Ness stared down at the brown paper mess unearthed in the midst of the trash dump. His lips parted, dry, thick.
“He’s getting worse,” Ness said quietly. “Not better. Worse.”
Merylo laid a hand on his shoulder. “You okay? You seem a little shaky.”
“What human being wouldn’t be after seeing… that?” Ness wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “Who found it?”
Merylo nodded to his assistant. Zalewski stepped forward. “Man named James Dawson. Scrap and junk dealer. Was sorting through all this, looking for something he could sell.”
“Where did this trash come from, anyway? I don’t remember a dump being here. They just got Lake Shore Drive finished.”
“Most of this refuse was left behind by the Great Lakes Exposition. There were plans to cart it somewhere, but it never happened. Dawson was rooting around, looking for iron, and he saw flies buzzing around a pile of rocks. Looked a little closer and saw a coat sticking out. Moved a few rocks-and found this.”
Ness peered down at the mound again. “He called the police?”
“Yes, but word leaked out. There was a crowd here before the police arrived. We’ve been trying to contain them, but the mob is growing by the minute.”
Ness stared out at the teeming throng surrounding the crime scene. He had never seen so many people gathered in one place in Cleveland. According to Merylo, it was larger than the grotesque group of rubberneckers that watched while Victim 6 was pulled out of the lake. And they were angry. He could sense it. Restless. They shouted at the police. Waved fists. Called names. He could not placate them. If anything, Ness thought their anger increased when he emerged onto the scene.
They knew the Butcher had struck again, but they had no idea how horrific the spectacle truly was. And that was a good thing. Beneath the pile of rocks and several large pieces of concrete, a human torso had been wrapped in brown paper. Butcher’s paper? Ness wondered. And if so, was that a clue-or the killer’s sick idea of a joke? Beneath the torso they found another package, also wrapped in brown paper and held together by a rubber band. It contained the thighs. Five feet away, they found the head, and not far from that, in a brown cardboard box, the arms and lower legs. A thorough search of the dump produced yet another corpse, also dismembered, also wrapped up neatly and efficiently.
Ness looked away, hoping to never look again. “What can you tell me, Dr. Pearce?”
Pearce stepped forward, fingering his wire-rimmed glasses. Ness noticed that in addition to his white suit, he was wearing white buck shoes. Probably hadn’t realized he’d be visiting a trash dump when he dressed this morning.
“Not much,” Pearce answered, glancing over his shoulder at the mob. “Isn’t there some way to cordon them off? They might contaminate the evidence.” He lowered his voice. “Or find the next corpse. Before we do.”
“We got here too late,” Zalewski explained. “They were already all over the site. We pushed them back as far as we could with the available manpower.”
“Get more men,” Pearce said, then turned his attention back to Ness. “I think one of the torsos belongs to a woman, but these bodies are so badly decomposed I can’t be sure about anything.”
“How long have they been dead?”
“Months. Perhaps half a year. But I don’t think they’ve been out here that long. They would be in worse shape than they are if they had.”
“Then the killer has some place he stores bodies? Till he’s ready for us to find them?”
“Seems likely. Maybe he still has some parts hidden away. It would explain why we’ve found so few heads.”
“Why give us heads now?”
“You’re asking for a logical explanation,” Pearce said. “I doubt if there is one.”
“The dismemberment appears to be much the same as the others. Head disarticulated at the level of the third intervertebral disk. Knife marks on the dorsum of the second and third cervical vertebrae.”
“While they were alive?”
“Most likely. I’ll need to run some tests.”
“Is he still using that preservative?”
“It’s possible. And that could throw off all my estimates about time of death. Until further testing.”
“Anything else you can tell me?”
Pearce used his walking stick as a pointer. “Apparently he reads.”
Surrounding the gray bodily remains they had also found the usual assortment of tantalizing but ultimately unhelpful items: two burlap bags, a coat, a multicolored quilt, and the March 5 issue of Collier’s.
“I want someone to read every word of that magazine,” Ness said. “And then explain to me why the killer might have read it. Or left it behind.”
Merylo grimaced. “I’ll do it. But we won’t find anything.”
“Don’t quit before the job is done.”
“This killer is smart. And orderly. He wouldn’t leave anything that might be helpful.”
“Then why leave anything at all?”
“Because he’s playing with us. Giving us the horselaugh. He gets kicks out of that, like the alienist told us.” Merylo drew in his breath. “Because he knows we can’t catch him.”
Ness felt the words burrow into his brain. Because he knows we can’t catch him. He knows.
Momentarily distracted from the evidence, Ness heard shouts coming from the all-too-close crowd.
“When are you going to catch this madman?”
“Why aren’t you protecting us?”
“How many people are going to have to die before you do something?”
To the amazement of his colleagues, Ness turned toward the crowd, hands spread wide open. “We’re doing everything we possibly can.”
“You would’ve caught him long ago if he were killing people uptown!”
“No one cares about us!”
“He’s making you look like a fool!”
Ness turned away. “Do you hear them, Merylo? Do you hear what they’re saying?”
Merylo looked puzzled. “Who? The crowd?”
“They’re laughing at us. Just like the killer is. Everyone is laughing at us.”
“I don’t hear anything. No point in listening to that mob.”
“Get rid of them,” Ness said, under his breath. “Disperse the crowd. Miles away.”
“I’m not sure we have the right,” Zalewski said. “This is public property.”
“This is a crime scene. They’re interfering with an official investigation.”
“We’ll need a lot more men.”
“Then get them!” Ness snapped. “Get them now!”
Zalewski glanced at Merylo. Merylo nodded. “I’ll get right on it, sir.” He skittered away.
Ness approached Merylo, much too close, laying his hands on the man’s shoulders. “We have to do something, Merylo. We have to catch this killer.”
“We’ve been trying. We don’t have anything. Our best suspect got away.”
“We have to find someone else. We have to end this.”
“I agree. But how? He owns this neighborhood. It’s his own private hunting ground.”
All at once, the words flashed through Ness’s memory like a branding iron on flesh. Man is the most dangerous game. And these are the killing fields.
“That’s it,” Ness murmured under his breath. “That’s the answer.”
“What?” Merylo said, his face contorted. “What are you talking about?”
“He was giving us a clue.”
“Are you feeling all right? I think maybe you need some rest. Get some shut-eye. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
Ness pushed away from him. “No. We have a busy night ahead, Detective.”
“We need more men. Lots more. Forget about the crowd. Call everyone you know at the department. I’ll call my people. Maybe we can even get some loaners from the fire department.”
“To do what?”
“It’s simple, Merylo. Why didn’t I see it before? If we can’t catch the killer, we’ll remove his prey.”
“And how are we going to do that?”
“By taking Shantytown away from him.”
“Are you kidding? Do you know how many people are living out there? They’ll never agree to move.”
Ness peered straight ahead, his eyes fixed and glassy. “We won’t give them a choice.”