Episode 459: Follow That Submarine
The Royal Navy's instructions to airship commanders were unanimous about the
inadvisability of joining a landing party. "What possible reason could you
have for wanting to do this thing?" they warned. "That's what we gave you
marines for!" But Everett did not in good conscience feel he could send
mere marines down to face Aunt Prodigia. That left him little choice but to
lead the party himself.
With the Stalking Herring closing in from the south, they had to
race to deploy the launch and reach the lifeboats first. These proved to
have two sets of occupants: neatly-uniformed Japanese sailors and
ragged-looking deckhands who might have been drawn from the gutters of
Jakarta. The former were sullen and uncommunicative. The latter were quite
ready to talk, particularly when Aunt Prodigia arrived and discovered that
her nieces were missing.
"Right, you ratbags! Where are they?" she growled.
"The raiders took them," one of the deckhands replied meekly.
"What raiders?" demanded the matron.
The deckhand -- a burly lout who under other circumstances might have seemed
quite threatening -- cringed under the force of her glare. "The raiders with
"Don't come the raw prawn!" snorted Aunt Prodigia. "I'll submerge you if
you don't give me the good guts! That's after I chain you to an anchor in
the mouth of that river and chum the water to draw some crocs..."
Everett decided this might be a wise moment to intervene. "Excuse me," he
said smoothly. "Could you provide us with more detail regarding this
Aunt Prodigia turned to glare at him. The deckhand seized this chance of
escape. "It was a big boat," he said quickly. "Maybe twice as long as our
tug, with two funnels aft of the conning tower. They signaled us to take to
the boats, sank our ships with gunfire, then came alongside to take our
officers prisoner. They also rescued the two ladies who'd turned up on the
freighter -- seemed to feel it was their duty as English gentlemen."
"A seam-powered submarine crewed by Englishmen," mused Jenkins. "This leaves
us with only a limited number of possibilities."
"It leaves us with precisely one," sighed Everett. "Whatever was he doing
here in the Gulf of Carpentaria?"
"Who are you talking about?" Aunt Prodgia demanded.
"This would be a one-time resident of Darwin named Fuller," said Everett.
"He's a member of the British Union. He appears to be their expert on novel
technology -- in some cases a bit too novel."
"I knew that dingbat," snorted Aunt Prodigia. "He was always going on about
the `future of armored warfare'. We'll have to catch him."
"This may take some doing," Everett observed. "His vessel has top surface
speed of 20 knots, so he could be anywhere by now. Operations will be
complicated by the fact that we must call at Darwin for resupply."
"Then you'd best get cracking!" the matron announced. "While you're getting
your tucker, I'll call the Torres Pilots to see if they spotted the chappy,
then take a squiz at the western approaches to the Gulf."
Had the speaker been an ordinary civilian, Everett might have commented on
the high-handed way in which she ordered the Royal Navy about. As it was,
he settled on a nod. It seemed safest.
Darwin was some distance away, but Everett drew on his skill to manage the
flight without dipping perilously into their reserves. Mooring went swiftly,
for the Aussies seemed to regard manhandling a 700' long 80 tonne airship as
something of a sporting event. A short time later, Everett and Jenkins were
arranging for resupply in the shack that passed Reserve Lieutenant Dabney for
"What brought you and your mates back to Darwin?" asked Dabney after the last
requisition was signed.
"It's a confusing matter," Everett confessed. "Are you acquainted with the
master of a salvage tug named the Stalking Herring?"
The Aussie nodded with some respect. "Strewth! She's no sook! I wouldn't
want to get on her bad side!"
"I can appreciate this sentiment," Everett said dryly. "Unfortunately,
other parties were not as circumspect. While the lady was salvaging a
grounded freighter, some Japanese nationalists showed up to steal her prize.
In the process, they inadvertently managed to also kidnap her nieces. The
nationalists' vessel was then sunk by a submarine belonging to an erstwhile
resident of Darwin -- a gentleman named Fuller."
"That would be the tank chappy?" asked Dabney.
"So it would," said Everett. "He subsequently vanished for parts unknown."
"And you're trying to find the two missing sheilas before their aunt goes
"This seems wise," Everett observed. "Someone here in Darwin must have
known of her plans and betrayed these to the Japanese."
"It might have been the other way around," Dabney suggested. "Perhaps she
learned someone here was after the boat and decided to nick it first."
"I believe you may be right," said Everett. "This suggests an avenue of
After some thought, Everett decided Pierre was the best person to renew
contact with the freight forwarder who'd handled the Viking Girl's cargo.
Their adversaries might well be watching, but the Frenchman should be able
to draw on his experience as a jewel thief to avoid observation. A short
time later, Pierre was stepping into the shipper's office.
"G'day, `ow ya goin!" said the shipper. "John Decker's the name. What can I
"My name is Pierre," said the Frenchman. "Captain Everett, who I believe
you've met, sent me here to ask some questions."
"I saw your ship come in," said Dccker. "I was wondering when he'd send one
of his blokes over for a chinwag. It's about that crook ore, isn't it."
"Oui," said Pierre. "I take it others have shown interest in the
"Aye" said the shipper. "Some of our pearl fishermen showed up to ask where
it came from. They said they wanted it for some jewelry company back in Japan
called the Amur River Society. I told them they were out of luck. The rail
line's washed out... again."
"So the quarry is unreachable for now?"
"Dinki di! And it might stay that way until after the Wet."
"Merci," Pierre said thoughtfully. "I shall take this news back to
Everett was in his stateroom, wrestling with some of the paperwork that made
command such a joy, when Jenkins knocked on the door.
"Sir," said the signalman. "We have received a communication from Miss Wilcox
and Miss Blaine. It appears they are in Kupang. I felt you might wish to see
their message, for it raises as many questions as it answers."
Everett examined the text. It was terse, and betrayed some ingenuity.
GDAY FROM KUPANG OUTSIDE SO HOT INSIDE NO OPPORTUNITIES IF SAIL HOME ENDLESS
RAIN EXPECTED WE INTEND TO HAVE UNBEATABLE SUNTANS
"So it does," he observed. "However did they manage to find him?"
Next week: Many More Of Them Live Next Door...
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