The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 336: It'll Be A Gold Mine

The same cave with gold nuggets

Marty took a sip of his drink and smiled in approval. Vodka and water might not be the first thing that leapt to mind when one thought of the South Pacific, but this was one of those occasions when reality was superior to the imagination. To his right, Al seemed to agree. To his left, Books was examining the small paper umbrella that graced his shot glass as if it was some kind of bug.

'What�s wit dis, Boss?" asked the accountant.

Marty grinned. "It keeps the sun off the ice, soze it doesn't melt and water the booze. Al, how's our ship doing?"

The skipper turned to study the airship as she rode from the mooring mast. She might be old, but she made a graceful sight, with palm trees swaying behind her and that perfect blue tropical sky overhead. Rigid dirigibles belonged in the Pacific, Marty decided, just like coconuts, canoes, and cannibals.

"The overhaul's almost done," Al told him. "Vlad's boys reground the valves on Number Three's cylinder head, replaced the Number Seven gas cell, and re-covered that worn spot in the envelope between Frames 135 and 152. They're rigging the new rudder cables now."

"How much is this gonna cost?"

"About three grand," said the skipper. "The Rusky charges high, but he does good work."

Marty glanced at the wall, where a carved mahogany plaque, bordered with fanciful engravings of winged squidlike creatures, proclaimed, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need", and nodded. "That's why the man's got such a good reputation," he told his henchmen. "Jake, get the boys ready to lift ship."

"Whatcha have in mind, Boss?' asked Jake.

"Vlad's offered us dope on a possible target," said Marty. "We'll see what he's got for sale."


Vlad's office offered a good view of the field -- it seemed he shared Marty's opinion regarding airships in the South Pacific. Above him, a calendar printed in French Polynesia showed a landscape as unlike the steppes as it was possible to imagine. The Russian looked incongruous in these surroundings, like some fiery revolutionary on an extended tropical vacation. Anna sat beside him, paging through a catalogue of swimwear from some German company. Marty took a surreptitious glance at the woman's figure and hoped she'd chose one of the less revealing offerings.

"Dobriy den," Vlad said as the gangsters entered. "I trust you're satisfied with our work."

"Al seems happy so far," said Marty. "When he's happy with the rest, Books will pay you the balance. You said knew of a fresh caper."

"Da," said Anna. "An old customer came in last month to have their propellers balanced. They paid for the job with this." She passed a folder across the table. Marty opened it to find a collection of shipping records. He studied one, frowned, then passed the collection to Books.

"What's dis Western Pacific Ornamental Glasswork outfit?" he asked his hosts.

"We believe it's a front for a mining company," said Vlad. "If you'll examine those papers, you'll see they've been shipping tunneling equipment to Western Australia."

Marty glanced at Books, who nodded. "What are they mining for?"

Vlad smiled. "Need you ask? Western Australia has been the location of several major gold strikes during the past generation. The Yilgarn, the Southern Cross, the Pilbara, the Cue, the Kalgoorlie, the Greenough River -- each one caused a boom that drove prices down, followed by a bust when the field played out."

"You think this is a gold mine someone's keeping secret soze they don't ruin the market?" said Marty.

"It's difficult to imagine what else it could be," said Anna. "Why else would these people go to such effort to hide their operation?"

Books pointed to one of the entries. "What do they need centrifuges for?"

The two Russians exchanged glances. "How should we know?" said Vlad. "We're airship repairmen, not mining engineers."

"Have these guys filed any claims?" asked Marty.

Vlad shook his head. "Not that we've been able to discover."

Marty smiled. "That means they can't go running to the cops after we hit them," he observed. "Where is this joint?"

"I don't know yet," Vlad admitted, "but I have a man on the inside who'll radio you the position. I send him the word, and we split the take fifty-fifty."

"Eighty-twenty," said Marty. "We'll be doing all the work."

"Sixty-forty."

"Seventy-thirty."

Marty held out his hand. "Seventy-five twenty-five and it's a deal."


Books made his way along the keel passage, ducking to avoid the frame junctions. Around him, the old airship creaked in response to some subtle change in the air. They'd waited until dusk, then circled north of the Cape York Peninsula to avoid any coastal patrols. Now they were cruising west over the Arufura Sea.

He reached the control car to find Al gazing into the night, lost in some memory. "Whatcha thinking?" he asked the skipper.

The airman turned to the ballast board and began checking figures. "I was thinking of the old days," he said. "My brother and I used to have an aeroplane company back in Frisco."

Books was incredulous. "An aeroplane company?"

The airman gave a rueful sigh. "We started it with our friend Jack. We were going to fly passengers out of a field near the Presidio to compete with the ferries to Oakland. With the War coming on, we were also counting on some big contracts from the Army. It looked like a sure thing, but the War ended, the field never got built, and we lost our shirts.

"I never did learn what happened to Jack. Malcolm went to the gold country, did some prospecting, then got into the car business making brakes based on a design by Duesenberg. Last I heard he was doing OK. I didn't want to give up flying, so I got my Masters license, but there ain't as much demand for airship captains as you'd think. I was on the streets, looking for a job, when Marty found me."

Books sensed there was more to the story than the airman admitted, but this didn't seem a time to pry. "The Boss made a good choice," he said diplomatically. "You handle this baby like she was..." He paused. `On wheels' didn't seem like quite the right metaphor.

Al smiled and glanced at the clock. "Thanks," he said. "Now you'd better go handle that radio. Looks like it's about time for Vlad's man to call."

Next week: It Didn't Seem Important At The Time...

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