Episode 80: Noumea
From the air, Noumea looked like a French version of Port Moresby -- its
Gallic heritage apparent in its elaborate cathedral and the haphazard
layout of its streets. Anticipating language problems, Everett sent
Abercrombie and Pierre down to oversee mooring. Even so, the operation took
time, for the French seemed to have a different sense of urgency about such
matters. At last, after some awkwardness, the Flying Cloud was on
the mast. Everett looked at the clock and sighed.
"I'm not sure how much we can accomplish with what is left of the day," he
observed dryly, "but we will make the effort. Mister MacKiernan, I'll leave
you in charge here while I pay a courtesy visit to the Governor. We'll
send Abercrombie, Pierre, and Rashid to investigate the harbor district,
and I believe Jenkins and Miss Wilcox would be the natural choice to check
the port records. You may allow the crew liberty by sections, but keep
everyone else aboard and make sure the duty watches stay alert. The Germans
may have agents here. I wouldn't rule out an attempt on the ship."
Jenkins and Emily both spoke French, so they had no trouble finding
directions to the port office. This was located in the corner of an
oversized government building that must have netted a considerable profit
for some contractor in Paris. The clerk listened to their request, then
made a great show of searching through his files. From the man's manner,
one might have thought he was doing them a favor.
"He's going to tell us to come back later," Emily whispered. Her expression
looked innocent, but Jenkins thought he detected a hint of a smile.
"How can you tell?" he whispered back.
"It's one of the unwritten privileges of being a file clerk: making people
"I see," said Jenkins. "Junior signalman have been known to behave in a
similar fashion." Yes, that was most definitely a smile.
At length the clerk returned, carrying himself with an air of self-importance
like the maitre d' at some posh restaurant. "I believe we have the records
you asked for," he observed, "but they will take some time to locate. If you
would return this afternoon, I may be able to tell you more."
There seemed no point in arguing, so they left the building and settled
down to wait in a café near the Place des Cocotiers. The
surroundings were archetypically tropical, complete with palm trees,
flocks of parrots, and a bright island sky like some work by Gauguin, but
the establishment itself might have been lifted straight from the
"How did you know this place would be here?" asked Emily after their
coffee had arrived.
"The French have always had their cafes," observed Jenkins. "Caesar
mentions them in his Commentaries, and I believe that Napoleon almost
lost the battle of Borodino when Marshal Ney's artillery ran low on croissants
during the struggle for the Raevsky redoubt."
"Are you serious?" exclaimed Emily.
Jenkins raised an eyebrow. "I am a signalman in the Royal Naval Airship
The brunette met his gaze. "I notice that you haven't answered my question."
"True," admitted Jenkins. "I believe you have won this round." He lifted
his cup in salute.
"How did you get to be a signalman?" asked the girl after she'd finished
"Temperament, I suspect, and training," mused Jenkins. "The Navy learned
the importance of such things after Jutland." His voice trailed off as if
he'd been about to commit an indiscretion.
"Jutland?" asked Emily.
Jenkins paused to consider his reply. "There were some problems with the
signals during a crucial part of the action," he said at last. "This has
led to recriminations. I hesitate to say more lest I appear to take
The brunette thought this over. "Mister Jenkins," she said archly. "I
notice that you're always quite careful in your choice of words. Are you
this careful about everything?"
The signalman smiled. "I will leave this for you to decide."
"We have no record of any visits by the L-137," said the clerk after they'd
returned to the office. "I understand that the German government has
reported her missing. But we do have a record of this
Inselmädchen. She is a steam vessel, three thousand tons burden,
registered out of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. She called here a
month ago, listing her previous port of call as Rabaul in
Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, and departed a week later, destination unknown."
Jenkins thanked the man, passed him a few franc notes, and they made their
way back to the street.
"Where's Kaiser-Wilhelmsland?" asked Emily as they were walking back to
"It's the German colony in New Guinea. Rabual is the capital."
"Didn't we just come from New Guinea?" said the brunette.
"So we did," sighed Jenkins. "This may be turning into one of those
missions where we fly back and forth aimlessly, following an endless
succession of clues without ever getting closer to our goal."
"Why do the Germans have a colony is such a worthless place?"
"No one knows, really. The place was named in honor of the Kaiser Wilhelm
II, but I've never been able to determine if this was intended a compliment
or an insult."
Before he could say more, a voice cried out from their left.
"Grijp ze! Ze hebben de Trapezohedron!"
They turned to see three men rushing them from an alley. The one who'd
shouted was a vicious-looking brute with a missing ear. His companions
seemed even less savory. "Pardon me," said Jenkins, stepping forward to
place Emily behind him. As he raised his fists to defend himself, the men
lurched to stop.
"We are sorry to bother you," said their leader. "We will go now."
The thugs backed away until they were out of reach, then turned and fled.
Jenkins watched them go, wondering at their sudden change of heart, until
he noticed that Emily was holding the pistol he'd taken from the Russian
agent back in Darwin.
"I kept it," she explained. "It's a habit I got from my mother. She was a
compulsive collector. Whatever were they after?"
"I can't imagine," said Jenkins. "That first one did shout something about
"But that's just a geometric solid," objected Emily, "a dual polyhedron of
an n-gonal antiprism. Did they think we were renegade mathematicians?"
"This does seem unlikely," Jenkins observed.
"Who do you think they were working for?"
"They spoke Dutch," mused Jenkins, "but that could mean anything. I'm more
curious about how they found us."
"Do you think that clerk set us up? He had ample opportunity."
"This is possible. But I don't see any point in confronting the fellow.
If he's guilty, he'll just deny it. Best just to leave him wondering."
Next week: The Man From Rhode Island...
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