Episode 210: Was This Part Of The Plan?
Commodore Clark sat in the office he'd requisitioned at the Cairns Royal Air
Station, studying the report while Michaelson and Everett looked on -- one of
the privileges of flag rank was making your subordinates wait. At last he
set the file aside. "So a French airship, the AT-38, was hijacked from the
air station on Lifou Island on March 15," he mused. "Careless of them.
They should have paid more attention to Shakespeare. Where is this Lifou?"
Michaelson opened a copy of the Almanac and flipped through the pages until
he located the relevant entry. "It's here, sir," he replied, "a raised
coral atoll in the Loyalty Islands with an area of 462 square miles. As of
the 1926 census, the population was 5,200. The principal exports, besides
copra, are rubber, vanilla, and sugarcane. It seems an entirely unremarkable
"I understand the local authorities apprehended some suspects and sent them
here," said Clark.
"Yes, sir, but they could hardly have been responsible for the piracy, since
they were still on the ground when the airship left. I interviewed the
fellows and established that they knew nothing of the affair."
"Are they still in your custody?"
Michaelson shook his head. "No, sir. We had no reason to hold them, so I
let them go."
"This may have been premature," observed Clark. "Did it occur to you that
they might have had confederates aboard the vessel?"
"That seemed unlikely," said Michaelson. "If they had, why would they have
remained behind to be captured?"
"A good point," Clark admitted. "What is your hypothesis?"
Michaelson looked thoughtful. "One wonders about the possibility of
insurance fraud. The owners might have arranged this alleged `hijacking' so
they could file a claim for an otherwise worthless vessel. We've made
inquiries with Lloyds to determine if the underwriters were English. Unless
they are, the matter would lie outside our jurisdiction."
"Perhaps," said Clark, "but we will still wish to investigate, if we can do
so without detracting from our primary mission. Is my ship ready for
"We finished yesterday," said Michaelson. His manner was casual, but
Everett guessed the senior captain had put his maintenance crews on triple
shifts when it became clear the Commodore would be returning early.
"Very good," said Clark. "Here is how we will proceed. Captain Everett,
you will take the Flying Cloud to Lifou Island and investigate this
hijacking. If this is a case of insurance fraud, as your superior suggests,
I will expect you to get to the bottom of the matter. Meanwhile, I will
take the Cottswold west to examine this laboratory you discovered
on the Oa Ki atoll. I will need a navigator familiar with the site, so I
will take your Mister MacKiernan with me. I trust this will not be an
inconvenience for you."
Only one answer was possible. "No, sir."
"Very good. Captain Michaelson, I will need a more complete report on what
you have discovered about these various nationalist conspiracies."
"The Admiralty seemed satisfied with the version I sent last month," said
Michaelson. Something about his tone of voice caught Everett's attention.
The senior captain did not sound quite as defensive he would have
"Perhaps," replied the Commodore, "but the document seemed peculiarly...
reticent... regarding some matters."
Michaelson's expression was curiously unreadable, like a man who'd just
drawn to fill out a straight. "An unfortunate omission on my part," he
replied. "I'll instruct Miss Perkins to provide you with a complete copy of
What is Michaelson playing at? Everett wondered. For the man was
most certainly playing some sort of game.
"It might be best if you sent Miss Perkins herself," Clarke said snidely --
this was another of the privileges of flag rank.
"That might interfere with my management of this office," Michaelson
"I trust you'll make do," said Clark.
Everett kept his expression neutral. Did the Commodore realize he'd just
been manipulated into taking an agent aboard his vessel? Possibly not.
After all, he hadn't noticed when Everett had left an agent behind in
"You're sure this will work?" asked Dabney.
"Dinki-di," said Fleming. "Commodore Clark seems to be investigating the
sites we discovered last year. The first was on the coast to the west.
The second is on a small atoll near Timor. That's almost
certainly where he'll head next. He may have an airship, but we're closer,
and he'll have to resupply in Kupang, so I should be able to get there
ahead of him if I start now."
"I suppose Stevens could take you there in the Thunderbird," said
Dabney, glancing toward one of the two obsolete gunboats that rode at
anchor in Darwin's harbor, "but how will you explain your presence when the
"The Captain will find a way," said Fleming, with a confidence Everett
might not have felt justified.
"We should still send word to Cairns, to let them know your intentions in
the event this Clark chappie decides to head elsewhere."
"How will we manage without Channel noticing?" asked Fleming. "He's sure to
have an agent at the telegraph station."
"A packet is scheduled to arrive late this week," said Dabney. "We can
put someone aboard with a message. I know just who to send."
"She'll be apples then," said Fleming. "What could go wrong?"
Doctor Schuman coughed to announce his presence, then handed over the report.
"Mein Herr," he announced, "here are the results from the test run."
The Fat Man hefted the file in his hand. It was a rough hand, scarred by
violence, like the soul of the man to whom it belonged. "What was the
yield?" he asked.
"Disappointing," said the scientist. "It took us fifteen hundred hours of
continuous operation to double the concentration of the active ingredient."
"And what level of concentration do we need to reproduce the Ujelang
"According to the notes we captured from the laboratory in Australia, at
least eighty percent. At the present rate, it would take us several decades
to reach this level."
The Fat Man frowned. "How did the Russians manage to accomplish this in
little over a year?"
"This is not clear," said Schuman, "but it appears they've lost the secret,
for their second Device -- the one they used at Rabaul -- was a failure."
"That was unfortunate," said the Fat Man, "for it would have rid us of that
traitorous Governor. Do we have any idea why the original refiner was so
much more effective?"
"No, but there is a name that appears several times in our notes..."
"Yes, Mein Herr."
The Fat Man turned to a bland-looking figure who stood beside him.
"Artur, have we learned anything more about this elusive gentleman?"
"One of the men we captured on Oa Ki suggested that he might have
designed some crucial component of the equipment they used.
Unfortunately, our informant... is not in a position to provide us with
"I see," said the Fat Man. "Who else is searching for our Herr Karlov?"
"The British Union has been eliminated from the game," said his lieutenant,
"but the White Russians and Trotsky's government are both still involved,
and our agent in Cairns reports that an investigator has just arrived from
the British Admiralty."
"So the game has several players," mused the Fat Man. "We shall have to make
certain we win."
Next week: Just Think Of It As A Temporary Separation...
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