Merylo stared down at the dry creek. Debris littered the surface-discarded metalworks, train tracks, paper, clothes, refuse of all kinds. But no body parts. Not a one.
“How long did it take them to drain the creek?” Merylo asked quietly.
“Three days. Cost a fortune, too.”
“And nothing to show for it.” Merylo smashed his hat between his hands. First they had brought in a high-pressure pump to stir up the water. Then they sent in divers. Then they tried ceiling hooks again. They managed to snag the right thigh, but no head. They built makeshift bridges from wooden planks to extend the reach of the hooks, without avail. Another diving operation produced nothing. Even the volunteer foot soldiers Merylo sent out produced no results.
All within view of the teeming spectators. According to the Cleveland News, over one hundred thousand people had come to watch the operation at some point. To watch the police fail. Again.
“The chief won’t be happy about this,” Zalewski said. “Especially getting civilians involved. And since it was done on your order…”
“ Ness told me to do everything I could think of to catch this killer,” Merylo replied. “So I did. If we’d found a head, and could identify it, we’d be a lot closer to catching our murderer.”
“Pearce says by this time, even if you found a head, it would be so decomposed-”
“Never mind what Pearce says.” Merylo clenched his teeth together, trying to suppress his anger. “No, I take that back. What does the good doctor say? About the victim, I mean. Based on the parts we’ve been able to locate.”
Zalewski took out his notebook and flipped it open. “Vic weighed about 145 pounds and was something like five feet ten. Maybe thirty years old. Brown hair. Head was cut severed from the body between the third and fourth cervical vertebrae, in two cuts.”
“Not his best job,” Merylo grunted, “but still admirable.”
“The torso was cut between the third and fourth lumbar vertebrae. Cut the stomach and kidney. Vic was emasculated.” Zablewski paused. “That means his, er, things were, you know, cut off and-”
“I know what it means. Go on.”
“No hesitation marks. Examination of the heart shows that it was still beating when the dismemberment began. Final conclusion: ‘Probable murder by decapitation and subsequent sectioning of body.’ ”
“Probable? Did he imagine we thought the guy might’ve committed suicide? By cutting himself into bits? While he was still alive?”
“Hey, I’m just reporting what the doctor said. Don’t kill the messenger.”
Zalewski turned away from the pond. “Did you see the News this morning?”
There was a slight twitch in Merylo’s eye as he responded. “Of course not.”
Zalewski pulled it out of his pocket and read. “The killer is probably a muscular man. He has expert knowledge of human anatomy. The incisions of his knife were clean and were made in each case without guesswork. He may have gathered his knowledge of anatomy as a medical student. Or it is possible that he is a butcher.”
“Like that’s news.” Merylo rubbed his chin. “Bad time to be a Cleveland medical student. Particularly if you’re a little odd-looking.”
“Yeah. I like the way they conclude that the killer is either a medical student or a butcher. As if they were basically the same thing.”
“But never a doctor,” Merylo said, holding up a finger. “Never a surgeon. Even though that would be the obvious conclusion to draw from the killer’s anatomical knowledge. Even the News would not dare say that a highly educated respectable member of society might be a cold-blooded killer.”
Merylo was not so limited. During the past few days, he had visited both medical schools in town and talked to several doctors, looking for leads. He didn’t find any. No practicing physician was willing to acknowledge the possibility that the killer might come from their ranks.
For that matter, Merylo followed up dozens of other leads-an Oriental who was reportedly fond of knives. A scrap dealer who said he saw two men carrying a coffin. Railroad police. A man living under the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge with four hundred pairs of women’s shoes. A voodoo practitioner on East 40th. An escapee from the Athens State hospital. No lead was too small or too unlikely for Merylo. And no lead so far had produced anything positive.
“I gotta tell you, sir,” Zalewski said hesitantly. “Some of the boys back at the station are talking.”
“If you hear anyone criticizing our work, assign them to the case,” Merylo grunted. “That’ll teach them.”
“No. Not about that. I mean about-you know.” He rubbed his chin.
Merylo was letting his beard grow. It was a slow process-he had a light beard-but it was beginning to show. “Tell them I’m so busy I don’t have time to shave.”
“Whatever you say. But-I think the safety director might not like it. He’s so goody-two-shoes clean-cut and all.”
“He won’t mind. It’s not like he wants my picture in the paper.”
“You got some kind of plan?”
“I do. But if my idea is going to work-I want as little attention as possible. From the papers or anyone else.”