Barnstormers

Here’s the next chapter of my new story, about two women and a plane near the dawn of the aviation industry. I will be reading an abbreviated version at the Tamale Hut in January, 2019.

Chapter 11 – Machine Shop Ambush

At the end of our last exciting episode, Bridget was delivering a package to the owner of the factory where she worked.  No one was home, but behind the home was a locked garage with a running car inside, and she could see two forms in the car inside.

 – – – – –

Bridget stood in the foyer of the large blue Victorian house on a quiet street in the affluent West Park neighborhood. She pulled the knob next to the door again. Like the previous times, she heard the chime inside the house but no one answered. She knocked on the cut glass window which was set in the top half of the door, but still she got no response from inside.

She looked at the envelope she was asked to deliver, a large manila envelope, sealed with tape. The address of the Victorian was written on the front in a heavy scrawl, but there was no name on either side.

She turned to leave and noticed a small table next to the door she had entered through. A small pile of envelopes lay on the top, and Bridget figured that she would just add the envelope the pile. She paused for a moment, wondering if its contents were something that should be left unattended. As she did, she noticed the names on the other mail: Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Langston.

Bridget went back to the door and tried again to get a response from inside the house. “Mr. Langston? Mrs. Langston?” she shouted, ringing the doorbell again. Still receiving no answer, she walked out and down the stairs, still holding the envelope.

She looked up at the front of the house. Many of the windows were illuminated but she could see no one moving behind any of them. A small row of paving stones led around the side of the house, and Bridget followed the path to the rear of the building. When she reached the back, she noticed a small structure a short distance away, on the corner of the property. In the dim light, She could see that the doors and windows were closed, but she heard the sound of a motor running from within, and she saw puffs of smoke seeping out from under the large door.

Bridget ran to the garage and tried to see in through the side window. Inside the smoke-filled building, she could see the shape of a car, and what appeared to be two people sitting inside. She tried the side door, but it seemed to be locked. A large brass disk with a keyhole was embedded above the doorknob.

She ran around the front of the building and tugged at the large front door, but was unable to open that as well. She went back to the window and pounded with her fists, but the figures inside didn’t move.

Bridget tossed the envelope on the ground and scoured the landscaping, selecting a large rock. She walked up to the window and smashed several of the panes, stepping back as the exhaust fumes poured out.

“Mr. Langston! Mrs. Langston! Can you hear me?” she yelled, but the figures inside didn’t move. She turned around and shouted “Help! Someone help!” She then went back to the window, first using the rock to break the rest of the panes in the window, then to clear the sill of shattered glass. She hiked up her skirt, took a deep breath, and climbed in the window.

The smog in the garage dissipated a little because of the broken window, but it still stung Bridget’s eyes. She immediately reached into the car and shut off the engine. She could see the man behind the wheel was indeed her boss, Mr. Langston. She shook him but his head just lolled back and forth.

Still holding her breath, Bridget tried to open the side door, but found that it needed a key to open from the inside as well, and there was no key in the lock. She went to the large door, but couldn’t see how to unlock it.

She paused for a moment to assess the situation, but realized she needed to make a decision quickly. She ran to the driver’s door of the car, pushed Mr. Langston’s still form over and slid in beside him. She started the car, shifted the car in reverse, closed her eyes, and pressed the accelerator to the floor.

The car lurched back and slammed into the door, which promptly splintered, allowing the car to roll through. Bridget opened her eyes and saw that she was outside. She pressed the brake pedal to the floor, shut off the engine, and took a deep breath.

Several neighbors had come out to see what the commotion was about. Two men and a woman reached the car as Bridget applied the parking brake and opened the door. “Is there a doctor here?” she asked.

“Doctor Brewer lives on the next block,” the woman said.

“Good,” Bridget said. “Go see if he’s home. We need him.” The woman ran to the street and was soon out of sight. Bridget pointed to the two men. “You two. Do either of you know artificial respiration?”

The men looked at each other. “Artificial what?” one asked.

“Never mind,” Bridget said, jumping from the car and running around the other side. “Get him out of the car and lay him on his back.” They did as she said as she opened the other door and pulled Mrs. Langston from the car. She dragged the lifeless form around to where the men had placed Mr. Langston. She checked and found that neither of the Langston’s were breathing.

“Now, do as I do,” she said, taking a position behind the prone woman’s head. She lifted Mrs. Langston’s arms and pulled them up and towards herself, spreading them out until they touched the ground. She then brought the woman’s arms slowly forwards, pressing downwards and inwards on the woman’s chest. She repeated the actions, and once the men saw what she was doing, they did the same to Mr. Langston.

They continued this rudimentary CPR for several minutes until a man ran up to them carrying a black medical bag. He was followed by the woman Bridget spoke to earlier. He knelt by Mr. Langston for a moment, who had started to breathe on his own between coughing fits. He then came over to where Bridget was steadily working Mrs. Langston’s arms.

The man pulled a stethoscope from his bag and said, “Hold please.” Bridget stopped her activities as the doctor pressed the chest piece to the woman’s chest and listened. He moved the device around, pausing for a few seconds each time. He then took the earpieces out and said, “I’m sorry, but she’s gone.”

Bridget sat back on her heels and stared at the woman lying on the grass. “How can that be?” she asked quietly. “I got them both out together.”

The doctor shook his head. “It’s hard to say. Maybe she breathed more smoke than he did. Maybe she had other problems.” He looked over at Mr. Langston. “Maybe he was just stronger than she was. Excuse me.” The doctor went over to where Mr. Langston was trying to sit up, and used the stethoscope to check Langston’s breathing.

– – – – –

The authorities were sent for and soon an ambulance and a hearse arrived. Everyone watched in silence as Mrs. Langston’s body was carefully placed on a stretcher and taken away.

Bridget stood around with the neighbors while the police conducted interviews to try to determine what happened. After she gave her statement, she was preparing to leave when she was told that Mr. Langston wanted to speak with her. She walked over to where he was sitting on a chair that someone had brought out of the house.

He looked up at her, face covered with soot from the car exhaust. “Miss Doyle, I understand that you were the one who got us out of the garage.”

“I am, sir,” Bridget said, surprised that he knew who she was. “And I’m so sorry about your wife.”

Mr. Langston pressed his lips together and swallowed hard. “That’s okay,” he finally said. “May I ask what you are doing here at my home?”

“I was sent to deliver an envelope from the company, but when no one answered, I came around the back. If you don’t mind my asking, sir, how did you get stuck in the garage? Was there a problem with the door mechanism?”

Langston looked up at her again, but his eyes were different. It was as if he remembered something that made him angry. “We were not stuck. There was no problem. Those men put us there.”

“What men?”

“Look, I need you to do something for me. Do you know Mike Abbott? He’s my lead engineer.”

“Yes, I know Mike.”

“I need you to go to him, now, and tell him that he is not to allow Pierce to get his hands on the prototype.”

“Pierce? You mean Alexander Pierce? I thought he was the new head of the company.”

Langston shook his head vigorously. “No, he’s a criminal, trying to get his hands on our secrets. Tell Mike that he can’t let that happen.”

Bridget looked around. “Maybe you should be telling this to the police.”

Langston grabbed Bridget’s wrist and whispered, “I can’t trust the police.”

As he let go of her wrist, two men in white uniforms approached them. “Mr. Langston, we need to take you to the hospital.”

“That’s fine,” he said to them, but as he stood up, he looked into Bridget’s eyes and said, “Can you do this?”

“You can count on me, sir,” Bridget replied, and the attendants led Mr. Langston toward the ambulance. She walked over to the garage and picked up the envelope, which was laying on the grass where she threw it, and headed to her car.

– – – – –

“I’ll get it,” Kiki called as she opened the door of the farmhouse. A courier stood on the doorstep.

“Telegram for Kristina Hansen or Bridget Doyle,” the young man said.

“I’m Kristina,” Kiki said. She signed for the telegram, and after thanking the man, she closed the door and turned her back on it. She opened the envelope, unfolded the paper inside, and started to read.

Mrs. Jenkins walked through the kitchen door in to the hallway, wiping her hands on a dish towel. “Who was it, dear?”

Kiki folded the message and stuffed it back into the envelope it came in. “It was a telegram for me.”

Mrs. Jenkins raised her eyebrows. “A telegram! We don’t get too many of those here. I hope it’s good news.”

“Sort of. It’s from my uncle back East. He says he has a job for me if I want to go back.”

“Oh? Do you think you’ll take it?”

Kiki folded the envelope and stuffed it into the pocket of her dungarees. “I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it. Have you seen Bridget today?”

“I don’t think she’s home from work yet,” Mrs. Jenkins said, looking at the clock. “She’s already missed dinner. I hope everything’s all right.”

“I’m sure it is,” Kiki replied. “Well, if you need me, I’ll be in my room.” Mrs. Jenkins nodded and walked back toward the kitchen, and Kiki bounded up the stairs, entered the room she shared with Bridget, and locked the door.

Kiki went to the window and cranked the blinds so that no one could see in. She then pulled a suitcase out from under her bed, and removed a small brown notebook from inside. She walked over to the desk and after turning on the desk lamp, she spread out the telegram in front of her, and placed the notebook next to it.

“So let’s see what ‘uncle’ has to say.” Kiki said. She took a piece of paper out from a drawer and using the notebook as a key, she slowly deciphered the text of the telegram.

When she was finished, she sat back in her chair and looked over the unencrypted message. It read:

Loss of Linford Price unfortunate, but photo believed authentic. ‘HVE’ markings likely refer to Hubert van Eyck, rumored alias of Belgian. Good work getting photo to us.

Recommend extreme caution as syndicate reported operating in area and may be aware of your identities. Report suspicious activities immediately, involve local police if needed, but do not engage directly. Repeat: do not engage. More experienced operatives on way.

“Hubert van Eyck,” Kiki said. “Why does that name sound familiar?”

– – – – –

It was well past sundown by the time Bridget reached the Langston Aircraft Company grounds. Several electric street lights cast a dim glow over each of the several small parking lots Bridget drove through on her way to the engineering building. She assumed that Mike would be working late on the prototype of the new carburetor, because of the accelerated testing schedule that he told her about earlier that day, and when she saw the lights on in the building, she knew she was right.

Bridget parked her car in the spot next to the door, the one ordinarily reserved for the president of the company. She shut off the lights and the engine and glanced over at the envelope on the seat next to her. She briefly thought of opening it to see what was inside, but a loud clang from inside caught her attention. She shoved the unopened envelope under the seat and climbed out of the car.

The engineering building was the second smallest building on the site, the main office where Bridget worked being the only smaller one. The front door opened into a wide common area containing several desks and drafting tables, and two doors in the back opened into a small machine shop where the engineers turn their ideas into prototypes for testing. No one was in the design area, so Bridget walked through into the shop. Mike was the only person there.

Mike Abbott was the lead engineer on the project that created the Langston Pressure Carburetor. He was tall and thin, with thick dark hair and ears that stuck out just a little too far for Bridget’s taste. He wore wire-rimmed glasses that always seemed smudged. It didn’t seem to bother him, but it distracted Bridget when she talked to him.

Mike was standing by one of the work tables, hands on his hips, scowling at a device in front of him. As Bridget approached him, she saw him pick up a wrench, move toward the device, then slam the wrench down on the table with a metallic clang.

“Problems?” she asked when she got closer to him.

He seemed momentarily surprised to see her. “Bridget. What are you doing here?”

“I work here, remember? Where’s the rest of your team?”

“I sent them all out for dinner. They’d been here all day and needed a break.”

“What about you?” Bridget asked. “Don’t you eat?”

“I’m not hungry,” he grumbled. He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“What’s wrong? Trouble with the prototype?”

“Nothing that we can’t work out, given enough time.” He sighed heavily. “But the front office is pressing us to get it ready for a test flight.”

Bridget frowned. “You talking about Pierce?”

Mike nodded. “He and a couple of tough looking guys were out here today and they told us they wanted it in the air by Monday.”

Bridget stepped closer. “Listen, I need to tell you something, and you may not believe it but it’s true.”

Mike furrowed his brow. “Like what?”

“I just left Mr. Langston, and he said that under no circumstances are you to let Pierce or his men get their hands on the prototype or the plans.”

“I don’t understand,” Mike said. “You spoke to Mr. Langston?”

“Yes, I was at his house, and he said that some men tried to kill him and his wife.” She paused. “His wife didn’t make it.”

“Wait, this doesn’t make any sense. Mrs. Langston is dead?”

Bridget nodded. “Mr. Langston said that Pierce and his men are criminals, and that you should keep the prototype from him at all costs.”

Mike opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a voice from the back of the building. “Well, then it’s a good thing that we’re here to take it off your hands.” Bridget and Mike turned to see Alexander Pierce standing just inside the door, flanked by two men in dark overcoats, each holding an even darker gun.

– – – – –

Mike whispered to Bridget, “They have guns.”

“I can see that,” she whispered back. “Don’t panic.” She looked around to see anything that she might use as a weapon.

“Mr. Abbott,” Pierce said as the three men approached Mike and Bridget. “Is the prototype ready for testing?”

“Not quite, Mr. Pierce. I still need to make some more adjustments. You said we had until Monday…”

“Yes, I’m sorry about that. There have been some developments, and I’m afraid that we’ll have to take it as-is.”

“By developments, do you mean what happened to the Langstons?” Bridget asked.

“Ah, Miss Doyle,” Pierce replied. “I was wondering when our paths were going to cross. To answer your question, yes, the unfortunate accident at the Langston residence is part of the reason for the accelerated timetable.”

“Mr. Langston said that it wasn’t an accident,” Bridget said while she was sizing up the two gunmen.

“Yes, well, we all have our opinions. Now, may I have the prototype and the plans, Mr. Abbott?” Pierce stepped toward Mike.

“I told you it wasn’t ready,” Mike said. “And the plans are locked in the safe.”

One of the doors in the front of the shop opened and four men walked through, talking loudly. Pierce looked at one of the gunmen and nodded in the direction of the door. The gunman put his weapon in the pocket of his overcoat and walked toward the four men.

Seeing an opportunity in the distraction, Bridget grabbed a large wrench from the bench. She swung it down hard on the gunman’s hand. The man grabbed for his injured wrist as the gun clattered across the floor. She brought the wrench up and connected with the side of the man’s head. He fell sideways to the floor and didn’t move.

When Mike saw Bridget swing the wrench, he put his hands on Pierce’s chest and shoved. A surprised Pierce tumbled backward over the falling gunman and hit the floor hard. Mike picked up the prototype carburetor and said, “C’mon, Bridget.” He ran toward the door away from where the other engineers had just entered. Bridget ran after him, pausing only to pick up the pistol that she knocked across the floor. The other gunsel shouted for them to stop, but they were quickly through the door and running through the office.

They burst out the front door and into the parking lot. Bridget pointed to her car and said, “Here, Mike! I’m parked here!”

Mike stopped, looked at the car, and said, “We’ll never outrun them in that jalopy. Let’s take my car.” He turned to run to the back of the parking lot.

Bridget said, “Okay, but give me a second.” She ran to her car and reached under the seat for her purse. As she did, she saw the envelope she was supposed to deliver to Mr. Langston. She grabbed it as well and ran after Mike. She reached the back of the lot as he was putting the carburetor in the back seat of a yellow Duesenberg Model A. “This is your car?”

“Yeah,” Mike said with a grin. “Like it?”

Bridget ran around the passenger side and jumped in as Mike got behind the wheel. “Sure,” she smirked, “but will it get us away from those guys?”

“Well, I bought it with the stock Straight Eight, but I made a few modifications to it.” Mike turned the key and the engine roared to life.

Bridget looked at the front of the building and saw Pierce and his henchman run out the door. “Well, Barney Oldfield, let’s see what it can do.”

“Okay,” Mike said. “Hang on.” He put the transmission into gear and the big car practically leapt forward. He wrenched the wheel and the car swerved toward the parking lot exit.

Bridget grabbed her purse and the envelope to keep them from bouncing around on the seat. She looked back and saw another car following them. “Look out. Here they come.”

“Don’t worry,” Mike said. “Once we get away from the plant and on some straight roads, they’ll never catch us.”

Bridget looked back again. The other car passed under a streetlight, and she could see someone hanging out the window, pointing a pistol at them. “That may be, but can this car outrun bullets?” She slid down in the seat as she heard a shot and what sounded like an angry bee flying by.

– – – – –

Can Bridget and Mike get away with the prototype? Is Pierce working for the Belgian’s syndicate? And who is Hubert van Eyck? We’ll find out the answers to these questions and more in the next exciting chapter.

– – – – –

If you don’t want to wait until the next Reading Series night, you might consider joining my e-mail list.  Once a month (or so,) I send out an e-mail with information on my writing projects, and any literary events I might be attending, and I include a new chapter of the Barnstormers story (usually with additional content I don’t have time to read at the Tamale Hut) in every e-mail.  Click here to sign up today!

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