'The Meidener Airshow Incident'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever, lovers, are Private Investigators in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. They provide security during a local airshow.

Disclaimer:— Copyright ©2023 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—

Meidener Airfield lay well out on the eastern outskirts of Delacote City, NH, just on the far side of the Meidener Field Horse Racetrack; so aspiring air passengers could spend their last half hour before travelling losing on the hosses, or vice versa the racegoers had a free view of the aircraft coming and going from the airfield—a win situation for both sides. Especially so when an Event took place at the airfield, which was pretty frequently. Today, October 4th 1936, and for the entire coming week, there was an International Air Show scheduled with entrants from far and wide. To help with security the firm of Drever and Cartwright, Private Investigators, had been roped in to offer tight and professional security across the board over the whole expanse of Meidener Field and other locales as necessary. Right now, at nearly 10.00am, both Fiona Cartwright and her lover and partner Alice Drever were standing on the edge of the quay on The Causeway bordering the wharves and jetties of the Harbor.

"Tell me again, why're we standin' with our feet almost in the salt water when we should be doin' security at Meidener Field, three miles in that direction?"

Alice pointedly pointing away from the Harbor.

Her lover, standing by her side, was up for this foolishness, however.

"There are such aircraft as flying-boats, y'know; wan'na see one of them try t'land on Meidener Field?"

"Hrrph!" Alice reluctant to admit defeat. "Don't see any flying-boats anywhere close?"

"They ain't arrived yet. That's why we're here—to meet an' greet."

"Oh, that's why you insisted on our bringing both our sedans—I get it?"

"Thank Gawd fer that!"

"How many will there be?" Alice already pursuing another train of thought. "I mean, crews?"

Fiona had the relevant details well to hand.

"Three craft, all Italian; one big three-engined Savoia-Marchetti an' two single-engined medium-size, same company. Two pilots to each craft; there're some other passenger staff but they'll be given rooms in nearby hotels, only the pilots coming back with us to Meidener."

"So, that'll be six, tops?"

"Yeah."

"OK, that's do-able." Alice nodding as if a heavy weight had been taken off her weary shoulders. "Say, Italians! I don't speak the lingo. You?"

"Nah, sure they'll speak English though, or at the worst, American."

"Har-Har!"

"Anyway, Mrs Andover'll be handling them, she speaking the lingo like a trooper."

"Oh-ah!"

As if specifically to break-up this conversation the reverberating thrum of aircraft engines high in the blue sky announced the imminent arrival of the Italians. At first mere specks in the distance over the water they soon came into focus, revealing three double-hulled flying-boats of unusual design.

"I see them!" Alice gazing upwards excitedly. "God! Single high wings, three bloody big engines on the large one an' no fuselage to any, just struts to triple tails! I see the windows in the two hulls, but where's the cockpit?"

"In the centre of the wing, between the hulls."

"No!"

"Yes!"

Alice continued observing the three aircraft as they swept over the Bay and Docks.

"Am I seein' right? Propellers at both ends of the engines? How's that?"

"Double engines, one facing forward, the other t'the rear, enclosed in the same casing." Fiona beginning to sound uncomfortably like an expert, a point which Alice took up without fail.

"How'd ya know such, lover? Expert pilot suddenly, are ya?"

"I read the leaflets put out for the Show, madam, don't you?"

"Well, no." Alice hardly wishing to admit this lack of knowledge. "How many passengers can those crates hold, if you know so much?"

"The two smaller, five in each hull; the big one, eleven in each hull." Fiona pleased to hold the winning hand in the knowledge game. "Tailplanes held by wire braced metal pylons; makes the rear of the aircraft mighty like a pile of scaffolding."

"Sure does; ya won't get me up in one o'those things, not in a million year, baby!"

"No reason why you should, gal!" Fiona ruthlessly pouring cold water on her companion's complaint. "We're ground security, not air stewardesses."

Another roar drowned their words as the three aircraft flew overhead once more, this time slowly turning to bring them in line with the centre of the Bay in their landing configuration. Ten minutes later the aircraft were rocking gently at their buoys while what seemed a fleet of small motorboats dealt with the passengers and crew, a large crowd looking on from the various wharves at the elegant but frail-looking machines.

"Those tailplane struts don't look very strong, compared to the hulls. An' the engines look bloody huge, oversized, as well."

"Got'ta say, I agree." Fiona nodding as they turned away to their cars. "Mrs Andover'll have the pilots under her own wing in a jiffy, better get our crates fired up in readiness—you know how picky she can be."

"God, yeah!" Alice shaking her head as they strolled over the massive cobbles of The Causeway. "Sometimes imagine she thinks she's the Minister of Air herself."

In minutes, with two Italian crew members in each of the three cars the convoy was on its way back to Meidener Airfield, arriving there in good order half an hour later. Mrs Andover, the General Manager of the International Show, taking them all in hand as they exited the cars on the edge of the aerodrome, the stands and flag-poles of the nearby Horse Race Track showing well in the background.

The airfield itself was of medium size, not being able to take craft with more than three engines, which left a quantity of possible four-engined airliners and some military machines out in the cold, but nothing could be done about that. Mrs Andover grappled the six Italian visitors into a tight group and hustled them off to meet the local Bigwigs in a fancy ceremony, letting Fiona and Alice go their separate ways.

"How's our security fence holdin' up, y'suppose?"

"Pretty well, Billie Baines knows how t'handle these kind'a events; she's an old hand at it. Her crew'll see everything right, that's why we employed them."

"Yeah."

While not being overly extensive there was enough room at Meidener for two taxi-ing runways, which were now being used as concourses for an eclectic number of stationary aircraft, several open to the eager Public to enter and wonder at.

"Jeez, never seen so many aircraft in one go before."

"Ya say that every day we come down here, ducks."

"Well, it's true." Alice not to be put off by idle criticism. "Look at those French machines, for instance."

"What? Those over there?"

"Yeah."

"Those're Italian."

"You sure?"

"Definite! I read the catalogue, like I said, unlike some."

"Phooey!"

Over the three days the Show had already been going Alice had been making certain observations of a general nature, which she now felt impelled to share.

"Lots of civil machines, but not that many military ones. Even the Germans haven't brought over any specimens of their, what're they called, Luftwaffe?"

"A delicate subject, the military European machines, I fancy." Fiona addressing this lack with a frowning brow. "Think it's common knowledge the Jerries are up t'something in the political arena, what with the ongoin' Spanish conflict they've inserted themselves an' their military aircraft into unasked, so wantin' t'keep their campaign cards tight t'their chests. Think they may have eyes on other bits of Europe, too, meb'be."

"Oh-oh!" Alice wrinkling her own brow. "Shifty bunch, altogether; an' all that high-signin' they do with their arms every time they salute's gettin' on my nerves. An' I don't think much of their insignia, either. Those dam' red flags with their strange crooked black crosses seem t'be everywhere; bet they hang 'em in their bathrooms back home, too!"

"Shouldn't wonder."

A little further along the massed ranks of small aircraft Alice stopped at a curious specimen which had drawn an interested crowd, many of whom were openly laughing at the strange design.

"What the hell's this? Gawd!"

Fiona pulled a catalogue from her jerkin pocket and read from the relevant page.

"An Arup S-Two, meant t'be aerodynamically smooth-flowing; it's a prototype. One single curved wing, really."

"Take it that it can actually fly, if it wasn't brought here by road transport?"

"No, it flew, right enough, hard's that to believe."

"I don't for one. Prototype, y'say?—bet it goes nowhere."

"It didn't fly the Atlantic, for sure; says here it came over in the hold of the SS Atreus; then flew itself up here from NY." Fiona reading on.

"Bully for it!" Alice having lost interest as they wandered along the line of exhibits. "Now, this's what I call a real aircraft."

"Percival Gull; nice aircraft—British."

"If I had the dough, an' could fly, I'd meb'be buy one."

Fiona turned to gaze affectionately at her companion, though with lifted eyebrow.

"You fly? Well, just never ask me t'accompany ya. I'll stay on terra firma, an' buy the wreath when it comes due."

"Oh, thanks a lot for that vote of confidence!"

Their conversation was interrupted here by the arrival of a young man of exceptional elegance. Some five feet eight inches in height, slim of physique though still obviously muscular, dark brown hair and bright blue eyes in a square-jawed face, dressed in a light tweed suit with a dark Borsalino hat he emanated elegance from his brown leather shoes to his thick eyebrows.

"Hi, Gordon, what's up?"

"Billie sent me t'corral ya both t'come t'the office; we got us a pick-pocket, Billie thinkin' there's a group operatin' across the Field. Says, d'ya wan'na come an' interrogate the hound?"

Fiona looked at Alice, who had perked-up immensely at this offer.

"We certainly do, nuthin' Al likes more'n givin' a pick-pocket the heavy treatment; eh, Al?"

"You said it, gal; lead me to him, so's I can make the remainder of his day more miserable than he could ever imagine!"

Fiona sighed as the trio walked back towards the main aerodrome building.

"She has a great imagination, Gordon; don't worry, it's all in her head, mostly."

"Oh, you think, dear?" Alice keeping her end up in company.

—O—

The office, when found, turned out to be a poky affair hardly large enough to contain the five persons now within. Sitting on a hard chair, looking morose as all get-out, was the thief of the moment, as shifty a character as could be wished.

"Sez his name's Gil Rankine, but I wouldn't put too much weight on that." Billie Baines setting forth the situation for the new arrivals. "Not one for talkin' much, so I thought Al'd find it amusin' t'talk t'him herself. Al here's gon'na get ya t'open up, Gil. Ya play hard t'get Al'll be miffed right down t'her fancy Armstrong shoes, see?"

Billie was, in fact, a tall lady of svelte physique dressed presently in short leather jerkin and dull brown trousers over black boots. Somewhere in her early thirties she had been providing security, in one form or another, for the richer citizens of Matilda County for the past ten years and had built a reputation for efficiency and getting the job done.

"What'd he pinch?" Alice coming to the crux of the matter.

"A lady's purse, grabbed it out'ta her hand an' ran—right in'ta those o'one of my boys—ha-ha!" Billie squeezing the most from the stroke of luck.

"So, y're a idiot as well as a pickpocket?" Alice not giving him the benefit of the doubt.

"Hey! Ya b-tch!"

Billie, with an elegant motion seamlessly honed over many years, busted him one on the jaw that nearly rocked him off his chair.

"Aa-aargh!"

"Another quip along those lines an' I get angry." Billie laying down the local Laws. "An' when I get angry, people get hurt, jus' so's ya know, palooka!"

Alice, well used to Billie's methods, carried on her interrogation with a hard expression, as if she was all in with her companion's style.

"OK, who're ya workin' this grift with? We know ya never work alone; ya got'ta have someone close by t'shift the loot onto quick as a flash. So, who are they, an' where are they now? Or d'ya want some more diligent facial massages from my mate here? Anytime, buster, anytime, ya jus' got'ta ask!"

Gil, still rubbing his injured chin, looked death arrows at those surrounding him in the airless room, keeping his mouth firmly shut meanwhile—out of spite more than fear.

"OK, Billie, he's all yours for the next ten minutes. Fay an' I'll go get us a burger an' coffee, back in ten."

She made for the door, showing every intention of following through with her intent; Billie stepping forward menacingly the while with raised fist. Gil, looking from one to the other, broke first.

"OK-OK! God! What kind'a work's this? The Third Degree, down at the Fifth'd be easier than this. Ya got permission t'act so, or what?"

Billie laughed.

"This's Meidener Field, laddie; anything goes out here, among the hosses' an' planes, an' tumbleweed—the Wild West, y'know, an' me an' my partners here are Wyatt Earp an' his gang—an' ya know how brutal he was, right?"

Gil, believing every word, decided to save his own skin as much as was possible, and devil take the hindmost.

"OK—Margaret Robinson; she's got long blonde hair, green flowery dress, blue leather handbag on a long leather strap, round face, chews gum: she was within ten feet o'me when I got cornered, don't know where she may be now. That's all I got, fer sure."

"It'll have t'do." Billie making a sign to one of the men there, who swiftly exited the room. "We'll have her in hand within the half hour. Take him away t'the cells, Bob, we're finished here."

The second man grabbed the miscreant by the shoulder, hauling him to his feet with scant regard for the niceties and in ten seconds both had gone, leaving at least some breathing room in the office for the three remaining women.

"How's life?" Fiona taking up the conversational thread.

"Oh, gettin' along alright." Billie nodding comfortably. "He's the third grifter we've grabbed this morning. Him, a man tryin' t'hold folks up usin' an old Colt revolver, unloaded, an' a woman tryin' the Insurance grift—fallin' down in front of someone's car an' pretendin' they been knocked over."

"Oh, Glory! All the low-life's comin' out t'play, eh?" Fiona nodding in her turn.

"Yeah, covers it. What ya got on the daily schedule yourself, Al?" Billie looking enquiringly at her co-boss of the moment.

"Nothing new, just keep up the good work. Fay an' I are just goin' t'haul ass round the parked planes, see everyone's keepin' good order. See ya in an hour an' a half."

"OK."

—O—

The concourse, lined by a multiplicity of aircraft of various types, was as crowded as previously, an astonishing number of the Public wishing to get as close-up a view of the planes as was possible. Some, more high-spirited than the majority, even going to the lengths of ducking under reserve ropes to go right up to some examples and touch or even try to climb into open cockpits or through interior doors to the fuselages. On arriving at the start of the long double row of airplanes Fiona and Alice quickly pinned their first victim of the day.

"There's someone tryin' t'get inside that passenger plane, through the rear door." Alice spotting the miscreant first. "Beat ya to him, baby!"

Half a minute later the man, in his late thirties and somewhat the worse for drink, was being manhandled across the intervening security rope back into the flow of the general Public.

"Don't try that again, mister, unless ya wan'na spend the rest o'your day in the cooler, OK?"

"Ba-aarth!" He not quite able to respond ably, a paper cup still hanging lose in his right hand.

"God, drunk as a skunk!" Alice giving him a shake to see if it had any effect, and because she felt like it. "Come on, let's get him over t'the Waitin' Room, he can sit on a bench there till he sobers up, there's a security guard there t'keep order. Come on, lad."

Ten minutes later they were back again, being pushed and shoved on both sides by the circulating crowd.

"It's the mothers an' kids who're the worst." Alice letting rip with her opinion after a particularly troublesome interchange with one of that species. "Always think they're in the right, an' you're the bad guy!"

"Take it on the chin, sis!" Fiona struggling not to laugh openly. "Worse things happen in the Army! Say, see that guy over there? The one in the light gray uniform an' cap, makin' out t'be a Pilot?"

"Yeah, what about him?"

"What uniform's that?"

"How should I know; I ain't an expert!" Alice giving the subject little attention. "Got better things t'attend to, or haven't ya noticed?"

Fiona had, while this discussion proceeded, been taking careful note of the man in question.

"He's pretendin' t'be a British Air Force officer; but they wear blue uniforms, his's light grey. An' those badges an' patches on his chest an' shoulders are meaningless, take it from me."

"He's griftin', you mean? Sure? We don't wan'na grab a real officer, y'know. Cause endless trouble if he is. Ya sure? He's a bad 'un, I mean?"

"Yeah, certain."

"Be it on your own head, lady." Alice still hardly convinced. "Let's get to it, then."

The pseudo-officer was deep in conversation with an elderly well-dressed man in his late sixties, who appeared to be some kind of businessman. The discourse coming to an abrupt close when the two women hove up showing their official security cards to both men.

"Hi'ya, nice t'see ya both; we're Security round these parts." Fiona setting forth her official speech for the present situation. "Say, officer, which country d'ya represent, an' can ya show me your military identification, Airshow acknowledgement certificate, an' Member's Day-Pass, please. Any time right now'll do fine, thanks."

The uniformed man, around five-nine in height, slim and lithe, glanced round with grey eyes searching for an escape route, but Fiona was onto him.

"See those two men over there, ten yards off? They belong t'me; you run, they run after ya. An' ya know what happens then? They drag ya into a nice friendly shady corner, where no-one can see or hear, an' they give ya a good goin' over. Ya ever had a good goin' over before, laddie? Those two are experts, I guarantee it. So, what's it t'be?"

"In case you're wonderin', mister," Alice addressing the unfortunate victim of the grifter's attempt at fleecing his victim. "This here's a bad egg, all through. Don't know what he was in the throes of inveigling out'ta ya, but whatever, or however much it was, you'd have never seen a red cent of it again, take it from Fay an' I."

While the businessman puffed his cheeks in righteous wrath, speaking words that, though diffuse and disorderly, could easily be discerned as a type last used offensively against unruly Afghans somewhere in the Khyber Pass in the late 1890's, Alice and Fiona gestured to the two security guards to come over and take charge of their latest quarry.

"Just go along with Terry and Jake here, mister." Fiona laying down the order of events to come to the irate businessman. "They'll take a statement, an' we can have this moron comfortably settled in a cell before anyone can say Gordon Bennett. There ya go!"

As the quartet walked off Alice became a trifle edgy.

"What say we visit the Control Tower, see what's happenin' up there among the clouds? Feel like some Alpine fresh air."

"OK, suits me. I'll follow you, lady. Ya know the way?"

"Fool!"

—O—

The Control Tower was a masterpiece of its type—which is to say it was built in the curved Moderne manner, white-painted from base to pinnacle, with a top storey which had windows all round; rising 80 feet into the air it rose above everything to give a wide panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, Airfield, and Horsetrack, not to mention the distant Docks and Ocean Bay. On climbing the circular interior stairs to this top storey Fiona and Alice, armed with certificates to allow their presence there and a little out of breath, entered the busy Control Room itself.

Seven operators, men and women, were seated at radio stations with headphones and microphones of their own keeping in constant contact with the air traffic for miles around, while four others stood at various points of the encircling windows with binoculars keeping close eyes on all the comings and goings around the airfield. Fiona and Alice moving across to where a small group, led by a short man in a pale green shirt, stood around the chair of one of the radio operators.

"Hi, Jake, what's up?"

"We got us a problem, Fay." Jake Foster wiping a damp brow with his shirt cuff, not for the first time. "A Jer—er, German Junkers has lost one of its three engines, comin' in on the remaining two, seven miles out over the county right now."

"Who're your friends?" Alice taking note of the other two men present. "Thought civilians weren't allowed up here?"

"Representatives of the Luftwaffe," Jake indicating the two men, dressed in clothes of a markedly European cut. "Lem'me introduce Walter von Bauer, Manager of Aerodynamics for Junkers, and Ehrhard Schuster, Propaganda Ministry official. Gentlemen, Fiona Cartwright and Alice Drever, our Security Team officials."

The Germans acknowledged the introductions in clipped terms, though speaking English clearly. Neither looking at the moment full of verve and joy, though; the Propaganda official, indeed, looking particularly disappointed with the run of events, his close-cropped hair standing on end in a manner which closely echoed his apparent inner feelings, judging by his tight thin cruel-looking lips.

"So what's the story?" Alice delving for details, those always making-up the ambrosia of her working life.

"Junkers Fifty-Two, out'ta Buffalo, with eight passengers." Jake reciting these facts from memory. "Lost its starboard engine twenty minutes ago, six minutes out as we speak; should be an easy landing, but ya never know."

"Our National Socialist pilots are the best in the world!" The Propaganda official almost snarling this, as if affronted at the unspoken supposition they could be anything other. "It will land without incident, mark my words. Why such a drama is made of the small affair is beyond me to understand. Possibly through lack of equal confidence in your own country's machines, I expect!"

"Having lost the starboard engine it is, of course, lop-sided now; but it should still land OK." Jake taking no notice of the German's outburst. "Would'a been better if it'd lost its nose engine, then it could fly even on the wing motors, but still, it's a generally good machine, should be OK."

"It is German, therefore perfect!" Schuster pushed to another arrogant speech. "Having been built in the Fatherland it will proceed with complete efficiency and land better than most of your American examples at their best!"

"Do we need to close the Show while it lands?" Alice too ignoring this rant.

"Nah, should just be a more or less normal landing." Jake shaking his head. "Might bounce a coupl'a times, but nothing more."

"Our aircra—"

Fiona butted in before he could continue his third rant.

"Mister, I don't care. Ain't got nothing t'do with me, an' I'm sure Mister Foster here, an' his team, have the whole thing under control."

Alice however, as was her innate nature and temper, had lost most of the latter under the continual German berating of her country's finest and best.

"Mister Schuster, you talk loud, but ya don't talk sense! Maybe letting Mister Foster here, the expert, take charge an' see to things in a atmosphere of quiet an' control would help some? You seem t'go off the rails mighty easy for someone supposedly in a high managerial position! Ever thought of takin' a relaxin' holiday, a long one? In the unexplored centre of the Black Forest, for choice."

"This is disgraceful! This cannot be suffered. You will be fired at once!" Schuster turning an engaging shade of pink as he worked himself into a passion. "Mister Foster, sack this woman at once! In fact I am sure legal proceedings are also appropriate. In the Fatherland she would be dealt with summarily, and get what she deserves!"

Fiona turned to face the pompous angry man, standing head and shoulders over him as she pinned him with her hot brown eyes, never wavering at his own cold expressionless face.

"Listen Schuster, back in your own country you may be a big shot, but here, in democratic America, you're acting like a child that's had its apple taken away from it. If ya don't want your imbecilic rantings made public for the local, and probably International, Press in a matter of minutes from now, you'll shut the f-ck up an' be nice for the rest of the day, OK? What'll ya do if your foolishness, embarrassing Germany with your idiotic stance, gets t'the ears of your revered Leader? What'll happen t'ya then, eh? Yeah, exactly."

This last in answer to the sudden paling of his features as reality kicked in and Schuster realised the extent of his improper and immature ravings. He stepped back a few paces, waving arms as if in search of some appropriate answer which, failing, he turned on his heel and left the Control Room without looking back.

"I must apologise for my, ah, companion," von Bauer shaking his head as he spoke. "he is rather too enthusiastic a follower of the Party, you understand. His relatively high Regional position, under the Propaganda Minister—I'm sure you know of whom I speak—has made him somewhat self-assured, perhaps inappropriately—but there, all is well now, I hope?"

"Junkers' comin' in, sir!" The operator at the desk they all stood by offering this significant fact in a calm voice. "Main runway, East. Nothing else in the air at this time."

Everyone watched intently through the windows as the aircraft approached smoothly, its non-rotating engine hardly noticeable. It lined-up with the runway and came in to a perfect landing without incident, taxi-ing away to a distant parking area behind a row of high sheds out of sight of most of the Public, who had not noticed anything out of the ordinary about the landing.

"There we are, all's well!" Jake wiping his brow again.

"We'll leave ya too it," Fiona holding Alice's elbow as she turned to the door. "See ya, Jake."

—O—

The crowds were just as intense when the women walked back outside, thronging every nook and cranny of the airfield it seemed.

"Bet there're corners of this aerodrome that've never felt the touch of a Human foot for twenty years that're bein' pounded flat t'day by hundreds!"

Fiona merely nodded in reply, having nothing to add to this claim; indeed, being nearly knocked sideways by a large lady obviously on a mission of some necessity as she pushed past without ceremony.

"Why'd so many people think it so important t'get from A t'B so quickly?" She attempting to address the question, though ineffectually.

"God Knows!" Alice dismissing the problem without trouble. "Usually find B's no better'n A, when it comes down to it, anyway!"

Their next port of call was the Main Terminal, where travelers, and now visitors, first entered the Aerodrome proper. Consisting of a two storey building, most of which was taken up by the long public Hall reaching to the roof girders, it usually offered passage for a couple of hundred people on an average day; today it was host, temporarily, to thousands. Inside, the Hall was now like a Madhouse that had released all its inmates at once.

"Gawd! What a mess, and the noise!"

Fiona nodded again, finding trying to speak almost a lost cause amidst the cacophony going on all round as hundreds tried to urgently communicate with husbands, wives, brothers, sisters or, worst of all, children.

"What's that badge mean?" This from a lady suddenly materialising at their side and pointing with a long thin finger, while giving Fiona a look reminiscent of the Medusa of old.

"Security, ma'am, can I help?"

"No!" The woman curling an unpleasant lip, as at a bad smell, and turning to be lost in the crowd within seconds.

"Well, that was short an' sweet." Alice grinning. "Your fabled good nature having its usual effect, I see?"

"Idiot!"

A few yards further along they came across a scene all too familiar from long experience. An airport official, in uniform, was facing two men of imposing build who were sounding-off at high volume about something at present somewhat murky of nature.

"What's the trouble?" Alice stepping-in where more legendary persons wouldn't have.

"Who're you two?" The blonde-haired man almost snarling at the new arrivals. "When I wan'na talk t'a dame I'll find one, OK!"

"An' you usually have'ta pay for the privilege, I expect, down some filthy back-alley!" Alice not thrown off her feet in the least.

"What! What!" Blondie taken aback by this quick repartee.

"Can we help, Officer Lannigan?" Fiona reading the uniformed man's name-tag while raising a helpful eyebrow.

"These two men are en route for Dallas, one's lost his briefcase, thinks it's either been high-jacked or we, the Airfield, are responsible for losing it. Come t'the point of him threatening legal action."

"Where'd your briefcase go missing?" Alice meeting the man's cold expression with one even colder and far more frightening.

"—er, over by the Signing-in desk; I put it down at my feet, then it was gone."

"Right, lost luggage, Enquiries Desk, at the end of the Counter." Alice comprehensively on top of the problem. "Lady there'll give ya all the requisite forms t'fill in; no sense or need t'lose your rag; just go by the book like a sensible person an it'll all be sorted out in the long run. If we find it, we'll send it on to your destination after you, OK? OK?"

This last almost a command, one that by its very brevity as well as forceful tone made the angry man stand back from any further opposition to the forces of Good and Evil as shown by Airport Authorities.

"Yeah-yeah, OK, G-d'd-mit!"

"Pleased to be of service, hope you have a good flight!" Alice turning the knife out of pure spite, but with an artificial smile that fooled no-one as the men departed to the Purgatory that was the Enquiries Desk.

"You're a hard woman, lady."

"Got'ta be in this dam' world, ducks." Alice sniffing censoriously as they moved on once more.

At the further end of the Hall, where a large wide exit opened onto the airfield proper, lay the scene of most confusion; that where children most commonly, eagerly racing ahead of busy and anxious parents, generally broke free and lost themselves in the heaving throng—today being no exception.

"Harry—Harry, where the Devil are ya, boy?"

"Cecilia, come back at once. Cecilia?"

"Tommy, when I find ya your hide's history, lad!"

"Wilhelmina, come to Mummy at once, now; I won't ask twice!"

"Where the dam' hell are ya, ya moron, Duncan!"

"Let's get out'ta this, before we get drawn in or we'll be here fer all Eternity."

Alice grasping her companion by the elbow in an iron grip and heading them both sideways out of the worst of the swirling horde. Round the side of an outbuilding they found a quiet corner unnoticed by the majority, where they halted to take a breath.

"Aah, so this's what Freedom tastes like?" Alice breathing deeply while reacting to the situation a little too histrionically.

"Let's head for Hangar Seven, it's just there beyond this taxi lane; Morgana Fairfield'll be there, cosseting her Tiger Moth."

"Good idea, let's go!" Alice veering to head for the shed in question, leaving Fiona to scuttle at her rapidly disappearing heels.

—O—

"Hi, Morgana, how's it hangin'?"

"Oh, Hi, Fay, pretty well, thanks. Hi, Al."

"Any nearer your Dragon, gal?"

"Some, Al." Morgana grinning widely, dressed in oily mechanic's overalls, hands covered in grime. "Won't shake hands, unless ya really want!"

"Nah, we'll pass."

"Yeah, I'm about halfway there on the Dragon; Gods, finding money these days is like spending time in the Klondike in Winter after dam' gold!"

"Yep, hard t'come by, an' when you've got it the Government wants most of it back pronto, no arguments allowed." Fiona covering a pet hate of hers.

"Too right!" Morgana agreeing wholeheartedly as she fiddled with a wrench. "Anyway, I'm having a good week, what with this Show an' all. Customers lining-up in crowds t'be taken from here t'there an' everywhere. I'll be a rich gal by the time the Show ends next Saturday."

"That's the spirit." Alice smiling at her friend's enthusiasm. "Milk 'em for every cent, I say."

"No problems, then?" Fiona taking the time to examine the sleek biplane in detail.

"Nah, had a couple of gangsters wanted me t'fly 'em over the Canadian border last week; told 'em where they got off on that."

"Quite right." Fiona nodding agreement. "If they want t'cross the dam' border they can dam' well do it on foot."

"I'd better get on with this valve, got a customer in an hour."

"OK, we'll leave ya to it, 'bye."

Five minutes later they were on part of the airfield concourse prohibited to the Public, where the everyday activity of the aerodrome went on; fuel trucks, luggage vehicles, official's cars and pick-ups, and strange vehicles only to be found on airstrips engaged in the more esoteric activities associated with helping planes to take to the air safely.

"There's Bob Richards over there—shall we?"

"Why not, he can only tell us t'b-gg-r off, after all." Fiona smiling at the thought.

He, in fact, seemed in a good mood when approached.

"Oh, Hi'ya, keepin' busy?"

"Yeah, what with one thing an' another." Alice allowing of her general nature at the moment. "You?"

"A nightmare, Al, just that!" Richards frowning darkly as he looked around his immediate domain. "Bein' a Ground Inspector has its drawbacks, y'know. Everyone comes t'ya with their individual problems, that ought'a be fixed themselves or by other people. Sometimes I feel like I'm one of those Aunts in a monthly mag answerin' folk's personal problems. No matter what it is, how simple or complicated, they always find me first, dam'mit! An' with this dam' Show goin' on! Jeez, ya can imagine!"

Fiona meanwhile had been staring at a curious machine, on a set of wheels, that sat on the tarmac beside Richards, looking something like an aero engine itself.

"What the dam's this, Bob?"

"An automatic starter, need it for that French biplane with the three engines; they're, the engines, so powerful they need a kick in the pants t'get goin'."

"Oh!"

"Life's gettin' dam' complicated in this modern age, I feel." Alice following a curious train of thought; waxing philosophical, and a trifle morbid at the same time, given the opportunity. "I long for the good old days of horses and carts, an' that was your limit. Sometimes wish someone had knocked those dam' Wright brothers on their heads before they had the chance t'do what they did."

"Dear me, ya havin' a real bad one?" Bob affecting sincerity, but missing the mark by a mile. "Is it that time of, er—"

"No, it ain't, thank you very much!"

"Uu-umph! Here's the Luggage Inspector comin' over; know what he wants, as usual. Can ya spare me?"

"Yeah, we'll let ya get on with it." Fiona barely stopping herself from laughing. "Come on, gal, there must be somewhere or someone in this maelstrom that needs our assistance."

—O—

On their way back to the Main Terminal they soon became caught up amongst the heaving throng of visitors once more; people circulating round the airfield past static displays or wandering along the edges of the runway watching those machines that were taking flight or landing after a display.

"Dam' glad the Authorities banned aerobatics here." Alice sounding-off on a pet theme. "Was at an airshow back in the Sticks years ago, a biplane doin' fancy things in the air at low level, fell out'ta the sky, killed the pilot an' four spectators! Should be banned permanent, I say!"

"Well, in some cases." Fiona on the fence on this one.

"Don't pay too much attention t'these silly efforts t'cross the Atlantic by air, either." Alice continuing her course of determined opposition to Modern Life. "Can't see the point; I mean, why should anyone wan'na fly thousands of miles over water when there're multitudes of dam' comfortable ocean liners waitin' their custom? I just don't get it."

Fiona was only paying scant attention to her companion's thoughts.

"Speed, I imagine; you fly over in hours, liners takin' days. Makes a difference t'some, I expect."

"Hu-umph!" Alice no way convinced. "What happens if your aircraft meets a bad storm head-on halfway over the ocean?"

"What happens if your liner does the same, at sea?" Fiona finding the crack in her lover's logic with consummate ease.

"Grrr!"

This conversation, clearly fated as it was never to reach any positive conclusion, was here interrupted by the approach of an anxious looking Billie Baines, at something nearing a sprint.

"We got us a problem, bigtime, gals!"

"Tell!" Fiona shifting into professional mode in an instant, as did Alice.

"Group of robbers tried t'take down the Pay Office, while everyone was engaged with this dam' Show." Billie taking time to breathe deeply after her run. "Four of 'em. Two escaped in a car, but the cops are in hot pursuit. The other two are presently barricaded in the Pay Office, with three hostages. That's where things are at the moment."

"Sh-t an' b-gg-ry!" Alice seeing the whole scenario in her mind's eye.

"We're right on it, Billie." Fiona taking command. "I've got my automatic; you got your revolver, Al?"

"Nah, left it in our office on the Terminal second floor."

"F-ck!" Fiona taking this difficulty in her stride. "It's on the way t'the Pay Office, we can afford the time. Who else's there, Billie?"

"Mrs Andover, Bob Hamilton, Peter Grimmond, an' a coupl'a others I don't know their names, one's you brought in—an' a passel of cops."

"OK, that's enough t'hold the fort." Fiona making plans on the hoof as the trio ran across the tarmac taking scant notice of the crowd, pushing aside without ceremony those who got too much in their way; leaving a trail of protesting wails and discord in their wake. "Cops? How many?"

"Only just arrivin' as I came out fer you." Billie panting again as they reached a side door to the Terminal. "Four cars showed up, meb'be eight cops at the moment; think they'll bring more reinforcements pretty quick, though."

"Let's hope so." Alice chiming in as they pushed through the door, heading for a stair at the side. "Need everyone we can get; hope they bring the Special Squad, need such in a hostage situation."

"OK, Billie, you go on ahead, we'll catch up with ya." Fiona taking the upper corridor in long strides. "Come on, All; you get your gun, then we'll see what we can do. Know the layout of the Pay Office, at all?"

"Was lookin' at the Terminal ground-plans just yesterday." Alice gasping as they reached the door to their temporary office. "A long rectangular room with a small side office or room, almost just a closet, on the left side. A row of four windows with double latches an' several small horizontal panes of glass each. Long tables running down the centre of the room. Double locks on the door."

"Any windows onto the corridor?"

"Nah, room's wholly enclosed; only entrance, apart from the door, through the windows from outside."

"That'll give the cops something t'think about!"

"OK, I've got my roscoe, I'm ready—coming?"

"Yeah, lead the way."

Two minutes later they stood amidst the small group at the end of the corridor leading to the Pay Office further along; half made up of police officers and half civilian security guards both male and female.

"Any movement yet, Garry?" Fiona asking this of a tall man with strong features in a grey tweed suit.

"Nah, except one of the clowns shouted five minutes ago he's gon'na shoot the hostages if we try anything."

A police sergeant spoke up.

"I'm told reinforcements won't be here for at least another twenty minutes or more, ma'am. Probably best t'wait fer them."

"Par for the course, an' too long!" Fiona shaking her head. "Look, I got'ta plan, a good one—what I want ya t'do is—"

The End.

—O—

Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.

—OOO—