Episode 421: So That's What Was Inside
MacKiernan and Wilcox edged their way around the hole in the floor of the
office, keeping an eye out for more traps, until they reached the poster.
When they took this down, they found the safe they'd expected. They had no
way to open it, of course -- Lieutenant Wilcox's talent for practical jokes
didn't extend to safe cracking -- so they had to return to the launch to
fetch an axe, chop the thing free of the wall, and muster the crew to help
them drag it down to the wharf.
"If the Fat Man still has agents here on Totiw, they might notice this is
missing," Wilcox remarked as they manhandled the safe onto a sledge they'd
fashioned from fallen rafters left by the collapse of the deadfall.
"They might also notice all the traps we triggered," MacKiernan said wryly.
Wilcox looked around the settlement. The fire from the cauldron of burning
oil might have died down, and the generator that powered the electrified
doormats might have run out of fuel, but the street was littered with debris
from the explosion in the village laundry, smoke still rose from the ruins of
the florist shop, and a frantic squawk sounded whenever one of the escaped
cassowaries wandered too close to the pool of piranhas that now filled most
of the beer garden.
"I believe you're right, sir," he replied. MacKiernan glanced at the
lieutenant, but as always, Wilcox was maintaining a straight face.
It took the combined efforts of the airmen and crew to ease the safe aboard
the launch without sending the craft to the bottom. This left the vessel
dangerously overloaded, but a cautious five-hour passage, early the next day
when the waters were calm, brought them back to Weno. There the
Administrator provided a lorry so they could haul their prize to an unused
warehouse without attracting attention.
After the safe had been unloaded and levered atop a platform of timbers,
they gathered around to examine it. It was an ancient Chubb product from
the middle of the previous century -- a massive block of cast iron held
together by rivets the size of Abercrombie's fists. Two brass keyholes were
set in the door.
"Why didn't the nationalists empty it and take its contents with them when
they abandoned their base on Totiw?" Miss Perkins wondered.
"It appears they tried, but were unable to open it," said Wilcox, pointing
to one of the keyholes, where the remains of a broken key testified to a
losing battle between British craftsmanship and the salt-filled island air.
"We may have the same problem," said the secretary. "Even Pierre couldn't
pick a lock if it was rusted shut."
"We may also have a solution," said the Administrator. He spoke a word to
his aide. The man left the building and returned a few minutes later
accompanied by two machinists carrying high-speed carbide-tipped power saws.
MacKiernan raised an eyebrow when he saw the tools. "Wherever did you get
those?" he asked.
Their host shrugged as if he'd never thought the matter significant. "We
intercepted a shipment from Australia to the Fat Man's people sometime last
year. If I remember correctly, these were part of it."
"Would this have been between June and August?" Miss Perkins asked sharply.
"I believe so," said the Administrator. "Why do you ask?"
The secretary glanced at MacKiernan. He nodded back. This was around the
time the nationalists had shipped a cargo of saw blades to Australia's North
Territory to cut open the safe in the secret White Russian laboratory.
"This coincides with a similar shipment we discovered last July," he told
the Administrator. "Captain Michaelson might be in a position to
investigate the matter. If you could provide us with information about the
shipment, we'll forward this to Cairns."
"I will consult our records after we're done here," said the Administrator.
"Now we shall see what's inside this strongbox."
In its day, Chubb's 1850 model wall safe had been considered unbreakable,
but engineering -- particularly the aspects related to the design and
manufacture of cutting tools -- had come a long way since the Crimean War.
It took them several saw blades, but soon the machinists cut through the
back of the safe. This fell to the floor with satisfying a crash. Inside,
they saw several shelves stacked with packages wrapped in oil cloth. The
Administrator rubbed his chin for a moment, then found a long stick and
gave one of the packages a prod. Satisfied there were no traps, he pulled
the thing out and undid the fastenings.
"Interesting," he said when he was done. He held up his discovery for the
others to see. It was a large silver crucifix, obviously quite old, that
appeared to be of Spanish workmanship.
"Whatever was that doing in the nationalists' hide-out?" wondered
MacKiernan. "They don't strike me as the kind of fellows who'd go in for
"They seem to have made a habit of collecting religious artifacts," the
Administrator told them. "According to our intelligence sources, they even
sent a team to Egypt to search for the Holy Grail... or perhaps it was the
Ark of the Covenant. I imagine they looted this from some Spanish mission.
Let us see what these other packages contain."
The other packages held more altar furnishings of the same vintage as the
crucifix, the usual smattering of oddly-shaped gold tiaras and ornaments of
alien design one could find anywhere in the South Pacific, and a fine silver
tea service inscribed with the message `A gift from Her Majesty and the
captain, officers, and crew of the HMS Charybdis'.
MacKiernan picked up the teapot. "This must have been left sometime during
the reign of Queen Victoria," he observed.
"That doesn't do much to narrow things down," Miss Perkins remarked dryly.
"Quite," MacKiernan admitted. He turned to their host. "I wonder if some of
these things could have come from the island we're looking for. Do you have
anyone here on Truk who could trace them?"
"None that I would trust to keep the matter a secret, and people on these
islands do love to gossip," said the Administrator. "So far, the
nationalists can have no way of knowing who arrived on your airship or any
reason to connect you with the expedition to Totiw. Are you willing to put
this advantage at risk?"
"Not if we can avoid it," said Miss Perkins. "Perhaps we can find
information elsewhere. Do you mind if we borrow these objects for a few
MacKiernan glanced at her, surprised by the interruption. The
Administrator seemed unperturbed. "I'll write you a receipt," he said.
Next week: A Surprising Inspector...
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