Episode 419: ...Burmah Shave!
Everett wasn't surprised when Scott demanded to be flown to Burmah. The
story into which the inspector Scott had plunged them seemed to be unfolding
with the inevitability of some classic drama. He hoped it would turn out to
be a comedy rather than a tragedy.
Their destination had seen its own share of drama during the centuries.
Once a sovereign nation, with a centuries-long history of independence under
a succession of proud dynasties, its most recent rulers had made the mistake
of challenging the British Crown for influence in Assam Province. This had
not worked out well for them. Now, three less-than-satisfying wars later,
Burmah was a British protectorate, administered as a province of India.
This change in status had been accompanied by changes in the Burmese economy.
The most unfortunate might have been the expansion of rice cultivation to
satisfy markets made accessible by the opening of the Suez canal. This had led
to the extensive clearing of land, followed by the inevitable plunge in
prices that forced small farmers off their land and into a growing class of
bandits that felt little affection for their would-be colonial masters.
Little of this unrest was evident in Rangoon. The ancient
capital of Burmah lay next to the Indian Ocean, at the mouth of the
Rangoon and Bago rivers.
Like its counterparts in Borneo, it was a bewildering blend of Asian, Middle
Eastern, and European architecture and culture, along with others so exotic
they might well have come from some primordial city that sank beneath the
waves before the dawn of humanity. Still, the local air station was every
bit as efficient as one would expect from an outpost of the Empire, and soon
Everett and Jenkins were riding the lift down from their ship to arrange
"We've concluded that our guest's stated mission is intended to disguise his
interest in the British Union," said Everett, taking advantage of this
moment of privacy. "We need to know if he's interested in them as friends or
foes. We may have to risk following the fellow to learn who he contacts.
Do you believe you could you do this safely?"
Jenkins thought this over. "We have no idea
regarding the extent of the man's training," he replied, "but I can err on
the side of caution."
Everett nodded. "That should serve. Meanwhile we'll send Pierre to watch
the offices of Burmah Oil. He isn't known to Scott, so he should be secure
from detection. We'll also have Lieutenant Iverson and Miss Sarah make
an inquiry at Office of Antiquities regarding these American archaeologists.
That should distract any watchers, and we might also learn something of
Iverson and Sarah had some difficulty locating Rangoon's Office of
Antiquities, for the city was somewhat harder to navigate than Cairns or
Sydney. It also seemed filled with Japanese tourists. Their nation had
benefited from its comparatively peaceful status during the War, and
they seemed to be taking advantage of the resulting prosperity to see more
of the world. They moved through the streets in tightly-packed groups,
pausing to photograph the sights with a remarkable arsenal of cameras.
"What are all these people up to?" asked Sarah. "Do you think some could
be spies for the nationalists?"
Iverson had been speculating along similar lines. "I've wondered that
myself," he replied. "It's difficult to imagine what they could be spying
on. I suppose this place could become of strategic value as a source of
oil in the event of some world-wide conflict, but it's a long way from
These speculations drew to a close when they arrived at their destination.
This stood in the temple district, surrounded by Buddhist monasteries;
Jewish, Parsee, Christian, Manichaean, and Moslem synagogues, churches, and
mosques; and a meeting hall decorated with representations of
order Sirenia and a sign that proclaimed this to be
the `Esoteric Order of Dugong`.
The staff at the Office of Antiquities seemed glad to receive them.
"How may we help you, sir and miss?" their chief asked cheerfully.
"We were wondering if you might know anything about a visiting party of
archaeologists from America," said Iverson.
The man thought this over. "That would be the fellows from Illinois.
They're trying to identify the origin of the culture or invaders that seem
to have spread through Indochina and Borneo during the Third Century."
"Would these have been the abominable Mi-Go from the plain of Leng?" asked
"No," said their host. "The Americans hypothesize it was some servant caste
from Ceylon, who were driven out after they rebelled against their masters."
"Do they still hope to find traces of these... Ceylons after all this time?"
Their host shrugged. "It's the sort of things these archaeologists do."
Pierre had little difficulty finding the offices of Burmah Oil. Watching
the place was another matter, for this part of town was given over to
English businesses, and he couldn't loiter outside without attracting
attention. After weighing several different strategies for obtaining
information, he adjusted his jacket, checked his mustache, and strode into
The secretary looked up as he entered, then blinked, smiled, and leaned
forward. "Good day, sir!" she said enthusiastically. "How may I help you?"
Pierre glanced down at what could only be regarded as an invitation. "I
am Monsieur Bertrande, from La Compagnie Francoise de Petroles,"
he replied "We are interested in the opportunities for investment with
your firm. Might we discuss the possibilities over dinner?"
Jenkins found Scott something of a challenge to follow. The crowds might
have offered some cover, but they also made it harder for him to maintain
contact with his quarry, and matters were complicated by the inspector's
habit of stopping at unexpected moments to glance at some shop window or
roadside stand. This could have been the impulse of a tourist, but it could
also be the practice of someone watching for a tail. If it was the latter,
it was only a matter of time until Scott spotted him.
Fortunately, Jenkins had taken the precaution of memorizing a map of city.
If he could guess the investigator's destination, he might hope to get
there first and lie in wait. There seemed three possibilities: a factory
district, a residential area, and a park given over to the estates of English
administrators. After some thought, Jenkins decided to try the last one.
He was rewarded by a glimpse of Scott making his way up the steps to a
He slowed to watch the inspector enter the building, then adjusted his
clothing to appear more respectable, strode to the door of a neighboring
mansion, and rang the bell.
The servant who answered took in his style and manner and bowed. "How may
I help you, sir?" he asked respectfully.
"Who resides in that house over there?" Jenkins demanded. "Their staff was
remarkably rude when I called to ask directions! I have half a mind to send
them a complaint!"
"That would be the Morrison abode," said the servant, "but the
Governor-General is staying there now."
Jenkins raised an eyebrow. "Edward Wood?"
The servant leaned forward as if to impart a confidence. "The very same.
They've been trying to keep it secret."
Jenkins did not have to pretend surprise. "You're quite sure about
"They can hardly hope to succeed," said the domestic.
"Oh look! says the missus. It's the Viceroy of India.
He must be here for some clandestine meeting!"
"Thank you," said Jenkins. "You've been very helpful."
Next week: On Your Marx!...
Comments about Episode 419? Start a new topic on the