Equipped with more and more rifles, grenades, knives and plastic explosives, a growing force accompanies Despina on the pilgrimage to the top of the building.
I seem to have attained a status similar to that of Joan of Arc among the French peasants -- almost as if I were talking to God and taking my orders directly from him. I sure hope I don't meet her same fate in the end. Good thing they aren't inside MY head to see what an untidy mess it is in there. I need a house cleaner to keep it all straight.
Pete has brought Cupcake along, and leans him against a solid stone wall, facing down the steps, with a good view of the area. He is in a far too small guard's outfit, but has no weapons that she can see. One small "guard" stands on each side of him, wearing properly fitting outfits, and brandishing what look to Despina like "real" weapons.
"What's he doing here? He can't stand there like that. If soldiers come up..."
"If soldiers come up, he WANTS to be in a position to see after his own safety, and assist us in our plans to the best of his ability. He's a good staff sergeant, and he's earned the right to die fighting if that's what it comes down to, rather than to be tortured more. Don't countermand me on this one. We need this man's experience here, now. Besides, he can speak Arabic, so if we've been infiltrated, he can at least get the scoop."
"Are you sure you want to do this, Cupcake? If we make a break for it, there's no way we're leaving ANYONE for the jackals to clean up."
He takes her hand and squeezes it gently. "Trust me, Despina. I'm okay here, with the help of these men. They'll put me sitting against the pillar if they have to leave. I think you're going to do something big here -- I can feel it in my bones. AND, you have the support and belief of the Muslims in this prison. I'd have said that was impossible, but I'm seeing it with my own two eyes, feeling it in the Muslim shoulders in my armpits, holding me erect when my own legs are incapable of doing the job. I'm benefiting from your creation of a Muslim miracle right now. Be sure to send word down to me when you get to the top. Look for a flat enough place to set down choppers." He stares deeply into her eyes as if to give that thought special meaning. "Try to round up some good radios to contact US forces with."
"There are some around here to be had? I don't even know what COUNTRY we're in."
Instead of answering, he gives a soft laugh and a pat that is designed to send her off.
Heeding it, she turns, pointing to the first man she sees that doesn't look as if he's wearing a borrowed uniform.
"See that he takes at least three sips of water, eats at least one date and one grape each hour, and if he wants more, get it for him." Seeing the man scurry down the steps in response to Manolo's translation, she starts to leave, noting over 20 men turn to go with her.
Where did they all come from? There weren't this many men IN the two cells I sawed through with my knife.
Suddenly, a man comes up on the run, out of breath, holding out a dirty piece of what looks like string to Despina as if it were the keys to heaven. He dashes off a round of Arabic, causing Despina to look at Cupcake in consternation.
"Did you catch that?"
"Keys, he claims."
Looking at the string, she motions for him to use the key on the handcuffs that hold the chains to Cupcake's wrists, but evidently they are for the doors.
"Have him try them in the doors we already have open, as well as any others we come to. If anything/anyone unusual is discovered, send a runner. Have him check the chains on the other former Wall Hangers, too. We're going UP."
With a raised arm gesture that she recognizes as coming from watching Wagon Train as a child, she signals for her motley crew to ascend to the next level with her, smiling. She stays in front, and continues past level after level, dispensing men to search each one, and instructing them to send word if they find anything strange/useful/dangerous until she finds herself with five Arabian men left in a tiny dome at the top of a curved rickety stair. The walls are so close she can practically touch both sides of the stairwell at the same time. There is no safety railing.
Is this what one of those minarets looks like on the inside? she thinks as she searches for an opening. Finding one on the shady side, she thankfully, but cautiously, sticks her head out, taking in a view of the compound they are in.
It appears to be a pipeline station, as well. On the far side of the motor pool fence is an above ground hook-up and a bunch of dials and levers composed of tree-trunk-thick white pipe, probably a pumping station for a huge oil pipeline.
Well, we must be in an oil-producing state. Now, that really narrows our location down for me.
She studies the wall's thickness. I think that if we got people on top of that wall, they could walk around on it, leaving no footprints, then set off into the desert, the last people brushing away the traces, station the trucks under the wall where people could just jump down into the back and be driven off, then fill in the depressed sand of the tracks for a ways, or be rescued by rope into a helicopter like they did in Vietnam, leaving no trace, to keep the "miracle" idea going. Well, if we're talking "miracle" here, why not order up a handy sand storm to erase all traces, sort of a good old DEEP DOWN scrub?
Easing her way around the building on a narrow walkway surrounded by a chest-high wall, she suddenly ducks back.
Whispering, she tells Pete, "There's a guard tower off to the west that will have to be neutralized. It looks down on the motor pool very thoroughly, and we may need to steal/borrow a lot of those trucks. We need to find where the keys to the others are."
Word is passed. She knows someone the men deem suited to the task will try to get into the guard tower, and that others will steal keys, or rig starters or hot wire the trucks once the guard tower is occupied by friendly forces.
"We also need to get a handle on our numbers. Every time I look around, I see more men than were there before, even while I can see the group that I just sent off on another errand. If we are to call for transportation, we need to say what sized group we are. I don't want to contemplate the fate of anyone we don't take along with us. Let's work on the 'Leave no prisoner behind' philosophy, and sort them when we get to safer ground. If we end up with petty, or even major, criminals in our group, we'll just have to send them back to another prison later."
Despina has been pacing her way around the perimeter of the tower in the other direction, moving slowly so as not to attract attention. Most of this view is blocked by the bulk of the prison building itself. She can see the central well, the entry gate, and the barracks. She looks for radio antennas, but does not see any.
"Keep an eye out for any masts that might be communications related -- antennas, dishes, that sort of thing. It stands to reason they've got to be linked some way, and I can't see telephone poles playing a very big role in an essentially scrub wood country."
"I think we've opened all the doors now that we've encountered so far. I'm afraid we have more than 1,000 in our little group now."
"A thousand? ONE thousand? I can't imagine! How many fingers and toes is that? We'll never get 100 into a helicopter, much less 1,000! Appoint someone good with numbers to be a census taker. Make it a top priority. I'm going back down to talk to Cupcake and Luchino and Rafe. Post a trusted guard up here, preferably one who can call the faithful to prayer at the right hour, if that's what this area is used for. I want NO visible break in the routine that we can avoid. And do we have someone in charge of keeping food coming regularly? And water?"
"Yes. When you pointed to that first group, they took it as their new mission in life. Be careful who you point at. THEY BELIEVE."
Last updated 12/3/2014 Added along with us.
Word Count: 1521