R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 28: Dubious Deeds in Darwin

Channel's study and plans for the airship

"No doubt about it," said Jenkins, "that Channel fellow is up to something. According to the log in the telegraph office, he's been sending and receiving coded messages with some unidentified party, and these were not in any naval cipher."

"Were you able make copies?"

"I only had time for one. And I might not be able to decipher it without the key."

"Pierre, what did you find in Channel's house?"

"Eet was very interesting," said the Frenchman. "There were the usual hidden safes and strongboxes with valuables and such -- much finer pieces than one would expect for a simple police chief. I also found a set of papers written in Cyrillic."

"Russian?" asked Iverson. Their would-be hijackers had been Russian.

"Oui. Unfortunately, I do not read the language well, and I lack the talents of our fine signalman, so I was unable to make a copy, but amidst these papers, I found a set of plans for this airship."

"This airship?" asked the lieutenant. "Are you sure? You see, there are many kinds of airships: big airships, little airships..." his voice trailed off when he noticed the others staring at him.

"Was there anything else?" asked Everett.

"One shelf held a row of curios: star-shaped stones, some scraps of parchment written in Arabic, a statue of some droll froglike god with a face like an octopus. Among them was a piece of black rock, like the ones we found on Helga's ship."

"Was it the same mineral?"

"I believe so, and why else would he have such a thing?"

"I may have a chance to find out. I'm to meet the fellow this afternoon to discuss our prisoners."

The police station in Darwin was surprisingly substantial for such a small settlement. "It looks like it was designed as a stronghold," observed Davies, who had learned about such things in a very hard school.

"It was," said Everett, who had seen action in the same theater. "Back when the Territory was established, this was a station for the Native Police."

"Native Police?" asked the marine. "Why should they have worried about an attack from the people they were here to protect?"

"The term was a euphemism," said Everett dryly. "They weren't here to protect the aborigines; they were here to protect the settlers who'd taken their land. There were several unfortunate incidents."

They were met at the door by a clerk, who guided them down corridors that were stark and utilitarian... until they reached Channel's office. This was paneled in mahogany, and furnished with accessories that must have cost a tidy sum. It was clear the man lived as expensively as he dressed. "Welcome," he said, holding out an unconvincing hand. "I'm glad you could come on such short notice."

"As officers of the Royal Navy, it is our pleasure to cooperate with civil authorities," replied Everett, making it clear which authority was higher. "I understand you wish to discuss our prisoners."

"Indeed. Did you capture all of the hijackers?"

Everett recalled Abercombie's account of the man with an English accent who'd escaped. Some instinct warned him to prevaricate. "It was difficult to be sure, in the darkness and confusion, but I believe we bagged the lot."

"Have they told you anything?"

"Not yet."

The police chief seemed relieved. "I must ask that you render them to me for questioning. It's a jurisdictional matter over which I have no say. And it could be to your advantage, for we have ways to make such people talk."

"You propose to torture them?" asked Everett.

"It would hardly be torture," said the man airily, "just a... forceful interrogation."

"That never works," said Everett disapprovingly. "And it's hardly the English way."

Channel's expression darkened. This was not a man accustomed to being refused. "In case you haven't noticed," he growled, "we're in a war: a war against anarchism. The anarchists hate us for our freedom, but my policies have kept us safe. There have been no anarchist attacks in the Northern Territory during my administration."

"There weren't any attacks before his administration either," muttered Davies.

"You're very right," Everett admitted to the police chief, "and I would like to comply with your request. But Royal Navy regulations place certain restrictions on the transfer of prisoners to civilian custody. I shall have to consult these to determine the proper procedure."

"You aren't going to hand them over to that man," said Davies as they left.

"No," said Everett. "If they're working for him, we won't learn a thing. I'll have to try something I learned in Palestine."

The Flying Cloud lacked any compartments suitable for holding prisoners, for her bulkheads and hatches had all been made as light as possible to save weight, but Helga, drawing on some experience Everett saw fit not to question, had devised a way to shackle each of their captives to a bed. They were confined in separate cabins, out of communication with each other -- a measure that was essential for what he had in mind.

He drew up a chair and faced the first man -- a nondescript figure in laborer's clothes. "I understand that your name is..." he made a show of reading MacKiernan's report, "...Vladimir Cherenkov."

"Da," the man said sullenly.

"You have participated in an attempt at piracy. The penalty for this could be quite severe. But if you cooperate, and tell us who hired you, I can see that your sentence is commuted."

"I will not talk."

"Perhaps, but there are three of you. If one of you tells me what I want to know, I'll let him go free while the others go to prison for life. Are you so sure about your companions?"

The Russian snorted derisively. "That is Prisoner's Dilemma. Is old trick. It will never work."

Everett crossed his legs, leaned back, and relaxed.

"I believe it will."

"None of them talked?" asked Davies the next day, as they drove back from the police station.

"I didn't want them to," said Everett.

"Sir?" asked the marine.

Everett smiled. "These were just hirelings. I doubt they knew anything important. And now that we've handed them over the Channel, he'll believe that we don't know anything either. The purpose of interrogation is to determine what your enemy knows. You can accomplish this by getting the right information out of him... or by supplying him with the wrong information."

Next week: What Does It All Mean?...

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