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49

Merylo had been told to wait until Dr. Sweeney was seriously intoxicated, but it was possible he had waited too long. He arrested the man for public drunkenness and, as directed, brought him through the back door and up the rear stairs to a private room in the Cleveland Hotel. But Sweeney was so far gone that they spent the first three days just waiting for him to dry out.

When he was finally sober-and desperate for a drink-the questioning began. Merylo wanted to do it, but the safety director had insisted on handling it himself. Merylo wasnt surprised. Even though he was the one who found the man, if there was going to be a confession, or even a slip leading to an arrest, Ness would want to be able to take credit for it.

Ness closed the drapes across the windows and made the room totally dark, all but for one light dangling low in the center of the room between the questioner and the questioned. Merylo and Zalewski and Chamberlin were allowed to watch, but they remained in the darkness.

Sweeney was handcuffed to his chair, but it was hard to imagine that he could be any threat. He wore several days stubble and stinking wrinkled clothes. His mustache was in bad need of a trim. His glasses were bent and they rested crookedly on his face. His eyes were bloodshot and his face looked tired. It took a lot of imagination to envision this dissipated drunk as the sadistic murderer of ten people.

Ness stared across the room at Sweeney, his voice level, his expression even.

Hello. My name is Eliot Ness.

Im all atwitter.

You know who I am?

Doesnt everyone?

Do you understand why youre here?

I assume you must think Im running hooch.

No.

Or you think Im running the mob. Do you think Im running the mob?

No.

Isnt that what you do? Track down mobsters and make them pay their taxes?

Not this time.

Then can I go home?

Ness took a long deep breath. Please state your name.

Gaylord Sundheim.

We know perfectly well that is not your name.

Then why did you ask?

Is your name Francis Edward Sweeney?

I think youre better off with Gaylord Sundheim. Because if word gets out who I really am, youre going to be in serious trouble.

Ness ignored him. And your friends call you Frank, right?

Im not sure I have any friends.

And you currently live at the Sandusky Soldiers and Sailors Home?

If you can call that living.

And youve killed ten people and then mutilated and discarded their bodies.

A slow smile lifted the corners of Sweeneys mouth. Dont be absurd. Im a doctor.

Exactly. Good with your hands. Good with a knife.

Are you interrogating all the doctors in town?

No.

Just the ones with relatives in the Democratic party?

Just the ones who worked with Edward Andrassy.

Ah.

Did you know Flo Polillo?

We had a few encounters.

And Rose Wallace?

A little skinny for my taste.

And somehow, you all got involved in something. Something that went bad. So bad you had to kill everyone involved.

Is that what you think? Or your police crony?

Thats what I think. The detective thinks you like to have sex with victims and corpses.

And you disagree?

I dont think a total madman could pull off what the Torso Killer has done and get away with it. The Mad Butcher may be a murderer, but he is also smart.

And you dont think its possible for a man to be smart and crazy?

Ive visited lunatic asylums. Thats not what I saw.

Maybe the Torso Killer is something new. Something special.

In my experience, every crook thinks hes something special. But they still get caught eventually.

Exactly my point. You caught them. But not the Mad Butcher. Whats the difference?

Why dont you tell me?

Im sure I dont know.

Weve taken your prints. Were running tests on your clothes. Were going to search your room at the Home. We have science on our side.

Oh, my. Well, if you have science, youll undoubtedly catch your killer. Im surprised you didnt catch him ten victims ago. Or perhaps more.

Have there been more? Some we havent discovered yet?

His sickening smile intensified. How would I know?

Are you the Mad Butcher?

I told you already. Im Gaylord Sundheim. He shrugged his shoulders and grinned like the Cheshire cat.

Merylo wanted to hit him so badly he could taste it.

After three hours of questioning, all of it unproductive, Ness agreed to take a break. Zalewski went out for sandwiches. Merylo went downtown to visit a judge he knew, told him discreetly what was happening, got a warrant, and searched Dr. Sweeneys room at the Sailors Home with a man from the forensics lab.

They found nothing. No knives, no traces of victims clothing, no heads, no blood. Merylo assumed Sweeney didnt bring his victims back here, but he had hoped to at least find a bloodstained knife. No such luck.

He didnt know why Ness had changed his mind about interrogating Sweeney, but he did realize that Ness had climbed out on a very shaky branch and if the limb broke, Merylo would likely be the scapegoat. This suspect had no priors, no criminal record of any kind. He was related to a Democratic congressman and perhaps worst of all, he was a physician-someone investigators had repeatedly refused to believe could commit these crimes. If they didnt get something out of the interrogation, this could turn very bad, very quickly.

As soon as everyone returned to the hotel room, the questioning resumed.

Am I correct in my belief, Ness asked, that since you lost your job at the hospital, your cousin the congressman has been supporting you?

A mans got to eat.

Thats why most men work.

Ive had some problems.

Are you talking about the booze? Or something else?

I am rather fond of a drink. Every now and then. The suspects eyes burned toward Nesss. Youve known the comfort that comes from a bottle yourself on occasion, havent you?

Nesss forehead creased. Are you joking? Me?

The self-righteous often have the most to hide.

Lets get this conversation back on track. Why is your cousin supporting you?

I lost my position. And my license. You know that.

Why are you staying at the Sailors Home?

I believe the thinking was that the good woman running the place might be able to help me.

Was she?

No. Problem is, she wants to help me in a way that doesnt interest me. Shes a very energetic woman for her age.

Why dont you move?

A deal was brokered. I have to remain at the Home, at least for now. My dear cousin was able to avoid a great deal of trouble by telling the folks at the hospital that I had been institutionalized.

But Detective Merylo tells me youre free to leave whenever you please.

Shhh!

And Mrs. McGovern says you sometimes disappear for days.

A mans got to have some fun every now and then.

So what do you do when youre having fun?

Havent you ever wanted to cut loose, Mr. Ness?

Funny you should use the word cut.

Nothing funny about it.

Ness pushed himself out of his chair and began pacing, wringing his hands. You were fired by the hospital administrative staff.

Busybodies.

What did you do?

Didnt they tell you?

No. They said it was confidential. Involved doctor-patient confidences.

How deliciously unhelpful of them.

Nesss lips thinned. His face flushed. Merylo thought he was becoming visibly frustrated and angry. Why do I get the impression youre not taking this seriously?

Possibly because Im not.

You should. Do you understand why youre here?

Apparently you think Im the Torso Murderer.

I have a lot of evidence that tells me youre the Torso Murderer.

Then I guess it must be so.

The room fell dead silent. Ness and Merylo exchanged an uncertain look.

Ness leaned in close. Did you just confess?

All I did was agree with what you said. Im sure you wouldnt mislead me. If you say you have evidence, you must have evidence.

I do.

May I see it?

No.

Have I been charged?

Not yet.

If you have so much evidence, why havent I been charged?

Thats really none of your business.

Am I under arrest?

No.

Well now, this is perplexing. All this evidence against me, but you havent arrested me or even charged me. Does my cousin know Im here?

No.

When he finds out, this party will end. Youll be lucky to keep your job.

Is that a threat?

Im just saying. Maybe the smartest thing would be to call him now. Offer to turn me over to his custody. Apologize for the inconvenience.

You really must be crazy.

How will you explain keeping me prisoner when youre not prepared to proffer charges?

I like to take things slow and careful.

Ah. Is it entirely legal to hold a man against his will for several days without charging him or arresting him?

Ness did not reply. A phone rang. Chamberlin took the call. A few moments later, he turned on the tabletop radio, but kept it down low.

This is all very strange, the suspect continued. Perhaps I should have gone to law school rather than medical school. I think Id like to retain a lawyer.

You dont need a lawyer. You need to tell me the truth.

Im done talking to you. Youre no fun.

Nesss face tensed up so much Merylo thought he might explode. Have you been sending me those postcards?

Merylos lips parted. What?

Why would I send you postcards? I havent been on vacation.

Did you?

Is sending postcards illegal?

Trying to interfere with an ongoing investigation is illegal. Threatening law enforcement personnel and their families is illegal.

Did any of those postcards actually threaten you?

Nesss eyes narrowed. You did send them.

And even if I did, would that prove I was the Torso Killer?

Why did you send them to me?

You might as well ask why someone would kill and dismember ten people.

Okay, why?

I cant imagine.

I know a doctor who thinks this has to do with a warped childhood. That you get some kind of gratification out of killing.

How deliciously Freudian.

Is it true?

I doubt it. Havent the victims been of both sexes?

Yeah.

Was there any sign of sexual activity?

No.

Well then. It doesnt make much sense, does it?

Then why did you kill those people? Ness barked. What did they do to you?

You always act as if being killed is some sort of punishment, even though you know those people were the lowest of the low. Did it ever occur to you that the killer might have been doing them a favor?

How would killing anyone be doing them a favor?

What did they have to live for?

No one deserves to die. Especially not the way you do it.

Some people are much too tied to the flesh.

What are you talking about?

Pimps. Prostitutes. Con artists. Flesh peddlers. No chance of advancement or maturity.

Is that why youre so obsessed with Kingsbury Run?

Man is the most dangerous game. And these are the killing fields.

What are you talking about?

Many Eastern religions talk of achieving a higher plane. One must leave the flesh behind and become all spirit. Pure soul.

And killing them accomplishes that?

Many African tribes perform blood rituals. Ceremonies. Sacrificial rites. To help troubled souls ascend.

And the person performing the rite?

For the first time, the suspects eyes widened. The tiniest flicker of light shone within. He becomes a god.

Ness didnt know what to say to that.

The silence was shattered by Chamberlins voice. Eliot?

Did you hear what he just-

I think you need to listen to this. On the radio.

Are you kidding? He just-

Its Walter Winchell.

Chamberlin turned up the volume on the radio. The announcer spoke with a clipped dramatic urgency.

the unsolved torso murders in Cleveland may result in the apprehension of someone connected to one of Clevelands most outstanding citizens. This is what Ive heard from a source inside the police department whose name I promised to withhold. A medical man with great skill is allegedly responsible for the gruesome crimes in which all the murdered were dismembered. My source tells me that Clevelands famed safety director is currently interrogating the suspect in a secret hideaway far from the prying eyes of the city and its citizens. Attention, Cleveland, Ohio. This could mean that at any moment, a breakthrough

Ness turned to face his suspect.

He was smiling.

Thats it then, Sweeney said, with a voice both elated and eerily suggestive. The partys over. Now its time to pay the tab.


| Nemesis: The Final Case of Eliot Ness | c



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