The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 371: Can We Have Samoa Again?

Lieutenant Murdock and admirers

They'd taken the Flying Cloud east toward American Samoa, staying south of the direct route to avoid shipping lanes and the regular airship flights from Pago Pago to the Solomons and Australia. Now Everett had summoned MacKiernan and Jenkins to review what they'd discovered on Vanua Lava and plan their next move. The atmosphere in the captain's stateroom was a mixture of exasperation and calculation.

"Did you and Miss Perkins find anything of note when you explored the island?" Everett asked his exec.

MacKiernan frowned. "No, captain. Neither did Iverson and Miss Sarah. The air station manager in Sola went out of his way to mislead us. He pretended to dissuade us from investigating the interior, knowing this would draw our attention away from the town itself."

"He must have been working for the Japanese nationalists," mused Everett. "If it hadn't been for Mister Murdock, we'd never have discovered the deception."

"Do you believe the lieutenant's information is accurate?" asked Jenkins.

Everett couldn't quite suppress a smile. "A young lady sulphur smuggler, apparently smitten by his charms, told him that the mysterious cruiser was a regular visitor to Sola? This seems too unlikely to be an invention."

"Quite," Jenkins admitted. "Where does that leave us?"

"We've learned that the Fat Man plans to take an `American ship'," said Everett. "We assume this is the USN Sunnyvale. To intercept the vessel, he would need some way to anticipate its movements. Michaelson has speculated that he's receiving intelligence from some agent in Pago Pago. We will wish to track down this hypothetical agent. We've also learned that smugglers are running sulphur from Vaua Lava to Tutuila. It might be profitable to locate these entrepreneurs and determine what they know of the mysterious cruiser."

"I assume we'll be sending a party ashore in the launch," said MacKiernan. "Who do you have in mind for the investigating team?"

"I may have to go myself in case we need someone of command rank to deal with any officials," said Everett. "I'll want Jenkins along to handle communications and any situations that might require subterfuge. I'll also take Mister Murdock, to take advantage of any knowledge he may have acquired during his previous visit to Tutuila. The experience should be good for his education."

As a child, Murdock had read about small boat operations -- landing parties, infiltration missions, assaults, and cutting out expeditions. If the reality was somewhat less comfortable than fiction, he was too thrilled to notice. Two hours of stomach-churning motoring with the swell on their starboard quarter brought them to Pago Pago, where they tied up next to an anonymous wharf. He leapt ashore burning with excitement.

"Stay close, Mister Murdock," said Everett with what might have been a smile. "We wouldn't want to lose you in the crowd."

"Yes sir!" said Murdock.

It was quite the crowd. The men were a varied lot: smartly-unformed naval personnel, sun-tanned islanders in breechclouts and sarongs, weather-beaten sailors in salt-stained seamen's garb, and strangely-dressed merchants from the far corners of the Earth. The women's clothing, such as it was, was appropriate to the tropics. Murdock did his best not to stare, but this forbearance did not seem to be reciprocated. Why are they looking at me like that? he wondered. And why are they all smiling at me?

"Where will we visit first, sir?" he asked Everett, uncomfortable with all this attention.

"I believe the Admiralty maintains an attaché here," said the captain. "We'll pay the fellow a visit."

American Samoa was not large enough to warrant a full-fledged embassy from a major Power. The British Foreign Office presence took the form of a legal office, trading exchange, and tourist bureau. The attaché -- a retired captain who might well have served in Nelson's day -- doubled as the Lloyd's representative. He seemed unsurprised to see them.

"Good day, Captain Everett," he said politely. "I received a coded message from Cairns to the effect that you might pay a visit. I take it from the absence of your airship that your arrival was not intended to become general knowledge."

"We saw no need to advertise our presence," said Everett. "It concerns a matter of some sensitivity. We have reason to believe someone at the naval air station is leaking information to a German nationalist group."

"I can understand why you might not want to bring this up with the station's commander," said the attaché. "Some of these Colonials can be martinets, who don't take well to criticism. It may have something to do with their Puritan ancestors. We did well to kick the fellows out of England after Cromwell's day. But I digress."

"Do you have any idea who the information leak might be?"

Their host sighed. "There are too many possibilities," he observed ruefully. "The station commander is not the sort of fellow who inspires great loyalty among his enlisted personnel. American pay scales are not particularly extravagant, so it would be natural for someone to seize a chance to supplement them. There is also the lure of... social opportunities. But I'll make some inquiries."

Murdock did his best to hide his disappointment as they left the attaché's office. This business of espionage was not turning out to be as exciting as the radio dramas suggested. Where were the secret messages, the desperate struggles, the clock ticking away as the hero raced to disarm the hidden bomb? He'd trailed slightly behind his companions when he noticed two women beckoning to him from an alley. This was more like it! Perhaps these were contacts! Though he'd imagined contacts would wear somewhat more clothing.

"Good day, ladies," he said, as casually as he could. "How may I help you?"

"Sir!" said one of the girls, tugging at his arm. "We came to warn you! Someone's going to attack the British airmen!"

"What a remarkable coincidence!" Murdock remarked. "We're British airmen too!"

The girls stared at him with a mixture of exasperation and amazement. "No, you don't understand!" said the other. "You're the ones they're going to attack!'

Murdock thought this over, then looked around. "I suppose I really should inform the others," he observed. "Did you happen to see where they got to?"

"Well, that was invigorating," Everett remarked as he and Jenkins disposed of the last of their assailants.

Jenkins produced a clothes brush and began to see to his captain's attire. "Quite," he replied. "If you'll allow me. I believe this collar may need to be pressed."

"We can see to it when we... I say, do you see any sign of Mister Murdock?"

"He was lagging behind as we turned the last corner," said Jenkins. "I was about to call this to your attention when these miscreants interrupted our stroll."

Everett walked back to the intersection they'd just left, looked both ways, and shook his head.

"Bother!" he exclaimed. "We appear to have misplaced another lieutenant. Fortunately, I know just the man to help us find him."

Next week: The Big Sheep, Part II...

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