Episode 115: Meanwhile, Back in Civilization
They reached Luganville late the next morning. The last few miles were
nerve-wracking, for the blimp's under-inflated envelope threatening to
collapse as they descended back to sea level, but with judicious
management and a few choice Irish curses, MacKiernan managed to keep the
ship aloft. They disembarked at the government mast by the harbor,
where they found Pierre waiting.
"I see that you rescued the mademoiselle," he observed, offering Miss
Perkins a bow.
"All in a day's work," replied MacKiernan. "Did you have any adventures
while we were away?"
The Frenchman shrugged. "A gentleman never talks about such things.
What are your plans today?"
MacKiernan gestured at the blimp, which sagged from its mooring like a
vast drooping tent. "We've recovered the vessel used in the kidnapping.
I believe its time we paid a visit to the vessel's owners."
The manager of the Pacific Albion Hardwood Company was clearly a man who
enjoyed his meals. His shapeless tropical suit was hard-put to
cover his bulk while his pudgy features gave him an expression of innocence
that MacKiernan found entirely unconvincing.
The manager listened politely, then leaned back in his chair, which
creaked under the load.
"I am shocked," he announced, "shocked to learn that our blimp was
commandeered by the ruffians who used it to kidnap your companion! I trust
the lady was not inconvenienced. And I assure you that we had nothing to
MacKiernan exchanged glances with Miss Perkins. Her face gave nothing away,
but he could tell that she didn't believe the man either.
"You never noticed it was missing?" he asked. "A 120,000 cubic foot
airship, tethered to a mast right outside your window?"
"Not particularly," said the manager, with an idle wave of his hand.
"Though I did have a nagging feeling that the grounds looked somewhat
"And you have no idea who the hijackers might have been?"
"Not the slightest. But there seems to be a lot of this sort of thing going
around. I understand that a party of miscreants broke into the French air
station and made off with their vessel yesterday. I hope this doesn't
represent the beginning of a trend. I'd hate to think that our peaceful
island might be beset by bellicose bands of blimp pirates."
MacKiernan did his best to conceal his amazement. How, he wondered, could
the man manage to say these things with a straight face?
Miss Perkins seemed to share his skepticism. "Thank you for your time," she
said dryly. "You have been of considerable assistance. In recognition of
your cooperation, the Royal Navy will do its best to expedite the salvage
A hinge squeaked in protest as the chair rocked forward.
Miss Perkins smiled. "Of course. For recovering your vessel from those...
ruffians. You can expect the invoice in next month's mail." While the man
struggled to find a reply, she offered MacKiernan her arm and turned to
"That was quite the parting shot," he said after they were outside. "I'd
hate to have you for an enemy."
"Yes," she agreed, "you would. What shall we do now?"
"I suspect we've learned everything there is to be learned here on
Espiritu Santo," said MacKiernan. "We could gather an armed party and go
back to investigate the village where you were held prisoner, but those
fellows with the strange armbands will almost certainly have fled. I
believe we should return to the Flying Cloud, so we can learn how
the others have fared... and I can collect me winnings."
"Winnings?" asked Miss Perkins.
The Irishman grinned. "I bet Abercrombie a shilling he couldn't stay out of
Abercrombie whistled a highland air as he sauntered along the waterfront of
Port Villa. Beside him, Loris flexed his muscles and smiled at two women
who were sunning rather more of themselves than might have been considered
proper back in England. It promised to be a fine day. Captain Everett had
decided it was safe to allow his crew shore leave as long as they traveled
in pairs. This was fine with the two airmen, for they'd discovered a
similar taste in bars.
"What about that one?" asked Abercrombie, pointing at a sagging tin-roofed
"Too posh," objected Loris. "How about the one by the tannery?"
The Scotsman shook his head. "Noo, that looks like some gentleman's club!
It even has a door! What about that one over there -- the one with those
three lads passed out in front?"
"That's the ticket!" said the athlete. "Stick with me and I'll show you
The inside of the establishment proved every bit as promising as the
exterior. Devoid of decorations, atmosphere, or any significant furnishings
besides the bar, it was a simple utilitarian facility designed to dispense
alcohol. Only one thing was missing, thought Abercrombie as he ordered a
"Bonjour, Monsieur," came a sultry voice from beside him.
"Je m'appelle Marguerite. Ca, c'est mon amie Denise."
The rigger turned to see the two women they'd passed on the way here
studying them with an expression that left little to the imagination.
Their attire -- such as it was -- left little to the imagination either.
Members of the Royal Naval Airship Service were taught to exercise
initiative when unexpected opportunities arose. This seemed like a
good time for some exercise.
"Greetings, lassies," he replied. "I'm Abercrombie, from Scotland, and
this is my crewmate, Airman Loris."
"A Scotsman!" said the girl, laying an admiring hand on his chest. "I
have heard about how strong you are! And Denise just loves a man in
"Oui!" said her companion with an enticing smile.
"What did I tell you?" Loris whispered to Abercrombie. "Champion form!"
Conversation flowed freely, as did the drinks. But the bar lacked a
certain ambiance, so no one raised any objections when one of the girls
suggested an excursion to nearby Eretoka. After a diversion to collect
some blankets and a few more bottles, they made their way to the ferry.
The ferry to Eretoka departed directly from Port Villa's municipal wharf.
Its passengers were a varied lot, ranging from chattering islanders and
brightly-clad tourists to Condominium civil servants on holiday. Most
seemed wrapped in their own affairs, but four Foreign Legionnaires --
battle-scarred veterans from the Fifth (Indochinese) Regiment -- stared at
the airmen and their dates with undisguised contempt.
Trouble, thought Abercrombie gleefully.
It didn't take long to arrive. The soldiers had been drinking --
somewhat more sullenly than Abercrombie and his companions -- and as the
boat approached mid-channel, one of them tossed his bottle over the side,
stalked across the deck, and glared down at the airmen's table.
"You pirates from the British Union!" he spat. "It's not enough to betray
your allies! Now you must try to steal our women!"
"I'm nae Brit!" snorted Abercombie indignantly. "I'm from Scotland!"
"Don't get them angry," said Loris. "We don't want a fight."
"Yes we do!" cried Abercrombie. Then, with a bellow of joy, he leaped to
his feet and charged.
The Legionnaries were hardened mercenaries, tempered by the fires of battle.
Abercrombie was a Scotsman. After he'd laid his two adversaries low, he
turned to see how his companion was faring. Loris, less massive or perhaps
less berserk, had gotten the worst of his encounter. The other two
Legionaries had seized the airman hand and foot and seemed to be wondering
what to do with him.
"Let the laddie go," said Abercrombie. "He's just an Englishman. It's me
ye should be worrying about."
"Why should we worry?" said one of the Legionnaires. If you threaten us,
we'll just toss your friend overboard."
"No!" begged Loris in a loud theatrical voice. "Please, don't throw me
into the ocean! I'll drown!"
Abercrombie studied the airman's face, noticed a wink, and smiled to himself.
"Will ye now?" he said, taking a step forward.
The Legionnaires shrugged. "Allez oop!" cried one and they heaved Loris over
the rail. The airman hit the water with a loud splash.
"Now you have a choice," said the man who'd spoken. "You can fight us or
you can save your companion."
Abercrombie raised his fists. "I'll fight."
"You care so little for your friend?"
The Scotsman grinned an evil grin. "Oh, I care about the laddie... but he
does happen tae be fleet swimming champion."
Next week: But Can They Make the Trains Run On Time?...
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