The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 311: The Rabbit Identity

The non-Rabbit-Proot Fence

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 activities."

Miss Perkins raised an eyebrow. "Did you see fit to inform Everett of this possibility?"

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, ", make that two."

The shopkeeper reached for a shelf. "Nice day if it don't rain," he remarked.

"It's because of the heat," she replied.

"Darn shame."

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 breed..."

"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 Coongan River."

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 sheep.

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 in delight.

"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 his companion.

"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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