Ness wrapped his overcoat tightly around himself and strode toward the front door of The Harvard Club. The men watching could only marvel at his bravado. After what had happened the night before, it would take extreme courage for any law enforcement officer to make his way to that door. And Ness was particularly recognizable, with his camel-hair coat, fedora, and Scandinavian good looks.
He held up his badge and knocked. “Eliot Ness. Safety Director.”
The door slot flew open. A beefy scarred face appeared on the other end. “Blow off, copper. Anyone comes in here gets their f-”
“Yes, I’ve heard. But I’ve got a warrant, and I’m coming in.”
The man sneered. “I got three men with heaters trained on your head.”
Ness smiled pleasantly. “I’ve got forty-two armed men positioned all around the building. We’ve got four trucks ready to carve out a new doorway, if we can’t use the one you’re currently blocking. Plus there are about a dozen reporters with cameras standing behind my officers, and something like a hundred or so spectators behind them.” Ness took a deep breath. “You can’t escape. You’re spending the night in jail.”
The man’s bushy eyebrows knitted. Ness got the impression that thinking was not his forte.
“Ask your boss what he wants to be charged with. Operating a gambling parlor, ten years with a chance of parole-or killing a police officer, mandatory death penalty.”
The beefy head began to flush. Anger or indecision? Ness couldn’t be sure. But he got the distinct impression the man wished he’d let someone else get the door.
“Step aside, Manny.”
Ness knew the voice. A moment later, Shimmy Patton appeared in the slot.
“Whatsa problem, Mr. Safety Director? This is private property.”
The man was already free on bail, awaiting trial. Sometimes the law made Ness crazy. “I have a warrant to search for evidence of illegal activities.”
“Hey, maybe you haven’t heard. That Prohibition thing-it’s over. We can drink now.”
“That depends on where you get your hooch. And gambling is still illegal.”
Patton pressed a hand against his chest. “Gambling? Who-me? I wouldn’t dream of it. I’ve learned my lesson.”
“Then you have no reason not to let me in, do you?”
Patton glanced over his shoulder. At first, Ness had thought Pat-ton’s appearance at the door was a sign of his enormous overconfidence. Now he realized it was just a stalling tactic. He was buying time for his assistants to hide all the gambling paraphernalia.
Ness heard sounds of scuffling and movement in the background. After a few more moments, Patton answered. “Well, geez, Mr. Safety Director. Since you put it like that. Come on in.”
He closed the slot. A moment later, the door opened.
Ness stepped inside. The front room was jam-packed with patrons, mostly well dressed, mostly swilling drinks, pretending he didn’t exist. The servers were dressed in low-cut outfits that bordered on public indecency, and the bouncers looked nearly naked themselves now that they’d stashed their weapons.
“As you can see, Mr. Safety Director, we’re clean as a whistle.”
“Are you now?” There was no trace of gambling apparatus. These men were good. And fast.
Patton waved expansively. “No gambling in here. No sirree.”
“Don’t be a sore loser.”
“The only loser is you, Patton.” Ness leaned out the door. “Chamberlin! Bring in the men.”
“Hey, hey, hey!” Patton jumped into the doorway. “That ain’t right. You ain’t got nothing’ on me! Look around, blind boy. There’s no gambling.”
“You can’t prove it.”
“I think I can.”
“You search all you want, you won’t-”
“I don’t have to search.”
Chamberlin rushed through the door with five other men. “Search these clowns for weapons. We’re going to make some arrests.”
Patton jumped in front of him. “I’m callin’ my lawyer, right now, see? You got nothin’ on me. He’ll get you so tied up in lawsuits you won’t be able to move. You got no proof, no witnesses-”
“I’ve got better than witnesses. I’ve got pictures.”
“Little movie camera, latest scientific gadget.”
“I’ve been here for the last hour. No one’s come through that door.”
“True enough. But you ought to be careful about leaving a window open upstairs.” He smiled. “Especially when the safety director comes calling. With a ladder.”
Ness waited outside The Harvard Club as his officers systematically loaded the operators and patrons into paddy wagons. This was the second shift of prisoners making their way downtown. Most of the patrons would probably be released after the officers scared them a little and lectured them on the evils of gambling. Locking away prosperous citizens wasn’t their goal here. Putting away the Mayfield Mob was.
“Matowitz is going to be sorry he didn’t make this one,” Ness said. “Bound to be the headline story in all the papers.”
Chamberlin nodded. “Unless another torso turns up.”
Ness grunted. “Even if. This is big news. Shutting down The Harvard Club. You know how many people told me it couldn’t be done? Lots.”
He waved to the spectators, many of whom were calling out his name. Good thing he’d tipped off the papers.
He waved again. He was greeted with a chorus of enthusiastic cries and shouts.
Out the corner of his eye, he saw several young boys drifting by. If he wasn’t mistaken, it was the same group he’d seen outside The Thomas Club the night they shut that one down.
“Excuse me a minute, Bob.”
Ness trotted toward the crowd. He smiled cordially, but passed through quickly, heading for the youngsters. When they realized he was coming for them, they began to scatter.
“Wait a second,” he shouted. “I just want to talk.”
They slowed but did not stop.
“Seriously. I need your help. I want to deputize you.”
That did the trick. The three boys slowly turned around.
“That’s more like it. You have me at a disadvantage. You know my name, but I don’t know yours. How about it?”
The tallest of the three, who wore a felt crown-shaped cap, kicked at the dirt. “My name’s James. But people call me Bud.”
“Nice to meet you, Bud.”
The boy to his right, the blond kid in the dirty torn shirt, waved. “Joe.”
Ness shook his hand.
The smallest of them, who couldn’t have been more than ten, looked uneasy about the whole situation. But he answered. “I’m Billy.”
“Good to meet you all.”
Bud cleared his throat. “Are you-are you really… Eliot Ness?”
“The one and only. Far as I know.”
“You’re the guy who beat up Al Capone?”
Ness laughed. “Well, not with my fists. But we got him locked up. He’s still behind bars.”
“My dad said you were a real honest-to-goodness American hero.”
“Do you live with your father, son?”
Bud kicked at the dirt again. “Not anymore. He’s dead. Tuberculosis.”
“She’s dead, too.”
“Where do you live?”
“Wherever I can. Shantytown. Under a bridge. Maybe a flophouse, when I’ve got a little money. But that isn’t often. Most people won’t hire me ’cause I’m too young. Even the ones who will hire me don’t pay much.”
“Any of you have homes?”
“Billy does.” Billy nodded his agreement. “But his mom doesn’t like him bein’ around nights. She works nights. Men come back to her place.”
“What do you eat?”
Bud shrugged. “Whatever we can. There’s a restaurant downtown that lets us go through their garbage and eat whatever we find.”
Ness winced. “What about you, Joe? Where do you live?”
“My dad’s got a one-room on Third Street. But he ain’t home much and sometimes he forgets to pay the rent. He travels. Rides the rails. Says he doesn’t have enough money to leave me any.”
“When was the last time any of you had baths?”
“Any of you ever play a game of baseball?”
Joe frowned. “I saw one once.”
“Any of you have any male relatives or… any kind of person to keep an eye on you?”
“Well… that’s fine,” Ness said. He placed his hand firmly on Bud’s and Billy’s shoulders. “Now you do.”