The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 373: Meanwhile, On An Entirely Different Part Of The Island

Everett opening a trapdoor

Everett and Jenkins had retired to the launch to exchange their naval uniforms for less obtrusive garb. Now they were discussing their situation and deciding on a next move.

"That Mister Straight is a rather peculiar fellow," Jenkins remarked. "Do you think he'll be able to find our missing lieutenant?"

"He has managed in the past," said Everett. "We will rely on him to repeat this accomplishment while we continue our investigations. We have two avenues of inquiry: the possible mole at the air station and the sulphur smugglers."

"It might be best if I took over the first investigation in case our adversaries have marked you," observed Jenkins.

"A sound precaution," Everett agreed. "I will pursue the second."

A short time later, the captain was sitting in a waterfront bar, drawing on his experiences in the Dardanelles and the North Sea to pose as a retired surface officer. It was easy to steer conversation in the direction of treasure. Old Pacific hands were always ready to spin yarns about this particular subject.

"There's not much gold around these days," a grizzled American trader told him. "but we've got plenty of sulfur!"

"Sulphur?" Everett asked.

"Yeah," enthused the American. "That stuff's worth its weight in antimony. They smuggle it in by airship. Rumor has it Old Man Doubleton's been moving some through his warehouse."

Everett affected an expression of ignorance. "Who's this Doubleton fellow?"

Jenkins had no trouble passing himself off as a commercial airman looking for a berth. As a member of the Signal Corps, he'd maintained far more challenging deceptions in the past. He soon discovered that Pago Pago offered several attractions that could have tempted their hypothetical mole. In particular, there were somewhat more young women frequenting the air station than its commander might have preferred. One name stood out. This was Maybelle Doubleton, daughter of a wealthy real estate developer who'd retired to American Samoa for reasons that were the subject of some speculation. He decided to investigate.

The Doubleton mansion stood in the closest thing Pago Pago had to an upscale neighborhood. Its architecture might have been an affront to the senses, but members of the Royal Navy Airship Service were expected to make allowances for local customs. Jenkins adjusted the uniform he'd resumed for this visit and rang the bell. The door was opened by a singularly thuglike butler.

The man looked him up and down and frowned. "Get lost, buster," he growled.

Jenkins drew upon centuries of British self-assurance and fixed the man with a gaze that brooked no refusal. "You will take me to the master of the house," he replied. "Be quick about it."

Mister Doubleton proved be away, but Jenkins was introduced to Viola: a hard-looking woman who seemed to be an older daughter. She didn't seem pleased to see him.

"I don't know who are, and I don't care," she announced. "If Straight sent you to pry into my sister's affairs, you can clear out."

Jenkins switched his expression from `authoritarian' to `earnest'. "My errand has nothing to do with your sister," he assured his hostess. "I'm merely trying to locate an airman with whom she might have been acquainted."

Viola seemed distressed by this news. "A British airman?" she asked apprehensively.

Members of the Signal Corps were trained to recognize clues. "Perhaps," Jenkins replied.

Viola's face fell. "So word's reached the British Navy," she said bitterly. "It suppose we should have expected this. He was Ralph Pickman, a captain in the White Star Line. He was also my husband, until he and Maybelle..." her voice trailed off.

Jenkins made a show of sympathy. "I take it he was disgraced after his company learned of the affair," he observed.

"Of course," snapped Viola. "They 'allowed' him to resign and Daddy paid him to get lost. We did our best to cover things up, but someone found out and is trying to blackmail my sister. They won't get far!"

This may all be very interesting, thought Jenkins, but it has absolutely nothing to do with a possible mole in the American fleet. "Do you know what became of Mister Pickman?" he asked, doing his best to pretend interest.

The woman scowled.. "He used Daddy's money to buy a tramp airship he calls the Black Sheep. Now he runs cheap cargoes out of Aunu'u."

The Doubleton warehouse was a substantial structure located near the harbor. Everett had no trouble forcing the lock without being detected -- a gentleman was expected to excel at anything he attempted. Most of the ground floor was occupied by vats of fertilizer. From the smell, he guessed the primary ingredient came from sheep, but there seemed no need to verify this hypothesis. He supposed that the vats might also conceal submerged containers of illicit sulphur, but decided to defer this particular line of inquiry.

To his left as he entered, a staircase led upwards. Ascending this, Everett came to a storage loft fitted with an elaborate set of hoists and trapdoors for moving goods between floors. He studied the controls with some care, to avoid the possibility of a noisome mishap, then set off to explore.

The loft proved to be as empty as the lower floor was full. Whatever it held had been removed before his arrival. The only sign of its former contents was a small crate labeled `Mighty-Bounce Handballs. Golden Fleece Importers, Aunu'u'. Everett pried open the lid to uncover a collection of unremarkable brown spheres. On impulse, he pulled one out and dropped it. It landed with a dull plop.

Shaking his head, Everett returned the ball to its crate. Some colonial powers made a practice of exporting inferior products to their possessions for sale at inflated prices. It appeared this behavior was not limited to Europeans. As he replaced the lid, he heard footsteps behind him. He turned to see five brutish figures armed with an assortment of improvised truncheons.

"Good afternoon," he said politely. "I don't believe we've been properly introduced."

"Mister Straight," said their leader. "We hear youse been nosing around in the lady's business."

Everett frowned. American dialect had an unfortunate tendency toward colloquialisms. Had he deciphered these correctly? "I'm not certain I know to whom or what you refer," he replied.

The lout's face twisted in what might have been some form of smile "That's real handy," he snorted. "We'll make sure things stay that way."

Everett studied the floor, noted the location of certain important features, and adjusted his position accordingly. "Your attitude seems unduly aggressive," he observed. "Surely we can find some way to resolve our differences that doesn't involve violence."

"Naw," said the leader. "We like violence. Get him, boys!"

The louts charged. Everett waited until they were crossing the trapdoor, then pulled the appropriate lever. There was a creak of hinges, accompanied by several cries of dismay. This were followed by a peculiarly loathsome splash.

Everett glanced down and nodded in satisfaction. If only all our problems could be solved so easily, he thought to himself.

That afternoon, Everett and Jenkins sat in the launch, discussing what they'd learned. Overhead, a Los Angeles Class airship, the Wilmington, ZRN-17, was setting out on a routine patrol. Everett watched for a moment, then took a sip of his tea.

"Our investigations have not been an unqualified success," he observed. "We may have discovered a dissipated heiress, a blackmail attempt, and a shipment of uniquely unsatisfying handballs, but we've found no sign of our hypothetical mole or our sulphur smugglers."

"We did come across several references to Aunu'u," Jenkins said helpfully.

Everett thought this over. "In the absence of any other leads, I suppose we should pay the place a visit," he decided. "We'll leave a note to inform Mister Straight of our intentions."

Next week: The Big Sheep: Conclusion...

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