Episode 225: Our Investigations Are Noted For Their Discretion
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.
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
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
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
"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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