1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 49
Jozef shook his head. “It’s a long story which I can tell you some other time. The short version is that I was exposed as the Grand Hetman’s spy, they arrested me, and then they let me go after my uncle was murdered because I told them I wasn’t going to support the king or the Sejm. But I also wasn’t going to go over to the USE. That was the deal we made–me and my friend Lukasz both. That’s Lukasz Opalinski, by the way. You know him, I’m sure.”
“Yes,” said Caspar. Czeslaw nodded.
“What we are doing instead is giving our support to the revolutionaries gathered around Lukasz’s brother Krzysztof and some other people.”
“The ones in Galicia? The ones who declared themselves a konfederacja?”
He looked back at Ellis. “So you have to understand that. If we break out of here with you, we’re not taking you back to the USE army. We’d be taking you to Galicia. After that…” He shrugged. “If you can work out a way to get back home, we won’t stop you. But keep in mind that Galicia is a long way from the USE.”
“What is it?” asked Ellis. “About five hundred miles, thereabouts?”
“Not that far. You’d only have to get to Breslau, since the USE now controlled Lower Silesia. Say… Four hundred miles. Maybe a bit less.”
“Might as well be the moon,” said Ellis. Then, with a shrug: “It’s still better than being trapped here. Okay, here’s my idea. It’s not really a plan. If we take the APC, we can travel faster than cavalry can pursue us.”
“Not really,” said Christin. “Over open country, those coal trucks can’t do better than ten, maybe fifteen miles an hour. The roads aren’t much better–and don’t argue with me; I had the joy of traveling on them to get here. A horse can travel faster than that.”
“Yes, but not for very long,” said Jozef. “Especially not if it’s carrying a hussar in his armor. You might have to fend them off for a while, but after a short time the cavalry would start falling away. And what’s a better mount to fend off cavalry than an armored coal truck with gun ports?” His eyes narrowed. “Assuming we can find hussars who aren’t so narrow-minded they don’t know how to fire a gun.”
Czeslaw grinned. “No hussar is that narrow-minded, Jozef.”
His partner was less sanguine on the matter. “You might be surprised. What about Andruss Kozłowski–or Mieczysław Kaczmarek?”
Czeslaw scowled at him. “Excuse me. I should have been more precise. No hussar who would go with us in the first place would be that narrow-minded.”
Caspar nodded judiciously. “That, I will accept. But, Josef, that still leaves a problem. I’ve seen that APC. As big as it is, there can’t possibly be enough room in it for all the hussars who’ll come with us to fit inside. Especially since at least two of the ones I can think of who’ll want to join us have families they won’t be willing to leave behind.”
“How big are the families?” Christin asked.
Caspar though about it for a moment. “Fiedor and his wife have… three children. I think. Hriniec’s wife died two years ago and he’s only got one son, who’s about five years old. But there’s something wrong with the boy. His mind is… well, he thinks slowly. And he looks funny.”
The radio operator stretched his eyes with his fingers. “Like this.”
“He’s got Down’s Syndrome,” Christin said immediately. “But what’s his disposition like? That’s really what matters.”
“Oh, he’s a nice boy,” said Czeslaw. “Quite cheerful almost all of the time and not disobedient.”
“In other words, he won’t be a problem.” Christin nodded and turned toward Jozef. “We can fit the families inside the APC. Four kids and one mother to look after them shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Yes, but what about the hussars themselves?” asked Caspar. “If they can’t keep up with the APC, won’t the pursuers fall on them?”
Jozef had been thinking ahead and had already come to a conclusion on that matter. “I don’t really think it’s that big a problem, especially if we break out of the city early in the morning. This has been a long siege and Torstensson’s troops haven’t pressed any attacks on the city for quite a while. At least, that was the situation when I was here last. Has anything changed?”
Caspar and Czeslaw both shook their heads. Seeing that, Jozef displayed a derisive, lop-sided smile.
“Right. So, that early in the morning–we’re talking just before daybreak–how many hussars are likely to be alert and awake? And without hangovers?”
Caspar and Czeslaw both smiled at that. Their smiles were as lopsided as Jozef’s own.
“Three, maybe?” That came from Czeslaw.
“That’s what I figured,” said Jozef. “By the time a pursuit gets organized and underway, we’ll have a good head start. By the time they catch up–and it won’t be soon–their horses will be tired. More tired than ours because we won’t have been pushing them as much. And a lot of them will have fallen by the wayside. So then we pick a good spot for an ambush, we have one pitched battle with the APC as an anchor, and I think that will be all we need.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Mark. “Although I admit this isn’t something I specialize in.”
Czeslaw transferred the lopsided smile to him. “Who does? Unless my knowledge is a lot worse than I think it is, this will be the first pursuit of an armored motor vehicle by cavalry in Polish history.”
“Anybody’s history,” said Jozef. “That’s another advantage we’ll have. It’s not as if the commanders of the garrison will have a contingency plan to deal with it.”
“What’s a contingency plan?” asked Caspar.
“It’s what your mother did every time she made hot soup for you,” said Christin, “in case you spilled some in your lap. She knew how to handle it right away. Trust me on this one.”
“Ah. A mother’s foresight. Contingency plan.” The lopsided grin came back. “No, I’m quite certain the garrison commanders will not have one for this.”
“Okay, then.” Jozef planted his hands on the table, preparing to rise.
But Mark had one last issue to raise.
“What about Tarnowski?” he asked. “What do we do about him?”
“Who is Tarnowski?”
“Walenty Tarnowski,” Czeslaw provided. “He’s the mechanical genius from the university in Krakow who figured out how the APC worked. He’s been trying to get the authorities to approve his plan to build one of our own, but so far they’ve turned him down.”
“‘Turned him down’,” said Caspar. “More like ridiculed him for a daydreaming dolt and told him to stop pestering them.”
Jozef looked at Ellis. “What’s your opinion?”
“Let me talk to him. I think I might be able to persuade him to join us.”
“That’s a real risk,” said Jozef. “What if he runs to the authorities?”
“That’s… not like Walenty,” said Mark.
“Ha! That’s one way to put it.” Caspar turned to Jozef. “Tarnowski is one of those fellows who thinks he’s much smarter than anyone around him.”
“Which he probably is,” added Czeslaw.
Caspar nodded. “You’re probably right. But the point is that he’s not likely to betray us to people he considers imbeciles. Even if he refuses our offer.”
“That’s what I think, too,” said Ellis. “But it doesn’t matter, because unless we can get Walenty to go along we won’t have the APC to begin with. He’s the only one who can start the engine.”
Jozef squinted at him. “You’re an American. Surely you know how to–what do you call it?–hotrod the engine? Something like that.”
“Hotwire,” said Christin. “If he doesn’t know how to do it, I do. Buster taught me the trick.”
Jozef looked at her. “You?”
It was a day for lopsided, derisive smiles, it seemed. Christin now bestowed one on him. “Don’t look so surprised. I told you I’m an adrenaline junkie when it comes to men. Buster used to take me on joyrides when we were dating.”
“And ‘joyrides’ are…?”
“Not what you’re thinking. Boy, have you got a dirty mind.”
Mark interrupted. “Doesn’t matter,” he repeated. “I know how to hotwire a car too. But it won’t do a bit of good because Walenty takes the battery out every night and keeps it in his room.”
“He distrusts you that much?”
“He doesn’t distrust me at all. He says hussars are all a pack of thieves and they’d steal the battery just to sell it so they could keep getting drunk.”
Jozef rose. “All right. See what you can do. In the meantime, I will start talking to some of the hussars I know best. We meet again–here–in… one week?”
Nods all around.
“We’re off, then.” Jozef extended a hand to help Christin to her feet, which she didn’t need at all but made no objection to using. Like her daughter, Christin’s feminist attitudes were idiosyncratic.
Once they got out of the noisy tavern, they linked arms.
“I still want to know what a ‘joyride’ is,” said Jozef.
“No, you don’t. You want to figure out one that suits you.“