"Pontoon" Jack Carnac
in
Hell hath the Hindenburg!

A 10-chapter novella

By Jeffrey Blair Latta



Previously:  In a secret Nazi base hidden in the Canadian Rockies, Herr Reichnizer plots to use a duplicate Hindenburg to spread an airborne strain of cholera throughout North America.  Dubois has secretly double-crossed the Nazis, stealing the payroll off the Hindenburg and giving Pontoon Jack a bomb to plant on the airship to destroy the evidence of his crime.  Reichnitzer wants Jack to pilot the airship, but Jack refuses.  To persuade our hero, Reichnitzer is about to whip Angelique to death...


Episode Ten (conclusion):

The Hell-Damner vs.
The Hindenburg!


Jack tried to break free again, a snarl on his lips, but the two guards were tall and powerfully built.  It was useless.

The girl turned away, pressing her face to the log wall.  She whimpered wretchedly.  Her clothes were already in tatters, her slender, trembling form nearly naked.

The Nazi lashed out with the whip.

It cracked across her supple white back, the sound deafening in the close confines of the cabin.  A scarlet weal was left behind, crossing from shoulder to the base of her spine.  She screamed and hugged the wall more tightly--but there was nowhere left to run.

Reichnitzer laughed brutally and flung the whip again.  Again, the stroke resounded.  Another weal crossed the first, the red hideously distinct against the pale of her skin.

At the first stroke, in the cage at the far end of the cabin, the monster had shot to its feet.  It lumbered forward to the bars.  At the second stroke, it clutched the bars and loosed a chilling sound--the haunting wail which Jack had heard once before in Toad Valley. Reichnitzer glanced at the beast, momentarily startled--then, seeing the creature still safely caged, turned back to his terrible task.

Again the whip cracked, and then again--and, with each stroke, the monster grew more and more frantic.  It tore at the bars, howling dismally--but to no avail.  The fears of the guards had been groundless.  The bars would not give, not even to that creature's Herculean thews.  Like Jack himself, it could only watch--watch as again and again the cracking lash licked at the writhing girl's smooth, white flesh.

Jack couldn't break free.  But he could reach the detonator in his jacket pocket.  His fingers contacted the small metal box.  Dubois noticed the motion, and a slight smile touched The Lynx's lips.  Dubois thought he knew what was going to happen.  But Jack had lied to him.  He had told the truth when he said he'd planted the bomb--he just hadn't told Dubois where.

"Agree to fly our airship or I swear I will flay the soft skin from her body!" panted Herr Reichnitzer, momentarily pausing in his sadistic task.  Then, when Jack did not immediately reply, he sucked in a breath and jerked back his arm, meaning to deliver yet another stroke.

In a tight, teeth-gritted snarl, Jack said: "Why don't you pick on someone your own size."

He pressed the detonator.  An explosion erupted--an explosion inside the cabin!

The sound was deafening, the blast hurling everyone from their feet, sending them tumbling as if caught in an avalanche.

For a moment, the air was thick with billowing smoke.  Slowly, stunned, Herr Reichnitzer climbed to his feet.  His monocle lay shattered on the ground.  He picked up the whip and looked at Jack, blinking in baffled amazement.  His voice was a venomous hiss.

"I don't know how you did that, but I promise you, you have just signed this fraulein's death warrant!"

Jack just smiled, cold, chillingly.  "I'm not your problem now, mein Herr," he said.  "He is."

The bush pilot nodded and the Nazi commander whirled quickly about--to find the blast had broken open the cage door!  Now the massive hulking shape of the monster strode through the opening.

He was a terrifying sight.  Smoke curled from his fur in long grey streamers.  His tiny eyes flamed with feral fury--fury at this puny thing which had dared whip the girl--the girl he loved in his own strange, inhuman way.

Herr Reichnitzer gave a horrified cry and mindlessly lashed out with the whip.

"Nein!  Back, I say!  Back!"

The whip struck the brute, but the monster barely even flinched.  Onward it came, lumbering forward through the smoke, a nightmare incarnation of rage and vengeance.  A snarl sounded from its deep, hairy chest.

The Nazi stumbled back, calling to his guards.  One had been knocked unconscious by the blast but the other bravely--and foolishly--stepped forward, brandishing his Sten gun.  With a single sweep of its massive arm, the creature hurled the guard into the wall.  The man slumped to the ground, most of his bones crushed to splinters.

With a shrill scream, Herr Reichnitzer turned and, hurling Michel aside, rushed out the door.  In a flash, the monster bounded after.  It moved with incredible swiftness, far faster than might be expected from such a huge, ungainly beast.

Now, only Dubois, Caribou Dan, Michel, and Angelique remained with the bush pilot.  Jack turned to Dubois.

"You tricked me," Dubois said in amazement.  He almost seemed amused.  "You planted the bomb on the cage to free the monster."

"It will do you no good, m'sieu," laughed Michel.

All eyes turned to Angelique's brother.  In the confusion, he had picked up one of the Sten guns and now covered the entire group with its deadly muzzle.

"I give you one last chance to agree to fly the airship.  No more games!  You have until the count of three.  Une...deu...trois--"

A gunshot barked, a single sharp crack.  Michel looked slowly down in dazed wonder at the red patch slowly spreading over his heart.  A last breath blew from his lips as he slumped to his knees, then onto his face.

Dubois stepped forward, his still-smoking derringer now directed at Jack.

"Well, mon vieux," he said with a careless laugh of self-deprecation.  "As you English say, 'You cannot win them all', uh?" Still covering Jack, he crossed the room and dragged the girl brutally to her feet.  She cried out in surprise, too weakened by her ordeal to put up resistance.  "I think it is per'aps time to...'cut my losses'?"

Dubois hauled Angelique to the door, Caribou Dan following.  The Lynx paused on the threshold.

"Adieu, Carnac--a la prochaine.  Do not try to follow me, mon vieux, or I promise I shall finish what our Nazi friend started.  As pretty as she is, I will not hesitate to kill her, if I must."

Caribou Dan chuckled loathsomely.

Dubois dragged the girl outside and down the path headed for the docks.  Jack sprang to the door--but, even as he reached it, there came a tremendous explosion as one of the Fokker Super Universals went up in flames on the lake!

Almost immediately, another explosion erupted, this one nearer at hand.  The adjacent cabin burst into flames, wood and debris filling the air.  Jack paused, mystified.

Then he heard a swish.  An arrow thudded into the door near his head.  A stick of dynamite, the fuse hissing, was tied to the arrow.  Jack didn't hesitate.  He hurled himself through the doorway and rolled clear just as the dynamite exploded with a deafening ka-boom!

Surging to his feet, Jack looked slowly around, but couldn't see where the arrow had come from.  He glanced back at the ragged hole, where the doorway had been.  Under his breath, he muttered angrily, "Skook...!"

"Pontoon!  Thank God, you are alive, mon ami!"

Jack whirled in surprise to find his burly friend bounding, somewhat lopsidedly,  down the path toward him.  The Metis carried his carbine in one big hand, the fringes on his jacket jouncing with each heavy stride.

Another explosion sounded, this one destroying yet another bushplane on the lake.

As Skook reached him, Jack looked at the engineer in bafflement.  "But if you're here--then who's causing all the explosions?"

Skook smiled, gold tooth glinting.  "I will explain later, uh?"

Another explosion.  Everywhere men were scrambling in a mad panic.  They didn't know where the attack was coming from, nor the number of their attackers.  They thought they were besieged by an army.  At least the confusion meant no one was paying any attention to Jack or Skook.

"Come on!"

The two men started down the path toward the docks.  Jack could make out Dubois just dragging the struggling girl aboard his black Bellanca Pacemaker.  As Caribou Dan clambered aboard, the freight door was closed and the engine roared to life.  By the time the pursuers reached the dock, the Bellanca was already speeding across the lake, climbing "onto the step", preparatory to take off.

Jack and the engineer scrambled aboard Jack's yellow Norseman.  The bush pilot grabbed up his goggles from the passenger seat and slipped them on.  He would need all the luck he could get.

The Wright Whirlwind powerplant awoke with a deep, eager growl.

But then Jack chanced to look out through the windshield.  His jaw dropped.  Over the serried jackpines at the far end of the lake, a colossal grey leviathan rose slowly into view.  Panicked by all the explosions, the crew of the duplicate Hindenburg was making a get-away!

Reichnitzer had wanted Jack to pilot the craft, but apparently the crew meant to make a break for it, pilot or no pilot.

Higher and higher the zeppelin rose, sun flashing from her silvery flanks--then she began to move ponderously forward.  Out over the lake she cruised, like a whale, her vast shadow covering everything beneath in dismal gloom.  She passed over the Norseman.  Jack began to taxi the bushplane out onto the lake.  The vials of cholera were still aboard the airship; he knew he couldn't let it escape.

But he couldn't let Dubois get away with the girl, either.

The Norseman roared onto the lake, gathered speed and sprang into the air, leaving a long frosty wake in the water behind.  As he cleared the treetops, Jack could see Dubois' Bellanca coming back around in a wide circle.  What was the villain up to?  he wondered.  Then he realized The Lynx was headed straight back for the Hindenburg.  Jack tilted his wings as he changed course to intercept the Bellanca.

The man must be crazy.  But, no--the Bellanca rose until it was going to pass just above the airship.  Suddenly, Jack saw the freight door fling wide.  In the opening, the girl was struggling in the arms of Caribou Dan.  The stocky engineer was evidently intent on throwing her out of the bushplane.  Then, as the Bellanca passed over the nose of the Hindenburg, the dreadful deed was accomplished.  The girl tumbled through the doorway, hit the float, then plunged down--down toward the airship cruising just beneath.

It was a trick to keep Jack from pursuing Dubois--a ruthless trick that only a madman would have contemplated.  A madman or a man totally without scruples.

Caribou Dan had obviously meant for the girl to land atop the airship, but her struggling had caused him to throw her out too soon.  The girl would have fallen to her death, but she managed to grab the nose mooring line as she fell.  There she hung, beneath the airship, swinging helpless on the rope.

"Skook!"

"I see 'er, Pontoon!  You concentrate on flying, I will get 'er, if I can!"

The Norseman roared as Jack gave it full throttle.  The girl couldn't hold on for long.

"Just like that old barnstorming stunt we used to do in Edmonton, all right, Skook?"

The engineer had now clambered out onto the right float.  If Skook heard the pilot over the screaming air, he gave no sign of it.  He climbed forward of the wings, almost to the tip of the pontoon, clinging to the struts for balance against the wind.  His moccasins slithered on the aluminum float.  His red mouchoir blew off his shaggy head.

He signalled to Jack that he was ready.

But now Jack had other things to worry about.  Having thrown out the girl, Dubois wasn't done with his mischief.  Not by a long shot.  The Bellanca continued its course, skimming just above the curved spine of the airship.  Then, as it reached the tail, something small and sparkling was tossed out the cabin window.  For a moment, Jack was mystified.  What could it be?  Even as the Bellanca expertly side-slipped past the towering swastika-clad tail fin, the small object fell onto the airship--and exploded.

A stick of dynamite!

The effect was immediate and devastating.  The airship was filled with massive bags of hydrogen.  Now, the first, nearest the tail, erupted into a seething cloud of curling orange fire and thick black smoke.

Jack swallowed but didn't alter his course.  The airship was like a mountain as the bushplane dived toward its great gleaming bulk.  Jack throttled back as much as he dared, using full flaps, slowing the Norseman almost to stalling speed.  The girl seemed like a tiny insect dangling on a spider web.  She grew larger, more distinct, until he could make out her slender white legs thrashing in the air, the terror on her beautiful face...

And then Skook caught her in his brawny arms, almost falling off the pontoon as her sudden weight hurled him back against a strut.

But there wasn't time to celebrate.  They were in deadly danger.  One by one the hydrogen-filled gasbags were erupting into flame just overhead.   The vast bulk of the airship seemed to fill the sky, the airship sinking down onto the Norseman as it lost lift.  It blotted out the sun, the sky, so close Jack felt he could have brushed the doped fabric with the top of the bushplane's wings.

Ahead, through the windshield, Jack could see an advancing wall of flame rushing towards him.  There was no way to avoid it.  Seeing the flame, Skook desperately hauled the girl inside.  Jack took a deep breath.  The bushplane entered the inferno.

For a moment, the world became a hell of roaring fire, blackened fluttering fabric and white-hot molten aluminum as the Norseman flew straight through the doomed and plummeting giant.  The furnace heat cooked the very air.  The girl screamed in shrill panic...

And then, the flames parted and the Norseman rocketed out into clear blue sky!

The all-wood fabric-covered craft was blackened and trailing long streamers of smoke, but by a miracle it had not caught fire.  Not for nothing, Jack reflected amazedly, was the Norseman called the "Hell-damner".  This time, it had truly lived up to its name.

Jack let out his breath and glanced behind.  Skook looked up from the floor where he lay atop the trembling figure of the girl.  He laughed shakily.  "I lost my mouchoir," he said.

"I'll buy you another one," Jack smiled.

But Dubois' trick had worked.  The Lynx had got away--for now.

Seeing there was no point in pursuing his foe, Jack brought the Norseman slowly around.  He watched as the false Hindenburg settled slowly to earth, the whole thing dissolving into a mass of seething, writhing flame.  By chance, the airship had gotten as far as the lake where Jack had originally put down his bushplane.  Now, as the zeppelin landed hissing into the cooling black waters, thick, ebony smoke rising in a billowing column, it occurred to the bush pilot that there could be no better place for it.

The Nazi plot had reached its climax within site of Josef Oleskow's cabin.  Josef Oleskow was there to see it end.

***
The Norseman was still low on fuel so Jack was forced to return to the Nazi base.

As the bushplane taxied up to the dock, Kachesy was there to greet them.  She brandished her bow in a victorious salute, a wide grin lighting her gamine features.  Disembarking, Skook introduced the bush pilot to the slender Native girl, explaining that it had been she who had fired the dynamite into the camp.

Jack decided not to mention how close she had come to blowing his head off with her dynamite!

Kachesy told them that the men had all fled into the woods.  Thinking they were under attack by an army, it wasn't likely they would return for some time.  Just the same, Jack didn't want to stick around any longer than he had to.  He gave Angelique his jacket to cover her nakedness, then the four companions went in search of the crate of antitoxin.  They found it in a cabin along with his Colt and tomahawk.

As he holstered his Colt and slipped the tomahawk into the loop on his belt, Jack regretfully commented: "Too bad Dubois got away with the payroll.  That snake--if not for that, I'd say things had turned out pretty well."

The others looked at him puzzledly and he recalled that they didn't know about The Lynx's plan to rob the Nazis of their payroll.  But, even as he told them about it, Angelique gasped suddenly, then started to laugh.

"I over'eard M'sieu Reichnitzer talking to one of 'is men," she explained to the bush pilot's wondering glance.  "'E 'ad no intention of paying men who 'e thought would be dead soon anyway.  The payroll was counterfeit!"

"Counterfeit?"  Jack stared--then started to laugh himself.  "Dubois tried to double-cross the Nazis, only to be double-crossed himself!  That's what he gets for working for rats like that!"

Skook was laughing too.  "Thing's worked out after all, eh, mon vieux?"

Just then, as they stepped back out onto the path, the burly engineer jerked to a sudden halt.  "Pontoon!  Look there!  The footprints of that monster!"

Jack looked and saw the fifteen inch prints of Keewaykeno in the soft soil of the path.  Along with the beast's tracks were the prints of Herr Reichnitzer's jackboots, the one obviously pursuing the other.

"Come on," Jack said, and started to follow both tracks.

The footprints led the group down the pathway and into the woods.  Then Jack broke out of the undergrowth, and stopped.  The tracks vanished as pursuer and pursued crossed the open stony space.  The others joined him.

"Well, we 'ave lost them," Skook said with a rueful shake of his shaggy head.

"Maybe not."

Jack started forward again, crossing the stone to the edge of the muskeg.  He stopped and pointed.  "Look there."

The others gathered around and stared.  Out in the open green "meadow", one of the swastika armbands floated atop the matted surface of muskeg.  Glancing down, Jack saw the marks left on the edge of the deadly morass--the marks of a terrible struggle.  He could read those marks as easily as if he had been here to witness the battle in person.

"What 'appened, Pontoon?" Skook asked bewildered.

"The monster caught up with Reichnitzer here," Jack explained evenly.  "They fought and, in the struggle, both fell into the muskeg."

Angelique gasped.  "'Ow 'orrible!"  She seemed unable to take her wide eyes off the armband.  "Mais, pour quoi?  Why would that awful monster do such a thing?"

Jack glanced down into the girl's softly glowing features.  The wind caught her hair, teasing it like silken smoke.  Her dark eyes glittered, filled with mysterious, magical highlights.  Once again she seemed a creature from another world--a world of soft lights and gay music.  A world as distant, as untouchable as the moon.  The bush pilot swallowed.

"I guess we'll never know," he said thickly.

For a moment, silence settled over the scene.  The North itself seemed briefly to pause, the wind in the spruces hushing, white clouds stilling against the wide blue of the hinterland expanse--a moment of welcome calm in an unforgiving land of endless threat and perilous adventure.

Then Pontoon Jack shifted the package of antitoxin he carried, cleared his throat and said, "Let's go refuel the wing tanks on the Hell-damner, eh, Skook?  We've still got this medicine to deliver to Fort Simpson.  We can get a message to the Mounties from there.  We'll let them worry about the men who got away, that's more in their line, anyway."

He laughed and turned to go.  "I'm just a bush pilot!"

The End.






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Hell hath the Hindenburg is copyright 2000, Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)