The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 357: Out of the Broome Closet

Folder of secret information

They camped aboard the launch -- no one felt ready to spend a night in the deserted barracks -- and set off for Broome in the morning. The voyage took them west, then southwest, past a succession of swamps, beaches, and headlands that were remarkable for their lack of any remarkable features. Occasionally they passed a small hamlet or isolated fishing shack, but settlers seemed to have avoided this region of Australia. MacKiernan found it hard to blame them.

Late that afternoon, they passed Cable Beach and rounded the point to enter Roebuck Bay. A flotilla of fishing boats bobbed at anchor, accompanied by a small coastal patrol vessel. More were drawn up on the beach. MacKiernan decided to take advantage of the ebbing tide and run their craft ashore to join the latter. With its shallow draft, the launch took the ground well. An hour later, they were boarding the Flying Cloud to deliver their report.

Everett met them in mess hall, where he'd been poring over charts with Jenkins, Iverson, and Sarah. "I trust that your investigation was productive," he said as they entered.

"Unfortunately there was little left for us to investigate," MacKiernan replied. "The original keepers seem to have made off with all of their records, then Marty and his gangsters looted the place of any valuables. Sometime after that, another party arrived to empty the warehouses. I suspect this was the crew of the Tranquility."

Everett nodded. "They would be plausible candidates. We know they frequent this coast and they could well have learned of the depot from someone here in Broome. Still, I wonder at these coincidences. This is the fourth time we've crossed paths with the fellows. Each of these encounters involved a site that might in some way be connected with Karlov."

"Do you think they could be working together?" MacKiernan asked incredulously. The boisterous Australian seamen seemed unlikely confederates for the enigmatic Russian scientist.

"The man cannot be a magician," Everett observed. "He must have some way of getting around without being observed, and an anonymous island freighter could serve this purpose quite handily. Did you find any clues at all?"

MacKiernan sighed. "After a fashion, but they're somewhat... well... I'll let you judge for yourself. Pierre, if you'd show the Captain what we discovered."

The Frenchman opened the folder he'd been carrying. With a flourish, he withdrew the prints they'd removed from the walls of the barracks and spread them across the table. There was a moment of stunned silence.

"My goodness," said Jenkins.

"Oh dear," said Iverson. The lieutenant had turned a remarkable shade of red. Beside him, Sarah giggled, then lifted a hand to her mouth in embarrassment.

Only Everett seemed unperturbed. "This is not the sort of material one would expect someone to bring aboard one of His Majesty's airships," he remarked. "I trust there were extenuating circumstances."

"Oui," Pierre replied cheerfully. "We believe these were left by the Japanese nationalists. Details of the reproduction suggests they all came from the same printer. If we can locate this entrepreneur, it could shed light on their movements."

"There's a substantial community of Japanese pearl fishermen here in Broome," MacKiernan observed apprehensively. "Will you be wanting Miss Perkins and me to make some inquiries?"

Everett shook his head. "I can't imagine they'd have much to tell us. Neither their culture nor profession is given to loquaciousness. Fortunately, we have a potential source of information aboard this ship."

It took Everett some time to locate Iwamoto. The engineer was so unobtrusive that he tended to blend in with the machinery. Everett found him in the Number Three engine car, where he was cleaning the already immaculate surface of a gear housing. He stood as the captain entered.

"Captain-sama," he said politely.

Everett had spent some time considering his line of inquiry. During their previous conversation, the engineer had said things to suggest he was opposed to some militarist group back in Japan. He'd also made it clear he was under some obligation to remain silent about the details.

"Good day, Mister Iwamoto," he announced. "What is the status of our plant?"

"Number One, Number Two, good condition," said the engineer. "Number Three, slight vibration. I check reducing gear."

"Very good," Everett told him. "We appreciate your hard work. I thought you might like to know what's been happening while you were busy here. We've learned that the mysterious cruiser that attacked our previous ship belongs to some Japanese nationalist organization. We also have reason to believe their ship and this one both came from the same yard. These fellows appear to be at odds with the civilian government, but one cannot help but wonder if they have some sympathizers among the military."

"Governments have many factions," Iwamoto said cautiously. "Some public. Some hidden. Some peaceful. Some make adventure. I not able speak such things. I come with engines."

Everett made a show of nodding. "I understand that you may not be in a position to talk about Japanese politics," he replied, "but I do have some questions about art. Are you familiar with this genre?"

The engineer's expression, normally unreadable, was a mixture of surprise and relief as he studied the prints. "Where these from?" he asked in wonder.

"We found them on the walls of an abandoned barracks," said Everett. "We believe they were left by the nationalists."

"This art called Ukiyo-e," said Iwamoto. "Means `floating world'. Has many subjects. Sometimes nature. Sometimes village life. Sometimes..." he paused, as if trying to devise an appropriate expression, "...friendship between men and women."

"So I've noticed," Everett said dryly. "Does this type of art receive wide circulation?"

"Hai. Art prints very popular Japan. Maybe someday publish in comic books or animate in cinema."

"Do you have any idea where these particular prints might have been made?" asked Everett.

"Not Japan," said Iwamoto. "Quality too much bad. Must be Dutch East Indies."

"You're quite sure about this?" said Everett.

Iwamoto met Everett's gaze. It was clear that he recognized the captain's intent.


Fat Man was reading the latest decrypted message intercepts when his aide knocked on the door. He glared at the interruption. Like any carnivore, it was dangerous to disturb him at his meal.

"What is it?" he growled.

"We've received word from our agent in Cairns, mein herr," said the aide. "The American cruiser visited their station two days ago. Shortly after it left, Captain Michaelson ordered Everett and the R-505 to depart on some unspecified mission."

"Do we know their destination?"

"No, mein herr. After they lifted ship, they headed inland and vanished from sight."

The Fat Man scowled as he thought this over. "Everett is not important," he decided. "Michaelson is the mastermind. He will have to be eliminated."

Next week: A Cultural Mission...

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