Episode 136: ...And An Unexpected Reunion
"Odin?" said one of the guards in puzzlement. "Someone on that lifeboat
just shouted the name of an old Norse deity. Whatever was that about?"
"Perhaps they're pagan missionaries," suggested one of his companions.
"They might be coming to deliver a sermon."
"On a South Pacific island? This seems unlikely. It must be some sort of
"A rather peculiar distress signal if you ask me! A simple call for help
would have been more succinct."
The guards watched, scratching their heads, as the boat drew closer. Its
prow grated against the sand and a tall blonde woman leapt ashore clutching
a battle axe in one shapely fist. She was followed by a horde of burly
Scandinavians armed with oar handles, belaying pins, crowbars, sledge
hammers, and other tough durable objects. They spotted the guards,
bellowed a war cry, and charged.
"You were right," Abercrombie yelled to MacKiernan.
"I have mixed feelings about this," the Irishman yelled back.
"Do you know these people?" asked Miss Perkins.
"We've met," cried MacKiernan, pulling the secretary down as a small boat
anchor whizzed overhead.
The ensuing scuffle was somewhat one-sided. The English seamen were
entirely unprepared for the assault, and went down like hapless peasants in
the face of a band of Viking marauders. The four Russian cavalrymen fared
little better. One dropped his rifle and fled for the hills. The others
were dragged from their saddles before they had a chance to fire.
MacKiernan and his companions crouched out of the way as the battle swept
past. When it was over, they rose to face the leader of their rescuers, who
was trotting toward them on one of the Cossack's horses. It was a spirited
cavalry stallion, which should have been quite difficult to manage, but it
knew better than to argue with a superior will.
When she saw them, the woman gave a cry of delight.
"It's the MacKiernan and the Abercrombie! How you get here? And who your
MacKiernan offered her a polite nod. "It's a pleasure to see you again,
Miss Helga. This is Miss Perkins. Miss Perkins, may I introduce Miss
Helga, a shipowner from Sweden."
"Charmed, I'm sure," said the secretary, who quite obviously wasn't.
"What brings ye to this wee island?" asked Abercrombie.
The Swedish woman laughed, handed the reins to one of her men, and vaulted
down from the saddle. MacKiernan noticed that her axe looked new.
How many of those things does she wear out in a year? he wondered.
"Is long story," she said cheerfully. "We go to Nuku'alofa to register new
ship. While we there, meet Russians, who offer us the job. Come here when
done, see them going out to ship, like they mean to sneak off without paying.
We put a stop to this! Now they know better than to mess with Helga!"
She gestured offshore, where a familiar-looking steamship had pulled
alongside the Englishmen's freighter. MacKiernan recognized the erstwhile
Duck, which now bore the name Viking Girl II. Somehow he
"We're grateful for your assistance," he said. "I imagine you intend to have
a look at that vessel. If you don't mind, we'd like to join you."
"Ya sure! You hop on the boat and we row you along!"
The lifeboat was an ungainly tub -- a far cry from the sleek Viking
longships of old -- but Helga's men made short work of the passage, pulling
through the water with blithe disregard for the laws of hydrodynamics.
They drew up on the starboard side of the prize, where the coxswain fended
them off with a boathook while Helga, MacKiernan, and Abercrombie scrambled
up a boarding ladder. Miss Perkins followed moments later in a bosun's
chair. She smoothed down her skirt and gazed around the deck.
"So this is the Skerry Lady," she remarked. "What a dreadful name."
"It's a crime against humanity," agreed Abercrombie. "But it does looks like
they took good care of her."
The vessel was a small island freighter, perhaps 1500 tons, with holds
forward and amidships and machinery aft. From her lines, MacKiernan guessed
she was the product of some Scottish yard, while her auxiliary masts, open
wheelhouse, and antiquated stack suggested that she was quite old. She was
surprisingly well-maintained -- more like a gentleman's yacht than an honest
working vessel. Her running rigging was neatly coiled, brasswork gleamed
from the deckhouse, and someone had even taken time to polish the anchor
winch: a pointless exercise if there ever was one. But something was
"Where are Fuller, Blacker, and the Russians?" asked Miss Perkins.
"My men say no sign of them," said Helga, who'd been talking with her crew.
"Ship is empty when they come aboard."
"Those British Union laddies have an uncanny ability to vanish," said
Abercrombie, "almost like that man Karlov. De'ye ken they're doing it
the same way?"
"I doubt it," mused MacKiernan. "Karlov's talent was quite mysterious. He
seemed able to disappear from anywhere. These fellows have only done so
when they were near the ocean. I imagine they had a fast launch tied up on
the far side of the vessel and slipped away before Helga's crew could spot
them. Let's see if they left anything behind."
They crossed to the port rail and looked down. Fuller's new-fangled landing
craft lay next to the freighter, bumping against a row of fenders as the
two vessels rolled in the swell. The armored car was still aboard, but the
Skerry Lady's derrick hung above it, and the safe was missing from
its place on the roof.
"However they escaped, it looks like they got away with the goods," Miss
Perkins observed. "Perhaps our captives can tell us where they've gone."
The captives were not particularly informative. The English seamen couldn't
tell them anything useful -- mere hirelings, they knew nothing about their
employers' plans. The Russian cavalrymen refused to speak at all.
"They not talk," said Helga. "Helga know the type. They too loyal to this
"Then we're stumped," said Abercrombie. "Fuller and his men made off with
their safe, which we ken holds all their charts. We'll never find them now."
MacKiernan frowned. The Scotsman was almost certainly right. The Pacific
was an enormous place, with thousands of islands scattered across thousands
of miles of ocean. Unless they found some clue, they had no way of guessing
where to look for their quarry.
A thought occurred to him. He smiled. Could it really be so easy?
"Miss Helga," he asked, "you told us you that did a job for these Russians.
What, precisely, was the nature of this enterprise?"
The Swedish woman shrugged. "It nothing. Carry mysterious cargo to hidden
base on secret island."
MacKiernan and Abercrombie exchanged glances. MacKiernan raised an
eyebrow. "What do you think?"
"They'll be well on the way to their airship by now," warned Abercrombie.
"There's no way we can catch up with them."
"They'll still have make the rendezvous, and they may need fuel and
hydrogen. We might be able to beat them to their destination if we start
immediately. Miss Helga, would you be willing to undertake a charter for
the Royal Naval Airship Service under the provisions for Hazardous Service
"Ya sure!" said Helga, who knew how to read between the lines. "That
sound like fun!"
"How will we inform Captain Everett of our intentions?" asked Miss Perkins.
"We'll leave a message for Jenkins," said MacKiernan. "I doubt anyone else
will come here while we're gone."
Next week: Someone's Been Busy...
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