The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 147: Not Quite the Answer We'd Hoped For

Three companions with speedboat and many pistols

MacKiernan and Abercrombie sprinted to keep up with Helga as she hurried down the street. "We learn where Predpriyatie is," she announced gleefully. "Ship anchored on other side of bay, disguised as German packet."

"How will we get there?" asked Abercrombie.

"Is no problem!" said Helga. She flagged down a passing motorcyclist, then rummaged in her purse to produce a bundle of bright crimson cylinders. "Here!" she told the startled rider, "we give you these valuable sticks of dynamite if you loan us your motorbike."

Minutes later, the threesome was speeding south along the Rabaul-Kokopo road. MacKiernan had claimed the sidecar, leaving Abercrombie to perch on the saddle behind Helga. The Scotsman seemed unsure where to put his hands. MacKiernan didn't blame him.

"Tserkov visit shop in Rabaul three days ago," Helga yelled over the roar of the engine. "He order several drums of kerosene, then arrange delivery to ship called Biedermann, registered Deutsche-Australische Dampfschiffs-Gesellschaft, Hamburg. Not very original name. We get that one first."

"Do you know where to look?" asked MacKiernan.

"Not many possibilities. Only good anchorage is at Kokopo."

The Kokopo road wound south along the coast, cutting inland to skirt the cone of Karavia, then bending east to follow the curve of Blanche Bay. A mile short of town, they cut the engine and coasted to a stop. MacKiernan extricated himself from the sidecar with a sigh of relief -- Helga's driving was not for the faint-hearted. After a pause to push the machine under the trees, load MacKiernan's service revolver and retrieve Helga's axe from underneath the seat, they set off through the jungle next to the trail.

Kokopo was a cluster of huts, several modest shops, and a row of warehouses next to a rickety wooden pier. None of these looked very substantial -- the pier in particular could have kept a legion of safety inspectors occupied for years. A small steamship was moored to a pair of bollards. Her funnel was black, with broad white and red stripes painted by someone whose understanding of the word `straight' was manifestly imperfect. The words Biedermann, Hamburg had been splashed across the ship's transom in an unconvincing scrawl.

"Is that the Predpriyatie?" whispered MacKiernan.

"Ya," said Helga. "Helga recognize that ship anywhere. 1800 gross registered tons, keel laid 1896, triple-expansion engine built by Sormovo works in Novograd."

MacKiernan glanced at the woman, perturbed that someone of Viking ancestry would have such a detailed knowledge of potential prey.

"What's our plan?" asked Abercrombie.

"We sneak aboard at night, find what they up to, then go back to Rabaul and get men."

"D'ye ken they'll post guards?"

"Ha!" laughed the Swede. "There no way they expecting us!"

The sun set with tropical swiftness. The moon, a few days past full, wasn't due to rise for several hours, which would give them ample time to make a reconnaissance. As the last light faded from the sky, the three companions crept past the village and down to the pier. Its planks creaked alarmingly beneath their feet, but the noise was lost amidst sounds of New Guinea at night: the call of some nocturnal bird, the mutter of surf, a distant rumble from one of the volcanoes.

"What's this?" asked Abercrombie when they reached the freighter. Beyond it, hidden from shore by the bulk of the vessel's hull, an elegant motor yacht was tied to the dock. Lights gleamed from her cabin windows. If they listened carefully, the three could hear the sound of a Victrola. MacKiernan recognized a performance by Rachmaninoff. It seemed somewhat out of place here in the South Pacific.

"It looks like they have an important guest," he whispered. "This suggests we're on the right track. Let's see what brought the fellow here."

True to Helga's prediction, the Russians hadn't felt any need for sentries. Reflecting on the improbable succession of events that had brought him to this place, MacKiernan was not surprised. A brief search located a passage leading belowdecks. They slipped through the hatchway, eased it shut behind them, and tiptoed down the companionway.

The forward hold was packed with copra. In this airless space, the smell was overpowering. Abercrombie flashed his hand torch across some of the crates.

"Should we open a few tae see if anything's hidden inside?" he asked stoically.

"Uh, no," replied MacKiernan. Like most Pacific hands, he'd seen enough dried coconut meat to last him several lifetimes.

"Good," muttered the Scotsman. Helga also seemed content with this decision.

A short connecting passage brought them to the second hold. This had been outfitted as a machine shop. Cylinders of compressed air and drums of kerosene were ranked along the walls. In the center of the space, a long slender shape bulked beneath a tarpaulin. Abercrombie lifted a corner of the canvas and raised his eyebrows.

"What the devil is this?" he asked.

Beneath the tarp, a small speedboat -- a sleek single-step hydroplane perhaps twenty feet long, made from varnished mahogany -- nestled in a launching cradle. Its workmanship was excellent, more like that of a musical instrument than a boat. The choice of materials was somewhat eccentric -- the fuel system in particular showed some evidence of improvisation. Two gleaming propellers hung below the stern, driven by a pair of compact machines MacKiernan recognized as torpedo motors. Space had been left open amidships for cargo, but there was no trace of a cockpit. Instead, the rudder and throttle cables led to a waterproof cabinet packed with an elegant arrangement of clockwork.

"This must be the work of our Mister Fuller," he whispered. "But whatever is it for?"

Lights flicked on overhead, followed by the sound of pistols behind cocked.

"You'll find out soon enough," came a smug male voice from behind them. MacKiernan recognized it instantly.

"Lieutenant Blacker!"

"The very same. Now drop your weapons and turn around, slowly, so as not to alarm my men."

Circumstances leaving them little choice, the trio complied. The renegade lieutenant stood by the entrance of the hold, flanked by several armed thugs wearing black shirts and armbands bearing the familiar white, blue, and crimson lightning bolt of the British Union. Beside him, a distinguished-looking gentleman in evening dress was studying the bag like a huntsman at the end of a successful chase.

"Good evening," he said with a satisfied nod. "I am Sir Oswald Mosley, Baronet of Ancoats. And you would be Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan, Airman Abercrombie, and the notorious Captain Helga."

"You must be the one they call the Leader," said MacKiernan.

"I have that honor," said the man. "It's good to finally make your acquaintance. We've been waiting for you."

"How did you know we'd be here?" asked MacKiernan defiantly.

Mosely smiled. "Why, we've been watching you ever since you left Eua! You know my nephew." He nodded at Blacker. "I believe you've also met my niece."

The baronet stepped aside to reveal a slender figure standing behind him.

MacKiernan's heart sank as he recognized Miss Perkins.

Next week: Sometimes Life Throws You a Curve...

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