Email: [email protected] TOMB HUNTER The Adventures of Larra Court Episode 5 The Quest of the Ludendorff Chapter 4 The Ludendorff “Then it’s decided,” Larra said to Steiner. “I’ll get off the train near the border, and you will head to Bern and contact the British embassy.” “I don’t think we have a choice,” replied Steiner. “It is clear that our cover is blown, and you know a good deal more about the Nazi plans than I do, as well as being the archeological expert. I’m a little curious though about how you managed to learn all this from a trained Gestapo officer. They are usually pretty fanatical about keeping secrets.” “Let’s just say that I was able to convince him that it was in his best interests to tell me what he knew,” replied Larra, with a grim smile. Her breasts still pained her greatly from the mauling they had taken, but she did not let Steiner know she was suffering in any way. “What did you do with him?” asked Steiner. “We wouldn’t want him getting away and telling anyone.” “Oh,” Larra replied, offhandedly. “He got off the train a few miles back.” She did not add the extra detail that the train had been crossing a 300-foot high trestle when she had tossed Karl through the broken window of her compartment. The remainder of the journey was uneventful, the train eventually reaching Zurich near dawn. Larra did not wait for the porter to come to her compartment. The broken window would have resulted in too many questions being asked. After departing the train, she made directly for the Swiss mountaineer she had been told to contact. She got off the train before it stopped moving, taking her few possessions with her and jumping out the far side of the train. She wore a light pack on her back. It contained her Browning .45, which she had managed to smuggle through customs, using her diplomatic passport, and a few personal items. She managed to find a taxi near the station. Half an hour later she made contact with her guide, a man she knew only as “Hans.” Six hours later, she and Hans were beginning their climb over the mountains and into Germany. Larra’s attempt to avoid detection seemed to have been successful. No one followed them on their six-day hike, and no one intercepted them. On the sixth day Larra said goodbye to her guide and walked into Germany. She now faced increasing danger. The deeper into the heart of the Reich she traveled, the more she would be surrounded by enemies. She was entering a police state, and even though she had defeated two agents of the Gestapo due to their own stupidity, she knew that she could not always expect to be that lucky. If she were caught again, it would probably mean her death. Larra’s plan was to head for Frankfurt. The trick was to get there without being discovered. She was in a part of Germany that consisted mostly of farms and small villages. The large city of Frankfurt was over 150 miles away in a straight line, and about twice that distance by road. Since she had learned from Karl that the Gestapo was already alerted to her presence, the use of public transport was out of the question. She would have to find some less obvious mode of travel. Unfortunately, she was working against a deadline. It was imperative that she make it to Frankfurt in two days or less. She was approaching the outskirts of a village. It was getting dark, as Larra had timed her arrival for the early evening. If all went well, she might be able to hitch a ride in the direction she wanted to go without much difficulty. Luck proved to be with her. Moving stealthily through the darkened streets of the town, she was undetected as she made her way to a large lorry parked in front of the town’s only hotel. The lorry was not locked, and a quick look at the cargo manifest in the cab told her that the vehicle was bound for Stuttgart. “Perfect,” she thought, “that will take me halfway to Frankfurt.” Larra stowed herself away in the back of the lorry and waited until morning. With any luck the driver would be an early riser and she would make Stuttgart before noon the next day. The back of the truck was packed with heavy wooden crates. It was not the most comfortable place on earth but it would have to do. Larra’s night in the lorry passed quickly. Fortunately, due to a lifetime of roughing it and sleeping in all sorts of conditions, she was able to drop off without difficulty. She was awakened by the sound of the lorry’s door opening. In a minute the engine turned over and she was on her way. The trip was uneventful if rather bumpy. Larra stayed awake, ready for a chance to leave the truck when she got close to her destination. She knew she was in Stuttgart when she heard the sounds of increased traffic about her. After a short drive through the streets of the town the truck slowed down. Rising from her hiding place, she swung open the back door of the lorry and dropped into the street. The truck was moving around a corner at the time, and Larra hardly staggered as she hit the pavement. Only a few startled onlookers saw her exit. Ignoring them, Larra made her way down the street. On her way in, she had heard the sound of a train whistle, and she was heading for that sound now. Stuttgart was not a large town, and Larra found the railyard fairly quickly. She was not looking for a passenger train, just something that would get her to the next town. Avoiding contact with any citizens, she moved among the rolling stock. Several times she had to duck beneath rail cars in order to avoid detection, but eventually she found what she was looking for. It was a fully loaded train pointed in the direction of Frankfurt. Quickly she slid open the doors of one of the freight cars and squeezed into the small space left in the interior. Now all she had to do was wait. If she was as fortunate as the time she had stowed away on the lorry, she might make it to Frankfurt before nightfall. She did not have to wait long. The train got up steam and moved out. As she had hoped the train continued in the direction it was pointed. She sat down to wait out the journey. The train was slowing down, and Larra awoke with a start. “Careless,” she thought, “I’ve got to be more careful.” Cautiously, she slid the door open a crack. The train must have crawled up the track, because the sun was already setting. “Still,” Larra reflected, “I’ve got a whole day to reach my goal; I’ve just got to make sure that I don’t get caught.” Larra waited until night had completely closed in, before venturing from her hiding place, then she made her way out of the almost deserted rail-yard. Frankfurt, unlike Stuttgart, was not a city that went to sleep at night. There were still quite a few people on the streets, however, Larra felt safer here than she had in the smaller town. Because of the size of the city it would be easier for her to blend in with the populace. She hailed a cab. Her perfect command of the German language insured that she probably would not arouse suspicion due to her inability to communicate. She had the cab driver drop her off a few blocks from her intended destination. There was no point in revealing her intentions to anyone who might be tracking her. She suspected by now, that if the Gestapo was as efficient as its reputation, there would probably be someone looking for her, and it was best not to take any unnecessary chances. She took just one more precaution. It was important that if she failed that she simply not disappear without a trace. She went to the Frankfurt telegraph office and sent a coded message to her friends in England. Then she headed for the airport. A short walk brought her to the edge of the Frankfurt Zeppelin terminal. It was surrounded by a high fence, but that presented only a minor obstacle for Larra. Within a few seconds she had clambered over it and dropped to the grounds on the other side. Creeping through the darkness, she made her way toward the huge main hanger. Here she found signs of feverish activity. It appeared that the information she had extracted from Karl had been accurate. The sliding doors of the massive hanger were open. Even as Larra watched a truck hauling on a towrope started up. A monstrous cigar-shaped object slowly emerged from the hanger. It was the latest and most modern of the German airships, the Ludendorff. “You’d think,” Larra mused, “that the Germans would have given up on these after the Hindenburg exploded.” Larra moved closer. A number of Germans were standing beneath the hull of the airship and she wanted to get close enough to hear what they were saying. A few minutes eavesdropping told what she wanted to know. Karl had not lied to her. The Germans were mounting a major expedition to the Lost World, and this time they were going to use the ultimate in twentieth century technology, the Zeppelin. There would be no more slogging over hundreds of miles of African terrain. This time they would cruise in style right to their destination. Larra had learned what she had come to Germany to determine. Now the question was could she stop or delay the beginning of the expedition? There was no question of allowing the Third Reich to succeed in its goal. Larra had seen what the Nazis were capable of when a similar expedition to Central America had almost destroyed a lost Mayan civilization. What motivated the Germans in their invasion of central Africa Larra could only guess, but she was certain that it could not help world civilization. By now the activity around the airship had increased considerably. It appeared quite obvious that the Germans planned to leave as soon as possible. There were too many men between her and the ship for her to chance making a dash for it over the open ground. Larra tried desperately to think of a way of heading off the ship. Suddenly she had a flash of inspiration. It was a truly desperate gamble, but it was the only thing she could think of at the moment. Moving rapidly through the darkness, Larra circled the perimeter. The attention of the men in the camp was focussed on the emerging Zeppelin and she was able to reach her destination undetected. Now she was directly in front of the flight path the huge airship would take. By now the immense, 1000-foot long vehicle was clear of its hanger and was held only by the mooring rope attached to the truck that was pulling it. Its gondola was only about twenty feet off the ground and a procession of Germans was moving up the loading ramp and into the passenger compartment. With a roar each of the Ludendorff’s four engines coughed and then thundered to life. Slowly the airship turned into the wind. Its nose was pointing directly toward Larra’s hiding place. The last of the Germans had boarded the airship, and the sound of the engines changed, as the throttle was increased to full power. Ever so gradually the Ludendorff started to move forward, gaining altitude as it did so. Within a few seconds it had moved out of the circle of lights near the hanger and was moving off into the darkness. It passed directly over Larra. Larra waited until the last possible second before making her move. The Ludendorff passed over her a scant thirty feet over her head. Rising from her hiding place, she whirled her grappling hook over her head. It was a device she had found very useful during her passage through the Alps from Switzerland to Germany, even though her guide had scoffed at it and refused to use it even when Larra proved that she could climb much more effectively with it. Now she had another use for it. With expert skill, she hurled the steel grapple into the tail section of the Zeppelin. It caught in the fabric and held. Larra gripped the rope tightly and as the airship moved on, it swept her off her feet. Within a few seconds, she was being whipped through the air, over fifty feet off the ground. Now she was committed. If she let go she would almost certainly be killed. She had to trust that the grappling hook would hold and that she would be able to climb the forty odd feet up the rope to the fuselage. By now the Ludendorff was speeding along at over forty miles an hour. Thanks to the darkness no one seemed to notice Larra’s tiny figure as she dangled perilously behind the massive vehicle. As the airship gained speed the rushing air caught at her, threatening to tear her from her tenuous position at the end of the swinging rope. The force of the air was now so strong that the rope was almost parallel to the Zeppelin. Larra’s fingers began to slide down the rope, within a few seconds she had slid almost to the end. She was going to fall!