Episode 86: The Flying Cloud Opera
"An opera?" asked MacKiernan.
"For some reason, our adversaries seem to be after Notariello," said
Everett. "If we stage a performance, with him as a star, this may lure
them out of hiding."
"How will our passenger react to being used as bait?" asked the Exec.
The captain smiled. "I doubt he'll guess our motives. And I imagine
he'll welcome the opportunity for publicity."
"Si!" exclaimed the tenor, when they came to him with the proposal.
"It is a magnificent concept: worthy of Verdi or Puccini! We shall call it...
Pacifico del Sud!"
The European population of Truk seemed excited by the prospect of an opera.
Since his arrival in Australia, Notariello's reputation had spread
throughout the Pacific, and his presence on board the Flying Cloud
had attracted considerable attention. The islanders were delighted. Music
was an integral part of their lives, and great singers had an almost
legendary status in their society. The only people who objected were the
missionaries, and as Jenkins had observed, missionaries objected to
Preparations went as smoothly as could be expected in a culture that lacked
any word for `schedule', but at last, after several delays, the afternoon of
the performance arrived. Everett left MacKiernan in charge of the ship
with a skeleton crew and gathered the rest of his people next to the large
open-air pavilion the islanders had raised in the center of the village.
"Pierre, Miss Emily, and Miss Clarice," he announced, "you will attend the
opera and watch for any suspicious behavior from the crowd. Abercrombie,
your party will patrol the approaches to the east. Davies, you'll be
responsible for the west. I'll take care of the trails leading south. We
want to intercept any nationalists who might try to kidnap Notariello and
capture them for questioning."
"Can we count on any help from the Administrator?" asked Davies.
"No," said Everett, "and I imagine he'd take a dim view of foreign
nationals roaming about his territory with guns, so we can't use firearms
except as a last resort."
A hush fell over the pavilion. They turned to see Notariello ascend the
stage. In the orchestra, such as it was, a musician raised a tentative hand
and strummed a chord on her ukulele. Everett recognized the girl they'd
seen playing in the tavern. As the notes faded, Notariello launched into
the opening stanzas of Rossini's, `Largo al Factotum'.
Everett had never cared much for opera, but he had to admit the Italian had
power. The tenor's voice rang like a bell, filling the plaza, holding the
islanders spellbound. He might have stayed to listen, but they had work to
"That's our cue," he observed. "Places, everyone."
Some time later Everett, Jenkins, Rashid, and Sarah were creeping through
the jungle. Behind them, the faint sound of music blended with the rumble
of surf and the rustle of wind. As they approached an opening in the trees,
the island girl raised her hand.
"Someone's there," she warned.
"Jemand ist dort," came a furtive voice from the other side of the
Everett waited impatiently, then stepped forward.
"Show yourselves!" he announced.
Figures emerged from the trees, led by a pudgy man dressed in clerical
attire. "The Englisher!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"I might ask the same of you," observed Everett.
The priest drew himself up as well as his unprepossessing figure would
allow. "I am Reverend Prahler, of the Reformed Lutheran Church, here to
put an end to this bacchanal!"
Everett raised his eyebrows in puzzlement. "Bacchanal?"
The missionary gestured toward the village. "This orgy of music and
entertainment!" he announced in disgust. "Left unchecked, it will lead to
dissolution, sexual license, and cannibalism!"
"Cannibalism?" Jenkins whispered to Sarah.
The island girl shrugged. "Missionaries are drawn to cannibals like flies
to honey. They seem obsessed by the subject."
"I'm afraid we can't allow you to interfere," Everett told the man.
Prahler clucked his tongue and turned to someone behind him. "Jacob,
deal with these men."
Branches parted and an enormous islander stepped into the clearing. He was
built like a mountain, proud and tall, with muscles like outcroppings of
rock. Beside Everett, Jenkins sucked in his breath.
"Brother Jacob is a champion of the Faith," crowed the missionary, "a
veritable Goliath in the cause of the Lord."
"Interesting," said Everett. "We have resources to deal with this
eventuality. Are you familiar with Samuel 17:49-50?"
The German's eyes widened as understanding dawned. "No fair!" he
exclaimed. "You're not allowed to have one of those!"
"It is not explicitly contravened by Navy regulations," said Everett.
The Persian had already fitted a stone to his sling. There was whistle, a
crack, and the giant toppled.
Prahler studied his unconscious champion. "Very well," he said
ruefully. "We will be going now."
By the time they returned to the village, the opera had ended and the
islanders were filing back to their homes, chatting excitedly about the
"Abercrombie," asked Everett, "did you see any sign of the nationalists?"
"Nae," said the Scotsman. "The eastern shore was empty."
The marine shook his head. "The western shore was quiet as a church. How
about you, sir?"
"I suppose we could say the same," said Everett. "Where's our singer?"
"He headed down to the beach with the girl from the orchestra," said Emily.
"It was obvious they wanted some privacy, but your man Pierre insisted on
following them!" She glared at the captain as if he'd overstepped some
bounds of propriety. He opened his mouth to reply, but at that moment,
they heard the roar of a powerful engine.
"Oh dear," said Jenkins. "This does not sound good."
"To the beach!" ordered Everett.
They found Pierre staring out to sea.
"It was the woman," said the Frenchman. "She led Notariello onto the sand.
Then she stepped back, removed her garment... and waved it like a flag! A
launch emerged from the darkness, men leaped ashore, and carried the man
aboard. The woman accompanied them."
"She betrayed him," said Everett flatly.
"So it would seem."
Everett stood for a moment, then turned on his heel and left.
Emily and Clarice were not entirely insensitive. "What's wrong?" they
The signalman gazed into space, as if weighing his answer. "I suppose
you'll hear the tale eventually," he said at last, "but I must ask you to
keep this in strictest confidence."
The two women nodded.
"I met the Captain in the North Sea, after his experiences in Gallipoli.
He'd been given command of a destroyer in the North Sea: the
Mohican, one of the 33-knot Tribal class ships. It was quite a
feather in his cap. Under normal circumstances, it would have been a
stepping stone to high command. He was also in love with a beautiful lady
"He proposed to her in October. It was the only time I ever saw the Captain
nervous. I remember his face when he returned to the ship. He didn't have
to say a word. It was obvious she'd said yes."
Jenkins sighed. "I've often wondered what might have happened if we could
have remained in port, but matters were otherwise.
The very next day we were ordered back to sea.
Most people think the naval battles ended with Jutland, but this was not so.
The German fleet came out several more times, and destroyer actions
continued until the end of the War.
"Off the coast of Heligoland, in the
middle of a driving storm, our flotilla ran into several German light
cruisers. It was hardly a fair match: their 4.1 inch cannon against our 3
inch pea-shooters, so the Captain ordered a torpedo attack to give the
others a chance to escape -- best traditions of the service and all that.
We got shot to pieces, or course. Then the storm grew so fierce that both
sides lost contact.
"By then we were in terrible shape, with several hits amidships, engineering
plant dead, taking on water. I don't think we would have survived if it
hadn't been for the Captain. He kept us going, working beside us while we
patched up the boilers, got the engine running, got the pumps working enough
to slow the leaks. And I think the only thing that kept him going was the
thought that Tenera was waiting for him.
"We limped back to port the morning the Armistice was signed. It took the
Captain several days to make sure his men were cared for, but as soon as he
could, he then hurried home to find that Tenera was gone. It seemed that
shortly after she accepted his proposal, she'd taken up with Lord... well, I
don't suppose you need to know the fellow's name."
"I don't believe his heart ever recovered."
Clarice looked thoughtful. "So that's why he's always so reserved."
Jenkins nodded. Then, as if to himself, he began to sing the final verse of
the song they'd heard the day they arrived. For an airman, his voice was
surprisingly good. Listening, Clarice could almost imagine what Captain
Everett might have been like when he was young.
If the girl is married that I adore
I'm sure I'll stay on land no more
I'll sail the seas till the day I die
I'll break through waves rolling mountain high
Next week: Live and Let Fly, Part I...
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