Episode 336: It'll Be A Gold Mine
Marty took a sip of his drink and smiled in approval. Vodka and water
might not be the first thing that leapt to mind when one thought of the
South Pacific, but this was one of those occasions when reality was
superior to the imagination. To his right, Al seemed to agree. To his
left, Books was examining the small paper umbrella that graced his shot
glass as if it was some kind of bug.
"What's wit dis, Boss?" asked the accountant.
Marty grinned. "It keeps the sun off the ice, soze it doesn't melt and
water the booze. Al, how's our ship doing?"
The skipper turned to study the airship as she rode from the mooring mast.
She might be old, but she made a graceful sight, with palm trees swaying
behind her and that perfect blue tropical sky overhead. Rigid dirigibles
belonged in the Pacific, Marty decided, just like coconuts, canoes, and
"The overhaul's almost done," Al told him. "Vlad's boys reground the valves
on Number Three's cylinder head, replaced the Number Seven gas cell, and
re-covered that worn spot in the envelope between Frames 135 and 152.
They're rigging the new rudder cables now."
"How much is this gonna cost?"
"About three grand," said the skipper. "The Rusky charges high, but he does
Marty glanced at the wall, where a carved mahogany plaque, bordered with
fanciful engravings of winged squidlike creatures, proclaimed,
"From each according to his ability, to each according to his
need", and nodded. "That's why the man's got such a good reputation,"
he told his henchmen. "Jake, get the boys ready to lift ship."
"Whatcha have in mind, Boss?' asked Jake.
"Vlad's offered us dope on a possible target," said Marty. "We'll see what
he's got for sale."
Vlad's office offered a good view of the field -- it seemed he shared
Marty's opinion regarding airships in the South Pacific. Above him, a
calendar printed in French Polynesia showed a landscape as unlike the
steppes as it was possible to imagine. The Russian looked incongruous in
these surroundings, like some fiery revolutionary on an extended tropical
vacation. Anna sat beside him, paging through a catalogue of swimwear
from some German company. Marty took a surreptitious glance at the
woman's figure and hoped she'd chose one of the less revealing
"Dobriy den," Vlad said as the gangsters entered. "I trust
you're satisfied with our work."
"Al seems happy so far," said Marty. "When he's happy with the rest,
Books will pay you the balance. You said knew of a fresh caper."
"Da," said Anna. "An old customer came in last month to have
their propellers balanced. They paid for the job with this." She passed a
folder across the table. Marty opened it to find a collection of shipping
records. He studied one, frowned, then passed the collection to Books.
"What's dis Western Pacific Ornamental Glasswork outfit?" he
asked his hosts.
"We believe it's a front for a mining company," said Vlad. "If you'll
examine those papers, you'll see they've been shipping tunneling equipment
to Western Australia."
Marty glanced at Books, who nodded. "What are they mining for?"
Vlad smiled. "Need you ask? Western Australia has been the location of
several major gold strikes during the past generation. The Yilgarn, the
Southern Cross, the Pilbara, the Cue, the Kalgoorlie, the Greenough River
-- each one caused a boom that drove prices down, followed by a bust when
the field played out."
"You think this is a gold mine someone's keeping secret soze they don't
ruin the market?" said Marty.
"It's difficult to imagine what else it could be," said Anna. "Why else
would these people go to such effort to hide their operation?"
Books pointed to one of the entries. "What do they need centrifuges for?"
The two Russians exchanged glances. "How should we know?" said Vlad.
"We're airship repairmen, not mining engineers."
"Have these guys filed any claims?" asked Marty.
Vlad shook his head. "Not that we've been able to discover."
Marty smiled. "That means they can't go running to the cops after we hit
them," he observed. "Where is this joint?"
"I don't know yet," Vlad admitted, "but I have a man on the inside who'll
radio you the position. I send him the word, and we split the take
"Eighty-twenty," said Marty. "We'll be doing all the work."
Marty held out his hand. "Seventy-five twenty-five and it's a deal."
Books made his way along the keel passage, ducking to avoid the frame
junctions. Around him, the old airship creaked in response to some subtle
change in the air. They'd waited until dusk, then circled north of the Cape
York Peninsula to avoid any coastal patrols. Now they were cruising west
over the Arufura Sea.
He reached the control car to find Al gazing into the night, lost in some
memory. "Whatcha thinking?" he asked the skipper.
The airman turned to the ballast board and began checking figures. "I was
thinking of the old days," he said. "My brother and I used to have an
aeroplane company back in Frisco."
Books was incredulous. "An aeroplane company?"
The airman gave a rueful sigh. "We started it with our friend Jack. We
were going to fly passengers out of a field near the Presidio to compete
with the ferries to Oakland. With the War coming on, we were also counting
on some big contracts from the Army. It looked like a sure thing, but the
War ended, the field never got built, and we lost our shirts.
"I never did learn what happened to Jack. Malcolm went to the gold
country, did some prospecting, then got into the car business making brakes
based on a design by Duesenberg. Last I heard he was doing OK. I didn't
want to give up flying, so I got my Masters license, but there ain't as much
demand for airship captains as you'd think. I was on the streets, looking
for a job, when Marty found me."
Books sensed there was more to the story than the airman admitted, but this
didn't seem a time to pry. "The Boss made a good choice," he said
diplomatically. "You handle this baby like she was..." He paused.
`On wheels' didn't seem like quite the right metaphor.
Al smiled and glanced at the clock. "Thanks," he said. "Now you'd better
go handle that radio. Looks like it's about time for Vlad's man to
Next week: It Didn't Seem Important At The Time...
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