The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 522: A Few More Barons Than We Expected

Three possible barons

MacKiernan studied the American airship that rode from the mast next to them. It resembled their own Wollesely, but subtle changes to the design showed it was a product of the Goodyear yard. There were other differences as well. Where the R-83 was a scarred and aging veteran, her envelope marked with patches and engine cars streaked with soot from the exhausts, the stranger was trim as a yacht. Her name was invisible in the fading light, but there was no doubt regarding her identity.

"That will be the Warfields' Coup de Grace," said MacKiernan.

Miss Perkins nodded. "Do you think they've recognized us?"

"This seems unlikely," MacKiernan decided. "They'll have no reason to connect this ship with Cairns, and even if they do, her antiquity should protect us from suspicion. As long as they don't spot anyone they know among our people, we'll just be another anonymous patrol vessel."

"One wonders what they're doing here," said the secretary. "Their presence at a place we expected the Drachen can hardly be a coincidence. Perhaps they intended a rendezvous?"

"But we know them to be allied with the Japanese," MacKiernan objected. "Do you think they plan some betrayal?"

Miss Perkins shrugged. "It's what they do. We'll want to learn who they visit while they're here. Can we dispatch Wilcox and Smade to shadow them?"

MacKiernan reflected on the lieutenant's particular talents. Wilcox could be counted on to call attention to himself while Smade seemed entirely capable of overlooking the people he'd been instructed to follow. "They might not be the best choice for such an assignment," he observed. "We'll have to handle this ourselves. I will require your assistance with the languages and we'll bring Abercrombie in case of an altercation."

The air station's lighting could best have been described as `meager' and MacKiernan, Miss Perkins, and Abercrombie had no trouble reaching the perimeter without being challenged. From there, they made their through the village to a point from which they could keep the entrance under observation. To avoid being recognized, they'd dressed as wealthy planters. This proved fortunate.

"Lord and Lady Warfield, may I congratulate you on your disguise," came a voice from their left. "I would not have recognized you were it not for your servant. His physique is... distinctive."

They turned to see a man in a tropical suit gesturing in Abercrombie's direction. While MacKiernan was fumbling for a reply, Miss Perkins gave a curt nod.

"You would be the contact we were told to expect," she said.

"Ja," said the man. "Wolfram and his companions wait at the command post. I will conduct you there."

Bless you, Alice, that was quick thinking! MacKiernan said to himself. But what have we gotten ourselves into?

The `command post' was located at the edge of the village. It proved to be a one-room bungalow tucked beneath the palms -- a guest-house, perhaps, or a hunting lodge for whatever game the island might have offered. Inside, three men sat at a table lit by a single oil lamp. In its flickering light, they might have been the very model of modern evil minions.

The leader -- as tall man in his 30s with aristocratic German features -- rose when they entered. "Guten abend, Freiherr und Freifau Warfield," he announced crisply. "I know you by reputation. Welcome to Neumecklenburg. I am Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen."

MacKiernan recognized the German word for 'baron'. By now he'd decided how to exploit their hosts' misapprehension regarding their identity. "That is good," he replied dismissively. "Tell us of this other airship. Who are they and what are they doing here?"

"This is a Royal Navy ship, the R-83, that called shortly before your arrival," said the German. "According to the Naval Register, it is a fisheries protection vessel from Queensland. We have it under the closest observation. If they deploy a party, we will know."

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins exchanged glances. It seems they'd both reached the same conclusion regarding the watchers' competence. "What about the Drachen?" MacKiernan asked.

This proved to be the right question. "My cousin was called away to deal with the Englishers," Wolfram told them. "Their Kapitan Everett has stumbled upon our base on Celebes."

Cousin? thought MacKiernan. How many these barons are there?

Beside him, Miss Perkins did a good job of pretending disgust. "Everett," she swore. "How did he find the place?"

"It appears to have been a matter of chance," Wolfram assured them. "Fortunately Himmler has already moved his force to the advance base. You will have information about your supposed allies. What do they know?"

MacKiernan thought quickly. He had to assume the `supposed allies' were the Japanese nationalists -- the alternatives were too numerous to consider -- but what knowledge was their host concerned about? He'd have to take a chance.

"They have intercepted an attempt by the Administrator in Rabaul to land agents on the island they took from you,' he replied. "Did you know of this attempt?"

"Nein!" the German replied in surprise. "When did this occur?"

"Less than two weeks ago," MacKiernan told him. "They will assume that the Administrator was acting on your behalf in preparation for some move to retake the place."

The other man smiled. "And so we intend... but not today. This is good news!"

"What is good news?" came a voice from behind them. MacKiernan turned to see the Lord and Lady Warfield, accompanied by Bludge. The Baron held a Webley pocket revolver. The Baroness held a poniard. Budge held the remains of the door.

"Who are you?" Wolfram asked in surprise.

"I am Baron Warfield and this is my Baroness," Warfield replied, in a way that suggested this should have been obvious to anyone of even moderate intelligence.

"That is not possible," sputtered the German. "Those are the Baron and Baroness seated before me."

Lady Warfield's chuckle was far from comforting. "You are mistaken, Baron von Ricthofen," she told him. "Those are Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan of the Royal Naval Airship Service and his companions, Miss Perkins and Abercrombie."

Miss Perkins' shoulders slumped. "It's a fair cop," she admitted. "What do you propose to do with us?"

"That remains to be decided," gloated Baron Warfield. "And since we are armed, while you are not, the decision is ours to make."

"There is truth to some your observation," Miss Perkins admitted. While the Warfields puzzled over her meaning, she swept her handbag across the table. It sent the lamp flying to shatter against the wall, plunging the room into darkness.

Baron Warfield laughed from his position by the door. "That was a clever move, Miss Perkins, but it has gained you nothing. You are still our prisoners, for we still hold the only exit from this place."

"This may also be a mattter for debate," MacKiernan observed. "Abercrombie, could you find us another way out?"

"Aye!" said the Scotsman as he demolished the wall behind them. " 'Tis duin!"

Next week: I Suppose We'll Have To Determine Where They Came From...

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