BIGGLES AND THE PIRATE TREASURE
by Captain W. E. Johns
III. NIGHT FLIGHT (Pages 55 – 62)
This story was originally published in THE DAILY MAIL ANNUAL FOR BOYS AND GIRLS (1953) published by Associated Newspapers Ltd.
“We shall have to do something about these missing machines, Bigglesworth” says Air Commodore Raymond informing Biggles of the disappearance of an aircraft, a ‘Planet’ belonging to Orient Airways. It has disappeared over the Eastern Mediterranean on the London to Cyprus night service. It’s the fourth aircraft gone in a month. Biggles says a new ‘Planet’ costs a quarter of a million. If stolen, and delivered “behind the iron curtain” it would be worth at least £50,000. “And what happens to the passengers?” asks Raymond. “What happens to anyone on the wrong side of the Curtain? Don’t ask me. You should know” replies Biggles. Raymond tells Biggles that last night a “Queen’s Messenger” was on board as well. (The Queen’s Messengers are one of the most experienced and respected courier services in the world, dating back over 800 years. They’re responsible for the secure and effective delivery of the UK’s classified diplomatic material to British embassies, high commissions and consulates worldwide. In September 1946, Johns wrote to Lutterworth’s publishers to pitch the idea of “The Silver Falcons” a series of stories about “a Biggles type character” who was a King’s Messenger. The idea was never taken up. Instead, the character of Worrals was moved from Hodder & Stoughton back to Lutterworth, who originally had it). Biggles suggests they organise flying a ‘Planet’ aircraft on the Cyprus run and let the Press know that it will be carrying £100,000 in bullion on a certain date. Biggles will fly the plane and get his own men to crew it. If the bait isn’t taken, they can repeat the programme until it is. (A new paragraph starts after a break). “The Planet droned on and on monotonously under a starlit sky”. There are ten silent passengers in the cabin. In steward’s uniform is Air-Constable ‘Ginger’ Hebblethwaite. In the front seats are two youngish American journalists. Behind them are a South African and his wife. Next behind is a political officer off to the Sudan and a spice merchant calling at Cyprus. Behind again, a representative from a Turkish tobacco firm and a Swiss engineer going to Abyssinia. Finally, there is a German film director on his way to Upper Egypt and his wife. “The man was middle-aged, with a taciturn but clever face. The woman, a blonde, had been pretty, but had rather gone to seed, putting on too much weight”. By Ginger’s right hand is a switch which would flash a red light in the cockpit, where Biggles and Algy Lacey are, and in the radio compartment where Air-Constable Bertie Lissie is on duty. Late into the flight, nearly everybody in the passenger cabin appears to be asleep. The German director’s wife is reading a newspaper, holding the pages close to her face. Ginger yawns, fighting drowsiness. He wonders why the woman is spending such a long time reading the paragraph before her eyes. He moves to see her face and it is black. “Dragging himself up, for his limbs were suddenly strangely weak, he stumbled as if by accident and knocked the newspaper aside. Then he understood. She was wearing a gas mask”. He seizes the mask and tears it off and then staggers from a blow from behind. Ginger reaches the danger switch and flicks it. The German director, also in a mask, goes for a gun and Ginger shoots him. Biggles arrives, followed by Bertie: Ginger shouts “Look out. It’s gas!” The German woman fumbles under her blouse and as Ginger covers her with his gun, she cries out “Not shoot. I only turn off the gas”. Then Ginger understood why she was so fat. The aircraft noses down and cold fresh air sweeps through the cabin. As the plane goes down to land, one of the Americans realises they are still over London. The passengers are told the company tenders its apologies and will explain later. Another plane is on standby to take them to their destination. “When the Planet landed the police were waiting, with the ambulance”.