ATLANTIC CITY, NEW JERSEY
THE FBI AGENTS climbed the grimy wooden stairwell smoothly,
five sylphs in rubber-soled boots, black Ninja suits, Kevlar vests
and helmets with visors lowered. Their Mach 10s were clean and loaded,
their gloved fingers inside the trigger guards.
Melissa Gale followed them up the steps at a short distance, her
sneakers, turtleneck, and bulletproof vest suddenly feeling inadequate.
But it didn't matter. She wanted this guy so much it made her mouth
dry. "Come on, Adalwolf," she said in a soft whisper,
"be inside that room." She had a habit of talking to herself
when the pressure was on.
The SWAT team leader reached the top of the stair and put his back
to the wall next to the door while the other agents moved silently
into postion. Next to the leader was a nervous rookie holding a
Maglite the size of a night stick, and on the other side of the
door was a veteran African-American agent from the Washington field
office named Harris Johnson. In front of the door were two more
agents with a battering ram.
Melissa climbed the steps until her eyes reached floor level beneath
the wooden banister. It was rare for a prosecutor to join the FBI
on an arrest-in addition to the danger, it could make her a witness-but
there were unusual circumstances in this case. She was closer to
the action than she was supposed to be, but the agents were too
focused to notice. She pushed her brunette hair back and rested
her double-gloved hands on the banister's lower rail, at eye level.
Looking straight ahead, she saw the flickering blue light of a TV
set coming through the crack at the bottom of the door.
He was in there. Seventy-five-year old Adalwolf-Josef Mengele's
teenage lab assistant at Auschwitz, the last Nazi on her list-was
watching television in a rooming house in Atlantic City's run-down
Melissa's heart felt fuel-injected. Since she'd gotten word five
years earlier that he was living in the United States, capturing
him had been like trying to grab smoke. Twice they'd broken down
doors where he was supposed to be only to find nothing. As a lawyer
for OSI, the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations-the
"Nazi hunters"-she had arrested eight former Nazis living
in the U.S. and deported them by court order, but none of them were
like this. This one wasn't a toothless old geezer hiding out as
a retired car salesman in Des Moines; this one was still active,
still a menace. Although she couldn't prove it yet, she was sure
he'd killed three people with a deadly virus called NTX. All Jews.
The FBI's digital tracing program, called BackFire, had located
him in this flophouse three hours earlier when he'd sent Melissa
one of his taunting e-mails.
This time, he didn't know they were coming.
The SWAT team leader from the Newark field office raised his hand,
signaling his men to get ready.
Melissa patted her pocket and felt the search warrant. She'd never
set eyes on Adalwolf, didn't even have a photograph of him except
for one taken in 1944 when he was the acolyte of the "Butcher
of Auschwitz." But she knew how to identify him. Two death
camp survivors had testified that he had a black totenkopf-the
SS death's head-tattooed on his upper left arm. The judge's arrest
warrant required her to see it as a condition of arrest. In addition,
Adalwolf had no voice box, which she knew because she'd talked to
him many times on the telephone. If they arrested him and got him
to speak through his electrolarynx, she'd recognize his voice in
The team leader counted down: three fingers, two fingers, one. When
the last digit disappeared, the agents with the ram smashed in the
door with one swing, knocking it off its hinges.
HARRIS JOHNSON AND the team leader went through the door
with their submachine guns in hand yelling, "FBI! Don't move!"
followed by two agents on their flanks, automatics at eye level.
The rookie shined a beam of light into the subject's face.
Watching from the stair, Melissa caught a glimpse of an old man
sitting in a worn club chair, his grizzled face stunned and confused,
his eyes squinting at the Maglite and guns. Harris Johnson, whom
she'd been working with on the case, put the muzzle of his weapon
against the old man's head and said, "We can't prone him out,
he's hooked up!"
Another agent said, "I say we put him down anyway!"
The team leader said, "Everybody hold what you got!"
Ordinarily they would have put their subject face down on the floor
and cuffed his hands behind his back, but there was an IV pole standing
next to him with a plastic bag of fluid at the top and a clear tube
running down to his arm. She heard the team leader yell from beneath
his lowered visor, "Okay, Harris, you've got the controls."
Harris Johnson looked at the old man a moment, then yelled, "Okay
Gale! We're ready to make an ID!"
Melissa Gale pulled her industrial mask over her nose and mouth,
adjusted the elastic straps behind her head, and climbed the remaining
steps toward the open door. Entering the room, she saw an old man
in gray sweatpants and a dirty T-shirt sitting upright with his
arms resting on tattered armrests, his feet on the floor, his head
wobbling but proud and erect. She thought he looked more like a
dying tennis player than a killer.
She looked around the room and saw his ratty slippers, an unmade
Murphy bed, magazines and junk strewn around, a grimy window at
the back wall, a Styrofoam coffee cup, and a TV set still flickering
with a Seinfeld rerun. To her right was a kitchenette with
dirty pots in the sink, a Formica table with a laptop computer on
it, lid up, screen dark. On the wall was a movie poster of Saving
She stepped up to the subject and looked into a pair of watery eyes.
Could this old coot with salt-and-pepper stubble and a Zane Grey
paperback on his lap still be killing people? Yes, he could. Evil
didn't look like Freddy Kruger, evil looked ordinary. Banal. Like
"He looks doped up," an agent said.
"Don't take anything for granted!" Harris Johnson said.
"Maybe he caught his own virus," the team leader said.
"He looks like he's got the flu."
Melissa stepped in closer.
Harris Johnson said, "Come on, Melissa, we need positive ID."
She stooped down with her face level with his. "Who are you?"
she said through her mask. He didn't speak. "Nod if you are
Adalwolf." He didn't nod. She stood up and reached toward him
slowly. He stared at her through bleary eyes as she rolled up the
sleeve of his T-shirt.
It was right where it was supposed to be: a faded black tattoo of
a human skull-the Totenkopf-the symbol of the Nazi SS.
She turned to Harris and nodded. He looked at it and agreed. She
stooped in front of the old man again and pulled her mask down around
her neck, revealing her face.
"Hello Adalwolf," she said. "It's me. Melissa Gale."
He stared at her a moment, then, as if he finally understood what
was happening, slowly raised his right hand from the armrest. When
it was a few inches off the fabric she could see an object taped
to his palm-something dark and metallic-something resembling a-
"Gun!" an agent yelled.
WEAPONS CLACKED and Harris Johnson pushed his Mach 10 hard
against the old man's skull.
Without warning, the rookie rammed the large end of the flashlight
into the old man's chest, knocking spit out of his mouth.
"Easy!" Melissa said angrily, "It's not a gun, it's
a microphone!" The team leader yanked the rookie's hands back,
but the old man's wind was already gone. As much as Melissa hated
him, she didn't like seeing him bashed in the chest. He wheezed,
his face red, the veins on his neck prominent. Then his eyes glinted
and the muscles in his arms rippled and a warrior's spirit inside
him came alive. This, Melissa thought, was more like the Adalwolf
she expected. He let out a phlegmy cough.
"Put your mask on," Harris Johnson told her.
She pulled the white shell over her mouth and pinched the frame
onto the bridge of her nose. His eyes were watering and his lips
dry. He raised the microphone another inch, and she thought, That's
strange. His fingertips were wrapped in wet gauze.
The old man's hand stopped moving to let them see that he was holding
an amplifier, not a weapon, then continued rising slowly. Despite
the drugs or fever that clouded his mind, he understood that there
were loaded guns pointed at his head. When his hand was about a
foot away from his stoma-the hole at the base of his neck where
his larynx used to be-Melissa noticed that the plastic IV line was
dangling next to his elbow, unattached to his arm. And the liquid
medicine wasn't draining out.
His hand-held electrolarynx continued approaching the base of his
neck. He opened his lips to speak. Melissa's eyelids widened at
the sight of a silver glint running up inside the clear plastic
"Wait!" she said-
But he didn't wait. He pressed the transmit button to talk-she heard
the click of the battery-driven speaker and his first two electronic
are-" The transmission sent an electrical charge up
the silver wire into an explosive cap at the base of the IV bag,
igniting a liter of liquid naphtha masquerading as medication.
THE BAG BURST into a blazing sun and dropped onto the old
man's head, shoulders, and lap, splashing in all directions like
spilled milk, engulfing everything in its path. Melissa and the
agents leapt away with their hands shielding their faces as Adalwolf
lit up like a self-immolating Buddhist monk. A bonfire swirled around
him with a roar, turning his face into black silhouette behind a
veil of orange.
Harris: "Keep it off your clothes!"
The team leader: "Over there!" Pointing.
Two agents yanked a braided rug from under a coffee table and threw
it over Adalwolf's head. Flames licked out and joined the burning
liquid on the floor.
"Water coming!" one of the agents yelled from the kitchenette.
He had the faucet at the sink running full blast into a pot which
he grabbed and threw toward the burning chair. Another agent stamped
his feet on the flames; yet another beat them away from an agent's
burning legs. Smoke and hot gases and the stench of burned flesh
filled the room. Everyone was coughing.
"Get everybody out of the building!"
Three agents hustled through the open door and moved past tenants
who were already standing on the stair to see what was going on.
Agents ran up and down the stairwell yelling and knocking on doors,
entering rooms, pulling residents out.
Harris Johnson and the rookie wrapped Adalwolf in the rug and carried
his body down the steps. Melissa backed up to the door, looking
at the flames creeping toward the walls. The full-throated wail
of a fire truck sounded in the distance.
She saw the laptop on the table.
She ran between the licking spikes, grabbed the computer, and dashed
to the door through a wall of fire. When she reached the stair she
looked down at her legs and saw smoke drifting up from the soles
of her shoes, but no flames. She jogged down and met Harris coming
"Is everyone out?" he shouted as he passed her.
"I don't know," she said.
Out on the sidewalk she stood looking up at smoke billowing from
one of the old man's windows that had shattered from the heat. A
wet December snow was falling with the ash.
The first fire truck arrived and the firemen jumped off just as
Harris and the team leader came out the door. Everyone was out of
the building, Harris said, and walked to an emergency medical van
that sat idling with its rear doors open, about to receive Adalwolf's
rug-covered body on a gurney. Harris and Melissa looked at his smoldering
remains. Harris expressed his sentiments in a low voice: "Damn."
Melissa carried the laptop to the hood of the ambulance, lifted
the top, and hit the function key. The screen lit up.
If you are reading this, Melissa, take no satisfaction from my
death. You and your jackboot friends-at least the ones who survived-are
going to miss me. But enough is enough. My work is done, and I choose
to depart on my terms, not yours.
Harris shrugged. They stared at each other.
Joseph Goebbels wrote the Third Reich's epitaph in Hitler's bunker
shortly before the end: "When we depart, let the earth tremble."
The world has waited fifty years for that to happen, and now the
time has come.
Look to a child to complete the Fuhrer's work, Melissa. The Final
Solution isn't over, it's just begun.
P.S. The butter cookies in the round tin are terrific.
She closed the laptop and picked it up and found Harris.
"You okay?" he said.
She nodded and shivered. The wet cold was going to the bone.
"He almost nailed us," Harris said. "We've got two
agents with burns."
Melissa looked over and saw them lifted into an ambulance. "How
"What?" Harris said.
"I don't understand why he killed himself," she said.
Harris yelled at an agent, "Jim-ride with the EMS, okay?"
To Melissa he replied, "He knew his days were numbered and
he wanted to take a few of us out before he went."
Melissa knew Adalwolf was capable of killing himself if he had good
reason, but was trying to kill some FBI agents good enough? She
didn't think so. His suicide was a sideshow to cover up something
else. And why do it with fire? He hated fire. He'd once said in
an e-mail to her, "Fire is for ovens, and ovens are for
Watching Harris walk over to a cluster of FBI agents, she held up
the laptop to show him she had it, then headed for the helicopter.
Adalwolf loved the game. How had he won it by losing?