Episode 467: Dauntless Damsels of Darwin
Clarice and Emily leaned against the aft rail of the
Tranquility, watching the island of Timor recede behind them. A
bluff workboat was steaming along the shore toward the harbor they’d just
left. Her lines looked vaguely familiar, but it was difficult to make out
details from this distance, and the two young women were too busy
discussing their recent adventure to pay the vessel much attention.
"That was fun!" Emily announced. "Did you see the guard's expression when
we nicked their motor? It was a real corker!"
"Bob's your uncle!" said Clarice. "It's a pity that bizzo's all over."
Emily gestured toward the west. "Perhaps Captain Ray could run us back to
Kupang," she suggested.
Clarice considered the prospect. "No," she decided regretfully. "Been
there, done that. We'll have to see what we can find in Darwin."
"Dinki di," said Emily. "Now let's have a look around this ship."
The Tranquility was a typical island freighter -- a small steamship
of 2500 tons burden, retired to the Pacific after service in more rigorous
climes. Her crew were a varied lot. Many were veterans -- the couple who
served as mate and helmsman seemed to have met aboard after the Peace.
Others had more ambiguous backgrounds. Sal, the bosun, was a tough-looking
bushranger who might have stepped straight from the Kelly Gang.
Captain Ray seemed happy to chat with his passengers about the rigors of
life in the islands. These didn't seem too demanding. "Most of us served in
the War," he told them. "I suppose we came here to forget. Now we knock
around the Pacific, picking up cargoes where we can. It doesn't pay big
bickies, but it's a living."
"What brought you to Motaain?" asked Emily.
"Coffee," said Ray. "Garwert had 300 tons on consignment for delivery to
Manila. We getting ready to ship it when you arrived"
"I'm sorry we interrupted your deal," said Clarice.
"No worries," said Ray. "We'd already picked up a good cargo from Darwin.
We'll nip back there, drop you off, and be on our way."
"They'll be surprised to see you again so soon."
Ray chuckled. "That they would. That police chief of yours is quite the
stickybeak. But I'll heave to offshore and take you in with the motor
launch. That will save us some hassles with Mister Channel, and also save
us harbor fees."
The weather deteriorated during the passage south, isolated squalls give
way to continuous curtains of rain. By the time they reached Darwin, the
Wet was well-underway, and the town was almost obscured by the downpour.
No one took any notice of the Tranquility's launch as it threaded
his way through the harbor, and soon Clarice and Emily were stepping ashore.
"Ta-ta!"Emily called out to their erstwhile host as he backed away from the
wharf. "Thanks for the ride!"
"It was my pleasure!" the captain called back. "Give me a shout the next
time you have a motor for sale!"
The two women watched the launch head out to sea, then glanced to verify
that nothing had changed during their absence. No ships were in port, and
the docks were empty except for a few hapless stevedores dragging pallets
back to a warehouse. To the east, they could make out a single Wolesley
class moored at the air station. Even from this distance, Clarice
imagined she could see rain dripping from the hull.
"I wonder why they called here," she wondered. "It must have been expensive
in this weather."
Emily nodded. Rain would have added to the weight of the envelope, forcing
the crew to discharge ballast that could never be recovered. Small vessels
such as the Wolesleys suffered more from this due to their higher surface
area to volume ratio. "They must be a mail packet," said the blonde.
"Remind me why we came back to here ourselves?"
"We need new shoes," said Clarice. "We've been wearing these for yonks.
While we're shopping, we can ask around the freight offices to see if there's
any news of this ore everyone's going on about."
There seemed no reason to object to this plan, so the two set off. The
streets around them were almost deserted, for most of the inhabitants had the
good sense to remain indoors. As they made their way down Mitchell Street,
they saw an aristocratic figure striding through the rain ahead, wielding an
umbrella as if it was a weapon. Emily dragged Clarice to cover in an alley.
"That looks like Baron Warfield!" she whispered.
Clarice peered around the corner. "Strewth!" she whispered back. "What's
he doing in Darwin?"
"Let's follow him and find out!"
"What if he sees us?" asked Clarice.
"No worries," Emily assured her. "Jenkins gave me a few pointers for this
sort of thing."
The blonde's confidence proved justified, for the baron's umbrella made him
easy to spot from a distance, and he seemed singularly lacking in what
Jenkins referred to as `tradecraft'. He paused in front of an office,
examined the address, then stepped inside. Moments later, he emerged with a
smug expression on his face, as if he'd discovered something of particular
importance. As Clarice and Emily watched, he set off toward the air station.
"That must be the ship he stole from the Americans, here under a false
registration," marveled Clarice. "Unless someone looked closely, she'd be
easy to mistake for a Wolesely. What should we do?"
"Discover what he was about!" said Emily. Without waiting for a reply, she
seized the brunette's hand and set off for the office the baron had left.
Inside, they recognized John Decker, a local freight forwarder.
"Why, it's Clarice and Emily!" he exclaimed as they entered. "What brings
you here today?"
"Bizzo," said Emily with a conspiratorial wink. She gestured toward the
street. "What was that toff about?"
"He wanted information about a shipment of vacuum tubes," said Decker.
"This was hardly a secret, and he offered big bickies, so I gave him the
oil. It arrived here from Melbourne for consignment to some port in
Indochina -- details were in an envelope that came with the shipment.
Captain Ray took it aboard the Tranquility two weeks ago. He
must be on the other side of the Java Sea by now."
Clarice thought this over, then jotted down a quick note. "Thanks, John,"
she told him. "Could you see that this gets to Captain Everett of the
Royal Naval Airship Service if he calls before we return?"
Decker accepted the note with a smile. "Dinki-di," he assured her. "Is he
some mate of yours?"
Clarice scowled at the shipper. "In yer boot!"
"We need to get word to Royal Navy somehow," Clarice told Emily after they
were back on the street.
The blond thought this over. "We'll want to send a wire to Cairns," she
decided. "But we'll need to do this without being noticed."
A chuckle sounded behind them. "I'm afraid it's too late for that."
They turned to see Lady Warfield, accompanied by a figure with the
proportions of a terrain feature. They recognized Bludge. It would have
been difficult not to.
The baroness smiled. "Lord Warfield instructed our butler to watch for
anyone who might be following him. I trust you can appreciate his
Next week: We're Checking It Twice...
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