Read The Last Airship Online

Authors: Christopher Cartwright

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thriller & Suspense, #Sea Adventures, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Suspense, #Thriller

The Last Airship

The Last Airship

By

Christopher
Cartwright

 

Copyright 2015 by Christopher
Cartwright

This book is
protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any
reproduction or other unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is
prohibited. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands,
media and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously. All rights reserved.

 

This one's for my
wife, Maricris, who is the best thing that's ever happened to me.

Prologue

Munich,
Germany, 24 September 1939.

It
was exactly twenty three days since Germany had invaded Poland, setting into
motion the largest war the world had ever seen.

Peter
Greenstein looked up at the giant in the clearing. Like a dark cloud in the
night sky, she created an ominous silhouette above the opening in the already
obscured forest of the moonless night. He had waited almost two weeks for the
arrival of the dark moon. It had very nearly been too long, and might have
easily cost all of them their lives.

She
was a magnificent ship, exquisite to her core.

He
had her built exclusively for use by the wealthiest people of her time. The
Magdalena stood thirty feet high and one hundred eighty-five feet in length,
only slightly shorter in length than a transatlantic Zeppelin. Her lines were
more sleek and her propellers proportionately larger, making her the fastest airship
ever built.

He
was proud of her.

She
was the greatest achievement of his fifty two years of life.

Unlike
the Zeppelin, which was designed and built for the masses, the Magdalena was
built for the few. From the outside, she looked like a race car, built for
speed. Inside, her opulence flowed from every point, like a stately cruise
liner. The luxury of her coach house had tried in every way to meet the
expectations of those privileged few who would ever travel inside her, in
absolute comfort.

Peter’s
heart sank when he thought about the reason she flew tonight.

When
he commissioned her four years ago, he never dreamed that she would be used for
such a purpose. Tears welled up in his eyes as he considered how few lives she
would save.

Why
should I save only the rich?
He knew
the answer.
Because I can’t save them all and I’m going to need their wealth
to start a new life.

Tonight,
her luxurious coach house would carry just two families, and an old friend of
his, a professor from the University of Berlin, who would be travelling by
himself. Peter would pilot her along with his chief engineer, Franck Ehrlich.
There would be no other crew tonight, no exquisite culinary delights would be
served, the guests would have to help themselves to their drinks, and no
entertainment would be provided.

All
told, it amounted to just eleven people on board, and the guilt of his failure
flowed through him. Peter promised himself that he would try to make another
trip back, that as a single man without a family he had an obligation to do so
much more for these people.

But,
after all, he was just one man, how could he possibly save millions?   

The
people aboard her tonight were some of the richest in all Europe. Old money.
The sort of wealth that takes more than a generation to build.

He
watched as the Rosenbergs arrived.

They
were the first, and it gave him hope as each one of them quietly made their way
up through the forest and into the gondola.

Peter
recalled the story of how their great ancestor, Timothy Rosenberg, opened the
first Rosenberg Bank in Germany in 1775, after receiving the advice of a bright
young banker by the name of Mayer Amschel Rothschild.

Rosenberg
specialized in difficult finances; lending when and where others would not.
Higher risks with higher possible gains were a gamble that paid off well for
him. Once established, the bank expanded. Although now a legitimate bank with
more than forty shopfronts, rumors of its underlying ties to criminal
organizations had never ceased.  The Rosenberg Vault was a privately owned bank
with the reputation of trading in suspicious circles. Although Rosenberg had
never been convicted of running a criminal enterprise, his funding of certain
syndicates, terrorist organizations and violent wars was well and widely known.

All
four passengers appeared sullen as they took their seats.

It
was hard to imagine that such a powerful family could be cowed by a regime that
was in its infancy. Only Sarah, at age six, the youngest amongst them, had the
strength to offer a polite smile.

“Thank
you, sir.”

“You’re
most welcome aboard, Sarah. All of your family is,” he said as he smiled kindly
at the child.

Her
older brother, Werner, walked dutifully behind her without saying a word. His
arms struggled under the weight of the wooden trunk he carried, the burden of
which
he shared with his father, Hank. Hank was sweating, despite the
snow outside. He looked pale. The stress looked as though it might cause him to
suffer a heart attack at any moment.

Peter
could only imagine what such a family would choose to take with them on this
journey, which had such limited space available.

Mary
was the last of the Rosenbergs to board the ship. 

She
wore an expression of superior disdain for the others on board. He wondered how
much of it was the result of a lifetime spent at the top of the pecking order,
or if she wore that look today in order to conceal her own terror at the night
ahead. Wearing a thick fur coat, the only item of jewelry in plain view was a
large blue diamond amulet, worn above the curve of her breasts.

Somewhere
in the back of his mind, he recalled the name of that famous stone.

Then,
there were the Goldschmidts. 

Margaret
Goldschmidt was married and had two sons. In 1927, her uncle, Ernest
Oppenheimer, a German immigrant to Britain who had earlier founded the mining
giant, Anglo American, along with American financier, J.P. Morgan,
took
over De Beers. Peter remembered the controversy over the diamond conglomerate.
It was a ruthless syndicate, one in which the value of its diamonds were set at
artificially high prices. Oppenheimer built and consolidated the company's
global monopoly over the diamond industry. De Beers became a cartel of
companies that dominated the diamond market, its mining operations, retail
shops, diamond trading, and industrial diamond manufacturing sectors. De Beers
was currently active in every category of industrial diamond mining: open-pit,
underground, large-scale alluvial and coastal mining, and there were whispers
that they were even experimenting in deep sea mining for the future.

Peter
also remembered that Margaret had married Karl Goldschmidt, whose family was in
the gold bullion trade. He had no idea which family made the other richer, but
together, their family had grown in both wealth and power. It was because of
that wealth that they had survived this long. Peter had no idea of the extent
of their fortune, except to say that it couldn’t be spent in any one person’s
lifetime.

The
simple fact that Margaret Goldschmidt was here tonight was proof of her vast
fortune.

“Is
this thing ready to go?”

He
could tell that Margaret hadn’t even considered whether or not there would be
others joining her. Her family had taken a massive risk by getting out of
Munich tonight, and it appeared that all she could think of was why they
weren’t already off the ground.

“Soon.
We’re still waiting on one man.”

“Really?”
She did nothing to hide the fear on her face and then said, “Aren’t we an
obvious target sitting here like this?”

Peter
dismissed the urge to inform her that he himself had returned to Germany
tonight, and that he had waited nearly two hours for his guests to arrive so
that he could save their rich, entitled lives.

“I
must beg your patience for just a little while longer, and then we’ll be
airborne.”

Karl,
her husband, then shook his hand as he walked through the door to the gondola.
“We appreciate your help, Mr. Greenstein, really we do. Our friends and
neighbors, the Hasek family, was taken yesterday. They had planned to leave
tonight also. We’re all a bit shaken up,” he said, as an explanation for why
his wife was behaving so badly.

Reaching
his hand up in apology, Peter said, “Completely understandable. We’re all very
distressed by these events. Please assure her, we won’t be here any longer than
we have to be.”

He
watched as their two boys took their seats. At the ages of four and five, they
had no way of knowing the severity of the risks taken by all who were aboard
tonight. Their father had instructed them that they were playing a game of hide
and seek, a game in which people were searching for them, and that it was
essential that they remain as quiet as possible. They were both sitting, their
posture rigid, and working hard to not make any noise; occasionally failing and
having a little giggle, they were immediately hushed by their mother. 

Then,
there was Professor Fritz Ribbentrop, a late reservation.

Just
this morning, the professor had contacted him, at the Magdalena’s mooring site
in Switzerland. Peter had been reluctant to accept any additional passengers,
but he had been to university with the professor, who had been adamant that he
needed to escape tonight.

Ribbentrop
hadn’t mentioned what had happened, but Peter was certain that it was
important. Fritz was known to be an exceptional scientist, and a valued worker;
he was a loyal fascist who came from a clean Aryan bloodline.

He
wrenched his mind seeking an explanation for the strange phenomenon.

Why
would Fritz, of all people, need to escape the Gestapo?

Were
it any other man, one less honorable, he might have worried that he was walking
into a trap, but Fritz was not that kind of man. Even if he believed it to be
in the best interests of the Nazi party, the professor would have felt that
using such a ruse would have been dishonest.

Peter
looked at his sorry human cargo.

With
the exception of Fritz, who had still not arrived, he didn’t see himself as the
equal of any one of them. Although he himself was an heir to a great fortune,
his path through life had been decidedly different than his passengers. He was
an outcast amongst his own family. Even after the events of the past week, a
week in which his father had died and left him the title of Baron Greenstein,
he still did not feel as though he was one of them.

Unlike
the rest of his family, he had turned his wealth towards science, studying at
the great Berlin University of Aeronautical Engineering. The Magdalena was his
brainchild. Capable of travelling at twice the speed of a normal Zeppelin, she
was a marvel of both modern engineering and opulence. He would have liked to
build her for the masses, but the masses were unable to afford such luxuries as
travel by dirigible. Consequently, for the sake of science, he turned to those
whom he despised, to fund its development.

He
studied the two families and wondered what they’d say if they knew they were
waiting for the arrival of the most honorable fascist who Hitler had ever
considered his close friend. 

Rumbling
far away, he could hear the muffled yet distinct sound of a four stroke engine.
The BMW R75 motorcycle. Designed specifically as a military vehicle, Germany
had so far only released the first line of production – for use by high ranking
Nazi SS officers.

*

Doctor
Fritz Ribbentrop was the last passenger to arrive.

The
man wore his short hair brushed back from his forehead. Years past being
blonde, it now bordered on completely white.  A pair of riding goggles covered
his attractive dark blue eyes.  His face was clean shaven for the most part,
with the exception of a small and almost entirely white moustache.

It
was easy to guess that as a younger man, he had most likely been highly sought
after by women.

He
wore a simple green coat and matching trousers, the coat fully buttoned up
against the cold. He had the luxury of leather gloves, with which he skillfully
gripped the handlebars as he made his way up the narrow, snow-filled path
through the black night and the scattered pine trees.

Riding
his motorcycle was the only joy in life still left to him. It was the only joy
that the mighty German military machine would allow him to keep. And, he was
one of the privileged few, whose scientific ability allowed him the luxury fuel
allowances which were denied to all other civilians.

He
knew he should have abandoned the motorcycle further back along the trail, but
it had taken him longer than he anticipated to leave the university today, and
without it, he would never have made it here in time to board. He, of all
people, knew the danger that he brought the Magdalena tonight. The sound of his
motorcycle attracted attention and made them an easy target. He justified the
risk to himself with his belief that his purpose was far more important than
the rescue of a couple of rich, Jewish families.

He
could see the airship in the distance.

It
appeared quite vulnerable. Even in the dark, the Magdalena’s enormous canopy
marked a great area against the night sky.

He
was relieved to see that the four propellers at rear of the gondola were
already turning and the two side, stabilizing blades, were rotating at an idle.
The airship would be ready to launch at a moment’s notice.

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