Episode 400: Lieutenant Murdock's Wee Day Out
Lieutenant James T. Murdock whistled snatches of a popular melody as he
pedaled down Mulgrave Road. It was a fine day for a bicycle ride. By now
he was growing accustomed to Australia, and it no longer seemed strange to
see parrots flitting between the trees instead of sparrows. The behavior
of some of the Australians was another matter.
He reached the hardware store, coasted to a stop, and leaned his wheel
against the storefront next to a tattered advertisement for some touring
opera company. The young blonde shop mistress perked up when he entered.
"G'day, Jimmy!" she said cheerfully. "`Ow can I do you?"
It took Murdock a moment to realize who she was speaking to. Junior
officers in the Royal Navy were not accustomed to being addressed by their
first names. "I would like to purchase a bucket," he announced.
"Dinki di!" said the woman, taking him by the arm. The lieutenant thought
this an unnecessary courtesy -- surely he could find his way about the
store by himself. He also wondered why they seemed to be taking a long way
around, but it seemed uncharitable to complain.
The halted in front of shelf of buckets, where she handed him one of the
containers and patted him in an unexpectedly familiar way. "'Ere you go,"
she said coyly. "Are you sure you don't want anything more?"
"Um... thank you but no," Murdock replied.
The woman seemed to sigh. "Oh well."
The rider rose on the footpegs to guide the motorcycle over a series of
ruts, then glanced back over one shoulder. To the north, the Cook Highway
wound off into the distance -- a rough track cut into bluffs overlooking the
coast. The unsurfaced road was difficult at the best of times; in a few
more weeks, when the rains arrived, it would become an impassible sea of
A faint cloud of dust was moving some distance to the north. It might be
only a farmer's cart, but it could also be a pursuer. There was no point
in taking chances this late in the game, so the rider leaned over the
handlebars, rolled on more throttle, and pressed on ahead.
A pair of teenage girls paused to watch Murdock as he parked his bicycle
in front of the laundry. Why are they looking at me like that? he
wondered. Could there be something wrong with his uniform? He checked, but
could find nothing amiss. Shrugging his shoulders, he pushed on into the
The proprietress -- a young brunette with beguiling curls -- seemed
inordinately happy to see him. "Jimmy!" she exclaimed. "How can I help
Murdock consulted the list he'd brought from the air station. "I would
like to purchase some detergent," he told her.
The woman reached out to toy with his lapel. "I'd be happy to take care of
your cleaning... and anything else you might require," she suggested, with
what seemed like an unusual emphasis on the latter possibility.
The lieutenant coughed awkwardly, uncertain how to reply. "Thank you, but
that won't be necessary."
If the woman was disappointed by this response, she showed no immediate
sign of this. Taking his hand, she led him past a row of washing machines.
Most of the customers seemed to be young women. They giggled as he passed.
Murdock wondered at their excitement. Perhaps they were discussing some
When they reached the back of the store, the woman dragged out a stepladder.
"Would you hold this for me?" she asked.
"There's no need to go to so much trouble on my account..." Murdock began,
but his hostess was already climbing the steps. He blushed and looked away
while she rummaged around above him. As he did so, he noticed what seemed
to be a perfectly adequate supply of soaps on the shelf in front of him.
Why didn't she chose from those? he wondered. I suppose she
must have her reasons.
At last the woman dropped back to the floor, smoothed down her skirt, and
handed him a box of detergent.
"`Ere you go, Jimmy," she said. "Come back soon!"
The rider flung the motorcycle through another series of curves. Its
mighty single-cylinder engine echoed through the woods behind it. As
the road grew closer to Cairns, unspoiled jungle was giving way to
plantations of sugar cane, barley, and other broadacre crops. Traffic was
appearing as well, and the rider thundered past a succession of lorries,
utes, and motorcars. None gave the motorcycle a second glance.
Murdock's last stop was a cleaning supply shop. He hesitated, bracing
himself for he knew not what, then pushed open the door. Inside, a young
redhead looked up from her magazine and smiled.
"G'day Jimmy! What'll it be today?"
"I would like to purchase some wax," said Murdock.
The woman gave him a sidelong glance. "What kind of wax are you looking
for?" she asked. "Is it for anything... special?"
What special uses could wax possibly serve? He wondered. He
considered asking, but there was no telling where this might lead.
"This would be for a motor," he said.
The woman sighed for some reason he didn't understand, then beckoned
him to follow. "Come along and let's have a gander."
The search for a suitable wax took somewhat longer than Murdock expected.
His hostess also seemed to require an unnecessary amount of assistance
reaching for what turned out to be the wrong items. At last she smiled
and handed him a container of carnauba wax.
"Will this do?" she asked.
Why does she seem so breathless? he wondered. Perhaps it was some
allergic reaction to the wax. That might also explain why her blouse seemed
to be coming unbuttoned. He thanked her, excused himself as graciously as
he could, and made his escape.
The rider stopped after the bridge, studied the map taped to the
motorcycle's fuel tank, and breathed a sigh of relief. That must have been
the Barron River. This meant the air station was only a few miles ahead.
Kicking the bike into gear, the rider eased out the clutch and pulled back
onto the road.
Minutes later, the motorcycle was rumbling past a sentry who waved it
through, assuming it was a courier. Ahead, beyond the Administration building,
an airship was descending to a mooring. The rider watched it with a smile.
The journey was over. The race was won. Nothing could go wrong now.
Murdock set down the chamois cloth and stepped back to examine the results of
his labors. Captain Michaelson had found many ways to indicate his
displeasure with the crew of the Flying Cloud. In Murdock's case,
this involved cleaning and polishing the senior captain's prized Vauxhall
touring car. Still, punishments of this sort were one of the realities of
military life, and the lieutenant wasn't about to skimp on a job just because
it was intended as a reprimand.
Satisfied that the vehicle would bear inspection, Murdock climbed aboard to
drive it back to the motor pool. As he passed the Administration building,
he was distracted by an airship making its approach to the field. It might
only have been a Wollesley class courier on the daily run from Sydney, but
no airman could watch a mooring operation unmoved.
A motion caught his eye. He looked ahead to see a motorcycle round the
corner in front of him. He slammed on the brakes, but it was too late to
avoid a collision. With a crunch, the bike slammed into the Vauxhall's
ornate grill, catapulting the rider over the bonnet to land in Murdock's lap.
It took him a moment to recognize his new passenger.
"Miss Kim!" he exclaimed in surprise. "Whatever are you doing here?
Next week: Unwanted Interference...
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