The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 505: His Ship Should Be Easy To Find

Photograph of Howard Phillip

The Russians eyed MacKiernan with suspicion. Clearly they hadn't anticipated his revelation. "You know who Karlov might have taken passage with?" asked Anna.

"I believe so," said MacKiernan. "We encountered an American sea-captain -- one Howard Phillip, master of the Insmouth Shadow -- who'd taken the man aboard as passenger. When we met Captain Phillip, he was seeking retribution against the Germans for sinking his previous ship. He was instrumental in helping us track them to Ujelang. We should be able to find him by checking shipping records."

"With the information you've provided, there's every chance we could find him first," Anna observed.

"I offer it as evidence of our good faith, in hope that our interests coincide," said MacKiernan.

The woman nodded. "We will see if they do."

The next morning found the R-83 heading west with a quartering tailwind. Her engines ran roughly as ever, but seemed in no immediate danger of failing. The same could not be said of the accommodations in the captain's stateroom. Miss Perkins eyed her chair with caution before she took a seat.

"It's all very well to check shipping records," she told MacKiernan after she was certain the furniture wouldn't collapse, "but the Pacific is fairly large. Where should we look first?"

The Irishman set down the list he'd been composing. "There are quite a few ports to choose from," he admitted. "Since Captain Phillip was operating in the Timor Sea when the Germans attacked his first ship, that seems a good place to start."

"I gather that Karlov vanished from the ship prior to the attack, just like he vanished on the train from Enterprise Creek and the laboratory on Ujelang. How does he manage these sleights of hand?"

"They do seem to be one of his trademarks," said MacKiernan. "Still, he can hardly be a magician. I imagine Captain Phillip exaggerated the circumstances. Karlov might well have slipped from his cabin while everyone was preoccupied by the attack and escaped aboard some small craft."

"That would suggest he maintains a refuge on some nearby island," the secretary observed.

"So it would," said MacKiernan. "The challenge will be to determine which one. Captain Phillip should be able to shed some light on the matter. We'll see if Port Moresby has any record of his vessel when we call there for resupply."

It was raining when they arrived at Port Moresby, but a Wollesly didn't pose much challenge to the handling parties, even in the mud, and soon the ship was riding from the mast. By now the town had begun to seem familiar -- an island of British civilization hacked from the jungle, with the Owen Stanley Range shrouded by clouds to the north and an arm of Coral Sea to the south -- and the formalities had become routine. MacKiernan dealt with the clearance forms, left Smade to handle resupply, then hired a jitney to carry him and Miss Perkins on courtesy visit to the Administrator.

Sir Hubert Murray received them on a veranda of the Government House. "Lieutenant Commander MacKiernan, Miss Perkins, welcome back to the Territory of Papua, " he said, offering the lady a bow. "I assume you're here on Navy business again. Would this happen to involve more missing noblemen, renegade British nationalists, hijacked Argentine liners, or Korean motorcyclists?"

"It's nothing so dramatic this time," MacKiernan replied dryly. "We're trying to locate an American freighter named the Insmouth Shadow. We believe her captain may have information of relevance to an investigation we're conducting."

The Administrator thought this over. "The name sounds familiar, but I cannot recall the connection. I'll send word to my colleagues to learn if they've see the vessel. In the meantime, I would suggest you inquire at the Lloyds office and the Torres Strait Pilots Association."

The Lloyds office did not prove particularly helpful. Its records were extensive, comprehensive, and limited to vessels and cargoes in which the underwriter had some interest. Like many tramp skippers, Captain Phillip's operations were too modest to attract the agency's attention. He also didn't seem to have felt the need for a reef pilot. Whether this was because he didn't want to spend the money or believed he knew the Torres Strait well enough to negotiate it on his own was impossible to determine, but given the captain's temperament, MacKiernan suspected the latter.

"This visit may not have been particularly productive," Miss Perkins remarked as they made their way back to the air station.

MacKiernan sighed. "It wasn't a waste, for we needed the supplies, but I'll admit that I'd hoped for more clues."

Wilcox strode past the shipping offices, shops, and shacks that lined the shores of Walter Bay. The monsoon rain, which might have dampened the spirits of an older man, did little to curb the enthusiasm of youth. In a place like this, crossroads of many different cultures, nationalities, and quite possibly species, someone must have word of the Insmouth Shadow.

Inquiries brought him to a bar that seemed less rustic them most, with two ceiling fans rather than the usual one, and walls that weren't entirely spotted with mold. A chubby man in a tropical suit sat in a corner nursing a drink. Wilcox took a seat across the table. "I'm looking for gentleman named Larry," he said. "Would that be you?"

The other man glanced at the lieutenant and snorted. "What's it to you, kid?"

Wilcox had listened to enough radio dramas to understand how these affairs were to be conducted. He produced a pound note and set it down in front of him. "I understand you might be able to tell me about the American," he said in his most conspiratorial tone.

The other man made a dismissive gesture. "If you're looking for the gangsters, I don't know `em. Even if I did, I wouldn't know where they are."

Gangsters? thought Wilcox. This must be some novel negotiating strategy. He gave the note a tap. "No, I'm looking for a captain named Howard Phillip."

The other man brushed the bill aside. "Keep your money, kid. I ain't taking pay for dope I can't deliver. Whoever this Phillip guy is, he ain't one of my customers. You might try talking with old Marsh."

A shilling purchased directions to a shop named Marshland, on an alley near the port road. Inside, a pair of inadequate windows lit a narrow room cluttered with artifacts that might have come from anywhere on Earth, and possibly other worlds as well. One was particularly grotesque -- a man-sized figure with a narrow head and bulging fish-like eyes. For some reason the artists had chosen to provide it with modern Western street clothes. Wilcox jumped in surprise when it turned to address him.

"Good afternoon, I am Enoch Marsh, proprietor of this establishment," came a cultured New England voice. "How may I help you?"

"I'm... ah... Lieutenant Wilcox, Royal Navy Airship Service," Wilcox stammered. "We're attempting to locate an American sea-captain named Howard Phillip, master of the Insmouth Shadow."

The other man's eyes widened -- something Wilcox would not have thought possible -- and his mouth spread in a disturbingly frog-like smile. "So you're looking for Howard Phillip..." he began, as if he'd been about to add a surname. "How interesting."

Next week: If Everything Seems Under Control, You Aren't Going Fast Enough...

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