Episode 469: Weighty Matters
Rain drummed on the tin roof of the shack that served Darwin Air Station as
an operations building, rattling the panels and dripping from the eaves.
It seemed the vaunted improvements to the station hadn't extended to its
administration facilities -- either that, or the contractor hadn't offered
George Channel the necessary bribe. Inside, Everett and Jenkins examined
the logbook while Reserve Lieutenant Dabney looked on. At last Everett
tapped the most recent entry.
"According to your records, a Wolesley class, the R-387, called on the 5th
and departed yesterday," he told his host. "We have reason to believe these
people may have misrepresented themselves. Can you recall anything
noteworthy about their visit?"
"It wasn't a biggie," said the lieutenant. "According to their customs
declaration, they were a government mail packet en route to Sydney.
They had some bizzo in town, but I never did learn what this was about."
"Did you get a look at any of the ship's officers?"
"Dinki-di," said Dabney. "The master was quite the toff, and the first mate
was a dangerous-looking sheila with dark hair."
"That would seem to describe Baron Warfield and his lady," Jenkins remarked
"So it would," agreed Everett. "Was there anything unusual about the vessel
"Perhaps," said the lieutenant. "It looked slightly crook, like those
copies of the Wolseleys Goodyear's building under license. Who are these
"They're a pair of adventurers from England who've taken over the British
nationalist movement in the Pacific for their own ends. Their ultimate
goal remains to be determined, but they seem to be in race with the German
nationalists to locate a shipment of vacuum tubes that's bound for a secret
laboratory the Japanese nationalists established to recreate a weapon
devised by the White Russian nationalists for use against the Red
Dabney frowned. "How many of these nationalist groups are there?"
"We will hope this accounts for most of the lot," said Everett. "They're
challenging enough to keep track of as it is."
"What were the Warfields doing in Darwin?"
"Here's where the picture becomes complicated," said Everett, ignoring the
lieutenant's raised eyebrows. "The vacuum tubes were sent to a freight
forwarder here, who shipped them out aboard a freighter named the
Tranquility along with a sealed set of instructions regarding their
ultimate destination. The freighter left port a week ago, but returned
yesterday to bring back two residents of Darwin, Emily Wilcox and Clarice
Blaine, who encountered the vessel on Timor."
"Emily and Clarice are back?" said Dabney. "Bonzer! I thought they'd left
town with their aunt. Where are they now?"
Everett sighed. "It appears they've been kidnapped by the Warfields, who
will have left to search for the Tranquility in the Java Sea,
unaware that the vessel doubled back to Darwin."
The lieutenant didn't seem thrilled by this news. "Strewth!" he exclaimed.
"I'm not looking forward to breaking this news to the lady who's coming up
The airmen glanced behind them to see Aunt Prodigia striding through the
rain toward the shack, Iverson and Sarah in tow. They were drenched.
She was steaming. She flung open the door like some challenger throwing
down a gauntlet.
"Right!" she thundered. "What have you done with my nieces?"
Everett knew better than to accept the accusation. His long contest with
Michaelson had acquainted him with this strategy, and suggested ways to
reply. "I gather that they arrived yesterday," he replied calmly. "Not
finding you here, they took it upon themselves to investigate a shipment
of vacuum tubes we believe was destined for the same people who pirated
your salvage. This brought them to the attention of Lord and Lady Warfield
of the British Union, who were visiting Darwin in disguise, and carried
them off on their airship. We are attempting to determine where they've
The matron's eyes narrowed. At last she nodded, either in acceptance of
the olive branch or because she recognized there was more than enough blame
to go around. "Very well," she said gruffly. "What have you learned?"
"I'd be happy to tell you what we know so far," said Everett.
Aunt Prodigia listened with interest while the captain repeated the story
he'd told Dabney. When he was finished, she grinned. It seemed she
appreciated the irony.
"So the Warfields will all be searching the Java Sea for a freighter that
isn't there because it turned back to carry my nieces to Darwin after their
man Fuller dropped them off in Kupang," she chuckled.
"So we can surmise," said Everett. "We'll wish to take this opportunity to
find the Tranquility and determine where its cargo was to be delivered.
We'll also wish to intercept the Warfields to rescue your relatives."
One didn't manage a salvage company without some grasp of logistics.
"You'd have to be in two places at once," the matron observed dryly.
"Quite," Everett admitted. "This could be a bit of a poser."
"No worries," said Aunt Prodiga. "You take chase down this Baron
chappy with your airship and I'll find the Tranquility."
Jenkins cleared his throat. "Will it be possible to do this in a timely
fashion?" he asked. "Your salvage tug, for all of its many virtues,
cannot be significantly faster than your quarry."
"No, but Stevens at the naval station owes me a favor. He can take me
out in the Thunderbird."
The signalman seemed dubious about this prospect. "This would be the
gunboat that Mister Fuller torpedoed back in April when our airman
Fleming was aboard?" he asked.
"Bob's your uncle," said the matron. "Stevens is looking for a rematch
with that wanker!"
Everett repressed a sigh. He'd grown acquainted with the Australian habit
of regarding everything as a sporting event. "I can find no fault with
this plan," he said, glossing over the fact that he hadn't tried. "The
only refinement I might suggest would be adding an experienced w/t
operator to facilitate communications. I believe Jenkins is the
appropriate choice for this role."
"Are you sure this is our most efficient allocation of resources?" Jenkins
asked as he and Everett made their way back to the ship.
The captain smiled. "I should be able to manage by myself for a time,
and Miss Perkins can most certainly handle any coding and decoding tasks
that might arise. We will wish to send a representative along on Aunt
Prodigia's expedition to address matters she can be counted on to
overlook. The only other candidate would be Pierre, and as a civilian,
he might not carry the necessary authority."
Jenkins nodded. It was clear the signalman wasn't looking forward to
this assignment. "This may prove to be a substantial undertaking," he
"We will console ourselves with the knowledge that there are only
13,466 islands in the Dutch East Indies," Everett said cheerfully. "It
shouldn't take long to search them all."
Next week: How Hard Can It Be To Find A Baron?...
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