Episode 119: A Florida Vacation
In an effort to mislead their adversaries, Everett sent out teams to make
inquiries about the German nationalists. He didn't expect any trouble,
for it seemed unlikely anyone would have organized an armed conspiracy in a
place as obscure as Guadalcanal, but he ordered his people to travel in
pairs, just in case.
So it was that MacKiernan found himself escorting Miss Perkins. Again. The
Irishman supposed there must be worse fates, but he couldn’t think of any
offhand. He studied his companion as they made their way through Aola,
wondering how something so beautiful and cold had ever found its way to the
The town was alive with Japanese tourists. Next to the wharf, an artist was
applying finishing touches to a painting of the harbor. Nearby, a pair
of honeymooners posed for a photograph in front of the destroyer. Over by
the cricket pitch, a party of youths -- an amateur surveying club,
perhaps -- chattered happily as they took bearings on various landmarks.
Their enthusiasm contrasted sharply with Miss Perkins’s icy reserve. For
all the emotion she showed, she might have been a statue, brought to
imperfect life by some insufficiently skilled sorcerer.
Uncomfortable with the silence, MacKiernan gestured toward the Flying
Cloud and the Shiratori Maru, which rode from their masts like
two titanic flags. "There’s a sight to warm the heart," he announced. "Is
there anything as beautiful as an airship?"
"I hate them," Miss Perkins said quietly.
"What?" asked the Irishman, wondering if he’d heard her correctly.
"I hate them. I was a child in London during the Raids. I remember lying
awake on moonless nights, listening to zeppelins fly overhead, waiting for
the bombs to fall. I lost my parents in the attack on Liverpool Street
MacKiernan nodded in sympathy. Germany’s months-long aerial blitz had
brought a new level of frightfulness to modern war, taking dozens of lives,
destroying a factory, and once almost starting a major fire. Where this
might have led had the conflict continued, no one cared to imagine.
"It’s over now," he said consolingly. "The world is at peace."
The secretary nodded curtly. "Good. Let’s keep it that way."
Their contact was the town's constable: a portly man with a cheerful
expression who looked more like a postman than an officer of the law.
"We’ve been investigating German nationalist activity in this part of
the Pacific," said MacKiernan. "Have you had any trouble here in the
"Can't say as we have," said the man, "not on Guadalcanal. But I
believe there’s been some unrest over on Florida."
"Isn’t that rather far away?" asked Miss Perkins.
The constable's face cracked open in a smile. "You must be thinking of
that place in America. Our Florida is an island at the other end of
Indispensable Strait. The Solomon Air Service runs a flight there every
Miss Perkins looked taken aback -- the first real sign of emotion
MacKieran had seen her show since she’d come aboard.
"Oh," she said in a small voice. "Right."
Air transportation between Guadalcanal and the rest of the archipelago
was provided by one of the ubiquitous Sea Scout blimps England had
built in such great numbers during the War. Stripped of bombs and
armament, with the control car and envelope enlarged to increase payload,
it could carry up to six passengers in what might have passed for comfort
among a race of midgets.
MacKiernan found himself crammed next to Miss Perkins on a narrow bench seat
for what promised to be an unpleasant flight. At least they had a tailwind
on this leg of their journey, he reflected -- he didn’t care to imagine the
trip back. He'd brought Rashid along, in case of trouble. The Persian
seemed content with his accommodations, and relaxed with a book of poetry
as they left Aola behind. Miss Perkins gazed at the ocean in stony silence.
"Why is it called Indispensable Strait?" she asked unexpectedly. "It
doesn't seem indispensable to me."
Unprepared for this question, it took MacKiernan a moment to reply. "That
would have been the vessel that made the original survey under Commander
Williamson, back in 1794."
Miss Perkins frowned. "Why do survey ships always have such grandiose
names? Endurance, Endeavour, Discovery: isn’t
this a trifle melodramatic?"
"I never thought about the matter," mused the Irishman. "Still, it could
have been worse. Imagine what might have happened if they’d named them
after small farm animals. This could have been Piglet Strait."
She startled him by laughing. For a brief instant, her face was
transformed, and he caught a glimpse of what things might have been like in
a world where she smiled. It left him wondering.
The mood was lighter when the party disembarked at the village of Maravagi.
It was an unprepossessing place, with a post office, a copra warehouse,
and a ramshackle structure that someone with more optimism than sense
seemed to be developing as a resort. Inquires at the first of these
established that most of the island's German population had departed for
Bougainville during the War-time confiscations, but a few plantations
remained on land so worthless no one had troubled to take it.
A brief march brought them to the closest one: a small field of sugar cane at
the edge of the jungle. A cluster of native huts stood at one end, flanking
the bungalow that served as a manor house. Beside it, a party of laborers
was spading a garden under the direction of a tanned man in European dress
who appeared to be the owner.
"You might wish to wait here," MacKiernan told Miss Perkins. "There's no
telling how this fellow might react to strangers."
"That may be a gallant gesture," she replied primly, "but I do not require
your protection. I will accompany you." MacKiernan glanced at the secretary.
Was it his imagination or did her voice lack some of its usual ice? He
shrugged and gestured for Rashid to keep an eye open for trouble.
The planter looked up as they approached, noted MacKiernan’s uniform, and
frowned. "Hallo," he said suspiciously, "Wer seid Ihr denn?"
"I'm Lieutenant Commander MacKiernan of the Royal Naval Airship Service,"
said the Exec. "I wonder if we might ask you a few questions."
"I do not speak to Englisher pirates," the man growled back.
"Pirates?" asked MacKiernan, taken aback by this unexpected accusation.
"Ja! Pirates! First you take our land, then you take our ships! You are
not welcome here!"
MacKiernan stared at the man in wonder. "I believe you've mistaken us for
someone else," he said politely.
"Nein, I know who I speak to! And you foolishly come with only two
companions. Perhaps my men shall give you a lesson." He snapped out
a command to his workers, who’d been glaring at their visitors with every
sign of hostility. They grinned, hefted their shovels, and began to
Rashid had already fitted a stone to his sling. There was a whistle, a
crack, and a coconut exploded above their attackers, showering them with
fragments. The laborers lurched to a halt.
"I see you have some batsmen," MacKiernan told the planter. "We brought a
bowler. Would you care for a few innings?"
The German scowled back. "You win for now, Englisher. But I will remember
your face, I think."
"Is that a real sling, like David used against Goliath?" asked Miss Perkins
as they made their way back to the resort.
"Aye," said MacKiernan. "Rashid is a Persian. Some of those fellows are
handy with the things."
"So you have one airman skilled with biblical weapons, another with some
talent as a ladies’ man, and a mysterious engineer from Japan whom no one
ever sees. Is there anything else I should know about your crew?"
MacKiernan thought this over.
"You might want to steer clear of Loris."
Next week: Rumors From the Tokyo Express...
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