Episode 245: A Brush With Fuller
Saketa was the very picture of a sleepy tropical port. Its harbor,
sheltered from the prevailing southeasterly swell by the Weda peninsula,
was tranquil and still. On the village's rickety wharf, islanders lounged
next to a small schooner they seemed in no hurry to unload. Nearby, a
rusting steamship lay at anchor like a prop from some particularly
unimaginative movie about the South Pacific. No one appeared to take any
notice of the sleek War-surplus fleet submarine that had arrived the
Fuller gave the village an idle glance, then turned to his lieutenant.
"Have we heard anything from our contacts?" he asked.
"We've received word from Galela," said the other man. "It appears that
Karlov disembarked there and took passage to the south."
"Are we sure this information is reliable?"
"It comes from a group known as The Fellowship of the Old
Fellows, who seem to fancy themselves entrepreneurs" said his
lieutenant. "I gathered they'd sell anything for money."
"Passage to the south," mused Fuller. He flipped through his copy of the
Almanac to the entry for Gilolo. "Our man will be investigating native
ruins near the mines at Kao and Weda," he decided. "Such things are a known
interest of his. We should be able to intercept him at Weda. Has anyone
else shown an interest in the fellow?"
"Perhaps," said his lieutenant. "The report was not very clear, but some
parties on an airship may have been asking after him."
Fuller frowned. "Could these have been our friends in the Royal Navy?"
The other man shook his head. "The vessel had an American civil
"That might be a ruse," Fuller observed. "We will not want to risk an
engagement. Contact Bainbridge on the freighter and arrange for a
rendezvous in Weda Bay."
At her top speed, the K-6 covered the distance from Saketa to the mouth of
Weda Bay in little more than five hours. After they reached the rendezvous
point, Fuller and his men shut down the boat's steam plant and submerged to
wait. There was no real need for this precaution, but they did it because
they could. Then the bridge crew took turns looking through the periscope
-- they had never tired of this novelty.
It was the diving plane operator who finally spotted the freighter. "There
she is, sir," he announced, "bearing 110, hull up on the horizon."
"Let me have a look," said Fuller. He studied the vessel, read her flags,
and nodded. "They're flying the signal we agreed upon. Take us up."
Compressed air hissed, water gurgled from the ballast tanks, and the boat
rose to the surface. From aft came a series of clunks and bangs as
engineers began the complicated operation of erecting the funnels, turning
on the ventilators, firing up the furnaces, flashing the boilers, and
raising steam. Several minutes later, Fuller was clambering up a boarding
net to the deck of the freighter.
Bainbridge greeted him at the top. The skipper was an old Pacific hand,
bronzed by the sun, with the mandatory pipe clenched between his teeth --
Fuller hypothesized that these were handed out as badges of identification
by some secret society of tropical shipowners.
"Welcome aboard the Atoll Sylph," said Bainbridge. "That's a fine
submersible you have there. Will you be taking her into Weda?"
"No," said Fuller. "That might expose us to observation from the air.
We'll proceed aboard your vessel instead. Do you have the equipment?"
"It's stowed below. Would you care to have a look?"
Fuller nodded and Bainbridge led him down a ladder to the holds. When
they reached the bottom, the skipper undogged a hatchway, heaved it open,
and switched on a hand lamp.
"There it is!" he announced.
Fuller stepped inside, lifted a tarp, and inspected what lay underneath.
"Very good," he said. "That should serve."
Anna stepped down from the blimp's control car like royalty alighting from
a state carriage. Behind her, someone in the handling party tossed a
sandbag aboard the vessel to keep it in trim.
The captain disembarked after her and indicated the village that
lay before them.
"This is Weda," he announced.
Anna frowned. "Are you sure?" she said dubiously.
The airman sighed. "It says so right there on the operations shack."
Anna squinted at the sign as if she suspected it of being a forgery. "Very
well," she said. "I will be on my way."
The captain smiled as politely as he could. "My crew and I hope you enjoyed
your flight," he told her. "And we hope you will keep us in mind next time
your plans call for air travel."
"Glad to see the last of her," said the engineer after she was gone. "Who
was that lady?"
"I don't know," the captain replied. "But a lot of strange people seem
interested in Weda. Remember that scientist last week?"
The engineer nodded. "I wonder who else is on their way here."
Bainbridge finished backing the freighter down to the wharf and rang all
stop. On the pier below, dockhands began to make fast the mooring lines.
Fuller nodded in approval. "That was a nice bit of ship-handling," he
The skipper nodded. "It's a skill one must learn in the islands. We can
hardly expect tugboats in a port like this."
"Can we expect longshoremen?" asked Fuller.
Bainbridge laughed. "Hardly, but we can swing the cargo ashore ourselves
in an hour or two."
"We're not in a hurry," said Fuller. "My men and I will take this
opportunity to have a look about the town."
Weda proved to be significantly more industrious than Saketa. The visitors
noticed several new warehouses next to the harbor, along with a row of huts
that had been pressed into service as dormitories. Elsewhere they spotted
crated donkey engines, a dragline, drums of petrol, and a stack of rails
that suggested someone had plans to build a line into the interior.
"This looks like quite a substantial operation," Fuller's lieutenant
observed. "It's amazing what one finds in odd corners of the Pacific."
"So it is," Fuller agreed. "Let's hope we find Karlov, so we can leave
before..." he paused, eyes widening in astonishment. "Good lord, Smithers!
Look over there! Is that who I think it is?"
Anna was making her way down Weda's only street, searching for a lodging
house, when a voice hailed her from behind. She turned to see two
well-dressed strangers -- quite obviously Englishmen -- wearing tropical
attire of the sort favored by sportsmen and gentleman adventurers.
"What an unexpected surprise!" said the man who'd hailed her.
"Do I know you, sir?" Anna said icily.
"You would not remember me," the man replied, "but we met in Saint
Petersburg, shortly after the War. You were younger then, and known by a
different name. I am Fuller."
It didn't take Anna long to make the connection. "You're with the
British Union," she said bitterly. "So Vlad betrayed me, just as I
Fuller's response took her by surprise. "The Bookseller is here too? How
fortunate! We can collect the whole bag!"
The old motorship made particularly slow progress as she creaked and groaned
over the swells. Peters glanced at the name stenciled on a life preserver
and shook his head.
"Windsong VII,' he remarked sourly. "I wonder who's idea that was."
"It does seem peculiarly inappropriate for a vessel of this antiquity,"
agreed Jamison. "and it's not a particularly fast wind either."
Clement sighed. "We must look on the bright side," he observed. "I'm sure
this ship will get to Weda eventually."
Next week: Haute Cuisine...
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