The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 470: How Hard Can It Be To Find A Baron?

Control car of the Warfields' airship

The airship Coup de Grace -- formerly the Philadelphian, out of Pennsylvania -- hadn't originally been equipped with a brig. The vessel's new masters had corrected this oversight, and Clarice and Emily were imprisoned in what had once been a storage compartment, just forward of the cargo hold. The light aluminum door had been reinforced with a substantial steel latch, bolted from the outside, and the window was covered by a sheet of thick wire mesh. A metal bunk, salvaged from some forgotten patrol blimp, was bolted to one wall.

The two women had been hustled aboard by the Baron's minions. Now they gazed out the window as the vessel climbed above the clouds. Before them, a sea of white stretched to the horizon. Their shadow raced across the surface, surrounded by a halo.

Clarice took a bearing, checked her watch, and nodded to herself. "I reckon we're heading northwest by north," she observed.

"That seems right," Emily said cheerfully. "I wonder where these chappies are off to."

Clarice didn't share her companion's insouciance. "I wonder what they plan to do with us," she said.

"This will depend on what they know," Emily replied. "As long as they aren't sure we were working for the Navy, they won't dare act lest they give their game away."

"Perhaps," Clarice said dubiously, "but we can hardly hide the fact that Captain Everett invited us aboard the Flying Cloud last year. And how will we explain our presence on Ujelang?"

Emily grinned. "I have a plan," she assured her companion. "We'll have to..."

Whatever the blonde was about to say remained unspoken as the latch rattled behind them. They turned to see Bludge open the door. "If you ladies would care to accompany me," he said, his cultured accent quite at odds with his brutish appearance. They followed meekly as the butler led them up the companionway that led through the crew section.

Like the Wolesely class ships of which she was a copy, the Coup de Grace's accommodations were limited to a few small cabins, the captain's stateroom, and a compartment that would have been a mess hall on naval vessel but here served as a salon. This had undergone some changes since the Warfields had assumed ownership, and pictures of the hunt adorned the walls, while Cartwell's art deco furnishings had been replaced by ones with a more martial air. A dagger mounted on a plaque bearing the vessel's new name completed the appointments.

Baron Warfield relaxed in a chair, cleaning a pistol. Beside him, the Baroness toyed with a duplicate of the dagger that hung behind her. Their attire must have cost more than some neighborhoods of Darwin. They examined their guests with the same appearance of disinterest a pair of panthers might pretend toward their prey.

"Clarice Blaine and Emily Wilcox, do I have your names right?" asked the Baron

"Dinki di!" Emily said cheerfully. "What's your moniker?"

"I am the Baron Warfield, and this is my Baroness, the lady Tenarre," he replied. "You seem to have taken an interest in my movements. Might I ask why?"

Clarice thought quickly. Their hosts showed no signs of being aware of their association with Captain Everett, but this could well be some stratagem to catch them in a denial. But before she could speak, Emily intervened.

"We recognized this ship," the blonde said brightly. "We were aboard her with our Aunt Behema when some Germans drongos fanged it from Mister Cartwell. Are you the chappies who nicked it from them on that island... what was its name..."

"...Ulejang," Clarice supplied, recognizing her cue.

The Baron seemed to struggle with some of the Australian idioms. "That would have been Ujelang," he said impatiently. "So you followed me to determine if your identification was correct?"

"Bob's your uncle!" said Emily.

"Were you acting on anyone else's behalf?" asked the Baron. "In particular, did you propose to report this vessel to the authorities?"

"Whatever for?" asked Emily. "You recovered her from the pirates. That makes her legitimate salvage under maritime law."

Baron Warfield smiled, like a chess player whose opponent has just made a fatal blunder. "Then what," he asked, "is your interest in the matter?"

Emily prattled on as if she was playing an entirely different game. "We wanted to know why everyone's been going on about Ule... Uge... ... that island," she announced. "What's so special about the place? Did it have anything to do with those funny animals?"

Their hosts must not have expected this reply. "To what animals do you refer?" Lady Warfield asked, mystified.

"Those `squidbat' thingies!" said Emily. "They must be worth big bickies! That could explain why the Navy took an interest."

The Baroness raised an eyebrow. "The Navy?" she asked, with apparent lack of concern.

"They rocked up after you and that big cruiser bailed out," said Clarice. "Were they some mates of yours?"

"That is none of your concern," said the Baroness. "Why was the Navy so quick to arrive on the scene? Did they have some special connection with someone aboard your vessel?"

Emily chuckled. "Strewth! Clarice is sweet on one of their captains."

"What!" Clarice cried indignantly.

"Dinki-di!" said Emily. "He's a bloke named Everett. He gave us a lift on his ship last year."

Lady Warfield examined Clarice as if studying some new species of insect. "Is this so?" she asked in a voice cold as winter.

The brunette didn't have to pretend to be flustered. Her indignation was entirely real. "In yer boot!" she exclaimed, glaring at Emily. "Don't listen to this nong!"

"What was that all about?" Clarice demanded after Bludge had escorted the two young women back to their cell.

Emily affected an expression of innocence. "It came good, didn't it? That should put paid to any suspicions they might have had about us working for the Navy."

"But now they suspect..."

"Suspect?" chuckled Emily. "Did you see that look on Lady Warfield's face? She's sure of it."

Clarice began a retort, then scowled. "It was a good lurk," she admitted begrudgingly. "Now we need to find our way out of this cell. What have we got for tools?"

The Warfields' minions had searched their handbags for anything that could be used for purposes of escape -- fortunately Emily hadn't been carrying the pistol Jenkins had taken from the British Union's agent in Darwin, which might have raised uncomfortable questions. This left each of them with a hair brush, hand mirror, nail clipper, and the screwdriver, pliers, and adjustable spanner every sensible girl concealed in her makeup kit. The latter allowed them to make short work of the bolts that secured the wall panel between their compartment and the cargo section. Emily peeled back one edge, peered through the gap, and whispered to her companion.

"There's no one in sight, but what good will it do us to leave this cell? We'll still be trapped on an airship several thousand feet over the Timor Sea."

Clarice smiled. Now it was her turn to take the lead. "I have a plan," she whispered.

Next week: I Know Who We Could Ask...

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