The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 339: The Rabbit Trap

The Rabbit?

Fenwick did his best to control his nervousness as he knocked on the door to the commander's office. Captain Michaelson's name was spoken with some respect in the Signal Corps. Now he was about to meet the great man himself.

"Who is it?" said a curt voice from the other side.

"Ensign Fenwick, reporting as ordered," said the signalman

"Enter," came the reply.

Fenwick took a deep breath and stepped through the doorway. Inside, a serious-looking officer with four gold braids on his sleeve was working his way through some paperwork. He glanced up as the ensign entered. "You would be my new signalman," he remarked, in much the same way that a chef might remark on an inferior grade of potatoes.

"Uh, yes sir," said Fenwick.

"I suppose it can't be helped," sighed Michalelson. "Pack your gear, then report to the R-87 ready for flight. We have business in Sydney."

Fenwick got little sleep during the flight from Cairns. He was young enough that travel by airship -- even something as modest as a Wolseley Class-- still seemed exciting. Also, he couldn't help but wonder what manner of `business' his superior had in mind. Like all members of the Royal Navy Airship Services' Signal Corps, he'd received some training in espionage. In his case, this had found a willing student.

Hawkesbury Royal Air Station was a busy facility, with other ships waiting to moor ahead of them, and it was mid-morning before their ship was on the mast. Michaelson and Fenwick rode the lift down to the field, where the senior captain sent their luggage on ahead to the visiting officer's quarters.

"We have two hours before I'm to meet Admiral Wentworth," he told Fenwick. "We must use these to best advantage. We're looking for an agent known as the `Rabbit'. We have no idea who this person is, who they're working for, or where they might be found, but we have reason to be concerned about this person's intentions."

"It sounds like an interesting problem, sir," said Fenwick. "How shall we begin?"

Michaelson glanced at the ensign as if noticing him for the first time. Was that a smile? wondered Fenwick. Surely not. A man of Michaelson's reputation would never be given to casual displays of emotion.

"Miss Perkins had an informant here," he replied, "a shopkeeper named Deeble. Will pay this man a visit."

Mister Deeble was not at his shop, but a few inquiries sufficed to locate the lodging house where he resided. Michaelson stared down the landlady, dropped a few shillings into her quaking hands, and waited while she unlocked the door to the man's room. Fenwick watched the transaction with interest, hoping to pick up a few pointers, then followed the senior captain inside.

"This place has been ransacked!" he exclaimed when he saw the interior. Overturned furniture, empty drawers, and rumpled articles of clothing lay strewn across the floor where they'd been left by the looters. Fenwick gazed at the ruin in wonder. "Do you think the fellow was kidnapped?" he asked.

"We must not be quick to leap to conclusions," Michaelson chided him. "Let us examine the evidence and see what it can tell us."

Fenwick had never searched a room before, but Signal Corps training was quite thorough about such things, and the two men went about the task with brisk efficiency. A short time later, Michaelson nodded in satisfaction.

"It's clear that Deeble left this place of his own accord." he announced.

"How can you tell, sir?" asked Fenwick.

"It's elementary," Michaelson told him. "I see no undergarments amidst this clutter. It's safe to assume Deeble possessed some articles of this sort, and these are hardly the sort of things a burglar or kidnapper would steal, so we must conclude that he packed them before he departed."

"Where could he have gone, and why?"

"We will make it our business to find out," said Michaelson. "But now I must pay my visit to the Admiral. Here is a list of contacts. Learn what you can from them, meet me in our quarters at 1300 hours, and try not to get into too much trouble."

Another man might have found it difficult, demanding, and dull to track down all the names on Michaelson's list, but Fenwick welcomed the opportunity. As a member of the Signal Corps, this was a chance to practice some of the skills he'd learned in training. By lunchtime, he'd interrogated every one of the contacts to determine what they might know of the missing Mister Deeble or the mysterious Rabbit. Unfortunately, the answers turned out to be 'not much' and 'nothing'.

He was making his way back to the air station, wondering how he would phrase his report to the senior captain, when he was accosted by two burly figures in laborer's garb.

"Boffle there, mate," growled one," I hear yer looking for the Rabbit."

"Perhaps," Fenwick replied cautiously. The men had look of brawlers and each one outweighed him by several stone.

"She Who Must Be Obeyed will have some questions for you. Come with us."

"What will happen if I refuse?" asked Fenwick.

The thug flexed powerful muscles, stepped forward, and grinned. "I reckon you're about to find out, mate," he announced.

The Royal Navy Airship Service Signal Corp believed that its members should be able to defend themselves against miscreants. Fenwick did so, straightened his jacket, and checked his watch. He should still be on time for his meeting with Michaelson if he hurried.

"So your assailants seemed to be working for She Who Must Be Obeyed?" said Michaelson.

"Yes, sir," said Fenwick. "Who is this woman?"

The senior captain rose, walked to the window, and gazed out onto the field -- a position that hid his expression from the ensign. "We have reason to believe she's the Lady Warfield," he remarked in an offhand voice. "She appears to have taken control of the British Union's network here in the South Pacific after we sent Baronet Moseley packing."

"So this She is not the Rabbit."

"It would seem not," said Michaelson. "From what your men said, it would appear the British Union is in as much mystery about his or her identity as we are."

"What shall we do now?" asked Fenwick.

"I know of an outfitter in Botany Bay who specializes in discreet travel arrangements. I've been reluctant to contact the man because his discretion might not extend to keeping our own affairs secret, but he might know what became of our Mister Deeble. We'll pay the man a visit."

The outfitter was much as Fenwick expected -- a furtive individual who kept glancing over his shoulder as if he expected see a bailiff waiting with a summons. His nationality was impossible to determine. He had a narrow skull, a receding hairline, and wide staring eyes that would not have looked out of place on a fish.

"Yes," he told them, "I know your man. He came to me looking for a place to hide."

"Where is he now?" asked Michaelson.

"You can hardly expect me to tell you," the outfitter said indignantly. "I'm a businessman, and I'd lose a lot of business if I couldn't keep secrets."

Michaelson reached into his jacket to produce a billfold. "A businessman, you say."

Fenwick watched the ensuing negotiations with interest. It wasn't often one had a chance to see a master at work. At last, money was exchanged for a name, Nattai-Bulli, and a promise to keep the exchange secret.

"Do you really think he'll keep the latter part of the bargain?" Fenwick asked as they made their way back to the tram station.

"No," said Michaelson. "I imagine he'll sell us out, the same way he did Mister Deeble. We will account for this in our plans."

Before Fenwick could ask how, two brutish louts armed with truncheons emerged from an alleyway to intercept them.

"Captain Michaelson," said one, "at last we have found you."

"I take it you're from the Rabbit," said Michaelson.

The man scratched his head, then raised his club menacingly. "I do not know what you mean, but you will come with us."

Michaelson sighed in exasperation and turned to his signalman. "Fenwick."

"At once, sir."

A brief flurry of fisticuffs sufficed to lay the men low. After they were down, Michaelson rummaged through their pockets to examine the contents. "These fellows are German, as I suspected," he announced after he'd finished.

"Goodness, Captain Michaelson, however did you deduce that?" asked Fenwick.

"It was elementary," said Michaelson. "They were carrying packs of Geisling cigarettes. These are quite popular in Germany, but difficult to obtain here in the Pacific. We can assume these are agents of the Fat Man. We must also note their curious response to my mention of the Rabbit."

"But they didn't respond when you mentioned the Rabbit," said Fenwick.

"That's what's so curious," Michaelson observed. "It suggests they've never heard of the fellow either. We'll leave these gentlemen here to reflect upon the error of their ways, head for Nattai-Bulli. and see if our Mister Deeble can shed any light on the matter."

They set off for Nattai Bulli the next morning. This proved to be a small coal mining town in the valley of the Wollondilly River, some distance to the west. It was a difficult place to approach without being seen. They could hardly travel by airship without being observed, and passage by train would require purchase of a ticket, with all the visibility this entailed. At last they managed to find a rancher willing to carry them there on his buckboard.

Afternoon found the two airmen making their way down the main street of a singularly unattractive mining village. Coal dust was everywhere, blanketing the streets, covering the walls, and darkening the windows of the three bars and one general store that seemed to be the settlement's only retail establishments. Michaelson studied their surroundings with satisfaction.

"Our Mister Deeble has committed a tactical error," he observed. "He's stranded himself in this remote spot with no avenue of escape and no way of getting word to any allies or confederates."

Fenwick thought this over, reflecting on the strange chain of circumstances that had brought them to this spot as well. "Sir," he said nervously, "couldn't the same be said for us? We too have isolated ourselves in a place where we have no means of communicating with the outside world. Could this be some manner of trap?"

"That's preposterous," said Michaelson. "Who could possibly have..."

"Who indeed?" came a voice from behind them.

They turned to see an unprepossessing figure regarding them with an ironic expression. Michaelson's eyes widened in surprise.


Next week: Waiting For The Train...

Comments about Episode 339? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit