The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 140: This Trick Always Works, Sometimes

A novel approach to shell-handling

Helga's men seemed remarkably unperturbed by the attack. While the helmsman steered the Viking Girl II offshore, zigzagging at random to foil another torpedo, other crew were dragging oil drums and balks of timber from the forward hold. In a surprisingly short time, they'd lashed these together to form a serviceable raft. A mast at the bow supported a broad square sail. A lamp hung from a second mast at the stern.

"We wait for sunset, then light lamp, launch raft, turn off running lights, and change course," said Helga smugly. "Submarine follows lamp on raft. When morning comes, they have big surprise."

MacKiernan examined the Swedes' workmanship. It was quite substantial, which suggested they'd done this sort of thing before. He decided not to ask why.

Abercrombie raised an eyebrow. "D'ye ken it'll work?"

"It should," said the Irishman. "The moon is in the first quarter, and visibility from a submarine's conning tower is notoriously poor. I doubt they'll be able to tell it apart from our own lights in the dark."

"Are ye willing tae put some money on it? A shilling, perhaps?"

"You're on!"

Beside them, Miss Perkins frowned. "Do you always make wagers when our survival is at stake?"

"Of course!" said the two men. "It gives us a personal interest in the outcome."

Morning dawned with no sign of the submarine. The waves rolled, endless and undisturbed, beneath a broad blue tropical sky. MacKiernan swept the horizon with his binoculars, then turned to Abercrombie.

"Pay up."

The Scotsman winced, then dug into his pocket. He seemed to be favoring his back.

MacKiernan indicated his companion's disability. "Didn't take long, did it?" he asked.

"I dinnae ken what yer talking about," the Scotsman replied indignantly.

"Oh," said MacKiernan. He glanced toward the foredeck, where Helga was practicing with her battle axe, whirling it through a succession of blocks and strikes. She had stripped for the occasion, to somewhat less clothing than might have been acceptable at a formal reception. The effect was noteworthy.

"Och," said Abercrombie. "That woman. I dinnae ken where she gets the energy." He limped away, shaking his head. MacKiernan watched him go, glad he'd managed to avoid any such entanglements himself.

"A penny for your thoughts," came a voice from beside him sometime later. He turned to see a side of Miss Perkins he'd never imagined existed. The secretary had set aside her severe office garb for a light summer smock -- something he'd never dreamed she might possess. The bun was gone as well. In its place, rich brown tresses cascaded around her shoulders.

"Miss Perkins," he asked, "have you done something to your hair?"

Her smile was as bright as it was unexpected. "It was so much trouble putting it up every morning. It's more comfortable this way. Do you like it?"

"It's very attractive," he said, more sincerely than he'd meant to.

"Why, thank you, Mister MacKiernan," she replied.

Their eyes met for longer than either had anticipated. MacKiernan hesitated, wondering what to say.

"Who do you think they were, those fellows on the submarine?" she asked, breaking the spell.

"I suppose they could have been our old friends the German nationalists in some U-boat they brought here after the War," mused MacKiernan. "But I'd put my money on Fuller. It's the kind of technology he'd appreciate."

She nodded. "Where will we go now that we've lost him?"

"We'll try to find this Russian vessel, the Predpriyatie. Miss Helga believes she knows where it went."

Miss Perkins's expression turned sour. "That woman."

Kadavu was an outlying island in the Fijian archipelago, some distance south of Fiji itself. Nominally part of the British protectorate, it had been left largely to its own devices in the century following its discovery by William Bligh. Recent years had seen attempts to develop its principal town, Galoa, as a tourist destination. Afternoon found the Viking Girl II anchored off the islet that formed the southern side of the harbor.

"Captain Tserkov visit resort here," said Helga as her men rowed them ashore. "Place called Der Tropische Himmel. He have girlfriend there."

"That name sounds German," said Abercrombie suspiciously.

"Ya, Germans build the resorts all over the Pacific," said Helga. "They are liking islands like this one. Helga like this island too! Some of these Fijians are real strongbodies!"

MacKiernan was still doing his best not to dwell on this concept when the lifeboat reached the beach. Helga vaulted over the side, followed by her men. "We go find fun!" she announced. "You go to resort, find Russians."

Der Tropische Himmel was a series of modest bungalows set next to the beach. Dutch doors and faux half-timbering provided a Teutonic touch that seemed quite out of place in the South Pacific. Several Europeans, recognizable by their pale features and sunburnt skin, wandered along the beach staring at the surf as if unable to believe it was real.

The three companions inquired about Russian guests and were led to a pool, where a short man with hunched shoulders reclined in a beach chair. Everything about the man proclaimed 'tourist'. His casual loose fitting shirt was printed with colors not found in nature. A drink sat by his right hand, in a coconut. MacKiernan noticed a tiny paper umbrella lying beside it. Its colors matched the shirt.

"Greetings," said the man. "My name's Igor -- Igor Kupets. Victor, bring these guests something to drink!" Like many Russian expatriates, his English was quite good.

"Yes, Master," said a distinguished-looking waiter -- German, perhaps, or Swiss.

"I'm Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan, Royal Naval Airship Service," said MacKiernan after the attendant had left, "and these are my companions Abercrombie and Miss Perkins. I understand that you managed a warehouse on Eua."

"I did," said the man, "but I just completed a major deal and now I'm retired."

"Might this deal have happened to involve a Grand Duke Mikhailovich?" asked Miss Perkins.

"Yes. He wanted me to store a large crate for him. I never did learn what was inside, but from the price he paid, it must have been something special."

"Is this crate here on Kaduva now?"

Igor shook his head. "Captain Tserkov took it with him when he left. He kept his destination secret, but I'd wager he was headed for Rabaul. He has a girlfriend there."

The next morning found the Viking Girl II standing offshore toward the west. MacKiernan and Miss Perkins stood by the wheelhouse, watching Kadavu recede astern.

"Do you think we can trust the fellow's information?" asked the secretary.

"He seemed rather artless," said MacKiernan. "I'm sure he believed what he was telling us."

The Irishman might have said more, but at that moment they were interrupted by a cry from the lookout atop the foremast. "Thar she blows! Two points off the starboard bow!"

"That's not a whale, you dumbom" someone yelled from the boat deck, "it's a submarine!"

"Yes, but I've always wanted to say that."

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins looked to see a sleek grey vessel rise from the waves. The craft was almost as long as the Viking Girl II, with a graceful swan bow and a strange box-like superstructure aft of the conning tower. As they watched, two stubby stacks rose from the structure and began to spew columns of smoke.

"Is that a steam engine?" asked Miss Perkins in amazement.

McKiernan sighed. "That would have to be our Mister Fuller. I can't think of anyone else who would own a steam-powered submarine."

"It looks like they mean to use their deck gun," said the secretary, pointing across the waves, where the submarine's crew were struggling with a tompion.

"So it would seem," said MacKiernan. "They have underestimated Miss Helga."

The submarine's gunners didn't seem particularly skilled at their task, and it was several minutes before they managed to fire a round. It fell short with an unprepossessing splash. Helga grinned.

"Ha!" she announced. "A four-incher! Ours is bigger!" She gestured toward the foredeck where her crew had dismantled the crate that concealed their own armament.

"She has a deck gun too?" said Miss Perkins.

"I'm afraid so," sighed MacKiernan. "I try not to think about this."

Their adversary's gun fired again -- a dull pop. The Viking Girl II's cannon thundered in reply. A huge spout of water erupted next to the submarine. Seconds later, steam belched from its stack and it began to pick up speed.

"Do you think that's the last we'll see of them?" asked Miss Perkins as it sheered away and vanished toward the horizon.

"Probably not."

Next week: Hello, My Sultry...

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