Ness closed the shutters on Chief Matowitz’s office windows. He didn’t want anyone observing, not even reading lips or taking cues from facial expressions. This was a private conversation. It had to be. This time, his concern was not that snitches in the police department might convey information to the mob. He was concerned that they might convey information to the press.
“There must be something more you can give me,” Ness said, hovering over Matowitz’s desk. “Toss me a bone. Something I can tell the newsboys.”
“There’s always something.”
“Not this time.” Matowitz pushed away from his desk, creating more space between himself and his interrogator. “We got nothing.”
“You told me you thought this was over.”
“I said I hoped it was over. It’s been-what? Three months since the last one?”
“Ought to be long enough for you to catch one killer.”
“Maybe for the man who brought down Al Capone.”
Was it Ness ’s imagination, or was Matowitz enjoying this subtle shift in their relationship? In the past, Ness had always held the dominant hand. Ness might come to him for help, for manpower, but given that he was the mayor’s specially deputized agent with an increasingly high profile, Matowitz didn’t have much choice in the matter. The midnight raids were in Ness’s jurisdiction, totally foreign to what Matowitz normally did. But this was different. Ness was entering Matowitz’s playground, the world of homicide detection. And Matowitz was distressingly nonforthcoming.
“Who have you got working on it?”
“Peter Merylo. Best damn detective on the force. Locked up more men than you can count. We’re not just talking about rumrunners. We’re talking seriously dangerous killers.”
Ness wasn’t nearly dumb enough to miss that jab. “Then why hasn’t he locked up this one?”
“Because we have no clues.”
“You’ve identified two victims.”
“And that’s a miracle.” Matowitz reached into his top desk drawer and withdrew a brown file. “These victims have been transients, lowlifes. Scum of the earth. Not folks with a lot of friends or family. No one keeping an eye on them. We think maybe it was some kinda mobland rubout.”
Ness shook his head. “I’ve been up against the mob for a long time. And I’ve seen the remains of some grisly executions. But I’ve never seen them hack a body to bits. That’s too violent, even for the mob. Might violate their twisted sense of honor.”
“Then what’s your theory?”
Was this man still bitter that the first raid on The Thomas Club went bad? Or that he wasn’t there for the one that succeeded? “There must be some connection among the victims. Maybe they all knew something that someone didn’t want to get out. Maybe it was a revenge killing. Someone was sure as heck mad about something.”
“Revenge for what?”
“I can’t know that till I know what they all had in common. Maybe they all knew the thief. Andrassy.”
“Possible that Flo Polillo did. She seems to have gotten around. If you know what I mean.”
“Maybe it was some kind of sordid love triangle that went bad.” His voice dropped. “Seriously bad.” Problem was, even as Ness said it, he didn’t believe it. Just didn’t sound right. There had been jilted and betrayed lovers since the dawn of time. But he’d never heard of one responding by hacking up bodies. He’d never heard of anyone doing anything like this in his entire life. No matter how he tried to think it through, it just didn’t make any sense. “With all the science we have at our disposal, surely we can come up with some kind of useful lead.”
“Not so far. And we’ve got a pretty smart coroner. He’s a college man.” Matowitz made a sniffing noise. “Like you. You’re welcome to talk to him. He’ll be back in his office this afternoon.”
Ness checked his watch. “Not possible. I’ve got about two hundred traffic lights to get up and running. And a training session for the Accident Prevention Squad that starts at-”
There was a knocking at the door. He hoped it wasn’t a reporter. He wasn’t in the mood.
The door opened and Chamberlin poked his head through. “Boss?”
Ness held up his hand. “Can it wait? I’m busy.”
“It’s about last night’s raid. I wanted to tell you what happened.”
“Another midnight raid?” Matowitz looked at Ness. “And you didn’t go yourself? What has the world come to?”
Ness frowned. “I had an… engagement. With my wife.”
Matowitz’s thin lips spread. “I understand. There are bosses, and then there are bosses.”
Ness did his best to hide what he was feeling.
Chamberlin cut through the silence, alleviating the tension, at least temporarily. “Can I tell you about The Harvard Club?”
Matowitz’s eyebrows rose. The Harvard Club was a notorious gambling and booze joint in Mayfield Heights run by one of the top men in the Mayfield Road Mob, “Gameboy” Miller. Now that The Thomas Club was closed, it was probably the top joint in the city.
“Did they know you were coming?” Ness asked.
“No. But they were ready, just the same. Bouncers met us at the door, armed with submachine guns. Refused to honor the warrant. Then Miller himself came to the door and said, and I quote, ‘Anybody comes in gets their-um-their head knocked off Deleting the colorful adjective.”
“And you showed him the warrant?”
“Twice. I didn’t want a bloodbath. I decided to retreat.”
Ness laid his hand on his shoulder. “You did the right thing. You didn’t have enough men. We’ll go back tonight.”
Matowitz rose. “I can’t order my men to get mowed down by those tommy-gun-toting thugs.”
“Then I’ll ask for volunteers. There are still some officers who don’t like seeing duly appointed officers of the law get pushed around by mob punks.”
“I don’t know if I can allow that.”
“Are you kidding?” Ness gripped the edges of the man’s desk. “This is the most brazen defiance of the law I’ve ever seen. If you let something like this go unchecked, soon there won’t be any law at all. We have to show them we mean business. We have to show them there’s still law in this town.” He turned back to his assistant. “You understand what I’m saying?”
A boyish grin spread across Chamberlin’s face. “I’ll begin rounding up volunteers immediately.”
“Good man. We’ll go tonight.” Ness followed him to the door.
Matowitz did not appear particularly sorry to see him go. “And the Torso Murderer?”
“Get your men out there pounding the streets for clues. Let me know if they find anything.” Ness grabbed his fedora. “I’ve got a job to do.”