by Captain W. E. Johns



V.                    BEHIND THE CURTAIN  (Pages 56 – 69)


“It was dusk when the Douglas glided over the boundary lights of Ruzyn Airfield, the civil airport of the ancient Bohemian city of Prague”.  Biggles allows Ross and his escort to go first to the customs official.  The man with Ross straightens his tie and a civilian behind the customs official touches the uniformed man on the arm.  A chalk mark is put on the bags carried by Ross and his escort and they simply walk through the barrier.  When Biggles and Ginger go through, Biggles does the same gesture. Again the Customs man was touched on the arm.  (Again the Customs man was touched on the arm” – is the first illustration between pages 64 and 65).  Their bags are marked with chalk and they pass through.  Ross and his escort get in a cab and Biggles hurries after them and asks if he and Ginger can share the cab since they are going to the same hotel.  Ross pays no heed to them.  “The soldier’s face was like a mask”.  “As usual, when strangers travel together, no one spoke”.  Biggles pays for the taxi.  Ross’s escort is greeted by “Good evening, Herr Stresser” and both he and Ross check in.  Then Biggles and Ginger check in.  “A double room or two singles?” inquired the proprietor.  “Double,” answered Biggles.  The man looks at Biggles tie and asks if he wants to be on the same floor as Stresser.  When Biggles says “Yes”, he is given room twenty-two, next door.  Later, Biggles and Ginger discover that Ross and Stresser have gone out, so they decide to go out for a meal.  Ross and Stresser don’t return until after midnight.  The following morning Biggles pays the hotel bill and he and Ginger sit in the vestibule.  A car pulls up and they see a man come in, wearing a heavy overcoat with a fur collar and carrying fur gloves.  Shortly after, this man returns with Ross and Stresser.  Ross is now wearing a drab grey uniform and a round fur hat with ear-flaps tied on top.  As Ross walks past Biggles, his eyes flicker and he drops a small piece of paper.  Ross and the man in the coat leave in the car.  Stresser stays and speaks with Biggles.  Biggles tries to find out where Ross is going by saying “Not a nice day for flying” to which he is told “The weather is better along the route, they say”.  Stresser says he has to go back to Berlin to await further orders.  When Stresser leaves, Biggles looks for the piece of paper that Ross has dropped, but the proprietor is sweeping up the floor and has already swept it up.  Biggles distracts the proprietor to get what he seeks.  Without looking at it, he puts the paper in his pocket.  Biggles tells Ginger they have to get back to the airport and try to find Ross there.  They get a cab to the airport and in the cab they look at the piece of paper.  It just has “Kratsen” written on it.  They have no idea what that is.  Arriving at the airport, they see Ross and the man disappear through a barrier, but without tickets they are unable to follow.  They note the men are making for a L I 2, a Russian plane.  Turning to go to the inquiry office to see if they can discover the planes destination, Biggles bumps into a man – it is Erich von Stalhein!  They both recognise each other and exchange a few words.  Biggles and Ginger immediately make for the exit and, unable to get a taxi, they get into the first private car they find unlocked.  Von Stalhein and three police officers appear from the airport. By the time they had turned their attention to the cars Biggles had his engine running.  (“By the time they had turned their attention to the cars Biggles had his engine running” – is the second illustration between pages 64 and 65).  As Biggles and Ginger drive off, they see a policeman dash back into the hall, no doubt to make telephone calls.  A short while later a policeman on foot tries to stop them and has to jump out of the way when they ignore him.  A bullet hits the vehicle.  After driving away, Biggles parks in a busy street and tells Ginger they are going to go back to their hotel.  “Are you out of your mind?” cries Ginger.  “Probably,” answered Biggles sadly.