All Things Mysterious Volume Twenty-Three
Lieutenant Jones Takes Off
A cold, blustery day on the beach greeted the Lieutenant with a friendly blast of freezing wind as he stepped off a bus somewhere in North Carolina. That he’d actually boarded a bus in La Paz, Bolivia, was of little consequence; at least he felt no sensation of travel through time or space, as he sometimes did. Very jarring it was to find yourself thousands of miles and sometimes hundreds of years from where you started. As usual, the litany of self-examination began the moment he began walking along the shore--who am I? Why was I brought here?
This journey was slightly less disconcerting than most, though-no language barrier, for one-so far as the Lieutenant knew, English was his first and primary lingo, but he had a strange faculty with languages. No matter where he was called, or at what point in history, he could understand and make himself understood. A very valuable trait, when you are whisked hither and yon to fix a problem in time or space.
Now, what was the deal here? Nothing for it but to start walking!
Presently he came upon a sad man, sitting on the beach very near the water, head in hands, in a pose of despair. Lt. Jones stepped up to the man and said, ‘Can I help?’ In a strong accent that the Lieutenant couldn’t quite place, the man replied ‘No one can! I am robbed!’ The next question that came to Lt. Jones was, naturally, Did you call the police, but before he could get the words out, the man said, ‘It is not the kind of thing that the police can get back.’ Lt. Jones asked, ‘What was stolen, sir?’ ‘What was stolen? Ah, my good name, my reputation, my invention, my fame, my future...all gone!’
Now thoroughly intrigued, the Lieutenant sat beside the man and meant to inquire further. Before he could, a boy came running up to them, shouting unintelligibly and, legs moving too fast for the rest of him to catch up, went sprawling in the sand at their feet. Lt. Jones hauled him up and said, ‘What is it, boy?’ The lad replied, ‘They are flying, sir! Just like a bird! I never saw anything like it!’ With that he ran off, presumably to spread this fantastic news to whoever else he might find. The other man, having dried his tears, was staring at the retreating figure of the boy, and turned to the Lieutenant and cried, ‘That is me! I am the flying man!’ Lt. Jones reflected that he certainly found himself in some odd situations, but first things first. ‘What is your name, sir?’ ‘I am Whitehead,’ the older man cried, ‘and I am lost!’
‘It is I who have invented the flying machine, and these--these interlopers have stolen the credit for my work! Mark me, I will have my revenge!’
‘Now, don’t do anything hasty,’ said the Lieutenant. ‘Just how did they steal your work?’
‘That I do not know. I only know that, two years ago, I flew my machine nearly one mile over Connecticut, but no one noticed! No one cared! And now these men have flown a few seconds over North Carolina and already they claim the credit! It is an outrage!’
The Lieutenant paused. ‘Now, calm yourself and let me look into the matter. Do me a favor and wait here for a bit while I speak to these men. Will you do that?’
‘I will do it. But I will not stand to be pushed aside by imposters with a fraction of my acumen!’
Reflecting on the odds of hearing the word ‘acumen’ in a sentence on the sand-blown bluffs of the coastal Carolinas, Lt. Jones walked over hill and dale until he came to a strange sight--an ungainly contraption, about twenty feet in length, extending perhaps eight or nine feet in the air, with with two rectangular pieces parallel to the ground bisecting the main piece and held together by several struts. As Lt. Jones watched from a distance, the machine trundled across the landscape upon a kind of a rail, then took off and flew through the air for a distance of perhaps 100 or 125 feet over a ten second period. A lot of fuss over nothing, mused the Lieutenant, as he walked up to where two men were helping the operator of the craft down while shouting congratulations. Still, best to play the game.
‘Good work, gentlemen! Your first journey, I presume?’
The taller man, mustachioed and wearing a derby, eyed Lt. Jones rather suspiciously and replied, ‘In fact, our second, sir, and you are?’
‘Lieutenant Jones, at your service.’
‘Ah, an Army officer! Come to take our invention for military purposes, I’ll warrant!’
‘Not at all, sir. However, I was wondering about the gentleman over yonder, do you know him?’
‘That one! Coming up here and shouting insults and threats about how we stole his flying machine! What rot!’
‘Then there is no merit to his utterances?’
‘None whatever. Why, we have been here for weeks, testing the machine and awaiting favorable weather.’ The other man added, ‘And we have been working on this for years! Don’t forget the gliders, which came first!’
While the erstwhile pilot were securing the contraption, the three walked along the beach a ways. ‘And what of this other man’s claim that he built a flying machine two years ago in Connecticut?’
The derby-hatted man sighed heavily. ‘If I had a quarter for every mulligan who claimed to have beaten us to flight, I reckon I would have no need of the patent office, or indeed any work at all! It is a tiresome thing, but it comes with all.’
‘Had you known this man?’
‘I know of him, but had never seen him before he appeared upon these hills this morning.’
Just then, the same boy came charging up to the group of men. ‘Quick! Come quick! Mr. Wright’s been killed! It’s murder!’
Tune in Monday for the exciting conclusion to Lieutenant Jones Takes Off!
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