The Bomb Squad: Clash of The Patriots






The explosion shook Max Rothman awake. He propped himself up to a seated position, rubbed

the crust from his eyes and tried to make out the strange visual effects coming from his bedroom

window. Where once lived two solid windowpanes was now an array of moonlit shards,

desperately clinging to a rattled frame. Scattered across the floorboards lay a delicate carpet of

glass, sparkling like a starlit sky.

Max tossed off his summer blanket and reached for his slippers, which were luckily tucked

away under his bed, free from the fragments. He slipped them on, stepped gingerly toward the

window, and looked down. Broken glass decorated the entire sidewalk, while the windows

across the street remained intact.

“It must have been a big one,” he muttered to himself.

Voices flooded the hallway as apartment doors swung open, and Max heard through the thin

walls, his neighbors discussing the myriad events that could have shaken them awake.

He dressed quickly and headed out of his apartment, down the stairwell and onto the

sidewalk. Glass crunched underfoot and lodged itself into the soles of Max’s shoes.

Along his hurried ten-minute walk from his apartment to the precinct, he saw the extent of

the damage. It appeared that only the buildings with west-facing windows were blown out. This

was the first clue, in what would end up being just a scant number of clues, that Max would

uncover during the investigation.

Max knew the buzz of activity at the steps of the precinct was only a prelude to an intense

scene inside. The last time something like this happened was nearly two years ago on the Fourth

of July, when a plot by anarchists to blow up John D. Rockefeller’s Tarrytown mansion, was

prevented when their explosives went off prematurely in an apartment building on Lexington

Avenue. But Max knew that this explosion, whatever the cause, was on a significantly larger

scale than the Lex-Ave bombing, as it was called.

“Good morning, Max, the captain’s looking for you,” said the desk sergeant.

“Thanks, Billy,” replied Max as he made his way through the pool of desks, populated with

detectives interviewing nervous residents reacting to the dramatic events of the early morning


“Good morning, Captain,” Max said, entering the stale-aired, smoke-choked office. Max

often wondered why the captain didn’t have an office with windows open to the street.

“Morning, Rothman, take a seat,” responded Captain John Gilroy, his lips opened just

enough to mouth the words around a lit cigar-butt pinched between his tobacco-stained teeth.

“What’s happening?” Max asked.

“There’s been an explosion over in Jersey City.”

“Jersey City?” Max said, pointing with a fully extended arm to emphasize the distance from

New York’s Lower East Side.

The captain nodded. “It’s a big one. From what I hear someone blew up the munitions depot

on Black Tom Island.”

“Do we know who did it?”

The captain took a puff of his cigar from the left side of his jaw and let it linger a while

before he exhaled the smoke out through a small opening between his lips on the opposite side.

“We’re thinking the Germans.”

Max’s eyebrows shot up. “The Germans, really?”

“Apparently a huge cache of American armaments was being staged there for a shipment to


“That’s something,” Max said.

“It is, and guess what, you’ve been requested by the commissioner to lead the


Max shook his head, lifted his palms outward and asked, “Me, why me? It’s not in our


“The commissioner himself requested that you handle the case. Looks like you made a name

for yourself after the Lex-Ave investigation.”

Max shook his head. “Come on, Captain, you know that was not much of an investigation.

Those knuckleheads left enough breadcrumbs. Anyone could have figured it out.” 

The captain slapped his hands together. “Well, now you’ll have a challenge worthy of the

renowned Detective Max Rothman.”

Max put his hands on his knees and pushed himself up to his feet when the captain lifted his

palm and gestured for Max to sit back down. “There’s one more thing, Rothman.”

Max lowered himself back into the hard wooden chair.

“I have assigned you a partner. He’s waiting for you out there,” he said, jerking his thumb

through the open slats of the blinds. “His name’s Patrick Kelly.”

Max shook his head and held out his palms. “Come on, Captain. I don’t need a partner.”

The captain wagged a finger at him and said, “You will on this one. Detective Kelly has

developed a reputation for squeezing information from nefarious, influential individuals who are

reluctant to share their knowledge with law enforcement—if you know what I mean.”

Max nodded and said with a chuckle, “That sounds helpful.”

The captain ran his fingers through the curls of his red beard and said, “Listen, Max, I’m not

sure who’s behind all this, but if this has something to do with the war in Europe, this could be

America’s wake-up call.”

Max stood up and tried to muster a smile, but instead offered an awkward grimace. “Okay,

Captain. Let me go meet my new partner.”

Sitting at the chair alongside his desk was a blond-haired man, wearing a navy suit jacket,

picking at something stuck to his pants.

“You must be Detective Kelly,” Max said.

Patrick looked up, brushed off his brown slacks, and stood up.

“And you must be Detective Rothman,” Patrick replied, extending his hand with a smile that

lit up his face.

The men shook hands, and Max gestured for Patrick to sit back down.

“So, it looks like we will be partners,” Max said.

Patrick cocked his head to the side and said, “I hope that’s okay with you.”

Max shrugged. “I haven’t had a partner in two years.”

“I heard it was the Krauts that blew up Black Tom Island,” said Patrick, changing the


“That’s what the captain thinks,” Max said. 

Max didn’t like this new derogatory term for the Germans. Especially considering he was

born in Berlin. But with war raging in Europe the past two years, he understood the need for

feeble-mind men to casually toss around insults. But to come from the mouth of a detective,

especially of Irish descent, surprised him. He was sure that Patrick wouldn’t appreciate being

called a Mick.

Max grabbed the receiver on his desk phone and said, “Let’s call Harbor Patrol and ask if

they’ll give us a ride over to Black Tom Island.”


Dr. Harold Schwartz spotted Caitlin Ryan the moment he stood at the podium. She seemed to be

poised to anticipate his eye contact because she responded instantly with her bright alluring smile

that never failed to connect with him. But this public display of affection was something that he

needed to discourage. The last thing he wanted was to get caught cheating on his wife again.

Quickly looking away, Harold scanned the group of newly sworn-in Public Health Service

Officers for the United States Immigration Service at Ellis Island. Only five men were present.

The low number of inductees was because of the meager flow of immigrants since the outbreak

of war in Europe. Steamships crossing the Atlantic were limited, because many of the ocean

liners came from countries at war, and consequently had been converted into cargo transports or

hospital ships.

Leaning against the back wall were several of the nurses, including Caitlin, who would

assist the new doctors, whose eyes were now glued upon him, all eager to learn the ropes from

their new boss—the administrator of Ellis Island Hospital, Dr. Schwartz.

“Good morning,” Harold began, studying the men, and hopefully avoiding catching

Caitlin’s distracting stare. “You are now officers of the United States Immigration Service and

responsible for medically screening the immigrants as they arrive from all corners of the globe.”

A smattering of applause interrupted Harold.

Harold nodded, offered a feeble smile and continued, “The mission of a PBS Medical

Officer is to prevent the entrance of disease into our nation. But in a broader sense, our goal is to

exclude entry to those who would not make good American citizens. We have classified our

diagnosis into two groups: Class A includes individuals with a contagious disease or with a

mental condition such as insanity or epilepsy. Class B includes diseases and conditions that

would render an immigrant likely to become a public charge, which means to include individuals

with disabilities or a lack of economic resources. Now you may ask how we could manage such

a mandate when so many immigrants move through our facility every day, even though these

days it’s not as challenging as it once was.”

Harold scanned the audience, whose nods acknowledged the validity of his last statement.

He raised a hand to signal to a man off to the side of the room, poised by a blackboard who, upon

Harold’s command, wheeled it toward the podium.

“Ah, thank you, Frank,” said Harold. “To be clear, we do not examine every person entering

the United States. Those traveling in first or second-class accommodations are quickly examined

on board, when the steamship enters the harbor and admitted entry without passing through our


“Those in steerage, however, are taken to Ellis Island by barge, where they are directed here

for processing. Over the years we have established a system of medically examining thousands

of immigrants quickly while they are on, what we simply call, the line.”

Harold turned his back, picked up a piece of chalk and wrote large letters in three rows on

the blackboard. When he finished, he faced the audience and said, “As the men, women, and

children make their way through the line, we station PBS officers every few yards to observe and

provide what we call the physician’s gaze. If a condition is visually apparent, we write a letter in

chalk on the back shoulder of the immigrants’ garment.”

A hand rose in the audience and the owner asked, “What do these letters mean?”

Harold held up his hand, and said, “I was just about to get to that.”

He drew an X and said, “X refers to a suspected mental defect. An X with a circle around it

means there’s reason to believe that there are signs of mental disease. C is a suspicion of

conjunctivitis. CT is for trachoma. E is an eye condition. F is for an ailment upon the face, and

F+ shows something is wrong with the feet. H refers to the heart. L is lameness and N is a

condition with the neck. P is lungs and Pg is pregnancy. S is senility and Sc is the scalp.”

“Excuse me, sir,” a voice called out from the audience.

Harold looked out to see a young doctor with a raised hand. “Yes, what is it?”

“Many diseases are not so obvious at a quick glance. People could easily conceal their


Harold nodded. “This is true, but after doing this a while we’ve seen all the tricks and know

what to look for. We can’t identify every individual with a disease, but we can flag about fifteen

to twenty percent of arrivals who are turned off the line. We separate these individuals from their

family and redirect to holding cells for further examination.” 

The same doctor followed up with another question. “How do you determine if someone has

a mental defect?”

“We have developed a series of tests that require manipulation of cubes, assembly of

puzzles, or interpreting events depicted in photographs. Eventually, when all mental and physical

exams are passed, the immigrant receives a medical certificate which allows them entry.”

“What about those that don’t pass?” asked the same doctor.

Harold pursed his lips and said, “What’s your name, sir?”

The man stood up and said, “My name is Dr. Hermann Weber.”

“Why is it, Dr. Weber, that you seem to be the only one with questions?”

“I don’t know, sir,” he said, looking around at the glaring faces staring back at him.

“Very well, Dr. Weber.” Harold sighed. “We admit those with treatable conditions to the

Ellis Island Hospital where they are cared for until they recover and then released into the

general population. For those patients that are determined too sick for treatment or are incurable,

we return them to their country of origin.”

Harold saw Caitlin walking toward him as he was speaking to a few of the lingering new medical

officers asking questions. He excused himself and grabbed Caitlin by the arm and tugged her

down a hallway out of view.

“What the hell are you doing?” he said, squeezing her arm tightly.

Caitlin tried to pull away. “You’re hurting me, Harold,” she said, grimacing.

“What’s so important that you need to be here?”

“I need to talk to you,” she insisted.

“This is not a good time, Caitlin. We shouldn’t be seen together. You know people will


Caitlin’s pink cheeks reddened, and her blue eyes filled with tears. She tried to push the

words out in between the heavy sobs. “I’m pregnant, Harold. We’re going to have a baby.” 


“We’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” Max said, hanging up the phone, and signaling thumbs-up to

Patrick that the New York City Harbor Patrol was good to take them over to Black Tom Island.

“Let’s go, they’re waiting for us.”

The East River dock was only a few blocks from the station house. Along the way down

Grand Street, Patrick elbowed Max. “Hey, Max, you want one?” he said pointing to a pushcart

selling Bavarian-style pretzels.

Max could never resist one of those hard pretzels loaded with chunky-crystals of salt. He

nodded, and he handed the old German woman two pennies. Max smiled and said, “Ich danke


The woman returned a toothless smile, and said, “Bitte.”

“You still speak the Deutsch?” asked Patrick, the word sounding more like Dutch in his

heavy brogue, as they hurried between the horse-drawn wagons, trying not to step into their

steamy messes along the cobblestone street.

“Well, you don’t just forget it, Patrick, and I get to practice it when I go see my parents up

in Washington Heights. They still refuse to speak English in the house.”


The boat ride aboard the police patrol boat offered Max and Patrick welcome relief from the

warm, mid-summer day. Max took the opportunity to admire the outboard motor attached to the

stern of the police patrol boat.

“I see you have the new Evinrude,” he said to one of the boat hands, and pointed to the

three-horse-powered outboard motor.

The older seaman smiled, rubbed the rough stubble growing over his cavernous creviced

face, nodded and said, “She’s a beauty.”

As the boat powered around lower Manhattan and out into the harbor, Patrick pointed to a

large German merchant ship tied up to one of the piers along the Jersey shore. “You know I was

reading in the paper the other day, that it’s been nearly two years since that ship has been in


Max nodded. “That’s the Prinz Eitel Friedrich. It was a few days after war was declared in

Europe when she arrived here from the Bahamas. There are quite a few German vessels still

stuck in dock, unable to sail back in fear of being sunk by the British Navy. They’ve been

granted safe-haven by Washington.”

“Have you been to Hoboken lately? There are so many Germans you would think you’re in

the Fatherland,” Patrick said.

Max nodded and exhaled. He had known all about the thousands of stranded Germans in the

cities along the New Jersey side of the river. “My uncle Eugen is one of them,” Max said.


“He’s a true patriot of the Fatherland, for sure. My parents invited him for Sunday dinner a

few times,” Max said, shaking his head and pursing his lips before continuing. “He and my

father got into huge arguments. He insists we should be loyal to the country of our birth.”

“And what does your father say?”

“He says we live in America now and owe no allegiance to those anti-Semites. Do you

know, Patrick, that for a Jewish man to marry in Germany, he must purchase an expensive

registration certificate to prove he was in a respectable profession? And on top of that, they tax

Jews in certain occupations that compete with the gentiles. They didn’t want us, so we left, as did

thousands of fellow—” Max stopped mid-sentence as a sharp smell of burned wood combined

with an acrid taste of explosives attacked his senses. He rubbed his watery eyes and realized that

they were approaching the site of the blast.

“Will you look at that,” Patrick said, pointing.

Max followed the direction Patrick’s outstretched arm was pointed in and saw the Statue of

Liberty poised in front of towering plumes of black smoke that swirled and merged into what

looked like low hanging storm-clouds, even though the sky beyond the blast site was a

smokeless, brilliant blue.

As the harbor patrol boat made its way around the Liberty Island, Black Tom Island came

into full view. Max pulled a hanky from his pocket and covered his nose and mouth.

“It’s all gone,” Patrick said, searching his pockets for his hanky.

What was once a sturdy shipyard, big enough to accommodate large merchant ships, storage

facilities, and warehouses, was now an eerie array of oversized splinters of shattered and still 

smoldering boards, seemingly artfully arranged in random geometric patterns that grew out of

the blackish, oily waters of the harbor.

The seaman summoned Max and Patrick port-side and said, “There’s no place to tie up, but

I’ll get as close as I can. You’re going to have to jump onto whatever’s left of the dock.”

Max and Patrick climbed to the narrow edge of the boat’s side deck as the boat captain

reversed the engine and shifted it to idle. Once they were close, both men leaped to the tiny

remaining portion of the dock and landed on their feet. Max turned and shouted, “Pick us up in

two hours. We’ll wait for you here.”

The boat captain acknowledged Max with a wave and then sped away.