The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 432: Not Quite The Encounters We Were Hoping For

Helga's axe

Jenkins emerged from the radio shack and made his way forward to where Everett was standing. "We've received more word of the dacoits who attacked the camp," he told the captain. "It seems that a party of armed horsemen was seen riding north along the track to Lai Zar four hours ago. A short time later, a large blimp -- possibly a Coastal class -- lifted from the area toward which they'd been heading and set off toward the southwest."

Everett turned to the chart table where they'd spread their ordnance map of Kachin Province. He studied this for a moment, then shook his head. "These people have been going out of their way to leave a trail for us to follow," he observed dryly.

"Such was my impression as well," said Jenkins. "You believe our people were prisoners aboard the blimp?"

"There was no need for our adversaries to bother with such dramatics otherwise," said Everett. "If they'd wanted to avoid notice, they would have waited for nightfall before they lifted ship, and if they'd only wanted to hide their prisoners, they wouldn't have bothered with an airship at all. They're telling us they have Scott and Murdock and are forcing us to pursue them."

"Who do you think is behind this?" asked Sarah.

Everett gazed to the west, where a line of clouds marked the position of the distant hills. "Until today, I would have assumed the Japanese nationalists were responsible," he said. "We've hypothesized that they maintain some presence in this area, which they don't want us to discover. But it seems Baron Warfield has returned to the Pacific, and we have something of a history."

The others nodded. Unstated was the fact that this history had not ended.

"If the blimp has a four hour head start, it could be 120 miles away by now," said Iverson. "The baron can hardly expect us to chase it."

"He'll be playing a more elaborate game," said Everett. "I imagine the vessel will make a highly public arrival at some station that's close enough for us to reach, but far enough away that we cannot get there immediately. By the time we arrive, he'll have moved his captives elsewhere, leaving additional clues for us to follow. He's the sort of man to taunt his adversaries. I suppose we must admire his audacity."

"It would seem to provide us with an opportunity," Jenkins observed. "He cannot know that MacKiernan has an independent command. If we take the baron's bait, that will leave the R-46 free to investigate this region without being noticed."

Everett nodded. "We shall put this hypothesis to the test," he said. "In the meantime, we will trust Murdock to keep inspector Scott safe."

Audacity was not the first thing Murdock noticed about the baron. The qualities that caught the eye were smugness and malice. If Scott noticed these he gave no sign. He faced their captor with an air of bland self-assurance.

"Baron Warfield," he said curtly.

"Scott of the Yard!" Warfield exclaimed with delight. "You can drop your famous disguise. I know who you are and who sent you."

"Disguise?" said the inspector, with every appearance of surprise. "I am unsure of what you're referring to. Perhaps you've mistaken me for some entirely different inspector."

Warfield gave a sharp laugh. "Enough of this idle chatter. Does Churchill wish to resume our arrangement?"

Scott seemed bewildered by this question. "I fail to understand," he said. "Surely you don't mean the Chancellor of the Exchequer."

Murdock blinked in confusion. Arrangements? Cabinet ministers? What were these people talking about?

The baron also seemed taken aback by the turn the conversation had taken. "I see the rumors were no exaggeration," he observed. "You really are as clueless as they say. Still, you may be useful as a bargaining chip. We shall see how much value the Chancellor places on his agent."

Once again they were bound, blindfolded, and forced into the back of a lorry. By now, this experience had lost most of its novelty and Murdock was glad when they reached their destination. This proved to be a stateroom on a freighter. The compartment had been refurbished as a prison. Furnishings had been removed and the portholes had been replaced with frosted glass to prevent the occupants from looking out. The door was a substantial metal affair that seemed unlikely to yield to Murdock's shirt collar.

Scott made a circuit of the compartment, then nodded to himself, resigned to the fact that there was no way out. Murdock found it hard to match his companion's equanimity. "How did you happen to know Baron Warfield?" he asked.

The inspector's manner seemed to undergo a change, as if the old Scott of the Yard had left the room and an entirely different one had arrived to take his place. "You're acquainted with the gentleman?" he asked sharply.

"We thwarted him this spring when he was trying to capture Lord and Lady Milbridge," said Murdock. "Or perhaps he was after Miss Elmsford. There were also some Russian scientists and a strange bit of native artwork. I never did understand what it all was about."

Scott studied the lieutenant for a moment. At last he seemed to reach a conclusion. "So it seems we can believe Michaelson's report after all," he mused. "That answers one question."

Murdock filed this statement away with the long list of other things he was unable to explain. "What did Warfield mean by his reference to Churchill?" he asked.

"People see what they expect to see," Scott observed cryptically. "Often this leads them to draw the wrong conclusions. We should feel no need to correct their misapprehensions if there's a chance these might work to our advantage."

No one bothered to check on them as the engines came to life, the anchor chain rattled aboard, and the vessel headed out to sea. As evening approached, a pair of armed guards delivered their supper -- a stew-like substance accompanied by an entirely unsatisfying tea -- but it seemed the prisoners were to be left to their own devices.

They'd just finished their meal when they heard a loud bang, followed by a series of shouts. Murdock set down his cup in surprise.

"I say," he remarked, "that sounded almost like a cannon."

"A QF 4.7 Mark IV, by the sound of it," said Scott. "This cannot have been part of our hosts' plan."

Murdock stepped to the door and pressed his ear against the panel to listen. "They do seem rather agitated outside," he observed. "I wonder what's going on. And why did someone just yell `Odin'?"

Next week: A Confidence Game...

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