Episode 414: Wine That Maketh Glad The Heart Of Man
Fenwick and Lieutenant Peters met in the HMS Thumper's diminutive
wardroom to discuss the former's discoveries. It would have been a
perfectly adequate wardroom for rabbits. Provided they were small rabbits,
who kept their shoulders hunched and didn't mind bumping their ears. Naval
personnel had to fare as best they could.
Peters finished examining Fenwick's notes, then straightened, taking care
not to strike his head against an awkwardly placed girder.
"So Miss Kim was traveling aboard some freighter named the
Viking Girl II," he remarked.
"That's what my informants told me," said Fenwick. "It seems an odd name
for a ship in this part of the world. I would have expected something along
the lines of Island Girl."
Peters smiled. "Do you know how many vessels in the Pacific are named
"I take it there are more than one," said Fenwick.
"According to Admiralty records, there are at least 1,789, not counting
fishing boats and small craft."
"Then we must give the owner credit for defying tradition," Fenwick
admitted. "Now we need to determine the vessel's previous port of call.
There was no mention of this in the port records."
"The authorities here in New Guinea are not as diligent in this regard as
they are back in England," said Peters. "Perhaps we can get some clue from
the vessel's cargo."
A visit to Samarai Island's Customs office established that the
Viking Girl II had been carrying copra -- the ubiquitous substance
that people seemed to produce and ship around the Pacific for no apparent
reason. She'd also carried dried fish -- another product whose origin might
be difficult to pin down in this part of the world. More promising was a
delivery of several crates of something called `Chateau Rennell' to the
United Anglican Temperance Union. The Almanac described this as a
`wine-like substance, produced on Rennell Island'.
"That's curious," Peters remarked. "Why would an organization opposed to
the consumption of alcohol purchase a cargo of alcohol?"
Fenwick shrugged. "Life is full of mysteries. This may be one of them.
Are you familiar with this Rennell Island?"
"It's a medium-sized island in the middle of the Coral Sea," said Peters.
"The passage should be easy, provided we don't have more trouble with the
The Thumper made the crossing as quickly as could be expected for a
vessel of her antiquity. Three days after leaving Milne Bay, they reached
the village of Tigoa on the eastern end of the island. While the gunboat's
small crew, accompanied by one not-particularly-fierce marine, went ashore
in search of a bar, Fenwick found a wagon to carry him to the vineyard where
Chataeu Rennell was produced. On impulse, Peters decided to go with him.
The lieutenant was curious to learn more about this mysterious beverage.
The interior of Rennell Island was less verdant than the Englishmen expected.
This was a raised coral island -- a reef lifted several hundred feet above
the waves by some caprice of geology -- so the soil was not particularly
well-watered or fertile. Palm tress might have flourished, accompanied by a
profusion of orchids, but it was not a promising place for agriculture. A
few enterprising islanders had cleared patches of brush to plant crops of
taro and sweet potato. These plots didn't look very productive.
The vineyard stood to the west of Lake Tegano -- home to one of the world's
two known species of freshwater sea snake. It was a ramshackle collection
of buildings that entirely failed to scream the word `prosperity'. The
vintner seemed a good match for the establishment. He was a lanky Englishman
who might have been expressly designed for patience and equanimity. They
found the man sitting on a stack of lumber, using a solvent-soaked rag to
strip old varnish from the handle of a tennis racket.
"Good day," Fenwick told him. "I trust we're not interrupting anything."
"Not at all," the vintner said cheerfully as he rose to shake their hands.
"We've been getting ready for the inter-island tennis tournament, but that
won't occur for several days. I'm William Landsdown, owner of this
vineyard. Who do I have the privilege of addressing?"
"I'm Ensign Fenwick, Royal Navy Airship Service, and this is Lieutenant
Peters. We were wondering if we might ask you a few questions."
"Airmen?" mused the man. "We've seen quite a few of you fellows around
here. The last lot was a party from some ship named the
Flying Claude back in February. What would you like to know?"
"We're trying to trace the itinerary of someone who purchased a cargo
of your wine. This would be the captain of Viking Girl II. Do
you recall the relevant transaction?"
The vintner chuckled. "It would be difficult to forget! She showed up a
few weeks ago with a young Asian lady on a motorbike."
"The captain of the Viking Girl II is a woman?" Fenwick asked in
"Oh yes!" the vintner assured him. "There's no doubt about that!"
"Do you know her previous port of call?"
The vintner indicated the stack of planks he'd been using as a seat. "She
brought this cargo of lumber over from Espiritu Santo. We don't have much
good timber on Rennell Island, so there's always a demand for building
"Thank you for your assistance," said Fenwick. "I believe my companion
also has a question."
"Quite," said Peters. "It seems that your wine was purchased by a temperance
organization in New Guinea. Do you have any idea why?"
"I can hazard a guess,' said their host. Drawing on some secret vintner's
skill, he produced a pair of wine glasses, then reached for what they'd
assumed was a bottle of cleaning solution and poured them each a sample.
"Would you gentlemen care to try some?"
The airmen accepted the glasses and took a cautious sip. A brief shocked
silence ensued as they struggled to control their reaction.
"It's an... interesting vintage," Fenwick observed when he'd recovered his
ability to speak.
"So it is," the man observed sadly. "It's been said that once someone has
tasted Chateau Rennell, they may never want to drink anything else."
The commander set down his pen and nodded to the aide who'd been waiting
with a message slip in hand.
"What is the word from our agents on Borneo?" he asked.
"Captain Everett has called at Kuching, as we expected," the aide replied.
"They tried to capture one of his officers for questioning, but they were
intercepted by agents of our former ally."
"We're sure these were the Fat Man's people?" asked the commander.
"Hai. Several of them were known to our men."
The commander thought this over. "They must also be after the fugitive.
This confirms she's aboard Everett's vessel. Perhaps we can find some way
to set these gaijin against each other."
Next week: Interview Strategies...
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