Episode 363: Whatever Were You Fellows Trying To Accomplish?
The brig at Cairns Royal Air Station predated the Royal Navy's presence by
several decades. Originally built as a police station during the Hogkinson
River Gold Rush, it had served many roles over the years -- assay office,
bank, hardware store saddlers, and veterinary clinic -- before its current
one. By now the building was showing its age. The corridors were grimy
and ill-lit, the ceilings were low, and the cells smelled strongly of small
farm animals. This might not have been in strict accordance with some
provisions of the Geneva Convention, but it was no worse than some of the
enlisted men's quarters.
The would-be assassins had been brought to the place unconscious after their
altercation the previous night. They seemed to welcome incarceration as an
alternative to each other's presence. Now Michaelson and Fenwick stood
outside the cell block, deciding on the best way to conduct an
"What do we know about these fellows?" Michaelson asked his aide.
"We've learned the names they used in town," said Fenwick. "We can also
make some plausible guesses regarding their nationalities and allegiances.
That's all we have so far."
"That should serve as a starting point," said Michaelson. "How would you
proceed in a case like this?"
"I'd employ the Prisoners' dilemma," said Fenwick. "I'd question each
man separately, promising him leniency if he answers our questions, but
warn him that if he remains silent while another man talks, he'll receive
"That might not be appropriate for these fellows," Michaelson observed. "I
don't believe the necessary relationship exists between them."
"What do you have in mind, sir?" asked the signalman.
Michaelson smiled. "Watch and learn, Mister Fenwick."
The German was heavily built, with the bearing of a soldier and a
face straight out of a recruiting poster. Wagner could have written an
entire opera about the man's haircut. Even the remains of his dark clothing
-- somewhat worse for the wear by now -- had an Aryan look. He studied them
with that peculiar expression of disdain a certain type of German reserved
for members of lower races.
Michaelson made a show of consulting his notes. "You arrived aboard a
delivery truck, representing yourself as Dietrich," he told the man. "We
are tracking down your confederate now. You can save yourself some
unpleasantness by telling us who you sent you and what your mission was."
The prisoner snorted in contempt. "I will not talk."
Michaelson shrugged. "It's only a matter of time before you do," he
observed. "You communists don't hold up very well under interrogation."
The German leapt to his feet, wincing as his head struck the ceiling. "I
am not a communist!" he exclaimed.
"So you say," Michaelson replied. "We both know that Germany is riddled
with socialist elements. They almost brought the High Seas Fleet to mutiny
after its defeat at Jutland."
"Don't take me for one of those swine!" spat the German. "I am loyal to
Michaelson made a dismissive gesture. "Everyone claims to be a
patriot. It's their deeds that count. Do you support that weak
constitutional government in Weimar?"
"Nein," growled the German. "I serve a stronger master. Have you
heard of... the Fat Man?"
Michaelson affected disinterest. "Who's he? One of Franz Selde's
Stallhelms, pretending to be a soldier?"
"He is a hero of the War! He will lead our nation to victory!"
"And just how is he going to accomplish this here in the South Pacific?"
Michaelson asked derisively.
The German's eyes gleamed. "He will begin by taking the American ship."
The Russian seemed entirely out of place in Australia. His harsh
features, weathered skin, and hard squinting eyes suggested a life on
the steppes. He seemed even more self-possessed than the German --
either that or he was less affected by the barnyard smells. He didn't
even glance up as his jailors entered his cell.
"We wish to ask you a few questions," said Michaelson.
"Ask," the Russian said dismissively. "I will not talk."
"It hardly matters if you refuse," said Michaelson. "We've traced your
movements in town. It's only a matter of time before we find your
confederates. One of you will tells us what we want to know."
"We will not betray the Revolution," growled the Russian.
Michaelson smiled. "You communists are always willing to abandon your
ideals for money. How much have the been French paying you?"
The Russian's eyes widened. "The French!" he snorted. "I would never
work for those capitalist dogs."
"Your bourgeois sympathies are obvious," said Michaelson. "Why else
would you have arrived with a Frenchman?"
"I had nothing to do with him!" the Russian protested. "It was just a
"A likely story," said Michaelson. "If you weren't his confederate, just
who are you working for?"
"I was sent by the comrades in Darwin to get information about the
"I assume we're going to accuse the Frenchman of German sympathies,"
Fenwick remarked as they approached the cell where the final prisoner
was being held.
"This is almost certain to draw an informative response," Michaelson
said brightly. "Let us see what he has to say."
The Frenchman was the most insouciant of the three prisoners. He seemed
unperturbed by his captivity. He relaxed on his cot, studying his cell as
if amused by the aesthetics, and greeted the airmen with a smile.
"Bonjours, monsieurs," he announced. "How may I be of
"We want to know why you were planted here," said Michaelson.
The prisoner chuckled. "Alas, I'm afraid I cannot reveal this information.
I'm sure you understand my position."
"Of course," Michaelson said sagely. "How long have you been working for
The prisoner's attitude underwent a remarkable change. "The
Bosche!" he hissed. "You accuse me of associating with those
"They have many sympathizers in France," Michaelson observed. "Their Fifth
Column was quite active during the War."
"I am not a traitor!"
"Of course not," Michaelson said soothingly. "With votes coming up in
Alsace and Lorraine to decide upon their allegiance, it is quite natural
for the pro-German populations to send out agents such as yourself."
"I am not `pro-German'!" protested the prisoner. "I am loyal to France!"
"You expect me to believe this?" asked Michaelson. "What is a `French
loyalist' doing here in the Pacific?"
"I serve a governor of New Caledonia. He has allied with the Japanese
against the Bosche."
"Your story gets less plausible by the moment," Michaelson said
incredulously. "What could this so-called `alliance' possibly
"I do not know the details," the Frenchman admitted, "but the Japanese plan
to take advantage of the American ship."
"I'd say that went fairly well," Michaelson remarked to Fenwick as they
left the building.
"That was amazing, sir," said the signalman. "How did you know they'd be
vulnerable to this particular strategy?"
"It was elementary, my dear Fenwick. Pride, mutual antagonism, and
misdirection are powerful tools. In the proper combination, they can
achieve many things."
"I noticed a certain common element in their replies," Fenwick observed.
"Quite," mused Michaelson. "This is food for thought."
Next week: Seeking Pals on Palawan...
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