty feet from the door to the cover of the dark
alleyways, but he and the boys couldn’t stay here for long.
Reinforcements would be along any minute now.
He motioned for Willam and the other two to stay low to the ground.
With a deep breath and still brandishing his weapon, he dashed out
of the building, close to the crashed car and then to the narrow alley
where he had seen Stefan and Meeka. As
he made it to the dark refuge, he heard a smattering of cheers and
laughter. Apparently, the
kradiz weren’t that popular here, he thought wryly.
Meeka reached out of the dark and grabbed Jons.
Stefan tugged Willam in his direction, and Ranos, with a sobbing
cry of “Skipper,” rushed into his arms.
“We go,” Meeka said and Crane didn’t argue.
He followed the two older children, Ranos still holding tightly
around his neck, as they wound through dark streets and alleys.
Stefan skidded to a stop near a business
warehouse. One light
illuminated the front, on which a large sign was tacked, but Crane
couldn’t read the language any more than he could speak it, so he
couldn’t tell what kind of business it was.
However, it didn’t matter.
In front was a small flatbed truck, wooden slats on the sides.
It was still running, but didn’t appear to have anyone inside the
cab. The boy gazed at Lee and
the American knew exactly what was on his mind.
It was the same thing that had already occurred to him.
“Get inside,” Crane ordered with a smile.
They all piled into the cab of the truck silently and Lee gazed at
the gauges. Three quarters of
a tank of diesel, and manual transmission.
That would get them far on their way this night before they had to
abandon it. “Hang on.”
Crane gunned the truck into life and they shot down the street.
With Meeka and Stefan’s instructions, they soon arrived at the
church, where Lee parked in the dark shadows.
“Get everyone out here now.
We’re not going to wait; it’s dark enough now. If Gunnar has supplies, bring them. It will be cold back there, so bring any blankets.
Have the XO report to me up here.
Meeka, you and Stefan will ride up front, too.”
He only had to explain one or two words this time.
“Yes, Skipper,” Meeka said and she and the
rest jumped down.
When Chip climbed in the truck, he did it
deliberately and slowly. He
looked even paler if that was possible, but he grinned at his commander. “Meeka said a little about the, uh, raid.
While we’re driving, I want to hear the whole thing.
Sounds like a typical ONI mission.”
“No, not typical.
I was after three little kids, who should have known better than to
take off like they did.”
“Chip, I was sweating bullets the whole time.
I was sending in twelve-year-olds to do what I would only ask
trained men to do and hoping that luck would follow us during at least
part of the mission,” Crane said. It
was as though, now that they were out of the eye of the hurricane, he
could let his feelings out. He
realized just how on edge he had been.
While he was waiting for Meeka and Stefan, he tried to rein in the
anger, anxiety and fear that had been just beneath the surface.
“It would seem that luck did follow you,”
Morton said, touching the dash of the truck.
Crane nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
“Lee, if it will make you feel better, get it
out before the kids get back.”
Closing his eyes, he leaned his forehead on the
steering wheel and sighed. “I’m
not cut out for this, Chip. It’s
giving me ulcers.”
“Lee, when you marry and have kids, you’re
going to spoil them rotten,” Chip said, trying to sound upbeat.
“When I marry and have kids, I’m not going to
be trying to get them across hostile territory,” Crane snapped.
“You haven’t been to Detroit lately,” the
exec countered, then backed off when he saw the despairing look on his
I am so afraid that one of them will get hurt.”
“I know this is hard on you and more
particularly because they’re minors.
But you have to also understand that these kids have seen, done and
been through so much more than you or I did when we were children.
They have only been able to hold together because a priest cared
for them. When that was
jerked away, they had you,” Chip said, watching Lee closely.
His friend didn’t move. His
head still rested on the steering wheel in an attitude of absolute
therein, thought Chip, was the other part of the problem.
If given the choice between the pain and misery of a bullet in the
leg and having to save fourteen kids, he felt he had come off much better.
“My point is that you are different than the
priest. The priest held them
together with love and caring. You’ve
been harder on them, but it was because you had to be. You
have held this group together with caring and discipline. They needed that, too.”
He paused and took a deep breath, twinging at the harder pain that
shot through his leg.
Lee sighed. He
noted that Chip had left off the love part.
What about the caring? Did
he? Then he thought of his
feelings when he saw the kids in their holding cell.
That he had been angry with them, that was a given, but deep down,
some other emotion had been jerking him around and finally took
precedence. He had felt
sorrow for what the boys had been through.
A part of him wanted to pinch their heads off, but he also wanted
to hold them tight and comfort them.
Yes, as hard as it had been, he had learned to care for these kids.
He brought himself back to the present.
Chip was talking again.
“But you have stuck with them. You have not only done that, but you’ve risked your own life to keep them safe. I saw the look on Meeka’s and Stefan’s faces when they were describing what happened and getting the kids ready to leave.” His voice dropped even more. “They will go to hell and back for you now, Lee, just as the crew on Seaview will. And for the same reason.”
|Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents|