8122 Commercial Avenue
“Joe...Joe...Wake up, man. You been drinkin’?” One-Two Johnny said, shaking Joe gruffly by the shoulder.
“Wha..., Johnny? What time is it?” Joe asked.
“It’s eleven o’clock in the morning. How long yuh been here like this, huh? All night?” Johnny said.
Joe felt the left side of his head. There were two walnuts there now. “No... uh... it was ... I don’t know... two a.m.? This morning... when this guy, Frankie Ferrel, came in here and tapped me on the head.”
“Here le’ me get you up. Man, you better see a doctor, Joe.”
“Nah, I’ll be all right. Just let me sit down here on the sofa for a while.” Joe tried to clear the static from his mind.
“Hey, who’s this Ferrel? Sounds familiar.”
“Remember Dixie Monahan?” Johnny nodded as Joe continued, “Well, Frankie Ferrel was one of his guys. Took off with him to the Orient way before the war.”
Johnny said, “Yeah, yeah. Now I remember. Monahan owed the Outfit a lot of money, I remember. I know some guys that would like to plumb that guy up.”
“I heard that Ferrel plumbed Dixie up permanent quite a while back.”
“Ferrel ain’t lookin’ for me is he, Joe?”
“What?—No!” said Joe.”It’s another case entirely.”
“You know, I got some friends say they’re gonna lock me up today.”
“I figured that, too,” Joe said as a rush of pain went down the side of his head into his neck, making it hard to pronounce his words. “They can only hold you for 48 hours. I’ll... aggh... see what I can do before they file charges—if they file.”
“Here’s some money for the bond.” He handed Joe $2000 in cash in an envelope. “Joe, see a doctor. You’re no good if you’re messed up.”
“Yeah, okay, maybe. I’ll see you tomorrow. Wilma will be here in an hour. We’ll take care of Tommy, so ah, don’t worry.”
“See yuh, Joe,” and One-Two Johnny walked out of the office but without his natural swing. Joe watched him leave and leaned back in the sofa.
After Johnny left, Joe fell asleep. And he had the dream again. It was different, yet always the same. He woke in a sweat, disoriented, and breathing heavily. Just as he dozed off again, a quick hard knock on the outer office door woke him. Joe labored to get up as the knocks grew louder. He got to the door and opened it. The boy handed him the telegram. Joe gave him a look and reached in his pocket for a tip. “Gosh, thanks Mr. Ganzer,” said the boy, and he ran out of the outer office slammed the door and galloped down the stairs. Joe closed the door, rubbed his eyes, walked back to his desk, and opened the telegram.
“What?” he asked out loud.
Then he answered himself. “This is that old poem code we used during the war.”
Strange, he thought: Why would Hamilton go to such lengths to send a reply? An odd feeling came over him, one he hadn’t had since the war, a thrill, a rush, the game. He sat down to decipher the message. It would take a while. It had been almost two years since he decoded a message like this. He took his time.
Joe looked first for the twenty-fifth letter. It was indeed an “H,” for Hamilton. This would appear as a mistake in the decoded message and guaranteed that Hamilton had actually written it. Another clue confirmed it was genuine.
The last six letters (five plus one) were I-Y-A-Y-A-H. The “H” at the end was Hamilton’s signature. The other five letters represented words from the poem “The Life That I Have.” After a little work remembering the poem, Joe had the words. Now for the hard part: deciphering the message. It came back to him with a little effort, and as he worked on the message, he remembered long hours at Camp X, working with codes and ciphers until it became second nature to him.
Agents like Joe Ganzer and Lawrence Hamilton owed their lives to the cipher men, a group of dedicated mathematicians and technicians at Betchley Park whose codemaking and breaking shortened the war by as many as two years.
Joe made some mistakes decoding and had to start over. He was rusty, but then the clear text slowly emerged. The final clue, the last letter, was indeed an “H”:
Joe tore up the telegram and his transcription, dropped it in the waste basket, and set it on fire. So now it begins again. He sat back in his chair, exhausted from the effort of decoding, and fell asleep again.
Wilma entered the outer office. At first she didn’t notice the splintered wood around the door that led to Joe’s office. Routine makes people follow familiar patterns until something breaks through the murk. The wood... it’s broken and the frosted glass... cracked.
Panic flooded her. It’s all wrong. She ran to Joe’s door without thinking that whoever kicked in the door might still be in Joe’s office. She didn’t care. She threw open the door, and there was Joe slumped over in his chair.
“Joe...Joe,” she screamed and flew over to the his chair. Tears ran down her cheeks as she grabbed him in his chair. “Joe, come on, come on. Don’t be dead. Oh, God.”
Joe’s eyes struggled open. He saw a blur that he thought was a woman. The dark-haired woman slowly came into focus. “Wilma...?”
“Joe, I thought you were dead,” she said.
“I’d have to feel better to be dead.”
Wilma tried to hide her tears as his focus improved. “What happened? I’m calling the police.”
“No, don’t. Frankie Ferrel came in here and telegraphed a message on my head. I don’t want him to finish it. Let it go.”
“Who’s Frankie Ferrel, and why does it smell like smoke in here?” she asked.
“He was one of Dixie Monahan’s guys. Remember him? Probably killed him. A contract killer. Now he’s back in Chicago.”
“What’s he doing here and why did he hurt you?”
“Ludko found out he’s Polina Kemidov’s guy now, and he came here to force me out of the picture.”
“Every time you get involved with one of Ludko’s so-called clients something goes wrong. When are you ever going to learn?”
“Hey...I must be a mental case. Get Ludko on the line for me would yuh?” Joe asked with a smile that made his head crackle.
Wilma walked to the outer office and murmured, “You’re all idiots.” She dialed Ludko’s number while glaring at Joe, then switched the line over.
Ludko answered, “Yeah.”
“Guess what? Frankie Ferrel stopped here early this morning to tap out a message on my head. He wants me off the case, and you brought him here.”
“Joe, I was sure I lost that tail. Nobody could have followed me. Nobody.”
“Well, he did and I got the receipt to prove it.”
“Joe, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t—. It won’t happen again.”
“It can’t. He’ll kill me next time. Look, I got a telegram from Lawrence Hamilton this morning. There’s enough money in all this to kill anybody who gets in the way. Ferrel’s going for a double cross on Polina. I’m sure of it. Her loving Uncle Yuri was an art swindler in Occupied Paris and a Nazi collaborator. He’s running from the French government, the NKVD, and who knows who else. His only chance is to get out of England, maybe to the States, maybe to Canada.”
“So, then Polina figured the double cross and hired us,” Ludko said.
“She might be legit about her uncle. She may not even know about what he did in Paris. He operated as an art dealer under the identity of Hugo Morand, so she might not know. But Ferrel knows for sure. He might have just glommed onto her to get to the art, wherever that is. And Ferrel doesn’t know she even talked to me. He just knows about you, and you led him here. He must think we’re after the art, just like him.”
“Hey, Joe, what are we talkin’ about here—Rembrandts, da Vincis, what?”
“Maybe, I don’t know,” said Joe. “All I know is Kemidov flimflammed desperate Jews out of their valuable art, then turned them over to the Gestapo.”
“What a stinkin’ puke,” Ludko said. “So what are we talkin’ about in money here?”
“I’d say millions, Lud.” Joe heard the phone drop. “...Lud, you still there?”
Ludko juggled the phone back to his ear. “Yeah, sorry, no wonder Ferrel hammered yuh. So what do we do now? And what’s the NKVD got to do with this?”
“I’m guessing that Kemidov worked with the NKVD and was giving them intelligence on the Nazis all the time he was operating in Paris. A reptile like that would play both ends. The Soviets aren’t stupid. They figured it out. They knew he stole a lot of art, so they’re just following the money. And money is important even to communists—especially that kind of money.”
“Joe, we dealt with those guys before, during the war. They’re damned ugly. Can’t we just let them take care of Ferrel?”
“They’ll get Polina, too. I can’t take that chance.”
“Sounds like the old Joe.”
“What do you mean by that? She’s my client.”
“She’s beautiful, too. That’ll be your undoing some day.”
“Get back to the hotel. Do you think you can tail Ferrel without him knowing it or should I just send Benny?” Joe asked.
“Aw, Joe, you really know how to hurt a guy,” Ludko said with a phony lament.
“Look, I’m the one with the bruised ego. Now call me when you get something.”
“You can count on me,” Ludko said as he hung up the phone.
Joe called to Wilma, “Wilm, could you have your sister pick up Tommy Della Penna? Could she watch him for a couple of days?”
“Where’s his dad?”
“He’ll be in custody, but not for long. You’re going to bail him out after they charge him. Maybe tomorrow.” Joe reached into his top desk drawer. “Here’s two grand that Johnny brought here early this morning.”
Wilma came in and took the money from Joe and said, “What are you doing dealing with losers like Johnny?”
“He’s being pulled in on a burglary charge for hitting a liquor warehouse over on 100th Street. The guy is trying to go straight. He’s got a job at the mills, and he’s trying to take care of his kid....”
“And you’re trying to help him out. What’s he paying you with, the liquor he stole?”
Joe was disappointed, “I’ll tell you this, but don’t you breathe a word of it to anyone. That warehouse is owned by the Outfit, and they robbed it themselves for the insurance. Johnny’s their fall guy.”
“Damn, Joe, first that Ferrel guy might kill you and now if you get Johnny off, the Outfit will make a nice hole for you in Chicago Heights. What’s the matter with you? Why don’t you stick with the domestic cases, like you have been?”
“Say—can your sister get Tommy or not?”
“Yeah, sure,” and she went into her office to call her sister.
Joe went into his bathroom to see what he looked like. He combed his wavy dark brown hair and winced when the comb ran over the left side. He thought the knots beneath his thick hair made the wave stick out too much. I’ve looked worse.
He grabbed his keys. On his way out he whispered, “Don’t worry.”
Wilma was talking to her sister and looked up disapprovingly and smiled and shook her head.
Joe got in the Chevy and headed over to 100th Street to see if he could find something—anything—that might help Johnny. He drove the twenty blocks to the warehouse district. There were new houses going up on nearly every street. GIs were picking up their lives after four years of madness—starting families and businesses, building homes.
In the warehouse district, the story was the same: new buildings going up on street after street. The total creative energy that won the war was now unleashed on the American business landscape, not only in Chicago but all across America. GIs were starting machine shops and auto mechanic garages and cabinet shops. As Joe made his way into the older sections along 100th street, the buildings were worn and needed repair, buildings of all shapes and sizes, and all ugly. After a few more minutes, there it stood—Marcello Liquor Warehouse—right on the corner. Joe pulled along the curb, opened the glove compartment and pulled out a pair of glasses. He put them on, grabbed a notebook and his hat, and got out of the car. He walked to the man door that probably led into the office. He opened it and walked in. It was a little room with a metal desk and a fat dark-eyed guy sitting behind it.
“What do you want?” said the dark-eyed man.
With his faint practiced lisp, Joe said, “I’m here investigating the robbery. I’d like to see the damage caused by the intruders.”
“You with the insurance?”
“Yes, could you show me the damage and do you have the inventory account?” Joe asked, not believing how easy it was. Show a little authority, even to a thug, and they respond accordingly.
“Sure, come on with me,” said the fat man, relighting a cigar. They walked into the warehouse from the office and over to the door where the burglars had entered. There had been some amateur repairs done to the back door. “Right here. See?”
“Yes,” Joe said, looking interested in the door frame, “I see. Must have made a great noise. Did you hear anything?”
“I wasn’t here. It was at night. Nobody was here.”
“Did anybody see anything?” Joe asked.
“Nah, like I said nobody was here.”
“Yes, you said that before. May I see the account of what was stolen.”
“Yeah, come on back to the office.” They made their way through the maze of stacked boxes of every kind of alcohol imaginable. The little fat man handed Joe the list of beverages that were stolen, all expensive products.
“I see that these thieves knew what they were looking for. These are the most expensive spirits on the market,” said Joe.
“Yeah, it was a big haul. They done good.”
“What do you mean by that?” Joe snapped.
The fat man stammered, thinking he’d said something wrong, “You, you know, it was all expensive. Like you said, ‘...expensive spirits.’“ The fat man laughed uncomfortably.
“Yes, indeed. Well I shall include that in my report. Thank you, sir.” And Joe headed back to his car. The flunky watched Joe carefully and picked up the phone. He’ll tell Marcello that an insurance guy came snooping around.
Still wearing his glasses, Joe took a little cruise in the Chevy around the neighborhood of drab. Two blocks away from the Marcello Liquor Warehouse was a small, shabby warehouse that looked out of place with a new Cadillac parked in front of it. He parked and walked up to the door and tried it. Locked. He hammered on the door.
After almost a minute, a muscular thug, late thirties, opened the door and said, “What do you want?”
Joe smiled at that. These guys must all read the same books on hospitality. “Oh, I’m so sorry to disturb you, but I’m quite lost,” Joe said with a small bookish voice, pulling out his notebook and reading the blank page. “Do you know where, uh, the Marcello Liquor Warehouse is located?”
As Mr. Friendly answered, he let the door open a bit more and Joe spotted stacks of liquor crates inside, “Yeah, it’s two blocks over on 100th street, right on the corner. Can’t miss it.”
“Thank you so much,” said Joe and got to his car and left. He thought how brazen these guys were, storing their heist only a few blocks away. Took guts and connections—and “Mr. Friendly” was definitely a crew member. Sgt. Kavanaugh must be in thick with this crew to overlook that place. Joe headed for Vookie’s Tavern.
“Hey, Joe, how’s it goin’?” asked Eddie wiping the bar.
“What have you got for a headache and a growling stomach?” Joe replied.
“Hung over?” Eddie insinuated.
“No, a real headache, but what’s to eat?” Joe asked.
“I got my famous egg sandwiches. Want some aspirin?” Joe nodded and headed for his booth.
Before he got to his booth, the lone old guy at the bar said with the slightest of slurs, “I usually have a little bit of peppermint schnapps for my hangovers. Works like a ch-chaaarm.”
“Thanks for the advice” said Joe, his head throbbing.
Eddie filled a beer mug of water, a couple of aspirin, and an egg sandwich and brought it to Joe at his private booth.
“Joe, you don’t look too good.”
“I feel even worse,” said Joe. “I got to ask you something. You get your liquor from Rossi, right?”
“Yeah, not that I want to deal with those people, but I sort of have to, yuh know.” Eddie said.
“I figured Rossi had the lock on booze down this way. What’s with that Marcello’s over on 100th Street?”
“That’s one of Rossi’s places. He’s got it all down here, all the way to Calumet City. Why, what’s up? Hey, you ain’t messin’ with that guy are you? Cuz, if you are, you’re gonna loose.”
“No, I’m just following a lead for Johnny. You know, they got him up for that heist.”
“Damn, I didn’t know it was that place. Johnny’s had it. You can’t do anything there, Joe,” said Eddie, his eyes and expression showed genuine concern for his friend and silent partner.
“I was afraid of that.” As he took the aspirins and downed them with the water, he let out a melodious: “Thank you, Eddie.” Then he lowered his voice to a whisper and said, “You can’t say a word.”
“I won’t. Take your sandwich.”
He took the egg sandwich off the plate and and tore into it. Halfway through the sandwich Eddie’s phone rang.
“Joe... it’s Wilma.”
Joe hopped out of the booth and headed to the bar. “Yeah, Wilm?”
“Ludko called and said Ferrel’s on the move. He said he’ll call back when he’s got more.”
“Thanks. When he calls back, tell him to try to keep Ferrel away from The Drake as long as he can. I’m going there to talk to Polina.”
“Okay, Joe. How’s your head?”
“Eddie’s the best doctor. I’m doing fine. Still a little blurry,” Joe said.
“Well, if it gets worse, see a doctor. Please, Joe—I mean it,” Wilma said.
“I will, I will. See yuh,” and Joe hung up, put money on the bar when he left, and headed for Lake Shore Drive and The Drake Hotel.
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