The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Two

Episode 75: It's Time For Some Answers

Captain Everett confronts George Channel

The atmosphere during the flight to Darwin was strictly professional. If anyone noticed that Abercrombie and Jenkins were at the helm and ballast stations rather than Iverson and Sarah, they didn't comment on the fact -- this would have been un-British. But Everett could sense a new undercurrent of resolve among his crew. Up until now, this had all been a game. It was a game no longer, but they were going to see the thing through.

The island girl was still aboard. No one could imagine leaving her behind in Cairns. She kept to her quarters for the most part, and when she spoke, she gave no sign of her grief, but it was apparent in every line of her features. Everett thought he had never seen anyone so beautiful. Strange, he thought, how it often takes a tragedy to bring these things out. Notariello was aboard as well. Everett couldn't imagine what he'd do with the fellow, but Captain Michaelson had insisted they take the singer along for safekeeping.

"What do you think Michaelson is up to, sir?" asked MacKiernan. They'd been puzzling over charts and shipping reports, trying to piece together a picture of the movements of the German nationalists.

"He seemed quite ready to reveal information that was damaging to Channel and the Fat Man," mused Everett. "Either he's been opposed to them all along or he's decided to sacrifice them to further his own interests. Given his behavior up to now, I suspect the former. But this doesn't mean he couldn't have some additional agenda of his own."

"What's our plan?"

"The same as before: keep our people safe and try to get to the bottom of this mystery. We haven't done so well at the former; let's see if we can succeed at the latter. Jenkins, do you have any reason to believe that the agents you surprised at the railway offices might have recognized you?"

"This seems unlikely," said the signalman. "We've gone to some lengths to avoid calling attention to my status as your aide."

Everett nodded. "Very good. Here's what we'll do..."

It was mid-morning when they arrived at the Air Station. They found reserve lieutenant Dabney waiting at the foot of the mooring mast. "G'day!" announced the Aussie. "Welcome back to Darwin!" Then he noticed the composition of their party. "Where's Lieutenant Iverson?"

"I fear that he has suffered an accident," said Everett. "We are here in search of information about its cause. Please arrange transport to the police station for Abercrombie, Davies, and myself. I would like to arrive before word of our presence reaches Mister Channel."

Dabney drove them to town in a limber that belonged to the Commonwealth Navy. It was, reflected Everett, a very successful entrance. The guards at the police station snapped to attention and the duty sergeant ushered them straight to George Channel's office. But if the police chief was perturbed by their arrival, he showed no sign of this. The man's smooth balding features were as insincere as ever and his eyes -- hidden behind wire-rimmed glasses -- gave nothing away.

"I received reports that you were kidnapped," he observed in an accusatory tone.

Everett exchanged glances with Abercrombie. "I don't recall being kidnapped. Do you?"

"Nae, sir," said the Scottsman. "An' I ken it's the sort o' thing I'd remember."

"I imagine the reports were in error," said Everett blandly. He studied Channel's face, but the man's habitual mask of self-righteousness remained unchanged.

"My office is at your disposal," said the police chief. "How can I assist you?"

"The Royal Navy has several questions," said Everett. "On the evening of July 11, a party of men attempted to hijack His Majesty's Airship R-505, the Flying Cloud. The miscreants were apprehended and remanded into your custody. We would like to know what became of these men."

The police chief pressed his fingers together thoughtfully. "I'm afraid I can't reveal this information," he said with an unconvincing show of regret. "It is vital in the fight against Anarchism."

"Are these men still prisoners?"

"I can't reveal this information either. It would be a violation of their privacy."

"How can this information possibly be private?" asked Everett. "They know if they're prisoners. Their associates know if they're prisoners. Are you telling us that you can hold people in secret for as long as you wish without habeus corpus? This is hardly consistent with English law."

Channel shrugged. "Our enemies do not observe such niceties. It is a necessary measure to keep our society safe."

"I see," said Everett. He gestured to Davies, who handed him Michaelson's order. He passed this to Channel. "In this particular instance, I'm afraid you'll have to abandon your policy. Since these men attacked one of His Majesty's vessels, the Navy has claimed jurisdiction and instructed you to deliver them into our hands for questioning."

The police chief set the document aside. "This may take some time," he observed. "As I recall, they're at a labor camp."

Everett nodded to himself. Given a chance, Channel would almost certainly produce the bodies of prisoners who'd been `shot while trying to escape'. He'd applied pressure, now it was time to offer the man what appeared to be an easier way out.

"There may be an alternative," he said as if the idea had just occurred to him. "The men themselves are of no particular importance. All we're interested in is some knowledge they might possess. Naval Intelligence has determined that renegade German nationalists have been active in this part of the Pacific. Sometime in June, these renegades hijacked a cargo of ore that was shipped from this port. They have since made several attempts to track down the ore's original purchaser. The most recent one seems to have occurred on August 4, when two unknown men were seen entering the offices of the North Australia Railroad here in Darwin."

Everett held his breath. If Channel was connected with the burglary attempt, he'd given the man a chance to lie to cover his tracks. Provided the police chief didn't recognize the trap.

Channel appeared to think the matter over. "We may have apprehended one of the fellows. He was a seaman who tried to force his attentions on one of the clerical staff. Since his offense seemed minor, we released him with the understanding that he was to leave Darwin, never to return."

Gothca! thought Everett. He kept his expression neutral as he recovered Michaelson's order. "This information should be sufficient. I don't believe we'll have any need of this document."

Everett ordered the others to drive back to the ship to draw Channel's attention away while he located Emily Wilcox and returned the folder Jenkins had taken from the railway office. It didn't take him long to find the lodging the clerk shared with her roommate, Clarice. He remembered the two women dimly -- and with some distaste -- from the reception, but his thoughts were elsewhere. What would become of Sarah, he wondered, now that Iverson was gone? How could they help her deal with her loss?

He was still wondering when the door swung open in answer to his knock. "You have some nerve coming here!" said an angry voice.

Everett looked down to see a hostile face glaring up at him from beneath a raft of blond curls. If his memory was correct, this would be Clarice. "Oh?" he replied politely. After the horrors of Gallipoli, he was not about to be concerned by an irate young woman. "May I ask what I might have done to upset you?"

"Your aide put my friend in danger!" said Clarice.

Everett raised his eyebrows. "He rescued her from ruffians who'd attacked her."

"Which would never have happened if you hadn't been searching for information!"

This may be true, thought Everett, but how does she know what we were looking for? "What information?" he asked.

The woman put her hands on her hips and stared at him defiantly. "I won't tell you unless you take us with you!"

Next week: Ballast Mistresses of the Empire...

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