In his bestselling legal thrillers, William Bernhardt has explored the dark side of contemporary politics, power, and the law. Now Bernhardt turns back the clock to the city of Cleveland, Ohio, in the fall of 1935. Based on true events and new discoveries about Eliot Ness, Nemesis is a brilliantly told story featuring this legendary lawman's fateful duel with a terrifyingly new kind of criminal: America 's first serial killer.
In Chicago, Eliot Ness had created 'the Untouchables,' the fabled team of federal agents who were beyond corruption and who finally put Al Capone behind bars. Now the headline-grabbing Ness has been moved to Cleveland, where a new mayor desperately needs some positive publicity. The heroic, squeaky-clean Fed is the perfect man to become the city's director of public safety, but by the time Ness starts his new job, a killer has started a career of his own. And this man is as obsessed with blood and mayhem as Eliot Ness is obsessed with justice.
One by one, bodies are found, each one decapitated and uniquely dissected with a doctor's skill and a madman's bent. The police are baffled, the population is terrorized, and newspaper headlines blare about the so-called 'Torso Killer.' Though it's not his turf, Ness is forced to cross bureaucratic boundaries and take over the case, working with a dogged, street-smart detective and making enemies every step of the way. The more energy Ness pours into the investigation, the more it takes over his life, his marriage, even his untouchable reputation. Because in Cleveland, there is only one true untouchable: a killer who has the perfect hiding place and the perfect plan for destroying Eliot Ness.
From the first primitive use of forensic psychology to a portrait of America battling the Great Depression and a man battling his own demons, Nemesis is a masterwork of mystery, murder, and vivid, dynamic historical suspense.
Nemesis: The Final Case of Eliot Ness
A book in the Eliot Ness series, 2009
FOR JOHN WOOLEY
I couldn't have a better friend.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
ere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
- "The Second Coming," William Butler Yeats (1920)
FEBRUARY 16, 1957
The days were all the same now.
The best part of Eliot Ness's day was breakfast with Bobby. His marriage with Betty had its ups and downs, as had his previous two marriages. She was an artist, a sculptor. He had no idea whether she was talented but she certainly had an artist's temperament. Her suggestion that they adopt a child, however, had been a brilliant stroke that had transformed their lives, only for the better. All his life he had been awkward around children. Now he was a doting father who never missed an opportunity to spend time with his only son.
Most people expected a corporate president to be a busy man. Instead, Ness found himself getting more idle by the day. The North Ridge Alliance Corporation had been in trouble for a long time now, almost from the start. It had started with such a brilliant idea. Using a special watermarking technique, they would produce checks that could not be forged. He would be providing a useful service-and still stopping crime, in a new way.
But the truth was, he had no head for business. One of his partners had run off with the corporate secrets and started his own corporation. Then they were denied a patent because there were other preexisting watermarking firms. They had moved their offices from Cleveland to Coudersport, Pennsylvania, a small town near the New York border, to reduce expenses. But it wasn't enough. They were holding on by their fingertips and the money coming in wasn't nearly enough to pay the bills.
And that was how the great hero of the Prohibition era ended up in a backwater burg in Pennsylvania without a penny in savings and exceedingly poor prospects. Who would blame him if he took lunch at the same bar and grill every day, a pastrami sandwich with a whiskey chaser? Maybe two. A quick stop at the store and he was home with far too little to do until Betty and Bobby got home. He would pour a drink, sit in his favorite easy chair, and remember when every day had been packed with more excitement and activity than most people could handle...
The doorbell rang.
"Hey, Oscar. You're early."
"Sure. I'm not doing anything."
"I just wanted to get some work done before you were... you know. Before you got too tired. It's hard, trying to remember stuff that happened so long ago."
Ness let Oscar Fraley into his home. He liked Fraley. He was a good listener. He was a friend of Ness 's partner, Joe Phelps. A sports-writer, by trade. They'd met in a bar where Ness was telling his stories, as usual. But unlike most, Fraley seemed genuinely interested. He believed what Ness told him, or at least acted as if he did. And unlike most of the young punks at the Bar and Grill these days, Fraley remembered who Al Capone was.
"Like a drink?" Ness asked, hiccuping.
"No thanks," Fraley said. "Not while I'm working. But you go on ahead."
"Don't mind if I do," Ness replied, refilling his glass. "Helps me remember."
"Can we pick up where we left off last time? You and your people had finally put away Al Capone. For tax evasion."
"Yeah. People made fun of us for putting away a killer on such lame grounds. But it worked. Me and my boys kept him busy, preoccupied, a constant thorn in his side, while Frank Wilson slowly put together a case proving Capone wasn't paying his taxes. We got him off the street, out of Chicago. He wasted away in prison-he had syphilis, you know. He got out, but my buddies tell me he was a broken man, barely able to dress himself or go to the toilet without help. Finally died about ten years ago. The tax charge did what we wanted. It put an end to the bloody reign of Al Capone."
"I gather you feel no shame about the way you did it."
"None at all. To the contrary, we were proud of ourselves for using our brains for once. Being creative. That's what the times were like back then. Learning something different every day. New scientific discoveries. Forensic labs solving crimes detectives couldn't. How long could criminals survive in this brave new scientific world? We thought we'd found the cure for crime. We thought we could end it for all time."
His eyes darkened. "But it turns out, crime is more resilient than we realized. It's-what's that term scientists are using now? It's a mutating organism. It adapts to new environments. Builds up resistance to the vaccine. We may have figured out how to deal with people like Capone-but something new, something different came along to take their place. Something we had no idea how to handle."
"Are you talking about Cleveland? The Torso Murderer?"
Ness took a long draw from his drink. "I don't want to talk about that."
"Why not? It's a great story. Scary, suspenseful, and filled with-"
"I don't want to talk about it. I don't want anything about it in this book you're writing. You understand me? Nothing!"
Oscar held up his hands. "All right, Eliot, stay calm. Don't work yourself up. We'll stick with the Capone saga."
"Good." There was no reason to get into the rest of it. No reason at all. So few knew anything about it these days, outside of Cleveland. Better to keep it that way.
If only there was some way he could make himself forget...1
SEPTEMBER 13, 1935
It was just after three in the morning and the glint of moonlight off the metal barrel of Michael Frescone's tommy gun told Eliot Ness he was exactly where he wanted to be.
"Let's get back to the car and radio for backup."
Ness 's eyes remained glued to the binoculars. "We don't have time, Sheriff."
"We don't have a choice. Those mob guys are serious trouble."
"They always are."
"They got guns."
"They always do."
"They ain't afraid to use 'em, neither!"
"That remains to be seen."
"Some of Frescone's men are crack shots. Like to brag about how they can hit a Nehi bottle from fifty paces."
Ness pushed a loose strand of hair back into place, slicked-back and parted in the center. "Well, I'm not so sorry with a pistol myself, Sheriff. Won a marksmanship award at the U.S. Coast Guard range."
Cuyahoga County sheriff Ray Potts looked as though he were about to internally combust. "Do you understand what we're talking about here? There's two of us and a dozen of them. They're heavily armed and they're killers! Frescone has been blamed for at least ten gangland murders. They're transporting illegal hooch worth thousands of dollars and they'll do anything to defend it. These are impossible odds, Ness. Impossible!"
Ness glanced at his colleague. In the moonlight, his eyes seemed to twinkle. "Sounds like fun. Ready?"
Ness climbed out of the ditch they were using for cover and headed toward the dock. While he crept forward, he put away his binoculars and unholstered his pistol. He was always more comfortable with a handgun than those bulky machine guns. He'd learned to shoot with accuracy, even from a distance, and he preferred that to the spray-everything-in-sight technique of the tommy gun.
The slope was steep. He had to be careful-and quiet. If the smugglers heard him coming, he'd be a goner. His only chance was to catch them by surprise.
The wind coming off the river chilled him, sending shivers coursing up and down his spine. Seemed no matter how many times he did this, the gnawing in the pit of his stomach, the strange combination of exhilaration and terror, never entirely subsided. Probably just as well. If he ever lost that edge, he might get sloppy. The rest of the world thought he was fearless-well, that was fine. Only he need know better. Only he needed to know that he got scared every time. And it supercharged him like nothing else could.
He chose each step cautiously, testing it before he put his weight down, careful to move as silently as possible...
"Stay down!" Potts hissed. "If they see you they'll blow you from here to perdition! Let me tell you-there ain't nothing scarier than staring down the wrong end of a gangster's gat."
"When I worked in Kentucky as a revenue agent, I got shot at six different times," Ness whispered back. "Those hillbillies holed up in the Moonshine Mountains with their squirrel guns gave me more close calls than Capone's whole gang put together."