Episode 106: The Case of the Missing Lieutenant
Jenkins walked along the boundary of the landslide, crouching here and there
to inspect the surface. An Eastern Brown Snake (highly poisonous) raised
its head to stare back at him, then slithered off into the rubble.
"I don't believe anyone's brought a vehicle through here," he announced.
"There's no sign of wheel marks, though I did spot several sets of
"Could one of these have been Lieutenant Blacker?" asked Iverson.
"I suppose this is possible," mused the signalman, "but he would have had a
long walk ahead of him, even if he knew the route, and there appear to be
the same number of prints leading in both directions. I imagine this was a
party of villagers who came to inspect the slide."
"How long ago do you think it fell?"
"There's a pattern of erosion gullies on the surface that must have taken
some time to form. This suggests it happened well before we passed this
way in the R-87."
Iverson nodded and made his way back to the motorcycle. He wrestled it
around until it was pointed toward the slide, climbed aboard, and prepared
to start the engine. "I don't imagine we can learn anything more here," he
observed. "Shall we see what we can discover in town?"
"How will we get past this obstacle?" asked Jenkins.
"We'll drive over it."
Jenkins raised his eyebrows but said nothing. As a signalman in the Royal
Naval Airship Service, he'd been taught to accept implausible suggestions
with an open mind. Soon the two men were clinging to the bike as it
bounced over rocks, gullies, and fallen branches. The machine seemed up to
the task. The same could not be said for their kidneys.
"Remember!" shouted Iverson between jolts. "We're supposed to be traveling
incognito! If we meet any townsfolk, we should pretend to be tourists!"
"What kind of tourists would take a route like this?"
"I'm not quite sure!"
Somehow they survived the passage. A final plunge down a gravel-strewn slope
brought them back to the road. Iverson killed the engine, brought the bike
to a stop, and smiled. That had been fun! Why, he wondered, was Jenkins
clutching the frame of the sidecar so tightly? He glanced around to take
stock of their surroundings and noticed they had an audience -- a dozen or
so workmen who were leaning on their shovels and applauding.
"Good on ya!" said one. "You made a good first of that! I'm Osric.
Welcome to Agnes Waters!"
"Thank you," said the lieutenant, assuming that this was, in fact, a
compliment. "My name is Iverson and this is my companion Jenkins."
"Ah, you must be Royal Navy, here to ask about the parachutist."
"How can you tell," asked Iverson, doing his best to hide his
"It's obvious you're Poms. You're dressed too posh to be Aussies."
Iverson looked at his grease-stained, oil-soaked, and mud-splattered
riding gear, glanced at Jenkins, and raised his eyebrow. "I imagine these
things are relative," observed the signalman.
Iverson sighed and turned back to the villager. "Is the road into town
"Aye. It's all clear except for this slide. Denby here found it on his
way to Mount Tom. Couldn't get through on his neddy, so he came back and
teed up some blokes to clear it. It's been hard yakker, so we're glad you
came through and gave us excuse for a smoko."
"Are there any other trails in and out of town?" asked Jenkins while
Iverson struggled to decipher this strange dialect.
"There's one that leads along the creek, but you'd have to be wobbly to
walk it the wet."
"I think we can safely exclude that route," Jenkins observed to Iverson.
The lieutenant nodded. Remembering the trail on Sarah's Island, he could
imagine how difficult it would be to negotiate one five times longer and
covered in mud.
"I believe there's an amateur radio enthusiast in your village," he said to
Osric. "Could you provide us with directions to his abode?"
"Ah, that would be Nate. Keep on going, turn right at Springs Road, and
look for the weatherboard with a yellow roof."
"How will we recognize this intersection?"
The villager seemed surprised by this question. "It's easy. It's the only
one in town."
After all the trouble it had been to reach the place, Agnes Waters was
something of a letdown. It was a tiny hamlet -- little more than a cluster
of bungalows and fields next to a long empty stretch of beach. Compared to
this, Darwin would have seemed like a city and Cairns a major metropolis.
Like many small rural villages, there was nothing to indicate what the
inhabitants did for a living. The fields did not seem adequate to support
any significant amount of agriculture and there was no harbor to speak of.
Perhaps they bottle water from some hidden spring and ship it out by
wagon, thought Iverson. That might explain the peculiar name.
The radioman's house proved difficult to find. They'd expected it to be
marked by some antennae tower, but the actual equipment was modest: a simple
wire aerial strung between two eucalyptus trees. It occurred to Iverson
that a casual visitor to this settlement might be entirely unaware that it
had rapid communications with the outside world. He approached the door,
knocked, and braced himself for another challenging assault on the English
"Good day," came an elderly voice. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm Lieutenant Iverson, Royal Naval Airship Service, and this is my
companion, Ensign Jenkins, from the Signal Corps" said Iverson after he'd
recovered from his surprise. "We understand you've been in communication
with our station in Cairns."
"Ah yes, that would be Phelps. A good operator! I'm Commander Nathanial
Welch, Royal Navy (retired). I imagine you'll want to hear about the
"If you could be so kind."
"It would have been on the night of the 19th. I heard an airship passing
overhead so I went outside to look. I've always loved the things. Quite
beautiful really. This one sounded like an early Wolesely class -- I'd
recognize the sound of the Maybach Md.IVa's anywhere. I couldn't see the
vessel because she was hidden by clouds, but as I was looking, I saw a
parachute open. It was a dark night, but there was just enough light to
see him come down."
"Where did he land?"
"In the middle of Kendal's paddock. I can show you the place if you'd like.
I gathered a party and we hurried over to see if the fellow needed
help, but he was gone by the time we arrived. The grass was all trampled
where he'd gathered up his equipment, and you could see a set of tracks
where someone came out to help him."
"Could it have been someone from town?" asked Iverson.
Nathanial shook his head. "No, this is a very small village -- the kind of
place where everyone knows each other's business. You're the first
strangers we've seen here in months."
"Where did the tracks lead?" asked Jenkins.
"Back to the road, then down to the beach. We followed them with lanterns.
It looks like they met a third fellow and accompanied him down to the
"Was there any sign of a landing?"
"No, but it's a hard place to bring in a boat. I imagine they anchored
beyond the surf and swam a line in to shore to haul their men back out.
Whatever they used, it was all gone by the time we arrived."
"Did you hear the sound of any more engines?" asked Iverson.
"No, but I'm not sure that means anything."
The lieutenant nodded. The Flying Cloud couldn't have a monopoly
on auxiliary craft with good mufflers. "It sounds like these chaps were
well-prepared, and knew exactly when and where Blacker was going to appear."
"Yes," said Jenkins. "I'm not sure how to interpret this, but the
implications are disturbing. We'd best get back to the ship and see what
the Captain can make of it."
Next week: Next Move...
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