Merylo had never eaten in Pierre ’s. In fact, he’d never been inside the place before and he didn’t expect he ever would again. But it was a tenet of his profession that police work sometimes led one to unsavory locales. And that included this swanky eatery and nightclub, where in the midst of the darkest days of the Depression the fortunate few men who could afford to do so sat in tuxedos, sipped ten-buck bottles of champagne, and danced the night away.
“Excuse me,” Merylo said, trying to use his most soothing voice, which still wasn’t all that soothing, “are you Arthur Dollarhyde?”
The man with the snowy white mustache barely looked up at him. “And you are?”
“Peter Merylo. Homicide Division.”
“What can you possibly want with me?”
“Just a little talk. It’s part of an investigation.”
Dollarhyde looked at him with a withering expression. “I’ll send my assistant around tomorrow morning.”
Merylo saw this was going to be more difficult than he had imagined. The police force was still a relatively recent addition to city government, mostly staffed by lower- and middle-class immigrants, and some people didn’t give them much respect. Especially the very rich, who considered talking to police officers beneath them and felt that as pillars of Cleveland society, they ought to be permitted to do anything they wanted to do, regardless of the law.
“No, sir. I’m afraid I need to speak with you now. If you’d like, you may excuse your wife. In fact…” He hesitated just a moment, hoping his message would come across. “I think it advisable.”
“Nonsense. Margaret and I have been together for thirty-one years. We have no secrets.”
“Everyone has secrets.”
“And let me tell you something else.” Dollarhyde drew up his shoulders and leaned forward, obviously putting on a show for his wife. “You’d best be careful what you say. I have a reputation in this town and I will defend it.”
Merylo pulled out an available chair and seated himself, even though he knew this would irritate Dollarhyde. Actually, that was pretty much why he did it. How his plain brown suit must stick out in this sea of penguin getups, he thought, taking a little pleasure in that, too.
“Last chance, sir. You really should excuse your wife.”
“I will not!”
Merylo sighed. “As you wish.” He withdrew a black-and-white mug shot from his jacket pocket. “Have you ever seen this woman before?”
Dollarhyde barely glanced at it. “Of course not. She looks like the lowest class of woman.”
“Pretty much was.”
“Then I am offended that you would ask if I knew her.” He gestured at a waiter who promptly appeared at the table. “Bring my wife and I another bottle of champagne. And get this odious man out of here.”
Merylo waited patiently.
The waiter was obviously conflicted, caught between two worlds. “I am so sorry, monsieur,” he said, in an accent so thickly French that Merylo wondered if it could possibly be real. “The gentleman is a gendarme. That is, he is with the police. We cannot prevent him from speaking to our customers. Much as we might like to do so.”
“I’m outraged!” Dollarhyde bellowed. “If you don’t evict him immediately, I will not come here again!”
“If you do try to evict me,” Merylo said quietly, “our exalted safety director might be here tomorrow evening with a big axe.”
The waiter shrugged. “You see, monsieur? There is nothing I can do. I will bring the champagne.” He disappeared, and Merylo suspected he was glad to be gone.
Merylo tapped on the photo, redirecting Dollarhyde’s attention. “Name’s Florence Polillo. Friends called her Flo. She was an occasional waitress, an occasional barmaid, and by all accounts, a full-time drunk.”
“A perfectly hideous woman.”
“I won’t argue the point.” Merylo leaned in closer. “But I will tell you that I have three reliable witnesses who tell me they saw you employ her services on the night of September 26 of last year.”
“Preposterous. I can assure you I would never eat or drink in any establishment that would employ her.”
“That I don’t doubt. But waiting tables and slinging drinks were her day jobs. By night-” He paused, glancing again at the man’s poor, probably entirely innocent, wife. Well, he had twice told him to excuse her. “By night, she worked as a prostitute.”
Dollarhyde gasped. A bit too much, Merylo thought.
His wife turned slowly to face him.
Dollarhyde spoke in low guttural tones. “My lawyer will be at your office tomorrow morning.”
“I’ll send my assistant over to talk to him.”
“What’s your game, copper? Hoping to get your name in the paper? Thinking you’ll find your way out of the vice squad by fingering a person who has contributed more to this city in a day than you will in your entire life?”
“You are confused,” Merylo said, maintaining the same even tone. “This is not a vice investigation.”
“But you said the woman was a-a-”
“Yes, she was. But according to the fingerprints on her right hand, she was also the last victim of the Torso Murderer.”
Dollarhyde’s wife’s eyes ballooned. She pressed one hand against her beaded chest.
“Are you suggesting that I-”
“The only thing I’m suggesting, sir, is that you knew her.”
“I deny it.”
“I don’t blame you. But you did, and I’m hoping you can give me an idea why someone might want to kill her. And hack her into pieces.”
Dollarhyde stared at Merylo for a long time, his chest heaving. His hands were visibly shaking. He tossed down an entire glass of champagne. “Margaret. Leave us alone for a few minutes.”
“I’d rather stay.”
She glared for a moment, then obediently left the table.
“Wonderful woman,” he muttered. “In many respects. But not in one very important one. The one that makes a man a man. You know what I mean?”
“I think I do.”
“She’s had back problems for years. She can’t… support my weight. So what else could I do?”
Merylo could think of several alternatives, but he kept his mouth shut.
“I tried to be discreet. Limited myself to women of the lower orders so word would never travel back to my wife or any of her friends.”
“That makes sense.” Merylo was a patient man, but not really interested in the great titan of industry’s true confessions. He needed to get back to the crime. “Do you know any of Flo’s friends? Acquaintances?”
“Absolutely not. Only person I ever met in connection with her was that disgusting Chink Adler. At The Harvard Club. Do you know it?”
“I’ve read about it in the papers.”
“He knew Flo. He introduced us.”
“Do you think he might… hold any hostility toward her?”
“I never saw the two of them together when they weren’t fighting. He was always threatening her, and then she’d threaten back. Saw him whack her more than once, too.”
“Not a very nice way to treat a friend.”
“Friend?” He made a small snorting sound. “Hardly that. He was her business manager.”
Dollarhyde mouthed the word. Pimp.
Merylo felt sweat racing down the sides of his face as he leaped the fence and raced across the open yard onto Euclid Avenue. Why did the jerk have to run? He was too old for this kind of chasing around. Actually, even ten years ago, he hadn’t been that good at it. Short legs and twenty unnecessary pounds were not the ideal attributes for a sprint.
“I just wanna talk to you!” Merylo shouted, but the man did not stop, did not even slow. He had been ten feet ahead when this chase started and he was at least thirty feet now. Merylo had a hunch this was not going to end well.
“Police! I order you to stop!”
As if that were going to do any good. The twerp must’ve had a reason for running and that reason wasn’t going to be assuaged by the knowledge he was being chased by a police officer. Skinny little runt, who knew what he had done?
Sure could run, though.
He headed toward another fence and Merylo hoped that might slow him down, but the kid vaulted over as if he were walking on air. Merylo knew that if he tried that, he’d fall flat on his face. It was hopeless. This chase was over. He’d have to try another-
“You wanna talk to this guy?”
Merylo stopped short, leaning breathlessly against the fence, panting for air.
Zalewski was holding the punk by the collar, his service revolver pressed into the kid’s side.
“Where’d you come from?”
Zalewski shoved his captive up against the fence. “When he took off running, you took off after him. But I knew that alley emptied out onto Euclid and I knew the fences and hills would slow him down. I grew up around here. So while you did the line drive I circled around to where I knew he’d have to come out.”
Merylo nodded, slowly regaining enough breath to speak. “Next time I’ll circle around. You do the chasing.” He grabbed the breathless punk by the collar and shook him. “I already know you were Flo Po lillo’s pimp, Adler, so don’t bother lying about it. We’re not from vice, and I’m sure you’ll say you were only trying to protect her.”
The skinny man in the oversize sport coat jumped on that opening like a cat on tuna. “It’s not just about the protectin’. It’s about the huntin’.”
At least the man was talking. Now if he could only say something that made sense. “Hunting?”
“For clients,” he explained slowly, as if he were teaching ABCs to a toddler. “Paying clients.”
“Like Arthur Dollarhyde?”
He didn’t deny it. “That was brilliant. Great stroke of luck. I knew Flo could charge a man like him three times what she normally got. She had something that Dollarhyde dude really liked.”
“A strong back.”
“Never mind. If Flo was making so much money, why did she have to work days?”
“Well, she had a bad habit, if you know what I mean.” He made the gesture of drinking from a bottle. “Most of my girls do. Don’t know why.”
“If I had to work for you, I’d be a drunk, too,” Merylo said, tightening his grip. “Who were her other clients?”
“Not sure they’d appreciate my sayin’.”
“You think I care what that dirt wants? Talk!”
Adler held up his hands. “Keep your shirt on, mister. I’ll give you names.”
“Was one of them a guy called Andrassy?”
Adler thought for a moment. “Don’t recall that I ever heard that name.”
“Be sure!” Zalewski showed him the picture. “Ever seen him around?”
“No. Never. I’m sure.”
Merylo swore beneath his breath. “Know of anyone who might want to kill Flo?”
“Nah. Everyone loved Flo. She was cheap.”
“See any suspicious characters hanging around her?”
“Have you been to that bar where she worked? Everyone there is a suspicious character.”
“Have any idea how this might’ve happened? How she got tangled up with a violent murderer who’d want to hack up her body? That’s a pretty tough way to go.”
“Way Flo lived, there was no other way to go but bad. Didn’t expect her to get hacked to bits. But she couldn’t go on long the way she was.”
Merylo sighed, then threw the man back against the brick wall of the alleyway. This was getting him nowhere. Like every other one of the hundreds of interviews he’d conducted since this case began. “Don’t suppose you ever thought about helping her? Trying to get her straight?”
“Hey, she chose her life.”
“And you wrung it dry.”
“I didn’t do nothin’ I didn’t have the right to do!” Adler protested. “She was mine, man! I owned her!”
Merylo and Zalewski both stared back at him. “Case you haven’t heard, punk, slavery has been abolished. People can’t own other people. It ain’t legal.”
“That’s a load of bull.”
“You sayin’ a wife ain’t supposed to do what her husband tells her? That the man ain’t the boss of the family?”
Merylo wagged his head. “That’s different, and besides, you’re not her husband.”
“No, but I met the man. And he sold her to me, for twenty-two dollars, cash. I owned her. And I had a right to recoup my investment.”
Merylo and Zalewski were shoulder to shoulder as they entered the downtown post office.
“Did you know about this guy?” Zalewski asked.
“If you’re in the mood.”
Merylo frowned. “I didn’t even know Flo was married. I thought Polillo was her maiden name.”
“Thanks for being honest.”
“There’s no shame in it, though it isn’t exactly a source of pride, either. I’ve talked to dozens of people who knew Flo. None of them knew she was married.”
“How could that be?”
“We’re about to find out.” Merylo spotted the man he sought behind the counter. He’d made sure in advance he’d be on duty.
He flashed his badge. “Peter Merylo, Homicide Department. Are you Andrew Polillo?”
The mail clerk’s shoulders sagged. “Wondered how long it’d be before you boys came round.”
Merylo nodded. “So I guess you’re not denying that you were married to Florence Polillo?”
“Don’t ’spect there’d be much point in it.” His face was pocked and he looked undernourished. He was one of the lucky few who still had a job, but Merylo got the impression that his life had not been easy and probably never would be.
“Care to explain why you left your wife?”
“Left her? We’re divorced. Her idea. Didn’t you know?”
Merylo and Zalewski exchanged a glance. “Just checking. How long have you been divorced?”
Polillo thought a moment. “Must be almost three years.”
“Since you… sold her to a man named Chink Adler?”
Polillo did not deny. He did not even seem particularly perturbed. “She was already hookin’. What difference did it make? Seemed like I was entitled to get a little somethin’ out of the marriage. It cost me enough.”
“So you sold her to a pimp.”
“What I hear, workin’ with a pimp is a lot safer than workin’ on your own. Women in that line get roughed up when they don’t have someone lookin’ out for them.”
Merylo didn’t argue the point. “Bitter about it?”
“Not bitter enough to kill her, if that’s what you’re gettin’ at.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“Why’d you dump her?” Zalewski asked, injecting himself into the conversation.
Polillo fidgeted with his date-stamp. “I loved Flo. I really did. Loved her like I’ve never loved anyone. Took care of her. But she was always a hard drinker. Didn’t leave much room for me-she was in love with the bottle. I told her I’d had enough. She was going to have to give up the drinking, or give up me.”
“And that was the end of it?”
“Not quite. She was sympathetic at first. Cried and everything. Showed me a side I’d never seen before. Said she was going to go visit her mother for two weeks to get herself straight. I said fine. So she went away for two weeks-and didn’t come back. Few days later I saw her go into a restaurant right here in town with another man, some big husky guy who had his hands all over her.”
Polillo stared down at his desk. “Few days later, I asked her for a divorce. She said, Sure, why not? That was the end of it. Adler gave me some cash, said he’d look after her.” Merylo was amazed to see Polillo’s eyes were misting. “All I wanted was the best for her. That’s all I ever wanted.”
Merylo’s teeth clenched together. What a stupid job this was.
“You have any idea who might want to kill her?”
“You ever see her with any suspicious characters?”
“Haven’t seen her at all for three years.”
“Ever hear of a guy named Andrassy?”
“Saw his picture in the paper. Never saw him or heard of him before that.”
Merylo folded up his notepad. “Thank you for your time. Zalewski?”
The two men made their way out of the post office.
“You think he was lying?” Zalewski asked.
“You think Adler was lying?”
“No. I don’t think either of them knows a damn thing about it. Or Dollarhyde. Nobody we’ve talked to.” He shook his head. “I thought identifying a second victim would be the key to solving this whole case. Seems I may have miscalculated.”
Zalewski looked at him anxiously. “So then… where does that leave us?”
“Exactly where we’ve been all along.” He opened his car door and slid behind the steering wheel. “Nowhere.”
“You don’t think we’ll crack this case?”
“We’ll crack it. Just not as soon as I’d hoped. But we’ll catch this guy, you wait and see. ’Cause I won’t stop trying until we do.”