Episode 85: Trukin'
"The Governor sent word," said Jenkins. "He ordered his police to the
resort, but by the time they arrived, the nationalists had fled."
"I suppose we shouldn't be surprised," observed Everett. It had taken
him and Clarice several hours to motor the captured barge to a nearby
settlement, which would have given their adversaries plenty of time to
escape. But the barge itself might hold some clues. "Have you finished
inspecting the prize?" he asked Abercrombie.
"It had a hydrogen plant, just as ye guessed, Captain" said the
Scotsman, "wi' a wee little steam generator an' a great big load of iron
filings. I couldnae find anything tae show where it came from, but I did
find this." He held up the cloth Clarice had used to protect her clothing:
a brightly patterned swath of some unfamiliar fabric that could have been
anything from a beach towel to a curtain.
"It looks like a tapa," Jenkins observed.
"What's that?" asked Emily.
"It's a traditional form of apparel in the South Pacific. This one is
particularly colorful, which suggests it belonged to a woman."
"This is clothing?" asked Clarice, taking the thing from Abercrombie and
holding it up as if trying to determine how much, if any, of a woman's
figure it could possibly cover.
"The missionaries didn't approve," said Jenkins, "but I don't believe they
approved of much of anything. I've always wondered why anyone listened to
"They did have friends with guns," observed Davies.
The signalman nodded. "I suppose this might have been a compelling argument
in favor of their point of view."
"How did an article of woman's clothing get aboard the..." Clarice began
to ask. "It's a legitimate question!" she added when she noticed everyone
staring at her.
"I'm more interested in where it came from," said Everett. "Miss Sarah,
this is your part of the world. Do you have any speculations?"
The island girl took the cloth from Clarice, and wrapped it around her hips
in a way that would have been certain to raise eyebrows had this been her
only attire. She swayed in the beginning of a dance, then took it off to
study the design.
"You can tell where these are made by how they're decorated," she said.
"Each island has its own tradition. My people favor legendary figures like
the Youth With the Climbing Vine or the Red-Hooded Maiden. Other islands
prefer birds, fish, flowers, or abstract patterns. I believe this
particular cloth came from Truk."
"Mister MacKiernan?" asked Everett.
"It's a ring of atolls some distance to the north," said the Exec. "As I
recall, the place is claimed by Germany."
Everett nodded. "Plot a course there at our most economical cruising speed.
If possible, I'd like to arrive tomorrow morning."
"What do you think we'll find?" asked the Irishman.
"I don't have the slightest idea. But we do have one possible source of
"I believe it's time we spoke with our passenger."
Antonio Notarellio had endured the voyage without complaint -- behavior
Everett found surprising from a representative of a culture and profession
both known for their intransigence. The Italian seemed equally unperturbed
by the summons to the mess hall. Immaculately groomed, impeccably dressed,
he made his entrance, nodded to his audience, and took a seat before them.
"How can I help you?" he asked in his rich golden tenor. Everett almost
expected the man to burst into song.
"We have some questions about your acquaintance, the late Yakov," he
replied. "He does not seem to have been an individual of any
particular distinction, but he managed to attract the attention of several
unsavory nationalist groups from Germany and Russia. Do you have any idea
what he was up to?"
The Italian shook his head sorrowfully. "Poor Yakov. He always was a
macchinatore: a schemer. I warned him this was no good, but he was
not a man to listen."
"Could he have stolen something of military importance?"
Notariello puzzled over this question for so long that Everett found himself
wondering about the extent of the man's command of English. "Not Yakov,"
the singer said at last. "He knew nothing of military affairs. His
interest was in works of art."
Truk was actually a number of islands spaced around a large lagoon. It
occurred to Everett that this might make an excellent naval base -- a
Polynesian version of Scapa Flow -- in the unlikely event of some
large-scale conflict in the South Pacific, but the only vessels in sight
today were a few copra schooners and a steamship belonging to some
missionary organization. The Administrator's residence was on the island
of Weno, in a village named Mone, at the head of a body of water with the
improbable name of Pou Bay. There seemed no need to worry about violence
in such an out-of-the-way location so Everett gave his crew liberty, but he
kept a guard aboard the airship, just in case.
The Administrator of the German territories in Truk seemed happy to receive
them -- it couldn't be often he had an opportunity to entertain Western
guests. Apolitical himself, he was quite happy to talk about the
nationalists. But he didn't have much to say.
"There may be a few around," he said as he poured them drinks, "followers of
that Strasser fellow. It is hard to keep an eye on them without a real
police force, but it is difficult to imagine them raising a following among
the islanders." He smiled at the absurdity of such a concept.
'We have reason to believe that a freighter named the Inselmädchen
called here recently," said Everett. "Do you have any record of their port
"I remember this vessel," said the Administrator. "An old coastal steamer
from the Baltic -- Gott knows how it ended up in the Pacific with such a
name. I have no idea where they hailed from. We do not have the staff to
keep track of such things. But if you ask around the village, you might
find someone who knows."
The Administrator's optimism proved misplaced. The inhabitants of Truk
seemed to have little interest in visiting ships except as a source of
`cargo' -- a word with semi-mystical overtones that Everett and his
party did not entirely comprehend. After several hours of fruitless
queries, they retired to the closest thing Mone had to a pub. This was
located in a large fale, open to the tropical breezes, with a roof
of thatch to keep out the sun.
A print behind the bar showed a woman in an adventurous bathing costume
together with the words, "If you've got it, flaunt it... in a
At the other end of the floor, a young man sang while a sultry island maiden
accompanied him on a ukulele. To her surprise, Clarice recognized the
words of an old English folk song.
So early, early in the spring
I shipped on board to serve my king
I left my dearest dear behind
She oftimes swore her heart was mine
And all the time I sailed the seas
I could not find a moment's ease
For thinking of my dearest dear
but never a word of her could I hear
"I will head back to the ship," announced Everett. "I need to contemplate
our next move."
Clarice watched the captain go, wondering at the reason for his abrupt
departure. She'd seen nothing during their brief acquaintance to explain
such behavior. She turned to ask Jenkins if anything was wrong, but then
the barmaid arrived to take their orders and the question was forgotten.
When they returned to the Flying Cloud, they found Everett standing
on the bridge, gazing out to sea with a satisfied expression. His mood
seemed bright, as if he'd just found the solution to some challenging
puzzle. He looked up as they approached.
"Our adversaries seemed determined to hide from us," he observed, "but I
believe we have the resources to draw them out."
"How," asked MacKiernan.
The captain smiled. "We'll hold an opera!"
Next week: The Flying Cloud Opera...
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