The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 554: You'd Think They'd Have Known Better

All roads lead to the Dutch East Indies

George Channel was not an attractive man. Even someone whose definition of `attractive' encompassed such concepts as `corrupt', `dishonest', and `I didn't realize toads grew quite so large', might have been put off by the naked greed that marked his every feature. This was not the man you wanted to find you searching his yacht for evidence of his misdeeds.

"Strewth!" he smirked. "It's Captain Everett and his aide's sheilas!"

Clarice's glare should have incinerated him on the spot. " I don't know what you're talking about!" she replied indignantly.

The police chief seemed unfazed. "They must have sent you here to search my belongings, but I nicked you in time," he laughed, gesturing at the luggage Clarice and Emily were glad they'd had the foresight to repack. "You'll make useful hostages."

"For what?" Emily asked crossly.

Channel's smile broadened. "You should have asked `for who'. But you'll find out soon enough."

An hour later, Clarice and Emily found themselves locked in the yacht's guest stateroom as the No Shortage Of Oscar made her way out to sea. Channel's men hadn't dared do anything to offend them -- in this they were wise -- but they'd searched young women's handbags to remove anything that could serve as a tool or weapon. They'd also secured the door with a lock and bar the two had no hope of defeating with the few implements they'd secreted in their clothing.

These included the pendant Clarice had found among Karlov's belongings. She studied it in the light of the cabin lamp. It consisted of a clockwork mechanism engraved with lines that merged to form different figures as she adjusted the dials. Something about their geometry seemed strange, with angles that should have been obtuse behaving as if they were acute. She fiddled with it for a moment, but it told no tales, so she tucked it back in her blouse.

"Where are we heading?" she asked Emily.

The blond held up her palm to block the glare and peered out the porthole. "North northeast," she replied after she'd examined the stars "That would put us on a course for East Timor, the Banda Are, or possibly Sulawesi."

"And these are all places the German nationalists might be active," Clarice observed. "Channel must mean to hand us over to his mates. What should we do?"

"What for something to turn up and give us a chance to escape," Emily said cheerfully. "It always does."

That chance was in no hurry to arrive. The two young women were provided with meals and chances to shower, but tt seemed their reputation had preceded them, for they were always under guard. On the morning of the third day, they woke to discover the portholes covered from the outside. As they were wondering at this, the engines slowed, backed and filled, then came to a stop. Voices from the deck suggested the yacht was being tied to a wharf.

"We must have reached our destination," said Clarice, gesturing at the portholes. "I can't imagine any other reason they'd try to keep us from seeing it. I imagine they'll send a messenger to ask what they should do with us."

"Want to be gone before they get a reply," said Emily.

"Dinki di," said Clarice. She reached out to give the door a try and heard a clunk from outside. It swung upon to reveal padlock and bar lying on the floor before it.

"Bonzer! she whispered. "Those drongos must have forgotten to lock up. What was the chance of that?"

They didn't stop to marvel at their luck, but made their way out to deck. Once again, fortune seemed to be on their side, for the crew were too preoccupied to notice them. A single sentry guarded the gangway, but as they watched, he was called aft to assist with some task. They scrambled ashore to take cover behind a shed.

"Where do you reckon we are?" asked Emily.

Clarice studied their surroundings. It was obvious this was somewhere in the Dutch East Indies. The volcanoes in the range to the east were something of a giveaway. To the south, a small river emptied into the bay behind them. Ahead, hidden from the ocean by an arm of land, stood a small air station. A familiar airship rode from its mast. She clutched her companion's arm.

"Em, that's the liner the Fat Man's people hijacked last year to use as cruiser! " she whispered. "This must be their secret base!"

"Should we give it a squiz?" asked the blonde.

Clarice brightened at the prospect, but common sense prevailed. "No, let's rack off while we can."

Once again, luck was with them. Glancing around, they spotted two bicycles leaning against a tree. Moments later, they were pedaling north along the coast. No place was very far from another in the Dutch East Indies, and soon they reached a small port. Emily pointed at the beach, where three figures were disembarking from a launch.

"Clare, we're in luck again!" she exclaimed. "Look who it is!"

The Countess studied the chart, then tapped a spot on western coast of Sulawesi. "We've compared the locations your Commodore Michaelson identified with places that could have been source of cargoes I identified," she said. "Only one is on both lists: this town called Malunda."

"What do we know about the place?" Everett asked.

Ever her shrug was graceful. "There isn't much to now," she told them. "It would have belonged to one of the Mandar kingdoms -- either Benuang or Mamuju. The Kingdom of Bone made an attempt to seize the area during their contest with Luwu in the 16th Century, but it's been largely forgotten since the Dutch took control of the island."

"It seems sufficiently obscure to serve as a good hiding place, and this bay to the south would be protected from casual observation," mused Everett. "If you will pardon us, we'll head back to air station and take the Flying Cloud out for a look at the place."

The flight from Java to Sulawesi took little time. Everett timed their arrival for dawn and took position offshore while they deployed the launch. He could a hardly charge into what might be a stronghold of their adversaries, nor could he leave the ship if there was a risk of an engagement, so he sent Iverson, Sarah, and Jenkins to conduct the investigation.

The sun was rising above the range to the east, Iverson ran the launch onto the beach before and entirely unremarkable coastal village. There was nothing to distinguish it from any other small settlement in the Dutch East Indies except for two figures astride what appeared to be bicycles. He was about to glance away when one of them waved hello.

"G'day Mister Iverson! `Ow ya goin'?"

He stared at them in astonishment. "Good heavens, it's Clarice and Emily! Whatever are you doing here?"

"We just escaped from the German nationalists' secret base," Emily said brightly.

Officers in the Royal Navy Airship Service were expected to take unexpected news in stride, but this was a bit too unexpected. "The German nationalists' secret base? Are you quite sure?"

"Dinki di!' said Clarice. "And you wouldn't believe that we saw there! It was that cruiser they stole from the Argentines."

"Their cruiser is here too?" said Iverson.

"Bob's your uncle!" said Clarice. pointing at a familiar-looking shape that had risen to the south and was setting a course to the north. "There she is now!"

Next week: Aggressive Negotiating Strategies...

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