The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 323: It Wasn't A Very Difficult Investigation

Hand painting a sign

Jenkins tapped the air station's log. "I believe this is the one, sir," he announced.

Everett read the entry. It wasn't particularly convincing.

17-June-1927: Aida, Milan. Five engines, length 678', 1,950,00 cu ft volume. Departed 19-June

"The Aida?" said Iverson.

"They must have thought the name sounded Italian," mused Everett.

"I believe the princess was supposed to be from Ethiopia," said Jenkins.

"We can't expect everyone to be familiar with the works of Verdi," Everett observed.

"Are we quite sure the registration isn't legitimate?" asked Sarah.

Everett nodded. "Il Duce's government doesn't have any airships of that size and configuration in the Pacific. This would most certainly be our friend Marty and his `boys'. Pierre, I will trust you and Abercrombie to track down the type of businessmen these `gangsters' night have associated with. Iverson and Sarah will make inquiries among the local merchants. Meanwhile, Jenkins and I will pay a call to the commander of this station."

As befitted a visitor of command rank, Everett and his aide were escorted directly to the officer in charge of Port Moresby's air station. This gentleman -- one Lieutenant-Commander Sparkman -- was a dour-looking man with the uncooperative manner of one who'd risen through the bureaucracy and found it good. He seemed unimpressed by his guests.

"What brings you to Port Moresby, sir?" he asked, in a voice that was anything but deferential.

"We're here to determine if there is any relation between the recent attack on Thursday Island and reports of piracy in the Dutch East Indies," said Everett.

"Who authorized you to conduct this investigation?" asked Sparkman.

Everett affected surprise. "The Royal Navy does have a duty to protect shipping," he observed. "This has been part of our charter since the reign of Henry VIII."

Sparkman made a dismissive gesture. "We're quite capable of handling this matter by ourselves. I'd advise you to contact Captain Dougherty in the Admiral's office before you interfere."

"Thank you for this information," Everett said quite honestly. "We shall keep it in mind."

"Who's this laddie we're meeting?" asked Abercrombie.

"His name is Larry," said Pierre. "He's a receiver of stolen goods -- what our American friends would call a `fence' -- so there's a good chance they dealt with him. Keep quiet, look dangerous, and let me do the talking."

The Scotsman grinned at these instructions. "Aye."

They entered the office to find a chubby man in a tropical suit counting a roll of banknotes. He slipped this into his desk and offered his visitors a very professional smile. "Pierre," he said. "I'd heard you was doing time in New Caledonia."

"I grew bored, so I left," said the Frenchman. "I understand you've been doing business with a mutual acquaintance: an American named Marty."

"I don't know what you're talking about," protested Larry

Pierre passed a wad of bills across the table. "Now that we have these preliminaries out of the way, tell us what happened."

"They dropped by on the 18th to ask about targets for a caper," said the fence. "We talked business and they lifted ship the next day."

"So you're the one who pointed them to Thursday Island?"

The fence shook his head. "I wish I was. Then they'd owe me. It musta been sweet."

"Has anyone else shown an interest in these entrepreneurs?" asked Pierre.

Larry held out his palm and Pierre slipped him another bill. "That Sparkman guy at the air station's been asking about some item they might have picked up in the Dutch East Indies." The fence glanced around and lowered his voice. "I also hear the Rabbit is looking for them."

Pierre nodded knowingly. "The Rabbit? I see. Thank you for your time."

"Who's the Rabbit?" Abercrombie asked as they were making their way back to the ship.

"I don't have the slightest idea," said the Frenchman, "but you never admit to ignorance about such things."

The merchant glanced up as Iverson and Sarah entered his shop. His narrow face and wide staring eyes reminded the lieutenant of a goldfish he'd owned as a child.

Sarah seemed unperturbed by the man's appearance. "Mister Marsh!" she said cheerfully. "Mother told me all about you!"

"Miss Sarah!" the man replied. "I'd heard you'd left your father's island. What brings you and your companion to my humble shop?"

Iverson leafed through his notes. "We're looking for a party of American airmen," he told the shopkeeper. "They're led by fellow named Marty and their numbers include Jake, Craig, a gentleman known as `Books', and a captain named Al."

Marsh nodded. "Jake and Craig were here several days ago, asking about undefended resorts frequented by wealthy tourists. I assume this has some connection with the news from Thursday Island."

"Perhaps," Iverson admitted. "Has anyone else asked about the fellows?"

"Not exactly," said Marsh, "but they were attacked as they left my shop. They made short work of their assailants and went on their way."

"Do you have any idea who the attackers were?" asked Iverson.

Marsh nodded. "I was curious, so I asked around. It seems they were members of something called the British Union. They were looking for..." he glanced at Sarah, "...the Silver Key."

The island girl clapped her hands in delight. "The Key!"

Iverson scratched his head in puzzlement. "What is this argent artifact?"

"It unlocks the gateway to the Land of Dreams. My grandmother told me wonderful stories about it when I was a child!"

This all sounded like so much nonsense to Iverson, but he knew better than to say so. "Thanks you for your assistance," he told the shopkeeper.

The librarian was a short girl with a dark complexion and exotic features that suggested a mixed descent. She smiled at Murdock in a way that made him distinctly uncomfortable. He wondered if her blouse was supposed to be that tight.

"How can I help you?" she asked in a sultry voice.

The lieutenant swallowed. "Have you had any visitors from a vessel named the Aida?"

She studied him coyly. "One of their people called to ask for brochures about nearby resorts. Would you like some copies?"

This seemed a harmless enough suggestion. "If this wouldn't be too much trouble," he replied.

"They're up on that shelf. If you'll hold this ladder, I'll fetch them for you."

"Uh... er..."

Before Murdock could gather his wits, he found himself holding a step ladder for the girl. He clamped his eyes shut as she climbed past lest he see things he shouldn't. A mysterious scent, quite unlike anything he'd encountered at the Naval College, tickled his nostrils. Something brushed his forehead. Could if have been the hem of her dress?

Then she was standing before him again, looking vaguely disappointed. "Here they are," she said as she handed him four brightly printed flyers.

"Uh... thank you," he managed to stammer.

Everett listened to the shore parties' reports with interest. "The British Union's appearance is most certainly suggestive," he mused, "particularly given the way Lieutenant-Commander Sparkman threatened us with the Admiral's office. This might explain Lady Warfield's involvement."

"Do you think the Admiral is conspiring with the baroness?" Iverson asked in alarm.

"We must hope not," Everett said sincerely, "but I wonder if he might be playing some of his people the same way Michaelson is playing us."

"Where does that leave us?" asked Jenkins.

"In an uncomfortable position," said Everett. "But I suppose the situation could be worse."

Next week: Advantage Warfield...

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