Eliot Ness

Eliot Ness by Douglas Perry Read Free Book Online

Book: Eliot Ness by Douglas Perry Read Free Book Online
Authors: Douglas Perry
like you have a purpose, make eye contact with people and smile, get a haircut in the first chair of the downtown barbershop.
    Everyone in the Heights knew Kooken was a Prohibition agent, and that was fine with him. He was undercover not as a bootlegger or a small-time hood but as a corrupt G-man.So he wasn’t surprised in the fall of 1928 when a short, well-dressed Italian, with “a stickpin about the size of a lump of sugar,” approached him on the street. The man fell into step with Kooken and stuck out a bejeweled hand. He didn’t introduce himself, but Kooken knew who he was. This was Johnny Giannini, one of Joe Martino’s factotums.
    Kooken played along. A Hoosier farm boy and former railroad man, he had built an impressive record with the bureau, where he had become known for his honesty. After Kooken reported the approach, Jamie assigned Albert Nabers, Eliot’s new partner, and Eliot to go with the more experienced agent to meet Giannini. The agents drove over the next day. Eliot knew the Heights well enough to have spent as little time there as possible while growing up. The town’s small downtown had some class, especially the Hotel Victoria, designed by Louis Sullivan, but it was a thin facade. Three blocks in any direction and you felt like you might be set upon by wild dogs. The
woof-chunk
of heavy machinery could be heard everywhere, all the time; in many parts of town it could be felt, a perpetual mini-earthquake, rattling cups and nerves. For Eliot, it was the feel of home, the feel of the South Side. The three agents strode into the downtown Cozy Corners saloon in iconic Wild West style, screwing their expressions into the kind of hardened, cynical looks they figured dirty agents had. A uniformed policeman stood at the bar, shooting the breeze with the bartender. Kooken sidled over and showed his badge. Neither the barkeep nor the cop blanched: they were expecting him. The bartender poured drinks—real drinks, not colas or near beer—and the dry agents found a booth in the back.
    Eliot had hit it off right away with Nabers, a war veteran and a fellow college man.Years later he would describe Albert as “the handsomest man I have ever seen. He was built like a Greek God, with natural, light wavy hair.” The Georgia native, only recently assigned to Chicago, had a gregarious, open-faced personality, as alien to Southside Chicagoans as Swahili. Eliot began inviting Albert to dinner at the Ness home on South Park Avenue. They didn’t talk much about their work while under the Nesses’ roof.Emma disapproved of her youngest son’s career choice. A devout Christian Scientist, she hated the idea of her sweet-tempered boy spending his days around all those dishonest men in the dry service. Eliot, who as a child had dutifully attended church with his parents, tried to bring his mother around. “If there’s anything you taught me, mother, it’s to be honest,” he told her. Eliot’s father apparently didn’t have an opinion on the subject. The baby of the family was—and remained—an afterthought to Peter Ness, who now, in his old age, wanted only to concentrate on the bakery he had spent so many years making a success. He had been nearly fifty years old when Eliot was born, and he’d already raised a clutch of children while struggling to get his business going. Eliot had worked at the bakery throughout his adolescence, but he never felt like he really got his father’s attention.Peter had more than twenty bakers to oversee, as well as “store girls” and drivers and a stable man. He paid attention to every detail. Later in life Eliot would try to put a positive spin on this monomania. “He never had a lot to say, but when he did speak, I knew it was something worth listening to,” he said of his father. “I always took it to heart because I didn’t see him all that much.” With his singular focus, Peter didn’t like anything to upset his equilibrium, at work or at home. Emotions were kept

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