Barnstormers

Here’s the next chapter of my new story, about two women and a plane near the dawn of the aviation industry. I read this at the Tamale Hut on April 25, 2019.

Chapter 12 – Farmhouse Siege, part 2

In our last exciting episode, Bridget and Mike escaped from the clutches of Alexander Pierce, a man she suspects of being in the employ of a European criminal syndicate.  The pair met Kiki at the Jenkens farm and were in the barn where their plane is stored, trying to decide what to do with the plans and the prototype of a new carburetor being developed by Mike at the Langston Aircraft Company, when they looked through the window to see two cars pull into yard outside the barn, and Pierce and his henchmen climb out.

 – – – – –

“Alright,” Pierce said, after taking a drag from the cigarette.  “You two, check the barn.  Two of you wait here in case they show up.  The rest, follow me.”  He led the men into the farmhouse.

“What do we do now?” Kiki whispered.  “And what about the Jenkenses?”

“Is that big door locked?” Bridget asked, as she watched two of the men walk toward the barn.

Kiki nodded, and the three of them stepped back into the shadows as one of the men peered in the window.  Seeing nothing, he followed the other man to the front of the barn.  The large door shook as the men tried to open it, but when it didn’t immediately open, they seemed to lose interest and rejoined the two men standing by the cars.

“These guys are lazy,” Kiki said.  “They didn’t even check the other side of the barn.”

“Can’t get good help these days,” Bridget joked.  “So we need to get these guys away from here.”  Through the window, she saw lights going on inside the house.  “And away from Mrs. Jenkens and the kids.”

“I can take the car,” Mike said.  “They didn’t see it parked on the other side of the barn but they will hear it when I start the engine.  They’ll chase after me, and I’m sure I can outrun ‘em.”

“Okay,” Bridget said, “But I’ll go with you.  We’ll bring the prototype to police headquarters.  Keek, you stay here and when they’re gone, take the plane and get the plans to the government men at the airfield.”

“Alright,” Kiki said.  “Good luck.”

They checked that the four men were still standing by the cars between the house and the barn, then Bridget and Mike slipped out the door on the other side.  They put the prototype carburetor on the floor in the back seat of the Duesenberg and climbed in.

“You ready?” Mike asked, and Bridget nodded.  The engine started with a roar.  Bridget heard shouting from the other side of the barn.  Mike quickly put the car in gear and pressed hard on the accelerator.  The rear wheel spun briefly before catching and the yellow car jumped forward.  As they drove around the barn and toward the main road, Bridget looked back and saw Pierce and his men pour out of the farmhouse and climb into the cars.  Headlights glared as the cars began their pursuit.

“Here they come,” she said.  “I hope this thing is as fast as you think it is.”

“Just you wait,” Mike said with a grin, shifting gears as the car picked up speed.

– – – – –

 As the Duesenberg drove away, Kiki watched Pierce and his men piled into their two cars to give chase.  She was a little dismayed when she saw that two of the men stayed behind, presumably to watch the house in case Bridget and Mike doubled back.  They stood in the area between the barn and the house, watching as the cars sped away.

“Okay, Keek,” she whispered to herself.  “How can I separate these two?”

She got her answer almost immediately, when one of the men said, “Hey, I’ll be right back.  I gotta take a leak.”  The other man nodded and the man who spoke walked around the front of the barn.  Kiki hurried over to the opposite side.  She carefully opened the door, then quickly slammed it and stepped back into the shadows.

The man in front of the barn shouted, “Who’s there?  You’d better come out.”  Kiki heard footsteps travel the length of the large front door.  They reached the corner and she heard the man mumble, “Well whattya know, there’s another door here.”

Kiki watched the doorknob turn slowly, then the door slammed open, and the man was framed in the doorway, gun at the ready.  “Okay, whoever’s in here, show yourself.”  The man stood there for a moment, peering into the darkened barn.  He then set one foot cautiously inside, then another.  On his third step he turned his head to the right just in time to see Kiki step out of the shadows, swinging a heavy wrench she had picked up from the tool bench.  Before the man could react, the wrench connected with the side of his head and he crumbled to the floor.  She took the gun from the man’s hand, then checked to make sure he was unconscious.  She closed the door and hurried to the window.  The activity hadn’t drawn the attention of the other man.  He simply stood there, casually smoking a cigarette.

“One down,” she said to herself.  “Now the other guy.  Should I try to rush him?  I’ve got a gun now, so if I could get the jump on him…”  She quietly slipped through the door, carrying the gun she had taken from the now-unconscious man.  She cautiously walked along the front of the barn.  She stopped at the corner with her back to the barn.  She was about to peer around to see where the other man was when she heard the click of pistol hammer being pulled back, then the man stepped around the corner with his gun pointed directly at Kiki.

“Well, who do we have here?” the man asked, taking the pistol from Kiki’s hand.  She showed him her palms and put her hands above her head.  “Step out here so I can get a good look at you.”  The man backed away from the barn toward the house, where there was more light.  Kiki walked forward, keeping her eyes on the gun trained on her midsection.

“You’re not going to get away with this,” Kiki said in a calm voice.

The man laughed.  “And what makes you say that?”  As he spoke, he felt something hard press against the back of his head.

“That would be me and my trusty shotgun,” Mrs. Jenkens said.  The man lifted his hands.  “Tommy, take this man’s guns, would you please?”  Mrs. Jenkens’ eldest son walked around the man and took the two guns and handed them to Kiki.  Mrs. Jenkens poked the man in the back of the head with the tip of the gun barrel.  “What were you thinking?  Waking up my family like that.”

“Thanks, Tommy,” Kiki said, “and thanks to you, Mrs. Jenkens.”

“Think nothing of it,” the older woman said.  “Tommy, please go into the cellar and get some rope to tie this man up.”

“Make sure you bring enough for two,” Kiki said.  “His pal is out cold in the barn.”

“My, you’re just full of surprises,” Mrs. Jenkens said with a smile.

Tommy soon returned with the rope and Kiki made sure that the two men were securely bound and gagged.  She then went into the house and retrieved her flying jacket and cap.  She tucked the envelope with the carburetor plans into the jacket’s inside pocket and zipped it up, then she walked over to Mrs. Jenkens.

“I have another favor to ask of you, as if you haven’t done enough to help me already.”

“Certainly, dear,” Mrs. Jenkens replied.  “What can I do?”

“I really need to take off to help Bridget by delivering some important documents.  When I was in the house, I called the police, and they’re sending a car to pick up these two.    Would you mind keeping an eye on them until the authorities arrive?”

Mrs. Jenkens held her shotgun across her body.  “I’d be happy to.  I just hope that when this is all over, you can tell me exactly what’s going on here.”

Kiki laughed.  “It’s a promise.”  Tommy then helped Kiki get the plane out of the barn, and with the light from the house illuminating the lawn, Kiki was able to take off into the pre-dawn sky.

– – – – –

 The lights of downtown Cleveland were ahead as the yellow Duesenberg barreled down the road.  Mike and Bridget had been able to stay well ahead of Pierce and his men, but despite Mike’s claims about his car’s performance, the men following were beginning to close the gap.

“I thought you said this thing was fast,” Bridget said.

“It is,” Mike said, struggling to keep the car going straight on the uneven surface.  “But this road’s so bad, I can’t go full-out.”

“Well, you’ll have to step on it, because those guys are getting closer.”

Mike glanced in his rear-view mirror.  “At least they’re not shooting at us.”  As if on cue, a bullet whizzed by.

“You had to say that.”

“Sorry.”  Mike swerved to avoid a large pothole.  “What about returning fire?”

“I only have a few bullets left.  I was going to wait until they were closer so I had a better chance of hitting something.”  Another bullet flew by.  “How much further, do you think?”

“I don’t know, maybe another 15 minutes.”

Bridget picked up the pistol.  “I’ll see if I can slow them down a little.”  She leaned out the window, aimed and pulled the trigger.  As she did, Mike swerved the car a little and her shot went wide.  “Hey!” she said.

“Sorry, but I would’ve broken an axle on that one.  Then where would we be?”

Bridget scowled a bit.  She started to lean out to take another shot at the pursuing cars, but then she stopped.  “Do you hear that?”

“Sounds like a plane,” Mike said.

Bridget scanned the skies, and looking past the cars chasing them, she saw a biplane heading straight for them.  It was hard to tell from the angle of approach, and because the sun was just starting to rise, but it looked to her like it was a red and yellow Jenny.  “I think that might be Kiki.”

The airplane was flying above the road, and was gaining on the cars.  There were no trees or other obstacles along this stretch, so the plane dropped to just a few hundred feet over the road.

Bridget could see that the men in the cars behind them were aware of the plane as well.  A few shots were taken at the plane but they didn’t seem to slow its approach.

The plane was just over the rear car when a small door opened on its underside and a gray powder poured out.  It covered the car, coating the windshield and drifting in the open side windows to choke its occupants.  Before the driver could activate the windshield wipers to try to clear away the material, the left front tire hit a deep pothole and exploded.  The car lurched to the left and the driver wrenched the steering wheel to the right to try to keep the vehicle on the road, but he over-corrected and the car skidded off the road, flipping over into a ditch past the right shoulder.

The plane continued on over the other car pursuing Mike and Bridget.  The driver of that car had only a split-second to react when he saw the car behind swerve off the road as it was covered by the powder.  He slammed on the brakes as the plane passed overhead, dumping the last of its load on the vehicle.  Bridget watched two men jump from the stopped car and run from it, coughing and wiping their eyes.

Mike drove on, alternately watching the road for obstacles and glancing in the rear-view mirror, but no more cars appeared to chase them.   Bridget leaned out the window to get a better view of the plane as it flew over the field next to the road.  She saw Kiki giving a thumbs-up sign from the cockpit.  Bridget waved, and Kiki peeled off to her right, to disappear over the tree-line in the distance.

“We should be able to reach the police station now,” Bridget said.  “I hope your friend there can help us.”

“He will,” Mike said confidently.

– – – – –

Mike and Bridget arrived safely at the Central Police Station on Champlain Street in downtown Cleveland.  Mike’s friend, a policeman named Sherman, was working the front desk when they walked in, carrying the carburetor prototype.  His eyes widened as he heard their story, and he quickly fetched his supervisor, a sergeant named Fletcher.  Mike and Bridget were led to a small room with a table and a few chairs where they again explained the events of the evening, in even more detail.  They were told to wait and were left alone in the room.

“So what do you think they’re doing?” Bridget asked.

Mike shrugged.  “I’ve never seen the inside of a police station before, so your guess is as good as mine.  I suppose they’re trying to verify our story.”

“Not sure how they’ll do that if Pierce got away.”

“I kind of was hoping that we would lead them down here and somehow trap ‘em.”

Bridget laughed.  “You read too many dime novels.”

Mike grinned.  “Yeah, I guess I do.”

More than an hour later, the door opened and  Sgt. Fletcher walked in and sat down opposite Bridget and Mike.  “Well, we made a few calls, and it seems that most of your story checks out.  We called the hospital and spoke to Benjamin Langston.  He confirmed that he had been held against his will by two men who later put him and his wife into the garage with the car running, and Mrs. Langston did not survive.”

“I did what I could,” Bridget said somberly.

Fletcher nodded.  “Langston also confirmed what you told us about Alexander Pierce forcing his way into the Langston Aircraft Company.  He said that the men who held him and his wife told him that they worked for Pierce.  We also called your co-workers, Mr. Abbott, and they say they saw Pierce and another man chase you from the factory shop.”

Mike said, “That’s good.  I wasn’t sure how much they saw.”

“We also have the report from the officers who went to the Jenkens farmhouse earlier today and picked up two men who had been apparently subdued by the Jenkens family after they were awoken at gunpoint.  And we sent a car down that road you say you were chased and did find one car in a ditch by the side of the road.  It looked to be covered in fertilizer, which squares with what you told us.  Unfortunately, no one was found at the scene.”

Bridget asked, “So what does this all mean?”

Fletcher smiled.  “Well, it means we believe you.  We’ve called the Bureau of Investigation, as you requested, and they’re sending a couple of agents to take control of that prototype you brought, and to help out with tracking down Mr. Pierce.  We’ve put out a bulletin on him, and if he’s still in the city, we’ll find him.  For now, we’d ask that you stay here at the police station for a little while for safe-keeping.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Mike said with a grin.  “I feel much better.”

“Wait,” Bridget said.  “When you came in, you said that most of our story checked out.  What part didn’t?”

“Oh, we called the mail office at Martin Field,” Fletcher said, “and they said they’ve not had any planes land there all morning.  Our officers saw all the fertilizer on the ground around the car crash, so we believe your friend helped you escape, but wherever she is, she isn’t at Martin Field.”

– – – – –

 Where is Alexander Pierce?  Will the police be able to find him before he leaves town?   And what happened to Kiki?  We’ll find out the answers to these questions and more in the next exciting chapter.

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