Airflivvers typically had an airspeed of nearly two hundred miles per hour, and this one seemed to be one of the fastest, so the flight to Oxford took just less than two hours. Along the way Andrews learned quite a bit about pilot Deb Gale, who was nothing if not communicative. She was twenty one, had moved to Atlanta from Ohio in order to get her piloting job, lived with two friends in a small apartment, and had a long distance friendship with a young man in the enclaves named Bud that she hoped would blossom into romance.
“I want to eventually get a job flying one of the big dirigibles, after I get enough airtime in. Right now, I’m just enjoying the adventure. You’ve got to have fun and adventure in your life while you’re young. That’s what I keep telling Bud. He’s twenty four and he’s still afraid to move up north. Pretty soon he’ll be too old for adventure and then what will he do.”
There was no airport in Oxford, at least not one capable of landing an airship. There was a small tarmac where four or five airflivvers parked next to a single Quonset hut. A single black and white police cruiser was waiting nearby. Once they had landed, Andrews climbed out of the passenger side. Deb secured the craft and then followed him. They were met by a single uniformed woman climbing out of the car. She was a stocky woman in her fifties, her hair shot with grey.
“Sherriff Donnelly.” He reached out and shook hands.
“My goodness, I can’t believe it. An actual man right here in Oxford.”
“There are no other men in town?”
“Not for years now.”
“But you’ve known other men?”
“I’ve known a few,” she said, but didn’t elaborate.
“As I told you on the phone, I’m looking for Pearl Kerrigan.”
“I can drive you out to her place. She lives right outside of town. Nobody’s seen her in weeks though.”
“I’m coming too,” said Deb, as they piled into the police car.
“Alright,” said Andrews. “But stay out of the way.”
They drove through town. The once thriving main street had fallen to disrepair and beyond it was a town filled with old worn down houses with peeling paint and newer mobile homes set back from the street in lots overgrown with weeds and brush. Beyond the edge of town were a few small farms and then the ruins of abandoned farm houses. At last they pulled up in front of a turn of the century home. It was in better shape than some of the places they had seen, but it looked quiet now. The windows were all shuttered over and there seemed to be no sign of life.
Sheriff Donnelly got out of the car and walked up onto the front porch, peering into the front window before knocking on the door. Andrews got out and walked back along the long driveway toward the separated garage behind. He heard the sheriff knock several times and then call out but there was no answer. The garage had a door that slid from the side and it didn’t seem to be locked, so he pushed it far enough to create a two foot wide opening. He stared into the darkness inside.
“Aren’t you going to take out your gun?” asked a voice behind him.
“Get back to the car,” he told Deb, who had followed him around back.
“Not on your life. You have to get your adventure while you’re young.”
He pulled his coil gun from its holster and flipped it on. He thought briefly about threatening to shoot the pilot if she didn’t return to the car, but he didn’t think it would have any effect.
“Stay behind me.”
He pointed his weapon into the darkness and then followed it inside. Not expecting to be greeted by gunfire, he was never the less ready to return fire if necessary. Though there were no windows in the building, the light through the door gave quite a bit of illumination and his eyes quickly adjusted, allowing him to see even into the corners. There was nothing unusual. It was a garage. A workbench, dusty but uncluttered sat before a pegboard full of mechanic’s tools, a shelf of old paint stood in one corner, a lawn mower in the other. In the center of the floor, a car was covered by a tarp. Reaching up, he pulled it off to reveal a 1969 Studebaker Daytona ragtop.
“Doesn’t look like anybody’s been home for a while,” said the sheriff from the doorway. “Find anything?”
“Just this door under the car,” said Deb.
Beneath the car was indeed a small wooden door about three feet square, with a rope handle. Opening the garage door, Andrews and Donnelly pushed the car out into the driveway, Deb pushed too, steering with one hand stuck through the driver’s side window. They were then able to open the door which led down cement steps to a storm cellar.
“Let me go down first,” said Donnelly, pulling her flashlight from her belt.
She descended the steps and once at the bottom flipped on a switch illuminating the room with electric light. Andrews followed her down and they found themselves in a normal example of the types of root cellars kept in the area. It was constructed of old used brick. Along the opposite wall was a shelving unit filled with jars of canned vegetables, a small cot sat against the wall to the right. Andrews turned around and looked at the wall behind them.
“That can’t be good.”
A small desk sat against the wall and spread across it were dozens of pictures cut from old magazines—all pictures of the Ladybugs, and a small jar of white paint, the brush still in it. Above the desk was a gun rack with spaces for two rifles, and both spaces were empty. On the wall above the desk but below the gun rack someone had used the white paint to carefully write out a long script message upon the red bricks. “The enemy said: ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil. My lust shall be satisfied upon them, I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.”
“Is that from the bible?” asked Deb, now at the bottom of the stairs.
“Yes,” he replied. “It’s also from Bathsheba, the song from the Ladybugs’ spotted album.