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3

DECEMBER 1, 1935


Cleveland s city hall was one of the older sandstone buildings in a metropolis where even the newer buildings didnt look good anymore. There was no money for improvements, not in the middle of the Depression and the most sluggish economy in history. Nonetheless, Mayor Harold Burton reflected, gazing out his offices wide double window, it wouldnt matter what they did to the buildings, not so long as that perpetual dark cloud hung over the city, day and night, regardless of the weather. He should be able to see the Terminal Tower rising above the other buildings like an arm stretched to heaven. Not anymore. The Tower was still there. But the dark cloud rendered it invisible.

He pressed a hand against his back. It still ached. Why had he agreed to those dancing lessons? Of course, he wanted to please his wife. He needed her on his team, especially during the campaign. But that music-what they were now calling swing? Hideous. And the rumba. Who thought they needed a new way of dancing? Give him a waltz any day.

Mr. Mayor?

Burton slowly turned about in his swivel chair. He still hadnt gotten used to it. Had they stolen this from a barber shop? As soon as he thought no one would notice, he was bringing in a chair from home. A good steady chair that kept four feet on the floor and didnt move.

Wes. Please come in.

Wes Lawrence had earned his right to the mayors ear. He had been one of Burton s leading supporters, contributing both finances and wisdom to the campaign. Burton wouldve listened to Lawrence, though, even if he hadnt played a role in the campaign. The man was street smart. Savvy, particularly about politics.

Burton gestured toward the chair on the opposite side of his desk. What brings you to my office, Wes?

Lawrence tugged at his pleated pants before taking the chair. I wondered if youve given any thought to what youre going to do?

Can you be a little more precise?

You were elected as a Reform mayor, Harold. On a Reform ticket. His eyebrows rose. So what are you going to reform first?

Honestly, Wes? I dont know how much a mayor really can do. Only the legislature-

That kind of thinking will not go down well with the press.

Wes, I handled the Huns during the Great War. I think I can handle a few scribblers.

Unfortunately, being a war hero wont get you reelected. Only the people can do that.

Isnt it too early to be thinking about reelection? I just won the first one.

Its never too early to think about reelection.

Relax already. He pulled a sizable humidor out of his bottom desk drawer. Have a cigar. Theyre from Havana. Best in the world.

Im not interested in tobacco. Im interested in knowing what return Im getting for my investment. Weve spent too much time and money to end up with a one-term mayor.

Burton folded his hands flat and sighed. Fine, fine. What societal ill would you like me to tackle first?

You know whats wrong with this city as well as I do. You talked about it enough during your campaign. The mob is taking over. We may not have an Al Capone but we have a lot of little terrors who might add up to something worse. Racketeers control the unions. Our traffic system is chaotic. The economy stinks. Weve got a shantytown filled with poor and itinerant unemployed, people who cant afford to live in anything better than a shed or a cardboard box. Women, children, living in conditions like that, searching through garbage cans for something to eat.

So many choices. Where shall I begin?

Lawrence continued. The police department is thoroughly corrupt. Gambling parlors thrive. Juvenile crime is at an all-time high. Prostitution-

All right, I get the message. But Im still just the mayor.

You have to do something.

Look, pick the issue you think will play best and Ill propose a municipal directive-

Lawrence shook his head. You cant get personally involved.

Excuse me? You just said-

Do you really think you can solve any of those problems? Because I dont. I dont think anyone can. If you get personally involved, youll sink like you were in quicksand.

So if I understand you, Lawrence, you want me to appear to be working on the citys problems without actually working on the citys problems because any effort to solve the citys problems is doomed to failure. Is that about right?

I knew youd come to understand politics one day, Harold.

Burton leaned forward across his desk. Then what is it you want me to do?

Lawrence paused a few moments before answering. The position of Safety Director remains vacant.

Burton blew air through his teeth. Lavelle turned that job into a joke.

It doesnt have to be. The right man, with ample authority, could restore credibility. You need someone with a higher profile. He opened his briefcase and pulled out a copy of the Plain Dealer. Read the paper this morning?

Burton grimaced. I saw the piece about the disembodied torso. Think that was a mob rubout?

Probably. But the article Im interested in is on page three. Lawrence spread the paper across Burton s desk and pointed.


G-MAN NESS CLEANS UP LIQUOR RING.


Burton shrugged. So? The citys got a lot worse problems than illegal booze.

I agree. Almost trivial compared to police corruption and deadly traffic. But- He stopped, then leaned back into his chair. How much do you know about Eliot Ness?

Who?

Youre kidding me. You dont know who Eliot Ness is?

Not that I recall.

Treasury agent. Formerly in Chicago. Provided the testimony that got Capone indicted on Volstead and conspiracy allegations.

Burton thought for a moment. Didnt they put Capone away for income tax evasion?

Yes. They could never make the other charges stick. But Ness and his so-called Untouchables hounded him for years. And Ness got a lot of favorable coverage in the process. The press loves this man. That baby face and unassuming modesty make for a very appealing image. He can afford to be modest-his accomplishments speak for themselves. Dwight Green, one of the prosecutors in the Capone case, gave him a ringing endorsement. William Clegg, foreman on the Capone grand jury, was also a big booster. Ive talked to them both. They tell me you couldnt find a straighter arrow if you searched the world over. They call him an American hero-maybe the last of his kind. Hardworking, honest to a fault. Hes been offered all kinds of bribes and payoffs. Turned them all down.

And you want me to bring him to Cleveland?

Read the article, Harold. Hes already here. Has been for months. The Alcohol Tax Unit posted him here as a special-investigator-in-charge.

Why here?

Because according to the Feds, we have more bootleg liquor passing through our town than anyplace else in the country. And from here it flows into all the major eastern cities.

Then maybe we should let Mr. Ness do the work hes been assigned.

I hear hes frustrated. Thinks he can do more. Applied for the FBI. Got turned down.

If your man is so amazing, why would the FBI turn him down?

Lawrence inched forward. This is just between you and me. But what my sources tell me is that J. Edgar Hoover doesnt like agents who attract more publicity than he does. While Hoover s made a name for himself catching hick bank robbers, Ness went after organized crime, which according to Hoover doesnt exist.

Burton snipped off the end of a cigar and lit it, puffing till it caught. Im not so fond of people who attract better publicity than I do, either.

No need to worry. He may be good with the press, but hes politically inexperienced. Doesnt understand the machinery.

And I do.

You have me to advise you.

Still sounds like a potential scene-stealer.

But dont you see, Harold? If you appoint him, anything good he does is a feather in your cap. You benefit even more than he does. And if he fails, well, it wasnt your fault. You did everything you could.

Burton puffed on his large, long stogie. I like that part. He thought a moment. But I think Safety Director is too high profile. Id rather have someone safer. Maybe Robert Turkel.

Turkel is a desk man. You need someone more visible. Ness hates to be deskbound. Always goes out on the raids with his men. Been shot at more than half a dozen times.

Burton mulled it over, rolling the cigar between his fingers. Maybe I could just put him in the police department. Make him some kind of special investigator.

Lawrence shook his head vigorously. How can he clean up the police department if they can fire him? Plus, he would be limited to police duties, and they cant improve the traffic fatalities or the congestion or the exhaust fumes so thick you cant step outside without getting nauseated. No, he needs to be completely independent. And he needs all the executive authority you can give him. All the powers and support of the mayors office.

Burton blew a cloud of smoke into the air. Thats a lot of power to give an unknown variable.

It takes a lot of power to accomplish a big job. And right now, Cleveland is a big job.

Burton leaned across his desk. Now youre sounding like you really think this Buster Brown can clean up Cleveland.

Sometimes underdogs prevail.

I dont see it happening here.

No one thought Braddock could take down Baer, either. But he did.

On points.

No one thought Omaha would win the Triple Crown.

This isnt sports, Wes, and Id like a straight answer. Do you think Ness can clean up this town?

Lawrence waited a long time before answering. I think it is important to your political future, Harold, that you be perceived as doing everything you can to clean up Cleveland. Thats what Reform candidates do. Hiring a hero to tidy up the joint can only make you look good. Even if it turns out that taking on a big city hurting bad is a little tougher than putting away Sicilian rumrunners. With him on your team, you cant be faulted for not trying to make a difference. He reached down for his briefcase. Hes your ticket to reelection, Harold.

Burton contemplated a moment, then spread his hands expansively across his desk. All right, then, Wes. You win. Have the junior g-man come and see me.


| Nemesis: The Final Case of Eliot Ness | c



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