Episode 84: Rabaul Rousers
A few inquiries sufficed to determine that the Flying Cloud had visited
Rabaul, but departed the day before they arrived. "It appears that we just
missed them," said Iverson, "again."
"Can we contact them by wireless?" asked Natasha.
Iverson shook his head. "Captain Phillips doesn't have a transmitter and
I'd hesitate to use the station here in town. This is a German colony, so
we have to assume it's been infiltrated by the nationalists."
"Is there any way we can intercept them?"
"We'll need to learn where they're headed. There is also the question of
"I'll give you a lift," offered Philips gallantly.
"There's no need for you to put yourself out on our account," said Iverson.
"But there is," said the American with a savage grin. "I'm hunting the
fellows who sank my old ship, and they seem to be hunting for you."
"Oh," said Iverson, trying to hide his misgivings. He wasn't sure he
appreciated being used as bait. Natasha, more diplomatic, favored the
skipper with a dazzling smile.
"We should ask around port, see what we can learn," said Philips, after
he'd recovered from its effects. I'll handle the waterfront." He flexed
his knuckles, making it clear what might happen to anyone who caused him
"I'll make inquiries at the telegraph station," said Iverson.
"I may have friends in town," said Natasha. "White Russians. I will see
what they know."
"Good. We'll meet back at the ship this evening."
Howard Philips whistled as he made his way down the street. Around him,
people from a myriad different cultures hurried to and fro: German
officers, French businessmen, American missionaries, Melanesian seamen,
and others so strange it was impossible to guess their origin. He watched
a copra schooner making sail. Her bosun -- a stoop-shouldered individual
with a narrow skull and wide staring eyes that seemed more fishlike than
human -- waved a greeting. Phillips waved back and continued on his way.
At times like this, he found it difficult to imagine his former life in
Rhode Island. Poetry? He shook his head. Whatever had he been
At last he found the fellow he was looking for working a stall near the
harbor. The man -- an ageless sailor with a Yankee cast to his features --
was trying to interest a pair of Japanese tourists in some cheap jewelry.
Phillips waited for them to leave before he approached.
"Obediah!" he said. "How's business?"
"It'll do," said the man. "How about yourself, Mister Lo..."
"I told you not to use that name!" interrupted Phillips.
"Sorry, Skipper," said the merchant. "How can I help you?"
Phillips glanced around to make sure no one could overhear, then leaned
across the counter. "I'm looking for information about a ship named the
Obediah's face paled. "Steer clear of that one, Skipper. They have
connections you don't want to mess with."
"I'll be judge of that. Give me a name."
Obediah looked over his shoulder nervously. "The Fat Man," he said in a low
Phillips raised his eyebrows as if this was news. There was no point in
revealing what Iverson had told him. "What's his involvement?"
"I don't know," said the merchant, "and I don't have the slightest wish to
An understandable attitude, thought Phillips. But the
nationalist leader was not his immediate concern. He pulled out a coin,
spun it on the counter, and snatched it away before the other man could
reach for it. "Tell me about this Inselmächen."
Obediah thought for a moment, as if calculating what it might be safe to
reveal. "She's big for the islands," he said at last, "around 3000 tons.
Her captain's name is Klaus Ritter. He used to work for North German Lloyd
before the War. Now he does the island trade: phosphates from Nauru,
hardwoods from New Guinea, and copra from the Marshalls in exchange for
Phillips nodded. He was in the same business himself. "The Marshalls," he
mused. There was a lot of empty space in that part of the Pacific, which
would make it a good place to hide. "Any idea where?"
Obediah glanced at the coin pointedly. Phillips slid it across the table.
"I don't know exactly, but I heard he had a contract from a sportswear
company to carry some photographers out to one of the atolls."
"Sportswear?" asked Phillips incredulously. "How reliable is your source?"
The other man shrugged. "It has never been wrong in the past. And it's not
the kind of story anyone would make up."
"True," admitted Phillips. He slid another coin across the counter and
turned to go.
"I hear you have a lady aboard," said Obediah. "Can I interest you in some
jewelry? How about this tiara? Unearthly workmanship!"
"Maybe next time."
Iverson's inquiries at the telegraph station turned up nothing. He returned
to the ship to find Natasha standing by the rail, gazing toward open sea.
The setting sun cast a golden light across her features. A warm tropical
breeze brushed strands of hair across her cheek. As he drew closer, the
lieutenant imagined he could also see a trace of tears. She looked up when
she heard his footsteps.
"I'm worried about my brother," she said. "What could have happened to
"Your brother?" asked Iverson.
"Oh!" The woman's hand flew to her mouth.
Iverson's eyes widened as understanding dawned. "Karlov is your
"I meant..." Natasha hesitated, then glanced down at the deck. "I would
have told you," she said at last. "But I had to pretend. A married woman
looking for her husband would raise no eyebrows. A single woman traveling
alone, looking for her brother... could run into all sorts of problems. But
you won't tell anyone, will you?" She gazed at him imploringly.
"I... uh..." said Iverson, thinking quickly. "That is... I mean..."
"Tell anyone what?" came a voice from behind them. They turned to see
Howard Phillips lighting his pipe. He took a puff, extinguished the match,
and flicked it over the side. "Don't worry, Miss. I can keep a secret too.
But we might want to step inside. Too many prying ears here near the dock."
The woman smiled -- a smile that made the whole day seem brighter -- then
they followed the skipper up to the bridge. "Did you learn anything at the
telegraph station?" he asked Iverson.
"I'm afraid not," said the lieutenant. "I pretended to be a shipper with
cargoes aboard the Inselmächen and the L-137, but there were no
messages from either vessel."
Phillips nodded. "I'd have been surprised if they gave themselves away so
"I spoke with my countrymen," said the woman. "They know nothing of the
freighter, but there are rumors that the airship was seen in the Marshall
Phillips took a thoughtful puff on his pipe. "That name keeps coming up,"
he observed. "And the islands are part of the German Protectorate of New
Guinea, so the nationalists could have a base there. But they're a long way
away, and there are an awful lot of them. We'll need more information."
At that moment the mate burst onto the bridge. "We've got trouble,
Skipper," he announced. He gestured toward the dock, where a gang of
brown-shirted thugs was rushing toward the ship.
Phillips flipped open the speaking tube to the engine room and snapped out
an order "Whateley! Get the plant started and give me full astern! Now!"
Without waiting for a reply, he yelled down to deck. "Gedney! Atwood!
Cut those mooring lines!"
Below them, the diesel started to yammer. On deck, two burly seamen grabbed
axes and swung at the hawsers. Then the ship was pulling away from the pier
as the thugs stumbled to a halt. Their leader glared at the widening gap of
water and shook his fist. Phillips gazed back with a sardonic expression.
"I think we've worn out our welcome here, Johansen," he observed to his
mate, who'd been spinning the wheel to back the ship down to port. "As
soon as she's clear, ahead one half, and take her out to sea."
Next week: Trukin'...
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