'The Lost Author's Saga'

by Phineas Redux


Summary:— In 1948 Claire 'Ricky' Mathews and her lover Gabrielle Parker, both members of a secret British Security Department also active in Canada, operate the Atalanta Haulage company in Saskatchewan, using trucks and various aircraft. They are enrolled in the search for a woman author who has disappeared somewhere in the north of the Province.

Disclaimer:— copyright ©2023 to 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.


"Read that article about Lesley Egerton, in the Toronto Chronicle last week?"

Claire looked up from a close perusal of a map showing the intricacies, of which there were many, of the northern section of Saskatchewan.

"God, this Province out'ta be banned! What ain't bloody lake or river is bloody pine wilderness; an' what's left over ain't fit fer human habitation anyway. What?"

"Lesley Egerton, the famous new author; last week the Chronicle spread itself over her, got this copy here as wrapping on a cylinder head yesterday," Gabrielle nodding wisely over her out of date literary matter. "make's for interestin' readin'."

"Oh, I'm happy for ya, sweetie. Now, about haulin' a truck over—"

"She's disappeared, y'know!"

Interrupted again Claire raised a peevish eyebrow.

"Has she? Who cares, not me!"

"She's famous."

Sighing deeply Claire sat back from her ministrations over the map to regard her lover seated at the other end of the small table in their small office in the small community of Gatch's Point on Lake Seclusion, in the centre of the Province just south of Lac La Ronge, this sprightly morning of February 1948.

"So famous, I've never heard of her. So what? Why should I care? Why, for the matter of that, should you, darlin'? We got cares of our own, y'know."

"Ever heard of Jane Foster?"

"The author? Yeah, 'course, why?"

"Same person; Jane's Lesley as well."

This flummoxed Claire for the moment, her mind still on the intricate lakes in the far north.

"What? Who? Indeed, why? D'ya need a cup'pa coffee, lover?"

Gabrielle graced her harassed partner with a gentle smile of disparagement.

"Jane Foster writes those deep psychological novels about character and personality; while under her new pen-name, Lesley Egerton, she's branched out to capture the mindless proletariat with a series of action packed thrillers she's publishing; second one came out three weeks ago, haven't read it yet myself. Wan'na buy it for me, Rose of my Life?"


"Oh, be that way; anyway, she's now officially a missing person, somewhere up north."

Claire frowned at this snippet.

"Up north? Here, ya mean? Saskat-whatever?"

"Yep, the very same."

"Our beat?"

"Yeah, could say that." Gabrielle suddenly realising what this might very well mean in the near future. "Oh, God! Hadn't thought of that. D'ya suppose—"

Before Claire could formulate a reply the shortwave radio at the back of the office sprang into life with a loud buzz, a red light blinking haughtily on the facia.

"Oh, Jeez' please no!"

Having delivered herself of this request Gabrielle strode over to the radio to conduct those esoteric actions needed to bring the demonic device to life.

"Peewit receiving, over!"

"Gold Base here, Urgent order, to be carried out at once. Authorization straight from Auntie; repeat authorization straight from Auntie. A personage, name Jane Foster, has been reported missing in north-east Saskatchewan. It is imperative that she be found as soon as possible. Several search parties already in position. You will take two planes and work with the Northern Police Department, Inspector David Langside. Begin immediately, over and out."




The Norseman, having only the one engine, found itself lagging well behind the more sprightly two-engined Hudson, piloted by Claire—Gabrielle not happy as a result, as her frequent messages over the radio made clear; a 20 mile difference in position not helping matters at all.

"I'm catchin' ya up, lady!"

Claire wasn't impressed, her reply over the radio showing this clearly.

"So, I'll be landin' at Cree Lake at seven sharp, you'll be arrivin' somewhere around midnight! Shall I order the ground crew t'light flares?"

"That ain't funny, I'll have ya know."

"I thought it was. Anyway, if ya ain't got anything worthwhile t'report get off the dam' air, lover."

"Oh, thanks!"

Ten minutes later Claire saw the small but serviceable runway aligned at the extreme southern tip of the remarkably extensive lake; it having been built quite recently for unspecified military reasons. The fact it had been cut out of the raw wilderness, a spreading forest of pine trees, making it the usual difficult landing operation. Claire brought the medium sized plane in low and straight, finally landing smoothly if a trifle fast, necessitating a firm boot on the brake pedal before she brought the machine to a halt with around thirty yards of the unsurfaced runway left.

"Whew! Work of art!"

Five minutes later the whine of another aircraft heralded the approach of Gabrielle in her high-wing single engined Norseman. Being so much lighter than the Hudson Gabrielle found it easy to set her steed on the runway with expert grace, using up just over half the length before coming to a halt.

The two pilots met, shaking congratulatory hands, at the side of the landing-strip where a small hut acted as terminus, guarded by two bored looking soldiers.

"If you'd needed any more of the runway, dear, you'd have ended up in Lake Athabasca."

"Fool! Glad we didn't bring the floatplane, all those dam' islands further north, leave little room t'land on the water anywhere decent or close t'civilization. Look, is this Inspector Langside?"

Claire's attention had been taken by the appearance, from the hut twenty yards off, of a small stout figure in the uniform of a police Inspector. Dark-haired, round faced, fortyish, somewhat blustery in nature, the women instantly recognised all the warning signs of someone who knew their station and expected everyone else to kow-tow to such implicitly.

"Langside! You're both late; don't let it happen again, attention to the split second is what makes a professional, let's see some of that in future. Now—"

Claire took up the baton for her team.

"Langside!" She barking this as loudly as she felt necessary.

Taken aback the man took a step back, as anyone of any sense would.

"What! What?"

"I'm Claire Mathews, this's my partner Gabrielle Parker. We both work for Department Nine in Toronto. We're neither of us minions of your authority, so zip it, buster."

Gabrielle, feeling left out, and her temper also feeling the strain, came in with the knockout blow.

"Yeah, we can work together, as two Departments interacting, or we can work separately; we, Claire an' I, making the big break, while you faff around aimlessly. Get in touch with Toronto, and afterwards a little more politeness'll be in order."

With this the women strode away, heading for the hut, leaving the Inspector quaking in his shoes behind them.

Thankfully, as it turned out, the Inspector had a separate office in the rear of the long building; there being a public enquiry section inside the door followed by another wide room beyond given over to general office activities. While a sergeant pointed out a desk for the new arrivals Inspector Langside strode through to his hidey-hole without glancing at anybody, a slight flush giving his face the aura of a newly ripe tomato. Five minutes later he reappeared, this time looking somewhat frayed round the edges; he ignored the women again, instead focusing on the hapless sergeant.

"Carstairs, there's some reports on my desk needing to be sent to Toronto, get on it."

Again snubbing the women he exited the office as if with a purpose in mind, letting the door slam behind him.

"Happy chap!" Claire making this remark in general, but with a slight skew towards the sergeant; who nodded, accepting the conversational gambit.

"Always the same, every day. We plodders, under his command, just have t'take it an' get on with life. Lucky you two, not bein' under his thumb. He likes t'bark loud an' long, but his bite's more of a light nip than anything worse."

"Some relief there, then." Gabrielle shrugging her leather jacketed shoulders. "What's the state of play? Anyone seen or heard of our quarry?"

"No sightings at all." Sergeant Carstairs shaking his head. "Seems she was supposed to have washed-up hereabouts three weeks ago, but we haven't found a single person who's actually seen her. When I say hereabouts, I mean somewhere in the area between Cree Lake here, and the McFarlane River, all the way up t'Athabasca."

"Was she driving?" Claire starting the business of assembling what facts there might be. "If so, what make? And what're the roads like round these parts."

"There aren't any roads, not as t'be called actual roads with metalled surfaces; just dirt tracks wanderin' round as need be here an' there." Carstairs looking as if he wanted to spit on the floorboards but Police discipline winning out. "You'd need t'be a native of these parts t'know where they all were, an' where they went. Far's we know she must'a had some form of transport, but what is still a mystery."

"Where was she last seen?" Gabrielle asking the easiest of the necessary questions.

"That's just it, like I said, she hasn't been seen by anyone, ever."

Claire shook her head, having had enough of this obfuscation.

"That can't be! If she's been here, someone must have had contact with her; all we got'ta do is find who."

Carstairs again shook his head.

"The area we're covering makes up something over a thousand square miles of territory, barely inhabited even by wild animals. If she's here, she could be anywhere—in the depths of the forest, fallen down a rocky slope, fell in a river or lake, been attacked by a bear, injured herself and lying somewhere—dead by now, o'course!"

Gabrielle came in on this.

"If she's alive there's a fair chance we may make contact, if we hurry along; if she's dead, well, could take months, if ever, t'find her."

"Yeah, just that."

The outside door opened cutting off this conversation; Carstairs, mindful of past experience, disappeared in a flash, leaving the women to face Inspector Langside alone.

"Ah, ladies!" He making no effort to apologise for his earlier attitude but now far politer. "If you can take off we can start an aerial survey of the likely spots we think our quarry may be. Sergeant Carstairs given you the up-dated maps?"

"Yes, got 'em here." Claire nodding in response. "I'll take the southern sector, in my Hudson; Gabrielle'll take the mid-section, in her Norseman. Tomorrow we'll survey the northern section, up to Athabasca, between us; should give some idea of how the land lies. Is it true no-one's seen Miss Foster at all, ever?"

"Sadly, that does indeed appear to be the case; dam'med unusual as it may be." Langside shaking his head yet again. "Can't be the case, of course; someone, many people in fact, must have had some form of contact with her, just don't want to admit to same, for some unexplainable reason."

Gabrielle came in with another query.

"Sergeant Carstairs said no-one knew what form of transport she was using, is that true?"

Langside pursed his lips.

"To a certain extent. We don't know for sure, but the likelihood veers towards a Jeep; an ex-Army open one. But it's only a guess at present."

Claire, pondering over the ins and outs of the situation, had formulated an idea.

"What about if she was here under an assumed name? Perhaps that one she was using for her latest fictional book? What was it, Gab?"

"—er, Lesley Egerton. But she might have used almost any other pseudonym; assumed names bein', I figure, ten-a-penny an' easy picked out'ta a hat if you put your mind to it."

Langside paused, frowning, digesting this possibility.

"Maybe; if we knew what it was, if she was so doing, it'd help; but as we don't, I can't see much light in that direction; better just go on with your overhead survey's for the present while my men on the ground try an' find some trace of her locally, by whatever name. OK, when can you take-off, it bein' just shy of noon at present."

Gabrielle sprang to life at the thought of hitting the wide blue yonder.

"Give us ten minutes an' we'll be airborne. Got someone on radio duty down here"

"Yes, I have a constable on that duty; that's him over in the corner, and his radio; we'll keep in contact all the way."

"Right, Gabs, let's go!" Claire, too, eager to hit the clouds.


Cree Lake was around 9 miles wide at its widest point, almost 30 miles in length, running north-west; the southern part relatively open but the rest densely packed with a variety of islands of differing sizes spread over the whole water surface—making it, as Claire had earlier remarked, extremely difficult to land a floatplane anywhere. Claire, overseeing the southern section of the search area, now had a spectacular view of this very inconsistency in the landscape as she flew over the southern tip of the Lake in the Lockheed Hudson.

"God, what a dump! Raggedy-taggedy islands, all barren or covered in pines, and scores of the dam' things; but mostly further north. Take me all day just to survey the dam' lake."

Sighing deeply she started criss-crossing the body of water, though rapidly because of the lack of islands in this region.

"Nuthin', jus' water. God, the amount of floating debris's astonishin'! Pine logs everywhere, an' every one lookin' like a floatin' body—God'dam'mit!"

"Plover One t'Plover Two, over!"

The radio here cut through her thoughts like a hot knife diligently performing its contracted duty.

"Plover Two receiving, over."

"Hi, what ya got, sister?"

Claire sighed, the burdens of Life, and talking idle chit-chat to her lover weighing on her shoulders.

"Nuthin', ya fool! Only been on the job less'n half a bloody hour! Nuthin' but floatin' pine logs here, what about you? Found the lady already, have ya?"

"No such luck; all I've found is the fact that the whole landscape—and I mean dam' everywhere—is covered with a thick impenetrable blanket of pine trees. The veritable virgin forest everyone keeps talkin' about. Can't see a bloody thing but the tops of trees en masse. No sign of any tracks a Jeep could've used, either. Meb'be hidden under the trees, but if so they're invisible from up here."

Claire shook her head in agreement.

"See where ya're comin' from, lover. Well, all we can do is cover our sectors an' make a negative report when we get back t'the office."

"Inspector Langside'll be pleased."

Claire huffed to herself.

"Langside, I think, won't care a dam'; treatin' this like an exercise, nuthin' more. Probably give us a week then call the whole thing off: classify the poor gal as MIA an' leave it at that."

"I'll give it another hour then return t'Base." Even over the airwaves Gabrielle sounding distrait, if not downright disappointed. "What's the name of that place, Langside's hideout, anyway?"

"Ain't got one, far's I've discovered; just a military runway an' hut in the middle of nowhere." Claire sneering to herself. "Meb'be a number, so reports can be typed out in triplicate, but that'll be it. I'll follow ya in at the same time, OK?"

"Yeah, over an' out!"


There only being the office and one dormitory building on site at the edge of the Lake, the women had chosen to sleep in their aircraft; for privacy more than anything else. Presently, in the late evening, they were sitting on folding chairs beside the Hudson chatting about whatever came to mind over tin cups of tea; by a small campfire Gabrielle had expertly brought to life.

"Bit like takin' a holiday, if it weren't that we were workin'." Gabrielle waxing philosophical as she gazed idly around at the evening landscape.

"Yeah, only the office an' dormitory over there to show any human activity, otherwise the place hasn't changed in centuries." Claire nodding agreement. "How's the Norseman holdin' up?"

"Fine, no problems; that feed-pipe for the port cylinder seems t'have done the trick."

"Great! The Hudson's runnin' smooth, too. Don't think this terrain's suited to aerial survey, though."

"You're right there." Gabrielle nodding furiously. "All I've spotted this afternoon is a canopy of tree-tops as far as the eye can see; what might be lurkin' underneath, anybody's business."


"It's a lost cause. What about tomorrow? The Northern sector up t'Athabasca?"

Claire considered this question thoroughly, sipping from her mug as she did so.

"Well, goin' over Cree Lake earlier was a bust. If Athabasca's anything like there's no hope of a positive result, whichever way ya look at things."

Gabrielle grumbled unintelligibly for a moment before becoming comprehensible again.

"Should we tell Langside, in the mornin'? Get him t'call the whole thing off?"

"Shouldn't think he has the authority." Claire facing facts. "We're bein' paid Government money, let's leave it at that. Could file a report, I suppose."

"An' get an answer six months from now!" Gabrielle well used to the pace of Governmental activity. "Good job we've got Helen, back at Gatch's Point, t'look after the shop till we get back."

"Yeah, she's a gem." Claire nodding in agreement. "Well, time for some shut-eye. Are ya goin' ter bunk down in the Norseman?"

"Better, if we huddle t'gether it might make waves of controversy in official minds. Got the sort'a idea Langside won't take kindly t'Sapphic connotations around our partnership. Probably say its detrimental t'police an' military morale, or somthin' similar."

"Sh-t! Yeah, suppose you're right. Well, see ya in the mornin', then. Partin' kiss, doll?"

"Better not, likely t'stir waves of opposition if anyone sees an' reports us."



Lake Athabasca, in the furthest north-west corner of the Province, was more of an inland sea than anything else—water in every direction from horizon to horizon and, if the right spot from on high was chosen, not a glimmering of land to be seen either. Claire had taken the Hudson over the rolling forest to the south while Gabrielle had spent the morning overflying the region just south of and immediately over the western side of the vast Lake—neither having made any discovery of interest.

"Plover One t'Plover Two, over!"

"Plover Two, over."

"What's up, gal?"


"Nuthin' neither."

"That's helpful."

"Saw a small truck on a forest track earlier, but some old guy got out an' waved at me when I flew low." Gabrielle reporting the most significant meeting of the morning. "There's a few boats out on the Lake, but who's on them's anyone's guess. Can the Government send out a task force t'interrogate every boat on the Lake, y'suppose?"

The airwaves crackled as Claire replied to this inane query.

"They could, but the backlash'd send 'em all packin' from their cosy positions fer sure. Things ain't done that way here in Canada."

"Huumph! In that case we'll never find Miss Egerton, or Foster, or whatever she's callin' herself these days; supposin' she's still active at all."

"How long ya plannin' t'go on with this, baby?"

There was a short pause while Gabrielle considered the matter.

"Oh, another coupl'a hours; got'ta show willin', I suppose! After that I'm callin' it a day, whatever Inspector Langside feels about it. Just a waste of fuel otherwise."

"Yeah, with ya, babe. OK."

Three hours later, just past midday, they were back on the military airfield arguing with the Inspector in question.

"You can't just up and leave at a moment's notice." He going red in the face once more at this appalling expression of mutiny in the ranks. "I mean—I mean, if I had authority over you—which sadly I don't, apparently—I'd soon show you what was what! You can't stop now! Why, you've only been here two days, and hardly that. What are the official search parties going to do about air cover, eh?"

Gabrielle was up for this criticism.

"Air cover's a bust, Inspector. Too great a search area, too covered in trees t'see a hand in front of your face, we're too high in the sky t'identify anyone particular at ground level, and it'd take months t'cover the whole area; not forgettin' that, if she's had an accident—probably dead long ago—we have no way of findin' her at all."

"We have to keep looking! It's orders!"

"Not for us." Claire supporting her lover with determination. "Different Department, different ways an' means. We're out'ta it, g'bye."

Inspector Langside frowned grotesquely at this denial of his authority.

"I'll make an immediate Report; have an official response to this before you land back at Gatch's Point. Shouldn't wonder if you find Authorities awaiting your arrival to take you in custody on—oh, several important and serious charges!"

"Dream on, Inspector." Gabrielle not fazed in the least. "Meanwhile, as my partner just said, g'bye!"


Back home at Gatch's Point, the waters of Lake Seclusion slapping on the pebbly foreshore a mere twenty yards from their small office, the women sat with mugs of coffee in mid-afternoon contemplating Life in general and Authorities in particular.

"Any chance of Langside stirring up trouble, ya think?"

"None whatsoever." Claire expressing her opinion with absolute certainty. "Department Nine's so powerful, works in the shadows of Politics and Security so intensely, there isn't a hope of a mere Police Inspector rocking the boat. They might, the Department, I mean, send us a message askin' for a Report; but that'd be all."

"Yeah." Gabrielle agreeing. "Wonder where she is, mind?"

"Foster? Who knows? All sorts of possibilities; don't know why this grand search was authorized in the first place. She might have had a disabling accident, in which case, by now, she's handed in her lunch pail. Or lost in the wilderness, an' survivin' on leaves an' roots. Don't give her much hope in that case, either. Or—"

Gabrielle glanced at her partner, while munching on a sandwich.

"Or? Or what?"

"Or she isn't lost at all!" Claire leaving this supposition hanging in the air.

Gabrielle finished her sandwich, wiped her lips, took a sip of tea, and raised her eyebrows towards her lover once again.

"Not lost, how?"

"She's supposed t'have driven in'ta the wilderness somewhere between Cree Lake and Lake Athabasca in a broken down Jeep! Right; then, nuthin'. She could, just as well, have driven right back out again. I mean, who's there t'say otherwise?"

Gabrielle could see the fly in the ointment regarding this explanation, though.

"If that's the case, where is she now? And why's she keeping her head down considering all the kerfuffle in the newspapers over her disappearance?"

"Well, that's the question, sure." Claire judiciously not offering anything positive on this score.

Gabrielle continued to pursue castles in the air, however.

"Meb'be we'll hear of her in a week or so, livin' it up at some nightclub in Toronto?"

"And for why would she behave like that?"

"Oh, livin' la vida loca, y'know. A grand author, on a different level from us mere mortals; meb'be she just doesn't think regular Laws and Social customs apply to her exalted being!"

At which point their idyllic coffee-break was interrupted by the arrival, engine whining loudly and exhaust working to the full exuding a dense cloud of noxious white fumes as it trundled over the bare track, of one of the fleet of White trucks operated as a sideline by Atalanta Haulage. Coming to a halt near the office hut the truck's door swung open to allow the driver, a young woman, to athletically jump to the ground, heading across to the two women reclining in their chairs.

"Hi, gals, good news an' bad—which ya want first?"

"Oh, God! Gim'me the bad, Helen." Gabrielle sighing mournfully.

"Truck Three slid off the road fifty miles north, half stuck in a ditch right now; left Garry the driver in charge of the wreck; expect you'll want t'drive up there an' rescue the poor man. Is that tea? Can I have a cup? I'm parched."


"It'll do—no milk nor sugar, please, I'm sweet enough, thanks."

After supplying the necessary, and directing Helen, their much adored general assistant, to a spare chair, they settled down to discuss the accident.

"So, what happened?" Claire all ears for the perfect end to a perfect day.

"Nuthin' out'ta the ordinary, we were coastin' along a forest track—you know how treacherous those can be—and Garry let his off-side get a little too close to a drop-off. Next minute he was keeled over, radiator pointin' skywards, front wheels spinnin' in the air, a lost cause whichever way ya looked at it. So here I am, Guardian Angel come to help as I can."

"What was the good news, by the way?" Gabrielle harping back a trifle.

"Got stopped, around three mile back, by Sergeant Andrews on traffic duty." Helen seeming not much put-out by the encounter. "Gave me a ticket for operatin' a bust engine; it pushin' out smoke like nobody's business; y'probably saw as I came up? Said it'd be a comfortable fine at next month's Court."

"F-ckin' brilliant!" Claire shaking her head in disgust. "Out givin' parkin' tickets, when they should by rights be lookin' fer this dam' lost author, wherever she may be. What's the World, an' the local Police Force, comin' to, I ask?"

Helen perked-up at this, sipping her coffee with all the signs of extreme enjoyment.

"What author? Lost? How? Where? Tell all."

So they did, which in turn brought a totally unexpected rejoinder from their assistant.

"Is that so? Might have seen the lady in question myself, not so long ago!"

Claire and Gabrielle set down their mugs in duo in astonishment.

"What?" Gabrielle first with the natural question.

"When Garry dumped his White in the ditch, about ten minutes after the dust had settled, an' we were discussin' ways an' means, a Jeep—one of those old open War surplus ones—came tootlin' along driven by a lady; well, a woman, at least. Didn't take much note of her at the time; left her chattin' with Garry, they apparently well in'ta decidin' various methods of draggin' the eight ton truck upright again merely with her Jeep an' their combined willpower alone! Think from your description it may well have been her. In fact, I'm sure, it was her."

Claire eyed her assistant with all the power and intensity of the Medusa her latest victim, though with a kindlier mien.

"When did this fabulous conversation an' meetin' take place exactly? An' where? Be precise; I want grid references t'the last half-inch, please."

"Ah, around fifty miles north, just east of Bélanger."

Gabrielle frowned at this news.

"Pretty much in the wilds still, though far more south than the search area we were given."

"Did she give a name?" Claire hitting an important point.

"Yeah—lem'me think!" Helen giving it her best. "Got it! Chalmers, Grace Chalmers. That any help?"

"Not at the moment, but it may turn out t'be." Claire glancing at her partner. "How's about getting on the radio an' lettin' Department Nine, in Toronto, know?"

"Good idea, I'll get right on it." Gabrielle enthusiastically rising from her chair. "Talk about storms in tea-cups; this'll get the boys an' lasses at the Department kickin' their heels in the air in joy."

"Not least that we'll meb'be beat Inspector Langside and his vaunted police force t'the goal!" Claire nearly sniggering out loud herself. "Thanks muchly, Helen, you're a gem!"


Bélanger, much further north, was a hamlet of no importance whatsoever; which accounted for the only approximation of a true road bypassing it by several miles to the east, where Garry had come to grief in his eight-ton White truck. What with one thing and another it was around 11.00am the next morning when Claire and Gabrielle, in a spare White, rolled up to the accident site; the road running along the edge of a steep slope on the off-side accounting for Garry's mishap. The vehicle still sat, topsy-turvy, where it had slid off the road at an angle with nose in the air and the off-side wheels ditto. Garry, relaxed as a man on holiday, sat on a nearby boulder smoking a cigarette, rising to greet his saviours as they exited their own truck.

"Ah, ya brought Bertha! She'll get me back on the road in no time, thanks."

Ignoring his pet-name for their vehicle Claire came to the point instantly, after shaking hands.

"Where is she?"

This took Garry by surprise, he frowning in an attempt to construe the curious question.


"The lady." Gabrielle making things hardly clearer.

"Lady? Only me here, as ya can easy see."

"No—no!" Claire sighing as she attempted to rescue clarity from a pea-souper. "The woman who arrived yesterday, in a Jeep, an' tried t'get you out'ta this hole by positive thinkin' an' railway shares."

"What?" Garry now completely perplexed.

"Woman, not Helen, yesterday, in a Jeep, tried t'help ya." Gabrielle falling back on telegramese in her own effort to bring lucidity to the conversation.

"Oh-Ah! Now I'm with ya. Yeah, there was a lady yesterday; didn't help, though. Tried, but we couldn't, in the long run, think of anything useful to do. She waltzed-off after an hour, long after Helen had left to go back to you."

"Where'd she go?" Claire hovering on the answer with bated breath.

"Go?,—to her cabin." Garry nodding like a wise man. "She's renting a cabin, oh, some ten miles west—in among the forest by the edge of one of these long narrow ponds or coves or inlets that infest this part of the Province. Don't think you'll get your White along there—too heavy."

Gabrielle raised and lowered her arms in the universal sign of disappointment.

"Is she comin' back here, d'ya know?"

"Oh, yeah; said she'd be here again around midday; bring a chain an' clamps, try'n drag me upright again. Can only hope, but I have my doubts. You'll be able to judge for yourselves in about forty minutes or so."

Claire and Gabrielle looked at each other, neither very certain of this meeting taking place as reported.

"We'll see." Claire offering this doubtful rejoinder accompanied by a dubious expression that matched Gabrielle's.

But these worries were set at peace just half an hour later when, accompanied by the rasping whine of an over-stretched engine, a Jeep hove into view along the west end of the road, leaving a cloud of blue smoke in its wake. Pulling-up close by the damaged truck a young woman with cropped hair and lithe body jumped out. Clothed in red shirt, cream coloured cotton jeans, and brown boots, she seemed to be in her early thirties, embracing the three spectators with a wide happy grin of welcome.

"Hi, there, quite a crowd turned up, I see."

Claire, taking inspiration from an old schoolteacher she had known and feared in her youth, stuck her chin in the air, staring at the recalcitrant tourist with a cold eye.

"Miss Foster, I presume?"

The woman, whoever she was, stared back in her turn, assessing her interrogator with a cool expression.

"Who's askin'? An' is it any of your dam' business, anyway?"

"Very funny!" Claire in no mood for light repartee. "For your information, if you are Miss Foster—an' I'm bloody certain you are!—we've, Gabrielle here an' I, been lookin' for you all over the dam' Province for the last two days; as has a united force of military and Police. Ground forces, cars, trucks, boats, an' not least, aircraft. The expence of the whole operation must be astronomical, an' still risin' far's as I know. What the Hell d'ya think you're up to? Behavin' like a naughty school-kid hidin' from teacher!"

The lady frowned darkly, clearly not liking Claire's tone, but responding like a trooper.

"Who cares! Not me! In fact, the more the merrier, I say! Yeah, I'm Jane Foster, an' dam' proud, too! What'm I doin'? I'll tell ya all what the dam' I'm doin'; I'm leadin' the intelligentsia of this dam' country a merry dance, is what I'm doin'—an' enjoyin' every dam' minute, thanks for askin'."

Gabrielle, listening closely to this tirade, took a step forward; her features expressing anything but consideration for the unrepentant author.

"Listen lady, I'm within a fraction of boppin' ya one on the nose, that you'll remember for dam' decades. Just tell me why I shouldn't, is all?"

Jane, keeping her own chin high, but stepping back a pace or two, considered her second critic with a defensive eye.

"Only havin' a bit of fun at a bunch of idiots' expence, is all! Can't a gal have fun now an' then?"

This didn't go down at all well with the brown-eyed aviator who had taken so much trouble in her Norseman searching for the woman over two harrowing days.

"No fun at all for me, baby. What's gon'na happen now is, we, Claire an' I, are gon'na take you in custody—in cuffs, of course—an' hold ya till the Authorities, in the form of Major-Generals, Generals, Admirals, and Police Superintendents, all descend on you like a swarm of locusts an' fling ya in jail for Life—OK?"

It was now the lost but recently found author's turn to raise her arms in disgust at her unfolding position.

"That's a bit steep, ain't it? Just havin' a bit of fun! In fact, you can't imagine how much I've enjoyed the last few weeks! Just like Agatha Christie, twenty years ago or so; only I managed to string everyone along for much longer. Great, ain't it!"

Having taken quite enough Gabrielle stepped forward, fist clenched. Only Claire's rapid intervention, hand on shoulder, preventing bloodshed in the heat of the moment.

"Let's just all take a minute or so t'calm down. You don't seem t'understand just how much trouble you're in, lady."

"Trouble? None, I'd say! What can anyone do t'me, anyway?" Jane obviously taking no responsibility for her actions at all.

Gabrielle had an answer to this.

"Do? You've set in motion a Province-wide search operation costing thousands of dollars. At the very least the Government'll hold you responsible for that, takin' you to Court for reparations in full. You'll probably be bankrupted for decades t'come as a result."

"Yeah, an' don't think the Public'll take happily t'your caprices, either." Claire saying it like it was. "The Public know a fool when she plays one in front of them—taking them for fools, in fact. Shouldn't wonder if your sales drop through the floor never t'recover. I think your literary career is on its last legs, only you're too stupid t'understand it."

A flush of red spread across the woman's cheeks; to be instantly followed by them paling to almost snow-white: she only managing an incoherent gasp or grunt in reply—looking all round as if for some Knight Errant to arrive to her rescue as in a fairy-tale.


"Just so. Right, lady, you are comin' with us; we're takin' you in custody, for your own good; 'cause we have the authority." Claire outlining how the day was going to proceed. "Our truck'll get us all back t'Gatch's Point in a coupl'a hours, then we radio for reinforcements after which you'll be interrogated by the professionals—and I guarantee you won't like the experience one little bit!"


Gatch's Point, at around 5.00pm that same evening, presented a sight worthy of record, it having brought the local population out in crowds to stand around eyeballing the scene with great interest and excitement. There were representatives of all the military forces, air sea and land, the Police Department, and several large individuals in dark suits with expressions to match who, together, boded no good at all for someone—that someone being Jane Foster, at present closely guarded in Atalanta Haulage's office. Claire and Gabrielle, accompanied by Helen, stood some distance off by the hangar where they kept their several aircraft when not in use—pondering the ups and downs of Life.

"She's had it!" Helen giving her opinion with certainty.

"Wouldn't be at all surprised." Gabrielle agreeing wholeheartedly. "An' deserves whatever's comin' to her, too!"

"Wonder who's gon'na win out in the custodial stakes?" Claire taking it well, all considered. "I have the decided impression the Army want her shot from a cannon's mouth; the Navy want her lashed round the Fleet; the Air Force want her flung out a Dakota at a high altitude without a parachute; the Police want her detained for Life with Hard Labor; and the Security people in neutral suits wouldn't be sorry if she turned up deceased in a ditch somewhere soon!"

Gabrielle bucked up immeasurably at this.

"Hope Department Nine give us the option on that last; would cheer me up no end!"

"Gabs, the dark shadows in the corners of your mind sometimes terrify me; just a passing remark." Claire heaving a deep sigh as she tried to plumb the depths of her partner's personality. "I often wonder—"

The door of the office opened at this point to reveal Inspector Langside striding towards the ladies in Triumph and Glory, like a newly crowned King.

"Ladies, a pleasant end to a pleasant day! We've got the hussy by the short hairs, all respectable and Betty Martin! I've ordered my men to transport her to Toronto as fast as can be, and it won't be the Waldorf-Carlton she'll be staying at, I assure you!"

"What's the plan?" Claire interested in the subject.

"The plan is, I can tell you, interrogation of an intensity never before attempted! We don't as yet know what her underlying plan was in this fiasco she's led the country on—but we'll have it out of her in record time, mark my words."

"And then what?" Gabrielle eager for the gritty facts. "Solitary confinement for Life, in some dingy cell somewhere where the light of day never penetrates?"

"That, or similar where she'll serve a long sentence or my name isn't Robert Langside!"

"Sounds good!" Gabrielle nodding complacently. "Sometimes the Fates an' Nemesis are kind!"

"A-hum! Well, thank you for your efforts." Langside giving this praise with a slight flush, as if forced under pressure from great depths. "Brought an end to a long, expensive and intricate search operation. She's got a lot to answer for, by dam'! Anyway, we'll all be out of your hair in another hour or so. No doubt you'll receive a Report in good time of whatever results become available; goodbye, ladies."

Turning on his heel he strode back to the small office building with the air of a satisfied Odysseus returning to his home, though foreseeing an altogether better result.


Three months later Claire was sitting in the poky office going over various receipts and bills.

"Two hundred dollars? Where the dam' did that come from?" She perusing a bill for a box of nuts and bolts received a month ago from a firm in Toronto. "Only cost twenty dollars, here's the receipt. Something fishy goin' on here, dam'mit!"

Gabrielle was in the nearby hangar trying to make the Norseman's radial engine do what it was meant to do—work!

"Come on, ya b-st-rd! Fit, dam'mit!" She twisting a wrench as hard as she could over one of the radial engine's top valves. "You're gon'na fit, if I have'ta lose blood over it!"

While Helen had gone off to re-stock the Company's weekly magazines and newspapers from the local store; only now, at just after 11.00am, returning loaded down with her spoils to invade Claire's search for any appearance of logic amongst her lists of figures.

"Look! Look! See this?" Her first words on entering the office and dumping her wares on a side desk. "Where's Gabs?"


"Gim'me a mo'." With which Helen strode to the door and, without the slightest compunction, yelled at the top of her voice. "Gabs! Here! Need ya right now! Make a leg, gal!"

"Somethin' important cropped up?" Claire still involved with merits and demerits amongst the intricacies of the Accounting world.

"Depends what ya mean by important." Helen holding her cards close to her chest. "Ah, here she is. Could you walk any slower, Gabs?"

"Huh, what's the drama? Premier broke his toe at croquet; or the King been trampled by an elephant, or what?"

"Even better, seen this yet?" Helen waving a copy of a magazine in her hand.

Gabrielle snorted in disgust.

"No, I haven't seen it yet. Why should I have? It's only just now come out, hasn't it? So what?"

Helen, now able to present her coup in all its glory, grinned like the Cheshire Cat.

"Only an article on our favourite author's all."

Claire sat back from her paperwork, frowning slightly.

"Patricia Wentworth? What's she been up to, then?"

Helen shook her head sadly.

"No-no! Jane Foster!"

"Oh, f-ck!" Gabrielle unable to control herself. "Fallen overboard from that liner she went back t'England on a month or so ago? Still can't believe the Authorities let her walk, after all the trouble she put us all to."

"No, quite the contrary; she's just published her latest work, and it's topped the best-seller lists in England and here in Canada." Helen reciting her news with wonder and astonishment. "Apparently all about her little adventure here, with us all searching for her. Made it into a tale of romance, adventure, high drama, and unequalled bravery on her part. We, the Authorities, coming across as the bad guys throughout, of course. Selling like hotcakes, apparently. She's gon'na make a fortune, and her literary reputation's goin' through the roof!"

"Jee-sus!" From an appalled Claire.

"God-dam'mit!" From an enraged Gabrielle. "Knew I should'a given her a gentle knock on the head with a railway sleeper when I had the chance! Serves me right for not followin' through at the time!"

The End

Another 'Atalanta Haulage' story will arrive shortly.