The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 267: The Infallible Power of Deduction

The equipment of a consulting detective

Sunlight slanted through the mess hall windows, casting a pattern of shadows across the walls. At the head table, Jenkins had just finished pouring tea. Captain Everett took a sip, set down his cup, and nodded appreciatively.

"So, Jenkins," he asked, "what did we learn from the shipping records?"

The aide put aside the tea service and produced a set of notes. "The station here was visited by several Japanese airships over the past few months," he replied. "Most of these were regular liners, based on pre-War German designs, with limited performance and capability, but there was one noteworthy exception."

"I assume this was our friend the Shiratori Maru."

"Yes, sir. She called here on the third of May, then departed on what was billed as a sight-seeing excursion and returned on the sixth."

Everett turned to his exec. "Mister MacKiernan, what do you think?"

MacKiernan glanced at the chart, picked up a pair of dividers, then set them back down. He hardly needed them for such a simple calculation. "The timing is right for a flight to Goodenough Island and back."

"I take it you have some reservations about the matter?" said Everett.

The Irishman gestured toward the town, which was visible through the windows to the west. "This all seems too easy. We march from clue to clue with never a check. I wonder if someone is feeding us information."

"Such was my thought as well," mused Everett. "But our orders come from Captain Michaelson, and I can't believe he could have overlooked this possibility. This suggests that either he's a party to the deception or he's pretending to be deceived in order to draw out the agents responsible."

"We do seem to have drawn someone out," said Sarah. "There were three attacks on our people yesterday."

"I wonder if those couldnae hae been staged, tae give us a false sense of security," said Abercrombie. "That laddie I met was noo trouble at all."

Everett suppressed a smile. Scotsmen above a certain size tended to have a different concept of what constituted `trouble'. "If there had only been one attack, I would wonder this as well," he observed, "but with three separate incidents, this seems unlikely. Also, I can't see how our hypothetical plotters could have contrived some of the rescues. They might well have expected you to be keeping an eye on Lieutenant Murdock, but Iwamato's intervention on behalf of our two young friends from Darwin is another matter, and they could have had no way of knowing that Mister Cartwell's party would have such a... fearsome... champion."

Abercombie shuddered. "Ye hae a guid point, Captain."

"What should we do now, sir?" asked Iverson.

Everett rose and moved to the window. To the west, lights were coming on at the cluster of bungalows the locals had pressed into service as a hotel. It seemed too innocent a setting for intrigue, but he'd learned, ten years ago, to be wary of innocence.

"We'll send Michaelson a message in the secure cipher describing the movements of the Shiratori Maru," he decided. "We'll also mention the attacks on our people... and note that these might have been prompted by our inquiries."

"Isn't this somewhat premature, sir?" said Jenkins. "We have absolutely no direct evidence that the Japanese are involved."

"True," said Everett, "but it appears that Michaelson wants us to believe that someone wants us to believe this. We'll play along with his game for now."

Michaelson set down his tea, sighed, and resumed his struggle with the interminable mass of paperwork that came with command of a station. If he'd known it would lead to this, would he have made the decision that had sent him down this road? He'd learned, ten years ago, that it was pointless to waste one's life on regrets.

He was hard at work when Phelps knocked on the door. "Sir," said the signalman, "I have the latest dispatches from Sydney. It appears they've allowed that German fellow Captain Everett captured, the man named Artur, to escape."

Michaleson made a dismissive gesture. "How careless of them. I imagine someone in Admiral Wentworth's office will be facing a reprimand. Let us be glad we're not involved. Has there been any sign of our own missing guest?"

"No, sir. Doctor Marley is at a loss to explain her disappearance. He didn't feel she was in good enough shape to escape on her own."

"So I gathered," Michaelson said dryly. "The most parsimonious explanation would be that she was rescued by a confederate."

"Our hypothetical bomber?" asked Phelps. The signalman seemed unwontedly curious about his superior's answer. Michaelson hid his satisfaction. This conversation was going according to plan.

"It's more likely to have been a lover," he replied. "I imagine she was one of our hired laundresses, who happened to be in the wrong place when the explosion occurred. We will make some inquiries among the Chinese community to learn if anyone knows of her."

Phelps seemed dissatisfied with some aspects of this analysis. "Didn't we conclude the woman was Korean, sir?"

Michaelson shrugged, as if to suggest that these distant Asian nations were all the same. "The details of her origin are hardly a matter of consequence. She will have vanished into the same obscurity from which she arose. What news have we received from Captain Everett?"

"He reports that a Japanese government packet was in a position to deliver our bomber to Goodenough Island. I have the details here. He also suspects Japanese involvement in some attempted attacks on his people."

Michaelson was too good a card player to glance at the other's face, but he could tell Phelps was waiting to learn his reaction.

"I suppose we must give Everett some credit for diligence," he said begrudgingly. "This is a promising lead. We will shift our resources accordingly. Contact Sydney and see what record they have of this vessel's movements."

The Fat Man set down his mug, wiped the foam off his lips, and picked up the next of the endless succession of reports that came with the management of a conspiracy. If he'd know the task would involve so much paperwork, would he have ever begun? Of course. The Fatherland must be protected -- even from itself if necessary.

He was hard at work when his aide knocked on the door. "Mein Herr," said the underling, "we have word from Sydney. Artur has made his escape."

The Fat Man nodded in satisfaction. "Very good. We will keep him in reserve for now. What is the news from Guadalcanal?"

"Captain Everett appears to have taken the bait. But the two women from Darwin managed to foil our second attempt to capture them."

"So they are Michaelson's agents, just as we suspected," said the Fat Man. "Untrained civilians could not have accomplished such a feat. This means Michaelson has taken the bait as well. Do we have any word from our contact in Cairns?"

"According to him, the senior captain attributes the attacks to Japanese, just as we planned."

The Fat Man set aside his reports and poured himself another beer. Moments like this deserved some celebration. "Good," he announced. "Things are falling into place.

In an entirely different office, on an entirely different island, a man poured himself a glass of wine. He held it up to the light, took a sip, and nodded. Life here in the Pacific was not without its small pleasures.

"So, Wasserman," he asked, "what was the report from Guadalcanal?"

Across the table, a heavy-set Dutchman shuffled his feet.

"Our allies' man failed, Governor," he replied. "It seems that his target was accompanied by a bodyguard."

"Interesting," mused the Governor. "Failures of this sort are not absolute. They tell us something about our adversaries. Captain Everett would not have taken such a precaution if he didn't feel the need. He must have some source of information of which we were unaware."

Next week: Two Paths Diverged...

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