R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 25: Big Bands of the Elder Gods

Loris sailing over the bar

"This should be fun!" announced Sarah, as their cab squealed to a stop in front of the dance hall. The enlisted men piled out and headed toward the entrance, but Iverson hesitated, unsure he was ready to face what he might find inside.

"Fun?" he asked apprehensively. Such things had not been included in his training.

"Aye, lad," said Abercrombie. "We planned it all oot! We'll hae traditional Scottish dances, traditional Scottish songs..."

Iverson paused. This was sounding worse by the minute. But Sarah had already seized him by the arm and was dragging him up the stairs. A blast of loud music met them as they swung open the doors. Inside, a crowd of young Australians were swinging to the sound of a band. The men's clothes were outrageous: flashy suits that defied the dictates of fashion. The women's dress was scandalous: low-shouldered dresses with short hems that revealed ankles, shins, stockings, sometimes even knees!

Iverson stopped, uncertain how to react. "This is traditional?" he managed to gasp.

"It's a new tradition, lad!" bellowed Abercrombie. "An I cannae find fault wi' those cutty sarks!"

"Aren't you going to dance?" asked Sarah.

"I... uh..."

"May I?" asked Loris, stepping forward. Even in this room full of athletic young men, he stood out. Sarah gave Iverson a disappointed glance, then accepted the airman's arm and followed him onto the floor as the band launched into a hot new hit from the States.

Five foot two, eyes of blue
But oh what those five foot could do
Has anyone seen my gal?

Iverson watched the dance begin, wishing he'd had the courage to act. She wasn't at all like the song, he thought regretfully. Her eyes were dark as night. She could manage ballast calculations and handle a spear. And it didn't seem likely that she'd ever be his `gal'.

Abercrombie clapped him on the shoulder, sending him staggering. "Why so glum, lad?"

"It's hopeless," said Iverson, gesturing toward Loris. "I can't compete with that."

"Aye," admitted the Scottsman, "he does cut a fine figure of a man. An' ye can tell the lass sees it. Ye'll need a plan. An' for that, ye need a drink." He steered the youth toward the bar. "Two whiskeys, straight up!"

Pierre strolled down the Esplanade, past the Government House, toward the mansion George Channel had commandeered when he took over the job of police chief. When the Frenchman reached it, he glanced both ways to make sure he wasn't observed, then vaulted the fence into the garden. This was heavily overgrown -- inevitable in this tropical climate -- which made it easy for him to approach the wall he'd chosen during his reconnaissance of the day before.

The building was a solid structure, built of native stone, with a verandah faced with an arrangement of louvers that provided ventilation during the long damp rainy season -- the `Wet' -- that filled most of the year. Pierre dismissed the vines. Only amateurs put their faith in vines. Exchanging his street shoes for a pair of tight-fitting rubber-soled slippers, he slid his hands along the stones until he found a hold, then -- keeping three points in contact with the wall at any time -- began to climb.

The window proved every bit as easy as he'd expected. After oiling the hinges to be sure they wouldn't squeak, he produced a thin-bladed knife, reached between the shutters, and slid open the latch. Another pause to make sure he hadn't been overheard, then he was inside, easing shut the pane. Now to find the study.

Iverson concentrated on his glass as he lowered it to the bar. Lately it had shown a tendency to touch down at odd angles to the vertical. "Wa' happen next?" he asked.

"She broke off the engagement," said Abercrombie, "moved in with my best friend, an' sold the ring to buy a cow."

"So wha'd you do?"

"Well, I thought ae stealin' the cow, as it'd been my ring as paid for it. But he was my best friend. An' it wasn't a very good cow. So I left to join the Navy. Ye gotta watch the lassies, lad. They'll break your heart."

Iverson sighed and stared back at the dance floor, where the band was pounding out a local number with a fast-moving beat.

Sunken Rilyay, here I come!
Right back where I started from!
So open up that Elder Gate
Sunken Rilyay, here I come!

By now Loris and Sarah had gathered a group of appreciative spectators. The girl danced with sensuous abandon, her island heritage readily apparent. The airman moved with muscular grace, like a proud young warrior advancing toward some conquest. Iverson watched helplessly, wondering what he could do. As an officer, he could hardly confront the man physically. And Loris would wipe the floor with him in a fight.

"'Ere there mate..."

Pierre turned to see a butler staring from the doorway. Leaping forward, he felled the man with a quick savat kick, then caught the body before if could fall to the floor. He froze for a moment, listening for an outcry. At last, when he was sure no one had noticed the altercation, he dragged the unconscious servant into the shadows.

Curse these aristocrats! he thought. Why do they insist on training their staff to move so quietly? This was annoying. He'd already finished his mission. Now he'd have to go back and steal something to make it look like an ordinary burglary.

The evening was drawing to a close. The band had launched into a notorious song by Bill Murry and Aileen Summers in an effort to revive the crowd, but it was clear their energy was flagging and most of the dancers had either slowed, found a place at the bar, or departed for more private entertainments. Iverson stared at his glass, uncertain how many rounds he'd consumed, scarcely aware of the music.

Keep your skirts down
Keep your skirts down
Keep your skirts down, Mary Ann!

His self-pity was interrupted by a cry of indignation. He looked up to see Loris fly through the air and crash into the bar. Sarah glared at the man, hand on her hips.

"Of all the nerve !" she exclaimed. "I warned him not to!"

"Not to wha'?" asked Iverson, struggling to comprehend what was happening.

The girl raised an eyebrow. "And where were you when it came time to defend my honor?" she demanded.


"Oh, you're hopeless," she giggled. "Come, Abercrombie, let's take him back to the ship."

Next week: Hijackers...

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