Episode 61: In His Majesty's Public Service, Part I
Everett, Jenkins, and Abercrombie sipped their tea, watching from the
terrace as the Flying Cloud dwindled into the west. Soon the
airship was little more than a dot above the horizon. Then she had faded
from sight. The captain finished his cup -- a local black variety with some
hint of tropical flavoring that was almost entirely unlike Earl Grey -- and
"MacKiernan has provided us with a distraction," he announced. "I imagine
Channel will spend some time trying to determine what he's up to. We must
use this time wisely, and finish our investigations before his agents
Abercrombie nodded. The three men might be dressed as civilians now, but in
a town as small as Darwin, their disguise could not last for long. "Where
d'ye ken we should look?" he asked.
"Channel's office might be interesting," mused Everett. "I cannot help but
wonder if the fellow has kept some record of his skullduggery. But I suppose
that breaking into the police station would be just asking for trouble."
"This would seem to leave us with the freight forwarder who handled that
consignment of uraninite, the Russian émigré community, and the railway
depot," said Jenkins.
The captain considered the best way to deploy his forces. "It might be
best if I was the one to speak with the shipper," he observed. "This would
allow Abercrombie to circulate among the Russians, while you use the Cloak
of Invisibility to investigate the train station. We'd best get started.
Be careful not to draw attention to yourselves."
The freight forwarder's office was a tidy wooden affair attached to one end
of a modest warehouse. The man himself -- a middle-aged veteran with a
wooden leg -- was seated behind a desk, absorbed in a paper. Anzac
Cove, or possibly Ypres, thought Everett, glancing at the injury. He
shook his head, remembering days of fire and blood, and rang the bell on the
"G'day," said the Aussie, looking up. "My moniker's John Decker. How can I
Everett hesitated for a moment, thrown off balance by peculiarities of the
local dialect. "The name's Everett," he replied. "Captain Everett."
"You're one of the missing Navy blokes!"
"I trust you'll exercise some discretion regarding this matter."
The shipper hadn't gotten where he was by being dim. "Bob's your uncle."
I shall assume that means yes, thought Everett. "I'd like to ask
about that cargo of uraninite you handled last month. I understand your
client was the Russian who went missing on the train back Enterprise Creek?"
"S'truth. There was something crook about that chappie. He was trying to
hide it, but his yakker was too posh for an ordinary wog. And he said his
moniker was Boris, but look at how he signed these papers." The Aussie
pulled open a drawer, removed a shipping contract, and slid it across the
desk. Everett wasn't surprised to see the letters `K' `A', scratched out
and followed by an unconvincing scrawl.
"What happened after your client vanished?" he asked.
"The very next day," said the Aussie with relish, "one of Channel's wankers
was here, asking if I'd heard from the bloke. This also seemed crook, 'cos
we'd kept our bizzo secret, so I told him to rack off. A week later, some
Russians from the tannery came by to ask if I knew someone named Dimitri.
Then it was Russians from the fish plant asking about a Boris. By now I was
ready to spit the dummy, so I told them to rack off too. Finally, in the
middle of June, three Germans came looking for the man's cargo, but they
called him Karlov."
Everett thought this over. It seemed this mysterious Russian had been
keeping secrets from his countrymen here in Darwin. But why had they asked
after him by two different names? Were two different groups of Russians
involved? And why had Channel and one set of Russians both seemed to know
the man as Boris? Did the police chief have some contact with the émigré
community? There had been a set of plans for their airship
written in Cyrillic among the man's papers.
"So the Germans were the only ones who knew about the ore?" he asked. "What
did you tell them?"
"Zilch," spat the shipper. "The Boche still owe me for this!" He slapped
his wooden leg. "Besides, I'd already sold the shipment to Captain Helga."
"Sold it?" Everett raised his eyebrows. "Didn't it belong to the man who
"Contract had a default clause if he didn't show up to claim it. It's
standard bizzo if a customer doesn't want to pay storage charges up front."
"And that was the last of the matter?"
"Hardly! Last week, the bloke's wife showed up: a sheila named Natasha."
"His wife?" said Everett incredulously.
"With a ring, certificate, and wedding photos to prove it. A pity..."
the shipper sighed, "...'cos she was a bit o' all right. Wouldn't have
minded doing her a naughty. She wanted to know where her husband
had been before he vanished, so I told her, and off she went."
"And what name did this woman call the man by?" asked Everett.
This is all very interesting, thought Everett. But what does
The bar was a ramshackle wooden structure that teetered next to the water.
It appeared to have begun life as a fish-drying hut, and from the smell,
Abercrombie wondered if it might still be used for this purpose. The
customers looked up as he entered. They were a sorry lot: beachcombers and
refugees, exiled by the revolution that had swept their homeland. Some
seemed in worse shape than the building.
"What'll it be?" asked the bartender.
What would a Russian exile drink in Australia? wondered the
Scotsman. Vodka, in one of those new cocktails from America? "A
martini," he replied. "Shaken, not stirred."
The barkeep raised his eyebrows, then busied himself with the drink.
Abercrombie glanced around and noticed that other customers were staring at
him with obvious hostility. One -- a brute so hairy he seemed to be covered
in fur -- stepped forward to confront him
"What are you doing here, Communist?" the man snarled.
"What?" said Abercrombie in astonishment. "I'm nae communist! I'm a
"Ha! All true Scotsmen are communists!"
By now, other men were standing up, pushing aside their chairs, reaching
into their jackets to produce an assortment of truncheons, blackjacks, brass
knuckles, and other durable heavy objects. Abercrombie raised his fists,
then remembered Everett's injunction not to call attention to themselves.
"All right, lads," he said. "I'll be leavin'."
"Isn't that just like a communist," laughed someone, "running away from a
The second bar was not much better than the first, though this particular
structure appeared to have begun life as a glue factory. Its customers were
every bit as sorry looking as the first crowd.
"What'll it be?" asked the bartender.
Abercrombie considered his reply. Perhaps the Russians at the previous
establishment had thought his taste in drinks too plebian. "A mint julep,"
he replied, "light on the sugar, and go a bit heavy on the bourbon."
The barkeep scratched his head, then shrugged. As he left, Abercrombie
studied the other patrons, noted their scowls, and sighed, guessing would
happen next. A bald man -- skull so shiny it appeared to have been waxed --
made his way over.
"What are you doing here, Capitalist?" growled the man.
"I'm nae capitalist!" said Abercrombie. "I'm a Scotsman!"
"Ha! All true Scotsmen are capitalists!"
Around them, weapons had begun to appear. Abercrombie scowled in
annoyance. This was turning into a trend. As he bid the place farewell,
he heard someone snicker behind him. "Isn't that just like a capitalist,
running away from a fight!"
Out on the street, the Scotsman considered his next move. Should he find
another bar and try his luck a third time?
No, he decided. Some days you only drink twice.
Next week: In His Majesty's Public Service, Part II...