The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 231: Relaxed Interrogation Techniques

A chaise lounge

Artur studied Sigmund through narrowed eyes. "The Fat Man will not be pleased by this failure," he remarked.

The marine tried to hide his misgivings. Having served as an agent of the Fat Man's displeasure, he knew all too well what it could entail. "No, Mein Herr," he said, being careful to keep his voice neutral.

"Do you have an explanation?"

Sigmund stood at attention as he considered his reply. Getting back to the ship had not been easy. The original plan had been for the assault party to take their prisoner to the coast, steal a boat, and rendezvous with the L-137 offshore. For obvious reasons, this plan had been abandoned. Instead, Sigmund had signaled for an emergency pickup. He might have risked injury getting hauled aboard by rope, but this was a small price to pay to carry a warning.

"It was Captain Everett," he said. "He was at the mansion ahead of us."

"Verdammt!" swore Ernst. "That man is der Teufel! How did he guess we'd come here?"

"He must have picked up our trail in Rabaul," mused Artur. "It is an obvious place to look, and we know the Imperial Navy has agents there.

"Heinrich," said Ernst.

"Yes," said Artur. "If we knew who he was, things would change. But even with Everett's help, I would not have expected the Countess to defeat eight trained marines."

Sigmund decided this might be a strategic time to admit a mistake. "I underestimated her," he said. "That woman managed to survive the War. I should have anticipated she'd be prepared to resist an assault."

"So you should," said Artur. The Fat Man's representative seemed somewhat mollified, but the danger was not past.

"Are you sure your men won't talk?" asked Ernst.

Bless you, Captain, for the distraction, thought Sigmund. "Of course," he replied. "They are of Aryan blood, with wills of steel."

"Any man can be broken by torture," Artur said dismissively. His attitude suggested some knowledge of the subject.

"Perhaps," Ernst told him, "but this should not be a concern. Our adversaries have unnecessary scruples."

At first glance, the Zelle mansion's `special guest room' might have been an ordinary boudoir. Lushly upholstered settees and chairs were drawn in a circle around a fine hardwood table. The walls were adorned with replicas of work by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Aelbert Cuyp. If the furniture was bolted to the floor and the walls reinforced with iron plates, this was scarcely noticeable amidst such elegance.

"Why does the Countess have a room like this?" asked Clarice.

"I believe it's a habit she picked up in France," said Everett.

Clarice frowned. "Do the French always chain their guests to sofas?

"This habit may not be widespread."

"What will we do with the fellows?" asked Emily.

"Eventually we will hand them over to the authorities," Everett replied, "but first, we'll wish to press them for information. If you ladies will excuse me."

The prisoners glared as their captor stepped into the room. "Captain Everett!" snarled one. "So Sigmund was right!"

"At your service," said the captain. "And who might you be?"

The prisoner gazed back defiantly. "My men and I will not talk."

"You're quite sure of this?" said Everett.

"Pfagh!" snorted the German. "We know you Englishers. You consider yourselves gentlemen. You will not resort to the same measures we would."

"This is true," Everett observed cryptically.

"What now?" Clarice asked the captain when he was back outside.

"We will take steps to render these men more cooperative," Everett told her. He nodded to the countess's butler. "Bascomb, if you would."

The butler donned a pair of hearing protectors, flipped a switch, and set the needle to a disk on the Victrola. Moments later, the sounds of Al Johnson's `When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbing Along' were echoing through the hall. Clarice and Emily flinched.

"Oh dear," said Emily.

"That's..." Clarice began.

"Quite," said Everett. "Let us return to the main hall and leave these gentlemen to reflect upon the consequences of intransigence,"

"There is an art to extracting information from recalcitrant prisoners," Everett observed as they made their way back to the guest room that afternoon. "Unsophisticated jailers may resort to physical violence, but this betrays a certain naivety on their part. Subjects can be expected to lie under torture. A competent interview by a properly-trained interrogator is more effective."

"How does this work?" asked Emily.

"It's no particular mystery," said Everett. "One combines misdirection and pressure, watches for inconsistencies, pretends to knowledge one does not possess, and dwells on irrelevancies to trick the subject into volunteering the information one wishes to know.

Clarice was dubious about the prospect. "And just who will conduct this `interview'?" she asked.

"We will leave this to Jenkins." Everett replied. "The RNAS School of Signals in Blandford includes this as part of their syllabus." He turned to his aide. "You may proceed."

At a nod from Jenkins, the butler switched off the record player. From inside the room, they heard sighs of relief. Meanwhile the signalman was composing himself. Clarice watched, fascinated, as he adjusted his expression and posture, assuming a new character the way another man might don a new set of clothes. Before her eyes, he changed from bland and unobtrusive into a figure of menace.

"How does he do that?" she whispered to Emily.

"I don't know," the brunette replied brightly, "but he's promised to teach me."

The prisoners looked somewhat more bedraggled than they had that morning. Their backs were slumped, their expressions were haggard, and their clothing was disheveled -- it seemed several had attempted to block their ears with their jackets.

"Good day," said Jenkins in an offhand tone. "I trust you've enjoyed the entertainment."

"We still will not talk," the leader replied, striving to maintain some trace of his former belligerence.

"You're quite sure about that?" said Jenkins. "We're prepared to continue as long as necessary."

This observation was greeted with whimpers, groans, and several outright sobs. "Very well," the German said sullenly. "What do you wish to know?"

Jenkins gave him a stern glance. "We will begin with your name."

"I am Karl Richter, Imperial marines (ret)," the man said.

Jenkins made a show of flipping through his notes. "You hijacked a German aerial packet, the L-137, in Kupang," he observed. "This is a serious matter. The Dutch colonial government is not noted for its leniency, and it takes a very dim view of piracy."

"I am not a pirate!" the marine announced.

Jenkins raised an eyebrow. "Do you deny that the vessel was hijacked?"

"No," admitted Richter, "but I was not one of the hijackers."

"Then why were you on the ship now?"

"I am a soldier. I was following orders."

"To kidnap the Countess Zelle," said Jenkins. "This is almost as serious a charge as piracy. We will refer this matter to the local authorities." He turned as if to depart.

The other man paled. "We did not intend to hold her," he protested. "We only wished to ask her a few questions."

"About what?" Jenkins asked derisively. "This man Karlov everyone pretends to be looking for? You'll have to come up with a better story than that for the prosecutors."

"But he's important!" said Richter. "He has the secret to..." He paused, as if afraid he'd revealed too much.

Jenkins pretended not to notice. "What could the Countess possibly tell you? You already know where the man is."

"That's true, but we have no idea what he's trying to accomplish."

"Goodness!" Emily whispered to Clarice, "he's almost as good as Aunt Prodigia!"

"You're right!" Clarice whispered back. "At this rate, he'll have their entire itinerary by evening!"

Next week: You See One Airship, You've Seen A Moll...

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