The Last Nazi: A Joe Johnson Thriller, Book 1
They're not all dead . . . The buried contents of a Nazi train. An aging SS killer—with a final sting in his tail. And the World War II secrets of a US presidential hopeful’s Jewish family, hidden in London for 70 years.
In this gripping thriller, war crimes investigator and ex-CIA officer Joe Johnson uncovers links between financing for the presidential campaign, the Nazi train, and a ruthless British blackmail plot.
But the mystery becomes bigger and more deeply personal than Johnson expects when it turns out the SS Holocaust killer escaped his net years earlier.
Soon there are high-level intelligence agency and criminal networks combining across three continents against Johnson and his ex-MI6 colleague Jayne Robinson. He finds himself inextricably caught up in a deeply challenging quest to win justice, to avenge his mother’s tortured past and revive his flagging career.
Release date: August 15, 2017
Publisher: The Write Direction Publishing
Print pages: 482
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The Last Nazi: A Joe Johnson Thriller, Book 1
Monday, December 18, 1944
Nazi-occupied Southwestern Poland
The tunnel roof collapsed with no warning. Tens of thousands of tons of dirt and rock fell almost as one, triggering a shock wave that threw all the men to the floor.
The flickering lights that lined the tunnel wall went out instantly.
Then came a series of smaller rockfalls, which clattered and rattled down like minor landslides over the impenetrable mountain of rubble that now entirely blocked the route back to the entrance.
Finally, there was utter silence.
Jacob Kudrow groaned and clawed at his face in the blackness.
He propped himself up on his elbows and spat out a mouthful of sand and soil.
Then he coughed and gasped, trying to suck in air.
But this only brought in yet more earth and dust, dry particles that clogged his nostrils and stuck in the back of his throat.
Then he realized he could no longer hear.
No, not again, he thought.
A wave of panic ran through him. It was the same sensation he’d had when he was ten years old, underwater and fighting for his life in the freezing Vistula River in Warsaw, long before the Nazis had marched in and changed his life.
It’s over, it’s over.
Jacob ripped open his filthy blue and white striped shirt and clasped the corner of the material over his nose and mouth. He coughed violently, then sucked in again, this time through the cotton.
Now, at last, a fraction of oxygen came through. Again he coughed, again he sucked, his entire focus on his own survival.
More air reached his lungs. “Breathe through your shirt,” he shouted to the others, unable even to hear his own words.
Jacob turned to where he knew Daniel had been standing and reached out his hand, then stretched a little further. He found a shoe, then a leg, which moved and then moved again. His twin’s hand touched his.
Thank the Almighty.
Gradually, the dust settled, allowing Jacob to breathe more easily, and he began to hear again, too. First there were the grating coughs of those around him, all battling for air, and a few thuds as more rock fell from above.
Finally, Jacob saw faint pinpricks of light coming nearer and nearer down the tunnel toward him. There were voices, quiet at first but getting louder.
The first words he heard through the darkness were the unmistakable tones of the SS first lieutenant talking to one of the other guards in German. “The Führer will go mad when he finds out what’s happened here,” he said.
Jacob immediately knew why. An hour earlier, he wouldn’t have. But now he did.
“Get these damned prisoners down to the far end, away from this rock,” the first lieutenant shouted to the guards. “Make sure all the boxes come too. Go on, move. There should be twelve more boxes, so count them carefully.”
The flashlights were now above Jacob, shining down on the prisoners on the floor. Jacob surveyed the damage. A miracle. The group of twenty-one prisoners, who had been standing less than forty meters from the roof fall, were covered in filth, faces black, but they had all survived.
“Up, up, lift your boxes, then walk, single file, follow me,” the guard yelled.
Jacob reluctantly got up and strained to lift the heavy wooden box lying at his feet.
“Quick,” shouted the guard. At the second attempt, Jacob hoisted it onto his shoulder and got into line behind his brother.
“Are you okay?” Jacob whispered. Daniel nodded.
They all shuffled to the end of the tunnel where the first lieutenant, his thin face and SS uniform also now covered in grime, stood and watched, hands on hips. The prisoners placed their boxes on the wooden pallets with the others they had stacked neatly earlier in the day.
Other than the first lieutenant, there were only two guards now. The others must have been buried under the rockfall or left on the other side of it, where the Nazi train stood.
Jacob heard the first lieutenant mutter to a guard about the tunnel engineers. “Damned amateurs, always cutting corners, taking too many risks, going too quickly.” He swore loudly and hobbled around the stack of boxes, counting them as he went.
When he finished, the first lieutenant whacked his riding crop hard on the final stack. “Two hundred. Okay, get these prisoners down there and out. Move,” he ordered, pointing toward the back of the main tunnel.
“The escape tunnel,” Jacob murmured to himself. “Of course.” In his panic, Jacob had almost forgotten the nightmarish eight weeks he and a large group of other prisoners had spent digging it earlier in the year. Less than half of them had survived to see it completed.
A guard led the group into an opening at the back of the main tunnel and down a much smaller tunnel, barely high enough to stand in, with few roof supports, uneven walls with protruding tree roots and a narrow rocky floor covered with large puddles.
The men carefully made their way for around a hundred and fifty meters along the tunnel, with only the two guards’ flashlights for illumination. They were forced to crawl for the final short stretch, where the roof was too low to remain upright, until they emerged into a dry concrete sewer.
“Thank the Almighty that the sewer’s unused,” Jacob said to Daniel. They continued to crawl along a short section of the sewer before finally emerging through a snow covered metal grill into the freezing blackness of some woodland. Daylight had long gone.
The guards led them by flashlight to a narrow road that was blanketed in ice and snow and marched them down the valley to the Ludwikowice Klodzkie village railway station, where they had arrived early that morning.
As they had been every morning and night for the previous few months, the prisoners were herded onto railway cattle cars that were still ankle-deep in pig and cow dung after being procured from a local farmer. Ten of the group were pushed into the front car, the remainder, including Jacob and Daniel, into the rear one.
A guard climbed in and began to tie the prisoners’ hands behind their backs to a horizontal steel rail that ran along the inside of the car.
He was about to tie Jacob when the guard from the front car called through, asking for more rope. The guard jumped out, and when he returned, Jacob had his hands ready on the rail.
But the guard, whom Jacob noticed was sweating profusely but also shivering, his face ashen, moved straight to Daniel and tied him, missing Jacob.
After he finished securing the others, the guard sat on a stool at the back and rested against the wall, his eyes closed, one hand on his sweating forehead. The train began to move up the valley toward Gluszyca, where the Wüstegiersdorf concentration camp lay—part of the Nazis’ Gross-Rosen complex.
After a few minutes, the guard’s head nodded forward. He was asleep.
Jacob inched his hand to his left until he touched his brother’s bound right hand. Daniel, who was sitting with his eyes shut, his head bowed, jumped as if he had been touched with a live power cable but recovered quickly. Jacob kept his eyes fixed in front of him, but in the gloom he began slowly to unpick the knot that held Daniel’s hands to the metal bar, his fingers struggling in the cold.
Finally, the bindings came free.
Jacob noticed a length of wood lying almost buried in the excrement on the floor, halfway between him and the guard. As the train crawled toward a bend, Jacob stood, his legs wobbling with fatigue and the motion of the train, and made his way toward the rear of the car. He picked up the wood and, with what remaining strength he had, slammed it into the sleeping guard’s temple.
The guard opened his eyes just before impact but too late. He collapsed unconscious on the floor.
Jacob beckoned Daniel, whose eyes were now wide with fear, and moved to the open door at the back of the car. As the train rounded the bend, Jacob made eye contact with the other prisoners.
All of them, without exception, looked silently at Jacob.
How he wanted to liberate them—these men with whom he had shared some of the most horrific experiences a human could possibly endure. They had spent months as slaves, digging endless underground tunnels for Hitler’s Project Riese in the Owl Mountains.
Jacob’s friend Konstanty gazed at him with dark, shrunken eyes. There was Stefan, who had two children; Bronislaw, taken by the SS only a day after his wedding; Berek, Janusz, and the rest.
But Jacob knew he had no time to untie the knots, no knife to cut their bonds.
They knew it too. Konstanty just nodded, almost imperceptibly.
Jacob turned, took Daniel by the hand, and they both jumped into the darkness.
They landed on a pile of snow-covered gravel, then rolled over and flattened themselves to the ground. “They’re going to come back, they’ll come back,” Daniel said and buried his head in the snow.
But they didn’t come back. The train kept going, around another bend and behind the silhouette of some trees.
Jacob lifted his head. A short distance away was a narrow river. “Over there, the water,” he said. “We can walk up it. It’ll stop the dogs from smelling us.”
The brothers removed their striped pants and wrapped them around their necks, then shuddered with shock as they waded into the icy river.
The riverbed was slippery and muddy and the brothers had only walked a short distance when they heard gunshots echo clearly down the valley. The blasts went on and on, a few seconds between each.
Jacob stood still for a couple of seconds. The bastard had shot them. Every single prisoner.
He met Daniel’s eye, but neither of them spoke. They already knew what they had both escaped from. Speaking the words aloud would change nothing.
He shook his head and looked up to the sky for a few seconds, then back at Daniel. “Come on, quick, before they bring the dogs.”
They continued to wade through the knee-high water, legs now numb, until thick rushes finally made the stream impassable.
“I know what’s in those boxes, up in the tunnel, and it’s not dynamite,” Jacob said, as he helped his brother out of the water and onto the snow.
Daniel turned to him in the near dark, the whites of his eyes contrasting with the grit that still covered his skin. “You know?”
“Yes. Konstanty tripped, not long before the tunnel roof fell in. He dropped his box and a plank splintered off. I helped him fix it before the guards came, but I saw inside.”
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Joe Johnson strode past a row of parked Cadillacs, Buicks, and Lincolns, most of them black, stretching almost the entire length of Benton Place Northwest, a tree lined street in one of Washington, D.C.’s smartest suburbs, nestled amid an array of embassy buildings.
Halfway up the street was a three-story brick home, a grand affair with a fifty-yard frontage, three short flights of steps leading to the broad front door, and a porch bookended by stone pillars.
A hint of drizzle fell from dark clouds that scudded in from the west and left water dripping from the ornate black metal fence in front of the property. It was only just after one o’clock, but the light from chandeliers in the downstairs rooms cut a clear swath through the gloom.
Suited businessmen and women in navy cocktail dresses or cream pantsuits hurried in, all of them greeted by a tall man in the doorway.
There he was: Philip M. Pietersen, the man who had invited Johnson. He was a bit thicker around the middle, without a doubt, and had a few gray streaks in his black hair, but otherwise was as he had been a decade and a half ago.
Johnson walked up the steps and raised his hand in greeting as the man spotted him. “Philip, hello. I decided to come after all.”
Philip held out his hand and they shook.
“Been a long time, Joe,” Philip said. “Fifteen years or more, isn’t it?”
“About that. Nice little place you’ve got here.” Johnson ran his hand across the short-cropped semicircle of graying hair that surrounded his bald patch.
“Thanks. Go on in, we’ll chat later. I’ve got someone who’s keen to meet you to talk about your war crimes lectures,” Philip said.
Johnson nodded and walked through the door into the vast hallway.
An array of blue banners hung from the walls, all proclaiming the same slogan: David Kudrow 2012: Reviving America.
Republican Party officials ushered guests into the ballroom and handed out fund-raising leaflets. Johnson took one and stepped to one side to read it.
“David Kudrow: Your Best Chance of a Republican in the White House” it proclaimed in large letters, above a picture of the candidate.
There was a brief biography and a reprinted New York Times editorial headlined “Kudrow Set to Sink Romney and Take GOP Nomination.”
Flipping it over, Johnson noticed a small photograph of a smiling Philip at the bottom, captioned “Confident: Campaign Manager Philip M. Pietersen.”
Johnson shook his head, crumpled the leaflet into a ball, and tossed it into a nearby bin.
He accepted a glass of champagne from a server and meandered into the ballroom, which was furnished with rows of seats and a small platform at the front, bedecked with more Kudrow banners and the Stars and Stripes.
He made straight for the back row, but before he could sit down, he felt a tap on his shoulder. “Joe, I thought it was you. What are you doing here?”
Johnson jumped and swung around to find a familiar face. It took him a moment to find some words. “Fiona, hi . . . um . . . I didn’t know journalists were invited today. How’s things?” Johnson hesitated, unsure whether to shake her hand, kiss her, or do nothing.
They both made awkward half-movements before Fiona inclined toward him. He bent down and pecked her on the cheek.
“Me? Oh, I guess I’m okay, sort of,” she said. “I’m still at Inside Track doing political stuff. Head down, you know, getting on with things. Trying to pay my bills, stay out of financial trouble with the bank, with very limited success right now I have to say,” she said. “I miss the Times occasionally, but the website is quicker and they’re breaking more stories, so I enjoy it.” She put her hand on the back of the chair beside Johnson. “I’ll sit here next to you. How are you doing?”
“Usual routine, working away, still doing private investigations. Kids are doing fine—you know, growing up scarily fast,” Johnson said.
They looked at each other for a second, but she didn’t reply and they sat down at the end of the back row.
Johnson studied her. Fiona Heppenstall’s hair was longer and her jacket a little sharper than they were the last time he had seen her back in 2006, when she was still at The New York Times.
Johnson said, “I’m only here because I had an invite out of the blue from Pietersen. I used to know him from years back at Boston University. Runs his own software company now. Bit of an asshole but he’s obviously a top dog in the party. I thought this might be interesting, as I’m in D.C. lecturing. A party fund-raiser. Won’t get any money from me, but I thought it had to be worth a visit.”
She turned to him. “Yep, Pietersen’s definitely an asshole. He also invited me. I think I’m the only journalist here, which is a bit unusual. But you, lecturing? Since when? I thought you just did the investigative stuff?”
“Yes, that’s the bulk of my work, but I’ve done ad hoc lecturing for years down at the College of Law, the War Crimes Research Office. I’m speaking on the Nazis this afternoon. I do know a bit, so I get roped in once a month or so.”
“Of course, your doctorate. I forgot.” She became distracted as the chatter in the room died down and the speeches began.
David Kudrow took to the podium, looking energized. Johnson scanned the ballroom. There were at least four hundred people in there, all looking appropriately rapt.
“Obama and his Democratic Party cronies have presided over huge historic debt levels and a deficit that has become eye watering, while proving they are no friend to business and no friend to those who are trying to make an honest profit out of commercial endeavors,” Kudrow boomed.
The room erupted in applause.
Fiona whispered in Johnson’s ear, “This guy’s got a real chance against Romney, and then maybe Obama. Who knows? His family’s loaded; he’s apparently got a $100 million fund lined up already. They’re Polish, you know, originally.”
Kudrow continued, “We’ve seen Obama pump a trillion dollars into bailouts, gimmicky jobs initiatives, and failed attempts at stimulus, all for nothing. Did you know that one in six Americans is now on food stamps? We’ve lost two-and-a-half million jobs.
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