Ness had been to The Thomas Club before. And he’d been thinking about it ever since.
Predictably, his failed raid had been all over the papers. He knew he couldn’t afford another flop, not if he wanted to get the funding he needed for all his plans to make the city safer.
Chief Matowitz had opted not to join him tonight. Funny how quickly a man could go from camera-ready to camera-shy. He had at least loaned Ness some of his men. Ness would need them.
Chamberlin came to the front of the building after making his final inspection tour. He was efficient as ever, perhaps even more so now that he had a permanent assignment to the Office of the Safety Director.
“Everything in order?”
“Yes, everyone is where they should be. But I still don’t understand-”
If Ness weren’t mistaken, the front facade of The Thomas Club had been gussied up in the short time since his last raid. It was looking not so much New Orleans as bordello. Was the gambling business that profitable? Or was this simply Frescone’s way of thumbing his nose at the cops, and Ness in particular? You can’t touch me, he was saying. I’ll build an opulent, garish, neon-lit pleasure palace right under your nose, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Ness felt his jaw setting together. We’ll see.
“Watches synchronized, sir.”
“Perhaps we should give them three more minutes. Just to be sure.”
“Two will be enough.”
“Sometimes people don’t move too fast when they’ve been drinking.”
“They moved pretty fast the other night.”
Chamberlin almost smiled. “Threat of imprisonment is probably a decent motivator.”
“Exactly. About time?”
Ness knew Chamberlin hated being kept in the dark. Regrettable, but unavoidable.
“I’m moving to the east side of the building,” Ness announced, buttoning up his camel-hair overcoat. It was still bitterly cold outside. “I want to be able to watch both sides of the operation.”
Precisely two minutes later, every car parked in the lot facing The Thomas Club-all of them owned by police officers-turned on its headlights. The tacky gambling den was bathed in white.
“And as if that weren’t enough…” Ness muttered quietly to himself.
The horns blared in every car, creating a fearful din. Ness reluctantly covered his ears with his hands. The combined trumpet of all those horns was head-splitting, even worse than he had imagined.
Ness could hear the migration begin. Someone opened the front door, peeked out, saw the array of cars, and slammed the door shut again.
Two minutes was too long, Ness thought. Next time go with one, unless they’re moving from another city.
He waved his left arm, signaling Chamberlin to proceed. An instant later, another row of vehicles turned on their lights. These were trucks, heavy-duty freight vehicles. And in the bright, almost blinding light, it was clear that each had been fitted with a metal battering ram attached to the front grill. Chamberlin had gotten the idea from observing the cowcatcher on a train passing through Kingsbury Run.
An instant later, the trucks roared into action. They raced their engines for a few moments-a warning to anyone who hadn’t already moved to the front lobby. Then the trucks lurched into action. They rushed forward, tires squealing, moving so fast Ness could feel the wind rush against his face. All pointed toward the rear of the building. The secret annex Chamberlin discovered on the blueprints.
They had pinpointed the room as best they could, but it was impossible to be one hundred percent accurate. The trucks that hit a steel-reinforced door didn’t get as far. One truck had to back up and ram the plate three times before it broke through. The two on the ends sailed through the wooden frame like it was papier-m^ach'e.
Ness closed his eyes. Please, let them find something. A poker chip. A playing card. Something.
As soon as the engines were shut off, twelve of Matowitz’s men rushed into the now exposed rear room of The Thomas Club.
The boys laid off their horns, and for the first time, Ness could hear the cries of the patrons huddled at the front of the building, the distressed tumult of too many people crowded into too little space, the usual protestations and complaints encountered when the wealthy and privileged were inconvenienced. But this must have sounded as if an earthquake had hit Cleveland.
What he would do for a picture of that.
Ness headed toward the building. As he walked, he noticed a group of boys watching. They looked dirty and badly dressed, their clothes torn and ragged. They were obviously poor. He knew from the reports he’d read that they were probably living with one parent or had no parents at all. Living off scraps they could find in trash cans behind Automats and cafeterias. Street toughs, the kind that made Cleveland the worst city in the country for juvenile crime. Some of the reports he’d read talked about kids becoming hardened criminals before they hit puberty.
He waved. One of the boys shouted back at him. “Are you really the Eliot Ness?”
“I suppose,” he shouted back.
The boys whooped and shouted and cheered, throwing their hands up into the air. Interesting reaction, Ness mused, coming from hardened criminals.
He wished he could stop and talk to them. There were some details you just couldn’t learn from reading reports. But that would have to wait for another time.
As Ness neared the building, he saw Chamberlin restraining someone by the shoulders. Frescone. He watched as Chamberlin slipped handcuffs over his wrists.
“He was trying to escape,” Chamberlin said. This time his excitement had overcome his reserve. “It worked!”
“It wouldn’t have worked without your investigative work.”
“It wouldn’t have worked if you hadn’t gotten the rats off the force.”
Ness tilted his head to one side. “Teamwork.”
“I haven’t done anything,” Frescone growled. “You’ve got nothing on me.”
“He was carrying a concealed weapon,” Chamberlin offered.
Ness nodded. “That’s good enough for now. It’ll get better.”
“You won’t get away with this!” Frescone bellowed.
Ness stopped, looking at the mobster calmly. “I already did.” He took a step closer, then whispered. “You should’ve shut down when you had the chance. I told you I’d be back.”
“I don’t care what some stinking cop says.”
“You should. I always keep my word.”
Ness started to walk away, but Frescone jerked forward. Chamberlin pulled him back.
“You’ll be sorry, Ness. Don’t you know what this means? Me and my friends-we’re declaring war on you.”
“You’re too late. I declared war on you the day I took the oath of my office. This was all inevitable.” He winked at Chamberlin. “You were just too stupid to realize it.”
By this time, he mused, the men inside should have things well under control. “Bob, you go in the rear, see what the boys have found.”
“I’m going to the front door and knocking. Polite, like my sainted mother taught me. I’ll meet you somewhere in the middle.”
Ness passed through the line of officers, then knocked on the front door.
It was opened by Shimmy Patton, one of Frescone’s co-owners.
“I’m Eliot Ness, Safety Director. I have a warrant to search the premises.”
“We ain’t doin’ nothin’ wrong.”
“Then you have nothing to worry about.”
“You can’t come in and start bustin’ up the place. It ain’t legal.”
“That’s for the judges to decide. In the meantime, I have a warrant to search. I believe my colleagues have already begun the process. You may have heard them entering your secret gambling parlor.”
Over Patton’s shoulder, Ness saw Chamberlin waving at him, holding something up in the air.
A roulette wheel.
“May I come in?” Ness said, smiling.
Patton couldn’t manage an answer.
“Are you feeling all right, Shimmy?” He grinned. “You look all shook up.”