Today is the anniversary of the Hindenburg disaster in 1937. This event appears in Yesterdays Treasures. Here is the excerpt.
Chapter ten – Hindenburg
|Tom stretched out both his arms. Edward and Charlie each placed a hand on one and Mary and Septimus on the other. In his mind Tom brought up the Map. He scrolled across it to find the eastern seaboard of the United States. Once there he located the naval base at Lakehurst. He focused upon it and Walked in that direction. As he moved, he brought into his mind an image of the Clock – his brass alarm clock that had once belonged to his father. He spun the timepiece’s hands backwards, moving them faster and faster until he knew he had reached the target date and as he did, he Walked them all back through time to May 6th, 1937, a few minutes before seven p.m. local time.
They materialised in the gap between a warehouse and some packing cases. Septimus popped up to take a look over the top of one and glanced about then turned and beckoned for Tom to join him. Tom peered carefully round a box labelled ‘J.P. Sutton – Machine Tools’. Beyond the cases, and only a few feet in front of them, was a wire fence about twelve feet high and through it he spotted two enormous hangers running off to their right. Ahead and to the left was a large open space with marked out runways and a windsock fluttering in the breeze. On the far side of the landing field, more huge hangars loomed. To their left and about two hundred yards away, in the middle of the large open landing field, was a tall structure made of steel girders. Much like the Eifel Tower, but actually shaped a bit like a rocket, it rose to a point high above them.
“I have been here before,â€ the Welshman whispered. A few years prior to today, in fact; I was … ahem, borrowing some secret plans. Anyway, according to memory, those hangers house the airships when they are not in flight,” Septimus pointed at the vast buildings. “The Americans had several naval airships based here I believe, as well as it being the landing field for the Hindenburg. Now, look over there everyone,” he gestured.
They all stared at the huge tower.
“That’s the airship mooring mast. When the Hindenburg arrives, it will come in and descend so that it is level with the top of the tower. It will then dock with it and be winched down to ground level. That at least is the plan. Of course, that never actually happens, because, whilst the ship is approaching the tower the disaster occurs and she burns and crashes.”
“Good Lord, there she is!” Charlie exclaimed.
They turned to see the airship approaching from behind them: an impossibly large cigar-shaped balloon hundreds of feet above them, but still vast, casting a giant shadow over the airfield. She was a metallic blue colour all over, with the exception of the glass windows in the control car at the front and the promenade windows of the passenger deck at the thing’s belly. Prominently displayed were red and black swastika flags painted onto the fish like fins projecting out of her rear end. Eerily, her approach was almost silent.
Tom heard a loud sob and turned to see Mary staring up at the Hindenburg, one hand over her mouth and the other clutching at Septimus. “I am frightened, Mr Mason. What demons drive that creature, what magic can make it fly?”
“Mary, don’t get upset. It is a thing; a machine that men make. There is no monster within it – just engines,” Septimus explained, but Tom could see Mary was far from convinced and she kept on staring at the airship as it moved by. Did she see it as yet more evidence of incomprehensible things beyond her time â€“ a time she was perhaps never meant to see? Exchanging worried glances with Edward and Charlie, Tom placed his arm around her waist and gave her a comforting squeeze. He could feel her whole body trembling and knew she was struggling not to weep.
Mary, you don’t have to come. You can stay here and i’ll pick you up later.
No, Master, she said firmly, letting go of Septimus and dashing a hand across her face, clearly making an effort to regain her composure.Forgive a moment’s weakness. I will be fine now, I swear it.
Relieved to feel that she was no longer shaking Tom gave her an encouraging smile and withdrew his arm.
The Hindenburg was still high up and well above the mooring tower. As it passed over the top it turned to the north and then to the west and now Tom could see that it was descending slowly as it curved around and began to come back towards the east – back towards them and the tower.
Septimus checked his watch, “Right, it’s about fifteen minutes before the disaster. Time to get on board. Tom, take us into the superstructure near the crew compartment’s access door to the aft gangway.
Tom nodded and tried to hide the doubts he was feeling. He was glad he had taken careful notice of the Professor’s plans, but had he paid enough attention to the details? What if he got it wrong? One of them could end up outside the airship or inside one of the gas cells. Then, of course, it was not just a question of recalling the layout correctly. If whatever had afflicted him the previous day happened again they might all end up in the middle of the sea for all he knew. The lives of his friends were in his hands and the enormity of the responsibility made him falter.
“OK Tom? Septimus hissed. “No time to hang about, boyo!”
Shaking his head in an effort to dismiss his gnawing anxieties Tom frowned in concentration. They had only minutes on this job and he had to get it right. In his mind he brought up the Map and then, having made sure he was anchored to the location at Lakehurst, he superimposed the floor plan of the airship, orientating it in his mind so it matched the alignment of the real ship above them. There, just behind the hatch into B-deck, was a corridor. But it was a narrow space, only wide enough for one person, so with a hurried explanation, Tom had his companions form up in single file then positioned himself in the middle of the line. He nodded to the others and they reached out to touch his outstretched arms then, with a final nod, he Walked them away.
They materialised in the corridor running along the keel of the airship, which was formed within a triangle of steel girders. A narrow gangway led in two directions within the triangle, whilst outside the girders there were huge sheets of whitish canvas. Tom realised after a moment that these were the gas cells and that he and his friends were surrounded by thousands of tons of hydrogen: the gas that fuelled the sun. A single spark might turn it all into an inferno. He gulped and looked along the walkway.
From one direction down the corridor the whirl and clunk of machinery could be heard. “Generator room in the heart of the ship: that’s aft of the cabins. Come on, this way,” Septimus muttered and led them in a single file away from the generators. On either side of them they now saw a series of cabin doors. Septimus held his finger to his lips to keep them quiet and hissed two words, “Crew quarters,” before carrying on along the corridor.
Beyond the crew quarters, a large steel door blocked their path: the rear hatch leading into B-deck.
Septimus looked round to check they were all still with him and glancing at Tom he raised a questioning eyebrow and tapped his watch.
“It is now seven-fifteen local time,” Tom said. “Assuming the Professor knows what he is talking about and the stone tablet is also correct, then these pearls we are after will begin to change into the fragment of the Crown in eight minutes. The fire starts in, er … ten and then in two minutes more, the ship is destroyed.”
“Right then. Charlie, Mary and I will go and try to get into the Captain’s safe. Tom, you and Edward go to the passenger cabins and look for the pearls there. If we fail to find them, we meet up here in ten minutes. All clear?â€
“As mud!” muttered Charlie.
“Excellent,” replied Septimus. “Right, let’s go!”
Cautiously, Septimus opened the hatch and peered around it. Beyond the doorway, the corridor extended forwards about fifty feet before ending at another hatchway. More doors led off the passageway on either side. Septimus allowed Mary and Charlie to pass by him into the corridor. He went to follow them then suddenly he slapped his forehead, turned around to face Tom and Edward and frowning, pointed up at the ceiling.
“Damn!” he exclaimed. “I just remembered that you can’t get to the stairs from here without going through the Purser’s cabin and the bar. The bar is through the smoking room airlock and will be manned by the barman. You two are going to have to Walk up through the ceiling.”
Tom nodded and imagined the plan of the airship in his mind. Directly above them he could picture the hallway at the top of the stairs from B-deck, which was the entrance to the passenger cabins. “Ten feet straight up,” he instructed his companion. Edward nodded and they both Walked to the landing.
On either side of them, stairs led downwards. Beyond these were doors to the dining room, on one side of the ship, and the passenger lounge on the other. Directly in front of them two corridors ran between the passenger cabins. A moment after they had appeared, a smartly dressed man in a jacket and tie strolled out of one of the corridors examining a camera he was holding. He pushed past with barely a glance and then turned to take a second look at them.
“Guten Abend, wie heissen Sie?”
“Er, Ich heisse Herr Edward Dyson,” Edward said in hesitant German.
“Ah, you are American? Why have I not seen you before?” the stranger asked, switching to English.
“English, actually but we have both been ill, only just come out of our cabin.”
The German gentleman looked doubtful at that answer, but shrugged and walked on towards the lounge. “Well, we are just landing,â€ he said over his shoulder, â€œso I would hurry yourselves: you don’t want to miss that do you?”
After he had gone, Tom let out the breath he had been holding and Edward nodded at him. “Phew, I thought he might raise the alarm. Come on, let’s go – we can’t have long now.”
“Just nine minutes to go,” said Tom, turning to peer towards the cabins. “Which corridor?”
Edward shrugged and then rushed across to one of the openings and glanced along it, his gaze taking in the nearest of the doors on one side and then the one opposite it. “We want number 17 donâ€™t we? These are 1 and 14 so not this corridor,” he announced moving to the other entrance. “Here’s 15 to 28. Come on, it’s this way.”
Tom ran after his friend, counting off the cabins as he passed them: “15 … 16 …â€
â€œAh, 17, this is it,” Edward announced, giving a gentle tap on the door, his ear pressed against the polished wood. â€œThank goodness, no one there,â€ he said after a moment, his hand twisting the doorknob. “Blast! Locked,” he muttered and then stepped back, steadied himself and hurtled into the door like a rugby forward putting his weight behind his right shoulder. With a great crack followed by a splintering sound, the door was knocked back off its hinges.
“You don’t think it might have been easier to Walk? Tom muttered with a wry grin.
Edward shrugged and just smiled. “Maybe … but it wouldn’t have been as much fun.”
Beyond the shattered doorway the cabin was tiny: only six feet long by about five feet wide. On their left they could see a wash basin and a curtain that led to a small closet. Ahead of them was a fold-down table and a stool. Finally, on the right, was a bunk bed complete with a ladder leading to the upper bunk. On the lower bunk Tom spotted a suitcase.
Edward had seen it too and tried the catches. “Locked!” he grunted. “Try checking the closet, hurry we have only eight more minutes,” he added, pulling out a penknife and flicking out a blade.
Tom poked his head through the curtain, but the shelving inside was bare. Frau Denitz had obviously packed her clothes away in the case.
Edward, meanwhile, had pushed the point of the blade behind the lock and twisted. With a snap the catch flew open. He repeated this manoeuvre on the other side then he tipped the case upside down. Shirts and blouses, trousers and skirts fell out of the case and tumbled on to the blanket covering the lower bunk. Two small boxes fell out as well: one bouncing on the bed to land on the floor. Tom bent over to retrieve that one, opening it hopefully, but then grimaced when it turned out to contain only a fountain pen. Edward opened the other to reveal a string of shiny and very beautiful white pearls. Tom grabbed the jewellery and grinned at Edward.
“Eureka! Found it!” Tom said. “Quick, let’s go.”
He turned to exit the cabin and then froze, for there, in the corridor outside, stood a man. He was somewhat older than the young lieutenant – perhaps about the same age as Septimus – clean shaven but with a shock of red hair. He wore army style canvas trousers and a Chelsea football top. There were two striking things about him, other than his hair. Firstly, the football shirt was from the recent 2009 to 2010 football season and secondly, he was holding a pistol.
“I’ll ‘ave that mate!” he said, speaking with a London accent, cocking the revolver and pointing it at Tom.
Chapter eleven – Rolf Lapace
Edward Walked: vanishing from where he stood next to Tom and appearing in the corridor beside the stranger, his fist going back ready to land a punch on the redheadâ€™s face. Edward blinked, gasping as he saw the man was no longer there, but had vanished the instant Edward materialised.
Tom was about to join Edward when he felt a pistol barrel dig into the back of his neck. With a chill he realised the man was now right behind him and that he too was a Walker.
“Nice try, sunshine!” said a voice in Tomâ€™s ear. Reaching over, the redhead seized the string of pearls and with a pop, was gone.
Edward slammed his fist against the wall in frustration, “Damned cheek! Who the devil was that chap?”
“I have no idea, but heâ€™s got the pearls and it’s less than two minutes before they become the fragment.” Tom frowned as a thought occurred to him, â€œTell you what though, whoever he is, if like us heâ€™s after the Crown, he won’t leave until the fragment appears.”
Edward closed his eyes and screwed up his face in concentration then nodded. “You are quite right, Tom. He is still on board. He is … oh my … heâ€™s in the Captain’s cabin!”
Tom’s eyes widened, “The others: come on, let’s go!” he yelled and without waiting for Edward, he Walked down through the vessel to the keel corridor near the bow of the airship, above the control car and just outside the Captain’s cabin.
As they materialised, Edward gave a cry of alarm, seized Tom and yanked him sideways. An instant later, Septimus tumbled out of the doorway, blood streaming from his nose. Without hesitation, Edward rushed into the room followed by a slightly more reluctant Tom, to find themselves face to face with two huge men.
Both were at least six foot six inches tall, bald-headed, wore boiler suits and appeared to be identical twins. One of them, his face bearing a scar above the right eyebrow, had presumably just punched Septimus, for the other had Charlie in an arm lock around his neck and was squeezing the sailor’s throat. Charlie was clawing at the man’s hands, choking and struggling to get free. A third man – the redhead in the Chelsea shirt, who was clearly the leader of the trio – was pointing his gun at a terrified Mary, who stood cowering beside the Captainâ€™s desk.
As Tom and Edward burst into the cabin, the redhead swung the pistol round to cover them and in that instant Tom saw that the door of the safe was hanging open, its contents strewn across the desk. Amongst them was a jewellery case.
“Now now, gentlemen, no need to take any risks,â€ the leader waved the gun from Tom to Edward. â€œWe all want to get off this airship alive, donâ€™t we?” He glanced at the huge twins, “Orme, get the pearls!”
The big man with the scarred face grunted and stepped towards the desk, but at that moment, Mary lunged for the jewellery case. The leader swung the pistol back and again the silenced weapon pointed at the girl.
“Don’t try my patience, lass. I warn you: I will shoot if I must,” the man threatened, frowning as Mary flung her arms upwards and screamed, â€œWall!â€ There was a flash of light and surrounding her now was a shimmering shield of frozen time.
“Nice trick, lass!” the leader said and with a mocking grin he Walked, appeared on top of the desk and pushed Mary roughly to the ground, the shield disintegrating as she fell. Seizing the jewellery case, her assailant jumped down and an instant later the gun was once more pointing first at Tom then at Edward. They exchanged a despairing glance: they had not had a chance to move; Charlie was still struggling and gasping for breath … and the seconds were ticking away.
“Right! Orme, Jez we have them both. Back to location Y,” the redhead ordered and the three of them were gone.
Septimus staggered back into the room, blood still streaming from his nose, whilst Edward ran over and helped Mary to her feet and Charlie stood coughing, one hand massaging his bruised throat.
“Where are they?” Septimus asked turning to Edward.
“Gone … to the rear of the airship,” Edward shouted. “Around ring 62, I think.”
“What do we do now?â€ Charlie gasped.
â€œGet us after them, Tom!â€ Septimus snapped.
â€œIt is only seconds before the pearls … whichever set it is, becomes the fragment,” Tom warned. As he spoke, the sound of bellowed orders and the clattering of running feet echoed through the open doorway as a group of men hurtled down the corridor towards the front of the ship.
Septimus leapt to the opening and quickly closed the door, but stood holding the handle in case anyone should try to enter. Whoever they were though they did not stop at the Captain’s cabin, but carried right on by. “Those are crewmen running towards the bow to help straighten up the Hindenburg,â€ he explained. â€œThe Captain had some difficulty keeping it straight and he used their weight to level it out. That was only just before the fire. In other words, we don’t have long: come on Tom, NOW!”
Tom Walked them all back through the ship to the corridor near ring 62. It ran into a dead end just behind them – the very rear of the ship. On either side of them were long, white, oval-shaped canisters the size of coffins – ballast tanks, Tom thought. Above them a ladder ran vertically up through the ship between the gas cells. A few rungs up the ladder, still holding his pistol and pointing it at them, was the red-headed man in the Chelsea shirt. Higher up the twins were hanging on to the ladder, each holding out a single set of the pearls they had stolen.
“Just stay there, Septimus,â€ said the redhead. â€œNo need for a fuss. I only need a few seconds more.”
Tom gaped at Septimus: the fact that this man knew the Welshman by name came as a great surprise and not just to Tom judging by the shocked faces of his companions. They all turned to look at Septimus.
The Welshman paid them no heed. Glaring up at the stranger, his face twisting with outrage, he spoke at last. “Damn you, Rolf Lapace! I thought we agreed to keep out of each other’s way.”
The other man snorted. “Yes, well, IF you recall the conversation, what we actually agreed was to avoid competing for the same contract. It seems that you and I are working for different employers who are apparently both interested in the same item just now. I appear to have possession of that item – one of these,” he gestured at the two sets of pearls dangling above his head. “We will see which one in a moment – so don’t try anything stupid. I would hate to have to shoot an old pal! It might cause an explosion,â€ he laughed.
“Keep him talking, I’ll get up there,” Tom whispered to Septimus and he slid back behind the Welshman and out of sight. Then, as he Walked, he felt Mary slip her hand onto his elbow. They materialised side by side on the ladder directly above the uppermost one of the big brutes – the scar-faced one: Orme, thought Tom; the lower one must be Jez.
When they appeared, both he and Mary clamped one hand onto a rung to steady themselves. The sudden noise drew Orme’s attention and he glanced up at them, but not quickly enough to prevent Mary from reaching down to grab the pearls. He swayed, almost overbalancing, slack mouth falling open in his brutish, unintelligent features.
“Boss!” Orme’s very deep voice boomed.
Lapace looked up to where Tom and Mary balanced precariously on the ladder. He whipped the pistol round and without hesitation fired a shot. The bullet missed Mary by an inch and there was a ping as it ricocheted off the rung next to her head and flew away.
“Lapace, you fool!” Septimus yelled, “The whole ship is full of hydrogen!”
As if in response to those words there was a muffled explosion above them. Tom glanced upwards. The ladder upon which he, Mary, Lapace and his grunts clung ran up above his head, emerging in another corridor – the axial one that ran though the very centre of the airship. Another ladder ran up again from there to the top of the airship and ended at a ventilation shaft that led out onto the external surface. There – high up at the top of the HindenburgÂ – a gas cell had been punctured and, as Tom looked on with horror, it suddenly erupted into flames.
“Oh, my God!” he yelled as the fire spread down towards them.
Still clutching the string of pearls, Mary held out her hand and grunted in concentration. Just as she had done once before in Pudding Lane, she held the flames at bay. However, the fire in 1666 had not been fuelled by thousands of tons of hydrogen. Sweat collected in beads on her forehead as she struggled to contain the ball shaped inferno that threatened to expand and incinerate them along with the ship.
Biting his lip, Tom stood as if paralysed, watching whilst the fireball glowed and flickered like a miniature sun that would devour the Hindenburg in just a few brief moments.Â In the last few months he had faced death on more than one occasion, but never had it been more terrifying.
Just then he heard a new sound: a strange screeching, like someone running their nails down a blackboard. Distracted by the fiery globe only thirty feet above his head, it took Tom a moment to realise the sound was coming from below, not above. He glanced down and saw that the string of pearls in the hands of Orme’s brother, Jez, was glowing intensely. All eyes were drawn to it as the sounds and the glowing lights seemed to reach a crescendo. Then Tom saw that Jez no longer held a string of pearls, but instead he now clutched a shard of metal. Tom recognised it instantly as a piece of an ornate crown: the Crown from his dream.
“Sorry lass,â€ Lapace drawled, â€œbad luck and all, but it looks like youâ€™ve got the wrong one there,â€ he taunted. â€œLet’s go boys!”
The three of them vanished away from the Hindenburg, leaving Mary holding a string of beads; just an ordinary set of pearls. She was pale as snow, her brows drawn together as she swayed on the ladder, her strength almost at an end. The fireball began to inch towards them.
“Blast!” Septimus cursed.
“They are not on board anymore,” Edward shouted up. “Maybe I can track them, and we can follow?”
“I can’t hold it any longer!” Mary cried. She slumped exhausted into a dead faint, letting go of the ladder and tumbling away. Tom reached out and seized her with one hand as she fell, but her weight jerked him off the ladder. They both landed in a crumpled heap in the keel corridor.
Above them there was a detonation. The entire ship shook with the violence of it, throwing them all off their feet. As they struggled back upright the fire erupted forwards through the gas cells and down towards them. Then the Hindenburg lurched and tilted backwards onto its tail.
The sudden movement of the airship saved their lives, removing them from the worst effects of the blast. The five of them tumbled to the dead end of the keel corridor, rolling over each other and ending up as a mass of arms and legs, with Tom buried underneath them all. Mary came to with a groan then screamed.
Charlie, on top of the heap, seized Tomâ€™s arm. “Tom, get us away now! For God’s sake NOW!” he yelled as the heat around them grew fierce and fire proceeded to incinerate the great vessel.
Tom closed his eyes and just Walked. Anywhere, any time was better than here and now, but as he Walked them all away, he realised that, as once before, the Map was spinning and the Clock’s hands were rotating erratically: he had no control over where they were going. They all cried out in panic as they hurtled through the void, still an entangled ball of limbs.
“Concentrate, Tom, concentrate!” Septimus yelled.
“I can’t!” Tom shouted back, panicking now.
“Yes you can, lad. Just focus on the Map. Focus on one point on it – Hyde Park. Find the Serpentine and get us there.”
“I … I … OK, I will try!” Tom stammered. He tried to block out everything else and just find the lake in the Park. There: he had it. Now, just go there and try and get the date right.
“Go – go now!” he shouted and suddenly, with nauseating abruptness, they hurtled out of the void and landed with a mighty splash right in the centre of the Serpentine.
There followed a few moments of paddling and splashing around as they swam to the side of the lake and, to the amusement of city workers and some French tourists, they emerged, dripping on the grass.
After he had caught his breath, Septimus turned to Tom and said, “OK, I’ll admit it: I did say ‘find the Serpentine’. But I didn’t expect you to land us right in it, boyo!