The big seaplane droned on towards the bright orange setting sun. Viewed from the front, the two story Martin Clipper looked like the face of a huge dog with two long ears sticking straight out over a long snout. The upper wing was joined to two shorter lower wing-like areas by four diagonal bars. Four Pratt and Whitney propellers turned in unison, making a single sound. Every once in a while, number two slipped out of sync, slightly slower, producing an annoying change in rhythm. Flight Engineer Johnson, two weeks out of engineer’s school, ran to his panel and adjusted the controls to stop the noise. His two main tasks were to keep the engines running and in sync.
The Captain turned and scowled. The light from the setting sun glinted off his gold wings as he sat with his arms crossed, staring back at the flustered man until the engines returned to their normal sound.
“Probably woke him up.” Johnson kept his thoughts to himself. The Captain was still annoyed. He glared at his Radio Officer, seated behind him at the navigators table. “Harris, did you make a position report to that vessel back there?”
“Yes, sir. I just finished. She’s on her way to Auckland, too.”
The cockpit door opened as the other engineer walked in.
“Cap, there’s a funny smell coming from the rear cargo hold and I can’t find it. It’s not a burning smell, just funny. How about sending somebody to investigate?”
Johnson quickly stood up, hoping to check out the red head in the sheer white dress he spotted boarding in Honolulu. She was a real looker.
“No, you sit down and do your job. From the sounds I heard, you need the practice. Harris, you go.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
Harris stood and smiled at Johnson then made his way down the steps and past the galley. The two stewards were busy with preparations for the evening meal. It was always hard to prepare a six course gourmet dinner every night, but they did a superb job. His stomach growled. He’d stop on the way back for some nuts off the appetizer tray.
As he passed through the main cabin, some passengers looked up, but most didn’t. They were engrossed in reading or doing crosswords or just enjoying the cocktail hour. He passed by two Japanese men who did notice and stopped their conversation until he’d passed.
The older man wore a loose suit with a white starched shirt and a knotted tie with a stickpin. His younger companion had removed his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and loosened his tie. The older man put down his newspaper and leaned closer towards his seatmate. They whispered in Japanese.
“The pictures are clear.”
“The entire Pacific fleet is in.”
“It is what the admirals wanted.”
“We accomplished our mission.”
“We serve the Emperor.”
Eyes closed, both men bowed slightly in their seats. None of the other three dozen passengers looked in their direction.
Harris walked down the main corridor, past the galley, forward passenger compartment, lounge/dining room, two rear passenger compartments and into a bathroom. He opened the cargo compartment hatch to the right of the sink cabinet, stepped through, and shut it behind him. Wooden crates, full of everything from ears of corn to light bulbs, rows of suitcases, and dozens of clothing trunks filled the area.
“Where do I start?”
Harris pushed aside a four foot tall mailbag, climbed over a rectangular metal locker, then sat on it. He sniffed the air.
“I don’t smell anything.”
The cruise ship off their right wing was just over two miles away.
An orange ball of fire erupted from the cabin windows, then a huge boom as the plane exploded. Burning pieces fell to the sea. The fuselage broke apart as it hit the ocean. The passengers on the port rail, out to watch the sunset, stood in silence, mouths and eyes agape in astonishment and disbelief.
Rescue boats launched from the cruise-ship found very little, just a few cushions and shoes floating amid an oil slick. The sailors collected as much as they could before dark and returned to their ship. On board, a young sailor opened a satchel, pulled out a paper, looked at it, then gasped and ran to the bridge.
Shoving the bag into the arms of the ship’s captain, he exclaimed, “Captain, you won’t believe this!”
Inside the satchel were several photos, some already blurred by exposure to the sea. Yet they were unmistakable. A harbor with ships and buildings were clearly noted in Japanese.
“Isn’t that Pearl Harbor?”