Episode 311: The Rabbit Identity
Miss Perkins pulled a mirror out of her handbag and inspected her
makeup. When she was finished, she knocked on the door to Michaelson's
office. Inside, the senior captain was seated at his desk, surrounded by
the usual pile of paperwork. He glanced up as his secretary entered.
"I assume Everett has reached the Dutch East Indies by now," he remarked.
"He called at Timor yesterday," she replied. "There was no word of the
pirates in Kupang, so he's begun a systematic search of the outlying
islands, beginning in the Banda Sea."
The senior captain seemed amused. "He'll have his work cut out for him,"
he said. "The Resident will almost certainly have found a way to profit
from these aerial buccaneers, and he'll be doing his best to cover up their
Miss Perkins raised an eyebrow. "Did you see fit to inform Everett of this
Michaelson walked to the window and gazed onto the field, where one of the
Wollesleys was being rolled from its shed behind a handling dolly. If he
felt any contrition at withholding important information from his
subordinate, he gave no sign of this.
"The Captain is an intelligent man," he told her. "He should be able to
work it out by himself. And it doesn't matter whether he finds the pirates
or not as long, as he holds the Admiral's attention long enough for us to
determine why his office called off our investigation of the nationalists.
We will want to determine if they did this on their own initiative, on
orders from higher up, or because of the machinations of some agent."
Miss Perkins had expected this. "I assume you'll want me to make inquiries
in Sydney," she said.
Michaelson nodded. "I've already made the necessary arrangements here.
You'll have a week before your absence is noticed."
Miss Perkins flew from Cairns to Brisbane on a routine liaison flight -- time
might be of the essence, and she was confident of her ability to seem
another anonymous clerical worker. After debarking she made a circuit of
the town to shake any tails, then stepped into a shop near the corner of
Albert and Queen Street to make adjustments to her makeup and hair. She
entered a severe-looking brunette on verge of spinsterhood. She emerged
looking darker, livelier, and several years younger.
In this new disguise, she boarded a train for Sydney with a covey of young
women en route to find office jobs. As a secretary herself, she had no
trouble blending in. Their conversation was tedious -- a predictable round
celebrity gossip, fashion news, and speculation about marital prospects, but
she'd faced worse hardships in her life.
In Sydney, she took a room in a lodging house for unmarried girls. The
landlady -- a humorless matron who seemed determined that none of her
charges should enjoy the happiness she'd denied herself -- was easy to
outwit, and afternoon found Miss Perkins strolling along Darling Street.
She paused at a newsstand, studied the racks, and a caught the vendor's eye.
"I'll have a copy of the Daily Telegraph, a pack of Lucky Strikes, and a
Violet Crumble..." she paused, "...no, make that two."
The shopkeeper reached for a shelf. "Nice day if it don't rain," he
"It's because of the heat," she replied.
Satisfied by this exchange of counter-signs, the shopkeeper leaned forward
so they wouldn't be overheard. "I take it you're from the Ferret," he
said. "What does he want this time?"
"The Admiral's Office called off an investigation he was running. He wants
to know why."
The shopkeeper made a show of counting out change while he thought this
over. "I still have contacts in Hawkesbury," he told her. "I'll call in
some favors and see what they can tell me. Is there anything else?"
Now it was Miss Perkins's turn to be thoughtful. "Yes," she replied after a
moment, "I'd like to learn how the Admiral found out about the investigation
in the first place."
Fleming braced himself as the buckboard bounced over another series of ruts.
It was a somewhat less satisfactory means of transportation than his glider,
but he didn't have many alternatives. He'd left the wing behind, packed in
its cover bag where it would be safe from misadventure. Now he hoped he
could survive the ride.
Beside him, Abigail seemed entirely oblivious to the bumps and jolts. "You
must be chuffed to see me," she announced cheerfully. "You'd have been up a
gum tree, stuck out here in the middle of this gibby."
Perhaps, he thought, but it might also have been quieter.
"What are you doing out here in the bush?" he asked her.
"I'm on my way to visit relatives," she replied. "They have a station in
Pilbara where they're trying to introduce a poll gene into the Dorset Horn
"Are you quite sure you know the route?" he asked, in an attempt to
forestall the impending monologue.
"Dinki-di," she replied. "You just keep heading west until you reach the
Fleming wondered about this. There was no plausible reason for anyone to
be in this part of Australia unless they were lost. But he had no
opportunity to inquire further, for his benefactor had launched into a
detailed discussion of the relative merits of different varieties of
She was still chatting when they topped a rise to find a fence blocking
their path. They reigned in the wagon, hopped to the ground, and strode
over to examine the obstacle. Posts of white gum, spaced a dozen feet
apart, supported a waist-high barricade of barbed wire and wire netting.
Portions of the latter seemed to extend below ground. It could have been
substantial barrier... had it been more than a hundred yards long.
"What's this all about?" wondered Fleming.
"It looks like part of the Rabbit-Proof Fence," Abigail suggested. "See
how they buried the lower edge of the..."
"Perhaps," said Fleming, "but whatever is it doing here? I thought that
was supposed to be somewhere near Jigalong."
Abigail thought this over. "I suppose this is several hundred miles too
far east," she admitted. "Maybe someone read their map wrong. They say
this is the biggest cause of..."
Fleming sighed, then began to examine their surroundings. Experience
suggested that his companion wouldn't notice he was ignoring her as long
as he nodded and said, "Uh huh," at regular intervals. The fence itself
told no tales. Beyond it, a narrow-gauge rail line ran past from north to
south. He noted that the gauge was a 3' 6" -- the same as the line to
Darwin -- and filed this away for reference.
He was crouching to check the spikes for forge marks when Abigail cried out
"Look! Here come some riders!"
Fleming turned to see a party of horsemen crest the rise behind them.
Before he could react, they'd drawn guns and fanned out to surround him and
"Eivät liiku..." ordered the leader, "...don't move or we'll shoot!"
Abigail glanced back at the fence in surprise. "Hooly-dooly," she remarked
casually, "I never imagined a vermin-control structure could be so important."
Next week: Not Quite The Heart of Darkness...
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