Episode 418: Truk Stop
The R-46 might have been able to reach some of the sites on the
Administrator's list in a single leg, but MacKiernan remained unwilling to
strain his vessel's limited capabilities, so he called at Truk for resupply.
This atoll consisted of a 40-mile wide lagoon enclosing dozens of islands
ranging in size from several square miles down to anonymous specks of coral
and sand. Once part of the Spanish colonial empire, it had passed into
German possession after the Spanish-American war. The Germans were still
wondering how they'd ended up with it.
Weno, the capital, was a sizable village on the northern shore of Moen
Island. Like all German administrative centers in the Pacific, it was an
incongruous superposition of the Teutonic passion for order on a culture
whose traditions took a markedly different form. In this case, the
hybrid seemed to be a happy one, and the airmen disembarked to find the
islanders hard at work with shovels and rollers preparing the grounds for
some athletic contest. The nature of this contest was not immediately
clear, but the presence of several women weaving nets suggested it might
have something to do with fish.
The local Administrator greeted them with a smile.
"Guten tag, Kapitänleutnant," he told MacKiernan. "I
remember your visit with Kapitän Everett during that
business with the opera singer. I see they've given you the R-46. You
have my sympathy."
MacKiernan suppressed a frown at the implied slight to his command.
The man meant well. "We appreciate your hospitality," he said politely.
"Your people seem rather busy today."
The German nodded. "We're getting ready for the inter-island tennis
tournament. We'll be playing the Cho-cho next week. What brings you
to our archipelago?"
MacKiernan considered his reply. It might not be appropriate to
reveal the details of his mission, but they could benefit from the
Administrator's assistance, and the man had proved himself trustworthy
during their search for Notariello. "We're continuing our investigation
of the Fat Man's nationalists," he said. "Have they been active here
since the events of last year?"
"Not on Moen," said the Administrator, "but I don't have resources to
keep watch on all of the out-islands. If you wish to examine these
yourselves, I'll be happy to place a launch at your disposal."
MacKiernan decided to take the Administrator up on his offer. This
would be an opportunity to bring Lieutenant Wilcox along on a mission
and take the lad's measure. For lack of any better alternatives, he
decided they'd investigate the village on Totiw where the Fat Man's
people had maintained their base. Two hours of steaming brought them
to the settlement.
"This place looks deserted, sir," Wilcox said after they were ashore.
"That may be true," MacKiernan told him, "but our adversaries might have
left some clues behind when they abandoned it. Let us see what we can
The buildings were in remarkably good condition after a year of neglect.
German workmanship appeared to be winning the contest with
tropical weather. This workmanship extended to things other than
"Sir, stop!" warned Wilcox.
MacKiernan looked where the lieutenant was pointing to see a trip wire
stretched across their path. Wilcox picked up a handy stick and gave the
wire a prod. There was a click, a whoosh, and a scythe-bladed pendulum
hurtled through the air in front of them to embed itself in a wall.
The lieutenant gave the thing a tap. "A nice piece of work," he
remarked, "but the triggering mechanism was rather exposed."
"A design deficiency for which we must feel some gratitude," said
MacKiernan. "Let us find out what these people have gone to so much
trouble to protect."
A search of the outlying bungalows revealed little of significance, though
the airmen did come upon some intriguing clues regarding the former
occupant's romantic endeavors. The center of the village was dominated by
what appeared to be an administrative building. MacKiernan had stepped
onto the veranda and was reaching for the door when Wilcox tugged his
"Sir," he warned, "we might wish to take some precautions."
The lieutenant reached into his pocket to produce a length of string, tied
one end of this to a short stick, then lashed the stick to the doorknob.
Satisfied with his work, he stepped back and gave the string a tug. As the
doorknob turned, a trapdoor dropped open to reveal a pit floored with
spikes. These were coated with a substance MacKiernan very much doubted
"These fellows didn't go out of their way to make their visitors feel
welcome," he observed.
"They might have had a more liberal definition of the term `welcome' than
the one to which we're accustomed," said Wilcox.
"Perhaps," MacKiernan said skeptically. "Let's see what other welcomes
they've prepared for us."
The building proved to be riddled with traps. For the next several hours,
MacKiernan watched as Wilcox found and deactivated a succession of lethal
mechanisms. These were remarkable in their profusion. How, he wondered,
had the nationalists found time to plan them all? At last the airmen
came to what was obviously the main office. Inside, an elaborate desk stood
next to a poster of Gary Cooper and Clara Bow in William Wellman's
new film, `Airships'.
Wilcox gestured toward the poster. "That's the sort of decoration that
screams, `There's a safe behind me'," he observed.
"It also seems to scream `another trap'," said MacKiernan. "Would you care
to speculate what form this one might take?"
The lieutenant rubbed his chin. "So far we've had the pendulum, the
trapdoor, the poison darts, the electrified panel, the wire noose, the
grenade in the table lamp, panels that slam shut while the room floods with
poison gas, and the cobra in the umbrella stand. I imagine this will be a
simple deadfall hidden in the rafters. They haven't done that one yet. If
you'll wait here for a moment, I'll see if I can contrive some way to
trigger it prematurely."
The lieutenant stepped outside, to return carrying a coconut. He hefted
this, studied the pitch, then bowled a fast bouncer to Gary Cooper. It
struck the actor's chest with a thump. This was followed by a loud crash as
a massive concrete slab fell through the ceiling and smashed through the
floorboards in a hail of splinters.
MacKiernan waited for the echoes to fade, then stepped forward to examine
the hole in the floor. The slab seemed to have buried itself well below the
water table, for a film of mud was flowing across its surface, mottled by
congeries of bubbles that looked almost protoplasmic and self-luminous,
forming and unforming like a myriad of temporary eyes.
"The fellow who designed this one was a bit of an overachiever," he
"Perhaps he had some extra concrete and didn't want it to go to waste,"
MacKiernan glanced at the lieutenant, but the youth maintained a straight
face. "That was well done, Mister Wilcox," he said. "You seem to have a
talent for this sort of thing."
The lieutenant shuffled his feet. "When I was at Dulwich, we used to
balance buckets of water over doorways or hide ferrets in the tea service
to embarrass the headmaster," he admitted bashfully. "This is much the
"Captain Everett was at Dulwich too," mused MacKienan. "I wonder..."
"Wonder what, sir?"
MacKiernan shook his head. "Never mind."
Next week: "...Burmah Shave!"...
Comments about Episode 418? Start a new topic on the