Episode 170: Lean Times In Leava
As always, the atmosphere in Michaelson's office was dry. Rain might be
pouring down outside the windows, but inside the sound was muted, as if it
didn't dare intrude. Blurry photographs of a cottage, the English seacoast,
and some anonymous ship's crew did little to brighten the chamber. The
clock ticked discreetly in its corner, careful not to rouse the senior
Michaelson looked up as his secretary entered. Brisk and businesslike, her
manner gave no hint of what she might be thinking. Her clothing was even
more severe than the weather. "Good morning, Miss Perkins," he said.
"What do we have for today?"
The secretary opened her folder, laid an envelope on his desk, then wiped
her fingers, as if she'd just handled something unclean. "We've received
this letter from the Secretary of Heraldry for the Royal Aeroplane Force."
"Royal Aeroplane Force?" asked Michaelson. "Who the devil are they?"
"They appear to be a successor of the Royal Flying Corps."
Michaelson shook his head in wonderment. The RFC had distinguished itself
during the War, flying primitive machines against terrible odds in the skies
over Belgium and France, but they'd languished after the Peace as humanity
abandoned heavier-than-air craft for more sensible forms of aviation.
"They're still around?" he replied. "I thought they'd been demobilized
back in '18. What does the fellow want?"
"He alleges that we've misappropriated their organization's insignia and
demands we stop using it."
"Does he now?" Michaelson gave the envelope a disdainful prod. "File that
in the appropriate container. When this so-called `RAF' gets airships of
its own, we may take some notice of the fellow. Is there anything else?"
Miss Perkin handed him a slip of paper. "Captain Everett sent this message
to report that there have been several attacks on yachts in the Coral Sea,
and asks if we've noted any vessel with a similar name here in Cairns. He
used the secure cipher."
"The secure cipher?" said Michelson. "Interesting." He scanned the message,
then leaned back in his chair to consider the implications. The secure
cipher was not used lightly. Everett wouldn't have gone to the trouble of
encoding the query -- and filling out the necessary paperwork to justify
this action -- if he hadn't deemed the matter important. Michaelson
wondered if it would it be better to delay the investigation and make life
difficult for the man, or obtain the information immediately and seek some
way to use it. The desire for information won out.
"Visit the harbormaster," he replied, "consult his log for January, and see
what you can find. Have Phelps drive you there. No sense suffering
unnecessarily in all this wet."
It was still raining when Miss Perkins returned, a few hours later. The
secretary seemed unfazed by the weather -- apparently the rain knew better
than to fall on her. She produced a folder, removed a list, and handed it
"Several yachts paid a visit to Cairns this past month," she said. "Most of
the names bore little resemblance to ones on Captain Everett's list, but I
call your attention to this entry."
Michaelson raised his eyebrows. "The Make a Good Fist? What a
remarkable choice of words! Who was her owner?"
"At the time of her arrival, she belonged to a banker from Sydney."
"I take it the vessel changed ownership while she was here?"
"Yes. I have a copy of the bill of sale here, but as you can see, it
doesn't identify the new owner. It appears the fellow desired anonymity."
"I would too, if I purchased a vessel with a name like that. How did the
fellow pay for this transaction?"
"He drew on a letter of credit. Given time, we should be able to use the
Royal Navy's authority to extract a name from the bank. Shall I proceed?"
Michaelson thought this over. The new owner was unlikely to be Lord
Milbridge, for it was difficult to imagine how the viscount and his
entourage could have passed through Cairns unnoticed, but no information was
ever useless. And the inquiry would not be difficult -- nothing could stop
Miss Perkins when she put her mind to something.
"Please do so."
Everett left the Residency with a sigh of relief. Dealing with paperwork
was rarely pleasant. Dealing with the French was rarely easy. This tended
to make dealing with French paperwork a remarkable experience.
"They didn't seem particularly surprised to see us again," MacKiernan
"Is there any particular reason why they should?" asked Everett.
"Well, we did just fly a complete circle around the Coral Sea," observed
The captain shrugged. "They probably just put this down to English
eccentricity. I just hope we find something here to make the trip
worthwhile. The only lead we have is that wine shipment, and I doubt this
will be very informative."
Everett's apprehension proved justified. None of the shippers in Leava
would admit to having imported wine from Rennell Island -- understandable
behavior for anyone who wished to preserve their reputation. Attempts to
track down cargos of industrial solvents proved equally fruitless.
"What shall we do now, sir?" asked the exec. "Should we try some of the
Everett shook his head. "I doubt it's worth the effort. According to
the Almanac, none of them have any substantial commercial facilities. We
seem to be at a dead end. We have no idea where the viscount is, we have
no idea where he's headed, we have no idea who these pirates are, and we
have no idea where this Professor might be. Let's hope more information
turns up soon."
It was Murdock's turn to escort the passengers. Once again, they'd
insisted on going ashore, and Everett could think of no reason to refuse,
for Leava was much too small to harbor any meaningful threats to the women's
safety. Unfortunately, it was also too small to harbor anything of
interest. Aside from the Residence, a few warehouses, and the usual
collection of mission churches, the village had little to offer, and the
surrounding countryside was even less exciting.
By mid-afternoon, the lieutenant was growing desperate. Miss Isobel seemed
dangerously bored -- the kind of boredom that did not bode well for her
minders -- and Miss Stewart was clearly ready to blame the consequences on
him. "Would you ladies happen to be thirsty?" he asked in a moment of
"Quite," said Isobel brightly.
"Yes," growled Miss Stewart.
'Then I believe a visit to the local café is in order."
It didn't take them long to locate Leava's lone lounge. Except for the
absence of walls, a roof, and a surrounding metropolis, the place could have
been any establishment in Paris. The waiter -- a handsome islander with a
distinct French accent -- ushered them to their table.
"Could I interest you in some kava?" he asked. "It's freshly chewed, using
only the finest saliva."
Murdock glanced at Miss Stewart in alarm, but the governess didn't seem to
have heard. "Not at the moment," he replied, "but would you happen to have
"Would that be with squid ink or without?"
As the waiter left with their order, a disreputable-looking man leered at the
party from his seat by the bar, then rose and made his way over to where they
were seated. Murdock took in the man's shabby apparel, unshaven face, and
unseemly expression and prepared to shield the ladies from some indecency.
"Hey, mister," said the man.
"Yes," said the lieutenant, as frostily as he could.
"I know where you can find a blimp with an archeologist aboard.
How much is it worth to you?"
Next week: Three Imperfect Reflections...
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