R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 47: Dark Harbor Nights

Everett, Iverson, and Pierre sneaking aboard the Duck

The island loomed to starboard, tall and black against the stars. A light offshore breeze carried the scent of land -- an exotic blend of beach, jungle, and tropical flowers. If the four strained their ears, they could hear sounds from shore: the slam of a door, a barking dog, the thrumming of a generator. And the lights of the moored airship and freighter cast faint tracks across the waters of the bay.

"Do you think they’ve spotted us?" asked Iverson.

"Not at this range," said Captain Everett, "but we wouldn’t want to get any closer to the harbor."

"Zee smuggler’s landing is some distance to the east," said Pierre. "If you would head on a bearing of 110 degrees."

"Ja," said Helga as she advanced the throttles. With the mufflers engaged, the sound of their engine was barely audible. The launch itself must have been invisible -- just another shadow in the night. Iverson watched until the bay was hidden by the curve of the island.

"Should we mount another cutting-out expedition and try to take the airship?" he asked.

"I imagine they’ll have learned their lesson from last time and posted better guards," Everett observed dryly. "I’m more interested in seeing what we can learn aboard the Duck. Miss Helga, what can you tell us about her captain?"

The Swede grunted in disgust. "Man named Jakob Wasserman. Bad reputation. Short, bald, ugly mustache. Nobody trust him, maybe because mustache so ugly. Or maybe because people he owe money to tend to vanish."

"He sounds unscrupulous."

"Ja, no scruples. He work for anyone. Even German pirates."

Their course took them closer to shore. Soon Iverson began to hear the sound of breakers. He peered ahead, but the darkness seemed impenetrable. Pierre stood by the rail, his face a study in concentration as he stared into the night. From time to time, he called out some instruction in a low voice. Did he really know where they were, wondered Iverson, or was he just guessing?

"There," said the Frenchman. "The inlet is beyond those rocks. Come starboard to a bearing of 170 and be ready to turn to port when I give the word."

Rocks? thought Iverson in alarm. "What happens if we don’t turn to port?" he whispered.

"I imagine we run into some reef, break up, and drown," said Everett. "But I’m sure Pierre knows his business."

"Oui," said Pierre. "I have used this landing before during the daytime. It is not so very different at night."

Night? thought Iverson. This was getting worse every moment! He opened his mouth to protest, but now waves were cresting around them. The boat rose to each comber and surged forward with a hiss of spray. Somewhere ahead, invisible in the gloom, surf boomed like thunder.

"Turn to port now!" ordered Pierre. "Bearing 120 degrees!"

"This fun!" cried Helga from the wheel.

The sets grew larger, hurling them onward like one of the planks some islanders rode for entertainment. Iverson had always wanted to give this sport a try, but now he found himself wishing for a more sedate recreation, like rugby or bareknuckle boxing. One last wave rose behind them, then they were coasting through the waters of a tiny lagoon. Moments later, the bow grated against the sand.

Everett vaulted over the rail and held the painter while the other men disembarked. "You understand your instructions?" he called to Helga.

"Ja." The woman pointed at her watch. "Helga return like we plan."

She reversed the engine and backed the launch away into the night. After it was gone, Pierre pointed toward the jungle. "This way," he said, "a path that is not known to the Governor or his men."

They crept along single file, ducking under branches, brushing past leaves damp with dew. The track -- if such it was -- was barely perceptible, overhung with cobwebs and vines. Iverson wondered how the Frenchman could find his way in the darkness. Nameless things rustled through the undergrowth around them. Iverson hoped they were merely crabs. In a place like this, Sarah’s tales of Elder Gods no longer seemed so implausible.

At last they emerged on a hill above the settlement. This was much as they remembered from their previous visit: native huts, prison barracks, and the Governor’s mansion on its hill. Beyond it, the airship swung to her mast. The Duck was moored to a wharf nearby. Lights shone from some of her ports, but the wharf itself seemed deserted.

"Where are the sentries?" Iverson asked.

"I imagine they’re guarding the mooring mast," said Everett. "There have been quite a few people sneaking around trying to steal airships recently. Let us take advantage of this situation."

No one challenged them as they made their way aboard the freighter. She was somewhat larger than Helga’s old ship, but didn’t seem as well-maintained. Her bulwarks were pitted with corrosion and rust was visible through gaps in the planking of her decks.

"Look at this," whispered Pierre, peering between the slats of a large crate lashed down forward of the hold.

"A concealed deck gun," observed Everett. "I imagine our Captain Wasserman was a pirate even before he took up with the nationalists. Let us see if he kept records of his career."

The deckhouse, like the wharf, proved unguarded. The door to the captain’s stateroom was locked, but this posed no problem for Pierre. They eased shut the door, covered the portholes to block any stray beams of light, then pulled out their flashlights and began to search for the log.

"Here it is," said Iverson. "The entries look quite ordinary."

"And here is where the real log is hidden," said Pierre, lifting aside a portrait of an audacious young lady to reveal a wall safe.

"Can you open it?"

The Frenchman gave him a disappointed glance. A short time later, he was handing Everett a ledger. The captain flipped through this deftly, balancing his flashlight in the crook of his shoulder.

"This should be enough," he whispered. "He doesn’t report any actual acts of piracy, but he does list dates, positions, and cargos. With the other evidence I imagine we’ll find onboard, this should be enough to convict him. Let’s go."

At that moment, the door swung open behind them. Light streamed in, throwing their shadows on the wall. A smug voice spoke from the glare.

"Not so fast, meine Herren."

Next week: Before I Kill You, Captain Everett...

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