Episode 146: That's What Happens When You Screw Around
Everett stood in the control car, pretending not to watch as Iverson handled
the mooring operation. Below them, Rabaul’s Lakunai Air Station spread from
Simpson Harbor to the foot of Tarurvur. The lieutenant gazed at the
windsock, then turned to his elevatorman.
"Altitude?" he asked.
"400’, 200 feet per minute down," replied Wallace.
"Bring the nose up two degrees."
The airman eased the elevator wheel back. Beside him, the needle on the
variometer dial swung to zero.
"Nose up two degrees, leveling out at 300’."
"Back to neutral pitch and drop the mooring line."
"Mooring line away," came Davies's voice over the intercom.
The hawser dropped, curving in a graceful catenary as it struck the field
below. A handling party rushed up with Teutonic precision to connect it to
the cable. A signal light flashed.
"They’re ready to start the winch," said Jenkins.
"Attitude? Trim?" asked Iverson.
"Neutral pitch," replied Wallace.
"Neutral trim," announced Sarah from the ballast station.
The lieutenant nodded. "Tell them to begin."
Everett smiled to himself. One of the privileges of command was watching
young officers mature under one’s direction. "Tolerable work, Mister
Iverson," he said. "Jenkins, send our regards to the Governor and let him
know we’ll pay a visit once we're on the mast."
The Residence was the same as ever -- an impressive example of German
design, workmanship, and insensitivity to local conditions. A servant
conducted Everett and his aide down stuffy wood-paneled corridors to an
office that seemed quite out of place on a tropical island. The Governor
sat behind a desk, resplendent in official garb. He seemed unfazed by the
heat and humidity -- apparently German colonial officials and officers of
the Royal Navy received similar training.
"So you’re looking for a freighter that belongs to this Captain Helga?" he
said when his guests had finished their tale.
"You’ve heard of the lady?" asked Everett.
The Governor’s expression looked pained. "She is not entirely unknown in
this part of the Pacific." He turned to his secretary. "Do
we have any word of her vessel?"
The secretary flipped through his notes like a soldier doing rifle drill.
"Nein, mein Herr. Our most recent arrivals were an Australian collier, a
packet from the Deutsch-Australische Dampfschiffs-Gesellschaft, and a
passenger freighter registered to the American-Asiatic Steamship Company
in New York."
"Then it would seem we got here before her," said Everett. "We have reason
to believe she was pursuing another vessel owned or chartered by a White
Russian group. Has there been any unusual activity in the émigré
"No. We believe most of the czarist conspirators here were...
neutralisiert... by the Fat Man’s agents."
"Neutralized?" said Jenkins
The Governor shook his head. "These are not civilized people."
"Has there been any word of the Fat Man himself?" asked Everett.
"No, but I have heard from our friend."
Everett raised his eyebrows and mouthed the word ‘Heinrich’. The Governor
"It appears that the Fat Man’s people have been looking for a ship," he said.
"Whether this would be your Mister Fuller, our hypothetical Russians, or
that rather remarkable woman I do not know, but it would appear that
something is am laufen... ‘afoot’, I believe you English say."
"Then with your permission," said Everett, "we will conduct some inquiries
of our own."
With no new leads to go on, the crew of the Flying Cloud had to
fall back on ones that had served before. So it was that Iverson and Pierre
found themselves making the rounds of the ship chandleries. It didn't take
them long to establish that no one had accepted a shipment of submarine
"Where would someone hide a pair of wet-cycle motors?" mused Iverson as they
trudged along Mango Road.
"What are these things?" asked Pierre.
"They’re used in torpedoes," said the lieutenant. "They burn compressed air
and kerosene to generate steam, which drives a high-speed piston engine."
"Je comprends," said Pierre. "Perhaps we should ask ourselves how Monsieur
Fuller intends to use these motors. We’ve hypothesized that he makes his
own torpedoes. What else would he need for this purpose?"
Iverson thought this over. "Compressed air is never a problem on a
submarine, and he could find kerosene and explosives almost anywhere. But
he'd also need high-speed propellers, and those are hard to come by."
A discreet investigation brought the duo to an aging warehouse on the road
to Kokopo. A titanic pair of four-bladed marine screws stood outside --
relics of some long-forgotten warship. A sign above the entrance proclaimed
‘Bob’s Propeller Emporium’.
Their knock went unanswered . Iverson was wondering what to do next when
Pierre grabbed his arm and motioned for him to hide.
"Look," whispered the Frenchman. "Is that your Mademoiselle Perkins?"
The lieutenant peered over one of the ancient propellers. Across the
street, a woman in European dress was making her way south. She was facing
away from them, but her gait -- swift, efficient, and curiously disdainful
of its surroundings -- looked familiar.
"I believe it is," he said. "Whatever is she doing here?"
"Thees does seem suspicious," said Pierre. "Perhaps we should we follow her."
The two men waited until the woman rounded a bend in the road, then set off
in pursuit. They reached the bend in time to see her duck into an alley.
Iverson halted uncertainly. Had the woman noticed them? And if it was Miss
Perkins, why would the secretary have been keeping watch behind her?
He was still wondering when five armed men emerged from the alley. One of
them raised a rifle. Iverson glimpsed the characteristic profile of an
"Fuir!" cried Pierre as a bullet ploughed into the ground next to their feet.
Then they were running back the way they’d come. A second bullet splintered a
tree to their right before they dodged around the bend.
"We should be grateful the fellow’s sights seem a bit off," observed Iverson.
"That won’t matter once he has time for a clear shot," warned Pierre. "We
need a place to hide."
"There!" said Iverson, pointing to the warehouse they’d left. They just had
time to duck through the door before the gunmen came into sight. The
interior was filled with propellers of all shapes and sizes, ranging from
mighty steamship screws, dozens of feet across, to shelves of motorboat
propellers smaller than his hand. Iverson collided with one of the latter,
sending its contents clattering to the ground.
"They’re in here!" came a voice from the entrance.
Iverson looked back to see the silhouette of a rifleman. He managed a quick
shot from his service revolver as the other man fired back. The reports were
followed by a succession of unnerving whines as bullets ricocheted through the
maze of propeller blades.
"Merde!" cried Pierre. "Cessent de tir!"
"Hold your fire, men. This will never do," came a cultured-sounding voice.
"Mister Iverson, I am Andrew Leese, Royal Army Veterinary Corps, now an
officer of the British Union of Fascists. Your tactical situation is far
from advantageous. This refuge you've chosen has only one exit, which we
control. Would you care to surrender now, and save us all some trouble?"
"I think not!" yelled Iverson defiantly.
"Very well," said the veterinarian. "We'll do this the hard way."
There was a clang, followed by a curse, as one of Leese’s thugs bumped into
a rack of propeller shafts. Iverson and Pierre took this opportunity to
retreat. "I’m afraid he’s right," whispered the Frenchman a few minutes
later, "there are no other doors to this place. Given time, I might be
able to contrive an exit, but we do not have this time."
"If this was a radio drama, some unexpected person would show up to rescue
us at the last minute," remarked Iverson.
"Alas," said the Frenchman, "I fear that this is real life."
Everett paced the floor of the Governor's office. There was still no word
of Iverson or Pierre and he was growing concerned. He looked up as the
"We have found your men," said the German, "but..." he paused, "I think
you'd better see this for yourself."
Everett's jaw dropped as a figure stepped through the doorway.
"You!" he cried.
Next week: Not Quite The Answer We'd Hoped For...
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