November 23, 2001 18:09
The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.
-- Ayn Rand, Russian born American writer, 1905-1982
Despina is dozing in and out as the waves of leisurely conversation wash over her.
Suddenly, she scrambles into a wide-eyed crouch, facing the desert. "They've come for him! Put out the fire, Paul Peter!"
"That must be some dream you were having," Paul Peter remarks, not stirring.
Fumbling around beside her log, Despina retrieves the walking stick Cu dropped when he disarmed her the night the fire ants attacked, nearly three months ago. Creeping around to the nest, she inserts the stick, wiggling it gently, then watching with satisfaction as the insects begin to crawl up the end of the stick.
Paul Peter stands and crosses to her side.
"Get down," she hisses. "You make too good a target silhouetted against the light like that."
"Despina, wake up." He shakes her arm fiercely.
"I AM awake. I may be the only fully awake person here."
Suddenly, Cu enters the campfire light. "¿Hay problemas?"
With a wild leap, Despina tackles him, knocking him flat. As the unmistakable crack of a high-powered rifle cuts the night air, she shouts over her shoulder to Paul Peter, "Now will you get down, for goodness sake?"
Frantically, Despina whirls back to her stick, stirring it with vigor.
Suddenly, a man with an M 16, dressed in a camouflage suit with blackened face, appears at the edge of the campfire.
"Did I get him?" he asks in an eager-beaver voice, peering in the direction of Cu's supine form, holding the rifle at half mast so it is clearly no threat to the others at the campfire.
With a wild yell, Despina flings the stick repeatedly at the man, who is pelted in the face and upper body as the former adherents shake loose from the end of her stick. Poking it back in the ground, she "reloads".
With an anguished cry, the man falls to the ground, rolling around wildly in the dust, the rifle clattering to a stop inches from the flames, in danger of being kicked into the fire.
"Grab that, Paul Peter," she shouts, dashing over to subdue the wildly gyrating man seconds too late. The barrel lands in the flames.
"Strip him," Despina bellows authoritatively, leaping on him. Paul Peter moves to pull her off, but several of the children unexpectedly arrive, followed by the old women, who aid her.
Pulling his jeans over his boots and knotting the end of them, Despina slips the stick between the knot and his feet, then secures the end of it in the fire ant hole. Frantically, she yanks the belt free, looping one end around one wrist, then passing it around the base of a handy saguaro near his head, she hooks it to his other wrist. If he tugs, the thorns will be pushed into his body.
Sticks appear, and it is well understood that the intruder will be beaten.
Raising her hand in the gesture indicating "halt", Despina squats near his face. "Who are you?"
"I don't have to tell you anything." Although his physical position is precarious, his machísmo is running strong.
"Whatever happened to 'Name, rank and serial number'?" Despina snips.
"I'm not in the armed forces."
"That's interesting. You sure look as if you are in uniform, and you most certainly ARE armed. This is a vigilante action, then?" says Despina, her sarcasm in full spate, two red spots of anger flaring on her cheeks.
"I'm on detached duty."
"You look ATTACHED pretty adequately to me," contributes Paul Peter, examining the set-up the women have created. "In fact, that looks downright nasty, although it is a bit unconventional."
"I'd think a bit more cooperation might be expedient at the present moment. I don't think when you plug their favorite son, these old gals are inclined to be overly patient, and their command of English is not real accurate. If they should get the idea that you're being uncooperative, well, I can't vouch for your safety."
Wide eyed, the "soldier" peers over her shoulder at the women, who are clumped behind her, all armed with stout walking style sticks that Despina recognizes as the cudgels Paul Peter has used to teach her students how to fight with staves as an alternative to bloody fist fights. The women are making animated, brusque gestures with the sticks, while muttering in Náhuatl.
"Now, let's try this again. How many are there in your little 'group'?" Despina reiterates. The US troops in Iraq or Afghanistan could have made good use of Despina in full “interrogation” mode.
When he hesitates to tell her, Despina looks up, then steps respectfully back. The crone who was guiding María turns her toward the man. With a stupendous whack, María lets her cane descend, catching him firmly across the buttocks.
A gratifyingly horrific howl emanates from the downed and defenseless man. "She nearly took off my balls!" he bellows in outrage.
Despina’s voice is chilling to hear. "She's blind. What do you expect? Her accuracy is bound to improve with practice. I believe you were going to contribute a number?"
Swallowing, he talks rapidly. "Seven. Zimmerman's in the foothills with the van, the captain's over toward the hump, Dietrich and Johnson are in the depression, and Peters is securing the road from town."
A voice sounds behind her. "His partner is right here."
María, who has been standing with Despina's 'rearmed' stick in her hands after walking into it where it poked from the nest, swings sideways at the voice, nearly ripping partner's head from his body. His rifle flies through the air, landing in the flames. Ominous bullet pops cause fear of ricochets.
"Get behind something solid," shouts Paul Peter, diving for the back of the log. “If that magazine is on full auto, we’re all at risk.”
Miraculously, when the magazine has spent itself, nobody has been hit.
Soon the ladies have also stripped "Partner", attaching him to a second saguaro with one of the cudgels dug securely into the sand.
To Alberto, Despina shouts, "Where's my cell phone?"
Alberto dashes to the truck, yanking the wires hooked to it to stop the buzzing noise and depressing the switch to deactivate the light. Dialing 911 as he'd heard in one of the stories Despina had recently read aloud to the class, he shouts, "¡Soccoro! Soy Alberto, y Despina necesita ayuda."
The dispatcher says, "Alberto? That injun kid? Where are you?:"
"Sí, soy Alberto. Estoy aquí."
Tony's voice is replaced by that of the sheriff. "Alberto, ¿Dónde está Despina? Quiero hablar con ella. Where's Despina? Put her on."
"No puedo ir allí. Hay un rifle en el fuego. Despina me dije 'Vete de aquí'."
"Get out of here? Why would she tell you to get out of here? Where is she? Yo vengo. Está cerca de la casa? Hang on, kid, I'm coming. Is she near the house?"
"No. Ella está cerca del fuego con los hombres con rifles."
"Fire? The campfire? What rifles, Alberto?"
"Hay siete hombres con rifles. Despina tiene dos de ellos."
"¿Dos rifles? ¿Dos hombres? She has two rifles? Two men? She can't shoot a gun. Believe me, I tried to teach her, and she CAN'T. Why would she suddenly have two rifles? Or two men?" Mick's volume rises with his frustration level.
"Both? She has two men AND two rifles. What did she have seven of, Alberto? Two men or seven men? Alberto, this makes no sense. What is going on?... Ah, heck, don't cry on me, now, Alberto. Are you hurt? Indian kids never cry."
Suddenly, Juan wrenches the phone away. ¿Quién está hablando? ¿Por qué está lloriendo Alberto?"
"Now who's this? ¿Juan? You speak English. I know you do. What men? What guns? Where's Despina?"
"Someone shot Cu and he's disappeared. Despina threw fire ants at the man who was holding the rifle on everyone when they wanted to go look for him, then the women tied him and his partner to a cactus. Now, the children are forming a lion-beating line, and we are going to capture the others and see if we can find Cu."
"What? The elementary students are going to try to capture seven armed men who have already shot someone? Whose bright idea was THAT?"
"Paul Peter taught us to use cudgels. We can beat them. Despina said to surround them. I've got to go."
The phone goes dead. Mickey flies to the reservation, ignoring potential damage to the car.
"Crazy woman, tackling armed men who have already shown a willingness to fire on unarmed people, using elementary students armed with sticks. That surely can't be what is happening. Not even Despina would try something that irrational," Mick mutters as he drives. “I hope!”
"Boss, you there?" comes Tony's disembodied voice from the police band radio.
"OF COURSE I'M HERE! WHERE ELSE WOULD I BE?"
"Well, don't bite my head off. We got trouble. Someone tried to go poaching on the uphill Stone Mountain road, and some guy with an Uzi waved him down and headed him back. He's pretty mad, even though he was trespassing to start out with."
"I know, Tony."
"How can you know when it just happened?"
"Call for back up. There are seven armed men who have already shot one Indian. Despina and a group of her students are hunting them down with STICKS."
"Boss, you got no jurisdiction on the res. That ain't part of the US."
"Despina is a US citizen. Paul Peter is a US citizen. Her need for help was relayed to me. That is all the more authorization I need."
"You can't arrest anyone on the reservation."
"CALL FOR BACK UP! I didn't ask for an armchair lawyer's lecture. These men have GUNS and have already shot someone."
"Just an Injun."
"Okay, okay, I'm calling."
As Mick rounds the hills between Broken Arrow and Stone Circles, a sudden conflagration in the hills toward the highway catches his eye.
Grabbing the mike, Mick tersely orders, "Send a squad car to investigate a fire on Sacred Mountain, about three miles up the road that hunter tried to use, would you? I can't imagine ANYTHING up there that would burn like that!"
"The shocks are probably already shot, anyway," the sheriff remarks to the windshield as he pilots the squad car right to the campfire area, where he can see an alarming cluster of people.
Leaping out, Mick looks anxiously about. No men. No teachers. No children. Just the old women. "Where's Despina? ¿Dónde está Despina?
"¿María? How'd you get clear out here in the dark?" Mick asks.
"Noche, día, no hay diferencia si eres ciega."
Feeling foolish, Mick addresses María again, "Have you seen Despina?"
"Señor, no veo nada."
The women suddenly move aside, giving him a glimpse of the leg of one of the captured men. Striding briskly toward it, he takes in the arrangements. A walking stick is jammed between the pants legs, which are knotted below the fellow's combat boots, which stretches him out nicely. His arms are above his head, hugging a saguaro, painfully held apart from the thorns. His hands are secured with his belt on the far side of the cactus.
"You speak English?" Mickey inquires.
"Let me loose!"
"Sorry, son, I have no jurisdiction on Stone Circles Reservation. What did you do to get a normally peaceful tribe so riled up at you?"
"I already told that White woman all I intend to."
"And what might that have been? Or do I need to step back and let the old women finish what they started? I haven't seen these old women beat a White man since they caught Cu and I in the watermelon patch when we were knee high to a corn plant. I can still feel those blows, however."
Looking at the red mark across the man's bare buttocks, Mick adds, "María's handiwork, if memory serves. You won't walk right for at least a week, maybe longer, if they finish the job."
"That the blind old bitty with the stick? She conked my partner, and I'm not even sure he's alive."
Hunting around, the sheriff sees another knot of women, and investigating, finds a second man, unconscious, but alive.
"Well, he's still alive, but I don't think this is the place to leave him overnight."
"Why don't you just take us to jail."
"You're prisoners of the Indians, on their sovereign territory. I can't do anything out here without their permission, and if Alberto told me right, someone has shot their leader's second son. Pretty hostile act, if you want my opinion. Why?"
"I'm not at liberty to say. You'll have to ask the captain."
"Captain?” Mick says sharply. “Captain of what? You got a ship out here somewhere? Something that would burn? Maybe over on Sacred Mountain?"
"Burn? They torched the van? Is Greg okay? He's just a kid. He was just operating the satellite tracking system and communications equipment. He's not even armed."
"That depends on who found him, and how mad they were."
He nudges a spent rifle casing with the toe of his boot.
"Why don't you tell me about the battle."
"Battle? What makes you think there was a battle?"
"When my boots crunch across spent shells, I naturally think of 'Nam and a fire fight."
"That old gal with the cataracts over her eyes knocked my buddy's rifle into the fire while it was on auto, and the whole magazine went off."
Mick grimaces. "Pretty good aim, for a blind old bat."
"She nearly took his head off."
"Age evidently hasn't mellowed her much. I can personally attest to the power of her swing. Go on. Where's this captain of yours?"
The desert erupts with wild whoops and thuds. The "lion beaters" have surrounded their prey and are ululating and thumping vengefully like a proverbial pack of wild Indians.
Hopping back in the squad car, Mickey heads toward the spot, lights flashing.
Using the spare hand cuffs from the glove box, Mick yanks the disarmed man's hands behind his back, pinning his body against the side of the squad car. "Just what do you think you are doing out here on the reservation?"
"Aren't you going to read me my rights first?"
"If we were in the USA, I would. But the rules of engagement out here are somewhat different. I MIGHT be able to save your life if these youngsters respect my authority enough to get you safely into the car."
"Technically, you are THEIR prisoner." He nods toward the children with their sticks who have surrounded them both. "I have no right to REMOVE you from the reservation." Angrily, Mickey shoves the man into the back seat of the patrol car.
He hears a siren echoing around the hills. "That Jeb. He never did have good sense. Still playing with the bells and whistles instead of doing the job."
Rejecting an attempt to drive across the desert to the area he can see so clearly, he reluctantly turns back to the road, careful to stay in the tracks he made coming out so he doesn't hang up anywhere.
Despina and Paul Peter are walking back to the hovels. The last of the captured six have been turned over to the sheriff and his deputies and will be spending at least one night in the county jail.
"I'm puzzled, PP. Why did Mickey say he might not be able to keep them?"
"Don't know. How come you were 'asleep' one minute, and then telling me to get down, as I made too good a target, the next, Pina?"
"I dreamed 'they' shot Cu again. But this time, I knew right where they were. I knew they were going to fire on the campfire area. I wanted you to put the fire out, to kill the light, so they wouldn't have a clear shot."
"That guy had a night scope on his rifle. The fire was not important to his aiming ability."
Last updated 3/17/10 Corrected high-powered, half-mast, and back-up twice. 3/9/10 Corrected brusque. 2/4/10 Mickey flies to the reservation, ignoring potential damage to the car. 1/31/10 Added “tells” and some direct address to clarify speakers; 12/30/09 Changed to a cactus to to cactuses; 12/15/09 removed note -- done. 12/12/09 Combined Invasion parts I & II. 2/25/02. 11/23/03 peered to peers.
Word Count: 2715