The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 287: Guam With The Wind

Crates of kidnapping supplies

From the outside, the bungalow looked quite ordinary -- a typical smallholder's residence with a row of sheds in back. A crude shortwave antenna, little more than a length of insulated wire, hung from a nearby palm tree. A weather-beaten Ford truck completed the picture of bucolic innocence.

Inside, Albrecht waited while Voight punched the keys of the code machine and copied the results to a notepad. At last the operator ripped off the sheet and handed it to his superior. Albrecht scanned the message and nodded.

"It is from Sigmund," he informed his men. "He tells us that the American airship may be coming to Guam. If it arrives, we are to lure the two agents away from the vessel and take them for questioning. Arnold, Günther, you know what to do."

The freighter was old -- some decaying relic from the North Atlantic trade, consigned to these islands to spend the last of her days in less demanding climes. Her gear was worn and battered, her deckplates were scarred by decades of use, and paint flaked from her aging hull. An aerial drooped from a rusting radio mast.

In the deckhouse, three men waited impatiently while a fourth thumbed through a code book and jotted down characters. Crumpled sheets of paper littered the table around him: evidence of earlier failures in decryption. At last the man grunted in satisfaction. "I have it this time, Kapitein," he announced. "It is from Wasserman."

Salomon studied the message, lips moving silently as he read the words. "Good work, Rosencrans," he told the other. "It appears our vriend Wasserman has a job for us. He expects an airship to call here sometime in the next few days. We are to capture two of her people and deliver them to his man in Vanatu. The reward will be... substantial. Houge, Witts, I will leave this thing to you."

The British quarter in Piti had never been particularly substantial, but it made up in character what it lacked in size. The houses might have been transported straight from some suburb of London, the lawns were neatly trimmed -- a remarkable accomplishment here in the tropics -- and the bright blue police call box seemed entirely out of place on a Pacific island.

Inside one of the houses, three men watched while a fourth put down a set of headphones. "What word, Rollins?" asked Kersey.

The radioman finished scribbling on his slate, then handed this over. "We have orders," he said, "from She Who Must Be Obeyed."

Kersey examined the text, then turned to Underwood and Sadler. "This seems fairly straightforward," he told them. "An American airship named the Philadelphian will arrive at the station tomorrow with two female British agents aboard. We are to apprehend these women. I trust you can handle this."

During the heyday of the Spanish Empire, when Hapsburg Spain was the dominant world hyperpower, Guam had been a crucial stop for the Manila Galleon -- the fabulous treasure ship that carried wealth of the Orient from China to Castile. As silk and spice were eclipsed by the products of successive industrial revolutions and Spain's power dwindled under the twin burdens of military commitments and a revenue system that exempted the aristocracy from taxes, the island had declined in importance. By the time the USS Charleston arrived to capture the place in 1898, the local garrison consisted of few dozen infantry who were entirely unaware that war had been declared between the America and Spain. Informed that his island was now a possession of the United States, the Spanish governor is reported to have shrugged and said, "Francamente, no me importa una mierda."

Mister Cartwell's associate on Guam proved to be an American professor who'd come to study the indigenous ko'ko' bird and the Guam Flycatcher. He invited them into his study, where the two men discovered a shared interest in legendary beasts, the reliability of oral traditions, and the challenges of field biology in a tropical environment. Clarice and Emily listened politely, but when this conversation showed no sign of ending, they asked if they might be excused to do some sightseeing.

"Of course," Mister Cartwell said with a chuckle. "I keep forgetting that not everyone shares my enthusiasms. You might begin with a tour of the village."

The village of Piti, on the shores of Apra Harbor, had known many rulers during its long and varied history. Each successive wave of settlement had left its mark, and now modern American shops crowded next to Spanish missions, Chinese godowns, chandleries left over from the whaling era, and ancient Chamorro works of latte stone.

Clarice and Emily wandered through the settlement, following a map sketched for them by two helpful German tourists. When they reached a corner their guides had marked as particularly scenic, they paused to examine their surroundings. To someone brought up in the tropics, these were quite unremarkable -- the usual panorama of clean white beaches, brilliant green jungle, and achingly blue sky. A group of Japanese visitors stood nearby, chattering excitedly as they snapped pictures of the harbor fortifications. Across the street, two Dutch seamen were bent over a checkerboard.

Emily glanced at her companion. "I don't think there's much to see here," she observed. "Where should we go next?"

Clarice studied the map. "Let's look at the old Spanish fort. According to these directions, we can take a short cut through this alley. I'll race you!"

The two women darted up the alley, giggling as they ran. Two pairs of voices sounded behind them.

"This is the chance! Fangt sie!"

"Our chance is here! Ze te vangen!"

These cries were followed by shouts of surprise and sounds of an altercation. Emily slowed to listen. "What's that all about?" she asked.

Clarice laughed and tugged at her arm. "It can't have anything to do with us. Let's go."

The old Spanish fort was notably decrepit. According to local legend, Captain Glass, commander of the American forces that took the island three decades ago, had been ordered to destroy it, but decided this was unnecessary. It cannot have been difficult to justify this decision. Weeds grew between cracked flagstones and vines covered walls that were slowly crumbling into heaps of stone. A middle-aged Russian -- a professor by the look of him -- stood atop one of these making a sketch of the bay below. Behind him, children from one of the mission schools frolicked around the grounds, exalting in their freedom from class. Two British gentlemen stood next to an embrasure with their noses buried in guidebooks. In another corner, two Germans looked vaguely familiar.

Clarice frowned. As ruins went, this one was not particularly impressive. She'd been hoping for some timeless relic left by some ancient race that filtered down from the stars before the dawn of humanity.

Emily seemed to share her opinion. "This place is boring," said the brunette. "Let's climb through that gap in the parapet and head back to the village."

Clarice nodded cheerfully. "Dinki di!"

As the two women scrambled over the wall, they heard voices from the bailey they'd left.

"This is our chance! Let us seize the moment!"

"Another chance! Aber sei vorsichtiger!"

This was followed by muffled cries and the sound of blows. Emily and Clarice glanced at each other, shrugged, and continued on their way.

By the time the two women got back to town, it was almost tea time. They paused for a sherbert at one of the new American cafes, then made their way down the village's main street, examining shop displays. Behind them, two Englishmen in clothes that had seen better days made a show of studying signs, as if there were looking for a haberdashery. Across the street, two Dutch seamen limped down the lane, glancing over their shoulders and starting at shadows.

At last Emily sighed. "This place is dull," she told Clarice. "Shall we head back to the ship?"

"Oh, let's," said the blonde. "We can cut through that secluded side street."

The two women turned the corner and made their way past bales of copra, discarded rigging, and a stack of rusting propeller blades. Behind them, they heard shouts of joy and the sound of running footsteps, followed by cries of dismay.

"There seem to be quite a few people running about this place and yelling," Clarice observed. "I wonder what they're going on about."

Emily shrugged. "Perhaps it's some manner of athletic event."

Six men stood in an empty warehouse, glaring at each other with suspicion. Their clothing was disheveled, their faces battered and bruised, and one seemed to be favoring a twisted ankle. An observer would have sensed the tension. It was obvious these figures were at odds.

At last Arnold broke the silence. "This is getting us nowhere," he observed irritably. "We're working at cross purposes. If we continue fighting like this, we'll never catch those two agents."

"What do you suggest?" asked Houge.

"We could pool our efforts," Underwood suggested. "If we work together, it should be a simple matter to apprehend the ladies."

"What then?" asked Günther. "There are three factions here, and only two prizes. How do we decide which of us is to claim them?"

Sadler shrugged. "We could draw lots, or fight a duel, or play a game of checkers."

The Dutchmen brightened at this last suggestion. "Ja," said Witts. "Let us follow the Englisher's plan. Then we cannot fail."

Emily and Clarice reached the air station to find Aunt Behama waiting for them at the foot of the mooring mast. The matron did not look pleased by their arrival. "Where have you been?" she scolded. "It's quite inappropriate for two young ladies to be wandering about an idyllic tropical paradise without an escort!"

"It's hardly idyllic!" Emily protested.

"Em's right!" said Clarice. "It's really rather boring!"

Aunt Behema seemed unimpressed by this argument. "So you're bored?" she snapped. "Then it's time you did something useful. You will accompany me as I head to town to run an errand for Mister Cartwell."

"But Auntie..." the two women began.

"Let's have none of that, young ladies," said the matron. "Come along now!"

The second expedition to Piti was even less interesting than the first. By now Emily and Clarice had seen all there was to see of the place, and they were hard put to disguise their boredom. At one point, they paused to glance back at the air station, where the Philadephian rode from her mooring like a vision of some better and more exciting time. Behind them, they heard cries of triumph, followed by a squawk of indignation.

"That's strange," said Emily. "Where is Aunt Behema?"

Clarice scratched her head. "I don't know. She was just here a minute ago."

Next week: Bubble Guam Crisis...

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