Episode 242: Domestic Squabbles
Fleming watched his companions for some clue as to their thoughts while the
party was making its way back to the ship. Jake looked pleased with the
morning's entertainment -- firearms use, even if this didn't involve live
targets, seemed to brighten the gunman's mood. Anna's expression was dark,
as if she brooded on some suspicion. Nettie remained as inscrutable as
ever. If Fleming hadn't known better, he'd have thought her every bit the
empty-headed moll she pretended to be.
When they reached the control car, Nettie rushed to Marty's side and planted
a big kiss on his cheek. "I'm glad you sent some of the boys with me, honey!"
she gushed. "Some cultists tried to grab us, but Starbuck held 'em off 'till
Jake showed up with his chopper!"
That's sure coming the raw prawn, thought Fleming. I was about
to get shellacked! What kind of game is that sheila playing?
Marty gave the girl a squeeze, then turned to Fleming. "Good work,
Starbuck!" he said cheerfully. "The lady and I owe you a drink! You learn
anything in town?"
"No, Boss," said Fleming, with what he hoped was the right note of heartiness,
"I don't think those drongos knew much."
"Hmph," said the gangster. "How about you, Vlad? You find out anything at
the government office?"
"I spoke with the clerks about local shipping," said the Russian. "It was a
natural subject of conversation for a trader. They remembered the
Tranquility's visit, and one of them noticed a man who sounds like
Karlov. According to him, this man was seeking passage to Tobelo."
"Is that all you talked about?" demanded Anna.
Vlad eyed her warily. "What do you mean?"
"Those cultists knew who we were," she replied, "and it seems they found
this out at the post office you visited! Were you trying to sell
us to your old friends, the Reds?"
"They are not my friends!" Vlad said indignantly. "They betrayed the
"Then why were you trying to learn the names of my agents?" snapped Anna.
"You want Karlov's secret for yourself! And once you have it, you won't
Vlad looked stricken. "Anastacia!" he protested. "You cannot believe I
would do such a thing!"
"Yes, Mister Ulyanov," she said icily, "I believe you would!" Then she
turned on her heel and stormed out of the control car.
The gangsters had been shuffling their feet, pretending not to notice the
dispute. After the hatch slammed shut, Marty walked over and clapped Vlad
on the shoulder. "Dames," he said sympathetically, "you can't live with
'em and you can't live without them."
It was too late to depart that evening -- not if they expected the handling
parties to be awake when they arrived -- so they spent the night in Galela.
Some of the gangsters took this opportunity to visit the local tavern.
Others gathered in the mess hall for a game of cards. Predictably, Anna
complained about the delay.
"What is it with that frail?" muttered Craig. "She acts like she's royalty."
"You don't know half of it," Vlad muttered in reply.
They lifted ship for Tobelo the next morning. The flight took little time,
and soon the AT-38 was being walked to the settlement's mooring mast.
The air station here was even
more modest than the one in Galela, but it did have a small machine shop.
This was fortunate, for Jersey had found that the water pump on the Number
Two diesel had a cracked impellor.
Repairs would take at least a day.
"It looks like we're stuck here fer a bit," Marty announced. "We'll spend
it lookin' for this Karlov. Books, you ask around the station. Craig, you
work the bars. Starbuck, you ask around the harbor. Jake, you check wit'
the warehouse operators."
"Yes, Boss," chorused the gangsters.
"What about Anna and myself?" asked Vlad.
Marty glanced at the two Russians. The tension between them would have been
obvious even to a less astute observer. "It might be best if you two stayed
on the ship," he aid. "That way youse can keep an eye on each other."
Vlad replied with a rueful smile, Anna with a scowl.
It didn't take Fleming long to establish that no one along the strip of
shoreline that passed for a harbor district in Tobelo knew anything of
Karlov. If the fugitive scientist had gone ashore here, he'd found some way
to disguise his identify. This would not have been difficult, Fleming
reflected, for few people on this out-of-the-way island seemed to take
much interest in the affairs of the outside world.
He had finished his investigation and was making his way back to the
station when he ran into Vlad.
"Starbuck," the Russian asked anxiously, "have you seen Anna?"
"No," said Fleming. "I thought you two were going to stay on the ship."
"She is no longer aboard," said Vlad, "There is no sign of Nettie either."
Fleming's heart sank. He had no doubt Nettie was responsible for this
development. Had the moll taken advantage of some opportunity or was this
part of some long-term plan? Whatever the explanation, it was unlikely to
be one they'd welcome. "When were they last seen?" he asked.
"Someone at the station spotted them heading toward the harbor."
"They might be looking for passage," said Fleming. "We'd better stop them!"
The two men dashed back to the beach. They arrived in time to see a large
business-like steam launch heading out to sea. Vlad grabbed an onlooker --
an old Yankee seaman by the look of him -- and pointed at the vessel.
"What is that boat?" he asked.
"That's the Koncordia," said the man. "She belongs to the German
mission in Kao."
"Did you see any women go aboard?"
"Aye," said the man. "One wasn't much of a looker, but the other was a
"That's them," sighed Fleming. "Do you know anyone else who could take us
The sailor thought this over. "I suppose Elijah Marsh could run you down
there on his skiff when he heads back to the gold refinery."
"Thanks mate!" said Fleming. He reached into his pocket and pulled out some
coins, "Here's two quid. Could you nip over to the air station and tell
those chappies on the airship we're heading to that mission after the
The sailor scratched his head as he struggled with this unfamiliar dialect.
"Uh, yes," he replied. "I suppose so..."
Marty looked up when Craig knocked on the door of the stateroom. "We got
trouble, Boss," said his henchman. "It seems the dames has skipped out."
"Skipped out?" exclaimed Marty. "Where'd they go?"
"I dunno," said Craig, "but Vlad and Starbuck sent a message ta say they'd
spotted 'em on a launch heading for the German mission and was goin'
Marty stifled a curse. You didn't get to be a successful gangster boss if
you made habit of chewing out bearers of bad news. "Where the heck's this
German mission?" he asked.
"I asked around," said Craig. "It's seems there's one in Dorosago."
"Good work, Craig," said Marty. "Go find Jersey, tell 'im ta get a move on
wit' those repairs. I want to lift ship tomorrow morning."
Clement looked up when Peters knocked on the door of the bungalow. "We've
encountered some difficulty arranging passage aboard the schooner," said
"Did the captain object to our offer?" Clement asked.
"No," said Peters, "but it seems the vessel has sunk at her moorings."
Clement tapped his desk thoughtfully. "I can see how this might pose a
problem," he observed. "Keep asking around. I'm sure we'll find someone
on this island who can take us to Gilolo."
Next week: Sometimes It Pays To Be Evasive...
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