Episode 426: It Was Chemistry
Scott had demanded be taken to Bhamo, ostensibly to search for the American
archaeologists. This had meant a night flight north along the Irrawaddy
River to arrive before the morning wind could build, followed by some
moments of frustration as the outpost's inexperienced handling parties
struggled to walk the ship to the mast. Now they'd visited Bhamo's police
station to meet with the Assistant Superintendent. This was a young man
with curly brown hair and a regimental mustache, wearing the uniform of
the Indian Imperial Police.
"My name is Eric Blair," he informed them. "How may I help you?"
"I am Inspector Scott... Scott of the Yard!" Scott announced. "I'm
searching for a team of American archaeologists that I know to be in the
"That would be those fellows from Illinois," said Blair. "They hired a
local geologist to guide them to some sites in Kachin Hills."
For some reason, the inspector seemed to find this revelation
significant. "A geologist?" he said. "Interesting. Where is their
"I'll detail one of my men to take you there," said Blair. "I'll also
provide you with an escort. We've been having some trouble with the
"We will not need an escort," Scott said haughtily. "No adversary could
possibly know we are here. Their ignorance is our strength."
"Ignorance is strength," mused Blair. "I'll have to remember that
In addition to Scott, Jenkins, and the guide, Everett brought along
Pierre and Lieutenant Murdock -- the one for his knowledge of antiquities,
and the other because he felt an outing would be good for the lad. A
stiff climb in the hills north of town brought them to the Americans'
camp. This had been fortified with a circle of thorn bushes, either as
protection against wild animals or because its owners had been brought up
on a diet of `cowboy' movies. The archaeologists seemed to be away, but
they'd left their servants behind, along with a secretary.
The woman brightened when she saw Murdock. "Welcome to the field camp of
the University of Chicago South Asian Archaeological Expedition," she said.
"My name is Lorinda. How can I help you."
Scott frowned at her grammar. "I am Scott... Scott of the Yard!" he
announced. "I wish to examine your records."
The secretary tore her attention from the lieutenant long enough to gesture
toward a tent. "They're in there somewhere," she said vaguely.
Scott glared at her, then stormed off in the direction she'd indicated.
Everett intervened before she could take offense.
"Thank you," he said politely. "Could you tell us where we might find the
"They're all at the dig," she replied. "Should I find someone to take you
"If you'd be so kind," said Everett. "Mister Murdock, I'd like you to
remain here in case we miss them."
A short time later, Everett, Jenkins, and Pierre were heading up a trail,
following an old Burmese hillman. Pierre glanced back at the camp and shook
"I wonder if it was wise to leave Monsieur Murdock with the
mademoiselle," he remarked.
Everett raised an eyebrow. "Why should there be a problem? It's difficult
to imagine what trouble he could possibly get into."
"Peut être," said Pierre, "but your lieutenant seems to have a
certain gift, of which he is entirely unaware."
"A gift?' said Everett. "I'm not sure I understand your meaning."
Murdock watched party go, then turned to see the secretary gazing at him. Her
smile was remarkable. So was her clothing -- a dress that might have come
straight from some dance floor in America, a gauzy scarf that threatened to
take wing in the slightest breeze, and a necklace long enough to anchor a
small dinghy. He wondered if this was some form of secretarial uniform.
"Would you like something to drink while we wait?" she asked.
"Why, thank you," he replied gratefully. For some reason, her gaze had
left him feeling uncomfortably hot.
The woman took him by the hand and led him to what he assumed was the dining
tent. Once they were inside, she drew the flap closed. "There!" she
announced. "Now we'll have some privacy!"
Why do we need privacy to drink? Murdock wondered, but before he
could ask, she'd crouched to open an icebox. He glanced away in
embarrassment, for her dress hadn't been designed to accommodate such a
"I'm afraid we don't have any tea," she told him, "but we do have cold soda.
Have some Moxie!" She plunked two bottles down on the table and slid into
the seat next to him. He noticed that she seemed rather breathless --
something to do with altitude, perhaps. He also noticed that one of her
shoulder straps seemed to have slid down her arm. The other seemed
inadequate for the task it was called upon to perform.
Why is she looking at me like that? he wondered. Did I say
She leaned closer and rested a hand on his jacket. "Here," she murmured.
"Let me open that for you."
As the lieutenant was struggling to find a reply, shouts sounded from
outside, followed by the sound of blows.
"I say?" he cried in relief. "What's that all about?"
The dig was like archaeological sites anywhere -- an anonymous row of
trenches worked by serious-looking gentlemen in dusty suits. These
particular archaeologists might have been dressed more flamboyantly than
Calvert or Schleimann -- the holstered revolvers were a particular novelty
-- but otherwise they seemed unremarkable.
"I am Professor Hiram Jones, of the University of Chicago Archeology
Department," said their leader. "How can I help you?"
Everett was too polite to take notice of the innovative Colonial verb usage.
"I am Captain Roland P. Everett, Royal Navy Airship Service, and these are
my companions Jenkins and Pierre. We've been investigating the kidnapping of
one of your associates."
Jones nodded. "That would be Professor Kishino from the Chemistry
Department. Have you learned anything about his whereabouts?"
"I'm afraid we're still gathering clues," said Everett. "If you don't mind
my asking, why did you need a chemist on an archaeological expedition?"
"It's a new idea," said Jones. "We were hoping to trace the origin of
artifacts we found by measuring their isotope ratios."
"Isotope ratios?" said Everett. "I am unfamiliar with the term."
"It derives from the work of Soddy and Thomson before the War," said the
professor. "They discovered that elements come in different forms, with
slightly different weights."
"How is this possible?" asked Everett. "Surely the atoms must all be the
"I'm not entirely clear on the mechanism," Jones admitted, "but it has
something to do with things called `neutrons'. These affect the
properties of an element, and it seems that their number varies in samples
taken from different locations. Koshino has devised a scheme to separate
these different isotopes for analysis."
Jenkins caught captain's eye. "Sir," he said. "Are you thinking what I'm
Everett nodded, but before he could reply, they were interrupted by the
arrival of a runner.
"Sahibs," the man said urgently, "there has been trouble at the camp."
Next week: An Iconic Island...
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