Episode 42: Long Dispela Warafran
"Davies, lad!" said Abercrombie, "what happened to ye?"
The marine was favoring his hip as if it was bruised. He also sported what
looked like a set of claw marks on his arms.
"I..." he began, then he paused as Helga walked by. The two men watched the
woman pass with a mixture of awe and respect.
"I know," said Abercrombie. "That's five of us so far, by my count: you, me,
Wallace, Loris, and I believe I saw Rashid limping the other day."
The marine's eyes widened. "What will she do when she runs out of enlisted
"Ah dinnae ken. But there could be trouble."
The governor of Kupang proved every bit as evasive as Captain Everett had
expected, dodging questions with the ease of a polished bureaucrat, and
Jenkins's examination of shipping records turned up nothing, so Everett
ordered his crew to split up and investigate the port for evidence of the
mystery airship, the Duck, and the Tualua's Dream. Sarah
and Iwamoto were the obvious choice to check the air station. Helga and
Fleming were chosen to make the rounds of shipping agents. This left
Pierre, Abercrombie, and Rashid with the unsavory job of exploring the
harbor district itself. The three men dressed for the role, exchanging
their uniforms for ragged civilian garb, then watched the others depart.
"There will be trouble between those two," observed Pierre, indicating
Helga and Sarah. Even from a distance, their hostility was apparent.
"Ye could say something to the lassies," said Abercrombie.
"It wouldn't do any good," sighed the Frenchman. "As a man of the world, it
has been my experience that men do not know how to talk, and women do not
know how to listen."
"Let us hope we do not find trouble ourselves," said Rashid. "I do not like
the feel of this town."
It was not an encouraging place. The Dutch, never the most enlightened of
colonial powers, had done little to maintain the port beyond the minimum
necessary to support their spice trade. The result was a warren of fortified
warehouses and godowns, disreputable-looking chandleries, seedy bars, and
questionable shops with even more questionable merchandise. The inhabitants
seemed to come from all corners of the earth, with garb that ranged from
silk robes to grass penis-sheaths, while the police were noteworthy by their
absence. The air was thick with the smell of refuse.
"Ah!" said Pierre, remembering a childhood on the wharves of Marseilles. "It
is good to be back on the waterfront."
"Perhaps," grumbled Abercrombie. "If ye like prowlin' through a dump. I
could hae learned an honest trade. I could hae had class. I could hae been
sombody! But instead I joined the Navy."
The Frenchman smiled. "Let us find our information and be done. Then we can
have a drink."
The three men commanded a dozen languages between them, but in such a
polyglot place, this was not enough. As the search progressed, they were
reduced to asking questions in pidgin. These were met with suspicion and
"Yu savvy boskru bilong sip kolim Pato?"
"Watpo yu askim dispela kwesten? Yu kisim bikpela trabol."
"I dinnae ken we're gettin' anywhere," Abercrombie grumbled as they made
their way down one of the filth-strewn lanes.
"Perhaps," said Pierre, "but I believe we've attracted attention." A band
of thugs had emerged from an alley ahead. Knives gleamed in meaty brown
fists. Around them, the crowd was making itself scarce.
"So," said Rashid, as he reached down to unfasten the braided cord he wore
as a belt.
"What is this man doing?" Pierre asked in alarm.
"Watch," said Abercrombie knowingly.
The Persian slipped the third finger of his right hand through a loop in
one end of the cord, fitted a stone to a pouch in the middle, then gripped
the other end between his thumb and forefinger. Satisfied, he whirled the
sling around his head and let fly.
CRACK! The first thug toppled as the rock ricocheted off his skull.
The others hesitated.
"Yu laik dai?" asked Rashid, fitting another stone. "Mi hamanas
tru kilim." His voice was flat with menace.
"Yu nogat kilim, mipela go," said one the thugs, raising his hands.
"Yu lusim, yu gat laip."
"Formidable!" Pierre exclaimed after their assailants had fled.
"This man should have been an athlete!"
"Aye!" agreed Abercrombie. "He could hae been a contender!"
"We found several records of what might have been our mystery airship,"
reported Sarah after everyone was back at the ship. "She was a German
packet, the L-137. Their last visit took place three weeks ago. They left
unexpectedly, without filing for clearance, but for some reason the
governor didn't file a protest. And it appears that the
Wolkenflieger was here a short time earlier."
"This ship?" asked MacKiernan.
"L-505," said Sarah. "The same number she had when we took her. She
visited this port seven weeks ago -- three weeks before she appeared at our
All eyes turned to Iwamoto. "Do you recall this visit?" asked Everett.
"This not my job," said the engineer. "I..."
"...come with engines," muttered several people in unison.
"Fleming," asked Everett, "did you and Miss Helga learn anything from the
"Several people here knew of the Tualua's Dream. It appears the
vessel had a contract to carry supplies to a phosphate mine on an island
called Oa Ki, some distance to the east. Their last visit occurred two
"'Oa Ki'?" said MacKiermnan. "That name sounds Polynesian. What's it doing
"It would mean something like `key to wealth'", said Jenkins. "And
Polynesian settlements have been found on small coral islands throughout
"An unlikely setting for a phosphate mine," observed MacKiernan. "Should we
procure some native craft and send a party to investigate?"
"Time is of the essence," said Everett, "so I instructed Jenkins to purchase
a fast motorboat of a type used by smugglers of alcoholic beverages in the
United States. I believe our two ladies are the obvious choice for this
The launch's engine was a thing of beauty -- a 12-cylinder Liberty converted
for marine use. Iwamoto was inspecting it when Sarah stepped aboard. Her
expression, normally so sunny, was dark. While the engineer was not one to
intrude on another's privacy, he couldn't help but notice that the girl had
"Please forgive interruption," he said, searching this difficult language
for the correct words. "You seem troubled."
"That woman!" cried Sarah. "She's dreadful! She's already seduced half the
crew and now she's going after the officers! I can't let her get away with
"Hai," said Iwamoto, as much to himself as her. "Sometimes you must
"I will!" she said, brandishing her spear.
"Iye! That not what I meant..."
Next week: Catfight at the Oa Ki Corral...