The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 477: We Hope That You Enjoyed Your Visit

A sea cumcumber

No one challenged Clarice and Emily as they left the Coup De Grace. As Clarice had predicted, most of the vessel's people had gone ashore with the Baron and Baroness, leaving only a small anchor watch. Crossing the field posed more of challenge, since their gender and apparel set them apart from most of the personnel, but they solved this by striding across the grounds as if they belonged there -- a strategy that had served them well in the past. A sign at the gate proclaimed this to be the Macassar Air Station.

"This must be where that hair conditioner comes from," said Emily.

"Bonzer!" said Clarice. "If they have hairdressers here, they should have some place to go shopping!"

This suggestion was greeted with enthusiasm, for it had been some time since they'd had an opportunity to change clothes. The expedition took some time, but afternoon found the two young women sitting at a cafe in front of their hotel. Around them, farmers hauled produce to the markets and merchants haggled with customers while children dashed through the crowd. Across the street, two robe-clad men with odd fish-like features might have been making their way to some temple. Clarice noticed that their gait seemed strange -- ill-fitting shoes, perhaps.

"There go the Warfields!" said Emily.

Clarice looked to see the Coup de Grace rising from the air station. Engines droned, the rudder swung, and the vessel made a turn to the north. Soon it was dwindling toward the horizon. "I wonder where they're off too," she wondered. "Perhaps it's in those notes you copied."

As Emily was reaching for her handbag, a stranger approached their table and helped himself to a seat. "Goode middag, meiden," he said. "It was clever of the Baron to leave agents behind. No one will ever suspect two young women."

"I beg your pardon?" said Clarice.

The man glanced both ways, then leaned closer. "Lord Warfield wishes to make an arrangement with Muiter's insurgents," he told them. "I have the merchandise they asked for. I will leave you this sample. When you are ready to conclude the purchase, I will find you."

The man passed a small wooden case across the table, then rose to depart. After he was gone, Clarice opened the box. Inside, four fist-sized metal ovoids nestled on a bed of cotton wadding.

"Are those Mills bombs?" she marveled.

Emily picked one up, toyed with the pin, and made a throwing gesture. "We could find out," she suggested.

"Em!" hissed Clarice. "Put that back!"

The blonde chuckled and returned the grenade to the box. "Dinki di!" she said. "Perhaps we'll find some use for them in Australia."

Finding passage to Australia proved difficult, for most of the shipping in the Dutch East Indies was bound for other places in the Dutch East Indies. The few exceptions seemed headed for the Malay Peninsula, Philippines, and French Indochina, which weren't significantly more useful. At last, their inquiries led them to Bishop's Island Trading Company. This establishment had obviously seen better days. The roof sagged, the walls leaned in several different directions, and only minimal repairs had been made to keep out the weather. Mister Bishop seemed almost as antiquated. He was a bald, stoop-shouldered island trader, apparently of New England origin, with the same odd fish-like features Clarice had noted in the priests she'd seen earlier. He noticed the direction of their gaze, rubbed a hand over his scalp, and smiled.

"I know what you're thinking," he told them. "Business was better back when I needed the product this town was known for, but we get by. How may I help you ladies?"

"We're trying to find passage to Darwin" said Emily. "We understand you might be able to arrange this."

The merchant nodded. "I deal with boats that work one of the local fisheries. If you come back tomorrow, I will see what I can find."

"Why would anyone sail all the way from here to Darwin to go fishing?" wondered Clarice as they left the warehouse.

"I don't know," said Emily, "but those must be valuable fish!"

Further speculation was rendered unnecessary when a man beckoned them from an alley. "I see you came from Mister Bishop's godown," he said quietly.

"You know him?" asked Emily.

"By reputation," said the man. "It was clever of him to use agents. No one would suspect two young women. Do not worry, your secret is safe with me. I have a sample of the merchandise he seeks. When you are ready to conclude the purchase, I will find you."

He glanced both ways, them passed them another wooden case, similar in size and shape to the first. Emily watched him depart, then opened it. Inside, a row of tumescent organic lumps, like warty pickles, but without the charm, lay packed in oil. Clarice picked one out to examine it. A fringe of feathery tentacles surrounded a small orifice at what she hoped was the head.

"What is this?" she asked. "It looks like a squidbat, but without the bat... or the squid."

"It's a sea cucumber -- an echinoderm of class Holothroidea," said Emily. "The Chinese consider them a delicacy. They're also used in traditional medicine to restore vigor."

Clarice held the creature up. "Just what form of vigor is it supposed to restore?" she asked with a giggle.

Emily snatched the thing back. "Let's head back to the hotel before anyone gives us more boxes."

No one offered them any more inexplicable containers, but as Clarice and Emily approached their lodging, three men appeared to block their path. Two were obviously bodyguards, with tattoos that proclaimed them to be members of one of the many criminal societies that flourished in this part of the world. The third was an elderly gentleman with Asian features.

"So, finally I have found you," he announced. "I am Lord Wu. Please give me the box."

"Which box?" asked Emily.

"It is useless to play games,' said the man. "I know that you have it."

Emily studied the bodyguards and weighed her chances against them. This didn't require much weighing. "Dinki di," she said cheerfully, reaching into her handbag. The man accepted the case, bowed politely, and departed.

"Which box did we just give him?" asked Clarice after the men were gone.

"I don't remember," said Emily. "Which one do you have?"

Clarice removed the box from her own handbag as footsteps sounded behind them. They turned to see two burly islanders led by a third whose demeanor seemed to shout `Revolutionary'.

"I'll take that!' he cried, snatching the box from Clarice's hands.

"I say..." Clarice began, but before she could finish her protest, squads of gendarmes had appeared ahead and behind them.

"Give up, Muilter, we have you surrounded!" shouted an officer. "You two mevrouw, step away from this man! He is a dangerous rebel!"

Emily tugged Clarice aside. "Do you think that what's about to happen is what I think is about to happen?" she whispered.

Clarice nodded. "There does seem to be a certain inevitability about today's sequence of events."

"I'll never surrender while I'm carrying a weapon! Prepare to face... one of these!" cried the man, brandishing the box. As he reached inside, his expression underwent a dramatic change.

Lord Wu frowned at the chamberlain. "What is the reason for this delay?" he demanded. "Our guest, the esteemed Lord Fen, is waiting for his trepang. I assured him that it would be of the highest quality."

The servant bowed. "I am very sorry, Lord Wu. A slight problem has arisen. It appears that there has been an explosion in the kitchen."

Next week: I Suppose It's Our Turn To Try...

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