The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 463: Be Careful That What You're Looking For Isn't Also Looking For You

An ominous shadow

Iverson and Sarah stood next to Sudriman Avenue, watching the Flying Cloud depart. It was morning in Kupang -- a brief moment of coolness and tranquility before the heat and bustle of the day. Around them, street merchants were beginning to set up their stalls as wagons trundled past on the way to market. To their left, sounds of machinery echoed from the harbor. As they watched, the airship began a stately turn. The drone of her engines deepened, the vessel gathered way, and soon she was dwindling toward the south.

Before he lifted ship, Captain Everett had detailed them to remain behind to track down the German nationalists who'd kidnapped Clarice and Emily. The airman and airwoman were the obvious choice for the job. Pierre might have been more adept at `collecting physical evidence', but Sarah had more knowledge of local culture, and as an officer of the Royal Navy, Iverson could call on its authority to back her up. Now the two were ready to begin their inquiries. They'd abandoned their uniforms for civilian clothes, the better to remain unobserved, though Sarah somewhat spoiled the effect by her choice of clothing, and her insistence on retaining her spear.

"This will be fun!" she announced.

Iverson had learned to be wary of his companion's definition of `fun'. "I suppose so," he said, "but we'll need a suitable disguise."

"We could pose as newlyweds, as Captain and Clarice did at Rabaul," Sarah suggested.

"Just how realistic a disguise did you have in mind?" Iverson asked cautiously.

The island girl winked. "That's for you to find out."

Iverson felt himself blush. "Quite," he replied hastily. "Still, that particular cover story might not provide a suitable excuse for our inquiries. I will think upon the matter while we make our way to the German section of town."

The German section of Kupang, such as it was, consisted of an ancient chandlery that must have dated back to the whaling era, the inevitable Methodist church, an assortment of bungalows whose Bavarian ornaments clashed horribly with the local architecture, and a few unimpressive shops. The latter seemed like a good place to begin their inquiries. Iverson picked one at random -- a rustic shed with a sign that proclaimed this to be Bergmönch Hardware -- and stepped inside.

The proprietor smiled as the entered. "Gutentag," he said cheerfully. "What are you and your fräulein looking for today?"

"I'm... ah... Dan Straight and this is my associate, Sammi Ho," said Iverson, seizing the first names that came to mind. "We're sales representatives for..." he paused to think of something unlikely to be related to the Ujelang Device, " ... a vacuum tube company. We've been trying to locate a group of potential customers here on Timor. We don't have their names, but we understand they might be driving a large black motorcar."

The proprietor nodded as if he found this story entirely plausible. "Ah yes, those ones," he replied thoughtfully. "They showed up a few days ago. An English yachtsman was asking about them as well."

"An English yachtsman?" said Iverson.

"The one with the steam-powered submarine. Would he be a friend of yours?"

Iverson and Sarah glanced at each other. "Ah, no," said Iverson, "but I suppose we should consult with the fellow to determine if he could assist us. Do you happen to know where his vessel is berthed?"

Kupang harbor was not particularly large, so it didn't take them long to find the pier in question. This was an ancient wooden affair, sagging to the left where its pilings had settled over the years. No submarine was in evidence, steam-powered or otherwise. The only vessel in sight was an old island schooner, sufficiently decrepit that it seemed in some danger of becoming a submersible itself. It occurred to Iverson that he'd never seen an island schooner that didn't look decrepit. Perhaps they were built that way intentionally as a stratagem to make them less attractive to pirates. Or perhaps their masters were members of some cult that felt pumping out bilges was a path to salvation.

A grizzled English seaman in clothing every bit as weather-beaten as his vessel was seated on a hatch cover working on some anonymous nautical object. "Good day," Iverson told him. "I'm Dan Straight and this is my associate, Sammi Ho. We were wondering if you'd seen any sign of a submarine around here."

The man set down whatever he was working on and rubbed his chin. "Can't say that I have," he replied, "but I suppose I might have missed it. Would this be the submarine those Germans were asking about?"

Iverson and Sarah exchanged another set of glances. "Germans?" asked Iverson.

"Oh aye," said the man. "The ones with the big black motorcar. They asked if I'd seen some yachtsman named Fuller. I suggested they head into town to see if he'd visited the hardware store. Seems like a fellow with a submarine might always need new tools to replace ones what rusted."

The trek back to Bergmönch Hardware took little time. As they approached the shaak, the door swung open and a gang of thugs emerged brandishing truncheons. They were quite obviously German, with close-cropped hair and features that might have been the archetype for `Teutonic'. Their leader looked Iverson up and down and smiled.

"Herr Straight," he said in satisfaction. "We hear that you have been asking questions. Now you will provide us with answers."

Sarah grinned. "How's this for an answer?" she asked brightly, raising her spear.

The man reached his pocket and produced one of the Parabellum automatic pistols that seemed to be a trademark of the Fat Man's minions. "Never take a speer to a schießerei," he admonished her.

Iverson nerved himself for a fight in which the stakes had suddenly grown high. Could he rush his adversary before the man pulled the trigger? Could he risk taking a round and hope it wouldn't be fatal?

A meaty hand descended on the German from behind, grabbed his collar, and shook him until the pistol fell from his grasp. Iverson recognized Aunt Prodigia, looming behind the man like an ogre. Before he could open his mouth to thank her, she'd stepped forward to seize him by the collar as well.

"Right, you wankers!" she growled. "Where are my nieces!"

Next week: And the Band Begins to Play...

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