The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 230: What Color Are Their Parachutes?

Parachute drop from an airship

"Well," Captain Everett remarked, "this is an unexpected development."

"I quite agree, sir," said Jenkins.

They were standing at the window of Countess Zelle's mansion, gazing up at the sky, where an old S Class dirigible was passing overhead. The number `N-109' was plainly visible on the airship's sides. Behind the ship, eight parachutes were sinking toward the grounds of the estate.

"Are those the Fat Man's men?" asked Emily.

"This seems likely," said Everett. "That does look like the L-137, and it's hard to imagine who else would contemplate an attack on the Countess's plantation. I'd assumed our location here in the hills would make this place safe from a conventional landing, but these fellows have devised a novel alternative. I don't believe anyone has ever tried dropping marines by parachute before. We shall have to bring this innovation to the attention of the Admiralty. Jenkins, can you see how they're are armed?"

The signalman reached into his satchel to produce a powerful set of binoculars. "I can make out two automatic carbines, a machine gun, and several rifles," he replied. "These would be Bergman MP-18s, an MG-15, and more of the ubiquitous Mausers we've been encountering with some frequency. I imagine they also have grenades."

Clarice did not seem thrilled by this announcement. "What do we have?" she demanded.

"Two Navy service revolvers," mused Everett. "This may place us at a disadvantage, unless our hostess should happen to keep something more substantial about the house."

The Countess shook her head. "I saw enough firearms during the War."

"As did we all," sighed Everett. "I suppose we must employ what we have to make a defense of the mansion."

"That might not be necessary," said the Countess. "I maintain certain resources against eventualities such as this."

Everett raised an eyebrow. "What form might these resources take?"

The Countess explained. Her guests listened with considerable interest. "Sir?" asked Jenkins when she was done

The captain nodded thoughtfully. "It will require some careful staging, but I can see how this might be accomplished."

Sigmund watched the advance with approval. His men moved skillfully, keeping to cover, maintaining proper fields of fire as they closed on the mansion. Soon they were in position. The airship loomed overhead, men at her weapons, ready to cut down anyone who tried to escape from the back of building. His men watched the front, where a door gaped open invitingly.

"Do you see anyone inside?" he asked Richter.

"No, but they must know we're here," said his lieutenant. "They can hardly have failed to notice our ship. They will be waiting in ambush."

"And it will do them no good," said Sigmund. He made a gesture to his men.

At his signal, two marines broke from the trees, rushed forward, and went to the ground. A second pair followed, dashing past the first while their companions covered their advance. As the third pair made their rush, several pops sounded from the doorway.

"Pistols?" sneered Richter. "They possibly can't hit us at this range. Why didn't they wait until we were closer?"

"They would be worried about grenades," said Sigmund, "and they would be right. I wonder if these are our friends from the Flying Cloud. They have an annoying habit of arriving ahead of us." He cupped his hands and hailed the mansion.

"Captain Everett, I assume that is you! We only want the Countess. Surrender her and you will not be harmed!"

The reply was prompt and polite. "You can hardly expect gentlemen to agree to such a proposal."

"No," acknowledged Sigmund. "Now you must bear the consequences of chivalry. Men, open fire."

The combat that followed was loud, one-sided, and brief. A few volleys from the Mausers and machine gun sufficed to drive the defenders back from the door. As the fire lifted, two marines rushed the entrance, tossed in a grenade, then sprayed the interior with their carbines.

"It's clear," cried Fernald.

Richter snorted. "It didn't think it would be that easy."

"It wasn't," Sigmund chided him. "This Herr Everett is resourceful. He will have withdrawn to another defensive position."

The front hall of the mansion was somewhat the worse for wear. Its furnishings were demolished, the draperies hung in tatters, and the floor was littered with debris. Muzzle flashes sparkled from a staircase at the end of the corridor.

Sigmund nodded to his machine gunner. "That would be a good strongpoint, if they had proper arms, which they don't. Jurgen, deal with these people."

A burst from the MG-15 reduced the banister to splinters. As the echoes faded, the Germans could hear the sound of footsteps retreating up the steps.

"Our adversaries have made a mistake," Sigmund observed. "They can't escape from the second floor. Let us show them the error of their ways."

They advanced down the hall, clearing the rooms they passed, and ascended the stair. At the top, another corridor stretched to the front of the building. A door was closing at the far end. Behind it, they could hear someone dragging furniture to form a barricade.

"Our captain will have realized that he's backed himself into a trap," Sigmund told his men "But this knowledge comes too late to save him. Check the side rooms, then break down that door."

A quick search determined that rest of the second floor was empty. Then Sigmund's marines were taking turns to throw their weight against the door. It was a substantial barricade... but they were substantial men.

"Why don't we just blow it down?" asked Richter.

"We cannot risk hurting the Countess," said Sigmund. "Be patient. This doorway cannot last forever."

"The sooner its down, the better," spat his lieutenant. "This place stinks."

It did indeed stink, thought Sigmund. The air was filled with the smell of incense -- a decadent odor that would never have been tolerated in the Fatherland. He shook his head to clear it, then watched in alarm as his men began to collapse.

"This smell!" cried Richter. "It's..."

"Is that the whole bag?" asked Everett.

"The leader managed to escape before he was overcome, but I believe we got the rest," said Jenkins. " That was a clever stroke, luring these fellows upstairs so they'd all be gathered in a confined space."

"And that was rather remarkable incense," observed Everett. "Mata, what did you call it?"

"Satisfying the Dragon," said the Countess. "I found it useful back in the old days when customers became unruly."

"Where can we get some?" Emily asked brightly.

"Em!" squawked her companion.

"Well..." the brunette began.

"The airship seems to have departed," said the butler. "Shall I secure these gentleman in the special guest room?"

"Yes," said the Countess. "Then please see to dinner."

After the others had retired, Captain Everett and Countess Zelle sat on the verandah to discuss the events of the past year. Nightbirds called from the jungle around them. To the east, the almost-full moon was rising above the clouds.

"Word of your adventures has reached me here," said the Countess. "This affair seems to grow more complicated every passing day."

"It's a tangled web, Mata," sighed Everett. "I must admit that I don't see the end of it."

The Countess studied his expression. It gave away nothing. Almost.

"You saw her again," she said quietly.

He nodded. "With the Baron. They traveled to the Pacific hoping to waylay Viscount Milford and his lady, as I'm sure you heard."

"It is my business to hear things," she replied. "How did Captain Michaelson take it?"

"He plays his cards very close to the chest," said Everett, "but he cannot have been any more pleased by this development than I was."

She reached out to touch his hand. In the candlelight, her face looked almost tender. "You deserve better, Roland," she told him. "And I'm sure that someday you'll find it."

Next week: Relaxed Interrogation Techniques...

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