The man from bus 203 was late.
For three weeks now the team tracking him had watched their target return from work to his small brick bunker of a house on Garibaldi Street. Every night was the same: At 7:40 p.m., bus 203 stopped at the kiosk on the narrow highway 110 yards from the corner of Garibaldi Street; the man exited the bus; another passenger, a woman, also exited at the same stop. They separated. Sometimes the man stopped at the kiosk for a pack of cigarettes, but this never took more than a minute. Then he crossed the street and walked toward his house. If a car approached, he turned on his flashlight — one end red, the other white — to signal his presence. When he reached his property, he circled the house once before entering, as if checking that all was secure. Inside, he greeted his wife and young son, lit a few additional kerosene lamps, and then sat down for dinner. He was a man of precise routines and schedules. His predictability made him vulnerable.
But on this night, Wednesday, May 11, 1960, 7:40 passed, and neither bus 203 nor the man was in sight. The team waited in two cars. One black Chevrolet sedan was parked on the edge of Route 202, facing toward the bus stop. Once the man showed, if he showed, the driver in the backup car would flick on his headlights to blind him before he turned left toward his house. The capture car, a black Buick limousine, was stationed on Garibaldi Street between the highway and the man’s home. The driver, in a chauffeur’s uniform, had popped the hood to give the impression that the limousine had broken down. Two other men stood outside the car in the cold, windy night, pre- tending to fiddle with the engine. These two were the strongmen, tasked with grabbing the target and getting him into the car — as quietly and quickly as possible.
At 7:44, a bus finally approached on Route 202, but it drove straight past the kiosk. The team could only wait so long in this isolated neighborhood on the northern outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, without attracting too much attention. There was only a scattering of houses on the flat, nearly treeless plain. Cars foreign to the neighborhood stood out.
The team leader, hidden in the limousine’s back seat, insisted that they stay despite the risks. There was no argument from the team. Not now, not at this critical hour. The man must not be allowed to elude capture.
Exactly fifteen years previously, in the last days of the Third Reich, SS lieutenant colonel Adolf Eichmann, chief of Department IVB4 of the Reich Security Main Office and the operational manager of the Nazi genocide, had escaped into the Austrian Alps. He had been listed as killed in action by the woman who now impatiently waited for her husband’s return from work. He had been sought by Allied investigators and independent Nazi-hunters such as Simon Wiesenthal. He had reportedly been executed by Jewish avengers. He had been rumored to be living in West Germany, England, Kuwait, the United States, and even Israel. His trail had gone from hot to cold to hot again.
He had been so successful at hiding his identity that the Mossad agents now in position on Garibaldi Street were still not 100 percent certain that the man they had come to capture was actually Eichmann. A contingency plan, one of many, was in place if it turned out not to be him. Nonetheless, they were sufficiently convinced to stage a dangerous operation on foreign soil involving more than ten agents, including the head of the Israeli secret service himself. They had read Eichmann’s file and been thoroughly briefed on his role in the mass murder of Jews. They were professionals, but it was impossible for them to be impartial about this mission. Since arriving in Argentina, one agent kept seeing the faces of the members of his family who had been killed in the Holocaust.
They could wait a few more minutes for bus 203.
At 8:05, the team saw another faint halo of light in the distance. Moments later, the bus’s headlights shone brightly down the highway, piercing the darkness. Brakes screeched, the bus door clattered open, and the two passengers stepped down onto the street. As the bus pulled away, the woman turned off to the left, moving away from the man. The man headed for Garibaldi Street, bent forward in the wind. His hands were stuffed into his coat. Thunder cracked in the distance, warning of a storm. It was time for Adolf Eichmann to answer for what he had done.