"Pontoon" Jack Carnac
in
Hell hath the Hindenburg!

A 10-chapter novella

By Jeffrey Blair Latta


Previously: Pontoon Jack and Skook were hijacked to a secret Nazi base in the Canadian Rockies, where the Nazis are building something. Angelique had received her brother Michel's severed thumb in the mail and a letter telling her to bring the locked box from Michel's lab. Knowing only that the contents of the box could spell "the end of the world" and that it had some connection to someone named "Jack Morbus", Pontoon Jack hid the box in the woods. Trying to rescue Angelique, Jack was himself captured with the help of a man-beast called Keewaykeno. Skook encountered Kachesy, the Native wife of Josef Oleskow, a prospector killed by the Nazis. Kachesy had been waging a one-woman war of revenge on the Nazis. To force Jack to reveal the box's hiding place, Herr Reichnitzer threw Angelique in with the bush beast -- only to find the monster refused to harm her...



Episode Eight:

Burned Alive!


Jack and Angelique had been left alone in the cabin. Angelique had been taken out of the caged section and again bound to her chair. Michel, her brother, had been dragged away--to what fate, Jack didn't know.

Now, in the darkness, the creature, Keewaykeno, squatted, watching the girl, its eyes eerily human. What thoughts were running through that man-monster's brain? What strange passions had caused it to refuse to hurt her, even when punished with the lash?

Jack didn't know, but, whatever feelings motivated the beast, it could only be to their benefit. The girl was still alive and Herr Reichnitzer still did not know where the package was hidden, the package that could mean the end of the world.

Two points for the good guys, he thought.

Suddenly the door opened and Dubois strode in, followed closely by his stocky, red-toqued engineer, Caribou Dan. Caribou Dan closed the door behind them. Instantly, Jack strained at the babiche holding him to the chair--but it was no use. The bindings wouldn't give. His eyes flashed and Dubois caught the look and laughed lightly.

"'Allo, M'sieu Carnac. Surprised to see me, mon vieux? You thought I was dead, crashed somewhere in Slave Lake, per'aps?"

"Hoped, you snake. Hoped."

Dubois tsked sardonically, casually adjusting his black snowglasses. "You should be careful what you say to me. After all, I am your only friend 'ere, uh? Without me, you'd already be dead. You owe me your life."

Jack scowled. "What the devil are you talking about, Dubois?"

"I told M'sieu Reichnitzer a small lie about you. Now 'e believes you will be of some use to 'im. That is why 'e 'asn't killed you. Believe me, 'e would not 'esitate otherwise."

"What lie? What is this all about?"

Dubois cast a glance toward the window and, suddenly, Jack realized the man was nervous.

"We 'ave little time," The Lynx told him in a hurried, hushed voice. "I need you to do me a small favour."

"A favour? You're crazy."

"I do not think so, Carnac. You will do me this favour or I will tell Reichnitzer that your half-breed engineer is still out there 'iding in the woods. 'Ow long do you think it would take for these men to find 'im, mon ami? Not long, I think. Oh, yes, you will do this favour."

Now at least things began to make sense to Jack. So this was why Dubois hadn't mentioned Skook to Reichnitzer. Jack considered a moment, then asked tightly: "What's your favour?"

Dubois smiled. "There, I knew we could reach une rapprochment, uh?"

"I haven't said I'll do it yet."

Dubois nodded, conceding the point. Then he drew a small package from his black leather aviator's jacket. The package was barely larger than a cigarette pack.

"Voici. This is a bomb," he explained. "I need you to plant it somewhere pour moi."

"A bomb?" Jack laughed skeptically. "That little thing? You're not going to do much damage with that."

"Believe me, mon vieux, it will not need to be a large explosion so long as you plant it in the right place. This will be enough, I assure you."

"All right then. Where am I supposed to plant it?"

"You will know when you see it. There is no point in my telling you now, because you would never believe me, not in a million years. But you will know soon enough, that too, I assure you."

To Jack, this whole thing was starting to sound crazier and crazier. He found himself wondering whether maybe The Lynx had suffered some sort of brain damage, one too many crashes in his Bellanca.

"So you want me to plant this tiny little bomb, but you won't tell me where, because I'd never believe you, but I'll know when I see it."

"Exactement."

"Then tell me this: Why?"

"It is absurd, really. I 'ad an agreement with one of M'sieu Reichnitzer's men. 'E was to plant the bomb for me. But, before 'e could do so, the fool blundered into the muskeg and drowned." He shrugged. "C'est la vie, uh?"

"C'est la something," Jack returned. "But that still doesn't answer my question. Why do you want me to plant the bomb? Aren't you working for these guys?"

Dubois glanced at Angelique, listening with wide, dark eyes. Then he took in the ape-like creature squatting in the shadows. He laughed again.

"I think I have told you all you need to know. Once you plant the bomb, you have done all you need to for me. I will detonate it using this remote control." He drew a small device from his pocket. "There will be an explosion--a very big explosion. During the excitement, I will try to free you and the girl. After that, whether you escape or not is up to you."

"Hold on," Jack said. "If you think I'm wandering around with that thing in my pocket, while you have the detonator, you're even loonier than I thought. Here's the deal. You give me the detonator and I'll set off the bomb. That way I'll be able to choose the best moment for it and I don't have to trust you to 'try' to free me."

Dubois scowled. "I do not think you are in a position to bargain, mon vieux."

"Take it or leave it, Dubois."

The French-Canadian pondered a moment, then blew out in defeat. He nodded and stepped forward.

"All right, I will give you both the bomb and the detonator." He slipped them both into Jack's brown jacket, then stepped quickly back. "But see that you do not take too long about setting it off, uh?"

"Now you tell me this," Jack said, as if Dubois hadn't even spoken. "What are these Nazis up to? What's going on here and what is in that package that they want so badly?"

Dubois shrugged. "Je ne sais pas. That I do not know. M'sieu Reichnitzer simply 'ired me to fly 'is men out 'ere. 'E 'asn't told me what 'e is up to and I 'aven't asked."

"The name Jack Morbus," Jack pressed. "Does that mean anything to you?"

"Jack Morbus?" Dubois' brows rose in mild surprise over the tops of his black glasses. "Bien sur! You mean you 'ave never 'eard of Jack Morbus?"

"I wouldn't be asking if I had. Who is he? What does he have to do with that package?"

Suddenly a transformation came over The Lynx's hawkish features. He seemed started, momentarily nonplussed.

"What is it?" asked Jack.

But before Dubois could respond, there came the sound of gunfire from outside the cabin! Three cracking shots in quick succession, then a fourth. On the heels of the last, the door burst wide and Michel, Angelique's brother, staggered in waving Jack's ivory-handled Colt, blue smoke threading from the muzzle.

The man's face was still a mass of cuts and bruises, his right hand still bandaged, missing a thumb. His eyes were wide with wild, frantic excitement.

"Depechez-vous!" he cried, covering both Dubois and Caribou Dan with the Colt. "Hurry! Untie them both! Untie them or I will kill you! Maintenant! Now!"

***
Pipe still clenched in his teeth, Skook froze at the sound of the voice from outside the chico.

Kachesy's slim fingers gripped his sleeve, and her wide eyes leapt to his filled with frantic appeal. For a moment, there was only silence. Then the voice called again:

"What's it gonna be? Do you come out with your hands empty, or do we empty these guns?"

Skook met the girl's glimmering fearful gaze. His upper lip curled back around the stem of his pipe, gold tooth gleaming in the thicket of his beard. Carefully, he raised a finger, signalling the girl to remain silent. Then he called out.

"Very well, m'sieu. We are coming out."

Instantly, the burly engineer was alert, ears straining. Few men could have detected the dim sound of machine gun bolts clacking beyond the wood of the chico--but the trail-honed Metis was such a man. His eyes narrowed and a smile curled his lips.

"Lie down and stay there," he told Kachesy in a whisper. Though mystified, the girl obeyed, snuggling tight into the pine boughs. "Preparez-vous," he called out.

Practically on the final word, he opened fire with the carbine!

In the close confines of the chico, the sound was like deafening thunder. The girl sobbed and clenched her fists to her ears. In quick succession, Skook fired four shots, rotating his aim, blowing hole after ragged hole through the dead wood of the tree, chips filling the air like snow in a blizzard.

Finally he stopped. The air was murky with webs of blue smoke. The girl warily dropped her hands and scrambled to her knees, ears still ringing. She regarded the holes in wide-eyed amazement.

Instantly, Skook sprang up and out through the entrance, still clutching the carbine. Outside he found four dead bodies scattered in a circle around the chico--precisely where he had known they would be. It was the threat made by the leader which had given him the idea--to shoot through the wood. Skook meditatively studied the bodies, smoke curling from his pipe, but they told him little. The voice, though, had not had a German accent, so evidently the Nazis had local help with whatever they were up to.

The girl started to climb from the chico but Skook motioned her back, then ducked in with her.

"We cannot 'ide 'ere anymore, uh?" he said. "Those 'oles will give us away. We must gather up what we can and find somewhere else to 'ide." Then, for the first time, he had another thought. "Whatever these Nazis are up to, it must involve that package M'sieu Robitaille brought, the one which 'e said could mean the end of the world. I think, mebbe, I should go back there and move it from where we 'id it."

"I will come with you." It was not a question.

Skook started to refuse, then saw how the Native girl knelt there, her back slim and straight and proud, eyes sharp with the eagerness of a wolf on the scent of a deer. He knew she would come no matter what he said, and so he nodded: "All right. Alons-y. Let's go, then."

***
Obeying Michel's orders, Caribou Dan and Dubois untied Jack and the girl. No sooner was he free than Jack snatched the Colt from Michel and sprang to the door. A glance outside showed him men running up from the lake in response to the gunshots. Two guards lay sprawled in the path, apparently shot by Michel.

"Come on!" the bush pilot cried, grabbing Angelique's hand. "This is our chance. Make for the woods. Whatever happens, don't stop running!"

Together they rushed from the cabin and down the path. Gunshots barked behind them, but no bullets came close. They reached the woods a comfortable distance ahead of their pursuers and dived into the undergrowth without slackening speed. In seconds, they burst out onto the open stony space before the muskeg.

"Thank God, you did not tell them what you 'ad done with the package," Michel gasped, as they paused briefly to catch their breath. "It would 'ave spelt disaster for everyone. Dieu, they 'ave been searching all morning. You must 'ave 'id it well."

Before Jack could stop her, Angelique proudly replied, "Oui, in a log beside the cabin path!"

Instantly another revolver materialized in Michel's right hand. A cruel smirk sprang to his lips!

"Merci, Angelique, ma soeur. That is all we wanted to know."

Jack whirled but didn't bother to pull the trigger of his Colt. He had known the moment he took the gun that it was empty. Since Michel had only fired four shots, he had suspected all along it was a trap. Then too, there had been no bullet wounds on the two "dead" guards outside the cabin. Unfortunately, there hadn't been time to warn Angelique.

The girl's face went pale, a gasp starting from her scarlet lips. "Michel! What is this? What does it mean?"

"I means," Jack told her grimly, "you were tricked. Your brother was in on this from the beginning. I'm betting he cut off his thumb by accident."

"Tres bien, m'sieu. With an axe. A fortunate accident which we put to good use. I could never 'ave gotten the package without Andre Robitaille's permission. He 'ad the key to the safe in the lab. But I knew 'e would only bring the package if 'e thought I was going to be murdered otherwise. Now, please do not make me kill you both. I should especially 'ate to 'ave to shoot my own sister."

He gestured back toward the camp. At the same moment, the undergrowth rustled and four guards sprang from the brush, brandishing midnight-black Sten guns.

"All right," Jack said, lowering his own empty weapon in apparent defeat. "I know when I'm licked..."

But then he did the last thing any of them expected. Before they could stop him, he sprang back into the trees, headed back for the camp!

No one could match the bush pilot for speed, not running on foot through the tangled undergrowth. He was as fleet as a deer. From behind, he heard angry shouts and bodies blundering through forest boughs, but no shots pursued him; he had too great a head start.

He broke from the woods and tore down the path toward the lake. A group of men looked up in surprise, momentarily caught off-guard. Jack caught a glimpse of Reichnitzer as he raced past and heard the Nazi shout in angry German. The pilot could see his yellow Norseman parked next to the dock, but there was no way he could reach it; more men were in the way.

Instead he cut right, following the path, headed for the cabins. When he reached them, he kept on going. Now there were gunshots, short rattling machine gunfire. Bullets whined venomously past, dirt spurting up like tiny geysers. He entered more woods, still following a crude dirt track. He had no idea where he was headed; only that he must keep moving. He couldn't afford to be caught again.

On and on he ran, until his legs burned and he struggled for breath. Then he passed through a high open gate in a wire fence. Coils of barbed wire ran along the top. A guard in a booth glanced up mildly, then did a double-take and shouted, "Hey, you! Stop!"

More machine gunfire. Jack kept going. He didn't see the man hidden in a thicket of silver birches beside the path. But the next thing he knew, the man crashed into him, throwing them both to the ground. For a moment, they struggled, clouds of dust boiling up around them. Then more guards arrived and a bristle of Sten and Tommy gun muzzles ringed them like spears. Jack finally stopped fighting, seeing further resistance was useless. He lurched reluctantly to his feet, leaving his Colt on the ground, hands raised.

Then he looked up.

What he saw made him doubt his sanity--until he remembered what Dubois had said before. How he would know, when the time came, where he was supposed to plant the little bomb, the bomb which would be enough so long as he planted it in the right place. The right place. Dubois had said he would not believe it. Now he saw, Dubois had been right.

He didn't. He didn't believe it even though he was seeing it with his own eyes.

In a wide clearing, encircled by a palisade of towering spruce, sat a colossal zeppelin. The airship was huge, silver, its curved ribs flashing in the sun. On its tail fins were giant Nazi swastikas. On the flank, the registration D-LZ129. And, nearer the titanic bow, in scarlet gothic script, the name:

Hindenburg
***

Skook didn't know that the location of the hidden package had been revealed to the Nazis. Thus, he was blissfully unaware that, even as he hobbled through the tangled woods supported by Kachesy, men armed with guns were making their own way to the hidden prize.

Unaware of the urgency of his mission, Skook decided to make conversation with his slender, attractive companion. He considered himself something of a ladies man, but, just the same, something about this girl left him tongue-tied and awkward. She seemed wild and untamed. Like a doe, a single wrong sound might startle her into flight. And Skook definitely did not want her to fly away.

"That man you shot with the arrow," he began; "it was a very good shot. That is unusual for a woman, uh?"

The girl shrugged mildly. "My father was chief of our band. He taught me how to hunt."

"Did 'e teach you also 'ow to use a rifle?"

"A little, but not so much."

Skook blew out in frustration. "Too bad we don't 'ave one. My carbine is not so much use against those machine guns. I could do with your assistance, uh?"

The girl seemed suddenly insulted. "I have killed many of them with my arrows," she stated proudly. "I don't need a gun to teach them fear."

Skook saw that he had offended the girl and quickly sought to mollify her. "Oui. I don't doubt it. But fear alone is not going to rescue my friend Pontoon. What we need are weapons, uh?" He stopped walking as they came upon the trail leading to the cabin. "Ah, 'ere we are. And there is the log with the package. You will 'ave to 'elp me carry it..."

He took one halting step toward the hollow log--and gunfire erupted stuttering from the surrounding trees!

The two companions were taken entirely by surprise. Wood chips exploded as buzzing lead chewed at the nearest tree trunks. But, by a miracle, not one shot hit the engineer or the girl.

"Alons-y!" exclaimed Skook, grabbing her hand and hauling her, stumbling, down the path.

Their only hope was the cabin; at least it would offer some protection and a place to make a stand. Behind them, men burst from the woods, still firing as they came. As he ran, it occurred to Skook that the men must have just arrived; if they had set up an ambush, they would not have missed with that first volley of lead. Luck, in a way, was with him.

The two fugitives gained the cabin only seconds ahead of their pursuers. They hurled themselves through the still-open door, slamming it behind them and wedging a chair to hold it shut. Skook sprang to the window, keeping low. More gunfire chattered outside and the glass exploded, showering down onto his scarf-covered head. Skook rose just enough to level the Lee-Enfield through the broken window. He got off a shot and had the satisfaction of seeing a man topple backwards into a bush.

Kachesy was beside him. Her bow was in one hand, an arrow in the other. She peered out, over the lintel, ducking down again as more gunfire raked the cabin.

"There are so many of them!" she cried.

Skook felt in his pockets. His features were grim. "That is not the 'alf of it," he told her. "I am also out of cartridges!"

Their eyes met, hers dark and beautiful even though filled with fathomless fear; his filled with self-recrimination that he had allowed himself to come so unprepared. Worse, he had led her into this death trap. In his mind, he cursed himself for his stupidity.

Then, from outside, they heard voices calling, muffled and indistinct, back and forth. The gunfire stopped and there was a long, ominous hush.

Skook whispered, "I do not like this. What are they up to, uh?"

Abruptly, the girl stiffened, slim body straightening on her knees. Her nostrils dilated as she sniffed the air. "Smoke!" she gasped.

Skook could smell it too, the acrid aroma wafting on the piney air. Smoke. Then, soft at first but growing steadily louder, he heard a sound. The crackling of hungry flames. He felt an icy chill crawl up his spine.

Suddenly, smoke began to seep down through the boards overhead, grey languorous tendrils that gathered in the peak of the roof. Skook looked up and ground his teeth in disgust.

"Tonnerre! What do we do now?" he asked. "They have set fire to the cabin. They mean to burn us alive!"

Next episode....Four Explosions!


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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!)