Nathaniel Cannon and the Lost City of Pitu No. 16

Cannon watched the rockets strike home, then doused a section of the mooring line with water from his canteen. He struck a match and lit the line below the wet section. One of the many lessons he’d learned in Panama was that when it came to fire, it was better to be long on caution. The hemp fibers smoldered, then snapped with a noise like a gunshot. The same sound echoed from the forward cable, and almost instantly, the zeppelin started to swing down the slope of the mountain under the steady push of the wind. Cannon drew his Mauser again. “Well,” he said, “we’re on the clock.”

He set off at a jog along the road to the west, his crew right behind him. Tracers speared into the sky from somewhere deeper in the city, but that was Emma’s problem. They came to an intersection. To the south, the crossing road petered out into the jungle, and to the north, it ran to the city center. Cannon sheltered behind a low, blue-gray wall, and a moment later saw Joe and his party waiting in the shadows across the street. Cannon dashed over.

Joe shrugged off his pack and gently set it on the ground. “Thing’s heavy,” he grunted.

Cannon flashed a quick grin. “That’s why I didn’t carry it myself,” he said, pulling the canvas cover off the portable radio set. He flipped the switch, and a moment later, the radio hummed to life. Into the handset, he said, “Air One, this is Ground One. Do you copy?”

 

Emma circled over the city, looking down along her left wing and straining to pick out details against the dark stone. The sun peeked over the eastern horizon, but it would be at least another half-hour before it cleared the ridge east of Pitu enough to light up the city. Suddenly, brilliant green tracers blazed past her cockpit, the heavy framing between the panes casting eerie shadows. She sharpened her turn, craning her neck to follow the tracers back to their source. Atop one of Pitu’s tall, narrow buildings, two Nazi machine gunners blasted away at her and her wingmen.

She rolled out of her turn, the stubby nose of her plane settling over the rooftop. Peering through her sight, she saw she had a good shot, and before she was fully aware of the motion, she’d squeezed the triggers. Her machine guns chattered, spitting intermittent streams of fiery light reaching out toward the machine gun nest. Puffs of dust and chips of stone enveloped the gunners as Emma’s plane roared past.

She became conscious of a voice on the radio: “Air One, Ground One. I repeat, do you copy?”

She turned a dial on the panel and said, “Copy, skipper, five-by-five.”

“Keep your eye on Ground Two. Ground One is moving to the rendezvous,” crackled Cannon.

“Gotcha.”

“Good shooting just now.”

Emma grinned. “You don’t pay me to be second best,” she said. “Air One out.”

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