Episode 437: I Daresay It's Time For A Spot Of Marauding
Helga and her crew had laid their vessel alongside the freighter -- a
noteworthy piece of seamanship, which led Murdock to wonder if they made a
practice of this sort of behavior. Now they picked out the captain, mates,
and bosun and ordered them aboard. The captives made a half-hearted
protest, but the Swedes outnumbered them, outweighed them, and had more
edged weapons. A short time later, the Swedes were steaming south while
the freighter limped back to Akyab under the command of her engineers.
Murdock followed Scott as the inspector boarded the Swedish vessel -- no one
had invited him, but it seemed the thing to do. This proved to be the
Viking Girl II, a trim island steamer of perhaps 3000 tonnes,
registered out of Nuku'alofa, Tonga. Several features of the vessel caught
the his eye. Among these was a War-era QF 4.7 Mark V naval gun -- as Scott
had guessed from the sound -- mounted in a fake crate to disguise it as
deck cargo. Was such a thing common in this part of the world, he wondered?
No one had bother to mention this custom to him, but lieutenants learned to
accept oversights of this sort as part of their education.
Murdock's education also hadn't prepared him for anyone like the Swedes'
captain. Someone less like the popular conception of a gentlewoman would
have been difficult to imagine. Her long blond braids gleamed like gold,
her eyes sparkled in the sun, and a short silk dress clung tightly to a
figure almost as remarkable as the axe she carried. She waved to the
bridge to give her helmsman the course, then strolled over to study her
These were somewhat less striking than their captor. The freighter's
captain was a tired-looking seaman named Miller -- the very model of a
sailor down on his luck, condemned to this forgotten corner of the world
by some sorry caprice of fortune. Even so, he retained some vestige of
self-respect, and responded to Scott's questions with belligerence.
"Who are your employers?" the inspector asked him.
"Pfagh!" spat Miller. "You can hardly expect us to betray them."
Scott's shrug suggested complete indifference to the man's proclamation.
"No matter," he said lightly. "It's quite obvious you've been working
for the Germans."
The skipper seemed taken aback by this suggestion. "What?" he asked in
"The German nationalists," said Scott. "They're an unsavory lot, led by
some fellow known as the Fat Man."
Miller recoiled in alarm. "You can't possibly believe this!" he exclaimed.
"Who else would you have stolen the centrifuges for?" said Scott. "They're
the only fellows in this part of the world who could possibly want them."
Miller frowned. "Whatever are you talking about?"
"Germans have always been fascinated by centrifuges," Scott explained, as if
lecturing to a child. "They enjoy Coriolis effects, and they just can't
resist the opportunity to separate chemicals based on their specific density."
"We aren't working for the Germans!" cried the skipper.
"This particular German is an avowed enemy of the Crown -- an association
that may go hard for you."
"We're loyal Englishmen!"
The inspector gave a derisive snort. "We'll see what the Governor-General's
office has to say about the matter. Lord Irwin has rather strong views
By now Miller seemed on the verge of despair. "What can we do to convince
you of our loyalty?" he pleaded.
Scott studied the man in much the same way he might study an inappropriate
choice of cufflink. "Explain where you delivered the centrifuges... if you
The captives exchanged nervous glances. "We unloaded them in Rangoon," said
"A likely story," said Scott. "We'll travel to Rangoon, there will be no
sign of the machines, and where will be your proof?"
"They aren't in Rangoon any more," Miller confessed. "They'll be on their
way to one of Burmah Petroleum's plants in the north."
Murdock's ears perked up at this information. Hadn't Captain Everett
mentioned some scandal involving Burmah Petroleum and the former Lord of
Admiralty? Could that be why Scott was here? Was he some agent of the
Government, sent to inquire into the company's activities? Would he
press the man for more information?
The answer seemed to be no. "Very well," Scott said dismissively. "We'll
travel to Rangoon to investigate this story of yours. In the unlikely event
it turns out to be true, I may be able to persuade the authorities to be
lenient with you."
The inspector favored the captives with a final condescending stare, then
spun on his heel and stalked off toward the deckhouse. The Swedes gave this
performance a round of applause. Helga gazed after him thoughtfully, then
nodded to herself.
First watch found Murdock walking the deck, unable to sleep after the day's
excitement. The Viking Girl II was cruising offshore, engines
throbbing steadily as they pushed the ship toward the south. The moon, a
few days short of full, was shining on the coastline to the east. A few
faint lights marked the locations of some scattered fishing villages.
The lieutenant paused to gaze at the shore and tried to reconstruct the
chain of events that had led him from the control car of one of His
Majesty's airships to the deck of this extraordinary vessel. This was
hardly what he'd expected when he was assigned to the Australian Station.
What could it all mean? He yelped as someone poked him in an unexpected
location and turned to see Helga grinning at him.
"What you do up so late at night?" she asked.
"I... uh... couldn't sleep," said Murdock.
The woman's grin broadened. "Maybe we do something help you sleep," she
Murdock's eyes widened in alarm. What could she possibly have in mind?
He didn't feel prepared to deal with some of the possibilities. "Uh...
err... um..." he stammered.
She reached out to pinch his cheek. "You a cutie!" she chuckled. "You
also still a child. Helga not take them so young. This Scott inspector,
how long you know him?"
It took Murdock a few moments to recover his wits. "Not too long," he
replied. "He came aboard the Flying Cloud a few weeks ago."
"Is he always being like this?"
"I suppose so," reflected the lieutenant. "He has seemed rather clueless
Helga studied him for a moment, then shook her head. "You watch that man.
Maybe he not as stupid as he acts."
Next week: The Well-Mannered Bunch...
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