The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 102: Missing Pieces

Miss Perkins, Michaelson, and EVerett examine the crate

"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 since."

"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 thing."

"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 for him."

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 for us."

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 manufacturer?"

"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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