The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 386: Captain Everett, I Presume?

Canned ham

"You're quite certain it was the Argentine vessel this time?" Everett asked Iverson.

The lieutenant nodded. "Miss Sarah and I spoke with several of the islanders here on Tarawa. They remembered the opera distinctly, and the schedule of the performance matched the dates in the ship movement report we received."

MacKiernan scowled in exasperation. "Another false lead," he complained. "You'd think those fellows at this air station could tell the difference between a major American naval unit and a commercial liner."

"We shouldn't be too hard on these people," said Jenkins. "We cannot expect everyone to notice subtle distinctions such as a different hull shape, different number of engines, complete lack of armament, and bright Argentine flags painted on the control car, envelope, and fins."

MacKiernan glanced at Jenkins. The signalman's rigorous training made it impossible to tell if he was being sarcastic, but this seemed likely. "Right," he said dryly. "It seems this particular investigation was a dead end. Where should we look next?"

Everett had been pondering this question for some time. They'd been flying from island to island, following reports of the USN Sunnyvale. Some had been accurate, others might have involved the mysterious cruiser, but most had no connection with either vessel. While this might have driven lesser men to frustration, officers in the Royal Navy Airship Service were expected to show greater fortitude in the face of adversity.

"Captain Rosendahl has practiced appearing and vanishing by surprise, as a good cruiser captain should," he observed. "We must applaud his competence, even as we seek to anticipate his next destination."

"Do you any prospects in mind, sir?" asked Murdock.

Everett imagined himself on patrol, remembering his experiences in the North Sea and Palestine. After a moment he pointed to a spot on the chart.

"We'll try here," he announced.

The Palau group was a nondescript clump of volcanic islands several hundred miles east of the Philippines. The first European visitors -- Jesuit missionaries from Manila who'd been wondering where all those shipwrecked Palauans were coming from -- had claimed the place for Spain. Recognizing a useless piece of real estate when they saw it, the Spanish had sold the archipelago to Germany as part of the German-Spanish Treaty of 1899. The Japanese had seized the place during the early days of the War, realized their mistake, and been quick to return it to Germany under the terms of Woodrow Wilson's Peace.

These hasty changes of ownership had been followed by several years of well-deserved neglect. At last, in what Germany's Secretary of State Richard von Kuhlman described as `a brilliant piece of salesmanship', the Germans had managed to foist the island off on an insufficiently-skeptical American government. Unwilling to admit they'd been gulled, the Americans had spent considerable effort developing the island as a cable station, air station, and fueling station. The facilities at Koror were testimony to their enterprise -- an incongruous collection of modern handling equipment, masts, sheds, warehouses, residences, and docks that seemed to have been dumped next to a tropical beach.

The air station was almost empty when the Flying Cloud arrived. The only other ships in evidence were an ancient L-50 class with Spanish commercial markings and a pair of trim new Goodyear patrol blimps. With little demand on its resources, the mooring operation went unusually quickly, and soon the ship was riding from the station's Number Two mast. Everett paid a courtesy call on the station's commander, then returned to meet with his officers.

"There's no sign of the American cruiser," MacKiernan observed glumly.

"We were unlikely to be so fortunate," Everett said. "Judging from the unusual efficiency of the handling parties and the activity I saw around the station, it would seem our hosts are preparing for the arrival of a major naval unit. This must be Rosendahl's command. The Fat Man's agents will be preparing for his visit as well. We'll wish to find some way to apprehend the fellows and scotch their plans."

"They have made several attempt to kidnap you," said Jenkins. "If you ventured into town, followed at a discreet distance by a suitable escort, this might lure them out of hiding."

Murdock's eyes widened. "You propose using the Captain as bait?

Everett smiled. "This would hardly be the first time I've assumed such a role, Mister Murdock," he assured the lieutenant. "Abercrombie, Rashid, and Davies may be our best choice for bodyguards. That will leave you, MacKiernan, and Iverson to oversee resupply while Miss Sarah and Pierre secure fresh victuals."

Sarah frowned as they examined the contents of another store. The victualing expedition had not been particularly rewarding. American administration might have brought a remarkable assortment of merchandise to this out-of-the-way corner of the Pacific, but most of this seemed to involve canned goods. These were difficult to contemplate without misgivings.

Pierre lowered a tin of Gorton's Ready To Fry Cod Fish Cake and shook his head. "Quel domage," he observed with some feeling. "I hope le Capitaine's expedition has been more successful."

"If the German nationalists are preoccupied with their plans to take the Sunnyvale, they might just choose to ignore him," Sarah said glumly.

"Such was my concern as well," said Pierre. He began to elaborate, then glanced toward the door. "Qu'est que c'est?" he exclaimed. "We may have other worries. Regardez vous."

Sarah followed her companion's gaze to see the proprietor taking shelter behind the counter. As she watched, three burly men with harsh Teutonic features brushed through the door. They spotted the visitors and grinned.

"So, Captain Everett," the leader announced, "at last we have found you!"

It took Sarah several moments to realize the man was talking her. "How could I be Everett?" she said indignantly "Can't you see I'm a woman?"

The German shook his head in derision. "Herr Everett, " he chided, "we were hardly surprised to learn you are a transvestite, like your infamous Korvettenkapitän Spicer-Simson."

"If you think I'm man, how do you explain this figure?" Sarah demanded, raising one arm to a nearby shelf and adjusting her pose to eliminate any ambiguity regarding her gender.

The German snorted in derision. "A clever disguise."

"Then disguise this, you bounders!" snapped Sarah, as she seized a tin of canned ham and rapped her would-be assailants over the head. They dropped like sacks of potatoes.

Pierre watched this exchange with approval. "Beaucoup!" he said brightly. "It would seem our expedition has been a success after all."

Next week: It's Good To Get These Things Out In The Open...

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