October 1932, Chicago. With Capone in the slammer, other bosses are biting off chunks of Capone's empire. One boss is Frankie Gruder, head of a group that is the forerunner of Murder, Inc.; Gruder wants control of all the Canadian imports and exports. Gruder and his boys go to a warehouse, Gruder shoots a longshoreman. Ness and his men show up and start blasting. There's a shoot-out but Gruder manages to escape.
Another gangster is using a different approach: Julius Vernon, the bookkeeper, is trying to beat the stock market; he keeps long hours, working well after midnight. Around 1 a.m., Vernon gets a surprise visit from Gruder; since Vernon owes him one for a hit Gruder did 4 years ago, Vernon gives him 10-grand for on-the-lam money. Then Vernon goes to Janos "Willie" Willinski; he's a fixer, a contact man. His office hours are 12 midnight till 3 a.m.; his "office" is a table in an all-night diner. Willinski fixes an arsonist up with a 5-grand torch job, for $500. Vernon's turn...he tells Willinski he wants to smuggle Gruder out of town; Willinski knows Ness and half the cops in Chicago are looking for him, so the fee won't be cheap.
Willinski gets some penniless guy, Larry Croft, to confess to the murder of the stevedore; for this Croft gets $25,000 -- a fortune in those days. Ness tells Capt. Jim Johnson to "tear up the confession" because it's phony. Nevertheless, Croft goes to court, and gets convicted; since he had no prior criminal record, he's sentenced to 1-14 years.
The Trio...Willinski, Vernon and Gruder...figure they've beaten Ness. So they start an employment agency for thugs: National Personnel Services, Inc. Wanted: torch men, fuse men, acid men, trigger men, etc. They get their first customer, Pete Gort; he needs to move an entire warehouse of slot machines across town, with Ness watching him. The Trio charges Gort $75,000; all the boys hired will be from out of town. 3 days later: Tuesday, November 2. That night, to create a diversion, they torch a school...the police and firemen are too busy fighting the blaze to watch for a small convoy of trucks hauling slot machines. As another diversion, they also blow up a distillery; Gruder shoots 2 guards: killing one and severely wounding Finley Connors. Enrico Rossi is on a stake-out, looking for the slot machine warehouse. 2 thugs jump him. Rico puts up a good fight, but one of the thugs is behind him and knocks Rico out. The trucks roll. Gort is the Trio's first satisfied customer.
Rico has his head bandaged, but he's got too much moxie to take any time off from work; Rico pours over the mug shots, but the 2 thugs were from out-of-town, and he didn't recognize them. Meanwhile, the Trio gets more business than they can handle; every prominent hood in Chicago sub-contracts from National Personnel Services, Inc. They are into everything: bootlegging, narcotics, hookers, robbery, interstate crime. In Chicago, crime is up over 100%.
But then Ness and his Untouchables openly tail the Trio; customers are scared off. So the Trio decides to set up a Fall Guy; "Big" Joe Hovack used to be a big man in the Underworld, but he just did 10 years in Joliet, and he's a has-been. They decide to make him president of their company. When Hovack goes to his old HQ, the City Garage, he finds it deserted; only his old sidekick Lefty (with no right arm) greets him and brings him up to date. Al (Capone) is in the Atlanta Pen; Jake (Guzik) is in prison; Bugs (Moran) is in some hospital; and now Frank Nitti owns Chicago. Hovack signs on as president of National Personnel Services, Inc. The Trio pays him $2,000 a week, which comes out to $104,000 a year.
Ness and Lee Hobson drop in on Hovack, who is totally delusional. Hovack says he is number one, they can ask (Dion) O'Banion and Mike Genna. Ness can see Hovack is being set up as the patsy. Later, Hovack gets some of his old boys from 10 years ago; Hovack wants to "take over the town." Ness visits guard Finley Connors, who has been almost in a coma, again; Connors identifies Gruder as his assailant. Ness and his men go to arrest the Trio. Gruder shoots it out with Ness, and gets gunned down. Vernon and Willinski are arrested with Vernon spouting jibberish about numbers being beautiful and people being rotten. Hovack is ready to surrender peacefully, but Ness tells him, "No charge. You haven't done a thing." Those words hurt him more than going to jail again would have.