Given that it was just after three in the morning, Ness tiptoed as quietly as possible through the front door of his Bay Village home-but he was not quiet enough.
Edna was waiting for him, sitting upright in an easy chair in the living room. All the lights in the house were off. He knew Edna was there because he could see the disembodied flare of a cigarette tip hovering in the air.
“Surprise, surprise. My hero husband home. And it isn’t even dawn.”
Ness walked toward the light. “Edna, what are you doing up?”
“Waiting for you.”
“You should be in bed. What if I hadn’t been able to come home tonight?”
She blew smoke coolly through pursed lips. “Then what difference would it make?”
He crouched down before her and laid his hands gently on her knees. “Honey, what’s wrong? What’s bothering you?”
“You know what’s bothering me.” She wasn’t even wearing night-clothes. She was wearing the same dress she’d had on the last time he’d seen her. Which, now that he thought about it, had been several days ago. Had she been wearing it continuously? Or had it cycled back around? “This is Chicago all over again.”
“That’s not fair.”
“It’s the truth.”
“And to tell you the truth, I’m getting a little tired of having people throw Chicago in my face.”
“The truth can be painful.”
“We did good work in Chicago. We put away Capone. And over a hundred other mobsters.”
“At what cost?” Her words had an edge so sharp Ness felt it cutting through his flesh, straight to his heart.
“Honey,” he said quietly, “it won’t be like this forever. I just started a new job. Of course it takes a while to get everything into place. But all this work will calm down in time and-”
“And you’ll start making your raids during business hours?”
“Do you ever think of me, when you’re off at work, doing brilliant important things, saving the world from evildoers?”
He tried to reach for her free hand, but she snatched it away before he could. “Of course I do, sweetheart. I bought you this house.”
“I hate it.”
“This is a very desirable neighborhood.”
“I’m isolated. The buses don’t come here. It takes forever to get to the city.”
“You have neighbors.”
“Not many. And they’re all much older than I am.”
“It wouldn’t hurt you to get to know some of the people who have homes out here. Some of them are very influential-”
“That’s your game, Eliot,” she said, with as much disdain as she could muster. “Not mine.”
Ness sighed. “I bought you furniture. Best we could afford. Clothes.”
“I don’t care about clothes. You’re the clotheshorse.”
“Well then, what do you want?”
“Are you entirely deaf, dumb, and blind?” She ground her cigarette bitterly into an ashtray. “I want a husband.”
“You have a husband.”
“No, I don’t!” she screamed, so loudly Ness wondered if any of their few neighbors could hear.
“I took you out to dinner just… a few weeks ago.”
“I can’t believe you have the gall to even mention that. What a humiliation that was.”
“I enjoyed it.”
“Of course you did. You ate, enjoyed my company for a few seconds, then ran off to play Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy.”
“Do you have any idea how humiliating that was for me? Left alone-dumped-while my dinner date runs off to play cops and robbers?”
“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
“That’s the truest thing you’ve said all night. You can’t stop yourself. You’re just like the drunkards and gamblers and drug addicts you put away. You have a constant craving for adventure you have to satisfy. Except it’s never satisfied, never for long.”
“Another man might be interested in finding a little adventure at home with his wife. In the bedroom.”
“But not you. Never you. At least-not with me.”
Ness held his head in his hands. How had he let this happen? How was it possible to be so successful in the world-and such a disaster at home?
It occurred to him that the best course might be to simply put her in bed. But he hated for them to go to sleep mad, especially when they saw so little of each other during the day. He had never been a quitter. He tried again.
“I realize I can’t be with you as often as I should. I have to show Cleveland I can do this job. But I will commit to spending as much time with you as is humanly possible. And I will promise you that as soon as I have shown Cleveland that I can do this job, everything will change. I will delegate the midnight raids to others. And anything else that’s delegable. I will become a regular working stiff, keeping regular hours, home every night by six just as you’re putting dinner on the table.”
“I’ve heard this so many times…”
“I mean it.”
“I know you do.” For a moment, even in the darkness, he saw the faintest traces of a smile play on her lips. “That’s what’s so sad about you, Eliot. So tragic. You do mean well. But you’ll forget everything you’ve said tonight the first time you get a tip about some third-rate moonshiner. A mere woman can never compete with tomorrow’s headlines.”
Ness tried to think of something he could say, something that would save the night, save them. But nothing came. For all his education, it was amazing how quickly words deserted him when he needed them most.
“The mayor has invited us to dinner,” he offered feebly.
“I don’t want to go.”
“Did you hear what I said? The mayor!”
“You said you wanted us to spend more time together.”
“That won’t be us spending time together. That will be you social climbing, trying to impress the mayor and the mayor’s wife. I’m not interested.”
Ness pushed himself to his feet. He felt wrung out, exhausted, much too tired to think clearly. He started toward the bedroom.
“Will I be reading about you in the papers tomorrow?”
Ness stopped. “I sincerely hope not.”
“That’s not the Eliot Ness I know.”
“The raid tonight-didn’t go so well.”
“Eliot.” For the first time all night, her voice softened a bit. “No one wins every time. Not even the great Eliot Ness.”
“No,” he replied quietly. “I suppose not.” As he shuffled into the bedroom, he added, just under his breath: “But I can sure as heck try.”