The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 197: Gladiators All

A diverse choice of weapons

"So Whitehall ordered you to find us?" said Lord Milbridge.

"Uh... yes, sir," stammered Murdock, acutely aware of the immense social gulf that separated a junior lieutenant in the Royal Navy Airship Service from a peer.

The viscount must have sensed his discomfort. "That seems like an excess of enthusiasm on their part," he said kindly. "My lady and I were hardly lost. We knew precisely where we were at all times. But it was considerate of you to make the effort, and I will commend your industry the next time I speak with Mister Baldwin."

The lieutenant began to relax. Perhaps he might survive this encounter after all.

"Sir," said Spencer. "I believe I hear an engine." He pointed offshore, where a small motorized skiff was approaching from the northeast.

The three men shielded their eyes against the sun. On the skiff, a well-dressed figure was doing the same.

"Would that happen to be one of your people?" Lord Milbridge asked Murdock.

"No, sir," said Murdock. "We have several auxiliary watercraft, but I don't believe any has the words `Mission Notre Dame de Otiaroa' painted across the bows."

"I do believe that's Lord Warfield," said Spencer. "Whatever is he doing here in Tahiti?"

The man on the skiff reached beside him to produce a substantial-looking firearm. "Lord Milbridge!" he cried. "We meet again! It is time for us to renew our discussion. And this time you don't have any water buffalo handy."

The viscount pulled Murdock down behind the wall. "You might wish to take cover," he advised as bullets whistled through the space they'd just vacated.

"Who is that gentleman?" asked Murdock.

"That would be Lord Walter Sennet, the fifth Baron Warfield," said Lord Milbridge. "We are old acquaintances."

"I take it you're not on the best of terms."

"It's difficult to say with the baron. He's given to extravagant gestures."

"What did he mean about water buffalo?"

"An incident in Burma that did not resolve itself to his advantage," replied Milbridge. "I fear he may still hold a grudge. Mister Spencer, how is the baron armed today?"

The airman peered over the wall, then ducked as a burst ricocheted off rocks.

"He appears to have one of those .45 caliber sub-machine guns that have become so popular in America."

"Should we make a break for the trees?" asked Murdock.

"This is unlikely to succeed," Lord Milbridge observed. "The baron can command the entire beach from his position. He'd gun us down long before we reached safety." The viscount didn't seem particularly disturbed by this. Murdock wondered how the man could be so nonchalant.

"What should we do?" he asked.

"We are not entirely without resources," Milbridge said brightly. "Mister Spencer, how does the baron's vessel lie?"

The airman risked another peek, from a different section of the wall. "It's fifty yards offshore, on a reciprocal bearing from that tree."

"Thank you. Would you be so kind as to hand me my fly rod?"

Murdock watched, mystified, as Lord Milbridge fitted the lengths of bamboo together and inspected the reel. Satisfied, the viscount produced an ovoid metal object from a pocket of his waistcoat and hefted it to judge the weight.

"I believe we will dispense with a leader today," he decided.

"Is that a Mills bomb?" asked Murdock.

The viscount nodded. "Sir William is a friend of mine. He pressed several of his products upon me when he learned of my itinerary. I believe he was worried about cannibals."

While he spoke, Lord Milbridge had been lashing his fishing line to the grenade. "That should serve," he announced. He pulled the pin, swung back the fly rod, and made his cast. The bomb arced out over the wall. They heard a cry of dismay. This was followed by a splash, a thump, and a prolonged gurgling noise.

Spencer risked a peek. "That would seem to be the end of that suit," he observed.

"So it would," said Lord Milbridge. "It's fortunate the baron knows how to swim."

The trail from Taravao led south along the shore of Tahiti Nua. To the right, lush green slopes rose toward the summit of Mount Orohino. To the left, a pair of outrigger canoes skimmed across the lagoon. But Jean seemed unable to appreciate the setting. He fidgeted uncomfortably until Lady Milbridge called a halt.

"Is there something you want to tell me, John?" she asked.

The pronunciation was sufficiently similar that it took the youth a moment to notice.

"You know?" he said in surprise.

"Lord Milbridge and I are not entirely unobservant," she replied. "We knew Michael and Digby had a younger brother. And we guessed that Lord Warfield would place an agent aboard our yacht."

"I didn't have any choice ..." John began.

"We were aware of your situation," Lady Mibridge said gently. "Miss Stewart extorted your cooperation with a threat to Isobel. Your motives were pure, so we forgave you."

The youth gazed at the viscountess in surprise. "If you knew Miss Stewart was working for the baron, why didn't you act?"

Lady Milbridge chuckled. "This isn't action enough for you?" She gestured at the island around them.

John's eyes widened. "This trip to the Pacific was all part of some plan?"

"Of course!" said Lady Milbridge. "It may have grown more complicated with the appearance of some third parties, but its overall outline remains the same."

"What about Isobel?" asked John. The viscountess heard concern in his voice... and something more.

"We needn't worry," she replied. "Miss Elmsford is a resourceful young lady. I just hope she hasn't been too resourceful."

Their conversation was interrupted by the appearance of two figures on the trail ahead. One was quite obviously a servant. The other was a dark-haired woman in riding clothes with a rapier at her side.

"Good heavens!" said John. "That's Lady Warfield! Whatever is she doing here in Tahiti?"

"Lady Milbridge!" cried the woman. "We meet again! And this time, you don't have any ice skates or barrels of salt!"

"What is she talking about?" asked John.

"An incident in the Netherlands some winters ago that didn't work out the way she hoped," said Lady Milbridge. "I fear the baroness may hold a grudge."

Lady Warfield drew her sword and assumed a guard en quatre. "Do you have any last words, Atalanta?" she asked.

Lady Milbridge sighed, reached into her handbag, and withdrew the bolo she'd been making. "Oh, Tenera," she replied, "don't you ever learn?"

The road from Mahina had proved longer than Pierre and Abercrombie expected, but at last they rounded a bend to see a settlement ahead. "D'ye ken this one's Taravao?" Abercrombie asked.

Pierre shrugged. "It is hard to tell," he replied. "I suppose we'll have to ask. Again." Like the Scotsman, he'd grown somewhat disenchanted with rustic island villages.

"Who's that?" asked Abercrombie. He pointed up the trail, where a massive figure dressed as a domestic servant was approaching with a girl slung under one arm. The girl looked annoyed. They recognized Isobel.

"Who are you and where are you going with that young lady?" Pierre demanded.

"My name is Bludge," the man replied politely. "I have the honor to serve Lord Walter Sennet, the fifth Baron Warfield, as butler. But I fail to see how my errand is any of your business."

"Then I will make it my business!" cried Pierre, leaping forward to deliver a powerful savat kick. It struck the man's chest like a hammer. The butler looked down with a bemused expression, then flicked Pierre aside. The Frenchman landed in a ditch, unconscious.

Abercrombie grunted, stepped forward, and flexed some very substantial muscles. "Guid enough, fer a start," he said. "Now wuid ye care tae try that on someone your own size?"

The butler looked the Scotsman over, as if noticing him for the first time. "I suppose we must," he sighed. "There is a dramatic imperative to these things." He set Isobel down and patted the girl on the shoulder. "Run along, young miss. You've been rescued."

Next week: Always Negotiate From a Position of Strength...

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