Episode 25: Big Bands of the Elder Gods
"This should be fun!" announced Sarah, as their cab squealed to a stop in
front of the dance hall. The enlisted men piled out and headed toward the
entrance, but Iverson hesitated, unsure he was ready to face what he might
"Fun?" he asked apprehensively. Such things had not been included in his
"Aye, lad," said Abercrombie. "We planned it all oot! We’ll hae traditional
Scottish dances, traditional Scottish songs..."
Iverson paused. This was sounding worse by the minute. But Sarah had already
seized him by the arm and was dragging him up the stairs. A blast of loud
music met them as they swung open the doors. Inside, a crowd of young
Australians were swinging to the sound of a band. The men’s clothes were
outrageous: flashy suits that defied the dictates of fashion. The women’s
dress was scandalous: low-shouldered dresses with short hems that revealed
ankles, shins, stockings, sometimes even knees!
Iverson stopped, uncertain how to react. "This is traditional?" he managed to
"It’s a new tradition, lad!" bellowed Abercrombie. "An I cannae find fault
wi’ those cutty sarks!"
"Aren’t you going to dance?" asked Sarah.
"May I?" asked Loris, stepping forward. Even in this room full of athletic
young men, he stood out. Sarah gave Iverson a disappointed glance, then
accepted the airman’s arm and followed him onto the floor as the band
launched into a hot new hit from the States.
Five foot two, eyes of blue
But oh what those five foot could do
Has anyone seen my gal?
Iverson watched the dance begin, wishing he’d had the courage to act. She
wasn’t at all like the song, he thought regretfully. Her eyes were dark as
night. She could manage ballast calculations and handle a spear. And it
didn’t seem likely that she’d ever be his ‘gal’.
Abercrombie clapped him on the shoulder, sending him staggering. "Why so
"It’s hopeless," said Iverson, gesturing toward Loris. "I can’t compete with
"Aye," admitted the Scottsman, "he does cut a fine figure of a man. An’ ye
can tell the lass sees it. Ye’ll need a plan. An’ for that, ye need a
drink." He steered the youth toward the bar. "Two whiskeys, straight up!"
Pierre strolled down the Esplanade, past the Government House, toward the
mansion George Channel had commandeered when he took over the job of police
chief. When the Frenchman reached it, he glanced both ways to make sure he
wasn’t observed, then vaulted the fence into the garden. This was heavily
overgrown -- inevitable in this tropical climate -- which made it easy for
him to approach the wall he’d chosen during his reconnaissance of the day
The building was a solid structure, built of native stone, with verandah
faced with an arrangement of louvers that provided ventilation during the
long damp rainy season -- the ‘Wet’ -- that filled most of the year. Pierre
dismissed the vines. Only amateurs put their faith in vines. Exchanging his
street shoes for a pair of tight-fitting rubber-soled slippers, he slid his
hands along the stones until he found a hold, then -- keeping three points
in contact with the wall at any time -- began to climb.
The window proved every bit as easy as he’d expected. After oiling the
hinges to be sure they wouldn’t squeak, he produced a thin- bladed knife,
reached between the shutters, and slid open the latch. Another pause to make
sure he hadn’t been overheard, then he was inside, easing shut the pane.
Now to find the study.
Iverson concentrated on his glass as he lowered it to the bar. Lately it
had shown a tendency to touch down at odd angles to the vertical. "Wa’
happen next?" he asked.
"She broke off the engagement," said Abercrombie, "moved in with my best
friend, an’ sold the ring to buy a cow."
"So wha’d you do?"
"Well, I thought ae stealin’ the cow, as it’d been my ring as paid for it.
But he was my best friend. An’ it wasn’t a very good cow. So I left to join
the Navy. Ye gotta watch the lassies, lad. They’ll break your heart."
Iverson sighed and stared back at the dance floor, where the band was
pounding out a local number with a fast-moving beat.
Sunken Rilyay, here I come!
Right back where I started from!
So open up that Elder Gate
Sunken Rilyay, here I come!
By now Loris and Sarah had gathered a group of appreciative spectators. The
girl danced with sensuous abandon, her island heritage readily apparent.
The airman moved with muscular grace, like a proud young warrior advancing
toward some conquest. Iverson watched helplessly, wondering what he could
do. As an officer, he could hardly confront the man physically. And Loris
would wipe the floor with him in a fight.
"’Ere there mate..."
Pierre turned to see a butler staring from the doorway. Leaping forward, he
felled the man with a quick savat kick, then caught the body before if could
fall to the floor. He froze for a moment, listening for an outcry. At last,
when he was sure no one had noticed the altercation, he dragged the
unconscious servant into the shadows.
Curse these aristocrats! he thought. Why do they insist on
training their staff to move so quietly? This was annoying. He’d
already finished his mission. Now he’d have to go back and steal
something to make it look like an ordinary burglary.
The evening was drawing to a close. The band had launched into a notorious
song by Bill Murry and Aileen Summers in an effort to revive the crowd, but
it was clear their energy was flagging and most of the dancers had either
slowed, found a place at the bar, or departed for more private
entertainments. Iverson stared at his glass, uncertain how many rounds he’d
consumed, scarcely aware of the music.
Keep your skirts down
Keep your skirts down
Keep your skirts down, Mary Ann!
His self-pity was interrupted by a cry of indignation. He looked up to see
Loris fly through the air and crash into the bar. Sarah glared at the man,
hand on her hips.
"Of all the nerve !" she exclaimed. "I warned him not to!"
"Not to wha’?" asked Iverson, struggling to comprehend what was happening.
The girl raised an eyebrow. "And where were you when it came time to defend
my honor?" she demanded.
"Oh, you’re hopeless," she giggled. "Come, Abercrombie, let’s take him back
to the ship."
Next week: Hijackers...