Rebecca Strong carried the suitcase that contained her belongings up the dirt road to the whitewashed wooden hangar situated near a yellow grass field that served as an airstrip. A tall wooden tower stood next to the hangar, as to its purpose Rebecca could not guess. The young woman continued to walk toward the opening in the 100-degree New Mexico summer. The heat was dry and stifling. Rebecca was sweating heavily; her damp chestnut hair clung to her head.
Rebecca was here to meet her father Dr. Hugo Strong, who was a rather well known archaeologist from the University of Chicago. He was currently studying some Anasazi ruins in the area. The archaeologist had requested if Rebecca was available, that she could spend some time working in the field with him during the summer. This would be the first time the two spent any time together since Rebecca's mother died nearly three years ago during the Spanish Flu epidemic.
Dr. Strong took the death of Rebecca's mother particularly hard. Fortunately, some of Hugo's close friends saved his career when the archaeologist took to heavy drinking. With the Prohibition Act, drinking was dangerous, just being in possession of liquor landed one in jail. Hardly something the University would look kindly on regardless of his achievements.
Nevertheless, Rebecca was excited to do some fieldwork with her father. She doubted that she herself would ever find anything thrilling again after her mother's death. But, then last year with the passage of the 19th amendment, the world appeared to open up for a young woman. With the right to vote, Rebecca was sure that even new opportunities would soon unfold for her. Being in the field with her prestigious father was an adventure never dreamed of before and it was just one example.
Nervously, Rebecca approached the open hangar doors. She did not know what to expect. She had only seen aircraft from a distance before. This too would prove to be another adventure. She heard a voice talking from inside, but there was only one side to this conversation.
"Must be talking to himself," Rebecca mused.
The young woman poked her head around the doublewide doorway. Inside she saw a yellow 1920 HCS Stutz Roadster II parked on one side of the huge open room. Behind the car there were tools hanging on the wall with various metal drums on the floor next to tall standup locker. On the opposite wall from Rebecca, there was a door. A sign hung from its knob that said "Gone Fishing". Across from the yellow vehicle, was a man in tan coveralls wearing headphones over a ball cap and sitting in front of what looked like the wireless telegraph she had seen once on board a cruise ship. He appeared to be speaking to it instead of tapping at telegraph key, as one would expect.
"I roger that Sparky, over and out," the man replied.
"Uh...excuse me," Rebecca stammered, "I'm here to meet a Mr. James MacKinnon."
The man spun around in his wooden swivel chair and glared at the intruder. Rebecca felt uneasy, as the man looked her over as if she were a piece of merchandise. The man himself was in his early twenties, had short blonde hair, and wore small round glasses. He was obviously of German heritage.
He stood up and placed the headphones on the table containing his electronic device. The stranger could not have stood more than five and half feet tall and could not have weighed more than 120 pounds. If he planned to attack her, she felt she had an even chance of beating off any advances.
"I'm sorry, you must be Miss Strong," the man began. "I am Dan Edwards. I've just been informed," Dan motioned toward the electronic device on the table, "that Mac should be here in about half an hour."
Rebecca stood there for a couple of uncomfortable minutes staring at Dan. The young man just stared back at her.
"Uh...may I come in?" Rebecca finally asked.
"Oh! I'm sorry, please do," Dan rushed over to help Rebecca with her luggage as he ushered her into the hangar. He then pulled her over to a chair next to the table he had been sitting at and then he poured her some warm water from a pitcher.
Rebecca took the chair and swallowed down the water. She never thought that warm water could feel so good running down her parched throat. She then looked over at the device that contained most of the table.
"That is a radio," Dan exclaimed with obvious pride and excitement. "I was just communicating to an airfield over at Tucson which also has one."
The look of surprise on Rebecca's face was obvious. Dan cleared his voice preparing to launch into one of his favorite topics.
"Did you know that on Christmas Eve in 1906 Reginald Fessenden read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke, played ‘Silent Night' on the violin and then wished everyone a merry Christmas in the New England area? Imagine the surprise on the faces of the ships' telegraphers at sea when they heard this over their headphones instead of Morse code." Dan chuckled before continuing.
"After the Great War a lot of us set up our own little broadcast stations to communicate with each other. In fact, just last November 2nd the first commercial broadcast station KDKA in Pittsburgh began broadcasting. Certainly, you must have heard of it?"
Rebecca nodded she had heard of it, but hearing of something and actually seeing were two different things. She looked more intently at the radio set on the table.
Dan picked up the headset and set it against her ear. Rebecca gasped in amazement as she heard voices talking to each other. She did not understand everything that was said with all the "Rogers", "Overs", "Copies", and "Outs" she heard.
Dan pointed to the microphone that sat on the table in front of the device. "It is into this that I am able to talk to my fellow ‘Hams' as they call us."
Rebecca was about to ask another question when she heard an airplane approaching from overhead. Dan grabbed Rebecca by the arm and pulled her toward the open doorway.
"That'll be Mac now," Dan said as the sound of the plane's engine increased overhead. "We can meet him out on the field."
As the two ran out to the field, Rebecca looked up to see a biplane banking toward the field. Rebecca just stared in amazement as the plane descended toward the ground. Soon the aircraft bounced as the landing gear touched the ground. The pilot slowed the aircraft as it approached Dan and Rebecca. The roar of the engine was like nothing Rebecca had ever heard before. Soon the engine coughed as the pilot shut it down.
Rebecca noticed that the plane had two seats. She thought it was strange that the pilot would sit in the furthest one back. It was not long before the pilot jumped out of the cockpit and alighted on the ground.
The man stood at about six feet tall wore a brown leather jacket and a matching helmet. He had a white silk scarf around his neck. He wore khaki pants and brown leather boots that reached over his calves. As the man approached the pair, he raised his flight glasses from his eyes revealing the pale blue irises.
Mac MacKinnon was smiling charmingly when he approached Dan and Rebecca. He pulled off his gloves and slapped Dan on the arm in a friendly manner.
"Dan, my boy, looks like our trip to Mexico will pay off handsomely if I get our cargo to Denver."
"Great Mac, what is it this time? Cerveza, Tequilla?"
"Yes, and yes," Mac laughed as he removed his leather helmet revealing his short brown hair.
"I see that our guest has arrived," Mac turned toward Rebecca who was just standing there in awe. "You must be Miss Strong, you can call me Mac. I see you already met the boy genius Dan ‘the Ham'."
"Please, I'm Rebecca."
Mac nodded and led her back towards the hangar. "Let's not bother Dan as he unloads our cargo and tinkers with the plane. I believe we have some business to conduct."
Mac removed his leather helmet and jacket and tossed them onto the table next to the radio. He poured himself a cup of water and chugged it down in one go.
"When will you take me to see father?" Rebecca asked as the pilot seated himself down onto a chair near the table.
"We can leave in just a few minutes. All I need is the agreed upon payment," smiled Mac.
"I can't believe that you are charging $10 to take me to my father's camp," Rebecca said with a little disbelief. "I could buy a bus ticket for that amount or pay someone else to take me there for far less."
"Well, that is true," Mac chuckled. "But I am the only one who knows where your father is, and it is my business to transport cargo quickly and safely and that comes with a price."
"Cargo! I am just cargo to be transported quickly!" Rebecca angrily responded. Her sudden outburst caught herself by surprise. Yet she was even more surprised to hear Mac laughing.
"Not just quickly, but also safely," he pointed out. "As far as I am concerned, I've never been asked to deliver better ‘cargo'."
Rebecca blushed even though she still felt a little offended by the concept of being cargo. She was about to say something when Dan came walking into the hangar carrying a wooden crate. The sound of clinking bottles could be heard rattling around inside. Dan sat the crate down against a far wall next to the locker.
"Mac, I'll have the Jenny ready to go for your trip in the morning," Dan called over to the pilot. Mac only smiled and nodded toward Dan.
"Jenny?" Rebecca could not help ask. She knew that Mac's affairs were none of her business.
Mac laughed again, "I'm sorry. The Jenny is my plane. We used them as trainers during the Great War. It had a top speed of 75 miles per hour, but Dan wasn't happy with that." Mac pointed over to the bowing mechanic. "No, he modified her until she can do over 100 miles per hour. In fact, he did the same with my car over there." Mac pointed over to the yellow roadster. Dan just beamed with pride over Mac's praise.
"Speaking of which, I believe I have a delivery to make. But first..." Mac cut himself off and winked at Rebecca.
"Yes of course," Rebecca pulled out ten dollars and handed them over to Mac. Mac handed them over to Dan, who in turn stuffed them into his front coverall pocket.
In less than a minute, the yellow vehicle sped out of the hangar. Mac had the top down so that the air would flow over them. Rebecca felt the wind rush past her skin. It still felt quite hot, but it was not nearly as bad as when she was standing in it a few minutes before.
Mac sped the vehicle down the dirt road at an astounding clip. Rebecca doubted that she had ever traveled this fast before. Not even on the train that brought her to Santa Fe from Chicago. The silence was becoming ominous as Mac drove along the desert road.
"How is father?" Rebecca asked watching the scrub grass and tumbleweeds fly by the side of the road.
"He appeared to be in quite good health the other day," Mac responded as he took a quick glance in his rearview mirror on the driver's side of the windshield.
"I mean has he gone back to drinking?"
"I don't believe he has."
"Mr. McKinnon, I know what your side business is. Please, I will not tell the authorities, but it is important that my father isn't involved in anyway. He almost lost his job because of his drinking after mother died."
Mac chuckled a bit, "You know I did offer him a beer once, but he turned me down. I swear I've never seen him drunk nor have a drink."
Rebecca's sigh of relief was audible over the purr of the Roadster's engine. Mac looked over at her and smiled. As he continued to drive, he looked in his rearview mirror again.
"Say, how would you like to see how fast we can take this car?" Mac asked cheerfully.
Before Rebecca could respond she was not interested in going any faster, Mac stomped on the accelerator. The yellow Roadster shot off like a racehorse leaving the gates at the Kentucky Derby. Rebecca held onto the door with a death grip. The blood completely left her face as Mac took turns at breakneck speed and shot down side roads that were merely trails.
How long they drove like this Rebecca did not know. Eventually Mac slowed the car down and his own sigh of relief became audible over the engine.
"Mr. McKinnon I thought you were to deliver your cargo quickly and safely," Rebecca commented sarcastically.
"Trust me I have your safety on my mind and please call me Mac."
It was not long before they pulled into a cavernous valley. Large pillars of rock, some with boulders on top of them, littered the landscape. The view was quite stunning and Rebecca swore she had never seen anything as breathtaking as this before. Mac pulled the yellow car up to a cliff that contained some pueblo houses inside its huge cavern.
At the base of the cliff was pitched a medium sized tent in front of a fire pit. Boxes of supplies were stacked near the tent. Shovels and pickaxes rested against the boxes. Rebecca's heart raced with excitement. She jumped out of the car before Mac had the Roadster a full stop.
A man with gray hair wearing a beat up brimmed hat stepped out of the tent. His closely trimmed gray beard made him look even more scholarly. Rebecca ran up to him and threw her arms around the old man's neck.
"Father, it's great to see you," she cried as tears ran down her cheeks.
Hugo Strong hugged his daughter tightly with a huge smile on his face.
After Dr. Strong released his daughter, Mac approached him and shook his hand.
"Good to see you, Doc," Mac smiled as he pumped the archaeologist's hand in a strong grip.
"Did you have any problems delivering Rebecca?" the old man asked.
"Not at all, it was a wonderful drive," replied the pilot.
"I would have enjoyed the scenery more if it wasn't passing by at a hundred miles an hour," Rebecca shot out.
Dr. Strong looked up at Mac in surprise. Mac nodded his head.
"I have some business to conclude with Mac here, dear. But if you go into the tent I'm sure you'll find some of the artifacts on the table of great interest."
Rebecca walked over to the tent. Both men watched her silently not speaking until she closed the flap behind her.
"Were you followed?" Hugo asked.
"I believe someone was trying to follow us. I took a circuitous route to get here and lost them some miles back there. I'll stay until after sunset then I will return to the airfield."
"Be careful. My package should arrive in Denver tomorrow. Bring it as soon as possible."
"I'll have it here the day after next, Doc. You better take extra precautions as well," Mac responded.
"Please follow me to the tent. Let me show you what I've uncovered," the old man motioned for Mac to enter the tent.
The two men stepped into the tent. There were two cots at opposite sides of the room. A blanket screened one of the cots from the rest of the tent. This was obviously going to be Rebecca's "room". In the center of the tent was a large circular stone tablet about two feet in diameter on a wooden table. Strange markings covered the tablets surface. Rebecca stood hunched over the tablet studying its features.
"This is it," beamed the archaeologist. "This is the holy grail of the New World."
"I'm sorry if I don't really understand, Doc," Mac said scratching his head. The stone tablet did not strike him as anything particular.
"It looks like a Mayan calendar," Rebecca added.
"Yes, it does. In reality it is a map," Hugo responded excitedly.
"Map?" Mac took a closer look at the tablet. He just could not see how the strange symbols represented a map.
"Not just a map, but THE map."
Both Mac and Rebecca stared at the archaeologist as if he had been out in the sun too long.
"This is the map to the fabled Lost Cities of Gold."
"You mean El Dorado?" Mac asked.
"Yes, and no," The professor began. "El Dorado really means the 'Gilded One'.
"About thirty miles northeast of Bogota lays Lake Guatavita. The conquistadors used to call it 'Lake El Dorado' because the practice of the local chief who would cover himself in gold dust from head to foot. He then would float out to the middle of the lake on a raft where he would throw in golden objects to appease the spirit of the lake.
"Several accounts of this have been written down by the likes of Oviedo, the soldier-historian Pedro de Cieza de Leon, and Padre Pedro Simon. Over the centuries, several golden objects have been retrieved from the lake and there were even attempts by the Spaniards to drain it.
"Over the course of a few years the name El Dorado became synonymous with the lost cities of gold. Many famous explorers from across Europe searched in vain for the cities of gold such as Hernan Perez de Quesada, Philipp von Hutten, and even Sir Walter Raleigh.
"Over time the search for El Dorado, as you call it, became a thing of folk-lore and legend like Atlantis, the Fountain of Youth, or Camelot. However, I believe that there is some truth to the story. I believe that before the Incas, Aztecs or even the older Mayan, Toltec and Moche there was a great culture in South America. I believe that this civilization lost to history spread its culture of goldsmithing, engineering, and religion across much of South and Central America. I also believe that this civilization was the story that the conquistadors heard from the natives which led them to believe in the Lost Cities of Gold."
"Excuse me, Doc, but how does that bring you to the Anasazi? Were they part of this great lost empire?" Mac interrupted.
"No, not at all. We know very little about the Anasazi it is only by coincidence that I am here."
"I don't follow you father," Rebecca piped up.
"In my research in the archives of Madrid I came across a diary from a priest named Rodrigo Martinez de Toledo. He talks about the conquistadors finding a crystal skull in what is now British Honduras in 1578. The skull he claims is the key to the legendary city of El Dorado. This sparked a renewed interest in the Spanish searching for the elusive city. Soon in Mexico a stone tablet," Hugo pointed down at the tablet on the table, "was found in one of the temples. This tablet predated the Aztecs, but the Aztecs held it to be very holy. Rodrigo claims that this tablet was a map that would lead to El Dorado."
"That's interesting, Doc, how did the tablet get up here and what about the key?"
"Yes, two things happened that altered the course of history. The first was that in 1579 the Spaniards put the crystal skull aboard a ship called the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion out of Peru. She was to sail west and put in at Spain. Unfortunately, the ship met up with that seadog Sir Francis Drake. Because the Spanish ship actually carried cannons, it earned the nickname of the Cacafuego. Drake soon captured the ship and transferred all the treasure aboard his ship the Golden Hind.
"Drake fearing that he wouldn't make it back to England and hoping that if he did he would be able to persuade Queen Elizabeth to colonize what is now the Pacific Northwest, New Albion as Drake named it, buried the skull and some treasure in Washington State. Queen Elizabeth burned the records of Drakes passage and forbade him to speak of it. I found the treasure last year, and fear that if I reveal my find, cutthroat fortune hunters will come after me.
"The map was lost two years later when renegade Spaniards stole the map before it could be sent with the treasure fleet to Spain in 1781. The renegades fled north as far as they could before finally taking shelter in some Anasazi ruins. The Navajo tribe soon killed them off.
"That is exactly where I found the stone map. Soon I shall have the key," the archaeologist concluded.
"You mean you have translated the stone?" Rebecca asked.
"Yes, with the help of Rodrigo's journal. I have the map memorized, but I want you, Mac to have the copy that I made for safe keeping." Hugo handed Mac a journal that the pilot stuffed in his back pocket.
Rebecca slept soundly inside the tent. She was dreaming of humming birds with propellers on their beak as they buzzed from flower to flower. The buzzing increased in intensity until she woke up. Sitting straight up in bed Rebecca strained her ears to the noise of the buzzing. It sounded much like that of Mac's Jenny except it sounded as if there were a fleet of them.
Rebecca was about to awaken her father when the noise suddenly stopped dead. The buzzing vanished as if it had never been. Rebecca returned to bed shaking her head. Could she have dreamt the noise?
The next morning Rebecca arose, the sun was already up and the air in the tent was starting to become stifling hot. Her father had obviously been up for some time by the smell of breakfast cooking outside. The smell of scrambled eggs, bacon, and coffee wafted into the tent. Rebecca's stomach growled in anticipation. She quickly dressed into some khaki shorts and a light shirt and joined her father outside.
Hugo was sitting on a crate sipping at his coffee in a tin cup. He was looking up at the cave dwelling above him lost in thought. A pan of eggs and bacon sat on another crate next to him and the pot of coffee percolated on the small campfire.
"Good morning, dad," Rebecca greeted as she helped herself to the food.
"Ah, good morning," Hugo quickly turned to meet his daughter's eyes with a smile on his face. "After breakfast I thought today I'd show you around the dwelling up there," the archaeologist motioned towards the Anasazi abode with his cup of coffee.
"That'd be great," Rebecca replied excitedly. The previous day they spent in camp looking at the artifacts that Hugo had retrieved from the ruins. Though they were incredibly intriguing, Rebecca was itching to see the actual site from which they came.
"Do you think Mac will be here today?" Rebecca asked. "He did say he'd have your package here by then."
"Don't worry," Dr. Strong chuckled. "Mac knows his way around this camp. He has actually spent a couple of days up there helping me dig. So I'm sure that if we aren't in camp he'll join us up at the pueblo."
Dan listened to the radio gravely. His contact in Denver said that Mac had left the airfield hours ago. However, Mac should have returned by now. It was way past noon and the delivery went off without a hitch. The Jenny had been in top form when Mac took off yesterday for Denver. What could be keeping him?
Dan had known Mac since they served together in the Great War. Even then, Dan was the crew chief for Mac's Sopwith Camel. Dan took great pride in the fact that Mac's aircraft never left the airfield with a fault; the return however was always a different story.
After the war, the two began their own express courier service with the Jenny and this airfield. Business was very good. Everyone appeared to need something expedited somewhere. Trains sometimes were not fast enough or did not have a route where the delivery needed to be.
Prohibition had become a boon to their trade as well. The smuggling a crate or two of some beer or tequila from Mexico to some resort in the area proved very profitable. However, Mac was always careful to smuggle very little and to pay off the right officials. Being too greedy attracted the wrong attention. That is the attention of either the law or the mafia.
Dan set the headset down on the table. He dreamed of the day when radios became small enough to fit in aircraft. Regardless, the only thing Dan could do now was to wait and worry.
The late afternoon sun filtered into the cave dwelling. The buildings of the Anasazi were remarkable. The pueblos were made of adobe and the cave in which they were nestled tended to offer some relief from the blazing desert sun. Rebecca was having the time of her life.
"Now look here," Dr. Strong pointed to a pit in the floor of one of the pueblos. "This is where I found the map. You can see the Spaniard's artifacts I retrieved." The archaeologist now pointed to a rusted conquistador helmet and a broken matchlock musket sitting next to the lantern that was illuminating the interior.
Rebecca picked up the helmet and looked it over. She had seen pictures of them in paintings. She could now see in her mind the conquistadors wearing them on their heads with polished breastplates on their chest while sitting atop a horse. It is no wonder that the Incas and the Aztecs held these men in awe.
"That my dear is a Combed Morion helmet. It is commonly associated with the conquistadores though they by no means were the only ones to adopt that helmet," Hugo lectured.
Rebecca had not seen her father so lively since her mother died. She smiled at her father as he continued to lecture her on the history of the artifact that was now in her hands.
"In fact, the English pikemen commonly used the morion helmet until the mid 1500s. Edward IV ..." Hugo stopped suddenly and looked around.
"What is it, father?" Rebecca asked as her father strained to hear something.
"Quiet, dear, I believe I heard something," he whispered.
Outside the pueblo, the sound of small rocks tumbling off the side of the cliff intruded into the room. Hugo reached into his satchel by his feet and pulled out a Colt .45 Peacemaker. Rebecca gave a small gasp as she saw her father cock the hammer back.
Hugo put is finger to his lips and sternly looked towards his daughter. "Quiet, it is probably just Mac, but you can't tell nowadays what sort of person you'll come across here in the desert.
"Just stay here and lay low. I'm going to check it out," Dr. Strong said as he left the small room.
Rebecca pulled herself back further into the room listening to her father slowly walk around the cavern. The tension was almost unbearable. She could not remember ever being so frightened in her life. Rebecca had never seen her father use a gun. She did not even think until now that her father had one.
The seconds turned into hours, Rebecca could no longer hear the footsteps of her father or the mysterious interloper outside. The only sounds that reached her ears were the thump-thumps of her own rapidly pounding heart.
Then a muffled thud followed by winded groan escaping from a man's lips reached her ears. She could hear the sound of some feet scrabbling across the cave's floor.
"Father!" Rebecca cried without thinking of the danger she could be in. She started to rush out of the pueblo and ran right into the chest of a large man in the doorway. The brute shoved Rebecca backwards who fell ingloriously on her bottom near the pit.
"Gunter, I believe ve have anozer vun een heah," the large man said in a thick German accent.
A smaller man walked up next to the brute in the doorway. Looked Rebecca over in the light afforded by the small lantern in the room.
"Ja, ja," Gunter replied, "Johann said ve only need zee professor. Kill her."
Rebecca sat there frozen stiff as the two German men stood over her discussing her fate. She could not get her mind to act. Horror had her completely paralyzed.
The larger man pulled a Luger out of his holster on his side. Smiling he pointed the gun at Rebecca.
"Sorry, Fraulein," was all the smaller man said to Rebecca as she closed her eyes and started sobbing.
Rebecca heard the sound of the large man cocking the pistol over the two Germen thugs' chuckling and her own sobbing. Any second now, she knew that she would hear the sound of the blast followed shortly by her own death. She wondered if she would feel any pain.
Rebecca tensed up in anticipation. She screwed shut her eyes even harder. She clenched her fists into a death grip by her side. She violently flinched when she heard the double pistol report explode into the small room.
"Rebecca?" a voice called out into the darkness. "Can you see the light?"
Rebecca swam around in the darkness. She tried to find the source of the voice. The voice was familiar. It was not her mother. She thought for sure her mom would have been the one to guide her.
"The light, Rebecca," the voice persisted. It was a man's voice. But, whose was it?
Rebecca searched around more in the darkness. She was surprised that there was no pain. That answered one question, she died before the pain hit, thank God. She kept floating in the darkness.
There it was a light in the distance. She willed herself to enter the light. As she approached the light, she found that there was a buzzing in her ears. She could taste the dust on her in her throat.
"What strange sensations to have when you're dead," Rebecca thought.
"Rebecca?" the voice continued. The voice was more firm and a face finally matched up with it.
"Mac!" Rebecca cried as she sat up throwing her eyes open.
"Welcome to the land of the living," Mac smiled back.
There sitting next to her with the small lantern in his hand was Mac MacKinnon. She was still inside the pueblo's room. Dan Edwards was escorting her father into the room. Dr. Strong was holding the back of his head as he walked weakly leaning heavily on the smaller man as he led the professor.
"What? How?" Rebecca began.
"It's a good thing we got here when we did. These fellows were about to execute you. Dan is as good with his grandfather's Schofield as I am with my old service piece," Mac said as he patted the Colt .45 automatic on his hip.
Dan tipped his ball cap toward Rebecca, "I find using the revolver to be friendlier to us left-handers than the automatics." Dan was sitting Hugo down next to Rebecca.
Rebecca looked at Mac questioningly. "He means the automatics tend to eject the spent cartridges out the right side. If you are left-handed, like my friend there," Mac nodded over at Dan, "that can pump the shells into your face. Hot brass in one's face is not all that fun."
"Sorry we were late. The Jenny was having some...er, engine problems and I had to set down in a vacant field and hitch hike back to the airfield," Mac apologized.
"So who are our friends there?" Mac asked looking over to the two dead men lying over by the far wall.
"I don't know," Hugo began. "They jumped me before I could see them."
"They're Germans," Rebecca said matter-of-factly.
Mac and Dan looked at each other.
"What would the German's be doing here?" Dan asked.
Mac quickly ran over to the dead men. He began searching there bodies. After awhile he looked over at the three people sitting next to the pit.
"It's worse than we thought," Mac said lifting one of the dead men's arms he pulled up the sleeve to reveal a tattoo of a shield that appeared to be made of stone. "It's the Stein Ritter."
"Ooh, that is not good," Dan replied.
"What's Stein Ritter?" the archaeologist asked.
"The Stein Ritter or Stone Knight is a secret Prussian organization. They may have been the ones responsible for the series of treaties that Europe signed that lead to the Great War. In fact, they may have been the ones responsible for assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand in order to start that war once the treaties were set up," Mac offered.
"Why?" Hugo questioned looking intently at Mac.
"Because they felt that they could come to power and through Germany rule much of the world. It was a near done thing until we Americans entered the war," Mac answered.
"No, I'm sorry, but why are they interested in my archaeological finds? Certainly they are not treasure hunters," the professor pressed.
"After the war, the Allies put terrible reparations on Germany. The Germans will be paying off England and France for decades," Mac continued. "Therefore, if the Stein Ritter can find El Dorado they'll be able to fund there own empire."
"My God!" Hugo cried. "The map and Rodrigo Martinez de Toledo's journal are back at the camp."
Mac jumped up and started running towards the doorway. "It is worse than that. I have the package in my car. I can only presume that it is the key."
Mac and Dan quickly descended from the cave and ran towards the camp. The sun was starting to sink below the western horizon. In the orange twilight, the two were able to make out the shape of a truck near the camp. There were some men rushing to load it with their spoils taken from the camp.
Mac slowed down to a trot next to Dan. Both men had their weapons drawn and ready for service.
"We haven't been noticed yet. If we hurry, we may be able to catch them by surprise," Mac said in Dan's ear. Dan nodded in agreement. After all these years together and the many adventures they had been through during and after the war, they could practically read each other's mind.
Dan peeled off from Mac at the outskirts of the small camp and headed towards the truck. Mac stealthily moved around the opposite side of the camp to try to catch the intruders by surprise. So far, the looters, who were too engrossed in their work, detected neither man.
Mac could make out snatches of German as the men talked to each other as they lifted the stone map into the back of the pick-up truck. A quick glance toward the front of the truck showed that Dan was nearly in position. Mac started walking up behind the closest intruder. The man was struggling to lift the stone into the back of the truck so he did not notice Mac sneaking up on him until Mac inadvertently stepped onto a twig.
Snapping twig was enough to cause the man to drop the stone and turn around on Mac so quickly that Mac barely had time to react. Mac raised his automatic up in order to aim it at the man. The looter reacted quickly knocking the gun out of Mac's hand before he could fire the pistol. The looter then rapidly slammed his right hand into Mac's stomach.
Mac doubled over and fell backwards landing on his rear trying to gather his breath. The German just laughed and called to his comrades who were working at gathering all the artifacts that Dr. Strong had accumulated. The other two men ran over towards the truck.
"Look vhat I have found," the German laughed pointing towards Mac.
"Hans don't play vith him. Ve haf vork to do," one of his comrades reminded.
"Ja, but ve can have zee little fun, nein?" Hans asked motioning Mac to stand up.
Mac had sufficiently gathered his breath and pulled his legs up under him. The other two Germans pulled back allowing Hans and Mac ample room for fighting. Hans stood a couple inches taller than Mac and easily had fifty pounds on him. However, Mac had plenty of experience brawling and stuck up his fists in a defensive posture.
Hans came at Mac far quicker than anyone could have thought a man his size could move with a roundhouse punch. Mac anticipated the move and blocked it with his left arm while aiming a blow with his own right hand towards Hans' jaw.
The blow landed squarely and Hans took a couple of steps back shaking his head to clear his mind. Mac knew he could not afford Hans to regain the initiative and followed up with two quick body blows to the German's midriff. The man's abs felt as if they were made of steel.
Hans now fairly recovered from the surprise shot to his jaw quickly pulled Mac into a terrible bear hug. Mac felt his back crack as Hans tightened his grip. Breathing was now nearly impossible for Mac. Mac violently clapped his hands over the German's ears causing him to release his captive.
Mac fell to the ground, swung his legs, and swept the German off his feet. Hans, still holding his ringing ears fell like an ox onto the ground. Mac regained his feet and pulled back waiting for Hans to get back up. So far, the other two Germans had contented themselves with watching the fight. They were yelling encouragement to Hans.
The big German regained his feet and warily eyed Mac. The two pugilists circled each other looking for an opening. Hans finally swung with his right arm toward Mac's head. Mac barely ducked the blow and countered by putting all his strength in a shot to Hans's stomach with his left hand. As the German doubled up Mac delivered another shot with his right hand to Hans's jaw. This time Hans fell unconscious to the ground.
Mac took a couple of seconds to catch his breath; he temporarily forgot about the two other Germans. The sound of the Germans priming their pistols behind him brought him back to the graveness of his situation. Mac raised his hands and turned towards his captors.
Dan came running up behind the Germans tackling both men to the ground. Mac wasted no time in joining in the fight. As the men struggled on the ground, the crack of a pistol shot split the air. Everyone gathered himself up and looked at the source of the shot.
Hans by now had regained his consciousness and stood with a Luger pointed at Mac and Dan. The other two Germans backed away from the two men. Hans instructed his comrades to finish loading the stone in the truck. Mac's mind raced for and idea on how to catch Hans by surprise. So far, nothing was coming to mind.
"I am so sorry. But, I will now have to kill you," Hans said coldly as his leveled the pistol on Mac.
Hans smiled as he started to pull the trigger. The other Germans had the stone map loaded in the back of the truck by now. It was amazing how these last few seconds tended to play out as if in slow motion.
Mac and Dan stood there waiting for the end. Both stared at the Luger waiting for the muzzle to discharge their death. A shot shattered the quiet desert air, a shot that did not come from Hans's gun, but by Dr. Strong's Colt. Hans fell over backwards with a bullet to his head his hand spasmodically firing the Luger harmlessly into the sky.
The remaining two Germans wasted no time in jumping into the truck and taking off into the desert. Mac and Dan stood there transfixed still not believing in their last minute reprieve.
Hugo Strong with his daughter trailing behind ran up to the two men. The Colt still smoking from its discharge.
"Quickly," the professor prompted. "They are getting away."
Mac and Dan quickly found their weapons and jumped into the roadster. Mac cursed as the roadster reluctantly turned over. The truck was disappearing into the desert. Nonetheless, it was only a moment before Mac was in pursuit.
The truck had a good lead, but the roadster could quickly catch up with its superior speed. The two parties raced into the night. Dust clouds flying up behind the vehicles.
"What took you so long?" Mac asked Dan as he sped along.
"You had everything well in hand," Dan replied. "Plus, I needed you to distract those other guys so I could sneak up on them."
"Glad I could help," Mac laughed.
The roadster was rapidly closing the distance between the two vehicles. The occasional rock or rut the roadster hit bounced the pair in their seats. But, the two just smiled. This was just another adventure for the two.
It would only be another minute or two and the roadster would be on the truck. Dan quickly checked his Schofield as he readied for the shoot out that would inevitably begin. As if the passenger of the truck had read Dan's mind he leaned out the window and fired off a shot with his Luger.
Dan returned fire at the truck. Mac ducked lower behind the wheel concentrating on catching the truck. The bullets from the German's pistol had so far failed to find their mark. Dan for his part had only succeeded in shooting out the rear window.
Mac pulled the roadster over to the driver's side of the truck. The passenger now had to change his position to fire out the shattered rear window. As the passenger prepared to open fire, Dan took careful aim. The Schofield barked as the last bullet in the cylinder flew from the muzzle and buried itself into the passenger's shoulder. The passenger cursed in German as he dropped the Luger and grabbed his right shoulder.
Mac and Dan exchanged a quick smile as Dan started to climb out of the roadster to jump onto the truck. However, as Dan began to rise from his seat another shot broke over the sound of the racing engines. This report did not come from a gun but instead from the roadsters front passenger's tire.
The roadster pulled violently to the right roughly throwing Dan back into his seat. The yellow roadster barely missed hitting the truck as Mac fought to keep control of the vehicle. The truck sped off into the distance as Mac brought the roadster to a dead stop.
"Damn," cursed Dan. "We nearly had them."
Mac sat there silently for a while and then began to smile.
"What? Am I missing something?" Dan asked.
"If we quickly fix the tire we should be able to catch the truck," Mac replied with a laugh.
"They just drove into that box canyon. There is only one way out and that is past us."
In less than ten minutes, Dan and Mac replaced the flat from one of the two spare tires the roadster carried. Mac drove the roadster cautiously toward the canyon. As they reached the mouth of the canyon, Mac pulled to a stop.
"This is where we get out and walk," Mac said.
Both men jumped out of the roadster and started walking down the dark canyon. Fortunately, there was a half-moon out to offer them light. Mac knew this desert pretty well and knew that this canyon was not very deep. In a few minutes, they would be upon the truck and with some more luck ambush the driver and recover the stone map.
As Mac and Dan crept further into the canyon the roar of multiple engines revving up to speed split through the still air. It had been a good three years the last time, either man had heard the noise, but they both recognized it at the same time.
"They didn't," Mac exclaimed as he began running towards the sound.
"I believe they did," Dan replied keeping up with Mac.
They both crested a small mound in time to see what they feared. Although the canyon was not terribly deep, it was wide. It was just wide enough to hide a zeppelin and that zeppelin was now rising rapidly into the air over the two men's head.
Dan and Mac just stared as the lighter-than-air craft flew off into the desert air.
Mac took his time returning to the camp. He did not relish the idea of telling Dr. Strong that he and Dan had lost the stone map and the key, that the German's were now flying off to find El Dorado, and that they could not follow.
The roadster slowly pulled up to the crates and the tent silhouetted in the campfire. Dr. Strong and his daughter both waited with anticipation as Mac and Dan stepped out the car.
"Well, did you get them?" Rebecca asked excitedly.
"Not exactly," Mac replied crestfallen. "I'm sorry Doc, but the Germans had a zeppelin and made off with the map and key. We have no idea where they went and we can't follow them."
Much to everyone's surprise the professor started to laugh.
"Are you all right, father?" Rebecca looked at her father with a troubled look on her face.
"Quite, quite," the archaeologist continued to laugh. "You forget Mac that I have the map already memorized. Plus, I know exactly where the German's are headed. In fact, they are traveling in opposite direction of El Dorado."
"I must admit it Doc, but you have lost me again," Mac said sitting down on a crate near the fire.
"Remember I told you about the renegade Spaniards stealing the stone map and heading north?" the professor prompted.
Rebecca and Mac both nodded. Dan just stared at everyone with a puzzled expression.
"I'll explain later," Mac offered to Dan.
Dr. Strong continued, "The reason they headed north was because Rodrigo made a translation error. He translated part of the map to read ‘in the greatest river canyon'. Therefore, Rodrigo believed that El Dorado was in the Grand Canyon, the greatest canyon.
"What he should have translated was ‘in the greatest river valley." The greatest river is the Amazon and that is south instead of north. So, you see they are heading in the wrong direction.
"However, we still need the key. That is the most important artifact that they stole."
Mac felt much better and slapped Dan on the shoulder.
"Dan do you think you can get the Jenny running tomorrow?" Mac asked.
"Shouldn't be too hard. I just need to check the prop and clean out the feathers," Dan returned.
"Feathers!?!" Rebecca exclaimed.
Mac turned a little red. Even in the firelight, Rebecca noticed the pilot blushing.
"Yeah, my engine trouble was brought on by me flying into a flock of birds. I had to land before my propeller shattered or the engine died."
"Leave it to Mac to find road kill in the sky," Dan joked.
Dr. Strong and Rebecca started laughing. Mac gave Dan a glare before he too joined in laughing.
It did not take Dan long at all to get the Jenny ready the next day. Both the propeller and the engine were fine. A quick cleaning and routine maintenance had Mac in the air by late afternoon.
Mac made to the Grand Canyon in Arizona by sundown. He stayed at a colleague's airfield while he started his search for the zeppelin. Mac made a few inquiries into whether anyone in the area had seen an airship flying in the sky. However, everyone he asked thought he was joking.
Mac had little choice but to begin to search for the zeppelin by air. The task before him was daunting. The Grand Canyon was long and deep, but the zeppelin may have landed miles away from the canyon further increasing the area where Mac would have to search.
Mac had searched the area for over a week. He had nothing to show for his efforts and everyone decided that he should return home. The Jenny was flying back toward New Mexico when Mac saw a something on the ground that did not quite fit.
At first glance, it looked like a patch of snow high in the mountains. However, the patch of snow was elliptical and rising into the air. Mac banked the Jenny around to take a closer look.
Mac laughed as he spied the zeppelin climbing higher into the sky. By pure chance, he had stumbled upon the airship. The German airship was about 529 feet long and 38 feet in diameter. Three gasoline engines positioned outside the gasbag powered the great craft up to 85 miles an hour. Maybe he would not go home empty handed after all.
The zeppelin began to fly off in an easterly direction. Mac increased the Jenny's speed in order to catch up to the zeppelin. He wanted to get a better look at his adversary.
Mac was almost on top of the zeppelin when he noticed the platforms on the top of the zeppelin. During the Great War, zeppelins had gunners on the top of the airbag to fight off attacking allied aircraft. These platforms were still armed and they began to open fire upon the little Jenny.
Mac pulled back on the stick to gain altitude before the gunners and their Maxim machineguns could get a fix on him. The engine of the biplane roared in protest as bullets ripped past. Mac rolled the biplane as he dove. He could hear the tearing of the fabric skin as some of the bullets found their mark. He pulled back sharply on the stick and the plane climbed rapidly into the sky once more. Mac leveled off before the plane stalled. The Maxims pursued him persistently.
The Jenny began to respond sluggishly as he jinked the plane. The two machinegun placements relentlessly fired upon the aircraft. Mac pushed forward upon the stick again and the plane dove. Mac flew the plane past and below the zeppelin, but not before a few rounds found their way into the engine. Although the gun placements could no longer fire upon the plane, the machineguns had done their job as smoke billowed from the Jenny's engine.
The plane did not respond to his control as it spun ever closer to the ground. Mac fought to pull the stick back as the wind screamed in his ears and the engine coughed and smoked as he plummeted towards the earth. The altimeter rapidly counted down. Mac had only a hundred feet in which to gain control of the plane as the ground rushed ever closer.
Dr. Hugo Strong and Rebecca moved into the apartment attached to the back of the hangar where Dan and Mac lived. The apartment was small, containing only a kitchen-dining room, two cramped bedrooms, and a living room housing a sofa that Dan now used as a bed. Dan had insisted that Rebecca take Mac's room and Dr. Strong move into his while Mac was searching for the zeppelin.
The three would crowd around Dan's radio in the hangar as he communicated with Mac every evening about his progress on locating the zeppelin at the Grand Canyon. Other than experiencing a wonderful aerial tour of the picturesque landscape, Mac had nothing further to report. Finally, they decided after ten days that Mac return to their airfield in New Mexico.
Dan was at his usual position at the radio when Rebecca walked into the large open room. Dan threw his headset onto the desktop in frustration before he realized that Rebecca was standing behind him.
"Oh...sorry," Dan stammered in surprise noticing Rebecca watching him.
"What's wrong?" Rebecca asked as she took a chair next to the desk.
"Nothing. I'm just experiencing some technical problems with my set here," Dan lied.
Rebecca gave Dan a piercing glare showing that she obviously did not buy his story. "Is there something wrong with Mac?"
Dan sat back in his chair and blew air out of his mouth. "Yeah, Mac should have been here hours ago. I just called McCurdy's airfield and he isn't there. In fact, Mac left in the morning as we planned."
"Maybe, Mac stopped off for dinner or something on the way back," Rebecca tried to comfort Dan.
"That's not like Mac. He is very punctual. Do you remember the last time he was late? He was lucky he was able to land the plane after he ran into that flock of birds."
"Mac is a very accomplished pilot. I'm sure he has a reason for being late. Who knows he may have even found the zeppelin."
"That's exactly what I'm afraid of," Dan replied sourly.
"Any news about Mac's whereabouts?" Dr. Hugo asked surprising both Rebecca and Dan as he walked up behind them. The archaeologist was holding a sandwich that he offered to Dan. "Rebecca and I have already eaten."
"Thanks," Dan replied as he accepted the food. Dan then repeated his fears to the doctor.
Rebecca and Dr. Strong began talking about some of the artifacts that were at the dig while Dan consumed his meal. The three were so busy discussing Dr. Strong's finds that none of them noticed the man walk into the hangar.
"Pardon me," the stranger asked.
The three companions turned around simultaneously to see a man dressed in a gray business suit and holding his hat in one hand and a walking stick in another. The man stood at about six feet tall, had blue eyes and gray hair with a Van Dyke beard and mustache that was also gray. He had to have been in his late forties or early fifties.
"I am sorry to interrupt," the man said in a British accent with a hint of German as he heavily rolled his r's. "I am Johann von Hutten, and I am afraid I need your help Herr Doktor."
Von Hutten revealed the German Luger that he had concealed under his hat. Two other large men now entered the hangar. One was armed with a rifle the other was also holding a Luger.
Dan, Rebecca, and Dr. Strong all raised their hands as the intruders pointed their weapons at them. The two thugs walked over, grabbed the archaeologist roughly, and began to lead him away.
"Wait!" von Hutten ordered. "If I am not mistaken this is Herr Strong's daughter. Bring her along. I'm sure she'll help us persuade the fine doctor to cooperate. As for the mechanic... as these American's say, 'dead men tell no tales.'"
Before long, the thugs tied up and gagged Dan in a corner of the hangar. The Germans had left with their prisoners leaving Dan by himself. Instead of just shooting him there, the Germans had cruelly set up a bomb consisting of several sticks of dynamite and a clock that sat in front of Dan.
The poor mechanic could do nothing but watch and listen as the clock relentlessly ticked off the few remaining minutes before ending his life in a violent blast. His arms tied securely behind his back around a pipe secured him to his corner. The bomb was out of reach of his kicking legs. Dan frantically twisted and struggled to loosen his bonds. However, it was fruitless he was expertly trussed up.
The zeppelin rose slowly up into the night sky. A locked crewmembers' cabin contained the archaeologist and his daughter. Johann von Hutten looked down upon the small airfield from the flight deck of the zeppelin.
The helmsman stood at the wheel listening to the orders of the captain. Johann knew the captain well; he was a very accomplished pilot and a high-ranking member of the Stein Ritter. Wolfgang, none knew his last name, had shot down over hundred allied aviators during the Great War. Now, this strange man commanded the last of the military's zeppelins that he had custom made and had remarkably smuggled out of the Fatherland without anyone knowing.
Wolfgang had come to von Hutten to offer his assistance in locating El Dorado. It was no secret that Johann was the great grand nephew of Philipp von Hutten. Like Philipp, Johann burned with a desire to find the elusive El Dorado. All Wolfgang wanted was a share of the treasure in order to rebuild Germany.
Johann smiled as he watched the airfield shrink below them. It looked like the last obstacle was about to be permanently removed. First, they shot down that pilot earlier today and now the mechanic was about to come to his end.
Johann looked up at the clock on the wall of the bridge. Any second now, the bomb should go off. Von Hutten peered out the window once more in time to see the flash of the explosion. The dampened roar of the blast reached his ears a second later.
Dan knew he was a dead man. He had been expertly tied-up with a bomb counting down the last few minutes of his life just out of his reach. His struggling to loosen his bonds had only resulted in rope burns. Regardless of the pain in raw wrists, Dan continued to frantically struggle. He could not scream because of the gag in his mouth. Not like there would have been anyone to hear him in the desert.
The clock's rhythmic ticking pounded into Dan's ears. It was the only sound outside of Dan's violent and futile attempts to free himself. There was only half a minute left before Dan resigned himself to his fate. He closed his eyes and relaxed. At least he would die peacefully.
Dan heard a noise. He opened his eyes to see a man run out of the hangar with the bomb. The man then ran back into the hangar and slid behind the wall just before the dynamite sticks exploded thunderously. The hangar rocked and dust flew in through the open doors.
The mechanic watched as a figure walked towards him through the cloud of dust. Dan recognized the man as he approached closer. It was Mac and as usual, he was there just at the right time.
"Looks like you've gotten yourself tied-up," Mac said dryly.
All Dan could do was groan through the gag in his mouth. Mac removed the gag and began to untie Dan's arms and legs.
"What took you so long?" Dan asked.
"I ran into the zeppelin. They nearly shot me out of the sky. I had to coax the Jenny back home. Even then, I land a couple of miles shy of the hangar and I had to run back here," Mac explained hurriedly. "I'm sorry I didn't get here in time to save the professor and Rebecca."
"Yeah, a man named Johann von Hutten kidnapped them and took off with them after trying to blow me up," Dan replied. "Looks, like they now hold all the cards. We can't even follow them."
Mac finished untying Dan who began to rub his raw and bloody wrists. Mac reached into his back pocket and pulled out a book. "Not exactly... I had some time to read Dr. Strong's journal. He wrote everything down including the exact route to the location of El Dorado."
"But they have the key and we don't," Dan pointed out.
"That's true, but maybe we can head them off," Mac said. "Von Hutten, did you say?"
Dan nodded his head.
"Our friend Johann must be a relative of Philipp von Hutten. I suppose he wants to carry on the family tradition."
* * * * *
"Now you will notice that this zeppelin has certain amenities that our military airships didn't have during the Great War," Johann pointed out as he had breakfast with his guests. Dr. Strong and Rebecca both sat at the table in the cramped dining room eating sausages and eggs alone with their captor. Johann pointed at the room with his fork, "You'll notice that this gondola is completely enclosed and pressurized. This allows us to heat it up and keep it comfortable even though we are now flying over 20,000 of your feet in the air."
Both the professor and his daughter sat their in silence reluctantly eating as Johann continued to lecture on about his airship. The one sided conversation even began to tire the German.
"Please, you both are so glum," Johann began. "You must have some questions about our ship. Or, perhaps we can talk about El Dorado?"
Dr. Strong cleared his throat before he quietly began speaking, "Surely, you don't expect hostages to carry on with their jailers as if they were on a holiday, especially, when you are more than likely going to kill us after you get what you want."
Johann began to laugh, "I'm sorry, but you couldn't be further from the truth. We have no desire to kill you and your charming daughter. We just need you to correct our course. It is obvious that the Grand Canyon is not the correct location."
"Just like you didn't kill Mac and Dan!" yelled Rebecca as she stood up pointing an accusing finger at Johann.
"Yes, unfortunately, they were an impediment to our plans and had to be dealt with in a more permanent fashion. But, I assure you that we have no such plans for you just as long as you cooperate."
Dr. Strong pulled Rebecca back down into her chair. The young woman's eyes blazed with hatred as she stared at Johann.
"To prove my point you are free to walk anywhere you want in this gondola. You may not access the airbag or try to reach the control gondola. Just one word of warning though, you cannot smoke. The hydrogen that fills our airbags is highly flammable. I also warn you against sabotage. For your life depends on our reaching El Dorado alive and well."
"You shall have no problem from us," Hugo promised.
Rebecca turned her glare upon her father. The professor only sternly looked into her eyes as he continued to speak to Johann.
"As long as you treat my daughter well, I shall be fully cooperative."
Hugo Strong was as good as his word. He soon had the zeppelin on the correct course towards El Dorado. Johann for his part was also as good as his word. Both the professor and Rebecca had full run of the gondola where they were residing. Unfortunately, a jail, no matter its size was still a jail.
Rebecca had fully explored every inch of the gondola. The crew slept in small cabins containing two sets of bunk beds. Dr. Strong and Rebecca had one to themselves, thanks to the recent passing of some of the crew at Mac and Dan's hand. Two tiny restrooms that contained a shower sat at the end of the hall with the crew cabins. The shower had a timer to limit the amount of water used. One restroom had been set aside for Rebecca's personal use. The poor crew now had to crowd into the remaining restroom.
The gondola also contained a small mess hall that adjoined a tiny galley. Nonetheless, the food prepared by the cook was first rate. Johann certainly enjoined the good things in life. Two large storage rooms stored crates and barrels of various supplies. The access panels to the airbag and the flight control gondola were constantly under guard to deter Hugo and Rebecca to leave. Finally, there was a small observation deck.
The view from the observation deck was stunning. As the zeppelin floated above the clouds, Rebecca could not help but feel as if she was an angel looking down upon the Earth. The land and sea that flowed below them looked surreal. Rebecca had never flown in her life and this experience astounded her.
However, after two days of watching the planet pass below her Rebecca began to get bored. There were no books in English for her to read, and she never learned any German. However, if she did, Rebecca doubted that the books available to her were nothing more than technical manuals.
Rebecca wandered the gondola looking for something new to occupy her time. As she walked past one of the storage compartments, Rebecca noticed a crewmember dumping some trash out an access panel to the ground. There was a coil of rope next to panel. The rope must have been for mooring the ship to the ground. An idea passed into Rebecca's mind.
Whenever the airship encountered too much turbulence, it decreased its altitude. If the airship lowered itself close enough to the ground, Rebecca and her father could possibly escape through the access panel. Granted, the plan was fraught with peril, but Rebecca reasoned that it was worth the risk.
That night Rebecca proposed her plan to her father. At first, Dr. Strong was against the idea. However, Rebecca was relentless and her reasoning was flawless. They both knew that there was no guarantee that Johann was not going to kill them after he got what he wanted. Thus, she was able to persuade her father attempt the escape.
The opportunity that Rebecca was hoping for presented itself far sooner than she expected. It was the morning of the morning after she presented her plan to her father that the zeppelin lowered itself down to treetop level. Rebecca quickly grabbed her father out of their cabin and led him to the storage room.
The room was deserted and the two captives quickly rushed into room. Rebecca lifted the door open on the access panel. She watched the trees slowly pass along below the airship. This was even better than she had hoped.
"Come, dad you go first," Rebecca motioned to her father as she began to uncoil the rope. Hugo started to approach Rebecca when suddenly the door opened behind them.
A German crewmember surprised the two prisoners. Both parties stared at each other for a minute. It took only a second for the German to find his voice and he started to yell at Rebecca and the professor in German.
"I'm sorry, this doesn't look..." Hugo began as the German roughly grabbed his arm.
The archaeologist began to struggle with the German. Both men started to toss each other about in the storage room. They would crash each other into boxes and barrels oblivious to Rebecca who just stood there shocked to see her father fighting. The older man was doing remarkable well against his younger opponent.
The German crewmember finally shoved the professor against some sacks of flour breaking their hold on each other. As the German approached to continue the fight against the older man, Hugo kicked out violently with his right leg. The German caught the blow to his stomach, which sent him staggering backwards toward the open access panel.
The German flailed his arms as he stepped onto the empty air. In a final desperate attempt, he grabbed onto Rebecca with his left arm pulling her along with him. Hugo lunged to grab his daughter as she fell through the access panel. Hugo's fingers narrowly missed Rebecca's outstretched hand. The last thing he saw was the look of fear as Rebecca plummeted towards the earth.
Rebecca felt the hand of the falling German grabbing onto her arm. Rebecca lost her balance and started to fall through the open access panel as well. Desperately, she reached out towards her father who was rushing over to grab her. Their hands barely missed each other.
The German's grasp slipped off Rebecca's arm, and she thought she heard him scream as he fell. She could not be sure for she was screaming as well as she too plummeted towards the ground. The bottom of the zeppelin fell away as she plunged backwards.
Rebecca closed her eyes as she continued her downward descent. She continued to scream as the wind rushed past her ears. Suddenly, something grabbed her left ankle jarringly and painfully halting her fall. Rebecca opened her eyes to see that by some miracle the mooring line entangled her foot.
Rebecca hung upside down, for how long she did not know before someone began to pull her back up to the access panel of the zeppelin. After a few minutes, Rebecca found herself back inside the storage room. Johann von Hutten stood next to her father with his arms crossed. He did not appear pleased at all. The two crewmembers that had retrieved Rebecca stood back as another man approached from the back of the room. This man was obviously the zeppelin's captain. Neither she nor her father had seen the captain before as he was always on the flight deck. He was wearing a navy blue uniform and a matching officer's cap. On his jacket, braiding encircled his cuffs that matched the color of his gold buttons.
The captain walked up to Rebecca and Dr. Strong. The scowl on his face made Rebecca's blood run cold.
"Mr. von Hutten has been entirely too civil with you. I have already lost four men because of you, and I will not lose another. Is that clear?" the captain said in a stern voice with a near perfect North American accent. "If either of you cause me any further problems, I will have you eliminated."
The captain turned on his heels and marched out of the storage room.
"That was Captain Wolfgang. I am sorry, but I am afraid that your movements are now restricted. You shall be locked in your cabin until you are summoned for," Johann added before he motioned to the two crewmembers.
The German crewmembers were now shouldering rifles and led the Strongs back to their cabin. One of the Germans stood guard outside the room after he securely locked in the hostages.
Meanwhile, Mac and Dan managed to make it to British Honduras by fast train. They had also hired bush pilots to help them get through Central America. Mac reckoned that they could not be too far behind the zeppelins trail. He had a contact here and Mac hoped that he would be able to call in some markers to get a floatplane.
The two men walked into the dark cantina. The humid and dimly lit interior reeked of unwashed bodies mingled with the strong smell of alcohol. The smell brought Mac and Dan back to their days on the western front in France during the Great War.
Seeing Major Roger White sitting at a table with another man further reinforced the memory. It felt as if the two men had stepped back in time to four years earlier. Mac nudged Dan and both walked up to the table.
"Why if it isn't Captain MacKinnon and Sergeant Edwards," laughed retired British Major. Roger twisted the end of his mustache as he stood up and offered his right hand in greeting.
Both Mac and Dan accepted the handshake in turn before they sat down at the table next to the stranger who the major had been conversing with moments before.
Roger nodded towards the stranger as he resumed his seat. "Gentlemen, I would like you to meet a fellow countryman Dr. Frederick Mitchell-Hedges. He's an archaeologist here working on...what was it again?"
"I am working on the Mayan ruins in the city of Lubaantum," the archaeologist offered. "I'm spending some time here with my daughter Anna."
"Sounds remarkably familiar," Dan said off-handedly.
"Excuse me," Dr. Mitchell-Hedges replied. "I'm afraid I don't quite follow."
"It's nothing," Mac said. "I've looked up the major here to see if he could help us find some transportation on an expedition we are mounting."
"Well, it looks like you gentlemen have some business to attend to. I have to find a birthday gift for my daughter so I'll be leaving," Frederick said as he stood up and bowed towards the three men. "Cheers."
The major sat back and continued to play with his mustache until the archaeologist left the cantina. "I received your telegram two days ago. I have the plane ready down by the lake. All we need to do now is conclude the rather distasteful task of payment."
"Do you want that in dollars or pounds?" Mac asked.
"Pounds if you would be so kind."
Mac nodded over to Dan who in turn reached into one of his many pockets and produced a roll of British pounds. Dan tossed the wad of cash over to Roger. The major snatched the money out of midair and quickly secreted it away into his own pocket.
"I'll count it later. I'm sure you haven't shorted me. Now if you will follow me I'll show you the floatplane you requested," Roger said as he stood up and ushered the two men out of the cantina. "Do you need any other...um, provisions?"
Mac smiled, the major had not changed much after the war. Even then, Roger White ran a small black market. If you wanted it, he could get it. It was all just a matter of money. "No, we've brought our own," Mac replied.
Mac flew the floatplane over the Amazon jungle. Dan sat in the front seat of the biplane checking the weapons they had packed. Mac brought along his newly purchased Thompson submachine gun, and Dan brought his old Lee-Enfield rifle. This would augment their sidearms that they always carried.
Mac was half searching for the zeppelin as well as looking for a reasonable landing place near where he believed the entrance to El Dorado lay. The professor’s journal was very explicit as to where he believed El Dorado could be located. So far, all Mac could see was dense jungle below.
Mac dropped the floatplane lower to the jungle canopy. The thick foliage hid everything inside its interior. Mac circled a few times and then started to bring the plane in for a landing on the wide Amazon River.
The plane landed smoothly on the river’s surface. Mac pulled the aircraft up to the riverbank before he cut the engine. Dan did not waste a moment jumping onto the wing and grabbing the mooring line. He walked the wings length and landed on the solid riverbank where he secured the plane to a nearby tree.
Mac was not far behind unloading their equipment. Dan grabbed a backpack and his rifle while he helped Mac to the ground.
"How far do you think the Temple is?" Dan asked.
"I don’t know, but if Dr. Strong’s journal is correct it can’t be too far," Mac replied. "The temple may easily have become overgrown over the last few hundred years, but according to the journal it is the entrance to El Dorado. If we can locate it before the Germans we may be able to enter after they use the key."
"Which way do we go?" Dan asked as he shouldered his pack and loaded his Lee-Enfield.
Mac put on his own pack and loaded the fifty-round drum. "It should be northwest of here. With a little luck, it should reveal itself once we enter the interior. The foliage is always thickest by the riverbanks. Things will tend to thin out once we get inside."
The temperature was only in the high seventies but the humidity made it seem much worse. The heavy rainfall did little to cool either man down as they marched into the jungle’s interior. To add to their discomfort, swarms of biting insects found their flesh and blood tasty.
The sound of monkeys and birds incessantly echoed throughout the jungle. Once they heard a jaguar cry out. Dan readied his rifle after the jungle cat’s roar subsided. Mac continued to slash his way through the jungle with his machete.
"How much further do you figure?" Dan asked for about the hundredth time.
Mac stopped his march and leaned against a tree. He lifted his canteen to his lips and swallowed heavily. After wiping his mouth Mac turned towards Dan, "I’m afraid I don’t know. I was hoping to see something by now. What I would do for some divine intervention right now."
Dan looked up at Mac and smile weakly. Just then, a rifle shot cracked through the jungle. Both men looked up in surprise. Dan smiled more strongly in mirth, "Ask and ye shall receive."
The Germans landed the zeppelin on a lake inside the jungle’s interior. A boat transported the Strongs across the lake and to the jungle accompanied by Johann von Hutten, Captain Wolfgang and a dozen crewmembers.
They had many miles to march and only a few hours in which to do it if they wanted to get the key inserted in time. Professor Strong pointed out the route they would need to follow. By a quick glance at the mountains and a map drawn from the ancient stone map, the archaeologist was able to gain his bearings.
The outskirts of the jungle were thick with underbrush and foliage. As the party continued into the interior, the passage became easier. Sunlight filtered through the heavy foliage in the treetops in small patches. Because of the tall trees cutting out much of the sun light, a lot of the plant life grew high above the ground in the trees. Therefore, there were few plants growing on the ground, however the various plants high above left long sinewy vines leading from the treetops back down to earth.
The Germans hacked their way through the tough vines. As one man’s arm grew tired, another would take over. Thusly, with the professor’s guidance and the Germans’ doggedness, the party made good time. They found the temple quicker and easier than any of them anticipated.
Under the green canopy, a step-pyramid much like those constructed by the Mayans sat covered in vines. The grotesque faces of ancient gods glared at the party as they climbed the steps to the top of the pyramid. The top of the pyramid presented a flat platform on which sat a pedestal with a grooved indentation. Sunlight blazed down on the exposed top.
The party stopped to rest and to have a quick lunch. Everyone sat in silence as the awe of the spectacle that they were experiencing consumed them. The jungle sounds were the only noise the party experienced. The calls of monkeys and the chitterings of other animals floated through the air. The sudden cry of jaguar sitting nearby startled the party. A sentry quickly fired his rifle into the jungle. As the report echoed through the jungle, the party could hear the crashing of the jaguar beating a hasty retreat.
Johann looked at his pocket watch and looked up at the sky. "Dr. Strong, I believe the time approaches."
Dr. Strong nodded his head and slowly pulled the crystal skull out of his satchel. The sunlight sparkled of the natural glass surface. The empty eye sockets flared with brilliance. The archaeologist turned the skull in the sun admiring its beauty.
Johann cleared his voice bringing the professor back to his senses. Dr. Strong then gingerly placed the skull onto the pedestal. The crystal skull fit perfectly inside the groove.
The sun appeared high in the sky as it slowly continued on its trek across the globe. When the sun was straight above its rays beat straight down upon the skull. The light flared more brightly inside the skull. A low hum resonated from the skull and began to grow to a higher pitch. The sound grew to a piercing scream causing the party to cover their ears. Far below at the base of the pyramid a grinding noise of stone grating on stone made its way to everyone’s pounding ears.
Mac and Dan could not believe their eyes. There in the middle of the jungle stood a tall stone pyramid. They wasted no time in following the sound of the rifle shot to its source. They arrive in time to see a brilliant light glaring from the top of the pyramid.
The piercing high-pitched screeched originating from the pyramid's top was a minor irritant to Mac and Dan at the foot of the structure. Therefore, they had a front row seat as a concealed door slowly swung inwards. As the stone door opened, it pulled the vines attached to it until they started to snap apart one by one.
Mac nudged Dan with his elbow before he ran into the pyramid's interior. Dan was right behind Mac as they disappeared inside the darkened depths of the ancient temple.
It had happened so fast that Rebecca had no time to scream. She had just clapped her hands over her ears when the piercing whine ended just as suddenly as it began. The skull had now stopped glowing. No one dared touch the crystal skull because of the electrical energy that appeared to radiate from it.
A few of the Germans had fallen to their knees as the noise overcame them. The stony expression on Captain Wolfgang's face belied the fact that he appeared unaffected by the sudden noise. He alone stood erect and looked down the steps of the pyramid.
"I believe we have opened a door," Wolfgang said in a matter-of-factly tone.
Johann shook his head and quickly joined the captain on the pyramid's edge also peering below.
"Men, get ready to move out," the captain ordered.
The men gathered their supplies and began to climb down the stairs. At the pyramid's base stood an open doorway. Johann slowly approached the darkened interior and peered inside.
"Light the torches, we are on the doorsteps of El Dorado!" Johann exclaimed excitedly.
Mac held the flashlight in front of him. The beam of light illuminated their passage down the stone hallway. The roaring sound of a river filled their ears. The engineering of the temple amplified the sound of the rushing water to loud crashing. Mac was sure the design was intentional. It no doubt added to the mysticism of the temple priest.
With it now covered in dirt and roots, the ground in its heyday, would have been bare stone like the walls of the long hallway. The frozen stone faces of ancient gods grimaced as the two walked further down into the bowels of the pyramid. The musty humid heat was nearly unbearable. Sweat soaked through both Mac's and Dan's shirts. The only redeeming feature was the absence of the biting insects that had plagued them in the jungle.
Dan tapped Mac's shoulder. Mac looked back and noticed Dan pointing over his shoulder. In the distance, a flickering light was on their trail. Mac did not need to be psychic to know that the Germans were on their way into the tunnel. As long as Mac kept his flashlight aimed forward, they could remain unnoticed. Just to be safe Mac increased their pace to slow trot.
"Just think," Johann gushed excitedly, "we are the first people to walk these halls in hundreds of years."
Johann's voice echoed down the stone passageway as the party slowly descended further into the pyramid's interior. Occasionally, a German would catch his foot on an exposed root and stumble. The growing roar of the subterranean river forced Johann to speak even louder.
"The temple priest certain knew how to create awe amongst their parishioners," Johann continued.
Throughout, Rebecca and Dr. Strong remained silent. Both of them did not want to draw any attention to themselves. After Rebecca's escape attempt, neither Rebecca nor her father wanted to tempt the stoic Captain into carrying out his threat of killing them. The two armed guards escorting them only encouraged their silence.
"Not even my great uncle made it this far. We have attained the goal of thousands of Europeans over the past four hundred years. We shall all be rich."
Captain Wolfgang suddenly pulled up to a stop and turned on Johann, "Herr von Hutten, please compose yourself."
Von Hutten sheepishly cleared his throat, "Sorry, Captain I was momentarily lost in emotion. Please carry on."
The party continued on its journey in the flickering light of the torch carried by the lead German. Dr. Strong whispered to his daughter that they had long since left the pyramid behind and that they must be on the passage to the legendary city.
It felt like they had been traveling downward for several hours. However, it was only two when they finally came to large opening. This was the doorway to a huge natural cavern. Inside the cavern were the remains of several stone buildings. Most of the structures were single storied, but a few were as tall as three stories. In the center, there was a large pyramid, and in the back of the cavern, a waterfall crashed into a subterranean river. The river flowed out the opposite side of the cavern. An opening in the ceiling let the sunlight enter into the cavern.
"Gentlemen, and lady," Johann's voice boomed with excitement, "I present to you El Dorado."
On entering the city, the Germans fanned out. The deafening roar of the river died down to quiet rumble. A few birds flew from the buildings as the Germans approached. Apparently, the fowl must have fallen into the hole and have taken up residence here.
Dr. Strong noticed the dark shapes hanging from inside the opening of the cavern's ceiling. These were bats, which were another of the residents of the subterranean city. They would become livelier as the sun disappeared behind the mountains to the west.
Johann ran from building to building in excitement. The stories where the city had its building's walls encrusted in precious stones were obviously false. So to were the rumors of streets being lined in gold and silver. Nonetheless, the Germans ran from building to building looking for any riches.
All they turned up were some pottery, woven sleeping mats, and a few stone utensils. The closest thing to any precious metal returned to the feet of Captain Wolfgang was some copper rings. The captain coolly looked over at the feverish von Hutten.
"It must be here somewhere," raved the anxious German.
Johann grabbed Dr. Strong by his collars, "Where? Where is the treasure?" Johann screamed in the professor's face splattering it with spittle.
Dr. Strong slowly wiped the spit from his face and composed himself. "This city is itself the treasure. The things we could learn from it are incalculable..."
"Save me your speeches," raved Johann. "Every South American empire was built upon gold. This is no exception and you know it."
"Very well, the gold you seek is more than likely inside that pyramid," Dr. Strong waved his hand over towards the stone structure.
Captain Wolfgang whistled and motioned for his men to search the pyramid. Ten crewmembers and Johann von Hutten ran towards the pyramids carrying their tools. Captain Wolfgang and the two armed guards remained with Rebecca and Dr. Strong.
"If you are correct Herr doktor," Wolfgang said stoically, "you and your daughter will be left at some local village. Provided there are no further escape attempts."
Dr. Strong nodded his head and wrapped his arm around his daughter. Rebecca felt exhaustion overcome her body and sat on the street. She could not believe that one way or another they were at the end of their journey. She just prayed that her father was correct about the treasure being in the temple.
Suddenly, the screams and yells of the German crewmembers escaped from the pyramid's interior. For the first time the Strongs noticed some signs of emotion pass across the face of Captain Wolfgang. He took a few steps toward the pyramid when Johann came running out.
"It's there! It's all there!" yelled Johann as he thrust a golden statue into Wolfgang's hands. The captain studied the scowling expression of the ancient god. The small statue easily had to be twenty-five pounds. A smile spread across Wolfgang's face. The sight of the smile filled the Strongs with dread, for it was cold and lifeless.
"Load the packs and return to the zeppelin," Wolfgang ordered.
Johann smiled broadly and saluted the captain, "Ja wohl, mein herr."
Johann returned to the interior of the pyramid. Wolfgang then motioned for the two guards to join the men already at work within.
"I take it I don't need to waste any men on watching you two. Nonetheless, I'll keep watch over you," Wolfgang said.
Mac and Dan had taken cover inside a two-story building waiting for the Germans to enter the city. The plan was to ambush them as they walked down the main boulevard. However, when Mac noticed Rebecca and Dr. Strong amongst the Germans he held his fire. They needed a new plan.
Mac and Dan held a quiet council as the Germans ran from building to building. They decided to wait until the Germans left the Strongs unguarded. Until then the risk was too great. When Johann violently grabbed Dr. Strong, Mac felt he might have to risk confrontation. He had the Tommy gun to his shoulder aiming at von Hutten when he suddenly let the professor go.
They watched as the Germans ran for the pyramid. Even with only two guards and an officer Mac held his fire.
"Mac," hissed Dan next to his ear. "Look at the officer."
Mac gazed through the dusty air at the officer. At first, he did not see what Dan was getting at. Then he nearly gasped aloud when he realized who he was. Captain Wolfgang, the supposed leader of the Stein Ritter and a German top ace during the Great War. Mac had never confronted the German personally, but all his friends who did never returned alive. He owed Wolfgang a blood debt.
Mac knew Wolfgang by sight because he worked with the British and French secret service trying to hunt the pilot down. He was more dangerous than even the Red Baron. Now after all these years Mac might just have his revenge. Mac put the Tommy gun to his shoulder again and slowly began to pull the trigger.
Dan put his hand on Mac's shoulder forestalling him from firing. "Wait!" Dan whispered loudly.
Mac watched as von Hutten ran out of the temple and presented something to Wolfgang. Johann was obviously excited about something. Wolfgang ordered the guards watching over the Strongs to enter the pyramid along with Johann.
Mac and Dan again held another quick planning session. Mac would provide cover while Dan grabbed the professor and his daughter and escorted them to safety. For the third time, Mac raised the Thompson waiting for Dan to signal when he was ready.
The birdcall alerted Mac who sighted low in front of Wolfgang. He could not risk hitting either of the hostages. He had to make the captain seek cover.
The Tommy gun opened up. Shards of stone flew up from the street as the rapid burst of .45 bullets ripped into the blocks. Wolfgang instinctively ducked into the cover of a nearby building.
Dan did not waste any time running out and grabbing the archaeologist and his daughter. He pulled the pair into the building where Mac and he were hiding. After he pulled them to the second story room where Mac was firing burst after burst, Dan began to fire at the Germans running out of the pyramid with his Lee-Enfield.
Rebecca sat on the cold stone street with her father holding her in his arms. They had both been through quite a lot in the last few days. They still mourned the deaths of Mac and Dan. They still did not know if they could trust the captain.
Surprise gripped them when the street suddenly appeared to explode in front of Captain Wolfgang. Bits of rock and dust showered the Strongs. They watched as the captain ducked inside a nearby stone structure.
A stranger ran up to them and grabbed them. He led them inside a stone building and up to the second story. There they saw a man firing a gangster's submachine gun into the street below.
Rebecca let out a gasp when she realized that the men were indeed Mac MacKinnon and Dan Edwards. For the first time since her abduction joy returned to her heart. She could see that her father also recognized their saviors.
Bullets began to slam into the walls next to them as the Germans began to return fire. Rebecca and Hugo Strong ducked down onto the floor seeking what little cover they could.
Wolfgang was only momentarily caught off guard when the submachine gun opened up on him. Without a second thought, he jumped into a nearby doorway. Somehow, someone had followed them into the cavern and was now firing upon him.
He reached for his Luger and cocked it. Wolfgang noticed that the Strongs had disappeared. More than likely, the men in the building across the street had rescued them. Wolfgang could not make out anyone inside the building, but he could make out the muzzle flash of the automatic weapon.
By now, the crewmembers were pouring out of the pyramid carrying their cargo as well as their own weapons with them. These unfortunately, were only two rifles and eleven pistols. Nonetheless, Wolfgang surmised that there could only be two assailants in the building.
Wolfgang started firing at the muzzle flashes in the second story room. He did not know if his bullets had found their marks or not. He did not have time to find out.
"Johann," Wolfgang yelled, "return to the zeppelin with the treasure now!"
"Ja wohl!" Johann replied from near the entrance of the pyramid.
Mac ducked back into the room as a rain of bullets pelted the small room. Mac dug into his backpack and produced another fifty round drum that he fitted into the Tommy gun. Dan continued to work his bolt-action rifle.
Mac returned to the window just in time to see the Germans by the pyramid begin to run for the cavern opening. Only two riflemen remained concealed to pin Mac and Dan down as the rest of the Germans made for the exit.
Dan dropped the two riflemen in a matter of seconds. Mac for his part, fired into the crowd as they ran out of the cavern. Most were loaded down with packs of gold. Ironically, the gold saved many of their lives as the .45 pistol rounds fired by the Thompson bounced off the precious metal in their packs.
However, Mac did manage to drop three men before they left the cavern. The men lay still on the ground as their life's blood pooled beneath them. The rest of the Germans including Johann and Wolfgang had managed to escape the ambush.
Not bad Mac smiled inwardly. They at least had saved the professor and Rebecca.
Mac and Dan searched the bodies of the dead crewmembers. Dan stood watch by the cavern entrance in case the Germans decided to return. In the mean time, Mac explained to the Strongs how he and Dan made their daring escapes from the clutches of the Germans.
It was obvious that after two hours the Germans were not returning. To pass the time, Dr. Strong searched the pyramid and collected a few clay tablets and figurines. Mac forbade anyone from taking any gold. The weight could be deadly if they needed to run once they made their way back to the surface.
Mac led the way back up the passageway as they began their return trip. He had the Thompson in one hand and his flashlight in the other. Dan was close behind holding his Schofield; he had surrendered his Lee-Enfield to the professor.
The roar of the river again drowned out but the loudest voice as the party continued on their way to the surface. Mac was becoming more uneasy as they continued on their way to the surface. Certainly, the Germans would not let them get away so easily. They must be laying a trap or waiting in ambush somewhere ahead.
They were only a half a mile from the surface when they heard the explosion. The passageway shook and dust rained down on them. Fortunately, the ancient architects were superb builders and the passageway did not collapse upon them. Mac waited a few minutes for the dust to settle. Then he ran ahead leaving Dan with Rebecca and Dr. Strong.
A few hundred yards ahead confirmed Mac's worst fears. The Germans had sabotaged the passageway. The entire length of the passage from here to the surface had collapsed. The small party had no chance of escape by going this way. So they returned to the cavern.
Mac looked around for a back door. Unfortunately, there was none. Even the ceiling opening was beyond their reach. The sun was rapidly disappearing behind the Andes. Soon darkness would envelope the cavern.
How long could they survive with no food? They had plenty of water…
Suddenly, Mac jumped up.
"I've got it!" Mac exclaimed.
"What is it?" Dan asked excitedly.
"Quickly, before we lose the light. Gather any wood you can find. We'll go out down the river."
"We don't know what is down the river," Dr. Strong pointed out.
"But we know we'll die if we stay here," insisted Mac.
Just before the last rays of sunlight exited the cavern for the night, the small group had manufactured a small raft. It was not large enough for them to all sit on, but they could hold on to it to keep them afloat as they flowed down the river.
Mac and Dan lashed the packs and weapons onto the raft. Once the small party was ready, they grabbed onto the raft. Each had a vine wrapped around a hand. If worse came to worse and they need to escape the raft all they had to do was unwrap their hand.
The four companions then pushed off from the riverbank to the center of the stream. The water was refreshingly cold. Even now in the night, the jungle heat and humidity was stifling. However, Mac knew that any prolong exposure to the subterranean water could lead to hypothermia and then death.
The current was strong and before long, the raft with its four passengers was rushing downstream. There was barely enough headroom as the river exited the cavern out the small tunnel. Mac had his flashlight strapped to the top of the raft to provide any light. How long it would last, he did not know. The batteries could die or the water could short it out. Mac did his best to water proof it by wrapping wet clay around the flashlight.
The tunnel appeared to stretch on endlessly. The twists and turns would occasionally bash the occupants against the wall. Fortunately, the walls were smooth and the channel was deep. They had to avoid the occasional stalactite as a sudden surge upward could leave one impaled upon the sharp protuberances.
Mac figured that they had already covered several miles in the few minutes they were in the river. By good luck, the river never submerged its occupants underwater for any prolonged time. That was another fear Mac had, but he felt best not to mention it.
As the raft continued to flow down the watery course, the flashlight began to dim. When the light went out their chances of survival also lessened. They could no longer see the dangerous stalactites nor prepare for the turns.
They sped along even faster now. The channel was narrowing. Before the flashlight died, Mac notice that there was light coming from up ahead. His spirits raised considerable. Then they dropped just as suddenly when he heard the roaring of a waterfall. There was no escape; the river pulled them at an alarming rate towards the watery cliff.
Mac took a deep breath as they exited the tunnel and began the plummet over the edge of the waterfall. Mac tried to unwind his wrists from the raft but as they tumbled repeatedly, it became impossible. The passengers bashed and banged either into each other or into the raft as they plunged downward.
Then the river drove the raft underwater as they splashed down into the pool at the waterfall's base. Remarkably, the raft had remained together and its passengers, though battered, bruised, and waterlogged were all alive. The moon was high in the night sky.
The four companions had found themselves in a lake. They began to swim to the closest shore and pulled the raft behind them. Soon they beached themselves upon the sandy bank. The jungle foliage reached out to envelope them.
Rebecca coughed and sputtered. Dr. Strong stood up and stretched his bruised limbs. He was looking out onto the lake when a gasp escaped his lips.
"Well, doesn't that beat all," the archaeologist said.
Mac looked out onto the lake to see what Dr. Strong was looking at. There parked in the center of the lake sat the zeppelin. The giant aircraft was beginning to lift itself up from the water. Mac quickly began to untie their possessions from the raft.
The airship was too far out for his Tommy gun to be any use. Therefore, Mac grabbed Dan's Lee-Enfield. He ran a few yards up the lakeside to gain a better perspective on the zeppelin and in the case the Germans returned fire they would not inadvertently hit the professor or his daughter.
The airship was now above the treetops. It was soon pulling away. The moonlight did not make for the best of shooting conditions; however, Mac had to try to stop the Germans from escaping. The zeppelin was almost at the extreme range of the British rifle.
Mac took careful aim. There was very little chance he would be able to ignite the highly combustible hydrogen gas with a simple rifle round. At best, he could only puncture the airbag. Even then, the Germans could repair it before the ship lost much gas. During the Great War, the attack aircraft were loaded with incendiary rounds. Something he did not have for the Lee-Enfield.
However, Mac needed to do something. The zeppelin was rapidly increasing its speed. Mac squeezed the trigger. If he hit, he did not know. He fired repeatedly. Mac fired his last bullet before the zeppelin pulled out of range. Mac could not be sure but he thought he might have seen a flash on the zeppelin.
As the zeppelin pulled beyond their view Mac knew that against all odds he must have hit a girder, causing a spark that ignited the hydrogen gas. For the skyline was beginning to brighten over the horizon.
The next morning Dr. Strong led everyone back to the pyramid temple. Just as Mac had feared, the Germans had permanently sealed off the entrance to El Dorado.
"What a pity," Dr. Strong lamented.
"I can't say it was all a loss," Dan replied.
"How so?" Mac asked arching one of his eyebrows.
"You said not to take any gold but you said nothing of precious stones," Dan said as he began emptying his many pockets filled with emeralds, sapphires and other stones.
"There was more than monetary wealth contained in there," Dr. Strong continued.
"I'm afraid the few artifacts you packed away will have to suffice. But, I believe that the world is not yet ready for El Dorado. Maybe it is all for the best," Mac said.
Dr. Strong nodded his head, "Perhaps you are right. I believe you know the way to your plane from here."
"Just one minute," Mac replied as he ran up the stairs of the temple. In a few minutes, he returned with the crystal skull. He handed it over to Dr. Strong.
As they were flying back to British Honduras, Mac searched the jungle for any signs of the burning zeppelin. After a few minutes, Mac sighted the burned jungle near the river's edge. The burning aircraft must have crashed into the deep river where it sank.
Mac returned the floatplane to Major Roger White who was again sitting with his colleague in the cantina. Mac introduced Rebecca and Hugo Strong to Major White and Dr. Frederick Mitchell-Hedges. The major and the British archaeologist looked over the four adventurers. They all appeared the worse for wear.
"I'd love to know what you've been up to, Captain," the major said.
Dr. Mitchell-Hedges started a conversation with his American counterpart. Dr. Strong only commented that he was on another futile search for the Lost City of Gold.
"Speaking of futile searches. I've been searching for the perfect gift to give my daughter Anna for her birthday. I'm afraid I too have ‘struck out' as you Yanks say," Mitchell-Hedges said a little downtrodden.
"Perhaps, I may help out," Dr. Strong offered. "I did find this on our trek why don't you give it to your daughter." Hugo pulled out the crystal skull and handed it to the British archaeologist.
Mitchell-Hedges smiled and looked at the crystal skull, "Beautiful, just beautiful. She'll love it. How can I repay you?"
Dr. Strong laughed as he pulled Rebecca over, "Let's just say that I too understand how important it is to present the perfect gift to a daughter."
Rebecca blushed, "Oh Dad!" Rebecca then kissed her father on the cheek.