The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 216: Ships That Don't Quite Pass In The Night

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Marty leaned back in the wicker chair and sipped his drink -- a vodka and tonic in a coconut shell carved with figures of some squid-faced native god. Outside the window, palm trees swayed in the breeze. Inside, a small cuckoo clock and a lithograph of the Alps provided an unexpected touch of Switzerland in this tropical setting.

"You lived there?" he asked Vlad, indicating the picture.

"For a few years," said his host. "I owned a bookstore in Geneva during the War. I'd thought to move back to Russia after the Peace, but the... climate... here in the Pacific is better."

"The booze is good too," said Marty. "You can't get likker like this in the States."

Vlad gave a knowing nod. "A situation from which I believe you profit?"

"And we'll profit even more once we're using that airship to run merchandise past the Feds," said Marty. "But we might stick around the Pacific for a bit if we can find more capers like that last one."

"By `capers' you mean opportunities for kidnapping, extortion, and various forms of grand larceny?" asked Vlad.

"Yeah," piped up Craig, "that kind of stuff."

The Russian smiled. "I may have what you Americans would call 'just the ticket'."

Bradley leaned back in his hammock on the verandah of the gendarmerie and sipped his drink -- a glass of iced tea, fresh from the station's icebox. On the beach below, several island women had gathered for a swim -- a noteworthy sight, since they'd taken radical steps to make sure their clothing didn't get wet. "This is just the ticket," he told Ricard. "It beats doing sentry duty in Sheffield."

"Oui," said the Frenchman. "And it's much more peaceful than Algeria. Nothing ever happens here on Efate."

At that moment a deputy came pedaling up on a bicycle. To their amazement, the man actually seemed to be in a hurry. "Sir! Monsieur!" he announced. "Come quickly! Someone is robbing the bank in Port Vila!"

The two policeman exchanged glances. "Robbing the bank?" asked Bradley.


"In Port Vila?" asked Ricard.


"What a strange thing for them to do," said Bradley. "This is an island. Wherever are they planning to go? Find the harbormaster and tell him to prevent any vessels from leaving the port until we've tracked these fellows down."

The deputy nodded. "Yes, monsieurs."

The police station's car -- a weather-beaten Renault taxi old enough to be a veteran of the Marne -- took some time to start, but there seemed no need for urgency. Efate was comparatively small, and offered few places for their quarry to flee. A few minutes later, they were parked in front of the modest building that served Porto Vila as a post office, express company, and bank.

"There were four of them," said the proprietor, "three men and a woman. She was gorgeous -- a slender brunette with the face and figure of a goddess. She was wearing a tight-fitting..."

"If you would get to the point," interrupted Bradley.

"Ah... yes... of course... Once they were inside, the gentlemen produced several formidable firearms and demanded we open the safe. We tried to argue with them, but our negotiating position was poor."

"Je comprends," said Ricard. "What happened next?"

"They left with the money, climbed aboard a waiting motorcar, and sped down the road to the east."

"The East Road?" said Bradley. "But that doesn't go anywhere."

"Neither does the North Road... or the South Road," Ricard reminded him.

"True," mused Bradley. "I believe our would-be voleurs are in for a disappointment. Shall we set out to apprehend them?"

"Aprés vous."

They'd stopped to pick up several deputies before leaving the station. In consequence, the police car was somewhat crowded -- like a vehicle from a certain American film series. This, combined with the rustic nature of the East Road, slowed their progress to a crawl. Even so, it wasn't long before they spotted the getaway car wending its way along the switchbacks above them.

"Voila!" cried one of the deputies.

"Give them a shot across the bows!" cried another.

Ricard drew his pistol, braced himself against bumps in the road, and discharged a round in the general direction of the other car. Their quarry replied with a burst of submachine gun fire.

"Merde alors!" swore the first deputy.

"We cannot let this go unanswered!" cried the second.

"Yes we can!" said Bradley.

"No we can't!"

In an instant, the battle became general. The combatants were evenly matched, with the gendarmes making up in numbers what they lacked in rate of fire. Fortunately for both sides, the condition of the road, and the short range of the weapons involved, precluded accurate marksmanship. Bullets whistled harmlessly through the trees, startling birds and shattering the occasional coconut.

"Plus de vitesse!" cried Ricard. "We must overtake them!"

"Must we?" protested Bradley. "They can't possibly escape. This road is a dead end."

So it was. Another mile of tortuous curves brought them to a village where the track ended in a clearing that served the islanders as a meeting place, market, and tennis court. The other car lay just ahead -- a black Holden sedan that bore a faint resemblance to a Ford Model A. Bradley brought the Renault to a stop, set the brake, and turned to the deputies.

"Spread out, keep to the trees, and move up until you have the fellows surrounded. Once they see their position is hopeless, we'll call on them to surrender."

"Yes, sir!"

"Oui, monsieur!"

'Kyllä herrani!"

"Where did you come from?"

Ricard lit a cigarette and watched as their men took their positions. "Who do you think these people are?" he asked idly.

"I don't know," said Bradley, "but by now they'll have realized that they're trapped on this island. They must be feeling rather foolish."

"Oui," said the Frenchman. "But what is that cable extending from the roof of their car?"

"Cable?" said Bradley. "You mean that cable leading up to the... oh dear..."

The policemen stared at the shape above them -- a gleaming silver airship silhouetted against the sun. As they watched, a hoist whined to life, lifting the car up to a waiting hold. Engines roared, propellers spun, then the craft was disappearing toward the west.

"Bloody hell," muttered Bradley. "Who the devil are they?"

"I do not know," said Ricard, "but their ship is an older design, approximately 60,000 cubic meters, with an external control car, three engine cars, and German lines. We will report this to the authorities. It should not be too hard to identify."

Hundreds of miles to the west, an entirely different airship swung from a mast at Rabaul. Inside the control car, Ernst listened to his agent's report.

'I questioned several witnesses, Kapit´┐Ż," said the man. "All reported seeing an anonymous Russian watching the Royal Navy's efforts to recover the Rabaul Device. This person has since vanished. We have no idea how he reached this island or how he left."

"That would be Karlov," said Ernst. "He has a way of arriving and departing without being seen. Did anyone notice us?"

"Nein, mein Herr. Our papers withstood scrutiny. It was a brilliant idea, forging an American registration. These fools will never identify us."

Next week: Has Anyone Seen Fleming?...

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