The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Three

Episode 124: Darwin, Damsels, and Deductions

Emily and Clarice at the Railway office

Rainfall during the Wet -- the months-long monsoon that began in Darwin sometime in November -- was a fact of life, like gravity. And like gravity, it soon lost its novelty. Emily stared out the window, watching water drip from the eaves. Then she picked up her pencil, balanced it on her desk and let it fall. Neither activity was very exciting.

"What shall we do after work?" asked Clarice from the desk beside her.

"We could play croquet in the rain."

"We did that yesterday."

"We could go to the harbor and watch them scrape barnacles off the new trawler."

"We did that the day before."

"Aunt Leviatha invited us to the smithy to see her new anvil."

"I'd rather watch the barnacles."

"Me too."

Their meditations were interrupted by a knock on the door. They looked up to see Daniel Sturlock, head of Accounting, standing next to a man in attire so entirely unremarkable he seemed to blend into the furnishings. "Excuse me ladies," said the manager, glancing around as if he'd momentarily lost track of his guest... "There's a gent here as 'd like to review some of our records. Miss Wilcox, Miss Blaine, this is Mister... Bond, I believe it was."

The two women recognized Jenkins instantly. "Good afternoon, Mister Bond," said Emily, grasping the situation at once. "How can we be of assistance?"

"I'm here from the Victualing Board," said Jenkins. "We're interested in the transportation and consumption of woolen fabrics and related dry goods throughout the Northern Territory. I'd like to examine shipping manifests and bills of lading for the period from 1917 to 1924, with special attention to the months that began during a weekday."

"I'll leave him to you," said Sturlock, who seemed eager to escape such tedious company. As soon as he was gone, the two women leapt up to greet their visitor.

"Jenkins, whatever are you doing here?" asked Emily, keeping her voice low to make sure they weren't overheard.

"I'm seeking information," replied the signalman, "just as the good Mister Sturlock said, but the scope of my inquiry is somewhat different than I gave him to understand."

"Is the Captain here as well?" asked Clarice.

"Yes, along with Davies, but they're keeping out of sight for now."

"What kind of information do you need?" asked Emily.

"If you could gather passenger records, newspapers for the past year, and a copy of whatever passes for the social register in Darwin and bring them to the offices of a freight forwarder named John Decker sometime this evening, we will endeavor to explain. Now I must be going before someone else as astute as you spots me."

The signalman nodded politely and made his exit. The two women listened to his footsteps as they faded down the hall.

"I guess we'll have to turn down Aunt Leviatha's invitation," said Emily with an innocent smile.

Clarice nodded archly. "I'm sure she'll be heartbroken."

It was still raining when Clarice and Emily arrived at the freight forwarder's office, but their spirits were high. They entered to see Captain Everett, Jenkins, and Davies seated around the a table with the shipper. Chairs scraped the floor as the four men stood. The women replied with curtsies. Decker, somewhat less polished than the airmen, seemed distracted by the amount of leg this revealed.

"Welcome back to Darwin," said Clarice. "However did you get here? We didn't see any sign of the airship."

"We put ashore last night, some distance to the east, and made our way to town from there."

"Did you have any trouble?" asked Emily. Living in a small fishing village, she had a keen appreciation of the difficulties involved in a night landing on an unfamiliar coast.

"None worthy of mention," said Everett lightly, "but on the way here, we noticed a pair of War surplus army tanks parked in a field outside town. We couldn't help but wonder where they came from."

"Oh, that was our police chief's doing," said Clarice.

"George Channel?" asked Jenkins.

The two women made an expression of disgust. "The very same," replied Emily. "He said we needed them to protect against a Russian invasion."

The signalman raised his eyebrows. "A Russian invasion? Of Australia? That seems rather unlikely."

"He played on people's fears of Communism," said Clarice. "And I imagine he pocketed some money as part of the deal. We gathered the information Jenkins requested. Is there anything in particular you're looking for?"

"We're investigating four gentlemen -- their activities, background, political views, and any connections with your police chief -- for we have reason to believe one of them is involved in a plot against the Empire. We're particularly interested in their movements, since it appears the man we're looking for visited Cairns at least once this year, and was in the New Hebrides sometime in May."

Emily drew a thick sheaf of papers from her briefcase. "Then we have a fair bit of work to do," she announced cheerfully. "Shall we get started?"

Sometime later, the investigators leaned back in their chairs to review what they'd learned.

"We have four candidates," said Emily, "Mister Fuller, Mister Becker, Mister Leese, and Mister Andrews. Mister Fuller is a gentleman in his mid-40s who was a staff officer during the War, though he's never spoken of the details. It seems he left the Service after some disagreement with his superiors in the War Department. This may be related to his political views, for he's an extreme nationalist, who believes England was betrayed by the Peace.

"Our second candidate, Mister Becket, is a politician here on sabbatical. It appears that he also served in the Army, and he organized the National Union of Ex-Servicemen after the War to look after the needs of the veterans. He's criticized the Labour Party as being too liberal, which suggests he's also something of a nationalist.

"Mister Leese is something of a character. It appears he was Camel Specialist for the East Africa Protectorate!" The brunette seemed to be trying to suppress a giggle. "He served in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps on the Western Front and Palestine during the War. After the Peace, he came to Australia to promote the use of camels in the Outback, but he hasn't been particularly successful here in Darwin during the rainy season. He's a member of some society called the British Fascists. I'm not sure quite what a `Fascist' is, but the word sounds Italian, so it may have something to do with opera."

"What about Mister Andrews?" asked Jenkins.

Clarice shook her head. "He's a remittance man."

"What's a remittance man?" asked Davies, unfamiliar with the term.

"Someone from a respectable background, whose family provides him with an allowance to travel as far away as possible, so that they can remain respectable."

"That sounds like a great ticket," said the marine.

"It may be somewhat different from a career in the Service," Everett admitted. "Do any of these men have connections with the police chief?"

"Mister Fuller, Mister Becket, and Mister Leese have dealt with Channel socially. Mister Andrews has visited him as a client."

"A client?" asked Davies.

"He has several arrests for public drunkenness."

Davies grinned. "I like the fellow already."

"What do the passenger records have to say about these fellows' movements?" asked Everett.

"Neither Fuller, Becket, or Leese have left town by train for several months," said Clarice, "but Andrews made several long trips during the period in question."

The captain nodded thoughtfully. "Jenkins, what's your opinion?"

"The first three gentlemen all seem like likely candidates," said the signalman. "But they may be a bit too likely. Surely our adversary wouldn't be so obvious. This Andrews, on the other hand, sounds a bit too good to be true. A drunkard and a wastrel, with no discernable politics? I wonder if this could be an inspired bit of cover."

"Such was my thought as well," said Everett. "But I believe I know how we can flush the fellow out."

Next week: Knights of the North Territory...

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