The Little Army

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

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 dilapidated buildings. 

“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.”

“Custody?”

“Police.”

“How do we find out?” she asked. 

Crane paused, hating to ask her to do what he was thinking.  “It’s dangerous.”

“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.”

“Wander?”

He explained.  

“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. 

“How long?”   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?”

“Yes.” 

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 alley. 

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.”

“Nerve-wracking, eh?

“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.”

“What?  Espionage or kids?”

“Kids.”

“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 commander’s face.

“I’m serious.  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 exhaustion.   And 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. 

“Your point?”

“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.”

 

 

Chapter Nine
Chapter One
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents
Main Idea