The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 342: You Don't Get An Opportunity Like This Every Day

Airship and train

Al glanced at his chart, studied the shoreline ahead, and nodded. "There's the railway depot," he announced, "right where Vlad's man said it would be."

Marty raised his binoculars to look where the skipper had pointed. Some distance to the west, someone had opened a clearing in the broad strip of mangrove swamps and jungle that lined this stretch of coast. From this, a rail line ran south into the desert. A train seemed to be getting underway.

"Do you think they've spotted us yet?" he asked his skipper.

Al shook his head. "It's early morning, and we're approaching out of the sun," he replied. "They can't possibly see us at this range."

"What are you thinkin', boss?" asked Jake.

Marty gestured toward the train. "I'd planned to find the depot, follow the tracks to the gold mine, then send down a party to raid the place at night, but that train gives me an idea. The boys aboard have no way to send a message. If we can take it, we can use it to hit the place by surprise."

"Sorta like a Trojan horse," said Books.

"Yeah, like that," said Marty. "Al, can we shadow them without being seen?"

"No problem," said the airman. "We'll swing back east, drop below the horizon, and match their speed. It's not as if they can change course."

"Good," said Marty. "We'll follow them 'til they're a couple dozen miles from the coast, then move in for the attack."

"How are we gonna stop a train with an airship?" asked Jake.

Marty smiled. "I got an idea about that."

The flight south, running at one quarter power to match their speed to their intended victims, took almost an hour. There was little to relieve the monotony. The terrain below was unrelievedly bleak -- it was easy to understand why Aussies called places like this the `back of beyond'. Had it always been like this, Marty wondered? He imagined some earlier age, when the landscape was covered with cities of some forgotten civilization now buried beneath the sands, then dismissed this fantasy as irrelevant to the business at hand.

"We're coming up on twenty four miles," said Al.

"Good," said Marty. "Start moving in."

"Helm, give me a turn right to 250 degrees, then ring for half power."

The horizon swung, bells rang, and the sound of the engines deepened. Minutes later, a trail of smoke rose above the western horizon, followed by a line of railway cars.

"There she is," said Al, "right on schedule."

"Good job," said Marty. "Jake, are you boys finished down in the cargo hold?"

"Paint's still drying," came the reply over the intercom, "but she should be ready to go."

"There's something on the track to the south," said Books. "It looks almost like handcar."

Marty shrugged. "We'll worry about that after we've pulled off this heist."

"That is most definitely an airship," Sanders announced.

MacKiernan nodded. This was certainly one of the most unnecessary observations it had been his privilege to hear.

"That isn't the Flying Cloud," said Abigail. "It doesn't look like a Junior Vickers. Who could they be?"

"It's an Astra-Torres," sighed MacKiernan. "These will be our friends, the American gangsters."

"Whatever are they doing here?" marveled Sanders.

"They must intend to rob that train," said MacKiernan. "That's the sort of thing gangsters do."

"How are they going to stop a train from an airship?" asked Fleming.

"I imagine we'll find out."

The trainmen seemed to have been taken entirely by surprise, which was understandable, for this was not a situation anyone in his right mind could ever have anticipated. They steamed on down the line, making no attempt at evasive action -- to the extent this might have been possible for a train. Meanwhile, the airship crossed their path, turned into the wind, then slowed to take a position over the tracks some distance ahead. As it came to a stop, the cargo bay door opened and the crew used the hoist to lower a small motorcar onto the right of way. Under ordinary circumstances, this might not have posed a very substantial barrier, but this particular motorcar was painted red with the words, `Danger: High Explosive' written in bold letters on the sides.

"Do you think there really are explosives on that yute?" asked Abigail.

"That is almost certainly a bluff," MacKiernan observed, "but I doubt those fellows on the train will be willing to risk it."

The Irishman's assessment proved correct. As they watched, the train slowed to a stop. Through the windows, they could see engineers working to perform whatever operations were required to make their machine back up, but before these could be completed, the gangsters had brought the engine under fire with submachine guns. The ensuing action, such as it was, lasted less than a minute. The trainmen seemed too demoralized to offer any resistance, and who could blame them?

After the trainmen had filed from the cars, hands over their heads, MacKiernan and his companions climbed back aboard the handcar and pumped it down the track to where the gangsters were landing a party to take possession of their prize. They took the precaution of raising a white flag, but this proved unnecessary

"Yer the Irishman, one of Captain Everett's crew," said the man who greeted them. "I'm Jake, part of Marty's gang. I'm sure you remember us. What are you boys... and dame... doing here out in this desert?"

"We've been trying to determine what might lie at the other end of this railway line," said MacKiernan. "What brings you to this vicinity?"

The gangster smiled. "Same thing, more or less."

"Would you mind if we joined you?"

"Sure thing," said Jake, pointing at the train. "Hop on."

"Do you know how to operate this machine?" Sanders asked as they climbed aboard.

"Of course," said Jake. "We're gangsters. It's the sort of thing we do."

A short time later, the train was underway again, leaving its original operators behind to make their way back to the depot on foot. In the engine, MacKiernan and Jake began to exchange stories.

"How did you find this place?" asked MacKiernan. "The location is somewhat out of the way."

"Vlad had an agent at the railway depot," said Jake. "He sent us a message last night to give us the location."

It didn't take long for MacKiernan to put two and two together. "Agent?" he said. "Oh dear. So that's who that fellow was."

"What fellow?" asked Jake.

MacKiernan opened his mouth to speak, then paused as he reflected on the events of the past several days. "This may take some time to explain," he replied, "but there may be more going on than either of us realized. And I cannot help but wonder where Captain Everett is now."

Next week: It's Hardly A Secret Base Once Everyone Knows About It...

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