The next morning we all lay and watched the town come alive again, students herding to their studies and the inevitable silence of midday. Chewing on dates and figs, and downing as much water as we could, we rebuilt our strength and mapped the patterns of the town. I knew we’d have to move that night and the further south we could get the better, so at midnight on the second night I had Longshot and Sid scout a new location for us. It didn’t take them long, less than an hour in fact. And while they were gone I had Junior round the men up and ready them to move out.
“Sir. We have a location, good views or the city centre and the river; spitting distance from the local police station.”
“Sounds delightful, Kegs. Lead the way. Gentlemen, we’re on the move.”
Again we moved in single file, tight against walls, ducking down as the occasional vehicle passed by or a window or door opened obliviously. After years of experience Tony and Sid got us there without a scratch, guiding us around the outskirts of town and then along the outside wall of the main road that ran in from the northwest. We moved in stealth and pass unnoticed with the quiet professionalism of well trained and highly motivated men. As we rounded a corner in the southern half of the town centre Sid pointed up and my eyes followed. There above us, only a mile from our previous location and six hundred yards east of Syr Darya, the town hospital loomed. It saw a sight for sore eyes and we took up residence on the rooftop in double-time. Again we set up hides at each corner of the highest accessible point. And as my men arranged themselves I sent Pretty Boy, Al and Toddy to collect whatever medical supplies they could from hospital itself. Pretty Boy was chomping at the bit; he’d used the last of his morphine and had only a handful of bandages left to play with since we left Karakoyyn.
It felt great to both give him the pleasure of some action while restocking his wares and, at the same time, strengthen our unit. Walking over to the western lip of the rooftop I lay down and observed Syr Darya. I’d only seen it on the map until then and it didn’t look like much, but it was a sight to behold with all the potential it held. The nineteen of us needed either a large enough vessel to carry us all together, or three or four smaller vessels, so I wasted no time in setting about searching the area for a dock or jetty we could make use of. Looking north I couldn’t see any boats whatsoever. I knew there would be traffic on the water come dawn though so I bided my time. With just a few hours left before sunup I wouldn’t risk any teams on the ground that night, but we set up observation points and mapped a route to Syr Darya as the town went about its daily business, oblivious to our presence.
Between us and the river there was open ground and a few small buildings but not much else, so we had a clear line of sight to the water. Under the cover of darkness we’d be able to make it to the river but finding a boat was imperative – if we didn’t get transport then we were stuck in Kyzylorda. I needed my best men on this, our lifeline to the Caspian was within eyesight and all my men could see it. We hadn’t come this far only to get stuck, so I called up Longshot and Big Brin.
“Gentlemen, I have a vital mission for you.”
“Sir, Yes, Sir” came their calm unified reply.
“Out there,” I began, pointing west “our lifeline to freedom drifts gently by and we have no transport to avail of it. There are no such chariots of the water in sight so I need you two to find some for us. It’s not Balkhash all over again though, we can’t just grab them. I need eyes on a good location south of here before we can hatch a plan to requisition said vessels tomorrow night. You’ll also need to find a staging area to launch an attack from and have a clear escape route. It’d be no use if we snag some boats and then can’t get out of there on the double. We’ll all bail aboard as you come by heading toward the reserve. Any questions?”
“When do we leave, Sir?” asked Longshot.
“Let’s get our gear together and talk over some details, Brin. Shall we?”
“After you, good Sir!”
“Check in with me once you’re ready and I’ll give you both the go ahead when the time is right.”
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey