"Pontoon" Jack Carnac
Hell hath the Hindenburg!

A 10-chapter novella

By Jeffrey Blair Latta

Previously:  Pontoon Jack and Skook were hijacked to a lake in the foothills of the Rockies. Pursuing the hijacker, Robitaille, they found him fatally shot and mangled by a "'orrible monster". Whoever killed Robitaille took Jack's diphtheria antitoxin and kidnapped the girl, Angelique. Robitaille left a strong box on the plane, with a note telling them not to open it or it would mean "the end of the world." Asked what was in the box, with his dying breath, Robitaille could only give a name: "Jack Morbus"....

Episode Three:

The Secret Base

Jack and Skook had gone back outside to search from any sign of the direction taken by the kidnappers.

It took little effort to pick up the trail in the soft forest humus. Footprints led off into the bush, clear tracks, easily read by the trained eyes of the pilot and engineer. Mingled with the girl's delicate footsteps were four heavier sets. The girl had evidently put up quite a struggle, dragging and kicking until finally her tracks vanished as her kidnappers no doubt knocked her unconscious, preferring to carry her.

But Jack took note of these things only in passing. His attention was more convincingly held by another set of tracks, a trail overlapping the others and obviously following behind.

The tracks showed naked feet, human but huge, almost fifteen inches from heel to toe. Seeing those colossal footprints, Jack felt a chill crawling at the back of his neck. He had seen tracks like those only once before, up in the B. C. mountains in Toad Valley.

The Indian guide who was with him at the time turned deathly pale on seeing those marks and, the next morning, ran off without explanation. Alone, Jack had tried to follow the tracks but lost them on a stone slope. Yet, even as he had started back to camp, from somewhere behind, out of the sullen crags there had drifted an eerie wailing, a weird, dismal howling like nothing Jack had ever heard before. The cry faded into haunting echoes and wasn't repeated--and Jack decided not to pursue the matter any further.

But later, speaking to other Indians, he heard stories and he heard a name... Keewaykeno... the Northwind man.

"Sacre Dieu!" exclaimed Skook as he too noticed the giant footprints. "What tracks!" Immediately, he scanned the dismal gloom that lay ahead, big hands white around the carbine. His voice dropped to a fearful whisper. "Do you think...the monster, uh?"

Jack didn't know what to think. Something had made those tracks, something nearly ten feet in height. Could it have been the same type of creature which he had heard in Toad Valley?

Just then, something else caught his eye, a pale glimmer sunk in the deeper shadows farther back in the tangled woods. Though he could make out no details from that distance, somehow he knew what it was--and his blood ran cold.

In seconds he reached the thing, Skook following just behind. Together they regarded the grisly find in grim and sober silence.

It was a human skeleton, evidently stripped clean by the carrion eaters of the bush. It lay in a shaft of sunlight, the white bones gleaming with a ghastly lustre.

The position of the skeleton and condition of the skull told the appalling tale. The skeleton lay face-down; there was a bullet hole in the back of the head, a clean hole as if fired at point-blank range. The man had been brought out here, told to turn his back, then shot in the head--executed. Then the body had simply been left to rot.

There would have been no way to identify the corpse were it not for the victim's artificial leg.

"It is Josef Oleskow." Skook's voice was thick in his throat.

Josef Oleskow, a prospector known to every bush pilot between Fort McMurray and Aklavik. Oleskow had been a strange one, keeping to himself mostly, wandering the bush with his false leg, searching, ever searching for that maddeningly elusive vein of gold. He had come to Canada from south eastern Europe; he was a Galician--what some locals cruelly called a "Bohunk" or a "Hunky". He had crossed the ocean in quest of a dream, only to see it end here, face-down with a bullet in the brain.

Jack felt the pulse pound in his head, his jaw tight, his teeth clenched. His eyes were two smoldering slits.

"This must 'ave been 'is cabin, uh?" Skook said. "But who would do this terrible thing? Eh, Pontoon? 'E never 'urt a soul."

"They needed his cabin," Jack replied tightly. "They killed him because it was the easy thing to do."

For a moment, silence settled over the scene, two men standing over the bones of a third who never asked for anything but a fair chance. Somewhere in the distance, a moose gave its lowing cry. The wind briefly woke and tossed the emerald boughs overhead. Then, just as suddenly, it died to a soft whisper.

Finally, tentatively, Skook asked: "What now, Pontoon?"

"Now?" Jack straightened suddenly, as if woken sharply from a light sleep. His eyes were hard. "Now someone's going to answer for this."

Jack led the way back to the Norseman on the lake. Together they carried the strong box from the bushplane and concealed it in the woods inside a hollow log. Maybe they didn't dare open it, but at least they could see no one else got ahold of it either.

When they got back to the plane, Jack turned to Skook. "You stay here and look after the Hell-damner."

"Et toi? And you? Surely you are not going after those men alone, Pontoon? It would be madness!"

"Apart from the girl, we have to get that antitoxin back. Besides, we haven't enough gas to get back to civilization, anyway. Whoever's behind this must have a plane somewhere--and probably fuel. I'll be all right."

"But what about the monster, uh? You saw those prints yourself. You saw what it did to M'sieu Robitaille. Such a beast...c'est trop dangereux!"

While Skook was talking, Jack climbed onto one of the pontoons and reached into the cockpit. When he straightened, he brandished the tomahawk given to him by an Algonquin chief in Ontario. He slipped the tomahawk into the leather loop on his belt. He thrust the blue nose of the Colt into the holster on his opposite hip, then closed his aviator's jacket, concealing both. He snapped the goggles off his head and tossed them onto the pilot's seat.

A wolfish grin snarled his lips. "Don't worry, Skook. I can be pretty dangereux, too, you know."

Jack slipped through the forest gloom with a feral ease acquired through many seasons spent on the endless trails.

Though he was happiest when in his Norseman, soaring high above the rolling plains of spruce and birch, he had spent time enough down here on the ground, following the mysterious paths, trekking through the clustered boles, hauling canoes over portages or mushing dogsleds over the dazzling snows. And his woodcraft was second to none when it came to picking up a trail.

Onward and onward he traced those tracks through the thick verdure, sometimes only a broken twig serving to guide him, at other times, the prints appearing clearly set in soft soil. An hour passed and then another and still the tracks continued. The sun gradually reclined into the west, touching the white peaks of the Rockies and unfurling silken shadows across the land.

Quite suddenly, Jack pulled up short. He breathed a tight exclamation, cursing.

There in the trail, the vicious black jaws of a leghold trap yawned, patiently waiting for some unwary victim. Jack had very nearly put his foot in the trap before he saw it.

What was it doing here? he wondered. The tracks indicated that those he was pursuing had carefully stepped around it. Obviously they knew it was there, so they must have set it. And it was a safe bet they weren't interested in catching animals for fur. Obviously the trap had been set to catch human prey, to do precisely what it had very nearly done--catch anyone who tried to follow them the way he was doing.

Jack stepped over the trap and continued on, but more cautiously than before. There might be other traps waiting for him.

A few minutes later, Jack broke out of the thick forest to find himself facing a broad patch of stone, the tracks ending abruptly. He scowled angrily, cursing his luck. It would take some time to pick up the trail again on the other side. Nonetheless, the thought of giving up never entered the bush pilot's head. His was the dogged determination of the timber wolf, a grim unrelenting instinct that drove him on where other men would have turned back long since.

He crossed the wide open stone space, reaching the opposite side several minutes later. And there he stopped again, eyes widening in surprise.

Where the stone ran out, another open space began, a wide green meadow stretching away to the dark forest palisade further on. To the untrained eye, the green space would have appeared harmless. But Jack's eyes picked up details which caused an involuntary clenching of his jaw.

Scattered throughout the meadow were trees, mainly silver birch, but all were dead, long dead. They thrust up here and there like white bones, splintered and sharp at the ends. And, not far for one tree, what appeared to be a broken branch lay on the green vegetation. But Jack knew it wasn't a broken branch. It was the antlers of a moose--antlers no doubt still attached to the animal's skull hidden beneath a soft layer of muskeg.

For that was what this was, muskeg!

And even though Jack had crossed such spaces countless times in his travels, still just the sight of it caused a cold chill to ascent his spine. He knew that that meadow was really a mat of vegetation floating on water. In some places, the mat would be thick enough to support a man; Jack had even taken off in his Norseman on muskeg once or twice. The problem was, it was unpredictable. Suddenly, stepping on a thin patch, a man would sink without warning. And once that happened, for a lone man it meant almost certain death.

Of all the dangers of the Keewaydin in summer, muskeg was surely the greatest. Though lacking the ferocity of the grizzly or the thundering speed of the bull moose, it was infinitely patient, biding its time, waiting, just waiting for that single treacherous misstep to sink another victim into its unrelenting grip.

Staring across that sinister expanse, Jack wondered whether those he was following would have chanced it. Had they crossed the muskeg to the other side? If so, they must have known a safe way across...

But then, Jack's thoughts were interrupted by a sound. He looked quickly around. It was the whistling of whiskey-jacks, several of them, some distance away. Maybe his quarry hadn't crossed the muskeg, after all; whiskey-jacks meant a camp was nearby.

Moving quietly, Jack turned back, tracing the birds to the woods on the edge of the stone space. He plunged into the thicket, his tomahawk materializing in his hand. A few minutes later, he spotted the silver flicker of a whiskey-jack darting through the branches ahead. Finally he stopped as he heard the dull murmur of voices, and smelled camp smoke mingled with the tang of pine.

Evening shadows nestled thick beneath the trees and he had to strain to spot the two men. Both were dressed in military uniforms, Sten guns slung over their shoulders. They were just standing there on the edge of the trees, obviously keeping watch.

Creeping closer, Jack could see a silver lake gleaming behind them. Floating on the lake, next to a dock, were several bushplanes, five Junkers w34s, a couple of bigger Junkers "Flying Boxcar" Ju 52s, and several Fokker Super Universals. Separate from the other planes was another craft--and at the sight of it, Jack's knuckles turned white around the haft of his tomahawk.

It was a jet black Bellanca Pacemaker without identification markings. On the fuselage was painted a white snarling lynx.

The Pacemaker was similar to the Noorduyn Norseman, with the same pug nose and high wings, but it was slightly sleeker, with distinctive airfoil struts under the wings adding extra lift, like a bi-plane. It was a slickly beautiful craft, but, to Jack's eyes, somehow overly constructed. Jack's "Hell-damner" might be a little thicker, a little less polished, but it was better fitted to the rough, unforgiving demands of the bush.

There was only one man flew a black Pacemaker like that: Pierre Dubois, called "The Lynx". Somehow Jack wasn't surprised to find The Lynx somehow mixed up in all of this. The man was a true villain, a pariah among the bush pilot fraternity, the Brethren of the Bush. If there was anything Dubois wouldn't do for money, Jack had never heard of it.

Jack had last seen Dubois's Bellanca vanishing into a fog over Great Slave Lake, the engine cowling leaking thick torrents of smoke. It had been thought the man had perished, but somehow Jack had known otherwise. It would take more than that to kill The Lynx...

Abruptly, Jack's thoughts were interrupted by the sharp clack of a machine gun bolt. The sound came from behind him, but he didn't turn around.

He stood stock still as a low voice snarled: "All right, you. Put your hands up were I can see them. And don't make any funny moves or I'll fill that nice jacket full of neat little holes, capice?"

Next episode...."Release Keewaykeno!"

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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!)