"Pontoon" Jack Carnac
in
Hell hath the Hindenburg!

A 10-chapter novella

By Jeffrey Blair Latta



Previously: Pontoon Jack and his Metis engineer, Skook, were hijacked in their Norseman bushplane by their passenger, Monsieur Robitaille, and a French-Canadian girl who may or may not have come willingly herself. With the passengers was a mysterious strong box wrapped with chains. With Skook unconscious, Pontoon was forced to fly due west guided by a direction-finder held by Robitaille, and land on a lake in the foothills of the Rockies, where a prick on the neck put our bush pilot to sleep, as well....



Episode Two:

"A 'Orrible Monster!"


Jack awoke groggily, opening his eyes and blinking against the lurid glare through the windshield.

The first thing he saw was Skook leaning in the open cockpit door. The burly engineer stood on the left float, one hand just drawing back, having evidently shaken the pilot awake. Immediately, a look of deep concern was replaced with a broad smile, as the Metis saw Jack had recovered. In that smile, a gold tooth glittered, a gift from a miner during Skook's days on the Yukon. Klondike gold.

"Sapristi!" the bearded engineer exclaimed in relief. "I thought per'aps you would never awake. You gave me quite the scare, mon vieux. Quite the worry, uh?"

Jack rubbed the back of his neck, scattered thoughts only slowly coming together. After a moment, he turned and searched the gloom in back. Both Robitaille and the girl were gone--but they had left something behind. They had left the metal strong box, still wrapped up with chains and padlocks.

"What 'appened, Pontoon?' asked Skook, when Jack turned back around. "I do not recall being struck, mais..." He scratched his head, puzzled.

"I think this answers your question." Jack reached down between the seats and picked up a metal needle and syringe. "Some sort of sleeping drug, I'd guess."

Skook stepped back a little from the doorway and cast his gaze out over the surrounding blue lake and lush, emerald hills. "But 'ow do we come to be 'ere? And where are we?"

Briefly, Jack related what had transpired since Skook had lost consciousness. When he finished, he rose and clambered into the back. He studied the strong box a moment, considering. Then he searched through the tools in among the crates until he found a crowbar.

"Well," he said, "if we want answers, I guess this box would be as good a place to start as any."

He positioned the crowbar under the chain, gloved hands fixing on the grey shank. He clenched his teeth, heaved against the bar...

"S'arret!" Skook appeared suddenly in the open cargo door. "Wait, Pontoon! You mustn't!"

Jack let up on the bar and regarded his friend in surprise. "What's the matter with you?"

The engineer thrust a piece of paper into the pilot's hands. Skook's eyes were wide with alarm. Mystified, Jack unfolded the paper and read. The message was hastily written, and obviously left by Robitaille.

It said: "Monsieur Carnac, do not open the box. It would mean the end of the world!"

Jack frowned, eyes narrowing. "The end of the world?" He shook his head doubtfully, then eyed the box with the wary glint of a wolf eyeing a leghold trap. "You think it's a trick?"

"Je ne sais pas, mon ami. Mais..." The Metis' voice grew deadly serious. "...I would 'ardly want to take the chance it is the truth, uh? Not if it means the end of the world!"

Reluctantly, the pilot nodded, conceding the point. However unlikely, until they knew more, it would be best not to tamper.

"But why would Robitaille, if that is his name, why would he leave the box behind? And why warn us?"

"Per'aps it was not 'e who left the note," Skook ventured. "The girl, mabbe she left the message, uh?"

Jack hadn't thought of that. "Maybe," he nodded slowly. "But that still doesn't explain why he would leave the box behind." And then he noticed something else. He cursed under his breath.

"Qu'est que c'est?" Skook asked.

"The crate with the antitoxin for Fort Simpson--it's gone. Damn."

The engineer scratched his tangled beard, perplexed. "But why should 'e take that? What possible use could those medicines be to 'im?"

Jack could only shake his head, as baffled as his friend. "I don't know, but one thing's for sure. A lot of people will die if we don't get that crate back."

Casting a final blistering glance at the strong box, Jack reached back over the cockpit seats and grabbed up the binoculars. He climbed out through the cargo door onto the left pontoon. With the binoculars, he slowly surveyed the surrounding lakeshore.

"What are you looking for?" Skook asked.

"We're still out in the middle of the lake," Jack replied. "Someone must have come to take Robitaille and the girl to shore. To do that, they would have needed...ah, there it is." He could just make out the gilded glimmer of a birchbark canoe drawn up on the shore in the shadow of a wind-twisted jackpine. He lowered the binoculars and slipped past Skook, then climbed up into the cockpit. "There's a canoe over there."

No more words were needed. In minutes, Jack had turned over the engine and taxied the Norseman across the lake to the canoe. As silence again settled over the placid water, Jack climbed onto the float and sprang to the rocky shore beside the canoe. In his hand, his Colt gleamed bluely--in his eyes, a flame of a different hue.

A moment later, Skook joined him. The husky engineer carried a Lee-Enfield carbine. Neither of them was taking any chances.

From the canoe, a rough trail meandered off into the mysterious depths of the woods. Together, the two aviators began to follow it. They moved quickly, but with caution, with the silent tread of the timber wolf, barely stirring the auburn pine needles under foot.

The air was rich with the living breath of spruce and tamarack, and soft afternoon sunlight filtered lustrously down through the green arches overhead. No words were exchanged as they forged deeper and deeper into the shadowy forest. In the misty gloom of the emerald naves, a man's ears were often of greater account than his eyes. As they went, they strained to listen for any sound from up ahead, but there was only the silken whispering of wind in the upper boughs.

All at once, they broke out into a narrow clearing in which a small cabin squatted in fairie-like seclusion. It was a simple affair, made of rough-hewen spruce logs chinked with moss. Over the door, a magnificent set of moose antlers were proudly displayed, and, to one side, a pair of snowshoes leaned against the wall.

Immediately, seeing the cabin, Jack paused on the threshold of the woods. His eyes were fierce dangerous slits, jaw set. He waited only until the engineer caught up, then smoothly crossed the open space to the door. Cautiously, he darted a glance in one of the front windows. The glass was nearly opaque with grime, and he could make out only formless shadows within.

Turning back to the door, he tried it and found it was unlocked. He glanced at Skook who nodded back, carbine held ready. In an instant, Jack flung the door wide and bounded over the threshold, Skook just behind.

Inside, the cabin was larger than they had expected, but darkly filled, the misty glare from the door and windows barely reaching to the furthest wall. A pot-bellied stove was set against the back wall, and a thin smoky tendril rose from the charred wood it contained. Evidently, someone had been waiting here for them, but had left without putting out the fire.

Slowly, Jack searched the cabin's only room. A bunk was set against the left wall, draped over with a Hudson's Bay blanket. A wooden table was flanked by two chairs and a third chair was set against the right wall. A yellowing calender hung curling above the chair. Seeing the calender, Jack felt a growing sense of unease; it hadn't been changed in two months.

He was about to mention the calender to Skook when the engineer made his own discovery. Skook picked up something off the floor.

"Pontoon." His voice was a hiss, eyes wide. He handed the find to the pilot. "What do you make of this, uh?"

Accepting it, Jack saw it was an Eaton's catalogue, old and yellowed. A neat bullet hole bored through half the pages and out the front. Inside, Jack found a dark powder burn. Obviously, someone had fired a gun with the catalogue held in front. But why? To muffle the shot...?

Abruptly, they both froze. A weak groan sounded in the gloom. Skook hissed: "Tonnerre! Someone is in 'ere with us!"

"It came from the bunk."

Jack tossed the catalogue to the table and sprang to the rough bed. What he had taken to be pillows under the Bay blanket, now moved with a feeble stirring. He snatched the blanket away--to reveal Robitaille curled on a tattered mattress. The French-Canadian's patrician features were deathly pale, his blue lips no longer arrogant, but trembling and slightly stained with blood. A large, crueller stain spread across his chest, centred by a small black hole.

But that wasn't the strangest part. The man's limbs were horribly twisted and contorted, indicating numerous broken bones. It was as if he had been literally mangled!

Seeing Robitaille's condition, Jack slipped the Colt into his holster and dropped to one knee. He knew there was nothing he could do; Robitaille was as good as dead.

"Who did this to you?"

Robitaille struggled to speak, obviously fighting against terrible pain. "M'sieu Carnac... I'm sorry... I told them I 'ad killed you... I thought I could deal with them on my own... The man in the chair reading the catalogue... 'e 'ad a gun 'idden... a derringer... did not see it." He coughed weakly, and blood trickled from his nose. "The bullet... did not kill me... but I dropped the Luger... then..." Abruptly, his eyes flared wide, his voice trembling with sudden strangling fear. "That thing...that terrible thing!"

The look in the man's eyes, it chilled Jack's blood. "What thing?" he asked.

"Oh, mon Dieu! It attacked me...a monster...a 'orrible monster!"

Robitaille faltered as more blood spilled from his lips. He had only seconds left.

Urgently, Jack asked: "You left that box on my plane, a note saying it could end the world. You're going to die. There's nothing I can do for you. Tell me quick, what's in the box?"

But Robitaille seemed not to hear the question. Suddenly, his eyes widened with desperate pleading. One hand shot out, grabbing the wolverine fur collar of Jack's jacket. "Save Angelique! Oh, m'sieu, if you are all I 'ave 'eard, you are 'er only 'ope!"

"Yes, I'll save her," Jack replied. "But first you have to tell me, what's in the box?"

But there wasn't time enough. With his last dying breath the French-Canadian managed only to gasp out: "Jack... Morbus..." Then he stiffened and his eyes glazed over.

"Il est mort," said Skook grimly, after a moment. Then, seeing the expression in the pilot's eyes, he added: "There was nothing you could 'ave done, Pontoon. 'Is wounds were too severe."

Jack nodded, but his expression didn't change. Behind that expression, his mind was racing, a whirlwind of conjectures and formless fancies. A monster? What monster? What creature could have done this horrible thing, could have twisted and crushed a man like that? A grizzly? But there were no claw marks. And what about the girl, Angelique? She must have been taken prisoner, but where and by whom? And why did Robitaille take the diphtheria antitoxin? And what about the strong box?

Jack cursed his luck--rather, his own stupidity. A second more and Robitaille could have answered at least that last question. As it was, the man had only managed that one name. Jack Morbus.

Who was Jack Morbus?

***
It was only a few minutes later that the two men happened upon the second body...

Next episode....The Secret Base


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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!)