Episode 332: I Suppose That Could Be A Clue
After leaving Rabaul, Everett and crew had continued their patrol of the
Bismarck Archipelago. These islands, collectively known as German New
Guinea, lay northeast of New Guinea proper, separated from the larger
land mass by the Vitiaz and Dampier Straits. Like most German overseas
possessions, they'd been acquired in the late 19th century, long after the
major colonial Powers had divided the choicer territories between them --
to the extent that there were any `choice territories' to be found in New
Guinea. Everett had always wondered how the great statesman had felt when
he learned the archipelago had been named after him. It seemed unlikely
that he'd considered this as an honor.
Their reconnaissance had turned up no sign of Marty and his boys. Now,
after three days of searching, Everett felt it was safe to assume the
gangsters had left the area. He was at the chart table, plotting the next
leg of their flight, when Jenkins emerged from the radio shack.
"Captain," the signalman announced, "we've received a distress call from
Efate. A visiting liner reports that two of their passengers have been
Everett raised an eyebrow. "What a strange thing for someone to do," he
observed. "They could hardly expect much in the way of ransom."
"Unless they want payment in copra."
"There is that."
"Do you think this could be our American friends?" asked Jenkins. "Perhaps
they've abandoned piracy in favor of a more conventional criminal
"This seems unlikely," mused Everett. "It's difficult to imagine what could
have brought them back to the New Hebrides. They've already robbed the only
bank in that part of the Pacific. Still, I suppose we must investigate."
The flight to Port Vila, with a stop at Rabaul for fuel, ballast, and
hydrogen, took almost two days. They could have flown there directly, but
experience had taught Everett not to rely on the joint Anglo-French
Condominium of the New Hebrides for resupply. The settlement was
unusually substantial for an island port. Its harbor facilities seemed more
extensive than necessary, its administration buildings looked new and
well-maintained, and it also boasted a small cathedral and Anglican church,
as if the two governing authorities had striven to outdo each other.
The liner, Lady of Langstone, was somewhat less impressive than her
surroundings. She was an ancient paddle steamer relegated to service in the
South Pacific when she could no longer meet the modest demands of the
summers on the English Channel. Everett wondered how the vessel had made
the passage without sinking. The skipper, Captain Beard, looked as ancient
as his command. Grizzled and weather-beaten, he still projected
an aura of competence, but he also seemed somewhat vague.
"Could you tell us what happened?" Everett asked him.
The skipper gazed into space. Everett got the impression the man might not
be entirely aware he'd been relocated to the South Pacific. "Two of my
passengers...," he paused as if to remember their names, "...that would be
Lord and Lady Beachly, went ashore with their servant. We've had no word of
"How long ago did this occur?" Everett asked patiently.
"I believe it was toward the end of the month," said Beard. "It might have
been the 29th... or perhaps it was the 30h."
"Were there any witnesses to the kidnapping?" asked Everett.
The skipper thought this over. It seemed he was not a man given to quick
decisions. "No," he replied.
"Have you received any ransom notes?
Everett suppressed a sigh. "Was there material evidence whatsoever?"
"You're quite certain the couple was kidnapped?"
"Of course," said Beard. "What other reason could they have to leave my
Everett glanced toward harbor, where the man's steamer was listing at her
mooring, and kept his thoughts to himself. "We will look into the matter,"
"That may not have been a particularly informative interview," Jenkins
observed as they made their way back to the ship.
Everett allowed himself a smile. "I daresay."
"How do you intend to proceed?" asked the signalman.
"We'll deploy our people the same way we did before," said Everett.
"Abercrombie and Loris will investigate the town while Iverson and Miss
Sarah visit the inland villages. That should suffice to locate our missing
peers. It seems safe to assume they're somewhere on this island, and the
place is none too large."
Iverson remembered the trail from their previous visit. Then it had seemed
threatening -- an uncertain path into the heart of darkness. Now he could
appreciate the beauty of the surrounding jungle. Sarah skipped on ahead,
spear slung over one shoulder, then turned to wait for him to catch up.
"What do you think happened to these passengers we're looking for?" she
asked. "Do you really think they were abducted?"
"I very much doubt it," he replied. "The New Hebrides does not seem to be
a hotbed of criminal activity."
Sarah raised an eyebrow. "Surely they couldn't just have wandered off on
Iverson smiled. His companion might have studied books about English
culture, but some things could only be learned from direct observation.
"They might not have considered it too be such," he told her. "Members of
the gentry can have... different sensibilities from those not born to
The island girl laughed. "We've had some tribal leaders like that back in
New Caledonia, but this situation tends to correct itself when different
tribes find themselves in competition."
Another hour or so of hiking brought them to the village they'd visited in
the spring. As they approached, Iverson heard raised voices and the sound
of blows. Before, he'd been alarmed. Now he knew what to expect. They
emerged from the jungle to find a crowd of islanders gathered around the
tennis court set up in the village square. The court may have been rustic
by European standards, with a net fashioned from vines rather than cordage,
but it was entirely serviceable. On it, two young warriors were battling
each other with a brutal exchange of ground strokes.
"Bravo!" cried a pair of English voices as one player executed an unbeatable
passing shot. Iverson looked to see a well-dressed couple -- quite
obviously the missing peers -- attended by a man whose unpretentious garb
and unduly stoic expression proclaimed him to be a butler.
"Lord and Lady Beachly, I presume," he said, after he and Sarah had made
their way through the crowd.
"You are correct," the man said politely, "and you would be..."
"Lieutenant Iverson, Royal Navy Airship Service, and this is our ballast
officer, Miss Sarah."
"We're pleased to make your acquaintance," said Lady Beachly. "I take it
you're here to watch the tournament. It's been quite exciting. That
gentleman on the left has a forehand to rival Bill Tilden."
"Actually, we were looking for you," said Iverson. "You've been missed back
on your ship, and they were growing concerned."
Lord Beachly looked puzzled. "That seems like an over-reaction on their
part. We've only been away for... Hinks, how long has it been?"
The butler coughed politely. "Four days, milord."
"That long?" marveled Lady Beachly. "I suppose we lost track of the time.
This has been the most interesting thing we've seen since those airship
Iverson and Sarah exchanged glances. "Airship pirates?"
"Yes. In the Dutch East Indies, our liner was attacked by a group of
American airmen on the most adorable old dirigible. They were such
gentlemen. We gave them that silver key we picked up on Sumatra."
Next week: If You're So Clever, Why Don't You Figure Out If He's An Agent?...
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