"Pontoon" Jack Carnac
in
Hell hath the Hindenburg!

A 10-chapter novella

By Jeffrey Blair Latta


Previously: Hijacked to a secret Nazi base in the Rockies, Pontoon Jack left Skook to guard a package whose contents could spell the end of the world, while Jack went to rescue Angelique and the antitoxin. An unexplained explosion served as a distraction, allowing Jack to rescue Angelique, only to be recaptured by a monster, Keewaykeno, which first killed a bull moose with its bare hands. A villainous bush pilot, Dubois, flew Jack's bushplane from the lake to the Nazi base, but, inexplicably, seemed not to care that Skook was still free in the woods. Skook set out to follow Jack, got caught in a leghold trap, and, seconds from being shot, was rescued by a mysterious stranger armed with bow and arrows...



Episode Six:

"Her Fate Shall be Indescribable!"


Pontoon Jack opened his eyes with a start. In an instant, he was alert, taking in his surroundings with a quick, feral glance. Pain throbbed in the back of his head.

He was seated in a chair, wrists bound to the arms with tight windings of babiche, the all-purpose caribou-hide cord used for everything from the webbing on snowshoes to the bindings on a sledge. A moment's flexing of his lean, travel-hardened muscles convinced the bush pilot that brute force alone would not free him. A low snarl of disgust rose from deep in his throat.

He looked across the cabin at the girl, Angelique, similarly bound in another chair. She was already awake. Her dress hung in tatters about her slim, white figure, her ebony hair tangled with pine needles and fallen across her face. As she noticed he had awoken, the girl's dark eyes widened and a small exclamation sprang to her trembling lips.

"Oh, m'sieu! You are awake! I thought you would never recover after that terrible blow to the 'ead!"

Jack nodded ruefully. "If feels like I would have been better not waking up."

He looked slowly around a second time. They were in a cabin with a single door and two windows on either side of that door. There were bars on the windows. Daylight shone through those windows, telling Jack he had been unconscious for hours. The light served poorly to illuminate the gloom within.

"What happened?"

"After that creature killed the moose, they captured us and brought us 'ere. I 'ave not seen anyone since then."

At mention of the creature, Jack straightened in his bindings. "What was that thing, anyway?" he asked. "Did you get a look at it?"

Before the girl could respond, Jack had his answer.

He heard a low animal grunt from out of the shadowy darkness at the far end of the cabin. Straining his eyes, for the first time Jack noticed heavy steel bars reached from ceiling to floor, from one side of the cabin to the other, dividing off that far part of the cabin into a large cage.

In the darkness of that cage, something moved.

Jack couldn't quite see what it was, but he knew it was the same creature which he had witnessed in the night. It was shaped like a man, but hairy, mainly black hair but with grey on the shoulders, hands, and feet. It was nearly ten feet tall; standing, its bullet-shaped head would have reared to the roofbeam. But, for the moment, it was squatting on its mighty haunches in the deep shadow of a corner. Its eyes glittered in the dark. It was watching them both.

"So," said Jack, "you're Keewaykeno--the Northwind Man. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

Almost as if it had heard and understood, the creature rose suddenly and shuffled forward to the bars. It was terrifying in its massiveness, moreso to Jack who had seen what it could do to a bull moose.

For a moment, it regarded the bush pilot through the bars. The light was still poor, but now Jack could make out ape-like facial features. Black lips curled back to reveal fierce fangs and a low growl rose from within the deep chest. Huge fingers curled around the steel bars.

The creature did not seem to be exerting any force but suddenly chips of wood drifted down from where the bars were fixed in the ceiling and the steel groaned as if under a titanic strain. Then, the creature released the bars and shuffled back to its shadowy corner.

Jack let out his breath.

"I overheard one of the guards saying he wasn't convinced those bars would hold that thing," he recalled grimly. "I sure hope he was wrong."

The girl's slim, straight back was toward the cage. She could not see the creature, but all the colour had drained from her face.

"All right," Jack said, quickly changing the subject. "Suppose you tell me what's going on here. Why did you and Robitaille hijack my Norseman? Why did you take my crate of antitoxin? And, more important, what was in that strong box you left on my bushplane? Robitaille said if I opened it it would mean the end of the world. But, when I asked him what was in it, all he managed to give me was a name--Jack Morbus? Does that name mean anything to you?"

"Jack Morbus?" The girl frowned, pensively. "I recall 'earing Michel mention that name sometime...mais, non...I do not recall what it was 'e said."

"Michel?"

"Michel is my brother. 'E works as a scientist at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. 'E came out 'ere two months ago for a vacation. Then, last week, I received a 'orrible package in the mail..."

For a moment, she seemed unable to continue. Then she swallowed and forged ahead:

"It contained a thumb, my brother's thumb. I knew it by a scar on the knuckle. A note told me that if I wanted to see Michel alive, I was to go to 'is lab and contact 'is partner, Andre Robitaille. Together we were to bring what it was the two of them 'ad been working on, to bring it out 'ere. A direction-finder was included in the package, with which we were to be guided to the precise spot.

"When you landed on the lake, Andre injected you with a drug to put you to sleep. I did not notice, but 'e must 'ave taken the crate of antitoxin instead of the real package, 'oping to fool the men who 'ad cut off my poor brother's thumb. 'E 'ad a gun and 'e must 'ave thought 'e could rescue Michel--but it did 'im no good. That 'orrible man with the gun up 'is sleeve shot poor Andre...then the monster came..."

She stopped as a shiver shook her, the memory like a surge of electricity to her already tortured nerves.

Jack frowned. "So someone kidnapped your brother and cut off his thumb to make you bring some package from his lab in Ontario? But you don't know what was in that package?"

She shook her head miserably, then said: "I did not know 'e 'ad switched packages until we arrived 'ere and that man with a monocle discovered 'ow 'e 'ad been tricked. 'E was furious. 'E wanted me to tell 'im where we 'ad put the real package, but I did not know." A tear trailed down her satiny cheek, glimmering in the soft light. "'E struck me."

Jack scowled. "The man who hit you was wearing a Nazi-armband. So was the guy I killed in the woods. Whatever's going on here is big, is my guess. Right now, it looks like our only hope is Skook, my engineer. I left him with the Norseman, guarding the package we hid." He shook his head in frustration. "Sure wish I knew what was in it. And who is Jack Morbus?"

"You 'ave 'idden the package?" Angelique was obviously impressed by the bush pilot's competence. "Mais, ou? Where?"

For a moment, Jack hesitated. If the contents of that package really could mean the end of the world, maybe it should just stay hidden. For that matter, how did he know for sure that he could trust this girl? But no. One look at her dark, anxious eyes and Jack knew--she would not lie to him.

"I stuck it in a hollow log on the trail about halfway between the lake and the cabin," he told her.

She nodded thoughtfully. "Per'aps it should stay 'idden." It was as if she had read his thoughts. "Whatever it contains, it sounds terrible. If these men were to get it..."

As if on cue, the door swung wide and the men in question stepped in out of the daylight dazzle, four of them. The villain with the monocle was in front. As Jack remembered, he was a tall, lean man, dressed in a black overcoat with the Nazi armband. Now, on his head, he wore an officer's peaked cap. He carried a swagger stick under one arm and his shiny jackboots beat a tattoo on the spruce floorboards.

Behind him, a guard followed bearing a vicious-looking Tommy-gun. The guard too wore the Nazi-armband.

Then Jack saw the two men who followed last--and his lips drew back in a wolfish snarl. It was Pierre Dubois, The Lynx, and his stocky, red-toqued engineer, "Caribou Dan" McDanby.

Jack had known The Lynx was mixed up in this from the moment he spotted Dubois's jet black Bellanca out on the lake. Now, though, for the first time, he put two and two together and realized it was Dubois who had shot Robitaille with the derringer he kept forever hidden up his sleeve.

The Lynx was as impeccably turned out as ever; all in black except for his white aviator's scarf--he seemed to drain the light from the air around him. Even his glasses were black, his eyes being sensitive to the sun's dazzling glare--a result of snowblindness encountered several years back out on the Barrens.

The monocled man stopped in the middle of the cabin and regarded his two bound prisoners with a long, appraising stare. He nodded slowly.

"You are both awake," he said, his voice whispery, but thick with a German accent. "Gut! Perhaps now you can tell me what has become of my package, ja?"

He glanced back at Dubois standing near the open door. "My acquaintance, Herr Dubois, retrieved your aeroplane but he found it empty. No sign of my package." He spread his gloved hands, the swagger stick still clamped under one arm, and laughed. "It is a mystery, ja? It has vanished. Poof!"

He laughed again, then the smile froze on his lips. "Where is my package, mein Herr?" His voice was the deadly hiss of a snake. "What have you done with it, please?"

"Go to hell." Jack's voice was a growl of contempt.

The monocled man's eyes narrowed, momentarily surprised, but then the curl crawled back on his lips.

"Perhaps we have gotten off on the wrong foot, as you Canadians would say. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Heinrich Reichnitzer. You, so Herr Dubois tells me, are Jack Carnac--quaintly called "Pontoon Jack". You are a much honoured bush pilot, ja?"

When Jack refused to answer, Reichnitzer went on.

"It is actually fortunate for me that you were not murdered by Herr Robitaille, as he told us. It may come as a surprise to you to learn that you are of more use to me alive than dead."

To this moment, his voice was amiable, as if speaking to an old friend. Now, though, suddenly, it turned brittle with deadly menace.

"But make no mistake, mein Herr, this fraulein is of no importance. I will not harm you, but, if you refuse to tell me what has become of my package, her fate will be indescribable."

Jack remained stubbornly silent but his thoughts were racing. Dubois had gone back for the Norseman. What had happened to Skook, then? Dubois certainly knew Jack would never fly without his burly engineer, yet, Reichnitzer had made no mention of the Metis. It was as if Dubois hadn't told Reichnitzer there would be two of them. But why? Was The Lynx playing some game of his own?

"Perhaps," Reichnitzer resumed, "a sample of our hospitality will serve to loosen your tongue." He snapped a command in German and, a moment later, two guards dragged a figure into the middle of the cabin. They tossed him to the floor almost at Jack's booted feet.

"Michel!" exclaimed Angelique in horror. "What have they done to you?"

Weakly, the man tried to rise, but the effort was too much. He collapsed with a groan. His face was a mass of cuts and bruises and his left hand was wrapped in a bloodied bandage, the thumb clearly missing.

"Now," said Reichnitzer, "you see what we have done to her brother. She will look a thousand times worse if you do not tell me what I wish to know. Where have you hidden the package?"

Jack's eyes lifted from the battered figure at his feet, fixing on the slim, trembling girl bound to her chair. Like him, she now knew where the package was hidden but, as yet, she also had refused to divulge the secret. The decision weighed hard on him, but he continued to remain silent.

Reichnitzer snarled in disgust. "Very well, have it your way."

He spat another command and one of the guards untied the girl from her chair and lifted her to her unsteady feet.

"I am told you have already witnessed the incredible ferocity of our friend here." He gestured toward the caged section of the cabin. "We found him in Toad Valley in the B.C. mountains when we were scouting a location for this base. The natives called him Keewaykeno--The Northwind Man--but he is evidently some sort of North American gorilla. Perhaps related to the Sasquatch. He is remarkably intelligent, nearly as clever as a man, but also easily humbled--with the proper incentive."

At a word, one of the guards stepped to the bars of the cage bearing a long, black whip. The whip curled slithering on the floorboards. In the darkness, the creature stirred uneasily.

Reichnitzer nodded, gratified. "He knows what is expected of him, as do we all, and he knows the penalty for disobedience." He turned back to the bush pilot.

"Now, one last time, mein Herr--where have you hidden the package?"

Jack's eyes met the girl's and he saw desperate pleading reflected there. She was pleading with him not to give in. But how could he let this happen? How?

"Into the cage with her!"

Next episode...."I Kill Them All!"


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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!)