Episode 220: An Airship In The Hand Is Worth Two Over The Pacific
The order was unusually terse, even for Michaelson.
Contact reports vessel resembling AT-38 visited Rabaul 6-8 May registered as
N-109. Proceed to investigate.
"’Proceed to investigate’?" asked Emily. "Whatever does he mean by that?"
Everett shook his head. "Captain Michaelson has a tendency to give vague
instructions for missions that might have political repercussions. If his
subordinates succeed, this rebounds to his credit. If they fail, he can
blame them for failing to follow his orders."
Emily’s eyes brightened. "I see," she replied archly. "I hadn’t
realized men knew how to do that too."
Clarice had been watching Everett with some concern. She’d sensed that
there was bad blood between captain and his superior, even if she didn’t
know the cause. "What is this ‘N-109’?"she asked.
"It would be an American civilian registration," said Everett. "Jenkins,
what have you discovered?"
"According to the station on Pago Pago, she’s a copy of a German S Class,
built by the Goodyear yard in 1917. Her career followed the usual
pattern, beginning as a passenger vessel, then a cargo liner, then a
charter as newer designs appeared to replace her. She was sold a private
buyer sometime last fall. The station didn’t have any details regarding
the transaction, but they believe the new owner is somewhere in South
"That sounds too convenient," Clarice observed. "It means there’s
absolutely no way to know if this airship in Rabaul was the real N-109."
"I rather suspect she wasn’t," said Everett. "And Michaelson must share
this suspicion or he wouldn’t have ordered us to look into the matter.
But we have no way of knowing his intentions. He could honestly believe
this is the hijacked French vessel, he could be sending us on a highly
visible wild-goose chase to hide some investigation of his own, this could
be some scheme to discredit the Commodore, or..." he sighed, "...I don’t
suppose we need to consider all of the possibilities."
"What shall we do?" asked Jenkins, deciding this might be a good time to
change the subject.
"We’ll proceed to Rabaul, as ordered," Everett announced cheerfully, "but we
shall keep our eyes open. And this might be a good time to call in some favors."
MacKiernan sat in the Cottswold’s mess hall, pretending not to study Miss
Perkins. The secretary looked quite innocent as she sipped her tea. No
onlooker would have suspected her of any untoward designs, but the Irishman
remembered how she’d manipulated them all on Michaelson’s behalf that
spring. Was she working for the senior captain now, he wondered? Almost
certainly. Michaelson had gone to some trouble to get his secretary aboard
the Commodore’s ship. But was she here as an agent, a distraction, or a
sacrifice? And what were her feelings about the matter?
For that matter, what were her feelings about him? She’d seemed quite
sincere during their encounter aboard the Viking Girl II. Then
she’d betrayed him to Oswald Mosley. She’d claimed this was merely a
stratagem, undertaken on Michaelson’s orders, but did he dare trust her
again? And why did this question loom so large in his thoughts?
If Miss Perkins noticed his scrutiny, she gave no sign. "What are you
thinking, Fergus?" she asked.
The Irishman gestured at their surroundings -- a plain grey compartment,
furnished with an eye to economy and utility rather than style -- and
smiled. "’Tis a dull and cheerless place for a lovely colleen," he said
Her smile seemed entirely genuine. "Really?" she laughed. "That’s kind of
MacKiernan was saved a reply when a crewman appeared.
"Lieutenant-Commander? Miss Perkins? You’re wanted in the control car."
They reached the bridge to find Clark studying a message. As usual, the
Commodore’s attitude suggested that there was something profoundly
unsatisfactory about the world around him and he was looking for someone
to blame. "We’ve received a peculiar report from Cairns," he announced.
"It appears there’s been a bank robbery in Port Vila, on the island of
Efate in the New Hebrides."
"A bank robbery on an island?" marveled MacKiernan. "This suggests a
certain lack of foresight on the part of the perpetrators. However are they
planning to escape?"
"They have already accomplished this," the Commodore said curtly. "They
led the local gendarmes on a merry chase into the hills, then fled aboard
The Irishman’s eyes widened. "Cad é sin! Where’d the
rógaires get themselves an airship?"
"These will be your German nationalist conspirators," Clark replied. His
tone was condescending, as if this answer should have been obvious to
anyone with even a moderate degree of intelligence.
Miss Perkins beamed at him with what MacKiernan hoped was feigned
admiration. "How can you tell, sir?"
The Commodore smiled. "As you gain experience an investigator, you will
learn that conspiracies require money, and what better way for Germans to
obtain money than by robbing an Anglo-French bank?
"Couldn’t it have been those hijackers in the French ship?"
"No," said Clark, "those fellows will almost certainly have taken their
prize elsewhere by now. One assumes they captured the ship to sell her,
and there can’t be many potential buyers in the South Pacific."
Then why did you order Captain Everett to look for them?
wondered MacKiernan. But he kept this thought to himself. "Where do you
think they’ll go?" he asked.
Clark shrugged. "Argentina, I imagine. It’s the richest country in the
Western Hemisphere, and large enough to make air travel a necessity. But
this is irrelevant to the matter at hand. We need to track down our bank
robbers. Adley, have the replies come in?"
The Commodore’s signalman produced a sheath of message flimsies. "Here they
are, sir. I would call your attention to the sixth one."
Clark nodded and began to leaf through the pages. "These fellows may
believe they escaped scott-free," he observed, "but they have overlooked
one essential fact. Airships are large, and tend to be noticed. I
instructed my aide to contact maritime operators in the vicinity of Efate
to compare their sightings with a list of regular commercial traffic. And
here we are: the N-109. She was seen approaching the island on May 7th by a
freighter named..." he frowned, "...the Fille de L’ile, but she
doesn’t appear to have called at the station. Adley, what do we know about
"She’s American, sir -- one of the old Goodyear ships, patterned after the
German S class. According to the station in Pago Pago, she was sold to a
private owner last year."
The Commodore nodded. "This can hardly be the real N-109. It must be our
Germans under a false registration. The disguise might have served them in
the past, but now Clark’s on the case!"
"They’ve both acknowledged the messages, sir," said Phelps.
"Very good," said Michaelson. "Keep me informed if there are any further
The ensign turned to leave, then paused. "Sir?" he asked, "I can’t help but
notice that these two reports placed this supposed N-109 at two widely
separated locations on the same day. This suggests two entirely different
ships were involved."
"Quite," Michaelson admitted. "The registrations will almost certainly
prove to be forgeries, and the supply of possible false registration
numbers cannot be unlimited."
"But you only forwarded one report to Everett and the other to Clark. Why
didn’t you send each man both reports?"
Michaelson kept his expression neutral. This was a very subtle game. The
trick was to make the right moves without your adversary realizing you
were playing. And it grew even trickier when you didn’t know who your
"They’re busy men," he replied. "We would not want to burden them with
Next week: Mariners and Mobsters...
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