Episode 180: Third Time's the Charm
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
talking 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
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
"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
"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...
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