Adventurer Raymond Swift stars in......

Trail of the HMS Fortuna

A Far-Flung Epic in 8 Chapters!

by Andrea Tran
About the author

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Previously: The missing Professor Kramer's daughter is visited by sinister men seeking information -- information one of them plans to elicit through his weird power of mesmerism. Meanwhile...

Episode 4: Carnage in the Country


  'CAN'T THIS THING GO ANY FASTER?' Raymond Swift said to the uniformed driver. He was sitting in the back seat with Colonel Halley. Another soldier occupied the front passenger seat. They were cruising in the foggy streets of London towards the suburbs north-west of town. Ray was worried, his uncommon eyes clouded by impatience. The Colonel had casually mentioned Professor Kramer’s daughter, and upon Ray’s request had tried to telephone her. The line had died after a few rings.

‘There’s no reason to be alarmed, I am sure the line interruption was due to a technical fault,’ Colonel Halley was saying. ‘Professor Kramer was keeping the strictest confidentiality with regards to his research, we doubt his daughter was aware of its exact nature.’ He paused to hold tight as the driver made a sharp turn. Ray could not get used to the British way of driving on the left hand side of the road, and was expecting a collision at every crossing.

He felt nervous about this whole story. He was used to working by himself, picking his own men if needed. He glanced at the two young men in the front seat, then at the Colonel, wondering how they would cope under pressure. His thoughts went to the bag of equipment that he had to leave in his hotel room when the military escort had come to fetch him. It was full of precious gear, mostly of his own design.

No, he would have to play this one without his toys.

#

The car had reached a hilly part of the outskirts, trees lining the road. The driver checked a clipboard, illuminated by a small lamp. Then he drove the car onto a side road, slowing down. The Colonel asked, ‘Are we there, soldier?’

‘Just around the corner, Sir.’

Ray leaned closer to the driver. ‘I want you to stop here and turn off your headlights,’ he told him. The driver looked inquisitively at the Colonel in the rear view mirror. ‘Do as he says,’ Halley authorized. The car pulled smoothly to the side of the road, engine and lights were turned off. The driver pointed at a residential road fifteen yards on the left. ‘That street over there, Sir. House is at number eight.’

Ray patted him on the shoulder. ‘Good man. Now if you could please turn off the clipboard light. Perfect.’ Then he turned to Halley. ‘Can you drive, Colonel?' The other nodded. ‘I would like you to stay in the car, and... to lend me your gun, Colonel,’ Ray added. Halley was surprised at the request. He hesitated. ‘Please, Sir, we don’t have much time,’ Ray urged him. The officer nodded, then handed him his revolver. ‘Thanks, Colonel. Be ready to drive off.’ Ray quickly checked the gun, a Webley, then opened the car door. ‘You two stay close to me, and let’s keep it quiet. Expect armed opponents.’

Ray had a way with people. Most seemed to sense the aura of natural leadership emanating from him, and were usually very willing to follow his guidance. The two soldiers, both armed with revolvers, followed him readily as Ray ran towards the side street.

The three reached a corner brick wall, paused in its shadow . Ray’s sharp eyes peered down the street, he counted mentally the houses, until he found number eight. There, the bulky shape of a black taxi cab was visible, parked in the driveway. The house was dark, no lights showed on any of the two floors. Then he noticed one of the bay windows at the ground floor was open! His eyes darted back to the cab, attracted by a small red point. Behind the taxi, a stocky, broad-shouldered man was standing smoking a cigarette, clearly keeping watch. He was almost invisible in the misty night, but the cigarette gave him away.

Ray extracted his gun, turned to the soldiers. ‘I will neutralize the man behind the cab. At my signal, run quietly to the house and stay in cover.’ The two nodded. Ray stealthily ran in the shadows, his steps muffled by the grass on the front lawns.

Shortly he was crouching behind the taxi cab, a few yards from the house. He peeked at the open window. No movement there. The stocky man was unaware of his presence. Ray sneaked for the few steps separating them, silent as a cat. He saw the man sensing danger, stiffening. Before he could turn, Ray leapt behind him, placing a blow at the base of his skull with the back of the gun. The watchman collapsed instantly, unconscious, with a weak moan. Ray caught him before he hit the ground, dragged his body in the shadow of the taxi cab. ‘Don’t you know smoking can be bad for you, pal?’ he thought, extinguishing the cigarette with his foot.

He turned to beckon the two soldiers, then sprinted below the open window. From the inside, he could now hear a woman’s voice.

#

‘He... kept no plans of his inventions...’ the woman was saying. ‘I was not allowed to know anything about his... studies.’ Her voice sounded distant, almost mechanical. ‘I don’t even know where he’s gone now.’

‘Very well, Miss Kramer, I know you are sincere,’ said another voice. Male, foreign accent. And strangely soothing. ‘I have to congratulate you. You have a most extraordinary mind, my dear. I sense... a gift. A gift seldom encountered in common people.’

‘You know me so well.’ The woman replied in stupor. ‘Yes, my gift. I am afraid of it. I had it... since childhood. Sometimes it is useful, but mostly it just ...scares me.’

‘I understand. I want to help you,’ the soothing voice said. There was a shuffling noise in the room. ‘Thank you, Hugo, how nice of you.’ So there was at least another person in the room, Ray thought. The voice continued. ‘See? Our friend Hugo just brought the solution to your fears, my dear. Look for it. Down, at the bottom.’ A splashing sound. ‘There. You feel better already.’

Ray, keeping low under the window, moved to a shadowy spot, then slowly peeked inside. His eyes took a few moments to get used to the dark interior. Then he started. The sight he was presented with was surreal. In the darkness, he could see the outlines of three men, standing a few steps from a female shape. She was on her knees, her head immersed in a large rectangular fish tank, her arms abandoned at her sides. Bubbling noises were coming from the tank. The woman seemed to be voluntarily drowning herself!

Ray was about to spring into action, when the softly spoken man turned his head sharply towards the window and shouted: ‘Someone is outside the window! Get him!’ He then rushed to the back of the house, as the other two men dashed towards Ray.

The first man jumped through the open window. Ray tried to dodge him, but fell under the henchman’s weight, rolling on his back on the driveway. He caught the glint of metal, just in time to block the opponent’s knife seeking his throat. The other had landed on top of him, and had the advantage of position.

Meanwhile the other assailant was climbing on the window sill, where he was met by the gunshots of the two soldiers. He jumped back inside, crouching down for cover. In a moment he had produced a gun and was returning fire. The situation was dangerous, for Ray was caught in the middle.

With a strenuous effort Ray pushed the henchman’s wrist away from him, head-butting him at the same time. The henchman groaned in pain, hesitating for a moment. It was enough for Ray: both his feet found footing on the henchman’s body. He kicked him away, causing the heavy body to stand up in the gunman’s line of fire. A couple of slugs hit the henchman in the back, dark flowers blossoming on his shirt. He collapsed in a contorted heap.

Ray rolled sideways, behind the taxi cab, while shouting orders at the soldiers. ‘Get the third guy! To the back of the house!’ Then he opened fire, intentionally aiming at the window sill. Splinters of wood scattered as bullet after bullet hit target. The gunman panicked, withdrew his hand inside. The soldiers seized the opportunity to sprint towards the rear, while Ray dove through the window and inside the house! The gunman turned towards him, startled, then pointed his gun at him. But Ray was already on his feet, crouched down for thrust, to then spring at the gunman with dazzling speed. He hit him in the stomach, nailing him to a wall. The gunman’s revolver fired on impact, the bullet ricocheting inside the room. Ray elbowed him hard on the jaw, forcing him to drop the gun. Then he caught his arm and used the opponent’s weight to swing him over his shoulders. The heavy man landed crashing on his back on a wooden chair, breaking it apart. He stopped moving.

All this time, the woman had kept her head immersed in the fish tank, oblivious to the fight around her. Ray rushed to her, hoping it was not too late. Grabbing her shoulders, he pulled her away from the water. She gasped for air, water spurting out of her mouth. Good, she hadn’t drowned. Ray helped her on all fours, as she coughed violently to empty her lungs.

He turned to the window. Colonel Halley had arrived. ‘Swift! Are you all right? I heard gunshots!’

‘Stay with the girl, Colonel! A third guy is trying to escape!’ Ray replied, dashing towards the back.

He found the kitchen, hurried through the open back door. Once in the back garden, Raymond Swift froze at the horrific sight in front of him.

The two soldiers were standing at the bottom of the garden, next to each other. Each had a gun pointed at the other’s head, in a strange symmetry. They were smiling at him. Before Ray could do anything, they fired.


On to Episode 5: The Clue from Beyond

Back to Episode 3 : The Daughter and the Dastard


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On the Trail of the HMS Fortuna is copyright by Andrea Tran. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)