THE GRAINY YOUTUBE VIDEO FROM 1977 shows FBI agents swarming the front of a modest suburban house in the act of apprehending Nazi Karl Müller.
I take a sip of ice water from a plastic cup and lean back in my chair.
The 83-year-old Müller opens the door, looking feeble and frail. He has a pistol in one hand and he’s waving it around like a tack hammer. Next thing you know the agents open fire and Müller collapses in a heap on his front steps, blood pouring from three bullet wounds to the chest.
Müller peers up at the agents and says, “Why did you shoot me? I’m not a Jew.”
Guess he wasn’t ex-Nazi after all.
At least three times a week, I walk down to Van Vorst Park and jog along the perimeter until I break out in a sweat, usually after a half-mile or so. Old men like me don’t sweat much, so it’s a sign I’ve reached my limit for the day.
The park once belonged to the crackheads. When the crack epidemic died down in 1990, the “good people” of Jersey City wrested Van Vorst away from the addicts and homeless. Now it’s a place where flowers of a sort bloom, and where mothers can push a stroller without being harassed.
There weren’t many months that were pleasant in Jersey City. April, however, was one of them. Today a cool sunshine was washing over the park. I was doing my half-assed jog when a squat Hispanic woman got off a bench and hustled over beside me.
I kept lifting one foot after the other.
The woman by my side was on the south side of fifty. Even with all the years I had on her, she was still having a hell of a time keeping up. She wore a yellow T-shirt two sizes too small, cheap jeans, and sneakers that looked like they came from the dollar store in Journal Square. A frothy bubble formed at the side of her mouth.
“Mister… I need to talk to you.” She sucked in a breath. “You’re Hugo Berenson, right?”
It wasn’t really a question. She had to know who I was. This woman wouldn’t run beside me on a hunch.
I stopped jogging and put my hands on my knees. Someday I’d have a stroke in this park. I was sure of it.
I looked up at the woman. “Why do you ask?”
“We’ve heard things about you.”
I straightened and headed toward a concrete bench. I could feel a pang in my right kidney. Nothing serious, but a rest was in order. I settled onto the cool concrete of the bench and watched the woman walk toward me until she stood several feet away. She held her arms away from her torso as though she wanted to fly.
I said, “You’ve heard things.”
There may have been a time when people heard of me in connection with a case. But those days were long gone. I’d been invisible for decades. Only the emotionally ill among us touted their derring-do in corralling ex-Nazis. The rest of us knew there might be a day we’d have to disappear. Magazine profiles and book deals could get you killed.
“On the internet,” said the woman.
The internet. What a tool that would have been if my father had it in the years after the war, when ex-Nazis were in the prime of their life. To cut them down full of juice would truly have been something…
The woman was staring at me, and I realized I’d drifted away for a moment.
“My daughter is missing,” said the woman. “I know what you do. You’re a hunter. Please. Hunt down those who took my daughter.”
Copyright © 2022 Mark Rogers