Ness did his best to recover, but he’d been shaky ever since he came to, and the fall knocked the wind out of him. He started to push himself up off the floor, but Sweeney fell on him again, punching him in the solar plexus. He fell back again, breathless. Sweeney’s shoes battered his ribs.
How could he fight a man he couldn’t see? He flailed his arms in the darkness, hoping to stop the next blow before it landed. He wasn’t able to stop the kick, but he was able to grab the foot and hold on to it. He forcefully swung it to the side, causing Sweeney to lose his balance. He fell down, at last giving Ness a chance to get to his feet.
He hurt. All over, but especially in the abdomen. He had a hard time catching his breath. He was weak and he knew it. And Sweeney seemed to thrive on the darkness. Ness needed light.
He whirled around, trying to cover all directions at once. “What’s wrong, Sweeney? Scared of me?”
He was trying to bait the killer into talking, but of course, Sweeney was too smart for that. He had an advantage and he knew it. He would keep it.
A few moments later, Ness felt another blow on the side of his face. His eyes were beginning to adjust to the infinitely low lighting, but not fast enough. Another blow clipped him on the other side of the face. Ness swung out, trying to grab Sweeney’s arm, but he missed.
He realized this was hopeless. He could not possibly win this fight. Sweeney would batter away at him until he fell. Then he would finish him off, on the table. And then-
Then a miracle occurred. The lights came on.
Out the corner of his eye, Ness saw Edna, still bound, pulling the cord that turned on the overhead light with her teeth.
He didn’t have time to thank her. Sweeney was at his right, lunging. Ness managed to step away just in time. He stayed between Edna and Sweeney, not letting him get near his wife or the light cord.
“What are you going to do now, Mr. Safety Director?” Sweeney snarled. “Bite me again?”
“Whatever it takes.” Ness faced him, bracing himself for the next attack.
“You can’t win, you know.” Ness could see the wound on his neck, still bleeding profusely. It was grotesque, as if he’d been mauled by a wild animal.
He could still taste Sweeney in his mouth. What had he said about the two of them? And how much they were alike?
He wiped his bloody spit away. “This is over, Sweeney. Give up.”
“You must be joking. I’m much stronger than you. You know I am. I will take you apart and then I’ll start on your wife. Then I’ll flush you both down the river. You’re weak, Ness. Weak.”
He lunged, but this time, Ness did not step aside. He waited until Sweeney almost had him, then swiftly grabbed his extended hand, crouched down, and flipped Sweeney over his shoulder. Sweeney flew several feet, then crashed face first to the ground. He did not get up.
“You may be stronger and bigger,” Ness said, heaving, wiping blood from his mouth. “But bigger isn’t always better. Especially in jujitsu.”
Ness stumbled over to Sweeney, knelt beside him, then flipped the man onto his back. His eyes fluttered open.
“You’re under arrest, Sweeney. I’m taking you in.”
Sweeney’s nose was smashed and bloody. His eyes were red and his face was smeared with his own blood. And he smiled. “You can’t do anything to me.”
“I’m going to put you away forever, Sweeney. Or send you to the chair.”
“But Mr. Safety Director… that’s impossible.” He spat out a tooth. “I’ve been certified insane, more than once. You can’t incarcerate me. All you can do is have me locked up. Some sweet sunny bughouse. Like the Sailors’ Home.” The smile began to fade. “But I’ll get out. And I’ll find you. And Edna.”
Ness glanced at his wife, still bound, breathing heavily, watching and listening to every word.
“I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“How? With your vast political influence?” He began to laugh, coughing up blood with each chuckle. “There’s nothing you can do. I’ll kill you, Ness. And your wife. I’ll cut you both up and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!”
Just a few feet away, Ness saw Sweeney’s knife, still lying on the floor. He dove for it…
He clutched it tightly in his hand.
“You have two choices, Mr. Safety Director. You can kill me. Or I kill you. Eventually.”
Ness raised the knife high in the air. He pointed the knife toward Sweeney’s throat.
“Do it, Ness. You know you want to. Do it!”
“I don’t want to. But-my wife-I have to protect my wife!” His hand trembled in the air.
“You’re just like me.”
“You are. Kill me, Ness. Kill me now!”
The thick blade of the knife inched closer…
Ness dropped the knife and jumped to his feet.
Six men entered the room. Led by Congressman Sweeney.
Mayor Burton was with him. Ness didn’t know the other four men.
Ness staggered toward them. “Good news, Mayor. I’ve caught your Mad Butcher.”
“Balderdash,” Congressman Sweeney barked. “Thank God you told me what you told Ness, Mayor, so we could get here in time.” Congressman Sweeney marched past Ness to his cousin. “Frank? Good Lord-look at your neck! What happened?”
Sweeney’s voice creaked. “He hurt me. He hurt me bad.”
“Do you see what your safety director has done now?” the congressman bellowed. “I demand action, Harold. From the mayor’s office. This is the worst case of police brutality I have seen in my entire career.”
Ness pushed past him. “I’m telling you, Mayor, this is the Butcher. He attacked me. He kidnapped my wife. Look at her!” He walked over to Edna and began cutting her loose. He hugged her tightly. She was crying. He gently lowered her to the floor so she could rest.
“A likely story,” the congressman scoffed. “You’ve simply continued the harassment you began at the Cleveland Hotel. I told you then there would be legal action if you continued your desperate persecution of my family.”
“Your cousin is the Torso Murderer!”
Ness drew in his breath. “Search this place. Under the floorboards. You’ll find bloodstained knives. Bodily remains.”
“That proves nothing. Even if the killer operated here, that does not prove he was my cousin! Anyone could’ve gotten in here.”
“He confessed to me!”
“Was that before or after you beat him to a bloody pulp?”
Ness turned back to the mayor. “Harold, listen to me. He’s the killer. Ask Edna. She knows. We’ve got to arrest him. Put him behind bars.”
“You’re not doing anything to him,” Congressman Sweeney said.
“If you think I’m going to let you-”
“Even if it were true, you couldn’t charge my cousin. He’s not of sound mind. The proper place for him is a mental institution. I will see that he gets the care he needs.”
Mayor Burton laid a hand on Ness’s chest. “Calm down, Eliot. He’s right. If you try to do anything to his cousin it will only start a legal battle. We’ll lose and you’ll come out looking like the madman.” He turned toward the congressman. “It has to be someplace real this time, Congressman. Not the Sailors’ Home. Someplace with locks on the doors.”
“Understood. I’ll take him far away. I know a place in Dayton. Good doctors. Nurturing environment. But also… tight security.”
“That should do.”
“What are you thinking about?” Ness said, veins standing out in his neck. “This man killed a dozen people. At least!”
“I’m doing all that can be done, Eliot. Calm down and try to use some sense.”
“He threatened my wife. Said he’d kill her. Said he’d cut her up!”
“Well, that won’t be possible now.”
“I won’t stand for this.”
“You have no choice. You work for me.”
“Fire me. I’ll go to the press.”
Congressman Sweeney stepped in front of him. “Then I will also talk, Mr. Safety Director. I will tell what I saw tonight. You, behaving like a madman. A knife poised in the air, seconds away from murder.”
“I wouldn’t have killed him.”
“That’s not how it looked to me. I saw an attempted homicide, plus clear evidence of assault. You could go to jail for a very long time, Mr. Ness. And wouldn’t that be an ironic end to your illustrious career?”
“No one would believe you.”
“After the things you’ve done lately? Flagrant violations of the law. This is the next logical step in your slow sad decline. Everyone will believe it, Mr. Ness.”
Ness fell silent, smoldering. He turned toward the mayor. “I can’t believe you’d let him get away with this. You’re the one who kept telling me the people needed the comfort of knowing we’d caught the killer.”
“Obviously, at that time I didn’t know who it was.” Burton squeezed Ness’s shoulder. “This is best for everyone, Eliot. You keep quiet. Stay out of jail. Frank gets locked up where he can’t harm anyone. Once the killings stop, people will soon forget all about it. Everyone wins.”
“The people should know the truth.”
“War is coming, Ness. It’s already raging in Europe. Soon people will have more important things to think about than some crazed killer in Cleveland. Now take your wife and get out of here.”
Ness stared at him wordlessly. After all this time, all this work. Could it possibly end this way? He didn’t know what to do, what to say.
His wife broke the silence. “Eliot, I want to go home.”
He turned to face her. “Really?”
“Please. Take me home.”
Slowly, limping slightly, Ness escorted her out of the abandoned brewery.
After he watched Ness’s car pull away, Sweeney thanked the mayor for his assistance. “I think we may be able to work together after all,” the congressman said, smiling. “Maybe even during your second term.”
“I’d like that.” Mayor Burton shook his hand, then departed.
After the mayor left, Congressman Sweeney helped his ailing cousin to his car. With the help of his four men, he poured coal oil throughout the abandoned brewery, lit four torches, and handed one to each man.
He pointed toward the brewery. “Light the fire, gentleman,” he said, his eyes like stones. “Turn it to ashes. Every last trace of it.”