Episode 282: A Deduction and a Confrontation
They'd spent several hours quartering the debris site, searching for other
survivors of the Shiratori Maru, without success.
The packet's attackers had been quite diligent in their efforts to
eliminate any witnesses to the attack. At last, with darkness
approaching, the crew of the Flying Cloud had turned their
attention to recovering the bodies.
For obvious reasons, an airship was not well-suited for this particular
task, so they'd radioed their position to Manila and waited while an
American destroyer made her way to their position, hove to, and lowered
her boats. Then they'd remained on station through the night,
supporting the recovery efforts with searchlight and wireless. Now
Everett stood on the bridge, contemplating this latest turn of events.
He did not find it heartening. Their adversaries seemed intent on
demonstrating their disregard for human lives. Attitudes of this sort
had not had fortunate consequences during the War, and there was no
reason to believe the results would be any happier today. At last he
sighed and finished his entry in the log.
June 6, 1927, 0700 hours, Lat, 22 36' N Long 168 39' E. Provided
aerial reconnaissance for the USS Hatfield while they recovered material
from the Shiratori Maru. The Americans are now en route back to the
Philippines. The crewman Lts Iverson and Murdock rescued yesterday
appears to have been the only survivor of the packet. So far, he has not
been able to provide any information that would explain the attack.
He studied the last sentence, then closed the volume and gestured for
Jenkins to accompany him. It was time to see if the situation had
The two men reached the sick bay to find Tsumura sitting up in his
bunk, sipping a cup of tea. Rest and fluids had worked wonders on the
steward's condition, and if the infusion wasn't quite the variety he was
accustomed to in Japan, he didn't seem to mind.
"Good morning Mister Tsumura," said Everett, forestalling their patient's
move to snap to attention. "Please don't bother to rise."
"Konnichiwa, Captain-sama," Tsumura replied. "Thank you for
rescuing me. I owe you my life."
"That sort of thing is part of our mission," Everett said modestly.
"We're also charged to protect shipping. I regret we couldn't arrive in
time to prevent the attack on your ship. Can you tell us anything more
about what happened?"
The steward must have been reviewing his memories of the event, for his
answer was prompt. "We departed Cebu on the evening of June 4, with 18
passengers and 22 tons of cargo, bound for Guam," he told them. "Nothing
out of the ordinary occurred during the night. At 9:15 AM on the morning
of the 6th, Captain Saikaku announced over the intercom that another vessel
had come in sight to the north, and that passengers could view it from the
"You're certain of the time?" asked Everett.
"Of course," said Tsumura. "I'm a steward. It's my duty to be punctual."
"Did you see the other airship yourself?"
"Not immediately. I was in one of the starboard staterooms attending to the
linen. But as I passed the grand saloon, I caught a glimpse of the vessel.
They were quite close by then, on a converging course, as if they'd been
looking for us."
"Interesting," mused Everett. "Do you have any idea how they might have
This question did not seem to have occurred to the steward. "I'm not sure,"
he replied. "The only ones who would have known our course were Captain
Saikaku and our navigation officer, Ashikawa, and they were lost with the
Everett and Jenkins exchanged glances. "Ashikawa," said Everett. "Wasn't
he the ex-Naval officer we met last year on Guadalcanal?"
"I believe so," said Jenkins. "You don't think..."
Everett pursed his lips. Some nations had an unfortunate tradition of
self-sacrifice. Japan was one of them. "We will not pursue the matter at
this time," he observed. "Mister Tsumura, I would like to ask a few
questions about your vessel's moments during the weeks preceding the attack.
I do not ask you to reveal any company information, but your answers may
help us track down your attacker."
"I will tell you everything I can," Tsumura said fiercely. "Those
criminals must be caught and punished!"
"We have reason to believe the attack may have been connected with one of
your passengers. Do you recall which ones disembarked at Goodenough
"Goodenough Island?" the steward said in puzzlement. "No one left the ship
"You're quite sure?" asked Everett.
"Of course," said Tsumura. "As a steward, it's my duty to know these
things. And we weight off carefully before we lift ship, so we'd have
noticed the presence of a stowaway. If you wish, I can provide you with a
copy of our passenger manifest."
Sometime later, Everett set down the list and studied his calculations.
"I believe we can safely conclude our bomber didn't disembark at any of
the Shiratori Maru's other ports of call," he told Jenkins. "The
timing doesn't work out for a trip to Cairns."
His aide nodded. "That would seem to be true. But someone has been
planting evidence to suggest the packet was involved. Could this have
been our friends on the mysterious cruiser? Could they have destroyed the
vessel to keep us from finding out the truth?"
Everett shook his head. "The fellows may be bloodthirsty, but this seems
disproportionate. They'd have to divert from whatever else they were doing,
at significant cost in fuel and ballast, then risk discovery by American
naval units to do something they could just as easily have accomplished by
laying another false trail. I imagine they had some other reason to prevent
us from contacting the ship. This manifest may provide us with some clues."
"Then who's been feeding us information?" asked Jenkins. "And how did they
manage to do this at all our different ports of call?"
"There would seem to be two parties involved in this affair," said Everett.
"The first, quite obviously, is our malevolent airmen. I imagine the second
is the Fat Man's people. We know the two groups are at odds. The Germans
might have employed this ruse to set us against their foes. As to how they
accomplished this, the only plausible agent remains Phelps. He's the only
one beside Michaelson who would have known our itinerary."
"But both parties seem to have been aware of our movements," objected
Jenkins. "Otherwise, how could the fellows on the cruiser have known we
were following the Shiratori Maru?"
"It's possible Phelps is playing some double game," Everett speculated.
"He might also be working for some third party of whom we are unaware.
Perhaps these are the people who sent the bomber."
Jenkins looked thoughtful. "I've been wondering about that bomber," he
observed. "How do we know there was such a person?"
Everett raised an eyebrow. "There most certainly was an explosion."
"That may be true," Jenkins admitted, "but we have no reason to believe it
was set by some hypothetical stowaway who crept over the fence that night.
It could just as easily have been set by someone inside the station. And we
do have one obvious candidate."
Everett's eyes widened as he considered the implications.
"This possibility must have occurred to Michaelson. He might have known all
"You rang for me, sir?" asked Phelps.
Michaelson looked up from his papers and nodded to the signalman to close
the door. "Yes," he replied. "Please take a seat. We have a few small
matters to discuss."
Next week: An Insufficiently Long Spoon...
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