The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 225: Our Investigations Are Noted For Their Discretion

Extreme Laundering

Rigging and girders creaked as the Flying Cloud swung at her mooring. Outside the control car windows, a strong afternoon breeze darkened the waters of Simpson Harbor. It would be several hours before the wind dropped enough for them to leave the mast. This suited Everett's purposes, for several questions remained to be answered here in Rabaul. What was the true identity of the ship that had called here? If it was the Fat Man's vessel, why had their old adversary chosen this moment to reappear? Whatever the fellow was up to, it was almost certain to be dire.

Jenkins interrupted the captain's reverie to hand him a set of flimsies. "Here are the afternoon's dispatches, sir."

Everett examined the messages. They were the usual administrative trivia -- routine announcements, lists of personnel transfers, and a new procedure for handling purchases of coconuts, in the unlikely event one of His Majesty's Airships should require such a thing.

"I take it we've received no further word from Michaelson," he remarked.

"Not since he ordered us here to New Guinea," said Jenkins.

"Typical of the man," mused Everett. "He avoids committing himself to writing, but we'll be the ones on the spot if we fail to perform the task he didn't tell us to do."

Jenkins noted that his captain seemed unperturbed -- it was an aide's duty to recognize such things. "I take it you had a plan for this eventuality."

Everett nodded. "We will continue to look for this supposed `N-109'. This should give us a measure of security, since it conforms to the letter of Michaelson's original order. It also may be the best lead we have regarding Karlov's whereabouts. If these really are our friends the German nationalists, they could be after the fellow too. It's difficult to imagine what else could bring them out of hiding."

"Where will we look?" asked the signalman. "Their clearance papers didn't list a destination."

"True," said Everett, "but they must have dealt with local businesses while they were preparing for their departure. If we can determine the nature of these transactions, this may offer some clues."

"Who do you have in mind for the investigating parties?"

Everett allowed himself a smile. "This will depend on the social mileu in which their inquiries are to take place."

Smedley glanced up in surprise as the gentleman and lady swept through the door. Their carriage was impeccable, their attire was a triumph of the clothier's art, their self assurance was so visibly profound that, rather than seeming out of place in this rustic Pacific Island, the island seemed out of place around them.

"Good day," he blurted. "Welcome to our office, Mister..."

"Bond," said the gentleman. "Jameson Bond. And this is my associate, Mrs. Dione Rigg."

The clerk did his best not to gawk at the latter -- this required self-control, for she was a stunning brunette, with a figure well worth gawking at. "My name is Smedley," he replied. "How can I help you?"

"My family is involved in transportation," the gentleman replied. "We have a modest interest in the Great Western Railway and now we're looking to diversify. Pacific airship routes are the coming thing, so my father sent me here to evaluate possible investments. What can you tell us about your operation here?"

Smedley straightened his jacket and did his best to look professional. The Great Western Railway, engineered in the 1830s by the legendary Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was one of the Big Four rail companies that controlled most of the lines in England. Over the decades, its operations had extended beyond rail transport to canals, steamships, and air travel. It was reputed to be a cornucopia of wealth.

"We're a meteorological forecasting service," he said crisply. "We provide regional, local, and route-specific weather predictions to airship lines and individual ship owners on a short-, medium-, and long-term basis. I have our schedule of services here."

The gentleman glanced at the list of prices, then handed it to his companion. "Very interesting," he observed. "Do you have some recent examples of your product?"

The clerk pulled open a drawer and extracted a folder. "Here are copies of our reports for the last month. You're welcome to inspect them."

"Interesting," said the gentleman as he flipped though the pages. "These appear to be quite comprehensive. My father will be favorably impressed. I notice they don't mention the names of the clients."

"This is company policy," Smedley announced proudly. "That information could be of considerable commercial value to their competitors, for it could provide clues to routing information."

"Then how do you keep track of your transactions?" asked the lady.

"Each one is identified by that number you see at the top of the page," said Smedley. "The client will have a copy of this number on his receipt."

"So there's no way to determine the buyer of any particular report?"

"Not without the relevant receipt," said Smedley.

"Very good," said the gentleman. "Your discretion is laudable. We would like to purchase these copies so we can evaluate their quality."

"Well, it least we got these reports," said Emily as they left the forecaster's office. "If we can determine which one the N-109 bought, that could tell us where they're headed."

"True," said Jenkins, "but this is quite a sizable file. Without that receipt, I'm afraid we have no way to identify the right one.

Wallace and Loris were running out of ideas. They'd spent the morning talking to caterers who might have supplied their quarry, but these had been uniformly uninformative. The same had been true of the grocers -- fresh fruit told no tales. Now they were checking laundries.

"This is useless," grumbled Loris. "What can anyone possibly learn from a haberdasher?"

"More than you'd think," said Wallace. "If you knew some toff had brought his traveling togs in for cleaning, you might guess his house would be empty and ripe for a pannie."

Loris nodded. It seemed this particular aspect of personal hygene had not occurred to him. "How about this establishment?" he asked, pointing to a shack with a sign that proclaimed Rabaul Suds. A peculiar creaking noise sounded from within.

Wallace shrugged. "Let's give it a go."

A cloud of steam billowed forth as they opened the door. Inside, a massive figure was pulling wet towels from a vat and wringing out the moisture in much the same way a troll might wring the necks of hapless billy goats. She looked up as they entered.

"Customers" she exclaimed, in a voice that sent shivers down their spines. "How can I do you?"

Loris gulped and faced the apparition. "We're here to pick up some laundry for the N-109."

The laundress studied him speculatively.

"Do you have a ticket?"

"We... uh... forgot."

The laundress looked him up and down, then reached out to pinch his cheek. "Perhaps we can work out a deal, dearie."

Loris did his best not to flinch. "Courage," whispered Wallace. "I'll wait outside while you... negotiate."

"Well, at least we got this shirt," said Wallace as they made their way back to the ship.

"The price was steep," muttered Loris. The airman looked somewhat haggard.

"Hello," said Wallace, "what's this?" He reached into a pocket of the garment they'd recovered and pulled out a slip of paper. "It looks like some kind of receipt."

Loris studied it and shrugged. "We'll take it to Jenkins. Maybe he can make something of it."

Next week: A Brief Moment of Tranquility...

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