The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 310: Banda Brothers

Marty's boys

MacKiernan glanced around the control car to make sure everything was running smoothly. At the head of the bridge, a new man, Barrett, was at the helm. Beside him, Loris stood at the elevator wheel, concentrating on the flight instruments. On the other side of the car, Murdock was struggling to master the intricacies of the ballast board -- this might never be his regular assignment, but there was consensus that the junior lieutenant needed more experience.

Satisfied that all was as it should be, the Irishman reflected on the events of the past few days. Their mission seemed off to a good start. They'd avoided the worst of the Admiral's ire, bearded Channel and the Resident in their respective lairs, and picked up some interesting clues along the way. Why did he feel so apprehensive? He couldn't escape the impression that somewhere, hidden from view, another shoe was about to drop.

A call from Jenkins interrupted his reverie. "Captain on the bridge."

MacKiernan turned to see Everett step from the companionway. "Good morning gentlemen," he announced cheerfully. "Do we have any word of our pirates?"

Jenkins passed him a folder. "I've reviewed the shipping reports and found any number of incidents, but most to be in the nature of petty theft: stolen fishing gear, ground tackle, paint, and the like. I believe we can discount those."

"We must wonder about the reliability of those reports," mused Everett. "The Resident's office might well have edited them."

"You think he's accepting bribes from our supposed airship pirates to overlook their activities," said the signalman.

"We must not discount the possibility," Everett observed. "I can't imagine that the stipend he receives from the Dutch Government is enough to maintain his position. It would be natural for him to supplement this any way he can. We've already hypothesized that he was paid to look the other way when the Fat Man's people hijacked the L-137 last year."

"Do you think he's still working with them?"

"Perhaps," said Everett, "but I doubt he feels any particular loyalty to their cause. He strikes me as the kind of fellow whose services are for sale to the highest bidder."

"Where does that leave us?" asked MacKiernan.

"We'll make a show of looking for these pirates and see what kind of attention we attract."

"Where should we begin?" asked MacKiernan. "We have the Banda Sea, the Java Sea, the Flores Sea, and any number of others."

Everett studied the chart for a moment. "We'll try the Banda Sea first," he decided. "It's closest."

Jake whooped with glee as he swung over the railing. There was no need for such athletics -- it would have been just as effective simply to slide down the rope -- but he couldn't resist a touch of drama. On the deck in front of him, the liner's crew were making a half-hearted attempt to organize against the unexpected attack from the air.

"This is a heist!" he announced. "Surrender and no one gets hurt!"

One crewman -- a steward, judging from his uniform -- stepped forward. "And if we chose not to submit?" he said defiantly.

Jake brandished his Thompson. "Then you'll get taste of this."

The steward studied the submachine gun. It was an intimidating weapon, and its big drum magazine held significantly more bullets than he had companions. "That does put a different complexion on things," he observed. "What terms of surrender did you have in mind?"

Behind him, passengers had been studying the boarding party with some enthusiasm. "Airship pirates!" exclaimed a middle-aged lady in a floral print dress. "Isn't this marvelous? I never dreamed the Banda Sea would be so exciting!"

"The Fitzmorrises will be ever so jealous!" agreed her companion. "This is much better than the derelict yacht they found next to that sunken island with the giant squid god."

"Oh, do give them their `loot'," admonished a third. "I think this is romantic!""

Faced with opposition from two fronts, the liner's crew withdrew in disorder, leaving the field to the invaders. Soon Jake and his henchmen were collecting wallets, jewelry, and other small valuables from their supposed prey. A young woman in a slinky dress pressed a note into Jake's hand. "I simply adore buccaneers!" she gushed. "Do look us up if you're ever on Thursday Island!"

Then they were riding the hoist back up to the airship, where Al had been doing a superb job of maintaining station. Not for the first time, Jake wondered what had driven such an experienced ship-handler to a life of crime. They were lucky to have him.

Marty was waiting in the cargo hold. "How'd it go, boys?" he asked.

"Great!" said Jake. "These Limey tourist boats are easy pickings!'

The gangster laughed. "Yeah, this is much better than heading back to the States. Hand yer loot over to Books and we'll find ourselves another."

Sometime later, Marty and the accountant were sitting in the cabin they'd pressed into service as a strong room. On the shelf beside them, a row of neatly labeled shoeboxes held their takings. The mood here was somewhat more somber than it had been in the cargo hold.

"What we got, Books?" asked Marty.

The accountant took off his spectacles, wiped them, then replaced them to examine his ledger. "So far we've pulled in three grand in cash, eight diamond rings, twelve gold rings, six pairs of gold cufflinks, four pearl necklaces, and that weird gold tiara."

"What were our expenses?"

"We've burned 2700 gallons of fuel, taken on 350,000 cubic feet of hydrogen, used up a ton of oil and spare parts, and spent three grand on bribes to that Resident."

"What does that leave us in profit?"

"About twenty five dollars and sixty two cents."

Marty frowned. "This Pirates of the Dutch East Indies caper isn't working. Those payoffs to Kupang are bleeding us dry. We'll have to try something new."

"You got anything in mind?" asked Books.

"Yeah," said Marty, "something I picked up from a history book."

The Beachlys strode through the village followed by their butler. To their right, parrots fluttered through an undergrowth that vivid shade of green one finds only on a tropical island. To their left, the waters of the Banda Sea sparkled in the sun.

Lady Beachly examined the scenery with an air of mild boredom. "What island are we on today, Harold?" she asked her husband.

"I believe it is called Seleyar," he replied. "This village would be Benteng."

"Goodness," marveled Lady Beachly. "Are those really their names?"

"Now, Esmerelda," chided Lord Beachly, "we must make allowance for native customs."

His wife seemed unimpressed by this argument. "Whatever possessed these people to settle here?"

Lord Beachly shrugged. "According to the brochure, this island is noted for the quality of its water buffaloes."

"Give us the Key!" came a voice from their right, where several thugs were emerging from an alley where they'd apparently been lying in wait.

"I beg your pardon," Lord Beachly said politely. "To what key do you refer?"

"The Silver Key!" cried the leader. "We know you have it!"

"Esmerelda," said Lord Beachly. "Do we have such an item in our possession?"

Lady Beachly thought this over. "I believe we did, but we gave it to those Americans on that airship."

"You're lying!" said the thug. "Hand it over or we'll beat it out of you!"

Lord Beachly studied the thugs in much the same way he might study a swarm of noxious insects. "Hinks," he told his butler. "Disperse this rabble."

Hinks nodded, reached into his valise, and pulled out a large caliber Webley revolver. "At once, sir."

Next week: The Rabbit Identity...

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