The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 180: Third Time's the Charm

Iverson and Loris spot the Windsong VII

Futuna was the same as always: an unprepossessing tropical island in the middle of a trackless sea. The port seemed unchanged from their previous visits. A different collection of rusting freighters might be anchored in what passed for a roadstead, but the overall vista remained the same. By now, the place had lost most of whatever charm it had once possessed, but Everett was too gracious to let this show.

"Back again, so soon?" said the requisition officer. "That is three times in as many weeks. You must like our little island."

"It has its salient features," Everett replied.

The Frenchman glanced at him suspiciously, then stamped their fuel and hydrogen requests and returned to his novel. Everett glanced at the title: `L'Homme Au Masque De Fer'. It seemed peculiarly inappropriate for this uneventful corner of the Pacific.

"What are our plans now, sir?" asked MacKiernan as they left the operations building..

"Jenkins and I will pay a visit to the station commander to see what he might know about these 'Sky Pirates of Tahiti'," said the captain. "We'll send Pierre to track down Murdock's informant with Abercrombie along to provide some muscle should the fellow prove obstreperous. And I believe we should detail Iverson, Miss Sarah, and Loris to have a look around the harbor on the off chance they might run across another of those yachts the pirates attacked."

The station commander looked pained. "You wish to learn about these Sky Pirates of Tahiti?" he asked. From his manner, it seemed this was a subject he preferred to ignore.

"If you could be kind enough to tell us what you know," Everett replied graciously.

The commander sighed and signaled to his aide. "This is best discussed over a bottle of vin. Marcel, if you would... no, not that one, that's the paint thinner... bring us a bottle of the new shiraz.

"It is one of the new Australian vintages," he explained as he poured for his guests, "Somewhat rustic, but I believe it shows promise. To clear skies and pure hydrogen."

"Clear skies and pure hydrogen," said Everett and Jenkins. As officers in the Royal Navy Airship Service, they'd heard many equivalent toasts.

"These Boucaniers du Ciel are something of a mystery," the commander said. "No one knows who they are or where they are from. They appeared a year ago in French Polynesia -- hence the name -- but they have become more adventurous with the passage of time. Their vessel is swift, with exceptional range, which allows them to strike by surprise."

"What type of airship is it?" asked Everett.

"The reports are not very clear, but it appears to be of moderate size, and it is said to have three engines, much like yours."

Everett frowned at the comparison. "How can they possibly carry enough plunder to pay for their operations?"

"They limit their attacks to yachts, liners, and other vessels with wealthy passengers, whom they rob of the smaller, lighter, and less identifiable valuables," said the commander. "The amount taken is small. For this reason, many of the attacks go unreported -- indeed, some of the victims seem to regard these things as an adventure."

Everett wasn't surprised. He'd seen evidence of this behavior firsthand.

"They must have spies in port to inform them what vessels are worth attacking," said Jenkins.

Their host rubbed his chin. He didn't seem to have considered this possibility. "A valuable suggestion," he observed. "I shall forward it to Governor Rivet."

"Why hasn't the Governor put a stop to this business?" asked the signalman.

The commander made a dismissive gesture. "French Polynesia is a large territory. And islanders are not uniformly cooperative."

"What about your Navy?"

"They do not feel it is their concern. These boucaniers have been careful to avoid attacking government vessels. And you must understand, this is all very far away from Paris, where the important decisions are made."

Everett nodded. He knew, all too well, how politics at home could shape policy in isolated colonial outposts.

As slums went, Leava's were almost bucolic, but Abercrombie still kept an eye out for trouble; a knife didn't care about the neighborhood in which it was wielded. Pierre seemed at home in this environment, navigating his way down the rubbish-strewn alleys as if by instinct. At last he stopped in front of an unprepossessing storefront.

"This will be our man," he announced. "I have dealt with this gentleman before."

The walls of the shop were lined with an assortment of cheap merchandise: needles, ashtrays, mason jars, and the like. Layers of dust suggested the place didn't do much business... or that its business had little to do with the items on display. The proprietor, a seedy-looking individual in a wrinkled tropical suit, put down the novel he'd been reading and offered his visitors a broad but unconvincing smile.

"Monsieur Pierre!" he announced. "It is good to see you! I heard you were a guest on that island to the south."

"I decided to broaden my horizons, and so I am here," said Pierre. "I am interested in the movements of a Lieutenant Murdock, who visited this island recently. I understand he spoke with an informant here."

The shopkeeper's expression was guarded. "This transaction may have been confidential."

Pierre turned to his companion. "Monsieur Abercrombie," he said, "could you loom above this man, s'il vous plait?"

Abercrombie grinned. "I dinna ken the plates," he said, "but I'm guid at looming."

The shopkeeper glanced up at the Scotsman, swallowed, and seemed to undergo a change of heart. "This informant was a woman," he said. "They were seen walking in a café near the chapelle."

"Could you describe this mademoiselle?" asked Pierre.

The shopkeeper shrugged. "What would be the point? She had dark hair, but this could have been a wig, and as for the face... a skilled woman can accomplish much with makeup."

"Did anyone else take a interest in our young officer?"

"There was a man asking questions about him a few days later. He was quite anonymous, and he vanished as mysteriously as he came."

"D'ye ken it was this Bludge fellow?" Abercrombie asked Pierre.

The Frenchman shrugged. "There is no way to tell. But it is difficult to imagine who else it could have been."

Iverson, Sarah, and Loris strolled along the harbor, studying the shipping. It was a fine day -- the kind of flawless afternoon that can only happen in the tropics -- but by now they'd grown quite bored with Leava. The place did not improve with repetition.

At last Sarah put down her list and frowned. "I don't see any of those yachts."

Iverson gave a rueful nod. "It was never much more than a long shot. And even if we'd found one, I doubt they'd have much to tell us about the pirates."

"What about the viscount and his pursuers?" asked the island girl.

Iverson shook his head. "We have no reason to believe any of them called here on Futuna. And even if they did, they must be weeks ahead of us by now."

"I wouldn't be entirely sure of that, sir," said Loris.

Iverson and Sarah turned to see their companion staring at an aging motorship tied up to a nearby wharf. A few longshoremen were trudging up the gangway carrying bales of the ubiquitous copra. On the ship's bow, a set of freshly painted letters read Windsong VII.

"My goodness," said Sarah, "that ship wasn't here the last time we called. You don't think..."

"Good lord!" said Iverson. "We've been ahead of them all along!"

Next week: The Answer, My Friend, Is Singing In The Wind...

Comments about Episode 180? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit