The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 314: Escape Can Work Both Ways

An empty shed

The Transporter came to a stop with a clank. Everett watched the boarding party step from the platform and did his best not to sigh. There was no point in getting upset about these things.

"I trust there were no problems, Mister Murdock," he said.

"Uh... no sir," said the junior lieutenant.

Everett allowed himself a smile. "The trick to these boarding operations," he observed, "is to wait until the Transporter has descended to the appropriate level before you disembark. Too high and you risk a nasty fall. To low and there's some danger of a dunking. Do you appreciate the importance of this?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Now I suggest you change to a dry uniform before you begin your watch."

"Thank you sir," said Murdock. He departed, leaving a trail of wet footprints behind him.

Abercrombie waited until the lieutenant was gone, then chuckled. "Gi' the lad time," he remarked. "We were all young once."

"That we were," Everett agreed, "but we tend to grow out of it, for better or worse. How many ships have we inspected today?"

"I make it an even dozen," said the Scotsman. "None hae seen any sign of the pirates."

"This seems promising," said Everett. "We can hope our American friends have chosen a less flamboyant means of employment. Let us see if Jenkins has any word of the fellows."

Everett found Jenkins waiting in the control car. "We've received the latest shipping reports for the Dutch East Indies from the Admiralty's attaché in Kupang," the signalman said, handing Everett a slim folder. "I would call your attention to this entry on the 9th of June for a vessel named the Evita, supposedly from Argentina. They listed their last port of call as Jakarta, but Java has no record of their visit."

Everett inspected the records and found them to be as his aide had described. "You believe this was the AT-38?" he asked.

Jenkins nodded. "A South American registration would be easy to forge, and the details of their mooring and resupply are consistent with an Astra-Torres."

"One imagines they met with some agent of the Resident to make what these Colonials call a `pay-off'," Everett mused. "I assume you asked the attaché to discover what he could about their activities."

"They seem to have gone to some lengths to disguise themselves as an ordinary commercial vessel," said Jenkins. "They discharged several passengers upon their arrival, and they contacted local freight forwarders to inquire about cargo."

"They may have sensed us treading on their heels," said Everett. "We'll pay a visit to Kupang and make some heavy-handed inquiries about their visit. If we're fortunate, they'll get word of this, take the hint, and use this opportunity to escape."

A row of empty shacks stood some distance from the enigmatic fence. Their original purpose was unclear -- they might have been anything from storage sheds to dormitories for workers who liked windowless rooms -- but they made a convenient prison. The strangers locked Fleming and Abigail into one, then departed on some errand. Fleming waited until he was sure they were gone, then tried the door, but it was too sturdy to be forced. "Who are these drongos?" he wondered.

"They must be bushrangers, like Ned Kelley and Captain Thunderbolt," Abigail said enthusiastically.

Fleming was not convinced by this hypothesis. "What are they doing out here?" he objected. "There's nothing for them to nick."

"They could be after diamonds," suggested the girl.

"Diamonds?" Fleming said without thinking. Before he could correct this mistake, his companion had launched into a detailed description of Australian geology, mineral metamorphosis, diamond pipes, and the history of the DeBeers Company. He made a futile attempt to interrupt, then sighed, took a seat on the floor, and resigned himself to the monologue.

The girl was still talking hours later when a key turned in the lock. Fleming looked up to see one of their captors standing in the doorway holding a pistol. "Come," the man ordered. "The johtaja wants to see you."

Fleming brightened at the prospect of rescue. "Dinki-di!"

The strangers had taken residence in another slightly larger and more opulent shack -- to the extent that shacks could be opulent. Their leader was a rugged-looking man with pale northern skin and hair. Like his companions, he seemed oppressed by the heat. He fanned himself with his hat and studied the two Aussies as if they were an annoyance rather than a threat.

"Who are you and what are you doing here?" he asked.

"I'm Fleming and this is Abigail," Fleming said cheerfully. "We were riding to... Shark Bay to visit her relatives."

"That seems a bit out of your way," the man remarked. "This land is almost deserted."

"Hardly," said Abigail. "There's the telegraph line, sheep stations, and all those chappies in the Camel Corps."

"Camels Corps?" said the man, before Fleming could warn him. The strangers listened, first with interest, then with incredulity, and finally in despair as their prisoner reviewed the history of camels in Australia, beginning with the Burke and Wills expedition. After several minutes, the leader leaned over to whisper to Fleming. "Does she ever stop talking?"

The airman shook his head. "I'm afraid not, mate."

"You have my sympathy," said the man. He gestured to two of his henchmen. "Hannu, Matias, take them back to the cell."

The rest of the day crawled past at a pace that would have left snails feeling smug about their superiority. By nightfall, Abigail had exhausted all of the conversational topics offered by their shed, their captors, and the weather, and raised a subject that had been on Fleming's mind for quite some time.

"Do you think we can escape?"

Fleming rose to his feet and strode to the door. "We can give it a go," he announced. "I'll try to knock this down. That's sure to bring the guards, so be ready to run for it"

He prepared to deliver a kick. Then, on impulse he reached out to try the latch.

"It's open," he said in wonderment.

"They must have forgotten to lock it," said Abigail.

Fleming did not pause to marvel at their good fortune. "Let's clear out before they remember."

There was no sign of their wagon, but they came upon a shack the strangers had pressed into service. Like their erstwhile prison, its door was unlocked. Inside, they found two horses saddled and provisioned, apparently in readiness for some morning patrol.

"That's a stroke of luck," Abigail remarked. "I wonder if..."

"We can wonder later," Fleming said hastily. "Now we should make our escape."

Hoofbeats faded into the night like a memory of distant rain. For several long minutes the desert was silent. At last a door opened and a head peeked out of a shed.

"Are they gone, Hannu?" came a voice from inside.

"Yes, Johtaja," said the watcher. "With any luck, they'll be heading for the coast."

This observation was greeted with muffled cheers. "Good!" said the first voice. "We've escaped!"

Next week: Nothing (Much) Ever Happens in Port Moresbey...

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