Episode 62: In His Majesty's Public Service, Part II
The Cloak of Invisibility was an attitude rather than an object. If one
dresses unobtrusively, acts like one belongs, and steadfastly avoids eye
contact with passers-by, one can go just about anywhere without being
noticed. The Darwin office of the North Australia Railway was a
particularly easy target. With so many transient employees -- engineers,
mechanics, staff, and managers -- in outfits that ranged from boiler suits
to business attire, Jenkins found it easy to blend in.
Unfortunately, the place didn't seem to contain anything of interest. Most
of its files were devoted to train schedules -- a subject that was uniquely
uninformative. The fuel, engine, and maintenance logs told no tales. The
list of visitors to the depot's warehouse had so many entries it was
impossible to guess which ones were significant, and there didn't seem to be
any list of missing passengers.
There must be some logic to these things, he thought. What
about the list of lost luggage?
He found this in a second floor room devoted to records the railway wanted
to ignore. The file for `Belongings, Personal' was missing, which
was no surprise, for they already knew Channel had requisitioned this
information. The only entry for `Ore' seemed to involve a load of
soapstone for some university in Massachusetts. There was no mention of
uraninite or Enterprise Creek. Jenkins studied the cabinets, sure he'd
overlooked something. Then, with a silent laugh, he slid open the drawer
marked `Oz-Pb'. `Packages... Padding...
Pajamas... Partridges...' here it was:
This folder contained a single page with the words, 'Record for May
18, 1926 requisitioned by G. Channel, Darwin Constabulary May 19,
1926.' The signalman frowned. Whatever was the police chief up to?
Was the man destined to forestall them at every turn?
He was still frowning when two men, armed with pistols, pushed their way
into the room, dragging a young woman along. Jenkins stepped back into the
shadows. Whoever these people were, they did not appear to be ordinary
railroad employees, and the Cloak of Invisibility trick didn't work on
others who were also intruders.
"Tell us where to find the file," one man hissed to the girl, "or it will go
badly for you."
"There," she replied meekly, pointing at a cabinet next to the spot where
Jenkins was hidden. The other man grunted, crossed the room, and began to
search through the drawers. The signalman frowned. It was obvious that
these were not gentleman. Straightening his jacket, he emerged from his
hiding place, subdued the fellow, and took his weapon, then ducked behind
the cabinet as a bullet splintered the wall next to him.
"I don't know who you are," the first man hissed, with a distinct English
accent, "but you've meddled in affairs that don't concern you. Surrender or
I'll be forced to shoot this young woman!"
Jenkins peered over the top and saw that the man had pushed the woman in
front of him to serve as a shield and was holding his gun to her head.
The signalman glanced at the firearm he'd appropriated. It was an automatic
pistol, similar to a Belgian design, but with an external hammer. An
awkward tube was attached to the barrel. Could he contrive to disable his
adversary without jeopardizing the woman? This seemed unlikely with a weapon
he'd never handled, so he decided to try diplomacy.
"You're certain to be apprehended," he observed. "Guards will come running
when they hear the shot."
"Not in this case," said the man smugly. "You see that tube? It's called a
Maxim Silencer. It muffles the sound to a whisper."
"Oh?" replied Jenkins. "That's easily remedied." With a deft twist of his
fingers, he unscrewed the tube from his own gun and fired into the air. In
this confined space, the noise was deafening.
"You bloody..." cursed the other man.
"Language," tsked Jenkins. "There's a lady present."
The stranger gave a cry of annoyance, shoved the girl aside, and leapt out
the window. Jenkins watched him go, then stooped to recover the file the
second man had dropped.
"You saved me!" cried the girl. "Thank you!"
"It's the Royal Navy's job," said Jenkins modestly. "We will want to
borrow this file as part of our investigations. If you could tell me your
name, we'll do our best to return it before it's missed."
"Emily," said the girl. "Emily Wilcox,"
Jenkins ejected a round from the pistol and pocketed this for later
examination. As footsteps approached, he safetied the weapon, wiped off his
prints and handed it to the girl.
"Thank you, Miss Wilcox," he replied. "If you could avoid any mention of my
presence, I would be most grateful."
"But... but... what will I..."
"Tell the guards that you managed to escape on your own. You're obviously
a lady of good character, so they shouldn't be surprised that you wouldn't
tolerate the behavior of these miscreants."
Bidding the girl farewell, he leapt from the window. The drop was
substantial, but he'd faced worse in training. After he'd dusted himself
off and straightened his attire, he made his way back to the boarding house
where they were staying.
Everett and Abercrombie found the signalman puzzling over the folder when
they arrived some time later. The captain was immaculate as always, wearing
his civilian clothes as if they were a uniform. The Scotsman looked
slightly disheveled, as if he'd had some misadventure.
"What have you found?" asked Everett.
"It's a record of the number of passengers who boarded and detrained at
stations along the line between here and Alice Springs," replied Jenkins.
"The railway keeps track of this, along with their gender, the weight of
their luggage, and their country of origin."
"Whatever for?" asked Abercrombie.
The signalman shrugged. "It's the kind of thing railroads do. And it has
been quite informative. I've found that the number of passengers who
disembark at an isolated station with a small amount of luggage is generally
the same as the number who board later. This makes sense, if one assumes
that such people are casual visitors. But there is one noteworthy
exception. Eight days ago, a female passenger, identified as Russian,
disembarked at Enterprise Creek. She was followed one day later by three
male passengers of German nationality. There has been no trace of any of
"Enterprise Creek," mused Everett. "That's where this `Karlov' purchased
the uraninite before he went missing. And a woman named Natasha, who
claimed to his wife, visited the freight forwarder last week to ask where
"Ye ken she was the same lass?" asked Abercrombie.
"It is the most parsimonious assumption. And those Germans were almost
certainly more of these renegade nationalists we seem to encounter at every
turn. I believe it's time for us to pay a visit to Enterprise Creek."
"How will we inform the ship without Channel learning what we're up to?"
Everett smiled. "I have given this matter some thought."
Next week: Then These Airmen Came Barging In...