The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Two

Episode 93: Revelations on Kwajalein

Howard Phillips expressing surprise

The island was a low line of green to the north, without a single bit of high ground to relieve its undistinguished terrain.

"It's rather flat," said Iverson. The lieutenant seemed to be trying to hide his disappointment.

"You were hoping for a tropical paradise, with verdant green mountains, clean white sand, cool breezes, swaying palms, and dusky island maidens?" asked Phillips slyly.

"Not exactly, but..."

The skipper laughed. "This is Kwajalein, kid. It has palm trees and sand. You'll have to imagine the rest."

"I think it looks exotic," said Natasha, with a smile that seemed to hit Iverson like a hammer. Phillips glanced at the woman, wondering at her motives. The lieutenant was much too easy a target for such high-powered artillery.

"I prefer Ponape," he replied with a shrug. "There's a mysterious sunken city on Temwen that no one's ever been able to explain. But this place should have what we need."

The main island of Kwajalein, at the southeastern end of the atoll, was shaped like a crescent with horns extending to the northwest. Unlike Narau, the place had a substantial harbor, with room for a significant volume of shipping inside the encircling reef. The Kaiser's government maintained an air station here, and several airships rode from its masts. Iverson gazed at them longingly, thinking of Sarah and the Flying Cloud. Would he ever see them again?

Phillips dropped anchor near the entrance to the roadstead, in case they needed to leave in a hurry, and lowered the motor lifeboat for the trip to town. The harbor bustled with traffic, for a section of the Imperial East Asian Cruiser Squadron was in port. This suited his purposes, for he was hoping to avoid notice.

"What will we do now?" asked Iverson, after they were ashore.

"I know some people here," said Phillips. "We'll give them a call, see what they know about Ujelang."

"I may know some people here too," said Natasha. "I will look for them."

"Shall we accompany you?" asked Iverson.

"No. They are suspicious of strangers."

Phillips nodded. "We'll meet at Sethamie's place, at the north end of the island."

"Is this another of your bars?" asked Natasha.

"'Searchers after drink haunt strange far places'," quoted the skipper. "It's a bit seedy, but no one will look for us there."

"I will look forward to it," said the woman. She gave him a sidelong glance, then spun on her heel and stalked away, hips swaying.

Phillips watched her go and shook his head. "I'd watch out for that one," he warned Iverson. "She's more than she seems."

Jaluit Gesellschaft, the German chartered company that administered the Marshall Islands, had done its best to impose order on their settlement, but every town has its slums. It was there that they found their contact. He was a lump of a man, more toad-like than human, with dark expressionless eyes. Phillips couldn't help but recall tales he'd heard in his grandfather's house of unhallowed liaisons between mankind and creatures from beneath the waves. But the skipper had dealt with stranger characters during his career.

"We're looking for Mister Gilman," he said, after glancing around to make sure they wouldn't be overheard.

The other man stared at him impassively. Phillips passed him a wadded up bill.

"I take you," the man said at last. "Your friend stays."

Over the years, Howard Phillips had learned that there were times when it did no good to argue. "It looks like you'll have to wait," he told Iverson. "You know the place."


"You got it," said Phillips. He checked his pocket to make sure of his set of brass knuckles -- something he'd rarely had use for during his youth as a poet in Rhode Island -- then nodded to his guide.

The man led him west along the Wilhelmstrasse, then north down a succession of alleys until they reached their destination -- the deckhouse of some long-forgotten wreck that had been dragged ashore and turned into a shop by someone whose sense of economy was matched only by his lack of concern for cleanliness. Its interior was cluttered with junk from around the world and some that seemed like it might have come from other worlds. The shopkeeper was a tall stoop-shouldered man wearing clothes of another era. The skipper recognized Gilman -- a merchant from some small town in New England who'd left his homeland years ago for reasons that had never been clear.

"Mister... Phillips," said Gilman, studying the skipper as if calculating how much he was worth. "It's been eons since last we met. What can I do for you?"

"Mister Gilman," replied Phillips curtly. "What can you tell me about Ujelang?"

"You seem to think the process of delving into the black abyss is the keenest form of fascination," said the merchant. "It will cost you."

"How much?"

Gilman leaned forward and named a figure. His breath, like his person, was redolent of fish. Phillips counted out the bills and passed them across.

"A group of German nationalists are using the place as a base," said Gilman. "It is far enough away for them to avoid scrutiny and they've bribed authorities here to look the other way. It is said the Fat Man is involved."

"What kind of defenses do they have?"

Gilman's eyes widened. "They have a company of soldiers -- veterans of the War. They've also imported a patrol boat from Germany. You are thinking of a visit?"

The skipper nodded, unwilling to reveal more of his plans

"You're a reckless man, Mister Phillips. I know someone who might be interested in your activities." Before the skipper could react, Gilman had stepped to the window and made a signal. Phillips reached for his brass knuckles. If this was an ambush, he wasn't going to surrender without a fight!

The door swung open and Phillips stared in astonishment. "You!" he cried. "What are you doing here?"

Their visitor gave an insouciant smile. "I have my ways of getting around."

If Gilman was surprised by this exchange, he hid it well. "I see that you have already met Karlov."

The bar had not been particularly hard to find. The island narrowed as it curved east, then north, which restricted the scope of the search. At the end of the island, Iverson came upon what must have once been the home of a wealthy trader. The main house had long since gone to ruin, but at one end of the overgrown garden, someone had converted an old shed into a ramshackle drinking establishment. A sign tacked to one wall proclaimed 'Sethamie's'.

He found a table beneath the palms and settled down to wait. It was a good place for a rendezvous -- easy to find, but large enough for a visitor to remain inconspicuous. How were his companions faring, he wondered? He had no concerns about Captain Phillips. The American obviously knew how to handle himself, though this seemed an odd talent for a man who claimed to have once been a poet. Natasha was another matter.

Why had she come to the Pacific? wondered Iverson. He sensed there was more to the woman's story than she'd revealed. And how had they both happened to be prisoners of the nationalists at the same time? It seemed suspiciously convenient.

Conversation around him ceased. The lieutenant looked up to see a party of grim-faced men wearing brown shirts shouldering their way toward the bar. Nationalists! Here! He had to get out and warn the others! He slipped from his seat, hoping to avoid notice.

As Iverson was edging his way toward the gate, Natasha stepped into the garden. The lieutenant froze, willing her to leave before the nationalists recognized her, but his psychic powers were inadequate for the task. She glanced around, spotted him, and made her way over to where he was standing.

"I'm sorry, Iverson," she said wistfully. He stared at her, wondering what she meant, as she leaned forward and kissed him.

"Thank you, Fraulein," came a harsh voice from behind them. "We will take over now."

Next week: The Perils of Island Vacations...

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