Episode 395: There's No Right Time To Make The Wrong Choice
The R-87 spent most of the day at Besa taking on supplies. They'd hurried
to reach Sumbawa ahead of the Brotherhood of Workers; now they
were paying the price for their extravagance. They might console
themselves with the knowledge that their quarry would also be low on
supplies, but it remained to be determined where the Russians were
enjoying this poverty. This left Fenwick with little to do but remain
in the radio shack, listening for intercepts. He was searching through
the frequencies when Michaelson arrived.
"What do you have to report?" the senior captain demanded.
Fenwick handed over his log. "We've had one transmission from a nearby
station by an operator with an unskilled hand," he replied as crisply as he
could. "I didn't recognize the code."
"You should hardly have expected to," Michaelson chided him. "That will
have been sent by our archaeologists. They will be warning Captain
Loika of our presence here."
"What do you think he'll do when he learns we're ahead of him?"
"He'll make the entirely reasonable assumption that it's only a matter of
time before he's intercepted and boarded. He will wish to offload his
cargo before then, and either make arrangements to recover it at his leisure
or hire someone to convey it to Russia on his behalf. This would have to be
done at some place belonging to a Power that has no immediate reason to help
us, and is also strong enough to defy us.
Fenwick could recognize a surprise quiz when he encountered one. "The
first condition excludes the Americans, for they're our staunch allies,"
he replied. "The second excludes the Spanish and Dutch, for their days of
world domination are gone. That leaves only the French, with their
colonies at French Polynesian and New Caledonia. The former is almost
certainly out of range, so I'd guess Loika will call at the latter."
Michaelson gave a curt nod. "Good enough, though I suppose you could have
been quicker. We shall lift ship for New Caledonia as soon as Lieutenant
Commander Colson feels we're ready."
The senior captain seemed as dismissive as ever, but by now, Fenwick had
learned to sense some of his superior's moods. "Is something wrong, sir?"
Michaelson glanced at him sharply, then seemed to sigh. "I don't like the
way this situation is developing, Fenwick. There's a disturbing pattern
here. Let's hope Everett has some good news for us."
After the failure of the ambush attempt, Rosendahl returned his ship to
normal watches. Meanwhile Everett used the wireless to summon the
Flying Cloud to Weno. When these tasks were complete, the two
captains set off to the Administrator's office. They found the German
leafing through a collection of stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. He seemed
unconcerned by the previous night's debacle.
"Guten tag, mien Herren, " he said brightly, "I have been reviewing
recent events and I would like to call your attention to the peculiar
behavior of the nationalists during the night time."
Rosendahl seemed puzzled by this observation. "But the nationalists did
nothing during the night time," he protested.
"Ja," said the Administrator. "That's what's so peculiar about..."
"Quite," interrupted Everett. "I realize it may not be often one gets such
an opportunity, but there's a time and a place for these things. Do you
have any suggestions for our next move?"
The German sighed. "No, but we can always round up some known agents for
Rounding up nationalist agents was obviously a familiar exercise for the
Administrator's men. Noon found the captains standing at the edge of a
clearing, watching an anonymous bungalow while gendarmes surrounded it in a
force more than adequate to deal with any conceivable resistance. The
Administrator waited until they were in position, then straightened his
jacket, strode to the front door, and gave it a firm knock.
"You will open this door," he announced.
"Again?" came a voice from inside. This was followed by a creak from some
piece of furniture and the sound of footsteps. Moments later, the door
opened to reveal a plump bespectacled man -- the very image of a German
shopkeeper -- gazing at them with expression of patience.
"What is it this time?" he asked.
"You will come with us to answer some questions," said the Administrator.
"Let me get my shoes."
The prisoner made no attempt to resist as they marched him back to the
Government House. He didn't seem discomfited by his situation -- if
anything, he seemed to regard it as an exciting change from ordinary
routine. Life here must be rather boring, thought Everett.
Perhaps that's what leads these people to become nationalist agents.
He imagined this as the basis for some novel by Joseph Conrad.
The Heart of Tedium, perhaps.
"What were your latest orders?" the Administrator asked the man after
they'd locked him in a cell.
The prisoner smiled. "Surely you don't expect me to tell you."
"We have ways to make you talk," warned the Administrator.
"Pfagh!" said the man. "You are too soft to resort to force. And I faced
much worse in the War."
Now it was the Administrator's turn to smile. "I said nothing about force.
If you don't tell us what we want to know, we'll set you free to return to
the dull monotony of your humdrum existence."
The man's face paled. "No! No!" he cried. "Anything but that!"
"Very well," said the Administrator. "We know that you work for the Fat
Man. What are his latest goals?"
"He will make Germany strong again!"
The Administrator gritted his teeth. It seemed he'd encountered this
particular response before. "Ja ja," he said patiently. "And how does he
plan to accomplish this?"
The prisoner grinned. "He will steal... the American airship!"
"He can't hope to succeed," said the Administrator. "The American ship is
here, under close guard."
"Not that American ship! The other one!"
Everett and Rosendahl stared at each other in perplexity. "You wouldn't
happen to have any other airships in the area you haven't told us about?"
Rosendahl rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Not that I know of," he replied.
Beside them, Jenkins' eyes had widened in alarm. "Sir," he told Everett,
"there is also the Argentine liner that's been carrying Notariello and his
opera on a tour of the Pacific. Could he mean the South American
"Oh dear," said Everett.
"We'd better call Rabaul to warn them," said Rosendahl.
"I'm afraid this isn't possible," said the Administrator. "Their wireless
station went off the air sometime this morning."
Next week: A Few Very Minor Mistakes, Part I...
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