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 it at the Tamale Hut on November 18Barnstormers_ch5, 2017.

Chapter 5 – The Secret Police

In our last exciting episode, Bridget and Kiki caught up with Willie, the man who sabotaged their airplane and caused it to be lost over the ocean. Bridget subdued Willie with the control stick she saved from the plane using the French fighting style known as la canne, but when the local policeman arrived on the scene, he instead arrested the two girls for assault and took them off to jail.

Clyde Beckerman walked up the stairs of the police station in Tottenville. As he reached for the door, it opened from the inside and a man in a rumpled suit walked out. His hands were bandaged and he was holding them in the air, fingers spread, as if they hurt him. There was a brief pause as the two men locked eyes, then the man in the rumpled suit laughed loudly and walked past Clyde and down the stairs. Clyde watched the man as he ambled down the street, unwinding the bandages from his hands and tossing the ball of gauze over his shoulder as he walked.

Clyde entered the police station and approached the man sitting at a desk behind a low wooden rail. “Hi, Walt. What kind of trouble is Willie in now?” he asked, jerking a thumb at the door.

“Got beat up by a couple of girls,” Walt said with a laugh. “Your girls, I believe.”

“You mean Kiki and Bridget? I don’t believe it.”

“My officer said that when he got there, Bridget was thrashing Willie with this,” Walt said, picking up a wooden stick from his desk.

Clyde took the stick and turned it over in his hands. “That may be,” he said, “but you and I both know that Willie probably deserved it. That guy’s always been trouble.”

“Be that as it may,” Walt said, taking the stick back, “Art saw her smacking Willie around, and gave him the benefit of the doubt. Add to that the cockamamie story she told him about sabotaged planes and secret police, and Art thought he was dealing with a nut, so he brought them all here to sort everything out. I called you because they said they worked for you.”

“They do, and I can vouch for them. Can I see ’em?”

“Sure,” Walt said, standing up and taking a ring of keys from a hook on the wall. “C’mon back.”

Clyde walked through the swinging gate in the rail and followed Walt to the cells in the back of the building. As they approached the cell containing Kiki and Bridget, the two pilots stood up and walked to the bars.

“Hi, boss,” Kiki said. “Thanks for coming. We’re sorry about all this.”

Clyde gave them a wry smile. “Of all the pilots I’ve had working for me, I never thought I’d see you two behind bars.”

“It wasn’t our fault,” Bridget protested. “That guy wrecked our plane.”

“Where is your plane?” Clyde asked.

Bridget frowned. “Somewhere out to sea by now. He had a pair of wire clippers in his pocket, and he used them to cut my aileron and rudder wires before bailing out. If it wasn’t for Keek, I’d be fish food by now.”

Kiki smiled and said, “So you going to get us out of here, boss?”

Clyde looked at Walt, and Walt tilted his head toward the front of the station. The two men went back to sit at Walt’s desk, leaving the girls in the cell.

“Look, Clyde, I’d like to just let them go with you like I usually do with your flyers, but this is more than the usual drunk and disorderly. This is assault, and Willie did swear out a complaint.” He picked up a paper from his desk and waved it emphatically. “He said your girl threw him out of the plane, then once he got to land, she tracked him down and assaulted him.”

“To what purpose?” Clyde asked. “Did he give one valid reason why she would throw him out of the plane, let alone chase him on dry land?”

Walt frowned. “Well, no, can’t say that he did.”

“You know Willie as well as I do, and of the two stories, which sounds more likely? That my pilot, who’s never been in any trouble, did what Willie claims for no apparent reason, or that someone paid him to sabotage her plane? My money’s on the second story.”

Just then, the phone on Walt’s desk rang. Walt lifted the earpiece from the switch hook and spoke into the receiver. “70th Precinct, Captain Franklin speaking.” He listened a moment, then stood up straight, picking up the transmitter from the desk. “Yes, sir … That’s correct, sir … Yes, sir, thank you, sir.” He placed the receiver back on the switch hook and put the phone back on the desk. “Well, Clyde, it looks like you can have your pilots after all.”

“Yeah?” Clyde asked.

Walt nodded. “That was the Governor’s office. I don’t know who these young ladies are, but they seem to have some powerful friends.” He picked up the ring of keys from the desk and walked back toward the cells, leaving Clyde with a puzzled expression on his face.

– – – – –

Captain Franklin gave the girls back their personal effects, including the control stick that Bridget had saved from the doomed plane. They were soon driving back to the airfield with Clyde.

“Okay,” Clyde said, “So what’s the story?”

“Well,” Bridget started, “there’s more to this than you think.”

“I don’t know what to think right now.”

“You remember when you first got to the police station? We heard Captain Franklin tell you something about a cockamamie story regarding secret police.”

“That’s us,” Kiki said.

“What’s you?” asked Clyde.

“We’re both agents of the International Criminal Police Organization.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Most people haven’t,” said Bridget. “That’s why some people refer to us as the secret police.”

“So you two are policemen … er … women?”

“Technically, we’re agents,” Kiki said. “The ICPO started a couple of years ago when a group of police officers from around the world got together to cooperate in fighting international crime. Agents are undercover all over the world.”

“So you’ve been undercover in my Flying Circus?”

Bridget quickly said, “Yeah, but we were not investigating you. We were assigned to join your show so we could keep an eye on the Aeromarine factory across the way. The government was concerned about the new mail plane they were developing and also with the foreign syndicate, led by a guy they call the Belgian, that was trying to buy its way into the company.”

“So that’s what you two were doing there the night of the fire,” Clyde said.

“Yeah,” Kiki said, rubbing her head. “That didn’t go quite like we planned.”

“So this ICPO sounds like a good thing. Why haven’t I heard about it before?”

“That’s partly so that we can operate in secret,” Bridget said, “and also because the United States is not officially part of this group. Don’t get me wrong, the government is behind us, but they don’t want everyone to know just yet.”

Kiki added, “I think that they’re afraid that the public would see this as the country being pulled into another global fight so soon after the Great War.”

“Yeah, like that would happen again,” Clyde chuckled. “So what happens next?”

“We don’t know,” Kiki said. “We’re preparing a report for headquarters on yesterday’s fire at the factory, and then we’ll see what they want us to do.”

“You’re more than welcome to stay with us,” Clyde said. “The crowd loves you.”

“But we don’t have a plane any more,” Kiki said.

Clyde waved his hand. “Ah, don’t worry about that. You can use one of the other crates. A couple of test flights to get used to a different plane and you’ll be back in the show.”

“Thanks, boss,” Kiki said, patting Clyde on the back. “You’re the best.”

“One thing, though,” Bridget said. “You can’t tell anyone about any of this this, at least until we get our new assignments.”

Clyde laughed. “Who would believe me?”

– – – – –

A few days later, a courier delivered an envelope addressed to the girls. Kiki tore open the end and removed a folder and two train tickets from the envelope. She skimmed over the contents of the folder as Bridget looked on. “It looks like we’re going to Pennsylvania.”

“Pennsylvania?” Bridget replied, taking the folder from Kiki. “What’s there?”

“They want us to talk to a man in Easton who claims to have known the Belgian back during the war,” Kiki said as Bridget flipped through the pages.

“I thought that no one knows who the Belgian is.”

Kiki nodded. “Apparently, the guy we’re supposed to talk to thinks he met the Belgian back in Ypres, after the Allies drove the Germans out. This man was a British soldier at the time, and while the people of Ypres were happy to see the Germans gone, most of the town was destroyed in the process.”

Bridget turned another page in the folder. “It says here that the man who we now refer to as the Belgian blames the Allies for the destruction of the town, not the Germans who had invaded, and he swears to punish everyone involved.” Bridget looked up from the pages. “Didn’t the Germans use mustard gas on Ypres? Isn’t that worse than anything the Allies did?”

Kiki shrugged. “I don’t know. People believe what they want to believe, I guess. Maybe he was collaborating with the Germans and didn’t like the intrusion.”

“I guess we’ll find out. Hey, it also says here that there will be a new plane waiting for us at Hog Island when we’re done in Easton.”

“That’s great news,” said Kiki. “I’m itchin’ to get back in the sky in our own plane. This Nieuport that Clyde let us use is nice, but I like being able to take off at the drop of a hat.”

“Yeah, speaking of taking off, we have to tell Clyde that we’re leaving.”

“That’s going to be tough. He’s been pretty good to us.”

“He has,” Bridget said, “but orders are orders.”

– – – – –

On Friday morning, Kiki and Bridget were sitting in the train station lobby, waiting for the train to arrive.

“I hope this train has an observation car on the back,” Bridget said. “I love standing out there and watching the country go by.”

“I’m looking forward to getting our new plane,” Kiki said. “If we could fly, we’d be on our way by now, instead of waiting for this stupid train.”

“Just relax. We can let someone else drive for a while.”

Kiki pulled a magazine out of her pocket and grumbled, “Could be halfway there by now.”

Bridget looked around the station lobby. Several people were waiting for the train. Some were seated on one of the long wooden benches that filled half the lobby. Some were standing at the window. Two children ran around the station under the watchful eye of a matronly-looking woman. One man was laying on the next bench over from Bridget and Kiki. He had one knee up and the other leg over that knee, his foot bouncing in time with some unheard music. Bridget couldn’t see his face as he was on the opposite side of the bench, but she noticed that he was wearing gray spats over highly-polished black shoes, which seemed odd in this rural area.

Before too long, the station agent stepped out of his booth and announced that the train was approaching the station. Kiki put away her magazine and moved with Bridget and the other passengers out onto the platform. Before leaving the lobby, Bridget looked back and saw that the leg with the spat was gone, but looking around the crowd, she couldn’t figure out who the leg belonged to. She shrugged her shoulders and joined the crowd boarding the train, eventually finding a seat in one of the coach cars.

The conductor soon came through to check everyone’s ticket. When he got to Bridget, she asked, “Excuse me, but is there an observation car at the back of this train?”

“Why, yes, miss,” the conductor replied. “Three cars back.” He pointed in the opposite way the train was heading.

“Thank you,” Bridget replied, and took back her and Kiki’s ticket. “C’mon, Keek, let’s go to the observation car.”

“I’d rather stay here.” Kiki crossed her arms and slouched down, closing her eyes.

“Suit yourself.” Bridget stood up and walked to the back of the car.

Kiki listened as the door slid open then closed. She sat there with her eyes closed, listening to the sound of the wheels on the rails as the train picked up speed. After a minute she opened her eyes and saw the New Jersey countryside speeding by the window. She looked around the train car at the other passengers, who were either reading or sleeping or simply staring out the window.

“Yeah, okay,” she mumbled to herself. She stood up and walked to the back of the car. Opening the sliding door, she stepped out onto the small platform between cars, and heard the door swing closed behind her. The railroad ties passing underneath were a blur as she stepped to the next car and opened the door.

The next car was nearly identical to the one she just left, as was the next. Kiki confidently strode down each aisle as the train rocked on the uneven tracks, her sure footing a testament to the hours she spent practicing her wing-walking.

Kiki didn’t see Bridget in any of the seats in the observation car, so she walked through and stepped through the door, out onto the open platform. The door closed behind her.

The platform on the end of the train extended about six feet from the door and had a canopy overhead. There were a few folding chairs on either side, but Kiki saw no passengers there. She walked to the rail and looked at the train tracks leading off the the distance when she heard the door open behind her. Turning, she said, “Hey, Bridge, I don’t know how I passed you but you’re right about the view …” She stopped as she saw a man rush at her, a man she recognized as Bob, the mechanic she last saw setting the fire at the Aeromarine factory. Before she could do or say anything, the man put his hands on her shoulders and shoved. As she tumbled over the rail toward the tracks below, she thought of how odd Bob looked wearing those gray spats.

– – – – –

What will happen to Kiki? Where did Bridget disappear to? And who is the man they are supposed to meet in Easton? We’ll find out the answers to these questions and more in the next exciting chapter, which will premiere at the Tamale Hut on January 20, after which it will be posted here.

– – – – –

If you don’t want to wait until January, you might consider joining my e-mail list.  Once a month, 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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