Episode 278: They Converge With Unerring Imprecision
The Philadelphian's bridge was furnished as befitted a
private yacht, with enameled paneling, polished brass fittings, and fine
wood trim where this wouldn't interfere with the operation of the vessel.
The view from the windows was magnificent.
To port, the Solomon Islands were a distant shadow on the horizon.
To starboard, the waters of the Coral Sea stretched to the horizon.
It was all a vision to stir men's souls.
Their hearing was another matter. Like all ships based on the Wollesley
Class, the N-187 carried two of her four engines in the control car. This
made the environment somewhat noisier than one might have expected on
a pleasure craft, unless one took pleasure in the sound of two big
six-cylinder diesels running in tandem. Clarice had mixed feelings about
the situation. She appreciated internal combustion as much as the next
girl, but not at such close quarters.
Aunt Behema was made of sterner stuff. "Those motors are the bee's knees!"
she bellowed. "Who built them?"
"The Cummins Corporation, in Indiana," Mister Cartwell yelled back
cheerfully. "Clessie's a good friend of mine."
"How much power do they produce?"
"Two hundred forty horsepower, give or take a few horses. That's enough to
drive us 61 knots."
Emily leaned over to shout in Clarice's ear. "The Flying Cloud's
"She's also quieter!" Clarice yelled back.
If their aunt managed to hear this interchange, she gave no notice.
"Where are we bound now?" she asked their host.
"I thought we'd try Lata, in the Santa Cruz Islands," said Mister Cartwell.
"These weren't on Hastings's list, and they should be prime squidbat
"How can you tell?"
"They're smack in the middle of what I've been calling the Squidbat
Triangle -- the broad stretch of ocean between the Cape York Peninsula, the
Caroline Islands, and American Samoa. They're also mountainous and covered
with jungle. Most of the alleged squidbat sightings took place in similar
Aunt Behema's eyes lit up. "Jungle!" she yelled. "That means more
chainsaw work! Do you have any more surprises for me?"
Mister Cartwell smiled back at her. "I'll see what I can come up with."
The Philadelphian's accommodation section was located some distance
aft of the control car; otherwise her crew could never have gotten any
sleep. Travel from one to the other involved a lengthy stroll down the keel
passage, past several frame junctions, the Number Two ballast station, and
the ship's auxiliary fuel tanks. This gave the two girls some time to
recover, and by the time they reached their cabin, their ears had almost
"I'm glad we're clear of that ruckus," Emily said in relief. "I thought my
head was going to split."
"Strewth!" agreed Clarice, "But Aunt Behema didn't seem to mind."
"She didn't seem to mind Mister Cartwell either," Emily said archly.
Clarice glanced at her cousin and giggled. "And he didn't seem to mind
her," she replied. "Do you think..."
The blonde was the very picture of innocence. "I would never suggest such a
thing. Much. I'm sure this is just a simple friendship."
"Like you and Jenkins?" said Clarice.
Emily scowled. "And just what are you suggesting?"
"Nothing. Much. But you two have managed to spend a fair bit of time
"That was on ship's business!" Emily replied indignantly. "You think we
just skipped out for a snog?"
"How about you?" said Emily, going on the offensive. "It seems you've been
paying attention to someone."
Now it was Clarice's turn to scowl. "What," she asked sternly, "do you mean
"Nothing. Much. But I do have a pair of eyes."
"And too much imagination!"
It would have required considerable imagination to think of the
Todstalker as a yacht. The vessel might have been registered as a
pleasure craft, but she was almost as long as a small freighter and less
than a quarter the displacement, with harsh angular lines that seemed to
scream the word `speed'. Her hull was welded from sheets of high-grade
steel, tough enough to shrug off storms, high seas, and small-arms fire.
Her twin Daimler Benz diesels generated an astonishing 3900 horsepower and
if the surveyor had noted an unusual number of ornamental stanchions
located in places one might wish to mount deck guns or torpedo tubes, he'd
either kept quiet...
or been paid to leave this particular information out of his report.
Now the vessel was pounding west at 40 knots, blasting through waves in
explosions of foam. The ride was brutal, but members of the Aryan race
were expected to ignore hardships of this sort. The helmsman and watch
officers clung to their posts with admirable stoicism while Sigmund and
braced themselves against the chart table.
"How long... OOF!... will it take us to reach the Santa Cruz Islands?"
"If we maintain this speed, we should arrive at..." Trommler grabbed for
a stanchion as his command crested a particularly steep wave and crashed
down into the trough "...1600 hours tomorrow. Are we certain this is the
American ship's destination, Mein Herr?"
"That is what our allies on Goodenough claimed," said Sigmund. "I do not
trust them, but they have no reason to lie to us yet. Who holds these
"Several nations have laid claim to the place over the years, but I don't
think anyone cares," Trommler replied. "The islands are almost worthless."
"When can we expect the Americans to arrive?"
The captain studied the chart, as if searching for some excuse not to
answer. "They are at least a day ahead of us," he admitted. "But they
will have to refuel and resupply. In a long chase, this boat should be able
to catch them."
"I hope that you are right," Sigmund said dangerously.
A servant arrived with lunch, sparing the captain the need for another
reply. The fare was unappetizing -- sausage, potatoes, and a
bitter-tasting beverage that was almost the same color as coffee. Even so,
it compared favorably with the server -- a stoop-shouldered crone they'd
hired on Goodenough to replace a predecessor who'd fallen ill. Members of
the Aryan race were expected to ignore hardships of this sort as well, but
there were limits to anyone's stoicism.
"We could have done better," Sigmund muttered as the woman left the
"Ja," agreed Trommler, welcoming this change to a safer subject,
"but we were in a hurry."
Next week: The Measures They Took...
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