"Pontoon" Jack Carnac
in
Hell hath the Hindenburg!

A 10-chapter novella

By Jeffrey Blair Latta


Previously: Hijacked to a Nazi base in the Canadian Rockies, Jack and Skook hid their cargo, a strong box, in the woods, knowing only that its contents might spell the end of the world. Jack tried to rescue Angelique, only to be captured by a man-beast, Keewaykeno, used by the Nazis. Eventually he was tricked into revealing the hiding place of the strong box. Meanwhile, Skook met up with Kachesy, the Indian widow of Josef Oleskow, who had been murdered by the Nazis for his cabin. On his way to move the hidden strong box, they ran into the Nazis going to retrieve the box. He and Kachesy were cornered in Oleskow's cabin, which was set on fire. Meanwhile Pontoon Jack found the Nazis had the airship Hindenburg hidden in their base...


Episode Nine:

Four Explosions!


It wasn't the real Hindenburg.

The real Hindenburg was, even now, somewhere out over the Atlantic on its routine flight to North America. Herr Reichnitzer explained as much as he led Jack, under armed guard, up the fold-down stairs leading up into the leviathan's gleaming silver belly.

"Nonetheless," the Nazi commander continued when they paused at the top of the stairs, "it is as perfect a replica as we could possibly create."

A narrow corridor reached past a row of bathrooms, and another flight of stairs led up to a second deck. Herr Reichnitzer gestured toward the corridor, and Jack began to follow it.

"Every passenger cabin, every chair, even the smoking room, all have been duplicated here in the shadow of the Rockies. After all, the real Hindenburg was very carefully designed for structural stability and minimum weight, and we could not be sure which parts were necessary and which were not. Like the real Hindenburg, this airship has two passenger decks, capable of carrying fifty passengers comfortably. It has a dining room, a reading room, a sitting room, smoking room, a promenade, even showers."

They stepped through a doorway into another narrow corridor, and began to follow that forward. "This is the keel corridor," Reichnitzer explained, then laughed affably. "But then, you must already know that, ja?"

Jack glanced back at the Nazi, brows furrowing. Reichnitzer explained: "Your French-Canadian friend, Herr Dubois, tells me that you have some experience flying dirigibles for the British."

Now, at last, Jack began to understand. So that was the lie Dubois had told them: that Jack knew how to fly an airship. Dubois was right; that lie had probably saved his life. So long as they believed it, they thought he was useful to them. But for how long could he hope to keep up the charade? He didn't know the first thing about flying a zeppelin. He kept his features inscrutable.

They passed through another door and found themselves walking along a continuation of the keel corridor, a walkway open to the interior of the ship. Leaving behind the passenger section, they were now in the crew section. Looking up, Jack could see a mysterious world of struts and wires, titanic gasbags looming like vast billowing clouds, the whole dimly lit by a dull yellow light glowing through the airship's doped fabric covering. To either side of the narrow walkway, huge metal tanks pressed in, no doubt filled with water ballast and fuel.

"We have need of your piloting abilities," Reichnitzer went on. "We did have a pilot, but, unfortunately, the man stumbled into your cursed muskeg and drowned. Nincompoop!"

Jack nodded, understanding far more than Reichnitzer suspected. Evidently it was the pilot with whom Dubois had made his arrangement to plant the bomb on the duplicate Hindenburg. When that man died, Dubois had turned to Jack.

Leaving the tanks behind, they passed some rooms, barely more than tents nestled in the shadows beside the walkway. But then they passed a more heavily built structure, one oddly out of place on this weight-restricted airship. The door was of solid wood with a lock.

Jack paused. "What have you got in there?" he asked.

Reichnitzer smiled. "That room was specially built. We have hired local workers to construct this craft. They expect to be paid. That is where we keep the payroll."

At a gesture, they resumed their trek. But again, the bush pilot's thoughts were racing. He began to think he saw the reason Dubois wanted to blow up this duplicate Hindenburg. It would be just like The Lynx...

Much as Jack hated even the thought of joining sides with his Nemesis, in this case he saw little choice. Whatever these Nazis were up to, it couldn't be good--and it involved this fabulous reconstruction to bring it off. Dubois' threats aside, Jack figured this Hindenburg had to be destroyed one way or another. And, as he glanced up at the vast hydrogen-filled gasbags, he knew there was only one sure way to do it. Dubois had been right about that, too. Even this little bomb would be enough to set it off.

Jack made his decision. He would plant the bomb on one of the fuel tanks on the way back.

They arrived at a ladder and climbed down into the control car which hung on the outside of the airship.

"Here we are," Reichnitzer said, flourishing a gloved hand. "Make yourself familiar with the controls, mein Herr."

The control car was narrow, with windows all around. Two uniformed men stood at steering wheels, like the huge spoked wheels on old sailing ships. There were no chairs. Jack knew he had to play along. He pretended to study the meaningless dials over the wheels.

"You should find it very similar to your British airships," Reichnitzer assured him, "although, of course, better built."

After a while, Jack turned to the Nazi and asked, "If you expect me to fly this thing, you have to tell me where you're going with it. And why you built it in the first place."

For a moment, Reichnitzer was silent, studying the bush pilot thoughtfully. One long finger pensively tapped his thin lips. Finally he nodded once.

"Very well. As you wish. That package you brought to us contains vials of a disease, a specially developed strain. Normally the disease in question is spread through unclean water, but this strain is air-borne, and thus far, far more lethal. We wish to spread it throughout major cities in North America. It is easiest to do that from the air. We built this duplicate Hindenburg so that we can safely travel over major cities without attracting suspicion. The real Hindenburg will be delayed in mid-Atlantic."

Jack could hardly believe what he was hearing. He never imagined anything like this!

"An airborne disease?" he gasped. "But... why?"

A chilling grin spread over the Nazi's hawkish features. "There is a war coming, Herr Carnac. Everyone knows this, ja? Germany is strong enough to conquer Europe, but North America is protected by the Atlantic. Our Fuehrer believes that a deadly epidemic will serve as a suitable distraction, to prevent Canada and the United States from taking part in the coming conflict."

Jack was momentarily speechless. The sheer scale of the thing was diabolical. "But why use a duplicate Hindenburg?" he finally managed. "Why not just use the real one? You own it, after all."

"If something should go wrong, the Fuehrer will deny the German government had anything to do with it."

Jack saw that it made sense--in an insane, megalomaniacal sort of way. "Then tell me this," he asked. "When I asked Robitaille what was in the package, he gave me a name. Who is Jack Morbus?"

"Jack Morbus?" Reichnitzer's smile spread all the wider. "You mean you have never heard of Jack Morbus?" The Nazi laughed. "Jack Morbus is a term British soldiers made up for the disease which you delivered to us. Jack Morbus is cholera!"

***
The fire was spreading fast. The entire roof of the cabin must be a raging inferno, Skook thought. He and the girl began to cough on the gathering smoke. With a terrible crash, flaming beams collapsed over the potbellied stove, a massive chunk of the roof falling in.

"What are we going to do?" cried the Native girl, struggling to breathe, eyes watering against the stinging fumes. "We shall burn to death!"

Skook knew she was right; they had only minutes left before the whole place went up in flames. But he knew, if they left the cabin, they could expect only a hail of hot lead for their troubles. Those men had no intention of taking prisoners. He looked desperately around, but there was no back door, no way out except through the front.

"I'm sorry I got you into this," he told Kachesy.

She looked at him in surprise. "You did not get me into this! Those men killed my husband. I was 'into this' long before I met you!" Then a sad smile touched her lovely, smoke-blackened features. "I only regret you did not have a chance to smoke one of Josef's cigars. Now you never will."

For the first time, Skook noticed she was still clutching the cigar box, brought with her when they abandoned the chico. It seemed somehow oddly heroic. Gently he reached out and stroked a raven-black lock from her face.

"Pourquoi pas, uh? Why not? If I am to die, I might as well smoke a last cigar--avec une belle femme!"

She handed him the box and he pried open the lid--then blew out in stunned amazement!

"Sacre Dieu!" he exclaimed. "These are the 'cigars' your husband was saving for the motherload? Quelle 'cigars'!"

The box was filled with twelve sticks of dynamite. Josef Oleskow had evidently planned to use them to dig a mine.

Dynamite!

There was no time to waste. Already, more of the flaming roof was caving in. The interior was a seething furnace. The smoke made it hard to see, difficult even to breathe. But now, at last they had a chance.

Without a word, the engineer grabbed up four sticks of dynamite, already supplied with caps and fuses. He lit the fuses on a burning beam. They hissed and spat yellow sparks.

"As Pontoon would say-- 'Ere goes nothing!"

The engineer was an expert at throwing his curved-bladed besshath; now he applied that same skill to tossing the dynamite. He had to wait until the fuses were nearly used up, to prevent the men from throwing the dynamite back. Then, rising quickly, he hurled the sticks one at a time through the window.

He had previously determined that the men were clustered in four groups--all out front since there was no back door. The hissing sticks tumbled through the air, each one landing in the bushes nearest its target. For a moment, there was no reaction. Then, some of the men realized their danger--but too late. Their warning screams were drowned in four deafening explosions.

Skook didn't wait to determine the success of his attack, but sprang to the door and, hurling aside the chair, rushed out and to the nearest group of men. He found them all sprawled amongst broken branches, leaves still fluttering to the earth. Catching up a Sten gun, he brandished it menacingly--but then saw there was no need. They were all either dead or unconscious.

Kachesy reached his side, still coughing from the smoke, carrying the remaining dynamite. She looked over the scattered bodies, then gazed up at the burly engineer with something close to awe. Behind them, the cabin collapsed into a hot, roaring pile.

"Quick," Skook said.

His leg still sore, he limped back down the path to the hollow log, followed close by the girl. But a single glance confirmed the engineer's worst fear. They were too late. The package--the package which might spell the end of the world--was gone!

***
Once more, Pontoon Jack found himself a prisoner in the log cabin, captive along with Angelique and the ape-like man-beast known as Keewaykeno, The Northwind Man.

Herr Reichnitzer had only allowed the bush pilot aboard the duplicate Hindenburg because Jack had stumbled onto the zeppelin already; after permitting him to look over the controls, the Nazi had ordered the bush pilot back to the camp. When the time came, Jack was expected to pilot the damn thing--but that time wasn't yet.

In the cabin, the broad-shouldered Keewaykeno crouched in the shadows beyond the steel bars of its cage, watching in sullen silence--watching the girl.

To Jack, it was unnerving. What was the brute thinking? Could it possibly feel something like...love for the slender, creme-skinned French-Canadian? If so, Jack didn't blame the monster one bit; he was more than a little taken with the girl himself. This close, he could smell the fresh scent of her, see her foamy, black hair, her smooth, flawless skin. Her lustrous eyes, scarlet lips, alluring dimples--no, he didn't blame the beast at all.

Neither the girl nor Jack were tied up for the moment; with only one door, and a guard standing just outside, there was no way for them to escape. Just the same, the bush pilot paced back and forth, like a caged mountain lion, following the log walls, slitted eyes hungrily searching for a weak point in the timber construction.

Suddenly the door opened and Dubois strode in, again followed by the red-toqued Caribou Dan. The black-clad bush pilot seemed unusually tense. He cast a glance over his shoulder, a signal to his engineer who closed the door.

Turning to Jack, The Lynx asked in a tight whisper: "Well? You have seen it, uh? Now you know. Did you plant the bomb on the airship?"

Dubois was a killer many times over. Most recently, he had murdered the prospector, Josef Oleskow. Now, Jack had to fight to keep himself from flying at the man's scarf-clad throat.

"What do you think, Dubois? Of course I planted it. My God, do you know what those maniacs are planning?"

"I told you already, mon vieux--I did not ask. So long as I get paid, I am content, uh?"

Jack's voice became a snarl of disgust. "They're going to use that airship of theirs to spread an airborne strain of cholera throughout the major cities of North America, that's what they're planning, Dubois! And don't pretend you didn't suspect--when I asked you who Jack Morbus was, it was obvious you knew it was a nickname for cholera. If you didn't suspect before, you did then!"

"Per'aps," Dubois conceded with a mild shrug. "But that is no concern of mine. I could not stop them, even if I wished to. Anyway, I 'ave given you the means to stop them, 'ave I not? When you detonate the bomb, you will destroy their airship--you may not stop them permanently, but you will certainly set them back months. What more could you expect of me, uh?"

"You're right about one thing," Jack shot back caustically. "That's about all I'd expect... of you."

Dubois laughed thinly. "I suppose you have guessed why I wish to destroy their airship?"

"I've got a hunch. Herr Reichnitzer showed me a strong room on board the airship where they keep the payroll to pay all these men. I'm guessing you've already managed to steal that payroll. Either you replaced it with counterfeit money, or, more likely, that strong room is empty now."

Dubois nodded his appreciation. "You are very smart, mon vieux. You know, if we worked together, there is no telling what we might accomplish."

"Dubois, I'd sooner work with a rabid wolf."

The smile remained on Dubois' lips, but his voice hardened. His eyes were concealed behind his black snowglasses, but Jack could imagine they were looking daggers, at that moment.

"You are correct, Carnac. I convinced the airship pilot to steal the payroll from the strong room and replace it with bags weighted with scrap paper. 'E was to blow up the airship, destroying the evidence and they would never 'ave known they 'ad been robbed."

Jack laughed derisively. "But things went sour when the pilot stumbled into the muskeg and drowned. So now, if I don't blow up that airship, sooner or later the Nazis will find out they've been robbed--and I don't imagine Der Fuehrer is one to forgive and forget."

At Jack's words, the colour drained from the other man's already pale features.

"You 'ave no choice," Dubois returned icily. "Whatever satisfaction you might get from my demise, you must destroy that airship to stop them from spreading their disease."

Jack nodded slowly. "Unfortunately, you're right. But if we get out of this alive--"

Whatever threat the bush pilot was about to utter, he was interrupted as the door swung suddenly wide and Herr Reichnitzer strode imperiously over the threshold. The Nazi commander was followed closely by Angelique's conniving brother, Michel, and two guards armed with Sten guns. Reichnitzer stopped and gave a brisk Nazi salute.

"The time has come, Herr Carnac," he said. "My men have recovered the package containing the vials of cholera from where you had hidden it. Even as we speak it is being loaded aboard our Hindenburg. Word has reached us that the real Hindenburg has been stopped in mid-Atlantic to repair one of her engines--precisely according to plan. If you are ready, then, we will escort you to the zeppelin where you may take command of our crew for the journey to come."

Jack regarded the Nazi for a long silent space. In a low voice he said: "Pilot the damn airship yourself--I'd die before I'd help you with your insane plot."

Reichnitzer seemed to have expected that reaction. He hardly even paused before snapping a command in German to his two guards. In seconds, they seized Jack, holding him between them by either arm.

"Of course, I knew you would not pilot our airship...voluntarily. I knew you would require some persuading." His eyes fixed on Angelique, and an ominous gleam lit them like a smoldering fire. "Before, when I placed the girl in the cage with our beast, something went wrong. The mindless brute refused to harm her. Animal!" He spat the word in disgust. Then he laughed. "You Canadians have an expression, ja? 'If you wish to do something right, do it yourself.'"

All along, the Nazi commander had kept his right hand behind his back. Now he brought it forward--to reveal, clutched in his gloved hand, the same whip which the guard had before used on the monster.

Seeing the dreadful device, Angelique gave a sharp sob of terror and stumbled back against the wall, slim hands flying to open lips. Even Michel, her brother, turned pale as the lash uncoiled with a snake-like rustling. Only Dubois seemed unaffected by the scene, watching impassively from behind his black glasses. A loathsome smirk played on the face of his stocky engineer.

Jack surged forward, jerking his pinioned arms--but the guards held him fast.

"You devil!"

"We will see," Herr Reichnitzer purred, advancing on the cringing girl. "We will see how long you will continue to refuse us your expertise. This fraulein will not die an easy death, I assure you. All you have to do is pledge to fly our airship--continue to refuse... and I will flay her alive!"

The Conclusion....The Hell-Damner vs. The Hindenburg!


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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!)