Ness couldn’t help but smile as he watched Chief Matowitz rubbing his hands together, trying to fight off the bitter chill of a cold Cleveland night. Matowitz was not accustomed to being away from his desk, much less at two in the morning. Ness had asked Matowitz to join him and his men on the auspicious occasion of his first nocturnal raid since his appointment as safety director. Chamberlin had helped him understand the value of including the chief in his activities, especially when he was simultaneously asking for the suspension of dozens of police officers. But he also had to admit that he derived a certain amount of pleasure from showing the man who previously had been so ineffectual at stopping the mob in Cleveland how he used to do things back in Chi-Town. “Are we ready to start?” Matowitz asked, jumping up and down to stave off the cold. Too many years of paperwork had made him soft, Ness thought. And he needed a better coat. He had no sense of style- though perhaps, if he wasn’t on the take, he might not be able to afford better than the threadbare cloth overcoat he was wearing.
Ness checked his watch. “Not quite yet.”
“I don’t understand what we’re waiting for.”
“Be patient. We need all the elements in place before we go storming in.”
“I don’t know what the point is. Frescone probably knew about this raid before we left the station house.”
Ness mulled that ominous thought. “It’s always possible. But I think I know who he was getting his info from, and those men have been at home cooling their heels for the past week. I doubt he’s had time to bribe anyone new.”
“Then he’ll find another way to wriggle through your fingers. You think you have all the exits covered, but there’s always an escape hatch somewhere. A tunnel, a hidden door. Frescone didn’t get where he is today by being stupid.”
“I agree with you about that. I’ve been careful not to underestimate him.” Ness knew he shouldn’t say it, but he couldn’t resist. “Capone wasn’t stupid, either.”
They were huddled beside a warehouse on the south side of Lake Erie, a district once populated by breweries but now largely disused. A chill wind whistled through the birch trees, making it colder, but also creating a constant background noise that would shield their movements from the people he hoped were still inside. It had taken him days of pounding the street and forcing people to talk, but he’d finally persuaded a stoolie to tell him about this vital link in Frescone’s operation.
Assuming the informant had been telling the truth. There was never any way to know, except to burst in and find out-so that was what they were going to do. It had worked for him in the past.
Ness gazed at the south side warehouse. It was in bad repair. The wood was worn and several windows were broken. The lights were dark. It had once been used by one of the local businesses, but it had been abandoned since the Prohibition days. Perhaps a place for storing hooch till it could be smuggled out safely.
Robert Chamberlin emerged from the shadows on the south side of the building, fingering his glasses. “We’re ready,” he said quietly.
“Gentlemen,” Ness said to the four officers on temporary assignment to the safety director, “it’s time.”
“Wait a minute,” Matowitz said, grabbing Ness ’s arm. “What happened to the other officers? Shouldn’t we wait for them?”
“But they’re missing!”
Ness grinned. “You’ll see.”
Ness reached inside his coat and retrieved a sizable metal whistle. He glanced at his watch and softly counted down the seconds. “Five… four… three… two…”
He blew the whistle. It was ear-piercingly loud. Anyone who might be inside the warehouse would have heard it. Probably all the people sleeping within a square mile radius heard it.
Ness grabbed the door handle and found it locked. He was not surprised.
Two of the special agents stepped forward carrying a large sawed-off pole with handles screwed into the sides. A homemade battering ram. They punched it forward, hammering away at the worn wooden doors. On the second thrust, the doors separated enough to reveal a set of chains holding the doors shut. Another officer stepped forward with bulky metal cutters.
The chains fell and the men surged inside. It had taken fewer than fifteen seconds.
Ness had barely taken two steps forward when he heard gunfire. A bullet whizzed by him only a few inches from his head.
“Look for cover!” he instructed his men. He grabbed Matowitz and ducked behind a barrel. The gun fired repeatedly.
“You see what I tried to tell you?” Matowitz cried. “The gunman holds you back while the others escape. If you catch the gunman, he won’t know anything. This raid is a wash.”
“Maybe not,” Ness said, as the bullets ricocheted all around him. “Look to the skies.”
Above them, a single skylight permitted the weak moonlight to stream into the warehouse. Seconds later, the sky burst into a thousand pieces.
“Duck!” Ness shouted, pulling his overcoat over his head, as glass rained down all around them.
A second later, four bright lights were visible above the skylight, and a second after that men descended on ropes faster than the confused gunman could track.
“The absent agents,” Ness said quietly, telling Matowitz what he had already deduced.
“What are they doing up there?”
“Making sure no one escapes.”
As later reports would explain in great detail, the four men hit the ground and immediately spread out, covering the expanse of the warehouse and looking for anyone who might be beating a hasty retreat or trying to destroy evidence. The sniper continued to fire wildly, moving from one target to the next, not connecting with anyone.
“You’ve got him in a tailspin,” Chamberlin said, running up behind Ness.
“For the moment. But he’ll get lucky eventually, and our men are exposed. Can you tell where he is?”
Chamberlin pointed his flashlight toward the north corner, illuminating a large cache of barrels.
“He’s on top,” Chamberlin said. “See?”
“Well enough.” He turned to Matowitz. “Can you cover me?”
Matowitz didn’t even have his gun out. He slowly unholstered it. “Where are you going?”
“Closer.” Ness pulled a half-dollar out of his pocket and tossed it to the other side of the warehouse. It clinked and clattered when it landed.
The sniper pivoted and fired in the direction of the half-dollar.
“Now.” Ness raced out. Matowitz leaned over the top of the barrels and let loose, one shot after another, forcing the sniper to keep his head down. Ness ran fifty feet as fast as he could manage, throwing himself down behind a long-disused crate.
Chamberlin still had the sniper’s nest spotlighted. Ness took careful aim and fired.
The sniper went down with the first shot.
Once the firing stopped, Ness ’s men gathered around him.
“Did you kill him?” Matowitz asked.
“Gosh, no,” Ness replied. “Just took out the arm holding the gun. Robert, see if he needs first aid.”
While Chamberlin ran his errand, Ness used his crowbar to pry open the lid of one of the barrels. This time, it wasn’t cold cream.
Ness leaned down and inhaled deeply. Too deeply-he gagged on the strong alcoholic aroma. “It’s the real deal,” Ness said. “We got it.”
A cheer went up from the ranks. Ness grinned. “Good work, men. Good work.”
“It gets better,” Chamberlin said, once again pointing with his flashlight. In the rear, Ness saw the men who had entered from the skylight.
They had four captives.
“That’s how you prevent them from getting away,” Ness said, beaming proudly. “A quick, coordinated attack. Kept secret until executed.”
“I have to admit it,” Matowitz said, clearing his throat. “That was… not unimpressive.”
“Couldn’t have done it without your help, Chief,” Ness said. “That’s what I’ll be telling the newspapers, too.”
Ness strode forward to meet the oncoming captured. He saw a familiar face.
“Well, now,” Ness said to the man on the far left, who was wearing a pinstriped suit and a much too familiar white hat. “You’re one of Frescone’s lieutenants, aren’t you? You were out at the dock the other night shipping cold cream.” He glanced back at Chamberlin. “And Frescone?”
Chamberlin shook his head. “He wasn’t here.”
“It’s probably past his bedtime. What’s your name, mister?”
The thug stiffened. “I’m not sayin’ nothin’ to nobody. I wanna lawyer.”
“Of course you do. And we can play it that way, if you want. That is, if you want to do twenty years in the state penitentiary. Or you can give us the goods on your boss and maybe we can make a private arrangement.”
“I’m not sayin’ nothin’ to nobody.”
“Right, I heard that. Let’s put him away for a few days and see if he changes his mind. We’ve got four potential squealers here. Five, once the sniper with the lousy aim gets out of the hospital. There must be someone in such a large and distinguished group who doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison.”
“You’d think,” Chamberlin remarked.
“You would indeed. Can you take it from here, Robert?”
“Sure. We’ll get these boys downtown. And we’ll call the ATU and have them confiscate all this illegal hooch.”
“Good. Give all these agents the day off. They’ve earned it.”
Faces all around him suddenly brightened.
“Will do. Best to Edna.”
“Actually, I think I’ll head downtown myself. I want to be there for the interrogations. I might be able to help.”
Chamberlin nodded. “Of course. See you there.”
Ness turned back to Matowitz. “Not a bad night’s work, I think, Chief. Can I give you a lift home?”
“You sure can,” Matowitz replied. “Could I talk you into a cheese-steak? I know a great place that’s open all night. All this running around and shooting has left me famished.”
Ness clapped a hand on Matowitz’s shoulder. “Hard to turn down an offer like that, Chief. Lead the way.”