'The Dornier Do-X Incident'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever are private detectives in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. The ladies, who are lovers, become bodyguards for a famous person on an aircraft flight.
Note:— The Dornier Do-X actually existed and flew.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2018 to the author. 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.
"What's the route?"
"I'm only goin' by this brochure, babe, but it seems t'be Delacote City, NH, then New York, followed by Norfolk, Virginia, an' ending with Miami, Florida." Fiona cast the thin sheet of paper across the sofa so her partner, and lover, could grab it. "Take a gander, see what ya think."
"What I thinks is—I'm scared, is what I dam' think." Alice making a disapproving face as she eyed the brochure with its several photos of the giant airplane. "Fer one this thing can't possibly fly—I mean, how could it? Look at it?"
"Made it all the way from Germany, didn't it?" Fiona acknowledging the facts in the case. "All the way across the Pond, too. Yeah, it can fly."
"Can't see how." Alice loth to abandon a theory so close to her heart. "I mean, six bloody enormous engines on tall stanchions, sitting in a line on top of that high wing—Jee-sus."
"What? Twelve what?"
"Look at the photos, dear, they clearly show six whacking great nacelles on those stanchions on top of the wing." Alice was regal in her disdain. "So there."
"They're double engines."
"Will ya fer Chr-s'sakes stop with the what's?" Fiona having reached her limit. "Each nacelle holds two engines, one pointing forward, the other pointing backwards. Take a close look at the main photo, y'can clearly see the propellor blades whizzing round at each end of the separate nacelles."
"Oh." This after Alice had indeed lowered her head over the brochure, studying the photos as if they were clues in an important murder case. "Oh."
On this quiet calm sunny evening of August, 1934 Fiona and Alice were comfortably ensconced in their private lair, or condominium, in the Collister Building, Casemount Street, The Heights, Delacote City, NH. The drapes were still open, letting the soft evening light into the long wide living-room. Curiously it's furnishings and design did not show the usual contemporary infatuation with the somewhat bleak Moderne style, only because Fiona hated this modern determination to, as she often said, take the style out of Style; her interest in the topic having stopped with Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, and American Craftsman interiors. Nothing of which allied itself in any meaningful way to a modern condominium in a high apartment block in a modern city; especially as Alice was herself one of the major appreciators of Moderne. Give her several pots of chillingly white paint, with a small pot of light green for thin stripes, and she would be in her element, she avowed on more than one occasion when the subject of redecorating the condo came up. She would rip out most of the rubbish cluttering up the rooms at the moment, her light brown eyes filling with the flickering light of the zealot, leaving the living area bare, scintillatingly white, and echoing with the newly available airy lightness of the rejuvenated uncluttered space —Fiona's opinion on this subject remaining far otherwise.
"Anyways, to business." Fiona being determined to get to grips with their latest workload. "It ain't a case, as cases go, I admits; but it is business,—profits, an' all that."
"Ah," Alice considering one of her pet loves—profit. "Spondoolicks, greenbacks, coin o'the realm; in short, money. God, what a beautiful word that is."
"Al, yer losing it; y'remember that time a few months ago, when you asked me t'tell you when you were gibbering again? Well—now."
"Very funny." Alice sat back on the sofa, curling her leg under her loose long skirt, smiling at the source of this calumny. "Y'can't hurt me, lover, I'm impervious. So, this gal Helena van Landerlinck, loaded, is she?"
Fiona, comfortably placed at the other end of the long sofa, grinned at her paramour.
"If you call being a scion of the third richest family in New Hampshire loaded, then I suppose you have a point."
"God." Fiona being well used to the airy nonsense of the woman she loved more than anything else in her world. "She's taken us on for a week, anyway. And bought our tickets for the flight of this German monster; so that must say something about her wealth."
Alice considered this information for a few seconds, then leaned over to stroke Fiona's bare left arm gently.
"She wants us as security, eh?" She continued her caressing of her partner's smooth skin. "What for, the mean suspicious detective in me asks? What's riling her, that she needs protection on this soiree, I wonder?"
"She's rich, is all." Fiona being blasé about the class in general. "Doesn't want t'be grabbed an' pawed by the proletariat, I expect. You know these rich people, like t'keep t'their own closed conclave."
"Hum." Alice frowning as she considered the democratic difficulties of this stance, and her involvement. "Sounds a bit elitist, t'me. Sure we made the right decision, taking her on, an' all?"
"What's the problem?" Fiona shook her head sadly at this display of carping negativity. "She's a customer, she's paid her dues up front, we're goin' on a free holiday down the East Coast on a bloody great German monster aircraft decorated inside like the Hotel Astor. What more d'ya want out'ta life, lover? An' what're ya doin' with those rovin' fingers, may I ask?"
"Oh, just exploring the landscape, is all; don't you like it?"
"I like it a lot, baby, enough t'wonder if we need continue this discussion, or repair to more comfortable quarters?"
"Y'mean the bedroom?"
"Lady, you know well enough what I mean. Are ya up fer it, then? Only askin'."
"Need you ever ask, lover?" Alice grinned broadly, as she rose in one graceful movement. "So, what's keeping you? Feelin' your age? Shall I give diddums a helping hand?"
"Oh, you're so gon'na regret that, in a few minutes. Got yer pyjamas handy?"
"Jim-jams, what're they?"
The small launch had taken Fiona and Alice out into the bay beyond Delacote City Harbour, where the giant Dornier flying-boat awaited them. Cutting gently up to the starboard wing the launch sat right under the three angled struts attached to the lower sea-level stabilizer-float which, apparently, held the enormously wide high wing in position. Here, in the dark shade cast by the wing above their heads, crew-men awaited the passengers, guiding them onto the surface of the stabilizer and from there along to the door leading into the airplane.
The interior of the giant aircraft was even more impressive than either Fiona or Alice had expected. From the lower deck they walked along a short corridor ending in a circular stair which led them to the second, passenger, deck. Here everything was plush and stylish, looking for all the world like the lobby of a particularly posh hotel. Heading rearwards past this public space was a long area filled with six rows of well-cushioned seats, three rows on each side of a central walkway, many of which were already occupied by other passengers. But the steward led Fiona and Alice past these to where a further corridor, like a hotel again, led by several closed doors. The steward stopped before the third down on the port side and grasped the door-handle to open it, ushering the ladies through into the private suite before bowing and leaving them to it.
"Gosh, this is—pretty good."
"I'll say." Fiona almost as amazed as her companion. "Very nice, think I'm gon'na like this flight after all."
On the far side of the cabin a single round window looked out on the sea, which seemed remarkably near. A small table, sofa, a couple of cane chairs with cushions, a low cupboard against one wall, and a mirror on the opposite wall made up the furnishings. On the left hand, in the bulwark-wall, was another door which Alice made speed to investigate.
"Small bathroom—just a sink and a loo, no bath or shower." Her voice sounded hollow, like an echo in a cave before she reappeared. "Looks comfy. Yep, I could get to enjoy this; just like a hotel."
Even as she spoke it became obvious that wherever they were it was certainly not a land-based hotel—the massive engines on their mighty stanchioned nacelles high overhead burst into life with a throaty extended roaring as of a pack of hungry lions at feeding time.
"Jee-sus, what a racket."
"Can't be helped, doll." Fiona throwing her purse on the sofa and moving to the window to take a look outside. "Feel that, we're moving."
"Jee-sus, should we sit down, or something?"
Fiona opened the corridor door to reveal the steward returned once more.
"We're just about to take-off, ladies." He spoke with a decided German accent. "If you will just seat yourselves in these chairs, please. They're clamped to the floor, and have safety straps for your convenience. If you look at the two small lights on the starboard bulkhead—when the red one goes off and the green one comes on it will be safe for you to stand again and go about the aircraft; thank you."
Fiona closed the door behind him and joined Alice, already comfortably installed in her chair and tying the strap around her waist.
"Well, here we go."
"Too dam' right." Alice sounded wary of the whole process as she fiddled with her belt. "Make sure your belt's tight, darlin'; don't want any accidents. Jee-sus, listen to those engines."
Several things had to come together in due order for a Dornier Do-X to make a successful take-off; first the engines had to be set at just the right revolutions per minute, not an easy task with 12 monsters running in tandem, particularly as the pilot's wishes had to be relayed by instrument and microphone to the flight engineer, who actually operated the throttles and other panels of instruments some distance off in his separate control-room well behind the actual cockpit; then the sea had to be calm, really calm, the flying-boat being massive; after which the breeze had to be moving in the right direction for the airplane to nose into it, always a delicate point with a flying-boat; then the surface of the sea had to be empty of all obstruction, debris, boats, ships, buoys, for about half a mile, the Dornier having one of the longest run-ups of its near-compeers.
First, the short run to hit the start of its take-off lane; then turning into the wind, the point where, as the wings dipped somewhat, the passengers began to think of sea-sickness; then the pause, everybody's hearts' racing, before the engines were opened out; followed by the preliminary take-off run as the vast machine gathered speed and strength for the actual take-off; then the point when the aircraft, satisfactory speed reached, gave a jerk as it pulled itself up onto its rear step—the recessed rear portion of the lower hull beyond the forward hull, the aircraft's nose now being substantially in the air; then the breath-taking moment when the plane left the water and glided smoothly into its second element, the free atmosphere; the last action being the passengers sitting back in relief, grinning at each other as if a dangerous adventure had just been successfully achieved by one and all.
"Are we there yet?"
"If'n ya mean NY, no." Fiona taking her partner's strained gasp as evidence of a strained mind. "If ya mean have we taken-off, then yeah. We're in the air, baby."
"Chr-st, it actually flies? Who'd a'guessed?"
"God, come on, untie yerself from those straps an' let's get t'grips with the proles; time's a'wastin'."
"Passengers." Fiona taking the high road as far as those other persons aboard the aircraft mattered. "Anyway, we haven't met our glorious leader yet, either. She must be somewhere's on this liner; jest a matter o'findin' her. Any ideas?"
Alice was standing by the high wall mirror, trying if she could see her long skirt reflected.
"Dam'. it's too high. What the dam' good is a mirror you can't see your skirt in?"
"Just wan'na see if my skirt's wrinkled down the left side. Don't think the stitching's up to the mark."
Her skirt, ankle-length following the prevailing fashion, was of a soft yellow cotton with a tight waist, though the body of the skirt widened slightly at its lower extremity letting the wearer walk freely without undue constriction.
"Nuthin' wrong with it; suits ya perfect. Come on, this way."
Fiona had hardly escorted her amour out of the cabin than the tight corridor was obstructed by someone clearly harbouring aspirations to be a football linebacker; towering over Fiona and nearly scraping the corridor ceiling with his fair hair.
"Ah, ladies, Miss van Landerlinck's been wondering where you both are." Bertram Forley, private secretary to the high and the mighty, grinned sheepishly as he delivered his summons. "She's holding court in the main saloon, in the bow of the ship; better follow me, you know what she's like."
He led his companions back through the open seating of the passenger compartment along another short corridor, and from there into a long wide open-plan saloon with windows down each side and comfortable upholstered armchairs scattered indiscriminately around, though bolted firmly to the floor or deck. Standing near the furthest forward section was the detectives' employer in person, Helena van Landerlinck.
Her grandaddy, Conrad Gargieston Gerrit van Landerlinck, had made his first million out on the mid-West cattle ranges; mostly by shooting any opposition to his desires, it was related in private conclaves on dark nights when no-one outside the circle of a campfire was listening. Her Daddy, Clitheroe Humboldt Sylvester van Landerlinck, had made his millions in real estate, sheep, beer, and dry goods. The '29 Crash and Slump having had no perceptible effect on the family's finances, through good management, and an ability to squirrel the greenbacks safely away in overseas Funds well ahead of the game; hence their present prosperity.
Miss van Landerlinck (the van being ever-present, it's absence being frowned on with intense annoyance by those concerned) had been a Flapper; she had attended one of the most prestigious American Colleges when such opened their doors to mere females; she had taken a Grand Tour of the Continent, meeting the great and the wealthy—leaving the merely important to look after themselves in the crush. She had published a novel in France, in French, so delicately balanced between the simply erotic and the outright pornographic it had been said that any attempt to publish it in America, or import foreign copies, would certainly result in 5 to 10 easy for the blasé author, never mind the publishers. Following this succès d'estime,—it having not sold particularly well, the punters being too shy to order it, or take a copy off the shelves, considering its remarkable, not to say shocking, dust-jacket art—she had progressed to London, where she repeated the successful formula by publishing her first novel in English—a roman à clef mirroring the life of the British upper class at work and play so effectively, and including characters so obviously based on real personages of worth, birth, and standing, it was a miracle that several libel actions were narrowly avoided; thus foiling the great British newspaper reading Public of the really charming delight of perusing miles of newspaper column-inches about Miss van Landerlinck standing at bay in the dock of the Old Bailey.
Now she was back in the Land of the Free and the Brave and was hinting that she and her perhaps imprudent, not to say foolhardy, publishers were about to finally launch the long-awaited Great American Novel on an unsuspecting Public—she being the worthy author of this ground-breaking entity. Well, to infer the simple fact that members of the CIA, FBI, Sûreté, and MI5, were almost certainly dogging her heels in a very shifty manner would be to reflect the obvious. A fact of which, as they progressed ever more towards the centre of the lady's own universe, Fiona and Alice were well aware.
"Did you see that overweight grey-suited man back in the passenger compartment? Seated on the port side?" Alice was already holding dire suspicions. "Obviously FBI. And look at the lady over there, in the green chintz armchair, she's British MI5 for sure."
"Idiot." Fiona was well-used to her partner's suspicious mind; but even so, really. "Give over, gal. You'll have everyone on board under Government direction in half an hour. Calm down; look, smile nicely, now."
"Miss Drever, Miss Cartwright, at last." Helena's fall-back position always being sarcasm with a touch of asperity; she having millions and the hoi polloi being, well, the hoi polloi. "Now you're here perhaps I can introduce you to some important people; those, anyway, who wield influence where it is most useful. Judge Andrews, my security staff, Miss Drever and Miss Cartwright. I chose females because one must go with the times, mustn't one."
Fiona gave Alice a sharp glance, she knowing full well her brunette partner's love of telling it like it is, no matter what. And the fact both women knew perfectly well Judge Andrews took kick-backs from the oily Delacote City gangster Jimmy Favelli hovered unspoken in the air between them; like Banquo's ghost, though with more chance of the larger masses recognising such if Alice let fly with her private opinion.
"Judge Andrews, how'd'ye-do." Alice managing, nonetheless, to imbue this perfectly innocuous greeting with a world of unspoken censure. "Suppose you must meet a lot of nasty villains in the course of your day; you must tell Fiona and I some of your anecdotes, whenever we have the free time."
The fact she accompanied this speech with a cold stare which had been known in the past to repel ingrained hoodlums of long standing necessitated Fiona coming to the man's rescue, he having turned a whiter shade of pale as a result.
"Nice t'meet ya, Judge." Fiona then turned unceremoniously on the woman by his side. "You're the actress Margery Karsley, ain't ya? Think I've seen one of your films not so long ago. Enjoying the flight?"
Fiona having, on her own account, seasoned this remark with a disdain calculated to freeze the blood of the victim hardly gave her any greater moral standing than her companion, but there we are.
"It's, ah, it's, er, something else, ain't it." Miss Karsley being a native of Brooklyn, NY, her accent, at the moment unhindered by the restrictions of the studio voice-doctors, held all the edgy tinny tone of an old much-played record—it grated on the ears. "Say, you two dames' dicks, or what? What're ya doin' here, then?"
Alice stepped up to the breach, before her companion could react, smiling like a coyote that had just decided what it most desired on tonight's appetising menu card.
"We're the best detectives in New Hampshire, Miss Karsley." Alice studied her prey from head to foot; the film actress wearing something long, flowing, and expensive by Redfern. "Give us someone breaking the rules; trying to shovel their ill-gotten gains away beyond the sight of Uncle Sam; or just plain fooling around with people they shouldn't be fooling around with, and we're the one's who'll bring the whole sorry mess right out in the open, so's the Public can oggle the whole thing, from every angle."
Miss Karsley looked, for a fraction of a second, like someone who had recently swallowed a bad oyster and was only now regretting the act; then she turned away with her chin in the air, as if she had higher things to talk to other people about—Alice often having that effect on those she engaged in conversation.
"Umm, well, we mustn't keep Miss Karsley from, er, mingling." Helena dragged the rapidly deteriorating conversation back from the brink like the cold calculating autocrat she was; looking to her third guest for the energy and strength of will so much needed in the circumstances. "This is Mister Daniel Barclay, of Barclay-Connaught Inc.; you know, the company behind the almost completed Vereker Tower in New York. You'll be able to see it as we fly over the city in a short time. Mr Barclay, Miss Drever and Miss Cartwright, my security detachment. Can't have too much security these days, when you consider all the gangsters, kidnappers, and general hoodlums infesting our present society, eh?"
"Dam' right there, sis,—er, I mean, just so, ma'am." Barclay, tall middle-aged, grey-haired, and harsh-featured, obviously being one of those who habitually spoke first and only then allowed reason and thought to enter the lists, if at all. "That's to say, yeah, a dam' lot'ta scoundrels loose about the metropolis these days. I mean, look at Chicago, fer one."
None of his listeners wanting to accept this offer only gave Daniel freedom to expand on his thesis.
"I mean t'say—look at NY, and all the thieves, morons, backstabbers, an' downright assassins encumbering the business world today." Daniel sighed heavily, as at past horrors and missed chances. "The amount of kick-backs I've had to authorise in making sure the dam' Vereker Tower gets built would make ya sick, if only ya knew."
This hardly being the choice of topic to expound on before witnesses both Fiona and Alice tried their best to mimic a bronze Buddha, or at least two women hastening towards a state of comatose unknowing—but, wholly regardless, Daniel meandered on—
"The City Council; City Hall, an entirely separate department; the Cops; the Roads and Highways; the City Planning Department; those people who run the steam underground all over the City,—God, the amount of sticky fingers all in all, you'd imagine they couldn't ever take a single sheet of paper off a pile if it were ever so," He paused for breath, then went valiantly on, determined to make his point, whatever that was. "and the local hoodlums—gangsters who think you're building on their ground, the Mafia, the Cosa Nostra, the Camorra, the Outfit; Jee-sus, who knew there were so many organised g-dd-m crooks in such a small area? Jeez."
Helena, appalled at this forthright acknowledgement of the sins of the world, took a deep breath and edged in-between her two detective escorts and the irate businessman; smiling broadly, if a trifle nervously, and aiming the ladies further down the saloon.
"So nice to hear your opinions, Mr Barclay, so, er, refreshing—sorry, must go, I see Miriam Johnston beckoning, over there. Goodbye, goodbye."
Safely out of earshot, Fiona let fly with her own opinion.
"Chr-st, where'd ya meet that guy, Miss van Landerlinck?" Fiona shaking her head censoriously. "That kind'll get ya in hot water at the drop of a hat."
"Yeah, seems to have no idea of the difference between right and wrong." Alice twisting her lips in disgust. "Just two different shades of pink, to him. Who's this Miriam Johnston, by-the-by? Where's she?"
"She ain't—I mean she is not actually, as we speak, in attendance." Helena allowing a gentle sneer to part her pink lips. "As far as I can tell, knowing her daily schedule to the minute, she is at this moment annoying the Food Department attendants in Glose and Hewson's Department Store on Fifth Avenue, NY."
As they made further space between themselves and the incensed businessman Fiona and Alice both looked on Helena in a different light.
"Ah, here's someone of real interest; to me, anyway—Miss Julia Greene of Nordstrum and Pickersley, my NY publishers." Helena gave the young blonde a smile relevant to her assumed social position. "Miss Greene, my security backup. So, if you were thinking of half-inching the gold bullion bars I've squirreled away in the hold, don't; these ladies'll fill you full'a holes with their automatics before you've taken three steps. That's right, isn't it, Miss Drever?"
"Ha, hardly." Alice shook her head disparagingly. "The German staff back at Delacote, before we were allowed on this crate, went through our handbags like starving inmates of a desert island only just rescued an' shown a square meal. They took our handguns, tut-tutted an' said nasty things in German, then told us t'ask fer them back on our return."
"Ho-hum, all for the best, I expect." Helena trying to rescue something from the ruins. "Who'd need shooting on this airplane, anyway? I mean, there are some, certainly, who might deserve such a fate on the ground, in certain circumstances, if one was really to tell the plain truth—but then, when did anyone in Society in America ever do that, ha-ha?"
The following hiatus in the conversation brought about by this curious outlook by their hostess left a quiet patch of dead air in the long saloon, with its curved bow and series of windows. It was these which gave Alice the idea for the clearly necessary escape plan.
"Oh, look, what a view out the windows." She grabbed Helena's arm unceremoniously and almost dragged her over to one of the windows. "Oh, that's strange, we're not flying very high—in fact, hey, Fay, come an' look here."
"What? I was just near to catching that stewardesses' eye an' grabbin' a cocktail." Fiona knowing what the imperatives were. "What d'ye want?"
"Look, we're so low we might as well be a bloody liner cutting through the waves." Alice allowing her sarcastic side to surface. "Another ten feet lower an' we'll be doing just that, by the looks of it."
The stewardess referred to by Fiona was an expert in her line, having indeed observed the thirsty nature of her erstwhile customer; and now proved her worth by coming forward with the much-needed cocktail and some other information.
"Here you are, ma'am, a Gibson; and did I hear you asking after our flight height? It's because of the engines, ma'am."
"What about the engines?" Alice always open for information on the global scale. "There's six—er, I mean, twelve of the dam' things, surely enough t'let us fly at twenty thousand if the captain wanted?"
"Afraid not, ma'am." The stewardess had clocked another thirsty customer, but stayed long enough to impart the bad news. "They've been found to be drastically under-powered for such a huge airplane; we can't possibly go any higher than two thousand five hundred feet, no matter what. Our present flight height of around five hundred feet is more or less average, nowadays. Excuse me, please."
Having poured cold water on the incipient party the stewardess disappeared in the throng, leaving a gloomy crowd in her wake.
"God," Helena shaking her head, the corners of her lips pointing in entirely the wrong direction. "Here's me trying my best t'impress the hoi polloi with a Duesenberg Model J, and what happens? I find I've been two-timed with a dam' Model T Ford, with one wheel missing."
Fiona dallied for a moment with suggesting to her hostess her primary reference ought to have been to a Mercedes-Benz 770, but immediately gave it up as in poor taste and only likely to make matters worse. But something else about the aircraft's height had suggested itself to Alice's logical mind.
"What does this mean about our over-flying NY, when we get there?" She looked, almost accusingly, at Helena. "At the height we're at right now, we'll be jostling for position with the yellow cabs on Fifth Avenue, never mind flying over the Empire State Building."
This intuition, or one of a similar nature, seemed to have occurred to Helena also, for she frowned deeply, raised her eyebrows, gave her immediate companions a glazed look, and turned to leave the saloon with a quick parting word.
"I must find Bertram, see what he has to say on the matter. Perhaps a meeting with the captain himself, if available. Excuse me."
Another moment and the forward saloon lacked its hostess and motivational source.
"Well, looks as if we're on our own." Fiona expressing the general conclusion to be taken by the turn of events. "Al, everyone's wandered off on their own trails; leaves us free, anyway. Wan'na come back t'our private suite, an' chew the hay a while?"
"Figure that'd be a good idea, lady, lead on."
"There's no crime, either pending or reported as kosher?"
"There's no forgery, theft, assault, robbery, or likely murder lined up as the next act?"
"So, in effect, we're wasting our time?"
Alice paused in her diatribe to stare at her partner as they sat together on the sofa in their private cabin.
"Fay, these monosyllables ain't helping to clarify my worries. How's about lending a hand, in a positive way?"
"What d'ya want?" Fiona shrugged unconcernedly. "Can't do anything when there's nothing to do, can we? This's just a sort'a magnified security-guard ploy on the Landerlinck's part. Just showing-off how mighty an' important she is. The whole raison d'être for this bloody awful plane flight."
"So, we're just gon'na go there, wherever there is, and then come back gain?" Alice trying to get her head around the odyssey they had now embarked on. "Dam' silly way to make a buck, ain't it?"
"We're making more'n a mere buck, dear." Fiona knowing full well the good points of the situation they now found themselves in. "Landerlinck's paying us like a Maharanee throwing wealth about like confetti. That's why I accepted the job in the first place."
"Oh, ah." Alice finding nothing more to say; a fair profit being, after all, a fair profit.
"I think most of our work'll be on the ground, when we land in NY." Fiona addressing the position as it seemed to her. "She's going to hold court for a coupl'a hours in the Sheldon-Anhalt Hotel, in a private suite with lots of guests. That's when our expertise'll come in'ta play."
"What, against some penny-ante hotel-grifters?" Alice allowed a certain tone of sarcasm to enter her voice. "Someone wanting to nick Lady Howard's pearl necklace? Or Lord Robert's sapphire cuff-links? Or—"
"Enough." Fiona at her most imperial. "Can it, lady. We stick with the Landerlinck as she sashays around her suite, or generally mosey about the room looking meaner than a posse o'coyotes out fer a night on the tiles. Make the Landerlinck feel we're earnin' our pay."
Fiona gave her revered better half another look, but she knew there was nothing to be done, Alice being, very definitely, Alice. But present circumstances suddenly intervened in their discussion. The aircraft gave a hefty jolt, and the engine note changed distinctly, lowering in tone and level of sound, then carried on seemingly smoothly again.
"What the hell was that?" Alice never being really happy when her shoes were more than ten feet off the ground.
"Sounds like the engines were having a coughing-fit." Fiona frowned, considering the matter. "Going on as usual again, though. Must'a been a temporary thing."
"I don't know." Alice leant forward, tilting her head sideways in a listening posture. "I think the engines sound—different, like we may have lost one, or more. The overall roar's definitely lower than it has been till now."
Fiona listened to the trembling throb which characterised the multiple engines' note as it percolated through the frame of the aircraft.
"Hmm, not but what you might have something there, gal." She rose to her feet, looking towards the cabin door. "Perhaps a little trek upstairs t'the flight-deck may not be out'ta order—coming?"
"Right behind you, lover."
The Dornier Do-X was built on three levels; the first, lower, deck was the entrance, buoyancy, and equipment space. The second deck comprised the passenger accommodation, seating-area, forward saloon, and kitchens to the rear. The third, upper, deck was the flight deck; the pilot's cockpit, flight-engineer's control-room, radio room, navigator, and a couple of instrument spaces. The six huge nacelles for the twelve engines stood prominently on struts on the high-set wing overhead, giving the huge airplane a hefty weighty appearance; this aspect not being helped by the vast width and ostensible solidity of the wing itself.
Between the forward saloon and the seating compartment was a small spiral staircase, Fiona and Alice took this swiftly, finding themselves in an open area on the flight-deck, a sort of wide corridor. To their left the bulkhead with a closed door leading to the cockpit, to their right two more doors, to the flight-engineer's compartment and the radio-room. Already standing here were Bertram Folger and Helena, in discussion with a young technician who appeared to be the flight-engineer's assistant—thankfully, himself American.
"—no, ma'am, as I've said, you can't enter the engineer's compartment; far too much delicate equipment and instruments, and too little spare space." He was in his late twenties, with a shock of fair hair. "He's listening to the pilot's instructions all the time, anyway, by earphone communication; can't disturb him."
"But all I want to know is what's going on." Helena waving an arm in the air, apparently because she could do little else. "What about the pilot? Can I speak with him?"
"Heavens no, ma'am." The young technician shook his head decisively. "No fear of that, I'm afraid. He only speaks German, anyway. What I can tell you, seeing you're the, ah, sponsor of the flight, is that there's been a, hum, slight technical hitch with one of the engines. We're working on it as I speak."
"What sort'a problem?" Fiona coming up and taking an authoritative stand beside them.
The young man raised his eyebrows meaningfully, looking to Helena the while.
"You can talk freely before everyone here, Philip." Helena nodding all round. "They're all cleared; these are my security staff, as it happens. Fiona Cartwright, Alice Drever—Philip Dawson. So—?"
Philip gave the newly arrived women another clear-eyed glance, then returned to business.
"Number Six engine, that's the first pusher engine on the port side counting out from the fuselage, has gone for a Burton; packed up completely." He essayed a short grin, after this dramatic news, as if to water down the danger. "Nothing to worry about, we have another eleven to go on with; but it means a slowing down in speed, and perhaps decreasing our flying height till we reach New York."
"If we fly any lower we'll need to break out the paddles t'give motive power." Alice shouldering her way to the front of the mob, as was always her way. "Y'know that, don't you?"
"Hardly as bad as that, ma'am." Philip gazing spellbound at the small brunette. "What I mean is, the plane'll carry on fine on the remaining eleven engines; we just have to be that little bit more careful, is all. But we'll reach New York alright, never fear."
"Sure o'that, are you?" Alice pursuing her negative theme like a stuck record needle.
"Yes, ma'am, I am." Philip raising his voice and giving Alice the benefit of his most critical expression.
Faced with this brick wall Helena remembered another point of interest.
"What about our flying over the skyscrapers, when we reach New York?" She favoured the technician with her most appealing gaze. "I mean to say, that's what I sold this soirree on, letting everyone see New York from above, in this pretent—er, I mean magnificent aircraft."
Philip, not having been let into this particular detail till now, came back with a forthright open answer unalloyed with any soft soap.
"Not a chance, ma'am." He shrugged his shoulders, under his grey laboratory coat. "This thing—I mean the Dornier, never could raise itself over two thousand feet, and that was eight years ago, in its glory days. Now, it can't reach more than fifteen hundred feet, and that's pushing the old bird for every ounce of power in her engines. And look what's happened as a result."
The fact she appeared to now be being blamed personally for the aircraft's present lack of initiative didn't escape Helena.
"My dear boy," She piling every ounce of her reserves of superciliousness into the three words. "I may have achieved greatness, in my time; but I have not had quite enough greatness thrust upon my shoulders to give power over inactive machinery. The engines are your reserve, and their failings your own; good day to you. If anything further transpires I shall send my security officers, here, to discover the seat of the trouble, come what may—in the face of whatever orders you and your crew may be operating under. Come Bertram, ladies."
Back in Helena's private suite, away from prying ears, she considered her minions, and the present situation, like a general on the battlefield.
"Well, looks as if we'll merely be landing at NY, and not taking the overview I planned." She wrinkled her brow in thought, as various aspects of the case came to mind. "Wonder if I can book a large party for a late lunch at the Sheldon-Anhalt at short notice? Bertram,—perhaps?"
"Be lucky if we land safely in New York Bay, ma'am." Alice, as was always her wont, bringing the most adverse aspect to the fore. "I mean, all those liners, an' tugs; not t'mention the ferries, an' the Statue. Don't wan'na prang that, coming in to land, do we?"
Alice suddenly found herself the cynosure of all eyes, not a position she was unused to, as it happened.
"Well, don't. We land, then what, ma'am?" Fiona coming to the rescue of all those in the room who still had their wits about them; she having the logical results of the present situation firmly in mind. "Hardly much chance of the captain deciding to take-off again, with a dodgy engine. More like he'll call a halt t'the whole enterprise."
Helena considered this aspect then, gloomily, came to the same conclusion.
"I suppose you're right, Miss Cartwright." Helena shook her head sadly. "What is it that old Scots' poet said, about something similar? Escapes me at the moment; but is wonderfully apposite, I recollect."
"The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley, An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, For promis'd joy!" Alice rebuilding her reputation in one fell swoop. "Well, I like poetry—it's very soothing, y'know."
"Yes, quite." Helena gave the small frame of the female detective another penetrating glance then gave up, having more important fish to fry. "Bertram, when we land phone the Sheldon, see if they can take a party of, what is it, thirty-five? Suppose I'll have to shell out the train expences to get everyone back to Delacote City? Dam', and this was going to be such fun. Well, the moral is, ladies, never take the Germans' opinion of their scientific capabilities at their own face value. And they said this Dornier was the coming thing, too. Hah, some hope."
Fiona and Alice finally made their unobtrusive way back to their own cabin, after Helena had disported herself for some further time, complaining about the perceived lack of professionalism of the German nation in general and its aircraft in particular.
"So lover, here we are again—stranded in New York without a paddle." Alice settling in on the long sofa in their cabin with relief. "What're we gon'na do, now? Tag along to the Sheldon, fer the free lunch, or what?"
"A bit premature, ain't ya, considering we ain't landed yet?" Fiona giving her full-on school-ma'am impression, to little if any effect.
"Oh, trifles." Alice snorting in derision at this minor technicality.
Hardly were the words spoken than the aircraft gave another shudder through its frame, accompanied by a loud roaring rasping noise from the exterior engines. More shudders followed, then the aircraft began to lose height in a long slow glide.
Alice darted over to the single window, putting it to its full use for several seconds.
"We're gettin' ever nearer the sea, lover." She turning to offer the results of her efforts. "Put your hand out the window now, an' you'll be able to splash your fingers in the waves, I ain't kiddin'."
Fiona came across to verify her partner's somewhat dramatic report.
"Jeez, what in hell's goin' on? Come on, babe, let's go find the Landerlinck again—things is gettin' serious. Got yer life-jacket handy?"
Out in the open passenger compartment there was a certain amount of, if not downright panic, at least an increased level of excitement. Many passengers were standing up, crowding the narrow aisle and making further movement difficult.
"What's goin' on? This is most annoying."
"Hey you, what the hell's the matter with this dam' airplane? We gon'na hit the drink, or what? I can't swim, ya know."
"I'll sue, I certainly shall. No doubt of receiving twenty thousand in damages, easy."
"Where's Sally? I saw her a minute ago, where is she?"
"What's that ape of a captain think he's doin'? I got places ter be an' things t'do later t'day—an' takin' a bath in the Hudson ain't one o'them."
Fiona, with her tall form and determined attitude, made headway along the aisle like Cleopatra's barge on the Nile, Alice close behind.
"Looks like I was nearer the truth than I thought."
"What, babe?" Fiona, like a dose of salts on a mission, still focussing on the important activity of thrusting complaining passengers out of her way.
"See, out that window? The Statue, dam' near on a level with us." Alice glanced out the window again, confirming her doubts. "We're flying towards it, an' we're just about at a level with the dame's shoulders. Oh-oh. Jee-suus."
In fact the passing Dornier missed the Statue of Liberty by around 150 feet or so; but it seemed, to those on board experiencing the drama as it unfolded, like a hairbreadth escape.
Fiona had finally reached the door to the spiral stair leading up to the flight-deck, pausing to grab Alice's shoulder.
"Right lady, follow me."
She stepped on the stair and began her advance upwards; Alice hard on her heels after shutting the door behind her to stop other passengers from muddying the waters. On the deck above Helena and Bertram were again in evidence, though there was no sign of the technician.
"What the hell's goin' on?" Fiona throwing all remnants of politeness to the winds. "We crashing, or what? And if so, what?"
"No, no." Bertram shook his head firmly. "Just going to a lower altitude, is all. At least that's what Philip told Madame van Landerlinck and I a minute ago. The puller, or tractor, engine on Number Three nacelle—Number Five engine—has given up the ghost. That's the one in front on Number Three nacelle; the one where the pusher engine broke half an hour ago. We're really under-powered now. Dam' good job we've reached NY, an' can land safely."
"You sure about that last point, laddie?" Fiona making free with her wholehearted disapproval of the unfolding situation.
"—er, well, mostly. Hopefully; that is, certainly. Philip tells me the Captain and flight-engineer have the whole thing under control." All the same Bertram's face had gone several tones paler than the last time the ladies had spoken with him. "—umm, ahh,—"
Bertram's cogitations on the meaning of Life were here rudely interrupted by an enormous crash and shudder throughout the aircraft frame as it touched down on the waves far harder than the regulations allowed.
"Chr-st, we've landed." Fiona making the obvious conclusion.
"Or bloody crashed; any water comin' in, can you see?" Alice taking the more concerning, and frightening, route as by honour bound.
The plane now began cruising across the waves; though in a straining thumping manner that didn't bode well for its structural integrity in the long term.
"Hang onto something; we're riding the waves like a bloody motor-boat." Fiona grabbing Alice and holding onto her with the strength of a Minotaur. "Feels like those dam' nacelle engines are gon'na break free an' come through the ceiling any minute."
The uncomfortable cruise lasted another two minutes or so; then the aircraft came to a gentle stop, in a silence which by contrast was indeed deafening, lolling from side to side in a very sickening manner as it sat on the bay outside New York. Fiona went across to the single window and gazed out at the scene, before turning to report back.
"There's a ferry coming up close, t'rescue survivors, I take it." She shook her head, essaying a grim smile. "The ship's wallowing from side to side, but I don't think we're sinking. Jee-sus, what a dam' day. To hell with your lunch at the Sheldon, Helena; me an' my lady friend here are heading back to Delacote on the first available train north. Good luck with the rest of your day."
"Yeah," Alice, no whit less moved by the just concluded drama, putting in her own uncensored oar's-worth for what it was worth. "And whenever you get another idea like this last one, don't ring us, an' we'll dam' well return the compliment, thanks."
The next day, back in their comfortable condo in the Collister Building in Delacote City, the ladies sat on their sofa contemplating recent events.
"There you are, babe; gin an' t., mostly gin. Swallow that, an' laugh at Life."
"Ha." Fiona grinned broadly as she accepted the drink, Alice sitting beside her with her own concoction. "An' what the hell's that? It's faintly green; how'd ya do that?"
"Gin, bitters, an' a touch—just the merest hint—of absinthe, darling. Wan'na try one?"
"Hell, no." Fiona raised her eyebrows at her lover. "I surely don't know where you get these strange ideas, an' that's a fact. Oh well, bottoms up."
"Same to you, sister. Mmm, nice. Auurh, auurgh. No, nuthin', lady, just caught something in my throat's all. You were sayin'?"
"Wasn't sayin' anythin', as a matter of fact." Fiona now looking at her inamorata with a sigh, giving the brunette the full power of her censorious frown. "That'll teach ya t'sample the exotic delights of La Belle Époque; serves ya right. So, what d'ya think, then?"
"About what, love of my life; though you can be catty for no discernible reason sometimes."
Choosing to ignore this baseless accusation Fiona only shook her head once more, before dragging the elephant in the room back into the foreground again.
"About the Landerlinck, an' her crazy plans t'make a public spectacle of herself, an' assorted hangers-on."
"Ah yes, the Dornier."
"Just that an' nuthin' else, lover."
A short pause reverberated through the cool sitting-room as the women contemplated the absurdity of some people's need to caress their ego's.
"Dam' all Dorniers."
"Hum, that'll get ya far enough, I'm sure."
"Listen, Fay, the next time anyone—anyone at all—tries t'get us up in a Dornier, you just tell 'em what to do with their dam' Dornier." Alice, frowning darkly the while, unheedingly took another sip of her dangerous drink. "If they don't know what, just send them in my direction an' I'll provide detailed illustrated instructions in a pamphlet."
Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.