Authors: Eric Walters
“They didn't take the explosives,” Jack said, excited. “They left them attached.”
“We'd better go and get help,” I said. “We'd better tell somebody.”
“We'd better get your inner tube.”
“How do you know it's even
. . . no, forget it, we have to go and get help!”
we get the tube.”
“Let's just leave it!” I pleaded. “It isn't that important.”
“Maybe not to you.”
He waded over, grabbed the second tube, threw it in the water and flung himself on to it.
There were just a few seconds to decide as he floated by. I grabbed onto the side of the tube. The branches of the willow tree brushed against us as we drifted through them and into the open water of the creek.
I was instantly hit by two things: the hot, bright rays of the sun and the realization that we were now completely exposed to anybody watching the river. I ducked down further into the water to escape both the heat and any eyes that might be trained on the water.
“Are you sure they're gone?”
“They're gone . . . for now,” Jack said.
This was crazy. Why were we risking being seen to get some patched-up, old inner tube? Then I realized that it wasn't the tube Jack wanted. It was just an excuse to get a closer look.
There was a slight dip in the creek and we picked up speed as we neared the bridge. I looked up but couldn't see the very top any more. I let go of the tube at almost the same second
as Jack jumped off. He towed the tube behind him as we both swam for the side, the place where the other tube was trapped. The current lessened and the water became shallow. My feet touched bottom and I waded over to the side. I grabbed the inner tube and flipped it over. It had a small red mark by the valve. It
my inner tube.
“Hold onto this,” Jack said, pushing his tube toward me.
I grabbed it. Why did he want me to hold his tube? In answer to my unasked question he put one foot on the bottom support of the bridge and heaved himself up and out of the water.
“What are you doing?” I demanded.
“I need to see something up close.”
He didn't answer, but I already knew what he wanted to see. He started up the trestle, climbing from support to support. I wanted to call out, but I didn't. This was crazy! What if he fell, or those men came back or . . . something exploded? Even if the wires weren't attached, they were still explosives!
“Please come down, Jack!” I hissed as loud as I dared.
He was perched beside one of the dark patches. It looked like a big lump of clay. He reached out a hand toward it!
I looked up at him. He'd taken some of it and he seemed to be studying it andâ
“Uuugggg!” I screamed in shock as something fell down and hit me in the face.
“It's just clay!” Jack called down. “Clay! Here, catch!”
He dropped another chunk, and without even thinking I reached out and grabbed it. I played around with it. Clay. It was clay.
“They're all clay!”
I looked up at Jack. He'd moved along the supports and was holding more clay in his hand. He let it go, and it dropped into the water with a large splash.
He climbed down the supports, finally slipping into the water and swimming over to my side.
“Do you understand what happened?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Nope . . . but I'm tired of not knowing, so I'm going to find out.”
JACK, WE SHOULD BE
“We will go home. After I've got some answers.”
“I just don't think we should be doing this!”
“Make sure you stash your inner tube high enough up on the shore so it doesn't wash away this time.”
He always knew what to say to shut me up. I was sure I wouldn't be hearing the end of that for a long time. I pushed the tube further up the bank, away from the edge of the creek.
“It would be better if we had our shoes, at least,” I said, trying to throw up some excuses. “Couldn't we come tomorrow and bring shoes?”
“Good idea. Today we won't have shoes and tomorrow, when we come back, we'll have shoes.”
“I meant we could just come tomorrow!” I explained.
“Do you really think we'll be able to find out everything in this one trip?”
“No, I guess there'll be some things that . . . wait, what makes you think I'm coming back here again?”
“Because if I'm coming, then you're coming,” Jack said. “Unless you want that old lady from up the street to watch you.”
I had to hand it to him. He got me again.
I trailed behind my brother as he picked his way along a path leading away from the creek. It was a small, beaten down trail, mainly mud with an occasional rock embedded in it that managed to find the tender spots in the arches of my feet. The path came to a stop in front of a wire fence. It was about four feet high, with one strand of barbed wire at the top. On the other side was a field. There were lots of bushes sprouting up everywhere, and the grass was waist high. It hadn't been grazed or worked for a long time.
“Should we go along the fence?” I asked, though I knew what was coming next.
Jack put his foot on one strand of wire, pushing it down while he grabbed the piece right above it, pulling it up. Reluctantly I ducked down and climbed through the hole. I straightened up and tried to do the same for him. The wire was taut and dug into my bare foot.
“Push harder,” Jack said as he wriggled through.
“Do you really think we should do this?” I asked.
“I don't think the cows are going to mind,” Jack said.
“There hasn't been anything in here for a long time,” I said, looking around.
“That's why I don't think they're going to mind.”
“That isn't what I meant. Anyway, I don't think we should be following those men.”
“We're not following them . . . we're just slowly headed in the same direction, that's all.”
I knew that arguing with him wasn't going to work. Arguing with Jack never worked. I shut my mouth. It was better that we moved without making a noise. Better because nothing could hear us, and I could hear other things more clearly.
Jack led us straight across the field to a wooded patch. The instant we got into the shade, I felt better. The cover of the trees protected us from more than just the sun.
“Do you know where we're going?” I asked.
He motioned with his head. “We're following that.”
Off to our left, just barely visible through the trees, was the railroad embankment. We were moving along parallel to it. That was reassuring. As long as we stayed on this route we'd be able to find our way back to the creek when he came to his senses and said we could start home.
Past the woods was another field, this one much bigger. It had to be close to fifty yards wide, and the grass was beaten down. Whatever was using this field was using it well.
“That is really something,” Jack said.
I looked around anxiously. I didn't see anything. What was he talking about?
“Must be a couple of hundred feet high.” He was pointing up and into the distance.
I looked up. Towering above the horizon was an antenna, stretching up into the sky.
“Wow, it's gigantic. What is it for?” I asked.
“Radio. What else?”
“It looks really high. It could get messages from all over.”
“And send them.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The same aerial that receives radio signals can send them as well. But maybe it isn't as high as it looks. The only way to tell is to get closer.”
“I don't think that's smart,” I said.
“Not smart? I guess you'd be an expert at not being smart. Come on, let's go,” and he started to walk out from the cover of the trees.
“We can't just walk across that field.”
“Good, let's head back andâ”
“We'll go around it,” Jack said, cutting me off. “Do you want to go to the left or the right?”
I didn't want to go either way, but at least to the left was the familiar outline of the embankment. “Let's go left.”
Jack took the lead again. The trees gave way to bushes and shrubs. We picked our way through at the very edge of the field. As long as there was cover I was happy.
“There's a little creek,” Jack said. “Let's get a drink.”
It was more like a trickle then a creek, water running along a little rocky bed. I crouched down and took a seat on one of the bigger rocks. I cupped my hands and brought up a mouthful of water. It was cold and felt good going down. Jack sat down on a rock beside me and did the same.
“How far are we going to go?” I asked.
“I was going to turn around a while ago.”
“What?” I groaned. “Why didn't you?”
“You started bugging me so I figured I wouldn't,” Jack explained. “And then I saw that big antenna and wanted to check it out.”
“Do you think that . . .” I stopped as I realized that there was no point in saying anything. “Do you think that we could have more water before we go on?” I asked instead.
Jack smiled. “Have as much as you want.”
I bent down and slurped up another handful. I moved my bottom around on the rock so that my feet were in the small flow of water as well.
“Do you hear anything?” Jack asked.
I pricked up my ears. I could hear something. “Is it another train?”
Jack shook his head. “Not a train . . . wrong direction and wrong sound. I think it's a car.”
“Or a jeep?”
Jack didn't say a word, but his face gave away the answer to my question. He slithered off the rock we were sitting on and I did the same, using it for cover.
“Can you see anything?” I whispered, peering around the rock and through the bushes and trees that stood between the field and us.
“Nothing . . . but it's coming closer.”
There was no mistaking that. The rumbling sound was getting louder and louder. Even without seeing it, I could
picture it in my mind: a jeep carrying two soldiers, one carrying a rifle, the second with his weapon at his side. What would they say to us if they caught us again? More important, what would they do to us?
I looked around the rock and caught a glimpse of the vehicleâit
a jeepâas it flashed by. The sound started to fade and there was a squealing noise . . . brakes! It was stopping! The pitch of the engine changed, then it started to get louder once more, and then it stopped completely. They'd stopped!
I looked over at Jack. He was pressed down tightly to the ground and his head was turned away from me. I reached out and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and mouthed the words “Don't move.” He was right . . . we had to stay still. There was no way they could have seen us yet . . . was there?
“Identify yourself!” yelled a man, and I almost jumped into the air in response.
“Come out with your hands up!” called out a second male voice.
I looked over at Jack. His eyes were pressed tightly closed.
“If you don't come out
we're going to shoot!”
“Jack . . . we have to!” I hissed at him.
He opened his eyes and nodded. There was no choice. I was just going to stand up when off to the side four men dressed in black stood up first, their hands in the air! I looked at Jack and he looked at me and we dropped back down to the ground.
“Come out slowly with your hands in plain view!” one of the men shouted.
Jack had wriggled around and was sitting up behind a bush. Quickly I crawled over and joined him. Through the bush and the scrub up ahead we could see the scene being played out. The four men, obviously the men from the bridge, were slowly coming forward toward two soldiers standing at the edge of the field in front of a jeep with their rifles levelled right at them. I recognized one of the soldiers from the night before!
“They caught them,” I whispered. “They caught them!”
“They're not carrying anything,” Jack hissed.
“What do you mean?”
“The spool of wire . . . they've ditched it somewhere, andâ”
“Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”
called out one of the soldiers loudly.
“What does that mean?” I whispered to Jack.
“I don't know . . .
. . . isn't that German?”
I strained my mind trying to think of the few words in German that our Opa, our father's father, had taught us.
“Ja, wir sprechen deutsch,”
called back one of the four men in black.
There was that word again. “They're Germans!” I hissed at Jack. “They really are German agents!”
One of the soldiers barked out a command. I didn't understand what he was saying, so it must have been in German, but the four men all responded, lowering their hands and placing them on the tops of their heads instead. There was another order given and the four men dropped to their knees, their hands still locked together.
One of the soldiers lowered his rifle while the second man stepped back, his weapon still aimed at the men. The first soldier launched into a series of rapid questions.
“He's interrogating them,” Jack said.
“What's to know?” I asked. “They're German secret agents who just tried to destroy a railroad bridge.”
“With mud for bombs,” Jack said.
“Oh, yeah, that's right.”
“Besides, they probably don't know anything about what happened on the bridge or they would have stopped them there.”
Of course he was right about that too. “Maybe we should tell them.”
“Don't be stupid,” Jack hissed. “We're not supposed to be here
. Just watch and stop talking.”