Episode 271: The Parable of the Elephant
They'd gathered in the Flying Cloud's auxiliary control station
to listen to Pierre's report. The compartment was cramped and uncomfortable,
tucked like an afterthought into the base of the lower vertical stabilizer,
but it offered an element of privacy that was difficult to obtain in other
parts of the airship.
"I followed the chandler to the house of a `Herr Muldorf'," said
Pierre. "This monsieur appears to manage a network of agents here in
Bougainville for notre ami, the Fat Man."
Everett and his officers fell silent as they considered their old adversary.
The nationalist renegade played for high stakes, and was noteworthy in his
disregard of human life.
"Are you quite sure?" asked Iverson, in a tone of voice that suggested he
hoped the answer would be `no'.
"I found a position from which I could overhear most of his conversation
with the chandler," said Pierre. "This left little doubt regarding their
"Weren't you taking a risk?" said MacKiernan. "What if you'd been caught?"
The Frenchman gave a nonchalant shrug, as if to suggest it was meaningless
to speculate about hypothetical possibilities.
"Did these people reveal anything of their plans?" asked Everett.
"To some extent," said Pierre. "They seem determined to send us after this
Japanese packet: the Shiratori Maru. The vessel seems to have some
connection with a group of adversaries they referred to as `Them'."
MacKiernan frowned. "That's a rather uninformative pronoun."
"Quite," said Everett. "Could they have been referring to the masters of
the mysterious cruiser?"
Pierre spread his hands helplessly. "There was no way to tell. It could
just as easily have been a colony of giant ants. There was another mystery
as well. The Germans made several references to some new associate they
called `Her' or `She'."
"'She'?" said Iverson apprehensively.
"I believe we can safely assume there's no connection with the work of H
Rider Haggard," said Everett, noticing his lieutenant's expression. "Did
they offer any clues to this woman's identity?"
"No, but I gathered that the lady was English."
"Could this be some agent of the British Union?" asked Jenkins.
"I suppose this is possible," mused Everett, "but we sent the Baronet back
to England, and all of his henchmen are accounted for except Fuller, who
doesn't seem quite the fellow to mastermind some conspiracy. I imagine
this is some local adventuress who's thought to profit by selling
information to these people."
Captain Michaelson had been called back to Brisbane to adjudicate a dispute
between the air station and local landowners who claimed the blimps were
disturbing their sheep. In view of this errand's notable lack of urgency,
he'd elected to travel on his yacht -- one of the privileges of command was
the ability to choose comfort over expediency. He was riding the tender to
shore when the skipper, a mousey-looking girl who didn't look much older
than fifteen, cleared her throat.
Michaelson was too well-disciplined to do a double-take. "Why, Miss
Perkins," he said in admiration, "you've outdone yourself again. I expected
to meet you ashore."
The secretary was too well-disciplined to smile. "It's a elementary rule of
intrigue that one should never repeat oneself."
"A wise practice," said Michaelson. "Were you able to locate this Sigmund
"I tracked him to a safe house in Manly," she replied. "He's still there,
managing the Fat Man's network in Sydney. I've managed to identify most of
"Very good," said Michaelson. "Is he in communication with our unfaithful
"Not that I've been able to determine. The nationalists' contacts in
Cairns all seem to involve some intermediary."
The senior captain nodded. "We suspected as much. Phelps cannot have been
working alone when he smuggled Lieutenant Blacker aboard the R-87. Do we
have any idea who this intermediary might be?"
Miss Perkins shook her head. "The British Union is accounted for, I can't
imagine the Germans making alliance with the Russians, and our mystery party
seems determined to remain
hostis humani generis,
but I did overhear one the Fat Man's people make some reference to `The
Englishwoman'." She paused. "Sir?"
Michaelson caught himself before he could give anything away. "It was
nothing," he told her. "Let's hope this is just some local adventuress."
The Fat Man uncapped the bottle and poured himself a mug of ale. Judging
from his aide's expression, this news was likely to be good. "What was
the report from Bougainville?" he asked.
"Everett and his people contacted our agent, just as we planned," the aide
replied. "Our man pretended to prevaricate, then fed them the information
we wanted. By now, they'll be on the next leg of his search for the
"Did they show any signs of suspicion?"
"Our man reported that the signalman attempted to follow him, but he had no
trouble losing the tail."
The Fat Man lifted his glass. "This is good," he announced. "What is our
latest word of Michaelson's agents?"
"It appears that they flew to Ponapai, where they foiled another attempt to
The Fat Man paused, mug just short of his lips. A troll would have envied
his frown. "Ponapai?" he muttered. "What are they up to? There's nothing
"Perhaps Michaelson ordered them to make the flight to
distract us," suggested the aide.
"No," the Fat Man decided. "If anyone was meant to distract us, this
would be Everett. Michaelson must be pursuing some lead of which we're
The Governor set down the bottle and held up his glass to inspect it. The
wine -- one of the new malbecs from Argentina -- caught and held the light.
"An ambitious effort," he decided. "Give them a few more decades and it
might amount to something. I take it you have come with news?"
Across the table, Wasserman nodded, "We've received word of Everett. He
was in Bougainville."
The Governor set the glass aside. "Bougainville," he mused. "This comes
at an inconvenient time."
His expression was as unreadable as a snake's.
"I take it our `friends' are ready to begin?" said Wasserman.
His host brushed the question aside. "Someone must be feeding the man
information. Do we have any idea who his contacts might be?"
"Perhaps," said Wasserman. "He was seen to meet with the two young women
The Governor made a dismissive gesture. "We can ignore them. They are
obviously intended as a distraction. Everett is the man we must watch."
Next week: Speculation...
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