The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 304: A Link to the Past

Cufflink, beaker, and laboratory balance

Under ordinary circumstances, Captain Everett and Michaelson would never have met to discuss a truce, but these circumstances were far from ordinary. Now that Admiral Wentworth had returned to Sydney, leaving consternation in his wake, it seemed wise to set their quarrel aside. The Admiral could destroy careers with the stroke of a pen. He'd been known to wield that pen freely, and his decision to terminate their investigations could only have been meant as a warning.

"This," said Michaelson, "is an unfortunate development."

"Quite," said Everett. He would have given much to know Michaelson's precise role in this affair. Who were the senior captain's contacts in Sydney, what influence did they have, and what was the nature of their relationship? Were they working for him, or vice versa? It did not seem wise to ask.

"Do we have any idea what Admiral Wentworth's interest this matter might be?" he asked instead.

Michaelson glanced at him as if to say he wasn't fooled. "He will want to preserve the status quo," he replied sourly. "The Australian Squadron is not a particularly important posting, and its successes under his command are unlikely to attract much notice at the Admiralty. Failures are another matter, and would leave him looking for scapegoats."

"Do you feel we're at risk of being pressed into this role?"

"Not at the moment. We may not have scored any major victories these past few weeks, but neither did we suffer any significant defeats. Still, we would do well to put on a show of investigating these incidents of piracy until we've restored our reputation."

"What information do we have about these pirates?"

Michaelson passed Everett a folder. "This is the report from the Admiral's office. It lists four separate attacks. In each case, an unidentified airship closed with the victim, ordered them to heave to, then sent down a party to relieve the passengers of their lighter and more easily transported valuables. This sounds like your old acquaintances..." the senior captain looked pained, "... the Sky Pirates of Tahiti."

"Indeed it does," sighed Everett, "but we must not leap to conclusions. The Dutch East Indies are some distance from their usual stamping grounds in French Polynesia."

"They are also a natural arena for piracy," Michaelson observed. "With the decline of their spice trade, the Dutch no longer take much interest in the region, and it abounds with places where marauders might find refuge and resupply."

Everett did not need to look at a chart. "The most direct route there from Cairns would be via Darwin," he observed thoughtfully.

"So it would," said Michaelson. "And we have good reason to believe that their Chief of Police, this George Channel fellow, have been conspiring some of our nationalist adversaries. I see no reason why you shouldn't look into the matter while you are there."

"What about Admiral Wentworth's orders?"

Michaelson's smile looked entirely innocent. "There is no need for us to trouble him about an unofficial inquiry."

"I see," said Everett. "Might there also be some 'unofficial' matters you propose to investigate here?"

"Perhaps," Michaelson told him. "You will recall that cufflink we found at the site of the bombing."

"Of course," said Everett. He could hardly have forgotten evidence that some of his old crew might still be alive.

"I have engaged a jeweler from the village to examine it. Let us see what he has discovered."

The jeweler's name was Jack. He was a burly man with a mermaid tattooed on one hairy arm and some strange squid-like creature tattooed on the other -- the latter was surmounted by the name 'Mabel'. Everett thought the fellow looked more like a gorilla than a jeweler, but he dismissed this impression as uncharitable. Surely higher primates needed personal adornments too.

"This is confidential business of the Royal Naval Airship Service," Michaelson told him. "You will understand the need for discretion."

"Dinki-di," said the Aussie. "It's part of me job. Plenty of chappies pawn something in my shop and don't want it known. I won't go noising off about your beaudy here." He indicated the cufflink on the table before them.

Sarah leaned forward to study the ornament. It was a small lozenge of gold engraved with the image of a Coastal Class blimp. "Are we quite sure this belonged to Lieutenant-Commander Forsythe?" she asked.

Everett indicated the engraving. There could be little doubt who had commissioned it. No one else would have chosen such a monumentally unattractive subject. "I believe so," he replied. "This particular class of vessel is... not commonly portrayed in this particular context."

"Did you inspect it for secret compartments and hidden messages?" Iverson asked the jeweler.

The others stared at him.

The lieutenant shrugged helplessly. "Well, that's what they do in radio dramas."

Jack shook his head. "I weighed the thing, measured how much water it displaced, and compared this with the density of gold. It's solid, unless your Forsythe chappie slipped in a slug of osmium."

"That seems unlikely," Michaelson observed dryly. "The Lieutenant-Commander would hardly have had a suitable reason or resources. But there may be some message in the avenue by which it reached the station."

Everett frowned, "We've assumed it was brought here by the Korean woman, Kim. Surely you're not thinking..."

Michaeslon nodded. "There are only a limited number of reasons a woman might carry a personal article belonging to a man."

"You think they were lovers?" Sarah said in delight.

"We must not rule out the possibility," Michaelson told her. "This could have any number of implications." He nodded to the jeweler. "Thank you for your assistance. You may go now. Please submit your bill to the bursar's office."

"That Jack is an interesting character," Iverson observed after the jeweler had departed. "He's not the sort of fellow I would have taken for a craftsman."

"No," chuckled Sarah, "he looks more like a gorilla."

"Surely gorillas need craftsmen too," said Iverson.

"Or crafts-apes, as the case may be."

"I'd wonder if the cladhaire is trustworthy," said MacKiernan. "He had a shifty-eyed look about him."

Michaelson leaned back in his chair. "We can trust him to serve the purpose for which I chose him," he announced.

"And what would that be?" Everett asked apprehensively.

"We know that some party here in Cairns is in communication with nationalist agents in Darwin. We can trust this man to sell our information to this party. We have given our adversaries a poisoned pill. Now we will watch to see who develops symptoms."

Next week: Doubtful Deeds in Darwin...

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