The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 397: A Few Very Minor Mistakes, Part II

A picturesque time bomb

Day was drawing to a close when the airmen made their way back to the station at Weno. On the field ahead, their two vessels rode from the masts as palm trees swayed in the background. It was the picture of a triumph of modern technology, but Everett didn't feel particularly triumphant.

"The nationalists have been one step ahead of us," he observed. "They encouraged our diversion to Truk so they could hijack the Argentine ship."

"Are we quite certain they plan to do this in Rabaul?" Jenkins asked.

Everett thought this over. Experience had taught him the dangers of leaping to conclusions on the Pacific station, but why else would the Fat Man's people have sabotaged Rabaul's wireless? "Perhaps not," he admitted, "but it will cost us little to take precautions."

Beside him, Rosendahl nodded. "Do you want us to accompany you?"

It was an attractive offer. Unfortunately, the mysterious cruiser remained unaccounted for, which might require them to distinguish between two identical airships: one friendly, one a mortal enemy. Nothing good could come of this.

"Thank you," he replied, "but I am not certain this would work to our advantage."

The American chuckled. "I understand. Good luck."

They lifted ship as the sun was dropping below the horizon. Night fell quickly, and soon they were droning south beneath the stars. This flight would place some strain on the ship's resources, since it had been several days since they'd had a chance to resupply, but there seemed little choice if they were to arrive in time.

Everett was studying the ballast board when Iverson came to stand beside him. "Rabaul is still off the air," the lieutenant said quietly. "This raises some questions regarding their situation."

"We will assume it is some trouble with their equipment," said Everett. "The nationalists might well have sabotaged the station, but I very much doubt they have sufficient forces to take the entire port."

Iverson glanced at the ballast board. Its figures were not encouraging. "What if we face action?" he asked,

One of a captain's jobs was to project reassurance. "I don't believe we need fear an attack by the Germans," Everett replied. "If they had an airship, they wouldn't be trying to steal one. As for our Japanese friends..." He gazed into the night, then shook his head, "...somehow I feel they're after bigger game."

Rabaul was still off the air when they arrived. This led to some delay while they waited for a handling party to be assembled, but they took some consolation from the absence of the Argentine liner. It seemed they'd anticipated its arrival. Mooring proceeded with usual German efficiency. As soon as their vessel was on the mast, Everett and Iverson commandeered a car to the Government House, leaving MacKiernan to oversee resupply while Jenkins manned their own radio equipment.

The Administrator was waiting for them. "I assume you returned on a matter of some urgency," he said. "Would this have anything to do with the attack on our wireless station?"

Everett nodded. "We've learned that the nationalists mean to take the Argentine liner scheduled to arrive here today. They must have wanted to prevent us from warning you."

"Then their efforts were wasted," the Administrator said smugly. "The performance has been held over in Port Moresby for two more days. That gives us plenty of time to act."

"What happened to your wireless?" asked Iverson.

"The nationalists planted bombs to destroy the mast. When the operators left the radio shack to investigate, a second set of bombs went off inside to destroy the equipment. Our forensics laboratory has been examining the debris to identify the perpetrators. They may have some answers by now."

Rabaul's forensics laboratory was an old mission school, pressed into a service that could not possibly have been anticipated by the original owners. The head investigator looked more like a tavern-keeper than a scientist from some radio drama, but there seemed little doubt regarding his competence. He was examining some fragments of metal when they entered.

"What do you have for us, Erwin?" the Administrator asked him.

"The bombs were constructed from local materials," said the investigator "The explosive was RP C/12, which they must have stolen from our armory. Nothing remains of the detonators, but I found traces of smokeless powder, which suggests they were fashioned from shotgun shells. The bombs were triggered by a clockwork mechanism." He gestured at the fragments he'd been studying. "I've been comparing the remains with import records to identify the shop where this was purchased."

"You keep records of imported clocks?" Iverson asked in astonishment.

The man seemed surprised by this question. "Of course," he replied. "We're Germans. It's what we do."

"Very good," the Administrator told him. "We shall visit the shopkeeper and examine his receipts."

Everett felt a sense of déjà vu as the party made its way through the streets of Rabaul. Once again, he was accompanying German authorities in pursuit of the Fat Man's agents. He hoped that this time the results would be more satisfactory.

"Do you think the fellow we're visiting has any direct involvement in this affair?" Iverson asked thir host.

"That seems unlikely," said the Administrator. "These nationalists would never leave one of their agents in plain sight. Still, he may be able to provide us with some leads."

A short walk brought them to the shop. This seemed more appropriate for Northern Europe than the Pacific, with a Dutch door that might have been lifted straight from some painting by van Hoogstraten. The upper half opened at their knock to reveal a man who looked like everyone's conception of a Swiss watchmaker. The only things missing were lederhosen and a Tyrolean cap.

"Guten Tag," the Administrator said politely. "We would like to ask you some questions."

The man recoiled in alarm when he saw their uniforms, then stepped back to grasp a switch on the wall. "I will never surrender!" he cried. "This is a bomb, identical to the one we used to destroy the radio tower. If you make a move to take me, I let it go off."

"Perhaps our host was mistaken regarding this man's involvement," Iverson remarked to Everett.

Everett nodded. "I daresay."

Administrator sighed in exasperation. He seemed unimpressed by the shopkeeper's threats. "Let me understand," he said. "Given a choice between surrendering and receiving a reward for providing us with information, or embracing some violent form of martyrdom, you'd chose the latter."

There was a pause while the man thought this over. "I suppose that does seem foolish," he admitted. "How large a reward?"

"We can discuss these details later," said the Administrator. "At the moment, we need to know where to find your confederates."

"They're no longer here," said the man. "They left two days ago for Port Moresby."

"Port Moresby?" said Iverson. "Oh dear. Do you think..."

"To the ship!" said Everett.

Back aboard the Flying Cloud, they waited impatiently while Jenkins adjusted the radiotelephone. For long moments, only static came from the speakers. At last a scratchy voice replied to the signalman's hail.

"Port Moresby station, McPhee here. I apologize for the delay. A matter of some urgency has occupied our attention."

Everett took the microphone. "This is Captain Everett speaking. May I inquire regarding the nature of this matter?"

"Believe it or not, a band of ruffians descended upon our air station and made off with a visiting airship."

"This would be the large Argentine liner with the opera singers aboard."

"Yes, that's the one."

Everett set down the microphone and sighed. "I believe we've lost this round," he observed to his companions. "I doubt that Michaelson will be happy. We will hope he's received some good news to distract him."

Next week: Adding Up The Score...

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