Episode 391: It Is Possible To Be Too Clever
They lifted ship from Palau in the morning, as the sun was clearing the
horizon. Ascent was routine, and soon the Flying Cloud was
underway toward the south. At the station behind them, the
Sunnyvale rode from her mast like a slumbering leviathan. A
signal lamp winked from her bridge to wish them farewell.
Everett allowed himself a smile, then opened the log to make an entry.
24-Aug-1927, 7 20N, 134 29 E. Departed Palau 0600 heading south, as per
the stratagem we agreed upon with Captain Rosendahl to lure the German
nationalists into a trap. We will decide upon a destination en route.
He waited for the ink to dry, then closed the volume and turned to the table
where MacKiernan was examining their small scale chart of the Western
Pacific. Like its predecessors, this one had seen considerable use, and
was overdue for replacement. Everett made a mental note to file an
RNR-4599WP, Request For More Small-Scale Charts of the Western
Pacific, after this mission was over.
"We have three days to lay a false trail, double back to Truk, and contact
the Administrator," MacKiernan observed. "Do you have an intermediate
destination in mind, sir?"
"We will pay a visit to Rabaul," said Everett. "It's within range of our
final destination, and it's a plausible place for us to resupply on our way
back to Cairns."
Murdock had been studying the chart, as if trying to measure distances with
his eyes. "Wouldn't a route through Port Moresby be shorter, sir?" he
Everett resisted the urge to shake his head. The lieutenant still had some
things to learn about airship operations. "Perhaps," he said gently, "but
that would take us across the Owen Stanley Range, which would be costly in
terms of ballast. We wish to avoid such expenditures if we can. As an
exercise, I invite you to calculate the travel time for each route."
"Thank you, sir," said Murdock, glad to have escaped so lightly.
Traveling at the published cruising speed for a Junior Vickers, it took the
Flying Cloud slightly more than 24 hours to make the passage from
Palau to the Bismarck Archipelago. Everett had timed their arrival for late
morning to increase their chances of being seen, so the air around them was
busy with traffic. Blimps dotted the sky, carrying cargos and passengers
whose schedules were not particularly urgent. A pair of government packets
raced south on some errand to the Solomon Islands. To the east, a DELAG
liner was setting a course for the Marshalls, Hawaii, or possibly America,
Rabaul's air station was as crowded as ever, but visiting naval vessels
received preferential treatment. An hour after dropping her handling lines,
the Flying Cloud was riding from a tall mast next to a Meersburg
class patrol ship. As their engines fell silent, Everett turned to his
"The Administrator will be expecting a courtesy call," he told them. "In
keeping with our deception, we'll inform him that I'm indisposed and MacKiernan
will make the visit in my place. In the meantime, Pierre and Sarah will see
what news they can gather in town."
Government House sent a car for MacKiernan and Jenkins -- a late-model Adler
similar to the one the nationalists had used in Cairns the year before. The
ride involved some clashes between a rustic island culture and the Teutonic
passion for order and efficiency -- at one point they had to halt to allow
a herd of pigs to cross ahead of them -- but the driver seemed to take these
checks in stride. When they reached their destination, a guard ushered them
to the Administrator's office.
"Guten Tag," said their host. "I see that Captain Everett is not
with you. I trust he's in good health."
"The Captain sends his apologies," said MacKiernan. "He was set upon by
nationalist agents on Palau. He put paid to the fellows, but he suffered
some minor injuries in the process, so we felt it best to return to Cairns."
The Administrator glanced out the window, where the air station was visible
to the south. His expression was thoughtful. "Your captain doesn't seem
to have taken any precautions to keep this secret," he observed.
MacKiernan nodded to himself. This man was no fool. "No," he replied.
"I don't believe he'd be particularly upset if the matter became public
The Administrator smiled. "I understand. I will see to it that this
information reaches the right ears. Tell Captain Everett that I wish him a
speedy recovery, and I regret that he will not be here for the opera."
Pierre and Sarah kept their eyes open as they wandered through town, but no
one seemed to be paying them any attention. Attackers were conspicuous by
their absence. Either that or they'd learned to leave Sarah alone.
"This isn't quite as exciting as I'd hoped," the island girl observed.
"Oui," Pierre said philosophically, "but we cannot expect
entertainment on every island we visit."
Sarah shook her head, then paused to examine a poster. "It looks like we'll
miss the opera too," she pouted.
"Notariello is coming here?" said Pierre.
She pointed at the schedule at the bottom of the flier. "Two days from now,
after he finishes a performance at Port Moresby."
The figure behind the desk glanced up from the report he'd been reading.
Once again, Dietrich was reminded of a dragon in its lair. "So," growled
the Fat Man, "what is the word from Palau?"
Deitrich shuffled through his notes. The fuhrer might be in a good
mood, but so was a dragon before it attacked.
"Everett escaped the kidnapping attempt, but he was injured in the process.
He is returning to Cairns."
"What was the extent of his injuries?"
"Our agents didn't say, but they must be significant if he's abandoning the
The Fat Man nodded. "They did better than I expected. The captain is a
"Why do we order our agents to make these attacks?" asked Dietrich. "They
have no hope of success."
"They attract the captain's attention. It is worth sacrificing a pawn to
neutralize a knight. I take it there's more to their report."
"Yes, Mein Herr. The Sunnyvale called at Palau a day
after Everett's arrival."
The Fat Man laughed -- a short bark of derision. "This cannot have been a
coincidence. He must have sought a meeting to warn Rosendahl that we have
designs on his vessel. They still haven't guessed our plans. Is there any
"We have a report from our agents on Kupang," said Dietrich. "A Soviet
airship called there today for resupply. This same vessel was seen earlier
The Fat Man made a dismissive gesture. "We'll keep an eye on them to
identify their contacts, but we're after bigger game."
Next week: Deciding On Priorities...
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