The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 549: You Could Hardly Expect Us Not To Notice

Channel's office

Fenwick watched from his seat at the wireless as Captain Harris brought the R-87 down to Darwin's air station. He'd looked forward to doing actual fieldwork -- just like Jenkins -- but now that the opportunity had arrived, he wondered if he was ready. If Michaelson noticed his aide's apprehension, he gave no sign of this. The Commodore's attention seemed focused on the town below.

"We will wish to finish mooring as expeditiously as possible, so that I may disembark before word of our arrival can spread," he anounced.

Harris wouldn't have received command of Michaelson's preferred courier vessel if he was intimidated by pressure of this sort. "I don't anticipate any difficulty, sir," he replied crisply. "This is a Wollesley class, we timed our arrival to precede the morning seabreeze, and the handling party will be Australian."

The captain's prediction proved correct. Aussies seemed to regard walking an airship to the mast as a competitive athletic event, and soon Michaelson and Fenwick were riding a hired motor into town.

"May I ask where we're going, sir?" Fenwick ventured as they turned to head south past the harbor.

Michaelson might have made a practice of withholding information for tactical purposes, but he didn't do this gratuitously. "For the past two years, I have been feeding rope to a gentleman here in Darwin," he replied. "It is time for him to learn just how thoroughly he's managed to hang himself."

Their destination proved to be the police station -- a grim-looking structure that had functioned as fortress when European immigrants were demonstrating their attitude toward native claims to the land. It had resumed this function during the labor unrest that gripped Darwin shortly after the War, and even now, its entrance was guarded by two business-like guards. Michaelson brushed past them in much the same way a knight might brush past a pair of peasants and led the way down the corridors.

These were every bit as bleak as the building itself -- testimony to the genius of some architect who cannot have had a happy childhood. Officers and clerks who thought to bar their path fared no better than the guards. At last they came to a door bearing the sign `George R Channel, Chief of Police'.

Fenwick raised an eyebrow. What role was he to play in what he promised to be a confrontation? "Sir?" he asked.

"You will take notes," Michaelson replied. "I trust you do in as threatening way a manner as possible."

Fenwick gulped, then nodded. This skill was part of Signal Corps training.

The police chief had quite clearly been taken by surprise. He rose from his desk to glare at the intruders. "What is the meaning of this?" he demanded, betraying a certain lack of originality.

"Remain standing, Mister Channel," Michaelson said lightly as he drew himself a chair, "We are here to discuss your association with enemies of the Crown."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Channel replied, with a growl he clearly trusted to see him through the encounter.

Michaelson ignored the same way he'd ignored all the guards. "In April of 1926, you helped agents of a German nationalists pursue a Russian scientist by the name of Karlov. When he escaped, you sequestered his belongings to forward to the highest bidder. This proved to be a British nationalist organization known as the British Union of Fascists. At their instructions, you sabotaged the hydrogen plant at Darwin's air station to interfere with operations of His Majesty's Airship R-101, the Flying Cloud. When this proved insufficient, you stood aside while an attempt was made to hijack the vessel, then released the would-be hijackers under the guise of taking them into custody."

It was clear from the police chief's reaction that these shots had hit home. It was also clear that he hadn't risen to his position by conceding defeat. "What proof do you have of this?" he sniffed. It was not the most convincing sniff Fenwick had ever heard.

"We intercepted communications from you to your various associates in Cairns and elsewhere.," Michaelson said lightly. "None of the ciphers you used with the Germans, White Russians, or the British Union posed any notable challenge. In particular, we know of your machinations prior to and after the demise of Yakov and the attempt to kidnap Antonio Notariello. We've also obtained details regarding your financial transactions during the purchase of the two tanks -- details that would not redound to your credit in a court of law. Finally, we know of your connection with four members of the British Union who were until recently members of this town."

Like all bullies, Channel was not a brave man. He showed this now. "What do you want?" he asked meekly

Michaelson examined the police chief in much the same way a cat might examine a mouse it proposed to toy with. "I will admit to some gaps in my knowledge," he replied. "You are going to fill them."

Recognizing this as his cue, Fenwick produced a notepad and pencil. Channel stared at them as if they'd been an executioners block and axe. As well he might.

"I'd say that was fairly informative," Michaelson remarked as he steered the motor back toward the air station. To their left, sunlight slanted down on Darwin's harbor and a small fishing boat that was making its way toward port. It's occupants seemed to be two young women. He considered giving them a wave, then thought better of it.

"Mister Channel does seem to have been in the thick of things," he replied.

"Indeed he was," said Michaelson. "His understanding of the affairs in which he was involved seems limited -- in particular, the man doesn't seem to have made the connection between uraninite and the Ujelang Device -- but he has given us a rather comprehensive list of dates, places, and names."

Fenwick nodded in admiration. So that was how these things things were done. It seemed their mission had been a success. What could possibly go wrong?

"Look, Clarice," said Emily as they brought the Troublemaker alongside the wharf. "Isn't that a Wollesley class?"

The brunette looked where the blond was pointing. "Dinki di! If I read the number right, that's the R-87."

"Isn't that the ship Michaelson uses for a courier?"

Clarice thought this over. "Bob's your uncle. I wonder what she was doing here."

Emily glanced at her companion and smiled. "Let's find out!"

Next week: New Orders...

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