“Two thousand people?”
“That’s what his secretary says.”
“That’s not possible.”
“Apparently it is.”
“In two days?”
“What have I told you, Zalewski? Nothing attracts people quite as much as something that should repel them.”
Merylo couldn’t help feeling a certain amount of pride. Although Pearce hadn’t resisted his plan to put the latest head on display in the morgue, he had expressed doubts that anyone would come to look at it. So had Zalewski and everyone else in the department-including Chief Matowitz. Fortunately, he was so busy rounding up poker players with the safety director that he was pretty much letting Merylo do whatever he wanted these days. Which was exactly how Merylo liked it.
There was only one problem-one tiny matter that prevented him from finding complete joy in this victory. Although approximately two thousand people had come by to look at the head-no one had recognized it. Not even a possible identification. Nothing. And this head was in the best condition of any they had found yet.
“Why do you think no one recognized him, sir?”
Merylo shrugged. “People look different after they’re dead. Haven’t you ever been to an open-casket funeral?”
“Well, if you can avoid it, you should.”
“You think maybe he’s a transient? Vagrant? He was found near Shantytown.”
“But then how does it tie into your theory that these are all organized crime rubouts? That it all ties back to Andrassy?”
“I never said it all tied back to Andrassy. I said they all must’ve been involved in something with Andrassy.” And he only said that because Andrassy and Flo Polillo were the only two corpses they had managed to identify.
“Still-the more bodies we get, the harder it’s going to be to make a connection.”
“Not once we know what the connection is. Once we figure that out, it will all make sense. Mark my words.”
“Of course.” Zalewski shifted uncomfortably in his suit. “See the paper this morning?”
“I told you, I don’t read the papers.”
“This unidentified head bumped the Republican National Convention right off the front page.”
Merylo sighed. “Well, I’m not that fond of Alf Landon. Reminds me of some of the guys I used to put away for running penny-ante gin joints. Any luck on the fingerprints?”
“Sorry. We got good prints, but no one has them on file. He’s got no record.”
“And the initials tattooed on his arm?”
Merylo swore. He’d had two good leads, two solid chances to identify the victim. And neither had produced anything.
From the rear office, Arthur Pearce emerged, pulling off his gloves and adjusting his horn-rimmed glasses. “Any luck, gentlemen?”
“Well, it was a valiant effort.”
“Maybe in time-”
“Merylo-I can’t leave a dismembered head on display any longer. It’s going to deteriorate. Then it will be useless.”
“Just give me another day.”
“Sorry, can’t.” He removed his surgical apron and hung it on a coat hook. “But I can do this. The head is in good enough condition to make a plaster cast-a death mask. You can put that up anywhere you like. Perhaps someplace that gets more traffic than my office.”
Merylo pondered a moment. “Got any suggestions?”
“Well, I doubt if the Republican National Convention would have it. But I read in the paper today that attendance at the Great Lakes Exposition is waning. They’re afraid they may have to close early.”
Zalewski frowned. “Why is that good? Don’t we want to put it somewhere there’s lots of people?”
Merylo smiled patiently. “Yes, we do. I think what the good doctor is suggesting is that if the Exposition needs to boost attendance, what could be better than an exhibit that brought two thousand people to a coroner’s office in the seedy side of downtown?”
“You-you really think they’d want it?”
“I think they might be willing to lower their standards a bit. As a public service.” He smirked. “And to keep the backers from taking a bath on this stupid Exposition.” He tipped his fedora. “Nice going, Doctor.”
“Always like to help out when I can.” He patted his pockets, searching for a cigarette.
“What else have you got?”
“Nothing much, unfortunately. This is the freshest corpse we’ve discovered. He was killed less than forty-eight hours before you found him. Age around twenty, twenty-five. Reddish hair, brown eyes, five missing teeth.”
“Or a malnourished vagrant. His head was severed just at the axis between the chin and the body. Oh-here’s something different. This time, there were several hesitation marks.”
“Sign of a conscience developing?”
“Or a struggle. Maybe the victim wasn’t well-secured. Maybe he tried to resist. Escape.”
“You’re giving me too many maybes, Doctor. Not enough answers.”
“I don’t give answers, Detective. I give information. Answers are your department.”
The front door to the morgue swung open. Merylo expected to see more gawkers, but instead, it was Officer Cromsky from the Fifth. He was breathless.
“Detective Merylo!” He was unable to catch his breath, practically hyperventilating. “We’ve-we’ve-”
Merylo laid a hand on his shoulder. “Calm down, man. What is it?”
Cromsky inhaled deeply, then tried again. “We’ve-we’ve found something. This guy-guy at a bar. John Moessner. On Fulton Road. Tall guy, photographer, likes to give discounts to women who-”
“Get to the point, man!”
“He saw the picture in the Courier. Of the head. He thinks he recognizes him. And he thinks the guy knew Andrassy.”
“Why didn’t you say so?” Merylo grabbed his hat, his teeth clenched tightly together. At long last, the break he had been waiting for. “Let’s go, Zalewski. And this time, you can ignore the blasted traffic lights!”
“You’ve got pictures of Andrassy!”
Despite being a tall man talking to someone almost a foot shorter, John Moessner was not the dominant player in the conversation. He clung to the bar between them, using it as a barricade.
“They were just for fun.”
“Because he said yes. Along with dozens of other people.”
“So you’ve been fooling around taking pictures of lowlifes just because it amuses you! Like, it’s your hobby?”
Moessner’s head twitched. “It is my avocation. And it’s not just fooling around. It’s an art form.”
“Taking pictures of lowlifes?”
“Photography. Notice how I’ve artfully arranged the scene, the placement of the chair, the head. I’ve observed the rule of threes-”
“Don’t give me that college crap. Have you been to art school?”
Moessner sniffed. “I took a correspondence course.” He was a lean man with a weak, indecisive face. His mustache was wispy, barely there, as if the entire project had been an afterthought.
“Why didn’t you tell the police about this sooner?”
“I didn’t see how I could help. They’re just pictures.”
In truth, Merylo didn’t see how he could help, either. But Moessner still should’ve reported the potential evidence.
“And you think you’ve seen this new victim before?”
“I think so. I mean, I can’t be sure. He was alive then. But he had that same prominent forehead, broad nose.”
“And you saw this guy with Andrassy?”
“Yes. At least once. They talked for a long time.”
“Sorry. I’ve tried to remember-but I just don’t. Don’t have any idea.”
“And you don’t know his name?”
“Do you have any idea how many people come through here?” He shrugged. “Andrassy was a regular. This other guy, he came in once, maybe twice, tops.” His head turned slightly, as if trying to recall something. “You know-I think he was a sailor.”
Merylo recalled the anchor tattoo on the man’s arm. “Why?”
“Said something about catching his boat or… something.”
He shook his head. “That’s all I remember.”
“The initials W.C.G. mean anything to you?”
“Could this guy have been called William? Or Walter?”
“I’m sorry. I would help you if I could. I want this butcher stopped just as much as anybody. But I don’t remember anything else. I don’t think I ever really knew anything to remember.”
Merylo pressed his fists against the bar. “Listen to me, mister. You remember anything else about this man, or Andrassy, or Flo Polillo, you call me immediately. Got it?”
“You know how quickly I could shut you down?”
“I could search your place. I bet I might find some photos the police would be real interested in.”
Moessner held up his hands. “No-I-”
“So if you hear anything-anything at all-you let me know.”
“I will. I swear to God. I will.”
Merylo stomped out of the bar. Had he done any good? Impossible to know. But this was a killer he was looking for, not the Invisible Man. Someone out there must’ve seen him. Must’ve seen something.
He just had to find that someone. And he would. Even if he had to harass everyone in Cleveland in the process.