Buenos Aires, Argentina
Otto Skorzeny grunted as he looked at the stacks of papers and folders covering his desk. This had always been his greatest fear when he'd been with the Waffen-SS. That he would be promoted so far up the ladder he'd spend more time battling paperwork at a desk than battling the enemies of Das Reich in the field. He vowed he'd do everything in his power to keep that from happening.
Now, five years after the war, here he was, spending hours and hours sifting through reports. Sometimes the monotony was broken when he led or accompanied Argentine police on raids to capture enemies of President Juan Peron. He also enjoyed sitting in on the interrogations and seeing the authorities put the methods he had taught them to good use.
The secret meetings with other Nazis who fled Europe after the war got his blood pumping. One never knew if the America's CIA, Russia's MGB, Britain's MI-6 or damned Jew agents from the Central Institute for Coordination were watching them, or preparing to swoop in and attack. Another thrill came from using his underground network, ODESSA, to help fellow Nazis avoid prosecution. Sometimes he got to play detective, hunting down the vast treasure smuggled out of Germany by Hitler's private secretary, Martin Bormann. He'd already recovered a good portion of it.
None of it, though, could compare to the excitement of flying gliders to a mountaintop prison and rescuing Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, or he and his men dressing up as American soldiers and creating havoc behind enemy lines during the Battle of the Bulge.
That's all in the past, Otto. All that remains now is trying to rebuild Das Reich.
And sometimes, that meant having to work behind a desk.
Exhaling slowly, he picked up a report smuggled to him recently and opened it. He scanned the top part.
Schutzstaffel File 7754392
Classification: Top Secret
Subject: Existence of Another World Inside the Earth
Skorzeny leaned back in his chair and read all about the Hollow Earth Theory, how some in the Nazi Party believed there existed an opening at the South Pole that led to another world. The man who had given him the report told him rumors abounded that several high-ranking Nazis used that opening to escape this world after Germany's surrender, Hitler included.
Skorzeny knew that to be impossible. Hitler was dead. He'd heard from people who'd been in The Bunker during those final days of the war. They'd seen Der Fuhrer's body, watched as it and that of his mistress, Eva Braun, were cremated.
Hitler was dead, he was certain of it. As for other Nazi officials, could they have fled to another world? Ten years ago he never would have believed such a story.
That all changed after his experience in Narnia.
If this report was true, could this other world they spoke of be Narnia? Surely there had to be other ways to get there besides a wardrobe in Britain, or another buried under thousands upon thousands of tons of dirt and rock in Thuringer Wald.
Skorzeny chewed on his lip, his mind drawing him back in time to the Narnia expedition. He remembered one conversation with the eyeball-obsessed goblin Draut, how it spoke with reverence about the powers of the White Witch. The ugly little monster had also mentioned something called deep magic. Draut confessed he knew little about it, only to say it was a power most beings could barely comprehend.
Perhaps beings as primitive as the Narnians, but beings such as ourselves . . .
Das Reich had boasted some of the greatest scientists in the world, men who made great strides in the fields of engineering and physics and other sciences. Even the Allies recognized that, as demonstrated by the fact they had gobbled up so many of Germany's best and brightest for their own ends.
But they did not get all of them. Several Nazi scientists remained at large. Skorzeny could use ODESSA to bring them to Argentina. But they would need a lot of resources to reach this alleged opening at the South Pole, and resources cost money. He was hesitant to tap into the treasure he'd so far recovered. Perhaps he could convince President Peron pay for his expedition. Not that he could tell the man his true intentions. As much as Peron respected him, Skorzeny doubted the President would believe a story about magical worlds under the Antarctic ice.
I could tell him I learned of a secret stash of Nazi treasure. Peron is greedy enough to want to believe that.
Still, such an expedition would be costly to the government. Skorzeny decided it best not to approach Peron directly. He would use The President's wife, Evita. After all, she had Juan Peron's ear, and Skorzeny had much, much more of Evita than her ear. A smile spread across his scarred face as he thought of their next "rendezvous."
He nodded in satisfaction. He would get Evita to convince Peron to fund an expedition to the South Pole. If they could find that opening, if it indeed led to Narnia, and if the Nazi scientists could unravel the secret of the deep magic, Skorzeny was certain a Fourth Reich would rise from the ashes of the Third.
And this Reich would never fall.
Outside London, England
"Ian?" David Niven fixed his eyes on the man standing at the entrance to the cemetery.
"David. Well this is a pleasant surprise."
The two shook hands, Niven studying the former Royal Navy Commander-turned-author. Fleming still had a lean build, though more wrinkles had formed on his face since their last meeting. His dark hair also began to recede.
You could say the same about yourself, old boy.
"So, I guess you're here to . . ." Fleming bit his lip, as though not wanting to finish the sentence.
"It's been ten years, now. We went through a lot with them. Since I was here, I figured I should pay my respects."
"My sentiments exactly."
The two walked into the cemetery, passing dozens upon dozens of gray tombstones.
"Congratulations on the Academy Award," Fleming said. "Well deserved."
"Thank you." Niven nodded.
"Maybe if we're lucky, we could both be working in film."
"Oh?" Niven raised an eyebrow. "Tired of writing spy thrillers? Want to try your hand at acting now?"
"No. I'm talking to some producers who are interested in turning my books into movies. James Bond in the cinema. Can you believe it?"
Niven slapped Fleming on the back. "Splendid. If the movies are anything like the books, they'll be a smashing success. Especially your new one, Goldfinger. Thoroughly enjoyed it."
"Thank you. If it's all right with you, I'd like to bandy your name about to the movie folk. How would you feel about playing the role of James Bond?"
"Well, after Around the World in Eighty Days, I'm always up for a good adventure film. Count me in."
"Excellent." Fleming grinned. "You can certainly bring some realism to the role, what with some of the adventures you had."
"Mm." Niven nodded and stared at the ground. Many may call what he experienced during the war as "adventure." He had other words to describe it. Words like "horror," "terror" and "tragedy."
"Tragedy" stuck in his mind as he and Fleming neared three grave markers. A lump formed in Niven's throat as he stood over them. Tears stung the corners of his eyes. He fought them back as he looked down at the names carved into the stone.
PETER PEVENSIE . . . EDMUND PEVENSIE . . . LUCY PEVENSIE. The year of their deaths was the same. 1949.
"A train crash." He shook his head. "A bloody train crash."
"I know." Fleming sighed. "Ten years and I still can't believe it. Those children ruled over a magical world, fought and won battles. Then they return to England and die in a train wreck. Doesn't seem just, does it?"
"No, it doesn't." But if life was just, Niven thought, then good soldiers like Sergeant Major Pike and Corporal Taylor and so many others would not have died during the war.
"Sometimes, though," Fleming said, still staring at the tombstones. "Sometimes I have this . . . feeling that they're all . . . someplace else."
"You mean like Heaven?"
Fleming shrugged. "Perhaps. I'm not sure. It's just . . . those times we conversed with them after the war, when they told us about all their other adventures in Narnia, there just seemed something . . . deeper, more mystical about that place than we could possibly have fathomed when we were there. Sometimes I get this sense that even though they're dead, Narnia will take care of its own."
Neither man spoke for the longest time. Fleming then turned to the former Commando and gave a sardonic laugh. "I know. Sounds daft, doesn't it?"
"It'd probably sound daft to the general population. Having been to Narnia ourselves, having heard the stories the children told us . . . maybe you are on to something."
"I hope so."
The two men stared at the tombstones for about a minute before Niven bowed slightly. "Your Majesties. Rest in peace."
Fleming repeated the gesture and the words.
They stood there for another minute before turning and leaving. Niven took one last look over his shoulder at the tombstones, hoping Fleming was right, that Narnia's former rulers had gone to a better place.
Six-year-old Joanne, or "Jo" as she liked to be called, held her mother's hand as they walked up the steps to the red brick house. Daddy, who walked in front of them with her 4-year-old sister Dianne, rang the bell. When the door opened, a plump woman with curled black hair appeared. Everyone said hello and hugged.
"Goodness, look at you, Jo. You're getting bigger and more beautiful every day."
"Thank you, Cousin Gloria." Jo smiled as the woman hugged her and pecked her cheek.
"Where's Arthur at?" Daddy asked as they walked inside.
"He's upstairs. He's doing . . . a bit better today."
Hearing that made Jo happy. Mummy and Daddy kept saying how sick Daddy's cousin, Arthur, had been. Maybe he was getting better. She hoped so. She liked Cousin Arthur.
They all went upstairs and into a bedroom, Mummy still holding her hand. Jo felt her get all stiff when they saw Cousin Arthur lying in bed. He was thin, his hair messy, and he looked pale. Jo frowned. He didn't look better, like Cousin Gloria had said.
"Arthur." Daddy walked up to the bed. "How are you feeling?"
"As well as can be expected." Cousin Arthur slowly sat up in bed. "Good to see you, Peter. Anne," he said, looking at Mummy. "Oh good, you brought Jo and Di with you."
"Well, you know Jo," Mummy said. "Hoping you'll tell her one of your stories."
"I think that can be arranged." Cousin Arthur smiled at her.
"Well, if that's the case," said Cousin Gloria, "why don't I put on a spot of tea while you entertain the girls?"
"Sounds good, luv. Thanks."
Cousin Gloria smiled as she left the room.
"We'll give you a hand," Daddy said as he and Mummy also left.
Jo took her sister's hand and walked up to the edge of Cousin Arthur's bed. She looked around the room, much of her attention on the large bookshelf, stuffed with all sorts of neat books where Cousin Arthur got his stories from.
"So what are you going to tell us today, Cousin Arthur?" Jo bounced on her feet while Di just stared at the floor. "Something by H.G. Wells? Or Ray Bradbury?"
"No, none of that today. What I want to do is tell you about something that happened to me during the war."
Jo made a face. "It's not going to be boring, is it?" She'd rather hear about something from one of Cousin Arthur's books. The made-up stuff was always more fun than the real stuff.
Cousin Arthur laughed. "I think it's safe to say this will not be a boring story. In fact, it's so interesting, a lot of people wouldn't want me to tell you. It's all a big secret, you see."
"Mummy says it's not good to tell secrets," Di said.
"Well you're mummy's right. You shouldn't tell secrets, most times. In fact, I could be in very big trouble for telling you this story."
Jo stiffened in fear. "I don't want you to get in trouble, Cousin Arthur."
He laughed again. "Oh, no need to worry, Jo. As sick as I am, there's not much they can really do to me."
Jo titled her head, wondering what Cousin Arthur meant by that. Before she could ask, he went on.
"It's just . . . well, it's a story I've been bursting to tell someone for years. Can't really tell any adults about it. They'd think I'm stark raving mad. But you girls, I know you'll appreciate it."
"Okay." Jo nodded.
"Good." Cousin Arthur sat up straighter in bed, his eyes brightening, as he began his story.
And what a story it was. Jo hung on his every word. She couldn't believe someone in her family had traveled to a magical world inside a wardrobe. Cousin Arthur said he was part of a big battle against the Germans and all these monsters that had been led by an evil witch. Despite her fascination with the story, Jo couldn't help but wonder why witches in all the stories she heard were evil. Surely there had to be some good witches out there.
Cousin Arthur spoke about winged creatures called gryphons. She liked that name. He said they looked like lions with wings. And they were very brave. They charged through bullets to fight the Germans and monsters. Cousin Arthur even flew on one. Jo tried to imagine what it would feel like to actually fly. Her Cousin Arthur was so lucky.
He spoke of other things. Grand castles, meeting kings and queens, talking with these half-man, half-horse creatures called centaurs.
"That all really happened to you, Cousin Arthur?" Di asked, sounding unsure.
"Cross my heart." Which Cousin Arthur did with his finger. "Everything I told you is one hundred percent true."
"That's amazing!" Jo beamed. "But why wouldn't you want to stay in Nah . . . Naa-nee-ah? It must be more exciting than here."
Cousin Arthur smiled. "I suppose. But I think I was only meant to stay there for a brief time. Honestly, not a day goes by where I don't think of Narnia. I would have loved to have stayed there longer, see what else that world had to offer. But I had to come back to England and fight the Germans. Besides, if I had stayed there, I never would have met Gloria. I never would have gotten to know you and Di, then you'd never be able to hear any of my stories."
"That would be bad," Jo said.
She and Cousin Arthur laughed at that.
Her family stayed at Cousin Arthur's and Cousin Gloria's house for a while before getting back into the car and heading back to Winterbourne.
"Mummy, Daddy." Jo bounced up and down in the back seat as Daddy started the car. "Cousin Arthur told me and Di this great story. Did you know he went to this place called Naa-nee-ah and he met talking animals and fought horrible monsters and got to fly on a gryphon?"
Daddy grinned at her. "Well, it sounds like Cousin Arthur told you one exciting tale."
"No, Daddy. Cousin Arthur said it was all true. Cross his heart. Right, Di?"
Her sister nodded.
Mummy and Daddy didn't seem happy to hear that. Instead they looked worried.
"Must be doing worse than Gloria let on," Mummy said.
Daddy cleared his throat. "Yes, well . . . time to be getting on home."
He pulled out into the street. Jo pushed back into her seat, feeling bad that Mummy and Daddy didn't seem interested in Cousin Arthur's story. How could anyone not be interested in a story like that?
Looking back years later, she would consider that visit to her Cousin Arthur's as one of the most important days of her life.
For that was the day that Joanne Rowling discovered that magical worlds were very exciting.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Footnotes on the fates of the historical characters featured in this story.
Otto Skorzeny: Was captured by US forces shortly after Germany's surrender in 1945. He escaped from prison in 1948 and later wound up in Argentina as an advisor to President Juan Peron. He reportedly had an affair with Eva "Evita" Peron, until her death in 1952. Skorzeny also served as an advisor to Egyptian Army in the 1950s and reportedly trained future Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat. Skorzeny contracted cancer in 1970 and died in 1975 at the age of 67. Obviously, his dreams of a Fourth Reich were never realized.
David Niven: Served with the British Army through the remainder of the war, and was discharged with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Niven resumed his film career in 1946, starring in such movies as "Around the World in 80 Days," "The Guns of Navarone," "The Pink Panther," "Death on the Nile" and "Separate Tables," for which he won the Best Actor Oscar in 1958. Niven passed away from ALS in 1983 at the age of 73. In all, he appeared in almost 100 films between 1932-1983. As for the James Bond reference in this story, there are reports to suggest that Fleming did envision Niven for the role of the British super spy for the first Bond movie, "Dr. No." Obviously, that part went to Sean Connery. Niven, though, did play James Bond in the spoof movie "Casino Royale," released in 1967. Niven was also mentioned by name in two of Fleming's Bond novels, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and "You Only Live Twice."
Ian Fleming: Remained with Naval Intelligence throughout the war and served as a planner for a special group of intelligence gathering commandos known as 30 Assault Unit. His first James Bond novel, "Casino Royale," was published in 1953. Fleming went on to write 10 more Bond novels and two collections of Bond short stories. The first Bond movie, "Dr. No," was released in 1962. A heavy drinker and smoker, Fleming died of a heart attack in 1964 at the age of 56. The third Bond movie, "Goldfinger," was being filmed at the time of his death.
Stewart Menzies: Remained head of MI-6 until he retired in 1952. He passed away in 1968 at the age of 78.
General Bernard Montgomery: Would go on to lead British forces to victory in the Battle of El Alamein, the turning point in the North Africa campaign. He would also lead British forces in Sicily, Italy and Europe. Following WWII, Monty served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff from 1946-1948, and as deputy commander of NATO from 1951-1958. He passed away in 1976 at the age of 88.
Heinrich Himmler: Headed the SS and the Gestapo until the end of the war. Also was Reich Minister of the Interior from 1943-1945. He was one of the chief architects of The Holocaust which killed millions upon millions of Jews, other ethnic and religious groups, homosexuals and disabled persons. Himmler was captured by the Allies in May of 1945, but committed suicide by ingesting cyanide before he could stand trial for war crimes.
Joanne Rowling: Better known by her pen name J.K. Rowling. She created the "Harry Potter" series of novels.
Other Notes: The MGB Skorzeny refers to in the first scene was the predecessor of the more famous Soviet KGB. The Central Institute for Coordination was the predecessor of the Israeli Mossad.
Thank you all for your readership and reviews. Feel free to check out my original novels, published under John J. Rust; the sea monster thriller "Sea Raptor," the invasion of America novel "Fallen Eagle: Alaska Front," and the alien invasion novel "Dark Wings," all available on Amazon.