Escape From Stalag VIIIB

Portage

Jahr drei, Tag drei├čig

Somewhere along the Rio Negro, Amazon tributary

“What’s the hold up?” called Bob from his lookout position at the stern of the Gwendolynn, as he felt the vessel slow in the murky river water.

“Guillermo says there are rocks up ahead, and we’ll have to portage the gunboat overland for a short ways to go around them.” answered Terry from up in the pilot’s cabin of the small boat.

“Portage? You mean get out of this fine sea going craft and walk? On land? With the natives all around?”

“Yes, Bob. Walk. Guillermo says there is a man made portage site a couple of hundred yards down the river from here. He says the Germans constructed it to get their boats, this one included, past the rocks more easily.”

“How many men did they have to haul this boat across the portage? This isn’t a row boat…”

“Guilllermo says that each of the German boats is equipped with a specially engineered rope and pulley system that’ll allow four or five men to haul her overland pretty efficiently.”

“Oh good, then Lodd can do it.”

“I hear that.” came a rumbled reply from the area of the belowdecks hatch.

A crackle of static, intermittently interspersed with a tinny voice, came over the speaker of the shortwave radio bolted to the shelf in the small pilot cabin.

“Hey! Somebody get Piotr, or Taffy, or Wulf up here! " shouted Terry, “Somebody who speaks Kraut! Hurry!”

Coming up from belowdecks, Taffy climbed the short ladder to join Terry. “What is it, soldier?”

Stifling a snicker, Terry responded with a sharp salute, “Transmission coming in over the shortwave, Sargent.”

“Let me have a listen, then.” the Welshman said, elbowing Terry aside. Through the static, Taffy could make out a voice speaking German:

“This is Eric. Repeat, this is Eric. Frans, are you there? I have your mail here at the trading post. We haven’t heard from you in over a week. Repeat, this is Eric, calling Frans. Are you there Frans? I have that copy of Maidens die Milch you ordered. The girls are worried about you. This is Eric, calling Frans…”

As the others in the little band crowded around the ladder, Taffy translated the message.

“Well, that very much agrees with what Lieutenant Gorman told us before he succumbed to that nasty parasite he got.” Piotr said.

“I am not quite dead, dumm Polish oaf.” came a faint voice from belowdecks.

Piotr glanced quizzically at the Padre.

“Sorry, Mate.” Bruce said sheepishly, “I cured him again.”

“It’s alright.” the Lancer went on, “As I was saying, Lieutenant Gorman told us that they weren’t sure if the last radio transmission they made as the jungle laboratory was being attacked was received by their main base at Manaus. For all their friends know, Gorman and his fellows could have fought off the Indians, and could simply be without a functioning radio.”

“Wouldn’t the base at Manaus send a gunboat upriver to check on them, then? Why haven’t we run into a relief party heading upriver?” asked Bob.

“Gorman says that the Germans at Manaus only have a couple of other gunboats, and as often as not they’re operating farther downriver, on the Amazon itself, to bring in supplies from the coast, and to assist in keeping the tribes downriver pacified. It is very likely that, even if they intend to send a patrol upriver to check on the lab where we were being held, they would have to wait for a gunboat to make it’s way back up to Manaus before they could send one out again…”

“This doesn’t quite sound like the base though, Piotr.” said Wulf, “He mentioned a trading post. And he didn’t use ranks.”

“It is a trading post, Idioten.” came the faint voice from belowdecks, “They have women, und Beer, und our mail…”

“Can you not save him the next time?” asked Piotr, looking at Bruce.

Before the Padre could launch into his spot on recitation of the Geneva Conventions, Bob interrupted. “Well, I could use a beer.”

As the chuckles subsided, Lodd spoke up from the hatch below;

“Woman.” was all he said….

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