Nathaniel Cannon and the Lost City of Pitu No. 14

A few hours of massaging turned the start into a plan. By midnight, the steady north wind had borne Inconstant down Mount Soendoro’s south face. With the guidance of Cannon and his flying master, Churchill, the zeppelin had hugged the far side of the basalt ridge to the west of Pitu, hidden from view. She’d come to a stop under Churchill’s practiced hand, while sixty heavily-armed pirates took the cargo hoist down into the jungle, Cannon, Joe, and Choufeng among their number.

Just under four miles separated them from Pitu, through treacherous jungle and up the steep side of the ridge. They’d only just made it, Cannon thought. The eastern sky was turning predawn gray. He and four pirates perched near the peak of one of Pitu’s tall buildings. The belly of the Nazi zeppelin loomed nearly overhead. Her aft mooring line descended from the gloom, tied off to a primeval tree not seventy-five feet from Cannon. If he leaned around the corner of the building, he could see the cozy orange glow from the sentries’ fire. The knurled branches of the great tree reached out over it, their leaves a green so deep it was nearly black in the darkness.

Silence reigned. Cannon checked his watch, then pocketed it and waved at one of his crew. The pirate drew a flashlight, hooded with dark paper, from his pack. Cannon took it and carefully aimed at a barely-visible notch in the ridge, blinking it twice. A few hundred yards further west at the forward mooring line, Joe had hopefully just done the same thing. Cannon watched for a reply from the ridge and saw none. The plan was on.

He pointed at Henderson and Burr, and they ascended the tiered stone building to its peak. Burr set a tripod on the narrow flat part of the roof, and slid a coil of black-dyed rope off her shoulder. Henderson unslung a metal cylinder from its place on his back, stifling a sigh of relief. Burr tied a grappling hook to the end of the rope, then slid it into the cylinder once Henderson secured it to the tripod. Di Giacomo, the best shot out of the five of them, slithered up to the cylinder and sighted along it until it pointed at the fullest part of the ancient tree ahead.

Cannon risked another look around the corner. He gave di Giacomo a thumbs-up, and the pneumatic cannon made a noise like a violent sneeze. The grappling hook shot across the gap to the tree, rope playing out behind it, and lodged in the branches. Cannon decided he’d have to buy Isea something nice. The gadget had made so little noise it had been lost in the rustling of the wind.

Burr tied the rope off to a stony protrusion. Cannon pointed at her, Henderson, and di Giacomo, one pirate for each German voice Cannon had heard, then at the far end of the line. He beckoned to the last pirate, then picked his way down the sloping side of the building. Once he reached the ground, he crept foward to the corner and stole a glance past it. Three SS men sat around the fire, under the overhanging branches of the tree. The rope, invisible to anyone who didn’t know where to look for it, sagged slightly under Burr’s weight.

A few minutes passed before Cannon spotted a brief flash of light from within the tree’s branches. He took a deep breath, straightened his slouch hat, and drew his Mauser pistol. Gun at the ready, he stood and rounded the corner.

The Nazis only had the time to half-rise and reach for their rifles before three pirates dropped from the tree on top of them. They strugged briefly, but there was little they could hope to achieve. “Tie them up,” Cannon said, taking a box of matches from his pocket and straining his ears for the sound of engines. “It’s up to Foster now.”

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