The Bishop’s blimp closing now so close that you hear the droning engines, the whirling propellers pulling the airship through the rushing air. She yaws toward you like a whale in the sky.
Your timing must be perfect!
Attempting to board any blimp in mid-flight certainly is just as tricky a manoeuvre to pull off as slipping three souls in a can into lunar orbit: an aerobatic wow’er probably only Sean Connery could manage. But your panic vanishes -- your concern reasonable -- and you’re even hopeful, that you might not end existence after all like a bug splatted over the bow of Bishop’s Aerial Dance Hall -- for the red balloon tugging your wrist clearly knows your intent.
You descend into the ship’s bow shock -- hang there -- buffeted only long enough to remind you that you don’t want to hang around here, and have some acrobatics you’re attempting to do. You see the porthole and turret below the bow: the mooring locker, where crew would ready to tie the ship to a mooring mast atop a skyscraper. You reach out your free hand. The balloon slips you perfectly into position.
Hatch -- Lever -- Down -- Push -- Open -- Inside -- Breathe!
The red balloon tugs your wrist. It won’t come inside with you. It will leave you now.
You unknot the string. It slips off your wrist and is immediately swept away on the airship’s wake. The red balloon resists the wake all of the moment needed for saying ‘Bye -- and then hitches the ride away.
You emerge from the bow mooring locker, dapper as Sean Connery in tuxedo, and inexplicably confident you will blend in.
The air reverberates -- music thumping your heart -- filling every breath -- every pan-Euro disco excuse for dance. The cavernous belly of the airship winking under cycling strobes between the black and the massed bodies moving in time.
Lamplit terraces twinkle the heights of the inside hull. Third terrace: starboard. A woman watches you from the railing. Sensing she knows you, or will, or that you will need some knowledge she has, in the same instant you arrive inconspicuously behind pandanus palms on that third terrace starboard lounge.
Bishop’s Aerial Dance hall has flown the seven skies since 1932. The proprietors have never seen the need to redecorate. And you do blend in with the art deco silver and gold furnishings. You might join any of the meaningless conversations burbling above the music rising from the dance floor like the ship’s heartbeat. Lounging huddles of men in black evening wear smoke Cuban cigars for show. Elegant women chatter and laugh, or wait to be noticed.
She waits at the railing, hair incandescent under the strobes and her bared back to the room, in strappy gold heels that stand her on tiptoes and sprayed on gown glowing like fish skin. The seams up the calves of her stockings invite your eye to linger.
“I say, Sir!” -- The speaker isn’t British, but evidently likes to feel he is -- “Not good form -- staring at a chap’s wife.”
You round on him sitting in his cloud of cigar smoke: a pig-faced man that actually has the snout of a pig.
“Just admiring your wife’s smart choice in fine stockings, sir. I’m in ladies’ hosiery.” -- And from your inside jacket pocket you produce a business card you somehow knew was there.
You have a jacket pocket full of business cards: you sense no two will be alike.
“Whot good luck! -- Splendid! I’ve recently had a spotta bother in the market that’s rather dashed current prospects. Still, embarrassing finances aside, one must keep up appearances -- mustn’t one, whot? For morale, and The common good -- Come whot may -- Shoulders to the wheel -- never say No more silk stockings, Julia! Perhaps you might oblige me -- take the old girl aside -- show her some samples. I’ve been the beast in shanghaiing her along on this trip to the colonies. But -- can’t say she didn’t put a spell on me -- and I wouldn’t deny her her simple pleasures --”
He is interrupted. The airship’s disco heartbeat stilled. A low groan, like a monster awakening, rises from the floor in the belly of the ship.
“ATTENTION. IT HAS COME TO SHIP’S ATTENTION THAT THERE IS A STOWAWAY. ANY PASSENGERS ENCOUNTERING A STRANGE TRAVELLING SALESMAN ARE URGED NOT TO PURCHASE STOCKINGS FROM HIM. REPORT TO ARMED CREW DEPLOYING SHIPWIDE NOW ANY SUSPECT ENCOUNTERS. THANK-YOU. YOU MAY RESUME YOUR RECREATION.”
The music rises again. Julia, leaning by the railing, eyes you over her shoulder.
Suddenly, eyeballing the card you handed him, her husband splutters -- “I say! -- Your card’s gone a blank. Do believe I shall have to get up from this comfortable chair and report this disturbing turn to the very first armed member of the crew I find -- once I’ve done with my Cuban here. I have nothing further to say to you, Sir!”