The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 187: A Meeting On The Road

Michael and Digby deploying

Waves hissed past in the darkness as the Make a Good Fist's launch motored east. Ahead, Wale Island was a long low silhouette against the dawn. The Warfields had left their yacht offshore so it couldn't be identified and were taking the smaller vessel into shore. It might not have offered the standard of comfort they preferred, but the baron and his lady were quite prepared to make sacrifices while on the hunt.

"Do you think we'll find the Professor here?" asked Lady Warfield. "Those notes we acquired did suggest he had an interest in the place."

"I wouldn't count on it," Lord Warfield replied. "I imagine he finished his investigations in these islands some time ago. But we could find some clues regarding his itinerary."

"What about our competitors in the Royal Navy?"

"We're most certainly ahead of them. Their airship may be faster than our yacht, but it also has to stop for resupply. Slow and steady will win this particular race."

"I've spotted the channel," said the helmsman. "Shall I take her in?"

The baron nodded. Moments later, the launch's prow was grating against the beach near the village of Takanumi on the western corner of the island. Bludge dropped to the sand with a thump and held the craft steady with one meaty hand while his master and mistress disembarked. They'd taken their usual precautions to avoid being recognized. The baron wore the clerical disguise that had served him in the past. The baroness dressed the way rebellious young nuns, forced to take orders against their will, almost certainly wished they could. Bludge, as always, dressed like a geological feature.

Several islanders, awakened by the sound of the engine, had emerged from the village to watch their landing. A young European detached himself from the group and stepped forward to welcome the newcomers.

"Good morning,' he said in a faint Russian accent. "My name is Andre. Welcome to Wale Island. We don't get many visitors at this hour."

The baron knew how to pretend politeness. "We're sorry to disturb you this early," he replied, "but we made faster time than we expected. I am Father Charity, this is Sister Mercy, and this is our altar boy, Gibraltar. We've come to exorcise the ghosts that haunt the relics of ancient civilizations. Would you happen to have any ruins nearby?"

"Oh yes," said their host, as if questions of this sort were entirely unremarkable, "just up that trail."

"Thank you," Lady Warfield said sweetly. "Has anyone else been here recently to visit them -- an English gentleman and his lady, perhaps?"

The young man thought this over. "No, just some seamen from an old island freighter."

The trail led through the palms to a small clearing paved with blocks of coral, which must have been cut with considerable labor from the living reef itself. By now, the sun had risen above the trees to illuminate the ring of wooden tikis that surrounded the place like spectators. Some distance to the left, a tall slab of black stone suggested rituals to forgotten gods.

"That looks like the sort of thing that might catch our Professor's eye," Lord Warfield observed. "Let's have a look at it."

The baron hummed a theme from Strauss as they examined the monolith. Its dark polished surface told no tales -- the cryptic rows of carvings might have meant anything -- but the ground before it was covered with footprints the hunters knew how to read.

"A party of three, I would think, milord," said Bludge. "Two days ago at most."

The baroness nodded. "That would be our seamen."

"These prints here look like they were made by a woman," objected the baron.

"Well, they were seamen," the baroness replied. "What could these carvings mean?"

"There's no telling," said Lord Warfield. "But wait, is that the sound of an airship?"

The trio paused to listen. To the east, in the distance, they could hear the drone of finely tuned diesels.

Lady Warfield's grin was a thing to frighten even the stoutest of hearts. "I believe it is! Let's find some cover and wait for our guests!"

They'd circled Wale at a distance, looking for signs of their quarry or adversaries, but no suspicious vessels lurked near the reef. Satisfied it was safe, Vincenzo brought the airship in to land Michael and Digby. He chose the beach at Te Langaikula, on the eastern corner of the island, so that the glare of the morning sun would obscure his vessel's outlines.

"We will leave as soon as you're down," he told the twins. "These people may remember us from an earlier visit."

"What happened then?" asked Digby.

"It was entirely her idea!" Vincenzo said indignantly. "And how was I to know she was a chieftain's daughter? We will return in three days, after we've resupplied."

"Where will you go?'

The Italian smiled. "We have friends everywhere."

The crew held the airship steady while Michael and Digby abseiled down to the beach. Then they recovered the lines and set a course toward the south. As the sound of engines faded, the brothers took stock of their surroundings. Ahead, a small village nestled beneath the palms. To their left, they could just make out a second settlement on the western corner of the island. Closer at hand, a group of islanders was watching them with some curiosity. A young European stepped forward from the group.

"My name is Andre," he said. "Welcome to Wale. What brings you to our little island?" His diction was polished, with a faint trace of a Russian accent.

"I'm Michael and this is my brother Digby," said Michael. "We're looking for ruins."

"Then you've come to the right place!" said their host. "We have some nice ones just up that trail."

"Thank you," said Digby. "Has anyone else been here to visit them recently?"

Their host seemed to think this over. "No one of note," he replied, "just a small group of seamen and a pair of missionaries accompanied by a servant."

The trail led a short distance through the trees -- all distances on Wale were, of necessity, short -- and ended at what might once have been a plaza. The brothers glanced around the space, taking in the overgrown paving stones, the circle of carved idols, and the black stone slab that stood to their right. It was smaller than some of the ruins they'd seen in Africa and the Pacific, but it has some remarkable features.

"I say, that fellow has quite the place to hang his hat," observed Digby, pointing at one of the idols.

"So he does," chuckled Michael. "It appears we got here first."

"True," said Digby, "but we'll lose time while Vincenza resupplies. If Professor Otkupshchikov has made better arrangements, he could still reach Tahiti ahead of us."

"We're sure that's his final destination?" asked Michael.

"That was the last name on the hopscotch grid," said Didgy. "It was clever they way our friend managed to hide the information in plain sight."

"She always was a bright girl," Michael said wistfully. "Let's have a look at that rock. It may give us some clue why the Professor was interested in this place."

The monolith proved unedifying -- a dark slab of polished stone, covered with carvings the two brothers were quite unable to interpret. The twins puzzled over the thing for a time, then shrugged.

"I don't think we can accomplish much more here," said Michael. "Let's head back to the village and decide how we'll find the Professor once we reach Tahiti."

Footsteps sounded behind them. Before they could turn, two powerful hands had seized their collars and lifted them into the air.

"Ah, Bludge," came a voice they knew all too well, "what have we here? Why, if it isn't my friends, Michael and Digby Calhoun!"

"Baron Warfield!"

"You remember me? How kind. Now what was that you were saying about the Professor and Tahiti?"

Next week: On The Trail...

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