Episode Episode 540: An Evening Soiree
The afternoon sun cast long shadows across the ground of Sydney's
Kensington Royal Air Station. In the naval reservation, new sentries
were taking their posts as the first dog watch began. In the marshaling
yards and sheds of the commercial field, cargo handlers were parking their
equipment and preparing to shut down for the day A few clerks were still
at work in their offices, but most of the of staff had left to attend the
annual masquerade party, held every May to celebrate the station's
Lieutenant Bradford wondered about the reason for his summons as he strode
down the hall of the Administration building. Surely it must have been a
mistake. No one could have called for a junior supply officer at this hour.
He knocked at the door to Admiral Wentworth's office, expecting a reply
from a secretary, and was astonished to hear the Admiral himself invite
him to enter.
"You rang for me, sir?" he stammered.
The Admiral stacked the documents he'd been reviewing and gestured to a
phone. "Quite. Instruct the motor pool to prepare a vehicle and driver to
take us to Cronnula."
Bradford placed the call, then glanced at his superior. "I assumed you'd
already be at the masquerade, sir," he ventured.
The Admiral's smile was the very model of 'reassuring'. "When you reach
flag rank, Mister Bradford, you will discover that its obligations make
considerable demands on your time. The administrative ones have been
addressed for today." He gestured at his paperwork, "Now I mist attend
to enjoy the social ones."
"Surely they'll have noticed your absence by now," said the lieutenant.
The Admiral's smile broadened. "You forget that this is a masquerade, Mister
Bradford. I sent my aide in my place, taking care to let others know my
disguise. Now it will work in reverse, to proclaim an identity rather than
Bradford wondered how this could be possibly. The Admiral and his signalman
might have been roughly the same height, but the former had quite clearly
led a less active life than the latter. "What disguise did you deide
upon?" he asked.
The Admiral must have guessed his thoughts. "We are taking turns posing as
Cardinal Richelieu," he replied cheerfully." The mask will hide our
features, the ucchetoo will hide our hair or lack thereof, and the
voluminous robes can conceal a variety of sins. He'll slip out when I
arrive, we'll exchange costumes, and no one will be the wiser."
Bradford nodded in admiration at this strategy. "I see."
Several drivers had been assigned to the motor pool that evening. One's
mood improved dramatically when he realized he'd be heading for the ball
rather than languish at the station. In a surprisingly short time, Bradford
and the Admiral had been ushered aboard a late-model Bentley and were on
their way to the coast. The immediate vicinity of Sydney's air station,
west of the notorious Botany Bay, was not noted for its aesthetic appeal,
but their surroundings improved as the motor made its way east. Factories,
scrap heaps, canneries and meat packing plants were replaced by warehouses,
shops, and a finally succession of suburbs.
As their surroundings improved, the route became more rustic, the
industrial highway giving way to two lanes of worn pavement and this to the
unsealed road that led to the beach. Another Bentley roared past in the
other direction, raising a trail of dust behind it. Bradford gazed after the
vehicle in speculation. "I say, that fellow seems to be in a hurry," he
remarked. "I wonder what he's about."
Admiral shrugged. "I imagine it's some young urban professional rushing
to some business meeting or social engagement. This archetypes is as old as
time. And that will be our venue coming up."
Bradford peered ahead as the driver turned onto the drive leading to the
Oriental Hotel. Built on the site of the former Oriental Guest House, was
a lavish structure by Australian standards, with three stories, a promenade,
and a ballroom overlooking the beach. A pavilion had been erected beside it
to handle to expected crowd -- the air station's masquerade was one of the
high points of Sydney's social season. Guests were milling about beneath it
in what appeared to be confusion
A squad of what Bradford assumed were marines -- their costumes made it
difficult to be certain -- clustered around the motor as they disembarked.
"Admiral Wentworth!" exclaimed a man garbed as a cassowary, "You've
Admiral raised eyebrow. "Escaped from what?" he asked.
"The kidnappers!" said the marine.
"Those three fellows disguised as Musketeers who carried you off in a
The Admiral and Bradford exchanged glances. "That must have been the other
motor we saw!" said Bradford.
"And they were headed in the direction of the air station," said the
Admiral. He turned to the marine. "Call the duty officer. Inform him that
no ships are to depart."
The marine saluted, to the extent that this was possible given his current
garb. "We've already tried, sir, but the wire from the telephone exchange
has been cut. The kidnappers must have anticipated that we'd make this
"And you didn't think to dispatch a courier?"
The Admiral seemed to be hiding his exasperation at the man's lack of
enterprise. "Right," he told his driver. "Take us to the station."
The Bentley's powerful 4-1/2 litre engine made short work of the road back
to Kensington. No one spoke during the drive. The Admiral seemed too
angry, the marines he'd brought as reinforcements knew what was good for
them, and Bradford was too busy hanging on to his seat. By the time they
reached the entrance to the station, the last light was fading in the west.
They whisked past the sentries, turned down the drive to the commercial
section, and came to a stop in front the concourse. The other Bentley was
parked nearby, doors hanging open where the occupants had exited in haste.
Beyond it, an airship was rising into the darkening sky.
Admiral Wentworth stepped out of their car to watch as the crew brought its
engines online, one by one, then set a course to the south. Soon it was
vanishing into the night.
"That," he observed, "was an interesting development."
Next week: That All Seems Fairly Straighforward...
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