The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 465: The Vacuum Tube Pirates of Melbourne

The Jolly Amplifier

Everett studied the Fisherman's Bend Electronic Valve Company's factory. It looked like an ordinary commercial building, but subtle clues, such as the absence of workers, the police motor parked by the entrance, and the gaping hole in the wall left by the previous night's explosion made it clear to a perceptive observer that this had been the scene of a crime. A pair of detectives was sifting through the wreckage. Everett watched their progress, then turned to Pierre.

"Did you get a good look at the attackers' airship?" he asked.

"Non," Pierre said regretfully. "La dirigeable was hidden by the night. I was unable even to estimate her dimensions or number her engines. And I had little time for observations, for les gendarmes were already on the way."

"You could hardly have anticipated these developments," Everett assured him. "You did well to escape undetected. How did you manage to avoid notice by the constabulary?"

The Frenchman made a dismissive gesture. "I descended to the first floor and concealed myself in the shadows. When the gentlemen rushed up the stairs, I followed them, posing as a fire marshal. I have found that no one ever questions the presence of a fire marshal."

"I must keep this observation in mind," Everett mused. "Did you learn anything more in your new guise?"

"Oui," said Pierre. "It seems there had been a previous attempt to burglarize the building. The perpetrators fled without taking anything, but the authorities had placed the establishment under watch. That is why they were able to respond so quickly."

"One imagines the burglars made a reconnaissance to determine the location of the files they were seeking before they committed the theft," said Jenkins. "Do you think the British Union was involved?"

"I would expect more subtlety from the Warfields," Everett observed. "It also must have taken considerable skill to hold the ship in position during the operation, and I don't believe their organization commands the necessary talent. That is the province of our German friends."

The signalman nodded. "They will have made their escape by now. Do we have any idea where they might be headed?"

"Not at the moment," Everett admitted. "Let us see if the investigators have discovered anything of relevance."

Since the crime had involved an airship, Everett no longer needed an excuse to explain the Royal Navy's interest in the matter. He waited while Jenkins saw to his jacket, then strode over to where the detectives were discussing some anonymous fragment of wreckage. They greeted him as he approached.

"G'day, Captain!" one announced. "I see you've met Marshall Ney. Did he tell you what all this is about?"

Jenkins glanced at Pierre and mouthed the words, "Marshall Ney?" The Frenchman shrugged.

"He has appraised us of the situation as it stood this morning," said Everett. "Have there been any new developments since then?"

The detective produced a notepad from his pocket and began to flip through it. "We've established that burglars only took a single filing cabinet. Everything else -- receipts, petty cash, employees' personal effects -- was left untouched. We spoke with the business-owners at length to establish what the cabinet might have held..." implicit in the detective's tone was the suggestion that anything someone went to such dramatic lengths to steal must have held something illegal, "...but they assure us it only contained shipping records. And oh yes, a provost at the University called to report that something `fell through the roof' of one of their buildings last night. Under ordinary circumstances, we might have dismissed this as a student prank, but we dispatched a motor to look into the matter. Perhaps this is it now."

He pointed up the street, where one of Holden Motor Body Builder's products, painted in the colors of the local constabulary, was chugging down the lane. It lurched to a halt before them, swaying on its springs, and the engine sputtered to a stop. A door slammed and a Bobby emerged.

"What did you find, Pricewood?" the detective asked him.

The policeman smiled. "Dinki di!" he announced. As they watched, he walked to the back of his van, tugged open the door, and gestured inside to indicate a piece of furniture that had clearly seen better days. "I think we know where that file cabinet got to."

Jenkins was already stepping forward with an RNR-982529E Request To Sequester Evidence form. "We'll give you a receipt for that," he announced.

"It was thoughtful of the German nationalists to discard this material somewhere we could find it," Jenkins observed the next day. "Whatever were they about?"

Everett studied the debris. They'd moved it to the office they'd requisitioned at the Point Cook Royal Air Station. Now it was spread across a table, sorted and tagged by function, next to a row of neatly stacked files. "They must have spent considerable ballast and hydrogen during the burglary," he told his aide. "Conducting hoist operations for a prolonged length of time can grow expensive. One imagines they decided to jettison excess weight and underestimated the efficiency of Melbourne's police services. What have you discovered?"

Jenkins gestured at the stacked papers. "They seem to have disposed of everything except for the one record they were interested in. By comparing what they discarded and the company's invoices, I've been able to identify what they took. This would have been the shipping records connected with the sale to an exporter in Darwin."

Everett examined the signalman's notes and nodded. "Do you think they might have kept the wrong records in an effort to mislead us?" he asked.

"I suppose this is possible," said Jenkins, "but the Fat Man's people have not demonstrated such subtlety in the past. They'd also have no reason to make the attempt, for they could have had no way of knowing the cabinet would be found."

"This shipper can hardly have wanted the vacuum tubes for his own personal use," Everett msued. "He will have been acting on behalf of some client who didn't wish to deal with the company directly. That certainly suggests it was one of our adversaries. It's difficult to imagine who else might wish to conceal a purchase of electronic valves."

"It also suggests we may need to venture to Darwin."

Everett allowed himself a smile. "It's only 1250 nautical miles away, and it's not as if we haven't visited the place before," he observed. "This might also give us an opportunity to learn how the search for Miss Wilcox and Miss Blaine is progressing."

Next week: Beware Of Her Wrath...

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