The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 196: Buccaneers of the Skyways

Vincenzo with a bottle of wine

The crew of the Make a Good Fist stared at the sky in astonishment. As well they might. It couldn't be every day they were attacked by pirates with a semi-rigid dirigible. They were still staring when the airship dropped lines and the first borders abseiled to the deck. Even so, numbers were on their side, and matters might have gone poorly for the buccaneers if Everett and his companions hadn't charged from the deckhouse to take the yacht's crew in the flank.

From that point on, the outcome was never in doubt. A moment's brisk work and the engagement was over. Captain Everett waited while Jenkins produced a clothes brush to put his jacket in order, then set off in search of the pirate leader.

The man was easy enough to find -- a curly-haired Italian with fine aquiline features and a fiery disposition. Everett was reminded of Antonio Notariello, the opera singer they'd had aboard the previous year. He gave the man a nod.

"Captain Vincenzo, I assume."

"So I am called," said the Italian. "And you would be Captain Everett. I know of you by reputation."

"Thank you for coming to our assistance. Your timing was most opportune."

"It was also molto redditizio," Vincenzo observed, "this is a fine haul!" He gestured towards his men, who were sorting through their plunder for items that were reasonably compact and weighed less than a dozen pounds, loading these into baskets, and swaying them up to their ship with a block and tackle -- the vessel was too small for refinements such as a Transporter.

"What will you do with the yacht?" asked Michael. He'd fared somewhat worse than Everett and Jenkins and sported a fine set of bruises.

The Italian smiled. "With a different name, and a more convenient set of papers, she should fetch a fine price in Mahina. But come aboard the Salgari, all of you, and let us celebrate our victory!"

The Norge class airship was a superb example of Italian craftsmanship. Her builders had substituted art for engineering to produce a vessel that might be temperamental, but was almost certainly fast. A streamlined envelope, framed by a graceful curving keel, carried a control car forward and three powerful engine cars aft. Everything about the ship seemed to promise speed.

The vessel's accommodations left something to be desired -- the word 'cramped' would have suggested a degree of spaciousness that was conspicuous by its absence. Everett and his companions followed their host up a flimsy rope ladder, then threaded their way down a narrow keel passage to a mess deck that was smaller than some closets he'd seen. A young Englishman, identical to Michael, but with wetter clothing and fewer bruises, looked up as they entered.

"Digby!" said Michael. "However did you manage to arrange all this!"

"It wasn't my doing," the other youth said modestly. "I'd escaped from Lord Warfield and was heading back to free you when Vincenzo flew overhead and spotted me."

"Thank you," Michael told Vincenzo. "It's fortunate you happened to be in this part of Tahiti."

The Italian produced a bottle of wine, inspected the label, and began to work on the cork. "Thank this young lady," he said graciously, nodding toward a figure who'd emerged from the passageway behind him. "She was the one who told me where to find the baron's yacht."

"Miss Stewart!" exclaimed several people in unison. Captain Everett raised his hand to forestall an outcry.

"Good afternoon, Miss Stewart," he said politely, "it's good to find you well. We'd grown concerned during your absence. But I must inform you that some serious charges have been leveled against you. In particular, you've been accused of being an agent of Lord Warfield. Viewed in this light, your awareness of the baron's movements becomes suspicious. I must ask you: how did you know his vessel was in Papao?"

The governess seemed unprepared for this interrogation. She fidgeted, unwilling to meet his gaze. "A man in Mahina told me," she said defensively. "I assumed this was common knowledge."

Everett studied the woman. It was clear she was withholding information, but some instinct moved him to trust her. He turned to Digby. "You say you escaped from the baron. Where is the man now?"

The youth chuckled. "We tricked him into heading for Taravao, I imagine the baroness has followed him. Won't they be surprised when they find they've been on a wild goose chase!"

Everett and Jenkins exchanged glances.

"Taravao?" said the signalman. "Oh dear."

"What's wrong?" Michael asked in alarm.

"We have reason to believe the Professor will be there," Everett explained. "The Milbridges may be there as well."

"Goodness!" exclaimed Digby. "There's no way they can possibly face the Warfields!"

"I fear you're right," said Everett. "Captain Vincenzo, can I prevail upon you to undertake a rescue mission?"

"Certamete," said the Italian. "This was always my intention."

Lady Warfield strode down the trail like a fury. If any of the islanders she passed thought it odd to see an English lady dressed in riding clothes with a rapier at her side on the trail to Taravao, they wisely kept silent. A crewman followed behind, carrying a satchel packed with toiletries and edged weapons. The baroness had left the rest of her men back at the yacht, for she wanted to be alone with her thoughts.

How dare Everett chose this moment to intrude on their plans! His appearance complicated what was already a difficult situation. It was also an unwelcome reminder of a time best forgotten. With a scowl, she set aside memories of what might have been to concentrate on the present. The arrival of the Royal Navy meant they had little time to secure the gambling machine, account for the Milbridges, and depart. The Calhoun twins might have helped with the first goal, but the whereabouts of the second remained a mystery. Where had that dim-witted viscount and his insufferable wife have got to? This chase had gone on far too long.

"I believe I see a party of two approaching on the road, milady," said her servant.

Lady Warfield peered ahead and recognized a figure. Her eyes widened. Could it be? she asked herself.

It was.

Grinning, she loosened her sword in its scabbard. This might turn into a good day after all.

It had taken Lord Warfield some time to locate a suitable watercraft. At last he managed to find a flat-bottomed skiff with a small petrol engine at one of the missions. It might not have been sufficient for an offshore passage, but it was more than adequate to carry him around Tahiti Iti. The missionaries were reluctant to sell, but gave in when he assured them the purchase was for humanitarian purposes.

For someone less bloody-minded than the baron, the trip to Taravao might have been pleasant. The coastline was green and unspoiled, the sea and sky were a heart-stopping shade of blue, and the only other Western vessel in sight -- an obsolete German three-stack light cruiser anchored off the village of Tautira -- added a rustic touch to this idyllic tropical scene. But Lord Warfield had never been a man to notice such things, and now his mind was filled with thoughts of the coming prize.

Landmarks grew sparse as he neared the isthmus that separated Tahiti Itu from Tahiti Nua. Lord Warfield throttled back the engine and compared the coastline with the chart spread across his knee. A pile of stone near the 'ater seemed to match the spot marked `marae'. Three figures stood next to it. One looked familiar. The baron's eyes widened. Could it be?

It was.

Smiling, he unwrapped the oilcloth beside him to reveal a Thompson submachine gun. This was turning into an excellent day.

Next week: Gladiators All...

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