The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 573: Some Answers

Everett and Clarice admire the Flying Cloud

Morning sunlight played across Vauxhall D-Type, shining from its gleaming paintwork, sparkling from its polished fittings as it sped down the Bruce Highway. Beneath the bonnet, its finely-tuned six cylinder engine sang a steady song of power. MacKiernan listened approvingly, then glanced at his companion. "It was kind of Commodore Michaelson to lend us his motor," he remarked, "but I wonder at his generosity, given what happened last time. And the times before that."

Beside him, Miss Perkins chuckled. "How many more Korean motorcyclists, British nationalist gunmen, and ill-placed ballast drops can we expect to encounter? Surely we must have used up the supply. But I do wonder why he sent us on this mission."

"This seemed straightforward enough," MacKiernan replied. "He wishes to determine where the Bentley that attached us last year came from, and felt that a couple touring the countryside would attract less notice than a team of uniformed airmen."

"Perhaps," said Miss Perkins, "but how can he take it upon himself to order for these investigations? In this web involving Admiral Wentworth, the Admiralty, Whitehall, and members of the peerage, how does a lowly Commodore command such power?"

"I thought you might know in your position as his secretary," MacKiernan observed.

Miss Perkins shook her head. "The Commodore hides his secrets well. Even his family background remains a mystery."

MacKiernan raised an eyebrow. "How can this be? I should think it would be a matter of public record."

"So would I," said Miss Perkins, "but he appears from nowhere in the Navy Roll for 1904, like Athena springing from the brow of Zeus."

The Irishman frowned as he considered the implications. Michaelson's family must have been of a certain standing to secure him a commission, but it would have required unusual influence to keep their identity secret. It also would have required some unusual motivation. He was saved speculation when they arrived at the homestead they'd chosen to begin their investigation. The owner -- an archetypal Australian farmer -- greeted them at the door.

"G'day, mates!" he enthused. "'Ow ya goin'?"

"Quite well, thank you," MacKiernan replied politely. "We're trying to locate some friends we understand may be in the area. They own a Bentley Speed Six. Would you happen to know of them?

"Oh aye!" said the farmer. "Those would be the road engineers who came to clear that slide on the Gillies Range Road. I reckon they've moved on by now, but I can tell you where they were living."

The farmer's directions brought them to a cottage by the road through the coastal range. The building seemed recently abandoned, and its interior was a clutter of litter and papers. A newspaper in the waste bin was dated a few days before the previous year's attack.

"I would appear these people left in a hurry around the time our our encounter," Miss Perkins observed. "That is most certainly suggestive."

"Indeed it is, but if they left anything of significance behind, we'll have a devil of a time discovering it in this mess," MacKiernan replied ruefully.

Miss Perkins smiled. "Fergus, have you forgotten? I'm a secretary."

The search proved more challenging than Miss Perkins might have hoped. The cottage's previous occupants might not have had time to destroy all of their records, but they had destroyed some, and the rest were in considerable disorder. As noon approached, she pulled open a drawer, then raised her eyebrows in amazement.

"Fergus," she remarked. "You will wish to look at this."

Twilight was fading as Everett escorted Clarice from warehouse back to the visitors' quarters. To the east, the first stars were already shining, outlining the graceful bulk of the Flying Cloud, where she rode from the Number One mast. The two paused to admire the airship's lines.

"She's a beauty," Clarice remarked. "No wonder Michaelson gave you the best mooring."

"I doubt that was his motivation," Everett replied with a chuckle. "He'll have put me there to keep an eye on me."

Clarice hesitated as if nerving herself up for some encounter. "Captain Everett," she said at last. "May I ask you a question?"

"I can think of no reason why not, Miss Blaine," Everett said cheerfully.

"Why are you and Commodore Michaelson so much at odds?" she asked. "I gathered from Jenkins that you were engaged to Lady Warfield before she married the Baron. Were you and Michaelson rivals for her affection?"

Now it was Everett's turn to hesitate. "I suppose I owe you an explanation, Miss Blaine, since you find yourself caught between us," he told her. "Michaelson did have an interest in our engagement, but this was on behalf of his older brother."

"His brother?" Clarice said in surprise.

"Yes, Sir Theodore Winston, who would have been the fifth Baron Asbury. Tenera had been promised him to a child to heal a breach between his family and hers. Had I known, I would never have courted her."

Clarice's eyes widened at this revelation. "The Commodore is a member of the peerage?" she exclaimed.

"Yes," said Everett. "But this is not generally known. Lawrence joined the Navy under an assumed name. He revealed this secret to me during the War, back when we were still the best of friends."

"Whatever happened?" asked Clarice.

"I suppose it was to be expected," Everett mused. "a strong-willed young woman, promised by her parents to a much older man. She rebelled and accepted my suit in order to defy them. When Lawrence confronted me, and accused me of betraying him by stealing his older brother's intended bride, I found myself in an impossible situation, torn between loyalty and love. That may be why I volunteered to take the Mohican out on that last sortie. I might have hoped to buy time while I sought some way to resolve this dilemma.

He sighed. "Jenkins must have told you how this ended. I returned from that final mission to find that Tenera had left me to marry the Baron. I suppose this too should not have been a surprise. As we heard from Bludge, they were both childhood friends. Shortly after this, I learned that Michaelson's brother had passed away."

Clarice drew back. "Did he..."

"No, not as far as I know," said Everett. "According to the inquest, it was a motorcar accident. But no other vehicles were involved, so one cannot help but wonder, and his death was all that was required to complete Lawrence's cup of bitterness."

"I should think he'd have held her responsible," said Clarice.

"Perhaps he wants to, but I wonder if he is also in love with her. That may be why he's never raised a hand against her husband."

Clarice thought this over. "So in the final days of the War, you lost a battle, your command, your fiancée, and your best friend became your enemy for life."

Everett smiled ruefully. "I suppose that might be one way to summarize the situation."

She reached out to touch his cheek. "You poor man," she said softly. "You deserve better."

He gazed into the night, remembering. "Thank you, Miss Blaine," he said at last. "Still, we must live with the world we have."

"Perhaps," she said softly, "But Roland, may I ask you a favor?"

"Yes?" he asked."

Please call me Clarice."

He looked over, wondering at the change in her voice. and saw that she was lifting her face to kiss him.

Next week: The End Game Begins...

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