The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 276: This May Be Good Enough

Aunt Behema with a chainsaw

Like many things on Goodenough Island, the jungle proved something of an annoyance -- an unattractive tangle of trees, vines, and lesser vegetation that combined all the obstacles of jungles as they were portrayed in movies with none of the charm. The footing was muddy, uneven, and crisscrossed with roots. The trail itself was choked with brush. Mister Cartwell watched their guides hack at this with machetes, then gestured for his men to bring up a case they'd brought down from the ship. He opened this to remove an unfamiliar machine. Clarice thought it resembled an outboard motor with a serrated metal blade in place of the propeller shaft.

"What is that?" she asked.

"It's something I put together based on a design by the Dolmar Corporation in Hamburg," the industrialist explained. "I call it a `chainsaw'."

Aunt Behama's eyes brightened. "A chainsaw", she said with relish. "That sounds like a corker! What does it do?"

"I'll show you," said Mister Cartwell. "But first you might want to put on these hearing protectors."

The three women donned the bulky leather muffs, then watched with interest as their host adjusted the fuel mixture, worked the primer, and pulled the starting cord. The motor roared into life, startling birds from the trees as the guides reeled back in alarm.

"Bonzer!" yelled Aunt Behema. "I see how it works! Let me give it a go!"

"Be my guest!" Mister Cartwell yelled back.

Their progress up the rest of the path was swift and loud. The matron applied the chainsaw with a will, sending branches flying and trees falling, rendering dozens of small furry animals homeless. Soon they reached a clearing, where a man in field garb, complete with pith helmet, stood waiting as if he'd known they were coming. It was not, Clarice reflected, as if their arrival could have been anything of a surprise.

"Good afternoon," he shouted as Aunt Behema shut off the motor. "To whom do I own the pleasure of this visit?"

Mister Cartwell stepped forward to shake the man's hand. "I'm Mister Cartwell, and these are my guests, Mrs. Behema, Miss Wilcox, and Miss Blaine," he replied. "We're looking for a naturalist who came to this island to study the local fauna. Might you be him?"

The man smiled. "This seems likely, unless there should be some other naturalists about of whom I'm unaware. I am Professor Hastings, from Imperial College. My field is ichthyology. Your name sounds familiar. Would you happen to be the noted cryptozoologist from Pennsylvania?"

Mister Cartwell seemed embarrassed by this recognition. "It's something of a hobby," he said modestly. "My real profession is the design of mechanical controls."

"You do yourself a disservice," said the professor. "I've read your monograph `Foraging Requirements for a Putative Magnipedal Primate in a Temporal Rain-Forest Environment'. It does put paid to those wild speculations of J. W. Burns. What brings you to Micronesia?"

"I'm on the trail of a somewhat more plausible creature called a `squidbat'. Have you heard of these animals?"

The professor looked delighted. "The Common Squidbat, Desmodus Teuthida, also known locally as the `pepetualua'", he announced. "The species was classified by Wateley in 1827, who described it as having a `vaguely anthropoid outline, of a somewhat bloated corpulence, with an octopus-like head whose face is a mass of feelers, a scaly rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and forefeet, and narrow wings behind'. He also noted that it 'was instinct with a fearsome malignancy', whatever that could mean. I've been searching for these creatures as well."

"How many have you seen?" Mister Cartwell asked.

The professor's shoulders slumped. "None yet," he admitted. "But I have found some promising clues. The inhabitants of this island have legends of some tiny thing, 'inches high' that `walks or lumbers about'. I'm confident this is one of our little `pepes'."

Clarice was not impressed by this particular lead. Mister Cartwell seemed to share her opinion. "That's very interesting," he said politely. "Do you know of anyone else who's investigating local marine life?"

"There have been quite a few studies since the turn of the century," said the professor. "The Royal Society has funded several oceanographic expeditions, the American government sent fisheries experts to evaluate their new possession in the Philippines, the Germans are always looking for ways to enhance their prestige, and the Dutch are always looking for new things to sell. Most recently we've had the Japanese."

Clarice's ears perked up at this last piece of information. "Do you have any idea why?"

Hastings shrugged. "Well, those people do consume a fair amount of fish. And I believe their Crown Prince Regent... Hitohiro, Hirihoto, or something like that... has an interest in marine biology. As I recall, his specialty is jellyfish."

"Ugh," said Clarice and Emily in unison.

"Quite," said the Englishman.

Mister Cartwell tried a different tack. "What places have you looked at so far?"

"Pardon me while I get my list," said the professor. He ducked into his tent and re-emerged with two thick laboratory journal bearing the Imperial College crest. "These are the first ones," he announced. "Fell free to examine them while I fetch the others."

Clarice frowned. "It looks like he's covered quite a bit of territory. There might not be any squidbats left."

"That's one way of looking at things," Mister Cartwell said cheerfully. "Another is that he's saved us quite a bit of trouble following false trails. Let's see if he'll let us make copies of these."

Sigmund waited impatiently while the stewards lowered the accommodation ladder, then strode down the steps to the mooring mast. He was glad to leave the English packet behind. The flight to Mud Bay had been excruciating, for he'd had to share the salon with loud group of tourists who monopolized the conversation with insipid observations about the scenery. Worst had been a boney matron in a floral print dress with a tastelessly elaborate hat, a lorgnette, and a string of cultured pearls. It was enough to make a man long for another War.

Formalities for visitors arriving in Bwaidoga were minimal, and soon he making his way through town. It didn't take him long to locate Her representatives. They recognized him immediately.

"Herr Sigmund," said Devers. "I trust you had a good flight from Sydney. What brings you to Goodenough?"

"I'm after Michaelson's agents," the German said roughly. "Where are they?"

"I'm afraid you just missed them," said Roth. "They re-embarked on the American vessel and lifted ship yesterday."

"You allowed them to escape?"

"It seemed the wisest course of action. Your station chief had already expressed some concerns about exposure after his failure during the kidnapping attempt."

"His failure?" said Sigmund. "And who was it who gave the order for this debacle?"

The Englishman shrugged. "How hard can it be to use a disguised torpedo boat to run down a slow underpowered yacht? But there's nothing to be gained from these recriminations. Our interests coincide, for now."

Sigmund's eyes narrowed. "Is that a threat?"

"No, merely a statement of situation we both hope might continue."

Next week: Questions, Answers, and a Fateful Decision...

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