Episode 465: The Vacuum Tube Pirates of Melbourne
Everett studied the Fisherman's Bend Electronic Valve Company's factory.
It looked like an ordinary commercial building, but subtle clues, such as
the absence of workers, the police motor parked by the entrance, and the
gaping hole in the wall left by the previous night's explosion made it
clear to a perceptive observer that this had been the scene of a crime. A
pair of detectives was sifting through the wreckage. Everett watched their
progress, then turned to Pierre.
"Did you get a good look at the attackers' airship?" he asked.
"Non," Pierre said regretfully. "La dirigeable
was hidden by the night. I was unable even to estimate her dimensions or
number her engines. And I had little time for observations, for
les gendarmes were already on the way."
"You could hardly have anticipated these developments," Everett assured him.
"You did well to escape undetected. How did you manage to avoid notice by
The Frenchman made a dismissive gesture. "I descended to the first floor
and concealed myself in the shadows. When the gentlemen rushed up the
stairs, I followed them, posing as a fire marshal. I have found that no one
ever questions the presence of a fire marshal."
"I must keep this observation in mind," Everett mused. "Did you learn
anything more in your new guise?"
"Oui," said Pierre. "It seems there had been a previous attempt to
burglarize the building. The perpetrators fled without taking anything, but
the authorities had placed the establishment under watch. That is why they
were able to respond so quickly."
"One imagines the burglars made a reconnaissance to determine the location
of the files they were seeking before they committed the theft," said
Jenkins. "Do you think the British Union was involved?"
"I would expect more subtlety from the Warfields," Everett observed. "It
also must have taken considerable skill to hold the ship in position during
the operation, and I don't believe their organization commands the necessary
talent. That is the province of our German friends."
The signalman nodded. "They will have made their escape by now. Do we have
any idea where they might be headed?"
"Not at the moment," Everett admitted. "Let us see if the investigators
have discovered anything of relevance."
Since the crime had involved an airship, Everett no longer needed an excuse
to explain the Royal Navy's interest in the matter. He waited while Jenkins
saw to his jacket, then strode over to where the detectives were discussing
some anonymous fragment of wreckage. They greeted him as he approached.
"G'day, Captain!" one announced. "I see you've met Marshall Ney. Did he
tell you what all this is about?"
Jenkins glanced at Pierre and mouthed the words, "Marshall Ney?" The
"He has appraised us of the situation as it stood this morning," said
Everett. "Have there been any new developments since then?"
The detective produced a notepad from his pocket and began to flip through
it. "We've established that burglars only took a single filing cabinet.
Everything else -- receipts, petty cash, employees' personal effects -- was
left untouched. We spoke with the business-owners at length to establish
what the cabinet might have held..." implicit in the detective's tone was
the suggestion that anything someone went to such dramatic lengths to steal
must have held something illegal, "...but they assure us it only contained
shipping records. And oh yes, a provost at the University called to report
that something `fell through the roof' of one of their buildings last night.
Under ordinary circumstances, we might have dismissed this as a student
prank, but we dispatched a motor to look into the matter. Perhaps this
is it now."
He pointed up the street, where one of Holden Motor Body Builder's products,
painted in the colors of the local constabulary, was chugging down the lane.
It lurched to a halt before them, swaying on its springs, and the engine
sputtered to a stop. A door slammed and a Bobby emerged.
"What did you find, Pricewood?" the detective asked him.
The policeman smiled. "Dinki di!" he announced. As they watched, he walked
to the back of his van, tugged open the door, and gestured inside to
indicate a piece of furniture that had clearly seen better days. "I think
we know where that file cabinet got to."
Jenkins was already stepping forward with an RNR-982529E
Request To Sequester Evidence form.
"We'll give you a receipt for that," he announced.
"It was thoughtful of the German nationalists to discard this material
somewhere we could find it," Jenkins observed the next day. "Whatever were
Everett studied the debris. They'd moved it to the office they'd
requisitioned at the Point Cook Royal Air Station. Now it was spread across
a table, sorted and tagged by function, next to a row of neatly stacked
files. "They must have spent considerable ballast and hydrogen during the
burglary," he told his aide. "Conducting hoist operations for a prolonged
length of time can grow expensive. One imagines they decided to jettison
excess weight and underestimated the efficiency of Melbourne's police
services. What have you discovered?"
Jenkins gestured at the stacked papers. "They seem to have disposed of
everything except for the one record they were interested in. By comparing
what they discarded and the company's invoices, I've been able to identify
what they took. This would have been the shipping records connected with the
sale to an exporter in Darwin."
Everett examined the signalman's notes and nodded. "Do you think they might
have kept the wrong records in an effort to mislead us?" he asked.
"I suppose this is possible," said Jenkins, "but the Fat Man's people have
not demonstrated such subtlety in the past. They'd also have no reason to
make the attempt, for they could have had no way of knowing the cabinet
would be found."
"This shipper can hardly have wanted the vacuum tubes for his own personal
use," Everett msued. "He will have been acting on behalf of some client who
didn't wish to deal with the company directly. That certainly suggests it
was one of our adversaries. It's difficult to imagine who else might wish
to conceal a purchase of electronic valves."
"It also suggests we may need to venture to Darwin."
Everett allowed himself a smile. "It's only 1250 nautical miles away, and
it's not as if we haven't visited the place before," he observed. "This
might also give us an opportunity to learn how the search for Miss Wilcox
and Miss Blaine is progressing."
Next week: Beware Of Her Wrath...
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