The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 282: A Deduction and a Confrontation

The hypothetical bomber

They'd spent several hours quartering the debris site, searching for other survivors of the Shiratori Maru, without success. The packet's attackers had been quite diligent in their efforts to eliminate any witnesses to the attack. At last, with darkness approaching, the crew of the Flying Cloud had turned their attention to recovering the bodies.

For obvious reasons, an airship was not well-suited for this particular task, so they'd radioed their position to Manila and waited while an American destroyer made her way to their position, hove to, and lowered her boats. Then they'd remained on station through the night, supporting the recovery efforts with searchlight and wireless. Now Everett stood on the bridge, contemplating this latest turn of events.

He did not find it heartening. Their adversaries seemed intent on demonstrating their disregard for human lives. Attitudes of this sort had not had fortunate consequences during the War, and there was no reason to believe the results would be any happier today. At last he sighed and finished his entry in the log.

June 6, 1927, 0700 hours, Lat, 22 36' N Long 168 39' E. Provided aerial reconnaissance for the USS Hatfield while they recovered material from the Shiratori Maru. The Americans are now en route back to the Philippines. The crewman Lts Iverson and Murdock rescued yesterday appears to have been the only survivor of the packet. So far, he has not been able to provide any information that would explain the attack.

He studied the last sentence, then closed the volume and gestured for Jenkins to accompany him. It was time to see if the situation had changed.

The two men reached the sick bay to find Tsumura sitting up in his bunk, sipping a cup of tea. Rest and fluids had worked wonders on the steward's condition, and if the infusion wasn't quite the variety he was accustomed to in Japan, he didn't seem to mind.

"Good morning Mister Tsumura," said Everett, forestalling their patient's move to snap to attention. "Please don't bother to rise."

"Konnichiwa, Captain-sama," Tsumura replied. "Thank you for rescuing me. I owe you my life."

"That sort of thing is part of our mission," Everett said modestly. "We're also charged to protect shipping. I regret we couldn't arrive in time to prevent the attack on your ship. Can you tell us anything more about what happened?"

The steward must have been reviewing his memories of the event, for his answer was prompt. "We departed Cebu on the evening of June 4, with 18 passengers and 22 tons of cargo, bound for Guam," he told them. "Nothing out of the ordinary occurred during the night. At 9:15 AM on the morning of the 6th, Captain Saikaku announced over the intercom that another vessel had come in sight to the north, and that passengers could view it from the port-side windows."

"You're certain of the time?" asked Everett.

"Of course," said Tsumura. "I'm a steward. It's my duty to be punctual."

"Did you see the other airship yourself?"

"Not immediately. I was in one of the starboard staterooms attending to the linen. But as I passed the grand saloon, I caught a glimpse of the vessel. They were quite close by then, on a converging course, as if they'd been looking for us."

"Interesting," mused Everett. "Do you have any idea how they might have found you?"

This question did not seem to have occurred to the steward. "I'm not sure," he replied. "The only ones who would have known our course were Captain Saikaku and our navigation officer, Ashikawa, and they were lost with the ship."

Everett and Jenkins exchanged glances. "Ashikawa," said Everett. "Wasn't he the ex-Naval officer we met last year on Guadalcanal?"

"I believe so," said Jenkins. "You don't think..."

Everett pursed his lips. Some nations had an unfortunate tradition of self-sacrifice. Japan was one of them. "We will not pursue the matter at this time," he observed. "Mister Tsumura, I would like to ask a few questions about your vessel's moments during the weeks preceding the attack. I do not ask you to reveal any company information, but your answers may help us track down your attacker."

"I will tell you everything I can," Tsumura said fiercely. "Those criminals must be caught and punished!"

"We have reason to believe the attack may have been connected with one of your passengers. Do you recall which ones disembarked at Goodenough Island?"

"Goodenough Island?" the steward said in puzzlement. "No one left the ship there."

"You're quite sure?" asked Everett.

"Of course," said Tsumura. "As a steward, it's my duty to know these things. And we weight off carefully before we lift ship, so we'd have noticed the presence of a stowaway. If you wish, I can provide you with a copy of our passenger manifest."

Sometime later, Everett set down the list and studied his calculations. "I believe we can safely conclude our bomber didn't disembark at any of the Shiratori Maru's other ports of call," he told Jenkins. "The timing doesn't work out for a trip to Cairns."

His aide nodded. "That would seem to be true. But someone has been planting evidence to suggest the packet was involved. Could this have been our friends on the mysterious cruiser? Could they have destroyed the vessel to keep us from finding out the truth?"

Everett shook his head. "The fellows may be bloodthirsty, but this seems disproportionate. They'd have to divert from whatever else they were doing, at significant cost in fuel and ballast, then risk discovery by American naval units to do something they could just as easily have accomplished by laying another false trail. I imagine they had some other reason to prevent us from contacting the ship. This manifest may provide us with some clues."

"Then who's been feeding us information?" asked Jenkins. "And how did they manage to do this at all our different ports of call?"

"There would seem to be two parties involved in this affair," said Everett. "The first, quite obviously, is our malevolent airmen. I imagine the second is the Fat Man's people. We know the two groups are at odds. The Germans might have employed this ruse to set us against their foes. As to how they accomplished this, the only plausible agent remains Phelps. He's the only one beside Michaelson who would have known our itinerary."

"But both parties seem to have been aware of our movements," objected Jenkins. "Otherwise, how could the fellows on the cruiser have known we were following the Shiratori Maru?"

"It's possible Phelps is playing some double game," Everett speculated. "He might also be working for some third party of whom we are unaware. Perhaps these are the people who sent the bomber."

Jenkins looked thoughtful. "I've been wondering about that bomber," he observed. "How do we know there was such a person?"

Everett raised an eyebrow. "There most certainly was an explosion."

"That may be true," Jenkins admitted, "but we have no reason to believe it was set by some hypothetical stowaway who crept over the fence that night. It could just as easily have been set by someone inside the station. And we do have one obvious candidate."

Everett's eyes widened as he considered the implications. "This possibility must have occurred to Michaelson. He might have known all along."

"You rang for me, sir?" asked Phelps.

Michaelson looked up from his papers and nodded to the signalman to close the door. "Yes," he replied. "Please take a seat. We have a few small matters to discuss."

Next week: An Insufficiently Long Spoon...

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