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Title: The Eagle Down Under
Series: The Eagle Chronicles.
Word Count 4149
Summary Steven goes to visit an friend in Austraila and gets mixed up with art theft and murder.
Notes: After I had Steven take off at the end of "Flight of the Eagle", I had to have him go somewhere. For those of you in Austraila, I apologize for any stereotypes. I wrote this around 1985 and well, I didn't know much at the time.




Joe was getting nervous. He should be back by now. It doesn't take this long to walk there and back. He picked up a torch and headed for the door. The dog saw that he was going out and waited impatiently by the door. Joe saw Steven's jacket hanging by the door and held it out for the dog to sniff. Even though he wasn't a bloodhound, there was a chance that he could still track him.

Joe turned on the outside lights and headed down the path. The air had started to cool and he wrapped his coat tighter about him. The dog ran ahead then doubled-back to make Joe hurry, thinking this just a game. When they were near the property line, the dog ran off, barking. Joe ran after him, hearing the different tone. He found Steven unconscious and face-down on the ground. The dog was licking his face as if that were the only thing needed. Joe cast the light over him to see if he could spot the problem. He stopped it on the left leg. He knew blood when he saw it--especially when there was a lot of it. He took the bandanna from around his neck and wrapped it tightly around the wound. He then carefully picked him up and carried him to the truck and drove to the nearest hospital.

At the emergency entrance, Joe had a hard time getting anyone to listen until he told them who was in the truck. They rushed Steven into the operating room and removed the bullet. Joe paced the floor, drank about six coffees, and smoked close to eight cigarettes while he waited for news of Steven's condition.

"Mr. Ryan?"

Joe turned towards the voice and faced the doctor. "How is he? Is he okay?"

"We've taken the bullet out and given him a transfusion. I'd like to keep him in a few days for observation. He's under sedation at the moment, otherwise you could see him. When he wakes, I'll make sure he knows what you've done."

"Thank you, doctor. I've left my phone number with the nurse should you need to reach me for any reason. I'll stop by tomorrow to see him."

**********************************************

Ariving home, Joe let out a sigh of relief. Steven was going to be all right. The incident, however, raised new questions: who wanted to kill him and why? Was he getting too close to the murderer for comfort? Why hadn't Steven confided in him more? He looked up and saw a glow in the sky. "That can't be the Aurora Australis, it's not in the right place. It looks more like a...fire!" Joe raced home and saw his own barn aflame. Mike was there trying to get the animals out with some help from Jim. Joe jumped out of the truck and joined them. One look at he building told him it was too late to save it. The fire engines were on the way, Joe could hear them. "Are all the animals out?" he asked Mike.

"I think so. We put most of the sheep in the pen. They can stay there for one night."

"Wait, where's Anzac?" Joe called for the dog and heard a faint bark from the barn. Joe wet his coat in the trough, put it on, then started to go inside.

"Joe, c'mon, the barn won't stand much longer. Why risk your life for the dog?"

"He's a friend, Mike. I'd do the same for you." Joe went in, calling the dog. The flames nipped at his legs and the smoke infiltrated his eyes. "Anzac, where are you, boy?"

The dog barked again, louder this time, and Joe saw him trapped behind some fallen debris. He could smell burning fur where sparks must have landed on his back. "Good boy. I'll get you out." He reached over the wood and lifted the dog into his arms, burning his hands in the process. He whispered soothing words as he slowly rushed out of the building.

Mike and a fireman were there as he took a deep breath and coughed. Mike took Anzac and Joe took the oxygen mask the fireman offered. For the first time, he looked at his hands. They were smudged with soot and beginning to blister. Now that he was aware of them, they were starting to hurt. The fireman put salve on them and wrapped them tightly in gauze. "I've done what I can, but you should have a doctor look at them tomorrow."

"I'll be visiting the hospital anyway. Thanks."

Mike sat next to him. "Where were you? I came over as soon as I saw the smoke and you weren't here."

"I was at the hospital. We had a little accident earlier."

"We? Where's Steven? Is anything wrong?"

Joe told him everything. "This is just getting worse. I'm starting to think there's a jinx on this place."

"Don't be silly. There's no such thing as a jinx and you know it. What you need is a good night's sleep and you'll be able to think more clearly in the morning."

"Thanks, Mike. G'night."

************************************************

Steven woke the next morning in a private hospital room and wondered why. Then he remembered. I was shot last night. How did I get here? What's happened since?

The door opened and a nurse walked in. "Good morning, your Grace. I've brought you some breakfast. I hope you're hungry."

"I'm famished." the nurse set up the bed tray and helped him get comfortable. "Can you tell me how I got here?"

"I wasn't on duty when you were brought in, but I was told that you were driven here by a Mr. Ryan who stayed until he was sure you were out of danger."

Steven smiled as he thought of Joe pacing the floor. "Do you have a morning paper I could read?"

"I'll see if I can get one for you, even if I have to take it from the doctors' lounge." She returned ten minutes later with a local paper. "It looks as if there was a big fire out at one of the stations last night," she said, handing it to him. "Is there anything else you need, your Grace?"

"No, thank you," he replied absently. She left and he read the article on the fire. The saboteur wasn't taking any chances. He read the article a second time, taking in every detail. He then picked up the phone and made an outside call.

************************************************

The phone rang downstairs and wouldn't stop. Joe buried his head under the pillows, hoping it would go away. No good. He got up and went downstairs slowly, swearing at the phone with every step. He picked it up gently in his bandaged hands. "Hello."

"Hey, mate, how are ya?"

"Steven? What are you calling for?"

"To check on you. Hope there wasn't too much damage."

"How did you find out?"

"Through a modern phenomenon known as a newspaper. You okay?"

"Yeah. Just a little beat is all."

"What happened?" Joe told him. "Do you think Jane would have known if Jim or Toby were out at the time?"

"Their place is pretty big. They could've gone without her knowing. What about you? When do the doctors say you can leave?"

"Depends on how much rest I get. I'm a fast healer. I could be out tomorrow."

"Don't overdo it," Joe laughed. "Is there anything you want me to do?"

"Just take it easy. After last night, I don't want you doing anything to get the murderer going again. Care for you animals and get Mike to help so he won't be moping."

"Okay. Do you want anything for yourself?"

"Nope, I'm all set. I'll call again later about my release. Bye now."

Joe laughed as he hung up the phone. He then went into the kitchen to make some coffee; why not, he was already awake. He hoped that Steven was right about nothing else happening. He finished his breakfast then went upstairs to change. He called Mike and asked him to come help with the animals. He then went out to the corral and let the ship out to graze. Then he began to groom the horses.

He was on the second horse when a voice said: "That was some fire last night."

Joe turned expecting to see Mike, but it was Jim. "Yeah, it was. Thought you were Mike."

"Sorry to disappoint you."

"No disappointment at all. You don't mind if I continue grooming?"

"No. Just wanted to talk. Shocked, hunh? I mean, we hardly do talk, and I thought it was about time we did. I was reading the paper and saw that Taylor was in the hospital. What happened?"

"Jane came over he after she heard about Mary and was real upset. Steven walked her home, telling her not to worry about it. When he didn't come back, I went out and found him. He might be getting out of hospital tomorrow."

"That's pretty fast. Does he have any idea on who killed Mary?"

"Maybe."

"C'mon. you can tell me. Does he?"

"Nothing definite, okay?"

"What did he say to Jane? She's been acting strange. I know that you like her. I do too; she's my sister. So tell me, what did he say?"

"I don't know. Maybe he told her what he thought of the case. How should I know? After all, he was unconscious when I found him. He damn well couldn't have said a bloody word. Now just leave me alone."

"Fine. I was only going to tell you where your bloody painting is."

Joe turned. "What? You know where it is?"

"So now you want to talk to me. Yes, I know where it is. On the night it was stolen, I did hear a noise in the barn. I went to check but didn't see anything. As I was leaving, I saw a piece of wood sticking out from the hay. I bent down, wiped it away, and then I saw the painting. I wondered what it was doing there, but didn't think anything of it until I heard you say it was missing. I would've said something earlier except Dad was breathing down my neck the whole time. I finally got away from him today. I think it's still in the barn."

"Okay, let's go. Wait, here comes Mike. Hey, Mike, keep an eye on the animals, will you? I've got to check the Hays' barn. If Steven calls, take the message. Thanks."

Mike watched as Joe went off with Jim Hay. Things have come a long way. If only Mary could have lived to see this. He picked up the horse brush Joe had dropped and began to work on the last horse. When he was finished, he checked their feed and let them roam the corral. He walked into the house to get himself a beer. He had just sat down when the phone rang. He debated whether or not he should answer it. He gave in.

"Hi, Mike. Is Joe around?"

"No, he's at the Hays'. Jim came over and they were leaving when I came. Joe seemed really excited about something. What do you want?"

"I'm getting out this afternoon and need a lift. Any idea how long he'll be there?"

"No. I'd offer, but I don't know how to drive Joe's Jeep."

"That's okay. I'll get a cab. How are things going out there? Anything else drastic happen?"

"No. I was just feeding the horses. I have to check on the sheep yet. What time will you be getting here?"

"Oh, not until at least 5:00. You don't have to hang around if you don't want to. Try and busy yourself, though. I'm sorry about my outburst the other night. I just don't want to see you suffering like that. I know what you're going through; I've been there myself."

"I understand now what you were trying to do for me. I wasn't angry and upset at the time and I didn't realize what I was saying."

There was silence for awhile. "I'll see you when I get back."

"Sure. G'bye." Mike hung up the phone and sat down to finish his beer. He thought about the man he had just talked to and what he had been through in such a short period of time. Everyone knew his history. His mother died shortly after the birth of his little sister and his father was killed two years later. His uncle smuggled the two children to America were they were raised, ignorant of their heritage. Steven became a well-known thief under the name of the Eagle and was wanted by the police in four countries. He was soon caught and sent to prison only to be bailed out by the U.S. government to help in the war.

He worked with the Underground in France for a few months until the group was discovered. Later in London, he spoke with the War Department and became friendly with Winston Churchill! He was kidnapped by the Nazis and forced to work for them. When he was discovered sending information to the Allies, he was imprisoned but he escaped and made his way to America. His information helped with the Normandy invasion and he became a war hero.

It was after winning 3 gold medals at the '48 Olympics that he learned the truth about his past; that he was the missing heir to the British throne. He married Churchill's ward. but she was killed on their honeymoon by a man trying to kill him. He abdicated and searched for his wife's killer, bringing him to justice a year later.

Three hours had passed while Mike had sat there thinking. "Joe should have been back by now," he said, looking at the clock. He dialed the Hays'. "Jim, is Joe there?"

"He left a half-hour ago. You mean he's not back yet?"

"Would I be calling?"

"You sure he's not chicken' the animals?"

"I would've heard 'em. Wait, I hear a car door. I'll call later." Mike ran to the door and saw Steven getting out of a cab with a cane

"Ahoy, mate," said Steven after the car drove away. "Where's Joe?"

"He hasn't come back. Jim said he left half an hour ago."

"He still must be over there. All this stuff has been originating from someone in that house." He started towards the pastures. "Do you know if Joe has a knife or a gun anywhere?" Mike shrugged. "We'll just have to go without, then. Thank God they gave me a cane and not crutches."

III


Joe and Jim ran across the fields to the Hays' barn. "Where is it?" panted Joe.

"Back here, under the loft." Jim rummaged around in the hay. "Here it is. Looks in good shape. What're you gonna do with it?"

"I think we should leave it here so he won't know we know. I can come back later. I really appreciate this, Jim, but why the change of heart?"

"You almost died last night and Taylor got shot. I just couldn't put up with it. Dad was the one who did those things before your dad dies. He did it out of jealousy, I think. Since your land once belonged to him, he felt it wrong that your dad should be doing better than him. All the time these recent things happened, I've had no idea where he was."

"Ever since Mary's murder, Steven's been saying it was either you or your father, but since this turn of events, the case has strengthened against your father. I'd better be going now so he won't be suspicious of you."

Joe left the barn and saw Jane at the back door of the house. He went over and surprised her. She glanced at Joe then at the barn. For a second, Joe swore later, a slight frown crossed her face. "Joe, what are you doing here?"

"Jim came and told me he knew where the painting was, so I came back with him."

"Was the painting where he said it was?"

"Yeah, buried under the hay in the barn. He told me why he thinks your father did it. There's no concrete proof, yet."

"Maybe we can find something inside. He might have hidden stuff in the attic."

Joe followed her upstairs to the attic. She took out a key and opened the door. "You go ahead, I'll be right back with a torch." She left.

Joe turned around to look at some old chests. He heard the lock catch. "Jane! Come back! The door's locked!" No answer. "She'll be back with a torch, anyway." He began rummaging through the papers Toby had collected over the years. There was enough evidence to prove that he had caused the trouble before his dad's death. He could find nothing about the recent "accidents", however.

He did not know how long he had been there when he heard footsteps on the stairs. Joe got up and walked towards the door as it opened. Jane stood there. "I'm glad you came back, the door was locked." He turned back towards the boxes. "I found some papers here that prove your father did those things at the station."

"Joe." He turned around. "Please don't make me use this." He looked at the gun in her hands. "I don't want to use it, but I will if you make me."

"Jane, what are you doing? Why are you aiming that at me?"

"Stop kidding. You know I killed Mary. Stop blaming it on my father. He's a saint. He practically raised Jim and me. We didn't have any help like your dad did." She took a deep breath to steady herself. "Sure, we gave a party twice a year, but that's just a show. We've worked this station all our lives; my dad, since he was your age."

He tried to say something, but she wouldn't let him. "Just because your dad was a bloody pommie and you've had an English education doesn't make you any better than the rest of us. Then you go off to war, the Pride of Kangaroo Flat. You came back playing the faithful son when your dad died. The you had to start building up the station.

"You couldn't leave it at that, though. You had to invite your new friend, the duke of Edinburgh for a visit. I almost pulled it off, but you got too smart. Oh, I loved you once, before I really got to know you."

Joe moved in front of the window. "Get away from there. No one will see you. Dad and Jim are working in the fields and Mike is probably crying in his beer."

"Why did you kill Mary?"

"She told me she found a handkerchief with my initials on it at your house. I thought she might suspect something so I had to kill her. It was quite simple. She only struggled a little bit. It gave me a bit of a thrill, but I won't enjoy yours as much."

****************************************

Steven and Mike made fast progress, considering the cane. Steven told Mike of his thoughts on the case. They crossed into the Hays' station and found Toby and Jim working. Steven waved at them and they came riding over. Jim was surprised to see him. "Joe said you wouldn't be out until at least tomorrow afternoon. Has he seen you yet?"

"No, he never came back. Are you sure he left?"

"I haven't seen him since we talked in the barn. He left before I did and was gone when I came out."

"What were you talking about in the barn?" asked Toby.

"I found the painting and showed it to him. I know all about it, Dad."

"Don't blame him, Jim. Where's Jane?"

"At the house. Why?"

"We've got to hurry if we want to save Joe."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Jane's the murderer. For awhile, we thought it was you, Toby, but I figured out later it was Jane. Joe doesn't know and is probably with her right now."

"Give me your hand." Jim pulled Steven onto the horse carefully and they rode to the house.

Steven looked up at the windows and saw Joe in the attic. "There he is. We've got to hurry. She's got him in the attic."

They rushed into the house; Jim in the lead, Steven and Toby following. "Mike, call the police and tell them to hurry!" yelled Steven as he ran up the stairs.

******************************************************

In the distance, a door slammed. She didn't hear it. Joe began to sweat. He heard footsteps running up the stairs. "Jane! Joe! Where are you?"

They burst the door open. Jane looked at the others. The minute she looked away, Joe grabbed the gun.
"Why did you do it, Janie?"

"I did it for you, Daddy. He ruined all that you had done. I had to fix it for you."

Mike came up the stairs. "They're on the way."

"Good. Do you want to take her downstairs now?" Toby and Jim walked with a subdued Jane downstairs. "I'll follow down later." Mike nodded and left. "How're you feeling?"

"I should be asking you that. What are you doing out of the hospital?"

"It wasn't as bad as we thought. I lost blood and needed rest. When I had had enough, I called Mike and he told me that you had gone off with Jim. Why?"

"He told me that he had found the painting and thought his father had done it. We didn't suspect Jane at all. Why did she do it?"

"For her father. She felt this was the only way to repay him. She probably told you."

"I think she mentioned it, but I wasn't really listening." Steven laughed. "What made you suspect her?"

"When I was talking to her while escorting her home, I noticed her once-long nails had all been cut down."

"So?"

"She cut them down when she went to visit Mary and strangle her. The marks would make us look for a man--which we did. It slipped my mind until the drive back from the hospital."

They arrived downstairs just as the police car was pulling up in front of the house. Everyone walked out onto the porch, Jane being held by Jim and Toby. Detective Gibson got out of the car and was surprised to see all those involved waiting for him. "What's all this, then?"

"Why, Sherlock, don't you know? This is your murderer."

"Don't be sarcastic with me. What are you doing out of hospital? Don't answer that? Will someone responsible tell me about this? Joe?"

"Let Steven tell you." The detective sighed. "He knows what went on."

"Okay, your Grace, but make it quick."

"Thank you." Steven condensed the story to five minutes.

"Damn! I should've killed you instead of just wounding you!"

"None of you can leave until after the trial. Got that?"

"Yes, Lestrade, dear heart."

Gibson drove off with Jane.

**********************************************

The courtroom was full on he day of the trial: standing room only. There were reporters from every Australian, New Zealand, and British paper. Why not? Steven Taylor, duke of Edinburgh was involved.

The prosecution spared no one in the witness stand. Toby confessed to being the cause of trouble at the Ryans' station but did not mean for anyone to die. Jim gave evidence on the finding of the Raphael and his reasons for not telling the police earlier. Joe spoke of the fire and what Jane had said to him in the attic. The hardest hit was Mike. He had to tell them what his wife had done everyday. When it came to talking about her death, he broke down crying and had to be led off the stand. Steven took it calmly. He related his story from when he examined the wall that first night up to the point they rescued Joe from Jane.

The decision of the jury was unanimous: Jane Hay was guilty. She was given a life sentence for murder plus seven years for theft.

Back at Joe's house after the trial, Steven finished packing his bags. Joe helped him carry them downstairs. "Where are you going?"

"No offense to you, but after what's happened here recently, I really need a vacation. Besides, I told Sarah I'd be going to the Barrier Reef. Why don't you come along?"

"I'd like to, but I have to stay and fix up the place. I need a new barn. Jim said he'd help."

"You sure?" he asked as he stepped into the taxi.

"Yeah. Thanks for all you've done. Come back again soon."

Steven smiled. "Don't you be a stranger, either." He waved as the taxi drove off.

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