Episode 243: Sometimes It Pays To Be Evasive
Mid-afternoon found the Cottswold cruising west above the waters
of Kao Bay. They were staying low to conserve ballast and hydrogen, and a
broken layer of clouds at 6000' formed a patchwork white and blue above
them. To the south, the peaks of the Buli peninsula were a dark green
line on the horizon. In the control car, the atmosphere was subdued,
disciplined, and professional, as befitted the atmosphere of a flagship.
MacKiernan wondered how Clark's men could stand it.
"Mister MacKiernan," said the Commodore,
"what is our current position and estimated time of arrival?"
MacKiernan indicated a spot on their large-scale Admiralty chart of the
Molucas. "We're here, sir," he replied, "sixty miles east of Tobelo.
With this wind on our port quarter, we should reach the station in
"Very good," said Clark. "If our quarry departed Tobelo at 1300 hours
bound for Dorosago, when should we expect to encounter them?"
"This could happen any time in the next thirty minutes," said MacKiernan,
chafing at the protocol that kept him from speaking out of turn.
"Why would they head back to Dorosago when they only just left the place
yesterday?" said Miss Perkins. As a civilian guest on the bridge, she was
free to ask the obvious question.
Before the Commodore could reply, the intercom crackled to life. "Bow
Lookout to Bridge. Another airship off our starboard bow, bearing 280,
range 10 miles, closing on a reciprocal course."
"Ah," said Clark, "right on schedule."
MacKierann raised an eyebrow. How the devil did Clark manage
that? he wondered. Was it just a lucky guess or does he have
agents on this island?
The AT-38 droned eastward beneath a broken layer of cloud. In the control
'ar, the gangsters fidgeted impatiently. "How long �til we reach this
Dorosago dump?" asked Marty.
Al glanced up from the chart table, where he'd been trying to plot their
course on the cheap map they'd picked up in Tobelo. "With this headwind,
about two hours," he sighed, "assuming we can find the darn place."
"You're sure that's where the dames are headed?" asked Jake from the helm.
"Vlad's message said a German mission," said Marty. "How many German
churches can there be on a Dutch island?"
"I dunno," said Books, who was manning the ballast station. "They're both
some kind of Kraut. There could be lots."
Marty raised his hand. "Relax, boys, it's a simple caper. We fly to the
joint, pick up Starbuck, Vlad, and the ladies, then split. What could
possibly go wrong?"
A call from the upper lookout station supplied an answer. "...never
can get this dumb intercom thing to... ahh, dat's it. Boss, 'dis is
Craig. We got another ship headed our way, bearing... uh... ahead and to
"Another airship? Out here?" said Al. He stepped to the window, raised a
pair of binoculars, and frowned. "That's Royal Navy vessel. I'd make her
out to be a Hill Class. What are they doing in the Molucas?"
"Coppers," muttered Jake. "You think they're after us, Boss?"
"Naw," said Marty. "If we just cruise along all innocent like, they should
A light flashed on the other ship. Al read the message and swore. "No such
luck, Marty. They're signaling us to heave to."
"Can we make a break for it?"
"It'll be tough," said Al. "They'll have at least five knots on us, so can't
beat them in a race. Chuck, take us up to 6500'. Jake, as soon as we're in
the clouds, give me a turn right to 170 degrees and ring for full power.
We'll run for land and try to lose them in the mountains."
The mood on the bridge seemed unchanged. For all the emotion they showed,
Clark's men might merely have been on an exercise. Even the sound of the
engines was muted, as if it didn't dare intrude.
"Bow Lookout," said Clark, "what is the chase doing now?"
"They're climbing, sir, trying to hide in the clouds," came the reply.
Clark nodded. "Predictable. Elevator, take us up to 7000'. Helm, give us
a turn left to 190, then ring for full power."
"You think they'll head south once they're out of sight?" asked Miss
"Of course," said Clark, as if nothing could have been more obvious.
"They'll know they can't outdistance us if they head out to sea, so they'll
be making a run for Dutch territorial waters. If we stay ahead of them, we
can cut them off."
The AT-38's control car echoed to the roar of the two forward diesels.
Outside the windows, the world was a formless sea of grey. Marty and his
boys stared into the mist, straining to catch some sign of their pursuer.
"Craig, where are they?" Marty yelled into the intercom.
"I can't tell, Boss! Ya can't see a thing in this crap!"
"Think we lost them?" Marty asked Al.
"Perhaps," said the skipper. "But they might have guessed we'd turn to the
south. We'll know soon."
The view outside turned white, then blue as the cloud fell away behind them.
Ahead, the coast of the Buli peninsula was still out of reach. Ahead and to
port, the other ship was closing on a converging course, moving to cut them
"Yeah yeah," muttered Al, "I was expecting that. Jake, turn right to 350
degrees and take us back into the soup. This game's not over yet."
"Stern Lookout to Bridge, the chase is turning toward the north."
Clark seemed unsurprised. "Of course he is," he observed to one in
particular. "Helm, drop power to one half, turn us right to 340, then bring
power back to full.
"Power to one half, right to 340, then power to full."
Bells rang, the drone of engines changed pitch, and the horizon started
swinging to the left.
"How did you know he'd make that turn?" asked Miss Perkins.
"He's quite good, so we can assume he'll always make the best move for the
circumstances. That makes his actions easy to predict."
The gangsters gazed back in the direction of their pursuer, but there was
little to see. Even if their view hadn't been blocked by the control car's
engines, there was nothing outside the windows but grey.
"Yah think we've lost him this time, Al?" asked Marty,
"Not yet," said the skipper. "We haven't had many options, so it' s been
easy for him to guess what we'd do. But I have some tricks up my sleeve."
Again the world turned blue as they emerged from the cloud. Another line of
cumulus loomed a few miles in front of them. "Just what I was hoping for,"
said Al. "Craig, watch for that other ship. He should show up in a few
Minutes crawled past. "Skipper," called Craig, "he just popped out of the
cloud behind us, a bit to our left."
"Good," said Al. "Jake, turn us right to 040."
The horizon swung, then steadied. Ahead, the wall of clouds grew. "What's
yer plan?" asked Marty.
Al grinned. "I'm pretending to run northeast. As soon as we're in those
clouds, we'll turn left, cut across his bow, and make a break to the west.
He'll never expect us to take a chance like that."
"I've lost sight of the chase, sir," came the report from the bow lookout.
Clark studied the spot where the other ship had vanished into the clouds
just a few miles ahead.
"I believe we've done enough for today," he told his men.
"Helm, drop power to one quarter, and turn us right to 120."
"You're letting them escape, sir?" asked Miss Perkins. "Why?"
Clark raised his finger as if to lecture. "Because they are not our quarry.
We know from Captain Everett's report that the German nationalists are on
the L-137. That ship is a height climber. They would have taken her up to
altitude to escape. These fellows made no such attempt. I imagine this was
the hijacked French ship, which is no concern of ours."
"What will we do now?"
The Commodore smiled. "We have cast our net. Now we wait for other
fish to swim in."
Next week: Her Evil Twin...
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