The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 170: Lean Times In Leava

Murdock gets a tip

As always, the atmosphere in Michaelson's office was dry. Rain might be pouring down outside the windows, but inside the sound was muted, as if it didn't dare intrude. Blurry photographs of a cottage, the English seacoast, and some anonymous ship's crew did little to brighten the chamber. The clock ticked discreetly in its corner, careful not to rouse the senior captain's ire.

Michaelson looked up as his secretary entered. Brisk and businesslike, her manner gave no hint of what she might be thinking. Her clothing was even more severe than the weather. "Good morning, Miss Perkins," he said. "What do we have for today?"

The secretary opened her folder, laid an envelope on his desk, then wiped her fingers, as if she'd just handled something unclean. "We've received this letter from the Secretary of Heraldry for the Royal Aeroplane Force."

"Royal Aeroplane Force?" asked Michaelson. "Who the devil are they?"

"They appear to be a successor of the Royal Flying Corps."

Michaelson shook his head in wonderment. The RFC had distinguished itself during the War, flying primitive machines against terrible odds in the skies over Belgium and France, but they'd languished after the Peace as humanity abandoned heavier-than-air craft for more sensible forms of aviation. "They're still around?" he replied. "I thought they'd been demobilized back in '18. What does the fellow want?"

"He alleges that we've misappropriated their organization's insignia and demands we stop using it."

"Does he now?" Michaelson gave the envelope a disdainful prod. "File that in the appropriate container. When this so-called `RAF' gets airships of its own, we may take some notice of the fellow. Is there anything else?"

Miss Perkin handed him a slip of paper. "Captain Everett sent this message to report that there have been several attacks on yachts in the Coral Sea, and asks if we've noted any vessel with a similar name here in Cairns. He used the secure cipher."

"The secure cipher?" said Michelson. "Interesting." He scanned the message, then leaned back in his chair to consider the implications. The secure cipher was not used lightly. Everett wouldn't have gone to the trouble of encoding the query -- and filling out the necessary paperwork to justify this action -- if he hadn't deemed the matter important. Michaelson wondered if it would it be better to delay the investigation and make life difficult for the man, or obtain the information immediately and seek some way to use it. The desire for information won out.

"Visit the harbormaster," he replied, "consult his log for January, and see what you can find. Have Phelps drive you there. No sense suffering unnecessarily in all this wet."

It was still raining when Miss Perkins returned, a few hours later. The secretary seemed unfazed by the weather -- apparently the rain knew better than to fall on her. She produced a folder, removed a list, and handed it over.

"Several yachts paid a visit to Cairns this past month," she said. "Most of the names bore little resemblance to ones on Captain Everett's list, but I call your attention to this entry."

Michaelson raised his eyebrows. "The Make a Good Fist? What a remarkable choice of words! Who was her owner?"

"At the time of her arrival, she belonged to a banker from Sydney."

"I take it the vessel changed ownership while she was here?"

"Yes. I have a copy of the bill of sale here, but as you can see, it doesn't identify the new owner. It appears the fellow desired anonymity."

"I would too, if I purchased a vessel with a name like that. How did the fellow pay for this transaction?"

"He drew on a letter of credit. Given time, we should be able to use the Royal Navy's authority to extract a name from the bank. Shall I proceed?"

Michaelson thought this over. The new owner was unlikely to be Lord Milbridge, for it was difficult to imagine how the viscount and his entourage could have passed through Cairns unnoticed, but no information was ever useless. And the inquiry would not be difficult -- nothing could stop Miss Perkins when she put her mind to something.

"Please do so."

Everett left the Residency with a sigh of relief. Dealing with paperwork was rarely pleasant. Dealing with the French was rarely easy. This tended to make dealing with French paperwork a remarkable experience.

"They didn't seem particularly surprised to see us again," MacKiernan remarked.

"Is there any particular reason why they should?" asked Everett.

"Well, we did just fly a complete circle around the Coral Sea," observed MacKiernan.

The captain shrugged. "They probably just put this down to English eccentricity. I just hope we find something here to make the trip worthwhile. The only lead we have is that wine shipment, and I doubt this will be very informative."

Everett's apprehension proved justified. None of the shippers in Leava would admit to having imported wine from Rennell Island -- understandable behavior for anyone who wished to preserve their reputation. Attempts to track down cargos of industrial solvents proved equally fruitless.

"What shall we do now, sir?" asked the exec. "Should we try some of the other villages?"

Everett shook his head. "I doubt it's worth the effort. According to the Almanac, none of them have any substantial commercial facilities. We seem to be at a dead end. We have no idea where the viscount is, we have no idea where he's headed, we have no idea who these pirates are, and we have no idea where this Professor might be. Let's hope more information turns up soon."

It was Murdock's turn to escort the passengers. Once again, they'd insisted on going ashore, and Everett could think of no reason to refuse, for Leava was much too small to harbor any meaningful threats to the women's safety. Unfortunately, it was also too small to harbor anything of interest. Aside from the Residence, a few warehouses, and the usual collection of mission churches, the village had little to offer, and the surrounding countryside was even less exciting.

By mid-afternoon, the lieutenant was growing desperate. Miss Isobel seemed dangerously bored -- the kind of boredom that did not bode well for her minders -- and Miss Stewart was clearly ready to blame the consequences on him. "Would you ladies happen to be thirsty?" he asked in a moment of inspiration.

"Quite," said Isobel brightly.

"Yes," growled Miss Stewart.

'Then I believe a visit to the local café is in order."

It didn't take them long to locate Leava's lone lounge. Except for the absence of walls, a roof, and a surrounding metropolis, the place could have been any establishment in Paris. The waiter -- a handsome islander with a distinct French accent -- ushered them to their table.

"Could I interest you in some kava?" he asked. "It's freshly chewed, using only the finest saliva."

Murdock glanced at Miss Stewart in alarm, but the governess didn't seem to have heard. "Not at the moment," he replied, "but would you happen to have some tea?

"Would that be with squid ink or without?"

"Uh, without."

As the waiter left with their order, a disreputable-looking man leered at the party from his seat by the bar, then rose and made his way over to where they were seated. Murdock took in the man's shabby apparel, unshaven face, and unseemly expression and prepared to shield the ladies from some indecency.

"Hey, mister," said the man.

"Yes," said the lieutenant, as frostily as he could.

"I know where you can find a blimp with an archeologist aboard. How much is it worth to you?"

Next week: Three Imperfect Reflections...

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