Richard Paul Smyers



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Part 1: A Visitor From The Past


July 14, 1937, Louie’s Place

     “Baloo, are you sure that Louie wants the three of us here tonight?  Just look at that sign!”

     A large framework of driftwood that stood on the beach, lit by a pair of spotlights, clearly showed the words:



Clozed Today

Come Bak Tomorrow


     “Becky, you read the invitation, same as I did,” Baloo protested as he snubbed a mooring line to a post on the dock at Louie’s island establishment.  “He wants you, me an’ Kit here tonight at ten o’clock.”

      Rebecca gazed around the brightly lit, but otherwise empty, dock area and frowned.  To see Louie’s place empty of customers on a weeknight was rather rare, and yet the Sea Duck was the only plane in the bay.

     “Well…something seems funny about this to me.  This better not be some hair-brained joke you and Louie have cooked up.”

     “It was sort of odd, Baloo, the way the landing lights came on just before we got here.”  Kit was scanning the beach and dock area as he spoke, for the quiet night around Louie’s place did seem unusual.

     “Maybe Louie’s gonna throw me a surprise birthday party?  Naw, my birthday was three months ago,” Baloo muttered as the three walked along the dock.  “Say, maybe it’s Louie’s birthday, an’ he wants us here as guests or somethin’…”

     “It better be important, or I will give him a piece of my mind,” Rebecca snapped.  “I had a hard time finding a sitter to watch Molly tonight, and I’m not in the mood for jokes!”

     Rebecca had just finished speaking, and the three friends had just stepped up to the main door of Louie’s, when the landing lights that lit up the bay for any planes coming in or leaving…went out!  Everybody stopped, turned and looked back to where the Sea Duck lay at its moorings.

     “Something tells me that this isn’t a joke!”

     “I think yer right, Li’l Britches.  But if it is a joke, whoever planned it won’t hear me laughin’!” Baloo growled.  Nobody played tricks on his boss and his navigator without getting Baloo’s permission first.  He shoved the door open and the three stepped into the main room of Louie’s restaurant, dance hall and ice-cream parlor.

     Baloo blinked in astonishment.  Every table and chair was upright and in its proper place, all the decorations were intact and everything seemed to be both clean and orderly.  But there wasn’t a customer to be seen!  Kit shook his head in amazement.  “I’ve never seen the place this empty before.”

     Rebecca was equally surprised at the unusual sight.  There was one table set with six chairs and a tablecloth in the middle of the room, and a ceiling lamp shone down on it like a spotlight.  I’ve never seen the place this clean before!” she remarked.

     “Yeah,” Baloo agreed, gazing around in awe.  “It don’t look natural!”

     “Baloo, my man!  Glad to see you,” called Louie as he popped up from behind the bar.  “Come on in, folks, and have a seat, while I get you all somethin’ sweet.”  Baloo, Kit and Rebecca walked to the table in a slightly dazed fashion while Louie busied himself at the bar, but when he came out with a tray of drinks they were all still standing, and wondering what was going on.

     “Here we go, folks, the very best fungo-fruit fizzies you’ll find anywhere.  Please, Miz Cunningham, do sit down…grab a chair, short stuff…uh, Baloo, what’s wrong, cuz?  Never know you to turn down a free fizzie before.”

     Baloo still stood by the table, although Rebecca and Kit had both seated themselves.  The pilot had a scowl on his face that would have frightened anyone who didn’t know him, for he was getting a bit ticked off by the strangeness of the night’s events.

     “Louie, what is goin’ on here?  You didn’t invite us out here, turn away all yer regular customers and clean the place up, just to give us each a free fungo-fruit fizzie, did ya?”

     “No way!”  Louie shook his head and motioned Baloo toward a chair as he answered.  “I got paid cash in ad-vance to set up this little meetin’ tonight, an’ just what it’s all about is as much a puzzle to me as it is to you folks.”

     “Well, I’d like to talk to whoever does know what this is all about!”  Rebecca had gotten over her surprise and was working up to ‘annoyed’ again as she fixed Louie with a stern look.  “Just who is behind all this?”

     “I am.”

     The deep voice came from the shadows as a tall, impressive figure strode forward, into the light, and came to stand beside the table.

     “Ms. Cunningham…Mr. Baloo…Master Cloudkicker…I apologize for any inconvenience that this meeting may have caused, but I assure you that it is quite necessary,” said Shere Khan.  “May I join you?”

     Baloo sat down with a thump, for once at a loss for a snappy answer, while Rebecca managed to get out a reply to Khan’s question.

     “Oh, please do.  Ah…you arranged this?”

     “Yes,” Khan purred, seating himself and taking a drink from Louie’s tray at the same time.  “At present I have a certain project underway which requires several pilots with special skills.  The head pilot of this project assures me that you, Baloo, are just such a pilot, and he wants to have you join him.”

     “Me?  Thanks a lot, but no, thanks!” Baloo growled.  “You hired me once before, an’ that was just to be bait in a trap you were settin’ fer Don Karnage an’ his air pirates.  I don’t like bein’ used as a patsy!”  Baloo’s reply seemed to startle Khan for a moment, for a frown appeared on his face and then vanished.  Rebecca saw a different point and spoke before Khan could answer.

     “If you just wanted to hire Baloo for some flying job, why go to all this rigmarole?  You could send a message to have him come to the Khan Building in Cape Suzette and save all this trouble.  And what about all the pilots you’ve got on your payroll already?  Why can’t one of them handle your ‘special project?’”

     “Please note that I am not hiring him,” Khan replied to Rebecca.  “I am merely giving him a chance to join the project.  If he accepts, it will be necessary for his absence from his usual haunts…”  Khan paused, and gazed around the room.  “…to be explained, and for his closest friends to know where he has gone and why this all must be kept secret.  There are very good reasons for keeping this matter confidential.”

     “Why not ask the head pilot of the project about it, Miz Cunningham?  I’ll bet he could explain everything,” said Kit, and all four turned to look at Baloo’s navigator with some surprise.

     “Well!  Is he always this sharp, Mr. Baloo?” asked Khan.

     “Huh?  Oh, sure, sure, every time!”  Baloo leaned over and whispered to Kit, “What head pilot?”

     “There’s just five of us here.”  Kit pointed around the table and then at Louie as he answered.  “But there’s six chairs at this table, and still two full glasses on Louie’s tray.  I figure that this head pilot Shere Khan mentioned is here to explain things, and Louie is supposed to hear all about, too.”

     “Very astute, I must say,” Khan remarked, smiling a little as he spoke.  Khan gestured for Louie to be seated, turned in his chair and spoke toward a dark corner of the room.  “Captain, would you please join us?”  A second figure came out of the darkness, walked up to the table and sat down.

     “Baloo!  Good to see you again, and thanks awfully for delivering the silver for the lads and me.”  Baloo’s expression rapidly ran through surprised, pleased, embarrassed and came to rest on a mixture of happy and bewildered, as Rick Sky reached across the table and shook hands with him.

     “The first time we met, Ms. Cunningham, you seemed to think I was a bit of a rogue,” Rick went on.  “I hope you think better of me now.”

     Rebecca blushed just slightly as she remembered.  When Baloo had found Rick Sky in the sea and brought him back to Cape Suzette, she had thought that he was either crazy or a con man, pretending to be the missing hero of The Great War, which had ended almost twenty years ago.  She later learned that Rick and the other pilots who made up The Squadron of Seven had been frozen in an iceberg for all those years, but he had left before she could apologize for doubting his story.

     “Well, I do think it was incredible that you could be frozen all that time, but I can’t deny that it happened,” she said, taking Rick’s extended hand.  “What have you been doing since Baloo and your squadron got that silver shipment away from Don Karnage?”

     “That’s part of the reason Mr. Khan and I are here,” Rick replied.  “After that spot of bother with those air pirates, the lads and I began looking for a way to get caught up on the past twenty years of things.  In the course of that, I met a fellow we had known during the war — Tom Rupert.  You may have heard of him, for I believe he’s become rather well-known in aviation circles.”

     Rebecca frowned in thought.  “He’s a designer, isn’t he?”

     “Yeah!  He designed the R-18 airships that are used for trans-ocean mail service,” Kit put in.  “He designs airplanes, too.”

     “Sure, Rick, everybody in flying has heard about Tom Rupert,” Baloo answered.  “And you knew him during The Great War?  Was he a pilot back then?”

     “No,” Rick chuckled, after taking a sip of the drink Louie had given him.  “Tom was a junior engineer for the company that built our fighter planes.  He came out to the squadron’s base to find out how they could improve the machines to give us better performance.  He was always interested in greater efficiency and better engineering, and we got rather chummy before the lads and I were quick-frozen.”

     “I believe I can fill in the years since the war, Captain,” Khan remarked.  “Thomas Rupert returned to his university, achieved a high degree in aeronautical engineering, and then set himself up as an independent designer and consultant.  My aviation interests have utilized his services on several occasions, and I must admit that his ideas — however unusual they may seem at first — have always proved to be correct in the end.”

     “I gotta admit I’m still in the dark,” remarked Louie.  “How does this guy Rupert, an’ Baloo, connect with Khan Enterprises?”

     “That will become clear shortly.  But first, are you all familiar with the nation of Dracovia?”  Khan’s question made everyone else in the room grimace, as if they had detected a rather foul smell.

     “Familiar with ‘em?” Baloo rumbled.  “I’ve been there three times, an’ I sure don’t wanna make it four!”

     “I did business with their government once, and that was one time too many!” Rebecca groaned.  “If I ever get the urge to have Higher for Hire carry cargo for the Dracovian government again, Baloo, I want you to lock me up until the idea is gone from my mind.”

     “Even Don Karnage stays away from Dracovia,” said Kit.  “He says that there’s nothing in that country worth stealing, but I hear that the Dracovian defenses are just too tough for even the Iron Vulture to tackle.”

     “That’s true enough,” Rick Sky remarked.  “They have heavy and light ack-ack all around the capital and along the regular air routes.  If you put up a black the gunners seem positively delighted at opening fire at you.”  He smiled ruefully.  “Believe me, I know!”

     “I bought some Dracovian bowling-ball beans once, and after I paid for ‘em they hit me with some ‘special export fee,’ and the beans cost me three times what they were worth!” Louie put in.  “The Leader of that crazy country is mad for money — his, mine an’ everybody else’s.”

      “I quite agree with you,” said Khan.  “On five separate occasions Leader Kranns has changed various Dracovian laws solely for the purpose of avoiding payments to Shere Khan Enterprises under properly negotiated contracts.”  Khan’s fist clenched around his drink until Kit wondered if the glass was going to shatter.  “I do not like to be dealt with in such a manner, and I do not like anyone who breaks a deal.”

     “But more than that, The Leader wants to rule other countries as well as his own.  In fact he is building up his armed forces with the intention of starting a war some two years and three months from now.”  Khan’s calm statement seemed to chill the air in the room, until he went on.  “But I intend to disrupt his plan for aggression, with the aid of Professor Rupert and The Squadron of Seven.”

     “Wait a minute!” said Rebecca.  “When did you ever do anything that wasn’t aimed at the idea of making a profit for yourself?”

     “My dear lady, wars are very disruptive things,” Khan replied.  “Factories are destroyed, lands are laid waste, trade is ruined and customers are often killed.  I am interested in wealth and power, and I can assure you that a war by Dracovia upon its neighbors would not provide me with either one.”

     “Besides,” Rick Sky put in, “if Dracovia takes over its neighbors, and builds an even bigger army than they have now, we could have the same sort of situation that led to The Great War in the first place.  I’d say that we don’t need that again.”

     Baloo scratched his head.  “But how can Khan Enterprises make The Leader act nice?  You don’t have enough ships, planes and men to fight a war all by yourself ¾ or do ya?”

     “Certainly not.  I have something else in mind,” said Khan.  “Captain, if you will explain?”

     “Right.  You see, Baloo, the Dracovians have recently completed several new factories to build tanks, guns and planes.”  As he spoke, Rick took a map from a pocket of his jacket, unfolded it and spread it out on the table.  “All of these factories are located here, in Moaning River valley, and they get all of their power from these three big hydro-electric power plants in the mountains above the valley.”  Rick leaned back from the map and gazed steadily at Baloo as he went on.  “If we could break those three dams, the flood of water would shut down the power plants, leave the factories without any power to run them, and put a stop to The Leader’s plan for war.”

     “’Scuse me for intrudin’, Captain, but if you want to keep The Leader from building a lot o’ guns an’ stuff in these factories, why don’t you bomb them, ‘stead of the dams?”

     “There’s a total of seven factories, and they’re all well defended with fighters and ack-ack guns,” Rick explained.  “It would take a force of three hundred heavy bombers to totally wreck just one of them, so it would take a week or more to smash the lot.  But the power plants at the dams are the only source of power for the factories.  Break the dams and the factories will be out of business until the dams are rebuilt and the reservoirs have filled up again.  That would take at least two years.”

     “Couldn’t they get electricity from other power plants?” Kit asked.  “Or build new ones that don’t need the dams?”

     “Even if there was enough extra generating capacity in Dracovia to supply them with adequate power ¾ and there isn’t ¾ it would take well over a year to build the necessary transmission lines to connect the factories to the rest of the country’s electric power system,” said Khan.  “While the construction of new power plants would take from three to four years.”

     “I remember reading something about those dams,” said Rebecca, as she studied the map.  “They were supposed to be a project to improve the life of the Dracovian people, and let everybody have electricity in their homes.  And didn’t your company have something to do with it, too?” she added, looking sternly at Khan.

     “Yes, the turbines and generators for the power plants were supplied by Major Electric, in which I own a majority of stock,” Khan calmly replied.  “That is why I have detailed plans of both the power plants and the dams.”

     “When Mr. Khan found out about The Leader’s plans, he contacted Tom to see if he could figure out a way to crack open the dams,” said Rick.  “Tom spent a few months running a series of tests ¾ with the lads and me doing some special flying that was involved ¾ and came up with no less than three ways to do it!  One of them could be made to work quickly, and the squadron has been training to use that method for a month now.  But to be certain of breaking all three dams we need to use at least eight planes, so that means we need another pilot.  Somebody who can fly low, handle a plane as if he was born doing it, and who’s willing to follow my orders.”  Rick put down his fruit fizzie and looked at Baloo very seriously as he spoke.

     “I won’t order you to come along, Baloo, but I will ask you: Would you be willing to join The Squadron of Seven for a very dicy mission?”

     “Y- ya really mean it?”  Baloo was stunned.  “As a kid, all I ever wanted ta do was ta fly with The Squadron of Seven.  You fellas were my heroes!  Sure, I’ll join, Rick!”

     Rebecca gave a sharp tug on Baloo’s sleeve that pulled him back down into his chair and made the pilot look at her in surprise.

     “Hold on a minute, Baloo!  I still own the Sea Duck, and if you go flying off somewhere with it, how do I run Higher for Hire until you get back?  And what about Kit?”

     “Aw, come on, Beckers, have a heart!  I’ve wished for somethin’ like this all my…”  Baloo’s voice faded as Rebecca’s words registered on his brain, and he turned to look first at Kit, and then back at Rebecca.  The pilot considered the matter for a minute or so, and then looked across the table at Rick Sky.

     “How long will I be away on this job, Rick?”

     “Just about six weeks, Baloo.  But you won’t be flying your Sea Duck.  We’ve got something special in the way of aircraft on tap for this mission.”

     “Six weeks?  I have a delivery contract in just three days,” Rebecca groaned.  “If Baloo is off somewhere with you, who’s going to fly the Sea Duck?”

     “Look, Rick,” said Baloo, “I wanna fly with you more than anything, but I can’t go off an’ leave Kit behind.  Kit an’ me…we’re a team!”

     “There’s no problem about that, Baloo,” Rick smiled.  “The aircraft you’ll be flying requires a crew of two.  You’ll have to have a navigator with you, and from what I’ve heard, you’ve got a pretty good navigator already.  But keep in mind that this is going to be a tricky bit of business.  If the Dracovians get wind of it, we might run into a real hornet’s nest!  Do you want to come along, young fellow?” he added to Kit.  “It could be dangerous, you know.”

     Kit looked at Baloo very seriously.  “You really want me to come with you, Baloo?”

     “Sure thing, Li’l Britches.  Rick says I gotta have a navigator, and you’re pretty good at navigatin’.”

     “Count me in, Papa Bear,” said Kit, with a broad grin.

     “Good show!  And since you two have worked together already, you’ll be all set from the start, Baloo,” Rick chuckled.

     “As to your business, Ms. Cunningham, I have a charter for you that will require the services of your aircraft for several operations during the next six weeks,” said Khan.  “These two pilots will be working for you while Mr. Baloo is with The Squadron of Seven.”  He passed a sheet of paper to Rebecca as he spoke, and Baloo looked over her shoulder at the names and photographs on it.

     “Hey, I’ve met both those guys,” said Baloo.  “Good pilots, they really know their business!”

     “You mean you’d trust them to fly the Sea Duck?” Rebecca asked.

     “Baxter and Tompkins?  Sure thing, Becky, they’re almost as good at flying as I am!”

     Rebecca smiled to herself.  Baloo clearly meant that as a compliment, even if it did sound a bit funny.

     “One more thing,” said Rick very seriously.  “Everything that has been said here tonight has to be secret!  Nobody talks about it or even hints to anybody, because if the word gets out and the Dracovians hear about it, none of us might come back from the mission!”

     “That brings us back to the point you raised earlier, Ms. Cunningham,” said Khan.  “For some time I have been aware that confidential information was being passed from my company to The Leader’s office, and I have recently obtained proof that there are at least two Dracovian spies in my organization.”  Khan’s face set grimly for a moment, and Kit felt that those spies were not going to like it when Khan caught up with them.

     “All business with Thomas Rupert has been through secure channels, and there is nothing to show that I have any extraordinary plans that involve Captain Sky and The Squadron of Seven.”  Khan paused to take a sip of his drink before he continued.  “That is why I arranged this meeting, so that you, Ms. Cunningham, and you, sir,” he added with a nod to Louie, “would be aware of what Mr. Baloo was doing.  If you did not know this, and began to wonder where he was, rumors and gossip might alert the Dracovian defenses, which could prove to be very unfortunate.”

     “Won’t people notice if you have a squadron of special planes training for this mission?” Rebecca inquired.  “If they fly from a field near Cape Suzette…”  Her voice trailed off and Rebecca gave a blink.  “Oh!  I see.”

     “Precisely,” said Khan.  “All tests and training for the mission are being conducted on a large island several hours flying time from Cape Suzette, and when Captain Sky and his men conduct their operation there will be nothing to indicate its place of origin.  Access to the island is tightly controlled, so that this operation will remain secret, as it must if it is to succeed.”

     While it seemed that every possible objection had been met, Louie had a final point to make.

     “One more thing, Captain, if you an’ your boys go bustin’ these dams, won’t a lot o’ cats get drowned in the flood?  And won’t that give Leader Kranns a reason to declare war on somebody?”

     “Not if we do it on The Leader’s birthday, which is about six weeks from now,” Rick replied.  “The factories will all be empty that day, and the power plants have emergency escapes for the crews who tend the generators and turbines.  With luck, nobody will even get their feet wet.  And with the factories useless, Dracovia will lack the weapons they would need to fight a war.”

     “The Leader’s birthday is always celebrated with mass parades in Dracopolis,” said Khan.  “This year the workers from the new factories below the dams are all going to march in those parades.  The capital will not be touched by any flooding, so the only one hurt will be The Leader…who will have to delay his plans for war by at least two years.”

     Baloo gave a chuckle.  “Well, just let The Big Cheese make his plans, Rick.  We are gonna rain on his parade, but good!”

     Rick reached across the table and shook Baloo’s hand, then did the same with Kit, while Khan leaned back in his chair with a pleased expression.  Louie glumly looked at Baloo, then at Khan, and then back at Baloo.  Rebecca frowned slightly as she

stared at her fruit fizzie — a small cloud of concern was forming at the back of her mind.



July 16, 1937, Higher for Hire Office


    “Mommy, Wildcat says Kit and Baloo are going away!”  Rebecca looked up from the desk as her little daughter Molly came into the Higher for Hire office with a worried look on her face.  Rebecca glanced at Baloo and then back at Molly.

     “Yes, Pumpkin, Kit and Baloo will be away for a bit, but they’ll come back.”  As she spoke, Rebecca turned her swivel chair so that Molly could climb in her lap.

     “Baloo, why are you going away?”  Are you mad at us?”

     The pilot smiled ruefully.  You can’t hide things from little kids, he thought.  They spot everything.

     “Naw, Molly.  It’s just that me and Kit have some vacation time coming, an’ we got this little trip planned, see?  A coupla sharp pilots I know will do the flyin’ for yer mom while we’re away.”

     “You mean you’re not taking the Sea Duck with you?” Molly asked.

     “Well, yeah, just to get where we’re goin’.  Then my friend Tommy Tompkins will bring it back, while me an’ Kit enjoy ourselves for a while.”

     Rebecca gave Molly a hug, and lifted the little cub off her lap.

     “Molly, why don’t you go out and help Kit and Wildcat load Baloo’s stuff in the Sea Duck?  Baloo and I have some business to settle before he leaves.”

     As soon as Molly had hurried out the door, Rebecca turned to Baloo with a concerned look on her face.

     “I really think you should keep your eyes and ears open while you’re flying with Captain Sky, Baloo.  There is something definitely fishy about this whole business!”

     Baloo was shocked.  “Come on, Becky, you were there!  What could be wrong about this thing, anyway?”

     “Shere Khan,” she replied.  “He never does anything without having an eye toward making a profit out of it somehow, and he must be putting a lot of money into this operation.  Just how is he going to get it back, I’d like to know?”  Rebecca leaned back and studied the far wall of the office with a distant, thoughtful expression.

     “Hey, if Leader Kranns starts a big war, a lotta Khan’s business would get busted up,” observed Baloo.  “He’s just takin’ out insurance to keep that from happenin’, like he said.”

     “Well…it sounds logical.  But I’m still dubious about this.”  Rebecca stood up and put a hand on Baloo’s arm.  “You and Kit better take care of yourselves, understand?”

     Baloo blinked in amazement.  Was Rebecca really worried about him?

     “You worried about findin’ a replacement for me, in case I don’t come back?” he teased.

     Rebecca snorted.  “Hardly!  But Molly likes you, and I’ve gotten used to you,” she grinned.  “Breaking in a new pilot would be a pain,” she added sweetly, as they walked to the door.

     “Everything is ready, Baloo, just like you wanted,” Wildcat greeted them as Rebecca and Baloo arrived at the end of the Higher for Hire seaplane pier.  Molly was standing in the Sea Duck’s entrance hatch with Kit, and the little cub had a skeptical look.

     “Why don’t you have tents and things, if you and Kit are going camping?”  Baloo glanced at his navigator, who stood behind Molly.  Kit shrugged helplessly, as if to say, ‘I had to tell her something!’

     “Oh, we’re gonna pick up our gear when we turn the Sea Duck over to Tommy, Molly.  Now, you better scoot, ‘cause we gotta get flyin’.”

     A short time later the Sea Duck roared across the water of Cape Suzette harbor and lifted into the air.  It swung around and made a pass over the pier, and Molly, Rebecca and Wildcat all waved.  They could see Kit waving back from the right side of the cockpit.  As Rebecca watched the seaplane head out through the gap in the cliffs, she was

thinking, Be careful, Baloo!  I don’t want to lose either you or Kit.  Just be careful!


To Be Continued


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