Merylo slammed the man in the sailor’s cap up against the wall, hard enough to rattle the hanging pictures and knock two of them to the ground. “Do you know who I am?” he bellowed.
The sailor was taller than Merylo, bulkier, and by all appearances, stronger. And he was terrified. “Sure, mac, sure. I know who you are. Everybody knows you.”
“Who am I?”
“You’re the man. The Bulldog. The guy everybody’s talkin’ about.”
“Yeah?” Merylo tightened his grip on the man’s lapel. “And what are they saying?”
“They’re sayin’ you’re like a crazy man. Like you’re plowin’ through the docks, knockin’ heads together, mowin’ down everyone in your way.”
“They’re right,” Merylo growled. He leaned in close enough to smell the onions on the sailor’s breath. “And you’re going to be next, unless you start talking.”
“But I don’t know anything!”
Merylo slammed him against the wall again. “That’s not good enough!”
“But I don’t!”
“Who was he?”
“Who? The guy they got at the Exposition? Or the new one?”
The new one. The words echoed in Merylo’s brain so painfully he thought it might explode. “I’m talking about the head.”
“I didn’t know him.”
“Maybe you’ve seen him around?”
“Was he a sailor?”
“No. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know him!”
Merylo twisted his fists under the man’s chin. “Then how do you know he’s not a sailor?”
“I’m just sayin’ I’ve never seen him before!”
“But you knew Andrassy!”
“I knew who he was. I didn’t know him personally, but I’ve seen him in some of the joints. Dance halls and stuff.”
“You like dance halls?”
“Sometimes. When I got shore leave.”
“The ladies like you?”
“Not like they liked Andrassy.”
“Well, this new corpse was a friend of Andrassy’s,” Merylo barked, not really knowing if it were true. “So how can you know Andrassy if you don’t know this guy?”
“I just don’t remember seein’ him, that’s all. I don’t get into Cleveland that often.”
“I got a witness says he was a sailor. He had an anchor tattooed on his arm.”
The sailor blew air through his teeth. “That don’t mean anythin’. My aunt Matilda’s got a tattoo on her arm. She’s never even been out on the lake.”
Merylo tightened his grip as much as was possible without strangling the man. “If you’re lying to me-”
“I’m not!” he insisted, his eyes wide. “I just don’t know nothin’!”
Merylo released him and he fell to the floor in a crumpled heap. “You hear anything, you call me, understand? Right away. You call me!”
“I will. I promise. I will!”
Merylo didn’t doubt it, as he watched the man scramble away on all fours. Nobody could be that good an actor. The man was scared witless. If he had known anything, he’d have spilled it.
Like everyone else Merylo had talked to since the tattooed man had been discovered.
And now they had a new corpse, the one found by Marie Barkley. The first one found on the west side. All the previous remains had been found on the east side, most of them on Kingsbury Run near Shanty-town, so he had concentrated his search on vagrants and hoboes. Andrassy and Polillo had both frequented cheap gin joints and dance halls that were little more than meeting places for shady ladies and their clients, so he’d spent weeks searching there. He’d had a lead suggesting the last one might be a sailor, so he’d spent the last three weeks pounding the docks along Lake Erie, trying to turn up someone, anyone who might know something about these crimes.
And still he had nothing. No more information than he’d had before.
And to make matters worse, the killer had moved to the nice part of town.
All the previous victims, so far as they knew, had been scum of the earth, and Merylo knew that had been to his advantage, because even though people wanted the murders stopped, no one could get that worked up about losers like Andrassy and Polillo. But if this killer started going after decent folk, prominent citizens…
There would be hell to pay. And he’d be the one footing the bill.
He unfolded the Cleveland News tucked inside his suit coat. He hadn’t lied when he told Zalewski he didn’t read the papers. He hadn’t-in the past. But he’d had to start. He had no choice.
After the corpse had been found on the west side, the so-called Torso Killer was in the headlines again:
“Is there somewhere in Cuyahoga County a madman whose god is the guillotine?
Or is he a cool and calculating killer who decapitates his victims with the skill of a physician?
Does he dissect his victims in some grisly workshop, carrying them to the isolated sections of the county where they are found?
Or does he lure them to the outdoor scene of the execution, acting with a deceptive charm and style?”
Merylo wadded the paper up in his hands. The fearmongering speculation went on for pages, doing its best to work readers up into a state of panic. The reasons were not hard to comprehend. They sold a lot more papers to the upscale folks on the west side than the folks on the east side who were barely scraping by. Before, this story was someone else’s problem. Now it was closer to home, potentially affecting every rich daddy whose son or daughter might be walking home late one night…
Merylo had been criticized for continuing to follow the trail of the tattooed man after the corpse was found on the west side-but there was a reason. They kept calling the west side corpse the latest victim- but he wasn’t. Dr. Pearce’s tests showed that that man had been dead for at least two months-meaning that the tattooed man was the more recent victim. Merylo hoped that the foray into the west side had been a onetime accident, perhaps something compelled by circumstances he couldn’t understand but that were unlikely to be repeated. There was no way of knowing.
Other than a particularly vague time of death, mandated by the state of decay before the corpse was discovered, Pearce had been able to tell him precious little about this so-called latest victim. He had been five foot five, around 145 pounds, with long brown hair, approximately forty years old. The skin was hardened and brown from exposure. He had been decapitated, obviously, between the third and fourth cervical vertebrae, but there were no signs of any other mutilation by the killer. Nature had not been as kind to the body, however. His chest had been chewed open by rats and insects, and the entire abdominal cavity was infected with worms. The body was far too decomposed to provide usable fingerprints and there were no useful clues in his clothes or on his body-not even a tattoo. Nothing that might provide any indication who this man had been or why anyone would want to kill him. Zalewski had scoured the missing person reports but come up with nothing helpful; there was no one fitting the description Pearce had provided.
He heard Zalewski huffing and puffing behind him even before he heard his voice.
Merylo turned slowly, casually hiding the newspaper beneath his suit coat.
“Sir! Have you heard the news?”
“Should I have?”
“It’s big, sir. Really big. About this case.”
“You’ve caught the killer single-handedly.”
Zalewski stopped short. “Huh? Me?” He stopped to catch his breath. “No, it’s not about me. It’s about the safety director. Eliot Ness.”
Merylo felt a tingle that began at the tips of his toes and worked its way upward. A wave of nausea, and it wasn’t because of those four Coneys with sauerkraut he had for lunch, either.
“What about him?”
“He gave a press conference today.”
“As if that’s news. He talked about the torso murders?”
“Well, it wasn’t why he called the conference. It was supposed to be about his Boys Clubs. But Congressman Sweeney was there and he kept changing the subject.”
That was predictable enough. Sweeney’s biggest financial support came from the west end business community. Plus, as a Democrat, he would undoubtedly love to embarrass the appointee of the Republican mayor. “So what did the distinguished Mr. Ness have to say?”
“You really haven’t heard? It’s been all over the radio.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“He says he’s going to end the killing!”
“How? Ask the killer pretty please?”
“Criminy, sir, I don’t know what he plans to do. But he’s going to be working on this case. Our case. Isn’t that great news?”
Merylo remained silent. The nausea intensified.
“Maybe we’ll get to be Untouchables! Can you imagine? We’re going to be working with Eliot Ness!”
Merylo shook his head, lips pursed. “We’re not going to be working with him, son. We’re going to be working_for him.”