'The Squealer's Saga'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— In 1948 Claire 'Ricky' Mathews and her lover Gabrielle Parker, both members of a secret British Security Dept also active in Canada, operate the Atalanta Haulage company in Saskatchewan, using trucks and a Noorduyn Norseman aircraft; they are tasked with bodyguard duties in the forested wilderness.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2022 Phineas Redux. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Caution:— There is some light swearing in this story.

—O—

Standing in the small office of Atalanta Haulage, Gatch's Point, Saskatchewan, on the shore of Lake Seclusion some eight miles south-west of Lake Wapawekka and Lac la Ronge, the man dominated the general neighbourhood; standing tall and thin, staring the two other occupants of the poky office down with what was obviously a well-practiced aura of vague menace—Claire 'Ricky' Mathews though, and her more than merely business partner Gabrielle Parker, in return feeling not the slightest bit subjugated.

"It'll take ya a lot more'n a sniffy expression, buster, if ya wan'na make headway with either of us." Claire batting first for the team. "Name, rank, number, purpose in Life, and how much're ya payin'. Start with that last, if'n ya would, Al here al'lus liking t'keep the books straight."

"If it's under a thousand dollars, don't even try, just go home." Gabrielle attacking the man's cold demeanor with a sarky response, she having thousands such to hand.

The man, realising a little late in the day Scylla and Charybdis were not just mythical geographical places, but could also have a relevance to their human counterparts, took a deep inward breath to defend himself against these easily riled wolves in wolves clothing.

"Uumph, didn't realise I gave that impression, ladies!" His voice exquisitely refined almost to the point of parody.

"Boston." Gabrielle, now well started, continuing her abrasive put-down.

"What?"

"That accent of yours—if it's real an' not fake, it's pure Boston." Gabrielle nodding at her own acumen in the matter. "Anyway, not important. What d'you want with Atalanta Haulage? Don't look the sort to stick your thumb out in the street for a cab like ours?"

The ladies were by now giving their newest potential client a good going-over visually; standing at around five-ten he certainly had the height to look down on whoever he thought warranted such. His frame was thin but wiry, though hidden under the most beautifully tailor-made cream-silk suit, topped-off with an off-white Borsalino of divine rakishness: he even sporting white spats on his clearly made to measure dark-red leather shoes.

"Better get the official business over first, I expect." He reaching into a pocket of his gorgeous jacket, producing a sheath of documents which he offered over the desk to Claire. "As these'll testify, I work for Department T, Washington, USA, on secondment here in Canada for a, er, purpose of some note. Carlton Castermaine's the name."

Gabrielle, sitting by Claire's side, leaned over to help investigating the sheath of documents, these consisting of official forms and ID's as well as covering letters signed by some very highly placed Senators and Government officials.

"Well, if these are all kosher, you're certainly well-placed." Claire eventually acknowledging the facts in the case. "Just give us a coupl'a minutes t'use some of these phone numbers—jes' t'make what's doubly sure actually certain, y'understand!"

Ten minutes later Castermaine sat at the desk, his hostesses opposite regarding him with what could only be described as not unfounded suspicion.

"Some sort'a Government agent!" Gabrielle starting proceedings as she meant them to continue. "American, now snapping at Canada's Governmental heels? Surprised they're lettin' ya?"

"Yeah, must be something big, for that level of communal deviousness t'go for'rard?" Claire putting her pennyworth on the table for discussion. "So?"

Having long realised a hard-edged attitude was simply not going to work in present circumstances Castermaine had reverted to Plan B on How to Intimidate and Control Useful Persons—he soon finding out it didn't' go well either.

"I'm a member of Department T!"

He leaving this useful titbit hanging in the air, obviously expecting a reaction of some sort; though what it brought forth from the two women opposite was hardly what he had expected, or wished for.

"Har-har!" Gabrielle actually sniggering in his face, not the least bit overawed. "What's that, then? The Department that goes round the streets picking-up discarded gum wrappers? So making America safe for all?"

"Here! I say!" Castermaine, probably against his better nature—at least one hopes so—looking astonished at this relaxed, indeed dismissive, response.

"You've only got yourself to blame, Castermaine." Claire putting him in his place without mercy. "So you're a Government agent? So what? So are we, Al an' I. If you lead as murky a life as your papers seem t'suggest I bet you already know that for a fact, anyway. So, what d'ya want from us? And, how in Hell'd ya get Ottawa t'give you free range over the beautiful Provinces of Canada, and us? Such being of some present interest t'Al an' I?"

Castermaine, now looking more than ever like someone who had just endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune for real, again took the chance to draw a few much needed breaths before returning to the fray; though far more warily, having now experienced the volatile natures of his two adversaries.

"—ahem, perhaps if you read Form B-Two-Nine-Eight—the pale yellow one there—it gives a more or less precise and pithy résumé of what's wanted."

Claire and Gabrielle, as suggested, proceeded to give this typewritten missive all their undivided attention—

'FBI HQ, Washington, DC. August 1935. It is herein disclosed and set out that the secure custody of one Charles Harriman Gordon should be undertaken by the accredited agents of the Department named below. The purpose being, in company with agents of the Canadian Governmental Department of the necessary mandate, that the above stated individual should be kept at a place of safety within a tightly controlled secure perimeter for a period of three months from August 1935 on, or until further orders are received from Higher Authorities. Signed, J. Edgar Hoover. Available Agents - FBI Agent Jeremy Morton; Dept.T. Agent Carlton Castermaine.'

On finishing this communiqué Gabrielle and Claire regarded each other in some dismay.

"That other document, the pale pink one, it's from your own Ottawa Agency." Castermaine continuing to spread wormwood and gall over the womens' day. "Better read it too, I expect!"

So pressed Claire and Gabrielle turned their attention to the document referred to, with even less enthusiasm than they had shown for the earlier one.

'Dept. for Security and Planning, Security HQ, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Our Agents Miss Claire Cartwright and Miss Gabrielle Drever are hereby ordered and requested to undertake actions and necessary activities regarding one Charles Harriman Gordon presently under the authority of FBI Agent Jeremy Morton and Dept.T. Agent Carlton Castermaine. All due authority being invested in the two such named Agents and their orders to be carried out as issuing from Ottawa Security HQ. signed, Samuel F. Morrison, Chairman, August 1935.'

"Oh, f-ck!"

"Sh-t!"

A pause ensued whilst the beleagured ladies put through more trans-country phone calls; the results not being even halfway to their liking judging by their expressions: neither Gabrielle nor Claire, finally, entirely over the moon at this singular, and apparently officially unavoidable, call to arms.

"Seems we're in, like it or not." Claire bringing rational logic to the situation.

"So, what do you want us to do?" Gabrielle coming to the bare bones of the problem. "We operate a Haulage company, y'know."

"Exactly!" Castermaine recovering some of his vivacity. "Just what's wanted, in fact. We, the Department, have a problem on our hands—that problem being one Charles Harriman Gordon; he being what you would probably call Deadbeat of the Year, or Most Wanted Number One!"

"Oh, God, things're goin' downhill fast!" Claire speaking, as she well knew, for her lover as well. "You got'ta be joking!"

"No, all on the up-an-up, t'be sure." Castermaine not put out in any way; appearing, in fact, to now be relishing his position. "He's not so much a gangster or hold-up man as an accountant—he has the Books and Records of activities carried out by no less than three real-life gangsters, including one Bugsy Seigel!"

"Sh-t!" Gabrielle sitting straight, perfectly aware of whom Castermaine spoke. "That bum? He's a hard-case."

"Yes, that is one way of describing the rat, yes!" Castermaine nodding his agreement. "Domiciled in California at present, but still doing the dirty left, right, and centre with gay abandon. We, however, now have his pet accountant in our delicate hands, with but one purpose in mind—"

"To keep the moron alive until he can testify?" Claire on the ball through long experience.

"In a nutshell!" Castermaine shrugging broad shoulders. "Which is where you come in. We thought long and hard, back at FBI HQ—J. Edgar even putting-in some midnight oil on the proposition; but we finally decided that the best way of keeping Gordon safe was to get him the hell out'ta the country fast's we could. Which we duly did, and here we are, curtesy of our friends the Canadian Government—though nobody in the wider Public knows naturally, or will know, anything about same, if we're lucky."

"Best of luck with that!" Gabrielle taking this golden opportunity to cast ashes on Castermaine's parade.

"So what exactly do you want us to do?" Claire coming down to basics. "What's our part in this fiasco—drama?"

Castermaine here had the decency to look slightly uncomfortable.

"Only to take the rat, Gordon, up-country; and hang-out with him for three months till it's safe to move him on, nearer the Courthouse back in Washington."

"Up-country?" Gabrielle fishing for more detailed information.

"Somewhere just south of Lake Athabasca, we thought." Castermaine looking interrogatively at the women. "You have the experience and geographical knowledge of the region; pick a spot thereabouts and my team'll have Gordon, with your help of course, there in a jiffy."

"We ain't gon'na stay in the wild outback for three months, Castermaine." Gabrielle laying down the Law. "We got a business to run here; we can take you and your team there, sure; but then we return here to business. We can come back in three months to extract you all back to civilisation, of course; but that's the extent of what we can do to help. What ya say?"

Castermaine sat back, taking his time to ponder all the possibilities, then leaned forward again.

"Yeah, alright!" He not looking particularly pleased though. "I'll have my team in residence with Gordon, anyway. Suppose your leaving us to our own devices there'll be one way of assuring security an' privacy. So, you picked anywhere yet? Time matters, y'know."

Claire glanced at her companion before replying.

"We'll get on it; would an answer in, say, two days do? We got arrangements an' whatnot t'make in preparation."

"Yes, two days—OK."

"Right, if you're leavin' for the present that'll give us space t'get to it." Claire making this pointed suggestion with no appearance of joy or happiness whatever.

"Oh-ah, right, then. Well, g'bye till, er, we meet again."

"Yeah, suppose!" Gabrielle also showing she was hardly entranced by their latest business assignment.

—O—

"It'll need t'be the Norseman, after all." Claire, standing on the grass airstrip alongside the Atalanta Haulage office building, actually hardly much more than a long shed, on the peninsula reaching into Lake Seclusion whereon the whole community of Gatch's Point also had residential rights, had been pondering the practical side of the matter. "How many Castermaine say were goin'?"

Gabrielle had this to hand like the excellent secretary she was.

"Five, not counting the Hound of the Baskervilles himself, that is."

"So, six." Claire, probably unknowingly, sounding like a prim and proper schoolmistress whose daily mantra was preciseness above all else.

"That would be correct, baby." Gabrielle having now had several years of dealing with her loved partner. "So?"

"So?" Claire brought back to earth by this repeated question. "Oh-ah, yeah; all I meant was the Norseman's the best bet, landing on a lake, an' all that—take everyone in one go without trouble."

"Floats, yeah; seeing we can't find an airfield within forty miles of Athabasca!" Gabrielle covering a point of some moment. "The Norseman'll land on any lake without effort. Where would same be, anyway; I not recalling having any input into an answer to such, dear—only sayin'."

Claire sighed as she turned to her beloved cohort.

"Al, I love ya deeply, but gim'me air, will ya? I ain't figured out where we're takin' 'em, either. Wan'na come back in the office an' get the maps spread out?"

Ten minutes later, with the help of a mug of fresh coffee each, they had come to a decision.

"So, that's it, eh?"

"Yip." Claire nodding happily. "Result! Not that I think much of it either, mind, lover; but it's the best of a bad set's all."

Gabrielle leaned further over the map to gain a closer look at the upper part of the Province of Saskatchewan.

"Lake Athabasca's there, sure; but below it there's just wilderness—'cept for Davy Lake—they'll just love that; there's a few cabins along the shoreline open for renting, we can use one of those as their HQ. Bet they'll be too scared to wander more'n two hundred yards from camp in case of getting lost in the forest!"

"Can't see anything wrong in that." Claire letting her harsh side taste the air. "Corral 'em altogether for the duration; keep 'em all out'ta trouble, fer sure."

"With you, babe, all the way. Right, let's get the details sorted." Gabrielle transforming into the efficient business-woman she was from head to pretty toe. "Roll these dam' maps up, will you dear? Only messing the place up, an' I need the space to work out the fuel consumption an' weight restrictions, not t'mention the flight path there an' back."

"On it, Captain, ma'am!"

—O—

Two days later Atalanta Haulage's Noorduyn Norseman floatplane sat on the water at the end of the jetty sticking some twenty yards into Lake Seclusion, various of the shoreline buildings of the settlement of Gatch's Point sitting some fifty yards to the south. The plane could take 10 passengers as well as the single pilot, so there was plenty of room for the group of clients now in attendance, as well as a fairly large amount of cargo. On the jetty the clients formed quite a crowd, consisting of Claire and Gabrielle, Carlton Castermaine looking as much like a male model in a monthly magazine as ever, and no less than four other tough looking Agents while, last but by no means least, came Charles Harriman Gordon—the cynosure of all eyes, especially Claire's and Gabrielle's.

His presence having been built up, if wholly in imagination failing concrete details, his appearance amongst his team of handlers now was something of an anti-climax, he standing around five feet seven, sporting a receding hairline that had little more length to go before being lost altogether, a thin face and chin with a perpetually harsh expression as if he had just eaten a lemon, and a whiny voice that got on anyone's nerves who had to listen to him for more than three minutes—Claire and Gabrielle, after a quick glance, were not in the least impressed.

Standing nearer the plane than the crowd of clients the women could have a more or less private conversation while Gabrielle prepared to climb into the plane's cockpit.

"Cabin's been rented for the duration up at Davy Lake. Got your automatic?"

"Yeah," Gabrielle turning to nod as she opened the main cabin door. "And three mags, too; can't be too careful."

"With ya, lover. Take care—expect ya back in, oh, six-seven hours?"

"That'll do it, sure. Bye, baby!"

"Bye."

—O—

The Norseman was flying at 8,000 feet in calm conditions with a thin cloud base some three thousand feet higher. The wind was north-west, which helped a great deal, though would be a hindrance for Gabrielle on the return journey. The plane was operating smoothly, Gabrielle was comfortable; but the passengers were now, twenty minutes into their flight, in a heated argument about various topics.

"There ain't no radio up in the cabin at this dam' lake?" Gordon making plain his displeasure at this distressing news. "What the hell'm I gon'na do about 'Amos n' Andy'?"

"Jeez, give us all a break," Frank Sparling, one of the Agents, taking umbrage at the rat beside him having any opinion of worth about anything. "who gives a dam', not me, buster."

Gordon wasn't having any of this, however.

"When I signed-up for this burlesque show I was told everything was gon'na be hunky-dory—champagne an' caviar all the dam' way! Ain't seen hide nor smell of either this last five weeks."

"Nor will, for the next four months at least." Carlton summarily putting his client in his place. "How many times I need'ta tell ya, Gordon—when you testify later ya ain't gettin' off Scot-free! You're goin' t'spend time in the Big House for sure. Champagne an' caviar are gon'na be the least of your worries for the next several years. Just be happy that by testifying your sentence'll be a few years in the can instead of a short walk t'the gas-chamber!"

"God! I got'ta put up with your whinin' the next half year? Jeez!"

"No ya ain't, blowhard." Carlton losing his temper, probably as a result of the tight confines of the passenger compartment. "I'm only along t'see everything sorted out nicely for the duration; then I'm goin' back t'Gatch's Point along with Miss Drever, here. You'll be on your lonesome, Gordon, except for my pals here, of course—and a jolly old holiday I wishes you-all, too!"

"Sh-t!"

Castermaine was sitting in the co-pilots seat next to Gabrielle, while the passengers behind were ensconced on single seats facing forward with a central aisle separating them; luggage in the rear compartment for same, though an overflow had made its way into the rear of the passenger compartment too. Gabrielle, however, had now taken more than enough backchat and exerted her full authority for the first time.

"Listen up, boys! It's gon'na be a three hour flight, so turn your lights down and take it easy. Plenty of time when you're settled in the cabin for idle chat about your personal grievances, just give me a break, OK?"

This had some effect in that Gordon folded his arms, lowered his head and appeared to be on his way to the Land of Nod in an effort to escape his present plight, which gave Gabrielle the chance to bring up an item of the past conversation that had particularly caught her attention.

"Say, Mr Castermaine—"

"Call me Carlton, please."

"Oh, OK." Gabrielle always happy to cast aside the social niceties. "So, what's this about you coming back with me? Thought you were the most important person who'd be staying on with Gordon, to see everything goes right during his holiday?"

"My Agents are perfectly capable of keeping a lummox like him safe; no, I'll see them set-up an' comfortable, then return with you back to civilisation."

Gabrielle pursed her lips at this new angle on the flight, but couldn't see any down angle to it.

"Fine, that's the way you want it."

—O—

The flight went smoothly without incident except for one moment when, during a small encounter with turbulence at seven thousand feet, one of the agents had to take respite within a couple of brown paper bags to contain his tendency to throw up like there was no tomorrow—which for him, at the time, probably did feel like his only future prospect; but he recovered heroically, though looking paler for the rest of the journey.

"When it's time t'return thinks I'll let you lot fly back—I'll trek out on foot, thanks!" Robert Yollande, after his odyssey of sickness, expressing his feelings in a quavering voice.

"Don't worry, Bob." Carlton grinning hugely. "After a long break fishing in the lake an' swimming an' what-all, you'll be a world-class athlete for sure!"

Gabrielle brought the rather heavy floatplane down like a feather floating to the ground, skimming it over the placid water to a soft standstill just a few yards from the waiting jetty; it being the work of seconds for her to bring the plane right up to the low structure, several canoes and rowing boats tied to the other side testifying to the sports available and the numbers of other holiday-makers present in the other cabins which could be seen almost encircling the rounded curvature of the relatively small lake; thick bands of fir trees reaching tall all round the lake showing how deep in the forest it actually was. Standing on the jetty, with no-one else of the locals apparently taking any interest in the new arrivals, Gordon was first to remark on his new surroundings.

"What a dam' hole! Don't like it! Come on, let's find somewhere more like civilisation; I'm thinkin' casinos, nightclubs, broads by the dozen, an' drink enough t'drown in, not this dam' lake water."

"Gordon, from now on for the next three months you jump to every request, order, appeal, demand, or entreaty these agents all round ya decide's good for them, whatever it might be for you! Understand?"

"F-ck you, Castermaine!" Gordon letting rip with his innermost feelings, snarling like a dog the while. "Never did like ya from the first; like ya even less now, dam' yer insides t'Purgatory!"

"And f-ck you, too." Castermaine not the least perturbed. "Frank, you all set? Where'd we go for the cabin keys?"

"That cabin a hundred yards along the bank; one with the red walls an' sign over the door." Frank on top of his duties. "The community Supervisor; you go on along t'the cabin—think it's the green-walled one over there. I'll be back in a jiffy with the keys."

"OK, let's go folks, time's a'wasting." Castermaine exerting his full authoritative voice; which, curiously, was indeed compelling even making Gabrielle raise her eyebrows.

Half an hour later Gabrielle and Castermaine stood outside the relatively large cabin; everyone else, as much as each wanted to be anyway, as comfortable as conditions allowed.

"Well, they-all seem to be taking it well, more or less—excepting Gordon, of course."

"Don't worry, he's the type'll never be happy even if he was put-up in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria!" Castermaine pinning his man with precise efficiency. "The boys'll take care of him like a newborn baby, don't worry. Can we return now, then?"

"Sure, if you're happy everything's running the way you want here?"

"Yeah, it's looking good; early days, of course, but what could go wrong in an out-of-the-way place like this? Anyone wanting to converse with Gordon about his immediate health'll have to trek through the wilderness like Lewis and Clark!"

"Har, well, in that case let's go."

—O—

The return flight was a trifle slower, because of the moderate headwind, but nothing Gabrielle wasn't used to. She brought the Norseman up to five thousand feet, the thin cloud layer still another six thousand feet higher up, running just on cruising speed. Castermaine, this time, sat back in the passenger compartment going over some papers related to the issue of his latest case though still able to converse with Gabrielle when required.

"How long'll we take t'get back to Gatch's Point?"

Gabrielle twisted in her seat to reply.

"Around three hours, maybe three and a half. This headwind's pushing against us some, but nothing out of the way."

"Ah." Castermaine seeming satisfied returned to his documents, skimming a silver fountain pen over the sheets at lightning speed.

Everything running to order, and having nothing better to focus her attention, Gabrielle struck up a conversation with her passenger, twisting a little in her seat to glance back over her right shoulder; she hoping to pass at least a half hour this way.

"That guy, Gordon, really as powerful and sought after as you make out? Seems a bit of a creep, sure; but a louse, all the same."

"A louse, but one with heavy-duty back-up." Castermaine raising his eyes from his documents to stare forward at the back Gabrielle's head, all he could see of her. "He's provided the Department with several books he made on a number of characters in, shall we say, the lower echelons of the business community back in the States. But the problem is, everyone and their Gran'ma knows he has several others of even more usefulness salted away in various safe-deposit boxes in banks all over the dam' country. Anyone who's buried a body unofficially, robbed a bank, knocked-off anyone, these last ten years, Gordon's probably got a quotation in his files, with documentary evidence and even physical artefacts on most of 'em!"

Gabrielle considered this for a minute, hands idly running up and down the steering-wheel as she did so.

"That sort of thing, bound to lead, er, the hoods to knock him off, surely? Any sign of that underway as we speak?"

Castermaine was up for this question, shaking his head the while.

"Why do you suppose the Department's going to all this trouble and expence? We ain't sending him up to Davy Lake just to have a holiday. We want him out of reach of all those persons who, for whatever reason, feel him dead is far better than him living."

"Anyone tried so far?" Gabrielle, from long experience, knowing just how these scenarios usually turned out.

Castermaine let a few seconds drift past before answering.

"Well, it won't cause ructions by my saying, yeah, there's been two attempts on his life in the last four weeks. First one, two passers-by on the sidewalk as we took him out'ta a hotel were shot and wounded. Second, just over a week ago, an Agent was wounded when four thugs rammed our transport car and started shooting with a BAR. Dam' fine line there, between a disaster and our escaping alive. So, the Department put their heads together with the result here you and I are, with Gordon safely planted at Davy Lake. Anyone wants t'hit him there, they'll have to put in some real work's all."

From her extensive War experience Gabrielle now saw another problem rearing its ugly head in the game.

"Anyone desirous of going there, the only real way's through Atalanta Haulage; there are several other plane operations, sure, but we're the best bet. They want Gordon, they'll probably roll up outside our office in Gatch's Point sometime in the next several weeks. When is it you mean to take Gordon back to the States for trial."

"He's meant to testify at two trials, the bozos for them already in custody." Castermaine shrugging his wide shoulders as he spoke. "One's due in just over three months from now; the other in December: both in New York."

"So, for the next twelve weeks Claire and I ought to keep looking over our shoulders, and go to bed each night with Colts' as our best friends?"

Castermaine sighed ruefully, though this was lost on Gabrielle up in the pilot's seat.

"I shouldn't worry overmuch. We took Gordon away at the dead of night; no-one knows where's he's been taken to, only us. Sorry, I can't provide round the clock protection with my Agents to safeguard you; that's just out of the question. If someone shady does come calling asking for a quick there and back trip to Davy Lake, put 'em off, telephone me at the number I gave you, then hunker down behind locked doors till the good guys turn up and sweep the debris aside, thus making Gatch's Point a safe place to live once more."

This ridiculous outlook gained no favors with Gabrielle, who had been in too many other similarly dangerous situations to take his words at face value.

"Castermaine, you got a sweet-talking tongue'd cast a spell on the Medusa herself!"

With which rejoinder she returned to flying the Norseman full-time in opposition to any more idle chat with someone who's every word she had come to distrust right down to her cotton socks.

—O—

The next few days passed quickly for Atalanta Haulage; Claire and Gabrielle ran a truck-based operation as well as their plane flights, the work involved filling their days. But on the fourth day after taking the group up to Davy Lake events began to unfold as both women had surmised they might. Ten-thirty had just gone by unnoticed, Gabrielle had filled their coffee cups for the second time and they had a free moment to enjoy these with a couple of cookies. Then came a knock on the outer door.

"It's open, come on in!" Claire giving their as yet unseen visitor full freedom to do so.

The opened door revealed a middle-sized man in a dark blue suit and grey snap-brim, his square-jawed features best described as weathered if a broken nose and cauliflower ear meant anything; his first words instantly placing him as a native of The Bronx.

"You guys the managers, or the Boss away somewhere?" His tone echoing that of a tin can full of broken glass.

"We're the Boss, both of us." Claire taking umbrage instantly, sitting back on her chair. "What's your business? Can we help? Somewhere you want to go, by plane?"

The man took a few seconds to absorb this question, glancing round taking in his surroundings as he did so.

"I need a plane for a long journey. You got planes, I got the moolah. So, how much? Me wantin' t'get in the air, along with my pals outside, some time this afternoon. We goin' there, an' back, as quick as possible."

By this time both Claire and Gabrielle had strong negative feelings about this man, Gabrielle quietly standing to casually walk to the window to observe the immediate surroundings outside.

"That DeSoto sedan yours?"

The man turned to examine Gabrielle, raising a hand to tip his hat back.

"Yeah, why?"

"Three men,—suits, hats, all looking out of their depth; don't think they have much experience of the countryside and lakes." Gabrielle giving a precise sketch of what she saw. "What's your name, mister? Where do you and your friends come from. Bottom line, where do you want to go in such a hurry?"

The man's expression had taken on a level of coldness accompanied by a deep frown that boded no good for all around him; Claire quietly moving one hand nearer the top drawer of her desk where her Colt automatic waited for just this scenario.

Taking a deep breath, as if controlling a strong level of inner anger, the man nodded as he replied.

"All I wants is a fast plane ride up north. I got the dough to spend, and not a lot'ta time t'engage in back an' forth. Ya gon'na take my offer up, or what?"

"Ain't that simple, Mr—?" Gabrielle returning to the desk to back up her partner.

"Smedley, Aaron Smedley." He giving this information as if having his teeth picked over by a particularly incompetent dentist. "What ain't simple about gettin' in a plane an' takin' off?"

"Schedules!" Gabrielle filling him in on the paperwork involved. "We got contracts to fulfill each day, customers who require us to take our planes to various places at various times each day, flight plans to figure out and send to Ottawa for rubber-stamping, and so forth."

"Fuelling, too." Claire stepping in with her take on the subject. "You see, it isn't just a matter of telling us where you want to go, our revving up the ol' plane, an' you and your partners taking-off in such, all within half an hour. A lot of pre-flight activity to happen before that comes to pass."

"What my co-manager is saying is," Gabrielle following-up Claire's stance with her own positive outlook. "if you want a flight, to wherever, we have to make plans beforehand; plans that'll take at least, oh, two-three days, before we can reach the point of you all stepping into our plane and going where you want."

This didn't seem to go well with Smedley, a rather nasty twist of the lips allied with a grating tone in his voice appearing as he rounded on Claire.

"This's all b-llsh-t! I ain't never heard such nonsense in all my life. You sayin' you ain't gon'na take our business? I got the greenbacks t'cover the whole flight, there an' back—no worry there. What about the floatplane out on the water at the moment? It's big enough t'take my whole party with room t'spare."

"Already spoken for." Claire ahead of the game here, too. "Been on two flights already this morning, another two scheduled for this afternoon, after which us pilots has to have regulationery rest periods. In fact, the Norseman won't be available until two days from now, earliest."

"Sh-t!" Smedley not taking this well. "Anyone else in the area help me? With a plane that'll actually fly when I wants it to?"

"Short answer—no!" Gabrielle shrugging her shoulders as she too sat down, the better to be nearer her own weapon in the drawer close by her left hand. "All we can offer is a flight maybe on Thursday morning—it being complicit to your providing us with your destination so's a flight plan can be worked out, fuel amounts calculated, times of departure and arrival figured, and the necessary paperwork and details sent to Ottawa via post an' telephone. In fact, better make that Monday morning, next—not earlier."

"Five f-ckin' days!" Smedley peeved-off completely at this news. "That ain't no good at all! Hell, no!"

Claire took this on the chin, inclining her head in the universal motion of showing there was nothing to be done about it.

"Best we got for you. Where'd you want to go, anyway? Got'ta be within our machine's range, of course. There's plenty of places we just can't reach, for a multitude of reasons."

But Smedley had taken enough negativity to last him for the rest of the day.

"Hell, forget it! I'll take a hike round this two-bit joint—more like a dam' village than a real town, anyway—see if there's anyone else who's got their heads screwed on right where money matters. G'bye!"

With which parting shot he walked out without shutting the door, leaving the women rather glad than otherwise.

"They're climbing back in the DeSoto." Gabrielle giving a running commentary as she looked out the window, meanwhile hiding behind the lace curtain. "Nothing happening—ah, they're moving off, taking the road back to the edge of town—yep, they're gone."

"And good riddance." Claire searching in the drawer that held her unused firearm. "That was a close call—almost thought at one point we'd need to re-enact the Gunfight at the OK Corral again."

"Yeah, me too." Gabrielle nodding as she kept a lookout through the window. "Think he'll come back, guns out, and demand we take him flying?"

"Nah, cause too much commotion in all sorts of ways and places." Claire now working through the debris in the lower drawer of her desk. "Say, baby, you seen that slip of paper Castermaine wrote his phone number on? Can't find the dam' thing for love or money."

"In my desk. Lem'me get it, lover." Gabrielle following this by producing the required note within seconds. "Here—you gon'na fill Castermaine and his elves in on our late visitors?"

"I should say so." Claire nodding determinedly. "Never a better moment; Smedley didn't say where exactly he wanted us to take him, but we can guess."

"Dam' right." Gabrielle allowing the truth of her lover's remark. "Davy Lake, or I'm a Dutchman. Though how Smedley thought he and his cronies would get away afterwards after shooting Gordon, if they could, I don't know. I mean, the fight with the Agents there'd take hours."

"And a lot'ta the folks holidaying in the other cabins'd probably light in with their own hunting weapons on the side of Law and Order." Claire taking the logical route. "Could end up, before the smoke cleared, a rerun of Passchendaele. Don't want any of that, do we!"

"Hell, no!" Gabrielle firm about this if nothing else. "Mess our schedule up for the rest of the week, if nothing more."

"Har!" Claire finally dialing the number as she held the handset to her left ear. "Right, let's see what Castermaine's platoon thinks of our visitors."

—O—

Friday, and no word from the Government Agents after Claire had spent half an hour explaining their meeting with Smedley to the Agent at the other end of the line, he promising to pass on the information to Castermaine within the hour. Then just as Claire raised her first coffee-cup of the morning to her lips, the phone rang.

"Yeah, what?"

"Hardly the best professional response in the circumstances, surely. You thought of taking classes in Business Etiquette, at all?" Castermaine's superior tone letting Claire know from the start he was in a particularly good mood this morning.

"Castermaine, bite a raw rutabaga, just for me, OK?"

"Harph!—anyway, to business." He clearly hugely tickled at Claire's response. "We got 'em! All of 'em, thanks."

By this time Gabrielle was also on her co-phone, listening to the ongoing conversation.

"Who's them?" She chiming in with a wish for clarification.

"This guy Smedley, who visited you a few days ago." Castermaine sounding over the line as if on the verge of giggling with joy. "We got on his tail within the day, had him under surveillance in forty-eight, and yesterday raided his motel room and that of his stooges. All went brilliantly, no one wounded or the other, thankfully, but he's now a guest of the Government's hospitality for the foreseeable future—so you can scrub Smedley off your worry list, anyway."

"OK, anything else swimming around this situation at the moment?" Claire searching for clarity. "Al and I not wanting a rerun of Smedley every few days."

"Well, can't be certain there, I'm afraid." Castermaine sounding a little more cautious. "The news of Gordon being in hiding somewhere in the north of the Province seems to have gotten out; Gatch's Point, even, being pinned as the most likely starting-place; so, almost any deadbeat might show up still, just the way the cookie crumbles. What I'm saying is, keep your guard up for a while yet."

Claire was in no way happy with this response.

"Castermaine, this is not good news. What you're saying is we can look forward to any number of hitmen, gangsters, or hoods of all sorts rolling-up here, on their way to Davy Lake. Not acceptable! We're not going to set ourselves up as your Patsy's for anyone who comes along to push us around. Are you saying we're the bull's-eye for every thug in the country going after Gordon's hidey-hole?"

A long pause ensued, Castermaine either on his back foot or searching for an answer that would pacify Claire and Gabrielle.

"—ah, there is a slight chance of some persons possibly showing-up, yes." He sounding as if every word was being dragged from him by the use of forceps. "But I wouldn't take it to the point that crowds or armies of such will be surrounding you, no. What I mean is, don't take it to heart so much; things won't be as bad as you make out, I'm sure."

This diatribe, whatever Castermaine thought he was doing, could only have one result with Claire and Gabrielle—they both blowing-up in tandem, Gabrielle taking first shot at the Government Agent on the other end of the line.

"Castermaine, I get the uneasy feeling you have this situation already well worked out! You've pre-planned around this likelihood, figured out your tactics, and are now letting things run on as you expect. Have you got a posse of Agents already here, at Gatch's Point, waiting in ambush for whoever else turns up to hijack our plane services re Gordon?"

Another silence filtered along the line, electric whines and hums sounding like a community of banshees holding their own conversations on the wires.

"—uum, I have put a couple of Agents on duty there, yes. But not an army of such; we not expecting anything on the scale of what you're worried about. Sure, there're some goons looking to take Gordon out, and needing transport to get 'em up t'where he's domiciled, but the chances of anyone else, after Smedley, appearing are miniscule. Take it easy, is the best advice I can give at the moment."

Gabrielle took the opportunity to glance at Claire, curling her lip in disgust to show her take on Castermaine's attitude. Claire, seeing this, took action.

"Listen. laddie, if we're harassed by any other bozos in the next few days over this thing we're both going to be very angry indeed—and you don't know how truly angry Al and I can really get if pushed. What I'm saying is, if this is a set-up,—for you to wait in the woods for thugs of all descriptions to hassle and attack us in lieu of the absent Gordon—well, it ain't going to end well for you! And don't think I'm pushing things overmuch, seeing your position and all. Al and I have the full Majesty of the British Government behind us; if anything happens to us you'll find yourself answering to Persons of Authority on a level you never yet realised existed."

Castermaine came back swiftly on this threat.

"No-no! Nothing like that; there are some Agents in your immediate vicinity, I admit, but only to give protection if needed, on a one to one basis you might say."

Gabrielle snorted over the phone, her disgust with what she had heard apparent to all.

"That's garbage—your men can only be here in pursuit of an ongoing set of ambushes around Gordon's pursuers trying to force us to take them there. There isn't any other reason for your men's presence. Which, the more I think of it, means you set us up from the get-go for this very contingency—using us as patsy's for your own reasons, to get those who want to get Gordon."

"Yeah," Claire coming in with her own dawning understanding. "Gordon being up at Davy Lake is irrelevant, a detail—all you want is the thugs humming round our office here in Gatch's Point like flies at a picnic. You've probably now, after missing Smedley turning up so early like that, got a whole army of Agents hiding in the woods like a bad fairy tale. Well, we ain't taking it; I'm putting the phone down now, Castermaine, and going straight to the Police office here. And if that messes up your sweet plans, so what?"

"Now, let's not go off at half-cock here." Castermaine, from his tone, doing just that himself. "I'm not in Ottawa, as it happens, I'm in Prince Albert—I can be with you in Gatch's Point in, oh, two hours? What do you say?"

But another angle of the argument had proposed itself to Gabrielle's lightning swift mind.

"You've, by your own admission, got Gatch's Point surrounded by an army of Agents? That can only mean you expect someone of note, someone high up on your wanted list to appear here sometime soon, aiming to go you know where. It isn't about Gordon, it never was! It was always about this thug, whoever they are, showing up here and cajoling us to follow his or her orders about Gordon. We're,—we were always,—the butterflies pinned to the board for everyone to come and gaze at, or threaten just so's you get your man. That's it, aint it?"

The silence at the other end of the line went on for so long Claire felt it necessary to butt in to make sure Castermaine hadn't simply left in high dudgeon.

"Ya still there, Castermaine? Haven't had a stroke or fit, or whatever? 'cause if so don't expect Get-Well cards from either of us, is all!"

"I better come up. I'll be with you in a couple of hours, say around two o'clock."

"Sure thing, buster; we'll be waiting, only don't expect to be greeted with garlands of roses." Gabrielle getting in the last word, as was her due right. "Huh! Bum's rung-off; reckon we flustered him some, though!"

Claire, meanwhile, had taken an entirely different direction in response to the unfolding situation.

"Lover, my automatic's loaded, how about your revolver?"

Gabrielle paused to stare at her loved partner.

"Good idea; my gun?—I can check it, lem'me get it out the drawer an' reload it. Expecting something, sis?"

"Castermaine won't be here, with reinforcements hopefully, till mid afternoon. We don't know how many Agents are already here, hiding in the bushes—but not more'n three or four tops. For the next five hours we should look on ourselves as being on our own—and—"

Gabrielle stared at her partner even more piercingly.

"And?"

"Two sedans have just pulled-up outside—saw them through the window by the door; about eight men have clambered out, an' none look like your kindly Uncle Algernon!"

"Oh, f-ck-sh-t!"

—O—

The large office, actually a former storage shed, had a rear door and it took the women less than ten seconds to lock the front, grab their firearms, and exit via the latter; the lane outside lined by a number of other buildings offering a fair number of hiding-places for the fleeing ladies.

"Where we going?"

"We'll cut through down the side of the next building." Claire on the ball as they sprinted along the grass-lined lane. "Leads back to the lake-front an' jetty. We can get t'the Norseman easy, take-off, an' leave those bozos twiddling their thumbs. Call Castermaine to let loose the Dogs of War by radio when we're safely at ten thousand."

"Works for me, babe; shift along, we aren't going fast enough!"

But before they as much as reached the narrow alleyway between two buildings that was their destination events to their rear took a dramatic turn.

Bang!-Bang!-Bang!—Rat-a-tat—Rat-a-tat—Rat-a-tat!

"Sh-t an' b-gg-ry, the show's started without us!" Gabrielle screeching to a halt amid a cloud of dust to glance back.

Coming to a halt herself Claire reflected all the appropriate signs of being in two minds, then she groaned and made her mind up.

"We goin' back t'help the cops?"

"Oh, G-d! Yeah, suppose." Gabrielle taking a look at her revolver as she agreed. "In our contract, after all!"

"Har! Not much of a reason, but it'll do!" Claire taking the primrose path. "OK, let's go! You take the left side of the office, I'll take the other. Shoot whoever looks suspicious out front; we'll figure out the pro's an' con's after, OK?"

"Not much but, what the hell, let's do it!"

"One of 'em's got a Thompson, so watch your step, lady!"

The scene presenting itself to the women when they glanced cautiously round the sides of their individual office corners was one of ongoing mayhem—one body lay spread-eagled in the dust while two others could be seen crouching behind one of the sedans they had arrived in—of the attackers, G-men both Claire and Gabrielle surmised—nothing could be seen, they seemingly firing from protected positions at the sides of various buildings nearby; it at least being perfectly clear who was playing the villain of the piece and who wasn't.

Gabrielle, marking her prey, aimed her Smith and Wesson revolver with both hands, paused on acquiring her target, then shot twice without hesitation. The man, almost on his knees behind the front wheel-guard of the nearer sedan, jerked sideways flopping to the ground where he commenced to twitch in a nasty manner—the other man near him hiding by the car boot not noticing the demise of his companion he being so taken up with returning fire against those still firing at him.

Claire, from her vantage, could see both him and another man behind the further sedan who looked as if he was about to attempt to enter the vehicle and make his own getaway. Again using both hands to steady her aim Claire stood almost straight, took time to make sure of her target and let fly with half her clip.

Bang!-Bang!-Bang!-Bang!-Bang!

Paint flew from the side of the sedan by the man's elbow, the side-window above his head disintegrated into dust sending shrapnel everywhere but otherwise her fusillade seemed to have been less than successful. Pausing to reload another burst of fire from the unseen Agents set the rest of the men in motion; four men, from hiding-places neither Claire nor Gabrielle had pin-pointed, appeared through the rising clouds of dust like Demons from a gateway to Hades; one carrying a Thompson machine-gun cradled at waist-height, looking every inch the Chicago boot-legger of old.

Rat-a-Tat!—Rat-a-Tat!—Rat-a-Tat!—Bang! Bang! Bang!-Bang!

In what was only a few seconds, but seemed an unlimited eternity to those involved, return fire from what must have been a substantial number of Government Agents raked the area around and through the several criminals, Claire and Gabrielle actually seeing dust darting from the waistcoats of at least two as they were hit multiple times from various still unseen defenders—then a machine-gun on the Agents' side opened-up from some hidden vantage-point.

Rat-a-Tat!-Rat-a-Tat!-Rat-a-Tat!-Rat-a-Tat!

Seconds later when this barrage ended the clearing dust clouds revealed all the remaining thugs spread out on the ground; two motionless, while the other three writhed in several degrees of pain and anguish, they all out of the fight entirely. A quiet pause ensued as Claire and Gabrielle and, it was to be presumed, the Government Agents waited to see if all opposition had indeed been routed. When nothing further followed several dark shapes proceeded to cautiously materialise from corners of buildings, from behind piles of wood planks, and a small copse of trees—all dressed in regulation dark-blue serge suits and black fedoras marking them as Government-issue even more so than mere regulation uniforms.

"Jeez, how many?" Gabrielle stunned by the number of these defenders of Law and Order.

"Must be twelve, for sure." Claire as much astonished as her beloved. "You OK, ducks?"

"Yeah, not a scratch. Don't think I hit but one though, myself."

"One more'n me, sis, didn't have the chance, t'tell the truth." Claire taking a deep breath as one of the Agents spotted the women and gave an encouraging wave. "Yeah, you too, buster! Nah, that last count's a bust—must be all of fifteen of 'em! God, most of the Government Defence Team must be swanning round here! A dam' army!"

"Castermaine had all this planned from the start." Gabrielle gritting her teeth in anger as tension released. "Gordon up at Davy Lake be dam'med! Carlton had us pinned here as bait for this bunch of deadbeats from the get-go, dam' him!"

Having reloaded her piece and put it away in her pocket Claire now turned to more important matters.

"When Castermaine gets here I'm goin' t'punch his handsome face more than once."

"Leave something for me, lover!" Gabrielle setting free her inner Amazon without regret. "Time I've finished with the rat Valentino won't have any more claimants against him for face of the century!"

Both irate women now proceeded over the bedraggled ground, bodies lying everywhere in a variety of positions indicative of a quick exit from the troubles of Existence, to greet the seemingly vast number of Agents Castermaine had evidently seen fit to stash around the small community; Claire grinning with the cold intensity of Queen Boudicca facing a Roman Legion and eager for the fun to begin.

"Look at these bozos? All happy as larks now they've comprehensively made the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre look like a minor tiff at a child's tea-party. I'm gon'na enjoy the next few minutes!"

"Baby, let it rip!" Gabrielle no whit less eager to get a handful of scalps as a result of their underhanded mis-handling.

"Hallo, ladies," A tall heavy-set Agent confronting them with a wide smile, little did he realise. "Fine show, eh? Got the lot, dam' 'em all! That's Big Al Moran, lyin' in the dirt there; main man we was after, all along! Larry's my name; you heard from Mister Castermaine, yet?"

"Oh, yes, Mister Larry; he's on his way, poor sap; say, can I tell ya something?" Claire's smile by now that of a tiger who knew perfectly well where her next meal was coming from.

"Sure, spit it out."

"Well," Claire grinning in an almost insane manner that made the Agent take swift stock and realise the little localised war just past had not ended as quickly and safely as he had thought. "It's like this—you—"

The End

—O—

Another 'Atalanta Haulage' story will arrive shortly.

—OOO—