The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 413: "...Check The Islands On His List..."

Borneo and Sarawak

Scott demanded to be flown to Sarawak, on the northwestern coast of Borneo. As usual, the inspector didn't offer any reasons, which was just as well, given his tendency to talk down to those he perceived as his subordinates. The flight from Manila was uneventful and the Flying Cloud reached Sarawak the next morning.

The province had an unusual history, even by the standards of the East Indies. At one time it had been part of the Sultanate of Brunei -- the Islamic trading kingdom that once held sway from Borneo to the Southern Philippines. By the mid-Nineteenth Century, Brunei was in a severe decline, and the Sultan invited a British adventurer named James Brooke to help crush a rebellion by the indigenous Dayak tribes. When antimony was discovered, Mister Brooke decided to take over the province for himself -- this was the sort of things adventurers did when antimony was discovered. Since then, his descendants had administered the territory as a British protectorate. Under the `White Rajahs', it had enjoyed a modest prosperity, and profits from the mines were now supplemented by income from oil wells and a small dockyard.

Mooring at the air station in Kuching went every bit as smoothly as one would expect at an outpost of the Empire. Inspector Scott went ashore as soon as the operation was complete, leaving Everett and Jenkins behind to discuss their next move.

"According to the Almanac, there is a museum here," Everett observed. "This seems an obvious place to seek information about our kidnapped professor. We won't wish to advertise this inquiry, so we'll have Iverson and Miss Sarah visit the place posing as tourists. In the meantime, you will visit the air station and Mister Murdock will visit the port office to identify vessels Koshino might have booked passage on from Manila. This should distract any watchers, and our use of the junior lieutenant will suggest that our interest is merely routine."

"Do you think Mister Murdock can manage?" asked Jenkins.

Everett nodded. "I doubt he can run into too much trouble here in Kuching."

Like may towns in the East Indies, Kuching was a bewildering blend of Malaysian, Chinese, and colonial influences. As Iverson and Sarah made their way down the crowded streets, architecture that could have come straight out of Arabian Nights alternated with stately European-style homes that wouldn't have been out of place in London -- assuming that English landscaping happened to incorporate palm trees.

The Sarawak Museum stood near the center of town. Established in 1891, it was the oldest museum in Borneo, not that there was much competition in this regard. It proved busier than Iverson expected, but even so, Sarah stood out in the trim skirt, jacket, and blouse she wore in lieu of a uniform, and an attendant hurried to greet them.

"I'm Lieutenant Iverson, Royal Navy Airship Service, and this is Miss Sarah," Iverson told the man. "We're interested in ancient culture."

"You'll find much to see here," the attendant informed them. "We have material that dates back centuries."

"I imagine you get many visits from archaeologists," Iverson said politely.

The attendant nodded. "So we do! Our most recent was a group from University of Chicago studying cultural diffusion in Indian Ocean and Java Sea. They had some interesting theories about Ceylon during the Early Kingdoms Period."

Murdock had little trouble finding the port office -- like all officers in the Royal Navy, he had learned to sense the presence of paperwork. As he approached the building, he noticed three burly Asians, stevedores by their appearance, who seemed to be watching him. Across the street, three longshoremen with Teutonic features seemed to be watching the Asians. He shrugged to himself, supposing this to be some quaint native custom.

The clerk was a young brown-haired woman wearing a dress that seemed to involve somewhat less material than Murdock was accustomed to seeing back in England. She brightened as he walked in. "Good morning!" she said in cheerful voice with a faint Eastern European accent. "My name is Ayn. How can I help you?"

"I'm Lieutenant Murdock, Royal Navy Airship Service," Murdock replied. "I would like to examine your records, with particular attention to vessels that travel between here and Manila."

The woman eyed him for a moment. Why is she staring at me like that? Murdock wondered. Is there something wrong with my uniform?

"You might not be familiar with our filing system," she told him. "I'll give you a hand."

Soon they were seated at a small desk in chairs set closer than Murdock felt was necessary. He considered suggesting they move to a larger table, but this seemed impolite. "Are you a native of this island?" he asked, seeking to defuse what seemed an awkward situation.

"Gosh, no!" she laughed. "I was born in Russia. After the Revolution, I emigrated to America and made my way to Hollywood to seek my fortune."

"What brought you to Borneo?" asked Murdock.

"I came here as a screenwriter for Cecil B. DeMille," she said. "He'd just finished King of Kings and was planning an epic of the South Pacific called... Gods of the Sunken City! It would have made my reputation! Unfortunately the project fell through. The rest of the crew went back to the States, but I decided to stay. I love the sense of community here. It's much healthier than the dog-eat-dog capitalism I left behind. Now I'm writing a novel about a hero who moves to the islands and leaves his cares behind. The title will be... Shrugging Off the Atlas."

As Murdock opened his mouth to reply, a succession of loud thuds sounded from the street outside. These were followed by several crashing sounds. "I say," he remarked, "did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" asked the woman.

"Those odd noises. There they go again."

She craned her head to listen, then shrugged. "It must have been the wind."

When Murdock emerged from the office there was no sign of the people he'd seen when he entered. Some debris littered the places they'd been standing -- broken branches, a few lengths of wood, and what looked like a crushed hat. He nodded to himself. Those noises must certainly have been the wind.

"I found nothing noteworthy at the air station," said Jenkins after everyone had gathered back at the ship. "There was no way to determine if Professor Koshino planned to book passage here, and there was no sign of any of our adversaries' vessels."

"Mister Murdock?" asked Everett.

"The port office provided me with a list of several dozen vessels the professor might have arranged passage on from Manila, but we have no way of determining if he did," said the lieutenant.

"Mister Iverson?"

"Miss Sarah and I learned that team of archaeologists passed through here recently. It appears they were from the same university as our kidnapped professor, but this might only be a coincidence."

Everett glanced at Pierre, who'd been inspecting his moustache in a pocket mirror. The Frenchman made a final adjustment and looked up. "I observed something that might be of interest," he reported. "As I was returning from the market, I saw Inspector Scott emerge from the offices of the oil company."

Jenkins glanced at Everett. "Sir," he asked with concern.

"I see the possible connection," said Everett. "The implications are disturbing."

Next week: Wine That Maketh Glad The Heart of Man ...

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