R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 40: Glass Pirates of the Timor Sea

Flying Cloud landed on the water

"How can we land here?" protested Sarah. "We’re over the ocean!"

"So?" said MacKiernan. "An airship can set down almost anywhere. We’re already floatin’ in the air. All we need are some inflatable bumpers an’ we can float on the water as well.

The girl’s eyes lit up as she considered the idea. "Oh, that does sound like fun!"

A shadow crossed MacKiernan’s face. "We do have bumpers on this ship, don’t we?"

Captain Everett looked up from the drift meter. "I believe Abercrombie found some when we inspected the vessel. We shall soon see if I’m correct. Rashid, bring her left to 135 and drop engines to idle."

"Left 135 and engines to idle."

Nothing happened swiftly on an airship, but rudders swung, telegraphs rang, and the vessel coasted to a stop pointed upwind, then began to settle toward the sea. Everett took another drift measurement and nodded in satisfaction.

"Miss Sarah, some figures please?"

"We’re descending at 100 feet per minutes. According my calculations, we should be about 400 pounds heavy."

"That should do nicely. Rashid, bring Engines One and Three up to quarter power and shut down Engine Two. Abercrombie, maintain this descent rate." He picked up the intercom. "All hands prepare for a water landing. Loris, inflate the bumpers."

Compressed air whistled into the pontoon under the control car until it bulged outward like a balloon. Below the ship, their shadow was rising to meet them.

"300 feet," warned Abercrombie.

"Shut down all engines and secure for landing," ordered Everett.

In the engine cars, the propellers stopped turning. Moments later the bumpers struck the water with a gentle splash.

"Good job, Abercrombie, Miss Sarah. Loris, deploy the sea anchor."

A short time later the Flying Cloud was lying to a drogue, drifting aft with her head to the wind. Around them, the ocean rose and fell to the remains of some swell. After so many hours in the air, the motion was strange, but not unpleasant.

"Davies," Everett called over the intercom, "do you still have that wreckage in sight?"

"A few hundred yards to port, sir, bearing 035," came the marine’s voice. "It looks like debris from some large vessel, spread over an area several hundred yards across."

"This sounds like a job for the longboat," observed MacKiernan, "Who shall we send?"

Everett thought for a moment. "Loris and Wallace seem to be out with pulled muscles, so we’ll use Fleming and Miss Helga. Mister Iverson, if you’d take command of the search."


The ‘longboat’ -- a battered rubber raft of uncertain age and origin -- was as awkward and cramped as ever. Iverson did his best to hold the craft steady while the others stepped aboard, but even so, Helga contrived to stumble and end up in his lap. He muttered apologies as she disentangled herself, then noticed Sarah scowling from a window of the control car.

Odd, he thought, I wonder what she’s upset about. But there was work to be done, so he put this matter from his mind and ordered his crew to ship oars. Soon they were paddling past the wreckage -- hatch covers, fragments of a cargo mast, scraps of deck planking, nondescript articles of furniture and gear, and a swamped lifeboat with a line of bullet holes down the side. The name Tualua’s Dream was painted on the prow.

"I know this ship," said Helga. "She belong to Howard Philips. American. Good man: real strongbody. Looks like someone shoot him up and sink him. Maybe same airship we chased."

"It wouldn’t take much," observed Iverson. "Machine gun fire to keep the crew below deck until another surface ship could lay alongside and board. Take the crew prisoner or kill them, then plant a bomb destroy the evidence. We’re lucky we found this much."

The Swedish woman shook her head. "I think there more to find."

"Where?" asked Iverson. By now they’d examined most of the debris.

"Upwind. Let Helga take tiller and show you."

This was a difficult task in such a confined space. At one point, the craft rocked, tumbling Helga atop Iverson so that her breasts pressed against his face. "Whoopsie," she cried, "watch the bumping!" as he muttered an apology. Rowing proved even worse, for the woman persisted in leaning forward to guide the craft, apparently unaware that this gave Iverson a view down her blouse. He blushed and did his best to not to notice.

"Ha!" she cried, leaning even closer to point over his shoulder. "Lookie there! He use the salt trick. Just like Helga thought."

Iverson turned with a sigh of relief. A short distance away, a small wooden chest was bobbing in the waves. "Salt trick?" he asked.

Helga reached out with a boathook and fished for the chest as she explained. "Howard takes drink back to friends in America. Needs to get cargo past stupid Prohibition. Puts it in crates filled with salt, then throws crates overboard so they sink. Revenue men inspect ship, find nothing. But later, salt dissolves, crates float to surface, friends get drink. Now he uses same trick to leave message for us."


The officers and off-duty crew met in the mess hall to examine their discovery. Sarah glared as Iverson sat next to her, then rose and moved to a different chair. He watched her go, feeling somewhat hurt and bewlidered.

"I don’t believe there’s much hope for this lock," observed Jenkins.

"Nae matter," said Abercrombie. The Scotsman produced a wicked-looking dirk, inserted it under the lid, and pried the casket open. A trickle of water spilled out, along with some minnows, several snails, and a roll of oilcloth lashed with a length of tarred twine. This proved to contain a waterlogged scrap of parchment.

...ay. Hostile airship forced us to heave to 1200 7/15/26, 12 30 S, 126 10 E. Boarded by pirates from unknown freighter, looking for passenger Ka...

Abercrombie glared at the script in annoyance. "Why couldn’t he hae sealed it better?"

"It’s always that way in the radio dramas," observed Iverson. "It adds to the suspense."

"That’s why I don’t listen to radio dramas, lad."

"This sounds much like the attack on Miss Helga’s vessel," mused Everett.

"You believe our friends aboard the Duck were responsible?" asked Jenkins.

"Of course. Why should they abandon something that works? And this would suggest that the Duck is nearby. With a piece of our puzzle."

"He-heh-heh-heh-heh," muttered someone. "We’re going duck hunting."

Next week: Kupang...

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