The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 178: Shiver Me Gardenias!

Sword, pistol, and flower

"The Sky Pirates," muttered MacKiernan.

"That was how our informant described them," said Captain Everett.

"Of Tahiti."

Everett sighed. "I suppose we must make the best of it."

"Do you think these were the chaps responsible for those attacks in the Coral Sea?" asked MacKiernan.

"I imagine so," Everett replied. "Unlikely though the concept of airship pirates might seem, the prospect of a multitude of marauding dirigibles flitting back and forth about the Pacific is even more implausible."

"Should we head for Tahiti?" asked Iverson.

"That would take us some distance out of our way," Everett observed "I'd hesitate to take such a step until we've reviewed all the information at our disposal. Jenkins, could you summarize events so far?"

The signalman hesitated, then took a deep breath, as if to gather his resolve. "This affair seems to center around Sir Edmund Blackwood, Viscount of Milbridge," he began. "Milord departed England on his yacht, the Windsong IV, on Boxing Day, bound for the Pacific. He reached Port Moresby on January 8th, where he made inquiries concerning the movements of an archeologist named Professor Otkupshchikov, who is known to travel about the islands aboard a War-surplus blimp. He then lifted ship for Australia, where he came under attack on or around the 9th, presumably by these..." Jenkins shook his head, "...Sky Pirates. We have no idea who these melodramatic villains might be, why they're interested in the viscount, or how they managed to locate his yacht, but it appears he managed to escape them when the control car of his vessel was torn off by some collision with the terrain.

"We discovered the vessel, sans control car, drifting some distance northwest of Cairns. There was no one aboard, but our boarding party did find a photograph of the viscount's ward, Miss Isobel Elsmford, that had been left behind by one of the crew."

"One wonders who this crewman was and why he had the mademoiselle's picture in his possession," observed Pierre.

"Quite," said Jenkins. "This may be a piece of our puzzle. At this point, the viscount vanishes. We've assumed he made his way to the coast and secured a vessel to continue his search for Professor Otkupshchikov. We were ordered to locate him. According to Captain Michaelson, these orders came from Whitehall rather than the Admiralty, apparently from very high up. We were instructed to bring along Lord Milbridge's ward and her governess, Miss Stewart, who seem to have journeyed from England for the express purpose of finding the viscount."

"If they reached Cairns on the 10th, they must have set out well before he disappeared," observed MacKiernan.

"So it would seem," said Everett. "This does suggest advance knowledge on someone's part. I would give a lot to know whose." He nodded at Jenkins to continue.

"Shortly after we departed for Port Moresby," said the signalman, "a gentleman we now know to be Baron Warfield appeared in Cairns, where he purchased a motor yacht named the Make A Good Fist. We have no idea how or when the Baron reached Australia, but it seems he too is after the viscount. Now our Sky Pirates make their appearance. Between the 17th and the 23rd of January, they attacked a succession of yachts in the Coral Sea. All had names similar to Warfield's vessel. We understand, from interviews with the passengers, that the pirates were searching for Lord Milbridge. This suggests they knew nothing of the Baron, and were under the mistaken impression that Milbridge had purchased the craft."

"It also suggests they had an agent in Cairns who informed them of the transaction," said Iverson.

"Either that or some of zee buccaneers visited the town as spies," said Pierre. "That is the sort of thing pirates do."

Jenkins nodded. "We should contact the constabulary to see if they noticed any suspicious individuals about. Whatever the pirates' source of information, their attacks ceased after the 23rd. We have no idea why -- they might have received some new intelligence or they might simply have run out of targets with appropriate names -- but during one of their attacks, our pirates left behind a bottle of wine-like substance from a would-be vineyard on Rennell Island. We visited this establishment, and learned that they shipped some of their product to a buyer on New Caledonia. From there, we were able to follow the trail of shipments to Futuna.

"While we were on Futuna, we received a tip that Professor Otkupshchikov planned to visit one of the Samoas. It seemed reasonable to assume this visit would involve the German islands, so we allowed Lieutenant Murdock and our passengers to disembark in American Samoa in the quite reasonable belief they could not run into any trouble.

"Unfortunately, these assumptions turned out to be in error. Unknown to us, Baron Warfield was on Aunu'u with his yacht. Evidence suggests he was trying to contact Miss Stewart, though we have no idea why. Curiously, Professor Otkupshchikov also chose that moment to visit Aunu'u to resupply his blimp. But as far as we know, neither he nor the Baron were aware of each other's presence."

"Then what was Warfield doing in American Samoa?" asked Iverson.

A flicker of emotion passed over the signalman's face. "We must consider the possibility that the information in Futuna was a plant, intended to mislead us. This would suggest the Baron knew something of our movements, which suggests he had an informant on our vessel, which brings us back to the mysterious Miss Stewart."

"So it would seem," said Everett. "How much have we been able to ascertain about the lady?"

"Very little," said Jenkins. "It doesn't appear the Milbridge household made any real investigation of her background, other than asking for the usual references. His Lordship seems to have been somewhat trusting."

"I suppose we should fault him for that," said Everett, in a tone of voice that suggested he very much wished he could. "Where does that leave us?"

"Much depends on what Milbridge, Warfield, and the pirates know about each other," observed Jenkins. "Evidence suggests that all three parties suffer from important areas of ignorance. The viscount will have learned about the pirates, and we must assume he knows where to look for the Professor, but he might not be aware of Warfield. The Baron doesn't seem to know what vessel Milbridge is using, and he may not be aware of the Professor or the pirates. The pirates know about Warfield's vessel, but they may not be aware of the Baron or the Professor."

"Unfortunately, we suffer from areas of ignorance as well," Everett remarked wryly. "What do the Americans have to say about these pirates?"

"Very little," said Jenkins. "I spoke with the duty officer here at the Station, but he seemed to regard the matter as something of an embarrassment."

"An understandable attitude," observed Everett. "Contact Cairns and ask them to watch for reports of the Professor's blimp and Warfield's yacht. We'll head back to Futuna, try to track down Murdock's informant, and see if the French can tell us anything about these fellows."

No one on Aunu'u had paid any attention to the Salgari. This was not the sort of place where people asked visitors awkward questions. Now Digby slouched against a wall with his hat pulled low, watching passers-by -- islanders, civilians and airmen looking for a drink, and rough-looking characters who could only have been rumrunners. At last he spotted Michael making his way through the crowd.

"Was there any word of Milbridge?" he asked his brother.

"No," said Michael, "but it seems we just missed the Professor! The trail grows warmer! Did you discover what the Navy was after?"

Digby shook his head. "I don't believe it had anything to do with us, but I have some very bad news. Warfield is in the Pacific."

Michael's eyes widened. "You're sure?"

"I'm afraid so," said Digby. "There were reports of a man who could only have been that servant of his."

"The devil!"

Next week: Blimping Along...

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