Episode 121: A Long-Overdue Confrontation
They’d departed Aola the evening after the reception. Now the
Flying Cloud was headed west at reduced power with a quartering
tailwind helping her on her way. In the control car, Captain Everett
studied the watch assignments, glanced at the clock, and nodded. So far,
everything was going according to schedule.
"I have decided on our next move," he announced to his command crew.
"We’ve found any number of clues that point to this mysterious gentleman
who seems to have a base in Darwin. I believe it’s time we smoked the
"How will we accomplish this?" asked Iverson. "Surely he’ll go to ground
the moment he sees us arrive."
"Then we’ll take care that he doesn’t," said the captain. "How long would
it take us to reach Darwin at our published cruising speed?"
"Approximately forty eight hours," said Iverson, who’d learned to anticipate
questions of this sort.
"And how long would it take at full power?"
Everett nodded. "That should serve. We’ll work the ship up to her maximum
speed, make a dash for Darwin, and arrive sometime before dawn on the 16th.
Once we’re there, we’ll send a party ashore..."
"Permission to speak," said Miss Perkins, who’d arrived unnoticed, and was
watching the proceedings with an expression of disapproval.
"Yes?" said Everett lightly.
"What’s this business about `maximum speed’?"
The captain shrugged, as if it was a matter of little import. "This vessel
is somewhat faster than an ordinary Junior Vickers."
Miss Perkins’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. "How much faster?"
The secretary sucked in her breath. "Ten knots! And you didn’t
see fit to mention this in your report to Captain Michaelson?"
"I saw no need to burden the good captain with this knowledge."
While Miss Perkins struggled to find words to express her indignation,
Everett turned back to his men. "As I was saying before this interruption,
we’ll send a party ashore in the longboat. Then we’ll double back and make
a very public arrival at Port Moresby, where we’ll make equally public use
of the cable station to inquire about insurance records and missing ships.
That should throw the fellow off the scent."
"Who do you have in mind for the shore party?" asked Iverson.
"I've given this matter some thought," said the captain. "The longboat can
carry three. Since Jenkins and I are the only ones with contacts in town,
I believe we’ll both have to go. We’ll bring along Davies to make up the
"I should think you’d want Fleming," said Iverson. "He has better knowledge
of the land."
"Perhaps," said Everett somberly, "but Davies has more skill at arms, and I
fear this could become a concern. Now I need to consult with Abercrombie.
Mister Iverson, you have the conn. Miss Perkins, good day."
Everett found Abercrombie in the keel passage, studying one of the frame
junctions. The Scotsman looked up as the captain approached.
"I don’t suppose there’s any doubt?" asked Everett.
"No, sir," said the rigger. He indicated the pattern of rivets. "Her
fastenings are just like the ones on Shiratori Maru. And nothing
like this ever came out of a Western yard. I'd wager anythin' ye'd care
tae name she was built in Japan."
The captain nodded. "Do you have any idea where?"
The Scotsman shook his head. "Zeppelin Gesellschaft and Goodyear made the
tooling for the yards at Nagasaki and Tokyo. I think I’d recognize their
work. This looks different -- almost handmade. It’s a great mystery. But
I ken we've both guessed who might hae the answer. D’ye mean tae speak wi’
Everett nodded. "I've been waiting, hoping he might volunteer the
information himself, but I don’t believe we can wait any longer."
Even engineers needed the occasional break from their labors. Everett had
counted on this, and timed his visit for a moment when Iwamoto was off
watch. The engineer’s quarters, like the man himself, was unobtrusive --
a small cabin just aft of the auxiliary fuel tanks. The door opened at
"Captain-sama?" asked Iwamoto. "Is some trouble?"
"I don’t believe so," said Everett, "but the time has come for us to talk.
May I come in?"
"Hai. Please excuse mess."
No mess was apparent. Indeed, the cabin looked almost unused -- its only
human touch a small jade statue and what appeared to be a short sword with
an odd-looking guard in a dark wooden scabbard. Everett imagined it was
some sort of heirloom.
"I've been speaking with Chief Rigger Abercrombie," he said. "I trust his
judgment, and it is his opinion that this vessel was built in Japan. Can
you shed any light on this matter?"
"No light," said Iwamoto, "I come with engines."
"And we’re glad you did," said Everett. "Your service has been exemplary.
But I believe you have information you haven’t told us."
"No information to tell."
"Does this mean you that don’t have any information, or that you’re
unwilling to tell it?"
Iwamoto’s expression gave nothing away, but Everett sensed a trace of
uncertainty. "Must explain," he said haltingly. "In your country, you
have... what is word... knights? They swear oath, cannot break. My
country same thing."
Everett nodded. This was more or less what he’d expected. "So you have
secrets you’ve sworn not to reveal," he said. "I respect your obligation,
but you must realize that this isn’t sufficient. What can you
The engineer thought this over. The uncertainty Everett had sensed seemed
to grow stronger. "Difficult say," he replied. "But I not enemy."
"How can we be sure of this?"
Uncertainty hardened into resolve. "I swear oath."
"Very well," said Everett. "I will accept this."
"Domo," said Iwamoto. "We speak other things now?"
Everett began to reply, then paused. What did Iwamoto mean by this? It
was quite unlike the man to volunteer conversation. "Yes," he said in a
friendly tone of voice, "let’s talk of other things. It seems that we both
saw service during the War. Were you in the Fleet?"
"No," said the engineer. "I Army, stationed Liaotung. Fight at Tsing Tao,
then sent Korea." He seemed to place a faint emphasis on the last word.
Korea? thought Everett, reviewing what he knew of the place. This
wasn’t much. The country's refusal to allow visitors and uncompromising
treatment of those few Westerners unfortunateenough to be shipwrecked on its
shores had earned it the name ‘The Hermit Kingdom’. The Japanese had taken
it as a protectorate after their war with Russia, and annexed it formally a
few years later. They claimed to have its inhabitants’ interests at heart,
but as a citizen of another colonial power, Everett had learned to be
suspicious of such claims. Hadn’t there been some rumors of unrest in 1919?
"What’s Korea like?" he asked casually.
"Strange hats. Clever writing. Dangerous cabbage. No industry, so our
zaibatsu -- what you call big companies -- build factories there."
Oh really? thought Everett. Was there more to this statement than
met the eye? "That’s a generous policy," he replied carefully. "It
reflects well on your government’s peaceful intentions."
"Hai," said the engineer. "Kensaikai Party, Prime Minister Takaaki, very
peace. Minseito Party, Mitsubishi zaibatsu, Imperial Navy, also peace.
Seiyukai Party, Mitsui zaibatsu, Imperial Army, maybe less peace. Many
plottings. Some have secrets."
The two men's eyes met. The engineer kept his face expressionless -- so
unreadable that it was readable. Everett replied with an almost
"Thank you," he said politely. "I've enjoyed our discussion. I appreciate
your discretion and assure you that, even in the unlikely event you did
happen to let slip some small and unimportant tidbit of information, I would
keep it in strictest confidence."
The engineer offered him a deep bow. "Domo."
"Did you learn anything?" Abercrombie asked Everett as the captain made his
way back to the control car.
"I couldn't say," Everett replied, quite honestly, "but our conversation
was most definitely food for thought."
Next week: Darwin Oh-Five-Oh-Oh...
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