The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 307: Reports From the Field

Pierre and friends

It was clear that Abercrombie was disappointed by the way the day's events had unfolded. He hung his head and shuffled his feet like a child deprived of a treat -- a child from some extremely large and muscular subspecies of humanity.

"I missed a tussle," he moped.

Everett suppressed a smile. "I'm sure you'll find opportunity for another," he assured his chief rigger. "This attack suggests we've attracted someone's notice. These people are likely to try again."

The Scotsman brightened. "D'ye ken who they were?"

"We encountered two groups of assailants," said Jenkins. "Their motives remain to be determined, but they were quite clearly at odds. One of the leaders spoke English. The other spoke a language I did not have time to identify."

"One imagines those first fellows had some connection with the British Union," said Everett. "Pierre, were you able to learn anything from their countryman here in Cairns?"

The Frenchman smiled. Unlike the rigger, he looked quite satisfied with the progress of his afternoon. "I paid a visit to Monsieur Andrews, as you instructed," he reported. "The gentleman was entertaining some... close personal friends when I arrived, but I'd taken the precaution of bringing a bottle of wine, so they were happy to welcome another guest. Our conversation ranged over a variety of topics, and my host's amis proved quite... knowledgable. It appears they are on intimate terms with several of the entrepreneurs who are building the new air station, and intimacy has always been the enemy of secrets."

"Did this... intimacy... lead to any particular indiscretions?" asked Everett.

"Oui," said Pierre. "Monsieur Channel has been pocketing a percentage of the contracts, as we suspected. He has also paid these people to look the other way while equipment was diverted to this resort of which we have heard."

"This second piece of information is open to several interpretations," Jenkins observed. "It could be a case of graft, or it could be that this resort has some special significance of which we're unaware. What type of equipment was involved?"

The Frenchman's attempt to look remorseful was not very convincing. "Alas," he sighed, "I did not have a chance to find out. The conversation took a turn that didn't leave our companions in position to answer."

Everett thought this over. "As employees of the rail office, our friends Miss Blaine and Miss Wilcox are in a position to examine shipping records," he said. "This may give us some idea what equipment was involved. Meanwhile, we will locate and inspect this resort."

"How will we accomplish this without being observed?" asked Iverson. "It's clear that our movements are being watched."

"We could fly to the site," suggested Murdock.

The others turned to look at him.

"Our adversaries would be likely to notice a 750 foot long dirigible passing overhead," MacKiernan said gently.

"Oh yes. Right."

"This may be true," said Everett, "but we do have an alternative."

Everett and Fleming bent over the chart. From time to time, Everett would consult a table of figures. At last he circled a stretch of coastline to the west.

"If we assume this hypothetical resort is within a day's travel by boat, but far enough from Darwin to escape notice by the local fishing fleet, it would be somewhere in this region," he announced "Do you think you could inspect it from the air with your Lilienthal glider?"

Fleming measured the distance and bearing. "It could be done, if we time it right," he decided. "The prevailing wind is offshore, but a sea breeze front seems to push through every morning around 1000 hours. If you launch me here when it arrives..." he tapped a point at the eastern end of the region, "...I should be able to pick up the convergence and work my way west."

Everett nodded. He wasn't entirely certain what a 'convergence' was -- presumably this was some jargon of the foot-launched aviation community -- but it sounded promising. "That should serve," he said. "We will lift ship tomorrow morning, early enough to meet your schedule. After you've finished your reconnaissance, proceed on foot to Broome, where we'll arrange to recover you and your aircraft."

Jenkins and Emily sat in the Flying Cloud's radio shack reviewing their selection of codes. "These should suffice," Jenkins said at last. "You can use the ciphers for ordinary communications, the one-time pads for matters when secrecy is essential, and these messages in clear about weather, fish prices, and the like to communicate with Fleming when he arrives in Broome."

"Do you think all this secrecy will be necessary?" asked Emily.

"Probably not," said the signalman, "but it doesn't hurt to be cautious. I'm more concerned about how the police chief might react if he becomes aware of your investigations."

Emily chuckled. "Don't worry about Channel!" she announced. "If he tried to cause trouble, he'll have my aunts to deal with!"

Jenkins smiled. "I can appreciate the efficacy of that threat."

She smiled with him, then her expression grew serious. "I worry about you," she said quietly. "This game seems to have changed now that Lady Warfield has reappeared. How is the Captain taking it?"

Jenkins sighed. "He must be troubled, but he hides it well."

Everett paused at the foot of the mooring mast to gaze up at his ship, watching how the last of the day's light played across the curves of her hull. She was most certainly one of the most beautiful things he'd seen. As his thoughts drifted to the inevitable comparison, he heard the elevator door open. He turned to see Clarice emerge from the lift.

"Miss Blaine," he said politely. "I trust you are well this evening."

"Captain Everett," she replied. "I was checking my cabin to make sure I hadn't left anything behind. I'll miss this ship."

Everett found himself smiling. "It was a pleasure to have you aboard," he told her. "We hope to have that pleasure again someday."

"I understand you'll be lifting ship for Kupang tomorrow," she said.

"That is our plan," he replied. "Shall we bring back some souvenirs for you?"

She began to reply, then hesitated. At last she reached out to touch his arm. He glanced down at her in surprise.

"Be careful Roland," she said softly. "I worry that this game may have changed."

The streets of Kupang were a cross-section of humanity, where Dutch administrators rubbed shoulders with German missionaries, Arab sea captains, Chinese merchants, Melanesian fisherman, and a pair of visitors from some northern European nation who kept muttering to themselves and glancing over their shoulders. Lord and Lady Beachly negotiated this throng with casual indifference, followed by their butler, Hinks.

"What do you think of this village, Esmerelda?" asked Lord Beachly.

Lady Beachly paused before a shop that offered goods ranging from tennis rackets to shrunken heads. She hefted one of the former, gave one of the latter a speculative toss, then set the two aside.

"It does seem rather dull," she observed. "Is it true that Captain Bligh called here in 1789?"

"So I understand. This would have been after that altercation on the breadfruit voyage."

"Whatever could have possessed him?"

Lord Beachly glanced toward the west, where the setting sun cast a glittering track of light across a deep blue tropical sea, and shrugged. "There's no accounting for the tastes of some of these Navy officers."

Beside them, Hinks cleared his throat. "Excuse me," he told the couple. "There are some gentlemen here to see you."

The Beachlys turned to see a party of thugs regarding them with expressions of avarice. "All right," one of the men demanded. "Where is it?"

Lord Beachly raised an eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?"

"We know you have it!" the thug announced. "Give it to us or there will be trouble!"

Lord Beachly glanced at Hinks, who was rolling up his sleeves.

"Shall I give these gentlemen what they asked for?" said the butler.

"Yes," said Lord Beachly. "Let them have it."

Next week: Kupang Time...

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