Biggles was lost; he had been lost from the moment he had taken off from Forward Operating Base Falcon, this mainly due to his taking a cup of tea into the cockpit and spilling it on the navcom computer, not only destroying a £300000.00 computer, making all communications and navigation impossible but also ruining his morning cuppa.
He had been flying for almost three days now, busily refuelling in mid-air each time his fuel gauge fell to empty. He achieved this by mugging any passing U.S. KC-135 Stratotankers. It was a mugging because he would shoot across their nosecones until they gave into his demand for extra fuel, and the fact they refused to offer him tea and crumpet was starting to annoy him. Four times the U.S.A.A.F had launched intercept squadrons to shoot him down for piracy, but each time he had given them the slip but flying upside down into a dust storm, he was after all - Biggles.
“Jolly ho,” Biggles said to the ghosts of all the pilots he had flown with, “I could do with a nap.”
It was not unknown for Biggles to fly in his sleep. For any other aeronaut this would be considered impossible, but Biggles had a brain the size of a finch and like a finch could sleep on the wing. Five minutes after falling asleep he crashed into a sand dune in the middle of the great desert. He might be able to fly asleep, but his plane still needed fuel to fly.
He woke up wrapped in a parachute and wondered if this was the Savoy, tried to fluff his pillows and promptly went back to sleep. The ejection seat had fired automatically when he clipped the leading edge of a sand dune and fired him fifty feet straight up and down onto the trailing side of the dune. The fighter plane had smacked incontrovertibly into a stand of date trees and exploded.
The next day Biggles woken and tried to ring for room service, this was of course impossible, but everything about Biggles was impossible so was in no way the unexpected. What was unexpected was the sudden appearance of a Bedouin sheepherder offering him a cup of coffee.
The Bedu had their camp at the base of the sand dune and had woken in the middle of the night to a tremendous crash as Biggles’ plane had wiped out their only stand of date trees for fifty miles in any direction. Since this was their only source of revenue besides hostage taking, they were sorely put out, but the requirements of hospitality in the desert forced them to take care of any lost strangers until they had a reason to cut his throat or sell him for a camel in the nearest village.
Biggles blinked and stretched, took the coffee without thought and asked for some crumpet.
“No English,” said the chief of the Bedu sizing up the pilot, “we have no crumpet. We only have dates and camel’s milk. But no crumpet, I am very sorry. Are you rich?”
“Why is there so much sand in the Savoy?” Biggles said, still waking up. “I know the Saudis own it, but there’s really no need to fill it with Saudi Arabia, is there old bean?”
The chief looked around and wondered what the stranger was talking about.
“Savoy?” he asked as the wind whipped particles of sand into his face.
“Ah,” Biggles gave him back the coffee cup, undid his harness and stood up. “This isn’t the Savoy Hotel, is it?”
“No English, this is the Nefud, the great desert of Arabia.”
“So, definitely no crumpet then?”
“Not unless you are very rich.”
“And if I was very rich?”
“Then I would ransom you for much gold and buy you all the crumpets you desire.”
“And if I’m poor?”
“Then either I will cut your throat or sell you for a camel at the great camel market.”
“When in that case, I’m loaded,” Biggles grinned weakly.
“That is very good to hear English,” the Bedouin sheikh had finished sizing him up and made a decision not to murder Biggles, at least not until a ransom had been paid. “You will be my guest for the present. I ask only that you respect our customs and do not attempt to escape.”
“What are your customs?”
“Leave our women alone and don’t molest the donkeys.”
“Do people often molest your donkeys?”
“More often than they molest our women” the sheikh grinned, “and when you see our women you’ll understand.”
At the camp Biggles was introduced to a family so extended it started in Damascus and ended in Detroit, most weren’t immediately available but they were mentioned in passing and deed.
“And finally I mention my ninty-seventh cousin Ali ben Rahsid ben Sali, who drives a taxi in Tierra del Fuego.”
Biggles eyes had long glazed over and was surprised the sun was still shinning as they sat in the black tent of his host.
“Really,” he blinked himself awake, “you don’t say.”
“And yourself, English, tell me of your family.”
Biggles blew air through his moustache, and looked thoughtful.
“Hmm, well let’s see. There’s my grand aunt Olga Von Bigglesbottom, she got arrested for selling official secrets to Stalin back during the cold war. Although fair’s fair I say, I can’t see how the catcher chute on a combine-harvester falls within the purview of the Official Secrets Act. She’s been on the run for sixty years now, and given the fact no one has seen her for the last fifty, and the fact she must over one hundred and forty years old now, might actually mean she is dead, but who knows. I mean any woman who has slept with every leader from Neville Chamberlin to Pol Pot is capable of anything I say.”
“I see,” the sheikh said to be polite.
“Then there’s grand uncle Rupert del Biggles-Smyth-Oppenheimer who once tried to sell the Eyrie Canal back to the Americans shortly after they constructed it. Would have succeeded too - if they hadn’t noticed this new canal wasn’t in California like he said. He is at present serving a three thousand year sentence for defrauding the Crown over a counterfeit barge tax, which was supposed to charge a guinea to everyone on a canal who wasn’t wear a tartan kilt. Obsessed with inland waterways, he is.”
“Err,” the sheikh would have looked at a watch if he had one. “Interesting.”
“Next comes my great-great nephew Dagmar Erskin-Biggles, last of the great explorers. He started exploring at the ripe old age of six weeks when he escaped from his crib in Wellington Barracks and ended up on a safari in Zululand shooting gazelles for his royal highness Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu.” Biggles looked wistful. “They grow up so fast these days.”
The Bedouin sheikh rubbed his forehead.
“I should also mention my great cousin Peter Alexeyevich Biggles-Kropotkin a biologist who specialized in the scatology of Coleoptera and overthrowing the Tzarsist state… he has a very interesting career…”
It was in the vein Biggles kept talking for a week, until he woke up one morning and found the camp deserted with a letter pinned to his flight suit suggesting he take the next bus back to England.
“Bother,” he snorted, “and still no crumpet.”
“Bother,” he snorted, “and still no crumpet.”
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