Sometime in the 1920s
"This is a raid!"
The quiet, luxuriant air of the Roustabout Speakeasy was brought to an abrupt and screeching end as the door to the building was kicked in. Prohibition Agents stormed the room, rifles and tommy-guns at the ready.
It was like they'd kicked a hornet's nest.
Screaming, patrons jumped from their tables, diving for cover or running for the door. Most were intercepted by the agents who had been waiting on them to do so.
Amongst them, one agent strode in, trench coat billowing over suit. He surveyed the room, adjusting the hat on his head as he straightened his tie.
Glancing out of the corner of his eye, he knew the trajectory of one man, saw he was going to run past him. By the time the man started, he'd already been intercepted by the agent, who passed him back to one of his fellows.
The agent barely even glanced at him. There was murder in the agent's eyes that were fixed on the very back of the room.
He moved towards it with single minded determination, the chaos of the room unfolding around him. It wasn't that the man was unstoppable, or unflappable. he merely was.
It had been a long time getting to this spot, to finding this speakeasy and the one who ran it. He'd put a lot of effort into finding them.
Now that effort was paying off.
A group of highly intoxicated young women, none of them old enough to be celebrating more than graduating high school, were led past him. The agent spared them a pitying glance as one stumbled, holding her head.
Prohibition was a thing nine years on and still people fought against it. People still went and bought their illegal booze and put themselves in danger.
They were a class all their own. He couldn't blame them wanting their booze, wanting the thing that made them happy.
It was the others that drew his ire. The ones who ran booze, who supplied it and made it, solely to make themselves richer. No matter what. No matter who it hurt.
It was those kinds of people that the agent hunted down, that he had joined the treasury department all those years ago to stop. They were what drove him.
Moving past the throngs of arrested men and women just going about their day, the agent moved towards the back, his eyes hardening.
There was a door set into the back wall and it slammed open at his approach, emitting two men armed with Thompson guns. Someone screamed behind him at the noise and panicked shuffling began.
The agent's eyes widened and he threw himself to the side, diving behind a jutting wall to avoid the spat of gunfire. He could hear it roaring and feel it tearing chunks out of the masonry, but didn't dare peek his head out to look.
The gunfire finally died down and the agent pulled a revolver free from his coat. Leading with the blued Smith and Wesson Model 10 he peeked his head around the corner and saw the man reloading.
Firing off a shot, he watched the man fall. He felt sick inside, and knew he'd have to confess the killing to his pastor later that week. He'd need to absolve himself of it.
Next to the dead man, the other gangster with a Thompson turned, leveling his gun at the agent. The agent quickly raised his gun, knowing it would be tight. If the trigger was squeezed for even a second…
Another shot rang out across the room and the other gangster dropped. Glancing over, the agent saw another of his fellows lowering his pistol as he nodded his curly haired head in his direction.
Returning the nod, the agent turned and went through the door. He navigated the short maze of bare hallways before coming up to a door marked by a glazed window. Not even bothering to try the gilded handle, he kicked the door in.
It swung in, revealing the surprised looking man on the other side of the desk. He frowned at the agent for a moment before nodding once.
Reaching behind the desk, he slapped three one hundred dollar bills on the desk before pushing it towards the agent.
The agent just stared at him, his eyes twin pinpoints of ice. matching his gaze, the man's frown deepened. "What's the problem? You're here to shake me up aren't you? Knock my boys around a bit until we pay you off?"
He laid a finger on the three hundreds. "There's your cash."
After another silent moment pinned by the glare, the man huffed and pulled out a couple more hundreds. "There. Is that enough? Do I get to keep my still now?"
On the Agent's side of the table, he slapped a picture down across from the money. The picture was gruesome, what was left of a little girl.
It wasn't much.
"You still have to answer for Margaret Georges."
The man frowned. "Maybe you're new. Maybe you don't know who I am. I'm Norman Derring and I own this…"
A deck of playing cards hit the table in between them, slapped down by the agent in a similar manner to the picture. They slid over the table in a mess, some covering the picture and others sliding off the edge.
Eyeing Derring, the agent nodded. "I know who you are Mr. Derring, and I know what you've done. I've spent four years hounding you."
"Ace of Spades."
Derring scowled, staring across at the man. "Won't take my money? Not here for a payoff?"
He flicked a stray card off the stack of hundreds, scooping them back up. "What kind of man are you? Certainly not a smart one."
Meeting the icy glare of the agent, Derring slowly tilted his head to the side, a look of confusion and concentration on his face. Finally the confusion broke.
"Wait a minute…"
His gaze grew more and more sure as his eyes grew shrewder. "Wait a minute."
" ….short stature, red hair, blue eyes…" His eyes swept the man's face, detailing his every feature with the cunningness of a trapped rat. "I know you. The little East Coast Eliot Ness. Our own little Untouchable…"
A snarl split his features as he spit the man's name out like a curse.
"Agent Jack Messer."
"The one and only." Jack Messer finally allowed a small, predatory smirk to cross his own. "Your empire is crumbling and I'm here to arrest you."
Derring scoffed, chuckling. "You've got to be kidding me."
Jack pulled out a pair of handcuffs from his pocket and took a step towards Derring. "Believe me, I'm not."
The cold fury never left his eyes. "You killed children. You have to answer for it. Be grateful I'm only dragging you in front of earthly authorities."
The hand that held his revolver twitched. "I answer to higher."
Derring sat for a moment, staring between the handcuffs and Agent Messer. He moved as if to put his hands on the table to be handcuffed, before violently shoving the table forward.
It slammed into Jack's stomach, doubling him over with a grunt and a grimace. Taking advantage of the man's state, Derring ran past him, bolting out the door and into the myriad hallways.
Pausing for a moment to catch his breath, Jack took off after him, cursing his age. He managed to wind his way through the tunnel-like hallways, emerging a moment later in the main room.
He drew to a stop behind Derring, who had frozen in place at the sight of the numerous Thompsons and revolvers pointed at him.
The rumrunner took a step backwards, and then another, before he almost backed headlong into Jack. Turning, the man went to run back the other direction, before Jack's hand seized him by the collar.
The shorter agent's fist smashed into the man's nose and he crumpled, insensate on the floor. Standing over him, Jack shook his head before kneeling down to snap the handcuffs on him.
"Told you you were under arrest."
He grabbed him by the collar again and hauled him to his feet, amidst the scattered applause from several of the agents. Nodding genially in their direction, he hauled the man back out the door, not missing the glares from some of his fellow agents.
It was an unorthodox job, holding up prohibition, to be sure. Hadn't made him many friends.
Still it helped people, and if keeping anyone who broke that law off the street kept the ones who were dangerously zealous about the sale of alcohol in check, it'd be worth it.
There were those who were drawn to it not because they thought the law was unjust, but because there was law to be broken. They did not smuggle booze for the betterment of people, but to harm them.
People like Derring who did not care who they killed, and who they hurt to get what they wanted.
Those were the ones he went after, that was why he did what he did.
Jack frowned at the curly haired agent. The man was out of the office more than he was in. He was certain that he'd caught one of the men working through a hangover on several occasions when the two had arrived at work in the morning.
It was an open secret that many of the men who sought to uphold the law were secretly breaking it. Some of the best business the bootleggers saw were from Prohis like him. Prohis unlike him.
It made Jack sick to think about it. Not that Prohibition agents drank, he wouldn't deny them that, but that they'd outsource the men they were supposed to be hunting down. The predators buying food from their prey.
Several of the bootleggers had even refused to take them seriously, with what they claimed was the 'hypocrisy of the ages'. They presumed to take the high ground, the moral standing.
The fact that they had any leg to stand on roiled Jack's blood. It had gone on too long, Prohibition Agents using their position to leverage alcohol instead of confiscating it.
He couldn't change the ones who did, so Jack would have to settle for putting as much of a dent in the moonshining business as he could by himself.
It wasn't like he didn't have his own problems with the movement. It felt sometimes like a Sunday didn't pass when his pastor was not railing against the evils of Prohibition and of using the scriptures to promote it.
Jack knew most, if not all of, those sermons were directed and delivered towards him, the black sheep in the congregation. The Prohibition Agent.
The one keeping them from their alcohol, who was blockading the Holy Eucharist.
His wife laughed it off, saying it was just the pastor and the deacons taking things a little too seriously. Jack couldn't though. He couldn't help wondering if maybe the pastor was right.
Maybe he was only doing the law of man, but ignoring the Law of the Almighty. A younger Jackson, the same one who would have ben a bootlegger at the drop of a hat wouldn't care, but the older, wearier Jack couldn't muster the same.
He'd had too much of a misspent youth to easily risk the rest of his life doing similar wrongs. Except those wrongs might help prevent further wrongs, and keeping alcohol off the streets and cracking down on those who ran it, might keep more dangerous people at bay.
It wasn't like he could stop. He didn't know how.
Hauling Derring the rest of the way out the door, he bundled him towards the car, mapping out the way to the station in his head.
Another day, another one behind bars.
It was a good day.
Light flooded into the room for the first time in what felt like an eternity.
Squinting against the light, Renee Goodman pushed towards it, conscious of the chains securing her to the wall. She'd been snatched up by the Thousand Young while walking home from work late one night.
She'd been chained up in the one of the cells under their speakeasy ever since, watching as the ones who had been there before her were taken away. The man who'd come down to get them said it was to test new versions of their booze.
None of them ever came back.
Her time had been up. As of the week before she'd been the one who'd been there the longest. She'd made her peace, had known her time was near.
Until that moment.
She squinted into the light, seeing the figure stepping into the room. He was short, nonsensically that was the first thing she noticed about him. She almost didn't though.
To her he was a giant.
Her eyes finally adjusted to the light as she finally perceived the face of her savior. Past the red hair and the mustache, she saw the blueness of his eyes, the way they seemed to reflect the pain of the room around them.
Sweeping his gaze around the small space, she saw him draw his lip up, frowning in disgust. His eyes found her and his look of disgust turned to sorrow.
He stared at her a moment longer until she finally tried to speak, only managing a hacking cough. Light returned to the man's old, sad eyes as he quickly made his way over to her. "Are you okay? Can you speak?"
Soft and kind, his voice was so unlike the sharp commands she'd been used to while she was down there. Reaching forward, he gently touched her hand. "What's your name?"
The man nodded, smiling at her and easily slipping a mask over the pain he seemed to wear like a suit. " My name is Agent Jack Messer. You're safe now Renee. The Thousand Young won't be abducting anyone anymore."
Bashing the rusted lock of the door off, he strode inside, carefully removing the chains that had bound her. Renee fell to the floor, trying to push herself back up.
Her arms were weak, and she could barely support herself.
"Can you stand?"
The young woman tried. She couldn't.
She suddenly felt the man's strong arms around her shoulders, helping her to her feet. Renee leaned heavily against the man, glancing up into his face as he helped her towards the door.
Now that she'd gotten a good look at him, she could tell the man wasn't really anything to look at. His nose looked like it had been broken one too many times, and his eyes were slightly too small for his face.
Combined with his squared jaw and jutting lower lip, it gave the man the appearance of bulldog. It wasn't his physical appearance Renee had noticed though.
It was his heart.
She could see, close as she was to him, the deep sorrow in his eyes. There seemed to be an ocean of grief swimming behind his eyes. He smiled to try to hide it, tried to smile away his pain, but it was still there.
Lurking somewhere under the surface.
Still, the man's smile seemed genuine, not forced. He held her up with steady arms and moved them towards the bright sunlight coming from the open door.
They breached it and she found herself led to the back of an ambulance as the man turned to address several other men in suits. "There's at least a dozen others down there, chained up like her. Make sure they're okay to travel."
The other men nodded, not without some reluctance, Renee noticed, before heading back in. Messer helped her into the back of the ambulance, smiling at her one more time as he stepped back. "You'll be okay now Renee. You're safe."
She was now.
Thanks to him.
"You did good work today Messer."
Jack nodded in recognition of the praise, standing as he was in the office of his immediate superior Zebulon Doyle. The older man delivered the praise with the same look of quiet derision that most of the other agents fixed Jack with.
He represented something most could not stand. Straight-backed, unflinching and lawful. It was something they themselves hated.
He couldn't ever bring himself to be anything less.
"You've been pushing yourself towards this goal for four years haven't you Messer?" The old man's voice held just the slightest touch of sympathy. "The shutting down of these 'Thousand Young'."
"Since 1925." Jack confirmed, remembering the first encounter he'd had with them, the torn apart bodies and being dangled off a rooftop by a man who'd lost his mind. "I'll feel better knowing they've been dealt with."
Doyle nodded slowly. "Someone will rise to take their place, they always do."
The threat was clear, Jack's time would eventually run out, at least according to Doyle. He'd burn out while those that drowned in the corruption would make it.
Jack was determined to prove him wrong, to prove them all wrong. He'd keep the city safe if he had to do it all himself.
"You can go now." Doyle dismissed him almost casually, motioning towards the door with his head.
Not waiting on another opportunity, Jack turned and strode out of the room, holding his head high. Though the others might not like him for what he did, he knew he was doing what he was supposed to.
That was all that mattered.
As the door closed behind him, Jack heard a cough to his right. Glancing over, he saw the curly-haired agent that had saved his life.
He nodded at him. "Nice shot earlier."
"Well you know. There would have been paperwork." The man snarked back at him. "I don't have time for paperwork."
He grinned. "Gotta have that time for chasing frails."
Indeed, to Jack it seemed like all the man did was pursue women. He had it on good authority that not all of those women were unwed.
It wasn't his place though, or his business, so he just nodded at the man. "Just take care Seidel, just be careful."
"Always am." Stuart Seidel chuckled back. "Best person to watch my back is me, always known that."
He saluted Jack, turning and swaggering out of the door. Watching him go, Jack could only shake his head in disbelief.
The Prohibition Bureau took all kinds.
Yawning, Jack glanced at the watch on his arm, noting the lateness of the hour. It had been a long day, running the rumrunners down, and he just wanted to get home.
He strode back over to his desk, slapping the hat down over his head and slipping on his coat before heading out the door.
Crossing the parking lot, he made his way to the green 1919 Roadster sitting and waiting on him. It took a moment to crank, but purred faithfully to life as he slid behind the wheel.
He'd owned the car for ten years, but it had never yet given out on him. He couldn't afford for it to, as he didn't have the money to replace it.
Turning the car towards home, he tried to stave off the exhaustion that threatened to claim him before he made it back.
The house was dark by the time Jack slipped into his bedroom. He unbuttoned and pulled off his dress shirt, standing for a moment in the undershirt underneath before yawning and crawling into bed.
"Evening you." A voice murmured sleepily from beside him.
Grinning, Jack rolled over to face the feminine form in the bed. "Evening. Sorry it took me so long to get back."
One silhouetted, broad shoulder rose in the approximation of a shrug. "You do what you have to do. Did you catch them?"
Jack nodded, grinning. "The 'Thousand Young' are finally all arrested and off the streets. clapped the handcuffs on their boss earlier."
Leaning over, the woman touched his cheek in the dark, guiding him into her kiss. "I am so proud of you."
"Glad somebody is." Jack grumbled half-jokingly.
The woman frowned at him in the dark. "Oh come on now. You know the kids are too."
"Well they have to be." Jack quipped, wriggling closer to her and feeling her warmth in the darkness. "They're my kids."
There came the husky musical sound of the woman's laughter in the dark. "Well thank goodness I'm just your wife, so I can be proud of you all on my own."
Her arms snaked out and around him, pulling him closer to her.
Sighing contentedly, he lay in silence for a moment before speaking. "So? How was your day? Managed to catch any bad guys?"
Shaking her head, the woman stuck her tongue out at him. "That's your job. I still can't get that stupid drawer unstuck, so the paperwork keeps piling up on my desk."
Again, the bare shoulder rose and fell in the approximation of a shrug. "Got the final paperwork in for that automobile murderer you caught a couple months ago, so maybe we'll finally be able to put him away."
"All thanks to you." Jack murmured sleepily, crooking his head under her chin. "You're the real hero here."
The woman chuckled again. "Oh hush you, and try to get some sleep. It's a new day tomorrow, and you'll have more bad guys to catch."
He could feel The woman's chest rising and falling against him to the tune of her breathing, the beat lengthening as she slowly drifted off.
Closing his eyes, Jack allowed his breath to soften, practically breathing into the cup of the woman's throat as close as they were. For the first time that day, he felt his body fully relax, safe and happy and warm as he was.