Episode 102: Missing Pieces
"You're quite sure it was Lieutenant Blacker?" asked Michaelson.
"Yes, sir," said Jenkins. "He has a rather distinctive scar on his right
temple. I understand he acquired it in a duel."
Michaelson raised his eyebrows. "A duel? In this day and age? However did
he manage that?"
"According to his records, it took place in Heidelberg, while he was on the
Grand Tour," said Everett. "He's harbored a grudge against the Germans ever
"A mere lieutenant, finding the time and wherewithal for a Grand Tour,"
mused Michaelson. "He must have been quite well connected."
Everett nodded. "There is a baronet in the family, and I believe a cousin
was MP for Harrow. I'm surprised they didn't raise more of a fuss when we
reported him lost."
"And now it seems he's reappeared, to steal official documents from a vessel
on which two of your men were traveling as passengers. Am I supposed to
believe this was a coincidence?"
They were sitting in Michaelson's office at the Cairns Royal Air Station, to
which he'd ordered the R-87 to return after the theft. He'd already
interrogated the vessel's commander and crew. Now his ire was directed at
Captain Everett and his men. This was cause for concern, for the senior
captain would be looking for scapegoats.
"I don't imagine it was," replied Everett blandly. "Iverson and Jenkins were
aboard to accompany our report about the activities of the German
nationalists. Whoever Blacker was working for must have been after the same
"Which makes his original disappearance all the more convenient. A
suspicious man might wonder why you didn't make more of an effort to search
It took all of Everett's considerable experience at cards to keep his
expression neutral. The loss of the Flying Lady along with most of
her crew had hurt him deeply. "It was three days before we were able to
return to the scene of the action," he replied, "and we had only limited
time on station before we had to head to Cairns for fuel. I'd hoped to make
another sortie, but circumstances delayed our departure. A suspicious man
might wonder about this as well."
Michaelson glared at him. The `circumstances' to which Everett referred had
been the senior captain's unsuccessful attempt to prosecute them for
piracy. "There's no need to belabor the point," he growled. "Much though
we might dislike it, it seems we're in this together. And we'll need
something to tell Admiral Wentworth. Let's see what Miss Perkins has found
Michaelson's secretary was waiting for them aboard the R-87. She was a
slender woman in her late 20s or early 30s with the bearing and manners of a
schoolmistress. Her clothing was excruciatingly conservative, her makeup
was applied in strict accordance to Royal Navy regulations (RNR-3471/F
'Specifications for Facial Adornment/Female'), and her hair was done up in a
tight bun. Under other circumstances, Everett supposed she might have been
attractive, but he found it difficult to imagine just what those
circumstances might be.
"Your lieutenant was correct," she said primly. "It appears our interloper
hid himself among the cargo. Ensign Phelps is there now."
The cargo hold of the R-87 was a tiny compartment nestled between the two
side engine cars, with barely enough room for a dozen crates. One of these
gaped open. A burly ensign from the Air Station's Signal Corps -- Everett
recognized the man who'd brought in the radio the last time he was in
Michaelson's office -- was crouching to examine it. He stood as they
entered and handed Miss Perkins a clipboard.
"We've examined the cargo manifest," she announced. "It appears this
particular crate was loaded on the day of departure. According to the
manifest, it was supposed to contain a motor-bicycle. This was being sent
to Sydney for evaluation as a courier bike."
"A clever choice," observed Michaelson. "The crate would be large enough to
hide a man, but light enough so they'd load it on top of the other cargo
where he'd be able to get out. We've spoken with the purported
"Yes. It's a small shop here in Cairns. They have no record of the thing,
and I'm inclined to believe them. Whoever this Lieutenant Blacker is
working for seems too well-organized to leave such an obvious trail."
"Did he leave anything behind in the crate?"
"An empty water flask, several coconut shells, and a...bucket."
"A bucket?" asked Iverson, unable to imagine what need the spy could
possibly have had for such a thing.
"Yes," she replied with a hint of distaste. "With a tightly sealed lid. It
appears he was prepared to remain in the crate for quite some time."
"Oh," said Iverson, slightly abashed. They never mentioned this particular
issue in radio dramas.
"What about the bill of lading?" asked Michaelson.
"It was forged under Petty Officer Ferguson's signature. And no one would
have contacted him to confirm it because he left several days ago to attend
a sick aunt in Brisbane."
"These fellows show a disquieting knowledge of our operations and
procedures," observed Everett.
"It wouldn't take much," mused Michaelson. 'Someone with access to the
administration building to examine personal records and mission schedules.
But we'd best assume the worst and operate under the assumption that our
officer staff has been compromised. And the only person who could tell us
more has vanished again, parachuting blindly into the storm."
"I've been wondering about that," blurted Iverson, before he had a chance to
consider the consequences. All eyes swiveled to stare at him.
"Yes, Lieutenant?" said Michaelson dangerously.
Iverson gulped and struggled to maintain his composure. "When we entered
the cargo hold, Lieutenant Blacker was studying his watch, as if waiting for
the right moment to jump."
"But how could he have known where he was?"
"Perhaps he received some sort of signal. The weather was too thick for a
beacon, and we'd have heard a horn or whistle from the bridge, but he could
have been carrying a radio receiver. A simple crystal set would suffice
if the signal was strong enough."
"And where might this hypothetical signal have come from?"
Captain Everett frowned, making little attempt to hide his misgivings. "I
suppose it could have been our friends aboard the L-137," he replied. "They
do remain unaccounted for. But I can't imagine how Lieutenant Blacker could
have fallen in with the fellows. I'm afraid the most parsimonious
assumption is that he's working for the mysterious cruiser that attacked us
in the Coral Sea."
Next week: The Mystery of Her Design...
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