The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 421: So That's What Was Inside

MacKiernan holding a teapot

MacKiernan and Wilcox edged their way around the hole in the floor of the office, keeping an eye out for more traps, until they reached the poster. When they took this down, they found the safe they'd expected. They had no way to open it, of course -- Lieutenant Wilcox's talent for practical jokes didn't extend to safe cracking -- so they had to return to the launch to fetch an axe, chop the thing free of the wall, and muster the crew to help them drag it down to the wharf.

"If the Fat Man still has agents here on Totiw, they might notice this is missing," Wilcox remarked as they manhandled the safe onto a sledge they'd fashioned from fallen rafters left by the collapse of the deadfall.

"They might also notice all the traps we triggered," MacKiernan said wryly.

Wilcox looked around the settlement. The fire from the cauldron of burning oil might have died down, and the generator that powered the electrified doormats might have run out of fuel, but the street was littered with debris from the explosion in the village laundry, smoke still rose from the ruins of the florist shop, and a frantic squawk sounded whenever one of the escaped cassowaries wandered too close to the pool of piranhas that now filled most of the beer garden.

"I believe you're right, sir," he replied. MacKiernan glanced at the lieutenant, but as always, Wilcox was maintaining a straight face.

It took the combined efforts of the airmen and crew to ease the safe aboard the launch without sending the craft to the bottom. This left the vessel dangerously overloaded, but a cautious five-hour passage, early the next day when the waters were calm, brought them back to Weno. There the Administrator provided a lorry so they could haul their prize to an unused warehouse without attracting attention.

After the safe had been unloaded and levered atop a platform of timbers, they gathered around to examine it. It was an ancient Chubb product from the middle of the previous century -- a massive block of cast iron held together by rivets the size of Abercrombie's fists. Two brass keyholes were set in the door.

"Why didn't the nationalists empty it and take its contents with them when they abandoned their base on Totiw?" Miss Perkins wondered.

"It appears they tried, but were unable to open it," said Wilcox, pointing to one of the keyholes, where the remains of a broken key testified to a losing battle between British craftsmanship and the salt-filled island air.

"We may have the same problem," said the secretary. "Even Pierre couldn't pick a lock if it was rusted shut."

"We may also have a solution," said the Administrator. He spoke a word to his aide. The man left the building and returned a few minutes later accompanied by two machinists carrying high-speed carbide-tipped power saws.

MacKiernan raised an eyebrow when he saw the tools. "Wherever did you get those?" he asked.

Their host shrugged as if he'd never thought the matter significant. "We intercepted a shipment from Australia to the Fat Man's people sometime last year. If I remember correctly, these were part of it."

"Would this have been between June and August?" Miss Perkins asked sharply.

"I believe so," said the Administrator. "Why do you ask?"

The secretary glanced at MacKiernan. He nodded back. This was around the time the nationalists had shipped a cargo of saw blades to Australia's North Territory to cut open the safe in the secret White Russian laboratory. "This coincides with a similar shipment we discovered last July," he told the Administrator. "Captain Michaelson might be in a position to investigate the matter. If you could provide us with information about the shipment, we'll forward this to Cairns."

"I will consult our records after we're done here," said the Administrator. "Now we shall see what's inside this strongbox."

In its day, Chubb's 1850 model wall safe had been considered unbreakable, but engineering -- particularly the aspects related to the design and manufacture of cutting tools -- had come a long way since the Crimean War. It took them several saw blades, but soon the machinists cut through the back of the safe. This fell to the floor with satisfying a crash. Inside, they saw several shelves stacked with packages wrapped in oil cloth. The Administrator rubbed his chin for a moment, then found a long stick and gave one of the packages a prod. Satisfied there were no traps, he pulled the thing out and undid the fastenings.

"Interesting," he said when he was done. He held up his discovery for the others to see. It was a large silver crucifix, obviously quite old, that appeared to be of Spanish workmanship.

"Whatever was that doing in the nationalists' hide-out?" wondered MacKiernan. "They don't strike me as the kind of fellows who'd go in for such things."

"They seem to have made a habit of collecting religious artifacts," the Administrator told them. "According to our intelligence sources, they even sent a team to Egypt to search for the Holy Grail... or perhaps it was the Ark of the Covenant. I imagine they looted this from some Spanish mission. Let us see what these other packages contain."

The other packages held more altar furnishings of the same vintage as the crucifix, the usual smattering of oddly-shaped gold tiaras and ornaments of alien design one could find anywhere in the South Pacific, and a fine silver tea service inscribed with the message `A gift from Her Majesty and the captain, officers, and crew of the HMS Charybdis'.

MacKiernan picked up the teapot. "This must have been left sometime during the reign of Queen Victoria," he observed.

"That doesn't do much to narrow things down," Miss Perkins remarked dryly.

"Quite," MacKiernan admitted. He turned to their host. "I wonder if some of these things could have come from the island we're looking for. Do you have anyone here on Truk who could trace them?"

"None that I would trust to keep the matter a secret, and people on these islands do love to gossip," said the Administrator. "So far, the nationalists can have no way of knowing who arrived on your airship or any reason to connect you with the expedition to Totiw. Are you willing to put this advantage at risk?"

"Not if we can avoid it," said Miss Perkins. "Perhaps we can find information elsewhere. Do you mind if we borrow these objects for a few weeks?"

MacKiernan glanced at her, surprised by the interruption. The Administrator seemed unperturbed. "I'll write you a receipt," he said.

Next week: A Surprising Inspector...

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