Episode 274: The House of Flying Cloaks and Daggers
The house looked quite ordinary -- a tidy wood-framed structure on the
shores of Australia's Bondi Beach. No one would have guessed its occupants
were representatives of a hostile power, bent on destroying everything the
Commonwealth stood for. Inside, Sigmund sat at his desk, examining the
latest reports from his agents. There'd been a certain laxness when he
took over the network, but he'd put things in order, with detailed lists of
cover names, territories, and responsibilities. At last he stood,
stretched, and glanced toward the beach, where a group of local youths were
out surfing. A frown crossed his face. Those healthy specimens of European
manhood should be training for the army, not wasting their lives in search
His reflections were interrupted by the arrival of his second in command,
Berthold. "Mein Herr," said the other man, "we have received news
from Goodenough Island. It appears that Michaelson's agents arrived at the
air station in the company of the American industrialist."
"Goodenough Island," mused Sigmund. "That's treading too close for comfort.
Did they give any sign they were aware of our presence there?"
"No, but they did foil another attempt to kidnap them."
Sigmund scowled. "Who authorized this attempt?"
"It was done at the orders of Her agents."
The spymaster's scowl deepened. "I have my misgivings about this alliance,"
he observed. "We cannot be certain of these people's agenda."
"Do you believe this was a deliberate attempt to expose our operation?"
"No, but they could be acting on information of which we're unaware. They
have a well-placed agent in Cairns."
"Be careful, Mein Herr," said Berthold, "others may listen." He indicated
the new maid, a plain-looking figure, well past her prime, who'd entered the
room to clean the ashtrays.
"Pfagh," Sigmund replied, "she doesn't understand German. I will
demonstrate." He launched into an explicit description of additional
services a maid could provide if she was younger, more attractive, and
possessed the necessary attributes. The woman seemed oblivious to these
"You're right," laughed Berthold. "She understands nothing."
The sun had set hours ago. To the east, the surfers had set aside their
boards and gathered around a campfire. A murmur of voices, snatches of
song, and some charming feminine giggles echoed across the sand. Nearer
at hand, some indigenous Australian bird made one of those unlikely noises
that only indigenous Australian birds can make. Otherwise the night was
Miss Perkins glanced at her watch. It was time. Stepping from the trees,
she slipped across the street to the house. The moon had set, and in her
dark skirt and blouse, she was no more visible than a shadow. She paused
at the door to listen, then rummaged through her purse. Jenkins might have
been able to pick the lock, but the skills of a secretary were of a
different order from those of a signalman. In her disguise as a maid, she'd
had access to the key, and a makeup kit had plenty of materials with which
to make an impression.
The latch worked as silently as one would expect from a device maintained by
Germans. There were guards inside, but she knew their rounds, and had no
trouble avoiding them on her way to the stairs. Risers that might have
creaked under the weight of a heavier figure made no sound as she ascended.
A moment's work with another duplicate key, and she was inside Sigmund's
She stepped to the window, checked the time, and used her hand lamp to flash
a signal. Then she set to work on the safe. She'd only caught the briefest
glimpse as Sigmund spun the dial, but secretaries in the Royal Navy Airship
Service were expected to be attentive, and soon she had the thing open.
Inside sat a code machine, a handgun, and a notebook. Ignoring the former
two, she removed the latter and began to flip through the pages. These were
filled with neat rows of names and assignments. She had no way to make a
copy, but secretaries were also expected to have good memories. Every so
often, she stopped to glance at her watch and flash another signal out the
She had replaced the notebook and was closing the safe when a key rattled in
the lock. With no other place to take cover, she ducked behind the opening
door and prayed the shadows would hide her. Sigmund entered the room,
followed by Berthold -- in the dim light from the hallway, their faces looked
dark and demonic. The two Germans strode to the safe, switched on a desk
lamp, and removed the code machine. With her talent for languages, Miss
Perkins had no trouble understanding their conversation.
"What does our führer have to say?" growled Sigmund.
"Have patience, Mein Herr," said Berthold. "This machine takes
time to operate."
Please! thought Miss Perkins. Take as long as you want!
Every second would work to her advantage. How long had it been since she
flashed the last signal? She held still, not daring to look at her watch
lest this attract attention.
For several minutes, the only sound was the click of some mechanism as
Berthold adjusted the wheels of the machine. "Here is the clear copy," he
announced at last. "You have been ordered to leave the station in my care
and proceed to Goodenough Island, where a schnellboot will be
placed at your disposal. There you are to take whatever steps you feel
necessary to deal with Michaelson's agents."
"`Whatever steps I feel necessary'," said Sigmund. "It appears the Fat
Man shares our concerns. I must think. Leave, and close the door
Miss Perkins froze as footsteps approached her hiding place. In a moment
she'd be discovered. Then a young male voice sounded outside the window.
"What do you say, Nellie? Shall we?"
A coy female voice answered. "Shall we what?"
There was a rustle of clothing, followed by a giggle.
"Boomer, don't you dare!"
"Vas is das?" asked Berthold.
"Let us find out," said Sigmund.
Floorboards creaked as the Germans crept to the window for a reconnaissance.
Bless those Aussies! thought Miss Perkins. There's my
distraction, just as we planned. An instant later she was out the
door and making her way to the street.
The administration building might have been old, but it was maintained to
Royal Navy Airship Service standards. Inside, Michaelson sat at his desk
below a photograph from some harbor in England, where three small figures
stood on a dock with a Tribal Class destroyer behind them.
"We have a letter from Miss Perkins," said Phelps.
Michaelson looked up. "I trust you took the liberty of reading it."
The signalman didn't bother to nod. "It appears that her aunt has been
taken ill. She requests permission to extend her leave."
"I will consider the matter," said Michaelson. "Leave the message and go
back to your duties."
After his aide had left, the senior captain translated the code. It was
awkward -- letters from particular words had to be matched against a key --
but there had been a time when he delighted in such games.
FAT MAN ORDR SIGMUND AFTR DARWIN GRLS AS Y GUESSD I FOLLOW QUERY YR
PLAN PUTS THM IN DNGR
Michaelson set the letter back on his desk. In the privacy of his office,
he could allow his expression to show. Then he squared his shoulders and
resumed the mask he presented to the world. "Phelps," he called.
"I am going out for a stroll. On my desk, you'll find personnel
assignments for June and authorizations for the new stationary winch. As
for Miss Perkins, I believe we can allow her request. Wire her and tell
her to proceed as she suggested."
Next week: Fun At Fort Stosenberg...
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