The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 441: The Bridge Over The River N'Mai, Part II

Not a Burmese Hill Village

They rolled Abercrombie's and Miss Kim's motorcycles off the road and hid them in the bushes. This might not conceal them from a careful search, but it would hide them from casual observation. Then MacKiernan, Miss Perkins, and Professor Jones climbed aboard their machines and continued on toward Burmah Petroleum's air station. The track was heavily rutted, but the Irishman was used to country roads, the secretary dismissed such things as unworthy of her attention, and the American actually seemed to enjoy it.

Two Japanese guards, armed with the new Type 38 Army rifles, flagged them down at the entrance to the settlement. After a delay while someone was summoned to translate, the trio were escorted to the headquarters building. There they found the manager -- an Englishman so stereotypical he might have come from some production line for middle-aged businessmen -- in conversation with a Japanese man in clothing so severe it might almost have been a military uniform.

It seemed he'd been alerted to their arrival. "Welcome to Burmah Petroleum's Kachin survey office," he told them. "I'm Alec Nicholson and this is my associate, Mister Saito. I understand that you're sportsmen... or sportswomen, as the case may be?"

"Quite," said MacKiernan, drawing on the cover story they'd decided on. "I'm Benjamin Braddock, this is my cousin, Mrs. Robinson, and this is Mister Maguire -- an industrialist from America."

"What brings you to Kachin Province?" asked Nicholson. MacKiernan could sense the man's suspicion. He was wondering how to allay it when Miss Perkins interrupted.

"We're here to observe Goodwin's Bharal," she said brightly. "It's a rare species, characterized by Henry Goodwin in 1823, distinguished by its fimbriated mandibular processes."

Nicholson seemed unprepared for this reply. "Fimbriated mandibular processes?" he said after an awkward pause.

"Yep!" said Jones. "It's quite different from the indurate processes characteristic of the Common and Himalayan bharals."

Nicholson frowned and exchanged a few words in Japanese with his colleague. Could this be an order to take us prisoner? wondered MacKiernan. He watched Miss Perkins, who was pretending not to understand and was relieved to see her smile.

"What did he say?" she asked artlessly.

"I apologize," said Saito. "I forget you not know language. I saying we must invite you stay for tea."

At one time, the land around Burmah Petroleum's air station must have been under cultivation, but after the company had driven the locals away, it had gone back to brush. This gave Abercrombie and Miss Kim plenty of concealment for their approach -- a classic example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. An afternoon of careful stalking brought them to a ravine that approached the installation from the east. The perimeter fence at the top didn't represent an obstacle to a rigger, and Miss Kim had demonstrated her climbing skills on several prior occasions. Moments later, they were taking cover in an angle between two hydrogen storage tanks.

"What we do now?" whispered Miss Kim. "How we get to prison camp?"

Abercrombie's grin might have come straight from some tale of Rob Roy MacGregor. "We walk across the base as if we belong here," he told her. "These folk willnae ken any better. The English willnae be able to tell ye apart frae the Japanese, and the Japanese willnae be able to tell me apart frae the English."

The woman seemed skeptical about this plan, as well she might, but it seemed their hosts had grown careless regarding the possibility of intruders. No one challenged the duo as they strolled past the hydrogen plant, marshaling yard, and a row of barracks. Soon they were standing in the shadow of a tool shed studying the prison camp. This was a fenced enclosure half the size of a soccer field, containing two barracks -- a large one, obviously intended for enlisted men, and a smaller one for officers.

"I dinnae see any guards," said Abercrombie. "Let's hae a look inside."

This second fence was as easy to negotiate as the first one and they dropped to the ground without being noticed. A short dash brought them to the door of the smaller barracks. It was locked and barred, but a twist of Abercrombie's wrist dealt with the former. He gestured at the latter.

"What do ye think, lass?" he whispered. "Shall we?"

MacKiernan's reservations about the possible quality of tea at such an isolated station proved unjustified. It was fresh -- one of the advantages of being supplied by rail -- and both their hosts came from cultures that recognized the importance of such things. After the cups had been set aside, the retired to a terrace overlooking the N'Mai River, where Nicholson produced a deck of cards.

"Would you care for a hand of bridge?" he asked.

"Aye!" said MacKiernan. As an Irishman, he was genetically coded to accept challenges.

"Shall I join you to make up the foursome?" asked Miss Perkins.

Nicholson smiled. "God bless you! Please, Mrs. Robinson. Heaven holds a place for those who play."

MacKiernan expected an easy victory, but their hosts proved formidable opponents. Nicholson and Saito cooperated like an old married couple, interpreting each other's bids and playing to each other's hands with skill he and Miss Perkins found hard to match. Hours passed unremarked until Professor Jones saw fit to intervene.

"I don't want to interrupt your game,' he said, "but we'd better get back to our camp before the servants start to worry."

MacKiernan glanced up and noticed that it was almost sunset. "You're quite right," he said. "We'll barely have time before dark. Thank you for your hospitality, Mister Nicholson."

The manager smiled. "We'll be sorry to see you go," he told them. "Your visit was the most excitement we've had here in quite some time."

At that moment, a siren began to sound.

"I say," Miss Perkins remarked. "What's that all about?"

Abercombie lifted the bar, set it aside, and eased open the door. Inside, a man in tattered officer's garb was attempting to mend the elbows of his jacket. Abercombie recognized him instantly.

"Lieutenant-Commander Forsythe!" he whispered

The man glanced up in surprise. "Abercrombie!" he whispered back. "What are you doing here?"

"We came to rescue you. Are the rest of the men here as well?"

"They're in the other barracks..." Forsythe began. Then he spotted Miss Kim and his face seemed to come alive.

"You came back!" he breathed.

"Yes," she said sourly, "but not for you. Not after way you treated me. "

"What did I do?"

"You left me!"

"I was in solitary confinement!"

"That not excuse! You should have finded way to see me!"

"I was chained to a wall in a small airless cell!'

"If you cared, you not letted that stop you!"

Abercrombie glanced from one to the other, but they seemed to have forgotten him. This willnae do! he thought in alarm It's only a matter of time before someone hears them! He opened his mouth to intervene, but at that moment a siren began to sound.

"Crivens!" he swore. "What's that?"

Next week: This Bridge Over The River N'Mai Business Couldn't Go On Forever...

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