Episode 252: An Interrupted Conversation
The deck of the freighter lay cloaked in darkness. The moon had set several
hours ago and the only light was the glimmer of riding lamps, the ghostly
glow of the Magellanic clouds, and the flash of an electric torch where the
night watchman was making his rounds. Footsteps rang as the man climbed the
ladder to the pilothouse. Then a door slammed shut and the vessel was still.
A hatch eased open and a dark-clad figure emerged into the night. It
glanced in the direction the watchman had vanished, then retrieved a small
parcel, tiptoed to the rail, and swung over the side. It slid down the
anchor chain without making a sound. Then it was swimming toward shore,
where the lights of Cairns Royal Air Station sparkled in the distance.
In Michaelson's office, Phelps was serving tea. This station might lie on
the other side of the universe from England and civilization, but there
were still certain proprieties to be observed before conversation could
After cups had been poured, Michaelson nodded for his aide to depart.
"We've received word from the station in Columbo," he told Everett.
"Commodore Clark is still on his way back to England, so it should be safe
to assume this particular affair is over."
"It seems that I served as your catspaw... again," Everett observed dryly.
"You can hardly have cause to complain," said Michaelson. "And it appears
we were both being used by Whitehall. You're sure it was them rather than
the Admiralty who was behind Clark's mission?"
"The Commodore was most definite about the matter," Everett replied. "He
also made a point about the different reactions the Prime Minister and the
First Lord might have to these nationalist movements."
"He implied the two were at odds?"
"With Mister Churchill and his faction sitting on the fence," said Everett.
Michaelson frowned. On him, the expression looked natural. "Matters of
that sort are entirely beyond our pay grade. I hope we can avoid becoming
involved, but I doubt we shall be so fortunate. What did the Commodore say
about our elusive Karlov and the mysterious Device that began all this
"He claimed that his search for the former was merely a cover for his real
mission of scotching the nationalists, and he suggested that neither the
Government nor the Admiralty have any interest in the latter."
Michaelson looked incredulous. "The Commodore expressed no concern about a
weapon capable of obliterating an entire island?"
"Not in so many words," said Everett. "But he did observe that with the
White Russians, British Union, and Fat Man's organization accounted for,
there are no remaining parties with sufficient resources to reconstruct the
"It is difficult to believe anyone could be so complacent," said Michaelson.
"We still have Trotsky's agents and the Dutch and French Colonial Offices to
consider, as well as the masters of that mysterious cruiser."
Everett kept his expression neutral. Why had Michaelson steered the
conversation in this direction? Could this be a prelude to some new
stratagem, with him and his crew as bait? And just what information was the
senior captain holding in reserve? Perhaps it was time to probe.
Lance Corporal Brummie, Royal Marines, halted and peered into the gloom.
Had something just moved, out near the treeline? The peculiar events of the
past few months had prompted a call for extra security, but there could never
be enough sentries to keep watch on every inch of the perimeter, particularly
on moonless nights such as these.
"Who goes there?" he called. Seconds crawled past with no reply. At last,
with a shrug, the marine resumed his rounds.
After he was gone, a dark-clad figure emerged from the jungle, dashed to the
fence, and scrambled over the top. It paused to make sure it hadn't been
observed, then vanished into the gloom. For several long moments the night
was still. Branches rustled somewhere in the darkness. Then a second
shadowy figure slipped from the trees to follow the first.
Everett had been wondering about the mysterious cruiser ever since it had
destroyed his previous command. Who could have built such a monster? What
were their goals? And how had it just happened to cross his path on that
ill-fated sortie? The safest way to gain information, he reflected,
is often the most direct.
"Something about that business with the cruiser bothers me," he observed.
"The orders we received for our patrol on the R-212 last June sent us
straight into their hands. This seems... fortuitous."
Michaelson's eyes narrowed. "Those orders originated in Admiral Wentworth's
office. Are you suggesting the Admiral was involved?"
Did they? wondered Everett. And how much of your indignation
is an act? "Hardly," he replied. "But do we have any idea who drafted
them? We also must consider the possibility of an agent."
Michaelson nodded. The man's face gave away nothing, but Everett had the
sinking sensation that he'd lost some crucial round in their undeclared game.
Before he could reply, shouts rang out from somewhere on the field.
"What the devil?" cried Michaelson.
A flash of light stabbed through the curtains. This was followed, seconds
later, by the sound of a distant blast. But by then, both men had leapt to
their feet and were heading out the door.
They reached the field to find several guards gathered by the remains of
a building. Charred planks and fragments of glass littered the ground about
them. One guard, a young marine with corporal's insignia, saluted the
newcomers. "Sirs," he said nervously, "there's been an explosion."
"We can see that," snapped Michaelson. "Was anyone hurt?"
"Not that we knoo," said the corporal, lapsing into dialect. "This was 'un
of the noo barracks. There was no 'un inside."
"What happened?" Michaelson asked.
"I was maken me rounds, dowl by the suthe fence, when I thought I saw summat
hiden in the trees. I went back fer another look an' spotted twothree
fellows here by this wall. They looked loike they were fighten. When I
gave a shout, they split up an' ran, 'un northe an' un suthe. I lit off
after the second, but then a big bang knocked me flat. When I got back
ter me feet, the fellow was gone."
"What do you make of this, sir?" asked Everett.
"They would appear to have been saboteurs," mused Michaelson, "but why were
they fighting each other, and why would they blow up an empty building?"
"Perhaps they had some disagreement regarding where to plant their bomb."
"That," said Michaelson, "was not helpful. Did they leave any footprints?"
Everett crouched to study the ground, then rose and shook his head. "If
Miss Sarah were here, she might be able to make something of this, but the
area is too badly trampled for me to tell. I imagine the man who fled
south has already escaped across the perimeter."
"This leaves us with another saboteur heading deeper into the station,
perhaps with another bomb," said Michaelson. He turned to issue an order
to the guards, but at that moment, a cry rang out from the other side of the
"Sirs! Over here!"
They followed the cry to find a sentry gazing down at a dark-clad shape
sprawled on the ground before him. The figure was unconscious, evidently
struck down by debris from the explosion.
"Is this one of the men you saw?" Michaelson asked the corporal.
"It moight be," the marine said cautiously. "I doy get a bostin look at the
"Let us rectify this oversight," growled Michaelson. He bent down and pulled
away the figure's mask to reveal a delicate face streaked with blood from a
shallow wound in the scalp.
"Good lord!" he exclaimed. "It's a woman!"
Next week: A Missing Link...
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