Episode 174: The Importance of Names
Asau, the capital of Savai'i, lay on the coast near the island’s western tip.
There was little to distinguish it from any other village in Western Samoa.
The only signs of its role as a seat of government were a mooring mast, a
post office, and a burned-out wireless station -- a relic of New Zealand's
largely bloodless invasion during the War. The island had since been
returned to the Kaiser, but hard feelings remained among the German
population, as Iverson and his party discovered when they sought news of the
"Excuse me," Iverson asked a passing missionary, "could you tell us if
The cleric glared at him. "And who might you be?"
Noting the man's expression, the lieutenant decided it might be best to
deemphasize his Royal Navy connection. "I'm John," he said, "from..."
The missionary gave a derisive snort. "Well, John From, you look like an
English spy. I won't tell you a thing. And I’ll warn my parishioners about
"These fellows don't seem particularly friendly," Iverson observed after
several such encounters.
"It is often so in these oublié corners of the Pacific," said
Pierre. "Isolation can breed paranoia."
"Let’s ask the islanders," Sarah suggested helpfully. "They should know if
there are any strangers about."
"How do we know they'll answer our questions?" asked Iverson. "The last
natives we dealt with accused us of stealing the 'secret of cargo'."
Sarah hefted her spear and smiled "I'm sure these people will be happy to
The island girl might have been correct about the locals’ emotional state,
but getting answers from them proved more difficult than the trio expected.
The collision of several different and mutually unintelligible languages --
Polynesian, Spanish, German, English, Tagalog, and Pidgin -- led to a
considerable degree of linguistic confusion. At last, with some effort, the
investigators located an old shopkeeper with whom they could manage
something that resembled a conversation.
"We're looking for an archeaologist," said Iverson.
"Que?" asked the islander.
"Un archéologue," said Pierre.
"Isang arkeologo," said Sarah.
"Ein Archäologe," replied Iverson, striving to control his
"You ken fella savy ruins?"
"No need to shout, lad. There's a fine set of ruins in the Palauli
district, near Letolo. You might find your man there."
"Ruins," grumbled Iverson. He wondered if they were ruins of a tower --
The Palauli district lay on the southern side of Savai'i, on the shores of
the eponymous Palauli Bay. It was substantial distance from Asau, but the
trio were able to hitch a ride with a young Swedish plantation owner who
didn’t seem to share his neighbors’ prejudice against England. His accent --
and exuberance -- brought back memories of Helga. Iverson wondered if these
were common to all Swedes or just ones who’d emigrated to the South Pacific.
"We are having plenty of ruins!" the man said cheerfully. "Stone walls,
ancient temples, even the pyramid. You welcome to looking!"
"Does anyone ever come here to study them?" asked Iverson.
"Ya, all the time we getting the scientists. There one there now."
Iverson’s perked up. "Would he happen to be an archeologist?"
The Swede shrugged. "He a something-oligist. All those ologists are
sounding the same."
"What do you think?" Iverson asked his companions.
"C’est possible," said Pierre.
"It must be our man," announced Sarah. "What other kind of scientist would
be interested in ruins?"
Iverson had his doubts. This seemed too good to be true. After so many
frustrations, what were the odds that they’d just happen to hitch a ride
with someone who knew where to find the Professor?
The lieutenant’s doubts remained as they made their way inland. Their trail
ran next to one of the many streams that descended the slopes of the
improbably-named Mount Silisili. It did not seem much-used. The only huts
they passed were temporary structures, abandoned by hunters who’d moved on
as game became exhausted. There were certainly no signs of any substantial
At last they came upon a campsite. "I say," observed Sarah. "It
appears someone got here before us." A neat field tent stood beneath the
trees, accompanied by a chair and table. The latter was strewn with what
appeared to be scientific apparatus.
"This is Royal Navy issue," said Pierre, examining the tent. "Could this
belong to our Professor? He might have purchased it at the same place he
acquired the blimp."
Iverson found this hypothesis doubtful -- if nothing else, it would have
required considerable resourcefulness on the part of the outfitter involved
-- but he was too polite to say so. "Perhaps," he replied. "Let’s see if
we can find the fellow."
A faint path led north from the campsite to a jumble of grass-covered mounds
-- presumably these were the ruins the Swede described. It continued on
through the jungle to arrive at a place where the stream had broadened to
form a still and tranquil pool. An educated-looking European, quite
obviously a scientist of some sort, was standing on the shore, fishing
through the shallows with a net.
Iverson hid his disappointment. This did not look promising. "Excuse me,"
he asked politely. "Would you happen to be an archaeologist?"
"Goodness, no," said the man. "Why would you suppose such a thing? I
happen to be an ichthyologist."
"An ichthyologist," said Iverson.
"Whatever are you doing up here?" asked Iverson. "I thought you fellows
"So we do," said the scientist, "but our interest extends to transitional
species, such as amphibians. I've been investigating reports of something
called a ‘squidbat’."
"You wouldn't happen to know anything about these ruins?"
"No. You’d have to ask Professor Otkupshchikov about it the next time he
visits Savai’i. The man’s quite generous with his time. He even gave me a
ride here on his blimp! But I have no idea where he’s off to now."
The party’s spirits were subdued as they rode back to Apua.
They arrived to find the Flying Cloud moored at the village’s
rudimentary air station. Her crew’s mood seemed to mirror their own. The
only exceptions were MacKiernan and Rashid, who both seemed unaccountably
cheerful, as if they’d scored some sort of coup. The Persian wore a
bandage about his ribs, but offered no explanation of his injury.
"I’m afraid we didn’t have much luck, sir," Iverson told Captain Everett.
"We found circumstantial evidence that suggests Professor Otkupshchikov
did visit Western Samoa at some time in the past, but he doesn’t appear to
be in the islands now."
"You did the best you could," Everett replied consolingly. "And that’s more
than the other party was able to determine. I gather that the inhabitants
of Upolu were not particularly cooperative."
"Do you think Lieutenant Murdock will find news of the fellow on Tuvalu?"
Everett sighed. "We can always hope so, but this seems unlikely. Nothing
much ever happens on American Samoa."
The clouds had parted to reveal patches of blue. Out on the field, ground
crews had taken advantage of this break in the weather to move one of the
Beardsmores from her shed -- the handling trolleys rattled over their rails
like a pair of switching engines. Michaelson stood at his window watching
the operation while sunbeams slanted down on the ocean to the east. For a
moment, a ghost of a smile flickered across his face. On a day like this,
it was almost possible to forget.
A knock sounded on the door behind him. He turned to see his secretary
enter carrying a folder. "Good afternoon, Miss Perkins," he said briskly.
"What do you have for us today?"
"I managed to track down specifics of the letter of credit that was used to
purchase that yacht, the Make A Good Fist," she replied. "The buyer
seems to have gone out of his way to remain anonymous, but with some effort,
I was able to obtain a name. You’ll find it at the bottom of page four."
Michaelson flipped through the report, came to the entry, and froze.
"Sir?" asked Miss Perkins, when she saw his expression.
"Summon Phelps. Tell him to bring the codebook. We must get word to
Next week: Disquieting News...
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