All it took was one phone call and TV show host and archaeologist Annja Creed is in mortal danger. Her producer Doug Morrell has been abducted by a greedy treasure hunter who's seeking the lost raubgold, or looted gold of Nazi Germany. The terms are simple: retrieve the bounty and Doug lives. Fail, and he dies
Now Annja and her friends must find a missing German fighter plane that was shot down over the Alps in 1945. According to legend, the aircraft not only holds a shipment of gold the Nazis had stolen, but also carried the last letters of the führer himself. Letters that point to a more startling treasure buried underwater halfway around the world. But Annja isn't interested in treasure, or even unearthing historic relics. Annja has one agenda: get Doug out alive even if it means drawing her sword from its otherworldly sheath. Even if it means death.
Because once greed drives a man to violence, nothing will stop him
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April 5, 1945
Outside Potsdam, Germany
One last mission.
That's how they'd sold it to him. One final mission that would not only provide for their future security, but would put his name in the history books alongside those of Goering, Goebbels and Himmler, men who had gone above and beyond the call of duty in their aid and support of the Fatherland.
One final mission for the glory of the Third Reich.
Major Konrad Brandt had wanted to laugh in their faces.
He didn't give a damn about the history books, the Nazi Party, or even the survival of the Third Reich. All of it was meaningless in his eyes. All he cared about was getting out of Germany before everything fell completely into ruin. He knew that day wouldn't be long in coming, knew that time was running out, but his personal sense of duty to the oaths he had sworn, to serve and protect the Fatherland, had so far kept him from simply turning his back on his comrades and abandoning his post, no matter how insane matters had become. When they told him that this mission would take him beyond the borders of their lost and forsaken country without need of return, he knew his salvation had arrived and he'd practically fallen over himself to accept the responsibility.
Now, standing between two SS officers in the shadows outside the chalet that had been commandeered earlier in the week as a temporary headquarters for this mission, he wondered if he hadn't made a mistake.
Too late to back out now, even if you did, he thought.
He'd flown his Junkers Ju 88 into this makeshift camp in the woods outside Potsdam a week earlier, landing on a crude runway that had been plowed by tanks in the middle of a forest clearing. Once there, he found that the mission he'd been recruited for was "on hold" while they awaited the arrival of several important dignitaries.
No one, of course, could tell him who they were waiting for, just that they couldn't begin until they arrived. He'd been treated well, at least, given a bed in a room shared by several Wehrmacht officers and three decent meals a day, which was more than he'd expected. The army officers didn't pay him much attentionhe was Luftwaffe, after allbut that was fine with him. He spent the days catching up on his sleep and thinking about what he was going to do once he was clear of this place.
Early the next morning the cavalcade that they'd been waiting for finally arrived. Brandt was on his way back from breakfast when he noticed the flurry of activity and hoped that meant that they could start getting things worked out within a few days, at least. Those in charge apparently weren't going to wait that long, however, for within fifteen minutes of his return there was a knock at his door. Opening it, he found a pair of Waffen SS thugs in their black uniforms and red party armbands standing outside in the hallway. The SS were the protective detail for the senior officials in the Nazi Party; their presence indicated that the dignitaries who had arrived the previous night were more than just senior army officers.
"Major Brandt?" said the man on the right, the taller and more senior of the two. "I am Major Adler. Come with us, please."
It was common knowledge that a person crossed one of Himmler's Shutzstaffel at his or her own peril, so Brandt did as he was told. The SS officers flanked him like an honor escortor a prisoner detail, Brandt thoughtand marched him across the camp to the building housing the dignitaries. They led him to a room on the second floor and then knocked on the door.
"Come," came a muffled call from the interior.
The senior SS officer inclined his head in the direction of the door. Taking his cue, Brandt opened the door and stepped into the room.
Whatever it had once been, the room clearly now served as a planning area. Maps hung on the walls, and another was laid out on a large table in the center of the room. There were no windows, and the only light came from a shaded lamp that stood at the edge of the table, highlighting the map but leaving much of the rest of the room in partial shadow.
Though he was half cloaked in shadow, there was no mistaking the identity of the man seated behind the table. When Brandt's brain caught up with what his eyes already knew, he snapped to attention and whipped out a near-perfect salute.
The leader of the Third Reich waved in return and regarded his visitor for a moment. At last, he spoke.
"They tell me you are a good pilot. Is that true?"
Brandt thought about it for a moment and then shrugged. "I've survived so far. I don't know if that makes me a good pilot or just a lucky one."
The remark was flirting dangerously close to disaster, for to speak ill of the war was tantamount to treason in the eyes of many Party officials, but Brandt found that he just didn't care anymore. The F hrer asked him a question; he gave a truthful answer. If that was a treasonous response, so be it.
Hitler watched him closely for several seconds and then laughed quietly. "Skilled or lucky, either one will do, I suppose."
He stood and leaned over the map. "We are here," he said, pointing.
Brandt stepped closer so that he could see.
"Your destination is here," Hitler continued, moving his finger to the southeast. "You will refuel here, here and here. Crews are already in place, ready to service the aircraft in case you run into difficulty along the way."
Difficulty. An interesting way to describe running headlong into a hornet's nest of Allied aircraft. But then again, according to headquarters, we are actually winning this war, Brandt thought.
His feelings aside, he had to admit that the route had been well planned; the refueling stops were close to the range of his aircraft but not dangerously so and as a result he would have some extra fuel to maneuver with. Given that the Allies were pushing north out of Italy and Greece, he had no doubt that he was going to need it. It would have been safer to go northwest across territory controlled by the Soviets, given the state of their air force at present, but that would have meant refueling in enemy territory, which was clearly out of the question. No, southwest it would have to be, over the Alps and through Romania, then into Greece and Turkey. Once he was past the Turks, it would be smooth sailing from that point forward.
You can do this, he told himself. A little skill, a little luck, and you'll be free of this place, this war, once and for all.
"Fifteen hundred pounds of supplies and this," Hitler said, passing him a leather satchel as he spoke. "You are to deliver both to General Giesler upon your arrival at your destination, is that understood?"
"Yes, my F hrer."
The fifteen hundred pounds would bring the weight of his loaded aircraft to just over thirty thousand pounds, but that was still a few thousand pounds below his maximum takeoff weight. It was no different from carrying a full complement of 500-pound bombs, really. It would cost him some speed and maneuverability in the air, but he was going to have to live with that.
"Will there be any fighter escorts to help me break the Allied lines?" Brandt asked.
"No," Hitler told him. "I believe a single aircraft has a greater chance of breaking through undetected than a full squadron. Crews are loading your plane now, and you will leave as soon as possible."
He came around the table to stand in front of Brandt, eye to eye.
"I cannot stress enough the importance of your mission, Major. It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of the Reich is in your hands. You must not fail or all we have worked for will be lost!"
For just a split second Brandt was tempted to speak the truth, that everyone but the madman in front of him already knew that they had lost, that it had all been in vain, but he squashed that notion before he could give voice to it and commit suicide by doing so. Instead, he simply clamped his heels together and threw out another salute.
That seemed to satisfy the other man, who grunted an acknowledgment and turned away to study the map once more.
Brandt took that as a dismissal and headed for the door, where he was met once again by his SS escorts, who walked him back to his quarters.
Brandt stood at the edge of the makeshift runway and watched with satisfaction as the mechanics swarmed over his aircraft, preparing it for the flight to come. With parts being in such scarce supply over the past few months, he was normally concerned about letting men unfamiliar to him near the plane, but given that he was on a mission for Hitler himself, he was confident that his beloved Junkers was getting the best care possible.
He and that aircraft had been together for the past four years, and he had begun to think of it more as a companion than a vehicle. They had seen each other through some hairy moments and even hairier missions, and the Junkers had become a talisman to him; as long as he was behind the controls of that aircraft, he'd live to fight another day. If he was going to survive the flight to come, he was going to need her to be in top shape.
The sound of an approaching train drew his attention, and he turned to watch a locomotive pull into the station a hundred yards away. No sooner had it stopped than a work team slipped out of one of the cars and quickly began unloading large wooden crates onto a waiting truck. The crates were heavy; it took four men to carry one of them. Brandt could see more of the same stacked in the car they were unloading, and he wondered just what they contained.
Looks like you are going to find out, he thought, as the truck pulled away from the train and headed directly for the crew waiting by the bomb-bay doors underneath each wing.
Intrigued, Brandt wandered over.
As he drew closer, he could see black lettering stamped on the side of each box.
Magyar Nemzeti Bank.
He knew enough Hungarian to be able to translate. Hungarian National Bank.
Hitler's words came back to him. "The future of the Reich is in your hands."
Now he understood. The fifteen hundred extra pounds of weight he would be carrying was most likely gold and silver bullion looted from the Hungarian national treasury and was no doubt designed to fund whatever operation General Giesler was putting together halfway around the world.
If it is, you could buy your way to freedom with it, a voice spoke up in the back of his mind. Just fly right over Allied lines and deliver yourself, the plane and its cargo into their hands in exchange for your freedom.
It wasn't a bad idea, provided the crates actually did contain treasure looted from the bank.
There was only one way to find out.
As Brandt approached, he called out to the crew chief. "Bring me a pry bar. I want to know what's in those crates before they're put aboard my aircraft."
The crew chief turned to comply, but a voice from inside the aircraft stopped him.
"I'm afraid that's not possible, Major."
Brandt looked up into the interior of his aircraft to find the same SS officer he'd dealt with earlier, Major Adler, looking down at him from inside the bay.
"The crates are to remain sealed. Orders." The officer smiled as he said it, as if he knew it was going to cause issues for Brandt and he was waiting for the inevitable confrontation.
Brandt wasn't going to give him one. He knew that he could always open one of the crates at the first refueling stop if need be, far from Major Adler's prying eyes, and if he discovered it to be the treasure he suspected it was, he could decide what to do with it from there. A fortune in gold and silver could set him up very nicely for the rest of his life in quite a few countries. He gave a smile of his own, trying to look reassuring in the process. "Of course, Major. Orders. Now the crew and I have a lot to do to get ready for takeoff, so if you wouldn't mind, please get out of my aircraft."
"I'm afraid I can't do that."
Brandt paused, a sudden suspicion forming. "And why not, Major?"
"Because I'm going with you, of course," Adler said.
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