Copyright Š John Katzenbach 1995
No novel ever gets finished without some assistance. Sometimes this help is technical, as in the readers who review early drafts of the manuscript and point out all the mistakes one has made. Sometimes it is less tangible, but equally important. (The children who leave you alone when they'd much rather you came out and shotbaskets with them.) To complete this book, I was greatly aided by my friends Jack Rosenthal, David Kaplan and Janet Rifkin, Harley and Sherry Tropin, all of whom contributed comments that improved the final version.
There are many extraordinary books about the Holocaust, each more heartbreaking, more frustrating, more astonishing than the next. I do not intend to list all that I examined, butthere is one work that I think worth mentioning. When I first started to nurture the seeds of ideas that ultimately became this novel, the late Howard Simons at Harvard University gave me his copy of a remarkable work of nonfiction: The Last Jews In Berlin by Leonard Gross. Those interested in learning about true resourcefulness and bravery would be wise to examine it.
As always, my greatest debtis to my family, so it is to Justine, Nick, and Maddy that this book is dedicated.
An Interrupted Death
Early in the evening on what promised to be an oppressively hot midsummer night on Miami Beach, Simon Winter, an old man who had spent years in the profession of death, decided it was time to kill himself. Regretting for an instant that he would be creating a messy job of workfor others, he walked slowly to a closet in his bedroom and removed a scarred short-barreled .38 caliber detective's special from a faded and sweat-stained brown leather holster. He cracked the cylinder open and removed five of the six bullets, which he slipped into his pocket; this act, he believed, would help remove anyone's doubts as to what his intentions had been.
Carrying the pistol in hishand, he started to search for paper and pen to write a suicide note. This took several frustrating minutes, and it was not until he shoved aside some white, pressed handkerchiefs, tie bars, and cufflinks in a bureau drawer, that he was able to discover a single clean sheet of blue-lined notepaper and a cheap ballpoint pen. Well, he told himself, whatever you're going to say, you'll have to keepit short.
He tried to think if there was anything else he needed, as he paused momentarily by the mirror to inspect his appearance. Not too bad. His checked sports shirt was
clean, as were his khaki trousers, socks and underwear. He considered shaving, rubbing the back of the hand that held the gun across his cheek, feeling the day's stubble, but decided that it was unnecessary. He needed ahaircut, but shrugged as he hastily combed his fingers through his shock of white hair. No time, he told himself. He suddenly remembered being told when he was young that people's hair continued to grow after death. Hair and fingernails. He wished it were true. This was the sort of information that was whispered from one child to another with absolute authority and invariably led to ghost storiestold in darkened rooms in hushed tones: Part of the problem with growing up and getting old, Simon Winter thought, was having the myths of childhood erased.
Turning away from the mirror, he took a quick glance around the bedroom - the bed was made, there were no piles of dirty clothes in the corner; his midnight reading, paperback crime novels and adventure stories, was stacked by the bedsidetable - and he thought, if not precisely neat, it was at least presentable, which was more or less the same as his own appearance. Certainly no mess that wasn't understandable for an old bachelor, or, for that matter, a young child, which was an observation that momentarily interested him and gave him an abrupt sense of completeness.
He stuck his head into the bathroom, saw a vial of sleeping...