The Riddle of the Amazon


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Southampton Docks

19/04/1935 - 1:00 AM

A mist had gathered over Southampton, causing the electric lamps to cast glowing orbs of light that failed to pierce the dark of the night. A solitary, dark figure carrying a Gladstone bag moved silently, embraced by the fingering tendrils of mist, hidden by the patches of light that lined the dock. His was not the aimless wandering of one who was lost but the firm tread of one who knew his direction and his purpose, in spite of the confusion of the mist.


He continued his slow, regular pace until the moment he saw the mooring ropes of the great ship. He stopped and turned casually, as if he was making sure of his location. He walked over to the nearest light and, leaning against it, put down his bag and reached into his great coat for a cigarette and his lighter. The lighter flamed into life and he lit his cigarette, inhaling deeply.


The darkness that followed was as unexpected as it was sudden. All that could be seen for any appreciable distance was the dull, angry glowing of the cigarette. The heavy dampness of the mist muffled any sounds, save the quiet noises of water lapping against the hull of the ship. The sudden darkness had not confused the dark figure, he had expected it from the moment that he had pulled out his lighter.


He stood smoking, waiting. All was going as it had been arranged. He had proceeded down the wharf to where the mooring ropes of RMS Amazon marked a convenient location for his meeting. The well-paid engineer had waited for the lighting of the cigarette before cutting off the lights along the wharf. All that remained was the one thing that the dark figure had no control over; the arrival of his contact. The cigarette smouldered in the dark, marking the point of meeting.


He found the sound of nervous footsteps approaching along the dock most satisfying. He took another pull of his cigarette, threw it to the ground and crushed it as he exhaled. The footsteps stopped.

"Are you there?" inquired a nasal voice. The response of the dark figure was most shocking after his silence.

"Of course I'm here...I keep appointments that I make"

"To be sure. It's can't be too careful," the footsteps resumed as they came closer. The dark figure placed his hands in his pockets before starting to quiz the nervous ship's steward.

"Did anyone see you leaving the ship?"

"No...everyone else is asleep. I say...can we get this over with? I don't want to be missed from my rack."

"But of course. Do you have what I asked for?" The steward passed a bundle of folded pages to the dark figure.

"As you asked, the ship's manifest. Every passenger, every piece of cargo, every last one of the ship's supplies, just as you asked. Though I can't understand why you needed it so badly from me." The dark figure chuckled mirthlessly.

"I'm sure it is hard to understand. Maybe this will help." The steward did not know anything was wrong until the blade had passed between his ribs and into his heart. The tearing pain would have made him cry out, but the breath had also been knocked out of his lungs. As he hit the deck and tried to keep himself up on his knees the sickening thought occurred to him that this would be the place that he died. He could do nothing as the dark figure knelt beside him.

"You see, I'm taking your place on this voyage. No hard feelings old boy, just business. There is something that I absolutely have to do, and the only way that I can do it is to be on this boat. And seeing as how we are quite similar in appearance and size, and you have an unfortunate habit of keeping to yourself while in the middle of the rest of the crew, it will be all to easy for me to take your place. Believe me when I say that if there was any other way to do this, I would."


The dark figure reached into the Gladstone bag and retrieved a set of weights attached to a rope which he tied around the steward, even as the poor man fought for his last breaths. Having attached the weights the dark figure took hold of his bag and stood.

"Like I said old hard feelings," and with a final shove of his foot sent the steward plunging into the dark waters below the dock. The dark figure turned, tossing the blood-stained knife into the harbour after his victim, and walked towards the gangplank. He ascended to the deck and walked to where he knew the Steward's quarters were located. It was only when he closed the door that the lights sprang to life again, their jaundiced glow vaguely reflected in the ink-black water of the harbour.

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1st Class Dining Room, RMS Amazon  

21/04/1935 - 7:00 PM

The Atlantic lay as flat as a millpond, the ice reflecting the light of the full moon. The deep black of the ocean contrasted with the muted blue of the icebergs, all which was disrupted by the artificial light of the RMS Amazon as it slowly cut its way through the ice fields. The sun had set and the lights of the ship had sprung to life. The fashionable people made their way to the first-class dining room, the practical people to the second-class dining room and those below decks headed to the nearest canteen.


M. Hercule Flambeau, former master of crime turned master private detective, was on his way to America following a lead in his latest case. Sitting across from him was someone who would never have been mistaken for a first-class passenger. Indeed, this man would have looked more at home amongst the workers and the refugees below decks then with his fellow passengers in second-class. His priest's garb and shabby umbrella, not to mention his cherubic face rendered more humorous by the presence of a set of spectacles, showed a greater concern for his fellow man than his personal appearance.


Father Brown had been called to America by the Catholic Church to deliver a lecture at a national gathering of church leaders. Flambeau was only too glad to ask his friend to dinner and Father Brown was only to eager to satisfy his natural curiosity of the first-class dining room and its native inhabitants. The soup cleared and the main course having been served, Flambeau began to attach names to the faces that occupied the dining room.

"As you can see, Father, on the head table in uniform is our Captain, Simon Fairweather."

"Is that Errol Flynn that he's talking too?"

"No fooling you Father. Now, take a look over by the pot plants..."


There was a flurry of action at the top of the grand staircase and the pot plants were forgotten. A woman of some twenty years had begun her descent from the private suites to the dining room. Her outfit alone would have captured every eye in the dining room, but her face was what truly caught the eye.

"That's Lady Hippolyta Smythe, Father," murmured Flambeau. "Is she not superb?" Father Brown, already looking, blinked several times and returned thoughtfully to his fish.

"She looks as if she were carrying something rather heavy".


Flambeau and Father Brown continued their dinner and their conversation, ranging from past exploits to world events and the growing clouds over Europe. Having finished their desert they retired to the sitting-room. Flambeau, as usual, had made quite an impression on his fellow passengers in first-class, so it was only a matter of minutes before Father Brown found himself part of a growing circle of the ship's most interesting people. Captain Fairweather was there, along with Lady Smythe.

"Oh, I assure you Lady Smythe, it's all very different from the days of the Titanic. You'll find we have more than enough life boats for all souls."

"Does that include those in third-class?" interrupted Father Brown.

"I do believe so, Father," Fairweather replied with a nervous laugh. "We would not want to repeat that mess." The conversation was interrupted by an awkward pause, which in turn was interrupted by Lady Smythe.

"Now tell me, Monsieur Flambeau. I probably shouldn't ask, but why are you going to America?"

"Ah, belle femme. You would have me reveal my client's darkest secrets? What you is impossible."

"Yes," Father Brown chimed in, a twinkle in his eye. "The British Government would be most put out if you told this fair lady what you were looking for."

"Ah...Father..." Flambeau erupted in mock frustration. "You promised you wouldn't tell." Father Brown winked conspiratorially at Lady Smythe who began to giggle uncontrollably.

"But she asked so nicely...why couldn't you just tell?" Father Brown retorted with an expression of confused innocence.


Time passed and the conversation wore on. Captain Fairweather was called away to the bridge, Lady Smythe retired to her rooms and most of the first-class passengers had quietly returned to their sleeping quarters. Father Brown and Flambeau watched the fire dance in the grate. Father Brown stirred, looking over at Flambeau

"So, Hercule, this anarchist of yours..."

"No sign yet, Father. Government intelligence insisted that he would be on this vessel, but I am beginning to think that what the information given to me by the government is somewhat lacking in intelligence."

"Well my son," Father Brown stood, slapping Flambeau's knee. "If you need help, don't hesitate to ask. I am only too willing to help."


The door out to the ship's deck opened abruptly, letting in a blast of cold, North Atlantic air. First Officer Stevens walked up to the pair by the fire and addressed them directly.

"Monsieur Flambeau, Father Brown. Can you please come to the bridge? The captain needs your help. It's urgent."

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Bridge, RMS Amazon

22/04/1935 - 12:00 AM

Father Brown and Flambeau where ushered through the door of the bridge. The lights in the room were dimmed to help those on duty keep an eye on the progress of the Amazon as it sailed the treacherous ice floes. The captain, who was deep in conversation with the second officer,  looked up at the approach of the first officer and the two guests.

"Well, I'm glad you're both here," Fairweather muttered, as if worried someone might be listening. "Frankly we've hit a rather sticky wicket, and I wonder if you gentlemen could help us out. Show them the letter, Stevens."

The First Officer handed Flambeau a folded sheet of paper. He glanced at it and handed it to Father Brown, who read it aloud.

"The Red Hand is aboard your ship. We are now in command. You will carry out our orders, or we will begin to detonate one or more of the bombs that we have stowed on your ship. Await further instructions. We are monitoring radio telegraphy, do not communicate with the authorities."

"Mon Dieu," Flambeau breathed. "The very group I was looking for."

"Who are The Red Hand?" Father Brown asked.

"And why are they on my ship?" Fairweather growled.

"The Red Hand," Flambeau began, "are one of the last European anarchist societies. They have set out on a mission to bring about a new world order using the threat of terror. The French Police were almost brought to their knees by this group, and the people of France very nearly broke out in public disorder and chaos. It was a mercy that the leaders of the French cell were caught in time. This is exactly the sort of thing they would attempt."

"Does the Letter tell you anything Father?" Captain Fairweather turned to Father Brown, who had been studying the letter intensely while Flambeau was talking.

"Not very much, I'm afraid," he said, half-apologetically. "The hand is clear and steady, no sign of mania or passion. And whoever wrote it was smart enough to do it in print, with capitals. We'll never be able to use this to identify the bomber. I must say, quite smart of them to use the ship's own stationery."

"How's that, Father?" said Flambeau, reaching out for the letter, which he proceeded to study.

"It's a neat way of telling us that they are actually on board. Tell me Captain, is this the first sign of trouble that you have had?"

"To the best of my knowledge, it is Father," Captain Fairweather replied. "Unless...well...maybe you should tell him Stevens."

"Indeed, sir," said Stevens, coming to life at the command. "You see, gentlemen, there has been some talk amongst the crew of this ship of a stowaway. No one's been able to produce a single piece of evidence to prove it, but those who work below decks have talked of noises in the hold and locked doors being found left open, or shutting while they were doing their routine checks of the hold."

The five men stood, looking at each other, thinking quietly to themselves. The seconds passed as though they would last all eternity. Father Brown absentmindedly sat down in the only chair available on the bridge, the Captain's chair. Flambeau had known his friend long enough to know that the old priest was beginning to pull together a plan of attack.

"Well Father," said Flambeau. "What do you think?" All eyes were on the priest, his head bowed. When he looked up, all assembled could see the steel that had entered his eyes.

"Here are the bare facts as we know them, gentleman," Father Brown rose from the chair and walked the length of the Bridge while he thought aloud. "Monsieur Flambeau is sent by the British Government to keep an eye on these troublemakers from The Red Hand and prevent them from landing in America. The crew has detected the presence of a stowaway, without any actual evidence of the stowaway to speak of. The Captain has received a note on the third day of the voyage alerting him to the presence of this group and their designs on the vessel. Have I missed anything?"

"That's about the size of it, Father," Fairweather sighed as he raked his fingers through his hair. "Is the threat credible?"

"There is little doubt that it is not Captain," Father Brown stopped pacing and looked through the windows to the dark expanse of the sea.

"I agree," Flambeau began. "I fear it very likely that this group would not think twice to set those bombs to go off this minute. But that is not The Red Hand's style. They will most likely wait until we are sailing into the harbour in New York. Imagine, all those people gathered on the pier to watch the ship dock only to see it light up like a Roman candle and sink in a blazing fire before their eyes." The room went quiet. Everyone was digesting Flambeau's observation. Father Brown turned back to the group and spoke, almost cheerfully.

"In a way, it's the perfect crime, really," he said. "Especially if you know where the bombs are going to be set off. All you have to do is make sure you aren't there. More than likely you will make it off the ship and get to safety if you haven't already been blown to pieces. Then all that remains is to just quietly slip away from the crowds and people will just assume that your life ended in the wreck when you can't be found."

"All very true, gentlemen," the Captain interrupted, "but where do we start?"

"I want to know more about this  stowaway," Father Brown declared. "Let's interview the crew who think they have seen this ghost!"

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1st Class dining room, RMS Amazon

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