Episode 189: Cruising
The clay disk sailed out, low and almost invisible against the waves. On
the promenade deck of the Make a Good Fist, Lord Warfield braced
his feet against vesselís roll, raised the Thompson, and squeezed off a
three-round burst. Instants later, his target exploded.
"A nice piece of workmanship," he observed to his wife. "Much more
satisfying than a shotgun. Those Colonials are clever chaps. Would you
care to try a shot?"
The baroness executed a stocata lunga, pulled her blade from her
imaginary opponentís body, and flicked off the imaginary blood. "Not in
this blouse", she replied. "Itís so hard to get gunsmoke out of silk.
What did you think of Pukapuka?"
"The place was somewhat dull," said the baron, "but Iíd say our time was
well spent. Now we know where Professor Otkupshchikov is headed. This
should make it easy to intercept him."
"How long will it take us to reach Tahiti?"
"At this speed, we'll make landfall in two more days. Weíll want to
give some thought to our port of call.
Papeete would afford us a measure of concealment that might not be
available in a smaller setting, but one of the more secluded harbors
could offer more privacy.
It would help if we had some idea of the Professorís intentions."
The baroness inspected the edge of her rapier, then slid the weapon back
into its sheath. "Do you think our guests might know?"
"Perhaps. Thatís why Iíve kept them alive."
"Whatever could have brought those fools to the Pacific?"
The baron shrugged. "Some misplaced desire to clear their fatherís name,
I imagine. A laudable sentiment, if this was indeed their motive, but as we
know, no good deed goes unpunished."
"How true," chuckled the baroness. "What if they refuse to talk?"
Lord Warfield glanced toward the foredeck, where their butler was
straightening the shaft of an anchor. "Weíll let Bludge have a word with the
Their prison was small, little more than eight feet by twelve, lit by a dim
electric bulb. It must have begun life as a storeroom, but someone had
emptied it out, removed the shelving, and secured the entrance with a barred
steel door. The presence of such a facility aboard a luxury yacht said
something about their hostsí sensibilities. Michael contemplated the
implications and frowned.
"Thatís another fine mess youíve gotten us into, Digby," he grumbled.
"Me?" exclaimed Digby. "It was your idea to come to the Pacific in the
"Oh yes. Right. I suppose it was," Michael admitted. "But it did seem
like a good idea at the time."
"It still is," said Digby. "And it remains our best hope of scotching the
Michael rose, walked to the door, and gave it shake. The thick metal bars,
set in a heavy welded frame, didnít even rattle. "We donít seem to be in a
position to do much scotching at the moment," he observed glumly.
"It could be worse," Digby replied. "At least we arenít in chains.
Knowing the baronessís tastes, Iím sure they have quite a collection."
"Perhaps they donít have any to spare," said Michael.
"Or perhaps they wore out all the ones they had."
"Itís unfortunate they caught us by surprise," Michael observed after they'd
finished chuckling. "Do you think that Russian fellow, Andre, was in league
with them? He didnít make any attempt to warn us, and he can hardly have
been taken in by their disguises."
This was almost certainly true. The baron might just barely have passed for
a cleric, of the sort who played both sides in case the Adversary should
start looking like a winner. The baroness and Bludge had been somewhat less
"I rather doubt it," said Digby. "They seemed every bit as surprised as we
were. I imagine he was just some minor player who wandered onto the stage,
quite ignorant of the drama in which he was so briefly a part."
A key turned in the lock. The brothers tensed, preparing to rush the guard,
then slumped back in disappointment when they saw it was Bludge. The butler
eased open the door, taking care not to rip it from its hinges, and stepped
into the cell. Deck plates creaked beneath his weight.
"Good afternoon," he said politely. "I trust I donít intrude. If you have
a moment, the Master wishes to speak with you." He gestured toward the
corridor, where Lord Warfield was standing.
The baron smiled a smile that was old when the Inquisition was young.
"Gentlemen," he announced. "I will get straight to the point. You have
information I require. One way or another, you will provide it to me.
Whether this happens the easy way or the hard way is up to you."
"What do you want to know?" growled Michael.
"Manners," tsked the baron. "First, there is the matter of your appearance
so far from England on an island I just happened to be investigating. This
can hardly be a coincidence. I assume you had some forlorn hope of taking
me at a disadvantage and compelling me to sign some document that would
attest to your fatherís innocence in the Burmah Oil affair?"
"It wouldnít do us much good to deny it," said Digby.
"No, it wouldnít. But what is your interest in the Professor? Are you
after the gambling machine too?"
The twins frowned in perplexity. "The gambling machine?" said Michael.
"Whatever are you talking about?"
The baron studied their faces, glanced at Bludge as if considering whether
he should order the butler to repeat the question in a more forceful manner,
then nodded to himself. "An informative bit of ignorance on your part," he
observed. "If you donít know about the Nui Mana, you must be trying to find
Milbridge or his ward."
"Isobelís here in the Pacific?" exclaimed Michael.
"So you weren't aware of that either," mused the baron. "And your younger
brother -- yes, I knew about him -- would surely have passed you the
information if he'd had it." He shook his head ruefully. "I'd looked
forward to a challenging interrogation, but you've taken all the sport out
it. Youíre quite out of your league. And you have much to learn about the
ways of deception."
Digby listened at the door until he was sure the baron and his servant were
gone, then returned to where his brother was sitting.
"That went better than I expected," he whispered. "That was a good
move, pretending to be surprised when he mentioned Isobel. It seems weíre
still one step ahead of him."
"True," Michael whispered back, "but our original plan is in tatters, and
our hostís misapprehension won't do us much good unless we can find some way
to escape his clutches. Whatís this Ďgambling machineí he was talking
about? Did the Professor ever mention such a thing?"
"Not as such," said Digby, "but if I remember correctly, he did write a
monograph about some artifact the islanders believed could
'manufacture luck'. I wonder if this could be related."
Michael laughed. "I'm sure Vincenzo would love to get his hands on
something like that! It sounds as though the baron believes such an
object actually exists."
"So it does," mused Digby. "I wonder if there's some way we can use this
to our advantage."
Next week: Oh... Tahiti...
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