"Pontoon" Jack Carnac
in
Hell hath the Hindenburg!

A 10-chapter novella

By Jeffrey Blair Latta


Previously: Pontoon Jack and Skook were hijacked to the Rockies.  The hijacker, Robitaille, took the antitoxin they were delivering, but left a strong box with the warning that its contents could mean the end of the world.  Following, they found him mangled by a monster, Keewaykeno.  The girl, Angelique, had been kidnapped.  With his last breath, when asked what was in the box, he gave them a name: Jack Morbus.  They found the owner of the cabin, Josef Oleskow, also dead. Hiding the strong box, Jack set out to rescue the girl and recover the antitoxin.  He followed the trail to a secret base with bushplanes, including the plane of his arch rival, Pierre Dubois.  Then, the clack of a machine gun bolt...



Episode Four:

"Release Keewaykeno!"


Under other circumstances, Jack might have reacted differently.

But in that moment, he thought of the girl he had come here to save.  He recalled the frightened look in her dark, beautiful eyes as she looked down at him from the bushplane in Fort McMurray.  He thought of Andre Robitaille.  Then he thought about Josef Oleskow, who never did anyone any harm.

Josef Oleskow face-down with a bullet in his brain...

In a single breathless motion, he spun and hurled the tomahawk.  In the darkness, the weapon was only a whispering blur as it crossed the gap between the two men.  Before the gunman could react, there was a sickening thump, and he folded to the piney ground, his skull split between the eyes.

In an instant, Jack was at the dead man's side.  In the dim light, he could make out only a dark gruesome sprawl at his feet.  He knelt and, feeling, removed the dead man's coat, which he then donned over his own aviator's jacket.  In the concealing gloom, the disguise just might buy precious seconds.

There was an armband on one sleeve, but even Jack's keen eyes couldn't make it out.

By the time he returned to his place at the edge of the woods, the two guards had moved on.  Jack paused.  A path led down to the lake, then into a group of cabins.  To follow it, Jack would have to slip past a small fire around which four men were gathered.  He didn't dare carry the tomahawk in the open, so returned it to the loop at his belt.  The weight of his Colt on the opposite hip was reassuring.

He stepped from the tangled brush with a sure, confident stride.  Nor did he hesitate as he approached the crackling fire and the four men who surrounded it.  They were silhouetted like stick figures of charred wood and the murmur of conversation was almost lost beneath the lonely call of a loon out on the lake.

Jack bowed his head, hoping to hide his face from the flickering glow.  The murmur resolved into the fleeting tatters of speech.

"Have you seen it?" asked one husky voice.

"Once," came the tight reply.  "And, I'll tell you, once was more than enough for me, brother.  A thing like that, sheesh!  They keep it in a cage, but I know I wouldn't trust bars to hold that monster. No, sirree."

"Yeah, well, as soon as we get paid, I'm out of here.  This whole business has me spooked.  I mean, just what do they want that thing for, anyhow?"

"What, the thing in the cage?"

"No.  Not that.  I mean the other thing."

Jack was tantalized by this brief exchange, but there was no way he could stop walking to listen further.

Then, even as he came up with the group, the conversation faltered and a voice called out: "Hey, mac!  What's the idea?"

Jack knew there was no use in ignoring the question.

"What's that?" he asked, slowing but not stopping.

"Where do you think you're going?  Aren't you supposed to be keeping watch on the ridge?"

Jack thought fast.  "The girl dropped her purse on the trail.  They told me to get it and bring it to her."

By the light of the fire, Jack caught the brief flicker of glances toward one of the cabins by the lake.  Eyes returned to him, and there was a considering pause.  Then:

"Well, all right, but get back up there as soon as you're done."

"I will."

Jack hurried on, breathing out in relief.  That had been closer than he liked to cut it.  He was glad he had thought to put on the coat, but he still wondered what the armband might mean.  None of the men by the fire had worn such bands.

This whole place was a mystery.  It was a huge compound, with at least twenty cabins that he could make out.  And all these men and guards, armed with Sten guns and Tommy guns?  What was it all for?

As he approached the cabin which the men had glanced at, he slowed, noticing a guard posted by the front door.  He stepped quickly around the side of the house.  There was one window, through which yellow lamplight softly breathed.  He heard a dull murmur of voices.  Cautiously he peered through the window.

The cabin was sparsely furnished with wooden chairs and a table.  On the table sat the precious crate of stolen antitoxin.  There were four occupants.  The girl, Angelique, sat rigidly in one of the chairs, slim hands folded tight in her lap.  At the sight of her, Jack found his heart began to pound.

She was as beautiful as he remembered, but now that beauty was marred by the pallour of her frightened features, the wide horror reflected in her dark eyes.  She had no doubt seen what had happened to Robitaille.  Whatever it was had mangled the man in that ghastly way, she had been a witness, and that memory showed in the trembling of her supple figure, in the frantic fear that shone from her lovely face.

Seeing her like this awoke instincts in the bush pilot.  She was like some wide-eyed doe caught in a snare, vulnerable and afraid.  Then, as one of the three men stepped forward and struck her sharply across the face, Jack knew he had seen enough.

Snarling, he snatched up his tomahawk and raised it to shatter the window...

But, at that very moment, there came a deafening explosion!

The sound alone blew in the panes, saving Jack the trouble.  Instantly, the night was lit by a hellish flickering and, whirling in astonishment, Jack saw that one of the Fokker Super Universals was now a ball of curling orange flames.  Seconds later, as he watched, one of the smaller Junkers erupted into a pillar of dazzling fire.

All was pandemonium as men raced out of the darkness, scrambling to put out the infernos before they spread to the remaining planes.  Jack glanced back through the shattered window to find that, now, the girl was all but alone; only one of the three men had remained behind, evidently a guard.  Though mystified by this unexpected salvation, Jack wasn't one to balk when Lady Luck dealt his hand.

He sprang through the window, alighting in a catlike crouch.  The girl saw him first and the startled widening of her eyes alerted the guard.  The man shot to his feet and turned, his Tommy gun coming up, the bolt clacking.  Jack saw there wasn't time to stop the guard from firing; not even a hurled tomahawk could have prevented that.

But then, to his surprise, the girl leapt from the chair and threw her slender form full upon the gunman.  She was half his size, but she wrestled the Tommy gun just enough that, when he squeezed the trigger, murderous lead stitched a line in the floorboards almost at Jack's feet.

Then Jack was bounding across the cabin, his movements swift as an attacking bobcat.  He tackled the guard, sending them both toppling over a chair and onto the floor.  The Tommy gun went flying.  Jack doubted anyone would have heard the machine gunfire over the commotion outside, but he had no idea how long it would be before the others returned.  He had to finish this fast.

The tomahawk was still clutched in his right fist.  Back and forth, the two men struggled, rolling side to side on the wooden floor.  The battle was fought in near silence; only the sharp hisses of stolen breaths betrayed their desperate efforts.  The guard managed to land a blow across the bush pilot's jaw.  Blood flowed from Jack's split lip and black dots sprang up before his eyes, but he hung on with a dogged determination.

Then, suddenly, he found himself on top, and the tomahawk connected with a grisly sound of butchered meat.  The man beneath fell still.

For a moment, Jack knelt atop the dead man, breathing fast.  Then, starting to stand, he said, "Quick.  We haven't much time.  We've got to get--"

Something hit him hard on the back of the head.  Later he found out it was a chair.  For the moment, it was all he could manage to keep from losing consciousness.  He threw himself off the dead guard, and rolled clear, then staggered to his feet, one hand on his head.

"What the hell was that for?"

The girl stood there still clutching the offending piece of furniture.  She was panting, as much with passion as with the effort required to swing the chair.  Even in his surprise, Jack thought she was stunningly beautiful in that moment, the fire that flashed in her eyes, the trembling of her full scarlet lips.

Her blue gingham dress had been torn to shreds by her forced march through the bush, and her supple figure showed through in more than a few places.  She no longer seemed the petted creature Jack had picked up in Fort McMurray, a creature of soft lights and dainty city life.  Now she seemed as much a part of the wilderness as he--and possibly just as deadly.

"What's the idea?" Jack asked again.

"I will kill you," she cried, raising the chair threateningly.  "Sacre, come a step closer and I swear I will!"

Abruptly Jack understood.  The coat he was wearing--the girl thought he was one of her captors.

Just then, he glanced down at the armband on his sleeve.  Now at last, by the light of a lamp hanging from the roofbeam, he could make it out.  His eyes widened in amazement.

It was a swastika!

The crooked cross was black placed on a white circle, the whole against the red of the armband--the symbol of Germany's Nazi Party.  Jack was baffled.  What were Nazis doing with a hidden base in the foothills of the Rockies?  But there wasn't time to wonder at that.  Nor was there time for Jack to ask the girl any of the questions which had plagued him over the past few hours.  They had to get out of there.

"Don't you recognize me?" asked the bush pilot, dragging off the coat to reveal his aviator's jacket beneath.  "I flew you out here, remember?"

The girl gasped in surprise, as recognition slowly lit her eyes.  Abruptly, she dropped the chair and, with a sob of despair, threw herself into Jack's startled arms.

"Oh, M'sieu Carnac!  It was 'orrible!  That thing, that monster, what it did to poor Andre!"

"I know, I know," Jack consoled her.  "I found him in the cabin.  There was nothing I could do."

The girl's slender body was small and trembling in Jack's arms.  He found himself hard put to push her away, but he did it just the same.

"Come on.  I don't know what happened out there, but it's bought us a distraction.  We've got to get going before those guys come back."

Returning the tomahawk to his belt, Jack picked up the antitoxin off the table and rushed to the door.  He prayed that the guard outside had gone.  Then he jerked open the door...

Three men stood just outside.  The one in front, who was also the one who had struck the girl before, froze with his gloved hand out, having been reaching for the doorknob.  He was a tall, slender villain, with a thin mustache, cruel eyes, and a monocle.  He wore a swastika armband on his sleeve.

For a moment, he was so surprised that he could only stare, speechless.  Before he could recover, Jack had slammed the door in his face, wedging the back of a chair under the doorknob.

"The window!" Jack cried, even as he heard pounding on the door.

Reaching the window, Jack sprang through, then helped the girl out after.  No one had yet thought to check around the side of the house and they were alone.  He could hear shouting from the front.  The shouting was in English but with a strong German accent.

"This way!"  Still carrying the antitoxin, Jack led the girl behind the cabin, where the light from the still-raging fires couldn't betray them.  But, even as the German voice was left behind, Jack heard a single imperious command that sent a chill up his spine.

"Release Keewaykeno!"

And then they made a dash for the shadowed sanctuary of the woods, slipping into its tangled depths like divers into ebony waters...

***
The sun had set, but the night was far from black.

Against the velvet vault, bearded with stars, slim curtains of silken light rippled luxuriously.  Emerald and ruby, the shimmering wisps danced overhead, casting a faint illumination down through the forest boughs like gentle rain on a pond.  It was the Aurora Borealis, what the Indians called the "Dance of the Dead Men", and, though dim, it served well enough to light the way for the two desperate fugitives.

A short dash through the brush and Jack broke out into the stone clearing where he had lost the trail earlier.  The girl came just behind him, and would have passed him by, except he caught her with one free hand.

"Not that way," he said.  "There's muskeg over there.  We wouldn't get ten feet."

Even in the weak light, he saw how the colour drained from her face to think how close she had come to plunging into that deadly morass.

With Jack leading, they crossed the stone space and plunged back into the woods, following the trail leading back to the Norseman.  Jack had heard no sound of pursuit, but he held no illusions.  He had heard that last imperious command, a command to "release Keewaykeno".  And, though the identity of this monster, this "Northwind Man", was as much a mystery as ever, Jack had no doubt but that it would have all the advantage on the narrow, shadow-thick trail.

But he said nothing to the girl.  On and on they raced, deeper and deeper into the haunting forest night.  Soon Jack noticed the girl's strength began to flag.  Exhaustion was taking its toll.  They would have to stop, but he hoped to put as much distant between them and their pursuers as possible.

Jack was running slightly ahead when he heard the girl call to him, panting breathlessly.

"M'sieu Carnac, I can go no farther.  S'il vous plais!  I must rest."

Jack staggered to a halt and turned to find she had stopped running, now kneeling on the soft piney humus.  He started to walk back to her, himself swallowing air in quick exhausted gulps.

"We can't stop," he told her.  "We're still too close.  We--"

There was no warning.  In an instant, the dark branches beside the trail seemed to erupt violently outward, exploding into the dimly lit path between the two fugitives.  Jack reeled back, startled, dropping the antitoxin and grabbing at his tomahawk.

But even as he caught up the weapon, he knew it would do him no good...
 

Next episode....The Jaws of the Trap!


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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!)