The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 525: What Trouble Could They Possibly Get Into Next?

Steam launches

Everett glanced at the villager and raised an eyebrow. "Secret weapons?" he asked.

"Oh, aye," said the man, who’d apparently acquired his accent from one of the Scottish Presbyterian missions. "Great big crates o' the things. But they weren't very secret if you ask me. The infidels kept them in that shed surrounded by guards, which rather gave the game away."

Jenkins studied the shed. "It seems to be empty now," he observed.

The islander glanced at the building and if he'd only just noticed this fact. "Those lads moved them a week ago, and I must say we're glad we were glad to see the last of that lot. They were taking up space we could hae been be usin' to store copra."

"Yes, I suppose they would," said Everett, uncertain this could be counted as a fault. "And you never saw fit to report this to the authorities?"

"No," said the man. "Should we?"

There seemed no answer to this question, so Everett decided to change the subject. "Do you have any idea where the crates might have been taken?"

"Nae, but the infidels loaded them onto Konrad's ferry, so it can't have been very far."

"Thank you," said Everett. "Where might we find this Konrad gentleman and his vessel?"

Konrad's ferry proved to be an island proa to which someone with more optimism than sense had fitted a small steam engine. The machinery was of some antiquity, as was the man they found cursing as he wrestled to align a valve stem. He set down his wrench as they approached.

"Goedemorgen heren," he said cheerfully. "My name is Konrad and this is my command. If you have goods to ship, you've come to the right man! I'll have her ready to sail any day now!"

"I'm afraid we have no immediate need of transportation," Everett informed the skipper, "but we are interested in a cargo you might have carried a week ago. This would have been a shipment of crates from the warehouse in town."

"Ja, the secret weapons! I remember it well!" said Konrad "It wasn't very secret with all those guards."

"Do you happen to recall where you delivered it?" asked Everett.

The man scratched his head. "That I remember less well," he admitted. "We were busy that week. But it was somewhere on the north shore of Weda Bay, so it must have been Kobe, Dolo, or Patani."

The airmen glanced at each other as they contemplated this wealth of information. "I suppose that narrows it down, sir," Jenkins suggested helpfully.

"That it does," sighed Everett. "We'd best have a look at these places. We'll begin with the closest, which would be Kobe."

The Flying Cloud would need another day to complete resupply, so in the interests of expediency, Everett elected to leave Iverson in charge of the proceedings while he and Jenkins secured alternative transportation. The experience would be good for the lieutenant, who might be up for promotion some day. The alternatives proved limited, for the island's road network was best described as 'rustic' and the only blimp at the station was being deflated to repair the consequences of an encounter with some local terrain feature. This left them with a choice between two steam launches: the Lightning and the Patience. Neither name seemed partiularly promising, and the vessels themselves looked more suitable for some river in Africa than the Dutch East Indies, but Everett comforted himself with the thought that if they'd survived this long, neither craft was likely to sink on its next voyage. He decided on the Patience, reasoning that its competitor's name might likely to prove unduly optimistic.

The launch showed a remarkable turn of speed -- in a negative sense of the word -- taking almost an hour to carry them to Kobe. They might as well not have bothered, for not only did the villagers not remember any shipment of secret weapons, they didn't even remember a visit by Konrad's proa.

"Could they have failed to notice the vessel?" asked Jenkins.

Everett glanced around the village -- a task that took little time. "This settlement seems noteworthy for its lack of distractions," he observed. "It's difficult to imagine how they could overlook a visitor. Let us press on to Dolo."

The passage from Kobe to Dolo took even longer than the passage from Weda to Kobe. The Patience lived up to its name, accomplishing in hours what less sedate craft might have accomplished a fraction of that time, and by the time they backed down to the village's rickety dock, it was almost time for tea. This was conspicuous by its absence, as was any sign of the secret weapons.

"I begin to wonder about the reliability of our informant in Weda," Jenkins observed.

"As do I," said Everett. "It's possible that this supposed arsenal is little more than a myth."

"Shall we continue on to Patani?" asked the signalman.

Everett glanced at his watch. "This seems unlikely to be profitable," he observed. "We couldn't possibly arrive until in time to make any useful inquiries. We'll return to Weda, where Iverson will be done with resupply, and resume the search tomorrow by air."

The trip back to Weda was singularly uneventful. The only incident of note occurred when the Lightning chugged past in the other direction under what passed for its full head of steam. This compared unfavorably with that of the Patience, and the airmen congratulated themselves on their choice of vessel. They reached port in the evening, as the sun was sinking behind the mountains where Karlov and Natasha had confronted each other the year before. They found Iverson waiting for them at the dock, which a caused Everett a twinge of apprehension.

"I take it from your presence that all is not as it should be," he said.

"There may be some truth to this observation," Iverson admitted. "Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine appear to have absented themselves from the ship."

"How did this come about?" asked Everett. "I believe we'd instructed our people to ensure that they remained aboard."

"This is true," said Iverson, "and no one saw them leave, but when Pierre called at their quarters to summon them for tea, they were nowhere to be found."

Everett suppressed a scowl. It would be pointless to chastise the lieutenant. It was clear he'd been outmatched, and there was no dishonor in defeat by a superior force.

"That other launch we saw," said Jenkins. "Do you think it possible the two young ladies might have commandeered it?"

Everett allowed himself a sigh. "Is there any doubt?"

Next week: Best-Laid Plans...

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