The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 115: Meanwhile, Back in Civilization

Abercombie having a polite discussion with two members of the Legion Etranger

They reached Luganville late the next morning. The last few miles were nerve-wracking, for the blimp's under-inflated envelope threatening to collapse as they descended back to sea level, but with judicious management and a few choice Irish curses, MacKiernan managed to keep the ship aloft. They disembarked at the government mast by the harbor, where they found Pierre waiting.

"I see that you rescued the mademoiselle," he observed, offering Miss Perkins a bow.

"All in a day's work," replied MacKiernan. "Did you have any adventures while we were away?"

The Frenchman shrugged. "A gentleman never talks about such things. What are your plans today?"

MacKiernan gestured at the blimp, which sagged from its mooring like a vast drooping tent. "We've recovered the vessel used in the kidnapping. I believe it's time we paid a visit to the vessel's owners."

The manager of the Pacific Albion Hardwood Company was clearly a man who enjoyed his meals. His shapeless tropical suit was hard-put to cover his bulk while his pudgy features gave him an expression of innocence that MacKiernan found entirely unconvincing.

The manager listened politely, then leaned back in his chair, which creaked under the load. "I am shocked," he announced, "shocked to learn that our blimp was commandeered by the ruffians who used it to kidnap your companion! I trust the lady was not inconvenienced. And I assure you that we had nothing to with this."

MacKiernan exchanged glances with Miss Perkins. Her face gave nothing away, but he could tell that she didn't believe the man either.

"You never noticed it was missing?" he asked. "A 120,000 cubic foot airship, tethered to a mast right outside your window?"

"Not particularly," said the manager, with an idle wave of his hand. "Though I did have a nagging feeling that the grounds looked somewhat different recently."

"And you have no idea who the hijackers might have been?"

"Not the slightest. But there seems to be a lot of this sort of thing going around. I understand that a party of miscreants broke into the French air station and made off with their vessel yesterday. I hope this doesn't represent the beginning of a trend. I'd hate to think that our peaceful island might be beset by bellicose bands of blimp pirates."

MacKiernan did his best to conceal his amazement. How, he wondered, could the man manage to say these things with a straight face?

Miss Perkins seemed to share his skepticism. "Thank you for your time," she said dryly. "You have been of considerable assistance. In recognition of your cooperation, the Royal Navy will do its best to expedite the salvage claim."

A hinge squeaked in protest as the chair rocked forward.

"Salvage claim?"

Miss Perkins smiled. "Of course. For recovering your vessel from those... ruffians. You can expect the invoice in next month's mail." While the man struggled to find a reply, she offered MacKiernan her arm and turned to leave.

"That was quite the parting shot," he said after they were outside. "I'd hate to have you for an enemy."

"Yes," she agreed, "you would. What shall we do now?"

"I suspect we've learned everything there is to be learned here on Espiritu Santo," said MacKiernan. "We could gather an armed party and go back to investigate the village where you were held prisoner, but those fellows with the strange armbands will almost certainly have fled. I believe we should return to the Flying Cloud, so we can learn how the others have fared... and I can collect me winnings."

"Winnings?" asked Miss Perkins.

The Irishman grinned. "I bet Abercrombie a shilling he couldn't stay out of a fight."

Abercrombie whistled a highland air as he sauntered along the waterfront of Port Villa. Beside him, Loris flexed his muscles and smiled at two women who were sunning rather more of themselves than might have been considered proper back in England. It promised to be a fine day. Captain Everett had decided it was safe to allow his crew shore leave as long as they traveled in pairs. This was fine with the two airmen, for they'd discovered a similar taste in bars.

"What about that one?" asked Abercrombie, pointing at a sagging tin-roofed shack.

"Too posh," objected Loris. "How about the one by the tannery?"

The Scotsman shook his head. "Noo, that looks like some gentleman's club! It even has a door! What about that one over there -- the one with those three lads passed out in front?"

"That's the ticket!" said the athlete. "Stick with me and I'll show you champion form!"

The inside of the establishment proved every bit as promising as the exterior. Devoid of decorations, atmosphere, or any significant furnishings besides the bar, it was a simple utilitarian facility designed to dispense alcohol. Only one thing was missing, thought Abercrombie as he ordered a drink.

"Bonjour, Monsieur," came a sultry voice from beside him. "Je m'appelle Marguerite. Ca, c'est mon amie Denise."

The rigger turned to see the two women they'd passed on the way here studying them with an expression that left little to the imagination. Their attire -- such as it was -- left little to the imagination either. Members of the Royal Naval Airship Service were taught to exercise initiative when unexpected opportunities arose. This seemed like a good time for some exercise.

"Greetings, lassies," he replied. "I'm Abercrombie, from Scotland, and this is my crewmate, Airman Loris."

"A Scotsman!" said the girl, laying an admiring hand on his chest. "I have heard about how strong you are! And Denise just loves a man in uniform!"

"Oui!" said her companion with an enticing smile. "C'est formidable!"

"What did I tell you?" Loris whispered to Abercrombie. "Champion form!"

Conversation flowed freely, as did the drinks. But the bar lacked a certain ambiance, so no one raised any objections when one of the girls suggested an excursion to nearby Eretoka. After a diversion to collect some blankets and a few more bottles, they made their way to the ferry.

The ferry to Eretoka departed directly from Port Villa's municipal wharf. Its passengers were a varied lot, ranging from chattering islanders and brightly-clad tourists to Condominium civil servants on holiday. Most seemed wrapped in their own affairs, but four Foreign Legionnaires -- battle-scarred veterans from the Fifth (Indochinese) Regiment -- stared at the airmen and their dates with undisguised contempt.

Trouble, thought Abercrombie gleefully.

It didn't take long to arrive. The soldiers had been drinking -- somewhat more sullenly than Abercrombie and his companions -- and as the boat approached mid-channel, one of them tossed his bottle over the side, stalked across the deck, and glared down at the airmen's table.

"You pirates from the British Union!" he spat. "It's not enough to betray your allies! Now you must try to steal our women!"

"I'm nae Brit!" snorted Abercrombie indignantly. "I'm from Scotland!"

"Don't get them angry," said Loris. "We don't want a fight."

"Yes we do!" cried Abercrombie. Then, with a bellow of joy, he leaped to his feet and charged.

The Legionnaries were hardened mercenaries, tempered by the fires of battle. Abercrombie was a Scotsman. After he'd laid his two adversaries low, he turned to see how his companion was faring. Loris, less massive or perhaps less berserk, had gotten the worst of his encounter. The other two Legionaries had seized the airman hand and foot and seemed to be wondering what to do with him.

"Let the laddie go," said Abercrombie. "He's just an Englishman. It's me ye should be worrying about."

"Why should we worry?" said one of the Legionnaires. "If you threaten us, we'll just toss your friend overboard."

"No!" begged Loris in a loud theatrical voice. "Please, don't throw me into the ocean! I'll drown!"

Abercrombie studied the airman's face, noticed a wink, and smiled to himself. "Will ye now?" he said, taking a step forward.

The Legionnaires shrugged. "Allez oop!" cried one and they heaved Loris over the rail. The airman hit the water with a loud splash.

"Now you have a choice," said the man who'd spoken. "You can fight us or you can save your companion."

Abercrombie raised his fists. "I'll fight."

"You care so little for your friend?"

The Scotsman grinned an evil grin. "Oh, I care about the laddie... but he does happen tae be fleet swimming champion."

Next week: But Can They Make the Trains Run On Time?...

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