The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Eleven

Episode 547: So That's Where They Are

R-128 pursuing the HL-62

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins discussed their findings as returned to the ship. Ahead of afternoon sun gleamed on the slopes of Milman Hill. Behind them the Tranquility was standing out to sea. MacKiernan glanced at the freighter and shook his head.

"Captain Ray's news has complicated matters," he observed.

"How should we respond?" asked Miss Perkins.

As an Irishman, MacKiernan felt it was his duty to remain optimistic. "We'll press on with our mission and hope the next news we receive makes our lives simpler."

When they got back to the R-128, it seemed this hope had been realized.

"We've received word of HL-62," the radioman informed them. "It seems they've called at Port Vila for resupply."

MacKiernan considered what they knew of Port Vila. It was capital of the New Hebrides, the condominium jointly administered by England and France. To call it `obscure' would have suggested a level of fame that was conspicuous by its absence. If the Dutch had chosen it to avoid notice, why hadn't they also taken steps to hide their ship's identity? Not for the first time, he wondered if they were aware of the kidnapping to which they'd becoem a party.

"Mister Smade," he asked, "what is the status of our consumables?"

The lieutenant blinked as he'd only just noticed his surroundings. "We've finished resupply and secured for flight."

"Very good," said MacKiernan. "Order the crew to flight stations and lift ship."

Watching Smade manage the evolution was like watching a cow graze. He didn't appear to move, but if you looked away for a moment, then looked back, you find him in a different location. Somehow, this form of management got the R-128 into the air and up to her cruising altitude in a respectably short time..

"Heading and speed, sir?" Smade asked.

MacKiernan had already calculated their most efficient course, allowing for the southeast trade wind. "Give us 115 degrees at 45 knots," he replied.

"115 degrees and 45 knots."

"When will we reach Port Vila?" Miss Perkins asked MacKiernan as the two made their way back to the crew section at the end of the watch.

"With this headwind, we should arrive around 1600 hours the day after tomorrow," MacKiernan replied.

"Will that be soon enough to intercept the Dutch?"

"We must be prepared for a long chase," the Irishman admitted. "But we have twice their range, so even if they're gone, it's only a matter of time before catch up with them."

""I wonder what those fellows are about?" said Miss Perkins. "Why would anyone try to kidnap the Admiral?"

"It could only be to prevent him from doing something," said MacKiernan. "One imagines this involves some intrigue, as Michaelson suggested. I wonder about the Commodore's interest in this affair. It would seem to be above his pay grade."

Miss Perkins was silent for a moment, as if weighing her loyalties to him and her superior. "He hides his motives well, but he cannot be without ambition," she replied. "Perhaps he angles for Admiral's position himself."

MacKiernan might only have been a lowly Commander, but he knew how these things worked. "He hardly has enough seniority," he observed. "Even if he did, couldn't hope for advancement unless had an interest at the Admiralty or in the government."

"The Warfields most certainly have some influence," said Miss Perkins. "Otherwise they could never have avoided prosecution to made it back to the Pacific and take over Baronet Moseley's organization."

MacKiernan stared at the secretary in surprise. "Surely you don't think he's working with them!"

"Hardly," she assured him. "They seem the direst of foes. But it's clear that Michaelson, Lady Warfield, and Captain Everett share a history. Do we have any idea what this could be?"

MacKiernan shrugged helplessly. "I gather that Lady Warfield was the Captain's fiancé during the War, but left him to marry the Baron. That's as far as my knowledge extends. What do we know of the Warfields' background?"

"I've looked into this," said Miss Perkins. "They're both listed in Burke's Peerage. They've also attracted the attention of the society tabloids. He's heir to a fairly respectable title and she's the cousin of a viscount. If we are to believe Bludge, they knew each other in childhood."

"However did she meet the Captain?" wondered MacKiernan. "He may be from a respectable family, but its difficult to imagine them moving in the same circles. "

Miss Perkins smiled. "Your captain has led an unusual career. He began his education at a public school rather than the Naval College and joined the Service in connection with one of Lord Fisher's initiatives. He also spent some time at the Admiralty before his posting to the HMS Invincible as a gunnery officer. This might well have allowed him to cross paths with Lady Warfield."

"What about Commodore Michaelson?" asked MacKiernan "What's his background?"

"This remains a mystery," said Miss Perkins. "He appears on the Navy List, like Athena springing from brow of Zeus, a few months before Everett received his commission. I've been unable to find any record of his family."

MacKiernan raised an eyebrow. "How is this possible?"

"It seems no one bothered to forward this to Australia," said Miss Perkins. "This is hardly unusual. I've seen plenty of other examples, but I begin to wonder if this particular one was an accident."

They reached Port Vila to find the HL-62 riding from one of the commercial masts. MacKiernan studied the airship through binoculars to confirm her identity, then signaled the air station for a handling party. And hour later, the R-128 was on a mooring at the other end of the field while he and Miss Perkins paid a visit to their quarry. Her captain,was the archetypal Dutchman, needing only wooden shows to complete the image. He received them in what passed for the vessel's salon.

"Goedenmiddag," he told them. "I am Kapitein Dijkman. How may I help you?"

"I am Commander MacKiernan, Royal Navy Airship Service, and this is my... communications specialist, Miss Perkins. We understand you were chartered for a flight here from Sydney. We'd like to speak to the charterers."

"Alas, you only just missed them!" Dijkman said cheerfully. "They disembarked after we arrived."

MacKiernan suppressed a frown. `Only just missed them' seemed to have become a theme of this mission. "Do you recall anything about them?"

"The leader was a man named Wasserman."

"Wasserman!" MacKiernan and Miss Perkins exclaimed.

The Dutchman didn't seem to notice their reaction. "Yes," he replied. "The others kept to themselves and spent their time drinking. One was so beschon they had to carry him off the ship."

"Do you have any idea what became of therm?" Miss Perkins asked.

Dijkman seeme surpised by this question. "No. After they'd left the ship, they were none of my bedrijf."

"Did any other vessels leave port before we arrived?" asked MacKiernan.

"Let me think. No, there were none. Except for that yacht."

"A yacht," MacKiernan said in a flat voice.

"Ja!. She was a knap schip -- one of the American copies of your Wollesley class."

MacKiernan sighed. "Her name wouldn't have happened to be the Coup de Grace."

"Ja. Are they friends of yours?"

Next week: Perhaps Not The News We Were Hoping For...

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