Ness tiptoed as he stepped through the front door of their bungalow. It was late-it always was-and he didn’t want to wake Edna if he could avoid it. Unfortunately, he was so loaded down with files and paperwork it was difficult to walk, much less creep.
A light came on. Edna was sitting in an armchair in the living room, wide awake. She was wearing her best dress, a lovely red satin number that he thought made her look like Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night.
“Honey.” He dropped the paperwork on the nearest coffee table and moved toward her. “What are you doing up?”
She glared at him, her eyes colder than steel. “Waiting for you.”
“You shouldn’t stay up so late. I told Bob to call and tell you I’d be late. Didn’t he call?”
“Indeed he did,” she said, not blinking, expressionless.
“Honestly, honey, do we have to repeat this same discussion every time I come home late? You know how demanding my job is. I’ve had to deal with the press all day-”
“As if that’s a great burden to you.”
“-and I’m launching this brand-new project, the Boys Clubs. It’s going to be something really special, Edna. I’ve got funding from the city council, plus I’ve managed to raise contributions from private donors. I’m going to get all those stray kids off the streets and teach them how to be-”
“Do I look like a reporter?”
The volume of her voice rose so sharply and so suddenly that Ness literally reared back. “I-don’t-”
“If I wanted to hear this, I’d ask for a copy of your press release.”
“That’s not fair.”
“What’s fair? I never wanted to be married to a hero.” Her voice grew quiet. “All I ever wanted was a husband.”
Ness took a deep breath, then laid his hand on her wrist. She immediately withdrew it, recoiling from his touch. “I know I said I’d try to be home earlier, but-”
“We missed the Petersons’ party.”
The words hung in the air like a dirigible, suspended between them but going nowhere.
Ness racked his brain but he couldn’t think of anything to say, nothing intelligent, nothing witty, certainly nothing conciliatory. “Was that tonight?”
“Yes of course it was. Why do you think I’m dressed this way? Just so you could indulge your Claudette Colbert fantasy when you finally stumbled through the door?”
“Honey… I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry.”
“I am, darling. I sincerely regret that I-”
“No, you’re not!” she shouted. She stood up and walked to the fireplace, turning her back on him. “You want to placate me, but you’re not remotely sorry. You think you are absolutely justified in doing everything you do. Your work comes first.”
“That isn’t so.”
“Don’t kid a kidder, Eliot. I’ve been with you too many years. I know the score. You love your work.” She braced herself against the mantel. “Much more than you ever loved me.”
“Don’t sell yourself short.”
“I don’t think you could ever love any woman the way you love catching bad guys. And nothing can compare with the thrill you get from playing for the reporters, getting your picture taken, receiving the praise of strangers.” She pressed her hand against her forehead. “Pity it’s not possible to make love to a camera. Then you might actually have children.”
Ness’s lips parted. “Sweetheart-how can you-what are you-”
“I think you know exactly what I’m saying.”
“All this because I missed some party?”
“It wasn’t just some party. It was the Petersons.”
Ness shrugged. “They’re nice people, but they’re hardly-”
She whirled on him. “They’re the only friends I have in this godforsaken town!”
She covered her face with her hand, and Ness noticed for the first time that her fingernails were painted red, perfectly matching her dress. “You have coworkers, underlings. People at your beck and call. Reporters. What do I have? A little house a million miles from the heart of the city, hardly any neighbors, and one friend. And we missed her party.”
“You should’ve gone alone.”
“I couldn’t go alone. Do you have any idea what people would say? What they already say?” She paused. “That would only give them proof.”
Ness took a step closer to her. She arched her back, twisting away. It was a chilling move, one that stopped him dead in his tracks.
“Let me make it up to you.”
“I don’t think that’s possible.”
“I think it is. The mayor is throwing a huge bash. Fancy dress, all the most important people in the city. And we’re invited. You’ll meet all kinds of people. Won’t that be fun?”
When she finally spoke, her voice was so low and dark it chilled him. “No, you stupid fool. It won’t be fun at all. For me. You’ll love it. You’ll be the toast of the town. The famous Eliot Ness. I’ll be lucky if I see you all night long.”
“No, sweetie, I promise. I’ll show you off, introduce you to some of the other society wives-”
“I am not a society wife! I don’t want to be a society wife!”
“It’ll be a good time.”
“No, it’ll be you advancing your career, making connections, shaking hands. And me being miserable.”
“Well… there’s the police cotillion-”
“Oh, that sounds like fun.”
“Look, Edna, I’m sorry I’ve been so busy. But I’m making a commitment to you, right here and now. I’m going to spend more time at home-lots more time. I’m going to be here every night for supper. I’m going to be home so much you’ll be sick to death of me. I give you my Boy Scout promise.”
“Really?” she said coldly. “And how are you going to do that when you’re busy catching the Torso Killer?”
Ness sighed. Guess she’d been listening to the radio.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do it, Edna, but I will. I’ll do whatever makes you happy. I’m pretty tight with Mayor Burton. I’ll ask what he and his wife do, where they go-”
“Eliot, are you even listening to me? I want to be with regular people. I want to do regular things. Go out to dinner. Play canasta. Do what normal couples do after the husband comes home at a normal hour.”
He averted his eyes. “I-don’t really know how.”
She laughed, a sharp, bitter laugh. “That’s the truest thing you’ve said all night.”
Ness dared a tentative step toward her. “I don’t know what you want. If you’ll just tell me…”
She whirled around, grabbing his hand with a fierce intensity and pressing it against her bosom. “I want you to want me!”
“I do, darling. Honest.”
“Do you? Do you really? Does this do anything for you at all?”
“Well, of course…”
She flung his hand away. “Bull. If it did-we wouldn’t be standing here talking.” Her mascara streaked down her face. “I’m going to bed. Alone. You can sleep out here.” She paused. “I think you’re more comfortable that way anyhow.”
“Edna-” He held out his hand, but it was no use. The bedroom door slammed in his face.
He fell down onto the sofa, his eyes tightly closed. He just didn’t understand what was wrong with her. Sure, he knew she was mad about the party, but what could he do? After that press conference, he’d had no choice but to get up to speed on the Torso Killer case as quickly as possible. What did she expect?
He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. Like it or not, he had a lot of reading to do before he went to sleep.
He reached toward the top file he had gotten from Chief Matowitz, then stopped. The mail was lying on the coffee table, still wrapped in a rubber band. Apparently Edna hadn’t done any more than bring it into the house.
He thumbed through the envelopes, only marginally paying attention. Bills, bills, more bills. More than he could afford on his salary. For all the media attention he got, he still wasn’t paid better than most police officers with his experience. Gas, water, coal-
He froze. His fingers stiffened. His eyes strained to read the scrawled handwriting.
It was a postcard.
He brought it closer to the lamp to examine it more carefully. The letters were all in capitals, but uneven, of varying shape, like something a child might do. But they didn’t look childlike.
HOW DO YOU PLAN ON KEEPING YOUR PROMISE?
The only signature, if that’s what it was, was a letter S. The bottom of the card was filled with strange circles and lines and shapes. There was no return address.
Ness stared at the postcard, turning it back and forth, over and over again in his hands. There was something strange about it, even beyond the words. As if it gave off an… aura. A personality. A very disturbing one.
It seemed Edna wasn’t the only one who listened to the radio.
The killer knew Ness was coming after him. And he wasn’t worried. Wasn’t scared. He was taunting him. Just like the boys in school had taunted him, all those years ago.
Ness walked to the cabinet and took out a bottle of whiskey he kept for special occasions, company and such. He poured himself a shot. Then he poured another one. Then he read the postcard again.
HOW DO YOU PLAN ON KEEPING YOUR PROMISE?