The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 209: Time for Business

Gangsters, bobbies, and airship

Fleming straightened his collar, brushed back his hair, and knocked on the door. From inside, he heard a shuffle of feet, followed by a clatter, as if someone had knocked over an umbrella stand. Moments later, the door creaked open to reveal a young Englishman in a dressing gown with a stubbie clutched in one hand.

"Good day," said the man. "How may I help you?"

"I'm Fleming, from the Royal Navy Airship Service" said the airman. "Would you be Mister Andrews?"

"That I am," said the man. "You don't look Royal Navy."

This was true. Fleming had dressed as a dockworker -- a plausible incognito here in Darwin -- to avoid notice by the police chief and his men. "I can explain," he replied. "If we could step inside."

"I'll grab you a brew," said Andrew -- it appeared he'd mastered the local vernacular. "Mind the umbrellas."

Soon the two men were settled on the verandah with bottles of Swan's Lager. A row of vertical wooden slats let in the breeze, but blocked the view from the street. Noticing the various bits of feminine apparel strewn about the furniture, Fleming decided this was just as well.

"I take it you're hiding from Channel," Andrews said. "You must be doing undercover work for the airship that was here yesterday."

"Dinki-di," said Fleming. "We're investigating some chaps called the British Union. We've reason to believe they're up to some mischief. They had three members here: a Mister Fuller, Mister Becker, and Mister Leese. Did you know any of these fellows?"

Andrews nodded. "Tiresome chaps. They had a Cause. They were always sneaking about acting mysterious, confiding in each other, holding secret meetings. Melissa... or maybe it was Laura..." his gaze strayed to a nightgown that was draped over the sofa behind him," ...told me they kept going on about some cave on the coast toward Broome. She wasn't sorry to see them go."

"And there's been no sign them of since?"

"No, but according to... hmm... I think it was Deborah... someone's asking questions about some special refiner for making glassware."

Fleming thought this over. This unknown party must be searching for the equipment Jenkins had hypothesized was required to concentrate uraninite. But who were these people? The timing suggested the British Union, but this was hardly conclusive.

"Thank you," he told his host. "I trust you'll keep this visit secret?"

Andrews grinned. Apparently there was no love lost between him and the police chief. "Of course!"

Fleming returned to Darwin's air station to find Dabney waiting in the crude shack that served the place as an office. The reserve lieutenant looked up as he entered. "Channel's men have been nosing around," he said. "I don't think they know you're in town, but it's only a matter of time before they spot you."

"That wanker," said Fleming. "The sooner I'm back on the ship, the better."

"There's a problem," said Dabney. "They just radioed to say they won't need resupply."

"Bloody Nora!" swore Fleming. "That Commodore chappie must have decided to head straight back to Cairns. Are any packets due to arrive that could get me there ahead of them?"

Dabney shook his head. "You know how it is, mate. There's never an airship around when you need one. And the train down to Adelaide and up the coast would take weeks."

Fleming considered his options. His only chance of intercepting the ship was to anticipate its destination. Fortunately, he had a good idea where the Commodore would head next.

Marty ran his eyes along the length of the airship and nodded in approval. She didn't look new, but most of the grime that had stained her engine cars was gone, her fabric no longer sagged, and a fresh coat of dope gleamed in the sun. He flipped through the notes his mechanic had handed him, then turned to the lean figure beside him.

"Jersey seems happy with the work. The registration's taken care of?"

Vlad indicated the faded-looking number, N-109, painted on the vessel's side. "The papers are in my office. They will withstand the closest scrutiny. I'll hand them over as soon as we've discussed the matter of payment."

"You mentioned a job," said Marty.

The Russian smiled. Marty had seen similar expressions on any number of crooked lawyers. "There's a warehouse operator on Malekula that I'd like to sign a contract. Visit the man, apply some pressure, get his signature, and I'll consider the bill paid."

Marty smiled back. "I think we can handle that."

"This is the place, Boss?" asked Books.

"That's what our Rusky friend said," replied Marty.

"It looks like a dump. What can the man have that's worth so much?"

Marty shrugged. "Ain't our business to ask," he replied. "We lean on the guy, get his name on a piece of paper, and scram."

The flight to Malekula had been uneventful. No one had paid the slightest notice when a tramp airship called at the sleepy air station near the village of Lakatoro. They'd left Finnegan with Al and Jersey to handle resupply. Now they stood outside the warehouse -- an aging tin-roofed structure with a rickety office leaning against one wall.

"Think the guy will be trouble?" asked Jake. The torpedo cracked his knuckles, then patted his jacket to make sure his piece was in place. He looked like he'd welcome the prospect of a fight.

"Naw," said Marty. "This one'll be a pushover. We'll do it just like in the States."

The gangster pushed his hat down low over his brow, signaled his men to follow, and brushed through the door. Inside, a tanned individual in a loud shirt sat with sandals propped on a desk, reading a copy of Shakespeare's The Tempest. He looked up as they entered.

"What can I do for you gentlemen?" he asked.

"Nice warehouse you got here, buddy," Marty said casually. "Be a pity if anything happened to it."

"It would?" said the man. "Why?"

"Well," said Marty, nonplussed, "it's packed with all this valuable copra."

"What's so valuable about it?" the man asked. "These islands are full of copra plantations, copra schooners, and copra merchants, but I never understood what all the fuss was about."

"Whadya mean?" asked Marty. "You deal in the stuff!"

The man shrugged. "It's just dried coconut meat. If I'd known how boring it was, I would have stayed in the States. It's all the fault of that Frisbie fellow with his book about the South Pacific. Travel to the Islands, he said. Like close to nature. Lead the exotic life of an island trader. It isn't exotic, it's dull! There's no nightlife, nothing to eat but fish and coconuts, and you get tired of all the girls."

"You do?" asked Craig before Jake could elbow him quiet.

"Worst of all," the man continued, "there's no music except for ukuleles. I'd give anything to hear a sweet tenor saxophone."

Marty rubbed his chin. This last statement suggested a possibility. "Anything?" he asked.

"You bet!"

"Maybe we can make deal."

"You're kidding, right?" said Finnegan a short time later.

"That's what the man wanted," said Marty. "And it's easier than roughing him up. Though it might come to the same thing, the way you play."

The Irishman pretended to look hurt. "Hey, Boss, I practice whenever I can."

"We know."

Finnegan finished putting his instrument together, made sure the mouthpiece was tight, and worked the keys. On the other side of the café, the merchant waited expectantly, surrounded by a crowd of curious islanders.

"Watcha going to give him?" asked Jake.

The Irishman snapped his fingers a few times to get the beat, then lifted the sax to his lips. "A hot little number called... Danny Boy."

"That was easy, Boss," Books remarked as they walked back to the air station.

"Yeah," said Marty. "We may want to stick around the Pacific a while. Seems like there's some nice pickings here.

Next week: Was This Part of the Plan?...

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