BY: MICHAEL PERROTA
The year is 1965 and the paranoia of the Cold War is at its height. As the United States and the Soviet Union plot against each other, remnants of Nazi Germany decide it is the perfect time to open the Ragnarök Vaults, secret chambers stashed with gold, weapons and abandoned Nazi experiments.
Thomas Braddock is the leading authority on Nazi war criminals. Yet his family name is tarnished due to his father being a notorious traitor who sold atomic secrets to the Soviets shortly after World War II. To his horror, Braddock discovers that not only are Roderick Heimzel, a sadistic Nazi scientist, and Victor Priebenholt, a hardened Master Sergeant of the SS, are alive and well, they are making a last-ditch attempt to recreate a secret group known as the Blood Reich by unleashing the contents of the vaults.
Yet the Soviets have a stake in this game as well. Not only is their hatred for Germans still prevalent, but the contents of the Ragnarök Vaults would give them a decisive edge over the United States in the Cold War.
Content to restore his family name, Braddock begrudgingly teams with a former love interest, FBI agent Samantha Lyons, to apprehend the Nazis and destroy the dark secrets that the Blood Reich and Soviet Union desperately crave. Unfortunately for Braddock, he is far from a special agent. To stay ahead of his adversaries, he must use his keen sense of logic in a spy game that seems to have no rules, rhyme or reason.
Dan Pope, author of HOUSEBREAKING In MICHAEL PERROTA is a multiple time New Jersey Press Association winning journalist who lectures media studies and writing in New York. He earned an MFA in professional writing from Western Connecticut State University. He has been published in various newspapers and magazines over his 20-year writing career. This is his debut novel.
“In THE RAGNARÖK VAULTS, Michael Perrota channels the storytelling ghost of Alistair MacLean and the literary efficiency of Lee Child to produce one of the best what if? thrillers I’ve read in years.”
Don J. Snyder, Author of OF TIME & MEMORY
“Perrota’s novel is a feast of exquisite sentences and compelling characters that carry the reader deep inside a mystery where life and death, and love and betrayal reveal themselves to us in uncommon and unforgettable ways. Because The Ragnarök Vaults is a stunning portrait of people filled with longing and regret, seeking refuge in a world collapsing around them, we should pay close attention.”
The three men in grey SS uniforms stood in silence on top of a flak tower at sunset and watched their city burn. The uncontrolled fire produced a raging glow, allowing them to breathe in their beloved Berlin one last time.
Four months earlier, the streets were as orderly as the Nazi war machine–synchronized and disciplined. The buildings had stood tall and reflected white, guarded by a horde of golden eagles. Now soot stained everything in the city, and men and women scattered like rats in search of food and shelter. Bricks, rubble and bodies lay strewn across the city. The buildings were mere shells. Children carried rifles and women uglied themselves with ash to appear less desirable to the inevitable Soviet invaders.
The three officers were decorated with shining medals and red Swastika armbands. They’d been underground for weeks. None could find the words to describe the destruction of their capital. A week prior had been Hitler’s birthday, and the Red Army offered a full day of bombardment as a gift. Hitler was still cooped up in his bunker as the Soviets continued their march to the heart of the crumbling Nazi empire.
The men excused the anti-aircraft crew, demanding to be alone. They watched a commotion below as a man threw a woman to the ground and ran off with her sack of rations, scurrying off into a maze of debris. Sprawled out in slag, the woman screamed for help. No one came to her aid. She sobbed as flakes of fire swirled around her.
The tallest wore the uniform of Oberstgruppenführer. Full General. A position held by only four others in the German armed forces. A position he had just earned when the siege of Berlin began weeks ago. Gen. Erich Von Laursen had led the Nazi invasion into the Soviet Union four years earlier, cutting through the Red Army and marching straight to Leningrad. He had initiated the deadly siege that lasted for nearly three years and starved millions. He considered it one of his finest achievements. He was being groomed by Reinhard Heydrich before his assassination, and later was known to have Adolf Eichmann’s ear in regard to the management of the concentration camp facilities. He was hailed by the Nazi Party to be the savior of Berlin over the past few months, but Berlin was ready to be no more.
Every valiant soldier should know when it is time to take off his armor, Von Laursen’s father once told him. Within days, the war would be lost. Von Laursen removed his Swastika armband and cast it over the side of the tower, shaking his head in disbelief. He didn’t bother to watch where it fell. He lifted off his hat, tossed it to the ground, and began unbuttoning his shirt. He knew it would be the last time he would wear the only uniform that mattered.
Von Laursen’s fingers traced over the scar above his right eye that rippled down to his neck, a reminder that bombs from the sky can cripple an army that focused only on the offensive and neglected anti-air defense. There were never enough flak towers in the German production line to halt the Allied bombardments. Instead, tanks were made that couldn’t maneuver around all the craters with machine guns that dead soldiers can no longer carry.
He glanced over at Brandenburg Gate, perhaps the only structure not completely demolished by the bombardment. The nearly 100-foot structure stood intact and unaffected. On top sat the quadriga, a bronzed chariot pulled by four steeds, ridden by a goddess Victoria, parading an Iron Cross spear. The gate was constructed nearly 300 years earlier, the last standing relic of German pride.
“Look at her. Unfazed,” Von Laursen said. “The Soviets can’t knock her down.”
A portly bald man cleaned his spectacles and grinned at her magnificence. “Napoleon passed through her. She rose up and kicked him out too.”
“Quite right, Roderick. Quite Right.”
Dr. Roderick Heimzel, a possessor of a doctoral degree in physics and aeronautical engineering, never felt comfortable on a battlefield. He muttered “Russian slime” as he watched his city burn.
Master Sergeant Victor Priebenholt said nothing as he stood with his arms crossed behind his back, disciplined, puffing on his pipe and focusing on the destroyed Reichstag. The general’s bodyguard, he shadowed his every move the past two years. His typically slicked hair was knotted and tangled because he had lost his comb weeks ago.
“I heard our Führer strategizing a counter attack. Is there any chance?”
“And the Japanese?” asked Roderick.
“They’ll keep fighting, I suppose. They served their purpose. Their alliance means nothing to us now. Leave tomorrow and tell no one of your plans. Those boys have been instructed to guard the city and shoot deserters,” Von Laursen said, pointing below at the Hitler Youth deputized to Volkssturm militia.
The two men nodded.
“Bombs and bullets cannot stop the true order of this world. The vaults will be opened. This war is far from over.”
“We are both very honored to be selected to assist the Blood Reich with this mission, General. Der Führer will throw petals at your feet the next time we march into Nuremberg,” said Roderick.
Victor sneered at his counterpart, saying nothing. Roderick looked away.
“Apologies, general. The sergeant does not share in our optimism. I have full confidence in the Blood Reich’s plan leading the Party to victory.”
“That’s because your fingernails are too clean,” said Victor, unbothered by the chastising.
“Mine are just as dirty as yours,” countered Roderick.
“From a detention center in your labs. Not from a battlefield,” Victor said as he pounded out his pipe. “You’re so smart that you’re too stupid to realize the realities of war.”
“Never rule out the military mind of Der Führer,” countered Roderick. “I heard him strategizing with his counsel earlier.”
“I’m afraid our Führer aims to reinforce with army units that no longer exist,” said Victor. “Our great leader’s sanity is questionable.”
“How dare you insult Der Führer! He will have your head. Now I know why the soldiers once called you The Guard That Wept behind your back. You whimper like a woman and accept defeat!”
Victor inhaled the black fumes of Berlin without a gasp. He bit slightly on his pipe. “A foolish rumor that costs insubordinate German soldiers their lives.”
“You insult the general and his great army!” yelled Roderick.
“Sergeant Priebenholt has saved our lives more than we can count,” said Von Laursen. “There is no need to censor his tongue or question his ferocity. And, he is unfortunately correct. Hitler’s armies are gone.”
The general took off his coat and tossed it to the ground. He tossed the boots over the side. He put on an old sweatshirt he took off a civilian corpse and shoes that were two sizes too small.
“Now, did your fathers ever tell you the tale of Ragnarök when you were children?” Von Laursen asked as he stared at the sobbing woman, still sprawled in the street.
“Vaguely,” answered Victor. “Too many years ago to remember the meaning.”
“The old gods of Valhalla devised a plan to rid themselves of the terrors of the world. Thor, Odin and the rest of the powerful gods hunted out these evils, and engaged in a massive war that shook the heavens. Every last monster was to be slain. Destruction then rebirth, so mankind could refresh itself.”
“The war between the gods and their enemies,” said Roderick. “Ragnarök was to be the world’s final battle–a reckoning for those not fit to rule the earth.”
The general spat over the side of the flak tower into the darkness. “Sometimes even the gods have to get their hands bloody and destroy their own kingdoms to make mankind remember their divinity.”
“We will destroy it all to see it rebuilt in Der Führer’s image,” chimed Roderick.
Victor shook his head and just smoked his pipe.
Von Laursen broke his gaze from the woman and looked at Victor.
“Take a last look at her. Our Berlin. She that once was will be again,” said the general. “You have your orders. Now, you men get back to the bunker.”
“Yes, sir,” answered Roderick, cleaning his spectacles once again. “Best get going, General Von Laursen. The Soviet shelling can begin any moment.”
The general, now dressed as a civilian, gave his final Nazi salute. The men returned the gesture.
“Best of luck to you, sir,” said Roderick as he opened the hatch door and waddled down the ladder.
Von Laursen stopped Victor with a hand on his shoulder and gestured for him to delay.
“I feel your confidence is shaken, Sergeant Priebenholt. Trust in the Party’s plan. The Blood Reich is counting on you.”
Victor began to voice concern, but was immediately cut off.
“I know it is a difficult, but you are the only one capable of completing the mission, Victor. I know you believe it to be a deplorable one.”
“I don’t feel it is deplorable, sir. Overwhelming, rather.”
“It is best for the Party. The fearless Victor Priebenholt has never let the Party down before, nor will he begin now.”
“What you must do tonight. What you must do when the Vaults are opened. It is a high honor,” the general said, motioning for him to move to the ladder. “You must make certain Operation Faith Shield is operational.”
“Understood, sir. It’s been an honor serving you,” said Victor. He put his pipe in his pocket and gave the general a small bow of respect.
“See you in twenty years when we make the heavens shake,” said Von Laursen.
“Who says the gods will allow us to live that long?” answered Victor, beginning his descent down the ladder.
“Who says the gods can stop us?”
Although the general was certain he heard him, Victor did not respond and disappeared into the blackness of the hatch.
Gen. Erich Von Laursen stayed atop the tower, inhaling the smells and sights of his capital. He glanced at his general’s patch on his coat collar, now on the ground. Three bars. It is what he had always desired, yet it was being taken from him too soon. He craved to take it with him. Yet he knew if the Allies found him with it, his escape would be compromised. He ripped the patch off regardless and stuck it in his shoe. Von Laursen picked up his cap, dusted it, and stared at. He placed it under his arm with pride before he sat it on top of the wall ledge.
The Soviets would destroy the city any day now.
He looked at his last Berlin sun, barely visible behind the fading sky. He pounded his fist into the ledge. The red and orange fire of the sky gleamed off the chariot on top of Brandenburg Gate, emitting its golden brilliance.
©2020 by Michael Perrota