Zepplins Vanish can be found in






Flying Aces, September 1936

Zeppelins Vanish!

A SMASHING "KERRY KEEN" MYSTERY NOVELET

By Arch Whitehouse

Author of "Death Spans the Pacific," "Sky Gun Snare," etc.

The world was utterly dumfounded! First the majestic Brandenburg, queen of the skies— then the Navy dirigible San Diego—and finally the great airship Ludendorff! Every one of those stately Zeppelins had disappeared behind some sinister veil which no man seemed able to pierce. There was a single hope—Kerry Keen must be questioned. But now a new headline blazed from the newspapers. It read:
KERRY KEEN MURDERED!

HUGO STAARK sat huddled in his office staring into space. His great desk was strewn with papers, blueprints, and graph charts. Abruptly, he swept them to one side and listened to the compact radio set before him. An announcer chanted—

We interrupt at this time, ladies and gentlemen, to present a Trans-radio flash. It reads: 'The giant airship, Brandenburg, has just left its German hangar for its fifth trans-Atlantic trip to Lakehurst. A full load of passengers is aboard and her commander, Captain Rolf Stresser, predicts a routine crossing.' 

Hugo Staark sneered. He glanced up at a map hung on the wall. The Trans-radio flash continued:

For the benefit of the thousands who have made inquiries, we beg to state that there is no further news of the United States Navy dirigible, San Diego, since it so mysteriously left its mooring mast at Lakehurst more than forty-eight hours ago. No information regarding this flight can be obtained, and the Navy Department has shut down on all news concerning it. Relatives of the crew are advised to make inquiries only through the proper government channels. We return you again to the studio.

Hugo Staark chuckled under his breath, glanced at his wrist watch. It was exactly 11:42— and by midnight he was to leave. They would come for him on the dot of midnight. They said they would.

"So the Brandenburg left Frankfort-On-Main, eh?" he chuckled to himself. "A routine crossing.... Very good, von Braun. Very good!"

Then Staark twirled in his seat, listened. There was the sound of motors. He snapped the wave- length lever of another radio set—one built into a bakelite panel behind him. He listened a minute, then took down the transmitter and spoke into it quietly in German. His smile indicated that all was well. Yes, they were coming for him. He could hear the purr of the engine.

He turned to scrape up a few articles from his desk and stuff them into a small leather case. Then suddenly he looked up—and almost leaped out of his seat.

"Himmel! Who are you? Are you Strauben's man?" he gasped. "Where did you come from?"

"Sit down, Staark!" the man before him ordered. "I am not Strauben's man."

Staark had started to rise from his big chair, but now he sat back bewildered. He tried to fathom the strange metallic tone of the voice and the weird costume worn by the man who stood before him.

"Who are you?" demanded Staark again in a huskier voice.

"Don't move, Staark," the man in the flying helmet, goggles and black coverall snapped. There was still that strange tonal sound to his voice and Staark stared about hardly certain where it came from. He clutched at the arms of his chair, stared at the piercing eyes behind the goggle lenses.

The tall man in the black coverall and the scarlet mask flipped a small white card onto the desk. Hugo Staark picked it up, stared at the name scrawled upon it.

"The Griffon? What is this business, the Griffon?" the German scientist demanded.

"That's all—just the Griffon," the strange voice said quietly. Then, in a sterner tone: "Where's the San Diego, Staark?"

"The San Diego? Now that is very funny—the San Diego? What do I know about the San Diego? I am only the frame specialist here. I am not the U. S. Navy. I supervise the repairs and decide which structural members shall be replaced. But I do not know where the San Diego is now. You should ask the government men."

"You lie, Staark!" the voice snapped. "You lie, and you know it! I give you one more chance. Where's the San Diego?"

"She took off under sealed orders. I know no more than that."

"But yet you are sitting here waiting for someone to come and pick you up in a plane. Where were you going, Staark?"

"You are interfering with my personal business, and I beg of you to refer your questions to the station commander," Staark snorted.

"Okay, Staark. You asked for this. I'll let you pick your own way out. Here's a gun."

THE man in black laid a heavy Luger pistol on the table. Hugo Staark stared at it, his great face going the color of dusty parchment.

"What is that?" he asked hollowly.

"For you, Staark. I don't like cold murder. It's for you to do the job yourself. Go ahead, I'll see that it looks like suicide."

"Suicide? Me? What for?"

"Because you were in on the San Diego business, Staark. And you can't get away now. You can save yourself and the United States government an awful lot of trouble by taking that way out. It's not a bad way, from all accounts."

"You mean.... you ask that I should kill myself?" squealed Staark. "Kill myself.... what for?"

"Because you know where the San Diego is and why she was taken away. Because she's the clue to a plot of some sort. Now, it's either the gun—or the information."

"But.... but I do not know where she is, I tell you. I can't tell you what I do not know."

"All right; then, it's the gun. Let's get it over with quickly!" snapped the man in the black coverall.

"All right. Then it's the gun, eh? The gun it shall be.... Mister.... Mister Griffon. The gun it shall be."

Hugo Staark reached over, carefully picked up the black weapon. He thumbed the catch, stared down at its machined breech.

"The Griffon, eh? I think I have heard about you. You're quite a character in your way. I was advised to be on the watch for you, but I never thought it would be as easy as this."

And with that Hugo Staark quickly levelled the gun at the man in black and pulled the trigger twice. He would have pulled it three times—only Hugo Staark was dead by that time. A low plop followed the first pull and a small jet of vapor spat out of the rear of the breech. The second pull was nothing more than muscular reaction.

Hugo Staark lay back in his chair, a strange smile across his face. His fingers still clutched the white card.

The man known as The Griffon stepped up with a cold smirk, carefully removed the weapon from Staark's fingers, and stepped back.

"Another man who thought all guns fire forward," he said quietly. He then scooped up a few papers, ripped a small map off the wall, jotted down the wave-length registered on the dials of the transmitting set behind Staark's chair, and disappeared into the night outside.

He made his way cautiously across the open space before the big Lakehurst hangar, skirted the rails of the mobile mooring mast, and hurried to a black, low-wing amphibian snuggled in the shadows.

"That you, Ginsberg?" a voice came from the cockpit.

"Okay, Pulski," the man in black answered, running up. "Let's be moving."

"How'd it work?"

"How has it always worked?" the man in black said.

"Swell—the louse!"

"And now we're going to have some fun, if I know my onions," the man in black smirked. "And I'll say I'm glad to get that gas-mask attachment off. Damned helmet is heavy enough as it is."

"All serene back here," the man known as Pulski reported.

The man in black took the pilot's cockpit, snapped the switch, and depressed the starter. The big 1,000 h.p. Avia motor opened up with a dull purr. The pilot had seen to it that the Skoda mufflers were cut in before he started her and now she was ticking over no louder than an expensive motor car. He checked everything, then gave the motor the gun. The ship raced away and climbed with a low wailing moan toward Toms River and Barnegat Bay. In a few minutes they were at 6,000 racing along toward the long gnarled finger of Sandy Hook.

The man in black turned once, snapped on the radio set, then carefully set the wave-length lever to a number he had taken from Hugo Staark's set. Now he took the hand mike and began calling in a guttural tone:

"You, Strauben.... You, Strauben. Where are you? I can't wait much longer. Where are you? Give me your map position."

In a moment came a reply:

"Hold on, Herr Staark. We are coming fast. We are now over position.... er.... over W-16-1. Got that, W-16-1?"

"All right, I'll give you ten minutes more. W- 16-1, eh? That's good."

The man in black plucked up the small map he had taken from Staark's desk, glanced at it carefully. It was an ordinary Hammond auto map—but it had been squared off with a ruling pen with the squares carefully marked in much the same manner as war-time ordinance-survey maps. It was a clever idea, for it allowed the open transmission of map points without actually allowing accidental hearers to know just what point was being mentioned. The man in black was glad he had picked that small road map up.

He glanced at it again and decided that the man who had answered to the name of Strauben was somewhere over New Brunswick.

He shoved the map over to the man in the rear portion of the pit and said: "Look for a guy over there— and don't miss!"

THEY swerved sharply to the left, shot across Monmouth Beach, and cut in again at high speed. They sat tense and scoured the sky above and the ground below for traces of their prey. They reached Keyport and then the man in the rear slapped the pilot on the shoulder and yelled:

"Over there toward the river. I just saw him slash through the light that flickers up off the water. Go get him!"/p>

The black pilot swung over hard and hoiked the speed to more than 300 m.p.h. The black amphibian, its pontoons folded snug into slots in the deep body, was "all out" now both flyers tensed in readiness to nail their unknown enemy.

"What's she like?" the Griffon asked.

"Low-wing job, something like a Junkers bomber-fighter. You'll have to hit hard and snappy. They're probably loaded down with guns."

"How the deuce did they expect to get into Lakehurst with that?"

"You can do anything—if you do it fast enough. What have they got to lose? There ain't a real service plane within a hundred miles of Lakehurst. A few old National Guard crocks at Newark, but that's about all."

"Guess you're right. Hell-l-l-l-o! Good night!"

Before the Griffon could realize what he was up against, the Black Bullet had hurled them into the range of the mysterious silver monoplane fighter below them. From three turrets spurts of fire slapped up at them and the Black Bullet resounded with the thumping.

Like a shot, the Griffon wheeled over and slipped clear just as three low coughing bursts splashed shrapnel across the sky. The shots were from the muzzle of a quick-firing 37 mm. gun mounted somewhere in the nose of the two-engine Junkers.

"Whew! We certainly picked one this time," the Griffon yelled. "You'd better do something fast, Pulski."

But the man in the back was already doing plenty. He unshipped a set of double, high-speed Brownings and was snapping short bursts at the silver Junkers below and making the pilot swing his ship about so madly that it was almost impossible for his own gunners to draw a clean bead. The man in the back of the Griffon's bus kept this up for several minutes until the Griffon was ready for his thrust. The enemy plane tried to hold off the inevitable with frantic bursts from the heavy air cannon, but they were all off balance and their shots were futile, going far wide of their mark.

Then with a sudden lurch, the Griffon feinted a dive at the Junkers' tail. His gunner played a merry staccato tune on the Brownings and made the Junkers twist off. Then the Griffon hammered a terrific blast full broadside into the Junkers.

They saw the pilot frantically attempt to jerk her clear. Then a burst from the Black Bullet's rear guns cut him down with deadly precision. His hands came up and he twisted in agony as another charge from the Griffon's front guns bashed into his side.

A man abruptly clambered up over the gun mounting of the Junkers and hurled himself clear. Pulski took aim—then withheld his fire. The man disappeared for a moment, then they saw his white silken canopy blossom out below.

Some one was still sticking to the ship in spite of the hopelessness of the task. But Pulski picked him off with a short burst as the Griffon swept over the floundering ship. There came a loud report, a puff of smoke, and a belch of flame—and the ...

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