The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 324: Advantage Warfield

Falling bomb

Clarice glanced around to take stock of their situation. It was not good. An airship loomed overhead, ominous and deadly-- she recognized the Philadelphian, which Lady Warfield had hijacked that June. To the north, a column of smoke rose from where their boat had been anchored. At the head of the dock, a landing party menaced them with pistols. Behind them, a column of riflemen was filing from the train. Had this been anywhere other than the north coast of Australia, they might have leapt to the water and tried to swim to safety, but the concepts of 'safety' and ´┐Żestuarine crocodiles' were mutually incompatible.

The leader of the landing party approached to introduce himself. His accent was as English as his elegantly-tailored field clothing. "Good day, ladies," he said politely. "My name is Clement. Please pardon the inconvenience, but I must ask you to accompany us back to our vessel."

Beside Clarice and Emily, Miss Perkins gave a curt nod. "Very well."

The Philadelphian's Transporter was smaller than the one on Flying Cloud, and left no room for guards, but this hardly mattered, for it wasn't as if the three women had any place to escape to. Emily waited until they'd risen out of earshot of the ground, then turned to Miss Perkins.

"What's our plan now?" she asked.

The secretary pursed her lips. "This remains to be determined," she admitted, "but perhaps something will occur to us. Until then, we should play our cards close to our chests. I doubt Lady Warfield knows much about us, and information is a valuable coin."

"Do you think the baroness is aboard?" asked Clarice.

Miss Perkins gestured toward the hull above them with a wry smile. "She would hardly resist the opportunity to play with her new toy. I imagine she's chosen a new name for the vessel. I wonder what it is."

While they speculated on this, the Transporter lurched to a stop in the airship's cargo hold. The compartment seemed different from Clarice's previous visits, as if its spirit had undergone some significant transformation. The shiny new rack of bombs might have had something to do with this. So might the figure who stood watching their arrival.

This was the first time Clarice and Emily had seen Lady Warfield -- they'd been prisoners on Ujelang when the baroness had hijacked the Philadelphian from the Germans who'd hijacked the vessel from Mister Cartwell -- but Clarice recognized her from Jenkins's description. She was even more beautiful than the signalman had suggested... in the same way that a stalking tiger, a looming storm, or a cold bright pillar of ice might be beautiful. Could Captain Everett really have been affianced to her? Clarice could understand the attraction. She felt quite inadequate by comparison.

The baroness studied the trio the way a cat might study its prey. "Who might you be?" she asked lightly.

"I'm Clarice Blaine," Clarice replied, as bravely as she could manage. "These are my friends Emily Wilcox and Miss Perkins.

Lady Warfield gave Miss Perkins a speculative glance. "You would be Captain Michaelson's secretary. What are you doing here?"

Miss Perkins seemed uncharacteristically nervous. "I was on vacation," she replied in a quavering voice, "so I decided to join my friends in Darwin."

The baroness nodded as if satisfied with this explanation. "And what are you two doing here?" she asked Clarice and Emily.

Could it be she doesn't realize Miss Perkins is an agent? Clarice wondered. The secretary's nervousness could well be an act. She had no idea what benefit they might gain from this deception but she decided to play along.

"We've been trying to find where they're building that new resort everyone's going on about back home," she replied.

"Why?" asked Lady Warfield. Once again, her tone was light, but Clarice sensed that their lives might hinge on her answer. She managed a defiant smile.

"We were curious."

The baroness's eyes widened slightly. "You have pluck," she observed, "I understand what the Captain sees in..." her voice trailed off and the chamber was silent.

Her minions shuffled their feet nervously. "What shall we do with them?" asked one.

Lady Warfield glanced down at the estuary as if contemplating its suitability as a place for the disposal of bodies. Clarice held her breath. At last the baroness shrugged. "We'll take them to the Station," she announced. "The Finns can stay here to load diesel fuel."

Airships were not generally equipped with cells, but Lady Warfield had ordered her men to fashion one by reinforcing the walls of a cabin with wire netting. Clarice wondered about the mentality that felt such a precaution was necessary. At least their captors had included rest facilities -- the importance of such refinements was rarely mentioned in radio dramas. They'd also provided a change of clothes. These seemed to be drawn from the baroness's personal wardrobe, for they involved materials and fashions with which she and Emily were entirely unfamiliar.

Miss Perkins seemed unperturbed by the selection. She studied one of the leather corsets, set it aside, and turned her attention to the walls of their cell. "I wonder where our hosts found all this netting," she mused.

"Captain Everett came across a barge loaded with the stuff last year, on the coast to the east," said Emily. "Could be some connection?"

"Perhaps," said the secretary. "We may wish to look into this after we escape."

"How will we manage that?" asked Clarice.

"I haven't decided yet," Miss Perkins said confidently, "but we'll find a way. We can't just sit and wait to be rescued when no one even knows where we are."

MacKiernan checked the address, then rang the doorbell. This was his second day in Darwin, and he had run out of leads. It had seemed like a good place to begin tracing the movements of the enigmatic Miss Kim, but he'd found no evidence she'd ever visited the town. If this final inquiry was unsuccessful, he'd move to the next port on his list.

He rang the bell again, then recoiled as the door was flung open by a ferocious matron. Nothing in Irish mythology had prepared him for such an encounter. Even Finn MacCool might have flinched in this situation.

"What do you want?" she thundered.

"I'm... uh... looking for two young ladies named Emily Wilcox and Clarice Blaine," he managed to stammer.

"They aren't here!" the matron growled. "They took my dragger and sailed off to Broome with some no-good friend of theirs from Cairns!"

Next week: An Airship Pirate's Work Is Never Done...

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